Puzzle

When travelling with Ming, I am always reminded of how amused I am by his unique take on life. After years of being together, he still fascinates me. He’s so unabashedly himself. And it’s something I’m not fully accustomed to being yet.

Isn’t it strange, that a person doesn’t know how to be herself? Is it normal that after so many years on earth, I’m sometimes still unable to read other people’s expressions or understand certain social cues?

Perhaps one of the reasons my fiction focuses so much on human relationships and the language of bodies is because writing is my way of learning more about them.

Someone stiffening up could be a sign of discomfort. Toes curling could mean pleasure. A sigh holds a hundred different words.

There’s a complexity to humans that fascinates me.

We have complex fears and needs and desires. And those stem from our upbringing, our failures, our experiences.

We are elaborate hardware walking around – breathing, breeding, living – run by complicated software.

We have innumerable algorithms running through our systems, with too many if/else statements, within if/else statements to count.

In spite of my confusion at times, this complexity amazes me. It’s like a glorious puzzle with no solution, a never ending mystery to solve.

Dependent

Ming says that I’m addicted to caffeine and I denied it for the longest time. I just like coffee, I say to him. Not mentioning that I’ll drink even the shittiest brew just to have some.

But a couple of days back, I didn’t have my usual cup of coffee (any kind) in the morning. And by 2pm, my eyes were closing. At 5-ish, I fell asleep on the train without meaning to.

It’s scary how we become dependent on things without realising it. And then deny that dependency, perhaps because we aren’t self-aware enough or are simply in denial.

The ability that humans have to lie to themselves is fascinating to me.

Our heads and hearts belong to us. Shouldn’t we know what’s going on in there? And the fact that we don’t always know, that we have the ability to hide things from ourselves, is simultaneously fascinating and frightening.

Do we miss out on opportunities because we didn’t realise we wanted them? Is this why we only recognise how important something is to us after it’s gone?

Is this how our reflection in the mirror gets away with saying “you’re so fat” even though the scales say otherwise?

Holiday

“Are you on holiday?” a friend asks via Whatsapp.

“Yes,” I say, “But you know me.”

And she does know. Even while I’m on holiday, I am always on the lookout for opportunities.

Although I may not have planned to source for products or materials, there’s always the magic of serendipity. Like stumbling on the wholesale leather and fur street, or somehow staying near the jewellery industries area.

For me, being on holiday doesn’t mean complete disengagement from work. Because when you love what you do, why would you feel the need to disengage?

But holidays mean a chance to recharge, an avenue to explore and gain new insights. It’s a way to increase creativity, to let my mind wander as it pleases. And to bring all of my learnings and ideas back into my work.

It also doesn’t mean I stop writing. New places and experiences mean new story ideas – fiction or otherwise.

And it doesn’t mean I stop reading. In fact, being on holiday gives me even more opportunities to catch up on my reading.

Burnout is a real thing, even when you love what you do. But one way to combat that inevitable is to stay curious, keep playing and take holidays!

Circle

In the last half year, I’ve been working towards better curation of the people in my life. Some people say that “you are the average of the five people around you”. I suppose it’s a way of saying that “birds of a feather flock together”.

In the last couple of years, I spent a lot of time with people who just wanted to make a quick buck, several who believed in working 20-hour days. I began to think that that was the only way to be a business person. And I became more and more disengaged from myself.

According to Gary Vaynerchuk, “how you make your money is more important than how much you make”.

I’ve always thought so. And yet, had often found myself swayed by peer pressure. I gave in to things I didn’t believe in and on the inside, my soul was slowly wasting away.

That circle is gone now and I find myself slowly starting over. I’ve been fortunate to find people who believe in social causes and want to run businesses that create real impact.

But I’m greedy.

I want to meet more people who believe in personal development and financial savviness and social responsibility. I want to befriend more stoics, curious explorers, “lifestyle hackers”.

I want to work with people who want to build something to last, not jump onto another bandwagon trend.

Bartender

Last Monday, I was at the Ultimate Bartender Championship by Monkey Shoulder.

I normally don’t attend competition events because they’re mostly focused on mixology. Although I enjoy that part of it – the experimentation and playing with flavours – it’s not the same as bartending.

The UBC focused on skills that “pay bills”. And I loved it.

Because being a great bartender is more than just about making a good drink. It’s about creating an overall experience for your guest, even if they order just a gin & tonic or a whisky highball. Or beer, for that matter.

It’s about knowing your craft well enough to know how long it takes to pour a shot. Its about knowing how to make a great drink with a cost-efficient recipe. It’s about service.

Anyone can make a good drink once. But bartenders have to be able to make good drinks over and over and over again, sometimes within time frames that don’t seem possible.

A great bartender knows how to make a guest feel like they’re the most important person in the room, even on a busy night.

Being a bartender is not as easy as it looks.

I’ve been on both sides now. And while learning to be a proper bartender, I’ve also learned how to be a better guest.

Proud

I don’t know if it’s because I’m a tourist in this country but it seems like national pride is really a thing in South Korea.

Today, we went on a free walking tour along the Cheonggyecheon stream. The guide was a retiree who was a First Lieutenant in the army.

Based on my previous experiences of free walking tours, a tip is usually expected. In South Korea, they don’t want a tip. They’re just happy to share the history of their country with visitors.

Even in restaurants, owners will ask where I’m from and whether I like Seoul. “Yes,” I tell them. “Seoul is great!”

And they’ll say thank you as if I’ve paid them a personal compliment.

Just before I left Kuala Lumpur, I was at an event for F&B people and there, we talked about how the industry isn’t growing as fast as it could because we don’t have the right consumers.

We also aren’t telling the right stories.

So much of what I see here has similar equivalents in KL and what makes these places attractions is good copywriting and positioning.

A craft market becomes a “design lab” where people can talk to “the artists”. A market where raw meat is sold becomes a must-visit spot. A hypermarket is on almost every tourist’s to-go list.

Malaysia has some of the best national parks in the world, in terms of biodiversity. We have markets and street food and bars. We have islands that have some of the best diving spots.

And yet, because we’re trying to emulate everyone else, we don’t know how to be proud of ourselves. We don’t know how to tell our own stories.

Travel

I’m still on the fence when it comes to travelling. I don’t know if I would add it to the list of things I enjoy doing.

I suppose holidaying in another country has its perks, like a one-night stand. You’re there, you make the most of the experience and have the freedom to later decide if you want a round two.

It’s something that happens, not something I set out to do. And whenever I’m in a foreign country, I try to enjoy it for what it is, rather than comparing it to somewhere else.

Which is why I don’t fully understand why people compare Japan to South Korea.

“If you go to Japan and then Korea, you won’t enjoy it,” some people told me.

These are usually the same people who can’t see the beauty of China. (And that should have been a sign that they’re not the kind of travellers to listen to.)

I’m not entirely well-travelled, but I’ve been to enough places to know that if you see a place for what it is, no expectations or preconceived notions, there’s something special about it.

And like a fling, you’re just passing through. You can appreciate it the way it is. If you don’t love it, you don’t have to live with it.