I Welcome My MIL With “Teary” Eyes And Other Encounters

Last Saturday I woke up with my right eye red.  I suspect that has something to do with the intense online gaming I had the night before, not entirely sure.  Cynthia and I woke up early on a Saturday morning because her mother was due to arrive in town.  At the airport, while Cynthia was waiting at the meeting point, I looked for a pharmacy to buy some eye drops.  If you were to ask me, eye drops should be sold in bulk.  How often do you wake up in the morning, look for a bottle of eye drops and find that duh, it has expired?  So I grabbed two bottles at the counter and made my way back to the meeting point.  I wish I could lie down and apply eye drops.  Instead, I bent my back backward, tilted my head as far as I could.  Right first, and then left.  It was more misses than hits.  By the time I was done with the exercise, my eyes were soaking wet and my face was in a total mess.  Cynthia was poking fun at me and we had a good laugh role-playing the scenario of long-time-no-see in the airport.  Cued to perfect timing, before I had a chance to clean my face up, my mother-in-law appeared from the gate.  Cynthia greeted her first with a big smile and a hearty hug.  I bettered Cynthia.  I greeted my mother-in-law with a big smile, a hearty hug, and on top of that, with my teary eyes and my tear stained face.  Now, that was embarrassing.

Yesterday’s Spanish homework was to write a joke.  My Spanish is so poor that it itself is a joke.  Nevertheless, it is often the effort that counts.  I used my Saturday story as the material for my Spanish homework.  Before I could reach the punch line, the entire class – our teacher included – laughed out loud.  I wish I was that funny.  Instead of “farmacia” – which means pharmacy – I said “francia”, which means France.  So in my Spanish version, while Cynthia was waiting at the meeting point, I went to France and bought some eye drops.  Consider all things, this farmacia-francia blunder is still not as bad as the guess-which-country exercise we did in class not too long ago.  Each of us was given the spotlight to describe the people of a nation in Spanish and ask the classmates to guess which country the people come from.  I wanted to pick a country whereby her people are not as warm as the Spanish people.  But instead of frío (means cold), I said feo.  “Feo?!” they screamed in disbelief.  “Feo,” I insisted.  To my surprise, no one could make a guess.  As soon as I recalled that “feo” means ugly, I wanted to bury my head deep into the toilet bowl.

One time, Cynthia brought me along for her girls-night-out.  I wanted to decline but since she has been joining my all-guys-events online and offline, it seemed only right that I participate in hers, or some of hers.  To be frank, that evening, I felt strange as the only guy on the table.  My presence had substantially stripped out the depth of what would-have-been a fruitful and detail analysis on men in general.  I wanted to chip in but I would feel bad turning my back on half of the population in this world today.  It is true.  Men, in general, are not that smart.  Our brains may not be in our heads all the time.  But we have a role to play in the propagation of our species.  One girl asked another, “Why did you break up with your boyfriend?”  Filter off all the frustration and confusion, all the emotion and debates, it appears to me that the breakup has something to do with the guy not bonding well with the girl’s family.  That is an inspiring piece of information.  Lucky for me, I love my mother-in-law as much as I love my own.  And I shall remember to bring along eye drops the next time I pick up my mother from the airport so no one could claim that I love my mother-in-law more than my own.

It must be hard to imagine that I am a man of few words, given the fact that I write thousands on a weekly basis.  Last Sunday, Cynthia has handed me a wonderful opportunity of being alone with her mother because of a social appointment of hers.  Well and good, I had this mental picture of having a relaxing Sunday lunch and the restaurant inside the bookstore Borders came to my mind.  I could read a book while my mother-in-law could browse the books as we waited for our food (note: it rhymes!)  The restaurant is still plagued by its signature slow service and if it was not my mother-in-law’s sharp eyes in spotting a 1-for-1 promotion, I would not have known that the restaurant has been rebranded to Robert Timms, an Australian themed restaurant.  Initially, I wanted to order a plate of salad and my mother-in-law, pumpkin lasagna.  Because of this 1-for-1 promotion, I can now pick a main course and my mother-in-law, prawn pasta.  Eat more with less!  I scanned through the menu items.  It read: Stout braised Kangaroo loin, braised crocodile casserole, along with names that I could not even pronounce.  Kangaroo and crocodile meat selling in Singapore? The last time I tried kangaroo meat was when we were in Melbourne.  That was not a pleasant experience.  Kangaroo meat does not taste like chicken (there is a myth that says all unknown meats taste like chicken).  It had no taste.  Cynthia described eating kangaroo meat as “eating shoes”.  I do not disagree.  My mother-in-law was in good spirit and she asked me to try crocodile meat.  If I was still going after her daughter, I would have showed some courage and ordered the braised crocodile casserole in a heartbeat.  Too bad, Cynthia said “I do” close to 12 years ago.  So I ordered half a spring chicken instead.  My mother-in-law was shocked that I could finish up half a chicken on my own.  In Indonesia, half a chicken can feed a family.  The spring chicken dish served at Robert Timms was somewhat cold.  I was not surprised.  Slow service, low food quality, some not too good things never change even when a restaurant changes its name.

My right eye is not that red anymore.  But I still game as hard in the evening.  Some good things never change either.

U2! Down the Memory Lane on a Nostalgic Hazy Friday

UB40 didn’t make it, U2 does.  When I was a little boy, I often camped at the record stores, going through the catalogue organized by alphabets day after day, month after month.  There weren’t that many group artists under the letter “U”.  “Red Red Wine (1983)” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love (1993)” still put a smile to my face.  But I wish there are more from UB40.  Its association to U2 according to the secret dream world of mine on a nostalgic hazy Friday stops at the letter “U”.

You ask 100 people what music means to them and you may get 100 different answers – from the extreme of “music is my life” to “music is just the background”.  But what does music mean to me?

I think music is to inspire, to freeze a moment in life that hearing the same song is to reminisce and be drifted to that same place in time.  I remember one past relationship whenever I listen to “With or Without You”.  She loves the song, I love the simplicity.  It is a song I sing along with, play my guitar with, a kind of secret love affair so visually crafted – the thorns and the shore – and beyond which, “With or Without You” has planted the seed of inspiration to my music creation journey.

U2's Get On Your Boots

I started to collect Compact Discs two decades ago.  And “Achtung Baby (1991)” was amongst the very first set of discs in my collection.  It was the time when all of a sudden I have my own stereo system, have the means to blast my own music, the kind of empowerment that any young boy may find it overpoweringly exhilarating, sharing his music in the presence of his family members.  No, it was not the era of angst, nor the age of the nu-metal.  It was the day of “Money for Nothing” and the good old “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses”.  It was a time when “Achtung Baby” was played during every meal and at the corner of my curious eyes, I tried to catch a glimpse of my father’s reaction.  None.  He was cool with “Achtung Baby”.  He didn’t express any liking to U2 like he did to Prince.  And there was no dislike either.  So vividly I remember the dinning table in my humble living room in Hong Kong, with my family around the table, and the stereo by the window on top of a study table that was handcrafted by my father, with my help.  I can almost smell my mother’s cooking.

Music Power House!  What a nostalgic chain name.  Back in the days of UK and Paris, I camped inside HMV, inside Tower Records.  In Singapore, back in the late nineties, we had Music Power House (MPH) – a beautifully renovated, comfortable, spacious store that sold music and more.   Our National Library at the old site is gone, so is MPH next to it, making way for a tunnel that all of a sudden, appeared from nowhere.  The rapid change of the Singapore landscape: one day we had an underpass, one day it was gone, one day we had a pedestrian flyover, one day it was gone (the connection between the Citilink Mall and SunTech Mall in case if you wonder).

I bought “Zooropa (1993)” that came with a shiny silver MPH sticker and U2’s music has accompanied me during some of those long, long hours of traveling in Singapore.  Some say the traffic system here is efficient but as someone who was born in Hong Kong, I have my reservation.  Back in the days of “Zoorapa”, I had a Discman.  It was the days before wireless phone has become popularized.  I doubt if anyone back then would imagine that we could listen to music from one of these devices.  Maybe one day, music can be streamed directly into our brains.  I like “Zoorapa”, I really do.  The bizarre experimental sound of “Numb” and “Babyface” just works for me.  Don’t beat the oddballs.  Mass appeal doesn’t determine artistic value.  It is the same oddball who thinks “Monster” is the most interesting R.E.M. album ever made.

Paris, in the late nineties, I was the only one from Singapore working with a French client in the land of romance.  English, is a precious ‘commodity’ in Paris.  The music, the television programs, the road signs, the food menus, the conversations around me, everything is in French.  My rare moment of getting in touch with something I can understand was the MTV program that I looked forward to, every working morning, inside a hotel room that I stayed for months.  It was this period of time when “Discothèque” from the “Pop (1997)” album was played and I would dance to the funky beats, amazed at the then 37 years old Bono.  His energy was infectious.  Disco music being brought back to life in the late nineties.  Paris, in the land of romance, watching Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. dancing in that silly disco beat every morning.  It was the anthem of my life.  I believe I could fly, I believe I could climb the Eiffel Tower (which I did, to the second level).

People don’t like “Zoorapa”, but I do.  People don’t like “Pop”, but I do.  And when U2 – in their own words – reapplied for the job to be the best band in the world in the beginning of this new millennium, I get disconnected with their last two efforts.  They have just released a new single “Get on Your Boots” from the upcoming album “No Line on the Horizon”.  It is meant to be a departure from their previous two albums.  If it is so, this oddball may love it.

Our Band Photos of Music for Hope 2008 Are Out!

Our band photographer Mark Lim has just broadcast the photos taken during our band No Eye Candy’s 30 minutes live performance at Hereen last evening.  It was his first concert shot and you have got to agree with me that these are great shots capturing the essence of our gig as well as the audience.  Good job Mark!  No Eye Candy loves you!  You have secured yourself a 5 years contract with the band with payment in the form of free access to our concerts and behind-the-scene shots!  What saying you?!

For those who wish to read our journey of this Music for Hope gig, feel free to follow the link to this tag.  It is one helluva journey and who knows what 2009 will bring?  And if you like the band photos, please drop by Mark’s website and give him a pat on his shoulder.  Thank you.

Click here for the photos taken during our little celebration after the gig.

Recession and You Think You See the Axe Coming … So What? Practical Ways to Stay Happy

Lovely picture isn’t it?  When I retire, I want to live somewhere that I can see this view every end of day.  But between then and now, I reckon I still need to make just enough money to get there.  And I reckon I will probably see a few rounds of bull and bear runs between now and then.

These days, increasingly I have friends at my workplace, outside of my workplace who share with me their concerns about losing their jobs during this downturn.  I know that feeling of anxiety.  I have been there, seen that, during my more than a decade hanging onto the corporate ladder, like many of you.  This blog entry is my wish to share my humble thoughts on how to stay happy based on my very own experience.  And I am happy to hear yours too!

My strategy here is simple.  It is not about how to survive not being axed.  That is hard because of so many moving parts that are beyond your control and influence.  But rather how to excel in your workplace amidst all the uncertainties that affect everyone around you, but you.  And it comes down to one word: Preparation.  A happier you makes you perform better at work.

1. Your Mentality Towards Work

Look around you and you can easily see those who are so committed to work and you wonder: do they have a life at all?  To some, work is more than an entity.  Take the job away from them and they will collapse, don’t know what to do.

Sure, most of us need to earn a living.  I love one quote from my ex-colleague: Day job is to pay my bills, what I do at night feeds my ego.  So true.  When I started my career, I worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week.  One day, I read somewhere that I shall begin with an end in mind (back to that image) and I asked myself: Do I want to leave this world being remembered as a good employee who has contributed this much top line sales or bottom line savings to this organization?  Or do I want to be remembered as …

And it struck me there and then: work is just an entity.  That memo I wrote today at work, or that conference call I participated, sure they are important.  But are they that important to me?

At work, I have a role to play, to be responsible for a certain set of items that are important to the organization.  To me, there are more important things in life.  I want to excel while I am at work.  And I want to excel after I step out of my office at sane hours as well.

Take a moment to reflect what is important to you.  Are you sacrificing too much for your career?  What if you let go of your job today?

2. Build Your (Genuine) Network (Early)

Genuine network takes time to build.  You can’t build one right now when you suddenly realize that how nice if you have one.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am not here to ask you to befriend only those who are of value to you.  Quite the opposite.  I believe in give and take, give before take, give without thinking of what to take in the future.  That is genuine network.  I enjoy reaching out to friends because I genuinely want to get in touch with them.  If they need my help, I am more than happy to lend a pair of helping hands if I can.  And I don’t hesitate to ask for help if I need one.  Most people prefer not to bother others.  To me, it is give and take.  You give others the opportunity to help you hoping that one day, others will ask the same from you.

Unless you don’t want the latter case to happen.  

When you step out of your job for good, it is good to know that you have support out there and you are not alone.  Don’t you think?

3. How Long Can You Hold?

When time is good, it is easy not to think about affordability on your spendings.  Different people have different philosophy in life when it comes to managing personal finance.  I respect that.  I am a simple person.  My main objective in terms of personal finance is to keep the loan commitment low.  In fact, I often joke with Cynthia that she manages assets while I manage liabilities.  I enjoy reducing the principle sum of my mortgage whenever I have a lump sum of money.  When I bought my first car, I took minimum amount of loan.  When I bought my second car, I paid by cash.  I reckon if I save hard enough, I shall be able to repay the entire mortgage in 3 to 5 years’ time.  By then, I will be debt free.

The question remains: how long can you hold when you stop working right now?  Hence to me – since I am a simple guy – I love to hold cash (and let Cynthia manage investments).  I am not saying that mine is the best strategy for you.  Quite the opposite, I think my friends who are into investment have been doing really well.  But since I suck at that, I prefer to save hard and know that if I am, touch wood, to live without my monthly pay check, I can vegetate for a couple of years while looking for something else to earn a living.

Do you know your average monthly expenses?  Good.  Now, do you know your average monthly expenses should you trim down your lifestyle if the worst is to come?  Divide your total cash savings with that and that is the number of months you can last without the constant flow of pay checks.  Every dollar you now save will lengthen that period that you can afford to take a career break.  Think about that.  Once you build a comfortable buffer, taking a long career break is no longer such a scary concept, is it?

Axe?  So what?  What’s there to be fear of?

4. What’s the Worst That Can Happen?  (What’s Next?)

At times I don’t know which is a better situation.  Struggle to survive in an environment that is collapsing with people around you losing their jobs or to head out and look for better opportunities out there.  Imagine you are one of the penguins out there trying so hard to hunt for fish that is diminishing by day due to overfishing, global warming.  Should you starve with your mates and hope that you will outlast them?  Or shall you go somewhere else like a Singapore Zoo and get fed every day?

I saw the axe coming before and looking back, I agree with the butcher.  That was the best day of my life.  What’s next turns out to be way better than where I was.  In fact, it is good to give ourselves time to self-reflect, to re-evaluate our key strengths, and to look for an environment that we can perform well.  Both external and internal environments change all the time.  That is an universal rule.  Go ride with that.

5. The Ingredients for Longevity

Thank you for reading such a long post and I hope your career is as wonderful as it can be within the boundary of work life balance that you define.  If I could leave you with one last thing to ponder, you can only work well and live well with a health body, mind, and soul.  I have a glass of orange juice each morning, stay out of excess stress, and I rarely visit the doctor or take medical leave for quite a number of years.  I am blessed to have great friends and lovely family.  And I believe in doing the right things in work and life will get me far.

In Summary

You too can stay happy during recession by getting prepared.  You may not become instantly happy today after reading this post but I am confident that in time to come, you will.  Life is really not only about work, is it?  A lovely quote to share.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

PS. Picture taken at East Coast Park using my Nokia N95 phone.

Nokia Remix: Singapore – Pictures from Lifehouse Concert and the Upcoming Nokia 5800 XpressMusic

Will the new Nokia touch screen phone that comes with one year unlimited music download and more redefine what a phone can be?  I was holding one last Friday and I was thrilled by its potential.  And there is no event like a Nokia event.  Lifehouse was in the house, together with the local bands and my favorite radio DJs “The Muttons” too.  I took a picture with them.  It’s priceless.

I couldn’t attend the press conference during the day due to work commitment.  But the Nokia team was kind enough to give me a 1-hour personal demonstration on the upcoming Nokia 5800 XpressMusic.  Again, I tried to distract them and see if I could slip one into my pocket.  Again, I failed like the last time.

Come With Music

When it comes down to functionalities and user-friendliness, Nokia is king.  No doubt about it.  What the world has been silently waiting for is Nokia’s answer to Apple’s iPhone and its clones.  I certainly do.  While Apple threatened to shutdown iTunes early this month due to royalties dispute (current model is 61-29-9 cents split between the record industry, iTunes, and artists respectively), Nokia has worked out a deal with four major labels – EMI, Universal, Sony, and Warner – and more to give Nokia users one year unlimited access to the entire Nokia Music Store catalogue across a range of devices.  Is this new service “Come With Music” too good to be true?  Looking at how Nokia gives away free maps to the users, I am pretty sure that the only catch is “go buy a Nokia phone”.  Allowing users to unlimitedly and legally download music is as close to the Internet user behavior as it can get.  I am holding my breath on what the cost structure may be.

Touch, Play, Share

The new phone is a beauty.  If you are familiar with the XpressMusic series, the design of 5800 is a big leap ahead.  Weighted less than an iPhone, Nokia 5800 XpressMusic comes with a touch screen that supports wide-screen format and has an impressive resolution – best in its class.  I checked out a video clip played and the color is stunningly vibrant.  Another surprise is the quality of the internal speakers.  The music played out loud, really loud, and the sound is crisp clear.  These features alone are enough to put my beloved N95 to shame.  Can you visualize how badly I would drool to play the Ayumi music videos on this?

Unable to resist poking at this new baby, I am delighted that everything is literally at my fingertips including being able to put 4 of my top hot looking female contacts (with profile picture) onto the home-screen.  Maybe a bit too convenience.  Imagine one day Cynthia gets hold of my new 5800 while I was away and is able to track down my past communication and their respective blog updates with just a touch onto their profile pictures?!  Disastrous.

To be honest, I was skeptic on how this new touch screen phone handles my obsessive love in sending short messages, jotting down new blogging ideas, and drafting blog entries anytime, anywhere.  I asked for a demonstration and the enthusiastic product manager casually rotated the phone and the screen switched to landscape mode automatically.  Nice!  He then brought up the virtual QWERTY keyboard and I was like: though my fingers are not that fat, no way I can type a message with that!  Like a magician, he pulled out a stylus from nowhere (actually from behind the phone) and started typing.  Not bad.  Being a difficult consumer, I complained that QWERTY is not my cup of tea.

No problem at all, he said.  He then switched to a handwriting recognition mode that if you are from the Palm era, you would probably leap in joy (not to forget to mention the copy-and-paste function this new baby has).  Not bad.  But I am the type of guy who loves the old way of doing things.  The product manager did something to the phone and all of a sudden, I saw a life-size virtual alphanumeric keypad!  I pressed onto the virtual buttons and the phone vibrated in response.  Neat!  Lastly, for the musicians, the phone comes with a plectrum (see picture above … in my language, I call it a guitar pick) as an alternative to interact with the touch screen.  I know.  Who would have thought?

Final Thought

This entry is more like a preview than a review due to my limited time with the new Nokia 5800 XpressMusic.  There are tons of other cool functionalities I am running out of space to write including the synchronization to the social networking sites such as Ovi by Nokia, Facebook, YouTube, and etc.  I would like to leave you with this final thought.  Towards the end of “Sex and the City” movie, Carrie wanted to call her missing groom and she asked for a phone.  Someone passed her a touch screen phone (that looked like an iPhone).  Her immediate response was like: don’t give me that, give me something I can use.  I can relate to her.  And I don’t think I will have a problem with this new Nokia phone.  It is that easy.

Below are some of the pictures I have taken during the Nokia Remix: Singapore event with Lifehouse in the house with my point-and-shoot camera.  Enjoy!

PS. A big thanks to the Nokia team and the TEXT100 team!