why the Devil wears Prada

Cover shoot off Wudaoying Hutong
Cover shoot off Wudaoying Hutong

I had no idea what I got myself into when I decided to join a Big Four accounting firm as a marketing consultant. I didn’t quite understand the job description I read online, nor the job description verbally provided by HR and the subsequent two interviewers. Because my first manager was such a laid back guy, it took me almost a month after I started work to understand my role and responsibilities.

One of the things I had not anticipated doing was organising an internal magazine cover photoshoot. Anyone who knows me for more than an hour will tell you I’m all about substance and almost zero about appearance. So when I was told to organise this photoshoot, I had to do the one thing that went against every fibre of my being — I had to scrutinise people’s appearance.

The first hurdle was choosing models. My colleague gave me a list of requirements and insisted on seeing pictures of all the good-looking people in the Beijing office. After deciding on the male model (a tanned, buff audit senior manager), we moved onto the arduous task of selecting the female model. All ladies with anything shorter than shoulder-length hair were eliminated. Ladies who sported a summer tan, dyed their hair an unnatural colour (maroon and purple) were eliminated. By the time we got rid of the ladies who looked awkward before the camera, we were left with 2 choices. And out of the two, I was only able to track down one. I wished my work ended here but it was not to be.

The second hurdle was selecting clothing for the shoot. Having been told we didn’t have the budget to buy clothing, I begged the models to send me pictures of both their professional and casual clothing. Again, we quickly decided what clothing the male model should bring and struggled with the lady. We said no to spaghetti strap jumpsuits, polka dot and other patterned dresses in bright pink, purple and electric blue and frilly tops and hotpants. I was almost in tears when my colleague in Hong Kong vetoed the fifth batch of clothing pictures sent over by the female model. I ended up wandering around in Zara after work, snapping pictures of clothing and wondering if I could just let the model wear it once and return it after the shoot. Such was the extent of my desperation. Eventually (I thought) I resolved my dilemma by sending my Zara pictures to the female model and asking her if she could produce similar clothing. We decided on the clothing she should bring for the shoot literally days before the shoot.

The third hurdle was appeasing the graphics guys who were forced to be professional photographers for an afternoon. The senior guy complained like a dripping tap that the female model was not good-looking and her make-up (which I did) was not up to scratch, and that it was tough taking pictures at the two outdoor locations I chose. I blame it on the hot weather when I eventually blew up at him, telling him off for not giving me clear prior instructions and for assuming I knew what went on on a photoshoot. To this day, I’m surprised by the quality of the end product. For copyright reasons, I can’t post their work here, but it was the work of pros.

Ever since completing this harrowing project, I’ve begun paying special attention to pretty ladies in the office, often refraining from asking for their names and extension numbers. I’ve also acquired a newfound respect for magazine editors who have to organise photoshoots on a daily basis. Last but not least, I now understand why fashion editors become the Devil Who Wears Prada.

how I fell in love with cycling



Riding a bike is great. It saves temper, time and money. You glide past traffic queues, arrive early feeling fit, and get 300 miles per gallon of coffee. It puts you in direct control of your resources.

– page 6, The Bluffer’s Guide to Cycling

I can’t remember my precise motivation for taking up cycling 18 months ago after not cycling for over almost 30 years. My first memories of riding anything with wheels was  cruising along the dirt road on a tricycle outside the family bungalow in Sarawak.  Even at the tender age of 4, I’d mastered speeding and failed miserably at braking. Most of my kiddie rides ended up with the bike lying sideways in a bush and the skin of my knees peeling and bleeding profusely.

My second lot of cycling memories were in Singapore. I remember being 12 years of age and riding a rented bicycle in East Coast. I also remember emergency braking behind my brother’s bike when he suddenly stopped, losing my balance, falling and scraping my knees just as I did when I was 4.  I felt extremely self-conscious walking home that evening while people stared in mild horror at my bloody kneecaps.

Considering my pathetic history with bikes, I was quite unprepared to fall hopelessly in love with cycling in, of all places, Beijing. When my friend left Beijing, she insisted I take her Giant bicycle which came with detachable front basket, 3 gears and a sturdy lock. When I told her I’d forgotten how to cycle, she insisted that I’d relearn it within minutes of climbing onto the bike.

I put off picking up the bike for as long as I could. In fact, I waited until Sottie’s absolute final day in Beijing. It was the coldest winter day in Beijing for decades. The temperature hovered between -10 and -15 degrees Celsius as the winds howled relentlessly.

My first bike ride in 30 years was around 10 km and took 3 hours. I stopped plenty of times at oncoming traffic and fell a couple of times. It was baptism by fire. After that first ride, nothing phases me anymore. Except cycling on slush, which I’ve done in my stupidity and regretted for a long time afterwards.

18 months on, I’ve lost my friend’s Giant bike to a thief, gotten myself a Merida Duke mountain bike and fallen hopelessly in love with cycling.

in the beginning…



I’ve always considered myself a late bloomer.

It started even when I was in my mother’s womb, almost four decades ago in Sarawak.  I was the third child my mother conceived and instead of becoming the youngest spoilt princess I was meant to be, I ended up becoming the firstborn. I never met my two elder brothers. The first was miscarried. The second lived 10 days before breathing his last.

My father’s mother and siblings were naturally loudly concerned when my mother found out she was pregnant for the third time. By hook or by crook, the third baby had to be born healthy and live past 10 days. My mother quit her job and was forced to lie in bed and be waited upon hand and food for the remaining 8 months while I grew in her belly.

My grandmother made chicken soup everyday for my mother. My mother told me after 3 months of drinking chicken soup everyday, she got nauseous whenever she smelt chicken soup brewing in the kitchen.  In the end, she told my grandmother she couldn’t drink any more of it.  My father began buying turtle eggs so my grandmother could make turtle eggs soup for my mother instead.

I’m pretty sure I ingested something from those turtle eggs that’s resulted in what I’ve become. But I digress.

After 10 months of drinking chicken and turtle eggs soup and lying in bed, my mother realised I was quite comfy floating in her watery, warm womb and had no intention of seeing the outside world. My aunt and uncle took her to see the midwife after I was a month past my due date, and the midwife gave my mother an injection. I kicked my mother’s belly in protest as if I knew everyone outside was telling me to hurry up and come out. I wanted to float in my comfort zone for just a little while longer.

I held on for as long as I could, I did.  It took only a few days before the waters broke so suddenly, my mother didn’t see it coming. My uncle had left for work that morning on his motorbike, so my aunt had to run down the dirt road to the neighbours to ask for a ride to the midwife’s for my mother and me.

My mother told me I was born right before lunchtime.  She was disappointed I turned out to be a girl, but my father and grandmother was just happy to have a healthy grandchild to cherish and to hold. My birth was the happiest event after the death of my grandmother and my elder brothers.

To the joy of my family and the dear friends I’ve accumulated over the years, I not only survived past 10 days, I made it to a month, to adolescence and to full-blown adulthood. 

My life’s been full of false starts and delays. I often feel like I get to everything a little later than others. Sometimes I’ve been grateful for this, but more often than not, I’ve been more than a little frustrated at why I seem to come to every party so…… late. I blame it on the turtle genes/hormones I ingested while floating in my mother’s womb.

The I remember that the turtle won in that rabbit and turtle race story. And I can’t help but smile.