By James Chow

Protected: New Project in Maxis

Since the beginning of last month, I have been working on a new project with Maxis.

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I was all really sudden as I was only given two-days notice for the start of this new project. I was informed on Thursday that I was needed in Maxis, by the end of Friday I had transferred most of my work to my colleagues, and on Saturday I was already in our head office attending a briefing on the new project.

It was bittersweet having to leave my previous project and all the awesome people that I have worked with. But it’s time to move on to new challenges.  

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Since last month, I have been working on a project to improve the customer shopping journey and experience in all Maxis outlets and dealers nationwide. Naturally, I won’t discuss details here but suffice to say that since this is a brand new project, expectations are pretty high.

I have been working in Maxis’ two offices in KL Sentral and KLCC. My office is in the KL Sentral building but I have to commute almost daily to KLCC to meet up with clients who are based over there.

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With the project’s strategic importance to our company, it is important that we do this right and exceed expectations. Expectedly, working hours are a pretty bad but it is something that I have gotten used to in this industry.

Car parking charges around the area are exorbitant too. The KL Sentral and KLCC areas charge RM4 per hour for parking. Now multiply that by 10-12 hours per day and you’ll be paying up to RM800 per month for parking alone!

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My team over here is pretty awesome! My manager is very friendly and responsible, and my team lead (who was also from my previous project but a different team) is one of the best in the area of our work. The other team members are also a cool bunch.

I quickly realize that I have grown from a junior analyst to a mid-senior analyst, with more responsibilities and higher expectations from my superiors. This was made clear to me on my first day at work.

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Work aside, I have been trying to bring some of the cheerfulness in my previous team into this one by organizing team dinners and occasional outings for the team.

Fortunately, our senior management has – so far – been sporting enough to attend them!

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Since I can’t talk much about my project, let me talk about Toastmasters! With the help of several dedicated Accenture colleagues in several different projects, we managed to charter an official Accenture in-house Toastmasters Club!

Not only have  we gotten approval to extend professional membership claims to our Toastmasters membership dues, we even got our Country Managing Director to attend and say a few words before the start of our first meeting!

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As one of the founding excos of the club, we have been trying very hard to beef up the membership of our club, but it has proven to be an uphill task.

Accenture being a consulting firm means that a vast majority of its employees work as consultants in client offices around the country and abroad – not in the head office.

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And given our working hours, it is very difficult to persuade people to return to the head office during the evening rush hour, after a tiring day of work, to attend a Toastmasters meeting.

Compared to a student club, I had always thought that it was easier to manage a corporate club where members are encouraged by the company to join with membership fees reimbursement and free dinners. It is now proving to be a much bigger challenge…

Gotta try harder!

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By James Chow

Protected: Bought My First Home!

Yay officially a homeowner!

I have moved into my new apartment in KL for a month now and it’s great!

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After a few months of intense surveying and property viewings, I finally paid my 10% deposit, obtained a mortgage, hired a lawyer, and signed my first sales and purchase agreement to a property!

At an all-in price of half-a-million ringgit for a two room apartment, it is a bit pricey but it does fulfil (almost) all of my requirements for a new home!

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Let’s look at them one-by-one:

1) Location

Since it is all about location, location, location, I knew that I had to get a KL address – not Selangor – but KL proper. I chose the vibrant area of Damansara Heights. Located between the KL city centre and the satellite city of PJ, my neighborhood borders Bangsar to the south, TTDI to the west, Mont Kiara to the north, and the city centre to the east. I get to enjoy the neighbourhood’s unique tranquil greenery while having the country’s top nightspots as neighbours!

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Just five minutes’ drive away from the KL central station and fifteen minutes from the city centre means I have easy access to my future workplaces. Also, my apartment is within 500m of an upcoming MRT station and the HELP university college main campus.

Less than 2km away is the Damansara Heights business district and the upcoming RM3 billion redevelopment of Pusat Bandar Damansara. I like the present and future prospect of this place.

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2) Property type

I always wanted my first property in KL to be of condominium type, not landed. Firstly because landed properties are so damn expensive in KL and the reasonable ones are like miles and miles away from the city centre.

Secondly, I wanted to enjoy condo facilities and security. My condo has a gym, swimming pool, sauna, barbeque area, conference room, restaurants and convenient store all in the building. There is also a 3-tier access card security system for both residents and vehicles entering the building and loads of security guards on patrol. I love these and I feel safe.

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3) Property size

As a bachelor, I looked specifically for a two-bedroom apartment that was around 1000 sq. ft. and I daresay this significantly narrowed my options. There were simply not that many two-bedroom apartments in KL and most were either studio apartments or very family-oriented (three-bedroom or more) ones.

I did not want to buy a three-bedroom apartment or larger as I am simply to lazy to clean and maintain it. I will be buying another house a few years later before I get married anyway and all I need for now is a bachelor’s hideout for parties and a nice place to host friends.  This one fits the bill perfectly – one master bedroom and a guest room for me to rent out to someone I like… for company!

Guest Room

4) Apartment design and furnishing

This is the part that I like the most. This was no ordinary apartment design with cubic spaces and rooms. It has a very unique and creative design of living spaces. I love the long hallway between the entrance and the living room, giving me ample space to hang paintings and build bookshelves. There was also a balcony facing a lush green hill behind my apartment with the KLCC and KL Tower protruding brightly above the trees.

In addition, there was also a semi-outdoor ‘garden’ area that I still have no idea what to do with. And to cap it all, the unit was fully furnished – everything in the kitchen, dining room, living room, bedrooms and bathrooms are all fully furnished. I even got my very own bathtub. Smile

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I should also mention that the apartment building is hotel-styled with bright air-conditioned lobby and corridors, nicely decorated public areas and lift lobbies, and soft jazz music being played constantly on around the building. Security is also excellent with many CCTVs everywhere and guards patrolling the corridors 24-hours a day.

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Obviously, I got some help from my family and my brother contributed half of the payment deposit. I definitely feel that I got a great bargain as prices for a unit like mine (top floor, facing the hill / KLCC) are already selling for much higher than RM500k this month.

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I spent the last month shopping for furniture in IKEA and other stores and got myself a nice 50’’ LED TV (time for a PS4?), leather sofa, curtains and a washing machine. I also got a contractor in to do some minor enhancements and now everything is perfect!

Now I’ll just enjoy having the apartment all to myself before I start looking for a flatmate!

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By James Chow

Protected: Ephesus, Turkey

So after Istanbul, we decided to pay a visit to ancient Greek city of Ephesus.

The land of the legendary Temple of Artemis, the apostles John and Paul, as well as the biblical book of Ephesians!

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Getting to Ephesus was no small feat. We had to fly southwest from Istanbul to the Aegean coastal city of Izmir, take a coach to the town of Selcuk, and then bike our way further southwest in search of the ruins of Ephesus.

With the assistance of our incredible host Rifat, we bought our flight tickets less than 48 hours before the flight. Onur Air was a new startup airline whose planes were brand new and the price was very reasonable!   

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We stayed in this small ‘antique’ hotel in central Selcuk whose friendly owners provided us with delicious breakfasts on their very own rooftop terrace!

The hotel, like most others in the city, also provided tours to Ephesus and tried to persuade us to sign up. We, however, politely declined as we had planned to seek out the place ourselves!

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We rented a bike at a local bike store and set out to explore the ruins ourselves. The site was several kilometres south west of Selcuk and not that difficult to find when guided by Google maps.

On the way to Ephesus we also found the ruins of the legendary Temple of Artemis, one of the official seven ancient wonders of the world!

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With nothing more than a couple of fragmented foundation columns remaining of the original temple, this was nonetheless the site of perhaps the single most famous temple in ancient Anatolia. Even the Bible mentioned it a few times in the Book of Acts:

… Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence. When they heard this and were filled with rage, they began crying out, saying, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” … After quieting the crowd, the town clerk said, “Men of Ephesus, what man is there after all who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of the image which fell down from heaven?

Acts 19: 27-28, 35

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This is actually the first of the seven ancient wonders that I have visited. Come to think of it, that’s already 33% complete, as only two other ancient wonders are still existing in some form – the Great Pyramids of Giza (still standing in all its splendour) and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (like the Temple of Artemis, only fragments of its foundation remain).

The Status of Zeus at Olympia, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Colossus of Rhodes and Lighthouse of Alexandria are all gone without a trace today. Sad smile

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Anyway, visiting the ruins of the Temple of Artemis was still very awesome. The fact that it was located in a hidden spot off the road with barely any touristy features (no guards, no entrance fees, no fences, no lights, no guided tours, no souvenir shops, no paved footpaths). The only thing that gave any indication that this was not some abandoned construction site in the middle of nowhere was a simple sign declaring that this was the Temple of Artemis.

We had to bike through a dirt path to find the site and chain our bicycles to a tree. There were less than ten visitors in the site and I found it very remarkable that such a famous site could still be so… wild.

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Before reaching the main site of Ephesus, we side tracked a little to visit the Cave of the Seven Sleepers, which was up on a small hill nearby.

According to Christian and Islamic legend, seven youths were persecuted by the Roman emperor for their faith and was imprisoned in a sealed cave outside Ephesus to die. These youths fell asleep in the cave and apparently woke up centuries later to find that there was a different king on the throne.

These caves were purportedly the very ones in which the miracle had happened almost two millennia ago!

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Our bicycles could not ascend the hill and we had to hike briefly for the remaining way. It was a warm afternoon but the cool breeze on the hill was very welcoming.

I am not an archaeological aficionado. The caves, while fascinating, did not impress me as much as the view back looking back to the town. With the magnificent Selcuk Castle set on a hill between the green meadows in foreground and mighty mountains in the back, this looked like a scene from way back in time. 

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Further up on the Mt. Koressos was a small house, barely visible from below.

This shrine was a major site of pilgrimage for Catholics as this was the purported house where the Virgin Mary was brought to by the apostle John and in which she spent her last years!

It was a further few kilometres’ hike uphill and we decided to abandon that and return downhill to the main site of Ephesus. We could come back for that some other day.

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To those who are planning a visit to this Ephesus, I strongly recommend that you do not take a tour in which you sit in an air-conditioned van and be chauffeured around the area.

Put on a t-shirt and track pants and roam the vicinity yourself, as we did! Smile The roads are pretty safe and well-maintained, and the sense of exploring an area that has thousands of years of important history is awesome.

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Besides, the climate was very suited for getting some exercise – whether jogging or biking. There was ample sunshine and a comfortable breeze most of the time from the vast open meadows and hills. The scenery was stunning and could not be properly enjoyed from within the confines of a tourist van.

Besides, exploring the place on your own allows you to stop anytime, anywhere!

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Unlike the Temple of Artemis, the Ephesus archaeological site was very well maintained, signed and protected by local authorities. There was an entrance charge of 30TL and the site could only be visited by foot, so we had to leave our bikes at the entrance.

The ancient Greek city that later became the capital of Roman Asia was teemed with breath-taking ruins – like the Great Theatre of Ephesus! With a seating capacity of 25,000, it was larger than the O2 Arena in London.

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We could access the theatre and climb up the stone stairs, giving a sense of what it felt to be siting here thousands of years ago watching gladiator fights and whatever town event happening during that time.

I’m not a very biblical person, but I have to mention that the apostle Paul once preached in this very theatre in the 1st century AD, and this was where he inadvertently triggered a riot when he preached against worshipping Artemis:

Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.

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The ‘theater’ mentioned… is here. And I’m standing in it!

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But perhaps the most recognisable landmark in Ephesus was the Library of Celsus.

With its magnificent two-storey facade featuring four female statues Sophia (wisdom), Ennoia (judgment), Arete (goodness) and Episteme (knowledge) – representing the qualities of human character.

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The library was built in honour of Celsus, who was a Roman senator and governor of Ephesus. He was buried beneath the library.

The library was fully accessible and there were signs here and there describing the history behind it all. The inside of the library (or what was left was it) was actually quite small and I’m sure the original had been much bigger. This was the single most touristy site in Ephesus, and tour groups generally stopped here longer.

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We loitered in the shades of the facade for a rather long time, listening to our audio guide and generally watching the visitors come and go, as well as their reaction to the magnificence in front of them.

There was also a sweet couple taking their wedding photos there with a small camera crew!

The Great Theatre and the Library of Celsus were perhaps the two largest and most eye-catching monuments in the site, but the rest of it was equally as amazing!

The walkways in the site were paved with stone. Together with the ruined stone structures on either side of the path, the site radiates an aura of mystery, authority and glory of a classical powerhouse. This was the most complete classical metropolis to be unearthed in Europe, and there are still several times more of what is now unearthed, still buried underground!

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With countless fountains, baths, terraces, temples, arches and statues dedicated to various roman gods and emperors, this place was an archaeological playground. If I were an archaeologist, I would really love to work here as there are so many secrets, so much history, hidden underneath these stones!

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I will let the photos do the talking from now on. Smile

Fountain of Trajan:

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Fountain of Pollio:

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Memmius Monument:

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Hercules Gate:

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The Basilica:

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Wandering through these ruins made me feel like I was in some kind of video game. Searching for treasures and clues to find the tomb of an ancient evil serpent king called Tal Rasha or something.

I know he is here. Because I could literally find snakes on the ground. Really.

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After spending an entire day at the archaeological site, we cycled back to Selcuk before sundown.

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Although this entry is dedicated to the Ephesus archaeological site, the beautiful town of Selcuk deserves more than just a quick mention.

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When not in at the Ephesus ruins, we spent our time exploring the town. It was a rather small town and we stayed at the main street.

The town offered lots of small stores selling local produce and souvenirs. We actually spent a long time chatting with a very nice lamp trader who told us about everything from the start of his business to the challenges he’s facing now. There were also lots of bars, restaurants and cafes serving excellent Lahmachun and fresh Ayran.

There was a Roman aqueduct in town centre. Love how these things pop out of nowhere! Smile

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The most formidable attraction in the town was no doubt the Ayasoluk Castle. A Byzantine then Ottoman fortress, this building was built 15 centuries ago.

If I were an invading solider, just looking at the citadel with scores of archers and burning oil makes me want to give up breaching those walls.

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But we persevered! We marched up the hill, narrowly avoiding arrow fire…

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… and stormed the keep!

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Nah… the castle was closed to public for excavation works Sad smile

Nonetheless, we visited the other, equally impressive ruined structure in town – the 6th century Basalica of St. John!

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Laying on top of a small hill right next to our hotel, the basilica neighbours the 14th century Isa Bey Mosque. The mosque showcased fine Turkish architecture and unlike its Byzantine-built neighbour, did not lay in ruins.

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The Basilica of St. John, while in ruins, was still very beautiful. With a nice stone footpath flanked with flowers and bushes, the ruins of the Basilica were a contrast to the barren desert-like ruins in Ephesus.

Even the cloudy morning weather did not fail to make the site any less tranquil!

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Looking back from the an elevated area, the columns from the ruined basilica made the area look like an abandoned factory.

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But what made this place really profound was the fact that, the basilica being called the Basilica of St. John, was because it was built on the tomb of the apostle John!

After writing the biblical book of Revelations in exile in the Isle of Patmos, St Johnreturned to Ephesus where he died.

And here is his tomb.

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Some accounts say that he did not actually die, but was brought straight up to heaven. There was even a legend that says that St John is not dead, but was only sleeping in his tomb under this very basilica.

According to the legend, every time St. John breathes in his tomb, the dust on the surface becomes holy. According to Wikipedia, even St. Augustine was aware of this and on every 8th May, pilgrims came to the tomb and collected the dust which was apparently able to cure the sick and even calm storms on sea!

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There were not many tourists in the site, perhaps due to the fact that it was early morning when we visited.

We found the basilica’s baptistery when it started raining a little. I could not resist stepping into the baptistery (which was allowed) and letting the mild rain splash on my face.

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I was baptised in the Basilica of St. John, next to the tomb of the apostle himself. Beat that. Smile

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Before I end this entry, let me just mention that Selcuk was home to A LOT OF STORKS.

I don’t know why but they were everywhere! And we loved it! On almost every single structure with a high column or pinnacle, there was a stork nest. This was on the Roman aqueducts:

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Even flag posts and street lamp posts had stork nests on them.

Now imagine you are a stork, and you met a young, pretty stork chick, and she asks:

“Hey, I live on the 8th lamp post on main street. Where do you stay?”

And you are able to answer:

“Oh me? I live on the Temple of Artemis.”

DAYUM.

Only one stork at a time can say that… and here is the lucky bastard:

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I see he has no problems getting company in his nest.

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