Invited speaker at Putra Business School-Uniten Networking Day 4.0

Wow, 2016 has been a milestone year for me!

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Clutching our souvenirs after the talk. I’m thinking, whew, I survived pontificating 20 minutes on stage!

Last Saturday 20th April 2016, I was invited to speak on business with conscience to about 300 MBA and PHD students at Networking Day 4.0, an event co-organized by Putra Business School and Uniten.

I shared the stage with two very dynamic entrepreneurs, Tai Hau and Amir Abu Hasan, the respective founders of Pott Glasses and Aiskosong app.

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Because no Malaysian event is complete without a session (or two) of makan-makan

Formerly known as the Graduate School of Management, UPM, Putra Business School is a full-fledged private business school with a University status, and the first business school in Malaysia to be accredited by the Association of Advance Colleagiate Schools of Business (AACSB) in Malaysia.

Every semester the PBS Student Association (PSA) and PBS organise a Networking Session to enable their students to network and learn from the industry players, which is why I got invited in the first place.

Dr Brian Wong, who got to know of me through one of my readers, felt that my experience as a corporate worker who transitioned to an entrepreneur who runs a writing business, could offer a new entrepreneurial perspective to the students. My area of specialization in human interest stories, too, jives with PBS which is anchored on Human Governance, a belief about being human at our work and as a business leader.

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Because these days, it didn’t happened unless you wefied it!

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Karai, quaint little hamlet

Quaint little hamlet

Published in the Star on 29th September 2007, this article is special to me because it talks, in parts, about my maternal grandfather Ang Tooi Cheng – or Ah Kong, as we children called him.

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Grandpa is the tall, slim gentleman in white in the middle :)

Ah Kong was well known in his part of the world, not just because he ran a rubber business, but because he was a live wire of a man who had a hearty laugh and an even bigger heart :)

I’ve copied the full text here because the old link to the article doesn’t work anymore.

What is Karai? On paper, it’s the name of a one-street town 43 km away from Ipoh. But in the larger scheme of life, there is more than meets the eye. Alexandra Wong takes you on a tour of her maternal hometown through pasar pagi and memory lane.
Last night, Mum announced out of the blue, “Tomorrow we are going to deliver mooncakes to your maternal uncle and auntie in Karai.”

I love road trips, but there was one other reason to be excited. Tuesday was pasar pagi day in Karai!

Upon arrival, Mum hurriedly hauled tupperwares of mooncakes into the house. I would usually trail behind and make small talk first with my relatives, but the siren call of the pasar pagi proved too strong for me.

Snatches of memories drifted through my mind as I navigated through the maze of stalls.
There were about 40 or so stalls, beginning from Cross Street (Karai’s main artery), which spread over into adjoining lanes before tapering off into kampongs. With less than 500 households, Karai is not a big town. From the crowd that came out in force today, you could tell that the morning market was a big deal.

It was easy to see why. The morning market sold an amazing assortment of things, from dried salted fish to lastics to umbrellas to freshly ground coffee. It was a buffet of sight and smell for the senses, all dispensed with a generous dose of humour.

When I stopped to aim my camera phone at a vegetable stall-holder, he sang out, “Aiyo, amoi ambil gambar ah? Esok keluar Berita Harian. Bagi semua orang bising oh! ” (Lass, taking pictures? Tomorrow coming out in Berita Harian. make sure you inform everyone oh!)

Small townies are no Luddites, no sirree.

I stared to walk away, giggling at his remarks, when Mr Vegetable Stall Owner’s neighbour decided to join in the fun.”Esok masuk surat khabar Nan Yang Siang Pau. Lelaki misteri oh!” he hollered good-naturedly, pointing at his friend.(Tomorrow enter Chinese paper Nan Yang Siang Pau. Mystery man oh!)

When I began writing this, I intended it to be an affectionate look at the town I spent many childhood weekends at. Halfway through, I realize Karai is a lot more than that. My maternal hometown has shaped my outlook and character in more ways than I imagined.

A question I always get is, “Why are you so enamoured of small towns?”

When city slicker friends read my stories about Sungai Petani lah, Seremban lah, Kerteh lah, they laugh at me for being insular and call me parochial.

“You should write about something glitzier like, say, the opening of The Pavilion, not some obscure 1000-strong population hamlet that almost unfailingly elicits a “Karai where?”

I had the same mindset once.

As a kid, whenever visits to Karai came up, I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the car, a la a trussed-up kidnap victim in the boot.

One was simple vanity. I had a whole battalion of eagle-eyed aunties, who were more efficacious than any weighing scales. One critical sweep of their rim-framed glasses and they could tell me with deadly accuracy, “Ah Yun, have you been eating a lot?”

My other beef was rubber.

You see, my grandpa ran a rubber business. Every morning, the rubber tappers delivered fresh supplies of latex and deposited them at the front of the house. If you pinched your nostrils, the fresh latex might just pass off for an especially humongous block of Bleu Cheese, while the machinated ones might be mistaken for giant cuttlefish curls from afar, but the resemblance stopped there.

We would go in the morning freshly showered and sweet-smelling, and by the time we reached home after sundown, our clothes and hair would stink to the high heavens.

Vanity-deflating once-overs and rubbery reek aside, there were some things that would be permanently lodged in my memory. Like my Grandpa, for instance, five foot nine inches of wiry frame and a booming voice that could rival Pavarotti on a good day.

The one thing I could remember with crystal clarity, was how he seemed to have friends everywhere. I suspect it had much to do with his larger-than-life personality as well as his flair for languages. He could speak fluent Chinese, Malay and Tamil. The affinity for languages was passed down to my uncles too.

In fact, many of their Malay and Indian friends were trilingual. And because everybody was so tanned from working outdoors, it was sometimes impossible to tell which race was which, not that it mattered in the small towns. They had better things to do, like making an honest living.

On our way out of Karai, an idea occurred to me. “Mum, do you know where I can get the statistics of the population of Karai? Maybe I can do a write up about small towns.”
Mum suggested the local municipal. So our next unlikely detour was The Sungai Siput Municipal Council, which Karai is parked under.

Turned out that the officer in charge used to stay in Karai too, when he was young.

“Karai used to be quite an important town in the old days,” he recalled. “You know the river that runs through it? People used to take boats and trade actively. And the train station, which has since been closed down, was also very active. The train still passes through it but doesn’t make a pit stop any more.”

The town where my mother was born, one which I had never felt much attachment for, suddenly assumed greater significance in the bigger scheme of things.

After exchanging more notes on Karai, the officer sent me off with the promise, “I will try to hook you up with some of the 80 and 90 year old folks. They can tell you a lot more stories than young people like me.”

Dad had once said, “We have a lot of things to learn from the small town folks. They are happier because they lead a simple life, free from stress and worry.”

At this stage in my life, I would gladly be called a small town girl.

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China Daily’s Asia Weekly: Putting the showdown into perspective

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My first piece for China Daily’s Asia Weekly. Link to full text here.

Launched on December 10, 2010, China Daily Asia Weekly is a 32-page color tabloid published every Friday, featuring news, views and analysis of China and the region. It is printed and distributed across Asia, including Australia, India, United Arab Emirates, Japan, Republic of Korea, Nepal, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines; as well as Beijing, Hong Kong and Macau.”

For this article, I covered the China Daily Asia Leadership Roundtable, a by-invitation network of movers and shakers in Asia providing platforms for focused dialogue, issue investigation, and possible collective action on strategic issues relating to economic, business and social development in Asia.

Have submitted piece no 2, and am starting on article no 3 now :)

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Women Share: Malaysian Women’s Weekly March 2016

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Thank you, Malaysian Women’s Weekly, for featuring me alongside accomplished Malaysian writers Lydia Teh and Ellen Whyte.

Love the write-up Jasnitha – you really did all of us justice!

This will go down as one of the biggest deals in my life achievements :)

 

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Maybank Foundation-Perdana Leadership Foundation Essay contest

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Can you spot the bunny?

It’s been a great year so far peppered with milestones and interesting gigs.

I had the honour of being invited to be a judge for an essay competition co-organized by Maybank Foundation and Perdana Leadership Foundation, for the non-fiction category.

Though the objective was decidedly serious, the event itself was much more fun and inspiring than I had expected. We were treated to a talk by international celebrities Red Hongyi and Jonathan Yabut :) If you don’t know already, Red is the artist without a paintbrush, while Jonathan is the inaugural winner of reality show Apprentice Asia.

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Contest finalists, judges and guests of honour at the appreciation dinner on the eve of the prize presentation

Loved their lively and very personal presentations. Not at all scripted, Red and Jonathan were a hit with the audience because they spoke from their hearts. I can see why they’re adored by millions and highly sought after by all the industry big guns!

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The lady in red and I

Until 2017!! :)

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Sharpened Word is exactly what Ipoh needs

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(From L-R): Ted Mahsun, Chua Kok Yee, yours truly, and Tany Leia Harris

I first heard of Sharpened Word, dubbed as an Ipoh-based event to open up the writer’s world to the world at large, sometime early last year.

I reacted with joy at first. Ipoh could sure do with an injection in the cultural and literary scene. Not that we lack creative talent, but Ipoh people can be – how shall I put it – a little laid back when it comes to driving and supporting such events.

Then came the doubts. Who would have the drive and energy to push it through?

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Photo credit: Marcus Pheong, www.themalaymailonline.com

Enter Pak Peter, short for “Grandpa” Peter in vernacular lingo. Whether it is the fabled water,  the incomparable white coffee  or the profusion of fair skinned leng luis, Ipoh has managed to attract some of the world’s top talents. Peter Bucher (his real name) is a Swiss-born former hotelier who yearns to see Ipoh fulfil its potential because, as he puts it, he is a “Perakean by choice”.

I do not know if he is a grandfather, but I do know that he has the  semangat (spirit) of a man half his age. It can’t be an easy task to persuade authors who live outstation to make the journey to Ipoh on a Saturday afternoon and speak to a roomful (or not so full) of strangers, month after month.

Despite this, Sharpened Word has marched confidently into its fifth session last February 20th, a session I had the honour of sharing with three immmensely talented writers last Saturday: Chua Kok Yee, Ted Mahsun and Tany Leia Harris.

It being my first time attending the event, I was blown away by:

* The meticulously organized program that was rich both in content as well as entertainment value. Let’s be frank: if it’s boring, nobody will come (or stay to the end). I was glad that everyone was glued to their seats, thanks to the careful planning of each session, which features a mix of seasoned and new writers for different perspectives.
* Their brilliant choice of venue in Sepaloh Art Gallery, one of Ipoh’s finest examples of well-restored architecture. It’s a place that you walk into and feel awed and inspired. Exactly what we need to foster a lively and active discourse.
* The professional emcee. May Foo – who was so good I thought she could be on Oprah  – she kept us on our toes with thought provoking questions that showed she not only did her homework but understood her subject matter very well.

This wouldn’t have been possible without the team of invisible elves who have been helping Pak Peter mustn’t be left out. You have the terrific PR/marketing copywriter in playwright Charmalee Sivapragasam, who puts together all the communications; CO Lo the photo/video -grapher; Nur Aida the facilitator and Mai Palmer, guardian of the all-important donation box.

Speaking of which, I’d like to mention that  this gig has NO external funding whatsoever, except for the ringgits deposited into a donation box at the end of every session. For that matter, souvenirs for authors totally dependent on public largesse. I was super lucky that for my session, we got a lovely souvenir in the form of an absolutely gorgeous coffeetable book donated by photographer CO.

Sharpened Word is important because it answers the question: does Ipoh have a literary scene? Ipoh has consistently produced artists, writers, and filmmakers through the decades and Sharpened Word is a great platform to supports budding talents by providing a platform for novice writers. Writers read from their work whether prose, poetry or play and then they participate in a question-and-answer session on their writing process.

Parents and teachers, if you have or know of children who are aspiring writers, this is the place to bring them on Saturday afternoons for a fun, enriching session where you can pick the brains of writers who are all happy to share their experiences and knowledge in the writing industry.

And to writers who’d like to read for SW, Pak Peter tells me he has a bunch of writers lined up till August (!!) so let him know quickly if you are interested!!

Thank you Pak Peter. I am honoured to have been part of Sharpened Word and may it continue to grow in strength and impact.

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Catch the Moment: Furnish Now Dec 2015 Cover story

Furnish Now Dec 2015 - Front cover

Professionally 2015 has been such an exciting year, marked by an array of diverse projects that range from brand stories for business award submissions to intimate insights into local traditions for travel magazines, to insider trade stories like the recent cover article I wrote for Furnish Now, the official magazine for the Malaysian International Furniture Fair.

It’s not your usual interview-and-write kind of story. In the last two years or so, I’ve been working with the international team from Media Mice on what we affectionately call a “makeover project” for highlighted local furniture makers. In this case, we traveled to wooden frame sofa specialist Yee Guan in furniture town Muar, Johor, for a thoroughly fascinating look at why and how a successful company repositioned itself to adapt to the changing marketplace – one dominated by millenials, no less.

You can read the full story at this link:

Furnish Now Dec 2015 - Cover story

Here’s to an even bigger and better 2016!

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A love letter to Paris – Navel Gazer

Love letter to Paris

Read the article here.

I fell in love with Paris as a teenager, yet it wasn’t until early this year that I finally visited it.

The morning I found out about the attacks, I cried. To be honest, the strength of my own reaction surprised me. I’ve visited a lot of other countries where the people have shown me kindness and generosity. Perhaps this hit home because it could easily have been me.

I wrote this as a thank you, more than anything else, for the beautiful experiences that the city of lights gave me.

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Lee Ting San Group – SOBA 2015 winner and finalist!

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Congratulations to my client Lee Ting San for their fantastic results at the recent Star Business Awards (SOBA) 2015!

After largely staying away from the limelight to fully dedicate its resources and energies to transformation, the Penang-based regional logistics provider has reemerged with a bang, chalking up commendable results:

– Won: Most Promising Award

– Finalist: Best Brand, Best in CSR and Entrepreneur of the Year

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Read The Star news here.

I am delighted to have contributed to this success, and wish them all the best in their future endeavours!

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myBurgerLab’s Teoh Wee Kiat: Recipe for Success

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What a treat! The recipe for myBurgerLab’s success – a not-quite-an-interview with one of its founders Teoh Wee Kiat – was published on my birthday 😀

I didn’t *intend* this for an article at all, but wrote it for fun for myself. I wanted to document the unusual circumstances under which Wee Kiat and I met, and so that I could remember the lessons I learned.

Then I thought, why not try my luck …

I hope I did justice to the guy. Before meeting Wee Kiat in person, I had this idea of a bunch of spoilt rich bratty millenials using daddy’s money to put their half-baked business idea in motion, but talking to Wee Kiat made me realize there’s a great deal of substance and maturity to these guys. A classic Made-in-Malaysia success story!

May you enjoy many more years of success!

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Posted in Made in Malaysia, Malay Mail Online, Personality Profiles, Portfolio | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment