Going Live, Day 28 and This Pause Button

UPDATE: See this for the FB Live replay and the 10 things I learnt while doing this FB Live.

I’m writing this on Day 28 of the Movement Restricted Order (MCO). It’s been 28 days since I stepped out of the apartment. I have not gone anywhere. I’ve been at home. And my hair has been growing longer and it irritates me as I like to keep my hair about two inches below my ears. I can’t wait for a trip to the hair salon.

When I was in Saigon, I was already telling myself that I should self-impose the 2-week isolation. I even messaged some clients to ask them if they were sure they wanted to meet face-to-face. One client told me, “No worries. We will have our thermal detectors and protection in place.”

I never managed to even step into her factory.

Because I got back on 15 March and then our Malaysian MCO started on 18 March. So the whole country was self-isolating anyway.

But I found the first phase of MCO rather refreshing in that it was a pause button. I could finally sit down to really look at the projects on my list. And by that I mean my own projects such as my podcast, my videos (which I had sent off to my video editing guy and never quite harangued him for them), my other books that I plan to write and my online courses.

Of course, I still had a website to deliver. Working on clients’ websites can be a lot easier than my own projects. Not that I’m a perfectionist. It’s just that I have a whole lot going on besides my own projects and clients’ websites.

There were WomenBizSENSE meetings to sit in and provide input – and this year we had grand plans. We wanted to organise our women entrepreneurship expo in September and had even had our first committee meeting. We had lined up monthly events and potential speakers.

And just like that, the coronavirus pandemic put all the plans asunder.

We cancelled the entrepreneurship expo and postponed the monthly events.

But that’s only one part. There was IABC, another organisation that I was part of. We had planned for a mix-and-mingle for business communicators at Olive Tree Hotel (I even got the hotel to sponsor the venue) and that fell apart too. Hmm.

Lots of events have been cancelled. And this is where suddenly digital becomes the most exciting platform ever.

For years, I’ve been telling friends – get online. Get yourself a website. Start marketing online because that’s where it is all going to be.

And what did friends do? Sit and twiddle their thumbs. They couldn’t be bothered as they were so focused on their daily meetings, sales appointments etc.

Now I should probably have the last laugh if I were that mean. I’m not but I can’t help but feel vindicated and a lot smug. Now they’re helpless and hapless especially those who thought going online was a lovely but not-so-important option.

A friend sighed and said that she didn’t have much confidence with the online world as she had only amassed three miserly sales since she started her website a year ago. How do you tell people that their website sucks? Of course it could only garner three sales. It was built by a millennial who used Shopify but didn’t know how to create credibility in a website.

Nic and I did an experiment once. We took an unknown tea seller from oblivion to RM4,000 per day in ecommerce sales. When we first started to build the ecommerce website for the tea seller, his brother smirked and said that we wouldn’t succeed. What did we know about tea? And Chinese tea at that.

I don’t have to know about tea or shoes or bags or tyres. But I certainly know marketing. I know how to build credibility and marketing into websites. That’s what Nic and I know a lot about.

I know how to craft compelling, descriptive and authentic website content. I know how the buyer thinks, what he wants to see and know before he puts the product into the cart for checkout. I know what inspires trust and how to build that into a website to sell your most niche products, tea included.

And this friend of mine explained that she only got three sales because she “didn’t know how to drive traffic to her website”.

I almost rolled my eyes.

That’s why I don’t like Internet/digital marketers who keep spouting rubbish like the need to drive traffic to a website. All the traffic in the world will do you no good if your website cannot convert.

But of course the digital marketers won’t say that. They’re in the business of selling their campaigns and traffic.

That’s why I am actually happy in a way about the MCO. People are pushed to use technology now, like it or not. They can’t say they don’t need it; their sales are dropping like flies.

I’ve also used this MCO to push myself to do the things I normally wouldn’t. Like doing FB Live sessions (and I’m doing one this Thursday).

I’ve done FB Live in the past when we used to run our Marketing Mojo events at China House Cafe. That was fun and for all of 3 to 5 minutes.

Now I decided to raise my game by committing to doing this more consistently. Of course there’s so many people doing FB Live every day. Some people do it on LinkedIn too.

I’m doing it because I bring my own unique perspective and personality to the whole FB Live thingy. I want my FB Live to be fun, informal, less pretentious, less about telling you what to do and more about sharing and commiserating and crowd-sourcing answers. I don’t want to pretend to know what’s going to happen after this pandemic is over. I don’t care about predicting the future. I’m only interested in my present.

I heard Dan Sullivan of Inside Strategic Coach say (and his podcast is one of the best if you’re looking for a podcast to listen to) say in one episode: In these strange times, you can’t plan for more than 24 hours.

Yet the uncertainty of everything in the future also means we have the full pleasure of living one hundred per cent right here, today.

That’s where I got my gumption to embark on FB Live but to speed up all the things I’ve planned but put on the back burner in the past.

I once saw this on a t-shirt and it said: I am smart. I am blessed. I can do anything.

And I take it seriously so there’s nothing I cannot learn right? Including how to do a proper live streaming to FB Live using a software called Streamyard.

I told a friend of this software and suggested she use it for the next round she intends to do her FB Live and she asked me, “Who’s your tech support? Can I ask my tech guy to call him and find out more?”

I chuckled.

“Babe, I’m my own tech support. If you haven’t realised it yet, the world is a-changing. Who needs tech support when I can easily find how-to vids on Youtube to learn all I need to learn?” (Speaking of which, check out this list of resources I collected.)

So you see, the new world isn’t about the old ways of doing things. It’s about taking charge of your life, seeing the world like you’ve never seen it before, taking action on what you seriously want to do. If jobs are no longer guaranteed, we’re all our own ninjas. We’re all in this mess together but to get out of it alive, the old ways of thinking have to go. (And instead of having physical meetings, we’re having Zoom meetings and actually having fun!)

In the corporate world, people banter about agility, resilience and more as well as disruption. Today, all these are no longer pure concepts. All of us have to embrace being agile and resilient (and in the words of Nassim Taleb, to be anti-fragile) and to find ourselves amidst the disruption of our work life and business life.

I love the peace and quiet that MCO gives me. I don’t have anywhere to go, no meetings to attend, no events to be at. I love it that MCO gives me more time to return to my old loves – cooking, pottering in the garden, crochet and yoga.

I love it that MCO gives me that big old push to do the very things I’m self-conscious about such as FB Live. I am thrilled that I have this extra time to ruminate and yes, even come back to blogging, a love that never dimmed.

I am also excited that we may finally have serious rethink how we’ve done business for the past 21 years. I am ready for a different phase of business; I know what I’m good at and I want to use my strengths to reach even more people through podcasting and FB and live-streaming. These days, I am my own media company. And that sums up the gratitude I feel for the Internet and technology.

I also want to teach more through online or virtual classes and courses. I’m not too shabby a teacher truth be told. And funnily, things have come full circle – I am a teacher’s daughter who refused to be a teacher and now I am going to teach.

Oh and happy birthday to Nic who turns 48 today. I’m always telling him he is so lucky to have me haha! During this MCO, I’m cooking a whole lot more and feeding him Cantonese dishes that I can recall my mum or grandma cooking. Each day, we ponder about what we’re having for lunch and he goes off to tar-pau the lunch we decided upon. I will cook dinner since I do have a well-stocked fridge. But sometimes I miss that freedom of going out to eat a bowl of Hokkien mee.

And I just watched Sam Hui hold his livestreaming concert two days ago on Youtube. We live in such interesting times.

I have nothing to complain honestly as I have all that I want and we’ve always lived within our means. I can’t thank Robert Kiyosaki enough the book he wrote; the book I read when I was fresh out of university but then again, I’ve never been a fan of material goods. I like them but I get bored with them easily. I prefer experiences and travel over the latest branded bag or jeans.

And you? What do you miss most? Or grateful for? Or what have you realised after 28 days of being at home?

Leading An Organisation of Women

An acquaintance asked me to answer a few questions regarding my role in WomenBizSENSE. Since I took the time to do so, I might as well put it here too. I believe in repurposing or reusing content, particularly for different platforms.

From left, Hayzel, me, Josephine and Jin Ting. We were interviewed recently by Guang Ming Daily for their International Women’s Day special feature.

What is your position in the organisation?

I co-founded WomenBizSENSE in 2006 with a friend, Josephine. I was the chairperson from 2012 to 2016 after we were officially registered as an NGO with Registrar of Societies. After that, I stepped down and I am now in the Committee as an advisor, as is Josephine. 

The 2020 WomenBizSENSE Committee

How would you describe your role as a leader in the organisation? 

I would say that it changes with time. When I was the chairperson from 2012 to 2016, I was actively engaging with the members and together with my committee, we would plan events that helped our members in their businesses such as give them more publicity, limelight or just ensure that each member knew each other and they did business with each other. It meant a lot of internal networking and ensuring members are happy.

Now that I am no longer the chairperson, I am freed up to do more external networking either with outside organisations (business and NGOs) and create more connections that the committee can follow up with. In a way, Josephine and I have become “ambassadors” for WomenBizSENSE. 

One of our sessions last year for our mentoring programme.

What motivates you to be in the non-profit sector/ non-governmental organisation?

I didn’t initially start out wanting to be in the NGO arena. WomenBizSENSE started because Josephine and I couldn’t find an organisation that truly met our needs as women in business. We felt that there’s much to be done for women in small businesses. We started without any funding; we literally self-funded the NGO until we started collecting membership fees. However, I am happy to say that over the years, we have grown organically through word-of-mouth and have great visibility in Penang.  

Mentors and mentees of the 2019 business mentoring programme

Can you describe the organisation’s objectives?

WomenBizSENSE is a registered women entrepreneur organization based in Penang, Malaysia. We’re a non-profit organization, run by a team of committed volunteers who comprise women in businesses and we help women entrepreneurs get access to the right resources they need to grow and scale their businesses.

We provide access through entrepreneurship visits and exchanges, expertise sharing, seminars, business opportunity sharing and charity fundraising. Our events are based on our 5 key pillars: Support, Education, Network, Social Responsibility and Entrepreneurship.

And why do you think these areas are equally important for women empowerment?

Women in business need support, education and the power of a network. They also need to realise that business is also a tool for good hence we have a social responsibility as one part of who we are in WomenBizSENSE. We organise social responsibility activities because we know doing good for others is innate in all human beings particularly women. 

Women who run businesses will be financially independent and financial independence is always important for women. When a woman is able to provide for herself and her family through her own resources and business, she is more confident and more empowered. She makes decisions every day as a woman in business. She meets people and gets to use her abilities to help her grow her business. 

Visiting locally owned businesses – this was at Marque de Luxe, one of our sponsors last year.

How does your organisation contribute to the economic sector?

We grow the economy when our members’ businesses grow and prosper. We have strict rules – we will only accept women as members if their businesses are registered with SSM which means their business is legitimate and pays taxes like any good, responsible business. I have seen also how women as employers are inclined to hire other women as employees. So it is a virtuous circle when a woman is a boss!

I have observed that a number of women in their 40s, after having quit their corporate roles, start their own businesses. I’m always excited for them as starting a business no matter how small is one way of being an active economic generator provided they start with the right business foundation. Too many women start out without any support, network or knowledge and this leads to a lot of hardship and struggling which makes them give up too soon!

How does your organisation fit within the Malaysian context generally and Penang specifically?

WomenBizSENSE certainly fits well in the Malaysian context as more and more women are looking to start or run their own businesses. However, they may not have the right support system or resources in terms of network or information and this is where our NGO is perfectly made to fill the gap. 

2019 Christmas Hi-tea for our members and friends at Jazz Hotel

What are the challenges do you have personally (as an individual) and leader in your organisation? 

As with every NGO, all our Committee members are volunteers. I am a volunteer. We volunteer time and energy to organise events (we have monthly events and major events like our anniversary dinner, charity event etc) but not all members are always appreciative of the work and effort and do not always participate or turn up.

I have had the unpleasant task of being on the disciplinary board many years ago to listen to the complaints of members against one specific member for her lack of integrity. As a team, we have had to make the difficult decision to terminate her membership as she was causing a lot of problems for a few members.

I have also had a tough time getting women to step up and lead as chairpersons. It’s not an easy role as the chairperson of WomenBizSENSE gets many invitations to speak by other organisations. She must be seen as an entrepreneur role model with good values and principles. 

Our yearly community event at House of Hope, Air Itam with senior citizens.

Being a woman, do you find any leverage or baggage?

It’s interesting to be a woman in business today. People are generally excited about women entrepreneurs and it can be leverage especially when our NGO is quite well known. I need to be an example to the women I mentor and to uphold the highest integrity in all that we do (especially because Josephine wrote a children’s book teaching integrity!). 

Members participating in an art event at the Special Children’s Centre.

Does Malaysia provide a supportive environment for entrepreneurs generally and women specifically to achieve their full potential?

Malaysia has many programmes for entrepreneurs but not all programmes are useful for us or tailored to what we want. That is why in WomenBizSENSE we took it one step further and created our own business mentoring programme to help our members as well as other women (who may not be our members).

Our signature programme opens once a year and runs for 5 months with pre-qualified mentees having structured training sessions and group mentoring. It is extremely affordable as we don’t intend to make money from this programme; it is simply our way of addressing a gap in the entrepreneurship market after observing our members’ problems and challenges in their businesses. 

Recent CNY potluck party at a member’s house.

2020 Changing Faces Women’s Leadership Seminar – Open for Applications Until 19 March

Update: They’ve extended the deadline to 19 March.

Remember I wrote and spoke about the life-changing programme I underwent in Hawaii last July? Well, I just got an email from the East-West Center that they’re now accepting applications from women entrepreneurs and social innovators from all over Asia.

Watch the video below which the center did about our cohort last year.

2019 Changing Faces seminar which I was a part of! I miss these gal pals of mine. We had such amazing moments!

The deadline is 12 March 2020 so hurry and send in your application if you’re keen to get a place for this programme. And of course, if you don’t qualify, please share this with the women who could benefit from this programme. Let’s pass the opportunities forward.

Theme:  Women as Innovators and Entrepreneurs

Dates:  July 4 – 18, 2020

Study Destinations:  Oahu & Hawaii Island

The 2020 Changing Faces Women’s Leadership Seminar focuses on the important role that innovation and entrepreneurship play in contributing to economic growth, job creation, and strengthening communities.

During this 13-day professional training, dialogue, and travel program, participants engage in a series of workshops focused on leadership and entrepreneurship that are facilitated by a noted women’s leadership trainer and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Participants also expand their knowledge of entrepreneurship, economic growth, leadership, and community building through carefully selected field visits and meetings with experts, practitioners, business owners, and policymakers in Hawaii.

Participants are individually matched with local women leaders in a Host Mentor Program and, in return, Changing Faces participants act as mentors for a select group of high school students in a Next Generation Service Project.

The Changing Faces Seminar also provides training and consultative sessions to help participants develop and actualize a concrete Action Plan for the betterment of their business or their community.

Finally Changing Faces women serve as panelists, moderators and attendees at the publicly ticketed #galswithLEI, a purposeful, collaborative, and dynamic forum.

Who Can Apply

The Changing Faces Seminar targets female business owners and social entrepreneurs who have demonstrated leadership and ability to affect change and influence others in their communities.

Innovative entrepreneurs, business managers, government and industry policymakers, and civil society leaders with at least seven years of work experience and who play a leadership role in their community are eligible to apply.

Innovators may generally be defined as those who have created an original idea or product or are recognized for their ability to improve upon an original idea or system. Eligible countries include the United States and Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, East Timor, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kiribati, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nauru, Nepal, New Zealand, Niue, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Tonga, and Vietnam. Women from Hawaii are particularly encouraged to apply! 

Applicants must have the ability to communicate in English in a professional setting. Preference is given to candidates with limited opportunities for international exchange and professional development as well as those who offer to cost-share programmatic costs. A phone interview may be conducted with finalists.

Funding: The 2020 Changing Faces Seminar is funded by the East-West Center, the Fish Family Foundation, and others. EWC plus individual scholarships will fund six to eight women from the United States and the Asia Pacific region.

A full scholarship for the 2020 Changing Faces Seminar is valued at USD$2,885/per participant. Changing Faces Women are all individually responsible for their roundtrip airfare to and from Honolulu, visa-related expenses, health insurance, and baggage fees.

Given the limited number of scholarships available, EWC strongly encourages additional cost-sharing of the programmatic costs.

For more information about this seminar and instructions on how to apply, visit  www.eastwestcenter.org/changingfaces

Pirates, Bookworms & Six-Figures Later

Decided to write this piece for posterity. You know how stories that get told and retold become unrecognizable a few years down the road?

I never want that to happen.

I want to write this story down so that you know the real story. Not some story that someone else tells and cannibalizes it until it’s a poor shadow of itself. I have seen this happen with a local church set up as some people take credit as no one knows the real story. And the person behind the real story is too humble to correct the incorrect story! (But not me. This is why everyone needs their own blog/website. You own a piece of online real estate that’s your best media and your own media. You get to tell your story. And it lives on the Internet forever if you don’t delete it.)

The BAC logo that Nic designed for the FB Group.

Until today, I still get calls from regular aunties and uncles (who got our numbers from the Guang Ming and Sin Chew newspaper write-ups) about donating books to our TSN BAC. You will see a video I created about BAC when you click this link – Taman Sri Nibong Book Adoption Centre.

Even as recently as last Saturday, a Madam Ho called and excitedly asked in Mandarin if I was with that centre that took in books. I, in my most articulate Mandarin (ahem), told her about our BAC and what we did with books that were donated.

She said, “Oh good. You all are not going to take my books and turn them into scrap paper right? I have very good books but I am moving so I have to donate them.”

See? That was my (and Nic’s) sentiments some 3 years ago when we went to the Tzu Chi Recycling Centre in our taman. The taman is Taman Sri Nibong, Penang.

We had brought our plastics and paper to recycle and we saw a volunteer tearing up books!

To bookworms, it’s a horror movie on its own.

Nic even asked the volunteer if we could buy some of the books. The volunteer said no outright. He said that all publicly donated recyclables had to be recycled. (I know, it’s a facepalm moment.)

Yes, they tore up books that people sent to the centre because they said it was the policy that all contributed recyclables were to be recycled. We even asked if we could buy these books but they said, no, it is a policy that they had to recycle the books, no matter how good they were.

In our minds, we were thinking, what a stupid policy! Either the person we spoke to wasn’t a real Tzu Chi member or if he were, he was not exercising his wisdom.

How could anyone in their right mind tear up books that other people could read? Whatever happened to reuse, reduce and recycle (paying particular attention to ‘reuse’ or repurpose)? And by the way, they were always talking about 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle!

For the longest time, whenever Nic and I went to the recycling centre to drop off our recyclables we didn’t hang around much. I couldn’t bear the thought of good books being torn up and sold as scrap paper for a mere 30 sen per kilogramme!

We were upset with such a dumb policy and so for months after that, we just went to the centre just to sort out our own recyclables and didn’t really look in the direction of the paper scrapping section.

About a year later, we met with another Tzu Chi member whom we had spoken regularly to. He was a fatherly sort of man in his 60s by the name of Brother Goh. He was the second in command at the centre. One time when we were chatting with him, he led us to an area that was filled with boxes of books and asked us if we would like to do something with the books. Brother Goh had saved these books from being turned into mere scrap paper.

That was in March 2016.

Nic and I thought about this for a while and later decided to help do something about the mini-mountain of books. First, they had to be sorted. We started spending our weekends bent over hordes of books, separating them into English and Chinese books. Then we began to rope in EY who brought his daughters to help us sort books. It was messy, dusty work and we were often bitten by mosquitoes that lurked in the centre (it was previously an old food court that MBPP didn’t know what to do about so Tzu Chi leased it from MBPP to run the recycling centre).

We were given a small cubicle to arrange the books we’d sorted. Was it a library? Was it a free book section? How were we going to catalogue the books? What kinds of books were we going to accept or feature?

In the end, we decided that it was to be a book adoption centre. It was NOT a library given that we had no manpower to take care of the library nor did we have a catalogue system (and who was ever going to take charge of cataloguing the books?). It was not a free-for-all section as we wanted to give back to Tzu Chi.

A book adoption was the best system that we could think of. Yes, Nic and I thought about this and named it such and made it into a triple win system for the book contributor, the book lover and Tzu Chi.

Took my Kiwi friend, Olie Body, for a tour of the Book Adoption Centre recently when she visited me in Penang.

It’s a triple win because 1) you get a place to donate your beloved books, 2) the public that loves books get to have a chance to adopt books and donate towards Tzu Chi Penang plus 3) Tzu Chi gets the money they need for funding their dialysis centres.

The public loved the idea and that’s how we started to get so much publicity from reporters who happily came to interview us. We had NTV7, 8TV, Sin Chew and Guang Ming feature our BAC. The idea was novel and the fact that we were giving books a second chance and giving new homes to old books struck a chord with book lovers everywhere. (See Nic’s interview on TV when you click this link.)

We also started with a core group – Nic, me, EY and later, Alan and Eddie joined us. As our books started to pile up, we quickly ran out of space and we had to move from one cubicle to two cubicles and now, BAC takes up a quarter of the recycling centre’s space. That’s how many books we have in our BAC now.

When we had an official opening for our BAC, we pulled in a crowd and even NTV7 and 8TV reported about the uniqueness of our centre. We even managed to get our ADUN, Dato’ Saifuddin Nasution, to come for a visit.

Along the way, BAC started to grow as more people loved the idea and wanted to help out. We accept everyone willingly because there’s a lot to do in BAC. The physical centre needs managing too – from someone to water the plants and shrubs, sweeping the floor, dusting the books, sorting books, etc. Even the Tzu Chi recycling centre in Taman Lumba Kuda now keeps books for us so we get books from all sources.

Between me and EY, we started a Facebook Group called TSN Book Adoption Centre that is growing in numbers week by week. At this point in time, we have about 2,796 members from all over Malaysia. The volunteers who work with us also post up photos of newly contributed books in the Facebook Group so that online members or followers can ‘adopt’ the books. So it’s not just a physical walk-in centre, we’ve spread ourselves online too. And our books are in high demand because unlike a bookstore, we don’t know what kinds of books come in until they come in and are sorted! (Think of a treasure trove of books.)

So it’s like a fun adventure for all members online to stay glued to our FB Group, awaiting our VODs (volunteers-on-duty) to post up exciting new finds each weekend. They get to reserve the books for a flat fee and the books will be posted to them once they agree to contribute the amount directly into the Tzu Chi bank account.

Once the donation is given, EY and Eddie start the book packing process. Some book adopters are so consistent with their book adoptions that special shelves are allocated with their names. The reserved books will be packed, weighed and hauled off to Pos Malaysia by our strong man Eddie. When Eddie is unwell, we have a backlog of books to be packed! However, EY and Eddie are such a good team that most “orders” are sent out within a week or two. I call them our e-commerce team as what they do is essentially e-commerce.

EY basically is the COO of BAC. He arranges the weekly time-table for our volunteers, ensuring they turn up on time for duty. Duty means being there to oversee the centre and ensuring the public who come toddling into the centre know the rules of adoption.

We have had greedy and stingy people who sneak lots of good books out of BAC without giving a single cent. Once, I had to confront a woman in her 60s for taking out more than 20 books (“for her grandchildren” or so she says) and when I asked her pointedly and irately to donate, she said she had no money. There truly is no remedy for greed.

We have also had one so-called TCM practitioner who used to cart away lots of good Chinese books on medicine. EY later discovered that this same man was then selling these books on Facebook!

Because of these shenanigans, we have implemented a 15-book per individual policy.

But this blog post isn’t about the crazy shit that people do. It’s about something that I want to raise – about people in religious organisations. It’s the people that make things work and it’s also the people who make things worse!

We have always been transparent with the donations that we get from walk-in adopters, online adopters and adopters from our Occupy Beach Street as well as the children in schools when some of our team go to schools with books for the school outreach programme. To date, we have raised RM100,000 from BAC for Tzu Chi Penang. It is no small figure and no small feat. Imagine all these books being scrapped by Tzu Chi and sent to paper recyclers!

Nic, founder of TSN BAC, tells his story at our last gathering recently to the BAC volunteers

It was a perfect arrangement. When we started, Nic and I were not Tzu Chi members. We still aren’t. Organized religious bodies are not our kind of thing.

BAC started off as a rogue project, a pirate project if you like. We didn’t start with many rules. The only rules were – save books, give readers a chance to adopt and read books at a lower cost and prevent books from being scrapped and give the donated money back to Tzu Chi (since our source of books was from the recycling centre).

BAC is also successful because we started with few rules and we had the right factors in our favour (we live in an urban area, we had people who were middle-class and literate, we had volunteers who were folks who worked in the nearby multinational corporations, we had space to do this and a neverending source of books).

BAC is also what it is today because people believed in our mission of saving books and giving them new life and new owners. BAC is also an innovation that couldn’t have happened within Tzu Chi Penang itself because they themselves had too many rules. When you have too many restrictions, you cannot think out of the box. It’s the sad truth but this is what innovation is about – being roguish and a little bit pirate and everything ninja.

Nic and I came to the project without any rules in mind except one mission – to save books.

When I look back at the past 3 years and how we have become such a hit with readers across Malaysia, the money we have raised, the books we found new and good homes for, the team that came together for a mission, I am deeply thankful. (We had the chance to tell our BAC founding story to a group of Catholic students last year when we were invited as guest speakers at their church camp and we have also sent books to the orang asli in Negeri Sembilan who wanted to start a village library for their children. We have had volunteers who found more meaning in life by helping out at our BAC on weekends especially the young and single who want to do some community work.)

And yet, this is where Part 2 of our story comes into play.

I am writing Part 2 of this story because I want people to know the truth about people, power and control.

For the longest time, as a rogue project, BAC was called TSN BAC where TSN stands for Taman Sri Nibong – the place we are in. When we concocted the name, Nic and I believed that as a rogue project, it is good to distance ourselves from Tzu Chi because what we were doing didn’t fit into their rules.

Originally they said that they HAD to scrap and tear all books that the public brought to the recycling centre.

We figured that this was a stupid idea and policy. Where’s the wisdom in doing so?

As a rogue project, we could be a separate entity to do what they couldn’t do or be seen doing. Most of our volunteers weren’t even Tzu Chi members; many were friends of mine who had seen and heard about the project and wanted to be part of it. They really didn’t care much for Tzu Chi, truth be told.

Things started to get disturbing when some of the volunteers went to schools for the school outreach programme. They were asked to wear the Tzu Chi vests over their BAC shirts. Apparently, if we were out to collect donations, it is best to go out under the Tzu Chi brand. A few of our volunteers were really upset as they were not Tzu Chi members!

Once BAC started to grow in popularity and became more well known than the recycling centre, one person inside Tzu Chi decided he was going to set the rules. He said that now BAC was under Tzu Chi. He claimed this project (which was created and started by Nic and I) to be theirs. That wasn’t the part that riled us. The part that pissed me off completely was that we couldn’t reprint or redesign new BAC t-shirts for the volunteers!

I understand how little Napoleans work. Before the project was successful, he didn’t care if BAC lived or died. Now that the revenue from BAC was far more than the recycling centre, people started to take notice. This particular person decided to claim it all for himself and park BAC under Tzu Chi. I really don’t care much but what they forget is that if it was still a rogue project, they had lots of leeways. If it really parked under Tzu Chi, they have some major problems they cannot explain or solve.

Why couldn’t they leave BAC as a rogue project and happily pocket the monthly RM5K to RM7K that we were bringing in to them? By the way, our BAC is the one and only book adoption centre in all of Malaysia and the only one in Tzu Chi so much so that other Tzu Chi chapters such as the one from Melaka came to study our model. Unfortunately, they haven’t replicated BAC yet. It looks simple but it takes the right thinking to get it started.

Because we are the one and only BAC in Malaysia and perhaps even globally, I can see why this person wants to claim this rogue project as his own – conveniently forgetting to inform the people in Tzu Chi Taiwan that two non-Tzu Chi people thought of this brilliant idea.

Now here’s the dumbest part.

One day, someone from Tzu Chi Taiwan came to visit BAC. He spotted a book with a so-called unsavoury cover. He started questioning the people in charge why such a book is allowed in BAC. We accept all books of all genres even holy books like the Quran and the Bible. These books are donated by the general public. We believe that you should be given a democratic choice in deciding what you want to read or adopt. This is not the Tzu Chi bookshop. At one point, we had lots of Japanese manga and again, this disturbed the higher-ups as manga contains graphics that offended their puritanical sensitivities. If they had let BAC stay a rogue entity, they could have easily wash their hands off such issues.

But money, fame and power are so addictive and enticing.

I’ve stayed away from the BAC now for these reasons because it is so disappointing to know that the very folks who talk about “gan en” (gratitude) or helping others are just another bunch of hypocrites. Nic and I are slowly removing ourselves and distancing ourselves from BAC now as the internal leadership is nothing but a farce.

I am thankful for my own space in this blog that I can write about this openly. I want others to know this story and see for themselves how people who are selfish will always be selfish no matter which organisation they are in, religious or otherwise.

Nic and I have created and started many initiatives in business and for our community and this is but one of them. We have some interesting plans for 2020 with regards to our original mission of saving books. Stay tuned.

We decided that BAC now is no longer the original pure BAC that we envisioned. It’s a tragic truth but with all endings, new beginnings arise. There’s always opportunity and this may be a blessing in disguise for me, Nic and some of the pioneer team members.

Here’s the uncomfortable truth that Tzu Chi Penang doesn’t want to hear – Nic and I started BAC because we didn’t like seeing how the Tzu Chi volunteers at the recycling centre were tearing up books! They were just very good rule followers, never once questioning the archaic and ridiculous practices (this is exactly why innovation is about being rebellious – you can’t work in the system that locks you down and shuts you up).

In the future, they would erase the founding story too precisely because they can’t tell the founding story as by telling the founding story, they would be branding them as rigid, unwise and inflexible. You see, that’s the problem with claiming something that’s not your own.

Anyway, I’m optimistic about our next phase with our BAC – no one can stop a good idea from spreading and in 2020, we will share with you what’s brewing. And if you are interested to be on our pirate ship, contact me. We won’t make you walk the gangplank but we are surely geared up for a damn good adventure!

The BAC team of volunteers today. We have grown to 30+ volunteers.

The Cup That Changed My Life

Recently I discovered something that truly was life-changing. Now I don’t often say this. I’m not the type given to hyperbole and such. I rarely use the word “awesome” as I think it’s blatantly overused and sounds inauthentic.

I discovered something that made me look forward to my periods each month!

Actually I didn’t discover it.

I was given the product.

Olie’s Wa Cup – a remembrance of my special trip to Hawaii

Remember my Hawaii trip? Well, on that trip, I met Olie Body who is like a total Energizer bunny (you can watch her TEDx Wellington talk too). She was in our Changing Faces programme and the first time I saw her, she was hunched over her laptop in the lobby of the dorm that we were staying in.

Later we became good friends to the extent that I was holding her wet bikini bottom while standing on the streets of Waikiki! (Side story that’s hilarious and shows how spontaneous this gal is! – Olie had stripped down to her bikini and ran into the Waikiki sea with Tina, another friend that Friday night after we had danced at this American club. When she got out of the sea, she was dripping wet but she removed her bikini bottom as she was wearing undies under it. As I was going back to the dorm first I said, “Let me take your bikini bottom back with me” because she and Tina were going back into the club for another bout of dancing.)

Olie is as fascinating as she is brilliant and this New Zealander is as adventurous as they come. Do you want to know how brilliant she is? She managed to get herself into the Obama Foundation Fellowship Programme for 2020.

Well, I was having my period almost at the tail-end of the 2-week Hawaiian programme. My period wasn’t due for another two weeks but then again, staying in close proximity with 15 other women probably regulated our menstrual cycles that mine came a little early.

Luckily I had some sanitary pads with me but I knew I would soon run out. I went around asking my fellow Asia-Pacific friends for extra sanitary pads until Jaruza said, “Why don’t you ask Olie for the menstrual cup?” 

I was like, nope. I wasn’t mentally prepared for it. 

wa collective menstrual cup
The WA Collective menstrual cup

During our programme, I had heard Olie talk about the menstrual cup. After all, she ran a business – a social enterprise – that straddled the environment and women’s health by offering menstrual cups as an eco-friendly option to sanitary pads. 

I was intrigued by her love of this silicone cup. Shihoko, another fellow participant, also gushed about how she had been using one for the last 10 years and it was liberating. (Yes, the cup can last a decade.)

On the final day of our programme, I braved myself and asked Olie if I could buy one. Olie didn’t even want to hear of it; instead she gave me one as a parting gift!

When I came back, I couldn’t wait for my next period. I knew I couldn’t waste the gift. The first time I tried it, I felt uncomfortable. I could feel the stem of the cup poking out. Insertion wasn’t too difficult despite my initial fear that the cup looked too huge to go into me. After 2 days of using it and anxious about the discomfort, I went back to my pads. 

During my next cycle, I tried it again. This time, I had more confidence as I had spoken to Joanne, a friend who unashamedly that she is now a big convert of the cup. She was so excited that she even bought them for her sisters, egging them to try. I reassured her that I would try the cup again. 

It actually became easier once I got over my hang-ups about the menstrual cup. So now I go around advocating the use of the cup as it has brought me a new level of freedom that I didn’t know I had missed all this while. Pretty big claim huh.

The second time – it really became easier. I couldn’t believe that my other women friends were absolutely nailing it while I was like still unsure. So I watched a few videos and landed on a particular Youtube video where this woman was sharing her own agonizing moments and finally how she managed to insert the menstrual cup. 

She gave a huge tip which was my biggest a-ha moment – use your Kegel muscles to draw the cup into you! Now why didn’t I think of that! 

The type of fold mattered too. I used her punch-down fold and tried the “sucking it in” with the Kegel muscles technique and it worked! The cup literally disappeared up my vagina. I couldn’t feel it nor see its stem. And it didn’t feel uncomfortable either.

It felt like…nothing.

That was my defining moment. I was like, “Woah, where have you been all my life?” 

Using the cup, I can roll and toss on the bed at night and not a drop leaked. The cup forms such a tight vacuum inside that I have to “release” the air in the cup first before I slowly pull it out. (And if you don’t, you feel like you’re tugging at your insides!) At times I even forget I am having my period! 

I’m now like one of those mad cat ladies – I gush about the menstrual cup to any woman I know.

Yes, yes, the initial fear is paralyzing and you think the cup is too huge to be inside you. Or you think it’s disgusting to put your fingers inside yourself or be turned off by the blood that’s collected in the cup. Or the amount of blood. Or what if the damn cup gets lost and you can’t even feel the stem? 

The cup won’t get lost as there’s only one passage in you. It may ride higher but it certainly won’t be lost like a tampon losing its string. Unlike a tampon, the cup collects blood and doesn’t dry you up inside. 

I can now walk past the sanitary pad aisle in Jusco smugly. I never ever have to buy pads again and never feel guilty about all those pads piling up in the landfill. I can travel without worrying that I didn’t bring enough pads. I can have my period without feeling like the whole world knows about it.

And I can wear the clothes and pants I want without having this fear that I might just stain them! (Once I got my period while in the middle of a meeting with some very important people and I couldn’t even concentrate on the meeting as I felt wetness seeping through my skirt!) 

And yes, I nailed it in my third cycle after Hawaii and I am now a super proud user of the WA Collective menstrual cup. Olie’s product truly changed my life and now I actually look forward to having my periods. Crazy huh? 

There are sizes. I’m definitely NOT under 30 years of age but I have never had kids so this was the cup for me.

My Hawaiian Sojourn Into The Unknown

Although I’m not a Christian, I had a fantastic piece of news on Good Friday yesterday.

When I checked my email, I got an email from the East West Centre that I have been accepted for a 12-day Asia Pacific women’s leadership programme in Honolulu, Hawaii and the best part of all, on a scholarship!

“This 12-day immersive, leadership and professional development seminar is designed for innovative women entrepreneurs from Asia, the Pacific, and the United States to enhance their leadership skills and entrepreneurial capacity; experientially explore innovative entrepreneurship, leadership, and community examples; build a sense of self-efficacy; and expand national and regional networks.”

I thought I had wished so hard that I actually got the scholarship! But seriously, jokes aside, I had envisioned myself getting this when I was writing up my resume and application. Talk about mental vision board!

Nic also told me that I would get it.

So did my besties, Jana and Tammy. They encouraged me and said, if anyone deserved to get this scholarship and go to Hawaii and learn amongst other accomplished women from the Asia Pacific region, it would be me and the body of work I have done in the past decade. (Key lesson: always give first without condition and plants seeds of kindness along the way. The good stuff does come back to you!)

And I’m also happy to say that I’ll be representing Malaysia (I must ask the organiser who else is from Malaysia) and I will soon be part of the growing alumnae of 185 women from 34 countries who have participated in the Changing Faces Seminar.

It helped that I had endorsement letters from two powerful and influential women.

And that’s the power of the ask.

I’ve learned over the years that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. And what’s the harm of asking? The worse they could say was no. But these two women said yes. It also helped that I have worked with them in the past and they had seen the quality of my (pro bono/community) work, tenacity (haha, I’m always like a dog with a bone and a never-say-die attitude) and optimism.

When I got the email, I almost cried in joy. The first person I told was of course my husband, Nic. He said the same thing – “I knew you’d get it!” – as Jana.

Then I called Jana.

And she was like, “I knew you’d get it! You’re a true feminist at heart and your work shows it.”

Of course, I had to message the people who helped me with the endorsement letters (the East West Centre needed endorsement letters on letterheads). I always update the people around me especially those who are helping me. They need to know the status of their contribution too. By doing so, people feel appreciated and these small touches go a long way in the future (especially if you need their help again).

When I sent off my application on 2 April, I felt a flood of relief too.

While the requirements and paperwork weren’t difficult, it did take some strategic planning. I had to rework my resume to fit 2 pages (they said they wouldn’t read anything beyond 2 pages). On top of that, I had to get 2 endorsement letters on letterhead. And finally, explain in a 3-pager why I believed I was qualified for this programme and what I intend to do after I attended the programme.

The 3-pager was interesting as the questions reminded me of an interview (which was exactly what it was). It also asked for a solid commitment of what I planned to do after the 12 days. I was thinking of a million things I could do but I settled on a podcast on entrepreneurship. Now that I’ve publicly announced it here on my blog and wrote about it in my application, I have no choice but to jump right in to do it!

I also told my best friends that regardless of the outcome, I enjoyed the exercise of writing down what I have done, what I believe are my strengths and why I am most suited for the scholarship. I had the option of submitting my application and agreeing to pay my way for the 12 days but I raised the bar on myself.

I told myself that I would use my body of work to help me get a full scholarship. If I couldn’t, at least I knew I lost out to a more accomplished Malaysian woman. If I got it, I would get it on my own merit. I know, I can be stubborn.

I also wanted to prove that I am not the typical entrepreneur.

I guess I have never been the typical entrepreneur because my interests in the community and women’s issues (particularly empowerment and entrepreneurship) are so strongly ingrained.

Just two days ago, a friend in the arts called me and said that when he thought of me, he thought immediately of women entrepreneurship!

That’s what I call relevant branding.

But aside from women entrepreneurship, I wrote in my application about my community involvement with the setting up of a book adoption centre in 2016.

Nic and I are proud and amazed at how the centre has grown (and the money it has generated for charity).

The secondhand books get a new life and new owners (and this fits right in with the Tzu Chi concept of reusing), Tzu Chi Penang gets monetary contributions to further fuel their charity work in Penang and our volunteers get to do the kind of community work that they love.

Our tiny project has grown to a 30-volunteer strong team who go on duty each Friday, Saturday and Sunday and has been featured and written up by the media. The fact that Tzu Chi Taiwan has recognised that this model is something they want to replicate and encourage in other Tzu Chi recycling locations globally is truly heartening.

I’ve never done stuff that I’ve never believed in. So I’ve done the things that stirred my interests – enabling women in business and later, saving books. What’s more, I have discovered that tiny ideas can become avenues for others to serve as well.

I am thrilled that my crazy ideas have served me well and done what I felt to be right at certain times in my life. And I’ve never done them for money although the results can be tied back to money or quantifiable.

I believe community projects benefit from an entrepreneurship point of view as we would generate more funds to help the ones who most need help.

Self-sustenance is one of my tenets for projects. I never believe that we should have any deficits or loss when running projects, community or not. Each project must start off envisioned like a business and managed like a business. Like Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats methodology, I believe we should all have an Entrepreneurship Hat with a Marketing Hat!

If I don’t get excited and my sense of impetuousness doesn’t quiver, it’s not for me.

When a friend sent the link to the Changing Faces seminar via WhatsApp in a group chat, I clicked the link and read the page and I instantly knew I wanted to be in this programme. I would be able to learn so much from other women from other countries and the networking would be incredible.

Those points flashed across my mind.

And I wanted it.

And I also did the 10-10-10 method based on Suzy Welch’s book to help me with my decision – Should I apply? If I didn’t, would I regret this decision in the next 10 days, 10 months and 10 years?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of not doing. Procrastination is always the culprit. It’s easy to say “forget about it” as the application warranted lots of writing. Or that I couldn’t take time away from business – it was after all a 12 day programme. And I don’t even have a US visa ready.

But I knew if I didn’t try applying, I would regret this.

Last year, I won a ticket to an international conference in Melbourne as I participated in a contest via Twitter but I had to let go of the chance to go as it was too last minute and I had many plans lined up. I felt dismal that I had to let go of such a good opportunity but I had to.

I’m trying to live my life by getting out of my own comfort zone and having as many colourful experiences as I can. And I am also cultivating upwards and outside of my regular routine so I get to learn much more so that I can use the key learning in my business, my community and my life.

I also want to do the uncomfortable (not necessarily the unpleasant) so that I keep myself curious about life. I volunteered to partake as a trainer in a series of workshops for grassroots women who were appointed by the Penang State Government to run community projects. I spent 4 weekends with other fellow trainers conducting these women leadership workshops in March and early April.

It was fulfilling but more than that, I learnt about grassroot problems. I discovered that women in urban and rural areas pinpointed problems unique to them and not all were what I had assumed. Some openly spoke family issues, others spoke about certain types of social problems that they wanted to tackle.

Funnily enough, when I shared photos of the workshops, a male friend was piqued enough to call and ask if he could do the same too. He felt that there must be more to life than the work he was doing in the corporate sector. He felt he needed to put some meaning and purpose into his life.

And that brings me back to the idea that if we all tried to do something in our own community, no matter how small, we could impact a lot of people if people believe in our mission and participate in our dream.

Would I ever imagine WomenBizSENSE as it is now, a thriving organization with a healthy bank balance and run by capable women? I could never have done so on my own. But enough people believed in the dream that Jo and I started and now we have brought together so many women in business and connected so many businesses up that it’s becoming quite surreal! Each year as we celebrate our anniversary, I am always so grateful that other women have joined us in our dream. Our culture has been of women advocating for other women and in this, we are unique. Even as I no longer helm the organisation, I’m still very much involved as an adviser and Jo and I have always had the same goal – to raise women up as leaders.

But I can’t expect others to challenge themselves to do this if I didn’t walk my talk or take action.

I’m excited with my Hawaii adventure as I know I will be meeting amazing women from whom I will discover more wisdom and experiences. I also know that each step I take, I have many more women cheering me on and many more women that I can help and impact.

One year from now, how will I be transformed? How will I be impacted?

It should be an interesting way to discover what I am capable of.

The Inevitable Question of Questions

It was past midnight that I ordered a Grab to get to Happy Garden where my cousin lived. I needed to bunk a night with her before heading home to Banting.
I don’t know how I looked in my orange kebaya blouse (I had removed the kerongsang) and my Uniqlo jeans (yes, those super comfy jeans that don’t need zipping) but I hoped I didn’t look like some GRO off shift. After all, I was hailing a Grab from Le Meridien Sentral.
My thoughts raced to those horror midnight ride stories so I was rather relieved when I got into the car and the guy started chatting with me. He didn’t seem creepy though it was 12.30am.  And I made sure I sat at the back. In the past, I used to sit right next to the driver, at the passenger side but I figured it is not too smart a move if the driver tries to do something funny.
Inevitably, he asked me what I was doing and where I was from.
I told him that I’m from Penang and I was at Le Meridien to attend a USM alumni gathering/dinner. And of course, he had to ask about kids.
For me, this is the question that most people ask me harmlessly and expect me to say, “Two kids – a boy and a girl.”
I said I don’t have kids.
Dead silence follows this in most conversations.
The other person is usually thinking – oh gosh, what do I say to her?
When I say this, I always prime myself for the reaction. Malaysians generally assume if you’re married, you must have kids. It’s a given.
In the darkened car, I couldn’t see the guy’s reaction but he followed up with a mumbled and muffled sorry.
I reassured him I am in no way embarrassed or depressed about not having kids, to which he brightened up a bit and resumed his chattiness. He started telling me he had 4 kids and soon, he shared that his sister had difficulty getting pregnant despite multiple checkups. As a Muslim, he said he felt sorry for his sister and her husband as they really wanted children.
I can understand her predicament. It’s not easy when everyone tells you, no, demands that you have kids the moment you tie the knot. And when you don’t, there’s something awfully wrong with you.
Just last week, I was again talking to a newfound friend – a friendly Malay girl from KL – and she asked that question again.
And when I said I have no kids, I saw her flustered face and her quick, embarrassed “sorry, sorry”. I was so inclined to pat her hands and say, there, there. Why should you be sorry that I have no kids?
And lest you think it’s only the Malay-Muslim community that’s hung up about kids, no, it’s not.
When we were chatting during our USM coursemates’ gathering over the superbly delicious buffet dinner (amidst some fantastic North Indian curried mutton and briyani actually), Karen decided to survey some of our friends why they decided to turn up last minute to the dinner.
Karen, me and two other friends had banded together to organise this dinner but in typical Malaysian fashion, many of our ex-coursemates had to wait till the last minute to RSVP which made our arrangements difficult.
So when a few last minute folks turned up, Karen couldn’t help but ask outright – “What made you decide to attend tonight’s dinner?”
One of the answers came from a friend who is a researcher and academician. She pointed out that she decided to come because of Nir who had flown back all the way from Germany to be at this dinner. She felt if someone took the effort, she would make the effort too. And we had friends who had flown in specially from Hong Kong and China too.
That was a good response.
A little later, she said that she believed she would attend because we were all OK and open about our lives. For instance, about either being single or not having kids.
And I had earlier remarked to Karen, sometimes we are 44 but we act like we’re still 24!
Class reunions are not supposed to be shaming episodes about who is successful or who is not. I know some people who stay away from class reunions because they believe they are not good enough or high enough on the corporate ladder.
Many of my USM friends are accomplished in their own right. They’re successful where they are and I’m super proud of them.
But sometimes the stigma of being single or not having children (perhaps to some it’s a shame, to others it’s a badge of honour) prevents people from seeing that there are other things in life that people can be contented with.
Once many years ago, two friends had a long lunch with me and they asked me if I had considered adopting. I said no.
I’m perfectly fine, thank you. I am happy if you have kids. Just because I don’t have any doesn’t make me hate kids. I love my nephew and niece and take every chance I get to go home and cook for them. Vincent and Vinnie love me for my egg mayo sandwiches and all manner of Cantonese food that I cook for them.
I will sound rather selfish saying this but I relish my freedom. Of course many have asked me, “Don’t you miss being a mum?” And I think, you don’t miss what you have.
I don’t really crave being a mother if that’s what most women want to be. I am also fine if you want to be the best mother you can be to your kids. Most of my friends are excellent mothers – I’m surrounded by nurturing women who think mothering is the best job in the world.
I am such an anomaly that people don’t know how to decipher me.
Perhaps sometimes I should lie when people ask me if I have kids. I should nod and smile and chatter on about my two kids – a boy and a girl. I can probably bring out photos of my nephew and niece to add to the drama. It’s a lot easier than having to explain why I chose not to.
Perhaps I should pacify everyone by saying, yes I tried but nothing happened and I think God has a bigger plan for me. I think people just want me to say that I tried and shrug it off as God’s will.
Funnily, people frame the world accordingly and make up their own reasons.
Once when Nic said that we don’t have kids, the other person quickly responded, “You mean, not yet right?” Whatever floats your boat, people.
I’m not crazy and neither is Nic. We both feel that there’s a lot we want to do in life and perhaps God is being kind to us by not giving us kids.
I laugh when I think of a possible kid that we would have – a kid that takes after Nic and all his idiosyncrasies and rebelliousness?
Oh God. I would be busy getting called to the principal’s office to explain why my kid is such a motor mouth with attitude.
Now that would be the death of me!
 

Berkhidmat Untuk Negara

You know that song we used to hear on RTM a long time ago? That Francesca Peters song called Setia? If you’re not that old, watch this.
Anyway, I wanted to say that yes, this year, I am volunteering as a polling agent and counting agent (PACA) for the upcoming general election.
I thought I wouldn’t, after what happened in May 2013.
After such devastating results, everyone felt depleted. A friend said she heard the results in Germany and started crying.
Everyone cried.
It was like we had nothing more to go on. Like all our energies were given to this one time, this one opportunity and it fell flat.
But I think what makes us humans is hope.
We hope for a better tomorrow.
And even though I said I wouldn’t become a PACA in GE14, I have decided to step up.
I have decided that if it is meant to be, it is up to me.
Maybe you’re thinking – silly gal. You’re only one PACA. Yes, but have you read the story of that boy who just helped throw starfish back into the ocean? He couldn’t help all the starfish but he helped as many as he could.
And I can get my friends to join me. Never underestimate the power of influence among friends.
And honestly, what would you do anyway on election day, after you’ve cast your vote?
Stay home? Binge? Hang out?
Why not be in the thick of the action and help out? We may not be the main players or the big ones but we can do our part. If everyone did a little here and there, we would have a much better nation.
And if you’re unsure what goes on in the voting centre, read my blog post from 2013 when I was a PACA. I was a complete newbie and yet I did it. So can you.
Don’t give in to your excuses or fear. Your country, my country, our country is far more important.
Some 30 years from now, your grandkids will ask you: what did you do on the election day of GE14, the most important milestone for Malaysia?
Are you going to say, well, I napped after I cast my vote?
Or that you were part of the history in the making, no matter what history it would be.
I’ve always been political starting with reading Aliran magazines when I was 16 (thanks to my dad). And there is nothing wrong with wanting a better country.
I always tell others, our country is amazing but we have leaders who are not. And if there’s something to change, we must change it. Of course, everyone tells me it’s gonna be dirty this time (when is it ever not?).
So if there’s one thing to do this GE, please sign up as a PACA and go for trainings. It’s the least you could do for your motherland.
This is really “berkhidmat untuk negara”. Not a crappy tagline in some Government letter.
 
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 on Penang, do let them know when you call them. I am sure PKR shares resources like PACA with DAP and the rest.

Leadership & Lessons From My Curry Leaf Tree

krista goon
From left, Anita who was a speaker and Gina, my friend and client and me.

This week has been very eventful. I started it by attending a John Maxwell conference on leadership at G Hotel and these days, leadership is a big topic. It’s classic. It’s evergreen. Leadership never goes out of style.
I had debated with myself whether I should go. After all, I had been reading his books for a while now. His books were insightful and full of good reminders that the key to leadership is always self-leadership.
john maxwell seminar penang
With friends at the John Maxwell conference.

I have been struggling with this for a while too.
Leadership isn’t always about a position or a title. I remember attending Robin Sharma’s workshop years and years ago in KL and he kept hammering this point over and over. All of us can lead even if we’re not the CEO or the COO. Even the tea lady can be a leader if she decided to do so.
john maxwell seminar penang
The ticket wasn’t cheap but sometimes we have to invest in ourselves especially these days.

In business, I have had to lead alongside Nic. While he takes care of the strategy, design and what-not, I usually take care of the communications which include everything from emails to what we say on our Facebook, website and WhatsApp. It also includes designing programmes, following up with potential partners and collaborators and ensuring things are done and on time.
In the community, Nic leads as the chairman of our residents’ committee. He ended up being voted in as the chairman because we were once so upset that the previous committee wanted to cut down trees within our resident compound.
I have a curry leaf tree that’s 12 feet tall in my garden. I grew it from a sapling when I moved into my ground floor apartment. So imagine our indignation when a bunch of hired workers came around one morning and started looking at our tree. They were speaking in Tamil and wondering why they were asked to cut down a perfectly healthy tree!
We stopped them. And after we stopped them, Nic and I went around knocking on residents’ doors and asking them to join us at the upcoming AGM to protest such crazy decisions. That was the start of our crusade to keep our tree. The reason given was that our tree might fall during a storm and damage cars. This does not hold water as our tree is far away from the secondary car park lot.
So that was really how we ended up being the overzealous couple who walked up flights of stairs in each block and knocking on doors and talking to people! We just wanted them to attend the AGM with us (because each AGM, there will never be enough quorum and residents all shy away from attending and voicing what they thought!).
When the AGM rolled around, there was such a huge turnout of residents that we even shocked ourselves.
And we asked the then committee why in the world would anyone want to cut down perfectly healthy trees? I shall spare you the illogical answer.
Long story short, my tree is still standing. (Yay!) But not the shrubs and plants of other residents. One lady had her soursop tree chopped down; another had her fir tree lopped off! (This is also why I am so glad I work from home and I stopped the men from hacking my tree. We have to speak up when it matters.)
It is always a storm that makes us want to take up a strong position. A strong position can turn into leadership. A strong position can also transform how things are done.
In a way, my curry leaf tree propelled Nic to the chairmanship! In the past, no one knew who the chairman was (he was so afraid that other residents would come knocking on his door!). In the past, we had no communication with each other as residents.
I said to Nic that things have got to change when he agreed to become chairman. For one, we started a Facebook group and later, a WhatsApp chat group.
It has been 2 years since he held the position. And I think things have become so much better and I don’t think I’m biased.
Neighbours know each other better now and we’re more open and transparent about communications (yes, me being the communications freak). We started having residents’ gatherings – a catered buffet is a great way to get people to come out of their apartments and start saying hello to one another.
One elderly lady said that it was such a lovely way to bring together people who would normally never even know each other’s names!
So that’s leadership for you. It doesn’t need to come clothed in regal robes. It just needs someone to say, “I’m going to step up and do my best.”
It’s hard, of course. It’s hard when residents come knocking on our glass doors at 3am and 5am and 10pm. It’s hard when people get upset that they cannot park 3 of their cars inside the compound. It’s hard when people write poison letters and circulate them (and I thought only politicians get ‘surat layang’) saying nasty things about Nic when he is doing work that no one wants to do, on a voluntary basis.
He had to wake up at 3am once when water pipes burst and water came cascading down the stairs like a waterfall. He woke up at 5am once when two elderly men on their way out to their morning walk found an unconscious man on the road inside the apartment compound! He also had to go to Komtar’s Lembaga Rayuan 6 times just to attend the hearing as a representative of our apartments – we were protesting the use of our residential roads by a developer.
I had to a miss an important appointment just this week too because of Nic’s role. We were just about to go out for a quick lunch and my appointment when my neighbour came to call for Nic. It was a little after 2pm and a ground floor apartment unit was on fire! Luckily many people came around to help and we called the fire engines and the police.
apartment after a fire
What’s left of the apartment after the fire

I expected nasty flames (like the movies) but this was a lot of smoke and heat. By the time the firemen came and put out the fire, I had already missed my appointment! Dang.
And I was hungry as hell.
(Later, we went and grabbed McD and decided to spend whatever’s left of the day at a friend’s tea shop. All in a day’s work…NOT!)
chinese tea shop penang
Decided to get some pu-erh tea!

So leadership is a tough calling.
I underwent all that jazz when I was called upon to be the president of WomenBizSENSE. I had to expel a member a few years ago because she was simply not fit to be in our association. I had to sit down with her and tell her why our association could no longer have her as a member. That’s as bad as firing people (which I have also done before, and I fired someone much older than me which is unpleasant by all accounts).
Then again, I’ve also squared up to a hefty guy with a beer belly and looked him in the eye when his friends said they would like to fight with Nic. Being female can be a strength at times. He’d probably hit a guy but to hit a woman? That’s got to be lower than low. So I stood in front of him and dared him to. But I also had hit ‘record’ on the audio of my phone so that I had audio evidence just in case.
Most people think of leadership as countless photo opps with the creme de la creme of society, rubbing shoulders with the popular.
It’s really not.
It’s about facing the heat, the brickbats, the complaints, the grouses, the shit that hits the fan sort of thing. The stuff that everyone runs away from but the stuff that you have to do because you’re the leader.
Leadership is about doing all the challenging things that are full of consequences. It’s having to be brave when everyone else isn’t or doesn’t want to.
And sometimes, it starts with something as simple as wanting to prevent my curry leaf tree from being chopped down.

The Discomfort of The Edge

I wrote this piece for a book project that is soon to be published. When I met Vern last week, she asked me when my next (promised) blog post is coming up. I had a few lined up but when I saw this, I believe this is worth sharing. At least to kickstart 2018.
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I’ve always believed that you can only grow when you are pushed to the edge and feel extremely uncomfortable. If I look back at the incidents that shaped my life, I’ve usually had to face discomfort, fears and doubts.
And I haven’t always been a risk taker. I haven’t always been brave, optimistic, confident or assertive.
In fact, I grew up introverted and shy. Whenever my parents’ friends visited, I’ll be the first to run and hide in my room. When people spoke to me, I couldn’t even make eye contact and I had to brave myself to speak up.
It wasn’t for a lack of ideas – I was a bookworm since I was 6 – but I was self-conscious.
Everyone says they were shy as children but I was more so with my short sightedness, awful hair and skinny frame. I hated being in the spotlight even though I often was, as my dad was the school’s discipline teacher. In fact, I was just another mediocre girl in school!
When I was 10 years old, I decided to put some effort into my school work after almost failing my Math test. I had cringed when I showed dad my Math results and wished the earth would swallow me up then and there.
The acute embarrassment and discomfort made me promise myself never to be caught in such a situation again. I started to systematically organize information so that I didn’t have to memorize facts like the rest of my friends. I came up with my own system of writing notes. With my own mind maps, I could recall vast amounts of information and I could write, explain and expound my points of view. When I discovered I could be good at my studies and ace exams, I felt confidence seeping into my life.
Admittedly, when we’re more confident, we start to explore other areas of life. When I started getting A’s, I felt more capable and I started braving myself to do other things in school – I disliked public speaking but I signed up for the school debate team. When my best friends and I started representing our school in inter-district debates and started to win, I found myself relishing the idea of standing up and speaking in front of an audience.
Interestingly, sports was still an area that I feared. With that little spot of confidence that I had, I tried out for the school hockey team. I wasn’t good at it and I despised running around in the scorching sun but I wanted to give myself a chance to see if I could do well in it. And so it is with many things in my life.
That’s how I ended up in business. I always tell friends that I have never even considered being an entrepreneur – I was always going to climb the corporate ladder. But life has an odd way of turning inside out.
When I was bored with my corporate communications career, I returned to my alma mater, USM, to do my Master’s degree. But sitting still has never been my strong point. I ended up helping my husband in his web design business (which eventually became mine as I became his business partner).
Initially, I had no idea what web design was. I had no design nor programming knowledge but I am an optimist. Whatever I didn’t know, I read. I googled things up. I figured it out on my own. I started becoming interested in all things web design and I learnt how to market our business.
A friend said that she could see I was passionate about marketing. I said I had to learn how to market because I had to sell our web design services and I had to be faster and smarter so that I could help our clients.
That’s the same “can do” attitude that I had when I co-founded a women entrepreneur association called WomenBizSENSE with Josephine Yoong back in 2006. We both laugh now when we think about our naivete but it is precisely our naivete that enabled us to start something that has endured until today.
We had both been looking for a women entrepreneur group to join but we didn’t find one that suited our inclinations! Instead of bemoaning the fact that all the interesting women’s groups were in KL, we decided we’d start one based on the criteria that we wanted.
On many levels, it has been challenging. I was its president for 4 years and in that span of time, I’ve had to lead a disciplinary committee, manage conflict within the organisation and engage in the most unpleasant tasks (such as removing a member from our organisation due to integrity issues). Again, it’s being pushed to the edge that makes me stronger and more resourceful!
When my mentees come to me, I often throw them this question – “What’s the worst that could happen if you made this decision?” If the consequences aren’t going to be deadly, just take the leap. You’ll learn to swim when you hit the deep end.
Many of us will always have doubts about ourselves. We fear what others will think of us. We want people to be happy with us but sometimes, this fear holds us back from doing what we truly are meant to do.
When I quit my corporate communications job, my dad was worried about me. He had never known anyone to quit a well-paying job only to leap into the unknown (he had always been a teacher and being in business was as risky as not having a job!). If I didn’t take the risk back then, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now (or have the adventures that I have had!).
Inevitably, I try to be the voice of courage for my mentees and constantly push them to excel beyond what they think they are capable of. I was so proud of Janice, my mentee when she managed to connect her CEO to someone from The Star. The Star then invited her CEO to speak at their business event and she was the catalyst that made this happen. This wouldn’t have happened if Janice didn’t push herself.
The previous Janice would have thought, who am I to bring together my CEO with The Star? I encouraged her to think bigger and ask, what if good things happen as a result of the introduction? And good things did happen. And her CEO now looks at her in a totally different light. He realises that Janice is not just any ordinary employee.
Too often, we don’t have enough cheerleaders and we don’t believe in ourselves. And too many people are pessimistic (think Eeyore the blue, sad donkey in Winnie The Pooh) and think of all the ways things can go wrong which is why many people often have dreams but don’t go after them.
All of us have this ability to go beyond who we are today. Sometimes we need someone by our side to keep pushing us forward and to keep reminding us when we get lazy or slow down.
I was fortunate that I had many mentors in my life. Mrs Prema, my English language teacher when I was in Form 1, believed in me and told me to continue excelling in English. Mr Raju, my English tuition teacher, encouraged me to write more.
Mr Kana, my Math teacher, was tough love but he rooted for me even though I thought Math was the death of me in Form 3.
My dad, who quietly encouraged my writing and essays throughout my teenage years and who even helped me type up my stories for contest submissions!
My best friends, Tammy and Jana, who thought I was the smartest and funniest girl in class when I felt otherwise.
My late mum, who always thought her eldest daughter could do anything even when I vacillated between wanting to study law (no doubt influenced by LA Law on TV) and wanting to be a copywriter (no one knew what it entailed!).
It takes a village of cheerleaders to help you realize your potential. I had been fortunate because I had the right people around me.
But what if all you have are critics and naysayers? What if you had an Eeyore in your life?
I had a Geography teacher in Form 1 called Mrs Teoh who disliked me intensely. Do you know how devastating it is to find out your teacher disliked you as a teenager? But I used her dislike of me to prove that I could do so much more.
There is nothing like hate to spur me on. The more someone says I can’t do something, the more I’d take it on as a challenge and prove the person wrong.
Until today, I keep challenging myself.
I have always wanted to publish a book. I put my persistence to the test in 2016 when I co-authored a book with my husband on web design and marketing (what a long way from not knowing anything about web design to writing a book on this topic!).
This year, I want to write another book – one that’s non-fiction but one that’s about advice and strategies for people like my mentees. I also want to start a podcast. I have many personal projects lined up and I need to carve out time to do them all.
I also took on mentees despite having a busy schedule because I know how important it is to encourage women and help them fulfil their potential and then get them to pay this forward by imbuing others with this confidence.
I also started a project of saving books and creating opportunities for people to do charity because I felt that there must be a way to prevent books from going to the landfill. I do all these things because I like seeing how far I can go, how creative I can be and how resourceful I can become.
And of course, I also took on the task of producing a book together with Emi and Josephine (we hope it gets published by March this year) – we volunteered our personal time to interview and write stories of women leaders because we believe Asian women have their own perspectives on “leaning in”. We met up and spoke to a number of fantastic women leaders in Penang. Their stories are inspiring as well as emotional.
Was it a tough project? Yes. Was it agonizing? For sure.
The discomfort is real but each time I face my fears, my fear monster shrinks a little bit more.
In my life, the more I do, the more I know I can do. I just need to try my best. Not all things work in my favour (if it did, I’d be invincible or Wonder Woman, both of which I am certainly not). I am terrible at some things – I can’t moderate a forum if I don’t have a rapport with the panellists, I am hopeless at logic puzzles, I can’t sew a straight line and I am bad at following up.
But I stopped bashing myself and what I am bad at, I either get help or eliminate them from my life. Plus it always helps to have a sense of humour.
Marianne Williamson says it best (and I love this paragraph – it always lifts me up!):
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
And now go out and do that badass thing that you do so well.