The Queer, The Exotic & The Melancholy

I wrote this when I was in Phuket about 3 weeks ago when I was on holiday. We were at Patong, the most popular tourist beach area in Phuket. It’s akin to Batu Feringghi but with lots more flavour.

We’d stayed at the southern and quieter stretch of Patong but from our hotel, it was only a 10-minute walk to the infamous Bang La Road. During the day, this stretch of road is harmless but after 9pm, the road becomes a throbbing night life full of people and gawkers. I wrote this piece as a means to figure out the conundrum that is Phuket, Thailand.

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Why I Love My Women’s Network

One of the events that I am busy with presently is our upcoming hi-tea at Equatorial Hotel. It’s part of something we initiated last year thanks to a suggestion by one of our members, Kim that we should do a gala event and give our ladies a time to shine and have fun and seriously let our hair down.

Last year’s event was quite stressful as we did a lot of things on the fly. It’s understandable because it was our first time organizing a luncheon for 80 women, many of whom were women in business. Despite the stress and mad ticketing sales (we had to sell at least 60 tickets to break even), we pulled it off.

Madness, I said.

This year, we’re doing a hi-tea as a luncheon is too much to manage (and being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on a Saturday morning makes the organizing committee cringe).

But this isn’t about the event.

It’s about having a chance to bring women of all walks of life to meet new friends and learn new stuff while feasting on high tea snacks and tea. Our group is mainly for women who own businesses and sometimes we get requests from those yet to own businesses that they would like to join us too.

This once-a-year luncheon/hi-tea event is meant for this purpose. If you want to buy a ticket or promote your woman-friendly products or services at this event, you can read more here.

Now what struck me today was that technology combined with a network of women with abilities and contacts is a potent combination indeed.

My group, WomenBizSENSE, has a website (managed by yours truly and that is why it gets lots of eyeballs) and we also have our Facebook page.

These days, we’ve upped the ante with our WhatsApp chat group since all of us have our smartphones.

The beauty of communication via these platforms is that things can get done pretty damn fast.

Take today for instance.

Mily sent out a message from her friend to our WhatsApp group. It was a request for 50 units of skipping ropes to help kids exercise more often under a programme initiated by some college students.

Immediately another member, Lisa who owns a spa, offered to sponsor and supply 50 units of the skipping ropes!

Besides the skipping ropes, Mily mentioned that the college students’ also wanted water soluble Vitamin C and sunflower seeds (most likely as nutritional supplements for the kids as well). Everyone in our WhatsApp group wanted to sponsor and get the items!

So that really made me think – the power of a strong and financially capable network of women entrepreneurs can do wonders. We made it possible for some college students to make their health project come true with these sponsorships.

This isn’t of course the only “miracle” and magic of our network.

Whenever we’ve had household needs (need a plumber/need a renovator/need a maid etc.) we’ve looked at asking our own members who are involved in supplying these services or if there are none, we offer helpful contacts.

I am really proud of my women’s network and the kinds of magic we have been able to do for our community. (We managed to get McDonald to sponsor burgers for the children of House of Hope among other things, thanks to the people and wider circles of who we know.)

I have always said I am an accidental entrepreneur. It’s not an easy road to travel as an entrepreneur and it has nothing to do with one’s gender.

But I have observed that being female has its own set of challenges – I don’t have children so I don’t face as many challenges as my friends who have to juggle family, kids and businesses. I don’t have to be the “driver” who picks and drops kids off at school and tuition or worry about activities to occupy them during the school holidays or work around kids’ schedules.

But women entrepreneurs are unique in that we function as women who often feel more emotions than male entrepreneurs.

In that way, I love my women’s network – a powerful network of sisters in business – because it is  also women who are financially capable are the ones who are more likely and more able to help their community.

Now if you’re planning to be in business or want to check us out, buy a ticket or two and join us at our 6 July hi-tea.

I can promise you it’s going to be super duper fun!

My GE Duty

You know how sometimes life gives you some surprises right? Mine happened 4 days before the GE day, 5 May.

I wasn’t prepared to be a Polling Agent or Counting Agent (or what’s called PACA) this general election. I thought that the most I’d do was turn up early on Sunday and vote and sit at home the whole day and watch the results.

Training to be a Polling and Counting Agent

Training to be a Polling and Counting Agent

When Vimala called me up a few days before 5th May, she sounded desperate. “Could you help out as a PACA? DAP really needs more volunteers.” She even emailed me and I forwarded her request out. She is a business woman and a friend and while she doesn’t belong to my women’s entrepreneur group, we somehow find time to email and call each other. Mainly because we have the same motivations. We like the same stuff.

I then googled my area to find the DAP Service Centre but I couldn’t find any. In the end I contacted a friend whom I knew was with PKR and she told me of a PACA training a day away.

General layout of the voting station

General layout of the voting station

I guess in life I usually am fortunate because I NEVER know what I am signing up for! If I knew, I’d backed out. My dad used to be called up for GE duties but as a teenager I never really bothered. I knew that my dad helped out with the polling process but I never asked.

This year, my sister – as most teachers are – enlisted for duty with the SPR. She helped check voters’ names and saluran outside the voting centres. Her job finished at 5pm; mine didn’t.

Malaysians lining up before 7.45am on polling day at Kompleks Belia

Malaysians lining up before 7.45am on polling day at Kompleks Belia

On reflection, I am happy I went ahead to help out at the Kompleks Belia & Sukan on 5 May. Now I know what really happens inside each polling stream or saluran. That morning, Nic and I had woken up really early in order to be at Kompleks Belia at 7 am. We weren’t allowed to go into our respective stations until  7.30. When I finally went into Saluran 1, which is basically for senior citizens, I knew I had to be friendly with the Ketua Tempat Mengundi (KTM). She was a woman. I even made an effort to smile and pass her our pink and white forms stating the 4 individuals under PKR who would be Polling Agents that day.

The form you had to fill if you wanted to be a polling, counting or barung agent

The form you had to fill if you wanted to be a polling, counting or barung agent

I had a checklist of things I had to ensure were done. Firstly, this KTM spent her time showing us (me and the BN fella) the empty, transparent ballot boxes and spent time carefully kitting the boxes up with the SPR cable ties and all. Fine.

Then I requested to check the ballot books. She must’ve been taken aback as I asked her if she filled Borang 13. She said she would do it later. I was already a bit miffed. How would the voting slips tally if she didn’t fill up Borang 13? But one mustn’t argue with the KTM – she has the veto power you know. (And she DID tell me that in no uncertain terms that she had the power. Oh you little Napolean, go ahead.)

Another form to fill...Borang Sumpah Kerahsiaan!

Another form to fill...Borang Sumpah Kerahsiaan!

One thing I did notice was that the KTM had snacks at her table. She was snacking away when she was at her KTM table. That put me off. Aren’t you supposed to have eaten your breakfast and be on duty in a professional manner?

The other thing that made me realize the power of being young (or at least being younger, much younger than your BN Polling Agent). The BN fella was an old guy who was probably in his late 50s. He did not have the speed or alertness of young people. Either that or he was just plain lazy.

When the clerk calls out the voter’s name and IC, we each had our voters’ list to cross out. I had another sheet to fill up the nombor bilangan. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that the old guy was simply flipping the pages unable to find most of the names called out! He wasn’t there to be a PA on duty. He was probably there just to keep an eye on things. And bark at the KTM. The KTM seemed to be afraid of this nasty guy.

I call this guy nasty because there was a voter – an old Chinese man – who claimed his name was in the SPR list but we couldn’t find his name in our list. Under regular rules, the KTM had to fill up a Borang 11 so that SPR could check on his status. I asked to snap a pic of the Borang that she had filled up and she agreed. Then the nasty guy barked and said, “No cameras allowed in here.” She got all nervous and asked me to delete the photo! I just thought I’d save myself some time instead of jotting down the Chinese man’s details. What a dimwit!

As there were many senior citizens who came in wheelchairs, some of their caregivers had to fill up Borang 10 if they helped them to cross their voting slips. This took up some time as voters just kept filing in.

Two hours isn’t a long time when you’re on duty at the polling stream. As a Polling Agent, I had to listen for the clerk calling out the voter’s name, IC and nombor bilangan. Then I had to observe the voters who were placing their votes into the ballot boxes. Then I had to call the KTM to check for those caregivers needing to fill Borang 10. And I was supposed to eye the clerk stamping the voting slips and the clerk inking the fingers of the voters. With all these activities going on, it was like having 10 pairs of eyes zooming back and forth. The fella next to me was a confused cat or a lazy cat because he couldn’t be really bothered to cross out most names that were called out.

My replacement PA came in at 9.55am to relieve me and even that made the BN fella fuss. He was “upset” that I had not gotten up when Chee, my replacement, sat down. I ignored the nasty one and took my copy of Borang 13 to the KTM’s table. I was going to get my serial numbers whether she liked it or not.

In the end I did but I could see she wasn’t happy. Well, too bad, lady. If you’re inefficient, it’s your problem, not mine. I am not here to be as complacent and tidak apa as you. She had remarked that my checklist was from PKR so she wasn’t going to “follow” it when I asked why she didn’t fill up Borang 13 before 8am.

My Counting Agent partner and I went back into the same hall around 4pm the same day. He was to observe the counting process for the Negeri ballot box while I did the Parliment box. Again I was polite to the KTM. She didn’t want to be polite.

Oh well.

As the Negeri ballots were to be counted first, I told my partner, Chee that he had to let the KTM know we needed our Borang 13 and Borang 14. Chee is a really nice guy so I thought having a guy smiling at her might melt her a bit.

She didn’t seem to hear his request but I thought he had worked his magic when she came over to our table and asked us to sign Borang 13. (Borang 13 is where the numbers of ballot books issued are noted at the beginning of the day and noted again at the end of the day. It’s like accounting. How much did you start off with in the morning and how much did you actually use? The numbers of ballot slips given out had to tally.)

What happened next was incredible. I took my own sweet time to check and triple-check the details on the form. I wasn’t putting my signature on something I haven’t agreed with. Finally I signed.

She coolly took the forms back to her table.

I asked her levelly, “You are going to give us a copy of that, aren’t you?”

To my utter surprise, she says, “No. It’s not in my SPR guidebook that I have to give Counting Agents a copy of the form.”

Now this got my blood boiling. I could tolerate her inefficiency in the morning but this was going too far. As the PKR trainers kept stressing, you must get both forms, Borang 13 and 14.  If you don’t, we’re all going to be doomed. (Borang 14 is where the official results are written down and verified with the signatures of the KTM and Counting Agents of the respective parties. It had to be stamped too.)

She was already going to open up the ballot box for Negeri and start the counting process. She called the silly policeman to say that I was making a ruckus and not letting her do her job.

I called my Ketua and explained my situation. He wanted me to pass the phone to her but she ignored me! The 3 clerks looked like lost lambs and didn’t know what to do while the KTM was attempting to open the ballot box.

I told Chee to keep his eyes on the voting slips and tally the counting while I talked (very loudly) on the phone to my Ketua saying that the KTM does not want to give us Borang 13 and 14.

Finally after two more calls, her Ketua comes toddling in and whispers in her ear. That turned the tide. She then begrudgingly gave us the needed forms.

Two yellow bags with counted ballot slips determines who wins or loses

Two yellow bags with counted ballot slips determine who wins or loses

As Counting Agents, Chee and I were in the hall throughout the process, even observing the KTM and her clerks packing up the ballot boxes and zipping up the yellow bags. (And I also mentioned to the KTM that she almost forgot to sign on the sticker on top of the sealed ballot box. Of course she wasn’t happy. By this time, I really couldn’t be bothered with niceties. I had tried my best but she chose to be bitchy.)

I held on the precious two sets of Borang 13 and 14, all signed – by the Counting Agent of each respective party and by the KTM and stamped with the official stamp. One set was for Negeri and the other was for Parlimen.  Again in many ways I was lucky as my senior citizen saluran only had 291 voters out of a respectable 350 so the counting process was quick. Some saluran had 500 to 700 voters so these took up more time especially if there are recounts needed.

When we finished, it was about 8pm. The CA from the other parties had long scooted off, knowing that they’d lost in this saluran to PKR. Chee and I still sat in the hall waiting for some instructions from my Ketua. We were both hungry, tired and thirsty and the hall was locked and sealed though it had started raining outside.

Finally at 9.30, Nic comes over from his saluran and says we can leave as long as we pass our forms to the Ketua outside.

I was immensely exhausted from the ordeal of having to argue with the KTM. I didn’t like her but I was there to do my job. But it also dawned on me that SPR doesn’t seem to train these “staff” of theirs at all. They don’t follow procedures when they should’ve. They do what they please and seem to take pleasure in being the “boss” with the ultimate power in their voting station. My KTM was wishy-washy and could suddenly change her mind if the BN fellow barked at her. Did she read her SPR guidebook? I don’t think she even flipped through it. She was paid to be a KTM but that’s just it.

That was why she was intrigued why we PKR Counting Agents were so gung-ho. We must have been paid a lot to do our job and to keep our eagle eyes on the KTM. She approached Nic once our saluran counting was done and asked how much we were paid to be CAs. The answer probably floored her.

“Demi rakyat,” replied my husband. I doubt she understood that doing a job well wasn’t always about money.

So what have I learnt as a Polling Agent and Counting Agent?

1. PACAs must be of a certain age (30’s and above and with work experience is good) and be firm in all situations. Never let the KTM scare you even if she thinks she can get the policeman to frighten you. Most times, the policemen don’t want to get into deep shit. They’re human after all.

2. Insist on getting Borang 13 filled up before the polling stream is open to voters. If that doesn’t happen, call for backup help and authority.

3. As much as the KTM has a right to overwrite you as a PACA, you have a right to file your complaints too.

4. Insist on getting Borang 14. But triple-check everything.

5. As PACAs, we should be better trained for crisis management. For the next GE, I suggest PACAs be trained to handle all types of uncertainty so that we know our Plan B should Plan A be dethroned.

6. PACAs should be trained from now even though GE14 is still 4.5 years away. In Bayan Baru, most of us who were PACAs are engineers, teachers and middle-class professionals who are literate and urban. That made our PACA duties easier. Even with urbanites, we still had problems. What about the rural areas?

7. Involve more Malaysians as PACAs – I don’t regret the experience. It’s made me a more involved citizen… better than saying “I voted” and then sat at home waiting for the election results. The more PACAs who volunteer, the more eyes we have to check if there are any hanky-panky or inconsistencies or non-compliance of procedures happening.

8. While the counting process is important, please tell fellow CAs what to do once they’ve got their Borang 13 and 14. Can they get out of the hall? Must they still watch the ballot boxes like hawks? Can they leave?

9. Play nice. If that doesn’t work, try another tack. The SPR people just want to get the damn thing over and done with and go home and sleep. Their hearts aren’t into it at all. They’re paid to do their jobs. Most of the PACAs I know are in this for a totally different reason and it’s not about money. It’s about integrity and making sure proper procedures are followed and not left to the whims of the petulant KTM.

10. Counting Agents or Polling Agents with their official tags have every right to be in the polling room. The KTM, however clueless, cannot throw you out. She will make all sorts of excuses – no place to sit, too many people hanging about etc. Even if they have to re-arrange the tables for the counting process, you must never step out of the room. Like ever. Once you step out, you won’t be allowed in. Their rules are rules. Our rules – what rules? Yes, it’s unfair. That is why this experience has opened up my eyes to the actual process which makes me wonder, in those days without PACAs from other parties, what REALLY happens during the counting process?

As my CA partner remarked, “You’ve grown an inch of thicker skin after this PACA duty.”

I gave him a wry smile.

[Update: Of course I was terribly disappointed on 6 May. Like many Malaysians who had hoped for a true change, it was a day we all wished we never woke up to. I was mentally and physically exhausted. The day started bleary and dull too. Mourn? Yes, I did but I know that I and many others will be much more prepared come the next general election. I know for sure I made the right choice in NOT voting in racists.]

Say It Forward

This is an article written by a good friend. He chooses to remain anonymous. Feel free to share this if it tugs at your conscience.

With a few days to go before the nation goes to the polls in what would be the closest, most keenly fought battle between the the ruling party and the opposition ever, one wonders what could still be done to ensure that the whole process of the elections would be carried out in a clean and fair manner.

What could still be done to ensure that the elections truly enables the nation to choose leaders who will truly govern the country with democracy, justice, equality and integrity?

What could still be done to rid this country of all its maladies, namely the malady of corruption, the malady of racism, the malady of injustice, the malady of poverty and marginalization of the poor and the voiceless?

What could still be done despite the biased mainstream media, the maleficence spewed by many of the candidates and personalities linked to the powers that be (perhaps not for long) causing some of the rakyat to fear, to waver, to doubt what they already, obviously and intrinsically know to be the truth and nothing but the truth?

What could still be done to ensure that we are not going to be frustrated for the next five years, that we are not going to be grumbling during our teh-tarik sessions or any where else, about the leaders who continue to amass great fortunes at the expense of the quality of life every Malaysian deserves?

What could still be done by us, true, loyal , peace loving, honourable and good hearted Malaysians?

While the candidates and their respective parties are giving all they can in the run up to the elections, many of us I believe are also contributing in many ways. Some of us have become polling agents, joined groups and NGOs monitoring the authenticity of the whole process, helping out at the various bilik-bilik gerakan, attending ceramahs, writing in news portals and blogs and giving our time and energy in various ways and even our money.

What could still be done?

Some of us may have heard of the concept – “pay it forward”. It’s a philosophy asking the beneficiary of a good deed to repay it to others instead of to the original benefactor. The concept is old, but the phrase may have been coined by Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 book In the Garden of Delight.

Pay It Forward is also a 2000 American drama film based on the novel of the same name by Catherine Ryan Hyde. It was directed by Mimi Leder and written by Leslie Dixon. It stars Haley Joel Osment as a boy who launches a good-will movement, Helen Hunt as his single mother, and Kevin Spacey as his social-studies teacher.

When eleven and a half year old Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) begins seventh grade in Las Vegas, Nevada, his social studies teacher Eugene Simonet (Kevin Spacey) gives the class an assignment to devise and put into action a plan that will change the world for the better. Trevor’s plan is a charitable programme based on the networking of good deeds.

He calls his plan “Pay It Forward”, which means the recipient of a favour does a favour for three others rather than paying the favour back. However, it needs to be a major favour that the receivers cannot complete themselves.

Trevor does a favour for three people, asking each of them to “pay the favour forward” by doing favours for three other people, and so on, along a branching tree of good deeds.

Based on this same concept, I would like to answer the question…WHAT COULD STILL BE DONE?

The answer: SAY IT FORWARD!

We have been enlightened by the right spirit and right information and right motivation with regard to what we want for our country, not just for ourselves and our loved ones but for all. And we need to pass this to others and this process would be more effective than any web portal, twitter, email, sms, ceramah , press conference….

We need to SAY IT FORWARD. We have been enlightened, and it is imperative that we enlighten others, especially those who may be in the dark through no fault of theirs. So could I suggest that each of us choose to talk to 3 persons (face to face) who we think will benefit from this endeavour explaining to them the importance to come out to vote and to vote for the candidate and party based on all the right reasons.

We could help dispel all the fears that have plagued and paralysed many a good Malaysian, with all the facts and figures we can obtain. And most importantly we could share with them our passion and hope for a better and greater Malaysia. And when we have done that, we could convince them to share all that we had articulated with 3 others explaining this simple concept of saying it forward, encouraging and inspiring them to continue this process.

The time is now, we have a few days but much can be achieved, so lets begin this process…I believe it can work.

LET’S SAY IT FORWARD!

If  you’ve been moved by this article, please share this out with friends and family.

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. 

Bereft

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.

Bereft.

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.

Anyway.

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 children...at 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.