The Discomfort of The Edge

I wrote this piece for a book project that is soon to be published. When I met Vern last week, she asked me when my next (promised) blog post is coming up. I had a few lined up but when I saw this, I believe this is worth sharing. At least to kickstart 2018.

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I’ve always believed that you can only grow when you are pushed to the edge and feel extremely uncomfortable. If I look back at the incidents that shaped my life, I’ve usually had to face discomfort, fears and doubts.

And I haven’t always been a risk taker. I haven’t always been brave, optimistic, confident or assertive.

In fact, I grew up introverted and shy. Whenever my parents’ friends visited, I’ll be the first to run and hide in my room. When people spoke to me, I couldn’t even make eye contact and I had to brave myself to speak up.

It wasn’t for a lack of ideas – I was a bookworm since I was 6 – but I was self-conscious.
Everyone says they were shy as children but I was more so with my short sightedness, awful hair and skinny frame. I hated being in the spotlight even though I often was, as my dad was the school’s discipline teacher. In fact, I was just another mediocre girl in school!

When I was 10 years old, I decided to put some effort into my school work after almost failing my Math test. I had cringed when I showed dad my Math results and wished the earth would swallow me up then and there.

The acute embarrassment and discomfort made me promise myself never to be caught in such a situation again. I started to systematically organize information so that I didn’t have to memorize facts like the rest of my friends. I came up with my own system of writing notes. With my own mind maps, I could recall vast amounts of information and I could write, explain and expound my points of view. When I discovered I could be good at my studies and ace exams, I felt confidence seeping into my life.

Admittedly, when we’re more confident, we start to explore other areas of life. When I started getting A’s, I felt more capable and I started braving myself to do other things in school – I disliked public speaking but I signed up for the school debate team. When my best friends and I started representing our school in inter-district debates and started to win, I found myself relishing the idea of standing up and speaking in front of an audience.

Interestingly, sports was still an area that I feared. With that little spot of confidence that I had, I tried out for the school hockey team. I wasn’t good at it and I despised running around in the scorching sun but I wanted to give myself a chance to see if I could do well in it. And so it is with many things in my life.

That’s how I ended up in business. I always tell friends that I have never even considered being an entrepreneur – I was always going to climb the corporate ladder. But life has an odd way of turning inside out.

When I was bored with my corporate communications career, I returned to my alma mater, USM, to do my Master’s degree. But sitting still has never been my strong point. I ended up helping my husband in his web design business (which eventually became mine as I became his business partner).

Initially, I had no idea what web design was. I had no design nor programming knowledge but I am an optimist. Whatever I didn’t know, I read. I googled things up. I figured it out on my own. I started becoming interested in all things web design and I learnt how to market our business.

A friend said that she could see I was passionate about marketing. I said I had to learn how to market because I had to sell our web design services and I had to be faster and smarter so that I could help our clients.

That’s the same “can do” attitude that I had when I co-founded a women entrepreneur association called WomenBizSENSE with Josephine Yoong back in 2006. We both laugh now when we think about our naivete but it is precisely our naivete that enabled us to start something that has endured until today.

We had both been looking for a women entrepreneur group to join but we didn’t find one that suited our inclinations! Instead of bemoaning the fact that all the interesting women’s groups were in KL, we decided we’d start one based on the criteria that we wanted.

On many levels, it has been challenging. I was its president for 4 years and in that span of time, I’ve had to lead a disciplinary committee, manage conflict within the organisation and engage in the most unpleasant tasks (such as removing a member from our organisation due to integrity issues). Again, it’s being pushed to the edge that makes me stronger and more resourceful!

When my mentees come to me, I often throw them this question – “What’s the worst that could happen if you made this decision?” If the consequences aren’t going to be deadly, just take the leap. You’ll learn to swim when you hit the deep end.

Many of us will always have doubts about ourselves. We fear what others will think of us. We want people to be happy with us but sometimes, this fear holds us back from doing what we truly are meant to do.

When I quit my corporate communications job, my dad was worried about me. He had never known anyone to quit a well-paying job only to leap into the unknown (he had always been a teacher and being in business was as risky as not having a job!). If I didn’t take the risk back then, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now (or have the adventures that I have had!).

Inevitably, I try to be the voice of courage for my mentees and constantly push them to excel beyond what they think they are capable of. I was so proud of Janice, my mentee when she managed to connect her CEO to someone from The Star. The Star then invited her CEO to speak at their business event and she was the catalyst that made this happen. This wouldn’t have happened if Janice didn’t push herself.

The previous Janice would have thought, who am I to bring together my CEO with The Star? I encouraged her to think bigger and ask, what if good things happen as a result of the introduction? And good things did happen. And her CEO now looks at her in a totally different light. He realises that Janice is not just any ordinary employee.

Too often, we don’t have enough cheerleaders and we don’t believe in ourselves. And too many people are pessimistic (think Eeyore the blue, sad donkey in Winnie The Pooh) and think of all the ways things can go wrong which is why many people often have dreams but don’t go after them.

All of us have this ability to go beyond who we are today. Sometimes we need someone by our side to keep pushing us forward and to keep reminding us when we get lazy or slow down.

I was fortunate that I had many mentors in my life. Mrs Prema, my English language teacher when I was in Form 1, believed in me and told me to continue excelling in English. Mr Raju, my English tuition teacher, encouraged me to write more.

Mr Kana, my Math teacher, was tough love but he rooted for me even though I thought Math was the death of me in Form 3.

My dad, who quietly encouraged my writing and essays throughout my teenage years and who even helped me type up my stories for contest submissions!

My best friends, Tammy and Jana, who thought I was the smartest and funniest girl in class when I felt otherwise.

My late mum, who always thought her eldest daughter could do anything even when I vacillated between wanting to study law (no doubt influenced by LA Law on TV) and wanting to be a copywriter (no one knew what it entailed!).

It takes a village of cheerleaders to help you realize your potential. I had been fortunate because I had the right people around me.

But what if all you have are critics and naysayers? What if you had an Eeyore in your life?

I had a Geography teacher in Form 1 called Mrs Teoh who disliked me intensely. Do you know how devastating it is to find out your teacher disliked you as a teenager? But I used her dislike of me to prove that I could do so much more.

There is nothing like hate to spur me on. The more someone says I can’t do something, the more I’d take it on as a challenge and prove the person wrong.

Until today, I keep challenging myself.

I have always wanted to publish a book. I put my persistence to the test in 2016 when I co-authored a book with my husband on web design and marketing (what a long way from not knowing anything about web design to writing a book on this topic!).

This year, I want to write another book – one that’s non-fiction but one that’s about advice and strategies for people like my mentees. I also want to start a podcast. I have many personal projects lined up and I need to carve out time to do them all.

I also took on mentees despite having a busy schedule because I know how important it is to encourage women and help them fulfil their potential and then get them to pay this forward by imbuing others with this confidence.

I also started a project of saving books and creating opportunities for people to do charity because I felt that there must be a way to prevent books from going to the landfill. I do all these things because I like seeing how far I can go, how creative I can be and how resourceful I can become.

And of course, I also took on the task of producing a book together with Emi and Josephine (we hope it gets published by March this year) – we volunteered our personal time to interview and write stories of women leaders because we believe Asian women have their own perspectives on “leaning in”. We met up and spoke to a number of fantastic women leaders in Penang. Their stories are inspiring as well as emotional.

Was it a tough project? Yes. Was it agonizing? For sure.

The discomfort is real but each time I face my fears, my fear monster shrinks a little bit more.

In my life, the more I do, the more I know I can do. I just need to try my best. Not all things work in my favour (if it did, I’d be invincible or Wonder Woman, both of which I am certainly not). I am terrible at some things – I can’t moderate a forum if I don’t have a rapport with the panellists, I am hopeless at logic puzzles, I can’t sew a straight line and I am bad at following up.

But I stopped bashing myself and what I am bad at, I either get help or eliminate them from my life. Plus it always helps to have a sense of humour.

Marianne Williamson says it best (and I love this paragraph – it always lifts me up!):

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

And now go out and do that badass thing that you do so well.

Good Intentions, Damn Unwilling

I had good intentions. I really did.

I wanted to write a lot about my Taiwan trip and look where that got me.

I wanted to do so much more and tell you all the exciting things I did in Taipei but I decided to write this first and then do a backtrack later to the Taipei/Alishan Mountain/Chiayi posts when I am freer (OK, now that last bit sounded too much like a joke!).

Has it been that many months since I blogged?

I feel guilty!

And I’m a writer. Writing is in my blood.

But I think it’s because I’m a writer that I stopped blogging for a long while.

Heck, I even stopped going for my facial and just resumed last week and my facial therapist was like, “The last time you were here for your facial was February!”

Luckily she didn’t reprimand me as my skin, despite 10 months plus of so-called disregard and wear and tear, seemed quite all right. I didn’t make that up. Elly the therapist told me so. She sounded utterly surprised that my skin was still supple after 10 months of not doing proper cleansing and masque.

Well, I still adhered to my Human Nature Malaysia jojoba moisturiser nightly. I still adhered to my facial gua-sa (not as regularly as I should be doing it and I even have a reminder in my iPhone!). I also discovered argan oil on a jaunt to one of the shops in George Town and have been using it for my facial spots.

I also am still using this jar of gooey moisturiser (Cosrx’s Advanced Snail 92 All in One Cream) from Korea courtesy of my cousin. This gooey cream is made from snail secretion. Don’t ask me why I slather this on my skin at night but I do and I feel superbly moisturised.

And I have one more secret to share – konjac facial sponge.

You can get this anywhere but I found the most reasonably priced ones are sold in Daiso but not all Daiso sell them so you have to look around. I use it on my face and the buffing motion helps to smoothen skin. Maybe that’s why. (By the way, don’t worry about clicking the links in my blog post. They link to real blogs with information, not some affiliate page.)

So yeah, as I was saying, as a writer, I write daily. Just not on this blog. I write so much daily that sometimes I get quite fed up with writing!

That is why it’s like pulling molars if I have to sit down after a long day’s work and type away at the blog.

And then there’s Instagram and Facebook. I find myself posting more often on these 2 platforms as I’m doing it on my phone while waiting for people or entertaining myself. After all the hashtags and captioning over there, I suddenly find myself too lazy to say the same darn things on the blog.

It’s like the moment has come and gone.

(Or maybe I have too many moments that I can’t seem to catch up with!)

Hence, the long silence. Interminably long.

I’m going to try Marsha’s method. That woman whom I have known since 2001 or so (yeah we go way back when the Internet was just a mere toddler in Malaysia) is a blogger unsurpassed. She is a full-time writer and yet manages to put up post after post almost daily! I salute her.

She’s a mom of 2 sons and has a full-time writing career while doing yoga, housekeeping and more. If this busy woman can blog so often, who am I not to emulate her?

So I will endeavour to blog a little each week and maybe blog in the early part of the day when I am fresh and preppy. Not at the end of the day when life is practically sucked out of me.

While I go and prep myself for 2018 and at least a weekly blog post, tell me if you’re blogging and what keeps you chugging.

A Monster Called Allopurinol

This year has been positively crazy. I’ve seen the insides of the hospital far too many times and I am sick of it.

I just got home to Penang last Friday after some 12 days in Banting. I had gone home to take care of my 74 year old dad who had been hospitalised.

He had developed pustules on his face and rashes all over his torso and limbs suddenly. His eyes were red as if he was suffering from conjunctivitis. His lips bled. He was fatigued.

Initially, my sis thought he had one prawn too many at a friend’s son’s wedding banquet dinner. I thought the same too.

But seafood allergies do subside within 1-2 days (I should know, Nic has seafood allergies that make him itchy all over so he stays away from prawns and crabs, especially softshell crabs).

Finally my sis took my dad to the private clinic and they quickly referred him to the general hospital in Banting. From there, they quickly transferred him to the hospital in Klang (HTAR) where he was promptly put into the isolation room of the ICU ward.

In the end, it wasn’t the seafood. It wasn’t an infection. It was a drug allergy. My dad was seriously allergic to allupurinol, a type of gout medication. He was given this medication because the doc said he had gout.

If you google allopurinol, here’s what you’d find on Wikipedia:

Allopurinol, sold under the brand name Zyloprim and generics, is a medication used primarily to treat excess uric acid in the blood and its complications, including chronic gout. Allopurinol has rare but potentially fatal adverse effects involving the skin. The most serious adverse effect is a hypersensitivity syndrome consisting of fever, skin rash, eosinophilia, hepatitis, and worsened renal function. Allopurinol is one of the drugs commonly known to cause Stevens–Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis, two life-threatening dermatological conditions.

Note the words I’ve made in bold.

My dad was diagnosed as suffering from Stevens-Johnson syndrome or SJS for short. SJS was caused by the medication given to him by his doctor. I am not going to scare you  by putting up images of patients with SJS. Please google these images on your own.

My dad had hallucinations during his stay in the ICU ward. He felt terrible all over. He couldn’t eat properly as his lips were bleeding.

Now here’s the best part: did my dad actually have high levels of uric acid in his blood?

From what I gathered from my conversations with him, he just told his doctor he was experiencing some pain in his leg. And the doctor gave him allopurinol which gave him SJS which made him suffer 16 days in the hospital (10 days in the ICU staring at four walls and a stupid clock and 6 days in the general ward, surrounded by dengue patients).

My problem is this: why did the doctor prescribe him allopurinol just because he said he had some pain in his leg? I find that a lack of wisdom in doctors a frightening thought. My dad was one of the few who’d been rushed to the hospital quick enough to get help. What about others? What about others who aren’t so lucky to live near a town with hospital facilities that could help? What about those who shrugged off the rashes and fever and didn’t seek help?

This isn’t the first time I am angry at public healthcare. Granted, my dad was treated well in the ICU ward. He had a nurse stationed near him all the time. He was closely monitored and given the attention he needed. I wish I could say the same of the nurses when he was transferred to the general ward (when his condition stabilized and his ICU bed was urgently needed by some other patient). In the general ward, you’re a blip on the radar. An unimportant blip by the way.

My dad in the general ward. His friends came to visit and cheer him up.
My dad in the general ward. His friends came to visit and cheer him up.

Things got so bad at one point that my sis and I went to the First Class ward to find out if there were any available beds! You see, my dad was supposed to be transferred from ICU to First Class. Yet they didn’t have beds in the First Class ward so he was temporarily brought down to the general ward.

The general ward was, as I later found out, a dengue ward. Patients with dengue are given beds in this ward. The nurses rush about but nothing ever happens. The doctors (young ones, perhaps on housemanship duties) walk about checking patients’ files and scribbling furiously in each one but they never came around to update me about my dad’s health status.

My dad was wearing diapers and each time he soiled them, he felt so bad about calling the nurses to help him change. At one point, I almost lost my temper as he had been in his soiled diapers for 45 minutes and no nurse came around although they were all at the nurses’ station some 10 feet away! I kept pressing the button over and over, showing my displeasure.

What kept me sane was that I knew my dad was going to be discharged and this would soon be over. These encounters with public healthcare will be over soon, I kept reminding myself. I don’t need to see any of these doctors (not that they were seeing or talking to me).

The day my dad was discharged, I was relieved. He was pleased to be going home. I was happy he was going home. I had spent the last 12 days being a care-giver, cook and driver which isn’t the easiest job in the world. When my sis went off to teach, I’d wake up and cook porridge, mostly vegan, for my dad. I’ll then pack them into two portions, one for lunch and one for dinner. I’d use thermos containers as I needed the porridge for his evening meal to be warm, even at 6pm.

I’ll then drive 40 minutes from Banting (where we live) to the Klang hospital and feed him his lunch around 1pm. When visiting hours ended at 2pm, I’ll grab lunch at the AEON Bukit Tinggi mall which was 10 minutes away. It came to a point that I was so freaking bored of the cafes at AEON that I didn’t know what to eat! Even now I can close my eyes and see in my mind’s eye the cafes and fast food chains in the mall and nothing would interest me. Around 4.30pm, I’ll drive my way back to the hospital and pray I’ll find a parking spot. The Klang hospital is always abuzz with visitors so their car park is always full and I’ll have to encircle the area a few times before I’ll find a spot.

I’ll then spend the next few hours talking to my dad or feeding him his dinner. And at 7.30pm, I’ll drive my way back to Banting, braving the after office hours traffic as well as all the lorries and trucks that are going down to the Teluk Panglima Garang FTZ area. I’d reach home about 8.20pm and I couldn’t even think of dinner. I was dead tired and I knew I had to go through the same thing again the next day.

When he was in the ICU ward, it was a climb of 10 flights of stairs! The ICU ward was on the 5th floor but the hospital elevators were so old and slow that it was always faster climbing the stairs! When my dad was in the ICU, all of us including my 13 year old nephew huffed and puffed ourselves up the stairs twice a day. It was a great cardio workout though. My calves and thighs got firmer so at least there’s some silver lining there.

The good thing was, I started becoming more creative with my vegan porridge. I tried to incorporate as many healthy ingredients as I could. This was where my SoupQueen experience paid off. I cooked with fresh wai san whenever I could. I put a medley of vegetables into my porridge – all nutritious stuff to help his skin heal from within. Carrots, pumpkin, corn, mushroom, goji – they all went into the porridge. I became quite a pro at making my porridge too.

I also discovered that mung beans were excellent for clearing toxins in the blood and so I made mung bean dessert. (The doctor was telling me my dad had sepsis – toxins in the blood – and I knew that TCM or Traditional Chinese Medicine would have a solution in the form of food. Yes, my mantra is – let food be your medicine.)

When he was in the hospital, I made him a plethora of fresh fruit juices. I also gave him plenty of Yakult to replenish his good bacteria – all those antibiotics he took probably zapped the good ones dead.

When he was discharged from the hospital, I made him lots of watercress soup with lean pork and carrot. I made sure he ate lots of fruit too.

The weirdest thing was, I was quite all right when I was attending to my dad for the 12 days I was in Selangor. The moment I flew back to Penang, I developed a fever!

But I am thankful that episode is over and done with. I wanted to write this blog post because I want you to know that doctors do make mistakes. Their mistakes create plenty of suffering and pain for their patients. It shouldn’t have happened. It could’ve been fatal for my dad. He came this close to death just because some stupid doctor played God with medication.

I’ve been fortunate that among all my sisters, I am the only one with enough time flexibility to go home and care for my dad. My youngest sis had to work (she’s a teacher in a Chinese school and that says a lot as Chinese schools are slave-drivers) and my second sis who works in Singapore couldn’t take leave. So it was up to me – the one without a boss – to figure things out and help my dad the best I could. That is perhaps the best reason for entrepreneurship. Freedom of time.

 

 

 

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 (you can buy the print version or ebook version here). 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.

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.

 

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).

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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!

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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.” 

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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). 

Living On One Dollar

Nic and I watched an interesting yet thought-provoking documentary last week called Living On One Dollar. The one-hour documentary chronicled 4 American boys, in their early 20s, who decided to spend their summer in Guatemala – living in a village of 300 people atop a mountain. The village people didn’t speak much Spanish but communicated via a local dialect.

The reason these boys  – happy, optimistic fellows – did this was to research if it was possible to live on one dollar a day. They had learnt about this fact in their studies and with funding, decided to experience if this was indeed possible as 1.1 billion people around the world did earn one dollar or less a day and managed to survive. 

Sean, Zach, Ryan and Chris recorded their 56 days via video as well as journals. They decided to also draw a number, any where from 0 to 9 each day from a hat. This number represented the amount in dollars they could spend that day, assuming that was the amount of dollars they had earned that day. 

They also wanted to lease a plot of land, a small piece, just to plant radishes. This satisfied their need to know what it took to be farmers, as most of the villagers grew their own produce for sale. One woman grew onions while others grew other crops. 

As much as the research factor kicked in, reality also dawned on the four of them that it was not easy subsisting on a few dollars a day. On the days they drew 9 which meant they had $9 to spend at the local market (which was a bumpy truck ride down the mountain), they bought firewood, beans, rice and bananas.

What initially started out fun (eating plain cooked black beans and rice) turned out to be dreary and you could see it as the gaunt faces of the 4 boys became more evident day by day. 

One of them also contracted parasites in his intestines which gave him stomach pain and gas! 

On days they drew zero which meant zero income, they started to feel like the villagers – hopelessness. When they spoke to the villagers, they realised that most of the villagers depended on farming and they depended on their children to help with farming. Thus, a boy called Chino had to stop school because his father couldn’t afford to buy school books – he was asked to work in the plots of land which grew produce for the family’s subsistence. 

When 12 year old Chino was asked what he wanted to be, he answered that he wanted to be a farmer. Upon probing, he finally said he wanted to be a pro soccer player. 

Some of the villagers also remarked that it has hard not to feel tired or lethargic – all they had sometimes was salt and tortillas for their families. The better-off ones like a 24 year old family man called Anthony (because he had a job in town as a cleaning person) could afford to cement the floor of his home. Small improvements like this helped to prevent water flooding their houses when it rained. In most villager’s homes, such as Chino’s, the floor was just plain mud. 

Anthony’s wife, a 20 year old, was already a mother. She had harboured dreams of becoming a nurse but had to stop schooling as her family couldn’t afford to pay for school. It was tough being poor as she said she didn’t have the nice dresses to wear to school and it made her feel bad. She seemed to console herself that it was just as well she stopped schooling. 

But she did the next best thing. 

She took a loan from the local Grameen bank to start her weaving business and started using the profits to slowly fund herself through classes to see if she could get a licence as a nurse. 

One of the American boys went to the local bank to find out how or if the villagers could get a loan. What they found was that the bank set such high criteria that the poor villagers could never afford to get a loan! Luckily there was the Grameen bank which gave small loans to the village women to get their small businesses started. 

Now what got me thinking was – why was it that women had the brains to think of starting a small business while the men didn’t? Apparently, women are the best people as Grameen loaners – they did not default and were reliable enough to pay back their loans in small instalments. And what do the men do?

This documentary was touching because not long after, I had tea with Jana, my bestie from school who had now relocated to Penang. She works for a regional NGO called PANAP involved in helping ensure our food sources are clean and safe. In other words, pesticide-free food, food that was not genetically modified and food that honoured the farmers, the people who cultivated our food. 

She had just returned from Nepal where she did a short program with the children of a Nepali school called Snowland Ranag Light of Education School. This school is in Kathmandu and offers education to the disadvantaged children of the 13 districts of the Upper Himalayan region.

The school was founded by Guru Ranag Tulku Rinchen Rinpoche who is also known as Dolpo Buddha in 2002. He believes that education improves lives and started this school in Budhanikantha, Kathmandu. 

The brochure notes that: “Life is hard for the 5.85% of Nepal’s total population of 26, 494,505 people living in the region. Income generating activities are very low and literacy rate is also very low ie. 52.67%.

“Cultivatable land is very little and whatever pastoral land there is used for cattle grazing. Lack of communication and transportation has made the region inaccessible….children are compelled to work wit their families to provide more hands with little knowledge that education could provide them with the means to a better future even in such challenging condition.”

The school offers free education thanks to the donations from well-wishers and supporters of Dolpo Buddha. 

Jana tells me that the children have had to trek for one month to reach the school! The children live at the school as their homes are just too far away. When I heard she was going to this school in Nepal, Nic and I asked her if she could bring two boxes of Faber-Castell gel ink pens for them. 

More than 10 years ago, Nic had backpacked to Nepal and he had seen how everyday items we take for granted, are in much demand. Items like sewing needles, pencils and pens. We didn’t want to overburden Jana’s luggage with too many things so we figured two boxes of pens would be light and easy. 

As a child, I used to write with red pens, copying the answers from the borrowed library book “Tell Me Why” into my battered school exercise book. I didn’t know why I did that but the memory of writing down words thrilled me to no end. 

I was gratified to hear that the children were indeed pleased to be gifted with pens. They used the pens to draw and write. But most of all, the children made us two simple gifts – friendship bands! I was deeply surprised at their gratitude. After all, the pens were a simple, inexpensive gifts from Nic and me. 

But it also dawned on me that what we take for granted – black pens, going to school, a cement floor – were important to most people whose lives are challenging. 

Just like it is challenging to live on one dollar a day. 

I think it isn’t just in Guatemala. I bet you there are Malaysians who are also poor, living hand to mouth. 

But I am always thinking: what makes one person get out of poverty while the rest don’t? Do they need money to get started? Or they need something other than money? 

The other thing I am always thinking and asking – would it help if people had role models? 

I’ve learnt a lot from House of Hope, a drop-in centre in Rifle Range which provides food and assistance to the people who live in Rifle Range particularly the children, single moms and the elderly. My WomenBizSENSE members hold annual parties at House of Hope and this year, we’re doing a steamboat dinner for the elderly on 13 February using funds that we have accumulated under our Social Responsibility fund as well as donations from generous friends and members. 

Many of these children come from broken homes – they either only have their mother or if they don’t have parents, they live with their grandparents. Some of the children are bright but they lack opportunities. 

One of the opportunities is the access to role models. I’ve felt that role models can be a catalyst, that one spark that could transform someone from never aspiring to much to someone who is excited to follow in the footsteps of her inspiration. 

I am still tinkering with this idea. Based on my networks, I know I can easily get people, from friends to clients, to give talks to these kids as a way to open up their worlds and most importantly, their minds.

You can only be who you want to be if you know it can be done. You need to know that someone just like you has done it. You need to know you’re not the only one forging the path.

I once remembered Nic and I talking to 4 teenagers – 3 boys and a girl – what entrepreneurship was about. They were off to college soon but they weren’t quite sure if what they wanted to study was important or worth it. One boy quietly noted that he was going overseas to do medicine because his father chose it for him! If he enjoys medicine, he’ll be an inspiring doctor. If he despises his chosen field, his parents will be disappointed. 

Yet all of them expressed surprise that business could be a viable option besides the traditional occupations – doctor, lawyer or engineer. A degree is always important but what you do after you complete your degree is as important too. After hearing us speak so excitedly about our business and the principles we hold, they now knew that (small) business wasn’t always about the boring stuff. 

Part of what my blog does is my own self-reflection – to note down my ideas and perhaps to connect with people like me who want to do better for our community. 

I don’t want you running off to Guatemala to help; in fact, my friend’s spunky daughter joined the Raleigh Project in Sabah last May and had a grand time helping build water pipes for the villagers in Sabah.

Can you imagine that 50+ years after Merdeka there are still villages in Borneo without proper access to something as basic as clean water? (And here I am dissing the slow Internet speed!)

Anyway, Sher Ryn had such an incredible learning experience that she gathered a group of friends (which included her mom’s friends and that meant Nic and me) and had a small presentation where she showed us photos of her month-long trip and what she learnt from her jungle experience.

The expedition influenced and touched her immensely. She saw with her own eyes, how getting water was never easy and what piped water could do for the kids and families of that Sabahan village. She learnt how to understand the quirks of other people – people of other nationalities who joined the expedition. 

I know she’ll do great things in time to come – she is such a fireball of energy plus she has amazing attitude – and she is an inspiration to me! She’s only 20 but she had the guts and the spunk to rough it out in the jungles of Sabah. 

But more than that, she has supportive parents. I know Peter and Fidel, her parents, and they’ve brought her and her brother up to be spontaneous, well-mannered and considerate young people. Fidel even backpacked with her daughter to Myanmar! 

Anyway, part of why most people feel disconnected and bored stiff today is that they’ve never thought about anyone but themselves. They’ve never realised how fortunate they are. They don’t know how the rest of the world lives. They don’t see the world, cliche as it may be, from another person’s viewpoint. 

When I was a Girl Guide back in my secondary school days, I went for a week-long camping trip – a jamboree in Templer’s Park with Girl Guides and Scouts from all over Selangor. During the entire camping experience, we had to do our “business” in a large trench about 5 feet deep. We squatted on planks placed across the trench. The four corners of the trench was covered with tarpaulin – sans roof. The sky was our roof. You never want to look down into the trench. We liberally sprinkled baking soda over our poop once we were done. My bestie tried not to go to the open-air toilet because it stank badly. 

The trip was eye-opening. At least for me. I never took my bathroom for granted ever again. 

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Find out more about the documentary at www.livingononedollar.org 

Find out about the Snowland Ranag Light of Education School at www.srleschool.edu.np or email: db.rinpochetrust@gmail.com