Goodbye, 2014

This will probably be my last post for 2014, because tomorrow I will be going up to Penang Hill for dinner, wine, endless conversation, and countdown to 2015 with two of my bosom buddies of (gasp) close to 20 years. It’s amazing how two decades have passed and we can still talk the way we did, and look the way we did when we first met.

So my annual reflection has to be done tonight. 2014 has been pretty stellar considering the mixed bag of challenges, discoveries, and victories it is. I can in all honesty say I have done my best with those 364 days, and since tomorrow will also be well spent, I guess I will have done justice to 2014 the best way I knew how.

Thank you, 2014, you’ve been stellar, and the foundation set should be enough for 2015 to be a thriving year. Since I wrote a post on the ten personal victories achieved in 2014, it is only befitting that I make a list of victories to aspire towards for 2015:

1. Conquering the New York City Marathon on the 1st of November 2015–by which I mean completing the entire 42 km in 4.5 hours or less. I will be training diligently for this one, for sure!

2. Pushing my boundaries professionally to see all my projects through, and to see their results with my very own eyes–even if this means working harder than I am used to, and working in ways I never thought I would, with people I never imagined I would work with, maybe even in places that never even crossed my mind.

3. Getting out of my shell personally, and being less reserved in reaching out to people and letting them know I care.

4. Spending more time outside–in natural surroundings, an interesting cafe, the golf course, or by the beach. This will take some effort because I love being indoors and love my apartment and my study. But every time I overcome the inertia to get myself outside I get rewarded with wonderfully heightened clarity and energy.

5. Improving my command of the Thai and German languages to the extent of being able to carry out a simple conversation with a native. Currently I am only capable of basic monologues.

6. Rekindling my prayer life and time spent reading God’s word. I have become somewhat of a complacent Christian recently, and my senses have been a bit dulled as to what the Holy Spirit may want to reveal to me, and the little epiphanies pointing to the interesting things God is orchestrating in my life! The Bible I bought in early 2014 looks brand new, a sign that I have not been reading it enough.

7. Writing better — the 200-plus posts on this blog I have managed to write have been a result of not being too attached to perfectionism, but at the same time I know I can’t let my writing deteriorate too much either. It’s time to go back to the basics of good writing — grammar, style, clarity, accuracy, showing not telling, imagery, appropriate use of vocabulary, and what not.

So there goes, my goals for 2015. Things that I articulate and write down tend to materialize, and since this is the first time I am making my list public, I guess the law of attraction should work even more strongly to make sure I accomplish all these seven things!

Here’s to 2015 — happy new year, everyone.

How to Discover Your Calling in Life

TIME

live-in-the-grey-logo

This article originally appeared on Live in the Grey.

We’ve all heard it before: “Do what you love.” “Follow your passion.” “Find a job that you would do for free.”

Yet “passion” is one of those concepts that is difficult to explain, hard to find and impossible to measure. It’s something that’s unique to each of us, with no one scale to determine it or map to guide us to it

In a world that is evolving so quickly, a good education no longer guarantees work and a job no longer provides stability. We may be losing the structure and simplicity of the past, but we are exchanging it for the freedom to create our own future.

As exciting as this is, we’re not necessarily ready for that responsibility. As much as we embrace freedom, we also seek the comfort of guidance. In order to discover our passion and…

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Heritage Hotel Stay at 23 Love Lane for Mother’s Day – My First Post on this Blog

23 Love Lane Hotel Penang

The hotel courtyard proves a tranquil spot despite the building itself being right smack in the middle of Georgetown City.

When I decided to resume blogging (and try to be consistent this time around), I was rather excited that a blogworthy event would be coming up – my family’s short getaway to this highly acclaimed 5-star heritage hotel at the Penang Heritage area – a treat from me, my brother and sister-in-law to mom to celebrate Mother’s Day.

Just like mom, I love mini getaways even if it’s just to our very own backyard! Around 10.30 am last Saturday, I received a surprise call from the hotel staff telling me that my room was ready for check-in. It turned out that this pleasant gesture was the first of more to come – like offering to make me a cup of coffee when I was sitting at the hall reading and the simple nods and smiles of acknowledgement from the hotel staff.

23lovelanehotel

No problem dozing off on a strange bed when it is as plush as this one

So I went to the hotel and took a nap on the plush bed in that airy high-ceilinged room, typical of any colonial era building before my parents and sister arrived. I even had time to explore the nearby heritage area briefly on my own when I got hungry and had to go out to look for my lunch because the hotel’s Steak Frites restaurant serves only, well, steak. Shortly after they did, I happily bagged the Crabtree and Evelyn lotion and L’occitane toiletries before leaving to let my parents enjoy the stay on their own, casually asking mom to request another set from the hotel.

23 love lane hotel c

The afternoon tea – an experience enhanced by the warm hospitality of the hotel staff

The hotel serves complimentary afternoon tea to their guests at 4.30 pm everyday, and dad sent me photos of what they had over Whatsapp – which appeared to be a modest and yet pleasant mix of local and western fare.

But the best part of this entire getaway was when I received Whatsapp messages from my mom, and then dad – saying ‘thank you’ for booking the stay for them. It was Mother’s Day, and for all my parents had done for me and my siblings, the least we could do for them in return was to come up with simple gestures like this to put a smile on their faces. Like typical parents they complained that the room rate was too high, but it was still apparent that they enjoyed themselves. And this, to me, is the whole point of it all – and the mini milestone worthy of a blog post.

 

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An Evening with Tony Fernandes (old article, reproduced in solidarity with AirAsia)

My thoughts are with AirAsia, those onboard the missing QZ8501, their loved ones, and everyone who is saddened by this news. I wonder how AirAsia’s flamboyant and charismatic CEO, Dato’ Seri Tony Fernandes, is dealing with this–he calls it his ‘worst nightmare’ in a tweet–but I have a feeling that he is the sort of leader that people could find a measure of comfort in during such a crisis. Someone capable of coming up with solutions, and even in the face of tragic outcomes, he is the kind of leader who is the beacon of hope, providing strategies to restore hope and move forward.

Why do I say this? I do not know him personally, but six years ago, I attended his talk on the subject of branding, during which he shared many inspiring nuggets of wisdom and clever ideas. So this is how I developed an impression of him as an inspiring leader capable of steering his team through even the stormiest of storms.

I wrote about the talk on my now inactive old blog (www.alexischiuling.blogspot.com), so I now reproduce the article here:

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An Evening with Tony Fernandes, 30th of July 2008

Photo copyright belongs to Air Asia Berhad and is used here only for illustrative purpose.

Photo copyright belongs to Air Asia Berhad and is used here only for illustrative purpose.

Clad in light-coloured pants and a dark coat over an open-necked shirt, Tony looked every inch the charismatic CEO that we are used to seeing on the television and print media. He spoke with a slight British twang that surfaced every now and then, presumably due to the years he had spent in the UK, where he met and became good friends with the even more flamboyant Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group.

That aside, Tony was very much an Anak Malaysia (Malaysia’s son), the way he waxed lyrical about dangdut (a traditional Malay music genre featuring upbeat tempos), famous veteran dangdut singer Datuk S.M. Salim and nasyid group Raihan; getting mistaken for a ‘Bangla’ worker at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal when he went to work in casual attire; and offering roti jala (a traditional bread eaten with curry) on their flights (more on this roti jala story later).

Totally at ease in the limelight, he had the audience hanging on to his every word as he matter-of-factly related the Air Asia story – with a good dose of natural humour, tongue-in-cheek remarks and hilarious swipes at his competitors and detractors.

He made us laugh real hard and he fanned the fire in our bellies. Beneath every awe-inspiring, rib-tickling and casual statement, lied the humble passion and daring vision that so drew the masses to the Air Asia spirit.

Even those haughty ‘oh I will never fly Air Asia’ ones had to concede to the Air Asia charm that flowed from this man to the brand. Throughout the talk that lasted more than an hour, the one theme that ran throughout was “nothing is impossible as long as we have the courage to try”.

Coming from the former music executive with zero experience in the airline industry, but had enough courage and passion to acquire Air Asia from HICOM DRB complete with its RM 40 million debt, that message he carried was conviction rather than cliché.

Tony remortgaged his house to raise funds to get the company running, and in 7 years’ time Air Asia had grown from ‘no brand to global brand’; 200 staff to 6, 500 strong; and a company widely criticized to one hugely emulated and recognized. What is his secret?

“We are often our worst enemies. We often say something cannot be done before we even try it.”

There was thick silence as the audience took in the simple and yet profoundly true statement from the one who had been there and done it. And then, in the same breath, he continued: “I have said this many times before all over the world, but I have never had the pleasure of saying it in front of a Chief Minister.” (The Penang Chief Minister, Mr. Lim Guan Eng was also in attendance at the talk).

The Grand Ballroom erupted!

That’s Tony Fernandes for you. That was the first dose of verbal humour from him that evening, and there would be more to come as he took us through a learn and laugh, learn and laugh journey that ended in a fully-maximised Q and A question from so many who wanted a peek into his mind on various issues.

Among the most wonderful ‘transits’ along the whole learn and laugh journey that evening:

On building a genuine ASEAN brand:
We learned, from Tony, that problems are opportunities in disguise. The Air Asia brand, one can say, has been built through many hard times.
The SARS outbreak:
“During the SARS outbreak, we tripled our advertising because that was when our competitors were not doing so and this helped people to remember the Air Asia brand better.”

The Bali bombing:
“We felt we had to do something to help the place as they depended so heavily on tourism. Other airlines were cutting their flights to Bali, but we felt we should do something to help the island, so we gave away 10, 000 free seats which were snapped up in 3 hours. And 10, 000 people came back and told their friends how wonderful Bali still was.”

“So, the moral behind this is, Malaysians are not afraid of bombs, they’re not afraid of SARS – all they need is just free tickets!”
Back to the serious, inspiring note:
“You can always find a way out of problems, you can always market yourself out of a problem.” And that came from the CEO of the airline which is now the 5th largest in Asia, who later cheekily asked,

“And look who’s number 7 and number 8?”

He walked animatedly to the giant screen, pointed to Singapore Airlines and MAS on the chart on display, looked at the laughing audience and flashed his trademark grin.
“And these guys are like 40 years old. We’re only 7.”
Phew, weren’t we having fun!

On using technology and innovation:
“When we started selling tickets on the Internet, everyone said we were crazy, and that it wouldn’t work.”
Well, everyone knows what happened to booking flight tickets on the Internet.
“And we also came up with innovative services like selling hot meals.”
As well as direct flights to destinations that no other airlines ever thought of, such as Bandung and Macau.

On monetizing the brand:
“Once you’ve built a strong brand, then you’d want to start monetizing it. This is what we’ve done by coming up with our Citibank-Air Asia credit card, our insurance for travelers, in-flight magazine for the advertising revenue, as well as our Go Holiday packages”

“We also decided to market our long haul international flights under the brand name Air Asia X to retain the uniformity in branding.”

On attitude:
“Attitude is 50% of the game,” the Dato’ philosophized.
Air Asia definitely has a lot of it, especially when taking on their competitors and detractors.

On Malaysia Airlines, with their World’s Best Cabin Crew?
“We advertise our ‘World’s Best Engineers’, and that got MAS hopping mad because most of our engineers were trained by them!”

On Singapore Airlines, with their famous Singapore Girls?
An Air Asia ad in Singapore goes like this:
“There’s a new girl in town. She’s twice the fun, and half the price.” Well, smacks a little bit of sexism, but you can’t deny the humour – and for Tony’s charm Salt n’ Light’s feminists agreed to let this one go! So, no, we will not write to the Women’s Aid Organisation.

On Tiger Airways, with the SGD1 fare?

Air Asia ran an ad featuring a tiger subdued by tranquilizers, flanked by two Air Asia hostesses and a caption that reads:“Air Asia tames even the wildest tiger with low fares” – on top of their SGD 0.49 offer!

By then the Grand Ballroom was roaring with laughter, and then he took a swipe at MAS’s Tony-bashing (then) CEO, Datuk Idris Jala.
“MAS has Idris Jala, so we decided to sell roti jala on our flights.”

Hahaha, now that’s a winner!

And they were daring enough to take on the Singapore government. When Air Asia coaches were banned from entering Singapore across the Causeway, the cheeky airline ran an ad that read:

“No chewing gum. No smoking. No AirAsia coaches. Thank God low-fare flights are still legal.”

Boy, oh boy. Who says it is tough for Malaysian brands to do well in Singapore? You just need to have the spirit and chutzpah a la Tony Fernandes.

He reiterated, “You can always market and brand yourself out of a problem, be it SARS, bombs or the Singapore government.”

“Never take ‘no’ for an answer. To every problem, there is always a solution.”

Now Air Asia is working on getting the Penang-Singapore route, and we can almost bank on their never-say-die spirit to see this materialize!

Dato’ Seri Tony Fernandes’ talk on “Branding: Jazzing Up Your Business” turned out a huge success with the participants going home entertained, informed and inspired.

In a nutshell, we learned that when you have a dream, even if it is as lofty as starting a low-cost airline, you should not ever let any of the following stop you from pursuing it:

· Lack of experience
· Lack of connections (political ones, especially!)
· Lack of capital (Tony remortgaged his house, remember?)
· Doubt, usually from others (Our dear Dato’ shared that when he told his wife of his high-flying plan, she took a while to stop laughing and then said, “Why don’t you start a roti canai stall?’)
· Fear of failure
“I only had one fear : When we first started, my greatest fear was letting the 254 staff down. The fear would be there somehow, but ultimately, you don’t want to sit there when you’re 65 and say, “I should have done this.”

Wow. We couldn’t agree more. This may sound clichéd’ coming from a lesser person —but when Tony said it, the conviction was so real, it simply reached out and grabbed us by our hearts. Could it be that when Air Asia came up with their tagline “Now, Everyone Can Fly”, they were talking about more than just boarding an airplane?
Thank you, Dato’ Seri, and to our readers and ourselves: Just go for it!

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I hope AirAsia and Tony Fernandes will keep their spirits up, because it is now time for them to remember his own conviction that: “You can always market and brand yourself out of a problem, be it SARS, bombs or the Singapore government.”

My thoughts and prayers will be with the ones affected, especially our neighbour, Indonesia. It has been a trying year for Malaysia, and I hope and believe that we will all pull through.

In Honour of Life: Ten Personal Victories in 2014

Even as I keep tabs on the news hoping to hear that the missing AirAsia plane has been found, I figure it is pointless to wallow in sadness and put everything else on hold. At the very least, the silver lining from this tragedy is the reminder that life can be snuffed out anytime, anywhere. So I want to honour this gift called life by living it out thoughtfully–enough to fully enjoy the moment, and yet without disregarding the future, uncertain though it may be.

When I was 22, in university and growing in my faith as a Christian, I started pondering the purpose of life. I asked the God with whom I was cultivating a relationship and I was certain this was the answer He gave me:”We are all here to make this world a better place for one another.” That’s it–making this world a better place, even if it means only my tiny sphere of influence–my class, at home, or my neighbourhood. It didn’t necessarily mean I had to save the world or a nation. So I started my quest to discover the ‘how’ for me–and as a fan of Malaysian social activist, Datuk Paduka Marina Mahathir, I soon discovered I had a passion for issues related to women and youth. Over the years I had somehow managed to reconcile my altruistic interests with the materialistic ones–enjoying life while making a contribution and difference in my small circle of influence.  So every year I would set and review my goals, and update them for a new year.

And the more I do the exercise every year, the more I experience firsthand that the more specific a goal is, the more likely it is to materialize. But I also learnt that being specific can be quite challenging–because knowing what we want often takes a lot of soul searching and thinking. It’s still an exercise I look forward to doing each year, though, because as Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” So in honour of this life I have been given, here’s the list of personal victories I achieved in 2014:

1. Stepping out of my comfort zone and overcoming self-consciousness to actually ASK for help and delegate things at work–The embarassment I felt before asking for help was actually quite unfounded because it wasn’t as if the things I was initiating were for my personal gains. They could have been my goals based on which my performance would be rated, but they were still things that would benefit the company and employees, and when things are achieved, the credit is always shared.

2. Travelling to some places I had wanted to visit–including going to New Zealand on my own to join a spiritual retreat at the beautiful Taupo.

3. Stepping out of my introvert shell to reach out to more people, especially at work–I stopped having lunch at my desk and started joining my colleagues for lunch regularly. It has certainly made the workplace a lot more fun!

4. Cutting down on Facebook drastically–this is a rather big achievement because I used to feel the urge to update so many things I did, and to just mindlessly scroll down my newsfeed to go through photos of what people ate for their lunches and dinners, or to read impassioned views of the latest political events, when I already had so much other information to deal with in my head. Without Facebook, my mind is clearer and I accomplish more important things in shorter times.

5. Learning Thai and German–two items on my ‘to-do someday’ list that I finally decided not to postpone anymore. I have acquired a very basic command of both languages so far so this is something I foresee doing for many more years to come–possibly even till when I am old and wrinkled!

6. Starting this blog–another ‘to-do someday’ item I finally decided to not postpone anymore. There will never come a day when I would have ‘enough’ free time to write a blog, so I might as well just start. And am I am glad I did!

7. Running and fund raising–this was not something I consciously planned to pick up, but I decided to jump at the chance when I found out that one could run the New York City Marathon 2015 for charity–so it was my passion for travelling and charity that led to my new-found passion for running. Now I am hooked on running because there’s just something inherently fulfilling about pushing and overcoming our own limits. Training for the marathon is a test of my physical limitations, whereas fund raising challenges my emotional limits–overcoming reservations to approach people to donate and learning that rejection is not personal when the prospects choose not to give. And of course, the joy when they decide to do so!

8. Turning a deaf ear to gossip–where I used to think lending a listening ear was the right thing to do when someone tells me something, suddenly idle talk about other people’s lives started  to feel so draining that I found myself feeling frustrated over the loss of precious time. I would have rather invested my minutes in a siesta! So alongside minding the things I say, I also decided to become more mindful as to what I choose to hear.

9. Identifying and overcoming a negative core belief about myself–this was the core and most important personal victory in 2014, because the beliefs we hold about ourselves are the foundation on which our entire life is built. The USD 150 or so I invested in the four enlightening sessions with the psychotherapist was the best investment I have ever made in myself. Once I understood why I felt the way I did about some things, and why did some things I did, I felt almost unstoppable! The saying that if you could kick the person who gives you the most trouble in the back, you won’t be able to sit for days is so true. So in other words, the four therapy sessions helped me get me out of my way–so over the last few months of 2014 I felt like almost nothing is impossible! Where I have been running, now I feel like I am soaring.

10. Making a simple but enormously helpful change to my diet–I stopped adding sugar to my morning coffee, and stopped having rice for lunch. The result was I no longer felt sleepy by mid morning and also post lunch, and found that my mind remained sharp even in the late afternoons. This benefit alone is awesome enough for me to want to do this for the rest of my life. Life is sweeter without sugar!

So with slightly over three days left before 2014 ends, and in honour of life as a gift, even as we hope and pray for those on board the AirAsia flight, I end this post with this quote by Seneca: “As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.”

 

 

 

Consumed

Badge by Doobster @ Mindful Digressions

Badge by Doobster @ Mindful Digressions

I am so late for this week’s SoCS, but since it’s the last weekend of 2014, I decided it’s better to be late than to miss it. After all, SoCS is one of the best discoveries I made this year.

Sadly, though, my thoughts and emotions are now consumed with sadness because I logged into WordPress and read on my Reader that another airplane has gone missing…or more specifically, another Malaysian airplane has gone missing… this time it’s the AirAsia jet bound for Singapore from Indonesia. My heart goes out to the loved ones of all onboard. Co-incidentally, my mom was also scheduled to fly to Singapore from Kuala Lumpur this morning, also on AirAsia, so I was naturally anxious to find out if she had arrived safely. I called my brother and thankfully managed to confirm that.

Tragedies like these are grim reminders that bad fortune can happen to just anyone. What if it was the flight from KL to Singapore that had suffered that ill fate? And just two days ago, 26th of December 2014, we were remembering the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami that took so many lives 10 years ago–another tragedy close to home, because it also hit Batu Feringghi and Tanjung Bunga, the popular tourist area in Penang where I bought my first property. I remember my ex boss, who stayed (and still does) in the area telling us how she could, from her high-rise balcony, see bodies floating near the beaches.

Such sad news to end 2014 with, and I had planned to review the year and set my goals for 2015 after finishing this post. I guess I will proceed with my plan, albeit in a somber mood. I also can’t help but wonder if it was mere co-incidence that my country’s airlines are so ill-fated in 2014. I have so many trips lined up for next year, and suddenly I found myself feeling somewhat relieved that I would mostly be flying foreign airlines…like Dragonair to Hong Kong and Thai Airways to Japan and Europe. But thinking this way does not take away the sadness I feel over the latest missing airplane. Life has to go on, though, and I resolve to make the best of what I have, especially appreciating my loved ones, so that if I were to perish in such an unexpected manner, I would at least know I have no (or minimal) regrets.

This post is part of SoCS:
http://lindaghill.com/2014/12/27/socs-total-consumption/