Golf: Where love and hate collide
July 08, 2017

With my coach Abang Kimi, visibly unimpressed with my choice of low-key attire

There are times in life when you ask yourself, “What am I doing here?” This could possibly take place inside a broken Jeep in the middle of the desert, in a dingy interrogation room of the Thai-Cambodian border, or in my case, at a golf course last weekend.

Earlier this year, after succumbing to peer pressure, I enrolled in a golf class. My coach goes by the name of Hakimi, and I call him “Abang Kimi” (it sounds more masculine in real life). Abang Kimi is 53 years old, and has been teaching for over twenty years. Sometime somewhere in his life he decided to pursue a career that requires the patience of a monk. But the man is physically and emotionally fit, and doesn’t look a day above 40. Although I may have shaven a few years off his lifespan by being his student.

After 12 classes of long and short games, I was finally allowed to enter the course. I was expected to put into practice all that I have learned over the 30 hours spent at the driving range. From my grip to my swing, and from my posture and to my putting, Abang Kimi has done all he could to shape and refine my style of play. It was down to me, then, to effectively apply the lessons on the fairway. These also include golfing terms new to me such as “par”, “eagle”, “birdie”, “bogey”, and “BLOODY HELL”.

Truth be told, despite my perceived athleticism, I was never a fast learner of any sport… or any activity for that matter. And at 34, I am even slower than I used to be. Give the exact same golf lessons I had to a nine-year-old and he/she would easily outperform me in every department. Call me over-competitive, but this is why I never play video games with anyone below the age of 12. Kids are simply faster at absorbing lessons plus instructors tend to be kinder to children and somewhat murderous to us adults.

Nevertheless, this underachievement is not solely down to my physical ability (or lack thereof). Google any list of difficult sports and golf is consistently up there alongside gymnastics and horseback riding. I used to sneer at golf as being a sport for the lazy. You hit the ball into 18 holes then you go and eat banana leaf rice. I couldn’t be more wrong, except for the banana leaf rice. Regardless, I still embraced the challenge of learning something new... sort of.

Golf is highly technical and each swing is influenced by approximately six million parameters -- none of which you could fully control. A significant challenge with my record of putting my pants inside out in the past. Mastering the game requires diligence and persistent training. Not to mention full focus on and off the course. One phone call from your boss in the middle of a game and you’re screwed. Golf demands complete concentration, total body coordination, and is not a sport you can play while eating pizza. John Daly is the exception and not the rule.

For a beginner, I guess I did okay my first time out. And by “okay” I mean I only lost 8 of the 10 balls I had. (The other two are safely intact, ha ha.) I was clearly nervous in the first nine holes but with the aid of tobacco, Abang Kimi remained calm and supportive throughout so I did better in the second nine. It was a great day out, and I learned a great deal. I can see the appeal of golf as a leisure activity, and how golfers can get hooked. The frustration fuels you to get better at the game. I do wish the learning curve is gentler. It will be years until I am anywhere near decent in this sport -- make that decades. 

I am still, however, unsure about golf as a networking activity. Unless you are good at the game, all it does is showcase your ability to curse in four different languages. Eating together seems like a more practical and viable alternative to build relationships. Now that’s something I don’t need a class for.




The Golden Age of Lifelong Learning
June 29, 2017



Education is becoming more accessible than ever, and we should make the most of it.

In 1858, the University of London became the first institution of higher learning to provide distance and flexible education to students around the world. Study materials would be sent out across the globe via mail, and students would sit exams at specified times in their home countries. This innovative solution was proven to be robust enough that it became a key platform for soldiers to pursue higher education while serving in the war.

The University of London International Programmes is still in operation today after almost 160 years and its alumni boasts seven Nobel Prize winners including Nelson Mandela who read law under the programme while in prison.

The model laid out by the University of London programme has evolved over the years and today access to education continues to grow opportunities for students of all ages. The emergence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) alongside the rapid growth of Internet access has brought a new dimension to the way we acquire and apply knowledge.

MOOC opens the door to materials from top institutions from around the world and all you need is an Internet connection. Interest in the MOOC movement is exponentially gaining momentum, especially among individuals already in the workforce. But the challenge is in optimally utilising this innovation.

Apart from on-the-job training, the traditional approach to capability development at the workplace includes staff members taking time out from the office to attend classroom sessions at a remote location. Some employers view this as a form of reward for their staff, without fully ascertaining if the feeling is mutual. The challenge with learning is that when it is not self-motivated, the objective of capability building can be negated into becoming a checklist-crossing exercise.

One solution to this predicament is to include the workforce in the design phase of the training curriculum. With the tools and technology available today to facilitate online delivery (such as Google Classroom), the translation of content to lessons is becoming increasingly simple.

At Imperial College Business School, Dr. David Lefevre leads the Edtech Lab which collaborates with organisations in developing executive education programmes that are effective and flexible for their employees. A testament of this effort is the relaunch of the school’s Executive MBA programme which has been restructured into a blended (online and on-campus) mode to fit the busiest of schedules; the aspiration being a programme that is supportive of realising the student’s both career and academic ambitions.

Dr. Lefevre argues that it is vital for organisations to foster a culture of lifelong learning within their firms to accelerate and upskill their workforce as industries edge closer to the age of automation.

One concern that both organisations and employees have in the past is the high cost of attending training or continuing education programmes. With the advent of technology and the willingness of institutions to make their learning materials open, investment in education is becoming more cost-effective. Development programmes for senior executives can still exist without limiting opportunities for the workforce at large – given the wealth of potential yet to be unearthed.

In Malaysia, the government is also providing support towards lifelong learning within the country’s workforce. Through its Human Resources Development Fund’s ‘Online Distance Learning Scheme’, employers can reclaim their annual contribution to the fund and put it towards supporting their employees’ enrolment in postgraduates programmes up to a PhD qualification.

As the great Roman leader Julius Caesar once said, “Experience is the teacher of all things.” His words stand true today, although one could argue that there are also things you can learn on edX and Coursera.




I still have no idea what’s going on: Wrapping up the MBA journey
May 05, 2017


Ten years ago, after graduating from college, I made a vow to never set foot in a classroom again. No more textbooks, no more assignments, and no more 8am exams after an all-nighter fueled by Cheetos and Red Bull. I was resolute and unwaveringly determined that if I ever have to go near a college campus again, it would only be forceremonies such as graduations, weddings, or mass circumcisions (it’s a Malaysian thing).

I guess I was wrong.

Yesterday, on a -- hugely unexpected -- rainy English morning, I attended the graduation ceremony for my MBA class at the Royal Albert Hall. With my entire family in attendance, it was the largest congregation of Malaysians at the hall since our songstress Siti Nurhaliza performed there in 2005. But she did not have livestream and my grandparents were tuning in from Kuala Lumpur so I might have won by a margin in terms of global reach.

At the tender age of 34, graduating again is a rather different experience. I feel more relaxed, and less anxious about how the following chapter of life is going to unfold. And as a parent, there is more routine to life that you become better at predicting what’s next. We had an argument with our toddler about her preferred attire before the ceremony yesterday, and I found myself trying to placate her again after the ceremony while still in my robe. Surprise, surprise!

All of life’s certainties aside, the past two years have showed me how little I actually know about myself. The vow that I had arrogantly made a decade ago about never going back to school faded over the years as I began to seek new challenges in life. I started applying to business schools in 2014, and commenced life as a part-time student in January 2015. In December 2016, I submitted my thesis with a desire to perhaps continue with this journey of learning -- but not too soon!

I have to thank my family and friends for this milestone. My wife and daughter for giving me the space and time to study. (Mostly my wife… the 3-year-old has no mercy.) My parents for their belief. My sponsor for their support. And the Imperial Global MBA 2015 faculty and cohort for the unforgettable experience and friendship. I still have no idea what’s going on but I will do my best to make it look like I do.




The Joy of Refrigerated Commuting
March 22, 2017



Earlier this year, after 10 years of driving to work, I started taking the train. The existing line was extended to include a new station in my neighbourhood, so I thought I’d give it a try. It saves time and money, for starters. And I’ve had enough of getting stuck in KL traffic anyway. The time has come for me to get stuck in the LRT.

Here are three things that I’ve learned so far…

1. Bring a winter coat (and paracetamol)

Malaysians love air-conditioning. Living in tropical weather and unforgiving heat, we have survived evolution by developing the ability to seek shelter in air-conditioned areas e.g. the mall. Our national car, Proton, is renowned for the power of its air-conditioning and the lack of power of its power window.

The LRT train, however, brings it up a notch by providing industrial grade air-conditioning system capable of generating a mild Himalayan blizzard. Which is fine when the temperature outside is not 34 centigrade. Three days of these fluctuations and you’re at the doctor’s in no time. I am happy to report that after three months, my body has now acclimatised to this climate change.

2. There’s so much to do

My train journey to the workplace takes about 30 minutes. And if there’s one thing that I cherish about taking the train is the amount of things I could do to fill up this half an hour. Back when I was driving to work, I was stuck with radio ads with Adele songs in between. Now I can listen to podcasts, read a book, or catch up on some sleep on the commute to work.

It does make me wonder if I would be more enlightened today had I spent the past decade taking the train to work. Imagine the amount of knowledge I could’ve gained in my daily trips to and from the office. Heck I could’ve learned a new language by now. Ten years of driving in KL and all I learned was cursing in four languages.

3. People still play Pokemon Go!




The Fastest Two Years of My Life
February 25, 2017


This frame is from a video I made three years ago. It was for my MBA application, and watching it again reminds me of how eager and determined I was about going back to school. Which is funny because the vow I made to myself after finishing college, apart from getting a haircut, was to never set foot into a classroom again. I guess I was wrong.

The past two years as an MBA candidate have been quite enlightening in terms of self-discovery. I never knew I could enjoy learning as much. And I don’t think anyone else did, either. Credit to my parents for not laughing when I told them I wanted to pursue postgraduate studies. Maybe they didn’t want to hurt my feelings. I had a better chance at winning Miss Malaysia, really.

Education is such a different process when it’s driven by personal motivation. Assignments become much less of a chore, and readings make more sense when you have some work experience. At the tender age of 33, I was re-discovering the joy of learning. And I am grateful for that -- better late than never, I suppose. Although I do wonder how life would have turned out if I had this much drive in college.

As an engineering undergraduate, I often question if I will ever need stuff like object-oriented programming in the future. This was compounded by the fact that I was never good with subjects that require the left side of my brain. (Or is it right?) At least in business school, you know some of the lessons can come in handy when you argue with the people from Finance at work someday. If you can’t beat them, confuse them.

In May, subject to outstanding library fines, I will be making my second walk as a graduate. These past two years have certainly been the fastest in my life. Everything seems to have been sped up, somehow. They say time flies when you’re having fun. Maybe I was having fun. That’s right… school is now fun. What have I become.



A Decade of Growth
February 03, 2017


Ten years ago today, I reported duty as an analyst in the Petrochemical Business Unit of our company. I was 23, eight months fresh out of college, and had absolutely no idea what to expect. I did have some experience working at the computer lab in college, but ‘business analyst’ sounded way bigger than ‘printer fixer’. I was sure the problems at the new job couldn’t be fixed by simply pressing the restart button.

As I try to reflect on that very first day of work, I realise how little of it I actually remember. I’ve always had this habit of not documenting milestones properly and in hindsight, I wish I had captured the day better. I would love to relive the thrill and romance of that maiden step into my working life. Not sleeping well the night before, arriving early into an empty office, addressing the lady boss as ‘sir’... I could vaguely remember any more than these first day jitters.

My poor recollection aside, the past decade at the Twin Towers have been full of wonderful memories. I’ve been lucky to have made friends with some of the nicest people, worked with some of the brightest minds, and visited some of the most interesting places in the country. I even met my wife here. It makes no premise for a record-breaking 7pm Malay drama, but Fattah Amin and Neelofa are more than welcome to play us on TV.

To commemorate my tenth year with the company, I’d collected my name cards over the years and (had my wife) arrange them nicely into an RM 9.90 Ikea frame. It’s nothing fancy, and this is about as creative as I go. But I do feel that it gives a nice snapshot of what I’ve done over the course of my career so far. I’d moved four times over the period, and I hope I’ve left a positive experience with each of my colleagues. (Except those who support Man United.)

I could only offer my humblest gratitude to PETRONAS for shaping my adult life. I am a second generation staff, and I was under the scholarship programme for my undergraduate studies. Therefore my relationship with the company began way before 2007. I’ve learned so much from being a part of the organisation, and I am keen to learn more. The late Yasmin Ahmad summed it best in a corporate video she made for us some time ago,

“Give me the wisdom not just to take, but also to give. With integrity, humility, and compassion.”




Death, Taxes, and the Final Project Report
December 02, 2016


In the 1994 movie The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbins plays Andy Dufresne, a banker who was wrongfully sentenced to life in prison for murdering his wife. The movie revolves around his life in incarceration, and ended with — spoiler alert — an incredible escape from the Shawshank State Penitentiary. Ask anyone who has watched the movie and many would cite the escape as the most iconic scene of the film, if not in the history of Hollywood.

Over 19 years of his life in prison, Andy had dug up a tunnel using only a rock hammer and, on a stormy evening, made his way through the tunnel into the sewage pipes to the river outside. He only had a Raquel Welch poster to cover up the hole on the wall. By the time the guards found out, it was already too late. Andy was already a free man, eager to unshackle himself from imprisonment and taste the liberty of the outside world.

Well that’s how I feel right now. I have just submitted my MBA Final Project report.

Unlike Andy Dufresne, however, I did not have Morgan Freeman to narrate my life in business school. It would be nice to have him chronicle the 15,000-word document, though. For every postgraduate student, the final project/dissertation/thesis is the raison d’etre. The final piece that culminates all that you have learned in your field of study. The final lap of the race that embodies the blood, sweat and tears that you have put in throughout the journey. And behind every submission, there is usually enough drama to fit a feature-length motion picture.

Mine was a laptop malfunction two weeks before the deadline. Granted, I’ve had the machine since Gordon Brown was still Prime Minister. After a few hours drenched in perspiration and fear, I finally managed to resuscitate the machine with some complex programming and furiously restarting the system like a madman. The files were all intact, but my heart function suffered in the process.

I did have the files backed up on Google Drive as I have been religiously saving every new version into cloud storage. But as fate would have it, my laptop died after an intense 3,000-word session — not much of which I could recall by heart. The thought of re-writing the entire lost sections had me shudder like a singing contestant on the set of Hell’s Kitchen.

The silver lining of the whole incident was a renewed spirit for me to complete the report ahead of the deadline. I was resolute on committing the coming week to the report and dedicating my full focus on finalising the findings of my analysis. Completing the report early would also eliminate any more technical mishaps. If technology can send us to the moon, it can surely wipe out my final draft.

I have to thank a few people, without whom I might not have reached the ‘Submit’ button to upload the report PDF. The Programme Management Team have been diligently guiding us from as early as December 2015, about a year ago, to make sure that everyone is on-track and no one is silly enough to write his report using a dying laptop.

My supervisor, Dr. Jonathan Pinto, has also been very patient and supportive in coaching me throughout the paper. He was like Mr. Miyagi, looking over the Karate Kid. Except that we are both probably more agile than them. (I hope he’s reading this.)

Like Andy Dufresne, the time has now come for me to kick back and enjoy some me time. Maybe it’s time to catch up with Shawshank Redemption as well. It has been a while. If you manage to grab a copy of the film, the cover of the DVD reads, “Fear Can Hold You Prisoner, Hope Can Set You Free”. I hope I pass this Final Project.





Photography by Azalia Suhaimi

About
  • Asrif, b. 1983
  • Subang Jaya, Malaysia
  • asrifomar[@]gmail[.]com
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