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Put in the work

Recently our Prime Minister Tun Mahathir caused an uproar because he feared that the Malays and Bumis couldn’t compete with 3 million Chinese from China that were expected to come to Malaysia.

He said, “If we bring in another three million people from China, what will happen to us? They are strong, able, knowledgeable in business; they come not as labourers but as successful entrepreneurs…. Can we compete with them?”

Naturally the Malaysians aren’t happy with his statement. “Are you saying that we aren’t capable? Are you saying we will lose our competitive edge?!”

Honestly, I agree with him. We can’t compete.

Outside a wholesale mall in Guangzhou. These clothes will be delivered to other cities in China or abroad. People are hustling all day.

My one-month stay in China has completely opened my eyes on what it means to work hard.

When I was young, my grandma who was raised in China always taught us that the only way we can change our lives is through hard work. That strong commitment and dedication to hustle is deeply interwoven in their DNA.

I still see this work attitude in China today. The people I met here are extremely committed to their work.

The bread shop near my apartment is open daily from 7am to 12am with the same staffs. The cosmetic shop on the same row is constantly playing loud music and welcoming customers. The fruit store on the other street is open until midnight too.

Everyone is hustling to survive in a country crowded with 1.4 billion people.

Last train of the day. Need to snap a photo for memory because the train was NEVER empty.
Anyone who has read about Elon Musk would surely be fascinated by the Tesla cars in Guangzhou showroom.
Corridors of a students’ hostel was full of clothes waiting to be dried.

My professor is a Chinese man in his 50s. One day he was explaining a science theory to me in Mandarin. Although I can speak Chinese fluently (in Malaysian’s standard), I still struggled to understand what he meant. He knew I couldn’t grasp what he said.

On the next morning, he explained the whole idea to me again, this time in full English. I’m so impressed. He must have spent the night reading about the topic, in English. He didn’t have to do this, but he did it because he’s dedicated to his work.

“In a mega crowded place like China filled with people smarter than you, the only way you can stand out is to work hard,” his words stuck with me until now.

This is why they have TenCent, WeChat, Alibaba, Baidu, Huawei, Oppo, Vivo… a the cutting edge technologies and convenience that we have yet to see in Malaysia. This is why they develop so quickly in the past ten years.

This experience left a major impact on my life. I always thought that I have tried and given my best. Sometimes I gave up and got intimidated by a task too early.

Now instead of giving up, I always ask myself, “Is this really the best that I can do?” Sometimes this question makes me anxious, but it also pushes me to think and take action beyond my usual comfort zone.

We ordered drinking water from this dealer. He would carry it to our apartment in the 5th floor.

You might ask, but hey, what about work-life balance? Things like art, leisure, love and all the other things are equally important too!

I don’t have an answer for that question yet. I am also finding my own balance. But from what I observe from the people in China and here in my country, I think we Malaysians are pretty good in balancing between work and life. We certainly know how to enjoy life.

What we lack is the drive and ambition to take action and move forward.

The only distance between your dreams and reality is called action.

If anything that you want to achieve takes 10,000 hours, are you willing to put in the work?

If you feel inferior, jealous or even threatened by your competitors ask yourself – have you really put in the work?

You should spend some time alone (without your phone)

In April I lived in Guangzhou, China for a month. I seldom travel solo, so this was exciting. Guangzhou is a mega city with 14.5 million people (half of Malaysia’s population).

Taking their metro was an unforgettable experience. On my first ride I was courteous and naive. I queued like a normal good citizen would, but once the train arrived at the platform, everyone was pushing forward aggressively to squeeze into the already crowded coach. I waited for two more trains before I could really board the train. Gosh.

To me, Guangzhou is way more crowded than Singapore and Beijing. The boundary between two human beings was so small that I felt my personal space invaded by strangers everyday.

The view from my balcony
Starbucks in Shamian, Guangzhou

On weekends I liked to walk around the city. One day I was walking in Zhujiang New Town looking at the beautiful Canton Tower. This is the most iconic landmark in Guangzhou. People come here to take photos with the unique building and eat at the restaurants here.

 

The iconic Canton Tower

I sat down on a bench after a long day of walking, sweating and being squeezed like a sardine. Usually I would scroll my phone, trying to feel connected to my family and friends who were miles away, and trying to feel like I’m not alone… but my phone ran out of battery.  I got nothing to distract myself.

There were thousands of people around me. I started noticing people.

A grandma was massaging her sore feet while watching her grandchild play with her own shadow – where did they visit today?

A young couple were taking selfie with the Canton Tower, the guy kissed the girl on the cheek and she smiled – are they local Chinese?

A frowning security guard was constantly checking his phone every 2 minutes – does he have an emergency?

A lady, probably Vietnamese, was sitting opposite me – did she come here to work and support her family?

A guy wearing torn jeans was chatting loudly with somebody on a video call – did he come here alone too..?

Guangdong Museum

In the three weeks in Guangzhou, all I felt was stress. Initially I struggled to adapt to the Chinese work attitude. I didn’t like the traffic, the weather and the food.

But on that evening, Guangzhou became a city full of stories. I sat there and watched people for hours, fully embracing the fact that the people are interesting, and the fact that I was indeed alone with thousands of people around me. My heart was glad that I came here alone.

I felt isolated and foreign, but free.

I am my own best friend. 

Spending time alone allows you to reboot your brain and unwind. We are constantly distracted by commitment or the needs of other people, not to mention how often we are distracted by our phones and social media. We need to attend to our deep personal needs too. Solitude gives you the space and time to refocus and discover things that you might not realize in your usual hectic life. Allowing yourself a small gap and personal space might help you to work out your problems more creatively and efficiently.

Please spend some time with yourself without feeling guilty. Your phone can wait.

When was the last time you put down your phone and really be with yourself?

Chamonix Mont-Blanc, France

A few months ago I was standing on a street in France and staring at Mont Blanc. It’s pure white under the moonlight. I turned to my boyfriend and said I couldn’t believe we made it.

My boyfriend is a go-getter. If he wants to do something, he does it with speed and affirmation. When he said he wanted to go Switzerland and France, I laughed at the idea because I’d never even dream of going there. The flight ticket is expensive, everything is expensive and I’m damn busy.  But when he said it for the third time, I know he’s not kidding. We made the crazy decision and started planning for the trip.

We flew from Singapore to Geneva, Switzerland followed by a 1-hour bus to Chamonix. The journey was magical and I just couldn’t stop wowing.

We saw marvelous stretches of snow-capped mountains along the way to France. It’s the end of spring turning summer. We saw flower fields, beautiful waterfall, old railways, stone bridges, and people paragliding from the mountains. The view was spectacular.

Our hotel Le Refuge des Aiglons (around RM 400 per night) was amazing. We could see Mont Blanc from afar. Mont Blanc – the highest mountain in the Alps, is a name I used to see on pens, wallets, and expensive watches that I couldn’t afford. Here I am, dipping in the pool and looking at the “White Mountain” itself, I’m sure no material things in this world could compete with her beauty. She is pure white and majestic.

We walked to Carrefour to buy food (and wine). Preparing your own meal is the wisest choice if you want to be a savvy traveler. My boyfriend’s favourite things to do is shopping in a grocery store and cooking.

We walked aisle by aisle, looked at the local produce while using our phones to translate the French terms. The French cashier lady was lovely.

We left Carrefour and walked on the streets of the peaceful village, with one hand holding our groceries and another hand holding each other. I kept smiling and saying, my gosh, is this real? IS THIS REAL? Am I dreaming? Am I really in France?

He laughed and thought I’m silly, “Yes, pig, I brought you here.”

4 books that changed my life

We have more than a thousand books in our house. I’m not kidding. Since we’re young, my parents had always been generous in buying us books and any resources that will help us to improve. I think reading is one of the best habits an adult can cultivate in a child.

I watched Lavendaire’s YouTube video on books that changed her life and glanced through my bookshelf. Here are the 4 books that I’ve read so many times and still gasp, “Did I read this last time? I think I didn’t learn about this. Let me write this down!”

1. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho 

Key message: What do you want?

This book is always on my desk. It’s a story about a shepherd boy who wants to travel to the Pyramid. The most popular quote in this book – “When you really want something, the whole universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” sounded like a cliché to me when I first read it. However, after some real-life experimentation (hello, I’m a scientist!), I think the message is real – we can achieve what we want if we are courageous enough to dream. The universe will make it happen. If you want to have more courage in doing what you do or try new things, I suggest that you give this book a go. I’ve recommended this book to many people and they like it too.

2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey 

Key message: What can you do to achieve what you want?

Of course dreaming alone will not lead you to where you want to be, you gotta start working on it. Every effort worth doing is also equally challenging. It requires you to be sharp, smart and effective. This book shows you how. I used to always complain that I was busy, but after reading this book, I changed my mindset and saw some habits and rituals of mine that can be improved and adjusted. I’m still a long way to go before adapting all the 7 habits into my life, but it’s okay I’m working on it.

3. The Willpower by Ferto 

Key message: How do you keep going?

The journey to reaching our goals is bumpy and lonely. It’s a marathon after all, not a short sprint. Keeping our mind positive and on track is extremely crucial. For me, doing PhD is definitely the longest marathon ever. I need willpower and stamina to finish the race. This book introduces stories and methods to train our brain to persist and be strong.

P.S. I have this book in Chinese version and I’m surprised I couldn’t find its English version. I suspect that a Chinese wrote it and claimed that it’s translated from the work of a fictional American author.

4. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Key message: Goals aside, what’s really the most important thing in life?

With so many goals to chase, so many ideas to execute, it’s easy to get lost in the midst of busyness and vast ocean of information. When I lose sight and feel anxious, I like to flip through this book to see what Morrie wants to teach me about life. Morrie is an old professor who is dying from ALS. His message on love, kindness and support keeps me grounded and grateful for everything that I have.

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Do you have a book that have a strong impact on you? What book is that? Let me know!

Dear fear

For my whole life I have intense phobia for snakes. Just seeing photos of snakes will give me a panic attack, let alone seeing a real snake.

One evening my boyfriend and I were casually walking in a beautiful garden. He said there was a snake on the sidewalk.

I immediately started screaming and running away but hme kept encouraging me to go near and look at it. He said it’s just a baby and non-poisonous. He kept persuading and I kept running.

I know he wanted to push me to face my fear and overcome it, but at that moment I just wanted to punch him. Why didn’t he hug me tightly and protect me like a romantic Korean boyfriend?

Afterwards when I thought about this incident, I realise that I always react the same way whenever I face fear and discomfort. I run away.

I hate difficult conversations, so I avoid having them altogether. Whenever I have an argument with people, instead of talking it through honestly and resolving the conflict, I keep resentment and anger in my heart. When I need to do something I’m not confident about, I either procrastinate or say something like, “This sounds like a good idea, but from the practical point of view, I think….” I make up ten thousand excuses why I shouldn’t try. I thought I am being rational but mostly I’m in delusional denial.

Fear comes in many forms. Sometimes it sounds like we are concerned and worrying, like a mother protecting her child from falling. Sometimes it sounds like logical thinking.

I have a friend who is known for being critical and analytical. We used to admire his strengths, but after seeing him doing nothing for a long time, we realise that he’s just fearful. He is just too afraid to fail. All the big plans he has? He doesn’t even need to try, he just analyze and he knows the plans won’t work. He even analyzes for his friends and tell them why their plans will not work. Does this sound familiar? I bet you have a friend who always says he wants to do something but doesn’t.

The key is to find the sweet spot between fear and courage.

The next time “what-ifs” pop up in your mind, ask yourself, what is the worst thing that can happen? What are the probable scenarios?

And the last question, what are the costs – financially, emotionally and physically – if you do not act upon it?

I thought about all these questions after listening to Tim Ferriss’ TED talk about fear-setting. What I found out is the cost of inaction was far greater than the cost of action. I will regret if I don’t try, so I have no choice but to take the risk of trying though there is a slim chance of success.  This gives me the courage to take a small step forward.

How ever uncomfortable and difficult it is, you can take small actions and face the fear. Fear is paralysing, but if you can acknowledge and tame it, it becomes your fuel.

“Measure the cost of inaction, realize the unlikelihood and repairability of most missteps, and develop the most important habit of those who excel and enjoy doing so: action.”

By the way, back to the story, I didn’t go near that snake. I walked another route with my legs shaking and palms sweating. Maybe next time I will try to be slightly more courageous. Maybe.

Good link:

Fear-setting by Tim Ferriss (Full questions)

Cook your signature dish at Signature Loft

A muscle man is hot, but a man who cooks is even hotter.

My old friend Kenneth and his brother-in-law Jason invited us to have brunch with them. The dishes and desserts they cooked were delicious – maybe anything cooked in this kitchen will be delicious. This is one of the best kitchens I’ve seen.

I like to cook and bake, but my mum doesn’t like me messing with her kitchen. I like to have potluck at home too, but not everyone’s house is big enough to host parties and gatherings. Dining out is convenient, but with a large group of people it can be expensive and uncomfortable.

Jason understands this struggle, so they came up with a great idea – the Signature Loft. This is a kitchen space that you can rent for a potluck session, private gathering, cooking classes or even, videography session! The idea is new, the space is wonderful.

Meeting people with interesting idea (who also cook for you) is always a good experience.

Signature Loft

Address: No.148-1, Jalan Dataran Cheras 9, Dataran Perniagaan Cheras, Batu 9
Cheras, Selangor 43200

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/signatureloft/

 

Starting over in a new website (Hi WordPress!)

I abandoned my old blog and decided to start from zero. In the past ten years, I wrote 441 blog posts and had over 3000 photos there. That’s a whopping lot.

I made this decision based on one technical and one personal reasons. Technical wise, I use Blogger which is an outdated platform. Google decided to slowly give up on Blogger by not giving it any attention or update that it deserves. Writing posts and redesigning the website has become very inconvenient. I cannot write a blog post without being frustrated every 5 minutes. I will miss the good old times writing in the bright orange frame. I will also remember all the late nights I stayed awake learning how to build a website. When something doesn’t serve you well anymore, you have to make the decision to quit, however painful and nostalgic it makes you feel.

The personal reason why I decided to start afresh is because I cannot read back my old posts without feeling cringy. In the first few years I wrote about anything and everything. You can’t read those posts anymore because I consciously hid them. That time I was barely 20 years old, so you can imagine what I was thinking at that time, probably shoes, bags and some boys.

Although physically I am still that same person, mentally I am not. Time has changed how I think and see things. I could keep posting tonnes of pretty travel photos, but I have something more important to say.

Hence I moved my website to a new place, WordPress. You might notice that this blog is very simple and minimal. I just want a place where I can write easily and quickly.

In the past years, people had always told me that they wanted to write, paint, or learn something new and creative. Until this day they still think that they might do it one day. A friend told me that he wants to publish his own book one day. However I don’t see any conscious effort of him writing prolifically. Another friend told me that she likes to paint when she was a child, but gives up years ago. She’s considered taking art classes one day but keeps worrying that she might be a bad painter and it will be a waste of time and money.

If you really like to paint, why not just go ahead? You don’t have to be the next Picasso, just paint.

Why people don’t write, or create

Based on my observation, there are a few reasons why people said they want to write (or create) but they won’t.

  1. They think they write (or do anything) badly.
  2. Nobody is going to appreciate their work.
  3. They don’t know where to start. They think they need a proper training, the right tools, the right timing, or in the case of writing, a blog to start.

If you share the same thoughts, let me tell you what I think.

  1. It’s totally fine to write badly. The most important part of any creation is the story. Techniques can be improved later. You can’t improve if you haven’t started. It might take years, but it’s okay. Forget about perfectionism. It kills creativity and the gut to do anything. Don’t expect to write like your favorite writers in the beginning.
  2. It’s absolutely fine to create for your own pleasure. Do not expect any return first.
  3. It is also okay to not have the best tools when you are starting. Just use anything that you have. You don’t need the perfect timing, or the permission from anyone to start. You don’t need bombastic tools to start too. You can start by writing a post on Facebook about your day.

What would you gain?

  1. Satisfaction. What’s more important than doing something that you enjoy?
  2. New perspectives, new discoveries and possibly new friends.
  3. Self-improvement. I feel writing has helped me to think clearer and speak better.

How about money? Should I do it if it doesn’t benefit me financially? It’s true that some people create content as a potential income stream, but unless you are a popular 20-year-old girl who posts selfie regularly (sarcasm: this does not apply to every successful blogger), it is not very viable to earn big bucks from writing these days. The content creators that have a huge following on social media are rare. Fact: 3% of the YouTubers earned 90% of the total revenue. Most of them didn’t make significant amount of money but they probably enjoy the process of creating content. So take the pressure of earning money off your shoulder. Just indulge and have fun.

What you can do

Start small. Start shitty.

  1. Start small.
    For example, if you want to write, leave that emoji alone. 😂 🤣 😱 😳 🤪
    When you share a post on Facebook, instead of putting a smiley face “XD” or an emoji, try to write a word instead, like “amazing”, “awesome”, “heart-breaking”. In the next post, write two words. In the next post, write three. In the next post, write a full sentence. Step by step. Build your momentum slowly. This helps you to express your emotions in words, and eventually you will be able to articulate better how you feel and what you think.
  2. Start shitty.
    Give yourself permission to start shitty. Don’t show your work to anyone first. Don’t worry about the quality before you start. Slowly refine it. Trust me it will end up being better.
My draft.

This does not only apply to writing, it applies to all other creative endeavors you are trying to do, be it photography, painting, song-writing, scrap-booking.

Let go of perfectionism and take baby steps.

Here’s me, writing my first post on WordPress. My website is not perfect yet, but it’s totally okay. I hope this shows you that you can also start anytime and anywhere. Just have fun.