Let Grandma Walk Again! 

My eyelids are heavy and yet I just cannot sleep. While I tossed and turned in my own bed my thoughts wandered to my grandma who is currently confined to the hospital bed, having had a fall last week. 

I just visited her this afternoon and while she did look better she was showing some signs of confusion, repeatedly forgetting that she was in the hospital. We are all thankful that she sustained only a slight fracture in her hip and therefore does not require surgery, which would have been perilous for someone at her age. 

But it still saddens me to think of her in the cold hospital. Especially when she had ruefully said a couple of times after the fall, “If I had not fallen I would still be able to bathe myself and then comb my hair and powder my face before going out to the living room to watch the television.”

I could sense the longing in her voice – for her old routine and the simple pleasure of independence – and my heart ached. 

This is the woman I had spent my earliest years with, the first victim of my earliest childhood pranks, the person I had called in desperation when I got into a huge disagreement with my parents at the age of 18 and felt like I had nowhere to turn for help. And when I had a break up four years ago, she was the one who cried! 

To chronicle the sweet moments with her from my toddler years I would have to write a mini novel. 

Earthly life is not forever and I know we all have to say goodbye to our loved ones sooner or later, but I guess I will never ever come to a stage where I am ready to let my grandma go. I pray that she will have many more good years ahead, perhaps till 100; after all her own mother lived till the nineties. 

Maybe it is just my conscience bugging me, telling me that I had not spent enough time with her. I could have visited her more since she had been staying with my uncle whose house is near mine. 

I had witnessed my grandma age over the decades, from a woman who was strong well into her late seventies, caring for my grandpa till he died, despite being on insulin for diabetes. Then she began to need the walking stick…and now she is temporarily immobile and confined to the hospital bed.

It got me thinking of the inevitable eventuality…and of life and the impermanence of it all. And how I would miss her when she eventually has to leave. 

How can I not? She is such a big part of my life. She babysat me till I was five. And frequently stayed over with us through my childhood and teenage years. Having grandpa and grandma over was such a happy thing that I looked forward to. She had amazing cooking skills and whipped up traditional recipes from scratch. My brother and I used to watch her slave over the traditional charcoal stove that she used to make sticky glutinous rice cake for Chinese New Year, tirelessly stirring the hot sticky concoction before pouring into individual containers to cool. 

She cared for my grandpa for decades, unconditionally and uncomplainingly. Theirs was an arranged marriage, and by his thirties my grandpa had gotten ill and lost his ability to work. My grandma took care of his every need and raised his six children, and they all went on to succeed in their fields. My dad often says, “Growing up in a kampong house with a muddy floor, I never imagined I would one day own the properties I do today.” 

My grandma used to eat as richly as she used to cook. I loved her hand pounded sambal belacan and various hot and spicy Thai-influenced dishes. And nyonya kuihs. I have no idea where she learnt to make all those things that she sadly doesn’t have the physical strength to make anymore now. I must ask her when I see her tomorrow. 

Then diabetes caught up with her and I watched her let go of her love for rich and sweet foods. And jovially embraced a bland and restricted diet. 

She loved looking pretty in her youth and still loves commenting on my shoes, accessories and makeup (or more often than not, the lack of). Once I showed her a new handbag I bought from Mango – a bright turquoise shoulder bag in faux patent leather and she nodded in approval agreeing that it was gorgeous. Another time she browsed along with my sister and I when we were looking at luxury handbags online, giving her opinion. 

She also cared for my late greatgrandparents till their very last breaths. My greatgrandpa suffered from cancer for almost a year before he passed away and my grandma was his primary caregiver. 

I miss the sight of my grandma strolling out of her room with the aid of her walking stick, dressed in her button-down blouse and sarong. I said a prayer for her about an hour ago, then I heard from a cousin that she was able to sit up this evening. 

That brought me some comfort. And having grandma in hospital now…is just another reminder of what true priorities in life should look like. 

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:


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!


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.

Happy Thanksgiving and Thank You, My American Readers

StatsFor you still make up the majority of my blog visitors, as shown by my WordPress stats. Views from my own country trail behind on a far second at 699, compared to 1506 views from the USA – since the birth of this blog middle of May this year.

It’s been a wonderful journey and I am pleasantly surprised that I have been posting consistently till now. Having the WordPress community really helps, like participating in Linda’s blogging events, and also Daily Post’s.

Thank you to all of you who have dropped by to write your comments, or to click the Like button (no matter where you are from. I even have views from countries I had never heard of, like Liechtenstein and Jersey!) That keeps me going, and reading your writing keeps me learning. I try to read and comment on other people’s blogs as much as I can too, though I often blog on the go.

So Happy Thanksgiving to all of you in the US of A. I can’t wait to come face to face with the Statue of Liberty in November next year! We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving where I come from, but giving thanks can still be a way of life. So in the spirit of the occasion, I am thankful for WordPress and the wonderful blogging community here. Blog (and write) on, everybody!


The Three Writing Advice That I Will Never Forget

It is said that some people we meet through the course of our lives end up leaving marks that influence us and the things we do.

I am blessed to have been given these three pieces of advice–two from two English teachers, one from a senior journalist at a mainstream newspaper I was stringing with after my graduation.

1. Advice on widening my vocabulary and using words appropriately
This I learnt from the late Mr. Yeap, an elderly English language teacher I went to for extra tuition to prepare for my 1119 English examination while sitting for the Malaysian equivalent of the O Levels. Mr. Yeap taught his students to read newspaper and magazine articles, and while at it, to highlight words we did not understand. Then we were to look the the words up in the dictionary one by one. And instead of bookishly memorizing the meaning of the words, we were to write them on a piece of flash card each, and on the other side of the card, the sentences in which we originally found them. This way, referring to the context not only helped us to recall the meaning of the word, it also ensured we would use the word appropriately. To this day I remember learning the word ‘verve’, as in ‘She wears the shirt with verve.’

And my brother had a box full of those neatly written flash cards! Needless to say, he writes very well.

2. Show, not tell
This was an advice given by my English language and debate teacher in high school, also in the year I was preparing for the O Level equivalent examination. Mr. Calvin Leong was a young teacher in his twenties and was clearly not impressed with some bombastic words I had used in some of my essays–hence the advice to ‘show and not tell’ in my writing. I must agree that a piece of writing is more engaging when the writer uses common words to paint a clear picture for the reader’s imagination. For example, compare “He is incensed” with “He glares sharply at me while his chest seems to be rising and falling rapidly.”

And this leads to the third and last piece of advice I will always remember…

3. Write to express, not to impress
This I learnt from Fred, a senior journalist at the News Straits Times where I was stringing after my graduation. If I remember correctly, he told me that when I complained to him about how difficult it was to write a business piece after attending an event where some big shot economist from the World Bank was the key note speaker. I did submit my article in the end but I don’t remember it being published. Ouch. But at least the ordeal gained me a gem of an advice that I will remember forever!

I think Mr. Yeap especially would have been proud of the fact that I am still writing, even if it’s just on a blog to amuse myself 🙂

One-Liner Wednesday–Gem of a Quote from Someone at Work

Yesterday a colleague brought a huge moist chocolate cake he had baked to work and offered delicious slices to everyone in the department. In response to my compliment he said something which I thought would make a perfect one liner for today, especially coming from a guy in response to a girl who has yet to learn how to operate her oven:

“Baking is like breathing, to me.”

This post is part of Linda G. Hill’s One-Liner Wednesday:

One-Liner Wednesday–Which Nobel Prize Winner Said This?

“Usually when my head touches the pillow, I fall asleep within seconds, but that night I lay in bed ashamed that I was part of a society which could not provide $27 to forty two able-bodied, hardworking, skilled persons to make a living for themselves.”

Can anyone guess who said this one liner?

This is part of LindaGHill’s One-Liner Wednesday:

Up Close and Uncommon: Engineer Turned Origami Florist Unfolds His Journey

Thanks to Jerry and his origami florist start up, roses are now forever.

I’ve always wanted to write about the inspiring people I am blessed to have in my life — specifically the ones who defy the ordinariness of being human to chase after dreams that make life extraordinary. So when my friend Jerry gave me one of his origami roses as a birthday present recently, the idea of featuring his experience starting his own origami florist, Epicure Online, on my blog dawned on me. I am especially amazed that Jerry is now even using his origami skills to teach Math to some autistic children. Talk about making money and making a difference with our hobbies!

Me: So, tell us how it happened, this shift from semiconductor engineering at one of the world’s largest companies, to paper art start up.

J: When I first left  engineering I wasn’t planning to start a paper art start up. It was more like I was tired and felt that I was going through the mundane. I felt that there had to be more to life than going through the typical routine. So I decided I wasn’t getting any younger and decide to take a plunge and try something on my own.

How did I start an origami florist? Well that was by chance. I was always a fan of origami. Always loved folding. It’s something I believe everyone can do. It’s an art that is systematical. If I follow the crease lines correctly I will get the desired pattern. The hard part is to decipher the crease lines.

So one Christmas I decided to give a loved one something special. A handmade bouquet of 24 roses. She was quite impressed with it and that started the whole idea of an origami florist. We believe that there would be many people out there that would like to have something special and personal to make important occasions more memorable.

One of Epicure Online's latest bouquet designs.

One of Epicure Online’s latest bouquet designs.

Me: What’s the best thing about leaving your steady job for something as different and uncertain as origami?

 J: I gradually develop a sense of tolerance for uncertainty. To a certain extent I am a control freak. I don’t really handle unforeseen circumstances well. Coming out on my own in more ways than one has humbled me to accept my limitations. I learned that while disappointments are part of life, you can not let that be the defining moment of your life. I learned to redefine my core believes and strengthen my faith. For me that is the most important learning so far.

Origami roses with inscriptions for special occasions.

Origami roses with inscriptions for special occasions.

Me: What’s the worst, or most difficult thing?

J: Ironically the hardest thing for me right now to deal with is also the uncertainty. While it gives me a new perspective in life. There is always the lingering question of “What if ?”.Peer pressure compounds this effect. While I understand that I am taking a minor step back to launch myself further it’s always test of will when people close to you ask if you are sane. That’s where your belief system comes in.

Me: What drives you to do what you do?

J: Time really goes by quickly if we don’t number our days. When I look at it there is only a limited time frame in life where we get to do the things we want in life. I believe there is a season for everything. For example, for me to take the risk to come out on my own to pursue  my passion would not have been possible if I was younger as personally I would have not been confident enough, and if I was older I might not be able to tolerate the risk.  Knowing that there is a season for everything I remind myself that this season too will pass and I must make the most out of it. Muhammad Ali said it best: “Don’t count your days, make your days count.”


The 24-rose bouquet that started it all.

The 24-rose bouquet that started it all.

Me: If you could pick one, which piece of origami are you the proudest of? Why?

J: Easy – the first rose bouquet I made. It started all of this!

Me: Describe your journey in three words.
J: Unbelievable, Spiritual, and Exciting.

This interview is conducted as part of the Daily Post’s weekly writing challenge:

and also because of my interest in delving into the thoughts of inspiring people who are living and chasing their dreams.