In Those Days…

It came up when Nic and I were at Vern’s little birthday do a few nights ago.
After a very filling round of Japanese style cheesecake which her mom had lovingly baked, we sat around her dining table, talking with her friends.
“Remember those days of dial-up Internet?” I asked casually.
Now that set off a round of reminiscing – I thought Vern was not old enough to know “those” days, circa 1996  when dial-up Internet was the best we thought we could have. (She does remember!)
I was lucky – I was working part-time for my professor and could use her PC and it had a pretty smooth Internet connection, thanks to USM. Still when I got back to our shared student house, I borrowed my housemate’s PC and Internet to check email (which was Hotmail then! It was so cool to have a Hotmail address).
Remember those annoying dial-up sound which told the world you were connecting to the ‘Net?
Remember how you had to quickly download your emails to Outlook so that you could disconnect?
I had an obligation to disconnect the line quickly because in those days (gosh, I feel ancient now and it was just a little over 15 years ago) if one used the phone line for the ‘Net, no one could call in! And of course, every minute I was online was costing money so it was best to read one’s email offline!
So if there’s anything to be thankful for, it has to be broadband Internet and wifi.
It has to be the convenience of all the gadgets we all own and use now which allows us to connect easily to the cyberworld which has become part of our life now. (For most people, it is a MAJOR part of their lives.)
I mean, I wouldn’t even have a business if not for the Internet! I’d probably still be slogging in some 9 to 5 corporate job. OK, I did slog once many moons ago but I actually had fun when I was in the corporate world. I’m the sort who embraces the good of anything that comes my way.
Do you remember those early Internet days? What were you doing? What was your first online experience?
Mine was in campus. We lined up for PCs in the Makmal Komputer (we each were alloted an hour only!) and we could use the Internet for free. In those early days, we had Hotmail addresses and funnily enough, we only emailed our own coursemates, whom we saw each day during classes. That was also because not everyone out there was as sophisticated as we were. Email addresses were unheard of!
Isn’t it fantastic how far we’ve all come?
P/S: Merry Christmas to you too as you have been an important part of my Mayakirana –  my Internet journey. If you weren’t supportive, I’d have no one to write for! 😉

What's In The Air Over There?

Over the last few months, I have heard that friends of friends have decided to uproot themselves, give up their citizenship and go away to a better place.
The first question out of my mouth is “Why?”
Then I go all silent.
I know why. We all know why. It’s not just about “better education for our kids” or “free education” or “they use English over there”.
It’s all of the above and more. More is the unspoken fear and worry because Malaysia today is not like the Malaysia we grew up with. (I assume you are in your 30s and understand what I mean.)
And more and more people are leaving, whether we like it or not.
Our southern neighbour does a great job of luring people – better pay, cleaner living, safer living. I felt so safe when I was in Singapore although my sis cautions me with “Low crime does not mean no crime”. But you see, I have that much of faith in Singapore and its governance. I cannot say the same for Penang or Malaysia.
When I was 14, I had a friend who made the big move to Australia. Her entire family upped and left. Her parents were teachers and they decided staying in Malaysia wasn’t worth it anymore. I didn’t know it then that she was moving to Australia. She told us that she was just moving to Sabah. It was a convenient cover-up, lest we all probed too much. It never occurred to me to ask her why Sabah of all places?
Once her family was settled in Sydney, she wrote and apologized for lying to me. I didn’t see much reason to be angry with her. It was easier telling a lie than having to explain why she had to uproot and go to Australia.
Over the years, we wrote and wrote. In those days, we used the thin blue paper Aerogrammes, writing till the very edges before they were sealed and posted. I could see that her Australian education was so much better than what we were doing in secondary school. Her first Sex Education class surprised her – taboo subjects (well, taboo in Malaysian classrooms anyway) – were taught openly in a mixed class of teenage boys and girls. No one flinched or giggled embarrassingly either. Pictures were shown too.
It was a truly global experience back then reading her letters of how she was coping in school. In comparison, my school life seemed rather dull!
Most friends are upping and leaving for Australia or New Zealand. Some became Singaporeans (happily).
And through it all, I wonder how it feels like to move away.
Then someone tells me this – isn’t it very much like how our ancestors in China did it? One day they decided they had to leave for green pastures and to find a better world for their future children so they hopped on a ship sailing for this part of Asia. They heard of the money to be made. They landed here and decided to make this place their home.
Perhaps it is a new wave of ‘seeking greener pastures’. But I can’t help feeling melancholy over these news.
Will I also do this one day? Get fed-up of all this and leave, never looking back? But how about the people who are fighting against the system, hoping to change it so our future children can have a better country to inherit? Will I give up so easily or will I fight to right the problems in this current system?
It’s that one question which flummoxes me.
What do you think of emigration? Will you do it? What would make you leave and give up your Malaysian citizenship?

Ferrerro Rocher Chocolate Banana Muffins

Yeah, you read right.
And it all happened because Mary told me that chocolates never expire, especially if you store them well in the fridge. Sure, they may look a bit different but unless the white spots are fungus, you’re generally all right with chocolates.
She recounted how she dug out all her lovely imported chocolates and melted them all down in a bowl over a hot stove. Next she chunked them up into bite-size pieces and put them into an airtight container. So now she gets to enjoy her chocolates – actually all her chocolates – with one bite!
For me, I always get Ferrerro Rocher chocolates. You know, the type with gold wrapping paper? I have way too many of these chocolates in my fridge sometimes, especially with the holiday season and people look at me and think,”A-ha, I think she needs a box of Ferrerro Rocher chocs!”
So I thought about Mary and her advice.
I decided to make some Ferrerro Rocher chocolate muffins.
I always improvise a recipe when I have the time. And I like digging my fridge, unearthing all manner of ingredients I could pop into the recipe.
This time, I had some frozen leftover bananas and a box of Ferrerro chocolates. And making muffins are like the easiest thing to do on a Sunday night. You just mix up the wet or liquid ingredients; then mix up the dry or flour ingredients. After that, it’s really child’s play. Fold the dry into the wet, spoon mixture into muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes. That’s it.
I call this the basic muffin recipe. With this basic muffin recipe, you can add anything you like. Or in my case, I added anything I could find in my fridge. (I made dark chocolate and cranberry muffins previously using this recipe and it turned out fabulous.)
Dry ingredients (mix in a bowl):
2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Wet ingredients (mix in another bowl):
1 egg, beaten
180 ml UHT milk
125 ml corn oil
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
Using a spatula, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Work quickly with swift strokes to blend them well. Add your Favourite Stuff* but do not over-mix.
Spoon into muffin cases and bake in a pre-heated oven (180 deg Celcius) for 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the muffin comes out clean. This recipe makes 12 small muffins.
* Favourite Stuff
Here is where the combinations get really fun.
For this recipe, I roughly chopped up 8 Ferrerro Rocher chocolates. Don’t chop too fine or you won’t get anything to munch when the muffin’s done. I also added 3 large mashed bananas. The combination is good because anything chocolatey and banana-like is always yummy.
In my other muffin recipe, I added chunky chopped dark chocolate and dried cranberries which are also a good pairing. The dark bitter chocolate offsets the cloying sweetness of the dried cranberries.
You can make savoury muffins too. Using the same basic muffin recipe, omit vanilla essence and brown sugar. Replace with 1 teaspoon of dried thyme and 1 cup grated cheese. Then you can add everything else savoury which you like: olives, more cheese, bell peppers, nuts. It’s really about your taste and how you like your muffins.
Do try out the muffin recipe and come back with your feedback. I’d love to hear about your baking success.

A Tiger Muses…

After so long, I thought I’d start 2011 early with a new little design in my blog.
The black theme was getting on my nerves after a while. And to also give your eyes a break – the font size is a lot bigger and easier to read.
I thought of adding FUN into the blog with a splash of orange. It’s a lovely lively colour plus see those animals on the top and side of this blog?
There’s a silly-looking Tiger. And a goggle-eyed Monkey. And a pink Pig and a Hippo. And if you look really closely, you can see a tiny Panda balancing on a ball.
I’m born in the Year of The Tiger. Hence the major character is a Tiger. A cute one.
The other animals were chosen by Nic. He added the animals to complement the tagline: Life is a zoo, which animal are you?
I think life is always like a zoo. There’s fun but there’s also a little bit of pragmatic melancholy – seeing those wistful animals looking back at you. At times I wonder who is looking at whom? Who are the animals really? The ones hooting and making noises at the animals seem more like it.
Once in a while, everyone needs a new refresh and new look. It’s a burst of energy when you get something fresh and exciting.
As always, will remain advertisement-free and clutter-free.

Catching My Breath

I have been missing. I know. I have been terribly guilty of going AWOL.
The past few weeks have been busy times for me and Nic and the studio. We’ve been involved in so many new things – new clients, consulting work, etc. that it’s been a whirlwind. Who says the year winds down as it nears Christmas? It’s literally revving up for us.
I’ve barely had time to catch my breath but I really look forward to the remaining few weeks of 2010. I’m involved in some personal projects which I’m really excited about and that is always a great reason to look forward to 2011.
This year I’ve gone travelling quite a bit – HK, India and Singapore.
Muz asked me if I am going away for a year-end trip. Nope. I am staying put. I need a break from packing and unpacking. Even Margaret hates it when we go away – she goes off to Dr Sarah for boarding and boy, does she hate being cooped up in a cage after all the freedom she gets in the house.
I was thinking of Korea next year but maybe not. Perhaps we’ll be back in HK before we know it. There’s still so much of HK we haven’t explored. In many ways, travel for us is always about business research and discovery, not so much the touristy stuff. How is business done? Why does a concept or system work in that country? All travel does is stimulate more of our brain juices.
Over the past year, Nic and I have been thinking really hard about where we want to go with this business. While we are tugged in so many directions, I know we can do really well by focusing on what we are good at.
This also means we are moving higher up the value chain. It is great for us in terms of income and satisfaction. It means we are growing up and growing out of a phase. Which for me is truly an exciting time ahead as we challenge ourselves to grow to the next phase of our business. Our roles will change for sure. I remember those days when Nic used to tell me that he’d be happy as a successful freelancer, working from home.
It’s funny to think that we both used to work from home. I never worked in my pajamas but I loved and loathed the work-at-home ethic. I loved the idea of not having to submit to regular work hours but I also loathed that I never had to submit to regular work hours – the work hours just spilled into the rest of my life. Working with Nic meant seeing him all the time. We saw each other at breakfast, lunch and dinner. We shared the same home office. It could grate on my nerves sometimes. Luckily we now have an office we can escape to. When he goes to the office proper, I am in the home office. We get space this way. Odd but it works.
My WomenBizSENSE group is also coming along nicely now – we just capped the year with a very sentimental Xmas Party at the Handicapped Children’s Centre. I am reminded how beautiful it is to contribute to a child’s smile. This year we learnt from the events we undertook and our aim is to get better at this each year. Next year marks our 5th year anniversary for WomenBizSENSE. That’s truly a milestone I am proud of.
But the Xmas Party also reminded me of love and loss – there’s a little boy who won’t have that many days to live. And yet he looks so happy and carefree. The bleakness of this truth hurts and though I don’t know his parents, I somehow feel that it’s never right to lose a child with today’s medical advancements.
Which brings me back to my blog.
I’ve so many posts I wanted to write; some are half-written. My ideas and thoughts flow faster than my fingers can fly over the keyboard. And time, yes, time.
What perfect irony that Time eludes me.
It’s really odd that we all seek more time. But a friend taught me to value my own time. She said that we all have a fair amount of time. And we can’t keep saying yes to everything because these yes-es will rob us of that precious time.
She’s right.
And so these days, if the meetings are a time-waster, I do not attend. If the people aren’t the ones I want to meet, I do not go either. I want to only be with people I like and enjoy.
And I am unapologetic about it. I guess age helps too.
If I am not my own woman at 36 (going on 37), who am I going to be? So I can be brutally honest sometimes if people demand too much of my time. And don’t even talk about weekends either. I need to take back my time if I am to honour and respect myself.
Don’t be surprised that the next time you visit, there’s a new look for this blog. I am a bit tired of this old design too.
I promise not to go too AWOL…. I have way too many stories to blog about!
What do you intend to do more of, and less of, next year? I think resolutions are overrated anyway but I would love to hear what you think of this year. Did you get what you want? Did you learn some lessons of the heart?