Pardon my tongue

The first time I ever travelled abroad, I was 17 and went to see relatives in the US and Canada and spent almost a month there. When I came back home, they said I sounded like I picked up a bit of an accent, but it went away soon after.

The same thing happened during my trip when I was 21. I spent 5 weeks in Canada, came home with a little bit of a Canadian tongue that also faded as soon as I came back home.

This time, it’s the first time ever that I lived aborad for a long time. When I arrived, I wondered if I would ever pick up their local accent. But I am much older now, at 31, and I seem to have frozen my tongue. After 10 long months of being here, I still sound like myself. So many strangers have correctly guessed that I am Filipino just based on my accent. Those not familiar with it mistake me for an American though. Perhaps I won’t be picking up accents as much as when I was younger.

Probably there are several factors.

  • I spend lots of time with Filipino friends and relatives who speak straight Tagalog.
  • I live in Sydney, and it is a very diverse mix of people from different backgrounds, everyone speaking their own way.
  • Even at work, everyone comes from a different background and speaks a different way.
  • Maybe I’m too old to be picking up accents that easily. 

The true test is when I come back for a visit. I wonder if I’ll sound any different. 

The power of a gentle complaint

I can be an unpredictable customer sometimes. I can sway the entire spectrum between being really nice, to being the “customer from hell”. Perhaps because I’ve tried so many different ways of getting myself across as a customer, I’ve learned and realised the power of a gentle complaint.

It’s a matter of saying something, but saying it in a way that it comes across more as a concern than a complaint. It has proven to be a good way to communicate not-so-serious mistakes or lapses, and also has the potential of allowing you to experience better service, or even perks.

One concrete example a few years back was when I brought my family to this certain Japanese restaurant chain to treat them out for lunch on my birthday. I really liked that restaurant for their food, but somehow the maki platter looked sloppily done on that particular day. We continued with our lunch without fuss. Nearing the end of the meal, I saw the supervisor nearby and approached him to tell him gently my disappointment with the maki platter. I didn’t ask or demand for anything, I just told him like I just wanted him to know, out of concern. I was surprised during the bill-out, when he gave me a complimentary discount card of the restaurant, which I was also able to use for the same meal. I’ve used that same discount card several times thereafter.

Another example was fairly recently, when I was having breakfast buffet at a five-star hotel. One of the servers did something wrong while I was in the middle of my breakfast, and I was very much disappointed because I was not expecting something like that to happen in a five-star hotel’s restaurant. Afterwards, a different server approached and asked if I needed anything, and I gently told her about what happened and my disappointment. I told her to inform their supervisor about it, but that I do not necessarily need to talk to the supervisor anymore. A few minutes after, the supervisor approached me and apologised for the incident, and I explained directly to him what happened and why I was very disappointed. I did not request for anything, but he did provide special attention afterwards to compensate, including offers of special coffee and fresh fruit drinks. Even during breakfast on the day after, the special attention continued. It was great service recovery for them, and I got to be treated fairly well.

There may be a few more instances like this which got me across better than not saying anything or saying something offensively. I’m not claiming that I’m this amazing customer all the time. Some friends and family may be able to recount times when I have turned ballistic as a customer, but these instances do make me realise how customer feedback should be.

Movie throwback [3rd of 3 Series]: Before Midnight

before midnightThe first movie, Before Sunrise, was filmed and released in 1995 with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy still in their mid-20s. Before Sunrise ended without closure – we couldn’t tell if they would see each other again after one spontaneous, romantic evening together. The audience had to wait 9 years to see what happened after, and 9 years into the story they finally meet again. And once more, Before Sunset (2004) ends without closure, but we do have a hint on what may have happened after. Another 9 years after, we find out what have happened to them. Before Midnight, released in 2013, shows us the continuation of the love story between Jesse and Celine.

Perhaps this is a compelling story about what happens ‘after’ the happily ever after. After meeting again in Before Sunset, Jesse and Celine stayed together, have beautiful twin daughters, and lived in Paris. Jesse continued writing his “fictional” novels, while Celine continued with her development work. This movie is set in yet another country. While the first and second were in Vienna, Austria and Paris, France, this third one was set in Greece, while they were on summer vacation on the invite of another acclaimed writer, Patrick.

The movie stayed on realism, quite opposite to the first movie. Jesse and Celine have been together nine years and have been dealing with the day to day life. Jesse has concerns about his son who had to stay with the mother back in the U.S. Celine is considering a big career move, and can’t seem to get the support she needs from Jesse. Things are no longer rooted in the fantasy and romanticism of their initial encounter. They have to deal with what was right in front of them.

Like the two movies before, this movie used conversation as its main form of showing the story unfold. This time, there were new characters that participated in the conversation with interesting insights, at least for a part of the movie. The second half returned the focus to just Jesse and Celine, sometimes teasing, bantering, but eventually all their issues surface and tensions broke loose. When Celine walked out wanting to end the conversation, we fear the ending of their relationship as well. Jesse comes after her eventually, decided that he wanted to keep the conversation and the relationship going. We could never tell from the ending of the movie if everything did calm down, if they were able to recover. I couldn’t say with certainty if they stayed together or decided to separate after the ending of the movie. Once again, the movie ends without closure. I wonder if it will take another 9 years to see what happens to them afterwards.

Cloudy

It’s been quite cloudy lately, and I don’t mean the weather. Rather, I’m pointing at that giant virtual cloud that is slowly engulfing all of us. Has anyone imagined things to be the way they are lately, in terms of online sharing, storage, and information processing?

Have you ever read the short story of Isaac Asimov entitled “The Last Question”? It was written in 1956, and I was first able to read it when I was still in high school, in the late 90’s. Interesting enough, Asimov in the 50’s seemed to have a foreshadowing of the future, part of which we are in right now. The “computer” that Asimov repeatedly described in his short story across time seem to describe the actual development of our computing and intelligence systems, from the initial massive independent computer comprised of vacuum tubes, to what has become the Internet right now – a massive, interconnected cloud of data and information gathered from the different parts of the world. Try reading through the story and you can see the parallelisms with the development of technology.

I am of the generation that has experienced the beginning of personal computing – big personal computers that featured black screens with green characters. The operating system was MSDOS that ran from a 5 1/4″ floppy disk. You needed two floppy disk drives so that the second one can run your software. Files were saved and shared via diskettes. Eventually, storage improved, and things such as hard drives, compact disks, external hard drives, USB thumb drives, and compact memory cards emerged. Parallel with these was the emergence of the Internet. I can still remember how I used it then, connecting via dial-up, going online to use my email, instant messenger (ICQ), and chat rooms (MIRC). There weren’t too much information online yet, no blogs or social networks. As Internet connection started improving and the access became easier, a wealth of information started collecting online almost at lightning speed. Now, almost everything can be found and done online – music, movies, booking of airline and hotels, shopping, and even online courses. It really changed the way we live our lives. Then, there was the advent of mobile computing, and now almost anyone can access the Internet wherever they are.

I have realized how much of my daily life now involves cloud computing and cloud storage:

  • I am writing the draft of this blog on my Evernote. It’s a virtual notebook, with everything stored in the cloud. Of course, it’s secure and private, and only I can access what I write. My Evernote notebook is also accessible across my different devices (iPad, iPhone, laptop, desktop), and can be accessed using a browser on any computer (as long as I login with my username and password). I use it for almost anything – notes, blog drafts, shopping lists, task lists, etc.
  • There are four online storages that my laptop and mobile devices are all connected to – Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, and SkyDrive. Almost all of my files are safely stored online. The reason why I did this is because I have already encountered several occurrences when my external hard drive or laptop or desktop crashed, and there was no way to recover the data anymore. At least in the cloud, I am sure that my data is safe from instant unintended annihilation.
  • I am pretty happy with Google’s online services – Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, among others. They are so amazingly efficient in the things that need getting done every day. Google Drive even allows you to create, edit, and upload documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, albeit still with limited features. Nonetheless, it’s a perfect way to collaboratively work on documents with other people, online, and in real time.
  • There are still a number of other cloud-based applications I periodically use, most of which I can’t remember or enumerate at the moment.

Interesting to note how cloudy my life has been, in terms of my activities connected to the cloud. I am somehow an advocate to exploring the possible uses for it for our personal and professional lives, to be able to seize the opportunities that they present to us.

We could only imagine how much more our technologies will change our lives in the near and far future in terms of the way we do things, we access and share information, we store and transcribe history.

No regrets

I have this one friend who I met as one of our exhibit designers for The Mind Museum. When I met her, she was still a student of UP Fine Arts, or perhaps just recently graduated then. Of course, a lot has happened since then, and she became a friend. She also now works as a professional makeup artist.

There was this one time I was out with her and friends, and I could never forget a thought she told us. She realized while working on designing exhibits that she hated doing technical drawings. She didn’t enjoy doing the CAD and 3D drawings needed in the process. She says she didn’t regret working on those exhibit designs, because it made her realise the things she did not like or enjoy doing. Because of that realization, she was drawn to what she’s doing now – makeup. She didn’t need to do all those orthographic, CAD and 3D drawings to be able to do her craft now, but she’s still creating beautiful masterpieces on her clients’ faces.

Her thoughts stuck with me much more than she may realise. It’s a wonderful way of looking at things, of dealing with mistakes, wrong choices, or undesirable situations in our lives. It’s an ingenious, “no regrets” way of thinking.

We make mistakes, make wrong choices along the way. Sometimes the “right choices” do not work out. But instead of feeling hopeless and negative about it, we can just take them as life lessons. Failed relationships teach us how we are in relationship, and a little bit more on the types of people who match or do not match us. We learn about the things that we’re supposed to do more of and what we should avoid. Wrong career decisions point us back to what we really want to do, and we will hopefully know how to make better choices the next time.

Perhaps the important part of everything is knowing how to recognize the lessons that each “challenging situation” pose, and keeping these lessons to heart. This ensures that we move forwards and onwards, make better choices along the way, and not make the same mistakes again.

Bubble

Create a membrane around you. Deliberately decide on what you will let in that membrane, and what you will leave outside to observe remotely from the inside. Be conscious and aware on the specific moments that you will need to open this membrane, and beyond this moments, stay within the safety of that membrane.

It’s not about isolation. The message is to be conscious of what really matters, and what are simply extraneous. There are things in this world that we should just learn to accept, and yet with the acceptance, we should not force ourselves to believe it or to settle with it. There is an emotional management needed here. It’s simply not managable to remain frustrated and hate the world just because so many things around are personally unsettling. That’s simply self-torture. I realise that now.

Imagine a scene in the MRT. If one does not consciously create and stay in one’s membrane, all the frustrating Joes and Janes on the train or at the platform will just piss you off. There’s the person who does not want to spare some space, another who skips the queue, and yet another who stinks like hell. If you let yourself be affected by all these, it will drain all the physical and emotional energy from you. Stay in your bubble and just laugh everything off. They’re not supposed to be your problem.

Sometimes this also applies to more “personal” situations other than in public places. This can apply at work, in organisations, in social circles, or maybe even online and in social media. That’s what the “unfollow” and “hide” buttons are for, or the “unfriend” and “block” button for more extreme cases. We don’t have to react, comment, or be affected by all and anything that other people are saying or doing, even if it’s about you or about things related to you. Most importantly, if it’s something that you can’t change or if it’s realistically beyond your power or influence, better to just leave it alone or accept it as is, and just work around it.

The lessons of 2012

The year 2012 is another landmark in my 28-year life, because of achievements and travels, but most of all as a significant transition stage in my life. So many great life lessons were learned, and not the easy way.

I finished one of the most challenging goals of my recent life – to finish and open The Mind Museum to the public. But somehow, I had to move away and move on, because I am still meant for something else, possibly something grander than the world I moved in while still with The Mind Museum. My career was to take a big leap forward, towards where I ought to be.

However, I had to go through a rollercoaster, just to find the guts to keep on moving. At first I resisted the change. I was personally committed to the project until we finished. Everything after that was already a bonus. Then, something really made me decide to leave. Whatever that something was, it turned out to be one of the biggest blessings in disguise for me.

I had about four months of “soul searching” after my resignation. Those four months involved a lot of staying at home, freelance work, travel, and job-hunting. The most challenging was the job-hunting, because there was so much possibilities, and I had to narrow down the choices and “sell” myself properly. At the end of it, I found what I wanted, and a company who seemed to want me for who I was and what I am capable of. Big career leap, I may say. We’ll see how it works this new year.

I got to travel around in 2012 too. Twice to Boracay for vacation, to Bacolod for a wedding, to Singapore for a conference, to Malaysia for a personal adventure, and to Australia for a vacation with the family. The Malaysia and Australia trips were after I resigned, and in a way it was good because I got to spend three weeks in Australia and go around a bit. We mainly visited my brother in Sydney, met up with a lot of extended relatives, and went sight-seeing. We also got to experience Canberra, Gold Coast, and visit other relatives in Melbourne.

That’s a gist of what happened in 2012. Some important realizations and lessons:

  • I am lucky to have a wonderful family who I can always rely on, and I am quite sure they will always have my back no matter what. And I also now fully appreciate when they say “mother knows best”.
  • Introspection is very important. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks about you. You can never please everyone. Just focus on the things that are important to you, and just be the best version of yourself. I am who I am. I cannot be someone else. There are parts of me that I cannot change, and I would like to be accepted the way that I am, fluff and stuff.
  • We should be careful who we trust, even with the “good friends”. Be careful how much you share with them. I’ve been burned twice before, by two people who I thought will have my back no matter what. Seems like they were the ones who judged me the most, perhaps because they knew too much. They thought they knew who and what I really was, but they were already blinded by their prejudice and their own biases.
  • Boys will be boys. I can never understand how some of them are so willing to cheat on their wives or girlfriends, but I have no plans of getting involved in such. I can’t stand to be someone’s number two or someone’s mistress, and I do not want to be the cause of hurt to spouses, partners, and children.
  • I’ve completely closed and abandoned my “hope” for my first love. Finally, first love “dies”, after 15 long years. I now understand why it was never meant to be. It never was, never is, and never will be. The book is closed.
  • I’m bankrupt. I’m almost done paying-off my liabilities though. I’m now learning a better way of managing my finances, saving on basic expenses, and eventually putting something away for the rainy days. The credit card is taking the backseat from now on.
  • I’ve found myself into Twitter. It is indeed one useful tool of communication.
  • Home is where the heart is. It is not a single place, but rather, wherever love (and family) resides.
  • Simplicity and calmness. Two wonderful things I’ve learned from yoga and meditation.
  • I know now where I want to be, and what I want to be. I’m going after that now.

Maybe the greatest lesson of the year is learning to let go. Let go of things that you don’t need anymore. Let go of things that do not work anymore. Let go of the negative emotions. Let go of expectations. When you learn how to let go of the right things, you’ll learn to travel lighter, with less baggage. Then, you’ll have more space for new things, and possibly for the best things that have yet to come.

I have all the space now for everything that 2013 will give me. I’m ready.