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.

- 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 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.