Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Underwater at Perhentian

A school of fish in the South China Sea. Pulau Perhentian.
    No matter how long I manage to slip off to this haven, it seems as though it will never be enough. It's like an addiction that cannot be kicked. Like a forest fire that that just won't stop. Like an infection that has invaded my every pore. Arggghhh! The moment I get on the boat to come back to the mainland, I immediately want to turn around. Come on, let's go. Get me out of dry land, return me to the sea. Take me back to me li'l fishies.
    I don't know why I never had the desire to come to Pulau Perhentian earlier in my life. What on earth was I thinking?!

Swimming amongst underwater life.
    I fell in love with the Pulau last year. My first time to the island.  It was a quick 24-hour turn-around, one which I had to twist my friend's arm, beg and plead for her to go with me, even if she didn't have time.  The result: we both loved it!  Me more so than her. I had sea legs, she didn't.  The speedboat ride out from Kuala Besut to Teluk Dalam at Perhentain was thirty minutes long.  I swear I was wearing a smile the whole way.  To feel the wind in my hair, looking at the waves, the horizon, the salty smell of the sea...everything felt right. Nothing else mattered. I had left all my worries somewhere else. All I was, was free.  

    Last year, Perhentian opened my eyes and opened my soul. I felt revived there. It was a reaction from the very depths of me, like something that I've searched for eternally and far and wide only to find it so close to home.
Green acropora coral. So soothing to the eyes.
    Yet this year topped last year. A repeat visit was inevitable. By hook or by crook, I was getting there. It wasn't easy to find a companion.  My friends were busy or unavailable or just not interested.  I managed to convince my generally non-committal brother to go there with me since by sheer chance he was available because he was in between jobs.  "You'll fall in love with the place!" I said.

    To make a cruel observation on my previous companion - having my brother share my passion for the open water took the cake. We bonded. We now share the same enthusiasm and passion for going to the Pulau.  It  was a shared understanding of the pleasure we got out of it. We saw the same things, we snorkelled in the warm tropical waters, swam amongst fish and over other sea creatures and feasted our eyes on the underwater world.  It was strangely in this realm that I felt safe, where danger lurked. I felt like I was in another dimension of awareness.

A clown fish at home in the anemone. 
The anemone keeps it safe because it's a bit stingy to other fish.   
    At the first couple of snorkel sites, I was hampered by that ubiquitous orange vest that tourists don.  I felt restricted and clumsy.  My brother however was brave in his first attempt, taking off the vest and going free or skin-diving.  Seeing how freely he moved and how he could actually dive down inspired  me to do the same.  I threw myself, vestless, into the sea and let myself sink into the vastness that was the South China Sea.  I was surprised by the buoyancy of the sea. You can try very hard to sink, but you won't.  Unless of course you struggle and panic. Then all bets are off, my friend. Otherwise, the sea simply carries you with ease.

The guide offering some bread to fish at the Marine Park
    In some spots, there were lots of fish.  The marine park at Redang was a prime example. The fish are used to having food that the guides bring in to lure the fish to us tourists.  I'm not sure exactly where I stand on that practice.  On the one hand, I want to see fish, but on the other hand, it's tampering with nature.  To feed or not to feed, that's the question.

    When we were at Shark Point, a dead fish was used as bait for sharks. Last year, I spotted an adolescent from afar. This year I was up close and personal with a baby black-tip shark.  It moved so elegantly in the water, swaying from side to side, circling us playfully for more of the bait the guide held in his hands. I am sure that without the bait, the baby shark would not have bothered to come at all.
    When you watch documentaries like BBC's Life or Planet Earth, know that some scenarios are entirely set up for filming.  For example, a palm frond was used as a lure to film flying fish mating.  Ordinarily, that palm frond would not be there.  But I digress. I'm not going to go on a rant about the "politics" of nature.

Pink acropora or table coral. Beautiful!
    Back to the sea ~ The coral was mesmerizing.  They were all kinds of pink, green, blue, brown, red, yellow. They were abundant. They were alive. They were dead.  The coral is varied around Perhentian.  Not so everywhere in the world. Certainly not so around Malaysia. An experienced boatman told me that he was offered jobs at Tioman and Langkawi. After visiting and inspecting those sites, he decided that Perhentian was still the best in Malaysia, having the most variety to offer tourists.
Blooming flower-like beauties. Not sure of their real name.
   I saw lot of species of fish: too many to count, and even harder to name.  I held a couple of sea cucumbers. I even managed to handle a sea star cushion.
I can't quite explain why this is so mindblowingly exciting.  No experience in my life beats the simplicity of just being underwater at Perhentian.   But it wasn't only the underwater world that sucked me in.
    I was taken in by the simple life that the people who made their livelihood in Perhentian led. Most of them worked there because they wanted to.  It wasn't because they were forced into it. They made a conscious choice to be at the mercy of the island, with limited luxuries and few opportunities to go back to the mainland.  They seemed to share the same fondness for the island life.
My brother floating effortlessly in the South China Sea. 
    I got to know some of them in a very short time.  In truth there are many island stories to be told. That's for another time though.
    I left Perhentian with a heavy heart. I was happy because it was a defining trip taken with my brother. It was a trip to remember and savour for all that it was.  But I still needed another day. Another day to sustain that wonderful feeling of wonderment and joy!  Or another week. Reality bites. It pulls me back to my life.  Responsibilities. Family. Work.
    Even as I am writing this, I know that tonight when I'm in the arms of Morpheus, in my dreams I will be in the embrace of Perhentian, my island paradise.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My little rant on writing résumés

Why am I qualified to talk about this subject? Because in my previous work life, I was a recruiter who spent endless hours combing through, refining, critiquing, enhancing, improving and even in some cases completely revamping the whole look and feel of the documents purporting to be somebody’s life’s work. Now I do it off and on for friends or family. Maybe tomorrow I’ll turn it into my business.

Here are all my disclaimers if you ever need my services:

I am not responsible for the content in your résumé (ie. The juicy bits like what your achievements are). If you don’t add all the good bits, I can’t make it up. What I can do is ask you about your job and make you think about all the stuff that needs to be in there. If you already have the important bits, then we will save some time. Once you have described what you do, only then can I tweak it and possibly make it a better representation of you. And remember, I am not responsible for whether you get the job!

Having seen the résumé s from best of the best and from the worst of the worst, I have assembled my Top 10 Pet Peeves (by no means exhaustive but it’s a start):

1. Too much information. This includes: over-describing a position, personal information, primary school grades, activities that are completely irrelevant to the job, and photographs of yourself in the document or heaven forbid, in a separate document.

2. Handing over the résumé and saying, “Fix this for me”. This is not how it works. This résumé belongs to you, is an extension of you and therefore should always be approved by you. This means, you have to put work into it! Every line in your résumé must be known by you. Even if you didn’t write it personally, make sure you memorize it like you wrote it! It would be embarrassing (not to mention detrimental to you) to sit at an interview in this scenario:

“Say, James, I see that you have led a team of 30 people in the project at XYZ Company. Can you tell me more about that project?”

“Errr, let me see that” as you reach for your résumé, “I’m not exactly sure which project that is. Can I see where that is?”

So, know every line of your résumé like it’s the back of your hand. Don’t get caught in this situation.

3. A big ego attached to the résumé. Sometimes this manifests in the résumé, other times I just have to put up with it over the phone. Hopefully, never face-to-face!

4. Grammar mistakes, I can understand. But spelling mistakes!! Can’t stand those. No excuses. Fix them before the résumé is sent to anybody.

5. Unexplained abbreviations. For instance, I would have no idea that TMI means “Too Much Information” if it is not specified at least once in the résumé. And make that specification the first time it is used.

6. Purposeful vagueness. Get your work dates right. Month and years needed for each position. A good interviewer will notice gaps between jobs and ask you about them. If you have large gaps, get ready to explain. Also, be specific about figures – eg. $3m project sounds better than ‘large project’

7. Heavy focus on responsibilities as opposed to accomplishments. A nice balance would be good.

8. A poorly or fancily formatted résumé. If you don’t use proper bulleting techniques, your résumé will be going to the bottom of the pile. A reader-friendly résumé is a must. The use of unconventional formatting and fonts in a résumé always irks me. Keep it simple. No highlighting and different font colors. No fancy shading or themes to “make your résumé stand out”. Actually, you will stand out. You will stand out as an irritating applicant who defies convention.

9. Using the exact same résumé to apply to different positions. Each position is different. Ergo, your résumé should be tailored to get you an interview for the specific job you’re interested in. Emphasis can be placed appropriately and content can be rearranged to grab the hirer’s interest.

10. Having an OBJECTIVE section at the top of your résumé. That’s just tacky. That’s the lazy person’s way of ‘tailoring’ a résumé. If you must have something like that, call it a Summary or Overview.

Hope this helps someone out there! More updates when I get round to it. In the meantime, contact me for a consultation. Fees negotiable!

Monday, August 9, 2010


As much as I enjoy watching you think
Ask me that question swirling in your head.
Don’t make me ask you
I search your face for a clue and I think I see it
Can’t act if I’m not sure
Because you know I won’t
I won’t take a chance
I won’t make a move
It’s just not me to step out of bounds
And reach for you
If you touch me I might go
If you don’t I might not know
What will you do my sparrow?
Give me a moment, give me a hint
Whisper to me what’s behind those eyes
I just want to know
Will I fly away with you?

Ode to Alice

I made a card for my dear friend Alice last night. A rare picture of the two of us in a displayable frame with a note attached. A wish and a prayer for my "BFF" and a dear old friend that she is going to take her newfound freedom to a higher level. To be happy is a privilege. Not all of us can claim that we are happy. Some of us are content with being content.

Happiness is contagious. It tends to permeate your surroundings and infect the people around you like a disease but a welcomed kind of disease. When one exudes happiness, you will see it all around her. Happy breeds happy. If a mother is happy, look at her children. A twinkle of the child's eye, a crack of a smile from those innocent lips. You're in heaven. Happy, breeds happy.

I was invited to see Alice's new house last year. This was a home built on very little trust and love, but that which has blossomed into a beautiful and warm place. I got a sense of home when I walked in there. This was a house that was lived-in. Not one of those many homes that looked good enough for an expose in House & Garden. You know what I mean, the ones that have zero clutter and everything is just pristine. No, not this house. It wasn't messy by any means. But you could tell that despite the tensions of a divorce that was pending finality, it was a house of warmth.

I hugged her older daughter Maggie who greeted me with vigour. I planted a kiss on her forehead. She was beaming from her previous day's achievement. 100% in her Maths test, she announced. Alice's younger daughter was at school so I missed seeing her.

I can be reasonably sure that they are happier where they are today. No more tension between the parents. They seem well adjusted and smart. I am proud of their mother.

And for Alice, I wish eternal happiness. In everything she does. With whomever she decides to share her life and her children.