Thursday, May 05, 2005

Sleep Less in KL

Sleep Less in KL

I'm trying to blog while waiting for my dinner appointment here at KLCC. Feeling a bit tired today because I've been sleeping late every night. Last night, I wanted to do some reading before going to bed but fell asleep with the lights on.

I've blogged about sleep a couple of times before. One of my favourite advice for people who have difficulty sleeping is not to try too hard. Don't bother changing into your pyjamas or switching off the lights. Go to bed instead with the lights on and tell yourself that you are just lying down for a short while before resuming work. A bit of reverse psychology works sometimes because we tend to fall asleep when we are not supposed to do so.

I rarely have problems sleeping because I'm usually dead tired every night. I only encounter difficulties two or three nights every year and that's usually because I had "accidentally" caught a nap earlier in the evening due to fatigue and end up being wide awake all night.

I've been trying for many years to rise and go to bed earlier because I think it is healthier that way. But somehow my body has it's own set of ideas. (Or is it my mind?) For some reason, have this built-in desire to sleep less.

You see, I am often "reluctant" to go to bed early. When my body tells me it's time to go to sleep, my mind will plead: "Another half-an-hour of reading or surfing please?". Half an hour usually becomes two hours and I'll end up sleeping at three in the morning.

Maybe tonight is a good time to hit the sack early. Hopefully my dinner with friends doesn't adjourn into a drinking session. If that happens, I'll find an excuse to leave early--I certainly don't want to fall asleep on the wheel while driving home. Happened to me way too many times in the past. Can be a very dangerous thing--I might end up sleeping forever!

The Only Skill I Possess

The Only Skill I Possess

For obvious reasons, today is such a wonderful day for me. But I must not be too distracted from my work as I have an important week coming up. Time for me to get back to "match fitness".

When I was a student, I always prepared for exams as if I was a sportsman following a strict training program that would allow me to peak at the right time. In the university, I wasn't the type who paid attention in class. I found lectures extremely boring and wasn't very good at taking notes.

There were also too many other intellectual distractions for me: even though I was an engineering student, I was equally interested in the humanities. I spent most of my time in the library reading poetry and history, because I felt the subconscious need to balance the "overdose" of technical subjects in my course. They only problem was when it came to exam time, I had to struggle desperately to catch on my coursework.

Usually one month before the final exams, I would chart out a "training program" that would allow me to digest the entire year's engineering course within a couple of weeks. But first, I had to make sure that I had a complete set of lecture notes for all the subjects. The few girl students (there were not many in our engineering class) who sit at the front rows usually had the neatest and most detailed notes. During exam season, photocopies of their notes were in great demand.

But lecture notes alone were not sufficient. They were just good indicators of what the lecturers emphasized in their courses. To thoroughly grasp all the subjects, I had to immerse myself completely in them. And that meant camping for the entire month in the library.

I found that the best way to study was to make my own notes. It was a very laborious process that required a lot of cross-referencing. But you gain two important things out of this exercise: One, the process of making notes help you to remember and puts your mind in a "seek mode". In this mode, the mind is constantly probing, questioning and comparing. That is the key to understanding any subject.

A subject that initially appeared like a daunting wasteland of incomprehensible facts suddenly transformed itself into a landscape with distinctive characteristics. Slowly but surely the terrain is absorbed into both your conscious and subconscious mind. Once you know the "landscape" of the subject, remembering becomes relatively easy.

Secondly, the notes you make serve as good memory joggers or checklists which you can quickly scan through the night before the exam. Hence such notes should not be too detailed or lengthy. Details should have been digested already in the one month run-up to the exam. The eve of the important day itself is for one to go through the entire checklist and "cache" all the important facts in one's short-term memory.

Using this technique, I successfully navigated through my four years in college. So even now, whenever I'm preparing for important technical presentations, I still use the same technique. And because I cover many diverse fields in my line of work, I normally have to make sure that a couple of days before the presentation, I immerse myself completely in the nuances of the subject matter at hand. I stop reading any extraneous things and stick to a mono-subject diet.

Sometimes you don't have the luxury of "a couple of days" to prepare. But luckily my years of self-training have taught me how to instinctively grasp the overall idea and concept of any subject very quickly. It's like setting up a Christmas tree: the important thing is to get the tree (concepts) properly and firmly placed first. And then the decorating ornaments (details) can come in later.

Again and again, I realized that the most important skill I learnt from my student days is the ability to pick up a subject very quickly. Sometimes I feel, that is the only skill I have. And that skill alone has saved me on countless occassions throughout my working life.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Travel Arrangements

Travel Arrangements

It's difficult for me to make travel arrangements when my client can never give me a definite confirmation for the date of our meeting. It's alright if I'm travelling to Indonesia or Thailand as there are many daily flights available to those countries, not to mention a choice of budget airlines too. But tickets to less popular business destinations such as Sri Lanka can be quite difficult to get if you do not book early. Hotel choices are also very limited and expensive. Travel agents also make life difficult for you by insisting on early confirmation for hotel bookings with full prepayment for the entire stay.

I make a lot of my travel arrangements online. I wish there are more hotels like the Millennium Sirih Hotel in Tanah Abang, Jakarta--I can always get a room there through the Internet, even at the very last minute. Their rates are also quite reasonable--I especially like the "no breakfast" option, as I usually don't take any and don't like it bundled into the room price. More importantly, I don't have to prepay for an x number of nights. You see, when you go on business trips, you are never quite sure how many nights you are going to stay. So if you are to cut short your trip due to whatever reason, you lose out because you have already paid the full amount to the travel agent.

The good thing however about some prepaid packages is that they can be very good deals. The rate that you get if you book directly with the hotel are undiscounted list prices. Travel agents--both online and brick-and-mortar ones--usually give you a better deal but you have to commit yourself to the package and the inflexibility that comes with it. The general rule is that, if you choose to book last minute and still want complete flexibility, then be ready to pay premium price for it.

I'm glad that the world is going back to work tomorrow. All these public holidays are no good for me as I cannot get things done. I've been sitting in KL for far too long already and I'm getting stale, lazy and restless. I need to start travelling again. I've already got my flight tickets, now I need to decide on the hotel...

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Compass of the Heart

Compass of the Heart

Whenever I think back of my childhood, I feel lucky that I grew up in a small town. Childhood is so important because so much of one's character is built during that period. When we become adults, somehow we all end up living in big sterile cities devoid of the simple pleasures that some of us as children were fortunate enough to have experienced.

But every generation laments an era that is no more; and what's gone always seem better in retrospect. I try not to indulge too much in nostalgia because it can easily become a form of escapism. But I recognize that the past contains such a wealth of memories which I can tap for inspiration to face the future. A few lines from William Wordsworth comes to mind:
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
What gives me the enthusiasm to continue gaining new experiences in life is the thought that everything I do now will become a source of further strength for me in the future. The storehouse of beautiful memories can only increase with compounding interests.

What I choose to pursue must also reflect what I am genuinely interested in and not something that I do to keep up with the Joneses or what others think should be the way to live life. That way my life is a unique expression of what I am. To be able to do that is to live life authentically because we owe it to ourselves to pursue what we truly believe in, deep down in our hearts.

Everyone of us leads a unique life. We are all fellow travellers whose paths have come to cross momentarily, here on this blog, on this page, on this very sentence. But we will all continue forward, along our individual paths, ever-faithful to the compass of our hearts.