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!

A Matriarch’s Cuisine of Love

It’s only when guests or friends come to Penang that I make that mad effort to find new places to dine. Most times, we’re lazy and eat around our area which to me is rather sad and boring. I mean, how many times can you eat “chee cheong fun” for breakfast before you kind of roll your eyes and wish this dish was never invented?

Little Kitchen, Noordin Street, George Town
Little Kitchen, 179, Noordin Street, George Town, Penang

My area, Taman Sri Nibong, isn’t exactly crawling with lots of eateries.

So it gets fun when guests arrive. A few days ago, Nic and his Mensa Penang friends hosted Patrick, a fellow Mensan from Hong Kong.

It was Patrick’s first time in Penang. We thought it would be fun to take him to a Nyonya restaurant in George Town. But where? Nic’s favourite Nyonya restaurant, Hot Wok, had closed down about 2 years ago so there went the first choice on our list. Nyonya Breeze in Straits Quay was a little too modern for my taste, at least for this round.

I quickly scanned CK Lam’s food blog and found an interesting one. “Let’s take him there,” I enthused to Nic.

That’s how we ended circling Noordin Street three times before we finally found a parking spot near Hotel Grand Continental. The hotel was just one street after the Nyonya restaurant called Little Kitchen @ Nyonya. Don’t ask why it’s so oddly named.

Conceptually the restaurant was interesting. It is a Straits Chinese shop house some 135 feet long which belonged to a 4th generation Straits Chinese family. They still reside on the first floor. This family runs the Nyonya restaurant with the matriarch as the head chef! (She was this smiley Auntie in her 70s.)

Ulam appetizer with two types of sambal belacan
Ulam appetizer with two types of sambal belacan

So what’s unique about this place? Plenty of character I can tell you.

The main business (yes, the Nyonya food isn’t the main business and I will tell you why in a bit) is their birds’ nest business.

This family trades birds’ nests – the kind that most Chinese elders will give an arm and a leg and two best jade bangles for. So you can actually buy the birds’ nests in dried form from them or pre-order and have them double-boil the birds’ nest dessert for you (available for dine-in or take-away).

So the Nyonya food is more like a hobby for this family.

Nic and our Hong Kong Mensa friend, Patrick
Nic and our Hong Kong Mensa friend, Patrick

This we found out from the Auntie’s son – a chatty guy in his 50s. He must be recounting the history of the 7 year old restaurant to so many customers that the stories simply flowed out easily. And he is a veritable trove of birds’ nest facts, trivia and how the Chinese grew so mad over drinking and eating birds’ nest. The other way to locate this restaurant is to look for “Birds Nest Heaven” – the alternate name of the shop.

An array of Nyonya kuih to whet the appetite
An array of Nyonya kuih to whet the appetite

Anyway, he said that his family really didn’t need to run a Nyonya cuisine restaurant. His grandfather and father had done well for themselves back in those days of trading that the family was well set for life.

The only thing was, with his father’s demise some 10 years ago, his mother felt an inexplicable sense of loss. You see, in those days, his mother cooked every day for his family. Specifically his father never had to eat out. He had breakfast, lunch and dinner prepared lovingly by his wife.

Plus as her children had grown up, they ate out more than they ate in. Hence, the matriarch felt abandoned – no one appreciated her cooking any more.

So the children got together and hatched a plan to keep dear old Mum happy and cooking up all her favourite Nyonya dishes.

That was how Little Kitchen was born or at least that’s how Mr Loh, the son, tells it.

The second hall where we dined
The second hall where we dined

When you step into the restaurant, it does feel like you’re dining in someone’s home. We were ushered to the second hall which had an air well.

What I liked was that we were served tiny slices of Nyonya kuih as well as raw sliced cucumber, baby brinjal and four-angled beans with sambal belacan as appetizers.

The other unique feature is that all drinks were free flow – nutmeg, ginger, Chinese tea and plain water. These were in traditional hot water flasks and you could drink all you wanted for RM4 per person. Funny how free flow of drinks could make me so delirious!

Free flow of nutmeg, ginger, Chinese tea and plain water in Chinese flasks
Free flow of nutmeg, ginger, Chinese tea and plain water in Chinese flasks

The food portions weren’t exactly large although they were tasty and had a true home-cooked feel. We ordered pig stomach soup with gingko nuts (although it had Szechuan vegetable too which is a first time tasting this vegetable in a pig stomach soup), fried paku or fern shoots in sambal hae-bee, sliced pork with cincalok, mixed vegetables, acar fish and asam prawns.

Mother-of-pearl day bed, one of the antiques in the restaurant
Mother-of-pearl day bed, one of the antiques in the restaurant

Later the affable owner came around to explain why his dishes were small in portion and a tad more pricey than most. Then again, he did say he was “rather choosy with his clientele” preferring those who could appreciate the food and not just bus-loads of tourists who eat and leave.  Not that his place could accommodate bus-loads. At most there were 6 to 7 tables.

Mixed vegetable stir-fry and pork cincalok
Mixed vegetable stir-fry and pork cincalok

As someone who goes to the wet market (yes, I do cook), I know how pricey fish, pork, chicken and vegetables cost these days.

Anyway he justified it by saying that his mom insists on the best cincalok, the freshest ingredients and all so these add up. Plus he served us on true-blue possibly heirloom/antique porcelain plates – perhaps harking back to the days when his grandfather used to run a restaurant on No.7, Leith Street!  (Upon looking under the plates, Patrick says that they were from Jingdezhen, a city in China famous for its fine quality chinaware!)

Look at the original floor tiles so telling of a Penang Nyonya shophouse
Look at the original floor tiles so telling of a Penang Nyonya shophouse

Dining at Little Kitchen was an experience that wasn’t just about the Nyonya cuisine and food tales.

Sure the food’s on the pricey side (the bill came up to RM208 for the five of us, plus drinks and 2 bowls of black glutinous rice dessert) and it wasn’t classy like some of the newer establishments. (This is Ji Tiao Lor after all.)

Labelled herbs in pots to show you what's used in Nyonya cooking
Labelled herbs in pots to show you what's used in Nyonya cooking

Yet in its homely way it was charmingly Chinese – much like dining at your favourite aunt’s home.

Whatever it was, I left feeling satisfied and perhaps made a mental note to revisit, if only for the unique tale it has to tell.

Colourful pickles in jars
Colourful pickles in jars

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!

Saturday Book Club


It’s one of those things that just happened.

But it takes friendship and some love for books to make it come to life.

So Lerks and I have started our Saturday Book Club. It wasn’t planned to be  – it was just some crazy bantering over breakfast of homemade bread at her kitchen nook one day.

We had had breakfast and some masala chai and we’d adjourned to her spacious, comfy porch. It was a bright Saturday morning. Ai Lee had come a tad late but she was forgiven – she brought some utterly delicious appam from the Pulau Tikus market.

You know those moments when out of banter comes some serious talk.

The talk came around to books.

We started sharing about our fave authors.

Of course Lerks and Ai Lee didn’t have the hots for the marketing and business books I read. I couldn’t blame them. If you’re not in business, reading business books can be rather dry and trying (not to mention totally unapplicable to real life….at least I have the chance to try out some ideas in our business).

They started telling me that life (and women’s skin) start changing once you hit 40. I was like, OK. (And now you wonder why I stuff my face with goji berries and black sesame seeds and raw almonds?)

Goji berries are legendary for keeping you healthy all over while black sesame seeds are nutritious and get this, help your hair remain lustrous and silky and most importantly, black as a raven. Raw almonds is another snack I have on hand at all times. They’re chockfull of Vitamin E for again, great skin and great hair.

I love talking to my girl friends. They keep me real and feed me all sorts of fascinating information. From aging gracefully, we sauntered to books we love. That’s when Ai Lee and I spoke with such passion about Maya Angelou’s books that Lerks had to google for a podcast interview on Maya Angelou.

That’s how our Saturday Book Club was born.

We agreed to meet for breakfast and of course share about the books we love and bring along some books for an exchange.

But you know life gets in the way especially when Lerks has 3 kids with a part-time job, and Ai Lee’s a full-time teacher and me being me. So dates got pushed about, postponed, and all (amidst holidays and work and life).

We did meet – last Saturday – and despite Ai Lee going AWOL, Lerks and I and her sister, Ling, had a good two hours to talk about books we hated, books we loved.

I brought 3 books for Lerks – Jung Chang’s powerful Mao: The Unknown Story, Julia Childs’ My Life In France and Lisa See’s On Gold Mountain.

Above photo shows what she loaned me.

All authors that I’ve never read before but these are books that came highly recommended so I shall give them a spin. Though these days, time is always in short supply. So much to read, do, plan!

We did agree that Virginia Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic was one of the worst (and most traumatic) books we both read as teenagers.

Maybe one day our Saturday Book Club will be as famous as Oprah’s Book Club!

Nothing Beats A Harvest

Did I tell you I have a pomegranate tree in my backyard?

pomegranate fruits
Ruby red pomegranate arils, fresh off the tree

It’s about 5 years old – a tree that I grew from some leftover pomegranate seeds from a huge pomegranate I bought at one of the fruit stalls at Lorong Kulit.

In the initial years, it was a spindly thing.

At that time, I was still living in my old apartment. Where the balcony was the only space for plants.

pomegranate fruits
They don't look very ripe but they are. How do you know when it's time to pluck the fruit? Look at its bottom. If it's brownish black, it's time to harvest.

But the sun never reached into the innermost corners of my balcony so the poor spindly thing was trying hard to grow.

I brought it over when I came to this new apartment, located on the ground floor.

I had a backyard. Hallelujah! (And I’m not even Christian).

So I planted the spindly thing in a larger pot, put heaps on compost on its roots, and left it in the open. With plenty of rain and sunshine.

And that thing grew and grew.

Pretty much like the beanstalk in Jack and the beanstalk fairy tale.

And the ugly duckling turned into a marvellous looking thing, with crimson flowers that eventually became pomegranates.

So there’s the story of why you should never give up on your plants.

pomegranate
Do you know how you can get the arils out nicely? Peel them in a basin of water.

It bore (and still bears) rose-coloured fruits about the size of a small apple.

Now I know why everyone wants to be a farmer on FarmVille. I don’t like playing the game or playing pretend farmer.

I like doing the real stuff – getting my hands dirty, get sad if my plants start wilting, getting triumphant when my plants flower and fruit.

Best of all, I love tasting and reaping the fruits of my labour.

pomegranate tree
My pomegranate tree is about 5 feet tall

I love it that my pomegranates (as well as my pandan, mint, curry leaves, serai, basil) are all organically grown. Safe for consumption.

I have this indescribable pleasure when I can go to my backyard and pluck a fruit off a tree and eat it!

That’s as natural as it gets.

No carbon footprint issues. No worries about fruit contaminated with chemicals. No worries about eating fake fruits (with China being such good copycats, it’s probably a matter of time when they do make fake fruits!).

No pesticide, no chemicals. Just good old soil, plenty of self-made compost, rain (or water) and sun. Nature supplies the bees, insects and butterflies to help with pollination.

I am now trying my hand at growing a few papaya trees and a tomato plant.

I think when I grow old, I shall buy a plot of land or at least get a house with a huge garden and plant all the fruit trees that I love. I often keep the seeds of fruits and vegetables that I eat, just in case one day I decide to sow the seeds.

close up of the pomegranate tree and fruit
A close up of the pomegranate tree and fruit

I think we all need a connection to the food we eat. Through gardening and planting, we somehow get that gratification. When I tuck into my pomegranate arils, I give thanks because I am so amazed that from just a few components (soil, water, etc.) we are able to enjoy a magnificent array of fruits. The very same ingredients that makes a durian makes a pomegranate.

I find that amazing.

But gardening also teaches me patience and that I am not a master of the universe.

Gardening teaches me that plants grow in their own time and with the seasons. You just can’t control or rush them. They flower in good time. They are unhurried.

Unlike us humans.

We want everything fast. (Isn’t that one reason why we complain about ugly holes in our sawi and then proceed to say, oh wow, why do farmers spray pesticides on vegetables?)

So what fruit trees have you grown? Or trying to grow? Do you grow or eat pomegranates? Would love to hear your gardening escapades too!

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.