Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Kind words though kind itself can become much more than you realise...

I once shared some kind words to someone, more as a thank you than anything for pretty much spending the time with me to go through my graduate job search application. 

This was years ago, but I remembered how passionate she had been in her work and how much feedback and support she offered me in developing the tools I need to find a job, i.e., my CV and cover letter. It'd been a while and I was looking through my old emails saw our old conversations and I just sent an email saying thank you and to let her know I was doing well now. 

As she was a careers adviser, and most of the time while they do provide students with career guidance and advice, they often rarely hear back from them again. However, I'd thought I would update her on what was happening and little did I know but she had a very busy and challenging time that week, and it was my little email that seemed to made her week and lifted up her spirits. 

While I hadn't received  the response I'd been expecting to be getting (just a small your welcome and glad to hear you're doing alright response), but it seems that without even realising it, my kind words meant more to her and at the right moment. So even if you haven't heard and/or spoken to someone for a while, what can mean all the world to them and inspire them at the right moment can be some kind words. Kind, simple words of encouragement you could say. 

So share your kind words and thank those around you and I hope you all well - Enjoy your day! - Vu :)

Ego and the spirit

A while ago I went on a few youth and leadership camps and I remember discussions about what was identified as the ego and the spirit, and how our spirit seems to be at times suppressed by our ego.

A bit like kids not having filters and believing anything is possible, we generally find ourselves hiding our true spirit behind our ego. Like an egg, we shield ourselves with the ego around us with the spirit hidden inside, sometimes the spirit is free, other times it's not.

Often, we do this subconsciously, and consciously with our general fears on how we feel how things would be perceived by people around us, for not being accepted and you could say, of who we really are. Most of us deep down are quite scared of being vulnerable and we tend to hide behind our egos because of that, it makes us more comfortable. The ego and the spirit is often something they teach about in karate and boxing.

One of the activities we did on the leadership camp was to imagine myself as a two year old again and just do whichever and whatever I felt like doing. And we would feel comfortable as everyone else around uswas doing it too, as it's okay to be a kid at times. Even today I still find hills to roll down and run under trees to catch leaves but that's me...

I can't say I do it all the time, I can't do it if I'm in a suit for instance, but perhaps the next time you are aware that your ego might be in the way of your true spirit then it's something to think about. So go and find your hill and roll down it and let your spirit free... who knows you might even decide to do it in that new suit/ dress of yours... haha have fun! :)

Here's also a couple of nice quotes to leave you with:

"As long as you have to defend the imaginary self that you think is important, you lose your peace of heart. As soon as you compare that shadow with the shadows of other people, you lose all joy, because you have begun to trade in unrealities and there is no joy in things that do not exist." - Thomas Merton

"Many [people] ... never become the [person] who is called for by all the circumstances of their individual lives. They waste their years in vain efforts to be some other [person]... For many absurd reasons, they are convinced that they are obligated to become somebody else.. They wear their minds and bodies in a hopeless endeavour to have somebody else's experiences or write somebody else's poems or express someone's else's spirituality." - Thomas Merton

Teach as you would like to be taught

In one of my past lives I was a swim teacher and one of my student of mine said once to me that I am "an awesome swim teacher" (Student Gemma), but I wondered how?

My thoughts were that perhaps I try to make things fun, made sure that my students near the basics and then advanced to the more challenging aspects of a swimming style. I wanted to make them feel involved, a part of something and most of all I wanted them enjoy the experience and prepare them for the real thing one day - the ocean.

As every teacher as their own style and approach to teaching I think the central theme for my teaching is I taught how I would like to be taught if I was learning how to swim myself. I thought about how it would be received on their side as a student, i.e. putting myself in their shoes. So my technique to teaching is to teach as you would like to be taught. 

A capitalist only when it's convenient?

A while ago I met a bloke at a laundry mat. We were just chatting around our local community and the conversation moved to the economy and the capitalist system that we live in.

He was discussing how it wasn't that bad living in a dictatorship (he was from Iraq), as things were quite fair in terms of prices for things, where they generally were limits placed on how much you could price something as a storeowner, so as a buyer you knew exactly how much you ought to be paying for something.

That sounded quite reasonable, when he mentioned the example of buying tomatos for say $1 a kg, where you'd expect to pay the same everywhere else you go. There won't be any ridiculous pricing like $7-8 a kg for the same thing. The same thing with petrol and all other basic items. The way it is set up is so that the storeowner can make a living, and buyers can buy what they need. That seemed fair.

Of course this is only one aspect of the overall system, as wealth is distributed in a different way and many decisions on what happens around you are set by someone else. So what's set may not be entirely be in the best interest of all and/or a few. But for me, I'd need to understand and learn about the pros and cons of such a system as I'm sure there is more to it then meets the eye.

But during our conversation he made a comment about capitalism and how people are generally only a capitalist when it suits them, and he how people took advantage of others when it was convenient for them. He then mentioned the global financial crisis as an example.

So what struck me was that very comment, people are generally only a capitalist when it's convenient for them? Is that true? Who are these people? You and me? I hope to learn more about this from examples of how it might be so, so please feel free to share your thoughts and stories if you have some.

Be the person you want to follow

I always wonder whenever I hear someone talk about how someone is a great leader. How inspiring they can be, and what great qualities that they possess. Am I a good leader?

It makes me think about what makes a leader and what qualities should a leader possess? Qualities such as courage, charisma, integrity, communication, and the list can go on.

But I believe what we want to see in a leader are the qualities we aspire towards, and that's how I feel about leaders and role models that I admire. They generally possess a certain quality that motivates you to want to push yourself in a certain way. Think Bruce Lee for example. He may not be alive today, but the symbol of the things he represented still remain with us today - through his movies, clips, and things written about him. He is seen as a symbol of peace, strength and that is what I aspire towards and admire.

Each of us are leaders in some way, whether formally or not, and whether we realise it or not. We are leaders when we lead our friends, our family, with our very thoughts and ideas of what we would like and should do in our day-to-day lives.

So the qualities that I believe we seek in our leaders are those we have or aspire to, so perhaps the answer to whether you are good leader comes down to whether you believe you are living the values and qualities that you truly admire. Be the person you want to follow, because at the end of the day. That's who is truly inspiring you to be who you are today...

Monday, January 9, 2012

One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done

"One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done"  - Marie Curie

You're always working, working hard at work, taking care of those calls, dealing with those customers. 

Yet whenever your manager sees you, it seems like you're not doing anything? Sound familiar? It seems that there are so many times that you complete so many tasks, yet all that is seen is what you still need to do. 

They always catch you at the wrong moment, when you are taking that little break just to check your phone, your mail, etc. The focus should be what you have done and what you will do, but sometimes it seems that that is never really seen.

So what do you do? Documenting your tasks doesn't seem to be the answer? What else? That I don't know the answer to, but please feel free to share your thoughts if you do have some suggestions.

I believe what you can do is manage the perceptions on as what you are doing and what you've seen to be doing is important. Hopefully that's enough and you can still have those short little breaks in-between your busy schedules!

How can I do this?

Someone mentioned this to me the other day and I'd thought it was interesting to see it from this perspective. It's about the way we think about the problems around us.

When we confront a problem or a task we often think to ourselves, "can I do this?" Whereas present this same problem or task to a child and the response you may get instead is "how can I do this?"

A child asks - How can I do this?
An adult will ask - Can I do this?

Too often, we challenge problems or a task with the thought, can I? Whereas, the question of how we should be asking. It may be because as adults society has seemed to have taught and conditioned us to think that way, and we may be lazy and have lost the enthusiasm and general thought process to actually want to find a way to make things work and instead just brush it off. As kids don't have filters and they believe.

So next time you experience a new problem or task, instead of asking "Can I?" ask "How can I do this?"

Fun calculator age trick

Here's a neat little trick you can do to surprise people you know using their age. Someone surprised me with it, so I'd thought it was worth sharing with you so you can play around with it too. 

What you'll need:
  • a calculator. 
Steps to fun

  1. Ask your friend how old they are? 
  2. Enter their age into your calculator and multiply it by 259 and by 39 (i.e., age x 259 x 39
  3. Say their age is 30, then 303030 will pop up.
  4. Sounding surprised, tell them how cool it is that their age is popping up three times! 

The secret behind this is you multiply any number by 10101 and you'll get that a similar result with whatever age you have entered. 259 x 39 = 10101. 

Have fun! :)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

How to get your first Employment Pass (EP) in Singapore

First of all, welcome to Singapore! 

Here’s an overview of the steps that I took in order to obtain my EP (Employment Pass) in Singapore, after moving here from Australia. It's been over a couple of months since I got my EP now, but I found one of the most difficult things was just finding the place to register and collect my EP!

How to get your first Employment Pass EP in Singapore
  1. Employer fills in application form - Your employer fills in the application form with you to apply for your EP. This can be done online or manually on paper. Applying online is the fastest option.
  2. Wait - This can take a while to process and can take up to five weeks.
  3. In-Principle Approval letter provided - An In-Principle Approval letter will be mailed to the employer if the Employment Pass application has been approved. 
  4. Apply to collect the Pass - Your employer will need to apply for you to then collect your pass, which includes the payment and a Notification Letter. 
  5. Register for an appointment online - You will need to register to book an appointment online at http://epscapp.mom.gov.sg/.
  6. Employment Pass Services Centre -  When you have an appointment all set up you can arrive to present your documents and collect your pass in person (directions below). When you arrive there will be someone there ready to greet and guide you to collect a waiting number for you to see someone. You don't need to wait for your exact booking time to collect this waiting number, you can pick up a waiting number as soon as you arrive and if they're not too busy you can actually be served before your assigned booking time. 
  7. At the Employment Pass Services Centre counter - They will take your documents (see below for Documents to bring) and ask you to scan your fingerprints (mainly your thumb) into the system. You'll find this thumbprint useful if you ever need to enter/leave Singapore at their electronic gates - as you will be able to use the Enhanced Immigration Automated Clearance System (eIACS) lanes using just your fingerprint. In terms of the EP card, they will let you know when your card will be ready as you will need to come back to pick it up another day.
  8. Wait 2-3 days - Pick up your Employment Pass (EP) card at the same place (different section at the centre) when it's ready. Well done, you're now officially allowed to work in Singapore!

Where is the Employment Pass Services Centre?
Finding the place I found one of the most challenging, as the process itself although timewise can take a while, is generally quite straightforward. So this is where you pick up your employment pass:

The Employment Pass Services Centre
The Riverwalk
20 Upper Circular Road, #04-01/02
Singapore 058416

View Larger Map

There's a map provided at: http://www.mom.gov.sg/Documents/services-forms/EPSC_Map.pdf
Here's the link to Google Maps as well. It's the block between the river and Upper Circular Rd.

The best way to get there is head to Clarke Quay MRT station (train station - coded NE5), where you will come out of a shopping centre called the "Central". Once there you just need to cross the road (Eu Tong Sen St and New Bridge Road - note they have a street name for each direction the traffic is going), and you cross the road by going over an overpass or pedestrian crossing.

Stick to the river if you get lost and look for a building called "The Riverwalk". It may not look like it at first if you're not taking the lift (elevator) and instead taking escalators, but the EP processing centre is at one of the top levels.

If you find yourself near a building that has different colour wooden windows then you're on the wrong side of the river. Make sure you're on the side with Central and you should see The Riverwalk walk nearby too.

Documents to bring
  • Employment Pass application form and/or In-Principle Letter
  • Notification Letter
  • Your educational documents such as a copy of your education degree/ certificates and past employment testimonials
  • Passport sized photograph (passport-sized and taken within last three months) - they generally want one with a clear white background as they scan the photo in. There is a local passport photo store nearby that does it for SGD $6 if your photo is not suitable.
  • Personal particulars page of applicant’s passport/travel document - i.e., your passport and current visa travel document. (e.g. Immigration White Card)

You can take "People out of the system, but it's harder to get the system out of the people"

You can take "people out of the system, but it's harder to get the system out of the people".

This was an interesting thought that I came across, and made me think about the general thoughts that people held within a community, particularly when it comes to social change.

As that thought itself made me think about how one individual might be able to free themselves from a particular system - if it isn't doesn't work for them, then they can change themselves. Yet if they try change the system for all, this will prove to be a difficult challenge. Because if people do not see the personal value of change themselves, then they will generally be unwilling to support it. It may be as they may not know of anything better and the question must always be asked - is it truly better for them?

People generally dislike things that are different, and things that require them to change. As being able to understand why things might be different, why they should change is something that needs to be understood. If it's a system they're used to and seem to have everything built around it, why would they want to change? Particularly those benefiting from the way the system works.

Those social movements that are happening now are instances where the system is finding it's way out of the people, and in turn is taking the unwanted people and/or elements out of the system. It seems that educating  and making them feel like they're apart of something is what is bringing the system out of the people.

So what's happening is the system is coming out of the people, and in turn certain people who lead that system are put out of the system. Rather than the other way around. An interesting view into the social changes that is occurring now.

Our close friendships

A friend of mine mentioned a while ago about the number of friends that you can really maintain good close relationships. I never really thought about it too much as I believe the number will vary depending on the person, but I came across an article on it again recently so it'll be good to look at it again.

So it was an evolutionary anthropologist, Professor Robin Dunbar from Oxford University, that had said that this number is 150 (also known as "Dunbar's number") is based on his research into the number of trusted relationships we can maintain throughout our life. This is our 'cognitive limit' (mental limit), which makes sense as it reminds me of one of my favourite quotes where we can't always do everything, but we can always do something. As our friendships generally weaken when we may not have been in interacted with the one another for a while, and we can only really interact well up to a certain extent. He further points out that often these are people are generally physically close to us to give us that sense of community, which makes sense as it's easier to stay in touch more intimately with those closer to you.

In a time of globalisation and greater connections, I wonder what that number would be like for each of us, whether it is indeed the 150 (actually 148 but rounded up) that Dunbar number refers to, but that debate can go on forever...

Either way, I think the main benefit of his research is that it helps us understand that while we may try to have as little or as many friends as possible, eventually there is only so much close relationships you can have. I'm sure everyone has their own ideals, thoughts and personalities which all play a part in how many people we tend to stay in contact with.

So what I believe we can each do now is ensure that we look at focusing our efforts on creating quality relationships rather than worrying how the quantity (i.e., the number) of relationships we may have. So keep those relationships going with those you'd like to continue to remain in contact with.

Flying to London Healthrow airport from Singapore

As every airport is different, and varies in terms of the processes and procedures you will find yourself having to go through, here's my experience travelling from Singapore to London and back.

This will give you a general insight into what it's like just going into and out of London Healthrow airport, and I have also provided some basic information about how to get to London CBD from Healthrow. 

Singapore to London
Leaving Singapore's Changi airport
This is about finding yourself inside Changi airport and finding your gate to fly internationally.

  1. Check-in at Singapore Changi airport - Check-in as with at every airport.
  2. International gate - Go through the International gate.  You only need to show your boarding pass to the International Gate guard.
  3. Security check/ customs - You go through the standard security check, placing laptops, and your carry-on luggage into the tubs which go through the security scanners. 
  4. Immigrations - Here you go through immigrations, presenting your passport and current visa (EP/ white visit card).
  5. Find your gate and board plane when it arrives (boarding) - You find your gate for your flight and present your ticket/ passport. At the gate you will then go through the final security check for your flight and then wait for the go ahead and just board the plane. You only need to show your ticket so they know where you seat after this. If you're coming from Australia's Melbourne Tullamarine airport (see here for the process there) this process is much different, normally you would wait for the plane to arrive at the gate then go present your passport and ticket before boarding (and you'd go through that final security check early on). Checking before the plane arrive saves more time though, but I assume it's as the airline has more staff resources to do this. 
TIP: While you're waiting for your plane you can actually access Changi airport's free wireless. To obtain access, find an information desk and show them your boarding pass and passport. They will give you a temporary wireless access code which generally lasts for 2-4 hours. There are also chargers available if you need to charge your phone/ laptop.

Link: Singapore's Changi airport guide http://www.changiairport.com/passenger-guide/

Arriving at London Healthrow airport
Once you land in London's Healthrow airport (assuming you arrive at this airport - there are a few others in London as well) you'll:

  1. Unboard the plane at Healthrow airport - You wait for your turn and unboard (alight) from the plane.
  2. Immigrations - You then go through immigrations. These lines are generally always long, so it's best to have a book to read or some music to listen to. That, or you could always have a conversation with a random person in the queue. You will need your passport and a completed immigrations card here. Visa-wise, as I'm an Australian which is part of the Commonwealth, I'm able to travel around freely for up to 6 months without a visa.
  3. Pickup luggage - After you've gone through immigrations you just find where your luggage has been dropped off and head off out.
  4. Optional entry customs and go through security scanner exit– Now this surprises me when I compare it to Australian customs, which puts you through a gruelling customs process when you arrive, but that's as they are probably more focused on ensuring that their local industries remain protected from a quarantine perspective. But in terms of London, if you know you might have brought something that might not be acceptable then you just need to make sure you've checked and declared it. I've found the same process in Singapore too, once you have gone through immigrations then you simply find the exit for the airport. Now, while I say this this doesn't mean they don't check (I'm sure they do), but they don't go through exhausting means to do so openly as part of the process - more so it's done behind the scenes.
  5. Leave airport - So you've gone through that. You can leave now and greet the crowds of people waving signs with names and those waiting for love ones to come home. 
Travelling to London

London Tower Bridge
At London's Healthrow airport you have a few options to get into town, i.e., the CBD:
  1. Healthrow Express train (to Paddington station) - This is a fast train that goes from the airport straight to Paddington station in 15 minutes. At Paddington there are connecting trains, buses and taxis to continue you journey. Details on the train :  https://www.heathrowexpress.com/
  2. Normal trains (The London Tube) - The normal public transport system, so you are catching a normal train which travels overground and underground in and around London. This is a cheaper option compared to the Healthrow Express but it's slower, as it takes about an hour to get into the CBD. If you have time and like seeing how the locals normally travel - I'd say go with this option. Here are some details on the tickets for the travelling this way.
    • Oyster cards - If you're choosing this option, buy an Oyster card which automatically finds the cheapest fare for you depending on how often and which zone you use it. You can use this on a bus or train. 
    • Travelcards - Travelcards (all day travel type cards) are available too, but you'll have to think about which zones you'll find yourself and for how long you're travelling. You can use this on a bus or train. 
  3. Taxis - These are also called the Black Cabs, but they are notoriously expensive. That's basically the cabs give you a limo-style experience, with leather seats and the driver dressed up in a suit with gloves and all. http://www.londonblackcabs.co.uk/
  4. Buses - I believe there is a bus station there at Healthrow airport, though I didn't get a chance to see it. Buses are cheaper than trains to use but they're trickier to navigate. 

Leaving London at Healthrow airport
Leaving Healthrow airport
  1. Check-in - You go through the standard check-ins.
  2. International gate - You go through the International Gate presenting your passport and boarding pass (ticket) to go through.
  3. Security - You go through the standard security checks. All items under 100mls need to be in a clear plastic bag and presented to security. They actually provide clear plastic bags for you to use. 
  4. Immigration - You go through immigrations with your passport and ticket, so they can stamp you out of the country.
  5. General waiting area - There are large waiting areas for your plane after you go through Immigrations, so you can wait around there or go shopping for duty-free, or eat while you're waiting for your plane. 
  6. Find your gate and board your plane - Once your gate has been determined, you can head to the gate where you present your passport and ticket. Once through, you sit in the waiting area waiting for your plane. If I recall correctly there may be an additional security check as well as part of this process, as it felt very familiar to Singapore's Changi airport process.
Link: Healthrow Airport's airport guide (check-ins, baggage limits, maps, etc.) - http://www.heathrowairport.com/heathrow-airport-guide

Arriving at Singapore Changi airport

  1. Unboard plane - You wait your turn and unboard the plane as per usual.
  2. Check-in at immigration - Once you are off your plane, you need to check in with immigrations. Here you need to complete an immigrations form/ card. There are two types of lines here, with express lines for Singaporean PRs/ locals, and another set of lines for non-locals. Those holding an EP (Employment Pass) can use fingerprinting or manual entry. Locals/ PRs and EP holders from my understanding do not need to complete the immigrations card, as their details are in the system already and they just need to put in your returning details (such as date arrived, etc.)
  3. Pick up luggage - Once you're through immigrations, pick up your luggage.
  4. Customs and leave airport - You can now through customs if you have something to declare, otherwise you can leave the airport. Here's a link to Changi customs details: http://www.changiairport.com/passenger-guide/arrival/customs
That's pretty much what I went through travelling through in and around the airports. Things may change of course, but I hope it helps you have a general understanding of what to expect before you arrive. 

On racing

Former US Olympian PattiSue Plumer once said that "racing teaches us to challenge ourselves. It teaches us to push beyond where we thought we could go. It helps us to find out what we are made of." and I'd agree.

Racing gives you a goal
Racing is a form of competition that can be good as it gives you a goal to strive for. Having a goal helps you focus your energies onto the task at hand and ensuring that that objective is fulfilled rather than trying to do a little bit of everything. In business, it means that companies are competing against each other look to bring the best of each other in move towards differentiating themselves from each other in order to remain competitive.

Sometimes you need to compete against yourself
As individuals though, while we can challenge ourselves by competing with others, there are times when we actually may find there is no one else to compete with. So the only person you're competing with is yourself, but how do you strive for more?

Generally when you competing you have someone or something to benchmark against, so when competing against yourself, you can think of things that you know realistically you could do such as trying to best your personal bet or having a milestone/ goal of where you believe you can push yourself. You have to be realistic though, and remember that it's not always much about competing, though that can be fun at times.

But it's about knowing where we could push ourselves and reaching our own limits, rather than those of others and/or those are imposed onto us by others. For me this was what I found in my running, as I was pushing my own limits and not that of anyone else. Sure I found role models and inspiration of other runners, but I never focused on racing and competing purely, I was satisfied with completing a race. It was that satisfaction of competing the race no matter what which inspired me.

So just think of something you believe that is challenging and realistic and one which will help you find out what you are truly capable of, because at the end of the day it's about you and how you want to challenge yourself. Who knows, you might find some hidden potential you never realised you had in doing so...