Leaning In, Leaning Out

I would have never read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book if it were not for YB Chong Eng. Honestly. Even though I am a big fan of books, I always have too much to read, too little time and too much planning.

Sheryl Sandberg Lean In Book
Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Book

As it is, I am always reading at least 3 books at any given time. A lot of people say they don’t have time to read. I say, you DON’T make time to read. Not having time is just a stupid excuse. And I hear this from educated people.

Can you stop watching so much of TV? (Anyway these days Astro keeps playing re-runs so I’d rather turn off the TV than watch another episode of some travel programme that’s spliced from previous programmes. Yes Astro, this is a hint. And stop bloody segmenting your channels. Soon, there’d be nothing left to watch. And that RM2 hike in subscription is magnificent. Simply magnificent. Since I have terminated my subscription to The Star and Flavours, perhaps one day Astro’s going to go too.)

Read moreLeaning In, Leaning Out

Turning Pizza Ingredients Into Bread

After a long hiatus, I am back to using my bread machine. It’s been staring at me long enough anyway on the kitchen counter.

Freshly baked tomato bread from my bread machine
Freshly baked tomato bread from my bread machine

Of course the other reason is, I ran out of bread flour. Can’t make bread without bread flour. So I had to wait until I went downtown (meaning go into George Town) before I could bake some bread.

The place I normally go to is Sim Company on Carnavon Street. This shop is an institution for baking supplies – you name it, they probably have it. They are the old school type of baking supplies store and if you look at their “staff”, you will know why. They’re all in their 60s. Some can be grouchy as hell. But if you know what you want, you just go and grab what you want and pay.

Read moreTurning Pizza Ingredients Into Bread

Of Russian Spies & Kenching

I’ve just finished reading a few books and by books I mean, fiction. In any given week, I’ll be plowing through a bunch of books (online and offline) but these days I read a lot of business and marketing and social psychology books.

To me, fiction is a respite from the business stuff, though I must say these days, some business books can be hilariously good.

I’ve been reading 2 books – one was loaned to me by Lerks and the other I dug up from god knows where.

The first book – my introduction to Anthony Burgess – is called The Malayan Trilogy. I have never read Burgess. I had no idea what sort of writer he was.

The only thing I knew was he wrote that magnificently famous Clockwork Orange which was turned into a movie (which I have not watched) and he used to live in Malaya.

Some googling brought me to this a local blog which said that Burgess’ book was supposedly banned in Malaysia.

Ah!

Read moreOf Russian Spies & Kenching

Language Chops

There’s language and then there’s language.

Some people still live in the past, with their eye on the proper way of speaking and writing English.

Sure you need to have a good grasp of your tenses and you need to stop making silly mistakes in English. But having knowledge of the language doesn’t mean you can make it in the everyday world.

Many folks still think they need to write like their English teachers of yore to be able to stand proud in the world today.

Sorry to burst your bubble but if you write like that, no one will ever read your work.

Read moreLanguage Chops

Oh My Country!

One of the reasons I have a blog is that it allows me to write what often bogs or bugs me. All my life writing has been a therapy. I find that I am happiest when I get to write, and it can be in a journal or in a blog.

Getting home after a few days in Singapore can be a study of extreme contrasts. I have many friends in the island republic – most of them are Malaysians with a sprinkling of Singaporeans.

I don’t indulge in much retail therapy over there. Mostly I am there to meet friends and try to uncover hidden gems which could be food, people or places. In most cases, it is the company that matters, not so much the gastronomy.

Each time I land in Changi, I feel even more morose. Neil Humphreys, a Brit who wrote a series of books about Singapore, says that upon landing in Changi International Airport, if you fail to be impressed, you are either a liar or Helen Keller.

I am apt to agree.

Read moreOh My Country!

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.

Read moreThe Queer, The Exotic & The Melancholy

A Second Life For Carrots

I don’t like to throw away stuff, especially stuff that’s still usable.

This goes for food. And this reminds me of Mary, a good friend who refuses to discard chocolates from her fridge. I can be like Mary too.

I can feel extremely guilty about throwing away edible food. Must be all those years of my dad admonishing me to finish up food on my plate as a child because “the kids in Africa are starving”. Mentally I have that picture of a starving African kid each time I throw food out.

The one with the bloated tummy and huge, limpid eyes.

Now it’s better because the food goes into my compost pots in the garden. At least they’re turned into fertilizer. That’s a second life for food.

Ever since I got myself a juicer, I’ve been churning out fresh carrot juices about twice a week (when I am not too lazy to wash the machine!).

I never knew having carrot pulp could be such a guilt trip. It does when you have pulp from 5 Australian carrots staring you in the face, daring, simply daring you to chuck them into the compost bin.

So I refrain. I pack the pulp up into plastic containers and freeze them.

In the end, I realized that I could do something with the carrot pulp. I could make carrot cake!

You see, back in the days when I didn’t have a juicer, I would grate carrots by hand. Terrible job, that. Hated that but loved chomping on freshly baked carrot cake.

So now I solved my carrot cake woe. I had plenty of carrot pulp to make carrot cake with. (I am not a big fan of cheese frosting so I omit that plus storing cake with frosting is one mean, messy job.)

So here’s the carrot cake recipe which I fall back on because it’s simple and tastes great. I actually stumbled on  a secret tip that makes carrot cake moist….the addition of green apple. That’s also because I juice carrots and green apples together in one go (yes, to make a healthier juice than say, just carrots).

A moist and yummy carrot cake made from carrot pulp
A moist and yummy carrot cake made from carrot pulp

The sweetness level is just right because I can’t stand overly sweet cakes. That’s why I make cakes with brown sugar.

I love this quick cake because it is easy to mix up and easy to eat. What’s not to love about a cake like this? And it contains carrot pulp and green apple pulp which means extra fibre and health-inducing qualities.

All you need to do for this carrot cake is to mix all the ingredients
All you need to do for this carrot cake is to mix all the ingredients

(And I add beetroot pulp to chocolate cakes but that’s totally another story for another blog post.)

Moist Carrot Cake

130 gm self raising flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp ground cloves

130 gm brown sugar

2 cups grated carrot (or carrot pulp from 5 medium size carrots + pulp from 1 green apple, if you like extra moistness)

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup golden raisins

2 eggs, beaten

150 ml vegetable oil or melted butter

1/4 tsp salt (omit salt if you’re using salted butter)

1. Preheat oven to 180C . Grease and line your pan. Or if you’re like me and can’t be bugged with greasing and lining, just grease your pan and sprinkle flour all over the greased pan. Shake off excess flour but ensure flour coats the bottom of the entire pan.

2. Sift flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground cloves.

3. Mix in sugar, carrot pulp, walnut and raisins. Pour in eggs and oil (or melted butter).

4. Plug in your electric mixer. On medium speed, beat this mixture until well-combined about 3 minutes.

5. Pour mixture into your pan and bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until your cake is done.

Frosting option:

Once your cake is cool and removed from the pan, you can make your frosting. In a mixer on high speed, whip 60 gm cream cheese with 30gm butter and 1 tsp lemon juice. Add 2-3 tbsp icing sugar and whip till smooth. Smooth over your cooled cake.

Pour into a pan and bake for 20-25 minutes and that's it!
Pour into a pan and bake for 20-25 minutes and that's it!

Chicken Poo Leaf & A Sassy Penang Nyonya

The thing about Penang is, I don’t know how I know the people I know but I can tell you it can be quite discomforting to know that people know me!

Convoluted? Not really.

Not when these people tell me that “Oh, I’ve been reading your blog for ages and now I know you’re the blogger!”

I don’t know if that’s good or not.

Because you know and I know that I write for myself mainly. I write because it keeps my writing chops lean and mean. It keeps me sane in the insane world of marketing and business and new projects and my women’s entrepreneur group and all that.

Read moreChicken Poo Leaf & A Sassy Penang Nyonya

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

UDPATE >>>> 6 April 2018: If you want to do your duty for Malaysia, please sign up as a PACA. Get your friends and families. Anyone above 21 can be a PACA. There are trainings going on weekly so you never need to be afraid of not knowing what to do.
The worst attitude is that “other people can be PACA” and give a tonne of excuses like you’re away, not free etc. It’s only 1 day in 5 years that you get into the action and if you’re a polling agent, maybe the most 2 hours of duty. If I, a complete newbie, can do it in 2013, you can do it too. Email: p52bbpaca@gmail.com or call 019 443 2088 or 04 641 3088. This is for the Bayan Baru area but if you prefer to be in town or elsewhere in Penang, do let them know when you call them. I am sure PKR shares resources like PACA with DAP and the rest. 

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.]