Things that matter

Star - Lin Rouwen.doc

Say, did anybody pick up the Star paper on 30th September and chance upon this article?

Here’s the link. 

Thanks Rouwen for the fabulous writeup :)

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Made in Malaysia, my first solo-authored book :)

Made-In-Msia-COVER (FB)

This project took me nearly nine years to complete, but it’s finally done.

Folks, meet my new baby, Made in Malaysia: Stories of Hometown Heroes and Hidden Gems :)

What’s the book about? Here’s an excerpt from MPH Publishing editor Alan KW Wong’s blogpost:

“A compilation of Alexandra Wong’s popular Navel Gazer columns in the Malaysian English-language daily The Star and other stories, Made in Malaysia: Stories of Hometown Heroes and Hidden Gems is about one woman’s journey of discovery across a historically and culturally rich and diverse land.

When Wong left her corporate job in 2005 to pursue her dream of being a writer, she didn’t expect to open a treasure chest of experiences. 

She soon made a name for the heartwarming tales of ordinary Joes and Janes in Malaysian society, all of which she’d serendipitously encountered during her travels. Each gem she uncovers inspires her to seek out more.

Culture shock and curtains of mosquitoes give way to familial warmth at an Iban longhouse. A French former nuclear scientist who embraced Malaysia as his second home makes a weekend in Gua Musang even more memorable. 

Pointers on how to be a serious and caring teacher emerge from one of her school’s naughtiest girls. And stirring displays of chivalry shine a different light upon titled and supposedly aloof public figures.

In the search for herself, Wong gets reacquainted with her homeland through the stories she’s told: stories of lives that can only be made in Malaysia.” 

… yes, this is why I’ve been so quiet. Had no idea there was so much to do for a book, but I’m enjoying every minute of it so far!

I’ll be posting major updates here but for the latest real-time news, stories and photos, the best place to go is the Facebook page I’ve officially created for the book. 

You can also listen to my interview with BFM89.9′s literary reviewer Umapagan Ampikaipakan here.

Can’t believe it. I am finally an author! :)))

Thank you to MPH Publishing Group for publishing my first book – I couldn’t have chosen a more committed publisher to work with! And to everybody who has been cheering me on all these years, big hugs to all of you!

Made in Malaysia is now available at all MPH bookstores in Klang Valley and Selangor, and will be arriving at Borders, Kinokuniya and Times, and other states very soon!

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Message Makeover – new team member!

I’m pleased to introduce a new member to the Message Makeover team – James Chua!

I’ve known James since he was an editor in 2007, and I’ve always been impressed by his strong command of language, passion for people, as well as his ability to surprise with perceptive insights about any topic under the sun.

James is an award-winning writer who won the Mercedes-Benz Red Ribbon Media Prize (print category) in 2009. He also won The Special Recognition Award by National Kidney Foundation Singapore, and was a national-level winner of Outstanding Acts of Courtesy by SINGA. He counts his deaf students scoring A and B for SPM Science among his proudest achievements. He has just been accepted to do his Masters in Public Policy with a focus on Disability Policy at University Malaya.

All the best, and welcome aboard, James!

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Message Makeover

“Alex, can you inject some oomph into my speaker profile?”

I often receive requests to “sex up” pre-existing pieces of writing for maximum impact, pardon my French.

When a client showed me an article she wasn’t happy with, and asked me to make it more authoritative and compelling, I thought to myself, hey, there’s a real market need for a communications specialist who is interested in making a piece of writing shine, beyond language editing.

Why not formally offer it as part of my services?

Folks, I present to you: Message Makeover, where I work with you to strengthen your message so that it delivers a solid impression and scores your intended goal.

How it works

Send me an existing piece of writing you’re not happy with. I’ll analyse it and tell you if I can improve it with a quote of how much it costs, and how long I need. Simple and no obligation!

What I’m good at

From business proposals to personal biodatas to press releases – I’m comfortable with and am experienced in many genres.

But being a people person at heart, I am happiest when my work helps my clients to land that much-coveted job, get funding for their passion project, or evoke a “Wow, I want to hear him talk!” reaction in that international conference you’re speaking at.

The results

One client said, “Alex brings more than just writing or editing skills to the table. She demonstrates keen business insight and marketing smarts, and as a result, is able to craft a message with the right tone and impact. She did a topnotch job refining my profile with her thoughtful edits. I would recommend her to anyone needing help writing about themselves – Linkedin Profile, speakers’ bio, etc.”

Read what other clients, editors, readers and past interviewees say about me.

Questions? Give me a holler at alexandra.lywong@gmail.com

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The original roots

If you’re travelling by MAS this month, flip over to page 88 of the inflight magazine Going Places for a story on a truly awesome character. My expedition to learn more about Orang Asli culture, for the Tradisi segment, led me to one Raman Bah Tuin in Gombak.

I went expecting just another routine craftsmaking experience (sorry, we writers do get jaded). Instead, what I got was magic.

GombakRaman3

At the tail end of our visit, we requested for a nose-flute performance. He obliged. Leading us out of the house, he took his position at a nearby clearing with banana, coconut and papaya trees in the background. I couldn’t help thinking that he looked somewhat comical, sitting cross-legged with his nostrils positioned over one end of the flute, sweat streaming down his face and topped by a costumey headgear.  

My amusement faded when he started playing.

The first notes that emerged were so faint I strained to hear them. I couldn’t put a finger on its origins – had this been played elsewhere, I wouldn’t have known it was Orang Asli.

But here, against the backdrop of running water and chirping insects, the haunting melody seemed at home with the surrounding, complementing instead of overpowering the environment. I would have never expected something so wonderfully tender and delicate from this humbly dressed man.

At the end of his song, my cheeks were wet. I glanced at Soo, wondering if she had any reaction. I could be wrong, but I suspect she was affected too. 

GombakRaman2

We also saw a bunch of interesting objects in his house, many of which I’d never seen, like this two-stringed guitar.

Many thanks to Gerai OA founder Reita Rahim, for leading me to the absolute gem that Raman bah Tuin is.

Bonus pix: Me being vain :))

GombakRaman4

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Maximizing Melaka … and other awesome stories in MBE Postgraduate Feb-March 2014

MBE Feb-March 2014 cover

It isn’t often that you get to interview one of the hottest (as in most-watched) politicians in the country.

So imagine how I feel, practically hyperventilating from nervousness, when Melaka Chief Minister Datuk Seri Ir Idris Haron greets us into the office with these opening remarks:

“This is where important decisions are made.”

Gulp!

Thankfully, underneath that no-nonsense exterior, I also discover an amiable and able storyteller. For two hours, the MBE team was a captive audience to his inspiring, and sometimes amusing, anecdotes, like this one about growing up in a strict household: “My late brother and sister-in-law played an instrumental role in inculcating my love for books. They were strict disciplinarians who were serious about reading. Every time they saw me, I had to be holding a book. When I hear the car’s engine sound, cepat-cepat ambil buku (quickly grab a book) or feel the sting of the rotan!”

CM_Melaka

I’m going to be absolutely shameless in declaring that we’ve got a star-studded, power-packed issue.

When you’ve met bubbly, baby-faced Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat in person, it’s hard not to be impressed by this lecturer cum industrial and occupational psychologist whose breakthrough prison rehabilitation module for sexual offenders has kept 3000 women a year safe from repeat offenders every year. I have thre words for that – move over, CSI!

We’re also delighted to feature Mohd Rizal Jailan, the Managing Director of INOKOM, the national automobile assembler for numerous prestige brands like BMW. The eight-hour journey (to and fro) to Kulim is one that I would gladly relive. After all, how often do you get to witness the world’s most beloved cars being put together, piece by piece?

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May you have as much fun reading, as our team did putting together this issue. MBA Edge Postgraduate is available at all leading bookstores.

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More than beauty

  Mww_womenshare_March2014

Ivy is dangling off a tree-trunk, pretending to be a Bollywood heroine.

Zainah is throwing a mock-tantrum. “How come she got falsies and I didn’t get any?”

Ambiga looks like anything but a rebel-rousing revolutionary in a feminine black and white saree.

The three have ganged up and are inciting Marina to “let loose”. She obligingly collapses like a ragdoll into Ivy and Zainah’s waiting arms.

If an ordinary Malaysian had walked in halfway through the photoshoot, he or she would have surely done a double take.

We certainly did.

Were these fun-loving females really Ambiga Sreenevasan, Ivy Josiah, Marina Mahathir and Zainah Anwar – ass-kicking firebrands whose courage has inspired women beyond Malaysia?

Even firebrands have off days – like today’s photoshoot for Women’s Weekly. The playful side of Malaysia’s most formidable feminists is a rarely seen but nice distraction from the intense, ugly side of the work.

Defending rights is serious business. All of them have paid some kind of price, but they learn how to take it in stride. Ivy, who was in jail for one day, had an epiphany in there: “When I thought I was going to be in there for life, I was already planning to do my masters out of jail.”

Humour (and fun photoshoots) helps them to deal with the dangers that are present every day of their lives.

They never let it derail them from their mission though.

When asked what advice they’d like to pass on to women, every one of them answered in a variation of, “Be brave.”

Marina says, “I’ve met young people who didn’t have much to begin with, but they had courage.”

Ivy shares, “Getting jailed was the scariest moment of my life. But after I came out, I felt different. Angrier. It strengthened my resolve. The hardest moment by far was calling my mum and reassuring her that i was in jail for doing right instead of wrong.”

How do their loved ones deal with the constant threat of danger?

Ambiga’s answer is surprising yet sensible.

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“My children do take part in my rallies. When they go, I tell them to bring sunblock and wear their cap. They laugh at me and tell me, you’re the only mum who does this kind of thing.”

Are they proud of her? “You’ll have to ask them!” she laughs.

When it comes down to it, you realize, these ladies are just ordinary people trying to live a worthwhile life, like you and me. Only braver.

A whole lot braver.

My interview with Ambiga, Ivy, Marina and Zainah is out in the March 2014 issue of Malaysian Women’s Weekly :)

IMG_20140128_163754

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Tradisi – Qistina Woodcraft

For frequent fliers of Malaysia Airlines, my regular column in Going Places just got a local twist :)

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Formerly known as Tradition, Tradisi highlights artisans and craftspeople in Malaysia who are doing their bit to preserve dying arts and trades.

Thank you Melissa Duis for introducing me to Encik Rostam of Qistina Woodcraft, who uses “icecream scooping”, a near-extinct technique originated by Nusantara islanders to give a unique interpretation to Malay woodcraft.

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Encik Rostam combines the “tebuk dan tembus” style of traditional Malay woodcarving with the “ice-cream scooping” technique of the Nusantara islanders, resulting in a visually and texturally unique outcome. Unlike traditional woodcarving, where the details are finer, the surface is smooth and the motifs always have symbolic meaning, his carvings have scale-like ridges that give them an uneven surface because of the icecream scooping technique. “It has its own beauty. When you touch something that has texture, it generates a different kind of connection.”

His house doubles as his showcase and workshop. Many of the decorative pieces that adorn his porch and garden are made by Encik Rostam himself, from simple birdcages he made during his early days, and a recently completed Chinoise-inspired plaque with 9 koi fish that is painted over with acrylic colour, clearly something you don’t see in traditional Malay wood-carving..

“Which of these would you rather sell?” I asked on a whim.

His answer surprised me. “The newer works, like the koi.” There is a clear distinction between his later works and earlier ones. The latter is more simple – a single piece of frame carved with heliconia flowers (tebuk) onto a piece of wood, while the newer works are clearly more sophisticated. Wouldn’t they fetch a higher price too? I wondered out loud.

His meaning became clear when he explained, “I will never sell my early works. Because they tell a story of my humble beginnings.”

A true artist, he is :)

Finally, no self-indulgent post would be complete without a shot of me at work right – or rather, me pretending to be at work haha! :)

Outtake-QistinaWoodcraft 2013-12-10 12.32.02

Encik Rostam’s contact details are here: http://qistinawoodcraft.blogspot.com/

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Amber Alert … and hello, 2014!

Amber Chia story

Oh wow, where did the time go?

Yes, I know it’s a little late to wish everybody happy new year, but better late than never, yes? I was having some trouble with my blog and the few posts I uploaded kept disappearing one week after I posted them up, grr.  Getting a friend to help me out here so please be patient, k?

In the meantime, I’m really excited about the stories that I have done so far, and will be doing for the rest of the year. Like this Amber Chia cover story for Malaysian Women’s Weekly :)

Prior to meeting her, almost everybody I talked to made snide remarks about her English.

… and after the interview?

I felt like punching everybody who dares say anything derogatory about her English. That was how fiercely protective I felt about her.

Fyi, she conducted the entire interview in English. In more-than-decent English too, mind you. She was a great interviewee. One of the best I’ve met, for sure. One question and she gives you enough quotes for a book. Nearly.

Yes I’m gushing but you know what? She deserves it because she IS that nice. That likeable. And that inspiring. When you’ve learnt what she went through to get to this level, seriously, you too would have nothing but respect and admiration for this woman.

Don’t have to take my word for it. The Feb edition of The Weekly is still available on the newsstands :)

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…eeeks look at those trunk-sized arms! *hides face*

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Guess who was on tv? :)

There’s a first time for everything. After interviewing hundreds of people, I finally feel what it’s like to be on the other side :)

http://www.mytourismtv.com/talkshow-71.html



The crew, Christophe Chatron-Michaud, Melissa Duis and I :)

What an experience! Being my usual kanchiong (excitable) self, I didn’t sleep a wink the night before.

A few friends commented

1. “Eh you don’t look like you lah.”
They’re right. I couldn’t recognize myself in the mirror either, after getting up at 6am to reach the studio by 7.30am for the makeup and hair session. Abang Zam piled on quite a bit of war paint. Am told it’s normal for TV. He also did “shading” so that my flat Chinese nose would look sharper and slimmer lol

2. “You look nervous in the beginning. Then after Sam appeared you relaxed.”
They’re right. When you have four big pieces of equipment and light trained on you and so many pairs of eyes looking expectantly at you …trust me, at that moment, whatever carefully constructed/witty/intelligent sentences I had planned and practised saying flew out the window. The one thing I’m proud of: we shot it in ONE take. I’m glad I got the chance to promote the kind of tourism I love i.e. small town Malaysia.

3. “Why are you wearing so many layers of clothes?”
Let me share a trick I learnt. On TV, you’re advised to wear solids. Thing is, most of my baju in KL were colourful prints, and the only solid baju I had was the cap-sleeved purple shirt. I had to cover up with a jacket to hide my fat arms :)

The clip was shot in Yeast Bistronomy, a lovely French cafe which is fast becoming one of my favourite places to dine. What can I say – I love everything French.

Thank you, Melissa Duis, for making my maiden tv experience so comfortable and fun with your understanding and professionalism.

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Posted in TV appearance | 2 Comments