Because someone gave me a chance

Nobody “makes it on their own”. That is a lie.

When a business succeeds, it owes the success to its backers as well as its customers.

Writers are no different.

If my then-editor at Malaysiakini didn’t let me write the impassioned rant that became “Why is your Allah not my Allah?” I wouldn’t have gotten the exposure I did. That exposure opened a lot of doors, one of which led to my current workplace.

I wouldn’t even be at my current workplace if my current boss hadn’t decided, on the basis of a few impassioned op-eds and my tech background, to ask me to meet up for a chat.

There’s a story I haven’t told many people: When my current boss rang me up, I was probably at the lowest point of my career. I was broke. Jobless. And pretty much convinced I was unemployable and washed up. (Those jobless weeks pretty much ruined my credit but that’s another story altogether)

I’d made four back-to-back attempts at a career change and they were disastrous. Two PR gigs, subediting alternative news and heading a doomed local news website. I think I did my best but ultimately, my best just wasn’t good enough.

After finding out I wouldn’t be confirmed at the last gig (despite being there for nearly 11 months), I went to KLCC and blubbered into a cup of New Zealand’s Natural ice cream.

The next few weeks, I just sat around in my pyjamas writing ghost stories trying to jump start a freelancing career…which wasn’t working out all too well. I had precious few leads and very little confidence left.

And then a phone call changed everything.

So I’m grateful. Grateful for great bosses and colleagues. Grateful for an arrangement that makes me happy. When things were at their worst, when I thought there was no hope, things turned around.

Thinking back, at every point of my career, someone had to take a chance on me.

I’m just glad someone did.

Resolution Numero Uno: Learning to blog again

So my first resolution is to start blogging again. The Procrastination Monster has however kept me from actually starting until, oh, today.

In other news, have also started up another blog at

I have enough trouble keeping one blog updated and I go start another one. Brilliant!

Am also supposed to start teaching at OUM again but there is one small problem: it’s not entirely sure what or who I’ll be teaching. The course I’d been prepping for seems to be entirely different from the course I’ve been assigned. Oh, boy.

I’ve been a subeditor exactly one year. Am glad to say I now suck 10 per cent less at it. My column at The Malaysian Insider is now nearly 2 years old, TMI will be five years old next month…coincidentally the month when I turn a Grand Old 35.

Besides blogging again, have also the goals to lose the 10kg I should have lost last year, pick up a new language and finish writing a novel that isn’t for NaNoWriMo.

Those resolutions sound suspiciously like the ones I had last year. Well, anyway, 2012 was a mixed bag but I’m grateful that I start the new year with good friends, a good job and the iPad Mini.

Now, go away I have a shit ton of iOS games to catch up on.

There & Back Again: Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit reviewed

Bag End, as used in the Lord of the Rings films.
Bag End, as used in the Lord of the Rings films. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Lovers of Middle-earth: welcome home. Peter Jackson’s first instalment of The Hobbit is the next-best thing to a nostalgia trip, other than actually rewatching The Lord of The Rings trilogy.


Haters of Middle-earth: The Hobbit isn’t going to make you like it better. So do yourself a favour and maybe wait for Quentin Tarantino’s latest, coming around Christmas.


While some people have accused Peter Jackson of ‘cashing-in’ on The Hobbit by stretching it to three films, if you have actually read the book you would know there is actually a wealth of material to be tapped.  Author J.R.R Tolkien after all created quite a detailed world, with some of the swords having more back story than some of the characters in the film.

There are many things alluded to in the book that are never really fleshed out in the LOTR books that came later, but revealing those things would spoil it for those who haven’t read it.

The Hobbit’s vistas and stunning scenery certainly will transport you back to Middle-Earth as it was, though enhanced with 3D magic. It was shot in HFR 48fps 3D but it isn’t necessary to watch it in that format to enjoy it. The 3D does add some element of realism to it, though my personal preference is to view it in IMAX as the wider screen really does help you ‘fall into’ the movie. Be prepared to flinch when flames or projectiles come your way.

Not that fire and debris flying about is a spoiler as this is a fantasy film. What fantasy film is complete without some measure of messy battling happening? The action sequences are fun, fast but somewhat ridiculous. Nothing like the epic march of the Rohirrim in Return of the King or Aragon doing some major swashbuckling in Fellowship of the Ring.

As far as casting goes, Peter Jackson was right in saying Martin Freeman was perfect for the role of Bilbo Baggins, the loveable everyman. Or make that ‘everyhobbit’. His performance is nuanced and subtle; so balanced that you just can’t imagine anyone else who measures out just the right amount of pathos and brevity, whatever the need of a scene.

The best bit of the film is of course when Bilbo meets Gollum: the setup of LOTR. To Jackson’s credit, he adds enough little in-jokes that make The Hobbit a very plausible prequel to the earlier trilogy.

But though The Hobbit is fun, it suffers from the typical Peter Jackson bloat. Too many lingering long shots, extra backstory and extraneous characters (Did we really need Sebastian?) and the film would have benefited from more rigorous editing.

Still, as a friend of mine said, I’m glad to declare The Hobbit is certainly not The Phantom Menace to this generation’s Star Wars. It’s much, much better but the only sad bit is that Jackson settled for an adequate film instead of creating a great one.

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Siapa boleh anda panggil? (A reader-requested translation)

Backstory: @widbrain asked me on Twitter if I could translate my latest TMI column — “Who do you call?” — to Bahasa Malaysia. Since he asked nicely, I said sure. Here it is.

Siapa boleh anda panggil?

31 OKT ― “Kami polis. Kami boleh tanya, tahan dan tangkap siapa saja.”

M (dia minta namanya tidak disebut sini) cuma bertanya kepada dua pegawai polis bermotosikal itu sebab mereka meminta kad pengenalannya.

Malam itu hujan, M tengah memandu. M ternampak seorang penunggang motosikal di hadapan lantas membunyikan hon kereta. Dia takut pemotosikal itu tidak perasan M berada di belakang; M cuma berhati-hati. Itu niat M, sebenarnya.

Tiba-tiba, dua lelaki bermotosikal saling mengepit kedua-dua belah kereta M.

Salah seorang lelaki itu memarahi M kerana membunyikan hon ke arahnya. M menerangkan maksudnya dan juga menambah, memang M yang punya hak untuk berjalan dulu.

Sekali lagi, anggota polis itu menyebut jawatannya dan hakya “menangkap siapa-siapa”.

Lalu M meminta kebenaran untuk membuat panggilan kepada kawannya, seorang pegawai polis kanan, untuk nasihat.

“Panggilah, saya takut apa?” sergah polis itu.

M memanggil rakannya. Terus rakannya meminta nama dan nombor polis kedua-dua lelaki itu. Tiba-tiba polis yang “tidak takut” itu kurang berani memberi pengenalan diri penuh.

Mereka cuba membohongi rakan M, mengatakan tujuan mereka “hanya nak tolong”.

Akhirnya beredar juga dua polis itu, tinggal M dalam keadaan perasaan terganggu.

Nasib M baik. Bukan ramai yang boleh memanggil polis berjawatan tinggi apabila dikacau anggota polis yang berperilaku buruk.

Hakikatnya, situasi sebegini tidak sepatutnya berlaku.

Memang ada anggota polis yang baik pekerti. Saya pernah bertemu polis sedemikian. Tapi pada masa yang sama, perihal “polis jahat” sering kedengaran.

Polis yang meminta rasuah. Polis yang mencuri. Polis yang buat tak tahu tentang jenayah atau berpura-pura terlalu sibuk dengan tugas pejabat untuk melayan laporan kesalahan.

Kita sudah jadi takut kepada polis, kerana sebab yang tak patut.

Terus-terang, saya pun takut polis. Pernah saya pergi buat laporan dan tidak diendahkan, semua kerana polis bertugas tersalah fikir saya berbangsa Filipina. Saya tunjukkan IC, baru dia layan. Ada juga polis yang cuba meminta ‘wang suap’ atau naik kereta mereka, hanya kerana tersalah anggap saya pekerja asing.

PDRM harus mengambil tanggungjawab menangani polis yang membuat salah laku. Mereka perlu juga mewajibkan anggota polis memaparkan nombor pengenalan diri pada setiap masa.

Jika seorang polis enggan memberi nama atau nombor pengenalan, seharusnya tidak salah untuk mana-mana rakyat Malaysia untuk tidak mengendahkannya.

Hakikatnya, ada polis kaki buli. Namun, jika ada polis meminta anda memberhentikan kereta, jangan terus menggelarnya pengacau. Mungkin lampu isyarat anda mati. Mungkin bumper kereta atau plat lesen terjatuh. Bersangkalah baik tentang polis itu.

Tapi jika ‘polis’ itu ternyata bermasalah, inilah tindakan anda seterusnya:

1. Jika dalam kereta, jangan turun. Turunkan tingkap sedikit (tak sehingga cukup untuk polis itu memasukkan tangannya) dan minta pengenalan diri polis itu. Kalau mereka bagi pun dan mereka suruh anda ikut ke balai, cuba tegaskan anda akan memandu sendiri ke stesen terdekat. Amat berisiko jika anda wanita untuk menaiki kereta polis yang entah niatnya baik atau tidak.

2. Guna telefon bimbit anda dan panggilah sesiapa yang anda kenal. Beritahu keluarga, rakan anda di mana dan dengan siapa. Ambil gambar. Guna media sosial: Twitter dan Facebook, jika boleh.

3. Jika anda tidak berada dalam keadaan, bawa bertenang. Cuba buat panggilan tetapi jangan cuba melarikan diri. Nasib tak baik, polis yang anda jumpa tu, kurang terlatih dan jenis menggunakan senapangnya sesuka hati, yang akan menjadikan cubaan anda untuk lari sebagai alasan untuk menembak. Ingat, cerita yang akan lebih dipercayai adalah keterangan dari polis dan cubaan anda untuk lari akan dijadikan bukti.

4. Jangan terikut-ikut perasaan untuk tunjuk kurang ajar. Polis adalah penjawat awam, bukan kuli. Berlagak biadap menyusahkan diri sahaja, jadi elakkan.

Negara telah membangun seperti Amerika Syarikat dan UK pun ada kes salah laku polis. Jangan anggap semua polis itu sama tetapi eloklah juga bersiap sedia untuk apa-apa kemungkinan.

Sekurang-kurangnya, harus ada talian untuk dipanggil rakyat Malaysia jika perlu mendapat perlindungan daripada polis yang berlagak samseng.

Persoalannya: Apakah talian itu akan pernah lengang?


One of the saddest songs ever: 夜夜夜夜

The pitfalls of my Voice of China addiction: a mini-education in Mandarin pop. Here’s one of the saddest modern Chinese pop ballads ever, by Taiwanese Chyi Chin.

Basically it’s a deeply tragic ballad of unrequited love and a feeling of hopelessness, of just giving up on the past and the future.

It’s so tragic it’s beautiful.

Translation from this link.

夜夜夜夜 (Night after night after night after night)


I’d like to ask God where you are or ask myself instead


I was smart at the start, smart at the end


So smart that I almost destroyed myself


Would like to ask Mother Nature, or ask a fortune teller

放棄所有 拋下所有

Giving up everything in the future and what passed before


Let me drift in the silent night after night after night…


Don’t push yourself into saying you love me


My soul anyway has withered to pieces


Tried putting myself back together slowly, slowly


Me, but not the whole me, finally pieced together


I don’t want to indulge myself anymore


I don’t want to drift one night, day, second anymore


Not one word, prayer, quest for my dream anymore

The original version by Chyi Chin:

A version by Fish Leong:

The Voice of China: Best version ever

I wasn’t initially impressed by The Voice franchise. The US version seemed to be too much about the judges’ egos and the UK version tried to be fresh but often fell flat.

But then I stumbled on The Voice of China and I have become gloriously obsessed with it. That’s a big deal for someone who ordinarily gives television a miss in general.

Never mind that I know like 10-20 words of Mandarin; the show draws me in with its combination of funny, down-to-earth judges and really good talent.

The judging panel has some real heavyhitters and together, they’re a winningly enthusiastic team. There’s Taiwan ‘God of Music’ Harlem Yu (庾澄庆) who first officially injected rap into mainstream Chinese music way back in the 80’s. China’s singing darling and music veteran Na Ying (那英). Mr “I sang at the Olympics” and “THAT Water Margin theme” Liu Huan (刘欢) and my personal favourite the adorable Yang Kun (杨坤).

Yang Kun’s my favourite because he’s just hilarious, pulling some funny stunts like in the video I posted at the bottom at this post. Him and Harlem provide plenty of comic relief throughout the show though I must say the judges as a whole are truly a welcome contrast to the US and UK panels.

The Chinese judges seem a whole lot more sincere and less self-involved. You get the feeling the judges are really rooting for their charges and want them to succeed.

Sure, there’s the inevitable soap opera back story drama interspersed here and there but overall the show stays close to its heart: voices. And some of the voices on display are excellent.

My current favourite contestant is this guy, Guan Zhe. His emotional cover of Sandy Lam’s 领悟 (Ling Wu) made the judges teary, me even despite my not understanding more than 1-5 words in the whole song.

The song itself is one of those desperately sad Mandarin ballads. Not that I’m not a sucker for Mandopop. I love sappy Mandarin ear candy. This particular tune is one of those ‘We Broke Up And I Want to Hate You But I Can’t Because I Love You And Am Trying To Be A Bigger Person’ songs.

Have a listen to Guan Zhe breaking your heart in a million ways.

领悟 (Ling Wu)

爱的束缚 任意追逐

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When it all falls down

I’m juggling a lot these days and it’s been challenging. Some days I’m a mess and today was one time where I just felt like I was going insane.

It wasn’t like I had too much to do, but more like I was overloaded with things I felt I should be doing. I couldn’t let go; couldn’t just detach and relax.

Too many variables, too many things and projects and ideas all mashing about in my head.

I guess it was a sign I just needed to detox and relax. Simplify things and try to do more with less. Not overcomplicate things, overthink things, work myself up over things that weren’t worth working myself up over.

Spent some time on 750 words, just doing some stream of consciousness writing. Decided to ration my time on Facebook and Twitter because they distract me far too much. Am experiencing sensor overload and the kind of paralysis that comes from too many options, too many possible distractions or activities.

I needed to quiet my brain and just find a measure of silence in my head. Chilling is harder than it used to be and the Internet is one big ball of Read This Look At This Think About This O Look. Rereading Zen Habits and taking some time to read stuff in my Kobo library (so many books so little time ZOMG).

Running on a hamster wheel doesn’t get me anywhere but taking just one, slow, sure, step at a time just might.



A pow-wow with my inner writing bitch

Cover of "Bitch"I’ve now encountered my Inner Editor Bitch who also has a split personality dubbed the Inner Critic Bitch.

Friend: “Erna, if I didn’t know you from before, I wouldn’t like you now.”

I can be mean. Really, really mean. Like when I chewed out this one aspiring writer who had the nerve to send me a message on LinkedIn asking for advice, and I told her that if she used such awful text speak in a message to a total stranger, she’d never go far in the writing world.

Part of me thinks: “I’m doing her a favour. People aren’t going to be so nice and she needs that dressing down. She needs that brutal honestly.”

The other part of me thinks: “You didn’t have to be so cutting about it. You didn’t have to sound so nasty.”

But I’ve been lucky in my career. I’ve had people put it to me nicely and diplomatically when my stuff doesn’t pass muster.

“It’s kind of obvious no one really edited your piece.”

“I don’t think you’re suited to the position we’re offering.”

Or the slightly rude yet inadvertently kind non-replies to my writing/job queries.

I realise I’m a whole lot harder on myself than anyone has ever been with me. I’m a whole lot more brutal on myself as well as other people than I’ve actually experienced in my writing/editing career. Less forgiving. More nitpicky. (But if you can’t differentiate it’s and its…WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU %#^#&@ j/k)

I think I could stand to be a lot more kinder. I don’t think I’ll always succeed but I resolve to, at the very least, try.

So here’s me telling the Universe that I am trying to be kinder. If I still snap at you ever so often, please understand I’m still working on it. Really.




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Getting on the Tumblr choo-choo train

I finally dusted off the Tumblr account I got eons back – being an early adopter meant I got to bag But I’d never bothered posting on it till now.

Waiting for Tumblr to ‘grow up’ was worth it. I now have comments thanks to Disqus and I really dig the theme customisation options on the theme I’m using.

Though the Web interface is super-fun, I’m likely mostly going to login to my dashboard to giggle at the fandom posts on the Mass Effect and Legend of Korra

What does suck though is the dearth of decent Tumblr desktop clients. I Googled them to death and couldn’t find anything as handy as Windows Live Writer (which I’m using right now). What I’m doing right now is blogging on my main blog and using a plugin to auto-post what I write her on Tumblr. This way I’m reaching out to people who are Tumblr junkies and not so keen on vanilla blogs like mine. Plus reblogs are the bomb, y’all.

I haven’t been blogging much lately. Spending too much time on Twitter/Facebook does that to you. Trying to get back into the daily blogging habit as I partly owe my current writing career to my blog. Blogging daily is a great way to keep the writing juices flowing and my blog is the equivalent of my real “home” on the Internet. Twitter and Facebook are really just hangout spots.

Here’s to a return to active blogging!