Sunday, 2 October 2016

Expectations vs Reality

We went to a beach wedding on North Padre Island last weekend. Here's what I learned:

#1: I learned that Instagram-perfect beach hair does not apply to all humans equally.

#2: I also ran out of disposable slippers and made the incredibly clever decision of not bringing any slippers on the weekend trip to Corpus Christi. I brought only my Doc Martens, which happened to be floral rain boots, for the beach and aquarium.

"I'll just be cool and walk barefoot in the hotel room," I said to myself.

I learned that I couldn't handle it.

#3: I learned that I was the only person at the Texas State Aquarium terrified of touching a stingray. Even the smallest children laughed at my terrified screams. But I did pet a stingray - eventually, and with my husband helping hold my hand down in the water - and it was sheer awesomeness.

Monday, 29 August 2016


Recently #firstsevenjobs was trending on Facebook and Twitter, but I never got around to participating. Then I started wondering, what were my first seven jobs? I'm only in my 20s but it still feels like a lifetime ago.

1) Florist's assistant
My mom used to take me to the neighborhood mall behind our house in Malaysia all the time, so the mall employees watched me grow up. When I was around 10 years old I loved playing with the handheld price tag machine and help tag the products in stores while the adults chatted. My first job would probably be working Valentine's Day weekend for the florist. I was 12, and I pushed the cart full of roses around the mall asking patrons if they wanted to buy a rose for their loved ones. I worked with another 12-year-old girl, and we became total BFFs that weekend. Too bad I don't remember her name anymore... That was probably the first time I learned what "my feet are killing me" meant at the end of each work day!

2) Marketing intern
I was 19 by the time I got my second job. Malaysian teens don't typically work after-school or summer jobs like most American kids. So it was my first year of college and I wanted to work with a nonprofit. I met a rep from ARROW at a career fair, and got a marketing internship with them. That was my first experience with empowerment and equality for women, specifically in developing countries. I remember taking the train with my coworker to go to the office, and walking for another half a mile to headquarters.

3) Research assistant
My third job was my first academic job, and it gave me the foundation of my other university jobs that I would later have. I'd been working with ARROW for about a month when one of my journalism professors emailed the class saying that he was hiring four research assistants for a media coding project about the Malaysian General Elections. He was hiring one RA for each major language used in the media coverage: Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil. I applied immediately, offering to take up the Malay position if other candidates didn't speak the language. Given that it was an Australian university, everyone spoke English but only a minority were fluent in Malay. After a skill eval, I was hired for the three-month project. My professor trained me in research skills and how to apply critical thinking to news articles.

4) Entrepreneur
My fourth job - and one that would last for the next six years - was running my own business. It was in February 2009 when I decided to start a blog about online shops (blog-shops) that had sprung up. And Your Shopping Kaki was born. It was my first foray into marketing, public relations, advertising, economics, and applied journalism. Today, it has more than 8,000 Facebook fans and my business development manager runs it independently.

5) Receptionist
Summer break for Australian students is at the end of the year until the beginning of the new year, so the next summer break I got my fifth part-time job (while running my own business part-time). It was January 2010, and one of my friends from the YSK world was helping her fiance start his own physiotherapy clinic. She needed a part-time receptionist while they were ramping up, and she asked me if I would do it for 60 bucks a day. I thought it would be a good experience and something I hadn't done before, so I agreed. That was my first taste of human-facing customer service and developing professional phone skills, including dealing with unhappy customers. I also did cold-calling, which is good experience for anyone to have - gives you a newfound respect for people who have to do cold-calling as their full-time jobs!

6) Newspaper columnist
Because of YSK, I became one of the more popular bloggers in Malaysia, so a new online newspaper called The Malaysian Mirror hired me in April 2010 to write a weekly column in their website for a few months. The goal was to introduce my readers to their newspaper. It was a heap of fun and I learned what it was like working with legit journalists as well as three other popular bloggers who also had weekly columns.

7) Teaching associate
In 2013 I was doing an additional fourth year of college called Honors so that I could apply to grad schools in USA. While I was an Honors students, I taught Media Studies and Journalism tutorials to undergraduate students. That was when I discovered how much I love teaching and mentoring others! I enjoyed the job so much and was always excited to create new lesson plans and group exercises. 

There you have it, my first seven jobs! Since then I've had another eight jobs, including the one I have now. I will say this, though: every single job/gig I've had leading up to this point has helped prepared me for the job I have now at IBM. And this is a job I consider my dream job!

My dad always told me that I should never be afraid of hard work, and I think that having so many different jobs throughout the years - sometimes multiple jobs at the same time, while I was in college and grad school - has prepared me to be a very hard worker. You just cannot be lazy if you want to get everything done. But the hashtag isn't #myfirst15jobs so I'll say bye for now. :)

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

From one campus to another.

This time, it's been less than two months since I last blogged. Progress! Even though it's only been a couple of months, I feel like so much has happened.

For starters, I've been to more kiddy birthday parties this year than any other type of party. What does this say about my newfound age group? Haha! Goodbye early 20s, hello late 20s? I can't believe I'm turning 28 at the end of this year.

Of course, at kiddy parties everyone asks you if you're having kids, and I'm still giving the "pfft no" response. How can we have kids when we're still (big) kids ourselves? We haven't even allowed ourselves to get a dog yet!

And as testament to be dissipating youthfulness, for a few Friday nights I hung out with my coworkers-turned-awesome-friends... but we were always home by 9:00 pm.

Kiddy birthday parties and farewell parties are definitely the two types of parties I frequent the most. We bid goodbye to a friend who is moving out of state. In a few short months I've already had to say bye to two friends in Austin who moved to other states. :( Considering I don't have that many friends in Austin yet (having just started a new life here last year), two is a lot.

I do love my friends in Austin, largely because we always celebrate Malaysian/Southeast Asian festivities and enjoy the same types of cuisine!

And probably the most important farewell party I attended this year so far was my own. That's right, I handed in my resignation letter last month! It's been such a good run with Texas Health and Science University. I prepared a massive transition binder, trained different employees to take over different parts of my job, and bid adieu to a community of staff, faculty and students who left big footprints in my life in just under a year.

Where to, next? I'm going back to my roots and the reason I came to USA to study: to work in the communication industry. In line with that, I'm going to be a portfolio marketing professional at IBM Austin! I feel so incredibly fortunate to be able to work there. Now I'm very, very, very excited to start. Can't wait for the first day I walk on to the IBM campus and call myself an IBMer! :)

Monday, 16 May 2016

Florida, Fort Worth & Being 27

This morning, Datin Cynthia pointed out that I hadn't been blogging for eight months now. Eight! So here I am, taking 20 minutes to blog about the past eight months.

In October last year, Darren and I flew to Orlando for Laura and Damon's wedding. I was so incredibly excited because it was my first time to Florida, I hadn't seen Laura since graduation in May last year, AND Universal Studios Orlando contained the world's only Harry Potter Land! (Since then, another has opened in California, but at the time Florida had the only one, haha.)

Laura, the beautiful bride! They got married 10-10-2015.
I'd never been so happy to enter a theme park before!
Seriously, I could go to Harry Potter land every weekend and not get bored.
Also in October, I attended my first ever baby shower! Ana hosted it for Wan, who has since given birth to a beautiful baby girl named Saffiya. :) 

At Ana's gorgeous house, with awesome people!
And then I turned 27 years old! Sometimes I forget that I'm already 27, and that I'm turning 28 this year, and I startle myself when I realize how quickly time flies. I feel like it was just yesterday that I was in my early 20s! 

Pretty much showered with gifts at work and at home! So thankful!
Coworkers threw a joint birthday party for me and Caleb!
Then, in January, Darren took me to PAX South in San Antonio! It was so much fun. It was my first ever gaming convention. Events like this really deserve their own blog posts, but I remember each event blog post would take me about 4 hours to write! A summary blog post will have to do for now. :)

Look at all the booths!

And just last week, my company sent me to Fort Worth for a three-day conference. It was the ACICS Annual Conference, and I really did have a blast. Learned a lot, networked a ton, but it feels so good to be home after a few days away!

I did, however, win a giant teddy bear. :)

P.S: I also got promoted to Director of Student Affairs & Strategic Operations!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Star Wars, Cirque du Soleil & Sailor Moon.

Seeing how seldom I have the time to blog, I'd better blog about the past three months before I forget and the next half of the year blurs with this one. Here are the highlights of the past three months of my life! :D

1. Star Wars
Darren and I watched all six Star Wars movies! He'd already watched them before since he's a Star Wars fan, but it was my first time watching the older movies. I finally understand the whole story, haha! Also, I bought a giant Storm Trooper balloon from H-E-B to scare Darren with.

2. House parties
The Malaysian-Singaporean community in Austin is awesome, and I've been to several parties and meet-ups with them. :D The food is always amazing!

3. Cirque du Soleil - Kooza
Darren got us tickets to Kooza for Friday night date night this weekend! It was beautiful and terrifying at the same time because of all the death-defying stunts. We were on the edge of our seats and squeezing each other's hands most of the time, especially when one performer almost fell off the tightrope!

4. Handmade cards
I've been making a lot of cards to send to my friends around the world. It's a lot of fun! I ask them what their favorite cartoon character is and draw it.

5. International Sailor Moon Day
The fact that there's such thing as International Sailor Moon Day makes me so happy. Haha. Darren and I went to the convention in Austin and this was our loot!

6. Super Sailor Moon SH Figuarts
My new favorite toy. Early birthday present from hubs. :D I also ordered a Figma archetype, which is my early birthday present to myself. That will only arrive at the end of the year because it's made to order from Japan.

My first full-time job

I can't believe it's been three months since I last blogged! Since I graduated in May, life has been rather hectic. I was working part-time as a digital analyst at Pierpont, but I knew I had to start looking for a full-time job after I got my green card in July. Also, a part of me really wanted to see how quickly I could find a job. (The "kiasu" part, yes, haha.)

In August I went to a total of three in-person job interviews (there were some phone interviews where I quickly realized the job wasn't what I wanted, like sales jobs) -- didn't get the first job because they thought I was a flight risk for the entry-level position, didn't want the second job because they told me it was commission-based, aaaand I nailed the third interview!

You're lookin' at the new Registrar and Administrator of Texas Health and Science University. :D

In case you're wondering "why are you working in a university and not in corporate?" you probably didn't know that I loved being a teacher in college. Helping students is my jam, and organizing stuff is something that comes so naturally to me that I love my job!

Don't get me wrong, working in public relations agencies gave me a wealth of precious experience that I can apply to any daily situations in any work I do. But I think I've found that I'm meant to work in higher education. :)

Saying goodbye to Pierpont was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my career so far. First off, Pierpont is the first and only company I've ever worked at in Texas. They hired me as an intern last summer even though I didn't have any connections in the agency and just applied the old-fashioned way: from emailing in a resume and cover letter, doing a Skype interview (since I was in LA at the time) and a writing test. I have a lot of respect for companies that give "strangers" a chance without having a connection inside it, and also the intern coordinator Sylvester Palacios Jr. is one of the most humble people I've ever met in my life.

Second, Pierpont wanted me to come back to work for them when they found out I was graduating from USC in May. I still remember meeting up with Michael Miller for lunch in April this year: I had planned to get career advice from him, but he ended up offering me a part-time job to be his digital apprentice. I don't think I could ever stop being grateful to him for having so much faith in me.

I had hoped, of course, that I could end up working for Pierpont full-time, but as time passed I realized that I couldn't wait forever. In PR agencies around here, you usually don't get hired full-time until after you've interned for about a year. Living paycheck to paycheck on a part-time job for five months was proving to be increasingly stressful. It definitely gave me a new level of appreciation for money and how hard it is when there isn't enough money to have any savings. And I feel very, very uncomfortable when I don't have rainy day funds.

Telling Michael and other Pierponters that I was leaving, though, kinda broke my heart a little bit. I felt like I was leaving my second home. However, they were so supportive and encouraging -- even though everyone said they would be sad to see me go, they said that I should pursue my dreams and career. I made them thank you cards and hired a cartoonist to draw caricatures of their faces as my farewell present. :) I also drew and colored their favorite childhood cartoons on to the cards.

So after spending a total of nine months with Pierpont (last summer and this summer), I bid them a final farewell. I've learned an insane amount of knowledge from being a digital analyst: now I can analyze online advertisements and monitor the performance of any digital assets -- on top of all the PR things I already learned in school and through internships. And I also learned that people can be amazing, that people like Sylvester can be fair and humble, and people like Michael can have more confidence in me than I do in myself.

I hope that someday I will be in a hiring position and I can pay it forward, all the kindness that I've had the privilege of experiencing in the working world.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Life After Graduation: What's Next?

I can't believe it's been nearly two months since I last blogged on here. Time whipped by and I'm all graduated. What now? What's next?

At graduation with my family!

I figured I should do a "10 things I've done since graduation" post before more time flew by and memory betrays me!

1. Said goodbye to Los Angeles

It hit me when I was lying in bed on the last night in my studio apartment. It was my last night in a place I had spent most of the past two years in, and it felt really surreal moving out -- even though I was moving home to Texas. LA has been kind to me, for the most part, and I feel very lucky to have been there, and done that!

2. Continued working at Pierpont Communications

Remember the public relations/integrated communications agency I interned in last summer? Well, they hired me three weeks before graduation! I didn't actually apply for any jobs, and was having lunch with my former Pierpont mentor when he offered me the gig. It caught me by surprise, but I accepted it right away because I believe in saying yes!

Although I wish it was a full-time position, it's not. Instead, it's a paid internship position in the new digital department. I work with account services, analytics and online advertising management -- which makes me ultra uber mega grateful to be learning and refining technical skills each day at work. In the meantime, I haven't applied for any jobs yet. I reckon I'll give myself a "learning period" because being my supervisor's "digital apprentice" is such an amazing opportunity: he has such a wealth of experience and wisdom to share when it comes to all things digital and in client service too.

3. Ate my first snow cone

Snow cone, shaved ice or American ais kacang - whatever you want to call it, it was so much fun to eat! Darren and I were shopping for a new stove when he decided we should take a break for a bit and drove us to the shaved ice store.

4. Witnessed the union of a beautiful family

My brother-in-law Chris got married to Jeannette on July 23rd. It was such a beautiful wedding! I never cried at a wedding before, but when Jeannette danced with her three daughters to Martina McBride's "In My Daughter's Eyes" I bawled like a five-year-old. All of a sudden I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I missed my mom and her warm embrace when ever I felt sad or dispirited. My mom's always been there for me, you know? And even though I'm all grown up and married now, it sometimes hits me that my mom isn't even a drive away from me -- she is a whole 20-hour flight away, whereas most other people here have their moms in the same city. :'( And then I was very embarrassed when my husband, grandmother-in-law and mother-in-law fussed over my tears and handed me tissues.

5. Decorated my office cubicle

Seeing as I spend eight hours a day at the office, I decided to decorate my desk and cubicle walls. I don't have a full picture of it right now but this snapshot effectively shows you a glimpse of how I did it. I have pictures of my family and friends up on my cubicle walls too, and having a cosy cubicle helps so much to keep me motivated and keep me going.

6. Celebrated Aidan's 2nd birthday

One of my dearest friends in Texas, Ana, threw a Star Wars themed party for her adorable baby Aidan last weekend. That's her husband in the Storm Trooper costume! It was an amazing party with delicious food and lots of Malaysian and Singaporean friends with their families. I had so much fun! I also had a blast taking videos of the party and messages from guests to edit into a video. We're going to give the video to Aidan when he's older. :)

7. Started gaming a tiny little bit again

I used to think "Oh after grad school I'm going to have tons of time for gaming!" but I was delusional. For some weird reason I'm even busier now than when I was in school. Like everyone else I have to go to work on weekdays and run all my household errands/chores on Friday -- the only weekday I don't go into the office -- and then all my social activities are on weekends. Because I get home from work in the evening and we go to bed at 8pm, I have about 15-30 minutes of gameplay time that day if I'm not already exhausted or too busy doing something else. I'm also working on side projects that I won't blog about yet! But when I do steal some time away from real life to play, I love Star Wars: The Old Republic. :)

8. Started watching Shark Tank

The entrepreneur in me squeals a little with glee every time I watch this. I like watching a show when I eat my meals at home, and after I finished my last show I decided to start watching Shark Tank. It is hands down my favorite show right now, even though I know I'm super late on cottoning on to its popularity.

9. Bought my very first plants!

When I was very young, one day I got fascinated about growing plants. So my mom helped me in planting an onion. I ignored it after a couple of days, then over-watered it, then it died. Ever since then I haven't tried taking care of any plants. Even in my room in Malaysia I never watered the plants that my mom put in there, so they would constantly wither of thirst. But now that I'm a lot older, I feel myself being drawn to small plants. So I finally caved and bought two little bamboo shoots. I'm going to put one in my office cubicle and one in my nook at home, and pray I don't kill them.

10. Got highlights in my hair.

I've never gotten my hair professionally highlighted before, so I was very nervous about doing it. But my hair was looking like a big mass of thick darkness. Ordinarily I would try to color my hair myself with the bubble hair color from Korea, but I learned that color doesn't lift color. So I can't do highlights on the parts of my hair that are already colored! Thus, when I went for my (annual) haircut today I asked for highlights. I think this helps brighten up my head significantly. :)

Until next time!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Goodbye, and hello.

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end," said Seneca.
Well, Seneca, you said it.

Grad school, and what is hopefully my final degree, is rapidly coming to an end. My Master's thesis has jumped through all the hoops held up by academic bureaucracies, and is now embedded forever in the folds of the USC Digital Library. I don't think anybody will ever find it and read it in the library database, though, so I fully intend to get parts of it published elsewhere. The very real issues faced by international graduates need to be confronted by universities, employers and lawmakers, imho.

The other end to my grad school journey is graduation, which is on May 15. Yesterday I received an email from the school congratulating me for winning this year's Outstanding Strategic Public Relations Service Award. I was so happy, especially because I picture my parents being really proud of me when I get an award like this! My professors told me that the faculty unanimously voted for me to receive this award, which makes me feel really moved. They must really believe in me, and well, everyone likes to feel appreciated!

I'm really excited for graduation, because Darren and my parents will be there cheering me on as I get my award and my degree. Yay! I wish An Nie could be there too, but I don't think it's worth the price of the flight tickets for her to fly all the way to LA just to watch me graduate and sit through a long ceremony.

She was at my undergraduate graduation though, and she even got me my first and only graduation bouquet. One of my few regrets in life is not being there for her graduation three or four years ago, because I didn't know what date it was going to be on and got distracted with my own work. :( I remember her calling to ask if I was going to be there the next day, and I was so shocked that it was the next day and I had several assignments I was working on. I think I was even annoyed and asked her why she didn't tell me the date clearly and earlier on. She said she mentioned it before, but quickly admitted it was her mistake, even though it probably wasn't her fault, it was just that I didn't mark it in my calendar if she mentioned it a long time ago. But that's An Nie for you. She never gets mad at me. For years she let me get impatient with her and she still stuck by me since we were 18. I know I'm a better person now but... I wish I was less selfish when I was younger and when we were actually able to hang out in person, and I wish I took the time to pay attention to important moments in her life. She always paid attention to mine.

Monash University graduation, circa 2011

As an only child, I never really developed close attachments to specific friends. I always have multiple social circles existing at the same time, but they never overlapped and I evolve my circle of close friends as I go through different phases in life. Kindergarten, elementary school, high school, matriculation, law school, college, business friends, former students, grad school, coworkers, Malaysian expatriates in Austin.

I have a bunch of friends from elementary and high school I still keep in close contact with: like Tse Mun, Denise, Carmen, Alison, and some from my tuition classes. Tuition classes were classes that we had to attend in private education centers after we got home from school. Yeah... Asian kids' lifestyle. I made a lot of friends through tuition classes, especially kids from other schools in the district. It was actually a really awesome way of networking, and most of the time I had more fun in tuition classes than classes at school!

An Nie is my only friend from matriculation that I'm truly still friends with. When I first started South Australian Matriculation at Taylor's, I remember having the time of my life because I felt like everybody's best friend, and I was getting invited to every social event or lunch gathering. I even tutored all my friends before our monthly tests, especially for economics and language classes. I was BFFs with a girl named Rameera but then she dropped out of the program. And another really close friend dropped out too. I started feeling lost. Then assignment season started and the people I thought were my friends turned on me when I wouldn't let them copy my projects. Not everyone, but a small group that I had really enjoyed hanging out with. That's when I got really close to An Nie, who was just a classmate before that "turning point."

I had such close friends in law school but we lost touch after I dropped out, although each time I see Leila (my Iranian friend) it's like we were never apart, but it's hard to keep in touch with her because she doesn't go on social media much and she's back in Iran now raising a family.

My closest friends in law school, circa 2007

I barely keep in touch with any friends from Monash. Isn't that weird? I spent four years of my life there. I hung out with them every day on campus. I even went on international vacations with some of them. Jenny is one of the few friends I talk to every now and then that I knew from Monash. The rest, I correspond with on Facebook occasionally, but honestly they are just acquaintances now. It's weird how you finish college and you slowly but surely stop talking to each other, or stop having things in common to talk about anymore. May Yen was a girl I used to study with and hang out with frequently, but after she graduated we've exchanged maybe three emails in total. I used to go shopping all the time with Shaza, but now we're both married and in different countries, we rarely talk anymore. And my best friend in Monash was Jung Ai, a Korean girl who has now moved back to Korea. We spent sooo much time together and had such a fun four years together. Of course these are friendships I'd liked to have kept, but is it true to say that not all friendships can withstand distance, different communication preferences and different stages of life?

My closest friends in Malaysia are really the ones I met through my business world. Oddly enough, these are friends I met online first: they either ran blog shops or start ups, and these are my friends who are as excited about business development and entrepreneurship as I am. Online friends quickly became real life friends, and we would meet up all the time. For example, despite being thousands of miles and several time zones away, Cynthia remains one of my dearest friends to date. Between 2008 to 2012, I'd say I had a lot more entrepreneur friends because I was so deeply immersed in that world. Now, I don't even remember some of their names anymore - but back then, I knew the name of every store owner and the person behind each startup, and I would be talking nonstop saying hi to all my friends every time I went to an offline bazaar.

There were also my gamer-world friends. From ages 20 to 23 or so, I played PIMD (Party in my Dorm), Forsaken World and Rage of Bahamut (one at a time, not all at once). And I played them pretty hardcore. This meant a deeper immersion into the gaming worlds, resulting in online friends that I talked to everyday, and who knew me better than my real-life friends did at the time. They were really great friends, and I even ended up meeting a bunch of them in person. I still am friends with many of them to this day, even though I haven't had time to play games intensely in quite a few years.

Then there are my former students. I don't keep in touch with all of them, but the ones who are on my social media are always around like colorful little butterflies, cheering on my journey in the U.S. and texting me that they miss me being in their classes. They will always have a special place in my heart. :)

And now I have my USC friends and Austin friends, and they are really more than what I need because they are so supportive and caring. I don't think I have very, very close friends in either city because I'm always half-here and half-there, having to shuttle back and forth between states throughout the past two years. I hope I'll be able to develop more friendships, stronger friendships, the longer I am here in Austin.

But my embedded trait as an only child stands: I don't get easily attached to my friends, because I am so accustomed to "losing" and "gaining" different friends as I go through different phases in life. It's probably a defense mechanism I developed from growing up, so that I wouldn't feel so sad all the time when we have to part ways. There are a rare few who stand the test of time and distance, like An Nie, and of course, Darren, who is my best friend in the whole world. (Although technically, I have been friends with An Nie longer than I've been friends with my husband, haha. :P)

This brings me back to the point of this blog post: I'm okay with endings because every new beginning is some beginning's end. I've always had friends, and I'm sure I will always have friends -- but that doesn't mean I'm a stranger to losing dozens of close friends each time I make any life changes, no matter how small or big a change it is. It could be as small as changing to a different class in elementary school, installing a new game or moving to a different country like I have done.
My mom always told me that at the end of the day, the one constant in our lives is family. "Friends," she always tells me, "flow in and flow out like water in a river. Some hang around longer, circling the pebbles and stones, but eventually the water has to flow out because more is flowing in." 
Like many friendships, chapters in life must come to an end, but it is exciting and empowering to begin on a new journey.