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My own domain: a gift to myself May 3, 2009

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I have, for a long time, wanted to claim my own domain name and have my blog hosted on there.  However, seeing as there aren’t really many people out there who would ever want to take my name from me, it didn’t feel justified to do so.  I became more and more interested lately, as I found that my dedication to my blog has not wavered and I got more involved in the online community.  Then I came across green hosting websites and that sealed the deal for me.  Cheap webhosting from energy efficient servers?  I’m in!  I chose Super Green Hosting for its great deal (it certainly helped that they were listed first on the list that I was reading and their website looks the nicest to me) and decided I’d wait until this month to sign up.

Why now?  I don’t really know.  And why do I need a website of my own?  Maybe I don’t.  In trying to justify this to anyone who doesn’t understand, I probably won’t come up with any answers.  All I know is that this is one of my deep heart desires.  One of those things that nags at you again and again, reminding you that you should do it.  There may not be a logical reason as to why I should get a website.  It’s not like I’m someone famous and well-followed or I’m trying to make money from the internet.  No, what I will say (and really the only thing I can say) is that it feels right, it makes me happy, and I’ll be darned if I don’t do that for myself at a mere $3.95 a month.  It’s a bit of peace of mind too, in knowing that this domain will belong to me and always be mine, whatever I may choose to do with it.  And hopefully one day I will be someone that people want to find and follow, so they will look for my domain.

Well, May 1st came along, the day I promised myself I would do this, and I spent the day out.  When I got back, I set out to order the service and begin building my new website.  Due to some snags, I wasn’t able to complete the order (and being out of the country only complicates things), so I had to wait.  After calling, “live chatting,” and e-mailing, I finally got too frustrated and needed a break from the process.  I spent all of today away from my e-mail and when I decided to check it, I found an e-mail confirming my order!  Apparently they’d been working as I put it aside, so everything was ready for me now.  I happily began the lengthy process to get used to their system, learn more about what having my own space means, and figuring out how to put a nice pretty blog there for people to find.

My CSS skills are sorely lacking, so much of my editing is done on a trial and error basis.  I was able to make all the edits I wanted except for one crucial one: allowing the header image to be bigger.  So, though I was able to lengthen the height and width of the area where the header is, the image just would not stretch to fit, no matter what I did.  Some of the tiling was quite visible on two of the sides, so I had to forfeit that idea and stick with a narrow look until I can find out how to fix that problem.  It certainly isn’t the image I’m using, since I cropped it to fit the dimensions I wanted.  There are also a couple of other issues that I am having with coding, so it has taken me a much longer time than usual to set this up.  I got spoiled with Weebly’s drag and drop method that required no technical skills of me.  Nonetheless, I am happy to have this now and I’m going to eventually look into having a professional help me out with a layout that I like.

So in the mean time, please excuse any and all errors that you find at maryqin.com.  It is still very much under construction.  Once that’s set up though, I anticipate only blogging through there, so do bookmark it and look for futher updates!  🙂

Swimmer’s high May 2, 2009

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I finally made it to the pool again after months on inactivity.  Though it felt awkward to try to work out in a bikini (pity I didn’t bring my competition gear with me), I managed to still get some decent exercise in.  I’m so used to the comfort of a one-piece suit, cap, and goggles that I didn’t exactly know what to do with myself without.  I figured I could just tread water and do some endurance exercises that way, so I started off just doing a casual freestyle kick, keeping my chin just above the water.  After awhile, that got boring, so I curled up my knees and tread with just my hands.  From there, I did variations of strokes, from a breaststroke with my head above the water to doing some freestyle kick drills on my sides.  Every time I get in the water I’m tempted to do the butterfly, which is my favorite stroke, but alas, in a suit like mine today, I was in great danger of losing my top half that way.  So instead, I satisfied myself with some simple exercises that may not raise my heart rate a great deal, but certainly required a certain amount of strength and endurance.

By the time I got out, I felt great.  My face was flushed and my heart rate had increased.  That’s one of my favorite parts of working out – getting to that flushed stage where you know you’ve pushed your body beyond its normal resting state.  I felt so at peace that I began to wonder if there’s such a thing as a swimmer’s high.  It seems pretty commonly recognized that there’s a runner’s high, but does the same go for swimming?  I have not been able to find anything online to back me up, but there’s a certain feeling that I get when I’m doing the fly and everything is in sync.  You get into a rhythm and inertia kicks in.  It’s almost harder to stop that flow of action than to continue on with it.  Unfortunately, the pool can only be so long and that stroke tends to be very taxing on the body, so at some point gravity’s influence becomes more apparent and it slows things down.  But for those couple of beautiful seconds, everything just feels so right.

If there was such a thing as a swimmer’s high, it could only really be achieved in freestyle (at least that’s how I feel).  Fly is too demanding, breast is too technical, and backstroke is too disruptive.  I’m not saying it’s not possible, but from what I understand, it should last quite a long time and for any of the other strokes, it’d be more difficult to accomplish.  To start off with, people tend to swim proper strokes in a pool, which of course requires flip-turns every couple of seconds.  That in itself, though integrated into the process, can be disruptive.  Runners can get themselves to move to a beat and maintain that for virtually as long as they want.  Swimmers must pause their rhythm to add in the occasional glide, flip, push-off, kick-off, and resurfacing.  In open water swimming, this phenomenon might be easier.  At least for freestyle, the stroke motion going into a flip-turn is similar to what you are already doing.  Maybe it’s just the way I swim, but I think it’d be easiest to get into a groove with freestyle.

I miss the lull of the water, the smell of the chlorine, and the whole atmosphere surrounding training and competition.  From wearing swim parkas and Uggs around the pool to helping be the counter for those swimming the 500 free, I really enjoyed being on swim teams.  I liked how it felt to have the water rushing by me and bubbles flowing around.  I loved playing with Sammies (those super absorbant towels) and the beauty of a perfectly executed backstroke start.  I enjoyed practicing my dives and finishes, especially when there was a touchpad present!  I liked how professional I felt when I wore a drag suit for added resistance in training.  I even had a blast at the swim camps at Mt. Holyoke, where we did dryland circuits until I could barely move, then hopped in the water for more working out.  It was a lifestyle that I will always miss, just like my track and field days and my military training days.

Back when I was a sophomore in high school, I got invited to go to Australia with other swimmers from around the country, to compete against some of the swimmers down under.  This was with the International Sports Specialists, Inc. who run Down Under Sports.  It was an awesome time, from the places that we went (Sydney, Gold Coast, and then Waikiki Beach in Hawaii) and the people we met (these guys who were there playing soccer took us around).  I don’t remember much of the meet, except that Aussies are freaking fast and we couldn’t beat them, but we had a great time and it was a great bonding experience.  I used to have a t-shirt with all the people from the New York team on it, but I lost it long ago.  I also managed to misplace the sweatshirt I bought from them, as well as the Bond University one that we girls decided to get when we went there for a visit.  It’s a pity – those were great memories of an unparalleled two weeks.

I have always had a pleasant experience with the water, from my childhood splashing around in pools to middle school when I first learned the four strokes to high school where I helped start the swim team at Brewster High School and finally when I competed on the varsity team at Valencia High School.  Though I got a late start, learning stroke techniques when I was thirteen, I wasn’t too far behind and always managed to be good enough for varsity level, even if I wasn’t a star in that realm.  Nowadays, without a team to practice with and keep me motivated, it’s hard to complete a workout like I used to.  Once I settle down somewhere, I’d like to make sure I visit the pool frequently, even if I don’t do a real workout.  Perhaps one day I can join a club or something, just to get back into it.  For now it will just be my therapeutic experience; something I can always count on to make me feel better.

Retreating to nature May 1, 2009

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I spent the day off exploring the Singapore Botanic Gardens, getting a chance to escape from the city for a few hours.  When I first entered, it looked like a public park of sorts, with fields dotted with trees and an asphalt path for people to walk, run, or rollerblade along.  Following the path deeper into the grounds took me to Swan Lake, where there were a couple of swans swimming around languidly.  A few were being fed various bread and cracker type substances, surrounded by hungry koi and curious turtles.  It was the cutest thing I’ve seen – three different species all swimming around each other peacefully.  I made my way around the entire pond before continuing along the path.  On the side with the grassy knoll and speckling of trees, dozens of families and friends were having picnics and otherwise enjoying the pleasant day.


Turtle in the top left area, fish in the bottom area, and the swan you can’t miss.


That fish was not shy.

I followed the signs to the Ginger Garden, where there was this cool waterfall with a little cave area behind that people could pass through.  I saw a family taking pictures of themselves behind the waterfall and wanted to do the same, but alas, I didn’t want to elicit outside help.  I also imaged taking a fun jumping shot in front of it, but that’s something I’d do if I was with a friend.  Not everyone can get the timing right and I don’t know how strangers would feel about trying to capture such a shot.  So, in my mind’s eye I took a note of how I would do things if only I had Panda with me and moseyed along.  I then reached the National Orchid Garden, where I got myself a ticket to enter.  I spent the next hour wandering up and down, in an out of their paths.  I don’t know how many species of orchids I saw, but some were curious-looking, some were gorgeous, some had strange patterns, some were plain, some were large, some were small, and all were cool to look at.

Some of the interesting things I saw…


Above is the Margaret Thatcher, I believe.


And so many more!  Look out for a photo album on Facebook.
 

I took countless photos and rediscovered some things that I want – Venus flytraps (though I couldn’t find any, there were plenty of pitcher plants that reminded me of my desire for a certain carnivorous plant!), tadpoles (I had one once, but dropped it and when I went to pick it up I squished it 😦 – oops), and a water fountain (there was this cool one that looked like a cluster of plants).  On my way out, I wandered around the gift shop, contemplating things I might want to buy and ended up deciding to just get these small little rings.  I can’t figure out what material they are made from, but a lot of Chinese bracelets resemble this.  These, of course, are merely cheap imitations.  I have a bracelet that’s legit though and it’s quite cool – it’s made of some sort of stone and metal.


If only I could find some Venus flytraps too!


I was sooo tempted to try to bring some with me.  😦


Plant?  Nope, water fountain!

And finally, the rings.

From there, is was then power walking for the next two hours, going through the patch of rainforest, Evolution Garden, Eco Garden, checking out Au Jardin (a French restaurant, as it turned out), and heading back to the waaay other end of gardens to exit again.  I got a bit disoriented a few times and made a few detours to some of the other attractions on my way back, including a gazebo, some desert plants, and lily ponds.  It was around 8 PM by then and I was ravenous, so all I could think about was getting to food.  I quickly made my escape and hopped on a bus to Orchard Road, but I tried to find this Din Tai Fung that I could see in my mind’s eye, but for the life of me couldn’t find in real life.  The front desk at Takashimaya shopping center was useless, so I wandered around, through a fashion show and a drummer circle.  Eventually I ended up at the bus stop that would take me back, so I got on and stopped along the way at Holland Village to have dinner at the Crystal Jade there.

What a day out!  I was drained from all the brisk walking, but it was so nice to see so much greenery, so many beautiful flowers, and so many creatures!  I really do love to retreat to nature whenever I can.  It clears my mind and calms me down.

Feline adoration April 30, 2009

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I have, as long as I can remember, always loved cats.  I like animals of all sorts, but felines are certainly my favorite out of the bunch.  Perhaps it’s because much of my behavior is like theirs, so I feel a connection.  Last night I ran into a plump kitty lounging around outside on my walk home.  Being the first time that I had come across a cat and I wasn’t headed anywhere or with anyone, I decided to stop to pet it.  I couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl, but it certainly enjoyed my stroking and scratching.  I was reaching out pretty far, so I tried to shift to move closer, but that scared it a few feet away.  I considered trying to approach it again, but it takes some time for cats to trust you, so I decided that was enough for the night and headed back.  As I made my way back to Marylin’s, I thought of my beloved cats and how sad I am to not have them anymore.

The first cat I ever had got some sort of disease and had up to 90% of her lungs filling up with fluid before we found out and put her down.  That was the first time my dad and I cried together.  Actually, that’s the only time I can remember.  The second one we got had the longest life of them all and got sick recently, dying just on or past Christmas day 2008.  He was in China and my parents and I were in Cancun for the break.  I wish he could have held out for my dad to get back to him.  Then the third one we had just disappeared one day almost six years ago.  My mom is convinced that the coyotes or owls in the neighborhood caught him.  He was always a rambunctious one, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he ventured too far.  We’ll never really know what happened to him, but I can always hope that someone took him in and he’s happily squeezing himself into their sinks for his naps now.


This is Jerriey, our second kitty, curled up on my favorite blanket.

Lately cats have been on my mind a lot because one of Panda and my friends got herself a little kitten that was found on site for a Habitat for Humanity project.  That reminded me of the three other times I have come across cats that I really wanted to adopt.  First was a little black kitten we found at a club in the Echo Park area.  It was my first day on site for the filming of Wristcutters: A Love Story and this little guy was found hanging out in the back area where the crew hung out as we waited through shots.  I named her Echo (I think the club was named that too) and gave her a lot of attention.  In fact, I even managed to convince the club owner to adopt her, since I couldn’t.  Next was a pair of kittens, brought to us on Wilshire Boulevard.  Katana and I were just walking along in Westwood when this kid comes running up to us and asks if we’d like to adopt kittens.  We looked at each other with those yearning eyes.  In our hearts, we really wanted to.  In our minds, we knew we couldn’t.  So, we only glimpsed the kittens he held in his hands, swaddled in his clothing before we sadly had to say no.  We watched as he ran down Westwood Boulevard and talked about how we could make it work.  Then, in the spur of a moment, we decided to go with our hearts and take them.  We went after the boy, but didn’t know where he had gone.  I looked to my left and noticed a pet store, so we went in.  The boy had just handed over the pair and when we tried to take them now, the store owner said she’d have to take them in for various shots and clean them up before we could come back to adopt them.  Sigh.  In the weeks after, we thought long and hard about how we could do this, even thinking we’d name them Boba and Udon (one was black and one was grey).  Unfortunately, practicality won out in the end and we never did go back for them.  Finally, the third came when I was volunteering at a cat home.  A tiny grey kitten was confined in a box with a plastic facing so we could see.  She was held there because she was still being treated after being rescued from Hurricane Katrina and, consequently she was named Katrina.  I loved that little cat from the seconds we got to spend with her before turning our attention to the cats we could interact with.  Just the way she cocked her head when she looked at us was adorable enough for me to want her.  Unfortunately, I was still in school at the time and my dad had left the country, so it was just my mom taking care of the one cat we still had.  But I wanted a kitten to raise myself.

This is a dream I’ve held for years and years, ever since I got to carry little Jerriey home from the shelter, so cute and loveable.  He spent the whole time purring, which is what won me over.  I have mentioned this desire many a time and though he started off first not comfortable with the idea, he is now more open to it.  Granted, we had to have a whole hullabaloo of a… discussion over it, but he’s willing to consider it at least.  To me, having a cat is almost more important than having kids.  Not only are they nice to cuddle up with, their purring is good for your health.  They are very independent and don’t require much attention or care, which is how I live my life.  They train very easily, from going to use the litter box when nature calls to coming to eat dinner with the banging out a plate.  I also like to crawl into small spaces and squeeze myself into strange positions to sleep.  And come on, there’s a reason we call it the "catwalk" – they’re beautiful and graceful creatures!  Cats are highly misunderstood animals.  People take their independence for aloofness, much as they do with me.  And I think that is why I defend and adore them so much.  I’m misunderstood too.

Well, my dream of owning a cat is still very far off, sadly.  I have to wait until I’m settled enough to keep one with me.  I have to make sure I have the funds to buy all the food, litter, and catsitting services I would need to take care of it.  Thankfully, they love very simple little toys, so just a little catnip and some string or crumpled newspaper can do the trick.  Once I feel like I have the resources and capabilities to finally care for a cat of my own, I hope Panda will be ready to have one too (or maybe more).  He doesn’t even need to do a thing.  I’ll buy everything, scoop the kitty litter, feed them, play with them, and arrange for their care when/if we are away.  All he has to do is let me have one.  For now, he has agreed to catsit our friend’s kitten if she ever needs us to and we will go visit her after I get back.  I hope he likes that experience so he’ll be willing to have one of our own.

Back in high school Katana and I would joke about how we’d grow old and have properties next to each other, each with certain natural formations that we want (like a waterfall for me), and we’d both have houses full of cats.  (This was back when we imagined ourselves as old maids, never having been able to truly settle down.  I guess it could still work with men in our lives, as long as they allowed all the cats.)  At night, we’d both go out and sit on our rocking chairs on our porches to enjoy the nightfall, either knitting or petting a cat.  We’d have our houses close enough that we could see each other, but our property large enough for ponds and creeks and forests and whatnot.  I think it’d be great if we do end up that way.  Yup, we have all the makings ofbecoming crazy cat ladies.

Sheer exhaustion April 29, 2009

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This is the first time that I did not post my entry prior to going to bed, since I began posting every day.  I like to get it out of the way earlier in the wee hours of the day so when I get busy/distracted later on, I won’t have to worry and I would still have the entire rest of the day to do it.  However, yesterday when I got back last night, a wave of exhaustion just took over me and I curled up on the bed with my body pillow.  It was so warm and cozy and Panda was taking a nap on his end, so I just drifted off.  The next thing I knew, I was waking up to find my computer turned off.  Disoriented, I deliriously turned my computer back on to find Panda again, but fell asleep again soon after.  I can’t recall if I ever did sign back on again or what happened from there, but I didn’t wake up again until the morning, as a storm was rolling in.

I’m not sure why I was so tired – perhaps it’s a combination of lack of sleep, long days, and not enough nutrition.  I don’t feel like I have been overworked or underfed though, so I really don’t know.  In fact, there are times where I am doing background reading and research that feels like my typical internet activity.  It has made me want to get more into social media or business psychology consulting, since I love to read article upon article about those topics.  So that’s all well and good, but I guess sometimes everything in your life just catches up with you and your body shuts down.  I think all the things that were bearing down on me just caught up with me.  I’ve been getting a lot of intense piercing pains and headaches this past month; I’ve never suffered through this kind of cranial pain before.  It’s not quite a migraine – the symptoms for that are far more intense – but it’s definitely not a pleasant experience.  I don’t know why I get them or what I can do about them (I’m not one to take painkillers unless I’m desperate, which happens like once every few months).

Emotionally I have been rather drained as of late.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to recover from being away from Panda.  I don’t miss him any less now than I did before.  I spend a lot of time wanting to go back just to see him, but at the same time I really value my time and experience here.  Still, it’s hard to get up and go out on the weekends when I can stay online and talk to him.  I don’t know why it’s so hard for me.  It also hasn’t been easy to find my own way here.  I’ve been trying to do more things on my own, which is good, but I’m doing it all alone.  There isn’t really anyone for me to hang out with or spend time with.  Not that I dislike anyone here, but I’m used to a lot of different social groups, all with different interests and preferences for activities.

And of course, there’s always the feeling that I don’t have a home to go to and crash at.  There is no space here that is exclusively mine, which is something I’m not used to.  It’s the exact opposite of how I grew up – with rooms to myself for most of the day and often the whole house to myself as my parents traveled around.  Even in college, when I shared my room with another girl, half of that room was mine.  I could do whatever I wanted and often had time alone in the room.  Plus, I could always go home home on the weekends.  So maybe it’s just caged bird syndrome that’s got me down.  It seems that I need to stop viewing myself so much as an outsider and guest here.  It’s hard to break away from that though, since most people I speak to outside of the office don’t seem to be able to understand me.  I feel so out of place when I’m not in the office or just alone and it’s a bit disheartening.

Marylin and I talked recently about how I don’t really interact with her parents, which is mostly why I still feel like a guest here.  I’m used to holing up in my room all day, doing my own things, so it doesn’t even occur to me to go out to the living room to talk to them, or something along those lines.  I’ve tried to greet them here and there, but I tend to be quiet when I do that and it gets lost in Marylin’s own greeting and consequent chatting with them.  So, I just keep walking and go to the room to give them time together.  After all, they hardly get to see each other, much less talk and hang out.  But it seems that my policy of "stay out of their way" is just alienating me and making them… not quite uncomfortable, but you get the idea.  It doesn’t help that I am hugely awkward with parents (or anyone I view in an authoritative position).  It took me a good 10-12 years to get myself to even be able to look them in the eye.

So, I need to work on putting myself out there more, even if it terrifies me.  I just don’t like to stand there awkwardly and not know what to do or say.  Before I left, my mom told me to offer to help with household chores, but that is taken care of the maid, so the most I do is clear the table after eating.  Starfish advised that I just ask them how their days were and I don’t know if I’m just not seeing opportunities to, but I feel like I haven’t really had a chance to say anything to them.  Either they’re watching TV or they’re not around.  Marylin’s mom will pop in on the weekends to offer me food, but by the time I go out to eat it, she’s retreated to her room or is out already.  There was one time she left it on the bed for me, so I just ate it in the room.  I usually don’t even see her dad around, but for when he’s watching a game or tournament.

And maybe it’s just me, but if I’m watching something, I don’t want to be disturbed.  On the weekends when Marylin’s going through her CSI Supreme Sunday fix, she tends to switch channels during commercials, which is something I never do.  If I’m watching something, I’m focused on it and I don’t want to miss out on any of it.  If it’s streaming live and I can’t pause it, I don’t do anything to disrupt that.  When it comes down to it, I just don’t know how to handle those situations.  When is it appropriate to say something?  What should I say?  How do I know if they’re talking just because they don’t want to be rude or if they actually don’t mind?  Sigh, I hate being awkward with older generations.  I’m not a "bring her home" type of friend.  I can’t even call them by their first names – the first time I called someone other than my peer by their first name was when I was 19.  Why am I so stiff?

Maybe this chronic exhaustion is due to too much processing for my brain.  From the work I’m doing and all that I’m learning to the struggles I’m undergoing, it’s a lot to handle.  I worry a lot because I think and analyze a lot.  I don’t like to share any of my stress though, so I’m hard-pressed to find an outlet.  I don’t like to complain and I don’t like to ask for help.  Meanwhile, Marylin will let out a sigh or talk about her frustrations with some of the work she’s trying to deal with.  Since I’m not used to expressions like that, it stresses me out to hear and see that too, especially when she taps her fingers impatiently.  For some reason, just hearing that speeds up my heart rate and makes me more anxious.  I tend to notice small details like that, which then makes things that aren’t a big deal out to be much bigger than usual.  I am a people-pleaser, but it seems that my approach in keeping to myself is not pleasing at all.  Then there are all the things I miss and want to do when I get back, but I’m trying to make myself focus on being here now and doing new exciting things.  It’s hard to be here and focused when my heart is not with me.  Whoever knew I could be such a homebody?

Gosh, I’ve got a lot to work on.

Needless inefficiencies and a sense of powerlessness April 27, 2009

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A week or two ago, my EZLink card (which is your ticket to public transportation in Singapore) stopped working, for no rhyme or reason.  Thankfully, I had another one that was given to me in my welcome package from the Work Holiday Programme pass I’m here on.  I’ve been using that ever since and a few days ago I decided it was time to take care of the malfunctioning one.  First I went to the service booth, telling the guy that my card wasn’t scanning.  He scanned it, looked at it curiously, scanned his own card, and handed it back to me telling me he couldn’t read it.  I should have known that this was going to set the tone for a frustrating experience.  Obviously he was not paying attention to me, far too used to working like a zombie, just topping cards up for people.

Well, now that I had finally caught his attention, he informed me that only the ticketing office took care of the cards themselves.  Ok, fine.  I headed over to that line and told the lady in the window the same thing.  Apparently this happens rather frequently, judging by the stack of cards they had accumulated already.  I was handed a form and told that I would have to wait three weeks to get a check in the mail.  Wait, what?!  I expected a quick and easy transfer to a new card (or the one that I am using now).  Why waste the time and effort of mailing a check to me?  I don’t even have a bank account to deposit it in!  When I complained of the inefficiencies of it, they just gave me a number to call.  Great.

Well, now I’m at this point where it’s not even worth the money to call them up to wait around to talk to someone who can’t even do anything.  This is my major problem with all organizations that have problems like this.  You can never reach someone who can actually do something about it!  I’ve tried this before and just got led on a wild goosechase of transfers that never actually brought me to anyone in charge enough to be able to set the gears in motion.  Meanwhile, I was difficult to these poor people who have to answer customer service calls, wasting my time and their time while probably putting them in a bad mood.  Part of my desire to be someone with power and influence is really just to be able to actually contact the right person in this scenario, because upsetting me would be very bad for business, so they’d take care of it.  I’d just like to be successful and respected enough to make a difference in these situations.

Apparently this new card (they’re switching systems or something) is too new and they don’t have a way to transfer the existing balance.  I find it irresponsible for them to change if they’re not ready to do such a basic service.  Either you do enough beta testing to be able to make transfers or ensure the cards won’t malfunction!  I did absolutely nothing to tamper with the card, yet I get punished with having to spend my time trying to get a new one (that they were going to make me pay for!) AND waiting for nearly a month before getting my money back.  If time is money, what kind of compensation am I getting for this inconvenience of waiting so long?  They should at least give me a new card with a fresh balance of say, $5 or something simple like that.  Now that would be great customer service.

Instead, I’m left here fuming at them, yet helpless to do anything.  I can’t exactly stop taking public transport around the city and I’m certainly not about to pay the higher fees for individual fares rather than use an EZLink card.  However, I’m not at all pleased with this level of service and I really wish I could call them up and actually have them listen to me.  But more than likely, I will just listen to elevator music for half an hour, get transferred around a few times, and then ultimately end up getting a voicemail from someone who won’t bother to reply.  A lot of our security in life is feeling like we have a certain level of control.  First over ourselves and our lives, but next over the things that happen to us.  In this case, there was absolutely nothing I could have done and nothing I can do to prevent this.  So why do I get the short end of the stick?

I’m sure that soon enough I’ll have forgotten all about this particular situation, but I will be left with a sense of a loss of power from large organizations.  I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I never dreamed of growing my business into a huge corporation.  Perhaps that is because I dislike what large conglomerates are like.  I promise myself I will never let something in my hands get to that point.  I’ll find a way to fix all the problems and make the small voices heard.

PC vs. Mac: the neverending debate April 24, 2009

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Disclaimer:  I have a strong bias towards PCs, so Mac-lovers may not like what I say.

Before I started to work here, Marylin warned me that I was entering Mac territory and would likely have to convert.  Dismayed, I tried to keep an open mind about it, but ultimately did not want to make the switch.  Thankfully, I have been able to use my HP Pavilion with few problems.  The only thing that stands out is my inability to connect to the company network to access shared files.  Other than that, I find that my PC is perfectly fine and usually outperforms those little Macs.  Unfortunately, my colleagues are far too enamored with Macs to appreciate it.  Recently, it seems like a lot more of the differences have become apparent to me.

First, let me go through the three experiences I had lately regarding the two different operating systems.  It started when I was retrieving some information off a website to store in our database for reference.  I thought I should use a Mac because it’s linked to the shared drive, so I could download directly to that.  However, I quickly lost patience using the clumsy mouse pad and decided to get it all done on my PC and then transfer it over via a thumb drive.  I found some articles that were embedded in the site, so they needed to be copy-pasted and then converted to a PDF.  When I did that on the Mac, all formatting was lost and I had to go through to change everything.  After switching over to my PC, I discovered that a quick copy-paste would yield basically ascreenshot of what was on the site, all formatting preserved nearly perfectly.  It was a breeze making the PDFs that way.

The next time I came across an issue was at a meeting, where Macs don’t have the right plug to connect to a projector, so we had to use my computer to present a PowerPoint to the clients.  Macs need this converter thing, which is such a hassle to remember to bring along.  Finally, later that same day I was compiling a list that I wanted to store in a database, where I could tag each item with keywords to cross-reference them according to the various categories they fit under.  I was looking into using Access to accomplish this, which would have been fine and dandy, except Macs can’t read those files.  So now we’ve got to look for a paid program or I’m going to have to painstakingly figure out how to make it work out decently on Excel.

Now my main reasons for preferring PCs have always been:
1. The right click!  So much functionality has been lost from not having that.  I really can’t live without it.  Granted, it seems that Apple has finally caught on are adding that in now.
2. The toolbar is at the top of my open box, no matter where that box is.  Why does it have to be the very top, no matter what program is open and where it is on the screen?  What if my window is open at the bottom right?  Then I have to travel all the way to the opposite corner to get to the "Finder" thing just to use the menu options.
3. Double-clicking that expands to full screen.  I am used to it expanding to full screen, not shrinking!  How do you even expand on a Mac, is it that teeny little green button?d
4. The buttons along the bottom of the screen to show all the programs I have open and one button to press to go to the desktop.  I often forget what is even still open on a Mac, and can someone please tell me if there’s any order to how the little screens appear when you sweep to one of those corners that shows all the open windows?  I don’t like accidentally moving my mouse to a corner and BAM everything disappears, or everything appears when I don’t want it to!
5. The backspace AND delete options.  Backspace removes characters to the left and delete removes characters to the right of the cursor.  Delete on a Mac does what backspace does on a PC.  So what on a Mac does what the delete does on a PC, pray tell?

And for HPs, I love the little remote that I get to allow me to control PowerPoints, movies, my music, or any other form of media from up to 10 feet away.  Then I am no longer tied down to where my laptop is sitting (like when it’s tied to the cable connecting it to the projector), so I am free to walk around as I present something, sit further away to watch a show, or dance around to my music, changing it as I want to hear a new song.

Another thing is that I like my mouse sensitivity set at very high.  I don’t know if it’s just because none of the Mac users I know like to make their mouse move faster, but I don’t have the patience to wait for the mouse to casually make its way across the screen.  In this new age of efficiency, that is just too slow.  I like a very sensitive touchpad.  And can someone explain to me why there’s an "apple" button and a control button?  Everything done with the apple button can pretty much be done with a control on a PC, so what in the world is the control for?  Is it trying to make up for the previously lacking right-click?  Maybe this is just something I’d get with time using it, but it seems superfluous to me.

A friend once told me that Macs are designed to be very childish and simple.  That’s very true.  Sometimes they are so simple it doesn’t make sense.  (Like the Finder example above – it’s very easy to always expect the toolbar in the same spot, no matter what, but it is also inefficient in many cases.)  Everything in their design is about simplicity and plainness.  Just one simple color, no designs.  Just one touch pad, nothing else.  Just a few small slits for USBs and CDs.  Oh, speaking of which, there are hardly enough USB ports!  With a wireless mouse and a thumb drive plugged in, they’re already maxed out!  What if I want to plug in just one more thing?  Now maybe it’s just my computer and not all PCs have three slots, but I’m comparing what I have to what I’ve seen of Macs (the new silver ones with the glass screen).

Even their logo is childish and simple.  For 22 years it was the apple shape we all know, but shaded in rainbow colors.  A very simple design and all those colors is rather reminiscent of crayons.  After it was revamped to be the new version that could be blown up without looking tacky, it’s now no more than a silhouette.  Yes, it looks sleeker, but it is still very basic.  And that is great for them – it costs much less to print just one color, the logo is easily recognizable, and it can readily be duplicated.

What I do like about Macs are the scrolling option if you use two fingers, as well as the expand or shrink option if you move your two fingers further away from or closer to each other.  They also tend to be the quietest, though if I keep my laptop parallel to the ground and off of soft surfaces, it doesn’t complain either.  The new glass screens are quite nice as well, leaving less room for dust to get in cracks and giving a nicely smooth texture.  And I do agree that Macs tend to be better for creative work though, in terms of design and whatnot.

My one gripe about my laptops are that they are dead heavy.  I have that one coming though, since I prefer to get the ones with wide screens and this one also has a reserve battery power that gives me extra oomph.  My shoulders pay the price of that decision, but ultimately I don’t mind.

The sleek designs of Macs are much of what makes them appealing, but a lot of functionality is lost through that.  I guess that’s why they sell/don’t sell.  Some of the population is out for aesthetics over usability.  Most of the population is looking for functionality.  And I am one of those individuals who would not pay exorbitant amounts for looks.  But hey, to each his own, I guess.

The ones who blast their music April 21, 2009

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On the way to work this morning, I had the unfortunate experience of standing next to a guy with his music blasting into his ears.  I don’t know what it is about people out there, but they all seem to need their music played at exorbitant volumes.  It’s completely unnecessary and rather harmful too, yet they either don’t know or don’t care and go on with their deafening habits.  It has long been proven that prolonged exposure to loud noises is damaging to our ears.  Is it just that people have not gotten the memo?  Besides the point that is it deafening, literally, it’s also disruptive and inconsiderate to the people around, most who just want a peaceful start to their day.  For those who are trying to drown out ambient noise, get those noise-canceling headphones or learn how to focus on the sound right by your ears, rather than the ones slipping through!

Perhaps it is because of my background studying psychology, which in turn includes biology and physiology, that creates a bias in my knowledge about this subject.  But surely any lay man who goes from an extremely loud environment to a quiet one can tell that the ringing in their ears is not a good thing.  Note to the wise: ringing ears means auditory damage!  You are killing off nerves in those ears!  Now a bit of exposure here and there is hardly noticeable, but when you’re subjecting yourself to that for hours each week, it will result in permanent damage that cannot be reversed.  So are these people just looking to incapacitate themselves this way?  This will always be a mystery to me.  Do people think they’re somehow "cool" by doing this?  Maybe it’s just me, but I find it an annoying and rude behavior.

Listening to music loudly is often used as a means to ignore the rest of the world.  After all, if your eyes are averted and your ears are plugged, how do we get your attention?  This is a phenomenon you’ll find common on college campuses are students bustle around campus, rushing to get places.  The main thoroughfare through UCLA, Bruinwalk, is abound with students ignoring each other and the people frantically trying to give them fliers as they pass by.  It’s notorious amongst all students that earphones in means everyone out.  Sure, sometimes you need to focus on yourself and where you’re headed or what you need to do, but really, do you need to act like you’re the only one left on the planet?  Playing music at a reasonable level allows you to filter through things that you don’t want to hear, but also catch important ones like someone chasing after you, calling your name.  Since when did we become so antisocial?

I have always listened to my music at a level that is just enough to hear, but not enough to drown out what is going on around me.  I like to be aware of my surroundings and if I can’t hear the sirens approaching that I should give way to or the people behind me who are excusing themselves while trying to dodge me to get off the train, I’m far more likely to be a nuisance and get in the way.  So what do you say?  How about turning down the volume a little and not shutting yourself off in your own world, oblivious to your surroundings.  We as humans are not meant to function that way.  That is why we are social and why we form societies.  So, next time you have the urge to blast your music at the max volume, turn it down halfway and allow yourself time to enjoy the world you’re in.

Productive day April 17, 2009

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I feel quite good about today overall, since it has been a long and busy day.  Though it started off a bit slow, with Marylin and I running half an hour behind schedule, it was still an efficient day.  A lot of things happened, starting with the mysteriously loud bangs we were hearing – turns out it was the water jug delivery guys.  We got our new stash of water to guzzle (which we do at a very high pace), then received two samples of pillows and blankets from a company in China (for Napper’s other business), and the model ship we have been waiting for!  The ship was made by prison inmates and donated to the Yellow Ribbon Project as a way to promote giving prisoners a second chance.  When Zen saw it, he was very keen to buy it and was actually able to!  I always love mail (and packages especially), so it was rather exciting to keep getting deliveries to the door.

On an individual level, I sent out some follow-up e-mails to people I met at the SHRI Congress.  Some of them took me awhile to craft, since I wanted to make just the right impression and give just the right message.  I feel quite good about what I ended up sending, so we will see how the replies are.  I also spent a lot of time doing some random market research and got a chance to chat with Lorry and share my opinion on something he was working on.  It was a nice bonding bit, getting to spend some time brainstorming and discussing ideas.  I got a chance to step out for lunch, which has been more occurring more rarely these days, so that was nice.  Soon after, I got a call from an old friend  back from Perth for the week and made dinner plans.  I then continued working, taking some small breaks here and there and had another fruitful sharing session with Lorry, which made me late heading out of the office to go to dinner.  Though Orchard Road is not far from our office, it still took me a good 20-25 minutes to get there!  At least the trains weren’t packed.  I guess people go home way earlier than 7:30 on a Friday.  Thank goodness!  Those 6 o’clock crowds are killer.

I spent many hours over dinner catching up with my friend and then we met up with a good friend of hers.  A lot of interesting topics were discussed and it was very nice to spend some time out for myself, chilling and talking over dinner and drinks.  There was a lot of ground to cover, after three years of not seeing each other, then mixing in a new person.  It was quite nice to see her because 1. we didn’t expect to see each other again for years, if at all; 2. Singapore was the last place we thought we’d meet up (it was supposed to be LA); and 3. I had no idea she was coming back so soon until just a few days ago.  This was rather unexpected and a great refresher of my second year of uni.  Ah, the good old days…  Life has changed so much since then!  The college lifestyle is so special.  Pity it can’t be retained as we move on into the workforce.

As I was leaving, I checked with Marylin to make sure she was still awake to let me in.  Turns out she and Zen were still out, hanging out with some of his friends from the Navy.  Thus, I was dropped off at Clarke Quay and made my way to a rooftop bar.  I met four other guys there and we sat around having a grand old time.  It was a nicely breezy night up there, so it was quite comfortable.  I munched on some ice to help clear my throat from the smoke I had been close to at the bar I came from and eventually we headed off to get some "supper."  What do you actually call a meal that you have at 3 in the morning?  Over dinner, we continued to crack jokes offhandedly and have a grand old time eating porridge.  I avoided the frog meat and got myself a bowl with some chicken shreds in it.

We were out until nearly 4 in the morning!  If tomorrow wasn’t a Saturday, I don’t think I could make it.

Breaking the ice April 15, 2009

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I spent the last two days manning a table at the SHRI HR Congress to promote Right Impact Training, the training and education part of Caelan & Sage.  At first, Marylin handled the people who came to our booth as I listened to what she said, how she said it, what she was asked, and how she responded.  Soon enough, I was at it on my own, engaging people who came by to check us out or stood looking at us curiously.  This was reminiscent of my training day for Natural Selection Promotions, where I met with one of the demo-ers and she showed me the ropes.  As I observed how she did it, I began to lure more customers over to try the product and after a bit, I was quite well-versed in why it was a great thing to eat.  So, as I do, I sat back and watched until I was ready to try it out on my own.  For the most part it went decently, with just a few people who were less than receptive and left without leaving any contact info.  Occasionally, I’d get a question that I didn’t really know, so Marylin would jump in and provide more details.

I have found that I can be quite comfortable working off a table, where anyone who comes by and looks at us long enough should know that they are just asking to be talked to.  They are the ones who make themselves available and open to some pitching, so they tend to be interested inhearing more.  However, one thing I wanted to work on was going out into the crowd of delegates and striking up a conversation that would lead to another networking opportunity.  Unfortunately, this is definitely one of my weaknesses, unless I am in a high-energy environment like a camp or organized icebreaker activity.  Since this was very much professional and all about business, I didn’t know how to approach the people as they were munching on food or sipping on drinks.  My innate shyness always finds a way to kick my butt at these gatherings.  When I was a child, I was so quiet and reserved with strangers that I couldn’t even look them in the eye and I would flush a bright red in the stress.  Since then, I’ve improved a lot, but in situations that I am uncomfortable in, I tend to revert back to some of those old ways.

Now it’s not so much a problem of approaching strangers, but it’s more of what context I am doing it in.  I went around to all the exhibitors located in the other room and was perfectly happy with going up to each of them, chatting them up on who they are and what they do, then in turn sharing who I am and what C&S is all about.  Based on that information, many a business card were exchanged, with promises of e-mail correspondence to come.  There were some possible collaborations and a few potential clients, which was very promising.  That was much easier for me because everyone knew that the people at those tables were there to spread the word on their company, so we had a pretense to start with.  Then, upon telling me their story, they were curious about mine (I think especially with my American accent), which opened up a chance for me to share with them without imposing on them.  Everything seemed unpretentious and we built up a good rapport that way.

My difficulty with approaching the delegates at the congress was due to the fact that every time they were in our area, they were getting a meal to eat or having a tea break.  So to start off with, they are more in the relaxing type of mentality.  Granted, they realize that these types of professional conferences are a breeding ground for making new connections, but I feel intrusive walking up to them with an agenda.  I could try one of our teammates, Napper’s, tactic and just chat them up on how they found the congress so far and whatnot, but that is not quite my selling style.  Marylin has a very aggressive approach and Napper has a very laid-back approach; I am somewhere in between, but closer to Marylin’s style.  Perhaps I need to change my frame of mind and not take this type of event as a sales event, but more as a networking event.  In part my impatience is because I want them to see the intrinsic value of our services right away and look into hiring us or working with us.

The next time I get a chance to go to something like this, or when I go to the next forum or sharing session, I will remind myself that I am just there to meet new people, whether or not they will be useful business contacts.  I have been pressuring myself too much lately, always thinking very critically about how each interaction could turn into an opportunity for us.  I remember I used to love to chat people up for no good reason but to talk to them.  We’ll see if that mentality will improve my fear of approaching strangers…