Thursday, 1 September 2016

I Need To Be Gentler With Myself


Rewiring The Brain

 

Did you know that childhood experiences could wire one’s brain in a way that could cause one to create perceptions in adulthood, that might or might not be the truth?

When I was a little girl, Dad was incarcerated for alternative political views. However when he was released, he had continued to hold political views that were not aligned with the establishment, and was still quite vocal about it amongst his friends.   I felt that when the family had already walked through the struggle of his detention, he should just stop taking too hard a stand against the establishment and learn to be more open to the intent behind some of these policies and indeed be more open to the political opinions of others.  I blamed Dad’s continuous anti-establishment rhetoric on my not being important enough for him to just “shut up”.  When my parents chided me for grades that were not within the top percentile, I blamed it on my not being intelligent enough and my lack of discipline.  When my brother hurt himself while playing as a toddler, his nanny told my parents that I had bullied him, and of course I had a scolding for it.  I blamed that incident on my failure to take better care of him. 

 
That wiring in my brain had over time, made me extremely critical of myself.  When my performance appraisals at work saw general comments like “needs improvement”,  I blamed it on the fact that I might not have delivered a project well, had not been detailed enough with my work or perhaps I was too lax in the management of my team.  When I struggled at the gym with boxing, always making the same mistakes repeatedly, I blamed it on my age and my lack of agility.  When my Mom fell a few months ago on her way to church, I blamed it on the fact that I had not spent enough time with her and had not taken better care of her.   When my son went through the phase of acting like an imbecilic teenager by spending lavishly on his girlfriend without thought of the value of money, and covering up his lack of control over his expenditure with lies to David and I, I blamed it on my failure as a mother.

 

Putting So Much Pressure On Myself

 
I spent the weekend talking to Mom, to my best friend Molly, and then to my mentor Alixe last night and there was a common thread that ran through each of their advice. They said that I was putting too much pressure on myself.  Every day, I juggled multiple roles, trying to be a good marketer at work, a counselor and mentor with my clients, a student at my boxing training, a mother, wife, and daughter at home.  I had inevitably placed my own set of evaluation criteria on myself within each of these roles, trying to over-achieve all the time, trying to please everybody, and trying my best to take care of everyone’s needs but my own.  In some of these situations, I had bitten off more than I can chew, taking on everyone else’s responsibilities and worrying for the people in my life that mattered most to me. 
 

Last night, I drew a circle on a piece of paper and wrote the names of the people within my network that were closest to me. I then wrote a bunch of words that automatically described my immediate thoughts about them and things I had done for them or wished to do for them.  Finally I circled the words that were repeated most.  These were the words that got circled the most -  Save, Support, Salvage, Nurture,  Heal, Sorry, Please.  These words told a story of how I had always felt I had never given enough, done enough or delivered enough.  There was always something I had to save someone from.  There was always a situation I had to salvage for someone.  There was always someone that needed my support.  There was always someone I had to continuously nurture.  There was always someone that had an open wound that needed continuously healing. There was always someone I needed to please. There was always someone I felt so sorry to, for not being able to further save, support, salvage, please or heal. So I often held myself accountable for someone else’s issues or mistakes.

 
Being Gentle To Myself

 
Acknowledging my own limitations and my need to draw that boundary around me, I  decided today that I had to be gentler to myself.  I had to stop taking responsibility for other people’s problems, faults and failings.   I needed to take time out to rest for a bit.  I needed space from some people.  I needed time to nourish my soul and nurture my mind, body and spirit back to a state where I can take back control of my personal power.

 
Taking Care Of Me

 
So I will take care of myself over the next few weeks. 

 
I had to stop being anxious about Joel and his lack of accountability for his frivolous spend. Whatever little he earned from his national service stint belonged to him after all and he had every right to spend it in the way he wanted to. How he managed his money today would go a long way to teaching him about the value of savings and wealth management as he grows older, manages a career, owns his own home and have a family in the future. 

 

I had to stop nagging David about his lack of discipline with regard to his diet.  His health was his responsibility. The quality of life that he wanted to live in future as he got older, would be determined by how he managed his health, lifestyle and fitness today.

 
I had to stop stressing about Mom’s well-being and whether or not she was getting enough attention from me. Mom had a huge circle of friends, and she was often surrounded by my uncles, aunt and cousins who often spent time with her. She would have to assume full responsibility over the way she wanted to design her new lifestyle after my Dad had passed on.

 
I had to stop getting annoyed, when certain clients did not take my advice and kept returning to consult with me on the same issues. They were afterall masters of their own destinies and needed to take charge of their own happiness by choosing to accept things that they could not change, or make changes to things that they could.

 
 I had to stop being “mother-hen” to my team at work, worrying that they would get bullied by other senior managers when I could not be at certain meetings.  I needed to trust that my team members are capable enough of fighting their own battles as these experiences were essential to their development as future leaders.

 
What impacted my emotions most would often be the people and things I cared about most.  On hindsight, I felt grateful for the angst, anxiety, anger, sadness, frustrations, disappointments and all the negativity from incidents that had triggered my feelings of fear of lack of control, lack of approval, and lack of security because these feelings helped me acknowledge my vulnerability and my own need for help, support, nurturing and space. 

 
So, be warned. When I need a hand to hold, I would be asking you for it soon.  When I need space and time to myself,  please know that I am not trying to avoid you.  When I indulge in a few more glasses of wine than usual outside of my cheat day, please try not to judge me for my ill discipline.  When I need to go for a vacation longer than I had planned, please allow me that time to take care of me.

 
What I truly need most now  though, is to go walk barefoot on the grass, listen to birds sing, feel the wind in my face, hug a tree and feel the wet sand between my toes at the beach. Please try not to think I am "hippy-wierd".

 
I am just learning to be gentler with myself.

 

About The Writer

The writer of this blog post is a Marketing and PR professional for over 20 years.  Due to her love for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), she is also a freelance sports writer on the side, contributing MMA-related articles to several sports media.  She works in partnership with her husband, David Ash, who is an avid sports photographer from 
www.singaporemaven.com.  She is passionate about Boxing and nurtures a dream to fight competitively one day when her coach stops making fun of her.  She is also a psychic intuitive by birth and runs a consultancy that does tarot and numerology readings under her brand, Sun Goddess Tarot.  This blog is affectionately called "The Crazy AngMo" as she is married to one, although she has not yet explained to THE Ang Mo that when translated, he has been labeled  “the bloke with ginger hair”.  

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Straight Talking



Straight Answers
 
I am not sure if culture has got something to do with this but in Asia, I find it hard to get straight answers, honest comments, and genuine opinions, unless, of course the answers, comments, and opinions were offered via social media, hidden behind the safety of a computer.   I thought it was an Asian thing to protect one’s face by not being too opened with opinions.  Brutal honesty was frowned upon as being crass and un-classy.  Mom just simply describes it as,”You ah! No filter between your brain and your mouth.”


Would it not be easier to resolve issues when people could discuss things in an upfront and straightforward manner?
 
Decipher These
 
As a recruiter, it was usual for David to ask potential candidates why they were looking out for a new job.  Here are a prized collection of some of the responses that often left him baffled.  If they were looking out for a new job because of some existing organizational restructure that did not favor them, they would tell David that they were in the midst of a “career re-alignment”.  If they did not get the promotion that they wanted, it would be a situation where they were considering a “salary re-engagement”.  If they were retrenched, it would be a case of managing “mid-career dismantling”.  If they were hoping for a career switch, they were “looking outside their career remit”.  


How difficult would it be for one to just be upfront and say,” I am looking for a new job because a) my boss and I do not see eye to eye on most things, b) I no longer am able to add value to the company, or c) I got retrenched 3 months ago.
 
I had my own fair share of experience with those who dished “wishy-washiness” at me.  When a colleague kept postponing a meeting with the excuse that he had been “putting out fires” or “still realigning plans”, more likely than not, he was avoiding having to face a difficult discussion with me.   


I would have preferred a simple, “Sorry I would not be able to meet you now because I have no answers to why that situation had happened and is causing you the deep agony of preparing responses to media queries.”
 
If I was asked to “re-gig the numbers”.  It usually meant that my budget was cut and we could not afford to execute one of my brilliant but crazy plans that I had spent months dreaming up.  


Pokemonitis  


 To my annoyance, my son has gotten into the bad habit as well.  Singapore got swept into a trend similar to a zombie holocaust when Pokemon Go landed on our shores.  Joel was not spared.  The good thing that came out of it was that he has gotten his sedentary ass moving and his frequent trips out of the house on a hunt for pokemons, had been carefully messaged as, “I am walking the dogs Mom.”  For the first time, the dogs got walked a record 8 times a day on his day off.  Another innovative excuse for getting out of the house was, “I went to get a loaf of bread from 7-11.  After coming home with it, I realized we ran out of peanut butter, so I went back to 7-11 to buy some.”    When I asked Joel what was driving that obsession with the game, the most straight-forward response he gave me was, “You have been nagging me to get fitter haven’t you? You kept complaining that I have been shirking my responsibilities over the chores like walking the dogs, haven’t you?  You have been urging me to take less cabs and walk or use public transport more, haven’t you?” 


Yes I have.  However I was expecting him to tell me he wanted to surpass his friends by reaching level 25 on the game and maybe own a couple of gyms.
 
Gymnitis  


So I thought, maybe I should join the lot with my own version of undecipherable responses.  When my strength and conditioning coach gave me a pep talk about my inconsistent presence at the gym lately, I replied, “I need to have some space to recalibrate my body, mind and spirit.” When deciphered, that meant, “See you in a couple of weeks, dude.”
 

About The Writer

The writer of this blog post is a Marketing and PR professional for over 20 years.  Due to her love for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), she is also a freelance sports writer on the side, contributing MMA-related articles to several sports media.  She works in partnership with her husband, David Ash, who is an avid sports photographer from 
www.singaporemaven.com.  She is passionate about Boxing and nurtures a dream to fight competitively one day when her coach stops making fun of her.  She is also a psychic intuitive by birth and runs a consultancy that does tarot and numerology readings under her brand, Sun Goddess Tarot.  This blog is affectionately called "The Crazy AngMo" as she is married to one, although she has not yet explained to THE Ang Mo that when translated, he has been labeled  “the bloke with ginger hair”.  


Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Making Peace With My Inner Child

I did not like kids. They were tiresome, demanding, and often a potential liability in a way that required my making plans around them.  When Joel was little, I was every parent’s nightmare when it came to my turn to babysit the children or do the school run.  My way of entertaining these kids was to feed them with a buffet of sweets, chocolates, crisps and lots of fizzy drinks while I did my aerobics in front of the TV.

 

On days I hosted the baby group, I would have some of these kids’ parents calling me at night to complain that their children were hyperactive from the sugar overload or had lost their appetite for dinner. 

 

My Weekend Getaway

 

When the girls at work planned a weekend getaway in Malacca recently, I was informed that Susan was going to have her daughter, Sophie, come along with us. I was worried initially.  A weekend trip away with the girls always meant miles of walking, eating lots of spicy Malaysian food, and plenty of coffee stops.  “Did that sound kid-friendly to you, Susan?”  I thought.

 

I decided to keep my mind open.  A 5-hour bus ride to Malacca could be a nightmare with her running up and down the aisle of the bus with little or no chance of me gagging and tying her to the roof of the bus.  I decided, the fizzy drinks, sweets, chocolates and crisps tactic would not work if I wanted to have a peaceful nap for 5 hours.

 


Well, I was wrong about kids.  At least, I was wrong about this kid.  I did have a peaceful bus-ride.  I did have a weekend filled with so much fun and laughter. I did walk miles, shopped and ate plenty of spicy Malaysian food, with little Sophie in tow.


 

Little Miss Sunshine

 

After a great weekend, my post-vacation blues really was not inspired about missing Malacca, its food, its cafĂ© culture and its history.  I realized it was inspired by my missing Sophie.  And here’s why.

 

Sophie sprinkled a lot of sunshine throughout our trip.  She made us laugh with her antics, especially when she choreographed her special “jelly dance” to entertain us.   She chattered non-stop, and every opinion from her was made from the observation of a pure and innocent heart of a child. 

 


Her inquisitive nature inspired her to ask many questions.  I saw her learning new things, shaping her perceptions with everything she touched, heard and experienced.

 


She taught us to let our hair down, and look at everything and everyone around Malacca through the eyes of a child.  From that vantage point, we saw everything from a fresh perspective.  A wall mural was not just a wall mural.  We played with it and engaged with a piece of art on the wall just to have a wee bit of fun.

 


We became children again.  We visited the Mamee Cup Noodle factory on Jonker street, decorated our own cups and customized our own cup noodle ingredients.  It was like a school excursion.

 




We were not fussy about sticking to the breakfast, lunch and dinner routine.  We ate when we wanted to eat and with an adventurous spirit, tried all kinds of food that I would otherwise not have tried. 

 

Sophie’s love for life, inspired us to live the moment, enjoy the now, appreciate every little thing around us. Without her, I would be spending the trip checking my emails every hour on the hour like I usually did when I travelled.

 

I was grateful for Little Miss Sunshine’s presence throughout our weekend getaway.  Sometimes, children can teach us so much more than we would ever admit.  The most important lesson from her for me, was that, if I wanted to live the moment and truly love my life, I needed to start with an open mind.

 


 
Postscript:  Now I would usually have thought that I  had lost my mind to be drawing something like this together with Sophie during our bus-ride home from Malacca. However, on looking back at it,  this was to me, our most beautiful piece of artwork together!



About The Writer

The writer of this blog post is a Marketing and PR professional for over 20 years.  Due to her love for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), she is also a freelance sports writer on the side, contributing MMA-related articles to several sports media.  She works in partnership with her husband, David Ash, who is an avid sports photographer from 
www.singaporemaven.com.  She is passionate about Boxing and nurtures a dream to fight competitively one day when her coach stops making fun of her.  She is also a psychic intuitive by birth and runs a consultancy that does tarot and numerology readings under her brand, Sun Goddess Tarot.  This blog is affectionately called "The Crazy AngMo" as she is married to one, although she has not yet explained to THE Ang Mo that when translated, he has been labeled  “the bloke with ginger hair”.  

 

 

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Perfect Imperfection

 

I have not been blogging for a while.  I made the conscious choice to stay away from anything that involved investing too much time and energy analyzing the what and wherefore of every sordid detail of everything that I had observed about life to create some meaningless content on my blog.  Instead of playing spectator to a stage of external events, situations, and issues before me, I started to walk introspectively to play spectator to myself.

 

I spent the last few months wading through an emotional and mental transformation that involved my letting go of aspects of myself that I had come to dislike. Every effort that I had used to make towards being better than what I was yesterday, at work, at home, in my personal life, and at the gym were deemed as an incomprehensible display of inane vanity that served to support my ego.  Every expectation that I had placed on others to be better than they were yesterday, at work, at home, in their personal lives and at the gym were deemed as an intolerance to anything or anyone that could not compete with my ego and I.

 

I woke up one day to the fact that if I could not be everything to everyone, then I should not be expecting that of myself. Nothing needs to be that perfect.  Life is not a checklist of “things - I –need- to- do”.  I did not need to push for an achievement in every aspect of my life to feel complete.  And if I was not expecting that of myself, why should I be expecting that of others? 

 

The Perfect Marriage

 

David and I founded our marriage on the principle that we were Best Friends First.  There was zero romance, very little time spent together, and we might have possibly violated some acceptable norms of a traditional marriage. We did not feel compelled to be the perfect spouse, having to message each other ever so often to say something inane like “I love you babes.” Didn’t we already know that?   We did not feel compelled to set aside a specific time for date night.  For goodness sakes, when we sparred at the gym and I spent half that time dodging his jabs, that was a date night.  We did not feel compelled to plan an annual vacation together.  When he had a photography assignment overseas, he would ask if I would like to come along and extend a few days after his work to enjoy some “we time” exploring the sights and doing street photography.  

 

We are indeed Best Friends First.  So that would mean that even in the absence of romance, hair, obliques and one’s own teeth, everything about this marriage was perfect to us.  I chose to let go of societal norms of what a perfect marriage should be.  I refused to be defined by other people’s definitions of what romance was.  I disliked reading women’s magazines which spewed advice about what good communication, togetherness and romance in marriage should look like.    This would be an example of a romantic conversation that we might have. 

 

David, “I would like to nuzzle my beard in your neck.”

Me, “No need. Thanks.  By the way, where are my yellow handwraps?”

 
We do have the most perfectly imperfect marriage.

 

The Perfect Mother

 

Joel and I have the most unusual parent-child relationship founded on the fact that I had very little maternal instincts and plenty of respect for Joel as an individual.  When Joel was little, my friends would be carefully planning their children’s meals to provide them with balanced nutrition.  However, Joel and I would sometimes share a Snickers bar for breakfast, against the advice of friends who felt I was callous about nutrition for his growth. I remembered trekking hills and climbing mountains with a 1 year old strapped to my back, against the advice of friends who were worried that an accident might happen to the boy or he might catch dengue fever or malaria.  As he grew older, and went into national service, our idea of fun back home was challenging each other with diamond push-ups or chin-ups. I was not a traditional mother the way my Mom was to me.  Mom made sure I had hot food on the table every time I got home.  I just made sure Joel knew how to create his own meals every time he got home.  Mom made sure my clothes were always nicely washed and ironed. I just made sure Joel knew how to do his own laundry.  I did not feel compelled to turn up at every concert Joel was performing at when he was in school. However I was there every time he went through a hard time at school, or through a break up with some unimportant cow. 

 

He was never academically inclined and often did not do brilliantly in his exams.  While other parents would panic and throw tutors and enrichment classes at their children, I ignored the pressure and just walked with him through the several parent-teacher meetings, praying that one day, he would look back at this stressful academic system when he grew up and laugh because he had brilliantly created his own opportunities for success in a world that did not give a damn if you had won the egg and spoon race in secondary school. I chose to let go of any preconceptions of what a perfect mother should be.  When I was younger, I was often left out of mother-baby groups where the women got along very well because they followed the rules of what good mothering was all about, whatever they were. I sometimes felt guilty that I was not the mother to Joel the way Mom was to me.  However when I watched Joel grow up to be a strapping young man with values far older than he actually was, I thought I might have done a bloody good job, with no regrets.

 

I did not define my relationship with Joel with hugs, kisses and terms of endearment.  There was no need to.  This would be a typical conversation Joel and I might have.

 

Me, “Joel, you’re my favorite son.”

Joel, “But Mom, I am your only son.”

Me,  “Oh yes.”

 

In our world, Joel and I has the most perfectly imperfect mother-son relationship.

 

The Perfect Marketing Department

 

I used to push myself at work, with my brain switched on almost 24 hours a day 7 days a week, thinking through marketing plans, poking holes into every proposal that landed at my desk and dreaming up of marketing content and ideas at every chance I got. Everything that came out of my department had to be perfect.  With 20 years of Marketing experience amassed at some of the most prestigious blue chip companies, how can anything that I touched be less than perfect?  The reality is, those years back then meant nothing if I refused to grow alongside a world that had evolved with opportunities for others who might not have had the relevant experience, skills nor qualifications, yet had the balls to create brilliant marketing ideas that added value to the community.  They might not have been the most perfect plans but they worked to our business and marketing objectives.   

 

When I lifted this myopic veil of egoistic perceptions of what could be the perfect marketing plan, then I was able to uncover the passion, tenacity, and authenticity of creative souls who merely wanted a chance at making a difference through scope of work that I had initially claimed as my own out of sheer arrogance.  When I accepted that there was no such thing as the most perfect marketing plan, I was able to open my heart and mind to learn from others who did not have the same skills and experience as I did.

 

This made for a perfectly imperfect working environment at which I got excited about every day when I showed up for work.

 

The Perfect Home

 

My housekeeper Evelyn had been away for the past 3 weeks on vacation back to her hometown in the Philippines. Knowing that I was not exactly a Domestic Diva and would not have been able to tell the difference between the washing machine and the microwave oven, she set aside some time before she left, to teach me how to use the appliances at home, and pointed out where all the equipment and the washing liquids were kept.  Secretly, I was furious.  This was my home.  How could I not know how to upkeep my home, right?  My pride caused my nose to get dented out of bent when she wrote a timetable out for me to dictate when I should have my bed linen changed, when the dogs needed their bath and which capsule in the washing machine was for the laundry detergent and which one was for the fabric softener. 

 

When I recovered enough to tell my ego to go to hell, I sat down with David and Joel to map out a plan to divide and conquer the chores.  As the days went by without Evelyn at home, I became more comfortable with the routine of juggling all my priorities with the help of David and Joel. And I realized that over time, I accepted that it was okay to not have a home that was perfectly neat and tidy.  I valued quality time with the family over a sparkling clean kitchen. The pile of clean laundry that needed ironing kept growing.  However I was not pedantic about getting them all ironed and put away at a specific time.  It could wait.  I have better things to do, like spending some good quality time with the family.    I did, in the end, come back to a perfect home. It was a perfect home with a family that was not stressed about a little speck of dust on the shelf, or a white sock that had turned purple in the wash.

 

As I wrote this post, I began to love the imperfections within me and around me a lot more.    The best thing I did for myself in these few months, was to wake up celebrating just being the imperfect me, appreciating the imperfect people in this most imperfect world.


 

About The Writer

The writer of this blog post is a Marketing and PR professional for over 20 years.  Due to her love for Combat Sports, she is also a freelance sports writer on the side, contributing articles to several sports media.  She works in partnership with her husband, David Ash, who is an avid sports photographer from 
www.singaporemaven.com.  She is passionate about Boxing and nurtures a dream to fight competitively one day when her coach stops making fun of her.  She is also a psychic intuitive by birth and runs a consultancy that does tarot and numerology readings under her brand, Sun Goddess Tarot.  This blog is affectionately called "The Crazy AngMo" as she is married to one, although she has not yet explained to THE Ang Mo that when translated, he has been labeled  “the bloke with ginger hair”.  

 

 

Monday, 1 February 2016

No Ego On Her Road To Glory


The Prejudice Against Women In Combat Sports

 

A few months ago, my boxing coach had planned a 3-week vacation to New York and told me that he would be leaving me in the good hands of one of his trainers.  I was not too happy that he was leaving me at a time when I was already struggling with specific technical issues with my jabs and left hook and depended totally on him to work through the drills with me at each training session.  I was even more nervous when I found out that the trainer he had assigned me to was a girl, Nurshahidah Roslie.  I remembered wailing, “A GIRL?!  You got a girl to train me?”  That was it.  I thought then that for 3 weeks, I might as well have taken a vacation myself, indulged in a diet of pizzas and ice cream, and waited for the coach to return.  Of course my good sense took over, and I was assured by everyone who heard about my doubts that Shahidah was a national boxer who had represented Singapore in the SEA Games recently and came with extensive boxing experience.  Moreover, she was also poised to be Singapore’s first female professional boxer when she makes her professional debut at the World Boxing Foundation-sanctioned event, Singapore Fighting Championship, on 20th February.

 



Fighters’ Ego

 

I could explain where my prejudice against women in combat sports came from.  It was driven by past experiences when I had attempted to conduct interviews for my articles with female boxers and MMA fighters.  Ego was often in the way.  The female fighters I had encountered in the past almost always came into the ring with a chip on their shoulders.  I disliked that, particularly when I often remembered the wise words of my boxing coach who very firmly insisted that we left our egos outside the gym at every training session.  My experience with female fighters just ran contrary to that concept.

 

An example was an interview with an Asian female boxer who had transitioned to MMA in the past few years.  When I contacted her for an interview, she  dismissed me with responses like, “please talk to my PR people as I am busy” and worse, “you can get a glimpse of me training through my Facebook.”   Subsequently, I was not sure whether to feel sorry for her or to feel relief that that story had not been written because she suffered a string of losses in a series of fights after that.   Skills, talents, and experience often spoke louder than Ego.

 

Having been intimately involved with the combat industry through the fight photography and journalism work that David and I had been doing these few years, what was pretty obvious to us was that these fighters needed as much positive publicity as they could get, particularly when their fight opportunities were sometimes far and few in between.  So I would get quite disillusioned when I watched fighters display the more unpleasant side of themselves across media. I have seen that with men, as much as with women in combat sports and idealistic as I might be, I was sure as hell that I was not going to have anything more to do with anyone in combat sports that came packaged with a ribbon colored by Ego.

 
 

Inspiring Women In Combat Sports

 

So when my coach unceremoniously dumped a female boxing coach in the ring with me, I bristled with worry that Shahidah would come into the coaching session with that chip on her shoulder I came to associate female boxers with.

 

On looking back though, and after getting to know Shahidah better, I was quite embarrassed by my prejudice.  I reminded myself that I should not cast a cloak of judgment across the industry just because of a couple of bad lads and divas whom I had encountered.  I should instead stand by my principles and my genuine intent to promote women in combat sports across my social media platforms and even in the articles that I wrote.

 

I particularly had a soft spot for those who had struggled through life and committed their energy and time to combat sports as a positive outlet to inspire young women and children.  It was no secret that I was a big fan of Cris Cyborg in the world of Mixed Martial Arts. She had a 15-1 professional MMA record and in spite of the struggles that she had been through,  had decided to use her talents to inspire young ladies to embrace a life of fitness by launching her Pink Belt Fitness program.  Another inspiring female in combat sports that I admired was American boxer Mia St John who in her career had 22 out of 23 wins with 1 draw and was the WBC super welterweight champion defeating Christy Martin at the ripe old age of 45 years old.  Who thinks age is a barrier in combat sport again ? In her own right, she was not only a successful boxer but also a model and businesswoman, proving to other ladies, that she did not define herself by the opinions of others and made her own way through life with her own bare hands, brains and a lot of tenacity.

 

So my prejudice was inexcusable. 

 

First Singaporean Female Professional Boxer

 

The 3 weeks I spent with Shahidah as she meticulously worked through techniques, speed and agility together with me was an eye-opener.  This unassuming lady who often sat quietly behind the counter at the gym was a dynamite in the ring. No one should be at the end of her extremely powerful jab and left upper cut combination.  I would know, I almost had my jaw dislodged during a sparring session with her. 

 

During our training, we discussed her dreams, her aspirations and her hopes.  We spoke about her past, and how she had worked very hard to work towards her dream of representing the country in boxing at the SEA Games in 2015. We talked at length about each other’s fears, anxieties, and passions.  I truly respected her humility and her dedication to the goal of always being better than her current self so that she could impart her skills and knowledge to others.  I often heard boxers telling me that they wanted to garner that championship belt in a few weight categories in succession, be champions multiple times over, or be the "greatest of them all".  However all Shahidah wanted was to be a better boxer tomorrow than she was yesterday so that she could be part of the  talent development of young boxers.

 

When I told Shahidah about my experience with female fighters in the past, she said, “Before anyone thinks of picking up boxing, perfecting the techniques, garnering fame and glory, he or she needs to have an attitude that is heart-driven and powered by determination.  This attitude is NOT driven by ego and greed.  I am sorry about your past experiences but female boxers do need all the support that they can get.  If they have the right heart-driven attitude, hopefully, the support for female boxers will start streaming in when people like you can see the struggles and sacrifices we have made out of our love for the sport.  I am hoping to see more talented young female boxers stepping into the scene to represent Singapore.  It can only happen if people like you give them as much support and publicity that they need.”


 

Just A Girl

 

When I started boxing, many friends and relatives thought I was suffering from mid-life crisis.  I remembered a friend who said, “Joanna, you have been an over-achiever all your life.  You want to do everything to prove something all the time.  At your age, you have nothing to prove, so why should you start boxing now?”  That hurt.  I had lots to prove.  I wanted to prove that life should never have limits no matter the circumstance.  I thought objections would happen only to those who got into combat sports at a later age, like myself.   However, Shahidah had her fair share of objections as well from her family.  She was after all, “just a girl”.  More than anything, they were worried for her safety but knew that their objections would fall on deaf ears.   Shahidah took her family’s reservations in her stride, and instead of feeling dejected, she threw her energy behind her passion because it was a sport that made her aware of her strength, and was in awe of the discipline it had instilled in her.  She even proved her family wrong about boxing being “a man’s sport” when she started embracing her feminity even more and  became more aware of the fact that as a female boxer, she was inadvertently paving her way to be a role model for young up and coming female boxers too.

 

Obstacles

 

Life as a female boxer in general, was already not easy.  It was even harder when one is a female boxer in Singapore, where fight opportunities for female boxers were limited.  Shahidah spent hours training at the gym for the last 8 years, craving for as much fight experience as she could get.  However, fight opportunities here were far and few in between.  She prayed silently to be called up for matches and “just trained and waited, while bearing with the emptiness.” She was keen to get out there, push the envelope and raise that bar to develop her skills further but she often waited a very long time.

 

Another obstacle she had to overcome was money. Shahidah was practical enough to know that she needed to work to earn a decent living, mindful also that  what she earned had to be enough also to cover any medical costs incurred in the event that she had sustained  injuries  during her fights. However, work sometimes got in the way of her training schedule so she had to strike a delicate balance between work, training and rest. That was one of her biggest hurdles.

 

The Big Break

 

 Shahidah’s big break came when she was selected to represent Singapore in the SEA Games in 2015.  I got another glimpse of her humility and down to earth attitude when she told me that all she wanted to do was to train very hard so that she would not let down those who had invested time and energy on her.  She was keen on putting up a good fight. And her sportsmanship shone through when she said, “Whether I won or lost the fight, what was important to me was that I had given my heart and soul into putting up the fight of my life for my country.  For a start, I felt  honored to represent Singapore and that experience had shown me that the years of sacrifice and hard work was all well worth my effort.”

 

Training With The Best

 

Shahidah attributed the support she got on her boxing journey to our coach, Arvind from Juggernaut Fight Club.  She had a lot of respect for a coach that stood by his proteges “as if they were family.”    She said, “He was the only coach I know who would give more than100% to help his boxers. In the business of fight sports, he went through a lot of struggles, yet he found the means to develop athletes with his heart. There are times we do not agree with each other but at the end of the day, his heart had always been in the right place.” I resonated with that because I saw that with my own eyes with each of the boxers he had trained including the other  national boxers Leong Jun Hao and Tai Jia Wei.

 


Easy To Pick Up, Hard To Master

 

My almost 2 years of boxing training had been a long and difficult journey.  Many times, I wanted to run out of the gym, admit defeat and just give up.  However, David, my coach, and my gym mates had always been my biggest critiques and yet my biggest supporters.  When I shared that thought with Shahidah, she knew exactly what I meant.  Shahidah’s experience with boxing was dotted with an equal amount of joy, tears, hardship, defeat and victory.  In her words, the sport was “easy to pick up but hard to master.”  Her learning was a continuous journey and each time she entered the ring, the bar would be set higher. 

 

Ultimately, Shahidah hopes to be ranked in the world before she stops competing.  She also hopes to be actively involved in the process of scouting boxing talent and training them to be better than she was.

 

Shahidah won me with her authenticity and her humility.  I have developed a better understanding of the struggles and sacrifices that boxers make, particularly with female boxers like her.  Not only do I have a lot more respect for females in combat sports now, I have even more respect for each minute I spent in the ring with my coach.  It may be a long and hard journey for me, but it is even harder for boxers like Shahidah who are committed to making boxing a professional career.

 

Singapore Fighting Championship

 

Shahidah will make history as Singapore’s first professional boxer.  She makes her professional debut at the second instalment of Singapore Fighting Championship on 20th February.  The event is sanctioned by the World Boxing Foundation.  For more information about the event, do visit https://www.facebook.com/singaporefightingchampionships/

 
Photo credits:  All Photos accompanying this post were provided by David Ash, www.SingaporeMaven.com @SingaporeMaven
 

About The Writer

The writer of this blog post is a Marketing and PR professional for over 20 years.  Due to her love for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), she is also a freelance sports writer on the side, contributing MMA-related articles to several sports media.  She works in partnership with her husband, David Ash, who is an avid sports photographer from 
www.singaporemaven.com.  She is passionate about Boxing and nurtures a dream to fight competitively one day when her coach stops making fun of her.  She is also a psychic intuitive by birth and runs a consultancy that does tarot and numerology readings under her brand, Sun Goddess Tarot.  This blog is affectionately called "The Crazy AngMo" as she is married to one, although she has not yet explained to THE Ang Mo that when translated, he has been labeled  “the bloke with ginger hair”.  

 

 

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

A Tale Of 2 Cities And 2 Families


A Tale Of 2 Cities

 

Although I have been back from my vacation in Sarawak for 2 weeks now, my heart is still there, buried somewhere in the depths of the forests at Rancan Waterfall.

 



I came home with a truck load of indigenously- grown spices and produce like pepper, Kuching Laksa paste and Olives from Sibu which Mom insisted on lugging across seas back to Singapore.  I am not sure, what is it about travelling, that compels people to do strange things, like carrying 20 boxes of pineapple tarts back to Singapore, only to watch 19 boxes disappear into the hands of relatives and friends before our eyes.  

 


I amassed some wonderful memories of the wildlife reserves and other places of interests that I still talk fondly about, and am planning a wildlife photography trek through the forests some time with David.    

 


Most importantly, I came home also with new familial connections formed as I was introduced to my extended family in Sarawak and was reconnected to familiar ones that I had not seen in more than 40 years. This was the tipping point in my trip because, it played an important role in helping me connect the familial dots between Singapore, Sarawak and Sibu.  In the past, whatever stories told by Granny about Sarawak and Sibu did not make sense to me.  They seemed to be lifted out of 2 separate story books written by several authors all at once. Now, I know better, and it made it more difficult for me to write this blog post but I did promise myself that in 2016, I would CELEBRATE.  So, this post was a way I would celebrate family.  I celebrate being part of a new extended family, with new-found uncles, aunts and cousins. I celebrate being part of a rich familial history that dated back to an enterprising young man who came from China to Borneo many years ago to eke a living and build a new home and family.  This man’s blood courses through me enough to tell the story that I had picked up from the discussions with my Grandmother, Mom and my Aunts.

 

Great Grandfather

 

The story began with my Great Grandfather, Kho Eng Khng, who like many immigrants in his time, came to “Nanyang” or South East Asia by boat to build a life leveraging the abundant opportunities and natural resources it offered.

 





Great Grandfather met and married my Great Grandmother in Kuching.  She was the only daughter in the family and was gifted 2 bangles by her father at the wedding. She gave Great Grandfather one of the bangles as a gift which he had very cleverly used to invest in his business.  He started a textile business under the brand Nan Chi which when translated, means Southern City. The brandname Nan Chi was a meaningful one because it reflected Great Grandfather’s commitment to the city of Kuching. He grew his business on the bedrock of economic growth and development in Kuching then, at the South of the river in Sarawak, and this city had been adopted as his home, where he raised his family.   Nan Chi operated out of a 3-storey shop house and that business became highly successful and expanded beyond his wildest dreams.  Because of his love for nature, he started a landscaping business operating out of Nan Chi Garden which had also become very successful.


 



Great Grandmother

 

By this time, Great Grandfather and Great Grandmother had 4 children, 3 daughters and a son.  One of these daughters, the youngest was my Granny.

 
Great Grandmother with Mom 

When the kids were in school one day and my Great Grandmother was at home, a man from the local immigration office dropped by the house and told my Great Grandmother that she had to sign some immigration papers to allow for the passage of my Great Grandfather’s relative from China to Sarawak.  My Great Grandmother could not read, speak or write English yet she surrendered to the concept of spousal duty by affixing her thumbprint on the dotted line, and unwittingly agreed for my Great Grandfather’s first wife from China to relocate to Sarawak.

 

While my Grandmother’s story veered towards the perception that Great Grandmother was just ignorant, I on the other hand believed that Great Grandmother loved my Great Grandfather so much that she just wanted to do what she thought was right for him.

 



The Other Great Grandmother

 

 

So with the new situation created by that thumbprint, 2 families headed by 1 man with 2 wives co-existed in that 3 storey shophouse at Nan Chi.  Those were the days, when practicality took over and any negative emotions about the awkward situation were just cast aside out of spousal duty from both women to keep my Great Grandfather happy. 

 

The household now consisted of my Great Grandmother with her 4 children, my step Great Grandmother with her 8 children and my Great Grandfather who was perhaps the happiest man within this complex scenario.

 

When step Great Grandmother moved in, my Great Grandmother and the 4 children had to pack up and move to the 3rd floor of the shophouse while my step Great Grandmother and the 8 children moved to the 2nd floor of the shop house with my Great Grandfather.  In an Asian family, the first wife of course took precedence in importance and rank, hence Great Grandmother had no choice but to comply with the social rules.

 




The Relocation To Sibu

 

I must have got my rebellious streak from Great Grandmother who not long after, decided that these social rules were bullshit and there just could not be 2 queens in a household.  Ok, Grandmother did not quite say that but I thought that was the best way to describe it in my words. The truth however, was that Great Grandmother's eldest daughter got married and moved to the neighboring city of Sibu. Her son had also moved to Sibu due to work. What else had she then in Kuching? So Great Grandmother bundled the remaining 2 kids and moved to  Sibu too. 

 

To my Great Grandfather’s credit, he did divide his time between both homes in Sibu and Kuching.  Accounts about their lives in Sibu related by my Grandmother also convinced me that my Great Grandmother’s life in Sibu was a better one, surrounded by the kids who grew up to be highly successful people in their own right.  Her 3 daughters, my 2 Grand Aunts and my Grandmother relocated to Singapore eventually.

 

Luckily Grandmother had settled in Singapore when she married my Grandfather and these are the reasons why.  I am truly convinced that the food in Sarawak is much better than that in Singapore.  My diet failed in epic proportions when I was holidaying in Sarawak.  Secondly, Mom told me that her uncle, Great Grandmother’s only son, had the fondness of knocking her head with his knuckles to punish her for running around the estate “like a ruffian” when she was very young.  Well, I would have a huge dent in my head if I had grown up there too.  My Granduncle would be sending a search party through the forests and up trees to look for me.

 

Finally, Grandmother is now the only daughter left to tell me the tale of my Great Grandfather, my Great Grandmother and my step Great Grandmother.  There were many positive stories as well as negative stories that she had related to my mother and I.  I cannot begin to imagine what must have coursed through my Great Grandmother’s mind when she realized that her beloved husband actually had another wife before her.  It must have been difficult to explain to the kids, why they had to move up a dark set of stairs into the 3rd storey of the shophouse to make way for a “stranger” in the home.  It must have been a difficult decision that my Great Grandmother made to leave the marital home, pack up 2 kids lock, stock and barrel and move to another city to join her 2 other kids.  She must have known it would alter the lives of everyone involved in that move.

 

 However, these did not matter now.  My Great Grandfather and his complex life of 2 wives, 2 families and 2 cities eventually was just a story.  Its complexity was not remotely far from the complexity of what modern families go through in their daily lives of managing home, career, and family life.

 

What was more important though, was that I honor this family and this legacy that my Great Grandfather had built. 

 

Underlying all that, I celebrate the strength and courage of the womenfolk in this family.  When I think about my Great Grandmother, my Grandmother and Mom, I only see strength from the difficult decisions they had to make, the rocky paths they had to walk, the painful stories as well as the happy stories they lived to tell.

 

For this and more, I am truly grateful to be his Great Granddaughter.

Acknowledgement:  The old photographs of my Great Grandfather and his family that accompanied this article was provided with much thanks from my Aunties Sharon and Judy Kho.  The details within this article were woven from stories related to me by my Grandmother, Mom, my uncles and my aunts from Sarawak.

 

 

About The Writer

The writer of this blog post is a Marketing and PR professional for over 20 years.  Due to her love for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), she is also a freelance sports writer on the side, contributing MMA-related articles to several sports media.  She works in partnership with her husband, David Ash, who is an avid sports photographer from 
www.singaporemaven.com.  She is passionate about Boxing and nurtures a dream to fight competitively one day when her coach stops making fun of her.  She is also a psychic intuitive by birth and runs a consultancy that does tarot and numerology readings under her brand, Sun Goddess Tarot.  This blog is affectionately called "The Crazy AngMo" as she is married to one, although she has not yet explained to THE Ang Mo that when translated, he has been labeled  “the bloke with ginger hair”.