High standards

December 30, 2008

Anthony Bourdain explained what it takes to be a great chef, “You adopt high standards early in your career, and you never relinquish them. Ever.”

In our careers we tend to replace the youthful enthusiasm and eagerness at the beginning, with a routine apathy with the passing of years, tempered by jadedness and cynicism. I used to wake up every day itching to go to work, because it was so interesting, so much to learn.  Nowadays, it takes some effort to motivate myself just to wake up, but for reasons due more to advancing age than a lack of interest. Work is still very interesting, and at this stage in my career, where I don’t do as much engineering nor sales, but more management & strategy, and if I see myself as a valuable part of the company, I’d motivate myself in more innovative ways, think up of improvements of systems & resources, strengthening existing infrastructure.

And if it only takes some small amount of intelligence or logic, and large amounts of attitude, determination and character, then it applies to any discipline and any task, any situation.

Including the restaurant business.

Normally I’m a quicker judge than what I went through last week in a chinese restaurant in an upscale neighbourhood in KL (blocked out the name of the restaurant from my memory).

It was a modern and chic inspired by a new wave of Taiwanese/Hong Kong eateries, and the menu looked appealing enough. It was 9pm and my mother & I thought it was late and we’d give it a try.

In point form; 

*There were only one other table of guests. *The hostess took our order enthusiastically, but never came to attend to us again. *The owner and a man in chef’s uniform sat in a booth not far from us to watch a football game. *The order was overly slow to arrive.*My noodles were soggy and overcooked. Had 2 bites and push the bowl aside, and didn’t touch it the rest of the evening.  The hostess/owner/chef all noticed it, but never came up to ask about it.

I asked for the bill, and summoned the owner, who was perhaps a young 20-something. He was cordial and seemed genuinely interested in my comments.  Although what I had to say was piercing, I had only his (restaurant’s) welfare in mind, that I wanted a neighbourhood store, a mom & pop, a family business to thrive – I explained that.  I reasoned that it was better to hear harsh criticism and adjust quickly, than staying oblivious and not survive.  Beyond an attractive face which entices a stray customer, how do you want to keep them coming again?  What was the point of setting up a restaurant? What does customer service mean? Where are the high standards in the quality of the food?

It is said that 90% of all businesses fail in the first year, which is to say 90% lacks the right combination of passion, experience, management & organizational skills, social skills, network, foresight, discipline, people motivation, planning, money, and luck. Which is to also say that 90% of these people are delusional. There was also an old malay couple who poured all of their life savings into a cafe which they tried to position as upscale, which was anything but, situated at the ground floor of a condominium situated at a cul-de-sac which only the residents and regulars would go. The food however, was genuinely great roadside fare (never had a better nasi goreng ikan masin anywhere else), but would-be-clients were detered by the 50% premium on the cost of a meal. As the losses pile up, they would tinker with the menu, sell clothes on the side (literally on a rack), and as the ship went down in flames, the old uncle would ask,”the food is great, everyone says so, I don’t understand why nobody comes to eat here.”

In this critique, I do not offer solutions, because the problems are unique and require unique answers.  In the case of the old malay couple, with whom I had great empathy, I would have thought that  understanding your clients’ needs (in that location) would have served them better, rather than setting up a cafe just because “everbody” said auntie your food tastes great you should set up a restaurant. 

Then building upon that understanding, they’d plan carefully with a proper cashflow projections and business strategy, and stick to it.  Minor adjustments are common, but if you’d make huge overhauls a few times it would mean that you did not think things through the very beginning.  If it doesn’t make money in the first 6 months, shut it down. 

The old couple were in the red every month for 2 1/2 years.

Sonhos

December 23, 2008

As vezes falava portugues sozinho, dentro do meu carro, practicando.  Acho que eu tenho medo de perder essa lingua. Foi tempo que nao sonhava em portugues. 

Inevitamente, os sonhos saos dos praias, do sol, dos amigos (nao se quem, mais bem familiar) accompanhando duma “soundtrack” invisible. Mais do que as imagems que eu ver, sempre presente e um sensacao de liberdade; dos bracos extendidas, olhos fechados, respirando o mar.

Love letter

December 23, 2008

There will be times when you are growing up, and you look around and I’m not there, but you should know that I am thinking of you just now. There will be times when you just want to know I’m in the room, near you.

I am always there.

As you grow older and you start to learn about the difficult things in life I want to be next to you. I will be there when you buy your first goldfish, and comfort you when it dies.  I’ll be there when the training wheels come off your pink bicycle and you ride like the wind, only to fall and scrape your knee.  When you come home with a gold star from your teacher and I will raise you in my arms, and we twirl like figure skaters.  I want to be there when you first fall in love and when your heart first breaks, and I will promise to be quiet and just sit quietly in the corner until you feel better.

As you grow older you will learn that I am not a perfect man, but you will know that I have learnt to love you perfectly.

nokia-0231

Human resource management?

December 22, 2008

Dear Zamri,

I do not want to pay overtime for normal routine services, starting december 2008 claims.  It is everyone’s task to finish up his or her job every day. 

You can approve overtime for routine services only if there is an event or situation during the day that delays a staff to complete his or her job in the required time.  

Otherwise, the management will have to take drastic measures, for example; 

1.                   To increase salary to RM 1,501 for technicians, so that NO OVERTIME will have to be paid out.  But this is unfair for a few reasons; a.  This negates genuine claims for overtime.b.   The basic pay for these 2 NEW technicians will be higher than longer serving technicians in other branches.

2.                   Take extremely strict measures on time in and out, emphasizing on reporting and punctuality.  Since company handphones are also subsidized, we may require staff to constantly notify on their daily movements etc.  Leave of absence will also have to be heavily scrutinized.

The management has to ensure;

1.                   All technicians have to share equal workload.  For example, we have to manage it so that not some technicians have to work 120% of the time (therefore 20% overtime), and some technicians work only 80% of the time.  Please continue your toolbox meetings and actively converse with your senior staff to make sure that the workload is properly spread out. 

2.                   Please ensure that no one works more than 40 hours overtime each month.  This is to comply with the labor laws.

3.                   If we consistently get 70~80 hours overtime claim from each technician, it is necessary to begin the process of hiring extra staff to make up for the shortage of manpower.  However, I believe we only 4 customers, and having 2 engineers + 2contract engineers + 3 technicians + support from waka & me is supposed to be more than enough for these 4 clients, even though we are facing some cleaning jobs etc at the present moment.

Dear all, we have to make the effort of arranging our time better.  As you may agree, most of the time it could be like this; 

Current

Sun

Mon

Tues

Wed

Thurs

Fri

Sat

Worker A

60%

110%

80%

120%

70%

Off

Off

Worker B

Off

110%

60%

130%

50%

50%

Off

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Improved

Sun

Mon

Tues

Wed

Thurs

Fri

Sat

Worker A

90%

90%

100%

80%

90%

Off

Off

Worker B

Off

80%

90%

110%

80%

90%

Off

I do not think it is fair that during the time that there is no work, or little work during the work day, that the company cannot deduct the salary, but in doing normal routine service after office hours, we have to pay overtime.  The important thing is to manage your time better, and make sure we all share the workload.  This is a combined effort from the management & the staff.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

Zamri, for the upcoming CGC chemical cleaning, please ask help from Zaidy and ask his opinion.  I realize that in the recent jobs, like MTBE passivation, PS localized passivation, PAP inspection, PAP chemical cleaning, CGC 1st time passivation etc, Zaidy was not involved. Why? 

I understand you are now training the new staff (Roshisham, Faisal & Amir), maybe that is why you involve them so much in the projects.  But I ask you to only involve/train them during normal office hours. There is no reason why you should train them in overtime hours.  They should be asked only if the resources at hand (Zaidy, Roshisham, Ridzuan, Mahizan) are not available.

Yours,

Maya

December 18, 2008

All my hopes and dreams are placed in her, and I know I will do everything in my power to make her happy.  I share Macy’s wish that she can be anything she wants to be – a pianist, a trash collector, a university professor – as long as she is happy.

My pride and joy.

Yakult

Yakult

She wouldn't get off

She wouldn't get off

Walking & Tokyo part 3

December 10, 2008

Counterintuitively, I did not bring a camera to Tokyo, nor did I practice karate on unsuspecting pedestrians, but I preoccupied with something else – my aching body. It’s certainly a symptom of my generation – the thirtysomethings, of not exercising enough, of being overweight, of literally possessing a pain in the ass.

I didn’t walk as much as I used to, and why I used to walk wasn’t simply because I liked walking, it was because I like seeing how people lived, and when I was much younger, it was imbued with mindless bravado. Somehow, I thought walking around the more gentrified city areas was a great way to “be in touch”; I remember being accosted by 2 drunk men in the dark streets of Caracas, though I did find a shop that eventually became my favorite coxinha place in Manaus, and in Harlem, while not exactly a slum, was a  good place to walk around if one knows when not to stop and stare.

Most Tokyoites walk, mostly because of the excellent, extensive, and utterly reliable subway system, that you don’t need to have a car to get around.  The streets are pedestrian-friendly; they are wide, safe, clean and orderly, signages are logical, infrastructure such as lighting, crossings, underpasses (extensive linkages to subway stations, major shopping malls) are impressive.  Reflective of that lifestyle, Tokyoites wears sensible shoes, carries micro-umbrellas in their purses, handkerchiefs in their pockets, and sling sensible knapsacks.  No other megapolis in the world has quite the balance of convenience and functionality. 

It was mid autumn in November, averaging 12~18 deg celsius, and the suns shines on all the days I was in Tokyo.  Slowly, I trodded along, stopping to gawk at life-like plastic models of meals in glass cabinets outside restaurants, entering wine shops to ogle at branded wines (mentally comparing prices), eyeing digital cameras at the mega-electronics stores.  I stopped by Tokyu HANDS (another ritual), where 8 storeys houses innovative products ranging from kitchen knives to travel luggage to bicycles to toys to stationery, where I would do most of my shopping for gifts.  I bought reusuable grocery bags, some fridge magnets & a “mobile garden”, where you could grow a garden in a capsule which dangles from your handphone. 

Interesting anti-smoking campaign ad

Interesting anti-smoking campaign ad

New stricter guidelines also meant that smoking could only be done in specially set-aside spaces; at an oasis in front of the Shinjuku Takashimaya I people-watched as I rest my aching feet.  Tokyoites are beautiful, well-coiffed and a mostly elegant race (unlike most of the rest of the Japanese – who are just peasants); in the way they handle a cigarette, the way they stand around purposefully.

I take another seat on a park bench at the Tokyo Metropolitan complex (city hall), as I note the falling leaves in the courtyard.  A young couple with a little boy walks by.  As a especially red leaf detaches itself from a branch of a tree I was just looking at, just then, at that very moment, they began to run.

The logic of images

December 4, 2008

This title was pilfered from Wim Wender’s treatise on filmaking, a thin volume expounding on his influences, techniques, aesthetics and philosophy.  I feel a kinship, and greatly admire his works, most of all in his road movies, which is always a humanistic view of (a) man’s wanderlust, but always a mobius path back to himself. I felt that this title best represents this blog, or in its previous incarnation as the title of my book, as my raison d’etre.

The logic in/of images is not a generic or broad as its sounds, as least to me.  Everyday we are assailed with things that happen around us; by the things we see, by the information we receive, the entertainment we choose to indulge in. The desensitization begins when the sensational, exciting, motivating, inspiring, disturbing, profane etc becomes mundane and commonplace, and things are taken for granted. While it is only natural, and in no way a good/bad, or black/white issue, I lament the fact that perspectives and opinions are polarized and distorted, and that it is exponentially more difficult to place and replace the sense of inspiring awe we felt when things were new to us when we were kids, when we saw everything with childish innocence.

As we live our lives, trying to balance what we need to do to live, and the urge to live our dreams, to achieve varying degrees of success are we motivated & conscious? In breaking down the question “who am I” or “why am I here” do we identify the correct/incorrect, truth/lies, push/pull, love/hate? But the real question is, do we have the tools to do so?

Where “images” are fluid, open-ended, un-catergorizable, “logic” is rational, systematic, precise.  A photograph is judged great most times for the story it tells (besides satisfying other technical merits); a work of art invokes different feelings, provokes different reactions; but the key to the images is the framing of the feeling or the reaction, the explanation of the story it tells.  

This blog aims, as I do in life, to tell the story of each encounter with an “image” with a borgesian mathematical precision, to simplify, to weed out the embellishments, leave in the simply beautiful, the essence, to steer the commonplace and seemingly mundane back to inspired awe.