Sunday, July 29, 2012

How to Travel?

In the early days of my employment life, I view travel as a total waste of money: you spend money at crazy rate for a few days, and you don’t get anything physical in return; if a buy a toy, at least you get a toy. That is a logical perspective, until one funny day that I realize travelling is something I wanted to do dearly.

In the beginning it just about hanging out with friends, where we did have a really great time together. Eventually I was hooked with hiking and mountains, where I found it to be a liberating escape from the pressure of work. I just need to walk and walk, then have a great meal and rest, where there are almost no worries at all (except the task of packing is a bit daunting). I am a happier man in the mountains with the nature. I do realize I am more of a mountain person than sea person, as the beach is too hot and the water is too salty. I didn’t fall in love with diving, as the world is too dark and quiet (listen to my own breathing); though the environment is beautiful, and I can’t really “touch” it and be part of it, it feels so near yet so far, the diving suit and goggles feels like an aquarium trapping me in it.

I know the standard packaged tour and few days trip couldn’t give me the satisfaction of travelling, where it felt too rush with little time and interaction to let the feeling sinks in. I tried travelling for a month, where the experience at Nepal is all great because of the mountains and changing scenery, and amazing people. Rajasthan in India is photogenic with its magnificent ancient city, fort and temple, but it’s too much of the same: the only exception is Jaisalmer the dessert (tranquility and peace). When I did China, it’s too much city things and people, even the scenic routes are filled with tourists, which make it convenient but mentally tiring. I know I like travel, but the outcome is yet to be satisfactory: I need to learn how to travel.

I know of 3 friends who travel frequently, and view travel as an important part of their life, and each of them travel in different ways, and probably for different reasons as well:

  1. Christine is a good friend whom I met during my trip to climb Mount KK in Sabah, and I am guessing she travels for no less than 3 times per year, each time on a minimum of one week to a few. She lives in Hong Kong and work as a social worker, thus her holidays are limited, but she make use of her time very well. I’m not quite sure why she travels, but I do know she loves it.
  2. Si Theng embarked on a journey to Spain for a year, while sign up for a language class and learning flamingo dance in between, which seems like a good way to travel: school + travel. I am guessing she wanted this memorable and meaningful adventure before she settled down, and now she is busy raising triplets. She is the one where I set the idea of travelling around places for a year.
  3. Recently I met Ian and Maggie, where they decided to make nomad travelling their way of life. They don’t just travel, but they settled in each city for longer duration, engage with the local culture, people and the little things in life, while making a living out of it. So it’s not just travel, but a way of life. They have been on this adventure trip for 18 months.

An interesting question which Ian pointed to me is why would I want to travel, and such simple question seems to trigger a lot to be pondered upon.

  • I like the idea of going to new places, the feeling of a new world, a different culture
  • I wanted the escape, out of the daily routine, with no work and commitment to worry about
  • I like the sense of adventure, with the hope bumping into nice surprises at every corner
  • I like to ponder on how to live a meaningful life, where I felt traveling is a time and experience to rethink life, a “pilgrimage” to discover things; my passion and priority might be clouded by being too engrossed in the daily rituals, and I see travel as an opportunity to disengage and take a step back, hopefully able to see things in a clearer manner
  • Somehow I planted the idea of a yearlong travel in my mind (the bucket list), it feels “right” as something to do before I die
  • I want to learn to travel: not just visiting monuments and enjoy breathtaking view, but to explore the possibility of alternative lifestyle, learning to slow down, learn to appreciate life, and perhaps learn to live the life of another culture (it feels like a mini restart of life).
  • Perhaps there is a certain rebellious nature in me of not wanting the walk the path where everyone expects me to take, but to feel what is it like to take the alternative path.
  • To seek the paradise on earth.
  • Perhaps travelling feels like Freedom.
  • Perhaps I'm figuring things out as it goes, through trial and error, an elimination process through trying, to find what would I really want to do

May it be the excitement of an adventure, or the desire for a change, to understand life better, or enjoying the freedom: I know I should learn to travel, at least for now.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Review: How to find undervalued talent

How to find undervalued talent from Rasmus Ankersen on Vimeo.

3 simple lessons to improve ability to spot talent:

  1. Identify the right talent based on the right competence required: don't give the wrong competency test, or is the test relevant? how relevant?
  2. Raw vs Polished Talent: learn the story behind, is there more room for improvement with better guidance and training?
  3. Character and Mindset: why are you here?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Life of the Independent Worker

I had quit working for others for almost 6 years (I think, kinda lost count), it is liberated freedom and quite a culture shock as well. Suddenly there is this new found power with no one to report to (and take orders from), and I am responsible for my own well-being with no one else to blame (the days of my company and boss sucks is over).

The Beginning

The beginning of the journey is filled with mix emotions, as I am not used to such great freedom and responsibility. The great thing about employment is the illusion of direction and comfort, where I just need to complete a set of tasks given by the management, and I go home a happy and satisfied man, with enough money my pocket to spend on leisure. When I gain the power to decide on my own life, what the hell am I supposed to do with all these freedom?

So, I figured out some ways to fill in the extra time: read some books, exercise, catch some naps, work on some pet projects, catching up on all the things I didn’t have the time to do. Wait, why did I quit the job again? Because I believe I can do better than my ex-bosses and companies, and there is a really cool project I like to work on. Right, let’s get to work. Code code code, must complete and ship the damn thing and not letting it suffer a pre-mature death. It’s easier said than done, as many didn’t get to execute their idea and dream, and many more didn’t get to finish it. Though I did finish it, but it didn’t gain “success” (in terms of traffic and income).


Perhaps it’s time for Plan B: setup a new company with friends (that didn’t work well after a year). The main challenges in partnership are fulfilling each other’s expectations, where everyone should be on the same boat: taking the same risk and shit, and shared the glory. When the risk-shit-glory ratio is unbalance among partners (which could be very difficult to achieve among strangers), the ship is not going to sail far. As much as I envy some of the Silicon Valley dream team, but the fact is partnership seldom work out due to certain human nature, which I have yet to nail it down. Partnership is like marriage, you don’t make backup plan by having an affair outside; you bet your future life and happiness on one girl, and optimistically, there is no turning back. Pack all your things, get on board together and set sail; no looking back, no ship hopping.

Reignited Dream

After the failed partnership, freelancing works well for me for 4 years, until the day I could no longer find the heart to work on stupid projects for stupid people (sorry). The money is there, the challenges had gone stale, and are no meaning left. I wanted to build something which leaves a mark, something of my own creation, something that could get me to work day in day out without reluctance. I do believe in the Maslow hierarchy of needs: when you fulfilled your physiological (food, sleep, etc.), safety (house, stable income, etc.) and love (family) needs, the next level is esteem. For me, I wanted the achievement of building something I always wanted to do, to put those dreams and ideas into action.

Why now? I believe I started with the same kind of dream and passion when I quit the job 6 years ago, but I didn’t make it due to lack of experience and confidence, and clouded by the needs to create a stable income. Now that I have satisfied the basic needs, and gain more confidence through multiple trials; I am ready to relive the dream again, in a bigger scale and higher commitment than before.

What not to do

After embarking on this new journey for about 9 months, I’m still not quite satisfied with the result. I seem to be fairly busy, but yet the work done doesn’t translate to satisfaction; and yet it always seems there are so much more to be done. I rule out a few distractions along the way, where I have decided on
  1. I shall not debate pointlessly on Facebook, as it’s just a thread which are not going to bring about a change no matter who wins.
  2. I shall reduce on attending events, as I am not good at socializing and networking (defeat the purpose), which are the main agenda of events. If I want to learn something or listen to a talk, there are plenty of good ones on youtube and slideshare.
  3. I shall not waste time chasing venture money (or join pitching events), as I suck at persuading people to give me money, and not many investors could provide a meaningful feedback besides the usual business BS; I shall work on projects within my own means, and the only person I need to convince are my users.


At times, I am still plagued by either be laser focus on the existing idea, or experiment with some other relevant ideas? Should I keep on maintaining the current development platform or tryout some of the more shinning technology? I understand the need to be focus and push it through until the product reach critical mass or tipping point, and working on existing technology is more economically viable as we focus on production (which create values) rather than research (which cost time and money). My logically mind tend to vouch for focus and production, but my motivation says otherwise.

I used a Kanban + Pomodoro (KanbanFlow) tools to keep track of my time and productivity, and found that under 2 circumstances that I am super motivated and productive.
  1. When there is a deadline: I realize something too up more time than it should, I mentally flag it as critical and I must ship it ASAP no matter what.
  2. When I get to work on something new, either a new idea or a new technology.
I found that I perform below average on the following circumstances
  1. The feature I am working on is boring, but necessary.
  2. Working on the same project using the same technology for too long.
  3. Working on monetization/sales effort, without the elements of fun or adoption impact.

Technology is my friend

I am always intrigued by more efficient, elegant or productive ways to do things. PHP are more fun to code than .NET and Java (too much hassle and structures), and CakePHP is a beautiful architecture compared to raw PHP, and Python seems like a cooler language than PHP, and Flask (and other micro-frameworks) seems to suit me better than a full-stack framework as it provide greater flexibility with less magic, and Google App Engine have some really cools services which I enjoyed (and save me the trouble of server setup and configuration). I know I could not withhold this natural desire for long, so I start to have some fun with new technologies using my Hackweekend project, without affecting the progress the current main project.

Having fun is important

I realize I could not just focus on one product and continue with older technology just because it works, and I also realize the importance to focus by continuously iterating the product. Now I could relate to the Google 20% time project: no matter how cool or important the current project is, we could get bored after working on it for too long, thus we need to reignite the motivation through the 20% time project or hackweekend. It’s a balance, in the sense that we could not spent all our time working no matter how much we love our work; we need to take a break to enjoy a nice meal, watch a movie and have some fun. Such is the case for work; we need small “leisure” project to keep our work life interesting.

Listen to our heart

I believe being an Independent Worker is an interesting journey, filled with challenges and experiments, and most of the time, we could make the decision to follow our hearts, after we learn to listen to our heart.

Being an Independent Working and working on a Startup are part of my bucket list as well.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Handbook to the life of Joy and No Regrets: The Bucket List

Just watched the The Bucket List, about two terminally ill strangers decide to create a bucket list together (list of things to do before you die), and work through the list. The billionaire decide to do something crazy and have fun, while the mechanic who regretted the life he had given up decide to seek the missing love for his wife on their new journey. They do some crazy and stupid stuff, travel the world, and chase some ideals and dreams; at the end, the things which they desired the most had always be with them (friendship and love), yet it will require an adventure and travel around in order to get “home”. This movie is a reminder to me: am I living a life which I truly desired? Focusing on the things which really matter to me? No putting any good plans on hold, building up huge pile of regrets along the way?

In order to find out the answer, I would say the best way is to create my own bucket list: so that I know what is not so important, what are the things which I always want to do, and probably how to have fun. Hopefully along the way, I would be able to live everyday as if it is the last.

“You know, the ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death. When their souls got to the entrance to heaven, the guards asked two questions. Their answers determined whether they were able to enter or not.  ‘Have you found joy in your life?’ 'Has your life brought joy to others?’” -- The Bucket List

The Big Travel Plan
I once planned to travel the world for one year before I hit 30, but that didn’t happened, and now I am probably 33. What is holding me back? Partly I sacrifice it for developing a business with a friend which didn’t quite work out, and also the typical worry about sacrificing on financial support for my future family plan, and worry the hell out of my parents for trying to be a bump for a year. There are definitely a psychological barrier and plenty of excuses for not doing it, and at the same time, I still can’t shake the idea of my mind.

I try to satisfy the desire with short adventures, first spending a month in Nepal, then another trip to India and China, which are fun and memorable, yet it still isn’t my ideal travel. I don’t really like short trips (less than a week), as it all seems too rush, trying to cover too many grounds with too little time, it’s more tiring than enjoyable. One month sounds good, yet sometimes we are too greedy as well, trying to get to too many places, and it involved a lot of cumbersome logistic planning. I really like Nepal, India is chaotic but a good experience, and finally I didn’t get the kick out of China. Why? Perhaps we do too much sight-seeing, being more like a tourist than traveler. There is little connection with the people and culture of the place, or we didn’t sink in to really feel the place, or we didn’t found the perfect place.

What is my perfect plan? It should be something along this line: move around places, until we found a place which we really like, and stay there for a week or months, and immerse in the simple daily life in a new place. There is no need to find a tourist-packed monuments and scenic view, as there could be a tasteful back alley and perfect restaurant just waiting around the corner, with no crowd but serenity.

Now I know what I truly desire, and I have my little perfect plan laid out, what should I really do? This is the part where I truly don’t know how to proceed, except to pick a destination, buy the air ticket, start packing and be ready to go. I probably could summon enough courage to do another one month journey, but how do I really let go? Unless, I know I have less than a year to live.

To a certain extent, I don’t mind postponing the plan for a while, but until when? Do I do it by next year? Do I wait until the day my business got acquired for a million dollar, and then I pack my bags? Do I wait until my children (assuming I have them) grow up, and then we go together? Or someday somehow, when the times come, I shall know it.

Opportunities await man who is ready, and I do need a plan to make The Big Travel plan works. Different people work in different way, some could just pack their bags and go, some would never do it, and some do it at a slower pace. I am not a spontaneous person, and I probably won’t force myself to become one, so I need to come up with a plan which works for me. There are probably two show stopper for me: work and children. Since the children are still an uncertain plan, so let’s put that aside first. I think I can’t just bump around while traveling for a year; it should be a way of life where I travel, play and work in new places. I don’t plan to do waitressing as work, though I won’t mind short term work in a farm, but the best sustainable way I could come up with is to build an online empire.

The Online Startup
I always like online business, where I could run it from anywhere. I dislike business which requires physical contact and constant interruption from customers, as this would limit and affect the quality of my life; nor do I want to take the risk of physical stocks and physical business maintenance. It’s priceless to have a morning without phone call interruption, and no constant urgency which require me to attend to something ASAP. Management of a business which doesn’t require anything physical (no physical contact, no stock, no management, no logistic), money will come rolling in without the need to chase for payment. I want to create the ultimate online business, where nothing is physical and everything is self-serviced.

This online business will fuel the Big Travel Plan

Live life as if it was my last day, is something I am still learning to practice.

Let’s fill up the rest of the bucket list on another day :)

Monday, July 09, 2012

Review: Lessons from Robert Kuok 郭鶴年


  • Why invest in Sugar? It's a basic necessity besides rice and wheat which is always in demand; if you can source for cheap sources, you'll get rich.
  • More than 90% is hard work, the rest is luck.
  • What make you better than your competitors? I believe there are smarter than me, but they have a messy night life, while I work hard; my horses run faster than theirs.
  • There are risk in every business; if you are not brave enough to grab on the first or next opportunities, then you shall be a poor person forever. 做生意的人一定要一种的胆量,但是胆量要对生意,不要用胆量对人。
  • 你不能跑两只马。You don't try to reap sideline profit when you promise an unconditional help.
  • What makes a successful sugar king? Focus. 一定要专一,不能花心。
  • Why you invest in multiple businesses besides sugar, isn't that "not focus"? When doing business, you should be involved in a few types, because they are related with each other (compounded benefit).
  • Hotel is a service industry (not product), and the most important element is you employees, and you depends on them fully to take of your customers; thus, we shall make it our primary agenda to take care of our employees.
  • Why invest in China's industry in such an early stage? I have a good feelings that China tourism industry will become the busiest in the world, due to its rich historical relics and monuments. During that time, there is no good place to stay, and the toilets are terrible; we need to help China's tourism industry to grow.
  • I admit that I am not a great businessman, I am not the calculative kind.
  • 我们要争志气,不要给外面的人看不起我们华人。
  • 给人帮助:不宣传,不用谢,不报答。
  • My mother told me to conduct business following the path of morality, don't worship materialism.
  • Advice from mother: 儿孙能如我,何必留多财;倘若不如我,多财亦是空;不为自己求利益,但愿大众共安宁。If my children are as capable as I am, there is no need to leave them with inheritance money; if my children are not capable, giving them more money is useless as well; not working just for my own benefit, but so that everyone can live in a safe and peaceful environment.
  • My mom knows that I'm somehow a talented businessman, but she would not want me to turn to the dark side and be an "evil" businessman. She advice us to be a good person, and not be greedy about money.
  • My love for my mom is eternal; and I believe most Chinese mom is like my mother.
  • If my mom is still alive, she would advice me to continue to be modest and practice humility, and help the poor people.
  • 脾气是没办法改的。You can't change your temper.
  • Daughter: I father believe in hard work and learning Chinese
  • I hope that my children will do good for the company, be a good leader, build a good family and reduce their shortcomings.
  • He will almost invest in any development for the good of China
  • In my early days, I see those people who are very aggressive in business using unscrupulous methods. We knows their methods, but we didn't complaint; we just try our best to compete. Today, these business are no longer around.
  • Personally, I don't love money; but I like my company to be profitable, so that I could pay good bonus to my staffs.

Robert Kuok: humility guided by morality, passionate in building a business yet not influenced by materialism.