Of living in tech mecca

San Francisco, CA, USA

It is #blogrevivalday.

The day was initiated by someone who lives far up north in Stockholm, with the date May 6th picked by a very well-loved and popular journalist in London. It caused a minor disruption to the allure of Facebook posts. And that is a feat.

How technology has moved within a span of a few years. Blogging used to be THE place to express yourselves – especially among us writers. It even makes writers out of the non-writing types. When Twitter  and Facebook barged into the room somewhere between 2004-2006, people started spending so much energy on social networking that to risk burning a brain cell or two to write coherently became exhausting. And so blogging lost, and Facebook and Twitter won. Selfie – mind you, is another monster altogether.

I live in hipster-land right now. Where all those technologies were born, farmed, fed and changed rapidly. I am now in the midst of tech-junkies who think nothing of spending $4 USD on artisanal toast.

Just. One. Piece. Yes, you read that right. $4.

The sellers will justify the price with a lengthy description of where the ingredients are sourced – bread that is baked in a wood-fire oven, jam made from fruit grown via heirloom seeds dropped out of paradise, butter from smiling cows who roam the green pastures in Sonoma while playing the flute. Who knows. I learned something here – if you are in the restaurant/cafe business, describe your ingredients with as many words as you can. You can choose to use wit, references to popular culture or approach the wordings with an authentic I-am-pro-organic/free-range-hens/drink-from-my-own-cup/ attitude. Bay Area residents will buy it, especially if you are on this side of the Bay. The East.

And speaking about the East Bay, when we first moved to San Francisco in January 2012, we had some idea what life was going to be like. After many trips to San Francisco as a tourist – my idea of the SF life are the trolleys! caramel-apples! maybe work at Google! sun! sailing boats! But after that silly euphoria, we decided on living in the East Bay, Berkeley to be exact, just 15 mins away from “The City” – as what San Francisco is affectionately referred to here. Berkeley is known for its notoriety in the past as the birthplace of hippie-dom, where liberal values are celebrated, people are well read and well-travelled and a mind-blowing mix of Nobel-prize winners, the poor who struggle monthly to pay rent, and a socially and environmentally conscious middle-class. Living in Berkeley has been a ride. Just as it should be.

From my kitchen balcony, I can see the hills where the first ever Islamic university in the USA – Zaytuna College, resides and the rooftops of buildings where the bright minds of the University of California Berkeley students discuss, analyze and make good of their thoughts – even if it is laced with youthful idealism. Such honor, to be able to cook ayam lemak cili padi (chicken with suicidal-hot coconut gravy), then turn my head and look at those hills. I am reminded daily that I am a Malay living in the USA. When my other half walks into the kitchen and spews tech jargon – I cringe yet marvel at how far mankind has arrived. I am fully aware that I am in the midst of this big shift but also acutely sensitive that for every new technology innovated, a new one will emerge within months. I read newsfeeds on TechCrunch about a $15 million acquisition here, a $250 million funding there – paper money, yes, but monetary values based on perceptions of future successes.

This is the life here – and the bubble that everyone is living in. Perception IS reality – a mantra I live by since my college days (and I still have the post-it note bearing this same statement that I used to post on my dorm room door). And so it is perception, and creating your own reality – that is the secret of what Facebook, Twitter and yes, dare I say it, blogging provides. You have, in your hands and the click and clack of your fingertips – the power to create your own reality which will manifest in the readers’ perception of you. And technology has made it easy.

The guys behind these tech thingamajigs are just like you and me. Some have families, some are pub-hopping, some are religious, some are weed-smoking, some are insanely charitable, and some are eating $4 toasts. They are consumers as much as they are innovators.

What privilege these guys have. The ability to create, disrupt and cause at least 40 people across the globe who used to write incessantly online to shift to another platform. And I am pretty sure, there looms ahead a post-Facebook and post-Twitter era. And my privilege is to get to witness it – and cringe.

Always stick to ayam lemak cili padi. The récipé never changes, and no one can disrupt a satiated soul.






APPsolutely interesting

I am no iPhone junkie (ok I’m lying) but the apps in that little device is serving way beyond its purpose of entertainment, education and productivity. Serious.

The next time you are shopping around the App Store via iTunes, take the time to click on App Stores of other countries. Trawl through the list of Top 10 apps (free or paid) and it will give you a quickie little window into what’s hot in the App download world, in OTHER worlds. You will quickly realise that not every country is into UrbanSpoon or Shazam or Whatsapp – some unfortunately, are into something more raw and visceral, of the animal instinct kind.

Take Saudi Arabia for example. The top paid app for them is : Arab Girls (photography app people…yeah right!). There is no need for me to openly analyse the factors that contribute to this phenomenon, but seriously…how telling is that?

Have some free time? Go browse the global App Stores. Not the fairest sample size to make a sociological conclusion, but hey…it’s a digital world. And I never claim it’s academic.


It has been almost 9 months of vacuum in here, all because I lost my inspiration halfway, had to deal with business issues, figure out some things and finally get inspired to write again after watching Julie & Julia. As I am sure it did to hundreds of past bloggers.

But unlike Julie Powell, I am not aiming to get published nor drive hordes of traffic. This blog has always been my one favourite place to read my own stuff, because often  – I get so bored  reading my own scripts, proposals, news articles and corporate documents. Who wouldn’t after you have to to read and reread again, edit, read and read again? If monotony does not kill you, what does.

A lot has happened in the last 9 months. I ditched the Blackberry and caved into the iPhone, started a business partnership with a technology genius, spend Friday mornings feeding the homeless downtown, hooked up with old friends from past worlds and worst of all – inched a space for myself in that funny universe called Twitter world. For a while I thought I was a bird.

I have been reading a lot of news lately about the sinking television industry in Canada. While stories about broadcasters laying off people are no longer news, producers – the kind with rolling credits (both on screen and from the banks) are closing shops too. Inside stories came in fast and furious, and from what I fathom – it is a problem that’s waiting to happen. The way people consume entertainment has dramatically changed, and if Canada does not follow suit and strategically position itself to provide a comfy bed for content providers doing what they do best, then they may be trailing the bus and have to be content with inhaling smoke.

I am not saying traditional broadcasting has lost its splendour. I sincerely hope not. I love my TV, and I love the complexity of the industry. But it will be foolish to think that traditional broadcast is the end-all of a production, the ultimate resting place of that spark of brilliance when a writer or producer dreamed up an idea. It will be more foolish to just talk about creating multiplatform content, when your understanding of it is merely creating a webspace for your TV show and perhaps, a webisode of the series. Drafting regulations to police the digital framework will not work either, that will be bordering creativity towards artifice.

When a new medium emerges, it is quite simple really. The growth of creative ideas, especially one which is constantly evolving, is organic. Learn from how social media grew (and still growing!). No rules, no policies, no waiting for others.. just incentives to prod the creators along. Market forces will determine how sustainable an idea is, when one fails, reboot and create new ones. No need to whine and over-analyse.

I am still puzzled which part of this entire process that many people still don’t get.

Rock The Vote….off

And so in a few days, we will know who will lead that big, powerful country – either Joe the Plumber’s fan or the Salleh Yaacob lookalike. I have never been so fixated with an election, not even when I was covering it as a journalist – until now. Growing up in Singapore, an election is a boring event of seeing the main party spewing rhetorics of ‘more good years’, when the hammer is seen as the devil and the lightning as the saving grace. Singapore was ruled by a major party for so long and so successfully, that it is hard to fathom the idea of an opposition. And when we did open our minds and let them in, the gap of quality politicians between the major party and the opposition is so wide – that I wonder when they will ever catch up.

Anyway, this post is not about Singapore. It is about the US, and Canada – a place I now call home. I was never introduced to the concept of optional voting until I move here. I never knew you can choose not to register yourself as a voter , and therefore not vote.

Coming from a law-abiding society, and I really mean law-abiding in its full glory – voting is a given in Singapore. You go for the rallies, read all the pro-major-party articles written in the media, squeeze your brains by an ounce to make an intelligent judgement – and end up still voting for the major party anyway. That is the drill. For decades.

So when you have an election that someone told me is a cross between Survivor and American Idol, you get hooked. CNN or ‘Senenen’ as DH and I fondly call it now, is on in our apartment at breakfast, before dinner, during dinner, and after dinner. On some days when we are not disciplined, the station is  on right after Fajar prayers, just before breakfast. We were so hooked to the US elections that the Canadian one, which was two weeks ago – came and swiftly went. DH almost treat it like a chore, I would too if I had to vote. The day of the Canadian election, DH arrived home from work at 6.30 pm, half an hour before voting closes. He then rushed out with me tailing behind  and reach the voting centre at 6.45 pm. Then he realised he went to the wrong centre, and we sped to another voting centre hurriedly. He casted his vote just five minutes before voting closes. And he was not the last one.

When we reached home, we were back into the Senenen world. Sometimes we do remember that we were supposed to switch on CBC instead to catch up on who won the  Canadian election, but we were not loyal to the Canadian networks. Senenen was like dope. Shame on us.

And so like everyone else, I am waiting with bated breath for this US election to be over. I want to go back to my non-Senenen addiction days. I need to flush this US elections out of my system. It makes me worry that when we do manage to peel ourselves from the TV, we end up reading Huffington Post instead.

I do believe this US elections addiction is becoming unhealthy. I need to get back to the OTHER addiction. That little-do where 10 men run around on skates, chasing each other with sticks.

The hockey season has started and I need to be loyal to the true, non-partisan president called The Puck.


When I was a mere student eons ago , I managed to charm a veteran journalist concerning my theory on why people like to listen to sad, love songs. During that interview, I confidently spewed verbal diarrhea on how human beings knowingly or otherwise, need (and like!) to go all the way down to the depression pits before springing back up. Sad, weepy love songs are merely instruments to allow the person to hit rock bottom, drowning himself in self-pity – before the magic rocket of feeling positive takes place. I expounded on how it is not possible to heal when you only allow yourself to feel the pain ‘halfway’, which only translates to a halfway recovery. Who wants that?

I did not know any better then. I was 22 years old when I came up with that. I don’t know how I did it. I do know however, that the journo in question was so impressed and kept on asking me questions on my supposed, insightful background. He factored my majoring in Philosophy had a lot to do with it. God knows.

Fast forward to today, I am acquainted with the concept of contraction and expansion. How you will be passed along a period of contraction before you can expand – in your inner realm. One can truly expand when he has the ability to pass the test of bad times (contraction) and remembering Who is in power, and eventually surrendering the burden to Him to take care of it. This is a period of flourish. And this is cyclical.

I recalled the day that lesson was taught. I couldn’t explain any more than the fact that it was by divine permission that my so-called philosophical insight came out of my juvenile, 22 year-old mind. It was not from me, but from Him. The familiarity is stark.

During yesterday’s Tafsir class at Zawiyah Foundation, Imam Fode Drame was explaining about the nafs lawwama – the blaming nafs. On how we blame everyone and everything but ourselves. How the nafs lawwama is a veil we put upon ourselves (and unfortunately, nurture) between us and God. In the discussion, we took examples from the story of Prophet Yusuf – on the importance of saving more, and eat a little. Yusuf had a dream of how Egypt will be in a period of drought for 7 years,and flourish for the next 7. He had advised the king to save for the drought while times are good.

This morning, I was reminded by DH on how it has been seven years since 2001. That fateful year when Bush came into office, 9-11 happened and all the world is topsy-turvy. It has been seven years before we are hit rockbottom by a global recession. We have been in a period of contraction since that year. We are, at the seven year mark.

I can therefore, take solace that there is expansion in store. I am telling myself to look and see, and be alert of it. With Obama looking like he is getting into office, it is obvious that the non-performing administration is getting an overhaul.

I seriously cannot wait to see what’s in store for the world next year.

Strangely, I am the only one I know who is excited about a recession looming.

Get me a better theory

Someone told me, actually…make that two – that people tend to watch more television during a downturn. It is a way for people to escape the gloom and doom. Ah well…escape, khayal …they all mean the same thing.

It was the kind of statement most producers want to hear I suppose. But for some reason, I was not able to hook myself to that seemingly sweet notion. This downturn is different because while people are happy to watch more television, it does not mean that the advertiser will be spending ad dollars in the broadcasting space. Declining ad ratios is already so rampant and a downturn will basically turn that prudence into panic. Unless of course, if broadcasters are willing to lower their rates. But IF they do, it only means that the license fees given to us producers, get lower. In a highly unionised industry like television and film that means unfortunately, the buck stops with us, the producers.

And so you can tell I am not hot about the idea that people are watching more television during a downturn. It does not mean a thing to me because it is secondary to the growth we all need to harbour a sliver of hope.

Harvesting Dilemma

Another post about tomatoes. No, not the Sarah Palin kind. That, my friends, would be a tomato-head.(I still cannot believe how McCain can call everyone ‘my friend’, when you know very well he doesn’t mean it)

Anyway, I digress.

Fall is here and the temperature has been err…falling. It was a freaky 8 degrees at midday today, which left me only to wonder what it would be like in late December, this year. But that aside, I, as a true-blue wannabe balcony gardener, is more worried about my plants than whether I do have the latest Fall fashion. Ok, I take that back. That didn’t sound very convincing.

The plants, especially the fruiting ones – need a strategy. It seems that the extraordinaryly not-so-warm Summer this year took its toll on tomato plants. They refuse to go red by this time of the year, and while I know mine is a tad too under-hormonised, I heard the same problem has been occuring on other people’s gardens too. And these people are veterans. They ain’t no wannabes like me.

So since the temperature has been falling, I know the 5 tomatoes hanging out at Tomajoyah Momok is not going to ripe anytime soon, or later. My best bet is to pick them, store them in a paper bag, and let them ripe in it. Many people do that. As a wannabe, I just follow.

Then 2 mornings ago, as I was diligently watering my plants at the balcony – I saw 2 new tomatoes coming out of Tomajoyah Momok. I was stumped, because I am not expecting any new birth at this time of the year. I also thought that the timing was so off, there is no way the fruit can ripen in 80 days – which will be around mid January. Even if they do, they would be shrivelled, frozen tomatoes by then!

But the new tomatoes are commanding so much pity from me of their will to live, that I didn’t have the heart to not only pick them off the plant, but also the rest of their 5 bigger siblings. So now, thanks to me animating characters into green, stocky things – I don’t have the will to pick the tomatoes to ripe them out in paper bags. Such a simple decision to make, but oh so difficult.

What I DO know is that there will be no more tomato plants next summer. I’ll be doing pumpkins instead.

Hosting headache

Raya or Eid in Vancouver is pretty something. For the next 4 weekends, we have house after house that we are invited to, thanks to the vibrant Malay community here. And these invites are not the come-sit-down-and-have-dinner with us types, these are the full-on, everyone wears samping and songkok, buffet with 10 dishes kind. You will end up seeing the same people week after week, and often, the Syawal month is the one month that we see each other most often – before everyone has to get back to the usual grind.

So this year, DH and I didn’t get into much discussion if we will be hosting. Like what we did last year. We managed to squeeze 60 people into a 900 sq feet space last year. We did the smart thing by catering from everyone’s favourite restaurant – Ma’s , which by far, I dare to admit is the best Chinese-Muslim restaurant in the world! No kidding. We had Planet Earth on the DVD, and in between gasps of gossips, there were gasps at the aerial shot of running bulls across the fields. Everyone was happy with the food and the company. We were exhausted.

We have not really decided if we are hosting that big do again this year. Our main excuse has been the absence of Mr Ma. You see, he has gone back to Hong Kong to be with his family and manage his other halal restaurant in Kowloon. We are now thus deprived of a guaranteed winner in our attempt to serve people. We thought – no Mr Ma, so no hosting this year. Until we get asked incessantly last night at 3 different houses.

“Set a date, yet?”


“Everyone is asking – when is your place going to be?”


“Are we invited to your place this year?”

OR the very classic,

*on his way out of one of the houses, when asked he was going – he said* – “I am going to 41st and Dunbar!” (thats OUR place).

So that got DH and I into a discussion somewhat. Should we host or not? More importantly, where do we cater from this time? We thought of Nam, a famed vegetarian restaurant which is apparently a hot spot among Vancouverites. We also thought of East is East, an Afghani-Indian fusion place. Then there’s always Mex Burrito, a Mexican joint. What we know for sure, we cannot serve Malay food. These guys are super cooks.

And so the hosting headache will begin. I will have to start making calls to these restaurants this week to find out what their rates are etc, and also pick a date.

Ode to Bibiks

This year’s Eid was a busy one for me. The usual waiting game was exciting, as half of Vancouver celebrated Eid on Tuesday, following the global-sighting method (when the crescent is sighted in another location, often in Saudi). The rest of us, who followed the local-sighting method (that is, when the crescent is sighted in Vancouver) celebrated on Wednesday.

I recalled how that Tuesday evening was. I on my laptop, right after iftar – twiddling my thumb. DH was on the sofa in the study with me, twidding HIS thumb on his cell. He was texting his cousin and asking when, when when, while I was refreshing the www.bcmuslims.com every 2 seconds. Yes, we were anxious. Why? Because we had invited about 15 friends over to our place on Eid night for some feasting – and we NEED to know when Eid is.

So when the news came in that Eid fell on Wednesday, I was literally jumping for joy! I did. And we even broke into some awfully dreadful Raya songs. I was just too happy to switch the lampu lap-lip on, which by the way had me driving to FOUR blinking stores ALL over Richmond to find, only to have me find them in a little store in Kerrisdale near where we live! Should have known better. Sigh.

Anyway, the Eid party at our place was wonderful. We really had a great time and lots of feasting. The only thing I did not do was to take a lot of pictures:(

But the most pertinent experience for me this Eid is actually in memory of the Bibiks. I was breaking my back cooking a feast, and I suddenly recalled how convenient and easy it was for me in SG during Eid – when all the Bibiks help with the preps.They peel the onions, cut the meat, clean the house, iron the curtains, get the Eid outfits ready, serve the guests…it goes on and on. I realised that I am now somewhat a Bibik during Eid – missing family AND having to cook and clean at the same time. I was somewhat in their boat, and could really feel how it must have been for them.

I really respect their toil for a better life, slogging their way in a tiny, affluent island called Singapore. I had a new appreciation for all the Bibiks in my life, I was very fortunate to have them. It is strange that this year’s Eid they were so much in my memory – and I hope my nieces and nephews who are lurkers here (yes I KNOW you guys are reading this!) appreciate all the hard work their Bibiks put up for them during Eid (and all the other days).

During Eid especially, they are missing their family and crying quietly.Yet still serve their duties. Now that’s what I call sacrifice.I have so much to learn from them.

NB : “Bibik” is a term of endearment that most Malay families in SG used to address their domestic helpers, who are mostly Indonesians.