By James Chow

Protected: New Gym, Old Job

In my student days, I rarely went to the gym. I played sports, yes but never really bothered with working out in a gym. This was the skinny me taken on a cruise ship in Sweden a few years ago back in my student days:

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Then when I started working early last year, I realized that everyone, literally every one, had a gym membership. I then remembered that my company Accenture sponsors gym memberships for any employee who bothers to get one, so I started with True Fitness @ Jaya 33 back then.

Many of my friends are gym freaks who bring protein shakes and stuff to work. I guess it does make sense – there are public occasions where you want to look good without clothes on… e.g. at the beach.

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After I signed up a membership and started going once a week (ridiculously infrequent according to my dumbbell-hugging friends). I chose True Fitness because Wei was a member there and was able to get me a discount!

True Fitness was pretty awesome, with its own swimming pool, ample facilities and lessons of any type, and the fact that I went to the outlet in Jaya 33 meant the people were more down to earth gym-goers than egoistic show-off’ers.

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But since I bought an apartment in Damansara Heights and started a new project with Maxis, I started finding travelling to Jaya 33 a hassle. I only go to the gym during weekdays and found travelling to SS2 during rush hour a pain.

So last month I cancelled my True Fitness membership and signed up at Celebrity Fitness Midvalley branch with Steffen. It turned out that both Accenture and PwC (where Steffen works) have got special corporate rates at Celebrity!

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Midvalley is much more convenient for me because the Accenture head office is in the Gardens North Tower anyway. And since both Steffen and I have offices in KL Sentral, this was the perfect choice!

We’ve been hitting the gym more frequently lately and I found out that a lot of Accenture folks are members of this gym as well!

We got an even better news last week when a new outlet opened in Nu Sentral and that means I can literally walk to the gym from my office, workout, take a shower, and get back to the office (if I want to) Smile

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Let’s see if I can sustain this momentum. The problem with gym memberships getting paid for by your company is that you do not feel the financial pinch when you skip trainings. Smile with tongue out

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I’ve been really busy with work lately.

My project is approaching the end of its first phase and I have been sitting with my clients every day for the last couple of weeks and will continue to do so for the next few.

As usual I can’t comment much about my work but I can say that we are at a rather critical phase where I need to obtain signoff from my clients in the next few weeks or suffer a pretty serious setback.

The entire team has literally been working around the clock in shifts to get things done. I fortunately only have to be in the office during the day as my responsibility is with the clients, but I nonetheless stay back in the office till midnight almost daily due to the sheer amount of work to be done. Having to commute between our offices in KL Sentral and KLCC daily doesn’t help either.

I really enjoy my time with the clients, hectic and stressful as it may be. My clients (or at least those that I work closely with) are incredibly awesome people whom I get along really well. We chat and joke a lot and it does pretty well to diffuse the stress.

Some of my colleagues working on more technical tasks have simply been silently slaving away at the back (we jokingly call them elves), but I must say, they are the ones producing the final deliverable to our clients, and they are the true unsung heroes. A couple of my colleagues actually worked 52 hours in a row!

I have been attending quite a number of high level meetings, some involving C-level executives from out client’s side. Our managing director has also been coming in almost daily, helping out with directional work, attending meetings and handling escalations.

Fortunately, Accenture is really good in dealing with sticky situations, and we have had a lot of help from many additional resources that our top management has brought in.

I am quite fortunate that my team and clients are really awesome people. This job would have been a lot harder if either of them were not.

Fingers crossed for signoff before the end of December! Then we’ll all have a great new year!

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By James Chow

Protected: Henrike’s Visit

My roomie Steffen’s sister came to visit last week and stayed over for a week!

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Still in college, Henrike took a week off to fly all the way to Malaysia to see if his brother’s landlord had been mistreating him.

… of course not! She came to visit his brother and check out the wonderful tropical country of Malaysia! Smile We were glad to have her here.

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Steffen and I had to work during weekdays so Henrike stayed in our apartment during daytime and occasionally coming to our office to grab a Starbucks with us in the afternoon.

In the evening, our activities naturally included Steffen’s latest favourite activity of shisha-ing and a few drinks at Skybar.

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The siblings also took a quick trip to Bali before Henrike’s flight back to Germany!

I would love to have gone with them but unfortunately that was really not a good time for me to take weekdays off work. Sad smile

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Henrike is very eager to visit Bangkok and we said that if Steffen and I were going, she would fly all the way over to join us!

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Earlier this month, I attended a Les Miserables screening at the KL Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC). It had been so long since I last watched the stage musical and I was eager to relive some of the awesome songs.

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I had written a super long commentary on the movie in which I have ranted on the things that I loved and hated about the movie. I will not comment anymore on that. Smile

After the screening, there was a lengthy discussion on the novel/movie by Paul Loosley, in which he shared interesting insights and detailed background information on the original Victor Hugo novel and the production of the movie. Lovely afternoon indeed.

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Yesterday, Ariadne, Tee and I finally managed to stick to our earlier plan to visit the one place in KL that most locals do not visit – the National Zoo.

Naturally, the only reason for our visit was the addition of the two super adorable Giant Pandas from China – Fu Wa and Feng Yi – to the Malaysian zoo family!

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Being precious tokens of diplomacy, the pandas had an entire building to their own. The interior was specifically designed to match their habitat in China, with panda specialists watching over their well-being around the clock with special clinics, labs and other panda facilities built right within the building. Only a limited amount of visitor were allowed in the facility at any one time and no flash photography was allowed.

The female Feng Yi (above) was a lot more energetic and was walking around the area non-stop. Fu Wa, on the other hand, was lazing around the entire time that I was in the building and ignored the people around him. 

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Of course, since we were here, we checked out the rest of the animals as well! After all, the last time that any of us had been to the Zoo Negara was during childhood!

Compared to what I can remember of it, the zoo was surprisingly well-maintained and the animals seemed quite comfortable in their enclosures. The areas were also well designed and sign-boarded.

Just gonna leave some animal pics here!

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As if to ensure that we ended our visit to the zoo in the most tropical manner possible, there was a sudden and huge downpour at the end of the visit. Without umbrellas, we literally sprinted towards the exit in the rain.

This was no normal rain. The volume of water was so immense that it felt like I was standing under a dam that had just been opened. As I reached my car, I was completely and utterly drenched.

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We stopped by a McDonalds for some nuggets and hot porridge. You may not be able to tell from the picture above but my t-shirt and jeans were completely soaked. Like literally dripping water onto the ground.

I really do love, but sometimes loathe, the tropics.

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By James Chow

Protected: Langkawi Island, Malaysia

My country is blessed with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It is a sin to be sitting in the office every day and not spending some good time in the sun. 

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I would also like to introduce someone in this entry. But first – why Langkawi Island?

It has been ages since I last came here. I visited Langkawi when I was a kid – so young that the only memory that I have is a souvenir item of a balancing bird in the shape of an eagle which we had bought. Smile

The eagle, of course, is the symbol of Langkawi and forms part of its name – heLANG (eagle) + batu KAWI (a type of brown stone).

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Langkawi Island is far up north in the state of Kedah. When I was little, we had to drive all the way up to the northern border of the country and then take a 2-3 hour ferry ride to the island.

But ain’t nobody got the time for that nowadays. A direct flight from KL takes barely an hour and leave you more time for the beaches! Open-mouthed smile

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Now, to reveal my travel companions.

Obviously, Wei is one of the two other people on this trip with me. In fact, it is thanks to Wei that we (again) got an incredible beachside chalet to stay at an unbelievable price. More about that later.

But I’d like to introduce my new housemate – Steffen!

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Steffen is the first to rent the guest room in my new apartment. He first contacted me when he was still studying in Germany and I arranged for his arrival on Merdeka Day. He is now working in PwC Malaysia as an intern.

In fact, chance has it that the PwC Malaysia head office is literally across the street from my client’s office in Maxis! Steffen will be staying with me for at least the next six months until the end of his internship.

Steffen is a really nice guy and we have been hanging out frequently. He is also very eager to visit other places in Malaysia… so here we were!

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It is rather a universal question for Steffen wherever he goes: “why PwC Malaysia?”

Well, PwC is because his dad is a partner in PwC Germany. And why Malaysia… Well, I don’t really know, and neither does he! Rolling on the floor laughing I mean, there are dozens of countries in Europe and North America with PwC offices and great internship opportunities.

At least you can be sure that one of the reasons is that here we are a tropical paradise, with yearlong sunshine, pristine beaches, exotic food and awesome people!

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I had been wanting to get away from work for a while now. Since moving to the Maxis project in July, work has been extremely stressful.

My company is committed to deliver exceptional value to its clients, and Maxis is a strategically important client. I’ll say no more than that but suffice to say there is a lot of pressure on the entire team to exceed expectations.

So this long weekend getaway to Langkawi was my opportunity to temporarily forget about work, enjoy the white sandy beach, and savour the sensation of warm waves gently lapping on my feet!

We spent the first day relaxing and doing very little. After checking in to our chalet, we spent most of the time chilling in our house and hanging out at our very own beach just a few steps from our door.

On the second day, we signed up for a boat tour to several islands around the area. Langkawi is a collection of many islets accessible only by small boats. So early in the morning, the operator picked us up from our chalet and brought us to this small dock to board our boat.

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We had to wait for some thirty minutes for the high tide before the boats could leave the dock.

When we finally departed, our small motor-powered boat sped away from the main island with a few other tour members. Our boat driver, while a very friendly chap, was on steroids. We zig-zagging on the water at top speed, making sharp turns at harrowing distances from cliffs, and splashing water into the boat like nobody’s business. Disappointed smile

The boat tour followed a very typical island-hopping itinerary. We were first brought to Pulau Dayang Bunting (Pregnant Maiden Island), where we took a brief trek into the island to find the famed Lake of the Pregnant Maiden.

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This tropical freshwater lake lies in a valley on the island. The name comes from the formation of mountains around which resemble a pregnant lady. Our boatman had dutifully pointed that out when we passed by the said view.

By the shore of the lake was a wooden platform for people to sit and enjoy the view as well as to take a swim. There were also paddle boats and canoes for rent.

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According to local legend of Mambang Sari, an angel princess had once conceived a mortal child who died and was buried in the lake. She then blessed the pristine water in the lake with magical qualities which could help women in getting pregnant.

Hmm… Not exactly the kind of magic that we want to happen to us right now. I don't know smile But the clear water and surrounding tropical scenery was so beautiful that we dived in for a dip nonetheless. Let’s hope the legend is false or we’re screwed.

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Also noteworthy is the wildlife on the island. There were scores of wild, thieving… no, gangster monkeys roaming the island.

If you are wearing a hat, sunglasses, or worse… carrying food in your hand, you are in for daylight robbery. These monkeys do not fear humans, and you are expected to fear them. These playful animals are known for snatching plastic bags and food from visitors!

We also got to witness a minor battle between a family of monkeys and a monitor lizard!

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Next up, we stopped by Pulau Singa Besar (Big Lion Island) to watch an eagle feeding session. Chicken skin and meat were scattered on the water and the island’s famous preying birds swooped in for lunch!

It was quite an amazing sight as eagle are, well… not that common in Malaysia. Our boatman also gave us a knowledgeable account on the birds, their diet, numbers and behaviour.

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Third and finally, we arrived on Pulau Beras Basah (Wet Rice Island), a beautiful island with white sandy beach.

We found ourselves a nice private area and just soaked up the sunshine and enjoyed the ocean breeze. The sun was up and the sand was warm – it was an awesome feeling. Smile

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There were quite a number of tourists on the beach but not excessively many. It was a typical tropical beach: with coconut trees providing much needed shade from the scorching afternoon sun, holidaymakers doing beach sports, couples sunbathing on the sand, and blue sea water with islands dotted in the horizon.

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After spending some time on the beach, we hit the water!

The waves were relatively strong, and the deeper into the sea we went, the more frequent we got swept under. It was all good fun. Winking smile

There was a time when we took out the camera and took random pictures of each other getting swarmed by waves. Steffen got this glorious splash shot:

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Wei looked like she’d been hit by a sniper rifle, but still a pretty awesome shot:

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The photos above were awesome because I took them. Smile with tongue out And I timed them nicely and precisely.

See this is what happens when the camera is not handled by a pro Nyah-Nyah:

I did not even know that someone was taking photos. I was trying to sit on shallow water and the only picture that dear Steffen took of me in waves was this “O Lord why hast thou forsaken me” shot of me before getting washed over.

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Not glorious.

After getting back to our chalet and catching a brief rest, we decided that we hadn’t had enough beach and we returned to the beach near to our place for a second round!

We had wanted to do some parasailing but cancelled it because the operator was charging a fortune for it (probably because we looked bloody like tourists). We did have great fun fooling around in the water again!

A quick mention about our chalet:

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It was a traditional 3-bedroom wooden Malay-style house facing the sea and I absolutely loved it. It was located near the touristy Cenang Beach area but accessible via a small dirt path off the main road. It would have been pretty scary walking home via that dirt path at night but fortunately we rented a car for the duration of our stay.

Check out the interior! With full kitchen facilities and satellite television, it was a really cosy place to stay.

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And probably the best thing about the house was it’s huge, spacious balcony facing the sea. It was very relaxing sitting there in the morning watching the sun rise or enjoying a beer at night taking in the cool ocean breeze.

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Of course, we did not spend all three days just chilling at the beach! There were also other attractions in Langkawi, like the Underwater World aquarium.

I had been to the Underwater World when I was very young, and I have some vague memories of standing in an underwater tunnel watching sharks and sea turtles swimming above me.

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The aquariums were huge and surrounded the visitor footpath in every direction. We were lucky to witness a feeding session in which a diver brought food into the aquarium and getting swarmed by fish getting a piece of lunch!

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I have always loved the ocean and I dream of buying a yacht in the future and just spend my days floating on deep sea, fishing, diving and just enjoying a martini at night.

Tropical nature lovers usually categorize themselves into three types: you are either a sea guy, forest guy, or mountain guy. I think I am definitely a sea guy. Smile

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That’s why I always loved visiting aquariums, and the Lisbon Oceanarium is the most impressive that I have visited so far. Smile

So naturally, I was very excited to be in Langkawi’s underwater world! I think I was just as excited as the kids running around marvelling at the penguins, seals and mesmerizing jellyfish in their splendour.

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We also took a quick visit to the Oriental Village on the foot of the mighty Mt. Mat Chinchang. There was a SkyCab cable car service to the top of the mountain where you could check out the famous SkyBridge, a hanging bridge over the mountains with a spectacular view of the islands and surrounding area.

Unfortunately, the weather was not so good that morning and the SkyBridge was not in operation. Even the cable cars seem to be heading towards a very misty peak that didn’t look like majestic views were part of the journey.

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So we just loitered around the Oriental Village, which was supposed to be an Asian-themed village catering specifically to tourists.

There were loads of shops selling all sorts of souvenirs, apparel and stuff that tourists might buy. The shops were arranged to surround a very murky-watered man-made lake.

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Apart from tourist-oriented shopping, there were also snake charmers, elephant rides, street performers and all sorts of stuff that, again, would appeal very much to the foreign tourist.

This snake charmer doesn’t look impressed that I was taking a photo of his precious snake.

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Naturally, we grew bored of the village pretty soon. And so we found a place to have lunch – German food!

The shop was run by a German-looking lady who also worked in the kitchen. But the verdict from Steffen was that this was not quite authentic. Chief of all due to the fact that there was no pork in everything – sausages, burgers etc.! 

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Of course, being on a Malaysian island, we had to have some good old Chinese seafood! This was a big adventure for Steffen, who had just arrived in Malaysia for a few weeks and had not grown accustomed to the very… peculiar local dishes. Smile

This was the first time Steffen tried clams, prawns, and his greatest achievement of all – crabs.

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It was quite hilarious watching Steffen poke the crab pincers as thought to check if it was still alive. In the end, he managed to eat everything, and he even liked the crabs!

Look at his proud face. We are all proud of him. Smile Durian is next. Vampire bat

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Of course, one more thing that we did quite frequently in Langkawi was shopping! This was a duty-free island for heaven’s sake! Bottled Carlsberg was being sold at RM2 per bottle! Jeez.

Apart from beer, the chocolate, liquor and cigarettes were also extremely cheap. Where in Malaysia can you buy an individual pack (not a carton) of cigarettes for RM7 in any store on the street?

We went shopping on all three days, with Wei sweeping up her stock on our last night!

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So that was my Langkawi trip last week! It was a very relaxing getaway and it felt great to take my head off work for a few days.

But more than that, I had wonderful company with me and as Malaysia Airlines say in their well-advertised slogan: Journeys are made by the people you travel with.

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Bye!

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