Blogger Interview #3: From World-Famous Magic Babe to Yoga-Loving Muggle Blogger

Ning Cai

What you think is a lovely dimple on Ning’s face is actually a scar from surgery when she was only 21 years old, when a cancerous growth had to be cut out of her cheek.

“We shouldn’t fear death, but instead fear the absence of living… I promised myself that whatever I decided to do from that moment on, I was going to make sure it radiated joy and satisfied my soul.” – Ning Cai, in ‘Who Is Magic Babe Ning?’

Who is this seemingly fearless and magical being, and what’s her story?

I got to meet Ning at one of her magic workshops; a prize I’d won from purchasing and reading her book ‘Who Is Magic Babe Ning?’.

Ning’s 2nd book ‘Who Is Magic Babe Ning’, and her autograph :D

Magic Babe Ning

I’ve yet to read her first book but the second one is a fantastic read and a “tell-all” as she calls it. Ning has a superb sense of humor (really, read her book!) yet suffers no fools, has dedicated over a decade to her career as an illusionist (16-hour rehearsals everyday before “The Impalement Cage” illusion, yo!) and yet she has hung up her corset and magic boots to be… a yoga teacher???

It is almost unfair that someone who looks so hot is also a really cool author and a awesome blogger – Ning used to blog for STOMP, and she now writes for TODAY. You’ll find a link to her TODAY articles at the end of this post.

So I just had to ask her a couple of questions about her experiences of dating both men and women, her marriage (it’s impossible to find any pictures of her hubby online), what she’ll do henceforth after saying goodbye to death-defying stunts, and why she would pray for her bullies!

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All pictures in this blogpost are courtesy of Ning Cai, unless otherwise specified :)

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1) Congratulations on getting married! How’s married life treating you so far?

Thanks Grace! Yes, it’s been really super. I think I totally lucked out because I married my soulmate, who totally gets me and loves me for all that I am. For years I hadn’t had it easy in the relationship department since I’d put my career first and there wasn’t any space or time for anyone, especially with my crazy performing and traveling schedule. I’d also been accused of being a workaholic commitment-phobe in the past, and there may be some truth in it… until I met the One who completed me. Then it all made sense why past relationships just could’t work out before.

I’m blessed with an amazing, albeit super shy, spouse with a very understanding family. My in-laws are amazing. There’s none of that nightmarish stuff you often read about in women magazines. LOL. So yes, I’m very, very happily married!

2) Career plans now that you’ve relinquished the role of Magic Babe Ning?

My parents were actually very relieved that I finally hung up my show boots! They’ve witnessed most of my death-defying escape feats like “The Impalement Cage”, my first major escapology act in 2008, which was endorsed by the Singapore Tourism Board as part of the inaugural Singapore River Festival. It saw me having just 90 seconds to escape death from a cage of falling spikes while I was blindfolded, chained up, shackled and bound, with only a paperclip to pick the locks with!

The Impalement Cage

The last escape act my folks witnessed was during the closing weekend of the Singapore Night Festival in 2013. “Ultimate Inversion” had me hanging upside-down from 75 feet in the air, way above the iconic domed roof of the National Museum of Singapore, from a length of burning rope, strapped up in 2 straitjackets and with no safety net.

Ultimate Inversion

[Photo credit: https://thelongnwindingroad.wordpress.com/]

Hanging from just regular inversion boots, the escape act was legitimately dangerous and my parents were totally freaked out (my poor mother almost had a meltdown)… so yep, they are in fact extremely elated that I’m (finally) using my Bachelor’s degree in Communications now that I’m freelancing as a writer for TODAY, working on my new website (NingThing.com launches late June 2015) and writing my third book!

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Grace: One of the metal chains snapped during the ‘Ultimate Inversion’ – you can find the heart-stopping footage on YouTube, and also read the details in Ning’s book. And that’s not all. Ning had a couple of accidents related to the ‘360 Sawing’ illusion. One time, the box fell with her in it, and her body weight landed on her left hand, injuring it quite badly though no bones were broken. Another time, she landed on her head. I am beginning to suspect that she was born with nine lives. 

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3) If you could have one special power or real magical ability (no illusions here), what would it be?

The ability to propagate world peace. When people ask me about my religion, I always tell them that it’s Humanity, and Love is my philosophy. I think I’ve mellowed a lot over the ten years I was in showbiz, which initially hardened me. And now I’m at this point in life where I’m more comfortable being just Ning without the mask of Magic Babe, and I completely believe that Peace inspired by Compassion is what we really need in our world today, not religious extremists who ruthlessly spread fear and hate.

4) I loved reading your book and meeting you ‘cos you have such a lovely, positive vibe going on. Where does that positivity come from?

Awwwww, thanks Grace! Many people assumed that because I chose an artist’s path, I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Since you’ve read my book, you know that’s definitely not the case. But I equate my earlier struggles to the classic metamorphosis of a butterfly.

After you’ve been through much like I personally have – dire poverty where you almost couldn’t finish your basic poly education because of the lack of tuition funds, a cancerous growth that leaves a permanent scar on your face at 21, bullying from jealous backstabbing peers, and dealing with your own rage and disappointments – you realise your personal growth flourishes when you overcome these adversities that serve to make you a stronger, better, more resilient human being.

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“Your personal growth flourishes when you overcome these adversities that serve to make you a stronger, better, more resilient human being.”

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I try to work on cultivating my spiritual growth too. While spending a month in Thailand for my 200-hour yoga teacher training course last year, I rediscovered meditation and realised how good it is for the soul. Often, people in today’s modern world get way too sucked into the illusion of “life”… but they are merely existing, not really living. When you’re in touch with yourself, connected with the Universe/ God, you develop a higher level of awareness and loving-kindness, pointing to the important realisation that we are all connected and we should try to be that spark of positive energy which, like a lit candle, doesn’t diminish when you share and spread your light.

5) In your own words, you have “fancied both men and women” and dated both. What is the difference between dating a man vs dating a woman? Do women really ‘understand’ women more than men do? Or does it all boil down to that person’s personality / character?

Yes, to me, love is love. It transcends race, religion, skin color, age, weight, height, salary, OCD, you name it… I don’t need everyone to agree with my point of view that you can’t choose who you fall in love with (FYI we’re talking about consenting adults here), but since recorded history, there’s been all kinds of romantic relationships and it was only because of religion that it has been judged quite recently.

I’ve dated some truly awesome people – black men, white men, Asian people – all based on their personalities (okay, sometimes their good looks, I can be a bit shallow that way) and you shouldn’t stereotype. I mean, I’ve had boyfriends who are better at picking out clothes than I am, dated jocks who read books (yes, that is SUCH a turn on) and take care of their skin, also wonderful SNAGs* who cook the most delicious Japanese food for me (sexiest thing ever)… then there are the butch women who have an endearing cutesy side. So it’s really all about the person!

[*SNAG: Sensitive New Age Guy]

I believe people should figure out what they want for themselves and not allow society or oppressive religious leaders to dictate their love lives. Some people are born lefties in a right-handed world. The minorities didn’t choose to be different on purpose (do you know how difficult it is to use scissors?!) but sometimes, it is just so and one should accept it.

Life is an amazing journey. You shouldn’t be forced to use some bossy person’s “official” and “approved” road map. Follow your heart. I know for a fact that it’s the world’s best GPS. ;)

6) What’s your take on plastic surgery purely for cosmetic / vanity reasons, and have you gone under the knife before, apart from surgery due to cancer?

Yep. Back in 2011 just before my 9-month-long backpacking journey around the world, I got my sinuses fixed. It’s not a “nose job” because the shape of my nose never changed, but it definitely helped me breathe better because I was suffering from sleep apnea and would jerk awake in the middle of the night suddenly, when my body realised I hadn’t been breathing and my brain was lacking oxygen! My family was there for me when I did that 1- day surgery, and they knew I’ve had a serious sinus problem since I was a kid.

As for plastic surgery, I honestly think it’s the individual’s choice really. I’d personally not want to change the face my parents gave me, because I see them when I look into the mirror. But I do believe that every child born with a cleft lip should go for surgery now since it’s more readily available. It would truly help their self esteem, besides gaining a much better chance of getting the job they want when they’re older! Same goes for burn victims. I know of people who have gone for various implants (calf implants for guys, butt implants for the ladies) and they felt a lot more confident about themselves after. I really think that it’s none of my business, so I don’t judge. I’m just happy that they’re happy with the new “improved” versions of themselves.

7) Have you ever won the lottery? :D

You’re asking this because of my successful Singapore Pools 4D prediction in 2009, aren’t you?! OMG, after JC and I accomplished the never-done-before stunt in Singapore, we had not only locals calling us for lottery numbers, but people from China and Nigeria constantly hounding us to help them win money! No kidding. These crazy punters just could not accept the fact that it was all a psychological illusion.

Aside from that particular 4D ticket that was purchased (we decided on the number together but it was JC who physically went to buy it), I’ve never gambled. Not even when I’m in Vegas! It’s my pet peeve really. I can’t respect a man who has a gambling issue because it’s a sad mental illness when they can’t stop themselves and turn illogically superstitious and needlessly abusive towards their family.

Sometimes it’s so senseless! In 2012 when I was based in Genting Highlands for a month, performing my illusion shows every night, I’d see people being wheeled out of the casino so often, it was not funny. I think that’s why the hotel windows are all sealed shut, so nobody can do anything silly. Sometimes these people are strapped down and screaming because they had squandered away their entire fortune at the tables. The saddest time was when over a late supper with the cast, we all witnessed an old lady being carried out on the stretcher, with an oxygen mask over her frail, lifeless face. I hope she didn’t lose her life savings. Gambling is just one of those things that one shouldn’t get started on.

8) You’ve written about your encounters with bullies in school and at work. How, specifically, do you deal with peer jealousy, people who dislike you for no reason other than your apparent success? Has yoga and meditation changed your perspective towards these bullies and antagonistic people?

When I was in primary school, a particular classmate who disliked me for some reason was trying to “steal” my best friend and she even used a pin to stab multiple holes all over my kite (I’d always been more inclined towards the arts and had spent an afternoon fashioning a large owl kite, which our form teacher complimented in class, and it was prominently placed on our wall-length noticeboard at the back of the classroom along with everyone else’s). I’d noticed her relentlessly stabbing holes into my artwork so I got up from my chair to approach her. The girl was so absorbed in destroying my kite that it was only when I cleared my throat politely, that she jumped up and walked away without an apology. She later tried to frame me when a classmate lost something, but I was proven innocent when the teacher searched everyone’s belongings. But I prayed for her. I wasn’t sure exactly why she had so much aggression and angst, especially when she came from a wealthy family with equestrian lessons every weekend and she seemed to have everything – a pretty face, deep dimples on both cheeks, a perpetual healthy tan, the newest pretty things, expensive stationery, the works.

I decided not to let anger consume me, and simply allow karma to fix things. Sometimes that’s just the best way. Defend yourself when you have to, but don’t allow yourself to get mad because the anger would only destroy you from the inside. Let things be and have faith that the Universe/ God will handle it. And meanwhile, try to cultivate patience. It’s not easy, I’m still working on that every day!

Magic Babe Ning

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Read Ning’s articles on TODAY here: http://www.todayonline.com/authors/ning-cai

Look out for her new website NingThing.com (to be launched in late-June 2015) :)

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I’ve definitely learnt a thing or two from Ning via this interview. Yes, especially that bit about praying for one’s haters – it sounds more difficult than escaping from ‘The Impalement Cage’ but that’s what I, and a lot of other people, have to learn, I suppose.

And if you’re wondering about how I select bloggers to be featured in this series, well, let’s just say you cannot pay to get featured here. It’s my way of supporting the blogger community by featuring those individuals I find highly inspiring. And the way Ning juggles her portfolio of passions is just amazing – from becoming a high achiever in the world of magic to leaving at the peak of her career, leaving Singapore and going backpacking for 9 months, to pursuing her love for writing by authoring books and crafting commentaries.

I guess that’s the way life should be.

It’s not about studying hard in school, getting an iron-ricebowl-job, sticking in said job till retirement, and wondering where all those years have gone.

Yes, Ning has definitely kept her promise to herself – the one made after that cancer scare: to do what radiated joy and satisfied her soul.

Food for thought: Is what you are doing today causing you to radiate joy and does it satisfy your soul? :) If it doesn’t, then what should you be doing instead?

Book Review: FISH Omnibus by Stephen C Lundin

Fish Omnibus by Stephen C Lundin

This is the only reading material I packed in my luggage for my trip to Japan. Comprising 3 books in 1 edition, it made for a fantastic read while on the plane and trains.

I’d highly recommend this book to employers / managers who want to inspire / motivate their teams, and to individuals who want to rediscover a passion for their jobs. :)

Here are 12 things I learnt from reading Fish Omnibus:

1) Choose Your Attitude

In the way that you do your work, strive to be world famous. Trust that whatever happens, you’ll be all right. Keep on learning and growing.

2) PLAY at Work

Have a good time, in a respectful manner. Lighten up! Leaders have to play along, on top of telling employees to play.

3) Make Their Day

Look for as many ways as possible to create great memories for your customers.

4) Be PRESENT

5) Do the exact opposite of what the rest of the industry is doing

6) Focus on customer enthusiasm

7) Happiness: Get outside yourself and serve others

Focus on what you can give, not what you can get. Take time to be there for people. Do something nice for someone else.

8) When somebody asks how you are, say “PERFECT”

An exercise: Close your eyes and picture the perfect __(insert occupation)__, then open your eyes and BE that person.

9) Do what you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it

10) Coach and be coachable

11) Full Life = Work Life + The Rest Of Life

12) Over 12 weeks, do these:

  1. Count your blessings, and swim in a sea of gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal.
  2. Set GOALS.
  3. Find 50 ways to play.
  4. Have some fun. Pick 5 from the 50 ways and implement 1 each day.
  5. Intend to make someone’s day.
  6. Random acts of kindness.
  7. Why can’t we just be where we are?
  8. Say “How Fascinating!” whenever you mess up. Just don’t sit around and be anxious. Don’t sweat the small stuff – thoughts cannot be controlled but we can choose not to dwell on them.
  9. Pick 5 attitudes you would like to see more of in your life. Assume that attitude, like an actor takes on a role.
  10. Post up your attitude for all to see.
  11. Set a world record. If you can find a small-enough pond, you can be a big fish.
  12. Live each moment fully. Find something to wear that reminds you of this commitment.

Know clearly what you are trying to create and find the vision to communicate your goals. Remember: Demonstrate honesty and authenticity in our conversations about the way we work and who we are being at work.

Book Review: ‘Yes Please’ by Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler Yes Please

Intriguing title aside, I really do judge books by their covers, and this one is eye-catching in a flashing-neon-light way. :D And its 329 pages make for a really good read.

I don’t know what possessed Amy to write this book while going through a divorce, but I’m glad she did. Her larger-than-life character leaps out at you from between those pages and her irreverent good humor is a welcome breath of fresh air (e.g. she jokes about wanting to tell prolific authors to tie their many books around their ankles and jump into a lake, simply because she finds writing to be such hard work).

She’s so honest, funny, and irresistibly witty that this book might be close to being labelled “unputdownable” (an honor reserved for only the best page-turners).

And why, you might ask, is this book titled ‘Yes Please’? She explains:

It’s called Yes Please because it is the constant struggle and often the right answer. Saying “yes” doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say no, and saying “please” doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission.

Make of it what you will. Or buy this book and read it ;)

And here’s another example of her good humor… if you get the joke:

Yes Please Amy Poehler

I have read (and relished) but have not reviewed Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ here. Perhaps I should do that as many female authors like to refer to Sheryl’s book.

Also, here’s what Amy thinks her 90-year-old self would say:

Yes Please Amy Poehler

Sound advice, though…

“Relax and let her win. Who cares?” – Well, yes and no. If something is just a petty squabble, then as that hit song goes… let it go. But if there’s something else at stake, then perhaps it demands to be dealt with more severely. Also, I like that bit about “Forgive your parents for what they never gave you” – your parents may have gotten a divorce (like what Amy is getting) and left you insecure and angry, or perhaps they never gave you the good looks, money or privileges that your friends have, but that’s no reason to become a bitter person. ;)

On Saying Sorry: “…this doesn’t mean I am a pushover. It doesn’t mean I am afraid of conflict or don’t know how to stand up for myself. I am getting to a place right in the middle where I feel good about exactly how much I apologize.”

I agree. In fact, on yesterday’s episode of Talking Point on TV, one interviewee shared that it’s nicer to be the one to apologize first, even if you are the victim of cyber-bullying. Stand on higher moral ground, and see if your bully will follow but don’t hold your breath hoping it will happen soon. :D [You can watch Talking Point on Toggle if you’ve missed the episode]

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Nuggets of wisdom from people Amy admires:

1) Louis CK: “Divorce is always good news because no good marriage has ever ended in divorce”

2) Gavin de Becker: “no” should be the “end of the discussion, not the beginning of a negotiation”

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“The only way we will survive is by being kind. The only way we can get by in this world is through the help we receive from others.” – Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler Yes Please

Get this hardcover edition at just S$23.32 before GST at your nearest bookstore :)

Nick Vujicic’s ‘Love Without Limits’ – 11 Tips for Relationship & Marital Bliss

Love Without Limits

[ Giveaway at the end of this blogpost! :D ]

I was sent this book for review and I have to admit that I thought it was just another book from a prolific author. But reading ‘Love Without Limits’ has given me valuable insights into making relationships and marriages work. More importantly, this book also offers hope to singles who are pining for a soulmate – “Never give up on love… because God planted that desire in your heart for a purpose” – and I encourage singles to pick up a copy of this book too.

Nick is not just a motivational speaker. He is also an “anti-bullying activist” and I’d love to follow in his footsteps! But one thing at a time, yes? *wink*

You might ask me who this book is for and I’d say “everyone” because Nick also got his wife, Kanae, involved in the writing of this book for both the ‘male’ and ‘female’ perspectives towards dating and marriage. Why is this important?

Just this week, I turned down a TV show opportunity (no need for added publicity) and had dinner with a JC pal I have not met in a long time. At our last meetup, she was deeply in love with a man three years our senior and was taking great pains to integrate herself into their (snobbish) family culture. Fast forward to our meetup, and she’d already broken up with said guy for over a year.

I asked her why she did not want to work things out with him and had so quickly said goodbye. After all, he did ask to meet her after she’d initiated the breakup. I felt that he had not hurt her so irreparably that she would stop loving him, i.e. he hadn’t actually done anything ‘wrong’. Her reply was that he had hurt her by allowing her to leave, and that if you really love someone, you will not let that person go so easily. [Which goes against that popular saying of “If you really love someone, let him/her go”, no?]

I told her that it is just the female point of view. That when you say to a man that you want a breakup, he hears it as something like “I hate you and I never want to see you again. Go and die.” when what you actually meant was “Prove to me that you love me and will never want to be apart from me”.

My friend told me that things might have turned out differently if she had spoken with me a year ago. Well, then I hafta start charging for such sessions, ya? :D #kidding

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Because of his lack of limbs, Nick does not quite look like the average man. And I mean no offence by saying this. So I’m curious about what Kanae sees in him. And in her own words:

I was hoping to one day find a mature, godly man who would try to work out our disagreements instead of just letting them stew… [and] make me feel like the priority in his life just as he would be the priority in mine… A man who would care for my dreams as much as I cared for his.

Kanae’s advice for relationship and marital bliss is that “You have to be willing to forgive, to put others first, and to work on your own flaws and failings”.

And I have picked out the top 11 tips I gathered from reading this book – you might be drawn to others when you read ‘Love Without Limits’, but here are those which resonated with me…

Nick Vujicic’s 11 Tips for Relationship & Marital Bliss:

1) Accept that maybe the love of your life won’t exactly fit your perception of the perfect person for you / someone not at all like you had imagined.

2) On page 88: Again, I caution you not to get engaged “because it seems the right thing to do” or because “the timing is right.” Marriage is a long-term commitment. You should only step into that commitment if you truly love the person and want to spend your life with her. You should think hard before marrying someone if you can’t forgive, overlook, accept or deal with issues that you may have with that person.

3) Embrace each other’s families and friends as part of the relationship, as long as they bring you closer.

4) Submit to each other in marriage through loving attentiveness and empathy, rather than setting unreasonable or selfish expectations by demanding that your own needs and desires come first and foremost.

5) Talk about the good and the bad of past relationships.

6) Understand and ease your partner’s insecurities and fears so your relationship will grow stronger. True love is reciprocal in that both people want the best for each other. They don’t worry about who gets more or gives more. There is no keeping score. They simply want to be with each other as much as they possibly can, for as long as they possibly can. The secret isn’t to focus on yourself less, it’s to care about your spouse more

7) “Can you imagine your life without this person?”

8) If you don’t grow together, you grow apart. Don’t take each other for granted.

9) Being right isn’t nearly as important as being together. Keep no record of wrongs. Don’t take conflicts personally. Let go of hurtful feelings and focus on making the marriage better, not bitter. Never go to bed angry. You have to be humble enough to ask God for help, especially when you feel your emotions running away with you, old insecurities reigniting, and hurtful words forming on your lips. God can go to your heart and put out those self-destructive fires.

10) Remember that “It doesn’t matter how nice your home is. You could lose the house and all of your earthly possessions in a very short period. What truly matters is the strength of your faith and the loving bonds you share with those who matter most to you”

11) Daily steps to strengthen your bond: (1) Start The Day Together, (2) Keep The Romance Alive, (3) Date Nights, (4) Mini Trips or Vacations, (5) Be A Friend With Benefits, (6) Go Out With Other Couples Who Really Like Each Other, (7) Live, Love and Laugh

I think Nick and Kanae have got it down pat when they describe a blissful relationship or marriage is when “each considers the other a blessing”. Who are the blessings in YOUR life? What will you say to them today? What will you do for them today? How will you make them feel like they are a priority in your life? :)

{ Giveaway }

To win a copy of ‘Love Without Limits’, leave a comment here and tell me which is your favorite out of the 11 tips above :)

It’s that simple!

*Only for residents of Singapore.

*Giveaway ends 25th April 2015, 23:59hrs.

Book Review: ‘The Life Of A Banana’ by PP Wong

The Life Of A Banana by PP Wong

The day I got my hands on this book, I completed reading it before bedtime. Yes, being able to speed-read helps. :D My gut feel about this novel is that it is part-fiction, part-truth because it knows too intimately the traumatic experience that is bullying in schools.

I’ll also give this book extra marks for the conclusion, which many writers fail to nail adequately. This one, however, delivers a punch to the gut as the protagonist (Xing Li) – and the reader – learns the truth about her grandmother’s life.

This book explores various topics: school bullying, racism, deaths of loved ones, euthanasia, among others. They are all really moving, and if you’d like a recommendation for a book to read on a lazy Saturday or Sunday, this would be it.

Some quotable quotes from the book:

1) “Lil sis, time is important. Life is about playing more and working less. People always think Chinese people are working hard but actually they’re smart and they’ve finished the work by lunch break so they can play games on their computer.”

2) “We have to pick our battles – be wise. Sometimes being quiet is wiser than saying a hundred words.”

3) “When life is tough, you have a choice. You have a choice to curl up in a ball and wither away like the crocuses in winter. Or you can fight like the fir trees that grow come snow or rain.”

4) “Mama once said that being strong was a blessing and a curse. When you are strong, people expect so much out of you. They rely on you to be the friend who they can turn to or the colleague who will stand up to the boss at work. You are the person who will have the right word, the one who will give them the strength to carry on. But when your heart is collapsing inside who can you turn to?”

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I even came to love how this book helps me understand the Chinese people and their idiosyncrasies a little better. Such as how a Chinese person can be on a Business Class flight yet still do something as odd as stuffing his/her pockets with the free toiletries, or even think about swiping the airplane headphones. Or why they have to TALK SO LOUDLY. :D

I’ll not say more. You simply have to pick up a copy of this book and read about ‘The Llife Of A Banana’. I’m sure you’ll love it. :)

Media Feature of my student, Steven Lek, in Lianhe Zaobao

Remember I wrote about my zaobao feature here and that there will be more zaobao interviews coming up?

Here is today’s feature (or rather, yesterday’s, since I’m blogging past midnight)

Steven Lek Lianhe Zaobao

I’m definitely happy to help secure media features for my best students. If you don’t already know, this is Steven Lek, who blogs at retiredowhat.com. If you want to know more about how to be a high flier at work (Steven used to be a GM for Singapore Airlines), how to lead a happy life post-retirement, and how to up your resilience quotient so you can bravely face dreadful things like retrenchment and early retirement, he’s the guy to look for. :)

Also, Steven is hard at work on his upcoming book ‘Enduring Quotes for a Young Nation’. You can pre-order a copy by writing to him via email. ;)

Now, as for this article you see above, I have kept to my practice of blurring out the article text. I don’t want to get into trouble for copyright infringement. But that photo was taken by Yours Truly, so I’m quite sure I can upload it. Ha!

As for the gist of the article… when translated into English, it basically shares about how Steven started his blog, how he found me on the Internet, attended my workshop and became a Top 10 Finalist at the Singapore Blog Awards in 2014.

Steven also reveals that he loves chatting with young people, sharing his views and ideas, and communicating certain values via his blog.

“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” is his motto in life. (And if you are his friend, he will ensure you don’t forget this quote. Ha!)

Steven also shares that age is just a number, and that we should not let our age stop us from daring to try new things, continuing to learn, and to make our retirement years fulfilling and exciting.

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Watch out for more upcoming media features with my students! :D Also, I’ll be concluding my series of blogging workshops for Q1. Sign up now if you’re keen. I’m doing a spot of traveling and speaking next month so I cannot guarantee there’ll be anymore workshops soon! :D

Click HERE to check out the dates

blogging workshop

Book Review: ‘Naked Ape. Naked Boss – The Man Behind The Singapore Zoo & The World’s First Night Safari’ by Kirpal Singh

Naked Ape Naked Boss

I was at the library yesterday and this is the book which immediately caught my eye. Hello, almost-naked man on the cover? Why is this allowed in NLB? Hahaha.

I remember reading a review about it, possibly in The Straits Times, so I quickly went to borrow this book and I’m already done reading it! :D

Because the cover photo was so arresting, I didn’t even notice that it’s not an autobiography. It’s about the man behind the zoo – Bernard Harrison – but written mainly by his friend, Kirpal Singh.

There are lots of interesting nuggets of information in this book, and it’ll make you see the Zoo and its management (hur hur) in a new light.

One of the first few notes I made while reading the book is about Bernard’s distinction between ‘love’ and ‘respect’. Ask him where his love of animals comes from, and he’ll tell you he has been taught to respect all animals and human beings. He explains that ‘love’ is restricted to only a select few, and it narrows your worldview and eliminates many from your attention. Respect, on the other hand, is all-encompassing, keeps you curious, aware, appreciative and willing to explore.

But, of course, he has a greater respect for animals than humans “because animals don’t lie or cheat or deceive”.

The book has its humorous aspects too, such as on pages 138 and 139 in which Bernard shares about why (the late) Ah Meng didn’t like him very much, and how he would not be photographed with her unless her keepers were close by.

Also, under that chastity-protecting leaf (as shown on the book’s cover) are balls, indeed. On pages 179 and 180, Bernard gives his account of how he thinks the man who replaced Dr Kwa as Executive Chairman of WRS is a money-grubbing fella (my words!) who priced tickets and other services (like F&B) within the zoo out of reach of average households. :D

Bernard also thinks that 90% of zoos should be shut down because they do not treat animals with respect. And he happily names those zoos that he thinks treat animals well.

I think this book, while confusing at the start (it suddenly mentions the name of Bernard’s third wife without any introduction before that, and I am left wondering who this lady is), succeeds in shedding light on this enigmatic figure – half-Tarzan, half-visionary – who now lives in Bali while his wife dreams of starting a handbag museum in Penang.

Some notable quotes:

1) On pg 191: “Always value every single person you get to meet in life. You never know if anyone right now will later become someone you would need help from in the future.”

2) His son, Sean, has this to say about him: “My dad has the gift of being absolutely present during a given time.” (I’d have to say that many parents don’t have this gift)

3) On Creativity (pg 214) “Creativity is not for the weak of heart, nor for those who constantly worry what others might think of them or their work.”

All in all, I think this book offers a good read. Definitely not a stuffy biography. :)

Book Review plus Giveaway: Arianna Huffington’s ‘Thrive’

Arianna Huffington THRIVE

*Update* The winner of this giveaway is Nancy Wee! (Email sent)

I knew this would be a good read even before I got my hands on the book! After all, the author is none other than Arianna Huffington of Huffington Post fame. I have to say that this book does not disappoint, and I foresee myself reading it again and again.

This book really ‘speaks’ to me because it seems to know intimately some of the challenges I face. For instance, Arianna shares about how we need to redefine ‘Success’. Society dictates that you are successful when you have two things: Money and Power. However, these things are not what people remember you for when they attend your funeral wake, and not what goes into eulogies either!

Were you kind? Were you happy? Were you genuine? Were you a good friend? Were you a good daughter? Were you a joy to have around?

THESE are the things that go into eulogies. So why do we spend our lives chasing after Money and Power, when they ultimately do not matter?

Most of the time, I don’t care about these things. People tell me that I should be less happy now since I don’t earn the 6-figure income that I used to earn in a job before I turned to full-time blogging. I give these people a knowing smile while thinking that ho-ho, they know nothing about the 7-figure Happiness I enjoy now.

Also, I don’t feel the need to own a big house. The bf thinks we should apply for a 5-room flat, or a 4-room flat, at least. Because we are both NUS graduates and people would EXPECT us to be able to afford bigger flats even if it’s just the two of us living in it.

I usually look at him like he has gone insane when he says these things.

Give me a 3-room flat any time.

I don’t want a maid or any other person cleaning up after me in MY house. And I don’t want to spend all of my time cleaning a huge house either. I don’t need that much space, though admittedly I have many shoes, bags and books. (I’ll learn to live with less) I want a house just big enough for us, and requires very little time to clean and tidy up, so we can have more time for movies, date nights, traveling, hanging out with friends, blogging, enjoying life, etc.

WHY THE HELL WOULD I NEED A BIG HOUSE JUST TO “LOOK GOOD” in front of others? :P

If you judge me based on my choice of residence, instead of how I am as a person and as a friend, then just let me say that I don’t want to have anything to do with you. Because you evidently don’t know a thing about me. :)

Secondly, this book also shares about how society encourages people to work themselves to the bone. If you are busy, if you are working long hours, if you’re working overtime, if you are constantly on the phone and ‘closing deals’, people seem to think that’s a good thing. I guess this is because being busy implies that you are earning more money and striving to get more power – the two things that society values.

However, who cares about whether you have fed your soul? Who cares whether you are getting enough sleep or not? Who cares whether you are battling the effects of stress, depression or burnout? The truth is that no one cares. BUT, you had better start caring for yourself!

Like this book has mentioned, very few people are supportive of those who lead the 4-hour work week lifestyles. They look down on these people as being lazy buggers, good-for-nothing losers, or worse. In fact, most people don’t think that being a blogger is a profession. I have had everyone from teachers to advertisers question me on whether my full-time job is indeed ‘Blogging’ and whether that’s even a “real job” (their words, not mine).

No, it’s not a real job. It’s just a great job. And if you cannot appreciate it, thank goodness I can. :D

So, if you would like to know more about these weirdos like me, and about how to redefine Success on your own terms, and how to really THRIVE instead of just being good at what you are doing, then read this book. You will never regret it.

I’ve made a few notes of the tips which have leaped out at me:

Arianna Huffington THRIVE

Here are 5 of my favorites:

1) Work in 90-minute sprints

2) Train your mind to be still (so I did the drawing of a stick figure fishing with no bait on the fishing hook)

3) A ‘red light’ at the traffic junction is a reminder to you to BREATHE and enjoy the moment

4) Do the 10-finger gratitude exercise

5) STOP HURRYING

Go ahead and grab a copy of this book wherever books are sold near you. It costs just S$27.99 before tax. Or take part in my giveaway…

~ GIVEAWAY ~

To WIN a copy of this amazing book, leave a comment here and tell me what your profession is, and why you want to read this book. :D

Book Review and Giveaway: The Reputation Economy by Michael Fertik

The Reputation Economy by Michael Fertik

*Update* The winner of this giveaway is Jeremy Fong! (Email sent)

This is one book I believe most people cannot afford to not read. Your digital reputation is going to have a huge impact on your life, if it doesn’t already exert such an influence. “It determines whether your bank will lend you money to buy a house or a car, whether a landlord will accept you as a tenant, which employers will hire you and how much they will pay you. It can even affect your marriage prospects.”

In fact, it is possible to access tonnes of information about you – your buying habits, your finances, your professional and personal networks and even your physical whereabouts.

Even if you stop using credit cards and pay for everything with cash, don’t own a social media account on any platform, and don’t allow anyone to ‘tag’ you when checking in to any venue, you can’t stop people from writing about you (even with a protection order, heh heh) or upload a picture with you in it (face recognition technology, anyone?)

This book offers a treasure trove of information, including which keywords to put into your LinkedIn profile so you come up tops in search results, how to curate your on- and offline activity to reduce premiums calculated by insurers, lenders and investors, tricks to get express or VIP treatment at banks and hotels, etc.

In fact, the author leads by example. On the back cover, there is “Advance Praise” for the book. It seems that many best-selling authors and famous people are happy to endorse this book. The power of having a good reputation, it seems. ;)

The Reputation Economy by Michael Fertik

Some Of The Highlights:

1) Insurance Companies use social media platforms like Facebook to investigate claims. On page 55: “a Californian woman was convicted of workers’ compensation fraud after she typed more than two hundred posts (not terribly clever) to Facebook after claiming that a wrist injury prevented her from typing at work.”

2) If you are flagged for having a concern about fitness or health (this could affect your insurance premiums, job or dating prospects), take steps to reverse this. The author’s cheeky suggestion is to strap a Fitbit to a dog and make your Fitbit profile public – it’ll make people think you are “the fittest person in your town”, OR “start posting photos of your coworkers’ salads on Instagram while you chow down on french fries”. :D [page 39]

3) Hang out with the right crowd (pg 59) as you will be judged based on the company you keep too! (@_@)

4) [pg 95] “…your professional reputation can mean the difference between whether you are offered a million-dollar signing bonus or a meager starting salary (or not offered the job at all).”

It reminds me of the AIA S$50 angpow saga that I blogged about here. I’d mentioned, and tagged, Ho Lee Yen (AIA’s Chief Marketing Officer). If you do a Google search with her name, my blogpost appears on Page 1 of the results. Unfortunately, she may not have realized this, as she doesn’t seem to want to take any action to rectify the glaring mistake in sending out those AIA letters. I have already alerted MAS and will definitely be following up on this issue.

The book even provides the key to resolving this, on pg 195: “Reconcile with anyone who is publicly complaining about you.”

5) Be a responsible guest everywhere: [p145-146] “prospective guests who enjoy good digital reputations on Airbnb will likely soon enjoy lower prices, diminished or disappeared down payments and deposits, and other privileges… Get blacklisted from Airbnb, and other services may follow as well.”

The Reputation Economy by Michael Fertik

And chapter 9 is a particular must-read. I love that line on pg 179 – “nothing motivates bloggers more than legal threats to shut them down”. Remember the obnoxious legal letters I received for my Data Register blogpost? ;)

I’ve ‘collected’ so many nuggets of wisdom from this book, therefore I highly recommend it. Go get a copy from your nearest bookstore! It costs just S$30.79 before GST – and what is 30 bucks when the things you learn from this book could help lead to a 6-figure starting salary?!

Whatever you do, online or offline, be sure to “carefully curate the reputation you have”. :)

~ Giveaway ~

WIN a copy of ‘The Reputation Economy’ by leaving me a comment on this blogpost and telling me why you want to read this book. :)

~

Also, read my earlier book reviews here:

1) Leading Women by Nancy D. O’reilly *giveaway*

2) Playing Big by Tara Mohr *giveaway*

Book Review: Public Relations 247 by Andrew Chow

Andrew Chow and Grace Tan

I had lunch today with a great pal of mine – fellow author, social media strategist, PR expert, and all-round great guy, Andrew Chow. This book review is inherently biased because I’m featured in the book (pages 186 and 187 to be exact) and I have already bought 5 copies at the book launch of ‘Public Relations 247′ even before reading the book! :D Yup, if I’m featured in this book, it has to be pretty awesome. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what else is in the book, and especially, the key takeaways I got from it…

(My feature on pages 186-7)

Andrew Chow Public Relations 247

This book wows right from the start, with a foreword by award-winning radio presenter, Bharati Jagdish from 938LIVE. Because Andrew is such a gem of a friend, it is not surprising that Bharati went out of her way to give great nuggets of wisdom even in crafting a foreword for a book. I got to know what she thinks about news pitches that reach her email inbox and how she selects newsmakers to feature on her program. In short, you have to buy this book.

Here are a couple of other things I have learnt from Andrew and from ‘Public Relations 247′:

1) Be A Giver: Andrew shares in the book that he has accumulated “close to 300 interviews, mentions, and features” about himself and his business and has “helped over 100 business associates appear in the press”. I have been on the receiving end of Andrew’s generosity, and I do hope to be able to help add to his tally of interviews and features soon. :D

2) Difference between the terms “publicity” and “public relations”: They tend to be used interchangeably so you’ll have to read this book to find out what the crucial differences are!

3) Definition of Media Terms: On pages 38 and 39 is a list of “media terms” which I didn’t even know about till I read this book. Yes, I have been interviewed on radio multiple times, appeared on TV, and been featured in print media quite a few times, but I’ve never been told what “On background”, “Not for distribution” (it’s not what you think it is), “Deep background”, among other terms, mean! *gasp*

4) How to ‘Identify A Reporter’s Interview Style’ on pages 40-42: Please beware of the “I’m your buddy”, “Please help me!”, “Provocative” and “Rumour Starter” types! There are a total of 11 styles listed in this book. If you foresee yourself having to interact with reporters in the near future, or would like to engage them, please do yourself a favor and get a copy of this book. In the past, I relied on Andrew’s tips (delivered verbally) to get through some of my interviews. Now, I have this book! :D I even made sure to get 5 copies so I could share them with my closest and dearest friends.

Yes, that’s 5 copies we are holding, actually:

Andrew Chow and Grace Tan

So far, I’ve given out 3 copies – to my pals Jimmy Chua and Steven Lek, and one of my interviewer friends. One more copy to go. That lucky friend will receive a copy by the end of this month!

Here’s what Jimmy had to say about the book:

“As an F&B entrepreneur, I find this book useful for business owners as it provides many case studies and ‘scenarios’ to prepare ourselves for. It is a good read and great prep for events such as meeting members of the media!”

5) Tips for TV interviews in chapter 11. Literally everything you need to know, from the color of your clothing to your posture and tone of voice!

And guess what, there are even tips on blogging in this book, some of which I didn’t even cover in my book ‘Blogging For A Living’. How cool, right? We just keep learning from each other. :D

And I’ve also found that my favorite quote from this book is:

Online comments can be both positive and negative – we cannot control what others say about our posts. The crux is to manage the heat calmly and manage the love humbly.

:D

To find out more about this book ‘Public Relations 247′, head over to this Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/PublicRelations247