Friday, 20 April 2012

Joel survived his first week at the polytechnic

One week at Nanyang Polytechnic and I am glad to report that Joel hasn't been expelled for accidentally taking someone's temperature through his nostril. He attended lectures and hungrily devoured notes on human bio-science and foundation of nursing. Nursing school has so far been an exciting journey of learning whilst making new friends. Coincidentally, the list of new friends is heavily weighted in favor of the female sex. He dismissed it as a function of the nursing practice which tend to attract more females to the profession. I, however, suspected that he had a systematic plan to collect as many girls' phone numbers as he could, in a bid to put his Casanova charms to practice.

Joel was also appointed class representative. He assumed the responsibility with much enthusiasm, and amusingly, some gravitas. He had formed a little clique amongst the handful of guys who stood out like a sore thumb amongst a sea of girls at nursing school. There were 3 of them. A tall, geeky one he nicknamed Simon, a stocky, well-built one, he nicknamed Theodore and then there was Joel himself, the looney one whom he nicknamed Alvin. He branded this clique Alvin and the Chipmunks, and talked incessantly about the quirks of this clique. A few days ago, Joel, wearing his class representative hat, reprimanded a very quiet, and disengaged Simon, " if you don't get out of your anti-social mode and be more involved, you're in the wrong profession, mate". Good on you, Joel.

With Joel talking enthusiastically about the polytechnic, I was transported back into my university days. I remembered, like Joel, I banded with a clique of close girlfriends, attended lectures and tutorials together, chose course subjects that ensured we were in the same classes together, shared lecture notes and cried over cheating boyfriends.

I also remembered the joys of hostel life, embroiled in childish pranks like stealing the footwear outside the rooms of a neighboring hostel and dumping them all into their washing machines at the laundry room.

Funnily, I met Joel's dad during my first year at university. I could have never imagined even remotely that the youthful days of dating him, attending lectures with him, mugging for examinations with him, would have led to marriage and our having Joel years later. While the marriage didn't survive my growing up, I am so thankful for Joel in my life. And I am especially thankful for the opportunity to maneuver through Joel's journey of growing up into a man.

Dad used to tell me that my university days would be the best 3 years of my life. They certainly were. Equally, I hope that these 3 years will also be the best 3 years of Joel's life.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Fast track to a healthier lifestyle

I've spent a considerable number of years cruising in and out of various see-saw diets. Atkins diet? Yes. Vegan diet? Yes. Liquid diet? Yes... of the raw fruits and vegetables kind, of course, not the alcoholic kind which is a diet I might be more predisposed to only when I feel depressed about being put on a diet.

As a child, I grew up with a weight issue which rightly or wrongly I blamed Mom for. For years, she had fed me with food that provided the best nutrition meant to nourish a child who was born premature. She must have overlooked the fact that I did grow out of my premature and sickly phase and into a stocky child who was active, healthy and seldom ill. Over the years and even today, Mom still nourishes me with her superb home-cooked dishes filled with love. Her excuse when I was younger, used to be that I was a premature baby prone to illness. Her excuse now, is that the lunches I had been having while at work, lacked the necessary nutrients to get me through the stressful work day. While Mom was just trying to be the wonderful mother that she is, I just wished she wasn't that short-sighted about the fact that I am now pretty much "over-nourished".

Managing a weight issue alone is never fun. I am blessed with a husband who miraculously makes me appear to be a size "M" every time I walked beside him. Having met him as my rugby coach, meant that we were often into fitness activities together since then. I swear, no diet plans can beat the body's natural response to a sound exercise program. It became just so much more fun, to be training together for everything from rugby tournaments when we were younger, to the 10km races we signed up for regularly today.

At 42, my body reacts a little slower to physical activity than when I was younger. The knee surgery I had a few months ago hasn't helped me in my plans to step up on my fitness plans. So, I discovered the Special K Two-Week Challenge.

It's simple enough. Just have a bowl of Special K cereal for breakfast and lunch. I can have a normal balanced meal for dinner. Not difficult at all.

However, 2 days into it, and I am craving for an ice cream. Walking past the Marble Slab ice cream counter and not being able to get one today was a completely distressing experience.

David is also on the same 2-week diet. His nickname used to be " DASH". I used to think it's because of his lightning speed as a prop forward at rugby games. After marriage, I realized it described the lightning speed at which he strolled to and from the refrigerator. I have been watching him peer into the refrigerator these couple of days, sighing with depression. He sometimes look at the dogs hungrily and barked " Ozzie and Zakk look tasty tonight.".

We are determined to complete the 2-week challenge then get back on a fast track to a healthier lifestyle. I am so glad one of my staff has also joined me on the Special K diet. I feel less lonely when she jumped on the bandwagon in spite of being advised by the Special K web advisory that she need not have to be on a diet.

If you see me chewing a pencil at my desk, or you feel that I am grumpier than usual, at least you now know the reason why.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

A more meaningful Easter

It's the start of the long Easter weekend. Typically, it'll be a long weekend of time-wasting siestas, senseless boozing, long lazy lunches followed by decadent dinners.

Over the years, I had forgotten the true meaning of Easter. Easter became that beautiful Sunday when we ate chocolate bunnies and painted eggs. Years later, I am still looking for that rabbit in the stories within the bible.

Brought up as a roman catholic by very strict parents beamed down by the Pope himself, I thought, as a child, that they were sent down to earth to make my life miserable particularly on Sundays when I was forced to go for catechism classes. You know that trick Joel pulled by skipping Catechism classes for weeks and was caught whiling his time away at the church canteen instead? I did that too.

As a young adult, I have graduated from my childish antics of attempting to escape going to mass and catechism class. Instead, I had resorted to calling every church on the Friday before Easter, to find out how many candidates were going to be baptized at the Easter Virgil mass. Then I would attend mass at the church with the least number of baptismal candidates - hence, a shorter and less agonizing duration at mass before I headed out to the clubs.

So I had decided to revisit my spiritual side tomorrow on Good Friday. I am going to fast. Yes, I remembered Mom and Dad teaching me the importance of fasting and abstinence during Lent. I have to admit I had never quite understood its significance. And I don't think I can ever fully appreciate the meaning behind it. But I thought I'd give fasting a try. I can't lie. The need to get on the fast track of my diet plans was also a compelling imperative for me to attempt a fast.

Life will get back to normal on Easter Sunday when a smorgasbord of exquisite food and champagne greets me at the annual family Easter champagne brunch. I will be looking forward to the ubiquitous chocolate bunnies at the buffet table followed by an afternoon of egg painting. I can't wait.

However, for now, I have plans to start my Good Friday by making the family miserable when I drag them out of bed at 5.30am to join me as I meditate at the beach to the gentle sounds of the slowly rising tide and the glorious sight of breaking dawn - the start of my fast.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Rebel with a cause

I have been keeping my own counsel with a couple of issues burning in my heart lately. Issues are never issues, are they? They are often symptomatic of something else deeper. In my case, what remained buried deep was that I viewed the establishment with utter disgust.

I grew up a rebel, harboring a complete contempt for the establishment borne from the months of incarceration Dad had unfairly been through just because he had an opinion. As a child, I struggled with questions from classmates about Dad having to confess publicly on TV for the supposed crime of dissension and the humiliation of having mum and I featured in the newspapers as the "dissident's family". I grew up fast as an 8 year old learning to tell the difference between lies, truths, fluff and packaged truths. Hence, I am in Public Relations.

So what I had experienced recently, had come back to haunt me, and filled me with immense disappointment at the thought that the same blokes, inflicted with the same narrow-minded and myopic disposition now helm the establishment. 34 years on, nothing has changed.

Last month, I launched a consumer insights-driven campaign that drew a lot of positive feedback for cutting through competitive clutter. I was very proud of that campaign as it had responded to consumer perceptions by educating them on the need to close a gap.

After a week of running the campaign, we were told to pull the plug on it by a newspaper executive because somebody senior within the establishment possibly couldn't read English enough to understand the copy and fully appreciate the intent behind it. The establishment thought that I had "sullied it's efforts to build a viable financing system". And this was verbally related to us through a very frightened executive of that newspaper whom, when pressed, would not reveal who the clown behind the wheel was. And funnily, that clown was too busy pretending to be the circus ring-master that he or she declined to provide a written explanation of why the establishment was arbitrarily interfering with the commercial decisions of a company with a responsibility to educate the public about the inherent need to close the gap. I had to contain myself from going out to apply a license to use the Speaker's Corner as I worked with the team to alter the copy with the aim of toning it down.

Thankfully, the campaign continued with new ads that had copy which "sullied my intent to do what's right to educate consumers on their needs".

Till today, I am flabbergasted that there is still no explanation for that ridiculous episode . I felt gratified that my bosses had some sense of humor and thought that it was great that the campaign had "gotten the right folks talking".

Another incident a few months ago had also gotten me snarling at people who wore a badge and brandished a clipboard while working for the establishment.

David had been in executive search for the last 21 years. Yet recently, he was told that he needed to obtain a new license for his practice. "A new regulation," the clipboard-toting, wind-cheater wearing civil servant said, " and you need to complete an examination too."

David saw the humor in it, but I didn't because it only meant that they had effectively "handicapped" him for a few months while he sorted his paperwork.

We found out over the months that these blokes didn't know a regulation from the instructions manual of their Transformers toy. They even made David sit through a course meant for Maid Agency owners and he sat and passed the examinations for it too. So if anyone of you is interested in hiring a maid, David knows everything about it.
Several wasted months later, he is now brandishing a new license for his practice and a clipboard too.

Today, one of my staff wrote on her Facebook wall " If you can't fight and you can't flee, ... flow." - Robert Elliot.

I disagree. If you can't fight and you can't flee, ... Force. One has to force a stand. I refused to pull out my ads at the arbitrary command of someone who had no courage to come out to explain his point of view but hid behind the skirt of a newspaper executive and his establishment badge. I did what I can to tweak the ad message and continued to run with the campaign that I knew was doing the right and responsible thing for consumers.

I want those who read this blog post to know that great marketing is not about putting the fluff around a product or a service. It's about communicating a single-minded truth to consumers to get them thinking about erasing the blur between the lines of what they need and what they want.