The importance of a good home

photo_2017-10-25_16-13-14In all honesty, I’ve never been one to dwell on my living conditions, for a very simple reason – they’ve never been that dire anyway. It wasn’t until I was left with no choice but to move out and find a place of my own, did I realise that it’s not all that easy to find an affordable house you can call a home, especially not in the city.

Faced with more than just a few options, I had a big dilemma ahead of me when I plotted my move in 2016 – and I settled for the cheaper option. Granted, the “cheaper” option meant staying in a 400 sq ft studio apartment that’s so new it was still under construction and lacking Wi-Fi connectivity, but that didn’t matter to me at my first job. All I wanted to do was to save back on a couple of hundred bucks every month.

Of course, when my parents came to visit, they were appalled, to say the least. “How can you live here?” they asked. I always told them they were overreacting. Sure, the hallways are a little dim and the walls are painted grey, but that’s the decorator’s attempt at being edgy and futuristic. Nothing was leaking, and it wasn’t like there was mould on the walls.

I did not suspect that anything was amiss about this place – I could live in it, and that was all I needed. What I didn’t realise was that it wasn’t a place I could come home to every day to relax and unwind. Having no Wi-Fi connectivity meant I needed to rely on my 4G internet, which was capped off at a particular quota every month. What’s worse was that connectivity was poor on the 30th floor of my condo, which made working from home an impossible task. What a waste of my work-from-home benefits! There were no means of entertainment, and cooking meals was an uphill battle because of the limited space and amenities.

I lived like this for a year – until it was time for my contract period to end, and we decided to move out and find a new home. Market rates for studio apartments in Petaling Jaya are now going for RM1,500 a month, and it took a lot for me to come to terms with that fact. It helped that I got my first pay raise – and I could, then, afford about RM1,000 a month in bills and rent.

But what did I get for paying an additional RM250 in rent? Reduced electricity and water rates, a swimming pool, gym, access cards, better security, and added comfort that I never had in my previous condo. Although I am still staying in a studio apartment, it’s a corner lot that’s over 500 sq ft, has great ventilation, and two stove tops that make cooking such a joy. Now, I get to make home-cooked meals every night, and enjoy the cool, night breeze with a view overlooking the city that’s hard to beat – and I’ve never felt more positive!

“Live within your means.”

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What makes a good work environment?

2017-10-01 20.42.21I’ve been in and out of three organisations over the past year or so (including my internship), and I’m not saying I’m proud of it – but I’ve learned a great deal. My very first full-time job was at an advertising agency as a social media manager. My client was a major airline brand in the country. In all honesty, it was a difficult job. I left the office late every weeknight, and during weekends, I was on standby, waiting for the next big crisis to happen. It was as if I did not have a peace of mind – every time I wanted to go out, a PR crisis broke out – and I had to be one of the first responders at all times. It came to a point where crises happened so often that I had to bring my laptop out with me even when I was watching a movie at a mall, and nights were spent worrying about another crisis erupting. It did not help that social media management was not what I had intended to do – I had a dream of becoming a writer, but I did very little writing in this role. I expressed to my immediate manager that I wanted to write more, but my request fell on deaf ears. I had no choice but to resign.

Even then, I managed to maintain a great relationship with the people there, including the man who recognised my work ethic and ability to deliver – my Managing Director. Once there was a writer’s position open, he called me immediately. I said yes, without hesitation.

A supportive team

Through all the adversity I endured during my stint at my first job, I felt pressured – but I always knew I had a dependable team. My team members consisted of a group of strong, independent women who were far from selfish and self-centred. Every time I struggled with something, they went above and beyond to lend a helping hand. When I was on leave, they made sure I enjoyed my leave days to the fullest and tried not to bother me – even if that meant they had to put in extra hours to make up for it.

A boss that recognises you based on meritocracy

This may sound like a no-brainer – but I do not like nepotism, favouritism, and corruption, even if I am on the positive end of it. I feel extremely guilty if I am put in a position where I am being favoured because of my ability to shine my bosses’ shoes. I would much rather get by through meritocracy and by virtue of the work that I produce. At my first job, I was liked and well-remembered not because I kissed up to my bosses, but because I strived for what I wanted – and that was growth. It took me three months to be well-adjusted to my colleagues and bosses. Prior to that, I was quiet and timid, and I worked without trying to socialise with my colleagues. I thought, by then, that I was a lost cause, and would never get anywhere – but in fact, it ended much differently. In that short period of time, I was recognised for the quality of work I put in, and even though I did not make much of an effort to start conversations with my colleagues, they respected me and welcomed me with open arms, no matter how long it took for me to warm myself up to them. For that, I am eternally grateful.

A boss who truly cares about you

It is common to hear things like, “the company cares about you” from your bosses. All my bosses have said the same. I’ve always been cynical, and never believed it to be true. My first boss did not use his words to convince me, but his actions did all the talking. How many of us have bosses who would stay back a little later each day to have conversations with his employees? How many of us have bosses who are genuinely concerned when they ask you how you’re doing? How many of us have bosses that would do anything to keep an employee from leaving? My first boss did just that.

I know of bosses who take resignation as a personal vendetta against them, believing that the world is always out to get them – but sometimes, resignation is a personal conflict, and has nothing to do with the company. Yet, they take it to heart and say nasty things like, “you’re going to regret this someday”. I have experienced bosses from two different spectrums, but guess which one of them gained (and retained) my trust and loyalty?

The work you’re doing is meaningful to you

I’ve always wanted to write for a living. Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you just that. Many people ask me why I would go back to an organisation that made life difficult for me during the time I was there – but I always answer the same thing: that I am returning because I would much rather slog for hours in a healthy, positive environment, than enjoy a fair work-life balance at a place I feel absolutely miserable in. At the end of the day, which struggle can you justify? Which job is worth the sacrifice? My answer is not difficult to guess.

Your needs are acknowledged and recognised

In one of my jobs, I was severely underpaid, yet, I was expected to bring a certain level of expertise to the table. I expressed to my immediate manager then that I was in dire need of a pay raise – I had been working for a while now, and I was doing a lot more than the average employee at that company. Yet, my needs were neither acknowledged, nor recognised. My requests were met with vague responses such as, “We will see”, “Maybe”, and “Umm…”. It didn’t take long for me to realise that I was being taken advantage of, because other people were getting increments in salary – people who were particularly good at polishing the bosses’ shoes (figuratively, but who even knows?). When I was offered a new position after that, I was adamant on getting a pay raise, and because the hiring manager saw that I had the skills and expertise needed to justify it, I received the raise I wanted (and deserved).

No work environment is perfect, and I am living proof of that. I’ve been in and about, up and around – but I think I’ve got it now – a position I’m happy in, that pays relatively well, that is more empowering than it is demoralising. Things are only looking up from here, and I sincerely hope that everyone gets to experience the same. We spend at least 8 hours at work daily, so why not make sure it’s the best damn 8 hours you’ll spend every day?

Adulthood

2015-01-11-10-58-08-1.jpgYou’d think that in your mid-twenties, you’d have it all figured out – your career, your finances, your life… But you don’t. It’s only when you’re blowing the candles on your 24th birthday cake that you realise – you haven’t done anything you can be proud of. My life has whizzed by before me, and I am struggling to find where it went. I used to have big dreams and ambitions, but that’s before life got in the way. Commitments. Work. Self-doubt.

I used to be so sure of what I wanted to do – I prided myself in being the most self-assured person I know. All that changed when I stepped into the world of adulthood and realised that nobody truly cares about your dreams and ambitions but yourself. You get thrown into doing things that have no meaning behind them – and every day, you question why you’re doing it, why you’re sacrificing your entire life for something that brings little to no meaning to anyone.

Is it for the money? That can’t be, I’m not earning all that much anyway.

Is it out of love of the industry? Nah, I’ve seen that it can be cruel. It eats people up, inside out. Including myself.

I over-glamourised adulthood. 10 years ago, I was desperate to grow up – to gain financial independence and live life the way I wanted it to – but I never realised that the harsh realities of life keep you from doing just that. Sometimes, there’s no one to blame but yourself. You overthink things, and that gets in the way of your success. Crippling self-doubt seeps in, and you quickly realise that maybe you’re not cut out for this after all. Aren’t there people out there more deserving of your dreams? I’m sure there are. Sometimes, I am so sure about my convictions that nothing anyone says can make me falter. Months down the road, I realise I was wrong all along, my decisions were misguided, I was impulsive, I made the wrong choice – and that ruins me.

I’ve been blessed with an incredible support system, something I know many millennials lack today. Yet, it is an internal struggle every day – is this where I want to be? What lies ahead of me? Am I good enough for this?

I guess I’ll never know.

An introvert’s guide to having a live-in (and working!) partner

2017-10-01 12.57.22If you’ve been following my blog, you would know that at one point in my short life, I was in a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend. Fast forward a year later, and here we are – living together in a city, once foreign, that has become our home.

If you’ve been following my blog, you’d also know that I am extremely introverted. It takes me longer than the average person to warm up to someone, but once I am comfortable, I am a completely different person.

In all honesty, after that bout of long-distance, I wished nothing more than to close the gap between him and I. I guess I got my wish when we both decided to pursue different career paths in this city – him in the field of coaching and development, and me in the advertising industry.

As someone who deeply values time alone, it was a drastic shift – from doing everything on my own and for myself, to having to do things together; to take another person’s needs into consideration. Thankfully, Yang is a creature of compromise, so I’ve been the more difficult one in this relationship.

When I was working at an agency, it was difficult to make time for him. Weeknights were spent in the office, and weekends were spent hunching over my computer, working from home.

That all changed when I decided to take up a job at the organisation he is working in, but as a writer. Now, I had to face him 24/7. It didn’t help that we had similar skills, so that meant that we had to work in similar capacities. There was a huge overlap in roles. What little time I had alone at work to focus on building myself, had become a place for my relationship as well.

It was then that I truly understood why two people who are in a relationship are discouraged from working with each other. It was difficult not to bring work into our relationship, and carry our emotions from our relationship into the workplace. I had to constantly see him, and time together was very much devalued – and reduced to a working relationship, even at home. I could not even find the capacity to grow – and I felt like I was constantly being held back by a weight that was pulling me down.

I made the decision to back out of this toxic environment, and work on my career in a separate space. I feel much more liberated now, but it gave me a chance to reflect on my three short months having to be around Yang all day, every day. I’m not saying nothing good came out of it – but now, I truly understand the meaning of giving and receiving space as a couple. I used to think spending all my time with him would be the most ideal situation in my relationship – but I realised that it’s not about quantity, but quality.

Next month, I will be beginning a new journey at the advertising agency where I began my career – and I am absolutely thrilled that I was given the opportunity to start anew, thanks to my supportive boss (more on that later), but I digress.

The whole point of this post is to remind myself of the things I did throughout the three months we spent every waking (and sleeping) hour together, in an attempt to keep the relationship fresh and interesting; tips for the future I will need to pull out of my magician’s hat should I ever need it again someday. They’re quite likely all cliches, but sometimes, it’s the cliches we tend to overlook.

Compromise

Relationships are give and take, even more so when you’re living with each other. Chores are split in between us, and bills – especially so. We’re like two complementary cogs in a machine – when he sweeps and mops the floor, I clean the bathroom. When I cook dinner, he washes up – all in auto mode. Once you get into the rhythm of things, it gets easier to draw the line. We also make sure to never let finances get in the way of our relationship, yet, if ever one of us needs the extra boost, the other person would be there to help. What helps as well is when we give in to each other’s cravings – for dessert, McDonald’s, and fried chicken… Okay, he gives in mostly to mine.

Impromptu dates

I’m not going to lie – dating becomes difficult when you spend all your time together. There is hardly any separation between time spent together, and quality time spent together. What we lacked in quality time, we made up for by having impromptu dates – be it catching a movie (one of our favourite past times!) or stopping by Fatty Crab at Taman Megah when all we wanted to have was a hawker meal at Ming Tien.

Talk it through

Admittedly, I did not do enough of this in times of trouble with Yang. Although it would have been a more effective way of problem-solving, I tend to keep to myself so I have time to collect my thoughts, before I jump into a conversation. Yang, however, prefers talking things through, which is not always easy for me. I soon learned that we each have different ways of coping with issues, but it is always important to deal with your emotions rather than have it manifest on the inside.

Never lose sight of why you fell in love

As harsh as it sounds, I would always have to remind myself of the things that made him special to me, and why this relationship means a great deal more than others that I’ve been in. It wasn’t difficult to see – but there were times I failed to realise it. From all his small gestures, like pouring me a glass of water before bed, to doing all the chores that I did not like – all I needed was to take a step back and take notice of everything. Mindfulness is key.

Make time for yourself

Although it was difficult, it was important that we spent time apart from each other. Whether it was me penning my thoughts down by the computer, or him at the gym, time alone always gives us the space we need to reflect on ourselves. It keeps us in check, so that we don’t lose sight of who we are, and what we want to be.

Now that I’m starting afresh at an old/new workplace, I am looking forward to a renewed relationship with my Yang – one that is centred not on the amount of time we spend together, but the quality of it. Wish us luck!

Viral Encephalitis Part 2

2017-07-08 00.13.41It has now been slightly over a month since I was diagnosed with viral encephalitis, but I still suffer residual effects of the illness to this day. I’ve read that these effects could even persist in my old age, but let’s save that for a conversation over coffee.

Through this harrowing ordeal, I have learned a few key lessons:

Never underestimate a mother’s love
My mother gave up all her commitments back home in Kuching for two weeks just to cook, clean and care for me. Upon hearing that my fever had not subsided and I was behaving strangely, she hopped onto the next flight to Kuala Lumpur and checked me into the hospital, making sure I received the best treatment. Even after I was discharged, she made sure I was never hungry or alone. Yet, through her tired eyes, she was still able to reassure me of my strength and her love for me.

Not all questions are meant to be answered
As I laid in the hospital bed, I kept asking myself the same question, ‘Why me?’. I had antibiotics administered three times a day via an IV inserted through my wrists, arms, forearms and the back of my palms. Each time the nurses gave me a new cannula, the site of insertion would swell up and get infected, and these eventually turned into bruises dotted across my arms. I had a new cannula inserted every day, further fuelling my fear of needles. Why me? I still can’t answer that today.

Always remember the support from your friends and family
During my time in the hospital, some of my extended family members who were in Kuala Lumpur at the time came to visit me. I hadn’t told any of my friends until later, but one friend took notice of my absence on social media and texted me to ask if I was all right. She even arranged to drop by and brought treats. Of course, there were people who feigned concern – but I find strength in knowing that I have great friends out there who care for me.

According to my neurologist, I will never be able to piece together what happened in the 5 days I had my mental breakdown. It still bothers me slightly to this day, but I seek comfort in knowing that this experience taught me the value of love, endurance and especially, my health.

To my mother, you showed me that a mother’s love transcends all geographical and chronological boundaries. Thank you for dropping work and your other commitments during the two weeks you were here to care for me.

To my father and brother, thank you for taking time off your busy schedule and spending your hard-earned money on last-minute flight tickets to Kuala Lumpur just to ensure I never spent a night in the ward alone.

To my extended family, thank you for your prayers, support and well-wishes throughout the recovery process.

And finally, to my Yang – I’m sorry I fell sick and had a mental breakdown during your birthday. Thank you for being the champ I didn’t know I needed.

Viral Encephalitis Part 1

2017-07-08 11.55.00I opened my eyes after a long nap, and was surprised to see my mother sitting on a chair next to me. ‘Do you know where you are?’, she asked.

I looked around and realised I was in an unfamiliar place. It looked a lot like a hospital. I had to muster up all my physical strength to utter a single, ‘No’ in response.

‘You’re in Pantai Hospital’, she said. I looked around again, and it didn’t take long for me to realise there was an IV needle in my arm. I was, to say the least, horrified, given that one of my greatest fears has always been needles.

My mother then asked me, ‘What is the last thing you remember?’. I struggled to find the answer. I didn’t remember what the last thing I could remember was.

‘Do you remember being admitted?’, she probed. ‘Do you remember when you went to see the psychologist?’, ‘Do you remember that you went through an MRI?’. I couldn’t recall any of that.

She then proceeded to tell me that I was admitted into the hospital after failing to recover from a high fever I had contracted the week before. The complicated part? I lost my memory for 5 days in between.

Throughout the day, my mother fed me with details of what had happened in those 5 days.

There was a lapse in my memory because my brain suffered a breakdown in that period of time. Although I was conscious, my brain was not able to process anything – and therefore, none of what happened was committed to my memory.

I learned that with my boyfriend as an accomplice, my mother planned a last-minute trip  from my hometown, Kuching to Kuala Lumpur on Saturday after realising that my fever never subsided, even after consulting two different doctors and taking two different sets of medication.

While she was here, I had difficulty communicating with the people around me and I was only able to mumble a few words at a time. I was incoherent and my behaviour was child-like.

It was then that my mother knew that this was a problem way beyond her comprehension, and with the full support of my extended family, she checked me into the hospital.

I was checked into Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur on Sunday night after a series of tests, including an EEG that showed I had little no brain activity, much to the horror of the neurologist attending to me. After administering antibiotics via IV, I fell asleep and woke up the next day feeling like I had just taken an extremely long nap.

‘What am I down with?’ I asked. ‘Viral encephalitis’, my mother answered. I did not know what that meant, so she patiently answered all my questions. She tried to get me to drink water, but even water tasted strange to me. I couldn’t stomach any of it.

On the day that I ‘awoke’, I found myself to be the most helpless I had ever been. I was not able to take showers on my own, and I had to lie in bed all day because of the IV. Getting up to go to the toilet was physically taxing, and my muscles ached as if I had overexerted myself at the gym the day before. I had to be brought around in a wheelchair.

Yet, through it all, my mother was there to make sure I never spent a minute alone. She bathed me, put my clothes on for me, and patiently reassured me that I’d be all right; that I’m strong and managed to survive this.

My attending neurologist would check up on me daily, and every day, I made progress, little by little. My muscles ached less, and my appetite and mobility improved, albeit slightly.

I was able to go back to my apartment in Petaling Jaya for a few hours every evening after I had shown some progress, and my mother would tag along, tirelessly cooking and cleaning for me.

Later in the week, my father and brother flew over to Kuala Lumpur as well to join my mother in assisting with my recovery. On 13th June 2017, after 9 days of admission, I was finally discharged, and I flew home to Kuching to recuperate shortly after.