Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Great Women of Our Time 2010 - Malaysian Women's Weekly

If you'd told me earlier that we had such accomplished altruists amongst Malaysian women, I would have snorted with disbelief.

Well. I take back my words.

Like many people I know of, we Malaysians don't give enough credit to ourselves.

Doing this project, one of my major ones for 2010, was a huge eye-opener. For every Gloria Allred, we have our very own Dr Hartini Zainuddin; for every Carly Fiorina, there's Ng Wan Peng.

Why fixate on occidental overachieving scientists like Marie Curie when we have somebody like Datuk Choo Yuen May in our midst?

And forget Gray's Anatomy - who knew doctors looked so hot??

For most parts, these women have smashed glass ceilings with quiet dignity, paving the way for other women to stretch their limits.

Editor Elaine Kwong delivered a memorable speech about how the greatest lesson that these ladies impart to us is that inside each of us, is a heroine waiting to be unleashed.

A project of this scale and complexity is no cakewalk. It's more than just multiple photo shoots and doing justice to 18 over-achieving women and their mile-long roster of accomplishments in under 350 words.

I had a bigger problem to grapple with: after every interview, I wanted that person to win!

Decision-making tugs-of-war aside, GWOT definitely ranks as one of the most rewarding experiences in my writing career. And I mean that in a literal sense as well.

At the end of the GWOT award ceremony, which included a sizzling performance by Sheila Majid (yup, she's still got it), all of us who stayed till the end of the dinner got to cart home an Osim uMama massager :P

Drool at the eye candy :)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Ipoh of Yore

25 December 2010
Scratching Post, Weekender, The Star
Link to Star article

I'd like to thank Ian Anderson from Ipohworld for kindly contributing the two evocative photos used in this article.

Ipohworld, an education-based, not-for-profit organization, has done some truly remarkable work in promoting awareness and appreciation of Perak, with particular focus on Ipoh. It has become the leading information archive on Ipoh's heritage, as well as the liveliest online community for Perakeans.

Give them a shout at www.ipohworld.org

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

From court shoes to bunny slippers

Hi! My name is Alexandra Wong – Alex for friends – and I’m a word geek.

Translation: I write for a living.

I developed serious word lust at primary-school age, a condition which I attribute cheerfully to Enid Blyton's mouthwatering picnic basket descriptions. In retrospect, the truth is much more Machiavellian (more about that later)

After graduating with a degree in English Literature, I worked my way up to sales manager in a Fortune 500 Company. The money was mostly good and occasionally obscene. I did well enough to win a couple of sales awards along the way, but something wasn’t quite right.

I found out what when my subordinate chattered excitedly one day, “Alex! Do you know how much commission we’ll be getting this quarter?”

She whispered the figure.

I dutifully widened my eyes. “That’s fantastic!”

I tried to look euphoric, but I obviously failed, because HER eyes widened and she went, “You really don’t like money huh?”

Well I wouldn’t go that far … but yeah. Money, alone, isn’t enough to rock my socks.

So I quit to find out what did. Rock my socks, I mean. I had no idea what the hell I was going to do with my life, so I did the next best thing: soul-searching.

I travelled. I figured there was a good chance I would come back with a more definite idea how I was going to put food on the table. You know, travel broadening one’s horizons and all.

So I backpacked to Kuching. Visited Turkey. Stayed in the US for 7 weeks.

I had a ball. Those experiences were too good to keep to myself, or worse, get forgotten, so I started a blog (which I’ve locked up, sorry). My small but loyal audience seemed to enjoy my stories. Heck, my friend’s MOM started following my blog.

That got me thinking. Hmm, maybe I could try getting them published? No harm trying.

So I began sending out pitches. To my surprise, all my stories got published without much trouble.

An idea began germinating … Maybe I could make a living out of writing commercially?

My baby steps into the writing world - as a serious career - began with travel articles, then navel-gazing pieces, then food reviews, then culture, then other topical issues …

Before I knew it, five years had passed. And today, on 16 November 2010, I find myself still happily scribbling about life, love and the universe - when I’m not tearing my hair out in stress that is.

That's how I made the transition from court shoes to bunny slippers.

Writing portfolio
My reports on travel, trends, food, relationships, information technology and personality profiles have made their way to numerous bastions of great writing publications. The list now includes publications with international audiences like Going Places (Malaysia Airlines inflight magazine), Malaysia Women’s Weekly, IntervalWorld (USA) South China Morning Post, Bangkok Post, Quill and Kuala Lumpur Explorer. Although I’ve written for all kinds of genres and covered all sorts of subjects, I am best known for my first-person accounts in Navel Gazer (where I try to be funny and touching and fail most of the time, but one must persevere!), my monthly column for Malaysia's highest-circulation English language daily The Star.

My work falls chiefly into two categories:

1. Media work. The abovementioned.

2. Corporate and commercial work. I develop editorial content across multiple mediums that serve as calls to action for a target audience. In English, that’s marketing and advertising collateral (corporate videos, newsletters, show dailies, press releases) and non-print media (websites and tv scripts).

I have also ghost-edited manuscripts for several Malaysian best-selling authors.

I am also a solopreneur. In 2008, I registered the enterprise WordMatters.

Academic Qualifications
My happiest academic years were spent in Universiti Sains Malaysia.

I hold a Bachelor of Arts in English Language & Literature with a minor in Mass Communication.

I still wonder how a ditzy bunny like me made it through that wilderness of William Thackeray, Philip Larkin, and Shakespeare *dramatic shudder*

I divide my time between my hometown Ipoh; Penang, where I spent my formative adult years, and Kuala Lumpur, which I loathe and love in equal measures.

I've worked out of hotels, coffeeshops, cafes, friends' apartments, my car - I parked it by the roadside to key an epiphany into my handphone.

I am an egalitarian.

I am a pop culture fiend.

Some have dubbed my literary taste questionable. It certainly isn't very highbrow. It spans everything from Grapes of Wrath, to Chinese Tea Culture, to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, to blogs like Perez Hilton, Go Fug Yourself and Cracked.

On days when I feel like being a literary smartypants, I lurk at Slate, armed with a dictionary.

My ideal woman would be a Frankenstein of these parts: Katy Perry’s body, Lady Gaga’s chutzpah, Helen Mirren’s agelessness, Adam Lambert’s pipes and Douglas Adams’ funnybone.

Why I still write
I still get a kick out of seeing my byline :)

Monday, November 1, 2010

No beef

Weekender, The Star, Scratching Post

No, I didn't write this headline but it was worth a chuckle anyway.

Wonderful friends ...

...and wonderful pizza :)

... Sepuluh ringgit sahaja! (Obviously I like eating here very much, and not just because it's eminently affordable)

Though the question was at the back of my mind the WHOLE time when I called Frank on Sat night, I waited till the end of our phone conversation before asking timidly, "Where did you go for dinner?"

"AJ. Ta pau."

"Were there anybody who came because of the article?" Gulp. Nervous. Sweat.



He continued grimly, "A LOT of people. Some cancelled their orders. What to do? He said philosophically. They all came at one shot."

This is one of the reasons I didn't want to write a full-length feature about AJ's Pizza and Pasta. Having tasted the consequences second-hand at Vary Pasta (the writer was so traumatized that he ate his pork knuckle dinner in quiet terror, while the waiters dashed about in a tizzy attending to the avalanche of customers), I knew the consequences of a review in a major national newspaper: pandemonium.

A two-man show like AJ's wouldn't be able to handle a crowd of such mob-like proportions.

All said and done, I was ecstatic when Khan sent me this message: "God bless you. You care for us."

Ah, food for my stomach, heart and soul :)

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Neophyte Writer - Oct-Dec 2009 Quill

Pei Ling oh Pei Ling,

Beloved friend/much adored little sister/exceptional writer, thanks for reminding me about this article.

That's The Way the Cookie Crumbles, my now-defunct story-driven column in Quill (replaced with the more pragmatic Survival Tricks for the Freelance Writer) chronicled valuable lessons that may not be that obvious to wet-behind-the-ears freelance writers like myself.

Like this one dispensed by a Malaysian icon at an MPH event in 2006.

While purists ("What, how dare you equate writing to selling?") may balk, it still ranks as the best piece of advice (i.e. practical as opposed to hopelessly idealistic and not applicable to real life) I've ever received about freelance writing.

Reading this again, I detect decidedly Cinderella-esque overtones hehe.

Would you believe it - until now, I have not plucked up the nerve to tell him about this article?

To Eric Forbes and May Lee, thanks a million for the opportunity to write for Quill!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Latest articles

Haven't had time to do my regular cataloguing cos have been occupied with work, play, and .... jeng jeng jeng ...


So was that 18-year-old foaming-at-the-mouth wait worth it?

Hell yes.

To quote this quaint restaurant in Mysore that a rickshaw recommended to me (yes, and I use the word quaint most legitimately! Check out the menu below!), it exceeded my every expectation.

I love the hospitable people. The vivid colours. The tongue-singeingly spicy food. The eye-popping OTT-ness.

For proof, just check out the menu below.

Quaint kan?

I'm already planning my next trip back.

Chennai? Calcutta? Bombay?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Going Places, August 2010 - The Malaysian Issue

Say triple whammy, somebody!

Not only did I have three stories in GP, two of them got a cover mention. Thank you so much Vivian. I was walking on air for most of yesterday - still am, I think. Pinch me, somebody ;)

More background details later but for now, may I present (ahem ahem) ...

On the trail of Tunku Abdul Rahman

Thank you Sharifah Intan, Kim Gooi, Cikgu BK Yap, Anthony Law, Lubis and Tan May Lee for your invaluable input. Without you, the story wouldn't have been possible.

Town Tales

Thanks so much for your tips Rabani Ayub (who also has a photo byline in this month's issue), Anthony Law, Kelvin Egay, Boon Tan, Uncle Lim, James Tan of Motormouth fame, Mr Chong Sun Yit ... Pardon if I have accidentally missed anybody out.

Biz Talk: Personality - Jeevan Sahadevan

It was a pleasure working with you, Jeevan :) And thanks Noelle for the introduction.

I just looked at the list and ... oh boy, I owe a LOT A LOT A LOT of people coffee :P

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I'm in heaven

I thought this was a rather strange title - no, I didn't supply it - until a friend pointed out it could have been extracted from an old pop song:

Pity the picture didn't come out too well in print.

Here's the haul for the rest of the day:

The institutional yong tau fu stall in Madras Lane

The out-of-this-world linguine carbonara I was salivating over a few hours later at Carmen's. Thanks for the tip, Samantha Fong!

All in all, a great day that kind of paid off for itself, although I DID haul myself out of bed at 7.30am and only got back home at nearly midnight after squeezing in 7 appointments in a single day.

Who says freelance shake legs only?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Spunky Madam

In all honesty, I was never a huge fan of duck until I ate at Madam Heng's. Restaurant Hong Kong was merely another name in my litany of must-visit restaurants for the Perak Good Food Guide, which I was commissioned to write in 2008.

It was lust at first bite - the juicy-fleshed, crispy-skinned duck was simply otherworldly.

Since then, I've been a regular visitor, if not to eat, then just to drop by and shoot the breeze with the amiable auntie who runs the shop.

This story took a while to crystallize. It really is a tapestry of numerous events that seemed random and unconnected and unimportant save for their entertainment value, until the final piece - that dinner that I didn't want to happen but happened anyway - fell into place.

Unanticipated. That's how they all happen right - whether it's the right moment, the right story or the right person? :)


To give you an inkling just how good her roast duck is ...

By the way, credits to Wang Shao Ming for the "I am fine, you are fine, we are fine" photo. My bad for forgetting to submit your name, no fault of The Star. Roast duck on me, ya? ;)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Winsome Pekan

Part II, and some of my other pix that ended up on the chopping floor...

That room which reminds me of my grandma's old house :) At RM55 per night, you can't beat Chief's Rest House for bumper value.

I managed to sneak a quick walking tour of the Royal Quarter before heading back to Kuantan. It was postcard-pretty traditional houses galore :)

My favourite animal - after dogs and cats and goats ...

If you've never seen opor daging in your life - nah!

The Abu Bakar mosque, a majestic sight even against the overcast sky backdrop

Now. Where next? Betong? Gopeng? Dungun .... Just randomly rattling off places that have been suggested to me.

To be continued ;)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Point me to Pekan

Article is here

Taken at Chief's Rest House.

Of course I didn't make it all up :P

I used to go off on off-the-beaten-track jaunts like this ALL the time, before age and its attendant paranoia kicked in .... well, no more!!!

I've resolved to hit the less-trodden road at least once a month (ok lah make that two. Have to cari makan mah. How can I go off charging to obscure little towns so often?)

But I WILL make it a fixture in my schedule. I was lugubrious before I hit the road, and after I came back from Pekan, I was like a new woman!

And if there's anything that Pekan proved, there's nothing like the promise of adventure to put a spring in my step and rekindle the fire in my belly :)

*a thousand anguished editors scream CORNYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY*

Excuse me while I go eat a cup of Nelson's buttered kernels :P

The Flouncy Bouncy Bunny

In case anyone is wondering, I'm working on the sequel to Point me to Pekan right now, hold your horses ya. Not sure if it is going to end up on Navel Gazer or as a travel piece. Will see where the stars lead me.

*And a thousand editors shudder in horror at this shameless use of cliche*

Friday, March 19, 2010

Biz Talk: Personality

February 2010, Going Places (MAS inflight magazine)

Sporting, gentlemanly, and one of the most articulate chaps I've had the pleasure to speak to. In other words, a dream interview candidate!

Seeking more interesting business personalities to interview for the same column. If you know of any, drop me a mail at alexandra.lywong[at]gmail.com :)

Thursday, March 11, 2010


So what if the movie was universally panned?

Fact is: I glided out of the cinema itching to shout from the rooftops: "What a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious piece of work!"

Mind you, I am NOT deliberately trying to be contrarian.

True, the first hour was a painful plod (Pacing CAN be improved).

I did have a hard time swallowing this grown-up Gwyneth-lookalike galumphing around in a state of deshabille (or close to it - her off-shoulder dress threatens to fall dangerously any moment).

Then she falls into the rabbit hole and Tim Burton hurls a fast and furious volley of characters and special effects ... ok, I'll let the eloquent Dana Stevens finish the job:

" .. the CG effects start coming so thick and fast that neither she nor we have time to experience much wonder at all. Look, there go Tweedledum and Tweedledee (voiced by Matt Lucas)—but before we've had a chance to witness their unique sibling dynamic at work or hear a single line of "The Walrus and the Carpenter" (the recitation of which was one of the high points of the 1951 Disney version), Alice and the egg-shaped twins are being chased through the animated underbrush by some sort of giant saber-toothed beast as Danny Elfman's score throbs and swoops. The feeling, in this movie, is always that of being frantically rushed to the next thing: the Mad Hatter's tea party hasn't even gotten truly barmy before it's broken up by invading soldiers led by the menacing Knave of Hearts (a digitally stretched-out Crispin Glover)."

Uh huh.

Too much muchness, Tim! How can we appreciate the genius of your imaginative if warped mind if we don't even understand what's going on?

I was all set to lie back and drift into an afternoon siesta when Helena strutted into the scene, her giant orb of a head abobbing.

Helena totally PWNED it, in netspeak.

From thereon, my attention was held in a vice-like grip.

Whatever bone I might have to pick with the plot or pacing evaporated quickly. Mind you, I'm not a blind idol of either Tim Burton or Johnny Depp. I thought the latter's turn in Pirates 3 was too hammy to be effective (too much muchness again), and I didn't like Public Enemies. (one big snoozefest. The characters didn't engage me).

But here, Johnny was sublime. Well you could say that he can probably sleepwalk through these custom-written characters by now but what made it more interesting was the development between the hatter and Alice. As unlikely, and even faintly disturbing the whole idea might seem at first, I like how Tim prepares the audience for it, by easing us gently into the realization so that the development feels utterly natural.

Tim has taken liberties with the script, yes, but these are reverential liberties.

Beyond his attention to visual detail and how "pulled together" the palette looked, he really is a sympathetic storyteller who knows how to create characters that we can care about.

A pivotal scene which captures the zeitgeist of the entire movie (SPOILER) takes place when Alice gazes at Hatter in wide-eyed wonderment (yes!!!) and breathes, "You must be real."

In the end (ANOTHER SPOILER), it wasn't just the mad hatter's heart which broke when Alice decided to go back to Upperland (well if one's Under, logic dictates there must be an Upperland right??)

*Sighs and melts*

Bottomline, they felt real. The blue caterpillar, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Red Queen's smarmy right-hand man, even the annoying dork who gets shanghaied at the gazebo ...I love how Tim Burton invests every character, even those with limited air-time, with such complexity and compassion. I could actually feel sorry for, and yes, understand why the Red Queen ends up so bitter and vengeful. It could happen to any one of us *gulp - reminds self*

Or maybe it's just me.

As long as I remember, I've always been able to relate better to the outcasts and misfits who tiptoe on the fringe of so-called normal society.

After the movie, I walked into Borders and headed straight for the children's literature section.

Enough said.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A child's wisdom

Scratching Post, Weekender, The Star

There are some articles I keep out of my folks' radar.

Sexually charged ones (my column may focus on fluffy feelgood stuff but rabbits are not conventionally associated with Lily White ok :P), and articles like these.

It'd only worry them silly, and then they'd worry me sick with questions I have no answers to like: "Girl, are you making enough? Don't worry about mum and dad. We have more than enough to spend from our pension."

... the point is, I come from a very traditional family, with a firm set of values that includes the automatic expectation that after your folks have raised you and put you through university, it's now your turn to give back.

I miss that part of my corporate life. BAD. I miss sending them on holidays, giving them healthy doses of pocket money, surprising them with an expensive meal or two.

Right. Time to actually actualize that best-seller novel huh?

Bitch as I might about the sucky customers and ridiculous demands, I would never go back to my desk job. Still, it's only normal, I suppose, to have the odd dark moment of doubt ...

This article sprung from one of those dark moments. I had another more chipper piece already drafted but somehow, it felt disengenuous to send off a piece that didn't mirror my mood of the moment. As my deadline drew nearer, I started to panic. How? I don't have anything else that reflected the conflict that was percolating inside. And I didn't want Navel Gazer to deviate from my original vision of what it was: an honest, unvarnished reflection of my feelings of the moment.

Luckily, my meeting with Fenny came along and saved the day, phew!

On unrelated matters, may I have your indulgence, ladies and gentleman:

I just started a new fashion diary blog at http://frockout.blogspot.com

I originally intended it to be an online blogshop to sell off my pre-loved baju but I'm having so much fun recording my sartorial musings so, as the wise sages say, que sera sera!

Friday, February 12, 2010

My pretty new sandals :)

It was an experiment for both of us.

Me: I'd never known there were such things called painted shoes.

Her: she'd done this on canvas, and glass, and ceramic ... but never rubber. And cheap rubber at that (psst...these pasar malam sandals cost a fiver shhhhh)

Neither of us had any idea how they would turn out - whether the paint would last, or the patterns would turn out pretty, but I needn't have worried. In the sure hands of Carmen Hah, a grimy pair of sandals was given a fresh new lease of life.

Pretty and delicate enough to satisfy my feminine wiles, yet free-spirited enough to appease my hippie sensibilities :)

This, ladies and gentlemen, is just the tip of the iceberg. To see more of what Carmen can do, hop over to carmenbrushtech.blogspot.com/

And to Denis, thanks for providing the link. Truly, your cosy diner is Ipoh's answer to Cheers, where everybody knows your name. Can't wait to sink my teeth into your delectable smoked duck and spaghetti carbonara *drools*

Gosh. It's amazing how one simple story can set off such a long chain in motion ;)

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I think I owe visitors to this blog an apology.

This is not a blog, and it was never conceptualized as one.

In the beginning, I merely wanted a space on the web to archive my articles, a link that I could send to potential clients that I was pitching to.

Then as I posted up stories, I grew restless. The crude scans (which I took with a camera ok since I obviously can't afford an A3 scanner!!) seemed too sterile, too clinical, too ....dead.

Unable to refrain myself, I started writing short notes about each article, which gradually expanded into these long-winded posts you're reading now *smiles ruefully*

There is so much I want to say. There is so much more that goes into an article apart from the final printed word.

The stories behind the scenes often go unaccounted for because readers only want the polished dish or down-and-dirty deetz - depending on whether you're reading Tatler or Perez Hilton ... right?

Well not to me though. I love the uncensored elemental rawness of a tale told ad lib ... it makes the subject seem much more human somehow.

Anyway, I wanted to get this off my chest for a loooooooooong time now. So there. Done. Phew.

And since this is neither a blog, nor a portfolio proper, shall we call it a ... blogfolio? :)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fashion Focus

Shall I ...

... go all girlie in silver Christmas tree earrings, flowery sundress, and Audrey Hepburnesque red shoes?
... defy all sartorial logic in an unseasonal White lace kebaya-inspired top, a black latex singlet, black skinnies I got from the Bercham market and red shoes?
...or channel Katy Perry in RM3 Esprit factory overrun shorts, black Pack Promod singlet & RM10 Thailand black knit top

Ah. Which girl isn't clothes mad?

Mixing and matching is more than just riding the residual buzz of retail therapy; it's the whole theatricality of the act, like orchestrating my own boutique theatre production.

I love the heightened drama as I clack out of the house in my three-inch heels; the contagious playfulness that colours my mood when I flounce out in my riotous bohemian skirt; garments are not just something to shield me from cold or immodesty, don't you see?

When I was a kid, I practically gobbled up fashion magazines.

Many an afternoon was spent, bent over the fashion pages, while my fingers lovingly traced the clean lines of a box-like shift while the mind marvelled at the fluidity of jersey wrap dresses.

So much so, I became extraordinarily well acquainted with fashion parlance.

I could recite from memory the subtle differences between silk brocade and silk jacquard.

I could reel off the entire spectrum of hues (crimson, fuschia, magenta, vermillion, scarlet ....) with such authority my science teaccher would surely beam with pride.

I was, and still am, a clothes fiend to a T (... or should it be T-shirt? :))

Ergo, what assignment could be more fun than traipsing through the yummiest fashion boutiques ever invented? :)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Dreams from a hot wok

Scratching Post, Weekender, The Star

Anyone can dream. You don't need balls to do that.

But to actualize that dream takes plenty of guts - and grit. Stuff which Tam has truckloads of.

I've eaten at and known Tam for years. Enjoyed his food, and then later his company, and went on to develop an abiding admiration for his quiet, unassuming ways.

That's the man! :)

There are many reasons why I like going to Tam.

He's just downstairs (i.e. opposite Super Tanker, opens from 6-ish in the evening to 2am)
He's always ready with a smile for me (yes, even through those Sars-struck days)
... and of course, when inspired, his food is Tam's up (sorry, couldn't resist! :D)

Sometimes our conversations resemble chicken-and-duck talk - he speaks in a thick loghat that my bunny ears have occasional trouble unscrambling. Nevertheless their musical quaintness never fail to charm, even his smses:

Like today, "Saya x pandai BI tapi fahamla sikit nanti ptg sy suroh kwn terjemah dkt sy."

"Suroh?" So quaint! So old-school!

Or the other day, "Awak cakap buat saya ketawa hingga berguling. Apapun TQ. BZ ni pelanggan ramai nak masak dlu"

Is it just me, or is it a lot more fun to sms in BM? :)

One of my earliest food pieces, published in 2005 or 6


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