Merchant’s Lane, KL

Merchant’s Lane has been a popular haunt for local hipsters since it first opened a couple of years ago. I went there for the first time in 2015, and I wasn’t impressed by the limited brunch selection and the lacklustre quality (I still remember how dry the salmon that I ordered tasted).

Yesterday I decided to give the place another go for brunch. The place still looks as charming as the first time I saw it, and the menu has improved significantly. There are now more items to choose from, ranging from the classic big breakfast to the rendang fusion pasta.

The restaurant’s interior is tastefully designed to preserve the charming features of the traditional Chinese shophouse that it occupies. The main dining hall is spacious, with a vaulted ceiling and a thin sunroof pane that allows ample natural light to come in. Antique decorations, bottles and old cans decorate the clean, empty walls, and little flowers provide some colours to the space. Outside the air-conditioned dining hall is the inner courtyard, which is sheltered from the scorching heat by a large shady tree.

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The food has improved substantially since I last went there. I ordered a beef burger set (RM24), which is served with satay (peanut) sauce dressing. The patty is fairly tender, and the charcoal bun is nicely toasted. My friend ordered a rice dish that comes with a large fried chicken (RM22) – and it’s pretty delicious too. We washed down our meals with a refreshing cold-pressed juice each (RM15).

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Verdict:

While the brunch selection has improved tremendously since I last went, it still falls short compared to the likes of Tray, Birch and Yeast. Merchant’s Lane biggest draw is still the superb interior aesthetics and the charming, Straits Chinese ambiance. It’s a perfect place for photo taking with some highly Instagrammable walls – including a rattan swing, which is a hit amongst the shutterbugs (yours truly included). Merchant’s Lane location in Chinatown further adds to its intrigue; it’s nice to spend some time at the historic quarter of town, away from the predictable scenes in Bangsar and Bukit Bintang.

Of darkness and light

Nights make us miss days.
Days make us miss nights.
The glaring sun makes us miss the calming full moon.
The soft hue of moonlight makes us miss the joyful frenzy of a sunny day.
Persian rugs, with its explosion of vivid colours make us miss the monochromatic Swedish mat.
The grey IKEA chair makes us miss the ornate Turkish divan from grandma’s home.

What is life but a series of darkness alternating with vivid, bright spectrums of light?
And darkness is not always bad, nor is light.

My first snow experience

Tell me of that particular first time experience that you would like to go through again.

I want to go back to the day I saw my first snow. I was 20 at that time, it was a chilly November in Seoul. It also happened to be my first solo trip ever – I planned to go there with my friend over our summer break, but he had to bail out last minute for a completely legitimate reason (but Pau, I must say I’m still salty over this lol).

I remember running around the palace courtyard like a child. The snow wasn’t particularly thick, and it melted after a couple of hours just before noon, but the very sight of the snow-covered traditional Korean palace roofs truly warmed my heart.

I felt like a child, I felt alive.

My first snow experience!
That was me, 8 years ago. Notice the hair – if only I knew better!
Of course, the automatic toilet in my room completely caught my attention

However I must admit, my love affair with snow was short-lived; I still remember getting caught in the middle of a blizzard in NYC, and it was not pretty.

But the sight of it, still warms my heart.

The significance of Seoul

My parents have never appreciated travels as much as I do; mom wouldn’t mind going places, but dad hates long-distance flights. It’s something that he does only when he absolutely has to. So I grew up being envious of my friends and classmates who always shared with me their travel stories with their families; They would go to London and bring back some Harrods pencil cases (very much en vogue at that time!).

I didn’t go out of the country that much.

So when I did start travelling, it was a great experience. Traveling alone was an intimidating experience at first, I felt like I was thrown into a different planet where few spoke English, but I ended up having a good time.

I found out that I could be an independent person; it taught me that I could still have a blast, alone.

It taught me that I could do things alone and still have a lot of fun. It taught me to trust strangers, and the people you meet along the way.

I want to go back to that time, when things didn’t seem to be as clearly defined as it is now.

The time of discovery, the time of adventure (peppered with some misadventures sometimes), the time of not having much to lose cause I was 19 anyway.

I’m 28 n0w, and I have a mortgage to pay every month and a job that only allows me 4 weeks of vacations a year*.

Life’s not too shabby nowadays – being adult can be fun too, but of course it’d be nice to go back to 9 years ago, to relive those moments once more.

*I know I shouldn’t complain; some of my friends out there only get 2-3 weeks off a year! :p

Speak soon,

FH

Of Strangers and Social Media

Social media does one thing to us. It gives us awareness of what strangers think of us.

In our everyday lives, we get to choose who get to be in our lives. We pick our friends carefully, and we have a carefully curated list of people that we open up to.

However, with social media, especially with the entrenched culture of bashing and “printscreen”, we get strangers who do not know what our lives are about, and who we actually are as a person, comment on our lives. We may also find some people commenting on our Instagram feed thinking that they will never have to see us in person one day, so evidently, there’s little effort for these strangers to sound nice.

Here’s what I think about this situation. First of all, let’s not be quick to label strangers displaying asshole-ish behaviour online as cyber bullies. Yes, cyber bullying exists, but when it comes to social media, there’s always the option of deactivating our accounts.

If you have no plan of deleting our account anytime soon, here are some thoughts about strangers.

It’s not strangers who pay your bills. It’s not strangers who give you flowers during your birthday. It’s not strangers that you turn to when things don’t go well. It’s certainly not strangers that will carry your coffin to the grave when the day comes.

It is, however, strangers who might mention you out of the blue on Twitter, telling you to “fuck off” or “go to hell” for absolutely no valid reason. It is also strangers who might find little faults in the little things that you say online, without even giving you the space to explain yourselves.

Friends and families don’t do that. And these are the very people that we need to please. Not strangers.

So, speak out all you want online. Be yourself. Be the best version of the person you already are. Let the words of strangers not perturb you in what you do. You do you.

It’s also interesting to note that many of the most vocal people on social media tend to be very quiet in real life. I’m talking about the people who use social media to pick on other people and nitpick. These people tend to be very timid in real life. Social media provides a medium for a lot of closeted assholes to reveal their true colours online.

If they can be themselves online, so do we.

So, speak out. Don’t restrain your thoughts. Let’s be as expressive as we want to be, online or offline.

If one day you find the heat unbearable, deactivate.

The world already has so much to enjoy and to explore, offline.

Speak soon,

FH

Friendship Beyond the “Drifting Away” Stage

Over the years, I crossed paths with many souls.

A little more than 800 of these souls ended up as my Facebook friends, a figure that I have yet to trim (in spite of the intention of doing so many times). Let’s condense this further: Of these Facebook friends, I probably physically met about a few dozen over the past 12 months. I keep regular, or weekly contact with maybe a handful.

This is when the definition of friendship itself gets interesting. How do you define friends? By the loosest definition, all of my Facebook friends are my “friends”. This is obviously putting a very low threshold to friendship.

How about defining friends as the people that I regularly meet over coffee or talk over Whatsapp with? If this is the case, maybe I only end up with having not more than 10 friends.

Well, truth is, there’s no strict definition of what a friendship should be made of.

Personally, I think that I have, over the years, developed the understanding that everyone has a lot of things that they have to deal with every single day. As we morph into different persons and grow out of the former state we were in (humans live in the state of permanent transiency anyway), our priorities shift. We graduate from college and enter the working world, with its new challenges. We shift work place to another company, with its new environment, demands and challenges. Some of us are married, some even have a kid or two to call their own. Our priorities shift.

With the shift of priorities often comes the “drifting away” stage. There’s a group of my friends that I used to meet up with once a week. This turned into once a month. Then once in a couple of months. Then occasionally.

Details aside, does “drifting away” means that one is not keen to keep his friendship? Not necessarily. Again, priorities change, so does the shape and form of the friendship. Because one is often surrounded by changing circumstances, it’s understandable that he would adapt himself to the situation he is in at the moment. This is fact of life. We are all malleable beings.

So to me, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, what really matters is how you keep your friends in your mind. Once you have the idea etched in your mind that someone is worthy of your long-term friendship and connection, nothing, not even time and distance, can ruin the bond that you have with that person. This is how I define friendship nowadays. I don’t need to see you every single week to remind myself that you are dear to me (well, a coffee session wouldn’t hurt, of course, but we live in a busy universe).

I understand if you don’t have as much time to spend with me as we used to.

But I want you to know that once you need me I am here. Once you need to talk, I am here. No awkwardness, no judgment, no patronising remarks, just myself, and my ears, ready to listen to your grouses, ready to say things as they are.

This is what real friendship is, to me. Not something that you need to be reminded of every single time, nor is it something that you need to physically commit to every week. It’s the conscious understanding that whatever happens, you have someone’s back, and someone has yours.

I’ll be here to support you, and that’s for sure.

 

Speak soon,

FH

Been five months!

It’s been close to five months since I last posted something here. Here’s a little summary of what I’ve been up to:

I was unemployed for one month plus. It was nice. I got to wake up at 10 every morning, went to popular brunch spots on on weekdays when tables would be easy to find, read a lot, play Cities: Skylines for hours on long, reconnect with some old friends, spent more time with my parents, met someone special 3 months ago, and of course, travelled spontaneously.

But after a while, I got bored and found myself in need of a larger sense of purpose, so I cut short my break and began job hunting. A couple of weeks into my hunt, I received a decent offer in a PR consulting firm, so I, with no formal PR experience to boot, took the leap of faith and jumped in. Began my new gig in July, and it’s been two eventful months ever since. I must say that I enjoy this job as it involves a lot of writing and public engagement; I love people, so I have no complaint about doing the latter. There are stressful periods, however, and life in the agency isn’t as glamorous as a lot of people think. It involves long hours and a lot of patience, as you have to deal with some really tough nuts to crack sometimes. Challenges notwithstanding, I can see myself being comfortable being in this industry in the long run.

On my travels, I managed to cover a number of places, some of which I had never been to previously. Here’s a map of where I’ve been to since April:

Places I've been to since April

I plan to write about some of my these cities in my subsequent posts. Stay tuned!

Speak soon,

FH

My Personal Regret

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to vilify any party, Petronas included. This is based on my own personal experience. I still have Petronas to thank for whatever contributions they have made for me, especially for the past five years.

 

I would be lying if I told any of you that I didn’t have any regrets about the very decision that I made five years ago. It was the end of 2006. I was in the fifth form, scoring good grades and all. I was excited; with good grades came good scholarship offers et cetera. I applied for a Petronas scholarship and went to the interview. It was called ‘Educamp’, and I had mine at MRSM Kuching. It was fun; we were exposed to Petronas as a corporation, and we were told of the good prospect that we would get once we received a Petronas scholarship. Basically it registered with me that I would be treated very well if I got to be one of their sponsored students. I did my best in the interview, and I think I aced it. I remember that I had to present about the traffic woes in KL and I came up with some ways to tackle the issue. My experience in high school debate helped me a great deal, and I ended up passing the interview.

When I received the offer, I was ecstatic. I thought that that very letter was the very ‘grant’ of my dream. To be honest, studying overseas was, then, my ultimate goal for the next 5 years of my life; I really couldn’t imagine myself studying at one of the local higher education institutions. Not that I doubted the academic standard of those institutions, it’s just that I preferred studying at a place where I would be able to broaden my worldview and be moulded into a person that I wanted to be; free. Even back then I was comparatively a very liberal thinker living in a society marked with a growing sense of social conservatism. Maybe I will write more about this later.

The offer letter did come with a thick booklet containing many clauses placed in lengthy paragraphs, explaining the terms and conditions attached to my scholarship. I did not really bother to read them all, to me, it was exciting enough that I would get to do Geology (my first choice) at a university of my choice.

I accepted the offer. Little did I care about one of the obligations attached to the scholarship, that I would be required to serve Petronas two years for each year that they sponsored my education. I knew about that, I just didn’t care. After all, the idea of getting a job straight after graduation appealed to me back then.

I was to be placed at Sri KDU to do IB; in fact, I spent two great years there. The IB experience was fulfilling, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, so I’ve no complaints there. My dissatisfaction with Petronas, however, started there, as I, and my other scholarship-holding classmates (we, Petronas scholars, made up roughly half of the total intake for the 2007 IB batch) were told during one of the Petronas engagement sessions in 2008 that they would send us to any one of these three Southern hemisphere countries for our degree; Australia, NZ or South Africa. This put me to shock. I can still recall perfectly today that we were informed by one of the Petronas education officers during our first-year induction session back in early 2007 that we would be sent to the US, UK or Canada for our first degree. I also accepted the scholarship with the knowledge that it would pay for my studies in the States. I always wanted to study in the US; that was indeed one of my dreams growing up. I felt cheated, and of course, furious at their inability to stick to their words.

Whatever happened after that aren’t worth much mention here. Well, maybe I should say that I did okay in IB and went to Melbourne for my degree. I enjoyed the years there profusely, so whatever of my personal dissatisfaction that was documented on the previous paragraph I already moved on from by the end of 2009. Sometimes I thought that it was a blessing in disguise that I didn’t have to endure the long and bitter cold prevalent in the States or the UK. Melbourne was also a relatively short hop’s away from home (8 hours’ flight) so I flew back to Malaysia most of the long holidays. Life was pretty good there, and Petronas, albeit the struggle that we had trying to get them to increase our monthly allowance, treated us well. I lived in a very decent studio apartment, for example. Never did I have to cram in a house with, say, five housemates, which was, and still is, the reality for many other international students who have to grapple with the ever-increasing rent in Melbourne. For this, I thank Petronas.

The nasty part started last year, with my honors application. I was informed by many, including Petronas’ officers themselves, that we would be allowed to extend our period of study for one year to accommodate our honors studies. It is a common practice for the Australian universities to split their degree into three years of basic degree and a year of honors. A degree with honors is considered more superior than a degree without which, but not every student is entitled to do the former. Most universities, Melbourne included, put a set of stringent requirements for students who wish to further their studies to honors. I managed to get a spot, and it gladdened me that Petronas would, by principle, sponsor me for another year to let me finish my honors. JPA and MARA were (and still are) known to do this to their students, so it made sense that Petronas would do the same.

Knowing that there would be no more obstacles in my honors plan, I started putting a great deal of efforts to find a supervisor and a suitable project for my honors year. I managed to find a project very relevant to my future job in Petronas, and my lecturer also wrote a letter to Petronas to inform them of the benefits that they, as my future employer, would get if I were to do the particular honors project under his supervision. As usual, I received some oral confirmation that I would get my sponsorship extended, and duped by my optimism of Petronas being at last true to their words, I was confident that things would turn out the way I wanted them to.

I graduated last December. For this, I have my family, friends, lecturers, teachers, and of course, Petronas, to thank. It was a proud moment for my whole family, and I felt a sense of accomplishment. I still felt very upbeat in December because in my head, I had an honors year to look forward to in 2012. I told myself that the graduation wasn’t the end of my university life; I would have another year to go.

When my optimism was at its peak, I got an email from Petronas informing me that they rejected my application to do honors. To make it sound more dramatic, they snubbed my application two days prior to the honors enrolment due date. Two days. Just imagine the frustration that I had at that time. I had to pack up and leave Melbourne for good on a short notice. Whatever efforts that I put to secure a place to do honors turned out to be futile. In vain.

I wanted to apply for another scholarship, but the very offer letter that I received back in 2007 stipulated that I would not be allowed to get another scholarship without Petronas’ permission. I wanted to report to Petronas (ie start working for them) in 2013, not 2012, so I could have a year allocated to honors. Again, this was against one of the terms of the scholarship as I was required to report to them within 3 months after my graduation (read: February).

These are the terms that I didn’t think about five years back. These are the important terms that came to haunt me in January 2012 yet I couldn’t even be arsed to read about them back then. Failing to adhere to the terms will lead to my parents having to pay Petronas the total sum spent on my education, within 14 working days. There’s no way I will ever burden my parents that way. Petronas knows this. They know that we will not have the guts (or rather, capacity) to breach the contract.

We are bonded. Or, in a more apt yet less savory way to say things, we are chained. We are their assets, their commodities. To try to get out of this is to breach the contract, the consequences of which are as aforementioned.

Now I’m at home, waiting for Petronas to call me up to put me to work. I was told that it would take them up to six months to come up with a job offer for me. In the meantime, I am not allowed to apply for another permanent job. Breach of contract, again. After all, no company will want to recruit a bonded student. The irony of all these is that I could actually use the time spent waiting for Petronas so far to do honors.

We’re theirs for 10 years. Leave the company by then and you’ll be considered to have breached the contract. Consequences as said prior. I’m 22, and I really wish that I could actually be free to chart my own future. I’m honestly not over studying yet. I’m personally very envious at the freedom that my JPA and MARA friends have after they graduate. I also want to do masters, just like them; I’m a passionate learner, and masters is one of my goals for now. I will keenly work after masters, especially since I know I’ll enjoy working as a professional geologist in the future, be it with Petronas, or any other companies. However, looking at the way it is, it’s clear that for the next 10 years of my life, chances are that I will not have much control with my life. I will work for the same company with no option to quit.

My future was already written back then, when I naively accepted an offer that came in the form of a fancy official letter with a small F1 icon on the bottom left. “Cool”, I thought at that. Maybe I have myself to blame, it was after all, my choice. But what do you expect of a 17-year-old teenage boy? How do you think that I, with my lack of experience in life and my naivety in thinking that any corporation kind enough to offer a scholarship would have nothing but good, philanthropic intentions, would foresee the high price I had to pay to get my tertiary education sponsored? I didn’t even know what I wanted to do in my life then. What’s the point of knowing it now when it’s already too late?