I Don’t Know Them, Yet I Trust Them

I want to bury myself amongst the musty and motionless occupants of my wooden shelves. Dust them off and watch them come to life again, finally able to fulfill their calling of transporting me into another world and another’s consciousness. I will give each of them the attention they deserve, getting acquainted with them from their facade, their first few words to me, maybe what others have said about them, and the brief attempts on their backs to summarize and lure me into all that they are. 

I will pick the one that gets me wondering the most and tuck it safely amongst all my essentials, so that I can feel its weight and sense its company as I head out yet again to yet another unknown place.

I will leaf through its pages as the plane bides its time, let it rest open on my chest as I fall asleep under the sun lulled by the sound of waves – and then curl up with it again as night begins to fall and I have retreated into my paid cocoon, the warm lighting promising yet another illuminating and illuminated night. Me in a strange place, getting transported into yet another strange place – by the sheer force of another person’s words and imagination.

I don’t know them, but I am trusting them to take me to unknown places from where I will be able to find my way back. 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/trust/

That Little but Formidable Red Dot Down South

I am a Malaysian who sincerely admires our Southern neighbour, the tiny island state called Singapore – who is somehow always one step ahead, one pace faster. The bustling city state that used to be a part of my country till it was expulsed in 1965 due to ideological differences between its ruling party and Malaysia’s.

With a small disparate population, and even fewer resources – the tiny newly independent nation had to find its own way to survive.

And when you are small and vulnerable with so many disadvantages, how do you overcome the odds? Singapore ended up becoming an example of how a nation can thrive despite it all. Having traveled there regularly for work for the past one year, I observe a culture that I am convinced has enabled the meteoric rise of this country from 1965:

1. Wise picks of battles to fight
When your resources are limited you have to decide carefully where you want to focus them on – whether it’s your energy or money. I have yet to come across any colleagues in my Singapore office sweating the small stuff, for example worrying about form and not substance. Though Singapore is now way past its past struggles, the wise pragmatism seems to have remained. 

2. An absence of excessiveness
There is a fine line between making tremendous effort in the name of excellence and trying hard to impress. The city looks impressive, no doubt – but that is just the inevitable result of thoughtful and pragmatic planning done with the intention of inspiring the confidence of its own people and the foreign people whose skills, talent and investment would be needed to help Singapore prosper. Not to impress and boost fragile egos. No wonder I have yet to come across any kitschy or tacky looking buildings or monuments in Singapore. It is quite simply the epitome of elegance.

3. A strong focus on developing its uniqueness, and looking to others not to compare, but to learn and find strengths to leverage
This is closely related to picking battles wisely. Of course many would argue that Singapore is a competitive place – but we tend to forget that being competitive does not necessarily mean comparing with others. It is when we give our all to make the most of what we have that we become a force formidable enough for others to reckon with – and by then we find ourselves in our own league. I posit that Singapore does not focus so much on competing as much as it focuses on leading and leveraging its neighbours’ strengths. Any wonder why so many of my country’s best and brightest end up happily heading down south?

I love my country and I know Singapore has its own flaws. But there’s so much to learn from our excellent neighbour down south.

So this is how I have experienced Singapore. I would love to hear what you think, whether you are Singaporean or not.

South

Sofitel, Oh Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16!

2015/01/img_0075.jpgThis is the higher-end sibling of Novotel–both being among the 13 brands owned by the Accor Group.

I stayed at Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16, which was a walking distance from the Macau historic center, a Unesco World Heritage site. Taxi from the Macau Ferry Terminal cost 40 MOP, but I should have known that like most major hotels in this gambling city, Sofitel also had its own free shuttle bus–which I eventually took the next morning to catch my ferry ride back to Hong Kong.

With the tagline, “Life is Maqnifique!”, Sofitel seeks to exude French luxury–thus the L’Occitane and Hermes toiletries. However there was a policy that restricted guests to only one extra set of these branded bathroom amenities–I am not sure if it applies only to this Sofitel, and if it applies to guests who stay more than two nights, for example.

That aside, service was pleasant and efficient, albeit lacking in warmth, I felt. Perhaps that was just because my time there was so brief–checking in late afternoon, and off the next morning by 10 am. There was a casino which I didn’t bother visiting, and a cafe and bar which my sister and I found a bit too hot and stuffy. The pub was playing loud music, with people playing darts and foosball, and a heavy smell of cigarette smoke–it reminded me of the clubbing scene during my college days and seemed out of place in a hotel like this. So we decided not to bother about drinks and just went back to our room.

2015/01/img_0084.jpgThe hotel itself gave an impression of luxury and grandeur at first glance, when we first stepped into the lobby to find ourselves going ‘wow’ over the glittery, gigantic Christmas deco–think life-sized reindeer and life-sized statue of an old man depicting, I believed, one of the three wise men on the night Jesus was born. And of course, fake snow. It was a visual feast that quickly lost its appeal instead of growing on me.

So it was tacky in my opinion, but since this was Macau, the lack of subtlety was probably an intent rather than an accident. It is, after all, known as Asia’s flashiest city. I am not quite sure what French luxury stands for, but I have a feeling Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16 reflects its host country more than the one of its origin.

2015/01/img_0059.jpgEnough about the tackiness of Macau–how a rich, old world heritage ended up coexisting with such loudness is another post altogether. But I must say that having made it only to Senado Square at night, and one of its famous biscuit and pastry shops, Macau continues to intrigue me after I have left–like a mysterious stranger whose quiet charm I cannot deny after a brief encounter. I have a feeling I will be back in an attempt to understand it more.

2015/01/img_0101.jpgMeanwhile, back to the hotel–Sofitel Ponte No. 16, in a nutshell, has all the trappings of a five star establishment. Comfort, cleanliness and prettiness. But its attempt to be sophisticated is overshadowed by all the tack–and at the end of the day I actually prefer the four star sibling hotel I stayed in the following night, Novotel Citygate Hong Kong. It was supposed to be a lesser hotel by star rating and price, but I found the Novotel to be elegant, sleek and unassuming.

Maybe it’s the location rather than the hotels themselves. Maybe Macau is trying too hard to differentiate herself from Hong Kong, the fast and sophisticated metropolitan neighbor. Another post for another day!

Novotel Citygate Hong Kong: One Awesome Mid-Range Hotel!

And here’s why:

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/b88/68413283/files/2015/01/img_0201.jpg1. I can’t stop gushing over this one: it is directly adjacent to the Citygate Outlet Mall, where discounted luxury and branded shopping abounds. Even without shopping on my agenda, the convenience of having many food and beverage options in the same building is a big delight because it saves me the trouble of finding out where to eat in an unfamiliar city.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/b88/68413283/files/2015/01/img_0234.jpg2. Excellent connectivity for getting around in Hong Kong: the Hong Kong International Airport is just a 15-minute bus or taxi ride away, and the hotel provides a very courteous and efficient shuttle service to and fro. It departs every 15 minutes from the hotel, and is free of charge.

On top of that, the Tung Chung MTR station is also connected to the Citygate Outlet Mall. All it takes is a 5-minute leisurely indoor stroll through the mall to get there, and from there getting to the rest of the cosmopolis is a breeze, without having to spend a small fortune on the city’s taxis. Another gem for a directionally challenged person like me!

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/b88/68413283/files/2015/01/img_0222.jpg3. Quiet, scenic location away from the hustle and bustle of the city: the hotel, as does the mall, faces the sea, with a beautiful view of Lantau Island and Ngong Ping 360. Discounted luxury shopping in a spacious mall with a view — can’t complain!

4. Cosy and comfortable rooms with efficient, pleasant service: the soft bed felt heavenly after one day of shopping and sightseeing, and all my requests to housekeeping were met in less than 10 minutes.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/b88/68413283/files/2015/01/img_0221.jpg5. A nearby park with a running track: this one is for the runners! The clean and beautiful park is just a 2-minute walk from the hotel. Enough said!

I guess I have decided where to stay on my next trip to Hong Kong.

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.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/hindsight/

My Running Journal: Pounding the Grounds of Vivanta by Taj, Rebak Island

3_TCSNYCM_Instagram_Team-for-Kids-Member-Fundraising_2_for WP Widget23rd of November 2014, Sunday
This morning’s weather was again sunny and gorgeous, and having been more accustomed to this resort I had a more 20141123-163212.jpgproper training. I covered some of the hiking trail (without going anywhere near the jungle) and ran to the marina, shipyard and then back, and then covered the part on the left of my unit. 20141123-122709.jpgI did the walk and run routine since running on real grounds outdoors was quite a different ball game from pounding the treadmill. My legs felt heavier and I got breathless faster. It could be the stunning sceneries around me, but I am not 20141123-122833.jpgsure. But according to the Nike running app I did 1.75 miles (around 2.8 km) in less than 22 minutes — not too bad for me. But I also felt the strain on my thighs after the run, perhaps this was because of parts of the track that were slightly uphill.

As usual, it was shower and then heading to the cafe for the buffet breakfast. I won’t bore you with food pictures again, but it was still a wonderful breakfast.

Next time I will have a more serious training yet by carbo loading before my run, and I will see what difference that makes to my stamina.

It’s time to check out soon and say goodbye to the lovely Vivanta by Taj Rebak Island Resort and Spa.

——

This is an entry into the running journal I have created to chronicle my experiences as I train and prepare to run the TCS New York City Marathon 2015 and fund raise for Team for Kids, an international running group that is committed to supporting health and fitness programs for underprivileged children in the US and Africa. Read my introduction entry where I share how this journey started, and if you would like to donate to the cause, simply go to my secure fundraising page here!

My Running Journal: Nature’s Track and Runner’s Binge

3_TCSNYCM_Instagram_Team-for-Kids-Member-Fundraising_2_for WP Widget22nd of November 2014, SaturdaySo this was my training ground on this sunny morning at Rebak Island, a small island off Langkawi Island, a popular tourist spot in the north of Peninsula Malaysia. 20141122-102936.jpgKudos to me for getting up early for a 7.50 am run on a Saturday! But then again, with such gorgeous surroundings, it would have been a crime to sleep in — even on a weekend.

20141122-103159.jpgI decided it was a good time for an outdoor run because I have only run in the gym since I started training for the marathon. But I must admit that today I ran only for twenty minutes, and I am not sure how far because I wasn’t using any app to track my distance. I also brisk walked in between and stopped a few times to snap photos and to decide where to turn since I was not familiar with the grounds of this resort cum marina.

20141122-103328.jpgBy 8.30 am I had already showered and was well on my way to the cafe for my breakfast. It’s 10.30 am now and I have just finished eating. It’s lovely how running enhances my appetite.

——

This is an entry into the running journal I have created to chronicle my experiences as I train and prepare to run the TCS New York City Marathon 2015 and fund raise for Team for Kids, an international running group that is committed to supporting health and fitness programs for underprivileged children in the US and Africa. Read my introduction entry where I share how this journey started, and if you would like to donate to the cause, simply go to my secure fundraising page here!

Sparkling in Stillness

I sparkle in stillness. That’s me, the introvert. At the time of writing I am getting ready for my solo retreat to a little island.

Among the things I am bringing are a few Snickers bars, my running gear, bikini, and a book. It’s going to be a hideaway, at a privately owned island with pretty much nothing else save for a resort and a marina. I am expecting the beach resort alone to be enough for me.

Some people find it hard to understand the enjoyment of just lounging around with no company other than myself. How do I explain the sheer pleasure of just enjoying the beauty of my surroundings, taking in the sea breeze, tucking into breakfast after a morning run, and then maybe falling asleep in a cabana with an open book lying facedown on my chest? There’s no agenda to follow, no other people’s preferences to worry about, no tiring myself out rushing from one place to another. It’s just me, nature, and my faculties. Aren’t these enough to keep one occupied and happy?

I do love people and their company. But I also love my own company. And I am quite a bubbly person…it’s just that I can also be bubbly when going around doing things on my own. 😀

And on second thought, diamonds sparkle when they are still, too! Here’s raising my glass to my fellow introverts.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/still-or-sparkling/

Long Road to New York Begins

At a company event in September, my colleagues dressed me up as the Statue of Liberty as part of a teamwork game we played. I took it as an opportunity to be lazy and not move, as befitting a statue–but little did it cross my mind that just a few months later I would be excitedly plotting my way to the iconic city where the famed statue resides –the land of freedom, liberty, challenges, and possibilities!

It all began with a simple subscribed email newsletter from Amnesty International Australia–Team AI were going to run the TCS New York City Marathon 2015 and they were recruiting ten runners to be part of the team. To qualify for the race, each runner had to raise funds for Amnesty International Australia and the targeted amount must be reached one month before the race day. The furthest I had ever run in my entire life was a mere 15 kilometers, and that was only one time–but hey, this was a chance to contribute to a humanitarian cause (something close to my heart) AND join runners from all over the world to break personal boundaries at, of all places, New York City! Suddenly I had a bucket list. As I got ready for work that morning, I managed to send an email to the organizing company via my phone while applying wax to my hair. I had to find out, first of all, if I would be eligible to join the team since I was not an Australian citizen or permanent resident. Meanwhile I had already downloaded the information pack, and my excitement started to grow even before I knew if I was eligible for sure. And by the evening, I had already found a running group I could train with regularly.

A day later, I heard from the organizer: “We would be excited to have you onboard even if you are not an Australian citizen!” So I wasted no time and submitted my registration form, and went to the bank the following Monday to make a direct deposit of my registration fee. The girl from the organizing event company had even arranged for a phone call with me to discuss details. I was going to run the New York City Marathon and raise funds for Amnesty International Australia! Who cares if I was not Australian, human rights issues transcend all boundaries!

But alas, it turned out that my road to NYC was about to present its first hurdle. The next day, at 11 am Malaysian time sharp, my phone rang, showing an Australian number on the screen. “You’re right on the dot!” I exclaimed happily. But the voice on the other end did not match my enthusiasm. Jade sounded as warm over the phone as she did in written communication, but her tone was very apologetic as she began…”Oh Alexis, I’ve got some terrible news!”

She had found out that only Australian citizens were eligible to join the team because apparently the marathon organizer allocates a certain number of places for runners based on the countries they come from. She apologized profusely and offered to help me find alternative ways to get into the marathon and also combine the charitable side of the endeavour. I was naturally disappointed but it also meant that I simply had to do a bit more research to find other options. If one door had closed, another one might just open.

I could just arrange my own trip to New York if sight seeing was all I wanted to do, or even just purchase a marathon travel package from an adventure/sports tour company that is registered as a NYC Marathon international travel partner. But I would not let go of the part where I could make a contribution and a difference. (And also maybe to be more honest and less altruistic, it was also the challenge of fundraising that had really piqued my interest — rallying friends, family and colleagues, or maybe even strangers to support the cause and my bid to run a marathon would certainly be stepping out of my introverted comfort zone.)

Thankfully all it took was a bit more research on the TCS New York Marathon official website, and two email messages later I found myself registered with Team for Kids, a group of runners from all over the world that raises funds for New York Road Runners to help underprivileged children in the US and Africa lead healthier lives.

So it is finally official–I am going to run the TCS NYC Marathon 2015 and fulfil my pledge to raise USD 2,620 for Team for Kids by October next year, one month before the race day.

That would certainly be the culmination–but till then, my road to New York City will be paved with disciplined running practices and fearless fund raising efforts–no doubt one of the most exciting adventures I will ever embark on, considering the last time I ran on tar road was when I was in high school and the sports teacher made us run a 3-km route around the school.

But this was not the first time I threw myself into the deep end without knowing if I could swim, and also not the first time I bit off a big chunk without being sure if it would be more than I could chew. So let’s see how the whole adventure pans out!

I will be updating this space as I have decided a create a running diary of sorts to chronicle my journey. These are the steps I have taken so far:

1. Update my iPod with new running songs

2. Run 3 kilometers on the treadmill two days ago

3. Inform my boss about my adventure so he would not be taken by surprise when I start rallying my colleagues (and him!) to donate

4. Get acquainted with my online fundraising page

5. Make a donation of USD 10 myself towards the cause, which leaves me with USD 2610 more to go.

If you would like to learn more and donate to the cause, check out my secure online fundraising page here!