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.
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.

Good Intentions, Damn Unwilling

I had good intentions. I really did.
I wanted to write a lot about my Taiwan trip and look where that got me.
I wanted to do so much more and tell you all the exciting things I did in Taipei but I decided to write this first and then do a backtrack later to the Taipei/Alishan Mountain/Chiayi posts when I am freer (OK, now that last bit sounded too much like a joke!).
Has it been that many months since I blogged?
I feel guilty!
And I’m a writer. Writing is in my blood.
But I think it’s because I’m a writer that I stopped blogging for a long while.
Heck, I even stopped going for my facial and just resumed last week and my facial therapist was like, “The last time you were here for your facial was February!”
Luckily she didn’t reprimand me as my skin, despite 10 months plus of so-called disregard and wear and tear, seemed quite all right. I didn’t make that up. Elly the therapist told me so. She sounded utterly surprised that my skin was still supple after 10 months of not doing proper cleansing and masque.
Well, I still adhered to my Human Nature Malaysia jojoba moisturiser nightly. I still adhered to my facial gua-sa (not as regularly as I should be doing it and I even have a reminder in my iPhone!). I also discovered argan oil on a jaunt to one of the shops in George Town and have been using it for my facial spots.
I also am still using this jar of gooey moisturiser (Cosrx’s Advanced Snail 92 All in One Cream) from Korea courtesy of my cousin. This gooey cream is made from snail secretion. Don’t ask me why I slather this on my skin at night but I do and I feel superbly moisturised.
And I have one more secret to share – konjac facial sponge.
You can get this anywhere but I found the most reasonably priced ones are sold in Daiso but not all Daiso sell them so you have to look around. I use it on my face and the buffing motion helps to smoothen skin. Maybe that’s why. (By the way, don’t worry about clicking the links in my blog post. They link to real blogs with information, not some affiliate page.)
So yeah, as I was saying, as a writer, I write daily. Just not on this blog. I write so much daily that sometimes I get quite fed up with writing!
That is why it’s like pulling molars if I have to sit down after a long day’s work and type away at the blog.
And then there’s Instagram and Facebook. I find myself posting more often on these 2 platforms as I’m doing it on my phone while waiting for people or entertaining myself. After all the hashtags and captioning over there, I suddenly find myself too lazy to say the same darn things on the blog.
It’s like the moment has come and gone.
(Or maybe I have too many moments that I can’t seem to catch up with!)
Hence, the long silence. Interminably long.
I’m going to try Marsha’s method. That woman whom I have known since 2001 or so (yeah we go way back when the Internet was just a mere toddler in Malaysia) is a blogger unsurpassed. She is a full-time writer and yet manages to put up post after post almost daily! I salute her.
She’s a mom of 2 sons and has a full-time writing career while doing yoga, housekeeping and more. If this busy woman can blog so often, who am I not to emulate her?
So I will endeavour to blog a little each week and maybe blog in the early part of the day when I am fresh and preppy. Not at the end of the day when life is practically sucked out of me.
While I go and prep myself for 2018 and at least a weekly blog post, tell me if you’re blogging and what keeps you chugging.

Tasting Taiwan's Night Market – Part 2

Sorry for the inexplicable long silence.

Krista Goon
Adele and me when I spoke at the Penang Women Chamber of Commerce CNY lunch

It gets harder and harder to blog when my time is so consumed by a zillion other things – mentoring, for instance (although I have officially completed my 6-month mentoring sessions with Adele and Janice).
gratitude note
A note from my mentee, Adele.

Also, business projects. When I say business projects, most people think it’s doing stuff for clients. Errr. Not exactly. I’m doing stuff for myself. Nic is tweaking his game for entrepreneurs while I’m creating some courses and follow-up products that can help our clients more. We still maintain and manage websites for clients but these days, we’re also focusing on creating more training materials for people who want to learn how to do it on their own.
I’m also working on a book with two other friends along the theme of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and that’s practically driving me up the wall – you wouldn’t believe the rounds of readings and edits and going back and forth with the women we’ve interviewed.
cathedral of holy spirit penang
Plus in between, I get pitched to speak. Nic and I did one for 200 Catholic students at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit on 24 June, sharing about a community project Nic and I initiated called TSN Book Adoption Centre.
cathedral of holy spirit penang catholic mission day
The 200 uni students from Sabah and Sarawak.

Before that, I did one for my WomenBizSENSE meeting on 23 June where I taught the 40 ladies how to use time-saving apps and software for business.
catholic students mission day 2017 penang
I call this interfaith. I’m a Buddhist and I get to talk to Catholic students about what it means to serve your community. Start with a small, do-able project. Don’t try to conquer the world.

I’ve one coming up on 19 July – it’s one I’ve agreed to do for a new co-working space called Scoopoint along Weld Quay regarding women entrepreneurship. But speaking is something that I like to do as part of my repertoire as each speaking engagement allows me to find new ways to present and improve my ability to present.
Yeah, so those things take up my time. And in between, I want to read my fiction and business books. I want to go home to Banting and see my dad and sister and niece and nephew more.
OK, but today, I decided to make good on my promise. More on my Taiwan travels! (If you missed Part 1, here it is.)
taiwan night market game machine
So the evening we checked into our small but clean boutique hotel, we had a quick shower and went in search of the night market! The famed night markets of Taipei.
The nearest one to us was the Ningxia night market. I was excited because I was thinking of all the tasty snacks and street food awaiting us. It was 20 minutes of walking.
When you’re travelling, every kerb and corner shop looks interesting. We passed a women’s only gym which looked really hip (all that see-through glass makes the gals exercise with more effort as passers-by can see what they’re doing).
Taiwanese night markets often are a combination of entertainment (street magicians), gambling (games of chance for adults and kids!), snacks (grilled beef/squid/chicken, deep-fried everything from stinky tofu to chicken, pastries, fruits, sausages etc.), electronic gadgets and fashion.
taiwan night market game stall
Kitschy 80s game stall that attracts people to try their luck at winning.

In a seedier section of another night market that we passed by near Lung Shan Temple, it had shops where you could eat snake (cobra anyone?), drink snake bile, buy lingerie and drink alcohol. All businesses related to the supposed virility circle. I find it strange that we still need to kill hapless snakes just to satisfy some strange tradition (yes, that Chinese tradition that I do not agree with!).
Anyway, Ningxia was an introduction to the Taipei night market scene. Kids were seated in front of stalls playing games of chance. Mostly the machines were China-made. If there were no machine, it was a simple stall set-up with balloons that you had to burst in order to win a prize. Similar to our tikam-tikam. When we were browsing about, a few people were engaged in trying to get themselves a prize (which could be some soft toy). I think humans just like to win. The feeling of success is what we want, not so much the prize (which is why so many ‘Toyland’ shops are popping up in Queensbay Mall – sometimes these toys are so cheap and ugly and yet people still buy lots of tokens to get a chance to win one!).
As we had spent the whole day travelling (our flying schedule had started at 6am that morning but we had been at the Penang airport since 2am and the airport chairs aren’t the best for sleeping!), we took it easy. I was more eager to try some food than gamble to get a soft toy that is (poorly) made in China.
grilled wild boar sausage taiwan night market
Anything grilled is good. Taiwan’s grilled meats are top of the list.

The grilled wild boar sausage was good as it was piping hot and you could slather a few different sauces. The next place we stopped by was a “zhu zhar” stall with typical hawker style seating. They were frying up lots of stuff – beef koay teow, beef slices and soupy mee sua. The Taiwanese love their beefy dishes. We sat down on tiny stools at a metal table and ordered a soup. It was a dismal bowl of beef slices in ginger soup. The beef slices were tender but too miserly. The soup tasted good but maybe I was hungry. We shared the soup and decided we’d call for another dish.
Just then a local couple plopped themselves down in front of us. The table-sharing concept is common in Asian countries since space is limited and personal space isn’t quite as important, unlike Western countries.
They ordered stir fried beef slices. When their dish came, the guy was disgruntled. He started to mumble about how small the portion was. He started grumbling louder and even called the stall owner over to ask “Is this stir fried beef? So few beef slices! We’re not tourists you know. We’re local people.” He was getting pissed as the minutes ticked on. This was uncomfortable as we were like a foot away from him and his girlfriend (she too was mumbling away).
I was so glad to get away once we finished our food and decided to go away in search of other more filling snacks!
famous rice ball stall in taipei
As we strolled along, we saw this long line of people. Whenever you see a long line, you know the food’s good. And the long line of people were mostly locals. Patiently, they stood in line edging themselves nearer to a guy who was packing rice ball snacks. He should be famous going by the various newspaper clippings he had stuck onto his other stall (strangely he operated from a push cart on the road). I didn’t want to wait in line – I wasn’t that desperately hungry then.
famous rice ball stall ning xia night market
Apparently, “ku zhao wei” or tradtional taste is a big thing in Taiwan.

We walked along the shops and realized Taipei is very much Japanese-influenced. Historically, the Japanese came to Taiwan and stayed for 50 years until 1945. But unlike Malaya that was conquered and under Japanese rule, the Taiwanese generally like the Japanese. They are surprisingly positive and fondly open about the Japanese and their memories of Japanese in Taiwan. Hence, we saw lots of local sushi and sashimi shops (though I’m a bit wary of their fish and how fresh the fish is!) where locals would just sit and eat and down some beer.
rice ball snack vendor taipei taiwan
This is the rice ball snack guy. Nonstop business on a week day night.

When we had enough of walking, we headed back to City Suites Beimen. I never really have a fixed itinerary when we travel. We do what we feel like doing which is often the reason for many interesting surprises.
The interesting part is coming up – I didn’t know I had booked us into an artsy enclave and one that was walking distance to the wharf!
traditional chinese herbal tea taiwan
A herbal tea stall at the night market. The seller wasn’t friendly at all. Talk about brusque!

Travelling in Taiwan – Part 1

nic sim & krista goon
Nic and I at Jinguashi, a gold mining town up in the mountains.

I just got back from a lovely 10 days in Taiwan. I enjoyed every bit of my trip, even those days up in freezing cold Alishan mountains when I was in three layers of clothes and still felt the fingers of cold creeping up on me.

I admit it, I am a tropical gal. While I like spring weather (and it was spring weather, almost in Taipei when we landed on 29 March), I also love my sunshiny mornings. Those “throw open your window and feel the sun blazing” times were rare in Taipei; it was mostly grey and gloomy even at 10am!

The good thing was the gentle cold of 19 Celcius which made walking about a pleasant experience. Nic and I clocked each more than 10,000 steps a day (as faithfully recorded by my Apple app) and I actually lost some weight when I got back to Penang! All that walking daily did me good. So I did prove some people wrong. They told me I’d be eating so much street food that I’d come home 5 kg heavier.

But let me start in the beginning. Why would someone like me, someone who doesn’t read Mandarin, decide to visit Taipei?

I’d heard a lot about Taiwan from friends. I had wanted to go some years ago but other destinations came up (Bali, HK – multiple times, Phuket – twice, Chiangmai). I didn’t know why but this year, I felt the urge to visit Taiwan. It was quite a last minute trip as we had many projects going on – we had just launched a client’s website, we were rolling out a new system for our Redbox Easyweb clients, we were also having our Marketing Mojo in March and it seemed so many things came up on our schedule.

Yet, I knew more than anything Nic needed this trip. He had been working really hard and he needed the break. He’s not the sort to book holidays. In my family, I’m the one who sorts out flight bookings, hotel bookings, Airbnb bookings and plans the holiday itinerary. I’m the one who goes online diligently to research hotels, places to visit, things to eat, things to explore, MRT routes.

Taoyuan airport
At the Taoyuan airport

For this trip, I booked really late but it worked out fine eventually. A friend asked me to keep my itinerary – she implied that she might want mine the next time she goes to Taipei. I’m not so sure that my itinerary is the sort for most people. You see, Nic and I like the free and easy holiday gallivants – no fixed schedule, go as we please, decide on the morning itself what we’d like to see or do and let the discoveries along the way surprise us.

I never book tours because I despise them and their clockwork timings, the early morning calls, the shuttling from tourist spot to tourist spot. I would feel like a lamb and I would annoy the tourist guide as I like to mull over exhibits (if we’re in a museum) or take my own sweet time to check out stuff other people find intolerable.

So here’s my itinerary – if you have similar travel tastes, this could do for you. The thing is, I try not to be touristy. So we never went to Taipei 101 (oh I can hear your gasps of horror), we never went to Sun Moon Lake (I still don’t know where that place is!) and we never tried the stinky tofu.

29 March, first day

Flew Penang-KL on AirAsia (super early, 6.30am), layover in KLIA2 for 3 hours before we got on the 10.20am flight to Taipei. The flight took 4 hours. I booked AirAsiaGo which meant we got flights and hotel together. I’m not the type to find the lowest price for hotel and flights because I can’t stand over-researching. I am more concerned where my hotel is located and if it’s clean and quiet and most of all, if it is within minutes of the MRT.

However, I only needed the hotel for the first 5 days of my Taipei trip as I would be going to Alishan for 3 days and then back to Taipei (to an Airbnb) till we flew back to Penang. Sometimes I like using AirAsiaGo just for convenience sakes.

When we landed around 2.30pm, I was expecting a long crawl at the immigration/passport control. Surprisingly, the Taiwanese are pretty efficient. Many counters were open and the friendly yet firm immigration officers quickly processed the long queue of foreign visitors in a short time. When the officer hands your passport back to you, she actually smiles.

taoyuan airport
Fresh, bright and welcoming airport!

I loved the Taoyuan airport immediately – it was spacious, welcoming with real orchids and plants (AirAsia lands at Taoyuan airport terminal one – Taoyuan actually means peach garden). The next best thing, high-speed wifi that didn’t need a password! And then, the clean toilets. The toilets didn’t smell like toilets, unlike Malaysian airport toilets. The toilets were bright and sparkling clean.

We saw a huge crowd at the telco counters and decided we’d get a local SIM card too. The thing is, there were 3 different telcos side by side and each one had its own queue. We ultimately decided that we’d go with the longest queue as it seemed the most popular (which proved to be as well as a Malaysian guy told us that Chung Hwa was quite reliable across Taiwan).

The packages offered by all three telcos were similar and later we discovered that Chung Hwa Telecom (the one we chose anyway) had really good coverage even when we were up in the mountains. It was a reasonable deal – NT500 for 10 days of unlimited calls and data use. The telco staff even switched up the SIM for you in super speed.

I had initially wanted to rent a pocket wifi but we couldn’t decide on this till we landed. We would be getting wifi at our hotel and most public places in Taiwan so I figured a SIM card would be better. We needed the number so that our Taiwan friends could reach us (they don’t use WhatsApp, preferring to use Line and WeChat).

I believe pocket wifi is good if you’re travelling in a large group (4 or 6 persons) and want to share wifi but since it was only Nic and me, a SIM card was good enough. He could always share his wifi with me if I needed it. Not having wifi also gave me a much-needed break from WhatsApp!

The next thing was to get our Easycard – the Metro cards with preloaded credit so that we could travel easily on the MRT. It was NT1000 per card with a non-refundable NT100 deposit. The card was great for travel on buses too. We didn’t even finish using up the credit so we got back the rest of our money when we exchanged our Easycards on the day of our departure (conveniently at the Airport Express stop).

We weren’t in a hurry after collecting our luggage so we went in search of food at the airport. Our first meal upon landing was a piping hot bowl of pork balls with noodles at the food court one level below the arrival hall.

taiwanese pork ball noodles
Our first meal in Taiwan – shared, of course!

Nic always taught me this: always eat when you travel. You never know when you’d get to your next stop and if you’re hungry, you’re going to be grumpy. Not fun travelling if you’re grumpy! So even if the airplane food isn’t fine dining, we’d still order and eat in the plane first (as you never know how long the passport control queues are). And when we land, we will look for food first.

We were quite lucky as Joyce, my friend who lives in Taipei, puts it. March 2017 was the month that the airport metro was finally completed and we could now travel from Taoyuan Airport into Taipei (Main Station) in 36 minutes. Since it was just opened, we even had a promotional 50% discount off the NT160 fee. In the past, it was either taxis or buses going to Taipei Main Station which took an hour or so and cost more than NT1000. 

Even with the conversion rate (and our bloody devalued ringgit), it was only RM24 per person for 36 minutes of travel on the airport express metro into the city! How is it that our KLIA express is like RM50 for 28 minutes of travel? Something to think about, isn’t it? 

Going out of Malaysia can be enlightening in many ways. It helps us compare where we are in relation to the rest of the world. I really can’t help but question why is it that our airport express is so expensive? How does this encourage people to use the airport express? 

Taoyuan airport express
Waiting for our express ride into Taipei. Taoyuan is an adjacent district to Taipei.

Upon reaching Taipei Main Station, we opted to grab a taxi to our hotel, City Suites Beimen* on Chang An West Road. Actually our hotel wasn’t that far away. We could’ve walked from the Main Station all the way to the Beimen MRT exit and from there it was only a 10 minute walk to the hotel except that the MRT staff told us that it wasn’t reachable on foot! Very confusing indeed. 

*The hotel was new and clean. It wasn’t a big room and it didn’t have windows (though even if we had, we’d probably be staring at the next building – that’s how buildings are in Taipei. Like back to back). I thought I’d miss having a window but I didn’t. If you’re looking for a contemporary hotel within 10 minutes walk of the MRT station, try this one. The staff are young and polite and try their best to speak in English but we lapsed into Mandarin since we saw them struggling to communicate! 

Anyway, we got into a taxi (called ‘da di’) and there was a bit of jam along the road as a mass protest was going on. The Taiwanese take it in their stride. They’re cool about protests and demos unlike Malaysia. And taxis use the meter so taxi rides are affordable and our short ride was about NT105 (when you get into the taxi, the base price is already NT70). When we reached the hotel, it was already 6pm and getting dark. We decided to shower before we headed out to the Ning Xia night market, some 20 minutes away on foot. 

Since this has been a super long post, I’ll keep the Ning Xia night market for the next post! 

nic sim & krista goon
Excited to be in Taiwan! Pardon the horrible double chin selfie!

When Gratitude Comes In A Jar

Happy New Year to you! I hope the year has started off well and you’re feeling all pumped up about the new year and new beginnings. I always feel optimistic (maybe that’s just my personality).
krista goon redbox studio
This despite knowing that 2016 wasn’t such a fabulous year. (Though I did count quite a number of accomplishments professionally and Nic and I did publish our first ever book).
My mum’s passing was the biggest blow to me and my sisters and dad and we’re still slowly coming to terms with that gap in our family structure. (And my dad’s hospitalisation. Thank God I am still standing!)
It’s odd how things change in a year. Last year on 5 January, I recalled having an hour long conversation with mum (I’ll tell you in a bit how I remember this fact). She was griping about dad. Is it something about Asian parents? They’d call up their grown-up kids and complain to them about their husband or wife. And it’s not gender-specific. My dad would call me up in frustration sometimes complaining about mum!
When I had breakfast with a friend today, she told me that same thing! Her parents, in their 70s and 80s, often complain about each other to her!
But complaints aside, I like starting my year with some tried-and-tested rituals. I’ve stopped making resolutions but I stick to my rituals. I shared about one unique ritual during a women’s mentoring programme that I took in October last year. (Oh do remind me to tell you all about my mentees – I’ve got 2 now. We each had to find and mentor two women for the next 6 months. So yeah, I’ve got 2 dynamic young ladies as my mentees and I am just as excited as they are to embark on this mentoring journey with them.)
Some 3 or 4 years ago, I heard about the gratitude jar. It was such an excellent idea that I immediately took action and started practising this. All you do is find a jar – any size would do. Mine’s just an old Prego glass jar.
Each night, before I sleep, I’ll write down 1 thing I was grateful for on a piece of notepaper. I like putting a date on the paper too. Then I’d fold this into a tiny piece and drop it into my glass jar. Make sure your jar has a lid. I keep my jar next to my bed (the easier the access to the jar, notepaper and pen, the more gratitude notes you’d produce!).

This forces me to reflect on my day and find one thing to be truly grateful for. Sometimes, I have more than one thing. I usually lump them into one piece of notepaper. This practice has helped me find silver linings and blessings in days that sometimes seem utterly desolate. (Yes, even I, the cheerful, optimistic one have those crappy days when all I want to do is just rave and rant like a mad woman.)
This jar is useful on days when you feel like the whole world is against you. I like to open the jar and randomly pick out one piece, unfold it and read it. And at the end of the year, like 31 December, I’ll pour out all my pieces onto my bed and slowly open and read each one. Some blessings surprise me because a year is a long time and our memories fade. But once I write it down and date it, I can recall many pleasant memories – like the 1-hour conversation with my mum last year on 5 January, her birthday.
I’ll take at least an hour to read all of my notes. I’ll clip them together and put them in a box. These will be stored. But the exercise of reading all these notes (I had 82 gratitude notes in 2016) made me pause and revel in the goodness that’s around me. Simple things are what I like best and make me truly thankful – such as tea with a good friend, conversations with my sisters/mum, bak kut teh breakfast with my dad when I am back in Banting, compliments from friends and clients, a restful Sunday, taking time to exercise, giving someone a helping hand, cooking dinner at home, gifts from friends and more.
So this year, I aim for more gratitude notes. I should be aiming for 1 per day which means that at the end of 2017, I should have 365 notes. That’s the goal anyway but I don’t beat myself up if I don’t hit 365. I still have many things to be happy about. All 82 of them anyway.

nic sim and krista goon
Nic and I at a recent Christmas dinner.

Practical ideas like the gratitude jar keep me consistently thinking about gratitude. I like this a lot more than making resolutions. When I shared this at the mentoring programme, many were surprised at the simplicity of the idea.
Practising gratefulness is somewhat like going to the gym. You need to get off your butt and go to the gym if you want to see results. In my everyday life, I do make time for prayers and I often say thanks during my prayers BUT having the gratitude jar “forces” me to use my gratitude “muscle” daily. The more I do this, the more grateful I become. The more grateful I am, the less I whine. The less I whine, the better I am as a human being.
women entrepreneurship
Spoke to Inti College’s MBA students. I’ve been speaking a lot these past few years on entrepreneurship and women.

When I had tea with my cousin last week, we were talking about how people can get into a funk of depression and never get out. I told her that I sometimes get depressed too, but not for long. For one, I only allow myself 24 hours to wallow in what I call “the waters of depression”. I don’t want to be the eternal hippo in the tepid waters of depression. It’s a comfy place because you’re mostly ranting at the unfair world and how victimised you feel.
I know. I’ve been there at times.
Cry if you must. But give yourself a timeline. 24 hours is all I give myself. I won’t dwell too long.
I journal all my emotions down on paper (yes, I have my journal next to my bed too for those moments when I need to pour it all out!). I write down every single nasty thing that floats across my mind. Oh yes, when one is angry, there are lots of nasty things to write. Give in and let it all out. I usually feel better after I brain dump all these negativity into the journal.
Then I ask myself, “What lessons can I learn from this episode? What key takeaways can I remember?”
These days I try to distance myself from the issue or problem (this happens a few days after the event of writing it all down) and try to get a macro view without my emotions getting in the way. I used to be very emotional about things but I’ve tempered that somewhat with this technique.
Grateful for my amazing circle of friends! They keep me strong.

Being Buddhist helps. My previous meditation experience during uni days comes to the fore. In Vipassana meditation, we are asked to note and observe what we feel. For instance, if I feel hot or itchy while sitting down for meditation (and does that happen to me all the time!), I need to note the feeling and observe it closely. By observing the feeling or sensation, the sensation seems to lessen over time and eventually disappear.
I try to practise this diligently when I get upset. It’s not easy because it’s easier to get caught up in anger or frustration. I sometimes forget!
But when I am calmer and able to process my thoughts in a neutral manner, I try to go back and uncover the lessons learnt from the unpleasant experience.
Other than the gratitude jar, I like to review my year based on some important areas of my life. When I attended the Women’s Forum at PSDC last year, I learnt about the Wheel of Life from Freda Liu (yes, the newscaster, deejay and celebrity). It’s a popular way of gauging how well we do in each sphere of life if you want to be happy and satisfied.
Each section of the wheel represents an area of our lives such as Health, Spirituality, Family, Business/Career, Love, Recreation, Contribution, Personal Growth etc. Based on this wheel, you ask yourself some questions. You will eventually find out if your wheel is balanced or if you’ve been spending inordinate amounts of time in one section while ignoring the other sections. It’s definitely a good way to check how you’ve been living life. You can check it out fully here.
web wisdom book
With one of our friends who bought our book, Web Wisdom

I’m the wordy sort so I like to write down all my responses to each section of the wheel. At the end, I like to count my accomplishments too so I write down every single good thing that I’ve done in that year.
It could be something big like publishing our book or something non-business related like helping set up the book adoption centre in my taman.
I count all milestones/accomplishments, big and small. It feels good to remember all the amazing things I’ve done or partook in the year before.
Finally, I like to list down what I’d like to do for the upcoming year. These aren’t resolutions but simply things that I want to do and makes me feel good doing them.
This is how I end my year and start the next one. Rituals like mine (adapted over the years) help me get wiser and it’s so heartwarming to read the milestones that I’ve hit.
As I get ready to mentor the 2 young women for the next 6 months, I want to pass these rituals of mine down to them. It may not be suitable for everyone but adapt and adopt as you go.
I hope these rituals help you find clarity in your life! (Or let me know how you wrap up the year!)

A Monster Called Allopurinol

This year has been positively crazy. I’ve seen the insides of the hospital far too many times and I am sick of it.
I just got home to Penang last Friday after some 12 days in Banting. I had gone home to take care of my 74 year old dad who had been hospitalised.
He had developed pustules on his face and rashes all over his torso and limbs suddenly. His eyes were red as if he was suffering from conjunctivitis. His lips bled. He was fatigued.
Initially, my sis thought he had one prawn too many at a friend’s son’s wedding banquet dinner. I thought the same too.
But seafood allergies do subside within 1-2 days (I should know, Nic has seafood allergies that make him itchy all over so he stays away from prawns and crabs, especially softshell crabs).
Finally my sis took my dad to the private clinic and they quickly referred him to the general hospital in Banting. From there, they quickly transferred him to the hospital in Klang (HTAR) where he was promptly put into the isolation room of the ICU ward.
In the end, it wasn’t the seafood. It wasn’t an infection. It was a drug allergy. My dad was seriously allergic to allupurinol, a type of gout medication. He was given this medication because the doc said he had gout.
If you google allopurinol, here’s what you’d find on Wikipedia:
Allopurinol, sold under the brand name Zyloprim and generics, is a medication used primarily to treat excess uric acid in the blood and its complications, including chronic gout. Allopurinol has rare but potentially fatal adverse effects involving the skin. The most serious adverse effect is a hypersensitivity syndrome consisting of fever, skin rash, eosinophilia, hepatitis, and worsened renal function. Allopurinol is one of the drugs commonly known to cause Stevens–Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis, two life-threatening dermatological conditions.
Note the words I’ve made in bold.
My dad was diagnosed as suffering from Stevens-Johnson syndrome or SJS for short. SJS was caused by the medication given to him by his doctor. I am not going to scare you  by putting up images of patients with SJS. Please google these images on your own.
My dad had hallucinations during his stay in the ICU ward. He felt terrible all over. He couldn’t eat properly as his lips were bleeding.
Now here’s the best part: did my dad actually have high levels of uric acid in his blood?
From what I gathered from my conversations with him, he just told his doctor he was experiencing some pain in his leg. And the doctor gave him allopurinol which gave him SJS which made him suffer 16 days in the hospital (10 days in the ICU staring at four walls and a stupid clock and 6 days in the general ward, surrounded by dengue patients).
My problem is this: why did the doctor prescribe him allopurinol just because he said he had some pain in his leg? I find that a lack of wisdom in doctors a frightening thought. My dad was one of the few who’d been rushed to the hospital quick enough to get help. What about others? What about others who aren’t so lucky to live near a town with hospital facilities that could help? What about those who shrugged off the rashes and fever and didn’t seek help?
This isn’t the first time I am angry at public healthcare. Granted, my dad was treated well in the ICU ward. He had a nurse stationed near him all the time. He was closely monitored and given the attention he needed. I wish I could say the same of the nurses when he was transferred to the general ward (when his condition stabilized and his ICU bed was urgently needed by some other patient). In the general ward, you’re a blip on the radar. An unimportant blip by the way.

My dad in the general ward. His friends came to visit and cheer him up.
My dad in the general ward. His friends came to visit and cheer him up.

Things got so bad at one point that my sis and I went to the First Class ward to find out if there were any available beds! You see, my dad was supposed to be transferred from ICU to First Class. Yet they didn’t have beds in the First Class ward so he was temporarily brought down to the general ward.
The general ward was, as I later found out, a dengue ward. Patients with dengue are given beds in this ward. The nurses rush about but nothing ever happens. The doctors (young ones, perhaps on housemanship duties) walk about checking patients’ files and scribbling furiously in each one but they never came around to update me about my dad’s health status.
My dad was wearing diapers and each time he soiled them, he felt so bad about calling the nurses to help him change. At one point, I almost lost my temper as he had been in his soiled diapers for 45 minutes and no nurse came around although they were all at the nurses’ station some 10 feet away! I kept pressing the button over and over, showing my displeasure.
What kept me sane was that I knew my dad was going to be discharged and this would soon be over. These encounters with public healthcare will be over soon, I kept reminding myself. I don’t need to see any of these doctors (not that they were seeing or talking to me).
The day my dad was discharged, I was relieved. He was pleased to be going home. I was happy he was going home. I had spent the last 12 days being a care-giver, cook and driver which isn’t the easiest job in the world. When my sis went off to teach, I’d wake up and cook porridge, mostly vegan, for my dad. I’ll then pack them into two portions, one for lunch and one for dinner. I’d use thermos containers as I needed the porridge for his evening meal to be warm, even at 6pm.
I’ll then drive 40 minutes from Banting (where we live) to the Klang hospital and feed him his lunch around 1pm. When visiting hours ended at 2pm, I’ll grab lunch at the AEON Bukit Tinggi mall which was 10 minutes away. It came to a point that I was so freaking bored of the cafes at AEON that I didn’t know what to eat! Even now I can close my eyes and see in my mind’s eye the cafes and fast food chains in the mall and nothing would interest me. Around 4.30pm, I’ll drive my way back to the hospital and pray I’ll find a parking spot. The Klang hospital is always abuzz with visitors so their car park is always full and I’ll have to encircle the area a few times before I’ll find a spot.
I’ll then spend the next few hours talking to my dad or feeding him his dinner. And at 7.30pm, I’ll drive my way back to Banting, braving the after office hours traffic as well as all the lorries and trucks that are going down to the Teluk Panglima Garang FTZ area. I’d reach home about 8.20pm and I couldn’t even think of dinner. I was dead tired and I knew I had to go through the same thing again the next day.
When he was in the ICU ward, it was a climb of 10 flights of stairs! The ICU ward was on the 5th floor but the hospital elevators were so old and slow that it was always faster climbing the stairs! When my dad was in the ICU, all of us including my 13 year old nephew huffed and puffed ourselves up the stairs twice a day. It was a great cardio workout though. My calves and thighs got firmer so at least there’s some silver lining there.
The good thing was, I started becoming more creative with my vegan porridge. I tried to incorporate as many healthy ingredients as I could. This was where my SoupQueen experience paid off. I cooked with fresh wai san whenever I could. I put a medley of vegetables into my porridge – all nutritious stuff to help his skin heal from within. Carrots, pumpkin, corn, mushroom, goji – they all went into the porridge. I became quite a pro at making my porridge too.
I also discovered that mung beans were excellent for clearing toxins in the blood and so I made mung bean dessert. (The doctor was telling me my dad had sepsis – toxins in the blood – and I knew that TCM or Traditional Chinese Medicine would have a solution in the form of food. Yes, my mantra is – let food be your medicine.)
When he was in the hospital, I made him a plethora of fresh fruit juices. I also gave him plenty of Yakult to replenish his good bacteria – all those antibiotics he took probably zapped the good ones dead.
When he was discharged from the hospital, I made him lots of watercress soup with lean pork and carrot. I made sure he ate lots of fruit too.
The weirdest thing was, I was quite all right when I was attending to my dad for the 12 days I was in Selangor. The moment I flew back to Penang, I developed a fever!
But I am thankful that episode is over and done with. I wanted to write this blog post because I want you to know that doctors do make mistakes. Their mistakes create plenty of suffering and pain for their patients. It shouldn’t have happened. It could’ve been fatal for my dad. He came this close to death just because some stupid doctor played God with medication.
I’ve been fortunate that among all my sisters, I am the only one with enough time flexibility to go home and care for my dad. My youngest sis had to work (she’s a teacher in a Chinese school and that says a lot as Chinese schools are slave-drivers) and my second sis who works in Singapore couldn’t take leave. So it was up to me – the one without a boss – to figure things out and help my dad the best I could. That is perhaps the best reason for entrepreneurship. Freedom of time.

Of Ducks, Books & The Dreaded M Word

I met Alex of Bunnysprints last week for matcha latte at Secawan Hutton (a fabulous cafe by the way) and she reminded me that I have not been updating my blog. Thanks Alex for keeping me on my toes!
Anyway, she was up in Penang for work (she’s writing lots more business-related projects now and she sighs that people still think she does a lot of travel and food articles). I also wanted to meet her as I wanted to present her my book! (*doing a proud little jig*)
Yes, my book has been published (you can buy the print version or ebook version here). It hasn’t been launched yet. See how narcissistic we authors are these days? The book isn’t debuted properly until it has been launched, usually by some VIP because when VIPs come, so does the press. And that’s when we all get the five minutes of fame in the newspaper.

krista goon with alex wong
Alex and me in front of Secawan Hutton

So yes, my book’s all done and published. Nic and I are heaving huge sighs of relief! It was a project that we undertook because we figured that it was the last frontier. If you want to know all about the book, titled Web Wisdom (I know, I love my alliteration to death), go check out this blog post on my business blog. I tell you all about the ramifications of a writing a book and self-publishing it.
Back to Alex and our tete-a-tete.
Sometimes conversations can be startling. People often remind me of the things I told them years ago. I forget half the stuff I say but you never know how people hold on to some nuggets or words that resonate with them.
(Just like I read Alvin Ung’s book called Barefoot Leadership – an excellent book on Malaysian heroes, btw – and remember this about Helen Read, the founder of the fashion label, Ms Read. Helen Read endeavours to leave a public washroom clean so that the next person using it won’t be disgusted. I hold this in my heart each time I use a public restroom. I flush properly and sometimes even use the water hose to hose down the floor of the toilet cubicle so that there are no nasty footprints etc. I think that’s true consideration and empathy for the next user of the loo! You see, I remember things like these. Things that others may scoff at and say, well, that’s why you have people who wash loos, right? At least I can make the world a better place, starting with the public loo!)
At our women entrepreneur showcase last week, a KL friend attended and then told me in a Facebook comment that I’d once told her that a duck may glide effortlessly on the lake but underneath the surface, the legs are paddling furiously. What looks successful may have taken lots of effort; effort that most people do not see and assume immediately that success is easy for others.
I was touched she remembered these words of mine.
web wisdom book
Nic and I with our KL friend and book-buyer, SY Phang

Because it certainly took years for me to produce a book despite being a seasoned blogger, copywriter, and communicator. It took me and Nic some time to decide what type of book to write. In my younger days, I fantasized that I’d be writing fiction.
How life turns out. Our first book is non-fiction. It’s about websites and how to use them for effective marketing. It’s meant for small business owners.
When I was talking to Alex, she reminded me that I told her years ago that she should focus on marketing. She said that back then, she thought I was the literary sort and those words coming from me didn’t seem to make sense.
It now makes sense to her and bless her, she took action (many people may listen but never take action at all). She learnt marketing. She learnt how to position herself and her writing and price her services like a true business professional. She is now reaping the rewards of taking herself seriously as someone who can help business owners communicate better.
I told her that there is no need to be starving writer, just like there’s no need to be a starving artist if only the writers and artists marketed themselves. There is nothing wrong with marketing one’s skills. There is everything wrong if you have a damn good skill and you’re not marketing yourself, hoping that people will find you on their own!
I’ve never been too literary for marketing, that’s for sure. I don’t know when I started to be a convert of my own beliefs and philosophy of marketing but I know that I am all the better for it. Without marketing, I wouldn’t have the opportunities I have today. Like right now.
Even Audrey, my book editor, told me that I made marketing something that’s not sleazy. I see so many experts of their field who remain just that – people full of good knowledge but without the knowledge of marketing themselves in positive ways.
That’s why I am such a huge advocate of marketing without cheesiness or sleaze. I call it authentic marketing. It’s making sure people know about your skills and abilities in good ways and remember you when they need your skills the most (especially if they’re ready to hire you or work with you).
Writers who only know how to write and expect the crowd to beat a “lorong” to their door won’t be able to see much happening. As a writer (or any other profession), you need to get out there and tell the world what makes you special or worth working with.
Having the attitude of “I’m a writer, not a hustler” and that “my work sells itself” won’t cut it today. And never, ever call yourself a freelance something (freelance artist, freelance writer, freelance designer).
Adding the word “freelance” just tells people that your prices can be bargained down to a pittance and you don’t have a union to complain to (and they can bully you however they want). If you need to have a designation, call yourself a writer. Only you need to know you’re a freelancer.
Alex illustrated the need for marketing accurately when she told me that she had been a regular patron to this cafe in KL (around her neighbourhood). The woman would bend over backwards to serve her customers well. She cooked well.
But she didn’t pay attention to marketing. Dear Alex with her heart of gold hinted multiple times about helping her do some marketing but the lady said she didn’t have time for marketing. Eventually, her business fizzled out. She lost her cafe and Alex lost a place for good food! When a small business collapses, it isn’t just one person’s loss. The entire neighbourhood could be pining for what could have been!
So there. I’ve said my piece about marketing. I hope to say more but I don’t want to be some old broken record.
(If you’re wondering why the long silence, my mum passed away in August. I didn’t feel like writing much after the funeral though I did journal. I cried pots of tears. I still get a bit pensive when I think of my mum. You can read this post on my other blog to find out more.)
p/s: I must be getting famous. Just last week, a friend whatsapped me saying that she got an FB friend request from a profile page with MY photo but the person apparently was named Shin Ching. I quickly reported it to FB and in 2 minutes, the profile page was deleted by FB. Still, it was such a weird feeling knowing that someone just took my photo and started a FB page! Unfortunately for that impersonator, I have friends who know me and alerted me before any damage could be done. Quick tip: there’s no need to confront the impersonator. Just complain to FB and they will take care of it.

Bali Dreaming

I’ve been meaning to add more to my Bali trip posts but so many things got in the way. I have been trying to reduce the number of projects I am involved in, this year as a way to slow down and reclaim some peace and quiet for myself. I am still involved with copywriting (usually for clients who want custom-designed websites) but I am slowly also reducing this from my plate too.

bali dream resort ubud
This is Bali Dream Resort, a little hidden gem in the paddy fields of Gianyar, Ubud.

Anyway, I am back and that is all that matters.
I still hanker for Bali because it was simply an amazing island. The people were lovely and everyone had time to stop and chat which is saying a lot! I am not saying people in Penang aren’t friendly but there’s magic in Bali.
rice fields of ubud
The view of rice fields just behind our hotel room

Nic and I spent our entire 6 days in Ubud, wandering about on the rented scooter (strangely branded Scoopy) from Bali Dream Resort. Everyone whizzes about on scooters in Ubud and by everyone I mean the locals as well as the angmohs. And boy are there plenty of angmohs! Ubud is artistic and cultural but it is also a haven for yoga studios and vegan cafes and juice bars. As I mentioned, people here retire to bed early. By 10pm, most cafes and shops are already closed. This was something to be grateful for, as it meant we returned to our hotel and slept early too!
The sun rises really early in Bali so by 6am, it is bright and sunny (somewhat like our 10am in Malaysia). I remember waking up at 8am and feeling the heat of the sun on my face from the window.
When we arrived at the Bali Ngurah Rai airport, we were raring to go despite the fact that we had woken up at 5am to catch the Penang-KL flight at 6.50am. We had landed in KLIA2 on transit but whiled away our time till 10.50am before our KL-Bali flight called. Jana, who is a regular visitor to Bali, told us that we can walk out and hail a Bluebird taxi instead of taking the airport taxis.
I felt annoyed at being harassed by a super persistent young chap who kept tailing us as we walked out of the airport arrival area. He kept asking us what price we wanted. Anyway, we managed to cross the road just outside of the airport and quickly jumped into a Bluebird taxi.Taxi fees from the airport to Ubud are about RM90 one-way for an hour plus trip.
Nic Sim
Nic in his relaxed mode atop the bamboo tree house

The taxi driver was called Wayan (yes, everyone is either Wayan, Made, Komang or Ketut – they’re really telling you their family ties and hierarchy. Wayan is the first born, Made is number two, Komang or Nyoman is the third while Ketut is the fourth. I was curious – what happens if there is a fifth child? Wayan the taxi man tells me the title Wayan gets reused! To know if the person is a male or female, there is a Ie or Nie attached such as Wayan Ie for a male firstborn or Wayan Nie for a female firstborn). During our entire trip, we met a few Wayans, read about one Nyoman (who owned an art gallery) and more.
It was interesting to have a conversation with a local – a first for me as a traveller. I love going to Thailand – that’s a country I’ve visited many times already – but I never have had a proper conversation with the locals. My Thai is limited to short phrases and words so it’s usually English or nothing.
In Bali, Nic and I had an excellent time conversing with the locals because Bahasa Indonesia shares the same roots as our BM. At breakfast each morning, we spoke at length to the resort’s staff and satisfied our own curiosity of the many different things we observed. The other resort guests at the other tables often looked our way as we chatted animatedly to the staff. We looked like Chinese (and for most travellers, this meant China people) but we spoke the local language.
For once, we could speak and understand each other and exchange information about our own countries.
Our taxi driver managed to persuade us to stop by 2 places on our way to Bali Dream Resort. One was a large silver jewellery shop in Celuk. It was a hot day so the air-conditioned shop (which was clean and modern) was a welcome respite. We pretended to be interested in the silver earrings, rings and more but I wasn’t in the mood to buy anything. I just wanted to check in at our hotel and have a cool shower. Fortunately, the girls at the shop didn’t bug us to try on anything so we left after 20 minutes. I believe the taxi driver gets something for popping by with tourists.
bali swimming pool resort
The view of the glorious pool from our room

I thought this was the end of the silliness but he brought us to a place that offered us free kopi luwak. What is it with tourist traps like these? Is it a first-time visitor’s curse? I don’t drink coffee but we got out of the taxi and strolled into this mini garden with a meandering path.
The petite girl in charge gave us a running commentary on the coffee plants, cocoa plants etc. I did inform her that we are from Malaysia and yes, we have the same plants/shrubs in our country. Finally, we stopped in front of a cage. She pointed out the Asian palm civet cat which was lying curled up in a ball inside the cage. The animal gazed at us with boredom and misery spilling out of its eyes.
bali temple architecture
Balinese temples are so iconic. This was taken near the Celuk silver shop.

If you don’t know about the civet or cat shit coffee, try this Wikipedia entry on kopi luwak. I did try this coffee once when a friend brought it back to Penang but since I am no coffee aficionado, I had no idea if I was drinking good coffee or not. I wasn’t so much disgusted about the process as I was about the commercialisation of the coffee and the force-feeding of coffee cherries to the civet cats. Just so you know, kopi luwak of all kinds and brands are sold in supermarkets in Bali. It’s like Penang white coffee. Everyone and their uncles are hawking this coffee.
Finally, we were asked to climb up a bamboo tree house and have a seat while the girl went off to prepare some sample drinks for us. She came back with a tray of shot glasses with colourful powders. Each glass was labelled. She poured hot water into each glass and encouraged us to try the different teas – red ginger tea, lemongrass tea, lemon tea, roselle tea, mangosteen (peel) tea and more. Luckily Nic mentioned he didn’t want any kopi luwak so that wasn’t served. Our taxi driver, Wayan, sat with us. He was served a larger cup of coffee (that was perhaps his “treat” for bringing us there).
bali swimming pool resort
I know, I am crazy over the pool. Our hotel had not one but two pools.

I really didn’t want to buy any but our sense of obligation got the better of us (after all, we sampled some 10 types of teas and sat around chatting for a good half hour while enjoying the evening breeze at the top of the bamboo tree house). We bought a small packet of lemongrass tea for an atrocious amount of rupiah.
I was thinking, if we don’t get going to our resort and check in, I was going to show my displeasure. I was already quite sticky and hot by this time, traipsing around a coffee plantation and all.
Perhaps Wayan just wanted his free cuppa but whatever it was, he started to head towards Jalan Penestenan Kelod, Gianyar. The roads were narrow but I was enthralled by the passing scenery and Balinese architecture. It seemed there was a temple around every corner or a pair of stone carvings adorning each home entrance.
Women in traditional attire (kebaya with sarong and colourful sashes) were swaying delicately down the narrow pathways and roads. They’d sashay down the road with piles of carefully arranged fruit and offerings balanced atop their heads. It was such a delight to watch!
(Later, I realized these women were on their way to the local temple for prayers. It seemed that every other day some prayers or ceremony was happening in Ubud and you’d be amazed at the scores of women who’d carry offerings on top of their heads).
Wayan got lost a few times trying to locate our hotel. Eventually, he stopped us at the side of a road so that we could ask around. It turned out that our hotel couldn’t be accessed by car; the pathway was simply too narrow. The hotel sent a golf cart around to pick up our luggage while I went to the reception for the check-in.
All my tiredness flew away the moment we were led to our room. We were steps away from a serene pool! That was such a balm for my fatigued soul. Since it was already quite late (5pm ish), we decided to just rest and relax in our hotel. Travelling can be tiring despite the fun and excitement. We also settled for a quick dinner of nasi goreng at the hotel cafe.
indonesia teas in bali
Indonesian teas of all colours in Bali

Stay tuned for the next episode.

When Ducks Can Make You Filthy Rich

We just got home from a lovely, absolutely lovely 6 days in Ubud, Bali. What have I been missing all this while? I always thought Bali was ultra commercial until Jeanette and Mariam kept urging me to go and experience it for myself. I am so appreciative that I did. I can’t believe this island has eluded me for so long.

nic sim & krista goon
Nic likes to make crazy faces when I take selfies. This is one of those moments when we were waiting out the rain at Wayan Kunang-Kunang’s.

Sorry if I sound like a complete fan-girl of Bali. I am enthralled. Head over heels. I think I shall retire there and start my resort.
A friend asked me what I found special.
Ubud has all the right architecture right down to the old, gnarled frangipani trees the locals call “pokok Jepun”. This is not to be mistaken with “Jepang” as Jepang is how the Balinese call the Japanese. So I am still puzzled about the difference between Jepun and Jepang.
bali temple statue
Perhaps I shall ask the Balinese the next time I get there (see? I am already planning my next trip despite the fact that I hate connecting flights. We had to take a Penang-KL flight, transit a few hours and then take KL-Denpasar. The same thing when we came back.)
Anyway, I loved that Ubud is like a village. It is small enough to feel familiar yet full of interesting nooks and crannies waiting to be discovered. Like the words I saw written on a white wall behind a goal post near Jalan Hanoman – “100% Love Is The Goal”. These little amusing moments strike me as whimsical yet fitted perfectly with the character of Ubud people (the angmohs and the locals alike).
Over the years, Nic and I realized that the vacations we craved weren’t just about going some place famous and taking snaps all day long. I was never that sort to begin with. Nic and I love meandering down little lanes, stopping for a chat and a drink, taking a longer time just to savour the day. That’s how our perfect little holidays end up anyway.
We never liked overwhelming ourselves with the must-do’s and the must-see. I think part of the reason is that we both strive to find meaningful connections with the people and the places we visit. So this time, we didn’t see Tanah Lot nor did we go up to Kintamani. We didn’t do Mount Batur or Goa Gajah or watch dolphins. We knew that we’d be back and we’d have plenty more trips to do so.
Ubud stone statues
Ubud is known for its excellent stone carvers

What we did do was make friends with the locals. We met Wayan Kunang-Kunang when we ran into his shop to take shelter from the tropical storm (you never want to ride a scooter when rain pelts you like bullets). We met Made Lasil at Neka Art Museum and he showed us how to play the bamboo instrument called ‘rindik’. We exchanged stories with Eka, Deksri, Mellany and Sari, the wonderful staff at Bali Dream Resort where we stayed and had a good time learning Indonesian words and finding that we had so much in common. Others like Wayan, our taxi driver, was so thankful when Nic gave him more than he asked for in taxi fees.
bali dream resort ubud
The delightful resort we stayed at…Bali Dream Resort, tucked away in Jalan Penestanan.

We learnt so much about Nyoman Sumetro, the owner of Bebek Tepi Sawah restaurant, when we toured the art gallery located next to the famous restaurant. Sure, we had stopped by to partake in the famous bebek or crispy duck (Mariam exhorted me to try it) and truth be told, Nic’s ikan gurami panggang tasted a lot better than my ultra-crispy half bebek! Bebek Tepi Sawah is so successful that it spawned more than a few outlets across Indonesia and there is even one in Singapore. That explained the Ferrari parked right out front! (It was covered modestly with a silver plastic car cover but nothing can hide the voluptuous shape.) Another bebek place that I didn’t get to try was Bebek Bengil a.k.a Dirty Duck Diner along Monkey Forest Road. Bengil is the local word for dirt (or “daki”) hence dirty duck. Perhaps next round!
ubud rice field
The rice paddy fields behind our resort

It is conversations with the locals that I loved best. It was funny to know that what we call “telur mata kerbau” is called “telur mata sapi” over there. It became a joke among the staff of Bali Dream Resort because each morning, as we ordered our American breakfast, they’d ask us how we’d like our eggs. We’d all laugh when we said “telur mata sapi” and then they’d repeat to us “telur mata kerbau” with a straight face but later burst out laughing because they couldn’t help it.
swimming pool ubud
The pool, just steps away from our room

Ubud is a slower pace of life, where shops are shuttered at 9pm (even Starbucks Ubud) and people are in bed by 10pm. The air is cool in the evenings because of all the rice terraces, trees and rivers.  Ubud is also the place where you will find a “pura” or temple every couple of steps. Religious and cultural events are a nightly feature.
One night, we witnessed a full procession of traditionally-dressed Balians as they celebrated yet another religious festival in full pomp. A Caucasian lady with a yoga mat slung over her shoulder asked us if we knew what was being celebrated (Ubud attracts a lot of Caucasians on a health and rejuvenation mission – yoga, vegan food, smoothies, retreats, the full works). We had no idea. But the procession went its way and finally she stopped a Balian and asked him what it was all about.
Pengosekan in Ubud is where Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love found Ketut Liyer, the palm reader whom we were told, only read foreign palms (he also charges higher rates). Ketut Liyer is old, in his 80s and still ranks as the most famous palm reader in all of Bali, thanks to the book and the movie.
ubud bali pool
Family life, having kids and being spiritual are a mainstay of the Ubud people. Nic and I felt a bit like oddities because Wayan, our taxi driver thought we were both on our honeymoon as we didn’t have any kids tagging along! (Ubud is very family-friendly. Families with kids in tow are everywhere, mostly Caucasian. This is not the sleazy Bangla Road of Phuket where lady boys are openly parading. I read later that there is a happening gay scene in Ubud which I seriously witnessed not!)
So consider this an amuse bouche for more of Ubud tales to come. I shall be back with more!

Why Women These Days Need A Bullshit Meter

It used to be that spam only came via our email inboxes. And while we all are rather jaded about Nigerian scammers, the Nigerian scams now come in different flavours. They modify and localise the names of people to sound more or less like someone the recipient might know.
And I always thought these scammers are good because they tap into our human desires of greed.
Until recently, that is. Scammers also tap into our human desire to be loved, appreciated and wanted.
My friend told me a few weeks ago that her niece who was worried about her mum (my friend’s sister). It seemed that her mum, recently widowed and home alone, had found a new friend on Facebook.
Her mum is in her 60s and while she lived with her daughter and son-in-law, she was alone much of the day as her daughter and son-in-law were busy most of the time running their own businesses.
A well-meaning relative thought it would be fun for Mrs A to join in the fun online by downloading the Facebook app to her smartphone. After all, she could connect with the rest of the extended family and be able to assuage her loneliness by reading their newsfeed and viewing their family photos.
It was all good fun until she was privately messaged by a stranger on Facebook who complimented her.
All women should have enough scepticism to spot a scam a mile away. If I could teach girls and women one thing, I’d teach them how to spot scams dressed in cheesy compliments. Every girl and woman should have enough self-assurance to go “Reeeaaaallly????” while raising one sarcastic brow!
I have received enough “compliments” from “men” on LinkedIn (yes, they’ve infiltrated that platform too), Facebook and Google+.
Recently I discovered that WhatsApp is also a new modus operandi. Some scammer gets your phone number (which is fairly easy these days considering how our phone numbers are literally everywhere online) and sends you an innocuous message like this: Hi (your name), I have this problem (inserts link).
You see, we can’t help but let our guard down when someone addresses us by name. It’s the first and easiest method to remove scepticism. If someone knows me, he must be a friend.
Not true. If that person were my friend, he’d be in my Contact list and his name would appear in WhatsApp instead of his phone number. When I see these messages, I immediately (and with great flourish and extreme satisfaction) report and block the number for good. Of course, scammers don’t let up. They’d just change phone numbers or move on to easier targets.
In Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn, these scammers have profile photos which border on so much cheesiness that I suspect there must be a book or course on Scamming 101.
Maybe they were told Asian women like clean-shaven white men in their 30s who pose with babies or puppies. Oh, it helps if they’re in some army uniform. Well, we all want some disciplined, tough-as-nails general in some fantasy right? Give me Tom Keen of The Blacklist any day!
If I discover even a tiny amount of fakery, I go delete, delete and report spam. There are truly lots of weirdos online.
Anyway, back to Mrs A’s story. While her relative had good intentions to get Mrs A online and help her get connected, she forgot that the online world can be dangerous for an innocent woman, whom up till then, was living a fully offline life!
Mrs A’s husband had passed on not long ago. Perhaps she just wanted to be friends with the man (but scammers can pretend to be men or women, depending on the situation) and they started chatting. She gave him her life story – that she was newly widowed and in her 60s and mostly alone in the day as her children worked. Perhaps she even told him she had inherited some money from her late husband.
When Mrs A’s daughter called my friend a.k.a her aunt to speak of her worry about her mum, I suggested that they could try deleting the Facebook app from her smartphone. Knowing that Mrs A isn’t tech-savvy at all, she wouldn’t know how to download the app again. That would stop all communication with the man.
But scammers can be sneaky indeed. Mrs A, whom I heard was a technophobe, soon graduated from Facebook chats to email! The man was now emailing her sweet nothings and promising the earth and the sky and the heaven.
He even called her and she believed that he was an American just waiting to hop on a plane and visit her in Penang! All this happened while my friend and her family kept telling her that the man was fake and it was all a scam.
But do women in love believe these truths? No. She lived in her own dreamland, fantasising about the day when her handsome American boyfriend would sweep her off her feet! She believed he must be real because he had spoken to her on the phone and he had an accent.
I vacillate between pity and empathy for Mrs A because she has never been romanced like this, not even by her late husband. She was like a young girl again, full of romantic hope that fairy tales do come true. Her sensitive, caring American boyfriend was going to give her a second chance at being a princess. Perhaps she also felt wanted and appreciated.
That is why I say, scammers probably have doctorates in psychology. They tap into our deepest desires and fears. They bait us with their cunning empathy and feed into emotional needs that are often buried.
You know what’s sadder than being led around like a fool?
Mrs A gave her boyfriend RM95,000 based on some stupid sob story he told her. When my friend angrily recounted the story, I was dumbfounded. Here’s an elderly woman who gave away her life savings to a stranger whose opening line was “You are so beautiful!”
When I found my voice, I asked her how this happened. Did she transfer the money to him online?
Nope. Imagine this: she rode her motorbike to the bank and somehow withdrew her money and remitted it into his account! OHMYFREAKINGGOD. Some people might wonder if she had been under a spell (kena santau) but this spell is stronger than what a witch doctor can conjure – love itself can be quite a heady spell! Caucasian love – double that.
Her family were crazy angry and immediately took her to the police station to lodge a report. Up till then, she was adamant she was giving him a loan to help him as he was “stranded in KLIA”. I don’t know how being stranded and needing money linked up but she believed in his tale of woe. Even the policemen told her that it was definitely a scam. Mrs A refused to believe it. A few days after making the report, she secretly went to the police station to withdraw her report!
So, is there a good ending to this utterly sad story? What are scammers made of? It baffles me that there is a career for scumbags of the earth who revel in creating stories to manipulate an elderly woman who just lost her husband, feeding her with imagined love and hope and draining away her hard-earned money.
I am still justifiably angered that this happened. My friend is keeping an eye on her sister because she knows if she joins the rest of the family in berating her, Mrs A will clam up and maybe lose even more money! By talking to her without resorting to blame and anger, my friend hopes she can slowly talk her sister into some sense and see the scammer for what he truly is.
The online world is where my business and future is and I am for going online and using the Internet for a greater good. But I also believe that women, young and old, need to be able to separate fact from fiction. Being online for more than 20 years now has helped me create a sort of bullshit meter and I am always cautious when something or someone sounds too good to be true. I trust my gut feelings or subconscious more than my logical brain because my gut is often an accurate judge of people and their characters. I read somewhere that it’s because our senses are more attuned to disconnects than our logical consciousness allows for. Our subconscious protects us from dangerous situations and people.
This is why having a sense of self, of knowing who you are, is important to all women, no matter what age we are. I didn’t know who I was when I was young but I wished someone older and wiser had taken me under her wing and taught me about myself. If we know who we are, deep inside, we’d all be a lot more grounded and wiser. It has taken me years and years to realise this. Perhaps one day, I will have a programme to teach this – knowing who you are is game-changing. It is about understanding your own power and what you are capable of. Oprah once said that you don’t give your power to others; you own your power (I am paraphrasing).
While it is beautiful to wish for happily ever after, know that romance is a construct that can sometimes damage us (look at what happened to Mrs A!). I wasn’t exactly a die-hard Mills and Boons fan but I did indulge in these books when I was a teen.
In that same vein, let me leave you with something that is hopeful and hilarious as hell.
Watch this TED talk of how a British comedian, James Veitch decided to turn the table on a scammer. It’s so devilishly good.