Monday, January 26, 2009

Blend in but Stand out

I was going through old photo albums when I found this:
Six-year-old me, reading to an audience a story I wrote myself

Sigmund Freud theorized that our childhood experiences define our life as an adult. If that is the case, the picture explains why I’m addicted to the microphone today =P. The picture was taken on a Christmas concert, right before my class performed. This is a story of how a Malaysian kindergartener ends up reading a story he wrote himself to a whole American audience.

It all started with journal writing. Back in 1994, my family and I had to move to the United States. My father had an offer to do his Masters at Harvard Medical School, and for me, I had the chance of a lifetime to have my first schooling experience overseas. Robert Fulghum, a world-known author once said: “All I really need to know in life were learned at kindergarten”. I agree. Well, maybe not EVERYTHING is learned in kindergarten, but at least I learned journal writing there. In my school, kindergarteners are required to write in a journal entry every single day. I was still getting used to English at that time, and every night my parents would teach me new words using flashcards. With my limited vocabulary and inadequate grasp of grammar, I wrote some hilarious entries. I remember writing:

“I like to eat Fruit Loops AND my sister too”!

What I really meant was that my sister and I like to eat Fruit Loops (the breakfast cereal). Because of my language limitations, I made myself sound like a cannibal for wanting to eat my own sister!

Journal writing is the start of my passion towards reading and writing. From flash card, I turn to storybooks, and after a while, I started writing my own stories. I made a short storybook of my own; complete with illustrations I drew myself, on a folded A4 paper. Sometime later, we had a “show and tell” session where we were to stand in front of the class and share anything we want to. Eager to share the book I wrote, I didn’t think twice before raising my hand. So I went in front, read my story to the class, and showed them the pictures I drew. The next thing I knew, I was made 'Student of the Month'!

Soon, Christmas came, and as a tradition, our school organized a Christmas concert where parents are invited to watch their children perform on stage. Each class has to perform, including mine. So my teacher had this ‘great’ idea. As an introduction, before my class perform, she wanted me to read my storybook to the audience! And so I did... My parents came over to the concert and took a picture while I was reading on stage. It was a merry Christmas indeed

Sometimes we are intimidated when thrown into a whole new culture. But we have to face it. We have no choice, because nobody likes an ugly duckling, or a black sheep, or a wolf that runs in a different direction from the pack. We must blend in. Blend in, but stand out as someone. Stand out as someone competent. Show that you are just as good, but never stand out as an outsider or an outcast. Blending in doesn’t mean that we must lose our identity. It's like being a chameleon instead of a clone. You still retain your identity (as a Malaysian, as a Muslim for example), but you are readily adaptable to changes depending on what is required of you. So get your name known, but never as an outsider =)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Have a Checklist!

Today, a fellow delegate gave me booklet titled ‘Travelling to the United States’. It includes a checklist of what to bring and what not to bring. When someone gives you that kinda stuff, it means: “You better pack your bags ASAP, or you’re gonna regret it!”

This is not my first time travelling to the United States. I went and stayed there for more than a year. But I was only 6 back then, and no one gave me any checklists before departing. Without a checklist, all I wanted to bring along to at that time was my video game and a Malaysian flag. Unfortunately, my mother wouldn’t let me bring the video game. So I just brought along a Malaysian flag and spent the time along the way to the airport worrying about how to spend my time without my video game. That’s about all I could recall, but thanks to the miracle of cameras (although not digital), I get a snapshot of the departing experience:

I have no idea why I’m bringing along a Malaysian flag. I guess I was a proud, patriotic boy. Or maybe I thought that the Malaysian flag and the American flag look similar so I brought it along hoping that the Americans wouldn’t notice. The tie and tucked-in shirt suggests that I’m a neat person since young =P

15 years passed by, and I can't believe I will be heading to Boston once again. I did plan to visit the place again someday, but I didn’t expect it to be this soon. As a 21 year old, I am supposed to settle everything myself. So I got myself a US visa, bought conference attires, winter coats, boots, and I didn’t even intend to bring along my video game (how much I have changed, I bet Boston has changed a lot either).

As life gets more hectic and demands more and more of your time each day, it's wise for us to have a checklist. Unlike elephants, we tend to forget, and as humans, we are privileged with the ability to write. Sometimes we are overwhelmed with the things that we need to do for the day, and we don’t know where to start! Checklists give us a whole perspective of our daily obligations, and allow us to prioritize which are the ones to be settled first, and which can be settled for later. Simple, yet useful

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Experience is the Best Teacher

Yesterday I waited impatiently for today’s Annual General Meeting, where my term as the Head of Public Relations will end. I longed for a good rest from all those student activities. I deserve it. As the Head of Public Relations, I was constantly running from one place to another, answering calls most of the daytime, and checking off 'to-do' list items (which I never run out of). I need to slow down a bit. Slow down to the speed of life. So this morning, I finally got the break I deserve. Yay, freedom is in the air!

But unfortunately, by noon, I was cut off from the air of freedom again. A short election was held, and everyone in the hall (well, most of them. Some others are just ignorant and came over only to have free breakfast and lunch) voted to elect their new leaders. Long story made short, I was elected as the new PKPMI Chairperson. As if I am not traumatized enough by the result, they made me go straight to work! Soon after announcing the results, the former Chairperson said: “Congratulations Lutfi, you're the new Chairperson for PKPMI, now I leave this meeting for you to handle.” I was like: "Whaaaat???"

Me, maintaining my cool as best as I can =P

I didn’t say it out loud, of course. Maintaining my cool as I always do, I went on to chair the meeting. So there I was, handling the meeting to elect other members of the ‘parliament’. So I got myself a Vice Chairperson, Secretary, Treasurer, etc. How come they don’t get to work instantly? Anyway, I was glad to be elected as the Chairperson intead of another Head of Bureau, because the work of a Chairperson is not as hell. As the name suggest, all a Chairperson does is sit on a chair and order people around all day long. Hehe

So I got my rest for only 30 minutes. It's okay, people say that:

Experience is the best teacher

I know that it won’t be easy. There are expectations to meet. Those people voted for me because they believed in me. Moreover, I may secure 60% of the vote, but I am still left with 40% of the student population that wishes someone else is the Chairperson. I need to convince those people too. I am not trying to satisfy each and every student, because that’s just impossible. Realistic goals, I must set. I don’t have many plans in mind right now. That’s because my mind is currently focusing on the exams next week and my trip to the United States next month. But I do know that there's a whole new experience ahead of me, and I hope it will make me a better person in the future =)

Friday, January 16, 2009

All You Have To Do Is Ask

Tomorrow, my term as Head of Public Relations, PKPMI will end (PKPMI: Persatuan Kebangsaan Pelajar-pelajar Malaysia di Indonesia. Such a long name, huh?). Serving under the organization for the last one year has been quite tiring, but there’s absolutely no regret. Valuable lessons were learned; lessons that I won’t get in classes or tutorials. I guess after the term ends, I can say that I have equipped myself better for my future life! One of the most valuable lessons I learned is:

“All you have to do is ask”

No man is an island, and whatever obstacles lie ahead, there is always someone out there willing to help. All you have to do is ask! I used to get the wires in my head tangled up after being assigned to a task I’m unfamiliar with. Early last year I was assigned to design, produce, promote and sell PKPMI’s merchandise products…from scratch! The organization never had merchandise products before, and it is up to my bureau to do the designs, create a prototype, produce them, promote, and sell them. Let me remind you that I never ever had experience doing business before, and I had no idea on how to design products! So I started asking around.

It’s like playing the Final Fantasy. You wanna make weapons, you go to the Blacksmith. You got poisoned, you go to the White Mage. You wanna practice magic; you go to the Wizard’s Lair. Well of course there’s not much wizards lying around these days, and no such magic that can create merchandise products exist. So I went to a friend who knows one of the modern day’s magic instead: Adobe Photoshop. So I learned a bit of designing using the software, and after a few days, I was able to make a few designs!

It gets downhill afterwards, asked around for shops that produce merchandises, got them to help with the prototype, and extended the line of products. Not long after, the first ever PKPMI-CB merchandise product were launched! We got great responses, and we made good profit out of it. Well I admit that it wasn’t all smooth-sailing, we had some trouble distributing the products, but all in all, it was a very good experience.


We are all getting used to hear that people nowadays have this 'Mind your own business' mentality. That the modern life creates problem for everyone that they couldn't afford to care about other people's problem. However, you'd be surprised at how many people actually care and are willing to help you. All you have to do is ask!

This is one of the T-shirts that I designed. Interested, anyone?