Of Ducks, Books & The Dreaded M Word

I met Alex of Bunnysprints last week for matcha latte at Secawan Hutton (a fabulous cafe by the way) and she reminded me that I have not been updating my blog. Thanks Alex for keeping me on my toes!

Anyway, she was up in Penang for work (she’s writing lots more business-related projects now and she sighs that people still think she does a lot of travel and food articles). I also wanted to meet her as I wanted to present her my book! (*doing a proud little jig*)

Yes, my book has been published. It hasn’t been launched yet. See how narcissistic we authors are these days? The book isn’t debuted properly until it has been launched, usually by some VIP because when VIPs come, so does the press. And that’s when we all get the five minutes of fame in the newspaper.

krista goon with alex wong

Alex and me in front of Secawan Hutton

So yes, my book’s all done and published. Nic and I are heaving huge sighs of relief! It was a project that we undertook because we figured that it was the last frontier. If you want to know all about the book, titled Web Wisdom (I know, I love my alliteration to death), go check out this blog post on my business blog. I tell you all about the ramifications of a writing a book and self-publishing it.

Back to Alex and our tete-a-tete.

Sometimes conversations can be startling. People often remind me of the things I told them years ago. I forget half the stuff I say but you never know how people hold on to some nuggets or words that resonate with them.

(Just like I read Alvin Ung’s book called Barefoot Leadership – an excellent book on Malaysian heroes, btw – and remember this about Helen Read, the founder of the fashion label, Ms Read. Helen Read endeavours to leave a public washroom clean so that the next person using it won’t be disgusted. I hold this in my heart each time I use a public restroom. I flush properly and sometimes even use the water hose to hose down the floor of the toilet cubicle so that there are no nasty footprints etc. I think that’s true consideration and empathy for the next user of the loo! You see, I remember things like these. Things that others may scoff at and say, well, that’s why you have people who wash loos, right? At least I can make the world a better place, starting with the public loo!)

At our women entrepreneur showcase last week, a KL friend attended and then told me in a Facebook comment that I’d once told her that a duck may glide effortlessly on the lake but underneath the surface, the legs are paddling furiously. What looks successful may have taken lots of effort; effort that most people do not see and assume immediately that success is easy for others.

I was touched she remembered these words of mine.

web wisdom book

Nic and I with our KL friend and book-buyer, SY Phang

Because it certainly took years for me to produce a book despite being a seasoned blogger, copywriter, and communicator. It took me and Nic some time to decide what type of book to write. In my younger days, I fantasized that I’d be writing fiction.

How life turns out. Our first book is non-fiction. It’s about websites and how to use them for effective marketing. It’s meant for small business owners.

When I was talking to Alex, she reminded me that I told her years ago that she should focus on marketing. She said that back then, she thought I was the literary sort and those words coming from me didn’t seem to make sense.

It now makes sense to her and bless her, she took action (many people may listen but never take action at all). She learnt marketing. She learnt how to position herself and her writing and price her services like a true business professional. She is now reaping the rewards of taking herself seriously as someone who can help business owners communicate better.

I told her that there is no need to be starving writer, just like there’s no need to be a starving artist if only the writers and artists marketed themselves. There is nothing wrong with marketing one’s skills. There is everything wrong if you have a damn good skill and you’re not marketing yourself, hoping that people will find you on their own!

I’ve never been too literary for marketing, that’s for sure. I don’t know when I started to be a convert of my own beliefs and philosophy of marketing but I know that I am all the better for it. Without marketing, I wouldn’t have the opportunities I have today. Like right now.

Even Audrey, my book editor, told me that I made marketing something that’s not sleazy. I see so many experts of their field who remain just that – people full of good knowledge but without the knowledge of marketing themselves in positive ways.

That’s why I am such a huge advocate of marketing without cheesiness or sleaze. I call it authentic marketing. It’s making sure people know about your skills and abilities in good ways and remember you when they need your skills the most (especially if they’re ready to hire you or work with you).

Writers who only know how to write and expect the crowd to beat a “lorong” to their door won’t be able to see much happening. As a writer (or any other profession), you need to get out there and tell the world what makes you special or worth working with.

Having the attitude of “I’m a writer, not a hustler” and that “my work sells itself” won’t cut it today. And never, ever call yourself a freelance something (freelance artist, freelance writer, freelance designer).

Adding the word “freelance” just tells people that your prices can be bargained down to a pittance and you don’t have a union to complain to (and they can bully you however they want). If you need to have a designation, call yourself a writer. Only you need to know you’re a freelancer.

Alex illustrated the need for marketing accurately when she told me that she had been a regular patron to this cafe in KL (around her neighbourhood). The woman would bend over backwards to serve her customers well. She cooked well.

But she didn’t pay attention to marketing. Dear Alex with her heart of gold hinted multiple times about helping her do some marketing but the lady said she didn’t have time for marketing. Eventually, her business fizzled out. She lost her cafe and Alex lost a place for good food! When a small business collapses, it isn’t just one person’s loss. The entire neighbourhood could be pining for what could have been!

So there. I’ve said my piece about marketing. I hope to say more but I don’t want to be some old broken record.

(If you’re wondering why the long silence, my mum passed away in August. I didn’t feel like writing much after the funeral though I did journal. I cried pots of tears. I still get a bit pensive when I think of my mum. You can read this post on my other blog to find out more.)

p/s: I must be getting famous. Just last week, a friend whatsapped me saying that she got an FB friend request from a profile page with MY photo but the person apparently was named Shin Ching. I quickly reported it to FB and in 2 minutes, the profile page was deleted by FB. Still, it was such a weird feeling knowing that someone just took my photo and started a FB page! Unfortunately for that impersonator, I have friends who know me and alerted me before any damage could be done. Quick tip: there’s no need to confront the impersonator. Just complain to FB and they will take care of it.

Bali Dreaming

I’ve been meaning to add more to my Bali trip posts but so many things got in the way. I have been trying to reduce the number of projects I am involved in, this year as a way to slow down and reclaim some peace and quiet for myself. I am still involved with copywriting (usually for clients who want custom-designed websites) but I am slowly also reducing this from my plate too.

bali dream resort ubud

This is Bali Dream Resort, a little hidden gem in the paddy fields of Gianyar, Ubud.

Anyway, I am back and that is all that matters.

I still hanker for Bali because it was simply an amazing island. The people were lovely and everyone had time to stop and chat which is saying a lot! I am not saying people in Penang aren’t friendly but there’s magic in Bali.

rice fields of ubud

The view of rice fields just behind our hotel room

Nic and I spent our entire 6 days in Ubud, wandering about on the rented scooter (strangely branded Scoopy) from Bali Dream Resort. Everyone whizzes about on scooters in Ubud and by everyone I mean the locals as well as the angmohs. And boy are there plenty of angmohs! Ubud is artistic and cultural but it is also a haven for yoga studios and vegan cafes and juice bars. As I mentioned, people here retire to bed early. By 10pm, most cafes and shops are already closed. This was something to be grateful for, as it meant we returned to our hotel and slept early too!

The sun rises really early in Bali so by 6am, it is bright and sunny (somewhat like our 10am in Malaysia). I remember waking up at 8am and feeling the heat of the sun on my face from the window.

When we arrived at the Bali Ngurah Rai airport, we were raring to go despite the fact that we had woken up at 5am to catch the Penang-KL flight at 6.50am. We had landed in KLIA2 on transit but whiled away our time till 10.50am before our KL-Bali flight called. Jana, who is a regular visitor to Bali, told us that we can walk out and hail a Bluebird taxi instead of taking the airport taxis.

I felt annoyed at being harassed by a super persistent young chap who kept tailing us as we walked out of the airport arrival area. He kept asking us what price we wanted. Anyway, we managed to cross the road just outside of the airport and quickly jumped into a Bluebird taxi.Taxi fees from the airport to Ubud are about RM90 one-way for an hour plus trip.

Nic Sim

Nic in his relaxed mode atop the bamboo tree house

The taxi driver was called Wayan (yes, everyone is either Wayan, Made, Komang or Ketut – they’re really telling you their family ties and hierarchy. Wayan is the first born, Made is number two, Komang or Nyoman is the third while Ketut is the fourth. I was curious – what happens if there is a fifth child? Wayan the taxi man tells me the title Wayan gets reused! To know if the person is a male or female, there is a Ie or Nie attached such as Wayan Ie for a male firstborn or Wayan Nie for a female firstborn). During our entire trip, we met a few Wayans, read about one Nyoman (who owned an art gallery) and more.

It was interesting to have a conversation with a local – a first for me as a traveller. I love going to Thailand – that’s a country I’ve visited many times already – but I never have had a proper conversation with the locals. My Thai is limited to short phrases and words so it’s usually English or nothing.

In Bali, Nic and I had an excellent time conversing with the locals because Bahasa Indonesia shares the same roots as our BM. At breakfast each morning, we spoke at length to the resort’s staff and satisfied our own curiosity of the many different things we observed. The other resort guests at the other tables often looked our way as we chatted animatedly to the staff. We looked like Chinese (and for most travellers, this meant China people) but we spoke the local language.

For once, we could speak and understand each other and exchange information about our own countries.

Our taxi driver managed to persuade us to stop by 2 places on our way to Bali Dream Resort. One was a large silver jewellery shop in Celuk. It was a hot day so the air-conditioned shop (which was clean and modern) was a welcome respite. We pretended to be interested in the silver earrings, rings and more but I wasn’t in the mood to buy anything. I just wanted to check in at our hotel and have a cool shower. Fortunately, the girls at the shop didn’t bug us to try on anything so we left after 20 minutes. I believe the taxi driver gets something for popping by with tourists.

bali swimming pool resort

The view of the glorious pool from our room

I thought this was the end of the silliness but he brought us to a place that offered us free kopi luwak. What is it with tourist traps like these? Is it a first-time visitor’s curse? I don’t drink coffee but we got out of the taxi and strolled into this mini garden with a meandering path.

The petite girl in charge gave us a running commentary on the coffee plants, cocoa plants etc. I did inform her that we are from Malaysia and yes, we have the same plants/shrubs in our country. Finally, we stopped in front of a cage. She pointed out the Asian palm civet cat which was lying curled up in a ball inside the cage. The animal gazed at us with boredom and misery spilling out of its eyes.

bali temple architecture

Balinese temples are so iconic. This was taken near the Celuk silver shop.

If you don’t know about the civet or cat shit coffee, try this Wikipedia entry on kopi luwak. I did try this coffee once when a friend brought it back to Penang but since I am no coffee aficionado, I had no idea if I was drinking good coffee or not. I wasn’t so much disgusted about the process as I was about the commercialisation of the coffee and the force-feeding of coffee cherries to the civet cats. Just so you know, kopi luwak of all kinds and brands are sold in supermarkets in Bali. It’s like Penang white coffee. Everyone and their uncles are hawking this coffee.

Finally, we were asked to climb up a bamboo tree house and have a seat while the girl went off to prepare some sample drinks for us. She came back with a tray of shot glasses with colourful powders. Each glass was labelled. She poured hot water into each glass and encouraged us to try the different teas – red ginger tea, lemongrass tea, lemon tea, roselle tea, mangosteen (peel) tea and more. Luckily Nic mentioned he didn’t want any kopi luwak so that wasn’t served. Our taxi driver, Wayan, sat with us. He was served a larger cup of coffee (that was perhaps his “treat” for bringing us there).

bali swimming pool resort

I know, I am crazy over the pool. Our hotel had not one but two pools.

I really didn’t want to buy any but our sense of obligation got the better of us (after all, we sampled some 10 types of teas and sat around chatting for a good half hour while enjoying the evening breeze at the top of the bamboo tree house). We bought a small packet of lemongrass tea for an atrocious amount of rupiah.

I was thinking, if we don’t get going to our resort and check in, I was going to show my displeasure. I was already quite sticky and hot by this time, traipsing around a coffee plantation and all.

Perhaps Wayan just wanted his free cuppa but whatever it was, he started to head towards Jalan Penestenan Kelod, Gianyar. The roads were narrow but I was enthralled by the passing scenery and Balinese architecture. It seemed there was a temple around every corner or a pair of stone carvings adorning each home entrance.

Women in traditional attire (kebaya with sarong and colourful sashes) were swaying delicately down the narrow pathways and roads. They’d sashay down the road with piles of carefully arranged fruit and offerings balanced atop their heads. It was such a delight to watch!

(Later, I realized these women were on their way to the local temple for prayers. It seemed that every other day some prayers or ceremony was happening in Ubud and you’d be amazed at the scores of women who’d carry offerings on top of their heads).

Wayan got lost a few times trying to locate our hotel. Eventually, he stopped us at the side of a road so that we could ask around. It turned out that our hotel couldn’t be accessed by car; the pathway was simply too narrow. The hotel sent a golf cart around to pick up our luggage while I went to the reception for the check-in.

All my tiredness flew away the moment we were led to our room. We were steps away from a serene pool! That was such a balm for my fatigued soul. Since it was already quite late (5pm ish), we decided to just rest and relax in our hotel. Travelling can be tiring despite the fun and excitement. We also settled for a quick dinner of nasi goreng at the hotel cafe.

indonesia teas in bali

Indonesian teas of all colours in Bali

Stay tuned for the next episode.


When Ducks Can Make You Filthy Rich

We just got home from a lovely, absolutely lovely 6 days in Ubud, Bali. What have I been missing all this while? I always thought Bali was ultra commercial until Jeanette and Mariam kept urging me to go and experience it for myself. I am so appreciative that I did. I can’t believe this island has eluded me for so long.

nic sim & krista goon

Nic likes to make crazy faces when I take selfies. This is one of those moments when we were waiting out the rain at Wayan Kunang-Kunang’s.

Sorry if I sound like a complete fan-girl of Bali. I am enthralled. Head over heels. I think I shall retire there and start my resort.

A friend asked me what I found special.

Ubud has all the right architecture right down to the old, gnarled frangipani trees the locals call “pokok Jepun”. This is not to be mistaken with “Jepang” as Jepang is how the Balinese call the Japanese. So I am still puzzled about the difference between Jepun and Jepang.

bali temple statue

Perhaps I shall ask the Balinese the next time I get there (see? I am already planning my next trip despite the fact that I hate connecting flights. We had to take a Penang-KL flight, transit a few hours and then take KL-Denpasar. The same thing when we came back.)

Anyway, I loved that Ubud is like a village. It is small enough to feel familiar yet full of interesting nooks and crannies waiting to be discovered. Like the words I saw written on a white wall behind a goal post near Jalan Hanoman – “100% Love Is The Goal”. These little amusing moments strike me as whimsical yet fitted perfectly with the character of Ubud people (the angmohs and the locals alike).

Over the years, Nic and I realized that the vacations we craved weren’t just about going some place famous and taking snaps all day long. I was never that sort to begin with. Nic and I love meandering down little lanes, stopping for a chat and a drink, taking a longer time just to savour the day. That’s how our perfect little holidays end up anyway.

We never liked overwhelming ourselves with the must-do’s and the must-see. I think part of the reason is that we both strive to find meaningful connections with the people and the places we visit. So this time, we didn’t see Tanah Lot nor did we go up to Kintamani. We didn’t do Mount Batur or Goa Gajah or watch dolphins. We knew that we’d be back and we’d have plenty more trips to do so.

Ubud stone statues

Ubud is known for its excellent stone carvers

What we did do was make friends with the locals. We met Wayan Kunang-Kunang when we ran into his shop to take shelter from the tropical storm (you never want to ride a scooter when rain pelts you like bullets). We met Made Lasil at Neka Art Museum and he showed us how to play the bamboo instrument called ‘rindik’. We exchanged stories with Eka, Deksri, Mellany and Sari, the wonderful staff at Bali Dream Resort where we stayed and had a good time learning Indonesian words and finding that we had so much in common. Others like Wayan, our taxi driver, was so thankful when Nic gave him more than he asked for in taxi fees.

bali dream resort ubud

The delightful resort we stayed at…Bali Dream Resort, tucked away in Jalan Penestanan.

We learnt so much about Nyoman Sumetro, the owner of Bebek Tepi Sawah restaurant, when we toured the art gallery located next to the famous restaurant. Sure, we had stopped by to partake in the famous bebek or crispy duck (Mariam exhorted me to try it) and truth be told, Nic’s ikan gurami panggang tasted a lot better than my ultra-crispy half bebek! Bebek Tepi Sawah is so successful that it spawned more than a few outlets across Indonesia and there is even one in Singapore. That explained the Ferrari parked right out front! (It was covered modestly with a silver plastic car cover but nothing can hide the voluptuous shape.) Another bebek place that I didn’t get to try was Bebek Bengil a.k.a Dirty Duck Diner along Monkey Forest Road. Bengil is the local word for dirt (or “daki”) hence dirty duck. Perhaps next round!

ubud rice field

The rice paddy fields behind our resort

It is conversations with the locals that I loved best. It was funny to know that what we call “telur mata kerbau” is called “telur mata sapi” over there. It became a joke among the staff of Bali Dream Resort because each morning, as we ordered our American breakfast, they’d ask us how we’d like our eggs. We’d all laugh when we said “telur mata sapi” and then they’d repeat to us “telur mata kerbau” with a straight face but later burst out laughing because they couldn’t help it.

swimming pool ubud

The pool, just steps away from our room

Ubud is a slower pace of life, where shops are shuttered at 9pm (even Starbucks Ubud) and people are in bed by 10pm. The air is cool in the evenings because of all the rice terraces, trees and rivers.  Ubud is also the place where you will find a “pura” or temple every couple of steps. Religious and cultural events are a nightly feature.

One night, we witnessed a full procession of traditionally-dressed Balians as they celebrated yet another religious festival in full pomp. A Caucasian lady with a yoga mat slung over her shoulder asked us if we knew what was being celebrated (Ubud attracts a lot of Caucasians on a health and rejuvenation mission – yoga, vegan food, smoothies, retreats, the full works). We had no idea. But the procession went its way and finally she stopped a Balian and asked him what it was all about.

Pengosekan in Ubud is where Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love found Ketut Liyer, the palm reader whom we were told, only read foreign palms (he also charges higher rates). Ketut Liyer is old, in his 80s and still ranks as the most famous palm reader in all of Bali, thanks to the book and the movie.

ubud bali pool

Family life, having kids and being spiritual are a mainstay of the Ubud people. Nic and I felt a bit like oddities because Wayan, our taxi driver thought we were both on our honeymoon as we didn’t have any kids tagging along! (Ubud is very family-friendly. Families with kids in tow are everywhere, mostly Caucasian. This is not the sleazy Bangla Road of Phuket where lady boys are openly parading. I read later that there is a happening gay scene in Ubud which I seriously witnessed not!)

So consider this an amuse bouche for more of Ubud tales to come. I shall be back with more!

Why Women These Days Need A Bullshit Meter

It used to be that spam only came via our email inboxes. And while we all are rather jaded about Nigerian scammers, the Nigerian scams now come in different flavours. They modify and localise the names of people to sound more or less like someone the recipient might know.

And I always thought these scammers are good because they tap into our human desires of greed.

Until recently, that is. Scammers also tap into our human desire to be loved, appreciated and wanted.

My friend told me a few weeks ago that her niece who was worried about her mum (my friend’s sister). It seemed that her mum, recently widowed and home alone, had found a new friend on Facebook.

Her mum is in her 60s and while she lived with her daughter and son-in-law, she was alone much of the day as her daughter and son-in-law were busy most of the time running their own businesses.

A well-meaning relative thought it would be fun for Mrs A to join in the fun online by downloading the Facebook app to her smartphone. After all, she could connect with the rest of the extended family and be able to assuage her loneliness by reading their newsfeed and viewing their family photos.

It was all good fun until she was privately messaged by a stranger on Facebook who complimented her.

All women should have enough scepticism to spot a scam a mile away. If I could teach girls and women one thing, I’d teach them how to spot scams dressed in cheesy compliments. Every girl and woman should have enough self-assurance to go “Reeeaaaallly????” while raising one sarcastic brow!

I have received enough “compliments” from “men” on LinkedIn (yes, they’ve infiltrated that platform too), Facebook and Google+.

Recently I discovered that WhatsApp is also a new modus operandi. Some scammer gets your phone number (which is fairly easy these days considering how our phone numbers are literally everywhere online) and sends you an innocuous message like this: Hi (your name), I have this problem (inserts link).

You see, we can’t help but let our guard down when someone addresses us by name. It’s the first and easiest method to remove scepticism. If someone knows me, he must be a friend.

Not true. If that person were my friend, he’d be in my Contact list and his name would appear in WhatsApp instead of his phone number. When I see these messages, I immediately (and with great flourish and extreme satisfaction) report and block the number for good. Of course, scammers don’t let up. They’d just change phone numbers or move on to easier targets.

In Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn, these scammers have profile photos which border on so much cheesiness that I suspect there must be a book or course on Scamming 101.

Maybe they were told Asian women like clean-shaven white men in their 30s who pose with babies or puppies. Oh, it helps if they’re in some army uniform. Well, we all want some disciplined, tough-as-nails general in some fantasy right? Give me Tom Keen of The Blacklist any day!

If I discover even a tiny amount of fakery, I go delete, delete and report spam. There are truly lots of weirdos online.

Anyway, back to Mrs A’s story. While her relative had good intentions to get Mrs A online and help her get connected, she forgot that the online world can be dangerous for an innocent woman, whom up till then, was living a fully offline life!

Mrs A’s husband had passed on not long ago. Perhaps she just wanted to be friends with the man (but scammers can pretend to be men or women, depending on the situation) and they started chatting. She gave him her life story – that she was newly widowed and in her 60s and mostly alone in the day as her children worked. Perhaps she even told him she had inherited some money from her late husband.

When Mrs A’s daughter called my friend a.k.a her aunt to speak of her worry about her mum, I suggested that they could try deleting the Facebook app from her smartphone. Knowing that Mrs A isn’t tech-savvy at all, she wouldn’t know how to download the app again. That would stop all communication with the man.

But scammers can be sneaky indeed. Mrs A, whom I heard was a technophobe, soon graduated from Facebook chats to email! The man was now emailing her sweet nothings and promising the earth and the sky and the heaven.

He even called her and she believed that he was an American just waiting to hop on a plane and visit her in Penang! All this happened while my friend and her family kept telling her that the man was fake and it was all a scam.

But do women in love believe these truths? No. She lived in her own dreamland, fantasising about the day when her handsome American boyfriend would sweep her off her feet! She believed he must be real because he had spoken to her on the phone and he had an accent.

I vacillate between pity and empathy for Mrs A because she has never been romanced like this, not even by her late husband. She was like a young girl again, full of romantic hope that fairy tales do come true. Her sensitive, caring American boyfriend was going to give her a second chance at being a princess. Perhaps she also felt wanted and appreciated.

That is why I say, scammers probably have doctorates in psychology. They tap into our deepest desires and fears. They bait us with their cunning empathy and feed into emotional needs that are often buried.

You know what’s sadder than being led around like a fool?

Mrs A gave her boyfriend RM95,000 based on some stupid sob story he told her. When my friend angrily recounted the story, I was dumbfounded. Here’s an elderly woman who gave away her life savings to a stranger whose opening line was “You are so beautiful!”

When I found my voice, I asked her how this happened. Did she transfer the money to him online?

Nope. Imagine this: she rode her motorbike to the bank and somehow withdrew her money and remitted it into his account! OHMYFREAKINGGOD. Some people might wonder if she had been under a spell (kena santau) but this spell is stronger than what a witch doctor can conjure – love itself can be quite a heady spell! Caucasian love – double that.

Her family were crazy angry and immediately took her to the police station to lodge a report. Up till then, she was adamant she was giving him a loan to help him as he was “stranded in KLIA”. I don’t know how being stranded and needing money linked up but she believed in his tale of woe. Even the policemen told her that it was definitely a scam. Mrs A refused to believe it. A few days after making the report, she secretly went to the police station to withdraw her report!

So, is there a good ending to this utterly sad story? What are scammers made of? It baffles me that there is a career for scumbags of the earth who revel in creating stories to manipulate an elderly woman who just lost her husband, feeding her with imagined love and hope and draining away her hard-earned money.

I am still justifiably angered that this happened. My friend is keeping an eye on her sister because she knows if she joins the rest of the family in berating her, Mrs A will clam up and maybe lose even more money! By talking to her without resorting to blame and anger, my friend hopes she can slowly talk her sister into some sense and see the scammer for what he truly is.

The online world is where my business and future is and I am for going online and using the Internet for a greater good. But I also believe that women, young and old, need to be able to separate fact from fiction. Being online for more than 20 years now has helped me create a sort of bullshit meter and I am always cautious when something or someone sounds too good to be true. I trust my gut feelings or subconscious more than my logical brain because my gut is often an accurate judge of people and their characters. I read somewhere that it’s because our senses are more attuned to disconnects than our logical consciousness allows for. Our subconscious protects us from dangerous situations and people.

This is why having a sense of self, of knowing who you are, is important to all women, no matter what age we are. I didn’t know who I was when I was young but I wished someone older and wiser had taken me under her wing and taught me about myself. If we know who we are, deep inside, we’d all be a lot more grounded and wiser. It has taken me years and years to realise this. Perhaps one day, I will have a programme to teach this – knowing who you are is game-changing. It is about understanding your own power and what you are capable of. Oprah once said that you don’t give your power to others; you own your power (I am paraphrasing).

While it is beautiful to wish for happily ever after, know that romance is a construct that can sometimes damage us (look at what happened to Mrs A!). I wasn’t exactly a die-hard Mills and Boons fan but I did indulge in these books when I was a teen.

In that same vein, let me leave you with something that is hopeful and hilarious as hell.

Watch this TED talk of how a British comedian, James Veitch decided to turn the table on a scammer. It’s so devilishly good.

Bigger, Bolder, Badder

First off, Happy Chinese New Year! It’s the start of the Fire Monkey year and today is the 6th day of the Chinese New Year.

FGS Dong Zen temple monkey year

Spending the first day of Chinese New Year at FGS Dong Zen Temple in Jenjarom

This post is for you, Wei Vern. Yes, you prompted me to return to my blog and write something. I must say I have been embarrassingly busy (I know I shouldn’t use that word; it means I have taken on way too much for my own damn good) but I have been that and I have been a lazy gal. (If you are new to this blog, you can start off with the Start Here page with a selection of my fave posts.)

Yes, I must call a spade a spade. I have been putting a lot of effort on our web design business last year.

Nic and I wrote a book last year (which will be printed by this year, by March if all goes to plan) because we get so frustrated when we see how badly websites are used for marketing small businesses and SMEs. In Malaysia, most websites are pure brochures and are never actively used for marketing! What a waste of resources. I always say, if only more entrepreneurs knew how amazing websites could be.

After thinking it through, we decided to write a book.

And when it rains, it rains.

Besides this book of ours, I’m involved in another book slated to be out by August this year. I remembered telling Emi that we should have a book chronicling the stories of Penang women as inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. That was in November 2014. She took me up on the idea and we pitched it to the powers-that-be and that’s how I got myself into this book project.

As co-editor, the journey has been incredibly uplifting. I’ve interviewed quite a few notable women – Dato’ Maimunah, the President of Majlis Perbandaran Seberang Perai, for one. I’ve spoken to corporate women and I’ve also spoken to women who consider themselves virtual unknowns such as Christine, an ultra marathoner. Regular people run 42km marathons, but this petite woman runs 100km marathons! I truly salute her mental strength!

So that’s 2 books in the works for this year. I made a little promise to myself that I would love to leave a legacy in the form of more books, writing about things I know – either from my years as a communicator in the written and spoken format to entrepreneurial things, things I’ve learnt as a marketer. Or even not-so-simple things like running an association and managing interns, staff and more.

Goon family

With my parents and my sisters.

This year, I also got off the grid so to speak for the duration that I was back in Banting for Chinese New Year. I didn’t want to go online or check Facebook or update my status during the time I was at home. I try to engage my 12 year old nephew and 10 year old niece in conversation – they spend too much time playing Minecraft and watching Youtube videos. This time too Vinnie taught me how to make rainbow loom wristlets and I got quite hooked, pardon the pun.

I believe it’s a lot healthier for me since I spend too much time online, for business. (I also ended up helping my mum clean the house because I couldn’t stand the dirt and grime. I also knew that if I didn’t engage in physical cleaning, I’d be too restless for words. After all, I have not lived at home since the age of 20. While my parents are there, Banting is a mere pit-stop for me before I come back to Penang where I consider my true home to be.)

 tamara joan duraisingam

I’ve known my best pal since we were 6 in kindergarten!

And when I  met with my best pal for a quick breakfast back in Banting, she seemed surprised that I felt more at home in Penang. She was contented to be in Banting – while I am happy for her, I knew I couldn’t last more than a week in that town. I grew up in Banting but I grew up wanting to get away from that provincial town. It reeked (and still reeks) of all that beleaguered me when I was a gangly, bespectacled teen. Mindset-wise, I’ve outgrown the place. I only go home because my parents and sister and nephew and niece live there. And of course, for my nasi lemak Kak Leha and Teluk Bunut bak kut teh and Banting satay.

I try to go home more often but I stay away from discussing my life and business. It’s hard for them to understand – my mum still can’t fathom why I don’t need to go to the “office” although I have one. I tried showing her the websites we’ve done for clients and the results but I think all these are meaningless for someone who thinks smartphones are for the young ones!

In many ways, I am glad to be writing again – and writing for me. One of my resolutions is to stop writing (website content) for clients who commission us to create their custom websites. I’ve had enough of doing that. It’s time for me to move up and move on in the value chain. I have more aspirations than I have time.

So I’ll be training junior writers to do what I do. Perhaps even offer a website copywriting programme. (Speaking of which, my sister who is a fan girl of Joey Yap read my BaZi when I was back in Selangor. She says this year is a great year for me to indulge in intellectual pursuits like learning and studying. I asked her, how about teaching? LOL. I doubt I’ll be doing my PhD. I had enough of studying when I did my Master’s.)

As I grow more experienced, I become more aware of what I should be doing instead of what I have been doing all the time.

So yes, I am back – the hiatus from my blog was good for me. I return to my blog with a sense of clarity and purpose.

Sometimes, we all gotta disappear for a while and re-evaluate ourselves. I did that and I am back.

And in the spirit of the mischievous monkey, I wish you quick-wittedness, agility and smarts. And of course, to be bigger, bolder and badder in all ways!

p/s: I read once that you can’t reach 40 without knowing you who are as a person. I’m turning 42 this year and I realise that ageing isn’t so terrible. At least now I have the chutzpah (or is it impatience?) to do what I believe is good for me. I don’t give a monkey’s ass about a lot of stuff these days. LOL.


We’re Going for Bersih!

Nic and I will be in KL this weekend and we are going to do the BERSIH march.

Do wish us luck and do pray for us! Do leave a message for us on our Facebook page if you can.

We really hope to be back in Penang in one piece and safely of course. We’re anticipating massive crowds but we also know it’s not a walk in the park. We have to be adequately prepared for all emergencies.

You must be thinking that we’re crazy.

Maybe we are. Maybe we’re just frustrated like many Malaysians today.

Many times we’ve been told that businesses and politics don’t mix. For the longest time, we believed that.

But over the past few years, we realised that our lives are not so easily compartmentalised into neat little boxes.

One box labelled Business, another labelled Politics.

Politics used to be like a “secretive” thing one did on the sly.

We weren’t supposed to talk politics – it’s best left to politicians.

But of late, we also noted that we’re made fools of every single day.

I can tell you we didn’t vote for the Government of the day and we didn’t vote for idiots. Worse, look at GST and its timing!

When I jokingly told my market vendor that he should wear a Bersih t-shirt, he said he wouldn’t because he might “offend” some people. I contemplated if I should tell him, those people who are offended, don’t really deserve to be your customers but I held my tongue.

In Malaysia, we’re so used to NOT talking about “sensitive” issues that we never raise them, much less debate about them.

There is this fear – the fear of the police, the fear of being locked up, the fear of everything.

And because of this fear we have come to this stage – where citizens are made fools of, bullied and taken for a ride while our currency slides and slides, and where stupidity is the order of the day.

Nic and I are tax payers and the way this country is going to the dogs is not right. Lots of people complain either in coffee shops or online.

But this does not shame the bullies.

The bullies think they’re kings of the land and they have a right to do whatever they want. Even peaceful marches are not allowed.

A friend who lectures in UITM asked me what use is going for BERSIH when there’s no specific outcome? I ask, what then would you suggest? Discussions? My foot. (Maybe I should un-friend him!)

BERSIH is about an outcome.

The outcome is to let the world know that Malaysia is ailing and what ails us are corrupted leaders who keep telling lie after lie. We want the world to know Malaysia is beautiful and full of amazing resources but due to selfish people, we are at the worst point in the history of our nation.

Look at Singapore. Look at what it has become in the last 50 years. Look at Malaysia and compare. We are the ones with resources and people. And yet we lag behind and now our currency is falling too.

Singapore would be laughing its way to financial freedom if it had our land, our people, our timber, our petroleum.

I once took Political Science as a freshie in USM. I remembered the lessons well. Politics isn’t just about what your MP does or doesn’t do. How your father distributes money in the family is also politics. It is about the resources you get or don’t get.

Politics affects us all. If we had better structures in place, better governance, better systems, we could all do so much better entrepreneurially.

If you’re in business and you still think politics doesn’t affect you, go ahead and do what you like. But each time you complain about prices of goods, the rising costs of living, stupid or unfair policies, the insider cables you’ve had to “pull” just to get something done, remember it’s all politics.

“Do something that scares you, every day” so goes a quote.

Is BERSIH scary? Hell yes.

But what’s worse than what we have now?

What happens if we don’t do something? The amount of cheating, lying and corruption go on. And we will just sit around and complain and twiddle our thumbs.

If you have children, what kind of future do you foresee for them?

Or will you just emigrate as millions of Malaysians have done?

If you have children abroad, don’t you cringe in agony each time the ringgit shrinks and your children may just have to eat bread and Maggi mee? (Some dumbass said the ringgit shrinking won’t affect Government scholars as the Government scholars will still get the same amount. Where does the Government get money? Taxpayers’ money! And this guy has only one point of view – he’s forgets that not everyone is a sponsored scholar. Most people are surviving on their parents’ hard-earned money!)

How could a beautiful country like ours end up like this?

At least we want to be able to tell others, years from now, that we tried.

We tried to do what we could, with what we have. Taking part in a rally doesn’t sound like much action but it’s hell better than sitting around and being a keyboard warrior. And it is our right as citizens to walk peacefully down the streets of KL.

Fear always paralyses us. That’s what it is supposed to do.

But fear can also be a catalyst so that all of us can become heroes.

Not the super powered sort but the everyday living, breathing sort.

Far too long, marches have always been the kind of stuff activists do. These days we see more and more ordinary folks – old and young – take to the streets because this is what we can do.

Even if you are not joining the official rally, please do your part and wear yellow this weekend especially if you’re in Penang. (A KL acquaintance said to me just the other day, “Penang is almost a country by itself. You guys have freedom.” Yes, we are.)

Show that you’re unhappy and unfrustrated. Show that you know what’s going on and you absolutely despise every lie that you’ve been told. Show that you’re not easily cowed or bullied.

Let’s have the message heard, loud and clear!


P/S: Think about it. Which other nation can have a global Bersih in 50 countries in the world simultaneously? Have we asked why so many Malaysians are overseas? Why do we spend our own money and time to buy Bersih t-shirts, to donate, to fly into KL, to book accommodation, to prepare our Bersih “starter” pack and put our lives at risk to march down the streets of KL? Why do my friends overseas spend time and money organising their own Bersih gatherings?

We’re not crazy because this is an awakening that’s more than about money and time. That we have a belief that our nation can be better. That we can do so much better.

So even if you’re not marching this weekend, please wear yellow. You’ll be showing your support for all of us who are descending upon KL to make our collective voices heard.


My Favourite Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Recipe


Two of my fave things in a cake – cheese and chocolate!

Once in a while, I get this sweet tooth craving. Which is weird because I usually prefer salty snacks to desserts. Think murukku, salted peanuts, roasted cashews and the like.

But when I get into that mood, I go into the kitchen and whip up a cake or sometimes two. I figure that if I am firing up the oven, I might as well batch bake some yummies.

Since it’s only me and Nic and eating an entire cake is out of the question, I usually freeze half the baked cake. Cakes freeze well without any loss in taste or texture. I learnt this from some American blogs I read. They freeze everything – raw cookie dough to stews and more.

Anyway, last night I got into this cheese mood. I dug around my fridge and realised I had some mascarpone and some cream cheese. It was either tiramisu or a cheesecake.

I decided to make a cheesecake since I was dying for some creamy dessert. I usually bake after dinner so it was by 10pm or so that I started pulling out my springform pan.

The funny thing is this: I have always eaten great cheesecakes but never baked any until the last 2 years. No, I am not kidding. My aunt bakes a mean cheesecake with canned peaches. My sis bakes delicious blueberry cheese tarts.

My springform pan sat in my cabinet for a long time before I decided one day to just test out some cheesecake recipes. I guess I was inspired by a good friend’s cheesecake which she brought to a potluck party some time ago. I loved the creamy goodness of it all and gobbled a good many slices!

I love this recipe because I just need my measuring cups and my good old electric mixer (I still have my Elba handheld mixer – I want to get a stand mixer but I simply have no space in my kitchen for yet another kitchen appliance).


best choc chip cheese cake recipe

Actually a cheesecake is easy and quick to make. Let your cream cheese sit at room temperature for 1 hour before you start so the cheese is soft. I’d adjust the sugar and condensed milk quantities if you prefer it to be less sweet.

I used my own homemade vanilla extract (just slice up 2 vanilla pods, stick them in a glass bottle and pour in enough good quality vodka to cover the pods and let this sit in some dark cabinet for 4 weeks or so. You’ve just made your own vanilla extract. You’d NEVER buy the commercial stuff ever again, I swear). As you can see, I like homemade stuff (yogurt, for instance).

OK, enough blabbering.

Here’s the recipe. For the baking part, pre-heat your oven at 150C as you prepare the cake.

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Recipe

Cheesecake Base: 

1.5 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 tbsp white sugar (use brown sugar if you prefer less sweet)
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Van Houten brand)
1/3 cup melted butter

Mix all the above and press into a 9 inch diameter springform pan. Leave aside.

Cheesecake Filling:

250 gm cream cheese, at room temperature
400 ml condensed milk
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp flour

1. Beat cream cheese with mixer until smooth. Gradually add condensed milk.
2. Add vanilla extract and eggs. Beat on medium speed till smooth.
3. Toss 1/3 of chocolate chips with flour. Pour this into cheese mix.
4. Pour mix into the cheesecake base. Sprinkle the rest of the chocolate chips on top.
5. Bake at 150C for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Turn off oven and leave cake to cool in oven for another hour.


Have a go at this recipe and let me know how it goes.

(But if you’re simply too buggered to bake a cheesecake, get some darn delicious slices from Moody Cow if you’re in Penang. Their salted egg yolk cheesecake is to die for. Parking is a terrible thing on Transfer Road so it’s best to go with a friend and you can hop into the shop and get your cheesecake fix.)

Next round, I’ll share my tiramisu recipe.


Bon appetit!

The Art of Marketing Yourself

May was an interesting month for me because I was asked to speak at 2 events. The first event was a forum where I was a panellist speaking on women entrepreneurship (will share about that in another post) while the second was a little less formal, where I spoke on the importance of marketing oneself.

incitement penang hin bus depot

Here’s me, the first of three speakers at The Incitement Penang on 29 May 2015 at Hin Bus Depot

The Incitement is made up of a bunch of young people – I say young because comparatively I feel so much older in their midst! They’re in their mid-20s with lots of passion and fervour for life.

I like their spirit. I like their concept for an event where 3 speakers each speak on something that aligns with the theme of the month. At the end of it, we all hang out and discuss ideas.

I decided to speak on marketing because I have been involved in marketing for a while now. Back then I didn’t know what I did was marketing.

I wished someone told me back then that it was important (far more important than everything else) to learn and cultivate a mindset of marketing. I learnt it my way, from observation, from starting my own women entrepreneur association, from talking to my clients, from reading business and marketing books.

I learnt it slowly, making the connections in my own way. I am that kind of learner. I need to stuff all the data into my brain, let it percolate and one day, I am all the wiser. I know. It’s like my brain needs its own time and space. I can’t hurry it.

The thing is, along the way I became a super connector.

I don’t know how it occurred but my own shyness helped. I started becoming the host, the event organiser, the go-to person.

Friends started saying things like, “You need anything, you go to Krista cos she seems to know everyone in Penang!”

(When I was 8 years old, I was already willing to help out my fellow classmates especially when it came to homework! My mum often chided me that my friend, A, should learn how to do her own homework than phone me and ask for the answers! I know. I was too kind for my own good.)

incitement penang hin bus depot

An interesting night for me

I make it my personal goal to know people and to be helpful and to find the goodness in everyone. That’s what marketing is to me. And it has helped me tremendously in getting known, being known and more.

So in my talk, I want to spread the message that the art of marketing is simply the art of un-marketing oneself.

When you’re not focusing on you, your own business, the products you want to sell, your own selfish motives, you stand out. You’re different, unique, special. Most people just want to sell you their stuff, without caring about what YOU want. That’s why marketing is always a game of shoving your stuff down someone’s throat.

That’s why most people proclaim to hate marketing. They think it’s sleazy, sale-sy and gives out connotations of snake oil sales men and such.

I think it’s tragic. It’s tragic because once you learn how to un-market yourself, you become a better marketer!

Below is the talk I presented at The Incitement Penang at Hin Bus Depot, an art gallery on Jalan Gurdwara (opposite Neo Hotel).


If your goal is to get ahead in your life and career, you must learn to market yourself.

When you market yourself authentically, you will be known, liked and trusted by friends and family.

You will be on the receiving end of opportunities of all kinds because friends and family will happily refer you, connect you to interesting people and projects. Most of all, people will be at hand to help you succeed.

But here’s what marketing yourself isn’t. Marketing yourself isn’t about being a boastful, annoying, irritating pest. It isn’t about you talking about yourself on and on at parties and boring half the room. It isn’t about you and what you do or have or accomplished. In fact, the power and the art of marketing yourself isn’t at all about you! Strange right?

By the way, I am sure you know someone like that. Someone whom no one wants to talk to because he or she is always talking about herself! They think they’re having a dialogue when in fact they are having a monologue!

So you must be thinking – if marketing myself isn’t about me, what is it then and more importantly, how do I do it if I want improve myself and be more successful?

I learnt how to market myself by not marketing myself. You see, I was a shy girl growing up in a small town in Selangor called Banting.

What I am going to share with you today comes from my personal experience over the years. Looking at me now, you wouldn’t think I’m shy. But I have learnt over the years how to market myself.

Marketing myself has opened doors like never before. For instance, I’ve met lots of interesting people. I have wonderful friends and amazing clients. I have contacts from eclectic, diverse backgrounds. I learn new things from all my contacts and I get help from them when I need help. When I organise events, I am never short of sponsors or helpers. When I send out emails, people pay attention and read them. When you go online, you can google my name and find out a lot about me. When I need help, friends rally around to help me.

Is this because I am extraordinary or special?

No. It’s because a long time ago, I learnt how to use my shyness to work in my favour. And I am going to share 3 important tips with you. I hope you will take this to heart because if you practise just 3 tips in your life, you will have all the people, resources and ideas you need.

The first tip is to be memorable. Being memorable gets easier if you start by remembering others! Whenever you meet someone, make an effort to remember their name. There is nothing sweeter to another person than the sound of their own name! The next time you meet them again, start by calling out their name. Plus learn how to spell people’s names. Nothing is more annoying that acquaintances who misspell your name!

For a lot of people, meeting people is all good and wonderful but nothing happens beyond that. When I say memorable, not only do you remember the person and details about him or her, but you’d also want to be memorable to that person.

When you remember them, they start to remember you! It’s odd but it works!

Here’s a story. As the co-founder of WomenBizSENSE, a women entrepreneur association, we hold monthly meetings where networking plays a big role. Our members attend so that they can meet new friends or potential business contacts.

But I have also observed that most people go for quantity. You can’t remember everyone you’ve met if you’ve just said hi and bye to 20 people.

I advocate going for quality contacts. When you go for quality contacts, you will meet fewer people and exchange fewer business cards but you will have a chance to know someone better. When you know someone well, you have made a connection.

But most people leave it at that. They go to a networking event, collect a couple of business cards and absolutely forget about the people they’ve met.

No one has ever told us what to do with the contacts we’ve met at a networking group.

Let me share with you an invaluable strategy. Whenever you meet someone, ask if they’re on Facebook or LinkedIn. If they are, add them as friends.

Continue that conversation online. That’s what social media is for.

From time to time, be useful. Email them to say hello. Email them helpful articles. Don’t spam them. Above all be the friend that everyone wants to have.

The second tip is to be mindful. Being mindful is about paying attention. It is about paying attention to your surroundings, the people and being present in all your senses.

Why is this important in marketing yourself? It helps you notice little things that most people gloss over. It helps you to be more present when another person is speaking. When you are more present, you listen and absorb.

There is nothing like the gift of attention in today’s attention-starved world.

When you are present, you look people in the eye and give them your full attention. People notice little things like this. The give of attention that you give to another person, just by being fully present, makes you a star, whether it is at work or in business.

The third tip is to be a matchmaker. I learnt how to be a matchmaker precisely because I was so utterly shy. I remember in my early years of networking, I’d feel so out of place walking into a roomful of strangers. I didn’t know what to say or do. I didn’t know the right questions to ask and I didn’t want to feel like I was butting into someone’s conversation.

But I am a huge fan of learning. Whatever I don’t know, I know somehow somewhere out there, there is a book for it. And the book I found was this book by Leil Lowndes called How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships.

It’s an amazing book which you can learn how to ask the right questions at events and parties.

But one tip which she gave and which I love is this: imagine you have a spotlight on your chest. When you meet someone, shine that spotlight on him or her. This means encouraging the other person to talk about what they do and all that good stuff.

I’ve taken it one step further. If you’re the host of the event, you must play matchmaker.

You scan the room and look out for that lonely guy or gal sitting in a corner, feeling all self-conscious and shy. They don’t know anyone and they don’t know how to start.

You go up to them and introduce yourself and then, you tell them, “Come and let me introduce you to this friend of mine.” No one says no to such an invitation.

You slowly bring this shy person to another person and introduce them. If you know enough about the other person, add in some details. Say things such as “Oh Elisabeth here has 2 young children just like you.” This gives them a sense of shared familiarity. They now have a common topic to start with.

Do enough of this and you will soon be well-known. You become the hostess with the mostest at events. In fact, if you know enough people and your social circle is large enough, you can play matchmaker at events that aren’t even your own! I’ve done this at events where I’ve connected friends from different industries together.

What I’ve shared with you is my personal 3M’s of self-marketing. I want to share one more – I consider it my 4th and most powerful M.

The 4th M stands for magnanimous. It comes from the Latin word – magnus which means great and animus which means soul. Put together it means great soul but to make it simple, it means being generous.

Being generous is what we all strive towards. We want to be kind, compassionate, benevolent, charitable, bountiful and big-hearted. If you want to be someone generous, start sharing and giving unconditionally.

This could mean passing along a helpful email or surprising people in good ways just because you can. This is the ultimate in being a star in selling yourself.

Everyone loves a generous soul. Don’t expect anything in return. If you expect something in return, you end up being calculative and motive-driven. And you become a grouch!

When people know they can count on you without you having an ulterior motive, they will happily refer you, recommend you and help you. Good karma begets good karma.

You didn’t need me to tell you that you should be memorable and mindful in order to stand out in your industry.

You didn’t need me to tell you that your job is to be a matchmaker at events you go to.

In fact you probably know all this by heart. I am just here to remind you that these are some of the important things in life that we all should remember if we want to live up to our highest potential.

All this is easy. What’s hard is this – implementation.

It’s easy to listen and nod but it’s really hard to put it into practice because we’re busy, we’re humans, we’re forgetful and we love doing easy things.

But nothing and no one gets very far in life without some form of doing.

Think of exercise. We know it’s good for us but sometimes it’s so easy to feel lazy about waking early for a morning jog. How about eating right? We know we should avoid fried chicken but it’s so easy to eat fried chicken, right? And so it goes.

But self-marketing is about having the discipline to put into practice what you’ve learnt.

It is only through practice that we all get better. I was a shy girl at 9 but I braved myself to join debates and speak publicly even though I was so scared inside. But to overcome our fear, we need to face it head on. When you face your monster head on, the monster shrivels and dies.

I’ve reminded you about some things and I hope I’ve ignited your interest.

So here are the questions only you have answers to:

How will you be memorable starting tonight?

How will you be mindful starting tonight?

How will you be a matchmaker starting tonight?

And finally, how will you be magnanimous, starting tonight?

Thank you.

incitement penang hin bus depot

The Q&A session at the end of the 3 talks


P/S: Why do I speak? I speak to spread my ideas and message. Most of all, I speak to improve my presentation skills. The more I speak, the better I get. Who likes speaking especially public speaking? Everyone has jitters, even the most seasoned ones. But I like challenges – and I am quite the Type A sort and like a friend told me, I am the Tiger woman (born in the year of the Tiger). Tiger women are damn ambitious. Nothing wrong with wanting to challenge myself. I am my own best competition. And I love pushing my limits and seeing how far I can go. If you’re asked to speak, always say yes. It is an incredibly interesting experience!

My Interview With Mak Lan of Lidiana

I interviewed Mak Lan of Lidiana’s in Tanjung Bungah for the 8 March International Women’s Day exhibition.

This is the full interview which I wrote up as a feature story, well, for myself. I did journalism in USM but I never worked for any newspapers so in a way, this is my way of keeping my chops lean and working. Enjoy!


Lidiana nasi campur Tanjung Bungah

My friend & photographer taking photos of Mak Lan

“I’ve been in this business for 36 years and I started due to poverty. Due to poverty, I will stand and work like the Chinese. And like the Chinese, I never give up.” 

The interview with Kak Lall Bee binti Ibrahim starts this way. And despite my valiant attempts to speak to her in Malay, she smiles and says she can speak English. And so the rest of the interview happens in English, a language that she’s comfortable with. 

“You know, there is this young Chinese boy who comes and talks to me every day. He is so amazed that a 60 plus year old Malay woman can speak English so well!” She laughs. Her eyes gleam impishly. 

nasi campur with ulam Penang

Nasi campur with fresh herbs and ulam

Kak Lall has come a long way from the days of being a divorcee with 3 children – 2 girls and a boy. 

“It’s a different kind of feeling when you’re a divorcee. It’s different than being a widow.” Her eyes soften as she says this. 

Today, she drives an SUV with the number plate PLA II. She cheekily remarks that the number plate spells “La ll” – her name. 

It is far removed from the days she started with a tri-wheel push cart, selling her nasi campur,  by candle light from 6am to 6pm everyday to ensure she had money for her siblings and her children. 

And she had 16 siblings to feed. These were the two simple reasons that made her start her nasi campur business. And in the early days, it wasn’t the bustling stall with workers busy frying chicken or dishing out piping hot nasi tomato. 

Malay style stir fried vegetables

Malay style stir fried vegetables at Lidiana

It was a simple push cart with some 10 dishes she’d cook with the help of her aunt. She’d set up her stall opposite the old Tanjung Bungah bus stand. She’d also sell by candle light. 

“I borrowed RM100 from a chettiar to get my business started. Every month I’d pay him RM20 in interest. Back then, RM100 was a lot of money!” she exclaims. Pointing to the fried and sambal-stuffed, plump ikan terubok (one of her bestseller dishes), she said that when she started her business 36 years ago, ikan terubok was only 10 sen each. Nowadays fresh ikan terubok costs RM60 per kilo. 

fried ikan terubok

Fried ikan terubok, a bestseller at Lidiana

Kak Lall says she managed to pay back her chettiar loan in 4 months. 

In the early 80s, it was rare to eat out. Tanjung Bungah was a quiet stretch, unlike today where it is peppered with hotels, apartments and restaurants. She often struggled to sell her dishes. Things improved considerably when the hotels started opening up, starting with the Rasa Sayang Hotel. Her customers comprised hotel employees as well as the Chinese who lived around the area. 

Later she’d move to where the now “tsunami flats” were.  

Back then, she’d open her stall from 6am to 6pm, making a meagre RM40 a day. She’d go to the wholesale market at midnight, buying fresh produce like fish and vegetables. She’d come home, sleep a few hours and wake up at 3am to prepare her dishes with her aunt’s help. 

When the food court (where she is now based) was built and opened, she decided to rent a proper space at RM100 per month. 

At this humble and nondescript Medan Selera, she recounted that her business in the first year was bad as her regular customers couldn’t find her. 

Over time, they discovered her stall and business resumed its brisk pace. Until today, the majority of her customers are Chinese who live around the Tanjung Bungah area. Each Raya, she invites all her best Chinese customers to her open house to thank them for their support. 

She has so many Chinese customers eating at her stall that many out of town people have asked if the stall was started by a Chinese. 

Kak Lall laughs and believes that her dishes are of quality and with plenty of good variety. That’s the reason why her customers return again and again. Although she isn’t hands-on in the kitchen now (her daughter Nordiana has taken over from her mom), she still visits the stall every day to check on the quality of the food. 

“My specialities are my kerabu, black chicken and fried terubok. You know, a few months ago, a TV crew from the UK came to film me making kerabu mempelam. Their chef wanted to learn how it’s done.” Kak Lall points at the black chicken, a dish of sticky, sweet and savoury chicken slow cooked for 5 hours. If the food is not cooked well, she sends the food back to the kitchen. 

“I don’t know what to do if I retire! I am so used to being here, at my stall. If I don’t work, it’s hard to pass time!” 

Lidiana has about 30 dishes and more laid out in typical nasi campur style. A good many were stir-fried vegetables and ulam (fresh basil, fresh mint, cucumbers). Her nasi campur stall now opens from 7am right till 9pm daily (except Sunday). Her employees start to prepare and cook at 4.30am in order to open for the breakfast crowd at 7am. 

Customers lining up for lunch at Lidiana Tanjung Bungah

Customers lining up for lunch at Lidiana Tanjung Bungah

What is striking is that the dishes are cooked in small batches, ensuring as Kak Lall says, quality and freshness. As we talk, her employee (and this is quite interesting – her employees are all women) scoops up a batch of fried chicken from a hot kuali. Dishes are replenished quickly. Kak Lall tells me there is a particular Australian gentleman who buys and eats 8 pieces of this fried chicken from her stall daily! 

Lidiana, the name of her business, comes from the names of her 2 daughters, Nordiana and Lidia. At the moment, the business is run by her daughter and her son-in-law. Her grandson, she says, is interested in the business. A lanky teen, he was seen discussing what to buy and how much with his grandmother, as a catering order from a Chinese customer comes in. 

“Prawns are expensive these days but my Chinese customers still want to order prawns.” When I told her that Chinese love prawns for their symbolism, she nods. 

Despite the rise in fresh ingredients, Lidiana’s has never raised its prices. 

“You know how expensive red chillis are these days? But we still make our sambal belacan every day. We may not make as much money but it’s OK, give and take some.  It’s nonsense when people say you can’t make money in the food business.” 

Many of her KL and Johor customers have no problem hopping on a flight to Penang just to eat at Lidiana. As her food prices are reasonable, many of them would even tip her employees saying that they would never be able to get such good food at such prices in their own cities. Lidiana is packed during school holidays with customers lining up beyond the gate of the food court. On Fridays, Lidiana serves a special dish – nasi tomato and dalca. 

I also note that she’s an astute business woman. As the food court gets unbearably warm during noon, Kak Lall invests in cooler fans and places these strategically at her stall so that her customers can eat comfortably.  

lidiana tanjung bungah nasi campur

Lidiana’s is open 6 days a week and is Tanjung Bungah’s best place for nasi campur

She reveals that her mother was a good cook and her sisters also have their own food business in Tanjung Tokong and in town. 

Lidiana also does catering and special side orders if advance time is given. Some dishes are not on the menu but can be ordered by special request such as crabs. 

“I am thankful to God for good health, strength and determination,” Kak Lall says. She also says that the food business is a good business to run because of the cashflow. 

She claims she had little education but upon probing, I found out that she had studied in Convent Pulau Tikus up to Form Three. Her eyes grow a bit misty as she talks about how race relations have gone badly. An elderly Chinese lady, clearly a customer, comes by and pats her back. Kak Lall seems fond of all her regulars, whispering to me that the lady was a widow of a rich towkay. She comes by regularly to eat at Lidiana. 

“You should see my business on the first day of Chinese New Year,” Kak Lall says. All the Chinese patrons who grew up with her food would come with their families. 

“Many people tell me, it’s hard and tiring running a food business. I say, how can you be tired? I was a one woman show when I started. I did the marketing and cooking and setting up stall. I had to drive to the wholesale market at midnight, and start cooking at 3am. It was like this, day in day out.”

“A woman can succeed because she has responsibilities. I’ve seen men who run food businesses. Once they get a bit of money, they tend to spend it all either on gambling or other activities. Over time they’ll spend all their money and then stop running the business.” 

“In life, one must struggle against all odds, yet you have to be honest and live up to your own expectations.” 

I ask her about travel. This feisty lady has travelled for her umrah, and happily recounted that she’s visited Israel, Turkey, Jordan and China. She thinks she wants to visit India and Syria. A moment later, she shakes her head, “Syria is too dangerous now to visit. Maybe India is better!”

As the fourth child in the family, she was considered one of the elder siblings. When her sisters were about to marry, she’d always help out with the marriage expenses, noting sensibly that a woman should never start her married life with debts! 

In retrospect, Kak Lall’s determination seems to stem from her divorce. 

At the end of our interview, she pauses a while, collecting her thoughts. Finally she says, “I want to advise divorced women that a divorce is not the end of the world. It is not the end of the world when your husband leaves you.” 


Lidiana is at No. 5, Arked Tanjung Bunga, 11200 Tanjung Bunga, Penang. They open everyday, Monday to Saturday, 7am till 9pm (closed on Sunday). They do catering for private events too (please call Mak Lan’s daughter, Nordiana at 016 415 8686 for enquiries). 

Of Unseen Faces, Unheard Voices

I wrote the below on 8 March but only published this today.

All photos below were taken by Hau Chern, who also took part of the photos for the Unseen Faces, Unheard Voices exhibition. I was waiting for his photos to include with this post.

Look out for Part 2 for the interview I did with Mak Lan of the famous Lidiana nasi campur in Tanjung Bungah.


I worked on my birthday which was 2 days ago. I don’t normally do this because each year I try to give myself a break and a pampering session. After all, I work pretty much all the time even if I am nowhere near a computer.

Well, it was for a good cause.

I was preparing and revising some 100+ slides for today’s International Women’s Day celebration. Mariam had roped me and 3 others into this mini photo exhibition of hers in early January. I thought it’d be fun to try out a project. I am crazy like that. I like challenging myself. Yep, the madness of me.

A photo exhibition of 5 women food vendors of Penang

A photo exhibition of 5 women food vendors of Penang

When we first got together like a merry band that we were, we had no clue what we were going to do. We talked about it and finally settled on women food vendors.

Given that we were all working (with the exception of Mariam who is a retiree), it was crazy juggling our timelines.

We had to factor in Chinese New Year (and that all of us would be away or busy), the availability of the women hawkers we wanted to interview and photograph and of course, our team’s schedules (one team member had some major upheavals in his life while all this was happening but he was such a team player and did his best and another team member went MIA for a bit).

We did pull this off even with budget constraints. (Yay to resourcefulness!)

visitors to our unseen faces unheard voices exhibition at whiteaways arcade, beach street

People who turned up to view the slide show

What was supposed to be a super mini photo exhibition turned out to be quite an interesting project – something which we all learnt from.

We focused on women because of International Women’s Day and also at the same time, food because Penang is a food haven.

But how many times do you truly appreciate the hawker who makes and serves the food you love so much? (As an aside, you must read my curry mee vendor who died but that is a different story. Still, that incident reminds me that we should never take our food vendors for granted.)

What do you know of your favourite hawker?

What is her story?

Do you know her as much as you know her food?

Well, that is what our photo exhibition titled “Unseen Faces, Unheard Voices” tried to capture in its totality. Remember, we had limited money to print up the photos. So we turned the rest into a slideshow, to explain more of the story that these 5 women were telling us.

Everything came together excellently despite the paltry funding we had. That’s how I came to work my butt off on my birthday when I should’ve been having a facial or a pedicure or a foot massage.

Bah, the things I do.

But the reaction of today’s audience to the slideshow and the photos reinforced my belief that our work did mean something. Of course, many became utterly hungry after watching the slideshow – after seeing huge bowls of curry mee, nasi campur, Hokkien mee, vadey and more, who wouldn’t? Some told me they were going to try out the food.

post it note messages

The encouraging comments penned by the public

I think the title’s apt, thanks to Jana. These women food vendors finally had their stories told. I always believe that each one of us has an interesting story to tell. And we assisted them in telling their stories of resilience. The life of a hawker is unbearably tough but these women are stoic, accept their circumstances and do the best they can. Do they want any help from the Government? No. Do they want any perks? Not really. They do what they can with what they have.

The "unseen faces, unheard voices" team - from left: me, Jana, Hau Chern, Mariam and Sandra

The “unseen faces, unheard voices” team – from left: me, Jana, Hau Chern, Mariam and Sandra

I made sure I was at the exhibition today, mainly because I wanted to gauge the reaction of the people who visited and viewed the slideshow. Many were positive with their comments which they wrote on Post-It notes and stuck to the comment board.

One lady even told us that we should make this into a coffee table book, highlighting even more women hawkers.

Krista Goon and Nic Sim and Janarthani Arumugam

I’ve known Jana since I was in Standard 3. We’ve done school projects and debates together. This time, we did a photo exhibition.

Jeya, the vadey lady attended today’s exhibition with her daughter, Sandra. She was pleased to be the subject of an exhibition and as a thank you gesture, she brought piping hot vadey for everyone.

As an aside, I am sometimes taken aback by some people’s reactions. I spoke to a 40-something engineer about these women hawkers and he said, “Why is it always about women, women and women?”

I replied carefully, keeping my voice even, “Because it is International Women’s Day and we’re celebrating women’s work and efforts”. This outburst was so uncalled for that I was a bit pissed. What’s wrong with celebrating women? Then again, some men have a chip on their shoulder. They may be jealous of the attention that we women get. They get upset that there’s no worldwide celebration of International Men’s Day.

Jeya, vadey seller

Jeya, second from left, in front of her photo. She came with her family to view the slideshow.

On another note, I met an 80-something gentleman who, after watching the slideshow, advised me to interview the woman who sells spices and curry paste in the Pulau Tikus market (apparently her business allowed her to send her two children overseas for their education). He also said that we should also record an interview with Jimmy Choo’s mentor, an old man who used to run a shop in Muntri Street but has now relocated to Kimberly Street. His elegant wife pulled me aside to inform me that the shoemaker’s custom shoe price is getting higher and higher each year!

The exhibition and slideshow is still going on at LUMA Gallery, Whiteaways Arcade until 31 March. On 1 April, we’ll put up the slideshow online so you can view it too.

Never mind, I’ll put it at the end of this post so you can view it. After all it’s only a couple of days before 1 April. I might forget!

whiteaways arcade, george town, penang

We’ve decided to add on a few more women food vendors plus I managed to get some photographers interested to help us with Phase 2 of the project. A foreign artist was also enamoured by the kuay teow th’ng couple – so much that she wants to paint them as a mural somewhere in George Town!

Honestly, I am satisfied that this pilot project touched so many Penangites in so many ways. It’s not just about the food we crave but also knowing the stories of hardship and toil of the common man and woman makes us appreciate our food heritage more.

unseen faces unheard voices exhibition penang

Here I am talking to people and getting their feedback on the exhibition

I don’t know where this project will lead us but I am sure we will continue recording these stories. Part of what makes Penang unique is our mixed bag of stories intertwined with our favourite food. I believe honest stories like these are far better than pretend critiques of food! (Most people don’t critique anyway – otherwise they won’t get called back for another food review!)

If you’re a storyteller or a photographer or just eager to help in any way, join us in documenting our food heritage!

Nic of Redbox Studio

Yes, I got Nic to help me out too on the exhibition day. That’s what husbands are for, right?

If you’d like to participate in this project, please write to Mariam at ufuvpenang@gmail.com

We need people who can speak the local language, ask questions, write, create slides, take photos and more.

Enjoy the slideshow below! And leave me some comments too – I’d want to hear what you think!