Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Time Travelling - Blame it on Saduk

Fall 2009 started like any other, except that my sister was coming to visit me for the first time in my 24 years in the US. Strangely, in October 2009, the stars may have been in some kind of alignment that took me back 24 years because around that time, I got a Facebook friend request from Amin Saduk, my colleague at Singapore Airlines from the early 1980s. And, so began, my Austin Powersesque time travel back to the eighties.

As my sister and I reminisced about old times, old friends, I mentioned that I would love to get back in touch with Rajpal Salgado, my former close friend from Singapore Airlines. My sister used to know Rajpal's uncle and his wife. My reminiscing must have sent telepathic signals around the world, because pretty soon, I was flooded with friend requests and Skype contacts from my SQ "family."

By accepting friend requests, I was also able to find others who also belonged to this "first work family" because Singapore Airlines was my first real job. I grew up a lot, learned through mistakes - my own and those of others. But, what I learned most of all, was the true gift of friendship and the distance friends would go for each other. My biggest mentor was Amal Fernando, but unfortunately, before I could re-establish contact, I learned that he had left Singapore Airlines and next thing I heard was that he had passed on. I was teleported to happier times when Amal was full of laughter and advice and took charge of any situation. Times when he went out of his way to help friends, acquaintances and even strangers without expecting anything in return. My memories became tinged with regret, tinged with joy that I had shared a friendship with a person of the caliber of Amal, who represented the best in all of us. As I smiled through my tears, I was glad that Michael and I had met him during my two visits back to Sri Lanka.

Singapore Airlines was my training ground - I joined as a single girl - an inexperienced hopeful who had not ventured beyond the shores of my birth land and had never stayed out a night without family. When I left Singapore Airlines, I was a graduate of life - a world traveler, a public speaker, someone who had handled the publicity for this airline in Colombo, a radio DJ, a television news anchor, a bride, a mother. Throughout my metamorphosis, I had my cheering squad of colleagues, who were sincere in their criticism and their praise. My deep friendships helped me become a confidante and a mentor as well. We had our differences like any "family" would - but our bonds were strong.

I did get back in touch with Rajpal, as well as Ricci, Dilanie, Dilli, Rajitha, Hafeez, Yasmin, Sharmala, Shiranka, Amal's son, Maya, Becky, Juthika, Deannath, Jaliya, Joan, Manju. Blame in on Saduk for starting this global outreach and trips down memory lane that forced me to dig up my archives of photos and memorabilia of those times, so our kids can either laugh or cry at those images.

We had some great parties! Celebrations of birthdays, weddings, farewells, holidays, awards, promotional events. We hobnobbed with Ministers, Reporters, Ambassadors, the Who's Who of the Travel Trade and Government Authorities and we danced till dawn. We even got involved in "Spread a Little Happiness" campaigns, giving underprivileged kids the times of their lives and attended funerals of family members as we helped each other cope with the loss of a loved one.

I've been doing a lot of time travel lately and am glad for those times that helped me become the woman I am today. And, as we are spread across the globe, we are bound by the Silver Kris that taught us the Pursuit of Excellence.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ginger - The Versatile Root

Someone once asked me, if I were a spice, what would I be? Without hesitation I said, "Ginger." After all, originally native to South Asia, it is one of the most adaptable of all spices and can be used to flavor a variety of cuisines. Kinda like me - originally from South Asia, but adaptable to any environment.

To say I love ginger is an understatement. Reminds me of Bubba recounting to Forrest Gump all the ways you can eat shrimp. For instance, I like to add some ground ginger into my English Breakfast Tea (milk, sweetener included). Whenever I have a queasy feeling in my stomach, I always find relief by placing a slice of ginger under my tongue or chewing on a piece of candied ginger. Unless, I have some ginger beer at hand. Nothing helps congestion like some good old green tea with ginger and honey.

Over the past two decades, I have become an accomplished cook - in a variety of international cuisines. Interestingly, most recipes call for ginger! Who hasn't savored the pickled ginger that accompanies the most delectable Japanese dishes? And the obvious thin strips in many menu items in Vietnamese or Chinese restaurants? Don't get me started on Caribbean cuisine, oh my! Even, the revered French chefs use ginger in several recipes.

Sometimes, I channel my departed mother to cook up some aromatic Sri Lankan food of which ginger forms an important flavor base. Speaking of dear departed, my sister Jan used to make some of the wickedest ginger beer and ginger wine that she would dole out in rations when we visited her while she was alive. I was always one of the favored ones to get seconds.

According to Wikipedia, Ginger has a sialagogue action (stimulating the production of saliva). All this talk of ginger has made my mouth water. I am off to buy some ginger snaps.

P.S. Long live the Gingerbread Man and his gumdrop buttons who knows the Muffin Man who lives on Drewery Lane!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Calculating the "Love Quotient"

It is no secret that because humans are powered by emotion, most decisions are made on emotion and later rationalized with logic. As neurologist Donald Calne explains, “The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.” Given that context, it is natural that everything we do involves relationships and how we feel towards that relationship. This explains our attraction to certain people who have a “personal magnetism” or “charisma” derived from the Greek “kharisma", meaning “divine gift.” The French call it "je ne sais quoi," or "I know not what." This characteristic is hard to define, but easily recognizable in people we like and admire.

Charismatic Leaders know how to connect with people. They take the time to scan and read their environment, and are adept at picking up the moods and concerns of individuals as well as larger audiences. They will then hone their words and actions to suit each situation. Charismatic Leaders pay a great deal of attention to the person they are talking to at any one time, making that person feel like he/she is the most important person in the world.

While many believe that charisma is an inherent trait, some people believe it can be cultivated. Here are ThinkSimpleNow's 8 Keys to Instant Charisma:
1. Mirroring the actions and expressions of the person you are talking to
2. Remembering Names
3. Being genuinely Interested in the person
4. Allowing Others to Talk
5. Having an Intention to get to know the other person
6. Offering Help
7. Smiling
8. Having Authenticity

In “IQ vs EQ” by Candy Tymson, she explains that recruitment specialists admit that the emotional competence (EQ) of the candidate is proving to be as important today as their intellectual competence (IQ). Out-of-control emotions can make smart people ineffective. Those candidates that have emotional competence are able to control and direct their emotions and feelings, without being so controlled that they stifle all feeling and spontaneity - and therefore any spontaneous behavior from those around them.

It is therefore natural that marketers are realizing that building loyalty for their brands involves developing a personal relationship with their audience. Joel Desgrippes of BrandImage explains it best. “Branding is not only about ubiquity, visibility, and functions; it is about bonding emotionally with people in their daily life. Only when a product or a service kindles an emotional dialogue with the consumer, can this product or service qualify to be a brand.”

There are four levels of customer engagement to strengthen the bond between a consumer and a brand:
1. Confidence in the brand’s promise
2. Belief in its integrity
3. Pride in being a customer
4. Passion for the brand
This is why social media is becoming front and center of an integrated marketing strategy.

The 10 Commandments to Understanding Social Media – Kyle Lacy (expanding on Marc Gobe’s book “Emotional Branding”)
  1. Think of consumers as people
  2. Create products as experiences
  3. Convert honesty to trust
  4. Change quality to preference
  5. Shift notoriety to aspiration
  6. Switch identity to personality
  7. Revert function to feel
  8. Propel ubiquity to presence
  9. Make communication a dialog
  10. Transform service into a relationship
While much has been talked about the Intelligence Quotient and the Emotional Quotient, having both in the right balance adds up to the Love Quotient (IQ + EQ = LQ). Just as individuals who have a high LQ have a loyal following, brands that do will have a loyal fan base that will help them grow exponentially. As history has shown us. it takes passionate grass roots movements to bring about revolutionary changes. It takes genuine interest to start a love fest.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Books Are The Stairs to Heaven

Reading is my strongest weakness. There is not a library or bookstore that I can resist walking by. My next weakness is a love for architecture that has been kept alive through my marriage to a home builder with a passion for architectural detail.

New York has fascinated me because of its old historic buildings that remind me a lot about the Dutch architecture in Sri Lanka, my birth country. As I was getting assimilated in the Brooklyn neighborhoods, I found that there are many great public libraries in Brooklyn and the rest of New York City.

I am a firm believer that just as books tell a story, the buildings that house them have an even greater story to tell - from the birth of an idea in someone's head to the funding and collaboration to build it and those who work tirelessly to add to its monumental collection of media.

I love to explore the architecture of some of the libraries – based on its historical perspective or whether it is flavored with modern references. I like to focus on some of the unique features of each library and get some input from those who work there.

Most importantly, I believe that reading expands one's horizons and therefore is something that should be encouraged. This is a compelling reason for anyone to get a library card and start reading or even check out audio tapes if they are more auditory learners.

New York Governor Samuel Tilden is credited as being one of the earliest benefactors of the New York Public Library system with a bequest of $2.4 million. Thanks to Andrew Carnegie's philanthropy at the turn of the 20th century, New York's Public Library system gained flight.

Today, the libraries throughout New York City are as varied as the neighborhoods they occupy. The original library at Fifth Avenue with its imposing Beaux-Arts design was the largest marble structure in the United States when it opened in 1911. It still represents the affluent neighborhood it guards.

In sharp contrast, the Brooklyn Public Library's central branch, which opened in 1941 was designed as a book with flaps, a representation of Architects Alfred Morton Githens's and Francis Kelly's outstanding Art Deco style. Opening onto Prospect Park, this neighborhood was more socio-economically diverse than its luxurious Manhattan predecessor.

The Bushwick Public Library, a Carnegie building designed by Raymond F. Almirall opened to the public on December 16, 1908 in a neighborhood of predominantly Russian Jews and a growing Italian population. The building was stately in its Spartan details. Today with media in Spanish and Chinese the Bushwick library also represents the cultural expansion of its neighborhood.

Regardless of its neighborhood locales, these libraries create permanent homes for books and programs within walking distance of every resident in every neighborhood.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

East Meets West

I was a true Westerner, a Californian for more than 20 years. I enjoyed the most beautiful sunsets and thought back to the times of the wagon trails making it to the then "final frontier." But, I always had the fleeting thought that New York was the place to be. While the "trail" ended in California, I was fascinated about where it began ... in New York, the home of Lady Liberty, the house of fashion, the creative nucleus on Madison Avenue, the seat of commerce - Wall Street.

When I finally got to visit New York on business while working for Bank of America in the early 1990s, my dream was realized. I remember the thrill of landing at JFK International Airport on the United Airlines flight. As if staying at the Millennium Hilton overlooking the twin towers of the World Trade Center, visiting Wall Street and the NYSE, and the Grand Central Station weren't enough, I managed to pack in a quick tour of Central Park, The Guggenheim, Museum of Modern Art, and even pass by where John Lennon was shot and where JFK Jr and Jackie Kennedy Onassis lived.

My appetite for NY was somewhat sated and I resumed my California life. In the ensuing years, as Jackie O passed away, JFK Jr met his untimely death, and I watched with horror as the twin towers fall, I savored my fleeting brush with history. I felt connected somehow in a strange, almost spiritual way to the people who were killed or injured.

Fast forward to 2010 as I relocate with my family to Brooklyn. I get to experience a different side of New York--sans glamor, financial district, overpowering buildings, luxury, and the expanse of Central Park, but with the hustle and bustle of everyday life. In many ways, the Bushwick area reminds me of downtown Los Angeles. With a large Hispanic population, a smattering of other ethnicities, rows and rows of shops, fresh fruit.

As I settled in, I wanted to immerse myself in my new surroundings, so I could assimilate and become a Brooklyner. I learned that Brooklyn was originally named Breuckelen, after Breukelen in the province of Utrecht in the Netherlands, because New York was then called New Amsterdam because of its Dutch settlements. Other villages which were later incorporated into Brooklyn were Boswijk (Bushwick), Nieuw Utrecht (New Utrecht), and Nieuw Amersfoort (Flatlands). My birth country of Sri Lanka was once occupied by the Dutch several centuries ago, so I see the similarity in a lot of the architecture. (The Dutch lost it to Britain in 1664. The rest is ... history.)

Aside from its most famous landmark, the Brooklyn Bridge, I found out that Brooklyn is famous for nine other National Historic Landmarks, namely:
  • the Brooklyn Heights Historic District,
  • the Brooklyn Historical Society building,
  • Plymouth Church of the Pilgrams,
  • Quarters A at the Brooklyn Navy Yard,
  • Jackie Robinson House,
  • St. Ann Holy Trinity Church,
  • Green-Wood Cemetery,
  • the Wyckoff-Bennett Homestead, and
  • the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House
In the mid-19th century, Brooklyn had so many houses of worship, it picked up the nickname "the City of Churches." And, because it served as the "sleeping quarters" for people who worked in Manhattan, it was also sometimes called the City of Houses.

It turns out that Brooklyn is home to some famous brand origins as well. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • Corning Glass started in Brooklyn in 1851 as the Brooklyn Flint Glass Works. The name was changed to Corning Glass when the company moved to Corning, New York in 1868.
  • Bank Charge Cards were first introduced in 1946 by banker John Biggins at the Flatbush National Bank as the Charg-It Card.
  • Both the single-packet serving of sugar and Sweet N'Low brand artificial sweetener were invented by Benjamin Eisenstadt, who ran a diner across the street from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Eisenstadt's company, the Cumberland Packing Company, still headquartered in Ft Greene today, was also the first to package single-serving sizes of condiments such as soy sauce, ketchup and mustard
  • Twizzlers candy were developed by the National Licorice Company in Brooklyn in 1845.
  • Also founded in 1845 in Brooklyn was drug company Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.
  • Another drug company from Brooklyn is ER Squibb Pharmaceuticals, founded in 1858. Squibb merged with Bristol-Myers in 1989 to form Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, the world's second-largest pharmaceutical company.
Wow, with that much rich heritage, who wants to leave Brooklyn? Fuhgeddaboudit! (click link to hear Donnie Brasco explain what it means.)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

The plush blanket of down-like snow has fallen off.
The stoic trees standing guard with icicles as fingers, now sway in the breeze.
Chirping birds are back performing their specialized responsibilities - gathering food, building nests or repairing those that were damaged in the harshness of winter.
Their soprano melodies blend with the symphony of city sounds -
the bass sounds of the trains and heavy sanitation trucks,
the paced intonation of the Latin and Caribbean conversations,
the trumpeting whoop of the ambulances,
and the other vehicles providing the octave variances depending on their engines,
with an occasional violin-like screech.

With a childlike innocence, I am experiencing life in Brooklyn for the first time,
soaking in every sensory experience
and filing it into my creative memory.
I see the philharmonic synchronization of city sounds,
the artistry in the graffiti murals
and the theatrical nuances of the subway rides.

I am a Brooklyner, a New Yorker, an artist at home in the nucleus of creativity.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Starting all over can give one a myriad of emotions - ranging from the exhilaration of new beginnings and hopes of great accomplishments to the nerve-wracking angst of being accepted in a new environment or recognized for past accomplishments or even being acknowledged at all.

It seems like my whole life can be summed up by this quote attributed to Darwin: "It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change." My life has had its share of change all right, some circumstantial, some internal and some by happenstance. Some may look at my resume and see a transient, while others who have more of an analytic bent may see the richness of my experience and my ability to succeed regardless of the environment I am thrown into or dive into.

I am not one to live my life looking in the rear view mirror. At the end of each day, I analyze how I spent my day, what I could have done better, what I did well and then move on. Occasionally, I may visit the archives of my memory for a nostalgic walk or looking through my "internal files" for some help on solving a problem or handling a relationship. For my memory archives have been well stocked with experiences and reading and serve as a great resource.

Standing at the cross-roads once again - in a new city, looking for acceptance as an accomplished professional, I have experienced the full gamut of emotions. Something tells me that my survival instincts and optimism honed through spiritual faith will serve me well. It is patience that I still have to learn. I am here for a purpose and I must keep my eye on that horizon. I will not let the ink dry for I have portraits and landscapes to paint, emotions to evoke, responses to elicit.

Ted Kennedy's words echo in encouragement, "The dream lives on."

Sunday, February 28, 2010

From Supersize to Minimize

We've all heard ad nauseum about corporate downsizing and its ripple impact on the economy. What the media has failed to report are stories of real people who have had to downsize. People who were once in the top 1% of the population with wealth in excess of $1 million who have since been reduced to the verge of bankruptcy.

"Jim and Sophie" and "Kevin and Monica" came to Nevada from Texas and Colorado respectively in 2005. Like my husband and me, they were established builders lured to Nevada by the seeming unending need for luxury homes. Jim and Sophie rode the rising tide in prestigious Roma Hills. They built and sold three luxury spec homes in three years, and spurred by their success, they built two more homes and bought two more bare lots, ignoring the predictions of a sagging global economy. After all, Nevada seemed recession-proof with the unending development of casinos and live entertainment. In fact, Wynn was about to open its second property, Encore in 2008.

Kevin and Monica built and sold their home and upgraded to a larger one and were building another spec home. Then, the financial markets imploded right before the historic US Presidential elections of 2008. As house values plummeted, Jim & Sophie and Kevin & Monica watched their personal wealth dwindle to the point that they could no longer afford the payments on their spec projects for which they had borrowed heavily to build.

In less than nine months, these couples were forced out of their homes unable to renegotiate with the banks on their loans. These banks had been "bailed out" but were in no mood to bail out small business owners who had been productive members of society, providing consistent employment to several construction tradesmen.

Our fate had been slightly better because my husband had been more astute about reading the economic signs. Our loss while great was not as significant. We were able to leave with dignity, offering our home at a loss to us, but not to the bank.

Yes, due to the uncertainty, we decided to downsize and minimize. Who needs a 7000 SF home after all and three dining room sets and five bedroom sets? And all the decorator items we had accumulated but really did not even use. It helped put things in perspective. We are luckier than most. We still own assets and we learned an important lesson. Minimalism is something to embrace. All the household items we collected for years for the kids - they don't appreciate them as much as we do. All the trouble and expenses we incurred storing and transporting them for years were in essense a waste.

Minimizing is good. It frees us to focus on the important things in life and helps us thank God for our health and family and real friends. This is true wealth - that which frees rather than encumbers.