Wednesday, December 30, 2015

DIVING IN THAILAND: REVIEW OF PHOENIX DIVERS, KOH TAO

I've just returned from Koh Tao, a tiny island in Thailand famous for being a diver's paradise. I've been wanting to accomplish being a certified diver for some time now and I'm glad to inform that I've completed my SSI Open water certification at Phoenix Divers this Christmas. 


Here's my review on Koh Tao island as well as my experience on doing my SSI Open Water course with Phoenix Divers.

***

Why Koh Tao
Everyone I've met while backpacking Southeast Asia enthusiastically gushes 
   " Dive certification? You HAVE to go to Koh Tao! "

Curiousity piqued, I looked up this tiny 15km/sq island and was mesmerized by the white sandy beaches and aquamarine blue waters. I spent 6 days on Koh Tao and could have stayed longer.

Getting to Koh Tao
Honestly if I had known how long and how much effort it would take to get there, I may have written it off altogether. 


Step 1
Flight from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Surat Thani International Airport (2hrs)


Step 2
Bus from Surat Thani International Airport to Don Sak pier (1.5hrs)

Step 3
Speedboat / ferry from Don Sak pier to Koh Tao (3.5hrs by speedboat, 6-7hrs by ferry)

I flew in to Surat Thani airport from KLIA, then took a bus to the pier. On the day I flew in, the weather was very bad so there were no speedboats or ferries going to Koh Tao. I opted instead to head to Koh Samui (rather than the party island of Koh Phangan) first and stayed there for a night before catching a speedboat to Koh Tao the next day.

My impression of Koh Tao 
Bars, cafes, restaurants, surf and souvenir shops line the main stretch of Sairee beach. Every other building is a dive centre. Scooters can be rented for 150bht for 24hours. Accommodation is plentiful with backpacker hostels, guesthouses, bungalows, and villas catering to every budget. I stayed free of charge for the first 4 nights at AC Resort as part of my dive package, then stayed at Nat Resort for 300bht per night for a private room (fan) with double bed and shared bath for the remaining time.



I only stayed on Sairee while I was there. I had planned on getting a scooter and exploring more of the island, but bad weather prevented me from doing so. 

Why I chose Phoenix Divers
Being the thrifty backpacker that I am, I wanted to do things cheaply as possible. I googled
   " Koh Tao diving free accommodation " 

Phoenix was one of the first results which surfaced.

Price
For 8500bht / 1015MYR, your package entails
  • SSI Open Water course - all theory materials provided (they loan you the studybook and also provide a diver's logbook for free)
  • 2 pool dives and 4 open water dives in the ocean (refreshments provided on the boat as well ; pineapple and watermelon slices, biscuits, coffee and tea, drinking water)
  • Equipment rental (wetsuit, an oxygen tank for every dive, BC vest, fins, and dive mask)
  • Accommodation (your choice of 4 nights in an air-conditioned dorm / 4 nights in a single fan room)
  • Breakfast (4 days of breakfast with a 100bht coupon for every morning)

Accommodation and FnB
I'm guessing that Phoenix actually has some sort of arrangement with AC Resort and AC Cafe (the resort and cafe next door to the dive center) to throw in breakfast and accommodation together with the your course. Real value for money if you ask me!

Accommodation review: Room was clean, cool, and spacious. It was a huge 16-bed dorm with air-conditioning, but while I was there I never saw more than 5 beds occupied at a time (on my last night, I was the only occupant). Shared showers and only cold water available - which was alright for what you're paying but it would have been great to have a hot shower especially it tends to get really cool in the later months of the year. 


Front entrance of AC Resort


My dorm


On site pool for new divers to practise before going to open water

Breakfast review: " You can't expect much for free. " I always say. However, AC Cafe definitely surpassed my expectations. For 100bht, you could choose anything from their menu from toast with butter and jam (40bht), ham and cheese omelettes (80bht), muesli with milk (50bht), coffee shakes (50bht), Pad Thai (80bht for the best Pad Thai I've had in my life!), fried rice (50bht plain, but price goes up with chicken, seafood, or pork)


Muesli with yogurt and fruit by the beach

Quality:
I'll say again that for the price I paid, I probably wouldn't even have complained if I'd had to bail water out the boat from a leak (kidding). 



However, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that Phoenix never cut any corners and delivered solid value for money. 






There were no hidden costs, instructors (mine was Alex) were friendly, knowledgeable, and professional, equipment was all in good order. Would definitely go back and highly recommend them to anyone looking to do some fun dives or a dive course on Koh Tao (they also provide Advanced Open Water, Rescue Diver, Divemaster, Wreck Diving, and more).



What else is there to do on Koh Tao?
Diving, paddleboarding, snorkelling, sunbathing, swimming are the main activities to do on the island. However if you want to do something non-water related you can go exploring on a scooter and there is also a a CrossFit gym (I walked past late at night and they were closed) and rock climbing wall.

Lots of people take a 10 minute boat (250-300bht for a return trip) to the nearby Koh Nangyuan for its gorgeous beaches and incredible lookout point. I did this on my last day there was was definitely glad!








Conclusion:

Koh Tao was awesome and I'm looking forward to heading there again!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

SO, YOU WANNA BE A PORN STAR?

Ever since it started trending, it's been a feeding frenzy among teenagers and young adults. The rapid rate of unexpected engagement is rather intriguing if not alarming.

In case you still haven't gotten a clue, I'm talking about
   " ENTREPORNEURISM "



A lot of people are madly in love with the idea of entrepreneurism, but not what it takes to become one. 

Is being an entrepreneur as sexy as it's made out to be? Just like pornography, entrepreneurship has been glammed up to an unrecognizable degree from what it's truly like in real life. 

All around me are people launching their own startups in the hopes of becoming the next Uber or AirBnB. Nevertheless, behind the hyped up grandeur and fancy facade, there's a lot of yucky nitty gritty lurking behind the scenes.

What do you really need to become an entrepreneur and what's really in it for you at the end of the day? Here's serving you a healthy juicy dose of harsh reality before you strip and expose your naked self to the world of entrepreneurship.



***

Business Model
I know of someone who quit their stable job to become an entrepreneur because they were sick of working for someone else. They enjoyed shopping and were into fashion, so they decided to start a business based on that. They went sourcing for apparel at cheaper prices directly from factories in manufacturing countries. The idea was to get the goods at warehouse rates, then sell the clothes on their blogshop at marked up prices.

It's been a few years down the road and the person is still stuck in the hamster wheel cycle of simply buying cheaper and selling higher. While they are working a whole lot harder, they aren't making much more than when they used to be a hired staff - definitely not what they had hoped for when making the decision to become their own boss. Besides that - while they used be assured a monthly income, they now have to worry about the uncertainty of whether they will have sufficient business come in to cover them for the month. Sometimes, it isn't enough.

What makes your businesses valuable and different? Are you providing easy cut-and-paste products and services which can be easily copied by someone else - thus rendering you forgettable, or are you coming up with valuable ideas and long term processes which can evolve to suit trends and opportunities that may emerge? 


Capital
So you came up with this great idea and you want to quit your job to become an entrepreneur. Firstly, do you have enough funds to support your cost of living (pay the rent, car installments, petrol, food, phone bill, insurance, miscellaneous, etc) while you get your business off the ground?

Secondly, do you have the capital to invest into getting your business off the ground? I know of another person who decided to become an entrepreneur in the FnB scene. 

These are just some of the things they had to put up cash before they even opened for business:

  • Machines and cutleries (coffee makers, freezers, stoves, cash register, plates, bowls, glasses, etc) 
  • Raw materials (butter, flour, oil, sugar, milk, coffee, pasta, etc)
  • Furniture and fittings (lights, electrical sockets, renovations, chairs, tables, deco, etc)
  • Rental (Rm5000 upwards not including utilities for a medium sized shoplot in a residential part of PJ)
  • Staff salaries for 3 - 6 months

Most people I speak with express that ideally, one would need enough money to cover their cost of living as well as business operating costs for one year.

Which leads us to the next part of the question. If you don't have that money, how are you going to get funding?

Click on this post written by my friend Jon Tse, Co-Founder and Head of Digital at Zookal :

How Students Can Raise Millions in Capital - Without Networks or Experience

(Zookal started off in Sydney as a textbook rental company, which expanded to provide other student-centric services such as virtual tutoring, internships, and more. They expanded to Singapore last year and are currently making waves in the tertiary education scene down south.)


Time off
A huge moth's flare which people usually associate with being their own boss is that they get to work on their own time. This true, but also not. 

I know two people who started their own video production company fresh out of graduation. They had worked freelance for film production companies and they felt they understood the industry well, it was something they were passionate about and good at - they decided to band together and give it a shot. 

They do everything from client servicing, concept and planning, talent sourcing, filming and editing. They are amazing at what they do, but due to it being just the two of them - they haven't had time off in forever. They don't even take off on sick days because of the backlog it would cause.

Keen on giving them a shot? Tell the boys at Grenos Film I sent you their way.



When a business is your own and you have your heart and soul in it - you never want to take time off. You will work during weekends. You will work on public holidays. You will work past midnight. Even one day away causes you to be jittery and anxious. You want to be there to address every unhappy customer, every hole in the system. Until you get to a point where you have built your team, trained them well, and are able to trust their discernment to make decisions and ability to take action on your behalf - keep on dreaming about your next holiday.


Experience & Network
Several people say things like how they want to jump right into it upon leaving high school or uni because they 'don't want to get bogged down or distracted from their entrepreneurship goals by working for / with someone else', but you need to know there's value in working for and with others.

I know a different person who decided to launch their own media production startup right out of graduation with no industry experience or contacts. They went at it for about a year, but it never gained traction. 

What happened? 

From my perspective, these were the underlying issues.

   1. Not understanding the competitors nor their allies
Who are our competitors? What are they doing? How can we be better than them? How can we be different? What other businesses improve our value? How do they improve our value? Can we reach and collaborate with them?

   2. Not understanding the market and accurately identifying their customers.
Who are our customers? Where do they hang out? Who do they hang out with? What are they eating, reading, drinking, and watching? What do they dislike? What do they like? What problems do they face in their daily lives and work? What can we do to help them?

I know another bunch of guys who started a fitness coaching facility recently. All of them had a wealth of experience and contacts from their time working in the fitness and corporate industry. It took them years of planning before they took off and they a are relatively young startup, but they were able to leverage off their network and solve business obstacles based on situation they encountered in their previous jobs.

If you're keen on joining their team or are looking for guidance in strength and conditioning, tell the Honey Badgers I sent them your way.





Goals
Finally, the last big question to ask yourself - what is the ultimate goal? What do you really want to achieve?

   A big fat bank account and an easy life? 

or

   Providing a solution to a problem and making a positive impact?

If you answered the former, you are in no position to become an entrepreneur. There are ways to have more money that are less demanding - work part time, save more, sell off clothes on Carousell, become an Uber driver, buy some stocks, etc. 

I have tremendous respect for those who have chosen this path, but I observe that many have poor planning and were unaware of what they were getting themselves into. 

Embracing entrepreneurship is facing down a bucking rearing wild stallion, shaking with uncontainable fear, gripping your knuckles white yet jumping on not knowing if you will be able to tame the beast or get thrown off and trampled to death.

Being an entrepreneur is no walk in the park. It is not knowing if you'll end up bust and in debt, yet being willing to give up your stable job to give it a shot. It is having a big idea, having the right people, and being adaptable and able to build processes to suit a growing and evolving audience. 

And if you don't have that - you may want to hold off writing that resignation letter to your boss.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

BEGGING IN INDONESIA

This is a recollection of my first solo backpacking trip. 




The rain of the previous night had made for a clear Saturday morning and I was at the airport in Padang, Indonesia where I would board my flight back to Kuala Lumpur. 

My baggage cleared and passport stamped, the airport security waved me through.

I sat alone, quietly waiting in the departure lounge for a while before my flight number was called and I made my way to the gate.

I handed my passport to the gate attendant and they thumbed it open. Their gaze scanned the page, then flicked up to meet mine. They looked back down at my passport and held one hand up to pause.

   " Boarding not allowed. "

What? Why?

   " Airport tax not paid. "

Airport tax? What airport tax? 

   " 150,000 rupiah. "

You've got to be kidding me. I have no money!
They unflinchingly stared back.

   " No pay, no leave. "

I'm in big trouble.

***
I forced myself to process the situation calmly and logically. I only had about 15 minutes to act before the plane took off.

I quickly listed out my options

  •    Push my way past the gate attendant and force my way on the plane.
Would not work. I'd probably be dragged back kicking and screaming off the plane.

  •    Figure out a way to get the money and pay the tax.
Sounds more reasonable.

***
I decided to go with my second option. I turned back and randomly started approaching other passengers waiting for their flights in the departure lounge.

" Excuse me, do you have any change to spare? "

People reacted swiftly. Purses opened, wallets pulled out, handing me whatever rupiahs they had, wishing me well and a safe flight back.

In less than 5 minutes, I had more than enough. I ran back to the checkout counter, paid the damn tax, got my airport stub, and ran back to the departing gate to smoothly board my flight this time round.



***

Never in my life would I have ever thought I would have to humble myself so deeply, but the situation opened my eyes to give me a fresh perspective.

When I relate this experience to others, they respond "That was so daring of you! I definitely wouldn't have known what to do or even bring myself to receive money from others!"

Yes you would. You definitely would have reacted exactly the same way if you had been in the same situation. Would you have rather swallowed your pride, or missed your flight?

The first lesson I learnt is - you never know what you are capable of, until you have no other choice.

***
The second lesson I learnt was that there is so much good in the world. 

People are more than willing to be kind and do what they can to help when you are in need, but you have make the initiative and take the first step towards them.




Saturday, November 7, 2015

IS THIS LOVE?

It had been my first visit to a beauty salon.

Always under the reasoning that manicures & pedicures were too frivolous for my sensible budget and were not a necessary component of basic grooming anyway, I'd steered clear of them until I saw a Groupon deal for cheap. 

The package included 
- a hand and foot spa 
- nail trimming and shaping 
- a gel mani pedi 

***
I'd enjoyed having my hands and feet pampered, massaged, and moisturized by my beautician. After she'd trimmed and shaped my nails, it was then time for me to choose my polish colours.

I was sitting at the counter pondering over the dizzying array of hues available, when they came in.

Clad in a polo tee and cutoff bermudas, he had a strong stocky build, a heavy moustache and stubborn jaw with a cleft in his chin.

Wearing a too-big cotton shirt and jeans practically falling off her tiny waist, she had long hair and walked with a stoop.

***
She clung onto his arm as he strode forward and demanded to speak to the owner of the salon. 

He then loudly asked to see their list of hair and makeup services.

I curiously watched him flick through pictures of the hairstyles available ; sleek ponytails, teased curls, polished buns, mermaid braids.

He then proceeded to browse through makeup ; crimson lips, seductively lined eyes, darkened brows, rouged cheeks.

All the while commenting smugly on which were 'garbage' and which were 'hot'.

He barked at the owner and his index finger stabbed at the page
   " This? This one? You can make she look like it? "

The owner of the salon responded
   " Yes sir, our services provided are professional and fully.. "

She was rudely cut off
   " Ok good! Make sure you turn her like into the picture. Or I not pay. "

The salon owner shut her mouth and nodded. 

The man said
   " I come back later. You take her and go. "

He then turned away, but not without throwing this parting line
   " You better make her beautiful. Or she not coming home. "

***
My observation swayed to the slight small frame sitting hunched by his side, her gaze timidly downcast, silent all the while.

Throughout the whole dialogue, she had not uttered a single word or indicated any preference on the matter.

Glassy eyed and listless, she shuffled her feet behind the assigned beautician to begin her transformation into a creature the man would find desirable. 

***

   I wonder if he loves her, or she him.

***

Re: my bubblegum coloured nails post-salon visit.








Sunday, October 11, 2015

TO: MR T

INTI International University & Colleges recently had a post on their social media account in recognition of Teacher's Day. Did you know that different parts of the world commemorate Teacher's Day on different dates? 

Yeah me neither. 

Anyway, it got me thinking about all the teachers I've had the fortune (or misfortune) of having. 

I liked some of them.
I hated some of them.
I don't remember the rest of them.

I'll leave out the meh ones (I don't remember any of them anyway) and talk about those who stood out to me at their own ends of the scale (the stellar and the sucky).

*** 
Let me start with the bad. 

I was in high school and had just got back an exam paper. I was annoyed because this teacher had decided to shoot down an entire essay worth 15 marks. 

The question had been something like
" What is your opinion of such and such situation and what would you have done? Give your perspective and provide relevant elaborations and examples. "

I thoughtfully described my (very legit) point of view and dutifully backed it up with the required explanations.

What I received was a giant red 'X' and a big fat zero at the bottom of the page.

I went up to the teacher and indignantly demanded to know what went wrong.

The response I received was 'because your answer did not adhere to the marking scheme'. I thought this was bollocks and plainly told her so.

Her pitifully pathetic justification was 'it is what is stated in the textbook and in the sample answer provided by the government; to think any differently or be independent on your own would be wrong'.

I went back fuming and vowed that I would show her. I memorized the stupid sample answers and scored A for the subject in my SPM examination, but at the back of my mind I knew my grade was nothing to take pride in because it was methodical thoughtless rubbish.

*** 

Now I'll talk about the good.

Mr T was an eccentric character. Sometimes I wonder if the Ministry of Education even knew they had this intriguing individual in their ranks. (They would probably have never granted him permission to teach if they had known).

It was my last year in high school and he joined as a teacher in the middle of the year, taking over the tearfully boring subject of history. Upon his first lesson, he stood in front of the class and pulled out a set of sample exam questions with their answers. He then demanded us to tell him if the model answers provided were correct. We looked at each other uncertainly, not quite sure what was going on.

" The statements are correct! Of course they are! " someone eagerly quipped.

" Really? Is that what you think, or what you have been taught to think? " He boomed while giving us a steely glare, with just a hint of twinkling amusement in his gaze.

He would come to class and skewer us in ways completely unexpected of a government teacher. 

" Why are you agreeing with me? Why are you agreeing with what the textbooks say? With what the news say? Do you really think everything you read and hear is truth? "

" Don't go along with me just because I'm your teacher! Disagree with me, challenge me, have a mind, speak your own, command authority of your opinion! Don't be a fruity empty-headed nodding ninny! "

When we were sometimes unable to defend ourselves or were slow to respond to his quick-witted razor-sharp bullets, he would roar in frustration 

" Seventeen years of age, seventeen years of being alive and not a single original thought of your own? What is to become of this country's future? "

We gaped and didn't know what quite to make of him.

   " Know their rules, then beat them at it. "

Was his oft-repeated mantra when it came to studying and taking exams in conventional government education system. He instilled in us that we could play their (the government's) game, but be smarter than them and jump through their loops and work the system to our advantage.

I still remember him coming to class and starting discussions and debates on economics, politics, finances (I had an interesting argument with him about money, but more on that another time), culture, religion, society, and more. He was delighted and exuberant whenever we challenged the general consensus, or hammered home points of our own. He talked to us as equals, he wanted to know what we thought and why we thought.

I miss him.

I went back once to high school after graduation to visit and enquired after him. He is apparently no longer a teacher, which is a pity.

The students of our nation are in need of teachers like Mr T.

***

To every teacher who embodies the spirit of Mr T (and of course to the man himself),
   Happy Teacher's Day.






Tuesday, September 29, 2015

THE MEASURE OF STRENGTH

When I was younger, hot-blooded, obstinate, and short-tempered, I used to think that true strength was gritting your teeth and sticking by your decisions and stubbornly defending your stand no matter what.

Looking back now though, I think I have a different interpretation.

I think true strength, is...

   ...openness to the possibility of being wrong.
   ...receptiveness that someone else may be more intelligent than you.
   ...willingness to be challenged, then coming around to say " Hmm, I never thought of that. That never occurred to me, but it actually makes more sense. I agree with you. "
   ...humility to accept that you can't do everything on your own, and the grace to allow others to step in and help.
   ...possessing the courage, dignity, and maturity to turn from your fixed pattern of thoughts, to be keen and interested to discover differing ideas and conclusions which may very well be better than yours.
   ...being able to receive failure and rejection, and try again, and yet again with enthusiasm, and learning something new at every attempt.

There is nothing wrong, with admitting you were wrong.
There is nothing weak, in needing another person / people.
There is nothing cowardly, in forsaking old and less relevant perspectives to receive and adapt fresh insights.





Sunday, September 20, 2015

SINCE I LEFT

It has been nearly a year since I left. 

***
How is it, that in order to be considered a 'Christian' I have to...

Go to this certain specific building called 'Church'?

On this certain specific day, which has to be 'Sunday'?

At this certain specific time, which is 'from 9:00a.m. til 1:00pm'?

To carry out certain specific carefully instructed formalities such as ; sit in the pews, sing the hymns, listen to someone speak in the pulpit?

***
God is an awesome and almighty and incomprehensible being, and I feel that religion and the church tries to compartmentalize Him by putting all these formalities and rigidities in place. 

And if you do not do as the church does, think as the church does, say as the church does, you are not allowed to claim the faith.

Any questioning, pondering, or interpretation which deviates from theirs and you are struck down as a blasphemous rebellious heretic.

***
I still think about Him and love Him dearly.

Not a single day goes by that I do not confide in Him and thank Him for what He has done.

I do as much as I can to live my faith through my actions not just on Sunday, but every single Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday also. 

Not just within a building, but wherever my footsteps may fall.

Not just within the safe and closed and comfortable community that is the congregation, but whomsoever I have the fortune of crossing paths with.

***
Sometimes I bump into them.

They tut-tut disdainfully and ask me condescendingly why is it that I have been absent for so long.

With self-righteous piousness, they then sorrowfully attempt to address my ill-doing.

I keep my silence and remind myself that my faith is between Him and I, not them and I.

***
I claim and declare myself a Christian because I believe and live my faith.