Ini Kali Lah

If you read my blog closely, you know I am highly opinionated. I have raised some ire in the past with my strongly worded blog posts. I have been naughty like that.

But it isn’t just about being naughty. Or wanting to be controversial. If you know me really well, I am a bit of an introvert.

I am shy. I still am shy. But sometimes I cannot be shy about things I care about.

My country, for instance. And that is why I have been feverishly excited about this Sunday.

Nic wearing his Ubah hat at Wisma DAP

Nic wearing his Ubah hat at Wisma DAP

Sure, it’s the day we Malaysians go out in droves to vote. I’ve  voted twice. But there has been NOTHING like this 13th General Elections. Nothing so electrifying, nothing so powerful and inspiring.

I decided to walk my talk by signing up as a Polling Agent and Counting Agent (PACA) under PKR. However I am told I am the backup of the backup. Which means my service to my nation may not be needed.

Still, there’s something unequivocally powerful about signing the pink form. (I told the PKR guy that everyone should undergo PACA training because it’s educational even if they never become PA or CA. It clues people, especially first time voters, on what they should do and their rights as voters.)

I was there on 6 March 2008 (celebrated my birthday by attending a DAP ceramah and sitting on the field of Han Chiang School) and I remembered the first SMS I got from my friend CC the moment Pakatan won Penang on 8 March 2008 – “How’s Penang? Are there any riots?”

I smile at that memory because everyone elsewhere was so excited for Penang and DAP’s tsunamic win. That was sweet victory. When the horse you back wins, you win too.

We all won in Penang. We won a better Government of the day.

Nic with his hero DAP's Hew Kuan Yau aka Superman

Nic with his hero DAP's Hew Kuan Yau aka Superman

Is it perfect? No. I still think some of those involved should take some public speaking lessons. Some of them make me cringe when they open their mouths to speak. Those who are excellent are truly excellent. Like Jeff Ooi for example. His BM is as good as any Malay! And he can speak in English and Mandarin too.

What I do know is this, they try. They try to make things better. They sometimes make mistakes.

Do I agree with everything? No. If I did, I’d be a puppet. I’m not a blind follower. I know that 56 years of rubbish can be hard to undo. So let’s be patient while they learn the ropes in becoming a good government. At the very least, they know we hold them to higher standards.

With a tonne of Penangites at the mega ceramah at Han Chiang School

With a tonne of Penangites at the mega ceramah at Han Chiang School

And despite the crap you hear, read and see fron BN running down Pakatan and DAP, I say this – everyone I know who’s either visited or lived in Penang will admit, Penang is much cleaner now.

A Singaporean friend who is married to a local says that she can see the difference. Her mom who visits yearly from Singapore can also see the difference.

Plus I am infinitely proud that Penangites are getting greener day by day. Ours is the first state to have the guts to ban polystyrene and plastic bags. We’re so used to carrying our own shopping bags whenever we go shopping or buying food using our own stainless steel tiffin carriers. And recycling has become a way of life for Nic and me. We save up bits of paper and plastic and send them for recycling at our neighbourhood Buddhist Tzu Chi Recycling Centre. To date, we’ve composted every bit of edible we use in our kitchen. I throw out only 1 bag of rubbish per month!

That’s not all.

For the past 5 years, I’ve been in direct contact with my DUN for Pantai Jerejak, Sim Tze Tzin. I have his phone number, I can tweet him, I can call and ask him any question.

This time Sim is running for a Parlimentary seat and I fully support him because he’s not just someone I can get easily if I have an issue, I know him to be an honest guy and someone who can represent us all when it matters.

People power at Pakatan Rakyat's Penang ceramah

People power at Pakatan Rakyat's Penang ceramah

A couple of years ago when I lived in Bukit Gambir, there was this BN guy whose face you’d see plastered on billboards but you’d never see him in real life. It’s as if he avoids his constituency like the plague! How do you serve the rakyat when you’re never communicating with the rakyat? How do you show concern and care when you’re hardly around? Or are you too busy hobnobbing with your bigshot MCA friends to care?

I’ve spoken to Sim, I’ve seen him at our Taman events, I’ve seen him take that “I’m-a-regular-guy” approach and that’s what we all want our leaders to do, right? Not drive by in flashy cars with tinted glass. Not see you once in 5 years to shake your hands and say, “Vote for me please”. I don’t need leaders like that. Speaking of which, I tell Nic that if I see that MCA guy Wong Mun Hoe coming around to Taman Sri Nibong, I’ll ask him some questions. Some really tough ones.

Unfortunately until today (which is about 3 days more to the Big Day), I haven’t seen the likes of him! But his face is on the big billboards around our Taman. How can you bloody expect people to vote for you when you don’t even turn up to give a ceramah and show us what makes you different? Though given the lousy leadership of MCA right now, Wong may be hardworking and good but it won’t make a difference. Look what happened to Ong Tee Keat!

(UPDATE: BN did manage to turn up last night and set up its ceramah tent at the basketball court in Taman Sri Nibong. Unfortunately only a handful of people turned up! And it ended in an hour. Bah. And Wong Mun Hoe talked about his own sob story of how he went back to do his MBA when he lost in 2008. How do I know? I sent Nic to spy on the event hahaha.)

A sea of Malaysians waiting for true change

A sea of Malaysians waiting for true change

But what really warms my heart is this: when I see Chinese uncles carrying PAS flags and Malay girls waving DAP flags. During the massive mega ceramah at the Penang Esplanade some two weeks ago, it was like a carnival! Chinese folks were buying PAS flags!

This is incredible given that PAS has always been a bit of a thorny issue for Chinese. PAS is that last frontier that we have to cross. When we can accept and overcome that psychological fear, there’s really nothing to fear. If you can face your mambang(s) head on, when you can stare Disgusting Old Fear in the eyes and spit between those slimy eyes, you can do anything. That spirit of oneness is the biggest fear of the current ruling coalition. They can spout stupid 1Malaysia slogans but they can NEVER achieve the real one-ness that comes from the real hearts of Malaysians.

That’s why they need to spend millions on Youtube adverts, sponsored posts and sponsored stories, text messages, billboards, blue flags, free Vietnamese beers, free buffet dinners, lucky draws, concerts and more.

The blatant in-your-face money politics and media bias make us all mad. So yeah, the more blue flags you stick on the ground, the more reasons I have to despise people who spend the rakyat’s money like water.

I don’t really care much for those who support BN. I don’t know why people who are supposedly smart can support racism, cronyism and corruption. I despise deeply that logic that if you don’t like Malaysia you can go back to China or India. Only the very lamest people can use this line of argument. And like Datuk Ambiga says when someone yelled at her to “go home”, she didn’t miss a beat when she retorted, “I am home!”

But I say this, and I say this loudly, if you have a conscience, if you have kids, if you have an iota of true Malaysian spirit in you, you will know who you’ll vote for this coming Sunday.

P/S: I am hoping to pop some champagne on Sunday night – so really, cross our fingers and let’s vote for real change!

How To Spend A Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday.

Amethyst ring

My amethyst set in tarnish-resistant silver… one ring to rule them all ha ha or bling the hell out of people!

I am officially 39 years old.

One year before I turn 40. Yikes.

But inside I feel like I am just 30 (OK, OK, we all feel like we’re younger than we really are, right?) though sometimes my energy levels tell me, OK, maybe not.

As a Piscean, I am one heck of an introspective person. I like being calm, contemplative and sifting through memories to see how I’ve grown, hopefully mentally and not physically.

I can’t believe I once wished I was 60 kg.

No kidding. When I was a child, I was skinny. Really skinny.

Whatever I ate sort of left nothing on my frame. Hence, I was really thin and people often asked if I ate at all. I wished someone told me that the pounds would be piling on my frame once I hit 30. Yes, the pounds did. They came with a vengeance. Everyone often told me how lucky I was to be able to gobble up food and not show a single bit. Well, those were the days.

I blame metabolism. I had a gungho metabolism in my teens and 20s and now that metabolism has left.

Anyway, metabolism aside, each year, I take time to journal and compare notes.

Like what mattered to me last year. Did it still matter to me this year? What did I achieve in a year’s time?

At the heart of it all, I love seeing growth. I love seeing growth in my thinking.

One of my thoughts is, over the years, I have become comfortable with myself.

Until and unless you are comfortable with yourself, you will never be able to rejoice in your own successes. You will always judge yourself harshly.

You will always be wishing for something else instead of thanking your lucky stars you are you.

(Reminds me of that movie, The Love Guru, where Mike Meyers who plays Guru Pitka says, “GURU stands for Gee,  U are U (you are you)”. Love, love, love that movie!)

To say that I love journalling is a major understatement. If you know me well, you know the written word is crucial to me. I have loads of journals. Friends buy me journals. I have more journals than I know what to do with.

So I spent a good part of my birthday doing what I know best – journalling.

Jim Rohn, an American motivation speaker, often said that a life well-lived is a life worth writing about.

If your life matters, make sure you write down your innermost thoughts. A year from now, you will be amused or sometimes awed by the thoughts you had.

Our lives these days fly past in a blur of people, motions, experiences and at times, I feel overwhelmed by all the demands of everyday living. My escapes are journalling and reflecting. Of late, I have picked up crochet again. Crochet is meditative (at least to me) and my latest project is a mandala crochet.

I had a surprise (and early) birthday celebration back home with my niece, nephew, sisters and parents when I was home in Banting about a month ago. That was fun. As I grow older, it really isn’t about the cake or the amethyst ring (which I got as a present from Nic, though it gives me such pleasure).

It’s about having good relationships (with my husband, family, good friends) and knowing I matter in their universes.

So tell me, my friend, how about you? How do you spend your birthday?

Crocheted mandala

My mandala crochet project, recently revived. Pardon the uneven stitches. 


My paternal grandma passed away on 2 February, a week before Chinese New Year. That’s why this year’s been the lowest-key Chinese New Year I’ve had in a long, long while.

Granted, my grandma, Madam Chin Pek Lam, was 95 years old.

She was bedridden, had to be bathed and fed mushy, blended porridge. She couldn’t recognize her children or us, her grandchildren any more. She seemed contented to stare into space, emptiness living in those eyes.

Of course she wasn’t like this all the while.

Some 10 years ago, she was still happily going to the Batu Lanchang or Chowrasta markets and after shopping for the day’s fresh produce, proceeded to sit in a coffeeshop and have breakfast with my Third Uncle. He was her official “driver”. He drove her everywhere.

When my grandma was still alert, she’d cook us such wonderful Toi Shan/Cantonese dishes.  One of which is one I miss dearly is a braised fresh ikan terubuk with salted black beans and bittergourd. I bet my uncles miss this classic dish too. Ikan terubuk isn’t for the faint hearted. Its sharp bones are pronged but this fish tastes like the sweetest heaven.

And she was the last of the living grandparents – her husband/my grandfather died when I was 3. Then my grandfather and grandmother on my mom’s side died within years of each other some 6 years ago.

The only word I could think of was bereft. That word lingered in my mind for the longest time.

Bereft is like the breath that is sucked away. A vacuum even.

Grandma was the anchor of our lives, believe it or not.

She was the reason for my childhood holidays – the kind where we’d pile into my dad’s grassy green Mazda and endure the 6 hours of coastal roads from Banting to Penang.

We knew when we reached Penang – the Penang Bridge would loom in the distance and we’d be all cheers as we crossed it. The bridge was tinged with a personal pride too as it was built by my grand-uncle, Tan Sri Datuk Professor Chin Fung Kee who was such an illustrious yet humble man (and who was the brother to this grandma of mine).

We’d spend most of our December school holidays in my grandma’s double-storey semi-detached house in Green Lane. There’d be food, soups (my fondness for soups originated from Grandma’s charcoal-boiled soups), cousins, picnics to Miami beach on Batu Feringgi, going to the wet markets of Chowrasta and lots of steamboat dinners.

I even chose to come back to Penang after my SPM exams to work in a kindergarten for 3 months because I loved being in Penang so much!

So holidays, Grandma, Penang and food were often coloured with exceptional memories.

That’s why I felt bereft when my grandmother breathed her last. She had difficulty breathing and for two weeks prior she had refused to eat.

Her death brought a lot of reflection. Especially for me.

Going back to my grandma’s house now doesn’t feel the same now.

In so many ways, she was the glue that kept us all together. She gave us all a reason to return to that house my grandfather bought some 40 odd years ago.


That’s how I felt when she passed on.

What’s Up With Today’s Youth?

I wanted to write about so many other (better) things – like the short lil trips I made and the fun weekends I had BUT this bugged me to no end. I refuse to be a food blogger (half of them don’t have an opinion except that it’s tasty or it’s yucky anyway) so I shall be a general blogger. After all I started this blog to humour myself and to see how I’ve grown over the years.

And so, it brings me to a few things.

Today’s youth.

Man, do I sound like a gripey old lady. Someone who read this blog told me I sound like an American. Uh uh, I don’t know if that’s good or bad. And that person is a European who lives in the USA!

With the exception of a few youth I can count off my fingers, many whom I come across are those who either apply to become interns at our company or who want to join us as employees. In recent years, we have tried to be good and accept interns but sometimes an internship at Redbox Studio can be detrimental to their lives.

Oh I don’t mean we endanger them in anyway. No way.

It’s not the physical that’s endangering. It’s the mental input. Or maybe it could be physical.

After all, if you’re used to the kind of laidback work style in our office where there’s no telephone* (the Telekom kind) to be found and we totally bar people from barging into the office to the extent that we’ve set up a Tech Tuesday consultation session, it can be weird going back to regular offices with regular rules and regulations.

*we disconnected our telephone when we got one too many silly “Can I book a karaoke room?” requests each Friday evening. Without fail. Can you imagine that? Anyway our clients know our mobile numbers so taking off the landline was just a way to stop the phone ringing with mad requests. Being associated with Redbox Karaoke can be funny at times (and works as a mental hook to get people to remember us) but sometimes, it’s NOT that funny.

And we “feed” them with some ideas that won’t sit well later if they join the regular nine-to-five.

Like our beliefs that it’s your results that matter, not the number of hours you put in.

Or why we’re always improving our own systems and processes.

Or why if a piece of work doesn’t pass muster, it won’t get to the client.

Or why clients don’t bug us – unlike some agencies we know.

We don’t run around like headless chickens and a good day is a day where we are all happily doing what we need to do, instead of being dictated by the clients. Which to our good fortune, we don’t have those sort of clients. We used to but we pushed them all away so that they can annoy the pants off other people.

Yes. We do have some quirks, yes sir we do. But then again, a business should be doing what you like and creating success that you can live with.


We thought that getting interns could help THEM more than they could help us. These days, I can vouch that the quality of interns have dropped considerably. Many cannot speak English. Many have such limited worldviews I wonder what they really read, if they read at all.

(Did I tell you that we actually “fired” two interns from a local college last year? Of course their college lecturer called up to ask why. The two interns were never interested in their internship anyway and one even took time off during the middle of a work day to go fix his car! Best of all, they had the cheek to ask for an extended holiday after one entire week of Chinese New Year break.)

January’s the month for some local universities to send their students out to get internship placements. Last week I received one application via email.

The weirdest thing is, it came with 2 CVs and 2 resumes.

Can you guess what it was about? This girl not only sends in HER CV and resume, she sends it in on behalf of her friend!

So when she called up today to ask if I got her email, I asked if her friend had any problem that prevented her from emailing in her own internship application.

“Oh we think if we email it in together, we can get the internship together.”

What’s this with interning together-gether with your friend? What’s wrong with a little independence? Why must you intern with your friend? Are you that scared? What of?

Interning on your own gives you opportunities to explore and learn. And meet other people.

I’ve met some stupendously confident young people (and I know a couple of brilliant young girls whom I’d be proud to mentor) and I’ve been so proud of them. And then I get emails from university students who think internships are kindergarten all over again.

Damn, I am glad I am Gen X.

I wasn’t super confident as a 22 year old but I was confident enough to intern on my own at Hewlett-Packard (now Agilent) without needing a friend as a support. I was confident enough to make new friends on my first day of practical training (that’s what internship was known as!).

If anyone can tell me, is today’s youth a result of being mollycoddled? I am all ears!

When Your Trash Saves Lives

Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang

Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang

While I try to have a variety of topics in our business blog, I am also that anal sort (yes, slap me) who wants a blog post that is befitting of a business blog, one that’s thoughtful and not written just because I have to spit something out on the blog.

That is certainly not my style.

Which is why sometimes, just sometimes, I have too many things and topics to write about but not enough time to do so. Ah… the bane of 21st century living!

Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang

A separate kitchen/pantry for volunteers to take a rest and have a snack or tea

But this blog allows me to ramble along – knowing that friends like you will forgive me if I ramble too much and get too “cheong hei”.

A few months ago, our  Taman Sri Nibong Residents’ Association hosted a short briefing by at the clubhouse for the volunteers of The Buddhist Tzu-Chi Merits Society.

Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang

A bunch of us from Taman Sri Nibong visited to get a better idea what the centre does

To cut a long story short, the Tzu-Chi folks are proposing to convert an old, abandoned food court in our taman into a recycling waste sorting centre. It is by no means an easy or cheap endeavour.

It means taking up the entire food court area of 10,000 square feet and doing what’s needed to make it into a place where residents can come, drop off their recyclables and get an education about reducing the wastefulness of our daily lives.

Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang

Different categories of recyclables waiting for manual processing

And they need to pay a fee to MPPP to use this abandoned food court.

Now what’s interesting is this – the money generated from recycling will be used to fund the Tzu-Chi Dialysis Centres (they have one in Gottlieb Road and another in Butterworth and they have plans to build another centre by next year). Tzu-Chi Dialysis centres are free for kidney patients. Yes, that’s right. Free.

Recycling areas clearly labelled

Recycling areas clearly labelled

Like all communities, you will get people who are downright rude and negative about change. Any change.

Anything is to be feared even before they hear why it’s needed.

The thing that plays in their heads is that tune they choose to hear.

Volunteers comprising elderly folks sorting out the different papers

Volunteers comprising elderly folks sorting out the different papers

And funnily, even another well-known social organization started joining the fray, saying that THEY should be given the priority to manage and turn the the abandoned food court into a library and community centre.

This organization which shall be unnamed (because it will certainly shame some people who’ve always associated this organization with good community work) had the cheek to say that they want to give back to the community here. They had 2 years to raise the funds to do something but never did. Not until Tzu-Chi came along and said they wanted to do something. All of a sudden, this other group felt threatened!

The recycling centre brings senior citizens together to contribute to their community

The recycling centre brings senior citizens together to contribute to their community

Anyway, I think many of them felt afraid that a Buddhist a.k.a religious group was coming into Taman Sri Nibong. All the silly comments from some residents just makes me feel that religion makes us all suspicious of each other.

Donated computers and monitors to be refurbished and shipped to Myanmar for a second lease of life

Donated computers and monitors to be refurbished and shipped to Myanmar for a second lease of life

That aside, Nic and I had to go see for ourselves a real working Tzu-Chi recycling centre in Taman Lumba Kuda. A bunch of us residents turned up on a Saturday afternoon to listen and understand how the recycling centre handles its waste as well as re-educate the people about recycling.

A thriving garden in the Tzu Chi recycling centre

A thriving garden in the Tzu Chi recycling centre

We saw a pleasant, quiet and green environment where volunteers silently sorted out the different piles of recyclables. Even with the paper category, there’s white paper and coloured paper. Above all, it was clean.

Tzu Chi recycling centre penang

Another angle of the garden

They even grew a garden around the recycling centre. It resembled quiet, restive area for communities to mingle, talk to each other and help sort and re-bundle trash.

Tzu Chi recycling centre penang

Here's a water garden!

They even accept old PCs and clothes. The PCs will be refurbished and sent to Myanmar. Many internal parts of the PC can be reused.

Tzu Chi recycling centre penang

Vegetable garden within the Tzu Chi recycling centre

The key to Tzu-Chi is education. They start with cultivating that spirit in all that they do. And unlike most Chinese organizations, theirs is done with style. Have you noticed how beautifully elegant Tzu Chi books and packaging are?  I am often delighted at their products because they do pay attention to design.

[Update: Here’s something to cheer about. After all the hullabaloo, Tzu-Chi managed to get approval from MPPP and the relevant authorities to rent and convert the old Medan Selera into its recycling centre. They fenced it up  and by 18 November (yes, this Sunday), the Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre in Taman Sri Nibong will be operational. Please support this centre with your recyclables.]

Tzu Chi recycling centre penang

What you cannot recycle!

All You Need is Belief…and Hope

I’m a big softie.

Actually so’s Nic.

Whenever we hear stories of underprivileged kids, we get pensive.

I was at House of Hope on Saturday with the gals from my WomenBizSENSE group to do our yearly community project. Each year we pick a home to visit. It so happens that this year, we decided to visit House of Hope again.

House of Hope gives children a chance at their future

House of Hope gives children a chance at their future

House of  Hope isn’t an orphanage. It’s a drop-in centre for the kids who live in the Rifle Range area of Air Itam. It also feeds the elderly (they come in with their tiffin carriers to bring cooked food home).

It’s open all week, from 9am to 5pm.

For those not familiar with Penang, Rifle Range was one of the earliest low-cost flats catering to the working class.

House of Hope toy library for play therapy

The toy library with contributed toys

I was there early so I spoke to Olivia, one of the directors. This amiable woman showed me around, explaining what they did.

House of Hope computer room

The computer room with computers contributed by well-wishers.

The first floor has a toy library, a computer room (with old donated PCs) and a therapy room.

House of Hope kids enjoying their lunch

Never knew a burger could mean so much!

“Why therapy?” I ask.

Some of the children have been abused and a therapist comes in regularly to help them. They engage in art to express their feelings. I saw some of the artwork when I was at the House of Hope charity lunch at Parkroyal Hotel about three weeks ago.

The children who did manage to express themselves often drew in dark, sombre colours. One drew himself perched off a tall building, almost at the verge of jumping off. Many of them are poor, with one parent either in prison or come from broken families. Many of their parents are single parents, ekeing out a living by working shifts hence they are not home all day.

Downstairs houses a large space for group activities and a tiny art room. The kids, she tells me, love doing colouring and making handicrafts. They often squeeze into the tiny air-conditioned room. They’re also teaching the children how to grow vegetables like okra.

Okra plants

House of Hope is experimenting by growing vegetables - teaching the kids as well as hopefully giving the adults a chance at supplementing their incomes

“The kids don’t want to go home in the evenings. They still hang around even when we close the centre at 5pm.”

She said that it was very good of us to get McDonalds to sponsor burgers for the kids that Saturday. They had often written to McDonalds but never got any reply.

House of Hope Penang kids

Children will be times boisterous, eager to play and happy for simple things

“Sometimes I pity them. I take them out for dinner before I go home. But sometimes there are like 9 kids in my car. I can’t buy them burgers all the time.”

In fact, she gives them a simple dinner, sometimes roti canai, sometimes rice with dishes. And with plain water. They know they cannot order soft drinks or cold drinks.

They’re happy even with such simple food.

Some of them, says Olivia, don’t dare to go home to an empty flat. There’s nothing to eat at home. They don’t even have a fridge!

Some go to school hungry.

Thank God they can have a meal when they get to House of Hope after school.

I nodded. It takes perspective like this to realize how fortunate I am. I don’t much fancy burgers unless I have nothing to eat. And here are kids whose parents are too poor to buy them food, not to mention fastfood.

A teenage girl of about 16 I spoke to later told me she liked KFC. Her father left the family while her mom, a dialysis patient, struggled to support the 4 siblings on welfare money. This family of four girls and their mom really made me stop and think.

The four of them regularly come to House of Hope.

I asked if she lived in Rifle Range.

House of Hope kids

These two girls were very cute!

She was politely shy, shaking her head as her huge eyes stared back at me.

“We took the bus. About 20 minutes. Not far from here.”

Her youngest sister, Mages, was 10 going on 11. She was lively and cheerful, smiling each time I asked her a question.

When we asked what she wanted to be when she grows up, she softly whispers – “Doctor”.

I ask if she’s afraid of blood. She shakes her head while her eldest sister smiles.

And what do you want to be, oh eldest sister? The lanky girl in her white punjabi suit says she has dreams to be an aeronautical engineer.

Jo and I smile. We tell them that anything is possible.

Anything is achievable. You just have to believe and have someone believe in you.

Isn’t that so?

Note: If you want to donate to help or sponsor a family or even a child, you can do so here. It can be as little as RM50 per month to give a child some pocket money to go to school with, and to be taken to school in a school bus.

Homegrown Heroines

You know me.

Despite my gregarious and oftentimes open personality, I am really shy.

Penelope Cruz on Sept issue of The Malaysian Women's Weekly

Penelope Cruz on Sept issue of The Malaysian Women's Weekly

I was an excruciatingly shy girl while growing up. The only way I shone was through my academic results. Even so, my pride is often mixed with a kind of shyness.

I don’t know how to react when the spotlight is on me.

Crazy as it sounds, yes, that is me.

But I have no problem shining the spotlight on people. In fact, I love doing that.

So where’s this post going? I interviewed Alex many moons ago for our business blog and I thought that was that.

It was not to be.

She came back to me a few weeks after that, asking to interview little old me!

She was doing a feature on 3 Malaysian women who were “women with heart” and one of them was to be me.

Oh gosh!

It was a little follow up to find out what the women of the Great Women Of Our Time Awards were doing after getting nominated for the award. (My claim to fame was in 2008 and if you missed that post, you can check out the glamour me four years ago. I had so much fun during the photo shoot in The Westin KL and the glamorous gala dinner where Ning Baizura sang and I was all goggle-eyed.)

I was in superb company in this September 2012 issue of The Malaysian Women’s Weekly – there I was with Bilqis Hijjas (the president of MyDance Alliance) and Leela Panikkar (co-founder of Treat Every Environment Special or TrEES).

Krista Goon featured in the magazine

Here’s an even funnier aside: two months ago, a local Chinese newspaper (Guang Ming Daily) here in Penang decided to interview me and a few ladies from my women entrepreneur group. It was supposed to be published before our anniversary luncheon happened but you know, you can’t rush the media.

They have their own deadlines. So when the feature on WomenBizSENSE finally got published in its entire full page glory, we were mighty pleased BUT none of us (with the exception of Cecilia) could read Mandarin. That was all of one day’s happiness – great publicity for us as a group and great publicity for us individually.

A few weeks later, there I am in my tatty shorts and grungy t-shirt buying vegetables in the Lip Sin market when the auntie who sells vegetables told me she read the interview in Guang Ming!

Her daughter-in-law mentioned that her mom-in-law (this vegetable auntie) recognized my photo in that article! I must say this lady’s eyes are sharp.

However, being in the media has its cons too. The day our feature came out in Guang Ming was the day a woman from Sungai Petani called me asking for a loan. It seemed she read about our women entrepreneur group and thought we’d be easy suckers!

She gave me some strange tale of being broke, having two kids in college and get this – the Ah Long were chasing her to repay her loan and could we or our group loan her some money?


She kept calling me until I told her that we don’t give loans and I would get her the number of a local ADUN help centre so she could get proper help. She stopped calling after that!

That was the only weird incident.

Most times, the publicity has been great and allowed me to get slightly known. I’ve always been grateful for the media limelight (many thanks to writer friends like Alex and more) because media exposure always helps promote and publicize our business!

Idol Worshippers

I was at the Buddhist Tzu Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda (behind Shang Wu Primary School opposite the Penang State Mosque) a few weeks ago. It was a warm Saturday afternoon which made people lazy to go out.

Nic and I were there to see for ourselves what a successful recycling centre looked like.

The area we live in, Taman Sri Nibong, had received a proposal from the good people at Tzu Chi that they wanted to turn an abandoned food court in our residential area into a recycling centre. Tzu Chi would pay MPPP a rental to use the premises. They did a presentation a few days before that to let us know what their plans were plus answer any questions or doubts.

I like Tzu Chi, not least because they’re a Buddhist organization. They are an amazing example of what good things can be done if done right and with compassion. The way Tzu Chi is run can put many conglomerates and businesses to shame; they have such integrity, such intelligent systems and their inspiration is truly awe-inspiring. (Another Buddhist organization worth mentioning is The Kechara Group. Love, love, love their work.)

Another group had also wanted to turn this old food court into something else. I shall not name this group but they did nothing after proposing their idea for all of two years. When I was in the RA Committee (and that was 2 years ago), I had heard of the big idea but nothing came about. Naturally we all assumed this other group had lost interest or had no funds.

So now that Buddhist Tzu Chi had an idea and proposal, this other group gives an ultimatum – “take our idea and benefit this entire taman or go with Tzu Chi” assuming that only THEY could do something good for this area – when they had remained so quiet for the last 2 years. Humans are so bloody predictable. Give them a bone and they will fight like dogs.

And these are grown men and women!

Some say that a multi-purpose hall is better (so let’s tear down the old food court). Some say a recycling centre is dirty and will attract strays. Some say a library is even better (oh dear, in this day and age when even adults don’t read and we expect kids to go to a library?). Or a coffee corner. Someone even said, why don’t we ask someone rich like Vincent Tan to give some money and turn it into a hall.

Oh so many ideas.

Anyway, that has yet to be settled. While the arguments zoom back and forth, there’s an elephant in their midst. No one wants to say it but the taman residents are afraid Tzu Chi will turn Taman Sri Nibong into a temple or something. Or proselytize and turn us all into Buddhists.

The people who make bold accusations like this did not attend the Tzu Chi presentation nor did they make the effort to visit the recycling centre in Taman Lumba Kuda (which is clean and quiet and gives the entire community a place they can gather!). They sit behind their PCs and spew forth such illogical statements that it makes me wonder – why are certain Christians so afraid of Buddhists?

I am a Buddhist and I can tell you this – we do not go around proselytizing because we’re not about saving your souls. Your soul is yours. It is your karma to have your soul. It gives us no credit to save your souls.

So there. I’ve said it. No offence to Christians – I have plenty of Christian friends, OK.

Plus my sister is a Muslim. Yup. She is. My own blood sister. So yes, I do know what I am talking about.

In fact, I have been asked again and again to join Christian groups on pretext of going out for dinner/party/fun.

My neighbour Vern and I have a secret code for this -“porridge group”. I told her this story – when I was in USM as a freshie, all naive and young, my senior approached me and asked if I wanted to go out with her friends for porridge. I was not feeling too well then, having just recovered from chicken pox, so porridge sounded divine (and campus food was always spicy and curried).

I didn’t know it wasn’t just porridge.

After our dinner at a nearby hawker centre, she drove us all to her friend’s house. A big group had gathered.

“Oh, we’re going to watch a movie and sings some songs, that’s all,” said this senior to me. I was lucky my roommate was with me. She was just as confused as I was. Maybe we looked too heathen!

The movie was about Christ and how he died for our sins. The songs were songs of praise with live guitar music. It was practically a cell group meeting for all I know.

We couldn’t even walk out of the house as we had been driven there and out of politeness, had to wait until the 2 hours were over before we were taken back to our hostel.

I felt so cheated and so angry. I never spoke to that senior again. If only she had clued us in, at least we would have had a chance to decline or if truly interested, to say yes.

But to induce two girls and bring them to a cell group meeting on the pretext of going out for dinner was the cheapest of all cheap tricks.

I always tell people I meet that religion is deeply personal. What you do in your personal life is between you and God or whomever you believe in.

Whatever religion you belong to, be the best follower of that religious teaching.

I studied in a Methodist school. I know the Lord’s Prayer – I had it memorized when I was 10 when I was searching for some sort of religion to cling to. I grew up with a best friend who is deeply religious – a Catholic where I had joked “Nothing comes between you and Jesus.”  I tried attending Friday sessions at the chapel in my school. But nothing.

Religion is an affinity. I had none with Christianity. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect it as a religion. When I came to USM and learned the Dhamma, it felt like coming home. It fell into place for me.

Many friends became Christians after years of praying as Taoists and Buddhists. It’s OK because they finally found what they were looking for.

But to presume that Buddhists are all out to convert people is wrong.

Have you ever seen a Buddhist giving you a pamphlet and saying “If you’re free, why don’t you come to our service this Sunday at 1oam?” or “What are you doing this Sunday? Would you like to join us in worship?”

So for all our corny slogans of 1Malaysia (I hate it with all my heart), we still don’t understand each other, do we? We still don’t know what we all are or how our philosophies differ or when they merge.

Some Christians are afraid of some Buddhists/Taoists/Confucianists. We’re all that cymbal-clashing, idol-worshippers who burn joss paper, light incense and live by archaic superstitions.

Open up your eyes, will you? Come and understand first before you judge.

Above All, Have Faith

The past few weeks were rather busy for me since I was roped into planning our women entrepreneurs’ group luncheon to celebrate our 6 years!

When Jo and I had this idea in June 2006, we never envisioned it to grow to more than 50 members plus a database of 200 or so non-members (those who do not yet qualify to join us).

Anyway, that is over and done with – our anniversary celebration last Saturday was a tiring effort on all fronts.

You know it’s never fun to be on the organizing committee. I only managed to eat a bowl of piping hot crab noodles before being called to do 101 things. Griping aside, I must admit I am kinda proud that the little group of five ladies we started has turned into something to be reckoned with in Penang.

While it was a success with a full turnout of ladies in their glittering best on a rainy Saturday, I felt that we could have done much more as a team.

Teamwork is always crucial in any event planning. I felt disappointed at some people’s attitudes.  You know how right it is that you only see the person’s true colours when that person is under stress or tight deadlines.

I came away contemplative.

I came away looking at some people with new eyes.

Some shone under pressure. They were brilliant in planning and execution. Some stepped up, right from the start.

Yet there were also some who brought their worry into the group.

They didn’t want to participate.

I told Pauline, let them be. We’d just have to do without them then. (I must tell you then of my cabbages and brocolli* theory. More of this later.)

And above all, have faith.

Because she was worried sick about ticket sales. As the organizing chairlady, she was in charge of paying full fees for the hotel ballroom even if we failed to sell our tickets.

In looking back, I realized I learnt this “having faith” idea from my Christian friends. I have so many of them that I’ve lost count. My best friend is a Catholic, did I tell you that? So I grew up hearing about her church activities and more.

A few of my good friends in Penang are Catholics. Many more are from various churches in and around Penang.

Faith was a word I have heard many times.

Until you experience it, it remains just that. A word.

Faith is about doing your best, your utmost, and then letting it go into the hands of someone, something that is far bigger and more powerful than ourselves. You can call it God. I call it the Cosmic Universe. I call it the Unknown Presence sometimes.

Faith is about helping ourselves so that someone else may help us. It could be indirect help. Or divine help.

When we hit our break-even ticket sale mark, Pauline was the first to let us know. And I was truly happy for her.

For in helping her sell tickets (and get sponsors and lucky draw contributors), we have all learnt something precious. That each of us has the ability to do more than we think we can.

We can challenge ourselves and we can make things happen. That’s what makes us all walk a little straighter. That’s what makes us more confident, more aware of the wondrous things we could do, if we put our minds to it.

For the naysayers who stood silent, who bit their lips, who worried instead of getting down to work, they may not have learnt anything.

And that’s really a pity.

Because the way I see it, an event like this (or any other event for that matter) is just a vehicle to test us all. Could we put ourselves away and do something for the greater good?

Far too many people can be negative. Being negative won’t help things run along.

Taking action and trying your best can.

When Kim jokingly said that from now onwards we’d all have withdrawal symptoms, I’d raised my eyebrows. No way. I had put aside a bunch of business stuff to do when I was roped into the planning committee.

Now I had to get back into putting my own stuff in order. Pending projects (eerrrkkk), clients I needed to meet for discussions and generally, my own self-development (you know, reading and learning).

I have faith.

And I hope, whatever you are going through right now, that you have faith too.

Things will get better!

P/S: *Oh yes, my cabbages and broccoli theory which Nic had laughed about just the other day. When I was 19, I had my teenage heart broken when the boy whom I liked turned out to be such a jerk – he had no guts to break up with me face to face; he did it on the phone! Worse, he had called my best friend, yes, that Catholic girl, and told her he was going to break up with me (she had introduced him to me).

Luckily my best friend called another best friend and they drove to my house at midnight, hoping to break the news gently to me before that boy called. Unfortunately, they were too late. So they lounged around my porch while I was on the phone, being “broken up” with! They were sweet.

He was a bum and a spineless worm (and thank god I didn’t marry him). Anyway, I told them later that it was a cabbages and broccoli thing.  My theory was if someone preferred cabbages, so be it. (Ahem, I was the broccoli in the analogy.) In my mind, if you preferred one thing over another, so be it. Just don’t regret eating cabbages all your life. I was going to be so damn “broccoli” that he would regret it for the rest of his life that he didn’t desire me.

Yes, I was a bit mad like that in my youth.

I have lived using this philosophy since then. I would never go begging someone to be my friend/lover/client; in fact, I’d make myself so attractive/smart/irresistible that those who’d scoffed would regret it sooner or later. That was the ultimate revenge.

It took a break-up for me to create my philosophy but it helped soothe a broken heart (which actually was healed when I met husband-to-be during  my first semester in USM!). So there. Strange but true.

Cabbages and broccoli. Tell me if you think I’m mad.

Eating in Cintra Street

You know, sometimes before I fall asleep, I have a million and one ideas for my blog. And when I wake up the next day, damn. The ideas have flown.De Tai Tong Cafe decked out with lanterns during Mid-Autumn Festival

Last night was one of those nights. Had a bunch of ideas to write about.

Well, good news…I have recovered from being a total sick zombie. It took me a while but I am back in one piece. Still have a scratchy throat and a bit of a cough but hey, as long as my appetite is back – the world looks a heck of a lot better. While some friends said I wrote better while half-dead, I think I shouldn’t be too dead sometimes. LOL.

Food Tales In De Tai Tong

I was having dinner with my folks and Godmother last night at Tai Tong (these days it has renamed itself into De Tai Tong Cafe). It’s impossible not to know of this dim sum and Chinese eatery along Cintra Street. It’s an institution. Even the old ladies who serve you – see I couldn’t even bear to call them waitresses – seem to have aged with this Chinese eatery.

De Tai Tong Cafe sells mooncakes during the Mid Autumn Festival

(Have I mentioned they are grumpy and pushy as hell? If it were not for my Godma suggesting this place, I’d hot-trotted to some other Chinese zhu-zhar place on Campbell Street but she hadn’t been to Tai Tong for a while and I thought, what the heck. The auntie servers are STILL as awful as ever.)

I knew it was a heck of an old place – I just didn’t know HOW old. I thought maybe the place is 30 years old. It looks that way.

Until over dinner last night my Dad remarked that Tai Tong is more than 50 years old! My mum chipped in and said that my maternal grandpa used to “yum cha” in the cafe back in those good old days. She used to eat at this place as a child! (My mum is in her early 60s so that says a lot about this place.)

OK, now that is some history. My Godma then said that in those days, Foo Heong (that’s another famous eatery across the road diagonally from Tai Tong) and Tai Tong were the bee’s knees. Both these eateries were super happening and get this – they served wedding banquet dinners.

I almost choked on my “siew mai” when I heard this.

When You Got Married Back Then…

Tai Tong Cafe isn’t very spacious. But back in those days, people getting married didn’t have the entire village invited. Plus they didn’t need a stage or karaoke either. Best of all, my parents told me that a typical wedding banquet would be about RM45 per table of 10 diners. (OK, second choking of siew mai now.)

“That’s cheap!” I blurted.

Mum said that when she got married in 1972, most guests would give you gifts instead of ang pows. Dad remembered lots of transistor radios plus the odd glassware set or two. And then the really generous relatives or friends would give you a RM10 shopping voucher so you could go to Tong Aik Departmental Store (that was THE airconditioned supermarket of its day in Penang) and pick your own wedding gift.

Piglets in a basket - every kid's favourite biscuit

My Godma remarked that in those days, RM45 was equivalent to our RM400 today. If someone gave you a RM10 shopping voucher, you must have meant a  lot to them because in those days, “char hor fun” was a mere 30 cents per plate!

So much inflation since then! So much have changed since then.

Sometimes having dinner at an old eating establishment brings back rather a lot of poking down memory lane.

What I Truly Detest About De Tai Tong Cafe

Anyway, I still don’t like the argumentative auntie servers at Tai Tong; they make ordering such a chore because they keep bugging you about ordering their specialty dishes when all I want is just my regular stuff. According to my parents and Godma, Tai Tong Cafe’s food isn’t as spectacular now. It used to be so much better.

As for me, this place can be a hit-and-miss affair.

Sometimes the food is really good – I quite like their braised duck noodles in ginger gravy, their fried rice and “ang thor” noodles (a poor man equivalent of sharks’ fin soup) with lashings of black vinegar.

I also enjoy their “char hor fun” is it is served piping hot and the gravy has not soaked into the hor fun entirely, making it a mess to eat. Their “sang meen” is another winner but again, it must be eaten piping hot or gets very cloying after it gets cold.

From time to time, the auntie servers will recommend all sorts of things to you – deepfried spring rolls, steamed fish, fried chicken wings etc. Pay no heed to them.

If you arrive at noon when they are packing up their dim sum for the day, they will bully you into buying their leftover dim sum or pau. Do not be taken in. Pity for their incessant bugging means you will be too stuffed to the gills later on.

The aunties just want to make their lives easier by offloading the remaining pau or dim sum to you. Politely but firmly decline. They may be aunties but it is my stomach yeah?

Weekends are crazy times to eat in Tai Tong as the entire weekend crowd of hungry Penangites and outstation visitors descend on Tai Tong like ants. Even the odd Mat Salleh or two will wander into this cafe and be hoodwinked into eating whatever the auntie servers recommend.

Parking along Cintra Street is much easier on week day evenings and less maddening.  And god knows that THAT by itself can be such a relief in Penang.

One Secret Place You Must Not Miss

If you come earlier say before 6pm, you can make a quick de-tour into People’s Court behind Tai Tong and look for the long-time and supremely famous biscuit maker, Leong Chee Kei at the flats. Again, this tiny shop is an institution. My mum remembers buying his “gai dann kou” – egg sponge cakes – as a kid.

I’m not a big fan of “gai dann kou” – it’s too dry and sticks in my throat but he has a plethora of traditional style biscuits to make your trip down memory lane worthwhile. He sells pepper biscuits, pong pneah, tau sar pneah, gai dann kou – all these freshly made daily.

And Yet Another One Serving Up Smiles

Of course, you should not miss the other famous pushcart opposite Tai Tong either – there are two pushcarts really. One sells Chinese herbal teas but the other pushcart sells “harm chim peang” and “pak tong kou”, again firm favourites of mine if I happen to pass by in the evenings. I always used to buy white sugar cake (“pak tong kou”) for my grandma as it seemed to be her favourite snack.

Then again, there is Foo Heong – super duper famous for its “yin yeong” or “char hor fun”. They have a Reputation you know. Nowadays the sheen and glam is gone but the last time I heard, you had to pay for extra chili or sambal if you wanted more for your “yin yeong”.

Oh I could go on and on about the old style eateries but that is enough for today.

Kimberly Street and Campbell Street and even Kampung Malabar each hold their own eateries worthy of blog posts on their own. Makes you salivate right? Right!

(Chan Kou Loh Dim Sum comes to mind and he’s gone. Also the famous Big Rock zhu-zhar who is still there whipping up dishes like a pro each time – errr, yes, who else is not famous in Penang? And dozens more.)

Such is living in Penang!

Do you have any Penang eatery secrets to share, since we’re on this topic?