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10 things I’ve learned so far from my US experience

Today marks exactly 1 month since I arrived in San Francisco. Now that I have somewhat settled in, I feel like I am in a much better position to write about what I think about this city with the famous fog with an Instagram account named Karl.

It took me 3 weeks to really settle in San Francisco. I think it is the biggest city that I have ever lived in before. Brisbane, Australia is no comparison. There are so many parts to this city, each with its own unique character and history.

I knew I was settled when I started recognizing places as more than just the foreign names on the map apps in my phone. Over the first few weeks, I had gotten myself to several events, such as to a Toastmasters meeting in Macy’s building, or the networking event in Linked in, in the hopes of accelerating my familiarity with the city with my eyes following the route on my phone closely. Always searching for which BART (train) to take, which Muni (bus) will take me closest to my destination. And I got into the bus going the wrong direction pretty much all the the time the first 2 weeks.

Suddenly, I started recognizing places that I’ve seen on my little excursions and see how it fits into other familiar routes. Like yesterday, when I was on the way to a homeless shelter to volunteer during dinner service, I realized that it was just a block away from the place I visited a week before to help out with crafting projects for my friend’s wedding. And it was so close to the BART Civic Centre station too. I felt silly for feeling so lost before.

It feels like the pieces of a puzzle are finally falling together and everything makes so much more sense. Of course, to come to this realization, I had spent much time walking and getting lost.

Here are the 10 things I’ve learnt so far from living in a country and a city that I never thought I would ever have a chance to even visit:-

#1 Microclimates are a real thing

I read a lot about this before I arrived in San Francisco. Yet, nothing could prepare me for the real thing until I experienced it for myself.

What is summer in San Francisco, anyway?

When I first arrived, I felt that the weather was so cold and miserable. My colleague declared that it is not usually that cold and windy. It was a mere 13 degrees Celsius, and I was so happy I brought a thick jacket with me. I did not look forward to changing my clothes to get into bed.

This was how cold it was when I first arrived
This was how cold it was when I first arrived

Then one weekend, it was 40 degrees Celsius! I remember walking to get to a coffee shop, and I was suddenly feeling nauseous. I thought, what could possibly be wrong? Then I checked the temperature and realized it was the heat and dehydration that was making me feel sick.

For two nights it was so unbearably warm I couldn’t sleep. It didn’t help that my room didn’t come with air-conditioning or a fan.

This was how hot it got last week (it got hotter after)
This was how hot it got last week (it got hotter after)

The changes in temperature could happen in a span of one day as well.

Just recently, I joined a Meetup group, aptly named “I wanted to do that… just not alone!” Just to find people to go with to watch a movie outdoors in Union Square. It was so cold in the afternoon, I had second thoughts about going. I even bought a sweater from a Goodwill store in preparation But funnily enough, after the sun set, it wasn’t as cold as in the late afternoon, which is so weird and does not conform to what I know about temperatures back home (hahaha, I know right?)

#2 San Francisco is probably the most Asian place I’ve been in in a Western country.

You can easily find Vietnamese, Japanese Korean, Thai, Chinese and even Malaysian food (if you’re motivated enough to look for it) is widely available among the many Mexican Tacquerias. I even found a very good Pakistan / Indian restaurant just a block from where I work, and I just love a good chicken biryani or cheese naan with tandoori chicken. So I haven’t really have the opportunity to miss the food at home so much yet. There are plenty of Asian grocery stores as well.

And well, I found a Malaysian brand of snacks while browsing through Walgreens in the Mission. What are the odds??

Haluuu Malaysian snacks!
Haluuu Malaysian snacks!

San Francisco also has the oldest and largest Chinatown out of China, which I spent a delightful afternoon exploring with a guide from Free Tours by Foot. And there is Japantown with Daiso (very important! For good and cheap things!). In fact, there are recognizable shops like Uniqlo right smack in the middle of the city.

Does this look like Japan? :P
Does this look like Japan? :P
Chinatown mural
Chinatown mural

Thanks to all these Asian elements, San Francisco doesn’t actually feel so much like a foreign city to me

#3 The work dress code is smart casual.

Suits are rare and jeans are pretty much the norm. Backpacks are the chosen gear to carry your stuff over briefcases. Just catch the morning train to work and you’ll see what I mean.

It is after all, where the first pair of Levi’s blue jeans was created.

#4 You don’t actually need a car

Other than the occasional delays, the public transportation ranging from the BART, Muni and streetcars are well connected and accessible to get you wherever you need to go. Besides, who wants to be caught in traffic or pay so much for parking? It generally takes me just a little under 20 minutes to get to work and back each day. Though the monthly pass IS quite hefty a price

#5 There is so much to keep you entertained.

I mean it when I said I probably don’t need to visit so many other cities in the US, when there’s so much to discover in this one city alone. If you are a geek like me, there are plenty of museums and walking tours to take advantage of. Museums usually charge quite a high admission fee, but you can wait for special free days, which usually happens unfortunately, during weekdays when I am working

Free entry!
Free entry!

#6 SF is where a lot of great things happened.

Yes, SF is famous today because of the surge of tech companies like Google, Apple, LinkedIn, Uber and all the many startups.

But the fame of San Francisco goes way back to the 1800s from the time of the Gold Rush.

You will also hear a lot about the Great Earthquake that happened in 1906 (Remember San Andreas?)

The birth of United Nations? Yup, it was here.

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The rise of Flower Power social movement? The birthplace of America’s counter-culture, the Haight was Ground Zero during the summer of 1967, a.k.a. The Summer of Love. Come here to see the place where Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix once lived in Haight-Ashbury.

Rosie the Riveter – the famous poster which is the symbol of feminism from WWII? Yep, it was here.

Recognize this?
Recognize this?

The birth of blue denim jeans by Levi Strauss? The best working gear for the men during the Gold Rush.

The term “Sugar Daddy”? I learnt about this during the Free SF Walking Tour at Union Square, where there is a statue of a lady on the top of the monument. She is the grandmother of SF, named Alma Spreckles who came to the US at the age of 19 and married a man who was 44 years old and owned a sugar factory.

San Francisco is also a place where many films and tv series were set. Full House anyone?

While we were in Chinatown, we were in this alley called Waverly Place. Immediately it brought to mind a book I loved in my early 20s called the Joy Luck Club.

The movie we watched in the park was the Graduate, played by a very young Dustin Hoffman. And yes, it was set in San Francisco.

#7. Meetup, Yelp, Nextbus, Maps, Lyft

These, and Eventbrite are you go-to apps that will help you survive during your time in San Francisco. They tell you where’s the best place to visit, how to get there, when you can expect your next bus to come, and in case all fails, a ride to your destination.

Although San Francisco is the perfect city for solo travelers and introverts, there may be some days when you just wish to have company (Because hanging out after work doesn’t seem to be a norm here). I’ve so far been to a couple of meetups to meet people, see some places that I wouldn’t go alone. You will find that a lot of the people who attend events on Meetup are also people who just relocated to San Francisco and would like to connect with other people. Eventbrite is also a great resource for finding events that you can go to, which provides ample networking opportunities.

Yep, you can order a burger without talking to anyone!
Yep, you can order a burger without talking to anyone!

#8. Be ready to see many homeless people

I work in the Mission district and live just in the outer Mission where a lot of homeless people hangout, and it stinks like the devil, not to mention filthy. A Canadian man who visits SF often says I am brave because of it.

That’s why I guess my first impression of San Francisco was a downer, but generally, the homeless are harmless. They do approach sometimes ask for money in various ways, like saying their home is in Oakland, or that they burnt their leg and needs some money, but they will not bug you. Most of the time anyway.

I always feel bad about turning them away, and that is why I decided to just volunteer one day at a homeless shelter through an event I saw on Meetup. That’s the only way I think I can help.

#9 Goodwill and Recycle boutiques

Shop for a good cause when you buy from Goodwill. Sometimes you might even find a Liz Claiborne tote bag for only $7 (I had to tell myself very firmly to put it back because I don’t need a bag :P) or some Ivanka Trump heels maybe? I always love the idea of boutiques that buy back preloved & vintage clothes and resell them. Good for the environment

#10 A different way of working

One of the things I really enjoy about working here is how there is no real “boss zone” – everyone is accountable to their own work and there is no hierarchy or unnecessary power play. Each team meeting starts with a light chat about how is everyone doing in their personal lives before going down to business about what everyone wants to achieve during the week. I especially enjoy that I am able to learn a lot about the issues from the variety of reading materials available. I also learnt how important LinkedIn is here, for professional reasons.

I think I am forming a strong idea about what I want to do at the end of my fellowship from what I have learnt so far from work.

I definitely feel blessed that opportunities has led me to be in San Francisco for my fellowship. There are so many avenues from where I can learn and bring what I’ve learnt back home.

One thing’s for sure. I am going to start organizing a Shut Up and Write event in my hometown!

The First 2 Weeks: Finding my niche and building a network

Let’s say that my first impression of San Francisco wasn’t at all that great. It started with me, arriving at a strange airport with no one around to pick me up.

My eyes scoured the people at the baggage area. No one looks even the slightest bit similar to the thumbnail photo on the email. No handheld signs written with “Sabrina” or anything that could possibly refer to me.

Well, the plane was delayed for half an hour. Did the person who was supposed to pick me up give up and left? I started to worry.

I sent a message to the number I was given. 15 minutes passed by with no response.

Being the adventurer I was, I decided, why not go find that BART train that I’ve been reading up on? Not that I know exactly which stop I will be on, but let’s figure that one out when I arrived at …. Daly City! That’s a familiar name. Yeah, let’s go to Daly City and get a taxi from there.

Fumbling around with the ticket machine, got a ticket amidst the wind that decided to pick up, that was my orientation to the Bay Area Trains, also known as BART.

I didn’t know that the homestay I was moving into was halfway up the hill. Google Earth has tricked me! was my bemused thought as the taxi arrived at my destination, which of course looks familiar yet not familiar as I have looked through the online photos.

My homestay host was glad to see me, because apparently the person who was supposed to pick me up was still at the airport waiting!

But all was well as she drove over, and we finally met and went to purchase a US number and some Mexican dinner.

I have to say, San Francisco was unbelievably cold those first few nights. For a person who comes from the tropics, it might as well be winter. The first full four days was foggy and windy, and I didn’t even have to go into work yet. Maybe being able to go to work would have been better, since I would be fully occupied. And possibly warm.

For my first day, my community mentor took me for a real tourist outing – to the Fisherman’s Wharf. Since parking was so difficult in San Francisco, we parked at the top of the hill, and walked down, which seemed to take forever for a woman who comes from a city that is just flat. And of course, when you’re down, you have to climb up again to get to the car!

Definitely I think my biggest challenge for this fellowship would be hills. But the more hills I conquer, the stronger I will get. I hope.

The second day onwards, I have to discover San Francisco all by myself. I went to the California Academy of Sciences, I discovered a bit more about the area where I was staying in, where the nearest grocery store was. And I learned about another area because I was looking for a tillandsia (which I didn’t know the existence of before) for a gift for my school friend who was having a bridal shower.

I actually got quite fond of the tillandsia
I actually got quite fond of the tillandsia

In my mind, I keep remembering 12 years ago, when I was a student in Brisbane. How much I loved the place, and how I much I loved discovering what Brisbane has to offer. San Francisco is in some ways, like Brisbane, except for the large numbers of homeless people.

However, it’s so much easier making friends when you are student. It does not apply to my current situation.

For example, when I was a student, even though I was new to a strange city then, at least I was surrounded with people who were in the same boat – all wanting to explore, and it was for sure you’d find a buddy or two or even ten.

But what I do have now are workmates, all who have built their lives in San Francisco. And a friend whom I just reconnected with after 21 years, and the people I met at her bridal shower.

And then there’s Meetup and Eventbrite.

At the end of my very first day of work, I thought I would go and check out a Toastmasters Club and network there. It was interesting to see the differences in how they conduct meetings compared to back home. But I didn’t get to meet any friends there. I also didn’t want to stay too long as I was in some place I wasn’t familiar with and I wanted to make sure I knew how to get home.

The next week, I decided to get smart and leverage on all interesting events I can find on Meetup and Eventbrite. It just so happened that there were two women-related events happening which I had to pay a small fee for.

The panelists at the LinkedIn event
The panelists at the LinkedIn event

The first event, was a networking event for women in product management and was held in the LinkedIn building. I did not manage to get any useful contacts from there, possibly because I was in the wrong field. The second event was for Expat Women in Google Launchpad on the topic of “Women in Business: Breaking the Glass Ceiling”, and I felt more welcome there. I at least got 2 contacts – one from a new MBA student who wanted to explore SF as well, and another, a VP of Wells & Fargo who was receptive about what I wanted to say about my practicum on paid family leave.

As with all new chapters in life, there is always a period of storms before everything slowly calms down and settles. I think the best way to find out about a new place is to be involved as much as possible with local activities that you’re interested to explore and who knows where it might lead to next?

My take is, just immerse yourself in the here and now. Let the sights, smells and sounds seep in.

As of now, I’m sitting in a cafe with a bunch of other writers, doing some real writing that I haven’t done in a while and thinking “Maybe this is a place I will like to come back to again and again”.

Orientation at D.C.!

Hard to believe, but it’s been more than a week since I left home to attend the Community Solutions Program. A 30-hours plus of traveling, and I was in Washington D.C. for all of 4 days and then I was off again to my host community – San Francisco!

The most welcome sight after 30 hours plus of traveling halfway across the world
The most welcome sight after 30 hours plus of traveling halfway across the world
Welcome kit from the CSP team
Welcome kit from the CSP team

The three days of Orientation at the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Centre was jam-packed with sessions on how we can make the most of our 4 months in the US. We were reminded of how exceptional we are to be chosen as the 7th cohorts of the Program from applications of over 2,600, making the acceptance rate to this program a mere 3.7%, even more competitive than an acceptance rate to Harvard!

I am the 3.7%!
I am the 3.7%!
Hola! This is me!
Hola! This is me!

The first day was mostly about introducing ourselves to the rest of the Fellows. It was not easy, with over 90 people in the room. I am impressed that the IREX staff have memorized each and every one of us by name.

At the end of the day, we found the people who will be our supporters during the Program, known as the Peer Accountability (PAL) Group. Three of us are located within a comfortable commuting distance, which will make it easier to meet up in weeks to come.

My PAL group members
My PAL group members

This, being my first time in the US… I had a bit of a culture shock:-

First and foremost had to do with food….

This is tea / coffee break??
This is tea / coffee break??
This is for tea / coffee break?? (Not included in photo are the assortment of chocolates at the back)
This is for tea / coffee break?? (Not included in photo are the assortment of chocolates at the back)

Excuse me, I’m Asian 😛 We have fried noodles or curry puffs or sugar-powdered doughnuts… and most definitely no sodas for tea break.

But everything else went quite smoothly.

We had several sessions on how to make the most of our time in the US, how to network, and we also had several invited speakers! Here are just some of the highlights.

Cheryl Kravitz shared some points on how to help domestic violence survivors during the theme area breakout groups on Day 2. Her motivation comes from a personal experience, which I can relate to. Her notes are useful, because I’ve never actually done similar things during my work at women’s non-profits.

Cheryl Kravitz, President of CRK Communications
Cheryl Kravitz, President of CRK Communications

During the technology roundtable on day 3, I chose to first sit with Mark Leta, Director of Business Analysis and Quality Assurance at Beaconfire RED, who showed us an app on collecting data about trash in oceans which was created for Oceans Conservancy. Trash in the ocean is a very big issue back home and I’ve joined several Project AWARE events, so I was very interested in this.

Mark Leta, Director of Business Analysis and Quality Assurance at Beaconfire RED
Mark Leta, Director of Business Analysis and Quality Assurance at Beaconfire RED

During the technology round table, I also joined Brittiany Broadwater’s table. She is the Director of Operations at Phone2Action and during her session, she showed us how to help people to engage with their local representatives / legislators with the use of a mobile app in order to lobby for issues. I was imagining how useful this tool would be back home as many people do not actually know who they’ve voted for and how to voice out their issues.

Brittiany Broadwater, Director of Operations at Phone2Action
Brittiany Broadwater, Director of Operations at Phone2Action

During the luncheon for the last day of orientation, we had a great motivational speaker by the name of Rahama Wright, who founded Shea Yeleen, a social enterprise that empowers shea butter cooperatives owned by women in rural villages in Ghana through providing them a living wage, skills training, and financial literacy. Through her power of story telling, she inspired us to “stop waiting, don’t stop and keep going”.

Rahama Wright, Founder & CEO of Shea Yeleen
Rahama Wright, Founder & CEO of Shea Yeleen

It was a busy 3 days at D.C., but a fruitful one full of new people to meet and new things to learn and explore. I am indeed grateful that they selected me to be part of this program.

Tomorrow will be my first day of work at my host organisation – Paid Leave for United States (PL+US). Wish me luck!

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3 weeks left to go

This week I had experienced my first ever day trip to Kuala Lumpur. Usually I would stay at least one night, but not this time. The purpose?

To attend a Visa interview at the US Embassy!

I didn’t quite know what to expect. All I knew was that I was scheduled for the Visa interview at 11.30am and I should plan to arrive at the guard house half an hour before, and I thought it was due to the security checks.

Didn’t realise it was because of the long line of people waiting to get into the embassy. I didn’t even know which line I was supposed to join.

However, since I was a “special guest” –  being a US Fellowship recipient, I was immediately bumped up the line.

Got my visitor's tag!
Got my visitor’s tag!

When I mentioned to my CSP Alumni mentor that I was worried about my visa application, he told me the process is just formalities. I didn’t understand what he meant until I got there.

And yes, it was pretty straightforward. They got my biometric fingerprint scans, asked me to sign a form, got me to sit down, called me again to verify my prints and pass me the form that I signed for keeping, and that was it!

I met another CSP Fellow while waiting for my turn and we were comparing notes about where we’re heading. I am most likely to be going to San Francisco for my practicum with Paid Leave US (PLUS) (still have not received my confirmation letter), while he was likely going to be posted in Texas at a college (he hasn’t received his confirmation letter either).  At least that conversation made us both feel relieved, knowing that we weren’t alone in waiting impatiently for more concrete information 😛

After that interview, it was just meeting up with the International Exchange Alumni Coordinator who gave me a goodie bag and briefed me about what to expect and what the Alumni was all about.

A collar pin to add to my collection
A collar pin to add to my collection

And I was done by lunch! Loads of time to kill before my flight back home to KK.

Only 3 short weeks left at home, which is a little surreal considering that there are still some loose ends to be tied up.

Some people have asked me if my son is coming along (he’s not) and commented how much I’m going to miss him.

I know they mean well, but I actually don’t need the reminder, because it’s the one thing that I keep thinking about over and over again every single day. After all, the longest we’ve ever been apart is 4 nights since he was born, and for most other events and trips, I would have taken him with me. Aside from the fact that getting a Visa for him would be impossible, I do feel personally that he would be safer back home in familiar settings, with a large number of family members who care and could look after him, rather than in a strange foreign country where even his mother isn’t even sure of how things are done.

What I do need reminding is my purpose for going away and doing this Fellowship. That it is a wonderful rare opportunity to discover my potential so I can come home and do something great.

I need to keep strong.

When the unexpected happens

In a little over 5 weeks I’ll be off on a journey. I have no idea yet where exactly I will be, but it will be in the US, hopefully working with a great organisation for 4 months.

“If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.” ~ Nora Roberts

And what I want is, to have a proper experience working in a non-profit that deals on women and gender issues issues. Something that I have been sort of working towards for the past 7 years, whether I knew it back then or not.

Back home, the opportunities have been very limited. I tried working with one women’s non-profit at home, but I had to leave because my aspirations didn’t match theirs. I worked for a second organisation that was related to what I wanted to do, but I was told to leave because I was in the “wrong religion”.

Now that I have this once in a lifetime chance, I am both excited and scared at the same time.

Excited to finally experience something that I long for, and the possibilities it might lead to. Scared to be in a country that I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to visit (blame it on bad media coverage and fear-mongering parents). Excited to immerse myself in a different culture and way of life. Scared of entrusting the care of my 2 year-old to others while I’m away.

But the voice inside my head that says, “you’ve gotta do this or regret this for the rest of your life” is stronger than my fears.

I didn’t even expect that I would be chosen for this journey, to be a Fellow of the 2017 Community Solutions Program (CSP), sponsored by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and implemented by IREX, a U.S. non-governmental organization. When I first applied, I was in the process of applying to further my studies in the UK through Chevening, which I had wanted to try for years. I saw that the applications for CSP was also opening, so I thought “why not?” especially since I was reaching the age limit for the program. I wouldn’t have another chance.

So when I received an email which told me that I was once of the 400 selected from the total of 2,500 applications from 74 countries, I was so happy.  There were interviews and other requirements, but the one thing that was holding me back was that I do not work formally for women & gender issues. It was mostly voluntary and I needed permission from work to be away for 4 months. Having a superior that wasn’t quite receptive of my aspirations was daunting and I left it at that without arguing my case further.

When I received an email from CSP in March informing me that I was selected as an alternate, i.e. I may only be selected again if someone drops out from the program, I felt deflated but yet I had somehow expected it. And the likelihood that I would be selected from a pool of other alternates seemed very remote.

“What chances do I have against that? They probably have 100 alternates for the 100 finalists”, I thought.

I also received a rejection letter from Chevening a little later, and it felt like my self-confidence was taking a beating.

On 9th May, I was already fully prepared for another year of being at home, with nothing out of the ordinary expected when I received an email that one of the finalists have withdrawn from the program and I was selected!

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After much thought and trepidation, I decided to just go for it. And now after a flurry of medical checks, vaccinations and visa preparations, and especially requesting time off from work and getting it (!) I am somewhat ready,

I really can’t wait to find out where exactly I will be placed in the US. Cross fingers it will be this week that I finally find out!

 

Life Lessons For My Daughter

This was a speech I did for my club and area contest in March 2017. I was thinking back on this as I write my introduction to the Personal Leadership Plan in preparation for the Community Solutions Program. I thought it would be nice to share this now

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I’ve noticed in the past couple of months, articles like “What I wish I knew in my 20s” or “What I Wish I could Tell My 18 Year Old Self” are very popular on my Facebook feed. I think it would be really interesting to be able to to do so, to talk to my 18 year old self, but realistically, we can’t change the past, but we could shape the future. And in the future, I mean our kids.

My daughter, my first born, just turned 18 about 2 weeks ago. It made me reflect about my own turning point starting from the age of 18. The age when you are legally an adult. There’s so much new to experience, and a lot of the times you get lost in discovering who you are.

No one is probably better to speak of this, because I have experienced almost the worst of everything. It all started when I was 18, out in the world for the first time after living a very sheltered life. By the age of 19, I was a young mother, and I was trapped in an abusive marriage that I stayed in for over 7 years before I finally had the courage to move on.

Here are the three top life lessons that I would share with my daughter, that I felt would have been helpful to me when I was her age.

Number One: Only your opinion of YOU really matters.

As far as I can remember, I’ve always had the innate desire to please others. I prided myself in being the epitome of a “good girl” – soft spoken, gentle, can sew, can cook. I was the ultimate catch! I thought to myself. “And one day I will get myself prince charming who will save me.” And then the unfortunate happened. People talked behind my back about how being a “good girl” was just a facade. And in trying to uphold this image of what it means to be a perfect wife, a perfect mother I was willing to live a life in an abusive household. To be the perfect wife while what I really wanted to was to build a career and make something of myself.

People can say whatever they want to say, but only you know yourself best.

If I never started thinking more of my abilities, and having faith that what I believe myself to be is true, I don’t think I would have left and started a new life for myself. Just know that you are enough. You are smart enough and you are pretty enough to do anything you set your mind to do.

Being confident and believing in your own self-worth is necessary to achieving your potential, according to Sheryl Sandberg.

Number Two: Do what is right for YOU not what everyone thinks you’re capable of or should do.

Deep down inside, I know I was interested in big issues related to the environment, loved writing, but I never pursued my interests. Instead I chose the “smart option”, to study about making money. I realised now that I aced my subjects because I loved the writing assignments and the research that comes with it. I struggled for many years trying to understand why I hated my job so much, and why I just felt out of place. It didn’t help that back home, things were volatile. Home wasn’t safe. I felt like a failure as I jumped from job to job, trying to find my dream job.

Until one day, I decided enough was enough. It took many tries, and many failed attempts before I was back on the career path that I felt was right for me.

Of course I still have my regrets. That I didn’t realise things sooner, that I lost a great part of my youth finding myself and losing opportunities to make it big. I am too old now, but that brings me to number 3.

Number Three: Life is NOT a competition or a race to see who finishes first.

We all run by different clocks. Just because you see someone as a success first doesn’t mean you’ve lost. Our prize at the end of the line may be better and more meaningful to us. We don’t know what is the story behind their success.

Everyone has their own story.

I see a lot of myself in my daughter, though less of the naivety. My daughter has still the chance to be the better version of me. But whatever happens, I won’t judge because I’ve faced the worst of it. My speech is not only for my daughter but for the woman who has ever had their worth questioned. All the strength you need is inside yourself.

Women face glass ceilings at every level

In March this year, Grant Thornton released the results of their survey of 5,520 chief executive officers, managing directors, chairmen or other senior executives from all industry sectors that was conducted between July and December 2015.

It was found that 31 per cent of companies in Malaysia do not have women in senior management roles,and that women make up only 26 per cent of all senior management positions despite the calls from Putrajaya to have women making up 30 per cent of the boards of all public companies.

This is a vast difference to tertiary education, where women constitute nearly 66 per cent of university enrolment in Malaysia, according to the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (Arrow).

While there are many reasons to believe that a woman just simply needs to be more assertive and hardworking to be taken seriously as a leader, here are a few other ways that we should consider in bridging the gender gap in the workplace and beyond.

This personal opinion piece was written by yours truly and published in Free Malaysia Today!

Enjoy…

A long sandy walk in Petra

Have you ever walked in a desert before? Walking in the desert is a very tiring and thirsty experience, and even more if you were like me at that time – 7 months pregnant.

You may be wondering, what was I doing, waddling around like a penguin in a desert, at 7 months pregnant?

On my last ever article on my blogspot last year, I mentioned I was flying off to Amman, Jordan. I never got around to writing about my experience then. And so I write about it now in my all new and improved site SanaSiniSitu.com

I got to thinking about this trip when I was writing a speech for Toastmasters.

This desert that I am referring to in particular was in the lost city of Petra, and houses one of the most iconic of all monuments in Jordan. This building is the Treasury building, which was featured in an Indiana Jones movie.

Recognise this? This is the Treasury building in Petra
Recognise this? This is the Treasury building in Petra

I was in Amman, Jordan to attend the 2015 Mosaic International Leadership Programme Summit as a Group Leader for 2 weeks. Previously, I was a delegate for the 2013 programme summit, when it was held in London.

The programme organizers had arranged this trip, as they felt it would be a lovely visit for everyone, as it is “an experience you cannot miss”.  And indeed, since it was my first and only experience in the Middle East, I wanted to see as much as possible. And beyond the confines of the hotel we were staying at.

Map of Petra

The map above barely justifies the actually amount of travelling that you need to do to cover the area.

To even reach the famed Treasury building, one of the monuments closest to the entrance, you would have to first reach the entrance of the Siq, a mile-long narrow gorge that leads into the city of Petra. The distance between the visitors centre and the start of the Siq itself is about half a mile (or 800 meters).

The “good” news is, you have three choices to get up to the Siq. Either you go on a donkey or horseback, or take a ride on a horse driven cart.

The third option is the cheapest of all choices, which we chose.

We walked.

For a normal person of average fitness the walk might take you about  15-20 minutes to reach the Siq, which you would walk through for another 15 minutes to get to this iconic building. Hardly exciting thoughts for women with a 7 month old belly.

For someone of my condition though, it was not advisable to take the horse either, as the ride would be too rough.

But we did. For all of 5 minutes. At least it felt that way.

And the price was frankly, unreasonable. We probably spent about RM100 for the 2 horses to carry both of us for that very very very short trip.

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Going by horseback… the first few minutes

For the remainder of the trip, we walked, because of 1) my condition and 2) because Petra wasn’t cheap and we didn’t actually have a lot of cash to spare for frivolities.

A bit difficult, since Bedouin children are quite the entrepreneurs, we found out. One little girl offered to show us how to tie our keffiyeh, the red and white Arab headscarf, and demanded a  “gift”. Others demanded for us to take their postcards as a gift.

I guess that is one way they make a livelihood for themselves.

A Bedouin girl helps Robert to tie his keffiyeh properly
A Bedouin girl helps Robert to tie his keffiyeh properly

Being the optimistic person that I am, and also because the possibly of ever visiting Petra again is very remote, we decided to walk as far as we could for the first 2 hours and make our way back slowly and enjoy the sites more as we pass them on the way back.

We even made it halfway up the hill to the Monastery, as we were told that we can see the entire lost city from the top. It was a good thing we didn’t continue, because after listening to our friends, they said it was quite a distance away and steep. They were amazed anyway, that I made it that far, being pregnant and everything.

In spite of not being able to see everything, we still saw a lot. We saw crumbling buildings that have been carved into the side of the rocks. We saw smaller holes in the rocks which were the size of rooms. There were tall pillars and pavements and bridges. But no water. Buildings that may use to have a proper walkway with access to them that didn’t require climbing. There were big sand colored crumbling buildings, like a hall. Or an open air arena with lots of seats circling the stage.

We imagined how life could have been back then, as a bustling metropolis. And what could have caused for civilization to abandon this city. Water resources that ran dry perhaps. Or an earthquake.

Getting to as far as we wanted to go into the site was only half the battle. Coming back to get the bus was the other half of the battle, and far more excruciating.

I would have loved a ride back, but couldn’t. So I had to endure the whole shuffling and waddling back to the bus, my back killing me from the undetacheable weight of my belly. And I got grumpier and grumpier by the minute.

It made it worse that every few minutes, nay seconds! Someone would ride over with their camel, donkey or horse and asked if we wanted to ride back for 40JD. That is about RM200. After the 6th or so offers, I was struggling to stop myself from screaming at them to go away.

Indeed it was a lesson in patience.

Trying to climb up the rock
Trying to climb up the rock
Some sites at Petra
Some sites at Petra

The sand was finer than I have ever encountered. It slipped through the cracks of the soles in my beloved Nikes, that the rubber sole came off. My shoes are still in a plastic bag today, colored red from the sand.

We’d stop every few minutes to allow me some rest. I think the worst of all was… That people couldn’t tell that I was pregnant! I think I probably just looked like a very fat woman, who was huffing and puffing away from lack of exercise.

I mean, when I was checking in my flight from KLIA, the lady didn’t even ask for my letter from the doctor. She just smiled when handing my ticket and said “have a nice flight, Miss!”

She said Miss!!!

So as I was on this excruciating sandy walk, sloping upwards in some places, we took a seat on a long bench to rest near a small hut. My face was all red and sweaty. There were a few men who were also sitting there, and I can’t remember the conversation that followed. But he remarked to my other half, Robert, “she’s a bit fat isn’t she?”

I was speechless and just squinted my eyes to show my rage at him. Robert told him that I was in fact pregnant and then the guy offered me a drink of water which I declined and went on my way.

To cut a long story short, we made it back to the bus in good time. And a cold can of cola never tasted so good. Well it should, at 1JD or rather RM5 each. And my friends said it was inspiring for them that someone as pregnant as me could still do all these things.

I am just happy to still be alive to tell the tale

Looking back now, as tiring and excruciating as it was to walk down the long, hilly and sandy place, it was an unforgettable experience to visit a place that you would normally only read about. Or see in the movies.

Echoing the thoughts of Mark Twain, he said “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”