The Thin Line Between Colleagues and Friends

Looking back at my two-plus decades of working life, I can recount three periods of my career when I am truly happy. All involve me having a phenomenon rapport with my team. All involve me being able to operate at the peak of my performance. There must be a correlation between the two. Or three, if counting opportunity or luck as well. At one point in my career, I have stopped socializing with people from work. Because corporate life can be brutal. It is not unlike a playbook written by Shakespeare. Full of tragedies and treacheries. At one point, I have decided that the best way not to get affected by the transient work entity is to detach myself from the people within. In retrospect, life is about taking risks and accepting the consequences of the decisions made. To the least, I have lived. And not just zombied my way through life.

I Was The Architect

Rising up the ranks from a new recruit a.k.a. fresh graduate to a lead architect of enterprise-level trade finance software was quite a feat. Started off my career with Accenture as a support consultant on a job that no one wanted (read: maintenance), I managed to learn everything I needed to know about trade finance. From accounting to interest and commission calculation, from letters of credit to banker guarantee, from front end user interface to batch programs, reporting (back then, it was line printer) and invoicing, from visual C++ to C to PLSQL to Oracle Report Writer and many more. I was so good with version 4 of this proprietary Accenture / Deutsche Bank joint venture that I was enlisted to implement version 5, which was an object-oriented design by the same partnership.

Technology evolved. Accenture has decided to create her own trade finance product using the latest technology from Microsoft. Since I had been persistent enough to survive through version 4 and version 5, I had landed the job to be the lead architect in designing and building version 6 with a large team of people working with me. Looking back, while I seriously do not recall implementing the final product, I had fun building it. My team from diverse gender, social, and academic background was fantastic. I really connected with my team. Many have become my friends and some, I still keep in touch with. Many crazy, crazy things we have done. There were happy times; there were sad times. Memorable nonetheless.

I Was The Trainer, Facilitator

Good things don’t last. That’s a universal rule. After Accenture went public, it wasn’t the same organization I have grown up with. There was an office move. And I left.

For a long time, I was detached from the people in the workplace. Because eventually, the organization will disappoint (that could go both ways too, I suppose).

Then I met a group of the younger crowd at Ernst & Young Associate whom I enjoyed coaching them (perhaps that’s my calling?). We got close, almost like a family. There were peers too, whom I still keep in touch with today. The peers, we formed a band. I remember the days when I shared my recorded music in the car with my juniors. Oh yes, we were that close. I was the trainer and the facilitator as I moved to the defense industry. Absolute freedom. We could be in one military camp in the morning, had lunch at Sentosa (as I drove), and headed to another military camp in the afternoon. We were seldom in the office. The clients loved us. But the people at the office didn’t.

Politics.

Project Management Was Born During Egyptian Era When Pyramids Were Built

Good things don’t last. That’s a universal rule. Office politics doesn’t exist when it is working for you. Office politics becomes prominent when it is working against you. There was an office move. And I left.

After EY, I joined Standard Chartered Bank. For a long time in my career, I have stopped caring for the people at work. There is a line clearly drawn between colleagues and friends. There were nine to five. And I detested socializing with my colleagues after working hours. When you live through the countless disappointments at work, the natural defensive thing you could do is to have a clear mindset on what is work versus what is life.

And then something magical happens. I am gifted and blessed with a team of good people with a team size surpassing anything I have had in the past.

I guess, looking back, putting your heart out there can be risky. It doesn’t always pay off. But when it does, it is memorable; it is magical.

My beloved team sent me a bunch of gifts and written messages for my birthday, in the time of Covid-19.

On My Birthday My Wife And Buddy

On my birthday my wife and buddy took me for a health check, at Universal Studios.  To see if my heart is still as strong as ever.  Oh, those mechanical rides.  I will get to that later.

My buddy TK has decided to take me for a ‘date’ at Universal Studios Singapore on my birthday as he has a pair of complimentary ticket. Cheers mate! My wife was super excited on our excursion. Photographs of this entry taken using my phone.

Rewind to late last evening.  My mother knew that I would take leave on my birthday, like I always do, and hence I would be home late the next day.  So she called wishing me an early birthday.  How sweet of her.  I love you ma.

At the stroke of midnight, Cynthia and I were battling demons in Diablo III.  Act III, Hell difficulty.  Since we did not need to work the next day, we pushed on with our public game and completed the act.  We were ecstatic on this milestone achievement.  It was tough but we did it.  We went to sleep happy.

Since last weekend, my buddy TK and my wife Cynthia have planned what we should do on my birthday – a visit to Universal Studios Singapore.  How sweet of them.  While both appeared to be more excited than I was at the time of planning, once I stepped into the theme park, I was in high spirit, as excited as they were.  Adding three of our age up well exceeds a century, but yet we were like kids and tourists seeing the attraction the first time.  It was a weekday therefore the queues to most of the rides were under 10 minutes, which was an icing on the cake.

First stop, Transformers the Ride: The Ultimate 3D Battle.  I am not really a fan of Transformers though I once held a contest here.  The ride was fantastic.  It is similar to watching a 3D movie and gets to experience the G-force as our vehicle dashed in and out of the battle between the super-sized robots.  I felt as though I was in the movie.  When will video gaming give us a forth dimension of experience, I wonder.

The Battlestar Galactica (1) Human and (2) Cylon rides are intense, especially when you experience one after another immediately.

The Battlestar Galactica themed roller coasters are no joke.  They are intense, meant for the strong hearts.  Red is the Human ride while blue is the Cylon ride.  Both rides run in parallel with each other.  The main difference is that Human ride is the traditional roller coaster that boosts the speed up to 82.8 km/h while the Cylon ride is a suspended coaster that goes up, around and upside down in a corkscrew and cobra roll style.  The pamphlet says that the roller coasters are over fourteen stories high.  That is as high as the condominium Cynthia and I are staying.  Imagining such height sends a chill down my spine.

Three of us have completely different spontaneous reactions to the ride.  TK would go wah, wah, wah.  Cynthia would scream at the top of her lung, with her eyes closed.  It scared me a little bit because I have not heard her screams with such power and intensity before.  Even as the ride came to an end, when no one was screaming, Cynthia would continue to scream, with her eyes closed.  As for me, I would go hahaha, hahaha, hahahah.  It was a fun ride and a funny ride.  I could not stop laughing out loud, literally.  You should see Cynthia’s condition after the Human ride.  Her hair was moist, flying everywhere.  Possibly the most hilarious thing we have seen that day.

At a fountain somewhere in the Far Far Away land.

After the three intensive rides, we passed by Ancient Egypt that features the Revenge of the Mummy ride.  Cynthia has decided to sit herself out on this one.  Totally understandable.  TK hesitated but was convinced by my enthusiasm.  Basically, it is an indoor roller coaster somewhat similar to the Transformers one, but much shorter, without the 3D glasses.  There were some scary moments.  But nothing two grown men who have come, seen, and conquered the Human and Cylon rides cannot handle.  We skipped the Lost World and headed straight to Far Far Away.  Yes, three of us love Shrek and welcomed a more gentle form of entertainment.  The Shrek 4D Adventure is pretty fun, especially when you are a fan.  I had to keep my mouth shut throughout the show so as not to swallow the water of suspicious origin sprayed onto us.

We hopped into a restaurant when the rain started.  By the time we were done with lunch, the rain has stopped.  We reentered Universal Studios.  Just nice for a final family oriented ride – Madagascar: A Crate Adventure.  An indoor boot ride whereby we sat back, relaxed, and enjoyed watching the animated mechanical animals having a party together.

I have this for lunch.

Then we headed out to the mall next door – Vivocity – for our Amazing Spider-Man treat.  That was my idea.  Though I dislike remakes, Emma Stone is too good to be missed.  And I love it, TK loves it, Cynthia loves it.  I wonder if there will be a sequel.  How would this story tie back to the original story whereby Peter Parker dates Mary Jane?  No idea.  And please don’t tell me.

By the time we reached home, after yet another sumptuous meal, I was shagged.  Time to watch F1 Silverstone online via ESPN Player.  mioTV did not broadcast F1 live last weekend, boo.  Thanks to ESPN posting a video thumbnail of Mark Webber opening champagne at the podium, before I watched the race, I could already guess who the winner was.  Common sense is indeed not that common.  Who would choose that as a thumbnail for the audience planning to watch the feed?  In any case, I am happy with the result.  Although I would want Alonso to win, Webber has a special place in my heart.

I seldom log onto Facebook ever since I have switched to Google+.  And I am thankful for the birthday wishes I have received from both social networks.  I am also thankful for God’s blessing in surrounding me with wonderful friends and families, and providing me with all that I need.  What a wonderful day.  That video of my 2 years old niece singing birthday song to me simply melts my heart.  Thanks Lora and Benny.

And I have this for dinner.

Freezing Time

The above picture was taken by Benny.  In the picture are Lora, Cynthia, my niece Bethany, and I.  We were in a restaurant of my choice, near Bird Park.  Quite possibly the most authentic Dim Sum restaurant that we can afford, that my sister and I have located so far.  I asked if I could take little Bethany to see the birds in the park next door.  Her parents looked at each other as though it was one of the rather bizarre requests they have encountered.  Our deadlock was saved by the pouring rain after our sumptuous lunch.  Thank you Lora for picking up the bill.  It was a lovely birthday celebration.  O happy day.

I love my insurance agent.  I would recommend her to anyone in need of a coverage.  On Friday, she called me, “Tomorrow is your birthday and I wish you a happy birthday in advance!”.  I hesitated and said out loud, “Tomorrow is my birthday?”  She went silence hiding in embarrassment.  I broke my silence and screamed, “Tomorrow is my birthday!”.

The first thing that came to my mind when I thought of what I wanted for my birthday was to freeze time.  “What age you want to be at then?” asked Cynthia in the car.  Without thinking, I answered, “26”.  She asked why.  I had no idea except subconsciously, being 26 was the happiest time of my life (so far).  She asked again, “Why?”.  I did a mental scan on the major events that happened when I was 26.  That year, I fell in love.

30 minutes before the clock struck midnight, I have initiated an assault to my storeroom.  Something I have been wanting to do for more than a decade of inhabiting in this cosy apartment of ours.  Systematically, I torn out the pieces of junk covered in decade old dust and moved them by batches to the disposable area at my ground lobby.  The process took a lot lesser time than I thought, which makes me wonder why I have been putting this off for so long.  The next morning, my mother called.  “You remember my birthday!” I exclaimed.  In retrospect, what a dumb thing to say.  Of course she does.  It must have been a memorable day of pain and relief for her.  When I told her what I did last evening, she said, “Things that you haven’t used for two years you should throw them away.”  I love my mother and her easy-to-follow guidance.

Cynthia was speechless looking at her dream came true in the most unexpected day of the calendar.  The next morning, on my birthday, I made another assault to my common bedroom – the extended storeroom.  This should make my mother and mother-in-law happy too, as they do stay with us in that room occasionally.  If you could see the before and after images of my storeroom and common bedroom, you too would be shocked by the amount of space reclaimed.

What should I do with my 40 feet tall music CD tower if I am to stake them on top of one another now that I have digitalized them (to the best of my measurement)?  It is a tough decision, tougher than throwing away magazines in plastic wrap, sentimental items that serve no purpose, and items that are in at best partially working condition.  For now, I tug them alphabetically in cardboard boxes.  Since there is no point to display a subset of my CD collection in my living room, I have re-purposed my CD rack into a DVD rack, which involved a re-positioning of 21 beams across 140 holes in total on both sides of the stand.  24 hours into my impromptu spring cleaning, on my birthday, I was thoroughly exhausted, feeling the body ache here and there.  But it was a satisfying exercise, a precursor to our long overdue renovation.

On My Birthday We Visited Medan Ikan Bakar at Malacca (Again)

Meda Ikan Bakar

My observation on age as such: besides the age that you can legally have s … ahem … your own driving licence and the one that grants you lots of discount everywhere you go because you are senior, age is just a number that has little significance.  Some achieve more than others at their age; some look better than others at their age; some manage to defy the gravitational pull of music-from-my-good-old-days-sounds-much-better-than-today’s-hits better than others.  As for me, I am so going to watch Lady Gaga’s concert when she comes to Singapore.

My birthday is my holiday, always.  And I woke up at nine this morning with my head still spinning after a long night of online gaming.  Our team lead of 5 – a good online friend of ours – lightly commented that we were not performing up to our usual standard.  I said the obvious, “It’s three in the morning, ha ha ha.”  Cynthia and I were more or less randomly hitting the buttons like two sleepy zombies.  Game mission accomplished nonetheless, sort of.

Processing my band’s studio jamming materials took much shorter time than anticipated.  Probably because I have already spent much time running through the recording during the week.  At about eleven-thirty, I said to Cynthia, who also took leave because I did, “Let’s have lunch at the Botanic Gardens.  Grab our passports, we may dine in Malacca.”

We love road trips.  Road trip for couples is like golf for business partners.  It is almost like having an undivided attention for each other for hours.  In fact, I think all couples should go through the road trip test amongst other ‘tests’ that I will cover in my new book “Things You Wish You Had Done Before Saying I Do”.

OK.  There’s no such book.  I am pulling your legs.  Below are some of the photos taken today.

Malacca has changed a lot, over the last decade.  It is now inscribed as a World Heritage City, though we have no clue which organization inscribes such a title.  We arrived at Malacca way before dinner time so we road-toured the city.  Now, there is a Malacca Eye by the sea (something like the Singapore Flyer), a few new malls, and we need to buy parking coupons instead of putting coins into the parking meter.  Maybe these changes have been around for years.  We seldom tour the city.  We visit Malacca to have seafood, a location outskirt of Malacca.

We always had difficulties in finding “Medan Ikan Bakar” (translates to Baked Fish Eating House I think).  Each time, we would spend an hour or two trying to find the place.  Each time, we would document the direction in exactitude only to realize in the next trip that the landscape has changed.  Malacca is not small.  And it is easy to get lost.

I can certainly say it with conviction that Nokia Map has changed the way we travel.  The maps are free, the GPS service is free.  Not only do I know exactly where I am, it knows a list of landmarks around the area too.  I don’t need to pay for and install a separate device just for this function.  It comes with the phone.  So, on my birthday, we arrived at the Baked Fish Eating House at ease.

Every morning, fishing boats arrive at the shore and unload some of the seafood to the long stretch of restaurants nearby.  I have seen the days when this area was so popular that it literally took hours to find a parking space.  In our recent visits, there seems to be an increased number of parking lots.  Also, maybe because we often avoid the weekend crowds and we prefer to dine early, we dine in leisure.

We had a sea bass (baked), six gigantic prawns (baked), some squids (sweet source), a vegetable dish, and three portions of rice.  The sea food tasted fresh and the fish was juicy.  The total bill came up to about RM 55 (which is about S$25?).  I thought it was reasonable.  Note: for my future reference, we spent RM 200+ for this brief out-of-town experience.

For those of you who have the Nokia Map installed in your phone, download the Malaysia map and punch in “Pernu Umbai”.  The search result of “Medan Ikan Bakar Pernu Umbai” should appears (186.7km from my home!).  For other map users, try this coordinates: 2° 9′ 21″ N, 102° 20′ 9″ E.  Or if you trust my direction (I have tested it on the way back and it is accurate to the one hundredth meter), click here and scroll all the way to the bottom.

Me No Shy About Me Birthday

Thanks for all your warm wishes!  It is the thought that counts.  So, text messages are same-same to me.

I have two traditions when it comes to my birthday.  One, it will be a holiday.  Look, if we have holidays to celebrate the birth of the kings and queens and anniversary of what not, why should I work on my birthday?   And two, during my birthday week, it will be my treat to all the friends who join me for lunch or dinner.  I mean, look at it this way, I feel so blessed to have friends turn up for my B day celebration.  It’s on me, gladly so.

I guess it is hard to contain the happiness and I find myself telling the people around me the coming of my birthday.  Maybe I am a natural exhibitionist.  Most people I know are more comfortable keeping it low profile, which is cool with me of course.  One time, the colleague behind me was on the phone and you know how kids are when they get onto the phone.  As usual, the faint high pitch voice reached my desk and I heard a birthday song!  It was my colleague’s birthday and I congratulated her after her call.  Wow, I would have missed that and I would feel quite bad had I known that someone’s birthday has gone underneath my radar.  She is my neighbor in the cube farm some more.  Bizarre to say – and those of you who know me in person would know how animated I can be once I get excited – despite my rather excited words of congratulation, everyone else was so absorbed with their work and none noticed this little event.  Oh well.

The other day, one friend of mine in the office told me that she doesn’t think writing “I wake up, I eat, I sleep” as her journal (or blog) is interesting at all.  Well, I don’t know.  I also write “I wake up, I eat, I sleep” too.  Maybe if one day 3am in the morning and you can’t sleep, you should try reading my blogs.

I woke up this morning after an amazing 8 hours of sleep, looked in the mirror, and didn’t notice any difference.  I mentally timed my pee and it took roughly the same time.  Great!  It’s my birthday and I feel one year younger.  I did some memory test and I passed, remembering all the schedule blog entries all the way till I fly out of town next Wednesday.  Superb!  Good as new.

Switched on my wireless phone and went through the bunch of entertaining text messages.  One friend told me that men age like fine wine.  Wow, my first time hearing it.  So I asked this wise man what do women age like?  Cheese, he replied, as the taste grows on you!  Ha ha ha … OK.  I don’t know why, I kept thinking of the “Sex and the City” movie.  Time for Botox – the miracle of eternal youth!

Spent a fair bit of the morning doing vocal exercise.  Vocal exercise?  Yes.  Vocalists do vocal exercise all the time and it helps a lot in the actual singing activity.  I must have driven Cynthia mad this morning.  Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ohhhhhhh~

Another friend asked me to send a wild plant to her via Facebook after I told her that I was heading to the Botanic Gardens.  Sure I can do that.  I love the Botanic Gardens.  Always do, be it as in Hong Kong or Paris or Singapore.  It was sunny, it rained a bit, and we took some photos inside the lovely Botanic Gardens.

Time check!  OK, it 5-ish and I shall head to Orchard soon.  Catching up with my Movie Review Squad and I can’t wait to watch Hellboy 2!  I so have a big crush with Hellboy’s girlfriend.  Shhh, please don’t tell Cynthia.

Later!