Baby Spectator

The baby’s cherubic smile stood out from the spectators of sports enthusiasts. While Mummy is focused on the game of water polo, little one teases with his twinkling eyes, seducing the girls sitting behind him, from the brawny 6-pack abs players. The girls in turn made funny faces to humour him. He rewards them with his winsome smile. Occasionally, he gives the players a nonchalant glance. Mummy fusses over him in between games and fielding business calls on the mobile phone, feeding or burping him. Tired of all the excitement around him, he sometimes nods off into slumber land, blissfully unaware that his crooked smile while asleep distracts the girls from the game. Bewitched, one of the girls steals a shot of him with her camera. When the little prince awakes from his beauty sleep refreshed, Mummy quickly takes snapshots of him for the memories. Years from now, she would say, “Hey that was you as a baby at the Asian Games in 2010!”

To me, this was the true highlight of that afternoon’s game. Sorry, guys, I know your hunky 6-pack abs bodies are to-die-for but the baby stole my heart. : p

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That Little Shop on the Hill

Perched atop the slopes of Hollywood Road just at the entrance of Aberdeen Street is a little gift shop.

Cute, tiny faces of pigs, bears and assorted animals look up at you from the window display beckoning you to go into this miniscule wonderland. As you push open the door, sunflowers beam at you at the foot. A huge monkey grins at you when you look up – what a plush cushion that makes 🙂

Just then I spotted the perfect gift that I was looking for – a pair of salt and pepper shakers in the form of cows.

“Is that for someone who is born in the Year of the Ox?” the shop owner enquired.

I turn around to see a young lady with long hair smiling at me. Simply dressed in a long-sleeve top and jeans, I realized she was naturally attractive.

“Exactly,” I grinned.

“I knew it. Most people only look for cow-shaped ornaments when they need gifts for those born in the Year of the Ox.”

“Really?” I asked, somewhat amused.

“Hey you look so fit? Do you exercise a lot?”

“Haha. Actually, I’m trying to put on weight.” By now I was used to everyone commenting on the state of my weight.

“Really? Why?”

“Yeah, I’ve some stomach problem lately. Besides, stress plays a big part too.”

“Oh, yes it does. You know what I lost 10 pounds in over just a week last year when I had a big fight with my husband.”

“10 pounds within a week? Wow, that’s drastic!” Frankly, I thought it sounded like an exaggeration but it was not impossible either.

“It’s true. You know, because of the financial crisis and all. It got so bad that in the end I told myself to take it easy, that even if it ends in divorce, so be it. Then, slowly I got better.”

“Ya, we really need to take it easy. But easier said than done, unfortunately,” I chuckled.

“You’re telling me. In a place like Hong Kong, it’s impossible to be stress free!” She laughed.

“What time do you close?”


“No off days?”


“Wow, that’s long hours!”

“Well, that’s normal in Hong Kong, right?”

“Haha. Yup. It can’t be help, I guess,” I quipped. “You know, I really like the stuff in your shop.”

“Then do drop by more often. Do you stay around here?”

“No, in Mongkok area,” I was secretly pleased that my pseudo Hong Kong accent has passed without being detected. Though I have always spoken fluent Cantonese, mastering the Hong Kong accent is another matter. In any case, I wasn’t exactly lying as I was currently residing in a hotel in the Mongkok area 😛

“Oh, still do come by whenever you can.”


I love having such conversations with “real people” in a foreign city. Nothing beats having an insight into how “normal” people live.  Looks like city-folks the world over share similar woes and worries.

Sometimes when I am picking out gifts I would often wonder how the lady boss of this little shop on the hill is doing. I would definitely return on my next trip to Hong Kong. I had to leave the shop reluctantly without buying those cute tissue box covers and well, in fact almost everything else, as I had run out of luggage space after my shopping spree!

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What’s Wrong With Being Sensitive?

Have you often been told, “Why are you so sensitive?” as if there is something bad about being sensitive?

Somehow, there is a negative connotation to being sensitive. It is implied that one is being ‘emotional’ or ‘over-reacting’. Most cultures do not seem to support sensitive people, possibly because it is viewed as ‘being weak’ or ‘feminine’.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Being sensitive is essentially being more attuned to one’s sensory perceptions and being more “aware” in the process. This can make one naturally more intuitive, perceptive, creative, empathic, spiritual and passionate. 


When one’s senses can absorb far more information and process them more deeply than the majority, one can attain a higher level of understanding.  Sensitive people have an innate tendency to pick up subtle information in all areas of life; such as non-verbal cues, making them grasps nuances in meaning better than most. Processing experiences, situations, and possibilities in a deeper and fuller manner hones one’s acuteness. With such keen observation, comes the power of perception.


Having gained penetrating insights, often leads to great intuition. Sensitive people have the uncanny ability to acquire knowledge without inference or the use of reason. They can somehow ‘sense the truth without explanation’. In reality, all the necessary information has already been captured and processed at a deeper level. Thus, allowing them to be discerning.


Sensitive people are also more emphatic as they are able to get under the skin of others and see from their point of view. All thanks to being able to feel the emotions of others, sometimes as if it’s their own. Being able to put one self in others’ shoes, allow them to understand others’ needs and what it would feel like when needs are not fulfilled or to be misunderstood. Thus, they can better provide for others and tend to be gentler in their communication. Such people usually form deep and caring friendships as well as other relationships. They evidently make good carers and are the typical friend in need.


Creativity is a trait that is often associated with sensitive people. Being discerning and highly attuned to sensing abilities, encourages creativity to thrive. The gift to connect seemingly unrelated things and put them into original concepts makes sensitive people the ‘high priest’ of creativity and innovation.

Passionate and ‘intense’

When one feel deeply, one experiences life and all its emotions intensely. Thus, sensitive people are often passionate and intense, which can be a double-edged sword. They tend to be intent on issues and focus on either solving a problem or sharing an issue that compels them greatly. Hence they experience all of life’s emotions at a level far beyond what others usually experience.


Sensitive people are often blessed with spiritual consciousness, though not necessarily religious. Being in touch with their spiritual selves, sensitive people can easily discover their paths in life as well as for others. They also have this curiosity to ponder on and unearth the meaning of life and other life mysteries.

The selected few

About 20% of the total population are endowed with this misunderstood notion call sensitivity. Apparently, it is also found in 20% of other species from fruit flies to primates. This is certainly no accident of evolution when it selects for instead of against such a trait. These selected few are chosen to observe the world, to reflect and to consider consequences before action. Understandably, sensitive people make excellent strategists, planners, advisers, counsellors, teachers, coaches, managers, historians, scientists, law interpreters, therapists, artists, musicians, writers, visionaries, healers, psychics and many more.

All great nations need to reflect enough and deliberate on the long-term consequences of their actions. Sensitive people are perfect for jobs that fill such roles. In fact, having non sensitive people in such jobs could be detrimental as long-term goals may be sacrificed for short-term gains or one-dimensional decisions that could be made. Sensitive people, on the other hand, can be in jobs that are not typically regarded as being ‘suitable’ for them. For instance, they can make excellent police officers. Their acute perception and intuition enables them to sense trouble before anyone else. Blessed with exceptional emotional sensors, they are also more likely to suss out the actual criminal from a number of suspects.

How to turn challenges into blessings

As with all gifts, come its challenges. It is important to first be aware of the various challenges of being a sensitive person and then learn how to navigate through a society that is not very receptive towards such unique individuals. Finally, to strategically carve out a niche for oneself using one’s gift.


One of the challenges is being overly stimulated by one’s senses, which may result in sensory overwhelm. Should you feel overwhelmed, monitor the stimulation level and take steps to adjust the level to a comfortable one. Walk away from an overstimulation situation to give yourself a break.  Getting to the rest room for a brief respite is a useful method. Taking action to slow down and de-clutter one’s schedule helps to avoid overstimulation. Going for short breaks in the middle of a stressful or busy period alleviate any sense of overload.

Doing something completely different like housework or writing an email to one’s favourite cousin can be strangely therapeutic. Taking deep breaths helps tremendously too. Soothing music, meditation, exercise and calming essential oils like lavender and lemongrass can be part of this ‘survival kit’. Do prepare one’s ‘survival kit’ in advance so that it would come in handy when one needs it. Essentially, remember to nurture one’s own soul to avoid feeling drained. Only by taking good care of yourself can you then use your gift to help others.

Affected by the emotions of others

Pinpoint the cause of one’s negative emotion. Is it one’s own or someone else’s? You could have absorbed the negative energy of the people around you. Try to distance yourself physically from this negative source as energy fields do overlap at close proximity.

Centre oneself with deep breathing and exhale negativity, inhaling positive energy. This helps to purify negative emotions. Visualize negative energy as a gray fog lifting from one’s body and positive energy as golden light entering. Strengthen one’s emotional centre by sending positive energy to the solar plexus with one’s palm. This flushes out negativity at the same time. Imagine a protective shield around oneself that blocks out negative energy but allows positive ones to go through. This is a powerful tool that many people, including healers use to safeguard themselves. Do associate with people who have a positive outlook as hope is contagious.

Observe the energy fields around one self rather than absorb them. This way, one would not be affected by the negative energy or the perpetual rushing that goes on around us.

Planning a Career Suitable for Sensitive People

As the traditional work culture may not be conducive for sensitive people, it is crucial to create suitable work. Adapt one’s current job to make it a better fit or create one’s own position, work in less mainstream companies and positions or simply start one’s own business.

Sensitive people need work that resonates with their soul as well as nourishes their mind and heart.  Only work that stems from their passion and is their true calling would work for them. Work that offers intangible rewards and is meaningful, intellectually stimulating and creatively satisfying fits sensitive people best. Sensitive people also require a nurturing environment that allows them to work independently with privacy.

As finding the right job could be challenging, sensitive people not only need to tap into their inner consciousness to let their intuition guide them towards their true nature but also to seek support in their journey of self-discovery. Life coach, therapist, counsellor and friends should be called upon. One could also self-facilitate with journaling and personality discovery work. Once you have found the best job fit, don’t be afraid to bring your sensitivity to work. Make it work for you. Make use of one’s insights and creativity; let your naturally caring and thoughtful nature enhance interpersonal relations with co-workers.

Being ‘intense’

Sensitive people are often very emotionally intense individuals. ‘Intense’ personalities have often been told to “lighten up” and not to “take things too seriously” or that they “think too much.” But that’s the way an “intense” person is. Such personalities feel deeply and strongly.

These individuals are often seen at best as being compulsive or aloof, or at worst having a personality disorder. Being able to articulate why they feel such way and sharing their feelings help others to understand them better. Journaling, art and music or even physical exercise are ways to allow ‘intense’ personalities to express themselves in a constructive manner.

Another effective method to cope with this intensity is to be conscious of one’s emotions and let it pass through one self without judging them. In this way, you would be mindful of your emotions but not be affected by it.

Don’t apologize for being sensitive

As we can see, sensitive people are often misunderstood individuals. One does not need to apologize for being sensitive, for we are who we are. Sensitive people are put onto this earth to fulfil their special role. Learning to love one self and knowing that one deserves the best awakens the power to heal and inspire others, allowing one to turn a perceived limitation into a blessing.

So the next time when someone says, “Why are you so sensitive?” Reply unapologetically that because you’ve been endowed with this unique gift.


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An ancient Roman City In China?

An ancient Roman city in China?

A Roman descendant in China? Inconceivable?  

Cai Luoma or “Cai, the Roman”; has ruddy skin and green eyes.

Song Guorong, has wavy hair, six-foot frame and strikingly long, hooked nose.

Are they descendents from the ill-fated Roman army led by Crassus that suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Parthians in 53BC?

Historians are split over the matter due to insufficient conclusive proof. Looks like the tiny village of Zhelai in Yongchang County, Northwest China’s Gansu province is tossing up more than Caesar salad.

Its ancient name, Liqian (Li-chien), is believed to be a transliteration of “Alexandria”. The theory goes that the 10,000 soldiers taken prisoners by the Parthians at the battle of Carrhae eventually made their way to modern-day Uzbekistan and were later enlisted by the Hun army.

It seems that these men later settled down to build the town of Liqian. One of the earliest mentions of them came possibly from the “fish-scale formation”, described in Han Dynasty history annals. In a battle between the Han empire and the Huns in Western China, a troop using the “fish-scale formation” was noted. It was a reference to the Roman “tortoise”, a phalanx protected by shields on all sides and from above. This troop was later captured by the Chinese and was said to be the forefathers of Liqian.

In 1957, Homer Hasenflug Dubs, professor of Chinese history at Oxford University published his book entitled “A Roman City in Ancient China” asserting the above theory. He has been accused of being overly presumptuous and jumping to too many conclusions.

Sceptics were doubtful as Liqian was established in 104 BC, half a century earlier than the proposed arrival of the said Roman soldiers. Moreover, the Huns themselves consist of Caucasians, Asians and Mongols. And even if they were really from the missing Roman troop, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re Romans as many soldiers were recruited locally since the empire covered a huge area. So anything goes.

To add to the confusion, the area where Yongchang is situated was a trade hub along the ancient Silk Road, where people of different ethnicities gather.

But then, how does one explain the presence of ancient Roman tombs in the area? Even though archaeologists have pointed out that these tombs were dated to the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25-220) and therefore had nothing to do with the Roman legions, somehow the fact that these tomb owners were of Caucasian origins can’t be disputed.

Moreover, how do you explain the fact that these residents of Zhelai obviously look more Caucasian than Asian? Could DNA help to unravel the mystery? Life sciences researcher Xie Xiaodong and bio-chemist, Ma Runlin, are among those that have collected blood samples of the villagers of Zhelai. So far, the research has yet been completed and the theory remains inconclusive.

So if these villagers are not descendents of the ancient Roman legions, who were they descended from?

And what happened to the contingent that went missing in the tragic battle?

Hmn, wonder when we would be able to solve all this mystery….

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Uniquely Singapore Service

“Stop, that’s not how it should be done. Let me show you.”

 He stood up and arranged the bowls close to each other around the huge bowl of sharks fin soup. Then, he proceeded to scoop the soup and distributed them equally into each of the individual bowls, like a professional; except he is not.

 Banquet guest serving at the table? Unheard of? But true!

 The waitress at this wedding banquet held at the 5-star Pan-Pacific Hotel was obviously untrained. She held up the bowl gingerly, trying desperately to fill it up without scalding herself. Amusing way of serving indeed!

 Gone are the days where the waiter could serve sharks fin soup without spilling a drop or dividing them without having to ‘back-track’ and scoop out from another bowl to make up the difference.

 Slicing up a whole fish with the precision of a surgeon and re-arranging the bone back into the fish as if it was untouched seems to be a lost art too. These days one would be lucky to be served an equal portion of the dish.

When friends meet up inevitably the topic of bad service crops up. This is really sad, considering that we pride ourselves as the world-class leader in many fields. And yet, we allow bad service to blemish our good name.

How did we end up in this state? Was it that bad before? In any case, it has reached crisis level. Service horror stories abound. Waiters who strategically avoid eye contact when you are trying to get their attention, ingredient change in a dish without first informing the customer, deficiency of product knowledge and a general lack of understanding of what constitutes unacceptable behaviour.

Why is Singapore languishing in the 9th position in a recent customer service survey, conducted by the Institute of Service Excellence at the Singapore Management University; trailing behind South Korea and Hong Kong? Is our DNA really wired in such a way that renders us “service-challenged”?

No pride at all

What is clear is the existence of an attitude problem which pervades all levels of bad service. Service staff is just not bothered to do the job at hand well. Perhaps it stems from an absence of pride in the work they do. Culturally, in Asian countries, serving denotes being a “servant” and hence being “servile”. So it comes as no surprise that no self-respecting parent would want their child to grow up to be a waiter. Unlike in the West where there is more respect for vocational jobs such as chef, plumber or waiter as they are seen as an art form of various multitudes. Over in Asia, waiting on tables is often seen as a “low-level” or even a “temporary” job where one moved on to when one could secure a “better” job. And if there is no respect for the service provider, it would certainly be hard put for the service provider to have pride in his/her job.

Common sense is uncommon 

Besides being plagued by poor attitude, it appears that common sense is a scarce commodity among service staff here too. Or is it a matter of not thinking through something thoroughly? Swensen’s for one would serve you salad with the giant fork meant for tossing salad sans the usual cutlery and expect you to eat using the giant fork and some patrons actually do!

Why is there no training?

While service staff is under scrutiny, the onus is also on the employers to provide proper and adequate training. The banquet staff member highlighted in the beginning was obviously not well trained and unfortunately this can be said of many banquet staff members as well. Apparently it seems that even 5-star hotels employ part-timers or those on vacation to fill such jobs. While it does not matter whom they employ as long as adequate training is provided and most importantly, the job can be well executed at the end of the day. Alas, this is not true. In short, when staff is well-trained, it shows.

Service recovery that leaves a sour aftertaste

Service recovery is just as important as the service itself. A good service recovery can turn angry customers into loyal ones. Needless to say, a service recovery that appears more of an afterthought would only leave a sour aftertaste in the already incensed customer.

A banquet staff at the 5-star Fullerton Hotel once spilled drinks onto the evening gown of a guest. While the hotel offered to send the soiled dress for dry cleaning, she was made to collect the laundry at a time convenient to the hotel staff instead of at her convenience. It made her felt that the hotel was not sincere in its service recovery at all. There goes a customer! 

Are we good customers?

Having said all that, to be fair one should also look at the other end of the equation. As in any relationship, it takes two hands to clap. Are Singaporeans good customers to begin with? Customers should also be trained to appreciate good service and have basic courtesy. Many do not even say, “Thank you” when served. Perhaps this could be attributed to their misplaced “superiority” complex, embedded deep in the Asian sub-conscious mind. To most, the relationship between the server and the person being served is not an equal but a submissive one. Hence saying “Thank you” to a waiter is akin to thanking a servant, which is deemed unnecessary. (This is definitely flwaed.) Understandably, mindset change would take years, but if Singaporeans wish for better service soon, as consumers we should also change our attitude fast to encourage good service. 

Customer expectation

Granted that customers should be respectful towards service staff, a look at Hong Kong however, seems to tell a uniquely different story. Hong Kong’s customers are not exactly polite to begin with nor are they the most patient ones on earth. Yet miraculously, Hong Kong managed to improve their service standard almost overnight; post financial crisis & SARS; from its legendary notoriously bad and sometimes even hostile service. Survival aside, customer’s expectation could be a key factor here.  Hong Kongers are shrewd enough to adjust to today’s customers’ higher expectations in service standard. Hence, in raising the bar, the level of standard could be improved. Maybe it is high time Singaporeans make known our service expectations so service staff would not be in the dark of what is unacceptable behaviour. 

Highlight good service

If we expect good service, then we should also be prepared to feature good service. While Singaporeans are quick to complain, we are slow to compliment good service. Giving the brickbats without the bouquets is a sure way to put a damper on good service. Some service staff members treat Caucasian customers better partly because most would take the effort to write in to their employer to compliment good service. (No doubt, the other half may possibly be due to an ingrained Pinkerton Syndrome in some members of the Asian society.) I believe turning highlighting good service into a practice can bring about an improvement in service standards, especially if it is coupled with incentives from the employer. 

Good Service

Having heard all the horror stories, we would be heartened to know that good service does exist in Singapore. The ‘ban mian’ (hand-made noodle) stall at the coffee shop opposite my home has good CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) without knowing what the term means or even heard of it. The stall owner remembers all her customers’ preferences well and does her job with pride. She takes pain to look into the little things like ensuring that a plastic bowl of noodle filled with soup is properly placed in the plastic bag for takeaway so that there would not be spillage. Yes, it is the little things that count! 

Making the effort works wonders too! On the first day of Chinese New Year, when I went into Swensen’s at Changi Airport ravenous, the service staff promptly suggested that she quickly send in my order for cooked food to reduce the waiting time while I ponder what ice-cream to order to satiate my hunger pangs temporarily. I must say she warms my heart instantly, to know that someone actually thinks through the matter at hand thoroughly to come up with a solution.

And when someone serves with passion, it shines! Walk into the intimate café, Food for Thought and the passion is infectious. Staff there doesn’t look like they are working at all but truly enjoying what they are doing. It goes without saying that their service was attentive, friendly and professional. (This is one place that I would like to write a full piece on its own but that’s another story for another day.) In fact, the afternoon tea experience at the 6–star St Regis Hotel on the same day pales in comparison. While service there wasn’t bad, it could only be deemed passable with some lapses in between. Well, so much for a 6-star establishment! 

Surprise ourselves, Singapore

If some folks can get it right, there is certainly hope for Singapore. Let’s surprise ourselves with a 180-degree turn for the better!


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Announcement: Technical problem with email service

Announcement: Due to a technical problem with the email service at, kindly direct all mails to, for the time being. If you have not received any reply, kindly resend your email. The wordsmith apologizes for any inconvenience caused. Thank you.

11 March 2010: I am please to announce that email service at, is up and running again. Thank you for your patience.

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Give Yourself Time to Grieve

Give yourself sufficient time to grief over the loss of any kind if you wish to heal in a healthy manner.

How many times have we heard well-meaning friends urging us to “get over it quickly” when we experience the loss of someone or something?

The truth is we need time to grieve and heal. In fact, it is imperative that we do so. We can’t get over something quickly, we can only move on progressively.

Any kind of loss – be it disappointment, setback, the ending of something, any kind of parting, break-up with a partner and death of someone close – all these warrant proper grieving.

Grieving not only allows us to heal but gives proper closure. Closure enables us to move on. Create a little ritual to symbolically close the chapter – be it the burning, burying/sealing or setting free of certain objects of significance. It could also be a reaffirmation of one’s stand by simply writing down a statement in one’s diary/blog or notebook. Rituals play a therapeutic role besides providing closure.

Attempting to numb one’s feelings through drinks, drugs or work would not work either. That only serves to temporarily suppress one’s feelings. Suppressing one’s feelings would only backfire. Any suppression only serves to intensify the relapse – feelings would return a lot stronger, violent and unpredictable.

Pent-up emotions build-up into unresolved emotions – they are unhealthy for one’s psychological health and may even lead to psychological problems like depression or anxiety, later on. Rushing through the grieving process aggravates the problem as a relapse may hit you in a sudden and uncharacteristic manner, like an over-reaction to something minor.

So how should one deal with such losses? Be aware of one’s feelings but do not resist them. Allow emotions to run their course. If feelings are allowed to run their course naturally; most of the time, they tend to end their run earlier too. In short – just let it be, let it pass.

However, this does not mean that one does so in a passive manner. It is not the same as letting one’s feelings take control over oneself. Being actively aware of one’s feelings and not reacting to them is the key to a successful recovery.

Positive ways to help work through one’s feelings include journal writing, talking and sharing with close friends/family members/or someone whom you feel close to, physical exercise, joining a support group and therapy.

Give oneself time to heal but do not dwell on it forever. Most importantly, do not wallow in self-pity or misery nor adopt a ‘victim mentality’. Once you’ve grieve enough, move on.

The million-dollar-question obviously is,”How long is long enough?”  

Well, unfortunately, there is no magic answer.

It depends on the severity of the loss. It also differs from one person to the other. Each one of us is a unique individual. Hence, everyone has a different time frame for moving through grief. There is no hard and fast rule.

You may even jump through different stages of grief instead of moving in a linear progression. Revisiting a stage just when you taught you had gotten over it is normal. Do not panic. They come in wavers; there is an ebb and flow to it.

Follow your heart, for only your spirit knows when it has healed. Give yourself permission to grieve at your own pace. Friends and relatives mean well when they want us to “get over it quickly” because they care about us. However, only we ourselves or rather our hearts; know the best time to stop grieving.

Resisting or burying one’s emotions would only move it somewhere else – ignoring them would not make them disappear. Cutting-off one’s feelings prematurely and abruptly only serve to bring them on later in an often more severe manner.

Allow yourself to feel the loss fully; then you would feel ready to embrace life again.

Let your grief unfold naturally if you wish to heal in a healthy manner.

Note: First published on on 29 July 2008



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What do you think Success is?

What does “success” mean to you? More importantly, is that your definition of success or is that society’s or someone else’s? Be successful in your own terms and be proud of it.

What is “success”? Everyone wants to be successful but do they know what success really is?

 When you mention the word, “success”; does having a successful career and family together with mandatory possessions like a big house and a fancy car; come to mind? If so, why? Is that society’s definition of success that we’ve been conditioned to believe in?

 More importantly, is that our definition of success? Is that what we want? Or is that what our parents or society wants? It is really up to you to fix your own definition of success. In fact, it is imperative that you do so to give yourself the right direction in life.

 Once you have decided what it is that you really want in life, you would not be bothered by what others think of you. It is a liberating experience — you become free from others’ yardstick.

 You focus on your goals. If scaling Mount Everest is what you deem as success, then who cares about that promotion at work. Of course having a successful career could also be one of your ideas of success. You have to prioritize and decide what is at the top of your list. Only then can you work out how much effort and time you would like to devote to each of your endeavour.

 When you do what you truly enjoy, you would naturally be happy. Yes, being happy is one of success’s criteria, albeit the most underrated one. And for some people, just living a happy life is success itself.

 So what exactly is “success”? To me, being able to do what one has set out to do; no matter how small or supposedly insignificant, in the eyes of others; is success in its essence.

 Nevertheless, it is never easy to shake off society’s version of success. How many times have you been made to feel like a failure just because you earn less than your over-achieving brother or cousin? There are some who feel that only ‘losers’ think that being happy in life is of prime importance. They think it is an excuse for not making the cut.

 In truth, we don’t need to prove anything to anyone but ourselves. Success means having the courage to stick to one’s conviction in the face of opposition or even ridicule. In fact, the hardest of all is to constantly reaffirm oneself of one’s belief – that our definition of success is the one that matters.

 Success is triumphing over countless “failures” (I prefer to call them setbacks.) and not giving up.

Perseverance + Hardwork = Success

 What is your take on success? We can all be successful if we follow our heart and do our best. It is also crucial that we believe firmly in our definition of success.

 Define your own success — success should be in your own terms, not anyone else’s. Do not let mainstream society or anyone else for that matter, intimidate you into thinking otherwise. Remember, it is your life after all!

 Create your own success and be proud of it. No doubt, there would always be pressure to have your parents or someone who matters, feel proud of you. In actuality, you don’t need anyone’s approval but your own. If you are proud and confident enough of your own success, others would eventually come round and recognize it.

 So if haven’t thought about what success really means to you, start today and work towards it. Remember, anyone can be successful.

Note: First published on on 27 August 2008


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Timeless Shopping Tips

With one ongoing summer sales everywhere, here are some tried and tested tips to get the most out of your shopping experience.

1.                  Know What You Want – Get Your Wish-List Done Up

  • Make a list of what you want way before the great sale. Be specific. State store locations and exact pieces of clothing that you wish to have. Try on those clothes that you fancy, so you’ll know exactly what size fits you and what look good on you. Come sales time, you wouldn’t need to waste precious time deciding on what you want.  Instead you could just zero in on your dream items.
  • This way, you could also avoid buying items that you don’t need.


 2.         Budget

  • You don’t want to break the bank, don’t you? Set a budget and stick to it. That way you’ll feel better about yourself too. No more guilt about shopping. Hurray!
  •  Remember not to buy things that you don’t really need. They would only end up sitting in your wardrobe for the next 6months or in the donation bin later on.


 3.                  The Surprise Bargains

Even though you’ve made a detailed list of what you want, be on the look out for unexpected bargains. These are the pleasant surprises that will put a smile on your face – the ‘bonus’ buys. That’s what makes shopping so addictive!

 4.                  How To Snatch that Dress You’ve Been Eyeing For From Right Under The Nose Of  The Other Person

Aim, Target, Shoot. That’s right, it’s that simple. Aim well, then target the object of your desire and zoom in on your ‘goal’ straight away. Regular stretching exercises and practice sessions at home helps. Practise makes perfect!

 5.                  Shop on a Weekday

Yes, trust me. It’s definitely worth sacrificing one day of your annual leave. You fight with fewer crowds (though not entirely as great minds think alike. Sigh!)

 6.                  Dress comfortably – Don’t Wear Stilettos

  • Wear something cooling, comfortable and easy to slip out of for fitting.
  •  Wear comfortable slip-ons/sandals/shoes. The last thing you want is for your feet to hurt and ache. Leave those stilettos at home.


 7.                  Don’t go on an empty stomach

You need energy to shop…HEAPS of it, in fact. So be sure to have a full stomach before going on a shopping spree. Don’t worry, all that walking can burn off those calories!

 8.                  Do rest your tired feet

Don’t torture those poor soles. Remember to rest them. What better way than to stop for a spot of afternoon tea? You refill your stomach and rest your tired feet at the same time.

 9.                  How to re-energize

Toss a banana or an apple into your bag before you head out for a day of splurging. Raisins, dried fruits or nuts (no added salt, non-roasted), sunflower seeds, crisp bread are alternative healthy snacks that would pick-you-up without piling on those pounds. Don’t forget that bottle of water too.

 10.              Get someone to carry your shopping bags

  • Get your boyfriend or long-suffering husband to tag along. If not, train up those biceps of yours. Hauling all those shopping bags is no joke. Or get a friend who drives to go along. Then you could dump your bags into the car boot once they get too much to handle. Okay, I know this isn’t exactly ethical but if they are willing parties and your chosen company enjoys shopping too; well, it’s a win-win for both of you. 
  •  Better yet, get your best shopping buddy to enjoy this annual shopping pilgrimage.


Are you ready to shop till you drop?

Note: First published on on 4 July 2008


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Ancient China’s “Sex & the City’s” Sam – Shangguan Wan’er

Wu Zetian’s Right-hand woman – Was Shangguan Wan’er Ancient China’s “Sex & the City’s” Sam? The alpha female? Who was this Premier of China’s first and only female monarch?

Shangguan Wan’er’s (664 -710) fortunes changed forever when Wu Zetian (625 -705), China’s first and only female monarch, spotted her poem one day. She was so impressed that she summoned the young Shangguan to her palace and ordered her to compose a poem on the spot. And she did so with aplomb! Wu was so awed that Shangguan was appointed her personal secretary. Thus, Shangguan began her career at the tender age of 14!

 Shangguan Wan’er and her mother were made palace maids after her grandfather, Shangguan Yi was executed in his failed attempt to depose Wu during Emperor Tang Gaozong’s rule. Shangguan Wan’er’s father, Shangguan Tingyi, was also ordered to commit suicide.

 Having inherited her grandfather’s genes, Shangguan was a literary prodigy. She was well-versed in the classics (having been taught by her mother, Lady Zheng) and was an accomplished poet and outstanding writer. Besides talent, Shangguan also blossomed into a ravishing beauty.

 As Wu’s personal secretary, she drafted all imperial edicts and went through all court memorials. Eventually, she became the de facto Premier (though only in deed and not in name). How did she turn a failed assassination attempt to being Wu’s trusted aide? Wu, who valued talent, not only forgave her but made her the second most powerful woman in court.

 You must be thinking – Does this woman have any scruples left? Why did she choose to work with the enemy? But in reality, does she have a choice; if the other choice was death? Perhaps Shangguan herself looked up to the talented Wu too. Wu saw a little of herself in the young Shangguan – precocious, manipulative, talented and beautiful.

 In fact, Wu had even wanted to appoint her as female monarch at one point. She did incur the wrath of Wu though when her affair with one of Wu’s lovers was discovered. Wu was so incensed that she ordered her to be put to death. However, she couldn’t bear to do so and retracted her order at the last minute. She then changed the punishment to tattooing her face. The quick-witted Shangguan managed to change it to a tattoo of cinnabar on her forehead. In order to disguise that mark of disgrace, Shangguan cleverly painted a plum flower over it. Who would have thought that she inadvertently started a trend among the court ladies? They all found that it made her more alluring instead and wasted no time in imitating that beauty aid.

 After Wu was forced to give up her throne due to illness and old age, Emperor Zhongzhong returned to assume power. Shangguan sought the patronage of Empress Wei. Together with Empress Wei’s daughter, Princess Anle, they wielded even more power in court. Empress Wei tightened her grip on power, eagerly coveting the throne.

 By then, Shangguan was made a concubine of Emperor Zhongzhong. To prevent Empress Wei from being jealous; Shangguan offered her lover, Wu Sansi, to her. With the support of these two women, Wu Sansi attained the rank of Supreme Censor.

 With Sansi gone, the lonely Shangguan found another lover in Cui Shi. Together with his 3 brothers, they charmed Shangguan with their literary talent and good looks. Shangguan even established a mansion outside of the palace to facilitate her secret liaisons.

 Nevertheless she propelled literary standards to new heights. At her suggestion, Emperor Zhongzhong started an imperial academy. Literary competitions were often held where officials with literary talents were handsomely rewarded. Shangguan served as the judge in such competitions. Imperial scholars would often be selected from such events. Shangguan’s poems were lyrically beautiful and often recited by people who heard them. She was also said to have written poems on behalf of Emperor Zhongzhong, Empress Wei and Princess Anle.

 Her chequered love life mirrors the ups and downs of her political career. Her four lovers began with the tragic Li Xian and ended with the talented Cui Shi.

 It was rumoured that the teenage Shangguan once had a budding romance with the young crown prince, Li Xian. The alleged short-lived affair ended with the prince’s deposition. Ironically, the imperial edict was drafted by the 17 year old Shangguan. She learnt at that young age that love was a luxury she could ill-afford.

 Zhang Changzong – the lover who nearly caused her disfigurement. Shangguan must have gone too bold for her own good or was he too good to resist? – What was she thinking of (or rather, not thinking) when she hopped into bed with Zhang, who was also one of Wu Zetian’s lovers. As we all know, sleeping with one’s boss’s lover is never a good idea.  She was lucky to have escaped with merely a scar on her forehead.

 Shangguan had a rather complicated relationship with Wu Sansi, Wu Zetian’s nephew. They have ménage-a-trios with Empress Wei. However, it appears to be a liaison of convenience more than anything else – The two ladies to satisfy their desires; he, ostensibly to gain favour.

Eventually, Wu came increasingly under Empress Wei’s influence, so Shangguan sought the affections of Cui Shi. Charming and talented, it was no wonder she fell for him.

 Was Shangguan a sex-hungry Samantha? Who was her one true love – Her first love? Was there even room for love in the world of palace intrigues?

Her longest relationship seemed to be with Wu Sansi, yet she was forced to share him with Empress Wei. Did she love any of them? Was she capable of love, having long traded love for power? Perhaps she was just a lonely woman seeking companionship.   

 Although her rise lies solidly in her talents, she was not immune to the lure of power and seduction of wealth. Together with Empress Wei and Princess Anle, they sold government offices at will.

 Did power corrupt her or did she love power in the first place? Was she enticed by what power can do or haunted by the sufferings she had endured as a child when she had none of it? Was she actually suppressed under Wu Zetian’s rule and with her death; unleashed a floodgate of desires?

What was she really like? Does the poet in her reveal the real Shangguan Wan’er? Was she really the power-crazy and sex-hungry, manipulative Machiavelli that she’s made out to be? Unfortunately her poems did not reveal much. They were mainly poems that she wrote under the Emperor’s orders. What seemed clear is that she has long become adept at hiding her true emotions, even in her poems.

Despite her political shrewdness, she still fell victim to the web of power struggle in the end. When Li Longji’s rebel forces massacred Empress Wei’s clique, Shangguan wasn’t spared this time round. Her colourful life came to a tragic end at the age of 46. She had ingeniously talked her way out of the previous coup by crown prince, Li Chongjun, by uttering, “I believe he wants to first deal with me, and then move on to the Empress, and finally harm Your Majesty.”

Apparently, showing the coup unit commander, Liu Youqiu, the supposed ‘original’ will which she had co-drafted with Princess Taiping; in the hopes that it would prove her support for Li Dan (Li Longji’s father) wasn’t enough to save her. Though Liu was moved by her beauty and talent, Li knew that Shangguan would be nothing short of a threat to him if she was spared. Hence, she was executed immediately.

Nevertheless, it was clear that he had recognized her talents; for he ordered her poems to be compiled into a 20-volume anthology after her death.

Having lived a life of precarious balance in the dance of survival, perhaps death was a relief? After all, life on a constant tightrope with raging fire below; can prove too much in the long run even for the most formidable of woman.

Note: First published on on 11 July 2008


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