Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Project 5, Your Body Speaks

Objectives
- Use stance, movement, gestures, facial expressions and eye contact to express your message and achieve your speech's purpose.
- Make your body language smooth and natural

Time: 5 to 7 minutes

Excuse Me, Are You My Mr Right?

Good evening Club President, District Officers, fellow toastmasters, friends and guests,

Anyone here who has idols, raise your hand. I see that most, if not all have idols.

Now, I want you to pause a well and think. Are most of your idols of the same sex as you or of the opposite sex? The second one?

Idols are usually people whom we worshipped because they symbolize the qualities that we want our significant half to possess. These are the qualities we will wish for, crave for, yield for, but our significant half does not have. And of course, as we grow older, we will come to accept this. BUT not when we are young and have lots and lots of options.

When I was in my teens, I had lofty standards for my Mr Right. During my time, we had the four heavenly kings in the Chinese pop scene and they encapsulated the qualities that my boyfriend should have. He should have the ah…. so handsome look of Leon Lai (hum a tune from his song “Would you come tonight”), the floppy hair of Aaron Kwok (imitate - toss head and sweep hair like), the muscular body of Andy Lau and the so rich and soulful voice of Jacky Cheung (Goodbye Kiss). That was a tall order. And yes, if Mr Obama were the incoming US-President then, my would-be boyfriend must have Obama’s charisma – “Hello Chicago. (Cheer) Tonight, change has come to America. (Cheer.) Yes, we can”.

Not that I had a chance to have, I was in an all-girls school then. When I was in my late teens and in junior college, I had to be immersed in a co-ed environment – no more all girls but boys and girls. My mother would always tell me in a condesending manner that "Studies come first, dear." And I was also taught that girls never, ever make the first move. With my mother’s teachings ingrained in me, I would wilt at the first hint of any spotlight from boys on me. But deep inside me, I would want very much to have a boyfriend.

So when there was a Mandarin Variety Show “Perfect Match”, I jumped onto the opportunity. It may seem strange but knowing that these people did not really know who I was gave me the courage to take part in it. On top of it, I would be barely recognizable with the thick layers of cosmetics when I appeared in the show.

About the show - each week, three males – M1, M2 and M3 and three females – F1, F2 and F3 would be invited. They would be “matched” by heaven – by drawing lots. The three couples would then vie against each other by spinning the wheel of fortune which determined their GT - Get-Together score. Though, on hindsight Gambling Team seemed to be the more appropriate term. The couple with the highest score will be the Perfect Match. In any case, all participants were winners as the minimum prize was a $250 bag voucher and there was also a lottery price of $1,000 cold, hard cash for the really lucky pair.

I sought my mother’s permission to take part in the programme under the guise of being able to net a handsome sum just by participating. And I was surprised that there was little resistance from her. As I was not a glib-tongued speaker I suspected that she was getting concern about me being an old-hag. There was then much publicity in the news of graduate women being left on the shelves as they studied too much and lacked the very important and crucial social skills to get hitched.

So Perfect Match I went. The night before the show, I was so excited to meet my Prince Charming that I only managed an hour of shuteye as I tossed, turned and twisted my legs like a pretzel. As a result, I was bleary-eyed and looked frazzled when I was on air. Luckily for me, the guys were my type. None of them had all the qualities that my idols possessed added up together. So, I supposed it did not matter.

I had my grand prize - a $250 bag voucher and $500 cash. With the voucher, for the first time in my life, I bought my mother a branded wallet. And the $500 cash? I splurged a portion of it to buy more of my idols’ music albums and saved the rest. More importantly, I have learnt that to lower my standards. Probably, that is the main reason why I am happily married today.

Toastmaster of the Evening.

***

Monday, December 22, 2008

Gauss and Arithmetic Progression

I have just done a mathematical problem in my work. Interestingly, it brings back fond memories of those days when I was fascinated by stories of brilliant mathematicians.

What struck me is that while there are many ways to tackle a problem, if we could find a formulae, we would cut down the time needed to reach the same conclusion. In fact, the formulae could be a very simple - that's the elegance of Mathematics.

One of which was the many fascinating stories of how mathematician solved seemingly difficult questions. This is my favorite about Gauss.

Gauss was a famous German mathematican (1777 to 1855). He was a child prodigy. There were many stories about his precocity. One was when he was in primary school and his teacher wanted to occupy his students by asking them to sum up a list of integers - from 1 to 100.

But Gauss did it in split second. How did he do it?

This is how:

To find, Sum = 1 + 2 + 3 + ..... + 99 + 100 [There are 100 terms here]
Now Sum is also = 100 + 99 + 98 +.... + 2 + 1

So Sum + Sum = 101 + 101 + ...........+ 101 + 101 [There are 100 101s here]
2 Sum = 10,100
Sum = 10100/2
= 5,050 [Whoala!]

To this day, I never memorise the formula for arithmetic sum but always derive it from first principle. You can use similar principle to get the formula for the sum of geometric progression. Try it :)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stock Taking for 2008

Time flies, 2008 is almost coming to an end. For the last few weeks, my work life comes to a standstill as I have been on leave. This comes to an end now as I have cleared my annual leave. Rejuvenated, renewed and radiant, I will be facing work challenge again, preparing for the coming year.

This year, I have been lost and bruised but managed to find my way back. I have set too many goals for myself and as a result, I felt so aimless - I will be doing something but drifting to another area before completing one. But I have definitely learnt something.

For one, I realised how little time I actually have. Sunday is the time where I do marketing and prepare food for the coming week. Monday to Friday, I have to juggle my work and family - 1. prepare dinner for the night, 2. send children to child care, 3. work, 4. exercise during lunch, 5. work, 6. pick up children from childcare/ school and 7. prepare for next day's dinner. I have done all these in clockwork precision and it gets more challenging when work piles up coupled with hubby going on his official trips. That only leaves me with Saturday, which I will also be attending my toastmasters' club meeting on bi-monthly basis. If time permits, I will also love to attend the weekday night's meeting and do some volunteering work, but I have to be pragmatic. Of this very limited time pie, I will also need to cut a slice to spend some time honing my golfing skills, coach the kids in their studies and just spend time with them.

With end of the year in sight, it's time to take stock of what we have done in this year. For me, it is not to be too ambitious and to do one thing at a time. This year, my focus is to complete my toastmaster program - target is one project every two months. Wish me luck!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Year-end Holidays

For those who are awaiting this latest blog, apologies, I am very busy preparing for yet another road trip to Malaysia.

Yes, the year-end holidays are back. The Lim family welcome this with much gusto. We have not been on an aeroplane as a family on a vacation for a long time. It is not that the wanderlust has drifted away. Rather, we have found a pot of gold at our backyard.

Two weeks ago, we went to Malacca and Kuala Lumpur. A few days back, I was back to Johor for a golfing one-day trip. While I am still an amateur, I could definitely enjoy the lush landscape at the golf course. It is very relaxing especially on a weekday where we could have the golf course entirely for ourselves. Weekends are quite stressful as the course will be packed and one will have to speed up play. The latter is quite a feat for me who could manage at best more than 50 m but below 100 m with my 7-iron. Hence, I would need many more strokes before hitting on the green.

It is not just Malaysia. There is also much to explore in our uniquely Singapore. We have just been to the Science Centre yesterday. More new exhibits were up. One of which was the on-the-edge technology. I meant electronic. Recalled Tom Cruise action movies on Mission Impossible sequel, we had the agents using their hands to control the cursor. Keyboard and mouse were things of the past. Hey, this scene no longer belongs to our imagination but it's a reality! We also saw a plasma tv but showing 3-dimensional pictures. Amazing.

Tomorrow, the Lim family will be on yet another road trip up north. We have done much groundwork to map out the way to go there and also prepared for contingencies. Wish us a safe and happy journey :)

Monday, December 1, 2008

4 Days 3 Nights Getaway to Malacca and Kuala Lumpur

Last Tuesday, we hopped onto our family car and drove up to Malaysia together with our brother-in-law's family. It marked the first time that the extended Lim family was going on a road-trip across the Causeway.

It was a very leisure and relaxing drive up north, together with three young kids - two school-going of the same age - P and E, and one preschooler - R. They were too happy to enjoy each other companion. We took many breaks in between the drive to take in the slower pace of living and at the same time, enjoy the scrumptious hawker food that Malaysia has so much to offer.

Day 1 and 2 - Interlude in Malacca

We reached Malacca and checked into our hotel, Holiday Inn at around 2 pm. We had a kid suite which was a very luxurious room with an attached kid's room - complete with a queen-size bed and a double bunk bed for the kids. Besides splendid rooms, there was also splendour view from the full-height glass panel of our hotel rooms. Pictured an old Malay-style building in the centre that came with an open-surfaced carpark with cars parked haphazardly. To the left of the building were some four-storey white-painted shophouses. To the right, there was a seven-storey shopping mall and going further from the epicentre where the Malay-style building stood, we had uncompleted buildings still under construction. what a sight of the old juxtaposed against the new and the up-and-coming buildings.

After lunching at the nearby shopping mall, we spent the afternoon lazing in the hotel rooms while the kids watched television and played pretend with the double deck bunk bed. At around 4 pm, we went to the infinity pool and wading pool. It was awesome. When we stepped out of the lift and proceeded into the pool area, we were visually treated to a continous view of water flowing from the infinity pool all the way to the Straits of Malacca. The only giveaway was the color of the water - crystal blue at the infinity pool and jade green for the sea water of the Straits of Malacca.

Day 2 started with a sumptuous breakfast at the hotel before we proceeded to explore this Unesco World Heritage City by foot. Malacca was very rich in heritage founded by a fleeing prince from Sumatra in 14th century. Strategically located at the Straits of Malacca, it later developed into a major trading port for ships from India and China. As it flourished, it became a target for foreign powers eagered to gain control of the trading port. The Portuguese conquered it in 1511. In 1641, the Dutch took over before the British empire came in to rule Malacca later. The state finally obtained independence in 1957. Today, one will find many remnants of the glorious past dated back more than 500 years ago.

The kids raced to see who would reach the top of St. Paul's Hill first. At the top stood St. Paul's Church - once the prayer house of the Portuguese Catholics, but was later converted into burial ground for their noble dead by the Dutch. We also passed by the Historic Museum and Ethnography Museum - which was converted from The Stadthuys - the official residence of the Dutch Governor. Another fine Dutch architecture was the nearby Christ Church built in 1753.

Besides fine sights, there were also fine food. We tried the baba chendol and chicken rice with chicken rice balls. The former was different from what we had in Singapore as they used "gula" or brown sugar gravy as the syrup. The latter looked like fishball but tasted like well, chicken rice.

After lunch, we bid goodbye to this historical tour and continued our journey up north to Kuala Lumpur.

Day 3 and 4 Swimming and Shopping Fun at Sunway Lagoon

After a good night sleep at hotel, we went to Sunway Lagoon Water Theme Park. It was quite similar to Downtown East in Singapore but bigger, very much bigger. We first played the water park - with flume rides and more exhilarating water ride where we slid down from a high and formed a "U" before "yo-yoing" to a halt. There were also wave pool with waves all the time, water playground and many, many more. Besides wet park, there was also "dry" park - the amusement park with a gamut of rides ranging from the classical merry-go-round to the "Wild Wild Wet"-inspired fast-train roller-coaster ride. The kids were zonked out by the end of the day.

Day 4 was the day for the adults - yes, shopping galore. In close proximity to the Sunway Lagoon was a mega shopping mall. There was a wide range of items to shop for and at very attractive prices too. After the hearty shopping, we drove back from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. It was a very memorable experience and was also very easy-on-the-pocket. You bet we would be back for more especially in these times of belt-tightening.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What Does Pooh Bear Mean to You?

R loves Winnie the Pooh, particularly the one with a coffee cup imprinted on its cropped top in a slightly dirty-yellow color.

In one of his innocuous babblings, he reminded me that “I like this because mummy bought it for me when I was in hospital.”

The year was 2006 and we had just returned from our one-year stay in the United States. Having been cooped up with the kids for one long and weary year, I secretly craved for a break from the kids. It was not that I did not enjoy the family time but mothers would understand that we needed to break away from the kids as they do get on our nerves at times. And the slight repair required at home gave me that perfect excuse.

Obviously that was not good enough for my then three-year old R. He was one tough nut to crack. He was crying his heart out whenever I waved him bye, bye at my mother’s place before I headed to my place to supervise the renovation works at home. Very soon, the sweet “bye bye” evolved to silence but the ditching spoke volumes of my frustrations and also those of R's.

Then he protested with hunger strike – refusing to eat and drink. We thought this would soon pass. After all, I would not resist good food and all the more so if I were hungry enough. Alas, this was not the case. R fell sick and this time, medication formed part of his hunger strike.

He was admitted to hospital. Again refusing medication and took only meager morsels – just enough to give himself the energy to struggle and spit out any medication that we tried to force into his small but mighty mouth. Seeing him suffer made my heart wrench and my face was awash with tears.

On the 4th day when R's condition was still not improving, we requested for intravenous medication as he was not getting much of it with his violent struggle. I still remembered very vividly that the doctor actually suggested to change to another medication – another oral one. Like any anxious mother will do, I stood my grounds and demanded to discharge R from the hospital to admit him to another for a second opinion.

I called the nurse at the private clinic of R's regular pediatrician at around 8-9 pm. As he was out of town and the nurse at the clinic suggested another pediatrician. That night was extremely long as the hospital took quite close to 4 hours to prepare for the discharge documentations. Fortunately, things moved fast and furious once we were at the next hospital where we arrived at shortly past mid-night. R was put on two intravenous drips – one for the medicine and another to keep his body going.

We finally turned in at around 1.30am. That night, I could finally sleep together with R. Previously, this request was flatly turned down as if so “other patients will also make the same request”. R clung real tight to me and fell asleep in no time. I too, slept like a log.

The next morning, his face lit up when he saw me beside him. He then gave me a megawatt smile when I showed him Winnie the Pooh – what I bought from gift shop at the hospital lobby when I sneaked out while he was sound asleep.

His previous melancholic mood became melodious as he skipped his feet, arms hugging Winnie the Pooh, flashing his ready smile at the nurses, doctors and visitors at the hospital. Soon, he was well enough to head home.

Today, Winnie the Pooh is still Ryan’s favorite toy. I suppose it represents his found-again mummy’s love which he thought was no longer around when I left him in his granny’s place. Of course, this is not true, mummy always loves him.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Humor & Presentation Workshop

I have just attended a 3-hour "Humor & Presentation" Workshop by Mr Christian Chua, at Whampoa Community Club. Also at the workshop was my mentor Yetti. Boy, I was also thrilled to see other familiar faces including Christine, Lawrence and Kwan Fong (hope I got your name correctly, apologies if it's wrong) who have so kindly volunteered their services to be our speech evaluators at earlier chapter meetings of my toastmaster club, Kowloon-Singapore.

Back to Christian. He blew my mind away. First of all, I have to say that he has given an impressive presentation. This is the second presentation by Mr Christian Chua that I have attended. The first one was on a different topic. Nevertheless, both were equally excellent. Unlike the Chinese "see fus" who always deliberately keep some secrets so that their disciples will not surpass them, Christian was very generous with his teachings. Yes, just like my mentor Yetti :)

I have a couple of takeaways which I would like to blog about which were mostly from Christian's slides.

When presenting humor,

Do:- Test the audience
- Keep your jokes currently
- Tell your jokes with confidence
- Tell them like it is the first time you are telling them with enthusiasm
- Understand your audiences' profile and craft your humor that is suitable for them to comprehend
- Test your jokes or funny ancedotes on your friends first. Note which part of the joke/story causes your friends to laugh and get their feedback.

Don't:
- Laugh at your own jokes
- Repeat the joke if the audience didn't get it (Try a brief explanation to rescue the moment, else say something smart like "I think I will bury that joke from here on."
- Repeat your joke if it is funny, just savor the moment and move on
- Tell jokes that have been over used
- Present anything that could be offensive
- Present humor with long build-ups (use 3-4 lines as a guide)
- Tell audience that a joke is coming (eg. I have a funny story to tell you or this one is very, very funny.)

Next, some strategies for humor:

1. Exaggeration. eg. I used to be so fat that the Great Wall of China is not the only thing that one can see from outer space.

2. Double Talk. This technique requires audience to read in between the lines. Eg. My wife made me a millionaire, before that I was a multi-millionaire.

3. Word Play. This is the one I found most powerful. It is something like association technique. This is how it goes. Take note of your surrounding. Select one or several words on the subject words. Map a web of associated words. And find the funny and construct the humor. Then respond with wit. The example that we worked through in the workshop was ERP - Gantry, CBD, Payment, Fine, Tool, IU. ERP can stand for "Express Retirement Plan". In short, your creativity is the limit.

4. Irony. That is something totally opposite.

5. Pun. Basically, a play with words. One example used is grenade and granite as Christian shared on his army jokes.

6. Spoofs, Animation and Accentuation I will term these as higher-order techniques which I will go into when I am more comfortable with the earlier techniques. Basically, we try to act out different people speaking with animated moves.

7. Incongruity/ Reverse Point of View. This refers to humor derived from a twist, shock, mis-match, embarrassment. An example is how many sides do a circle have? Two sides - inside and outside.

8. Lifesavers Some examples are 1. you have mavelous self-control, 2. Joe, this is the last time I am going to use your joke. 3. Not everyone is good at telling jokes, I am one of them. 4. Are your guys from Microsoft. No. But you are giving me the Microsoft look - not responding. 5. If you trip, you could say "Are there any questions from the floor?"

Besides the above, he has also invited two speakers to talk and made us think on our feet on how to inject humor in their speech. It has been a very fulfilling afternoon though I was a bit braindead. Not exactly knowing how to go about apply the techniques. Practice makes perfect and for a start, I shall have a comedy bank to deposit my humor dollars for future consumption.

For those of you who are of a higher calibre, Christian recommended this website www.asiaspeakers.org which you may want to browse through.

Have fun talking :)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Market Downturn – Talk by CIMB 21 Oct 08

The talk was about the current market downturn. In gist, it talked about the history leading to the current crisis and what was ahead for investors. The speaker was Mr Victor Lye, Founder & Head of WMG – Wealth Management of CIMB.

Why US Hegemony?
In order to understand the current crisis, there was a need to why the US dollar is the global currency, the reasons behind US hegemony. History has it that US being not so adversely affected by World War II, emerged stronger economically compared to other world countries and hence, called the shots.

In an attempt to rebuild the international economic system even as World War II ravaged, the Allied nations assembled in a small town, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, United States. The meeting resulted in the signing of the Bretton Woods Agreement in July 1944. It was essentially a fixed exchange system whereby US dollar was pegged to gold – at US35 per oz, and all other currencies tied to US dollar. Hence, US dollar became the de facto “international” currency.

The agreement eventually broke down in 1973 mainly due to the divergence between the focus of the US monetary and that for the agreement. For the agreement to work, US central bank, Federal Reserve will need to monitor the growth of the US money stock with respect to its gold stock. On the other hand, the Federal Reserve was more into managing the US domestic economy – after all, this was their home ground. US consumers were great spenders, using not just their own money but also someone else’s money – borrowed. Other countries were too happy to lend US by buying US Government bonds – IOU by the US government. So much money floating around that there was not enough gold to guarantee the gold convertibility of US dollars at US$35 per oz. gold. The Bretton Woods Agreement eventually gave way to a mix of floated and managed float exchange systems adopted by different countries today.

What Caused the Credit Crisis?
With this background, the speaker argued that much of the current crisis was due to the many years of unbridled spending by the US consumers since Bretton Woods’ time. The housing bubble that pricked was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. Of course, as the crisis continues to unfold, we now also know that another major reason is the lack of financial oversight by the Federal Reserve.

Will US Hegemony Continue?
Before the financial tsunami came in full force, there were many talks about the decoupling theory. The verdict is now out. When US sneezes, the rest of the world will catch a cough. US is still one of the largest economies in the world, if not the largest. When US consumers tighten their belts, export sector of the rest of the world tightens too. With the rest of the world buying so many of US assets, we just cannot sit back and watch US fall. So things have fallen apart and the Federal Reserve alone cannot hold. Outgoing US President, George Bush has called for the world’s great economic powers to gather in early November to discuss on new strategies to tackle the current situation. Perhaps, this will mark a new era of International Monetary System.

What Should Investor Do?
The speaker ended his talk by saying that while the emerging economies will be affected, they were still a force to be reckoned with. In the case of Asia, most have learnt the lessons from the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis well. Asian banks have sufficient deposits to fund new lending. Hence Asian economies, while will not be unscathed, will emerge stronger when the credit crisis stabilizes. If you could stomach the volatilities investing in these economies could reap good results. However, do not jump onto the bandwagon just yet. Wait for the outcome of the meeting in Nov. And also to invest in money that you do not need and have a time horizon of at least 3-5 years.

My Take of the Talk
After the heavy downpour, rainbow will come and hopefully, there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. As the recent DBS High Notes and Lehman Minibond show that this may not be always the case. So only invest with money you can afford to lose and level up your investing knowledge.

A good outcome from this event will probably be various Government agencies coming together to provide a more focused approach to bring up the financial literacy of Singaporeans. Right now, though we have MoneySense, I cannot but feel that the outreach is limited and from I have read, there seems to be a lack of continuity in the topics that it rolled out. Of course, it takes two hands to clap. This crisis will serve as a wake-up call to investors to do their homework before investing their hard-earned money.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Perks and Perils of Internet

I could not believe it that I have posted so many articles in my blog since June this year.

I created the blog to keep track of my progress and at the same time, share with others who are in the same boat as I am. When I started this blog, well-meaning friends warned me about the perils of the net. There have been well-published reports in the papers but I decided to go ahead. Just like one sparrow does not mark the beginning of spring, neither does a few black sheeps.

I have met friends through the Internet and they are great. There are also many who fedback to me that they can understand the position that I was once under and found comfort in my postings. These are the perks.

The perils? Recall reports of women trying to find love through the net but ended up being swindled of their hard-earned money? Then there were those unsolicited emails congratulating you of your big-time win which you could not recall where and when you had participated. There was a catch - you needed to wire money to settle the administrative charges which they highlighted were dwarfs compared to the giant sum of money you would receive.

Idealistically, I wish that all out there in the Internet are good and great but this is not practical. So let us all use our common sense to help us navigate this thick forested Internet area.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

DBS High Notes and Lehman Minibonds

This blog is a condensed version of what that has been published in the Straits Times where financial experts were consulted.

Think of hamper when you think of structured financial product. Like hamper, the structured financial product constitutes of many goods – in this case, equities, bonds and other financial derivatives.

Type of Structure Products

There are a few categories, namely capital-guaranteed, capital-protected and not capital-guaranteed or protected. Capital-guaranteed products are those with a “guarantor”. So if the issuer folds, the note holder looks for the guarantor. In the case of capital-protected, it refers to the structure of the product. In order to “protect” the product, typically, the issuer will invest the bulk, say 85% in bonds and the balance 15% in higher risk equities.

DBS High Notes and Lehman Minibonds fall under the third category “non-capital protected”.

The Terms and Conditions

Table below compares the two structured products.



To understand the risk, we need to first understand what a credit event is. In the most simplistic term, credit event refers to the event whereby a company fails.

Basically, the buyer of DBSS High Notes Series 5 is betting that all the 8 reference entities (see “Make-up” row in the table above) will not go belly up. That is to say, the more reference entities, the riskier the product. Unfortunately, Lehman did go under and this triggered a credit event. In the case of Lehman Minibond, the 6 reference entities are still standing but not Lehman – the issuer. Hence, investors get their fingers burnt.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wild Wild Wet

The final year examination is finally over! Another bonus - last Monday was the Festival of Lights - hee, we saw light at the end of the examination tunnel in a sense.

That called for some celebration. So on Monday, the Lim family celebrated in swimsuit style at Wild Wild Wet, Singapore's biggest water theme park at Pasir Ris.

We arrived slightly before the theme park was open at 10 am, picking up the time slack with some munching for Papa Lim who refused to tuck in wholemeal bread at home and the rest changing into our swimming gears all ready for the water action.

When the clock struck 10, my two boys could barely contain their excitement. They dashed towards the gantry and made their way to the "Shiok River" leaving their darling daddy behind, busily packing our stuff into the locker. And mummy? That's me. I too, forsook daddy, hurrily behind the fast fading backs of the two boys. I managed to catch up with them and got them to don on the free life jackets that came in various sizes. These jackets were widely available throughout the theme park, together with clear instructions printed on colorful signpost.

P was the first to grab the doughnut float and glided in the "Shiok River". Mummy and R were still trying to find a way to get onto the float. Before long, daddy joined in. The Lim family then laid on the floats and watched the clouds drifted past. It was quite a relaxing ride to go with the flow and let the river carry us around the 335 m perimeter of the park.

Of course, kids being kids would not be satified with seeing the world drift past. They wanted action. And action they had with the "Ular-Lah" raft slide. The last time, we came, Ryan did not meet the minimum height. This time he cleared this time round! We climbed up at stairs to the at least 3-storey tall building and joined other companions on an inflated circle-shaped raft that seat 5 persons, down a flume. Together, we braved the rapids but not before screaming out our hearts - okie, more for me as I was one timid rat.

After the "Ular-Lah" which had my heart lodged in my mouth during the short probably less than 2 minutes ride, I decided to do some less thrilling stuff. This included being the child minder while P and R had fun at the water playground, with a number of scientific-looking fixtures appealing to the kids.

Our last stop was at "Tsunami". Names could be misleading. Tsunami was not one of those heart-stopping thrill rides, it was essentially a wave pool. As it was in a controlled environment there was no choppy currents, so we were there just to hit out at the waves as they came crashing in.

After two hours of fun, the Lim family was exhausted. While our hearts would want to continue, our water-sagged skins shrieked no. But, with so much fun and Wild Wild Wet just in Singapore, you bet we will be back again...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Toastmaster Project 3 : Get to the Point

Usually, I will try to draft my script "one project" earlier with ideas from my recent day-to-day experiences.

Change of Plan

I have already drafted my script for Project 3 and am reading the objectives for Project 4 "How to Say it". There are three main objectives, namely, 1. Select the right words and sentence structure to communicate ideas clearly, accurately and vividly; 2. Use of rhetorical devices to enhance and emphasize ideas; and 3. Eliminate jargon and unnecessary words and to use correct grammar.

It would seem to me that something descriptive would be good as a topic for Project 4 which my earlier script for Project 3 would be very suitable. Of course, with some enhancements taking into account the objectives for Project 4.

So, I am back to drafting another script for Project 3. The revision for Project 4 will come later.

Back to the objectives for Project 3:
1. Select a speech topic and determine its general and specific purposes.
2. Organize the speech in a manner that best achieves those purposes.
3. Ensure te beginning, body and conclusion reinforce the purposes.
4. Project sincerity and conviction and control any nervousness you may feel.
5. Strive not to use notes.

Time: 5 - 7 minutes

To Be Better Than I Was Yesterday

Good evening Club President, District Officers, fellow toastmasters, friends and guests,

"Hi, I am Uzumaki Naruto. I live to be the next Hokage of Konoha."

Naruto is a popular Japanese Anime series, revolving around the life of a boy, a ninja - Uzumaki Naruto. Naruto lives in a ninja village, Konoha. As a little boy, he is shunned and detested by the villagers. Because his body sealed Kyubi or the nine-tailed fox in English, which is an evil demon fox with great fury and power that wreaked much damage to the village a long time ago.

To prove himself worthy of love and admiration, Naruto has a dream - to be the next Hokage, the strongest ninja in the village of Konoha. Though he is clumsy and not very bright, he has a will of steel. Through his fierce determination and hard work, he has time and again proven others wrong - finding the light at the end of the tunnel when others have given up hope. Turning mission impossible into mission possible and into mission accomplished.

Like Naruto, I wasn't a good public speaker when I was young. I was terrified, pertified and horrified to speak even among friends, let alone on stage.

I can still remember vividly a scene more than 20 years ago. Yes, 20 years ago when I was in Secondary School and asked to read a passage aloud in class.

"How do you say "TV" in full?"
"It is 'aid' not 'AIDS' - the HIV disease"

The whole class burst out laughing. But not me, to me, this was not humor but humiliation. If there were a hole then, I would sink my head in it like an ostrich.

The stern voice of my English teacher still resonated in my mind. I could not pronounce the word "television" and I always added "s.." after every word. My classmates commented that I had a strange slang.

I felt discouraged and my first inclination was "avoidance". Try not to speak as far as possible. After all, the more I talked, the more mistakes my mouth would sprout out.

In fact, one of the reasons that I chose to do Mathematics was that I didn't have to use English so much. In Mathematics, I used not English but "Symbolish" - the language of symbols - things like infinity or a very large countable number, delta - a small change and etc. Hurray, that was my ultimate escapee from public speaking!

Then, I completed my formal education and progressed into the university of life. I found poor pronunciation a hindrance in communicating with my colleagues. Worse, I would have cold sweat and many sleepless nights whenever I needed to do a presentation. Each blunder just reinforced my belief that I was just not cut out for it.

It was fate that I took a year of sabbatical leave to stay in the United States. There, I met Naruto in Cartoon Network, a Television channel. His grit and determination impressed me. With more time in my hands, I began to learn phonics. To practise my pronunication skills, I read aloud every night without audience, after my kids were aslept.

When I returned to Singapore, I continued with my quest to improve my spoken English - both through self-study - picking up difficult words and try to pronounce, and also actively sought out pronounciation courses. Of course, knowing how to say it right is one thing, and saying it right in front of an audience is another.

So I trawled the internet and found toastmaster club. Here, I found a group of like-minded people coming together to improve our public speaking skills.

The club has given me a lot of encouragement and opportunities to talk, like for today. Though I am still a pretty young member, I have gained much confidence.

With this new-found confidence, I have in July this year, together with some of my colleagues, involved in a 15 minutes skit for my company. I was the script-writer, narrator and actress in the skit. The most memorable role was that of the narrator, where I addressed on stage in front of a 400 or so strong audience.

From a girl who has difficulty pronouncing the word "television", I have come a long way. I first started by avoiding to do public speaking. Then I found courage to face and conquer the fear.

From Naruto, I learn to dream again, to dream to become a good public speaker, to be better than I was yesterday.

Hi, my name is Aileen Chua. I live to be a better speaker than what I was yesterday.

Toastmaster of the Evening.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Memories Triggered by "Monster" Trucks

A friend of mine forwarded me some pictures of a tremendous truck, which someone coined the term "Garbage Truck". However, we cannot judge a truck by its exterior. The interior turned out to be a cosy home - fully furnished and complete with all creature comfort.

See for yourself:









Seeing these pictures brought back fond memories of my frequent family road trips in the States. When we were moving from state to state, we will look out for motels on the road. And yes, there were these "monster" trucks on the highway as my elder boy called them as they were well, so monstrously big.

At the Tourist Centre which is usually located at the border of the state, we will pick up A4 booklets printed on recycled paper and scout for discount coupons. At times, we could save quite a fair bit by staying in pretty high-class "hotel" at low, low motel rates. It was during those times that we stayed in Quality Hotel. Not bad, hence, we decided to patronise the one near Balestier Road (Singapore, this time round :)

It was also at that time that the famous US highway really hit us, it is huge and it has many arteries linking to the different parts of US. When you watch US movies, they often quote Route 66. And yes, we used the Historic Route 66 in Arizona to take in the breath-taking scenary.

See the vastness of nature made me feel the insignificance of an individual. I had a taste of what the Americans held so closely to their heart - freedom. Life is short, I want to live my life my way. And I will define success my way.

Now that I am in Singapore, I suppose I should start exploring West Malaysia with our trusted four-wheeler. Something which we have already started with our not-so-frequent (remember, it's all relative :) driving trips to Johor Baru.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I Have Completed Stock-Take of My Investments To-date

Investment guru, I am not. In fact, I was quite a moron when it comes to investing matters. I was just plain lucky not having enough cash to buy into the Minibond and the DBS High Notes.

Like most retail investors, I did buy into some structured deposit which I was quite ignorant about. I have also dabbled a bit into stocks but they really quite minimal. With a 9-5 job and a family to take charge of, I have little time to monitor the market, let alone be prolific in it. So I have relied on recommendations from friends and/or relationship managers for my investment decisions. Especially the latter, afterall, they are the experts or supposedly so.

My Investment Journey Until Now

When I first started work and managed to accumulate some money, I did my research at the point of purchase to ensure that the company stock was rock-solid. Later, I realised that monitoring was such a chore, I have decided to buy unit trust. Just pay the experts for them to work for you. Afterall, I will still get to pocket the profits after commission is deducted. In no time, I became a stock/unit trust "collector".

I knew that this was not the way to go. Hence, I went for financial courses to brush up my very lacking skills. Magazines and books on investing made it to my reading list staple.

In a sense, the global financial meltdown coupled with the Minibond and DBS High Notes Series that accelerated this process. Never before have I been bombarded with so many news articles written with the layman in mind.

As I pored through the news, one thing stood out loud and clear "the importance of being self-reliance". If a more than a century old bank like Lehman Brothers could go belly up and the experts also go wrong with their bets, I will need to do more monitoring. Afterall, it's my hard-earned money.

So, monitoring I aspire. For the past few weeks, I have digging through my un-filed documents (oh, my goodness) to take stock of the investments I have made thus far. I have even created an Excel template to key in the investment and work out the average yield for my investments made.

For the first time in my life, I see for myself the haphazard investments I have made. Now, I have a faint understanding of what the experts say about asset allocation and the talk about re-balancing your portfolio.

I shall continue to work on my investment knowledge and pen it down in my blog. Like most people, I would want my money to work hard for me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Brief History of Stock Crashes, Part 2

Let's move on to the 4 stock crashes in recent history.

4. The Asian Financial Crisis in 1997

The road to recovery was slow and painful, hit further by subsequent economic shocks. Perhaps one of the stock crashes most felt by Singaporeans as many saw their home prices turned south - previously almost unheard of.

Affecting largely Asian countries, the crisis was due to excessive speculative attacks to Asian currencies, particularly the Thai baht. The contagion spread swiftly and Asian economies went into recession.

Smartened by this crisis, Asia's banks are now fortified with huge reserves and are more able to face the current downturn.

5. The Dot.com Bust and 9/11 in 2001
Recovery took a short 2 years for this crash, with the market up and running again in 2003. This time round, those badly hit were the Western countries, especially US and the European Union.

What caused the crash was irrational exuberance towards the new on-line market. Here, a small history from the Great Depression repeated itself with stock prices of on-line businesses rocketed sky high. The bubble was pricked as newly listed start-ups folded one by one.

To investors, this re-inforces the importance of buying a stock for what it is - "its fundamentals", not what it will be - "with hope that some suckers will buy the stock for a yet higher price".

6. Sars and the Iraq War in 2003
Remembered the days when having a fever sent a chill down the spine of those on the road? These days not many people remembered the slight blip on the stock chart with fairly rapid recovery, but more of the days of quarantine during the SARS epidemic. However, in 2003, dark skies enveloped Asian economies which were just finding their feet after the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. The breakout of the Iraq War added further gloom to the sky line.

7. The Credit Crisis in 2008
The credit crisis erupted more than a year ago due to the US subprime mortgage issue. It rapidly morphed into a financial Armagaddon due to today's very connected financial market. As many US and Europe investment banks, with even household name insurer AIG marred by the toxic subprime mortgage, fear and panic overwhelmed the global bourses.

Today, many stock bourses rallied finally. However, investors will need more confirmation that things are fine before treading gingerly into the market again. The road to recovery is nowhere in sight yet.

History has shown that while stock crashes are almost overnight, recovery is slow.

Lessons for Us
- Always invest with money you do not need.
- Buy a stock for what it is, not what it will be.
- While many analysts are recommending that it may be time to bottom fish, do your homework.
- No one can predict the market movement, the Great Depression lasted 12 years, the current crisis is only more than 1 year. Anything can happen, have a cut-loss mechanism and admit your mistakes early.

For me, the current crisis provided me with a lot more information about the financial market. I remembered how my heart sank when the value of my badly-beaten unit trusts fell more than 50% during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. But it crawled to register an annual return of more than 10% last Dec before this credit crunch set in.
With more information, I am less disturbed as I pored through the financial reports.

Another reason is that I do not have all my eggs in one basket. But, I will have to adopt a more conservative approach when I am closer to my retirement age. For now, I know that time is still on my side.

A Brief History of Stock Market Crashes, Part 1

The financial malaise triggered by the credit crunch erupted more than 1 year ago in the US, was earlier largely confined to the US and Europe. In Singapore, perhaps it is the near-collapse of AIG that brings home the fact that no one will be spared from the financial carnage. The recent weeks' plummeting of shares in the global bourses have also put spotlight onto the financial world - where many are attracted by the possibility of money snowballing. However, the focus now is the rapidly diminishing value of the money.

With the many reports on the financial news, let's us first take a look at the brief history of stock market crashes. Since the Great Depression in 1929 till the current crisis of confidence, there are a total 7 stock market crashes.

For this post, I will list down the first 3 stock crashes and their lessons for us.

1. The Great Depression in 1929
This was the stock crash that took the longest to recover - 12 years. Ironically, it was the advent of World War II (WWII) with increase Government spending that pulled the economy up.

The main reason for the crash was due to speculative play at the stock exchange. Many were willing to pay a high price for stocks as they believed that someone would pay an even higher price for it. As the stock prices were not supported by economic or company fundamentals, they eventually succumbed when things turned sour.

Black Thursday came on Oct 24, 1929 after one month of volatile trade. Prices plunged by 40% from Sept 1 to Oct 31, 1929. Over a 3 years period up to Jul, 1932, the correction was 90% downwards. In 1933, the gloom in the Wall Street filtered down to the Main Street and the world went into global depression for 12 years.

The Great Depression is now the benchmark of how far the economy can fall. It is definitely not a pleasant experience for us to re-live that experience.

2. The Oil Shock in 1973
Recovery time for this stock crash at 9 years was the second longest. Politics between the oil-rich countries and US was the main reason for the crash. Unhappy with US, oil producers raised oil prices by 4x and stopped oil shipment to US and their allies in Western Europe and Japan. This outward show of displeasure led to a strong surge in oil prices feeding into other parts of the economy.

Inflation ensued and the then-impending recession was exacerberated. It was during this period that the world experienced "stagflation" - stagnating wages with high inflation .

The short-lived stabilisation in oil prices in late-1970s was quickly overtaken by sharp spikes oil prices with the break-out of war between Iraq and Iran. Light at the end of the tunnel was only visible come 1981.

Today, this era is often used as a reminder of how oil price peaks could impact the world economy. Much progress has also been made in the search of alternative energy to reduce our heavy reliance on oil to power the economy.

3. Black Monday in 1987
This stock crash held the record with the fastest of 1 year because the world economy was healthy. The cause of the crash was due to computer glitches.

On 19 Oct 1987, a group of investors moved en masse out of stocks. This triggered the computer automation to cut traders' losses with the issue of large number of sell orders. Driven by fear, many more investors dumped stocks, causing the stock prices to dive further.

Dow Jones Industral Average plunged 22.6%. This was the biggest percentage drop in history - wiping out US$500 bil (S$742 bil) in a single day.

This episode shows the volatility of the stock market with panic over-ruling rationality. However, it also shows that if the fundamental is strong, the market will rebound in no time. Hence, the saying in the stock market that the brave will be rewarded.

End of Part 1
That's all for this post. In many analyst reports, there are a lot of congruences drawn with the Great Depression. Yet at the same time, many believe that the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis (that's stock crash number 4) has strengthened the banks' position in Asian and they are more able to weather this storm. Nonetheless, the knock-on effects from the slowdown in US, Europe and Japan, are undeniable. And it's official - based on advance estimate for 3Q08, Singapore has entered into its first technical recession since 2001.

I will be continuing on the next four stock crashes in my next post. Do look out for it.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Exam Stress

Just the other day after P's English tuition, I flipped through his work and was surprised at his atrocious handwriting which was barely legible. I asked him what had gotten into him. His reply "I am tired." I tried to probe further but the answer remained the same. A few days later, I found that he had missed out a page in his school's mock exam paper. He also seemed to be quite distracted recently.

It then dawned on me that he was stressed. So even though examination is just next week, he gets a day off. I remembered I used to have exam stress too. And the more productive way to handle it is actually to understand where the stress comes from. Is it because one feels that he or she is not sufficiently prepared for the exam? Or is it because of the tension in the air?

I choose to believe in the latter as it is difficult to elicit an answer from a 7-year old boy. In any case, he has been consistent in his school work. To brighten up his mood, I was sharing with him that I used to love exam. Yes, I did. I looked forward to the "no lesson" days during the exam period and not forgetting the long school holiday after exam.

He then looked at me in awe, I did not know whether this new way of looking at exam sink into him. But one thing was certain, he looked happily.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Doing Nothing

Recently, I am clearing my leave at times for the whole day - AM to coach my boy whose examination is around the corner and PM - to do nothing. Yes, to do NOTHING. This is often regarded as a luxury in the fast-paced Singapore, where time is such a scarce commodity.

Well, I have been keeping my "nothing" time quite busy initially. With the financial turmoil still brewing, I took the opportunity to take stock of my investment to-date. In a sense, this financial meltdown is a good wake-up call to me who have started to venture into structured investment products and stocks etc. Tempted by greed, I have started to put in some money into these high-risk products without knowing much about them. Another emotion that ran high during period was fear. Overwhelmed by fear when I learnt that AIG was on the verge of collapse a few weeks ago, I wanted to take leave to join the queue to terminate my policies. Luckily, my fear was tamed by the assurance of MAS that AIA has enough assets to remain standing. So instead of taking leave to queue, I read the fine-prints to have a better understanding of what I was into.

Next, calm or should I say emptiness set in. It is strange that when I was working, I often lamented that time was not enough. However, when time was no concern, I did not know what I should do. It seemed that I did not have any hobbies to fill the void. Then I decided that it was okie to let my hair down and just relaxed. So off, I went to go for my long over-due facial appointment and shopped for X'mas presents. I guessed I still time to get over with just letting time idle away...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Toastmaster Project 3 - Get to the Point

Having just witnessed the practice session of the Formula One night racing last night, I thought I would kill two birds with one stone. I will blog about the experience and also use it as a topic for the next toastmaster project.

The speech topic is "I was Part of the Formula One History". The general purpose is to inform. Specific purpose is to provide a glimpse of what it is like to watch the Formula One race life. From the viewpoint of the audience, "After hearing this speech, the audience will be able to know the general significance of the Formula One event, the clueless ushers and the thrills of watching the race life."

Objectives :
1. Select a speech topic and determine its general and specific purposes.
2. Organize the speech in a manner that best achieves those purposes.
3. Ensure the beginning, body and conclusion reinforce the purposes.
4. Project sincerity and conviction and control any nervousness you may feel.
5. Strive not to use notes.

Time : 5 to 7 minutes

I was Part of the Formula One History - Oct 2008

Good afternoon Club President, District Officers, fellow toastmasters, friends and guests.

“Vroom… Vroom….” The roar of the engine was thunderous, almost deafening. I could not believe that on 26 Sep 08, my brother and I joined 50,000 people who thronged Marina Bay Street Circuit to be a part of history – to witness the first Formula One, night racing in Singapore.

A fan of Formula One, I am not. In fact, I am not even a car lover. To me, a car is just a form of transportation. But with two free single-day tickets that were hawking for $400 over the Internet, dangling in front of me and the lure of being able to witness history in the making, the offer was too good to reject.

What’s so great about Formula One? For one, it has put Singapore in the International Front for its known efficiency. Work began in 2007, a year after Singapore clinched the deal to host the Formula One race for five years. Three months before the race proper, that was in June this year, we have completed all major preparation for the SingTel Singapore Grand Prix. This included the completion of the $40 mil Pit Building for housing the Formula One team garages, media centre and Paddock Club, and a new road. The new road was roughly parallel to the Republic Boulevard, and was required for the Start/Finish stretch. Another must-see factor was that this was the first time in history that we have car racing at night. To this end, we have installed the state-of-the-art lighting system, to simulate day-time. This involved about 1,500 projectors shinning 4 times brighter than a typical soccer stadium and was believed to cost $10.4 mil. Added it to the 40 mil to construct the Pit Building, the structural costs totalled more than $50 mil – a whopping sum! And I got to see it all for free.

So did I enjoy the show? Yes, but it were not all bouquets, there were also some brickbats. For one, it was a breeze to get to Marina Bay Street Circuit even via public transport. My brother and I took the MRT (Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit Train) to City Hall Station and were able to get to the event venue in a cinch. The security was with minimal fuss. However, once we were in the thick of action in the event venue, there was strangely a lack of signboards to direct us to our designated stand, where we were supposed to be seated. We asked the ushers who absolutely clueless and just pointed a direction where everyone was heading towards. There was a point where I feared that there could be a stampede. There were hundreds of people squeezed like sardines and we were in a deadlock. What made matters worse was that there were also some people trying to move in the opposite direction. Then someone said “Just let them go, or else we cannot move.” That was a life-saver sentence. Though it was barely audible to the rest of the crowd, everyone was very graciously and did exactly that. And yes, my brother and I escaped unscathed.

But we did not manage to find our designated seat. Being none the wiser, we followed the ushers’ direction and came back to square one. We exited unknowingly from the event venue. We then made our way back to Gate 7 again and saw the same usher. Deju vu. She then who gave us the same instruction again. This was how clueless the ushers were.

Smartened from our previous experience, we decided to trust ourselves. So, did we manage to find our seat? Unfortunately, no. But we did manage to find a spot to catch the race. From then on, it was action time. There was something that the television could never do justice to the race. We felt the adrenaline rush of being in the heart of the event. The deafening noise was loud, was scary. But we loved it. These cars generated noise comparable to a jet plane. Even as the cars zipped past, their engines continued to howl. We tried to capture these ultra-fast cars with our cameras. But the cars were too fast for our hand. After we clicked our camera on these flying machines, what that was captured was an empty track. It was then that I really appreciated the phrase “In a blink of an eye”. After some trial and error, we quickly mastered the art of snapping a picture of these cars – by clicking the camera in advance. It was not difficult to know when the car was approaching. The giveaway was the faint whirring sound in the distance. But as the cars were moving in such high speed, what we have captured was some blurry machine. Then, we decided to just sit back and enjoy the show. Against the spectacular backdrop of the Central Business District, it was indeed a rare treat.

By and large, I must say that I felt really privileged to have the opportunity to witness the first Formula One night racing in Singapore. This event has put Singapore in the International front for its efficiency. While there were some kinks, it did not dull the excitement a bit. There were so much intensity of men and machines battling it out. After the cars had left, their engines still continued to howl. Hrmmm… Hrmmm…

Toastmaster of the Day.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

How to Teach Your Kids


My one-year stay in Pittsburgh has forced me to spend quality time with my two boys, which I would have otherwise used to earn more money. In the end, I learnt valuable lessons that money cannot buy. I embrace a new thinking and become more receptive of new ideas.

When I first returned home about two years ago, I attended a talk by a educator who retired as a vice-principal. She shared with us her approach in teaching her children - who are now grown-ups each with a successful career. One key take-away is that a man's lifespan is more than 80 years, what's one year of failure in school? With this thinking, she actually encouraged one of her children to focus on his passion - to hold leadership position in his Co-Curriculum Activity (CCA) which would not contribute to his grades, at the expense of an "A" level subject. This was a very bold move then as the thinking was then "only those who cannot made it drop an 'A' level subject." Her decision turned out to be a wise one. Her boy was offered employment even before graduation and now is doing well in the States.

What

Before I touch on how to teach your kids, what is more important is to ask yourself the what - "what do you want your kids to be?" To be ace examination or to be successful in life? I opt for the latter. And I adopt the "FAR" approach. FAR is the acronymn for Foresight, Agility and Resilience. To equip the child with foresight is to equip him with the knowledge - that's formal education is for. But this is not enough to be successful in life, we all know that things in life will not always be rosy. Hence, we need to be agile and flexible to adapt to today's changing environment. And when things get tough going, we need to have willpower to be resilient.

How

Now the how. Different people learn differently. But there are three main ways a person learn - "SHE". The first way is "See", second is "Hear" and third "Experience". Most people learn primarily through seeing - I suppose that is why we say "seeing is believing". The second majority learn through sound or hearing and the last group (or the minority) learn through experience or kinesthetic. Michael Phelps belonged to the last group and that was why his primary school teacher has so much trouble to try to keep him still.

Knowing how your kid learn will help you to formulate the right strategy to engage him in the learning. My elder boy learns through both sight and sound. He pays most attention when I tell him a story. My younger son loves to play. I get him to learn through staging a play like "Scrooge" or "The Little Match Girl". They will then take on the different characters in the story. The key thing is that we try to prompt them to think. For example, in the story "Scrooge", I asked my boys why was it that Scrooge was such a miser? I would then guide them along - it was due to the tough childhood and devastating blow of also losing his fiancee who died from an illness. Then I would tell them that what Scrooge could have done, was not to dwell so much into the past which has brought him so much bitterness. Instead, he could focus on how he could help others like him.

As a further example, just a week ago when I was supposed to test my boy his spelling. I composed a funny song and sang it instead of the usual testing method (texts in bold refer to the 16 spelling words). We were tumbling with laughters and my boy asked me to pen it down for future reference:

Music : Yesterday Once More

Yesterday, the thunder roared and the raindrops pattered. It was such a sunny day in the morning when it became so windy. In the afternoon, I looked at the calendar to see what festivals to celebrate. But the sky turned cloudy come evening and I was very gloomy. The weather soon became rainy, stormy with lightning. Oh, it was such a sombre sight and I decided to take an early night.

For younger kids where we also need to build their knowledge base, my focus is more on phonics and also reading. There are a number of free websites available - starfall is one of my favorite, another is readinga-z (with free worksheets for young children).

Have fun :)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Toastmaster Project 2: Organize your Speech

Objectives :
1. Select an appropriate outline which allows listeners to easily follow and understand your speech
2. Make your message clear, with supporting material directly contributing to that message
3. Use appropriate transitions when moving from one idea to another
4. Select a strong opening and conclusion

Time : 5 to 7 minutes

Run For Your Life

Good afternoon Club President, District Officers, fellow toastmasters, friends and guests.

During the Beijing Olympics Games, everyday as I watched the competition, whenever an athlete outperformed the rest, the athlete would put his or her fist at the chest. Prod it. Pound it. Punch it.

You cannot hear it but in your mind you know that the athlete is shouting “I have done it!” You cannot see it but you can feel it in an athlete’s performance. You cannot touch it, but when an athlete’s heart beats for excellence, you know.

And every time, I watched the Games I was inspired by the attitude - “to give everything I have got”. It is this attitude that push them to add an extra centimeter to a throw, or slice 5 micro-second, if every fibre of being is invested in the task.

Seeing the athletes at work made me decide to unleash the sportswoman in me and to push myself to work harder in my exercise regimen, to run faster – to run for my life as if I were being chased by some ferocious tigers.

Now, before the Beijing Olympics Games, I have already been pretty successful with maintaining a regular exercise routine. However, I must confess that it was not easy for me to exercise consistently. In fact, it was an uphill task. This is because we, humans are creatures of habit. After completing formal education where Physical Education was compulsory, I adopted a laissez-faire attitude towards exercise – if I wanted to exercise, I would. Otherwise, no. And what happened? I was always finding excuses not to exercise. Things like I was too busy. I had no time. Or I was tired. Then six years ago, I decided to be serious about it. But even then, my exercise routine was sporadic to say the very least. I would exercise once – at times only for 15 minutes and stopped for a few months before trying to find my momentum again. At such erratic pace, it was not surprising that my health was not very good. And I used to fall sick easily and having long spells of cold and cough which ran into weeks. I felt lethargic, tired – in short, terrible. My quality of life dropped.

So how do I manage to establish the routine? It was through participating in sports event. Two years ago, I joined a one-day program at the Outward Bound School. It was supposed to be a sampler of the full-fledged 21-day program – where you will do things like canoeing, flying fox, rock climbing and etc. We went through seven mini-exercise stations. After the first station, I was already dog-tired and it was a really nightmare for me to persist until the last station. It was at this program that I met a man pushing 50 years of age, in a pink of health and boy, he was cool. The seven stations were no sweat to him. So I asked him why he was able to do that. He told me simply “Exercise”. Hey, but how you were able to find time. He then told me that he would go to the gym at 7 am, exercise for an hour before heading to his office by public transport. It then dawned on me if I have to find time to find excuses, I should have time to exercise. Today, I exercise three times a week during my lunch hour. As I have mentioned earlier human is a creature of habit, once I manage to establish this routine, I will feel weird if for any reason I miss an exercise session. Somehow, I will then find some ways to do.

My next step is after watching the Olympic Games, I decide to bring my exercise regimen to a higher level. But being a lesser mortal, I do not aspire to be the next Shelly Ann Fraser, the fastest woman on earth. I just want to outperform myself. To do this, I go on an incremental approach. I first pushed myself to run up to 3 km before slowly building up to 4 km per session. Timing was not crucial as I wanted to first build up my distance tolerance. It was only after I was able to complete 4 km run consistently that I focused on the timing. In a sense, this approach takes major pressure off me and yet puts improvement on a comfortable auto-pilot mode. I am proud to say that in August this year, I have also run my own Olympic – participating in my company’s work-life run and I have completed 2.4 km in my personal best record time at 14 minutes and 10 seconds. That’s not all. After that, I set a new time target of below 14 minutes and have since met it.

I am sharing with you my experience as I hope to inspire you to also “run for your life” - take charge of your health. The same strategy of “participating in sports event” and “setting incremental targets” could also be adopted in our toastmasters’ journey. The first strategy is to do more toastmaster projects and participate in our club meetings. And the second is to set incremental targets, say to do one project every two month. In this way, slowly but surely, one day, we will become good toastmasters, with rosy cheeks.

Toastmaster of the Day.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Investment Thoughts

A few months ago, I started harbouring renewed thoughts about going into investment. There have been so talk about people making their millions in the stock exchange. The belief is that the bourse is a quick way to make money. But for so many years, I am deterred into entering the market except for some supposedly lucky wins - at some IPOs, which I have had only a miserable two - one still above water and one under amidst the current bloodletting in the financial bourses worldwide.

Then I am challenged by some books which I have read - does high return necessarily mean high risk. A case in point here is the world's greatest investor, Warren Buffett. He has two rules when it come to investing. Rule 1 "Never lose money". Rule 2 "Never forget Rule 1". But yet, he has amassed an astonishing amount of money from the stock exchange.

So I reason that the stock exchange is not necessarily a rowdy place if you know what you are doing, and begin to do some serious research. This post is to share my findings with many of friends who are also interested to venture in this area.

Step 1: Have an Investing Plan
You need to know what you are doing! For many of friends who are in the family stage - like me, this is a long stage and there will be changes made to the family's asset allocation over time. First, set your objectives - 1. to invest for retirement income,2. to provide for children's education; and 3. to clear off any remaining home loan.

Your target here is to try to settle most of your housing loan. After meeting the minimum $20,000 cap in your CPF-OA and CPF-SA account, you may want to consider investing your CPF in a combination of unit trusts and blue-chip with good dividend yields.

Financial Alliance advised that a typical investment portfolio for the family stage could be 30% in unit trust, 20% in stocks, 20% in savings and fixed deposit and 30% in alternative investments (which could include local or foreign property that can generate rental income or foreign currency-denominated savings account.) The unit trust allocation, a moderate-risk portfolio could be allocating 25% in Singapore Bond, 25% in Global Bond, 20% in US Equity, 15% in Europe Equity and 15% in Asian Equity. [Suggestion from Financial Alliance is used as an illustration only. Readers are advised to do own research and make their call accordingly.]

Step 2: Build up Your Financial Resources - Tangibles and Intangibles
For most of my friends who are gainfully employed, my advice is to continue to be so and add more value to your current job. That's one sure way to increase your tangible resources available for investing.

At the same time, do build up your intangibles. For one, upgrade your skills. If you are interested to trade, learn about how to do so.

For me, I have just added the Money Section - especially the part on Bull and Bear Run in the Straits Times in my daily reading ritual. To date, I am seeing good progress in knowledge of how the bourse work. It is also a good starting place before venturing out to read periodicals about stock market as well as investment books. Among the materials which I have read thus far, I will like to share with you, some really good ideas and principles.

One idea which I have got was from Timothy Vick - the author of "Wall Street on Sale". The key lesson which I learnt from Vick is that the stock market operates very differently from our normal departmental store. A case in point is if there is a sale at a department store offering a store-wide discount of say 50%, there will be long queues forming at the cashiers' aisles. Interestingly, in the financial world, it does not work this way, investors or should I say, speculators are all the more eager to buy at sky-high prices and sell at rock-bottomed prices. This is largely a manifestation of fear and greed in the financial bourses.

Three key take-aways from Vick:
1. Do not time the market and chase hot sector stocks. This is more gambling than investing.
2. Do not be overly reliance on forecasts of the economy or the stock market. As the forecast extends in time horizon, it is subject to more external variables that would influence a company's result. Likewise, extrapolating a company's recent growth rate into the future is fraught with dangers - this is one of the downside of using a discounted cash flow analysis except for the most stable fo comapnies.
3. As Mario Gabelli puts it "Buy what is, not what will be."

Next is the seven key elements of value investing from Warren Buffett:
1. View yourself as a business analyst
2. Don't be swayed by share price movements. Over time, price follows the company's growth.
3. Don't be a price taker in the stock market. Price and value aren't always the same.
4. The market doesn't always properly value businesses.
5. Wall Street is designed to sell you something and make you trade.
6. Successful investing is just old-fashioned financial statement analysis.
7. Being a value investor sets you apart from, but ahead of, the crowd.

Hope the above are useful to you. And yes, before you make your investment purchase do your homework studiously.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Fifth Discipline and Mental Models

I have just attended a course "Learning Organisation - Harnessing the Power of Mental Model" and am swept away by the course facilitator, Dr Jacob Lee.

I have actually been reading and attending some seminars on my own on this topic of Fifth Discipline (more than 5 years ago!) and Mental Models (recently). However, I was not very sure of my own value system. I knew that it was to be a personal journey but somehow, I always seemed to hit a roadblock - There were so many questions that I wanted to ask when I was going through the worksheets on my own but there was no one. So I took the opportunity in this course to ask as many questions as possible with the objective to uncover the inner me. At the end of the course, I gained a more intimate understanding of myself as a person. In the past, there were times where I wasn't very sure if I had made the right decision and I was wondering "was I going nuts or what?". Not anymore, now I understand why I made these decisions and my dilemma - because my value system has changed from what it used to me - installed and drilled into me since young based on societal norms.

No, he is not one of those "ra ra" type speaker who will motivate you based on one-in-a-million excellent example. What strikes me is that he is very helpful and effective in helping me uncover my value system. During the course, someone commented that he was surprised that there were people so different from him. The case in point was that while he valued "freedom", there was another who valued a very contradicting "predictability".

Course Description

There are two key parts. Part I is on Mental Models (MMs) - we see the world in our own rose-tinted glasses. That's how our brain protects us otherwise we will go mad with the millions or even billions of information flying around. So our brain filters information and also fills in the blank. Nothing wrong with this except that sometimes MM could be flawed. By changing our MM, we could change the way we work. The course covers ways to identify MM, challenge the MM and how to change the MM.

Part II is on Value System. Each of us have our own value system and the reason why we behave in certain ways is because our values are different. Our value system is shaped by our past experiences and environment. It could change due to changes in our life and crisis - eg. after the 9/11 incident, those who experienced close-death, changed their value system. However, we should not wait til a crisis to strike to change our value system - 'cos we may not recover from the crisis. And of course, the course also covers ways to change our value system - 1. Rearranging external circumstance (that's why some people quit their job); 2. Reframe the meaning of values (eg. to "achievement" could use to mean "moving ahead of my peers in the organisation", now, it is "to make myself valuable not just to the organisation but also to other organisations" or "to be nimble".); 3. Reorder the values.

Highly recommended course but to reap the most benefits, you have to go in with the aim to uncover yourself.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Nostalgia

These few days I have been taking leave to prepare P for his continual assessment.

I have just walked him to school. As we strolled along leisurely with my hand clinging on his little hand tightly lest he might just prance and try to dash across the road. Flashes of the past came back to me. When I was at his age, my mother was a stay-at-home mum - not by choice but due to economic reality.

My parents have a brood of children at 4 - pretty large by today's standard, and a handful to take care of. My dad was an odd-job labourer and toiled hard each day to bring home the bacon. As my mum has no formal education, she could only earn a meagre sum which would be largely wiped out by the childcare costs. Hence, she stayed at home to look after us.

While we led a frugal lifestyle, we have a rich relationship. Everyday, she would prepare a lunchbox for me to bring to school. Rain or shine, we would be walking that same old-familiar route to my primary school. (Both the route and my primary school have however, given way to the rapid modernisation of Singapore). My mother would always be there when I felt down. She would be there to comfort me when I was miserable. She is my pillar of support and strength.

As the leaves from the tree in our path glistened in the golden sun ray, I looked at my boy taking small, little strides in a bid to spend just a little more time with mummy. The same scene was replayed in my mind. The nostagic feeling warmed my heart. I smiled and was glad to be here for him.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Stress Management, Beijing Olympics and More

With examination just round the corner and the Beijing Olympics in full swing, I shall blog about stress management in this post.

I have read somewhere and in fact it is common knowledge that stress is a normal part of life and a certain amount of stress can be positive. Of course, different people react to stress differently. There are some who just enjoy the thrill of meeting a new challenge and seeking out situation to stretch themselves. A challenge can be both beneficial and stimulating, while having too little work or responsibility can be just as stressful as having too much.

Different people also react differently to the pressures of life. How one perceives and responds to events and changes affects the level of stress that one will encounter. In this respect, I have taught my boy today the equation that has served me well up to now. That is, "Event + Response = Outcome". While we cannot control the event, we can control our response. Together, they will determine the outcome.

No other place is this played out more prominently than in the arena of sports. Like many Singaporeans, my eyes were transfixed on our table tennis team players as they played hard to win for Singapore a place in the Beijing Olympics. Their competition with the Korean team made my heartbeat race and my blood pressure shoot a few notches up. The stupendous performance by Michael Phelps - breaking the shackles of human limitations, has also left me awestruck.

All these made me realise that it is not just about physical prowess but more importantly, mental power - how one manages stress especially when the entire country's hopes are pinned so heavily on his or her shoulders.

Jiayu, Singapore table tennis team - I believe in you to scale greater heights. We are proud of you!!!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Power of Dream

No, I am not talking about the song by Celine Dione though that's one of the reasons why I set it on repeat mode when things get tough-going. But this post is about setting goals and making them a reality.

In the same spirit, I have also asked my elder boy to set clear and measurable goals on how many marks he aim to achieve for his coming CA (continual assessment). I told him about the title of the book "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill. All things are formed twice - first in your head and second in reality. It's only when you decide on what you want and you can set your mind to pursue your dream.

It's not easy as it takes a hell lot of perservance and setbacks are aplenty. For those of you who have seen my 12-month goal statements right smacked on the right-hand top corner of my laptop screen- yes, I am still working towards them. I guess that is why I can still find the energy to coach my boys after a day's hard work, find time to polish up my speaking skills and also learn about value investing.

You know what - I have survived so many years of Singapore's education and made it through the then-believed-to-lead-one-to-riches science stream. Today, my goal is not about being the top in the rat race. What for? Ultimately, being the top is a rat. It's about living my life.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

My first toastmaster project - Ice Breaker

The last few hectic weeks have drained me literally dry. But now that it is over, it's time for me to focus on my own personal development.

I have joined a local toastmaster club about a month ago :) Yes and I really love my club which is really nurturing and I look forward to develop my speaking skills with the club. I have drafted my first toastmaster project, Ice Breaker. The project is supposed to be a 4 to 6 minutes speech to get myself to begin speaking before an audience and understand the areas that require particular emphasis in speaking as well as to introduce myself to my fellow club members. Here it is for sharing:

The Ice Breaker
Thank you Toastmaster of the Day.

Good afternoon Toastmaster of the Day, fellow toastmasters and friends, today I am very happy to be here to introduce myself to the club.

Does anyone here know what does this stand for? [Use both hands to form two circles and pause for response.] A pair of goggles? A pair of spectacles?

I used to be shortsighted and needed my glasses to see clearly. I had severe myopia – close to 1,000 degree. I was half-blinded without my glasses or contact lens. Not anymore. I went for lasik surgery about 4 years ago and now enjoy perfect vision without glasses. That was one of the best things that ever happened to me. The lasik surgery was a breeze. The only downside was the fear before the surgery something akin to public speaking. I was scared and had hundreds of butterflies fluttering in my stomach. What if the machine breakdown halfway in the operation, what if there was a power failure, what if there was complication and I could not see. In the end, I left my fate to the eye surgeon who did a fantastic job and things turned out really well. I went for the surgery in the morning. The operation lasted less than 15 minutes. Then I went back home for a good afternoon nap. When I woke up in the evening, I could SEE CLEARLY. There was no pain, no blood and little downtime. In fact, after the surgery, I was raving so much about the operation that my husband went for it soon after and we have never looked back.

Back to this symbol again. Besides glasses, this symbol also represents my education. This is the symbol for infinity – the lazy number 8 which is lying down. It is closely associated with Mathematics. And yes, that is my first degree. I graduated with 2nd class upper in Science majoring in Mathematics. So does my husband. We love Mathematics and so does my elder boy. I have two sons – aged 7 and 5. My elder boy has just started formal education – Primary One. And yes, like his parents, he always says Mathematics is a piece of cake.

I guess in a way, I have ignited his love for numbers with a story which I will also like to share with you. The story is about infinity.

When I first introduced the concept of infinity.

My son asked me, “Mummy, is infinity real?”

“Of course, it is my dear.” I replied. “I can even show it to you.”

And this was when my son told me that it resembled the number 8 lying down.

The title of the story was “Hotel Infinity in Planet Infinity.”

In Planet Infinity, there resided a Hotel called Hotel Infinity. The interesting thing about this hotel was that it had an infinitely many, many number of rooms which were all occupied. Room 1 was taken by the Guest Number 1, Room 2 was occupied by the Guest Number 2, Room 3 by the Number 3 and so on and so forth.

On one cold winter night, there was a knock on the door of Hotel Infinity.

Knock, knock, knock…. The owner, Mr Hilbert opened the door and he saw the number Zero standing outside – shivering…

“Oh please come in Mr Zero.” Kind old Mr Hilbert ushered the number Zero into his hotel.

“Thank you, Mr Hilbert.” Said Zero, “It was freezing cold outside, do, do, … you think you will be able to spare a room for me tonight.”

Mr Hilbert stopped and thought for a moment. All his hotel rooms were taken up but maybe, he could. Maybe because Hotel Infinity was a very special hotel with infinitely many rooms.

So how could he create just another room for Mr Zero? This was how. He first moved Guest Number 1 to Room 2. This freed up Room 1, Room 1 was now empty. But hey, what about the Guest Number 2. Well, he moved to him to Room 3. And Guest Number 3 moved to Room 4. And so on and so forth. Lo and behold, we now had an empty room – Room 1. And yes, Mr Zero did get to spend a warm and cosy night at Hotel Infinity.

And this is the magic of Infinity.

I have just shared with you three things about myself. 1. I have went for lasik surgery and that was one of the best things that ever happened to me; 2. my education – I have my first degree in Mathematics; and 3. my family – I am happily married to my husband who is also a Mathematics graduate and we have two boys – aged 7 and 5. Right now, we are all intrigued by Infinity.

Toastmaster of the Day.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

"5 worms in a hole" Technique

I just learnt the "5 worms in a hole" technique that can be used to help a young kid write his or her first essay. Actually, more correctly, I should say learn the fanciful name for the 5 Ws and 1H method, which I was taught in school umpteenth years ago.

Anyway, this is the aged-old that withstood the test of time technique, which has been given a new lease of life with a fun name "5 worms in a hole" that appeals to a child.

- The 5 worms - Who, Where, When, Why, What and a hole - How.

My boy has used this technique to write his essays now. Read to believe that it works.

A Day at the Beach
Last Sunday, the Tan family went to the beach for a picnic. It was very crowded. They went at seven o'clock.

They went to the sea to learn how to swim. Emma needed a doughnut float to float in the water. Emma went to the sea first. Then George followed behind her.

After a very good swim, the Tan family were very hungry so they ate some biscuits and soft drinks.

After a hearty meal, Mr Tan lazed under the tree, and Mrs Tan read a magazine. On the other hand, Emma and George were still full of energy, building sand castle.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Working mothers versus Stay-at-home mothers

This morning I read with interest a spate of letters in The Straits Times, written by stay-at-home mums rebutting a letter by a working mum. The working mum's previous letter was to the effect that stay-at-home mothers have it better. The common gripe of the stay-at-home mothers was this was far from the truth. In fact, stay-at-home mothers work 24/7 with no perks like annual leave/ sick leave or pay.

I have been both a working mother and stay-at-home mother. My point of view is a lot depends on your choice and also family support. For those with good family support, it will help them to manage work and family. I have friends who are doing great - doing well in their career and also having fabulous family bonding. At the same time, I also have friends who quited their job to focus on being a mother. For the latter, it is really due to the hectic work life that culminated into a feeling of guilt of not being able to spend enough time with their children. For me, the reason I am still hanging on here is my belief that I can balance work and life. As I have earlier blogged - work is like a creche, providing me with stimulation, structure and sustenance. I am also very lucky to have an understanding boss and colleagues. A family-friendly workplace is also crucial. The telecommuting scheme which I am currently on, is a boon as it allows me to work from home and take care of my children at the same time.

Having said that, personal belief is also very important. Even with all the support, there are times when I felt like giving up. It is no joke when I have to be the main caregiver - send my children to childcare, school and enrichment classes - all on my own and without a car (as my hubby drives the family car). This is most trying when work piles up. But the greatest gift I have is the appreciation and the strong bonding that I have with my boys which my hubby could only envy.

For mothers - whether working or stay-at-home, we all love our children with all our heart. Quoting Mark Twain "The secret of success is making your vocation your vacation." Yes, love what we do and make every day a joy. When things are tough-going, remember the following:

"Good timber does not grow with ease; the stronger the wind, the stronger the trees."
- J. Willard Marriot

I will want my children to be strong and this is the strength and keep me going.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Thank you my friends

Last few weeks have been a very hectic period as work piled up and responsibilities at home doubled.

Last week when my hubby was out of town, my hubby's aunt came over and stayed for a few nights to help out. At the work front, I am very fortunate when several colleagues quickly swooped in to help out. With each focusing on a core area, we quickly rose up to the challenge and together, as a team, delivered. I believed that they still working hard like what I will be doing after putting this post. Yes, on Tuesday, we will put a good show and go for a good celebration!

Life is wonderful because of you. Thank you so much my friends.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Life is full of challenges

I almost felt helpless today as my hubby headed for another of his business trip for the whole week. That left me to be the sole caregiver. Well, theoretically, I have always been playing that role but somehow, the thought that he will not within close proximity made me uneasy. The burden somehow weighs even heavier as this period is where my workload is the heaviest as well.

Then I received an email from a friend who shared with me the difficulties that many others are facing but yet, they persevere and remain optimistic. Then another who tell me that by not preparing is to prepare to failure. Both are unaware of my predicament.

I suppose for many, life is always full of challenges. And I quickly snap out of my self-pity mode and decide to face this challenge gladly. I have read about a cancer survivor that her motivation to fight cancer tenaciously, is not to dwell on the dark days but to think about the joy of tomorrow. I choose to believe that everything in life happens for a purpose. This is a test for me and when it's over I will be more capable. Tomorrow will be better because I work towards it.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

P's Latest Essay

Kelvin's New Shoes
Last Saturday, Kelvin had a very big surprise. His doting uncle bought him a pair of school shoes. Kelvin loved his new big shoes very much. The next day, he wore his shoes to school.

Kelvin walked to school happily. He wanted to show his new shoes to his best friend, Clevan. While he was walking, he saw Airair. She was carrying a stack of books. She did not see Kelvin. She stepped on Kelvin's new shoes!!!!! Kelvin was upset that his new shoes were dirty. Airair was embarrassed!

Soon, it was recess. Kelvin went to the drinks stall. He stepped on some sauce. He slipped and fell. He felt embarrassed. His shoes were dirtier.

After school, Kelvin walked home. He was upset that his new shoes were very dirty. Suddenly, a car drove passed and splashed water all over Kelvin and his new shoes. Poor Kelvin, he was all wet. It was a very, very, very bad day.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

How to Write Well

Yesterday, I was having a casual conversation with my hubby in the car. I was sharing with him that P has been progressing real well in English. Not just in terms of writing, he is also more confident and able to express himself adding color to his speech.

The conversation trailed to my own writing journey. I wasn't an English person in my formal education. On the contrary, my English department was actually weak, that was precisely why I took the easy way out to major in Mathematics in varsity. Hey, no words but numbers and symbols - that was my escapee from writing.

It was only in the recent few years that I developed a passion for writing. Below detailed three simple steps, which I have been dutifully following as in a ritual.

Step 1: Set up a Writing Bank. Start with work areas. Make time to deposit into a writing bank, eg. allocating an hour or two each week. Just like we deposit money in the bank, we should also have a writing bank where we deposit good pieces of article where we can learn from.

Slowly progressing to other areas. For myself, I am now into creative writing. As I read more, I learn about using fairytale to spice up short articles. We could also use fable to add punch to a piece of creative writing.

Step 2: Create Thinking Time. I cannot understate the importance of keeping one's body in tip-top condition. The mind and body are very much interwined. So, get into your sports attire, start an exercise regime and keep it up. Have a little notebook around to jot down ideas which flash across your mind.

Step 3: Make Time to Write. Set clear and well-defined goals and work consistently towards achieving them. Practice makes perfect. If one is no good in a particular area, there must be greater impetus to do more. By practising, your brain neurons will make more connections and you will inevitably become a better writer.