Empathy in E-Ramadhan

It is that time of the year again as Muslims worldwide traverse the hill of the holy month of Ramadhan, emerging at the peak triumphant, in a joyous celebration of Eid-al- Fitr to mark the end of their month-long fasting in a quest of spirituality, humility and patience. They fast at the break of dawn to sunset and contrary to popular perception, it is often not the touch of the first morsel of food that’s the highlight of the day, it is rather in the revelry of breaking bread with their loved ones. Iftar, the breaking of fast has always been a community affair, one steeped in tradition and a hardship eased by shared moments with each other.

As a Malaysian, I am accustomed to the annual rites of going to bazaar Ramadhan, hearing the call of the Azan marking the break of the fast and seeing my male Muslim friends convene at mosques at night for their Terawih prayers. Although I do not celebrate Raya nor observe Ramadhan, going to bazaar Ramadhan is something I look forward to yearly. Blessed to be living in a multi-racial country, I get to immerse myself with the cacophony of the sights and sounds of people from all walks of life coming together in the name of food. 

Growing up in a multi-racial country has taught me to be more mindful, tolerant and adapt to cultures different than my own. A foreign friend once pointed out an interesting observation of how Malaysians can mix and switch between languages with ease. It’s something that fascinated him as a monolingual; an important skill in a global hyper-connected world. We are better able to thrive in different environments and cultures and make meaningful connections. This edge I believe is merely a by-product of our melting pot of cultures. Tolerance and willingness to adapt foster understanding, respect, and harmony which is the very backbone of our country despite what we may occasionally see in the headlines.

My parents have always instilled in me a deep sense of understanding and tolerance in our community. Growing up, we never ate or cooked pork at home out of respect for our rented house’s owner who is a Muslim. It is through this lens of understanding that guides the way I conduct myself as an adult. As such, during Ramadhan most non-Muslims will refrain from eating or drinking in front of our Muslim friends. In the same vein of thought, I thought this sensitivity should extend online as well; in the form of not posting food pictures or food-related content on my social media out of respect. You see, an outgrowth of my self-isolation resulted in consistent posting of my culinary adventures online and the sudden lack of postings prompted a friend to ask if I have stopped cooking. The millennial that I am, I posted about my perspective online. To my pleasant surprise, I was wrong. 

My friend Nurul who is a Digital Marketing Manager enlightened me that during Ramadhan, Muslims, in general appreciate food-related content as a source of inspiration for what to eat during Iftar; an insight gleaned from the execution of a Gaviscon Ramadhan campaign. Wait, whaaaat?? Trust me, I had the same reaction as well upon learning this. Gaviscon, is an over-the-counter medicine used for treating heartburn and indigestion. Muslims, in general tend to overeat during Iftar, thus not surprisingly, usage spikes during this time of the year as many use it as a symptom reliever post breaking fast. Deriving from this consumer insight, Gaviscon created a digital video campaign that showcases mouth-watering images of popular food found at bazaar Ramadhan that was geo-targeted to four areas in Peninsular Malaysia; namely Central, North, South and East Coast. Results were astounding, with accumulated almost 2 million views (May- June 2018) and the average percentage viewed for all videos is more than 90%, which tells us that the intended audience did not skip the video ad. Industry benchmarks are at an average of 30-50%. Armed with this newfound insight, I decided to run a poll on my Instagram, (let’s just assume we have reached statistical significance here), and all of my Malay friends who responded agree with the sentiment. Who would have thought eh? 

This revelation also sparked a different curiosity for me. 2020 shall go down in history as the year where nothing is the same, Ramadhan included. As we adjust to this new normal of e-bazaars and breaking fast in isolation, how do we still keep the fabric of our shared understanding and respect intact? How can we be more mindful as a community as our lives are forced to move online and the way we connect as human beings change with it?

As the world moves into some forms of lockdown, a majority of the workforce are suddenly thrust into juggling multiple roles at the same time; an employee, a parent, a teacher, a cook and a housekeeper. Working parents, especially mothers who were able to outsource these roles previously suddenly find themselves taking on all of said workload by themselves. Being overwhelmed is a clear understatement. To any of you who are in this situation currently finding it difficult to cope, please repeat after me. You are not a bad .. (insert role of choice here) You are just another human being having to take on so many roles at the same time that it’s humanly impossible to excel at ALL those roles. Cut yourself some slack. You are doing your best with the limited resources you have currently.

James Clear’s Four Burners Theory encapsulates this perfectly. According to him, imagine life being represented by a stove with four burners on it. Each burner symbolizes one major quadrant of your life.

Four Burners Theory

  1. The first burner represents your family.

  2. The second burner is your friends.

  3. The third burner is your health.

  4. The fourth burner is your work.

The Four Burners Theory says that “to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And to be really successful you have to cut off two.” 

Now, you might wonder if you can keep all four burners running and bypass it somehow by combining some of the quadrants? I mean, some people seem to have it all, don’t they? What we don’t see upholding that image is the amount of outsourced roles and the support system they have. I hate to break it to you but no, we can’t have it all. Every action is a reflection of which burner is your priority at that given point in time and we have to learn to embrace the constraints and limitations that come with it.

Life is filled with trade-offs. If you want to excel in your career and marriage, your health and friends will be relegated to the back seat. Pick any combo you want, you’ll come to realize that you’ll eventually have to make a conscious decision of which burner to sacrifice to truly excel and reach your full potential in your chosen area. You can of course choose to spend an equal amount of time in all four quadrants of your life, but you will also have to learn to accept that excellence is unlikely an adjective in your book. Throw a pandemic in this equation, and all aspects of life are immeasurably harder. So forgive yourself for not being in your peak form.

If you’re interested to learn more about this theory, do check out https://jamesclear.com/four-burners-theory

Anyways, I digress. So how can we collectively be more considerate towards each other in times like these? As an employer or manager, do treat your employees with empathy. A good practice for HR is to send notifications upfront to all employees in regards to working hours for Muslims and to be mindful to not schedule calls or meetings around those times. Apart from that, meetings should be refrained from being scheduled during lunchtime as well to take into consideration parents who will need to prepare meals for their kids, especially when they are working at home with relatively little help. Taking into consideration of business needs, employees should also be prepared to accommodate taking calls either earlier or later of the day to make up for the flexibility given. 

Expectations regarding productivity should also be adjusted given the circumstances. It is difficult to match the same level of productivity in an office environment where there are no distractions such as fussy kids, laundry, or cooking for your family. Having said that, this circumstance is not a hall pass for underperformance; trust goes both ways, and through empathy and responsibility on both ends that we can keep our livelihood intact.

To the rest of us, when you’re ordering your next meal, perhaps you can surprise your family and friends with a meal. It’s taking one task off their plate and nothing warms your heart more than a shared moment through food. And oh before I forget, do continue posting your recipes online; just make sure they are Halal. We’re the emphatic cool crowd, aren’t we? 😉

Quarantunes, Riddles, and Musicals on Lockdown

Quarantunes, Riddles, and Musicals on Lockdown

I first heard of the word quarantunes from Rita Wilson, the wife of Tom Hanks. She was one of the few high profile celebrities who first tested positive for covid-19 last April. As a way of coping with the pandemic’s direct impact, she produced an open Spotify playlist of tunes called Quarantunes. People now have various hobbies. In between covid-19 related work and volunteering for CoronaTracker, I find myself occasionally checking out riddles posted on Facebook just to kill time.

I also enjoyed looking at the kitchen adventures of my friends. Most of my friends generously post about their cooking exploits similar to what Amy wrote about here in The Other Side a few weeks ago. I still have mediocre kitchen skills but new things came out of the pandemic quarantine that I am happy about.

A lot of generous folks from the media industry also released access to Youtube videos of concerts and plays. Most of these were fundraisers for covid-19 relief efforts and was released publicly for a limited time. Recently, I was able to watch The Phantom of the Opera and a local play called Ang Huling El Bimbo in the comfort of my own home and with my husband and two kids.

This May 15, The Shows Must Go On Youtube channel is airing Cats the musical for free to the public as well. It will air for only 48 hours and I’ll definitely be watching this play with my family during the days it’s made publicly available. Broadway is now within virtual reach for most of us who still have to stay home to flatten the curve. We are lucky to have all these resources opening up at our disposal and helping us manage our new normal during this global crisis.

The show must go on mentally as we try to survive the new normal. But as the new normal on a lockdown has taken hold, I also noticed some subtle changes in the way I deal with people. I find myself waving to my neighbor eagerly now when I see him or her from our window. I used to ignore these chances or take these for granted when I had the actual freedom to go out and pay my neighbors an actual visit.

Resolutions have been made; I plan to be more expressive of gratitude to the people I am able to interact with because I sorely missed that interaction now that I am stuck at home. I am introvert but I still miss having the abiity to visit family and friends. I am just grateful I have a fun and supportive spouse locked down with me who helps me with the household chores and caregiving duties for our kids. Not everyone is in the same fortunate situation. Some front-liners have to battle out with the virus risks directly in the hospitals. Covid-19 patients have to fight for their lives and very survival while they wait for a negative swab test result. I hope I don’t forget the reason why I am able to stay home; it’s because of these heroes who are on the front lines of the pandemic battle.

What about you? What new hobbies and interests has this pandemic uncovered in you lately?

7 Life Lessons from 30 Days of Cooking

Today marks day 30 of Malaysia’s Movement Control Order (MCO) and I figured what better way to commemorate this milestone than to pen down some of the learnings I’ve had while cooped up at home, cooking my own meals for the past one month. This may not seem like any feat of sorts to cooks out there but you see, I’m one of those experimental cooks or CovEAT Chefs as I would like to affectionately call myself, born out of times of self isolation. For a good part of my young adult life, Grab Food has always been my best friend. Nothing beats convenience when you spend a good amount of time at or commuting to work and so I’ve relegated to be the occasional healthy-ish “cook” who assembles her food (read food that don’t require much cooking skills; ie salads, air fried or oven baked meals) More out of hobby than self sustenance I would say.

At the start of MCO, like many others I stocked up my pantry with 2 weeks worth of food. What started off as a practical notion of finishing up what i bought turned into a challenge to cook daily until MCO ends. Though this decision initially stemmed from a health and safety one, it morphed into what it is today because deep down I wanted to know if I would be able to cook for myself without any ready made paste or shortcuts. Anything I want to make, I’ll learn to make it from scratch. Thus, out I went as I did my next grocery shopping to gather my troop of  comrades such as fish sauce, oyster sauce, vinegar, miso paste and mirin to help me win this war. With them in my arsenal, I have what I need to cook a variety of cuisine. Come to think of it, having red wine vinegar would be nice, but hey we can always make do with what we have right?

So, what have I learnt from this culinary journey? First and foremost, if you fail, try again until you succeed. When Dalgona coffee made it’s waves online, my feed was swamped with friends trying this out. After a few days of constant social media disruption of this innocuous beverage, I jumped on the bandwagon as well. I did not have  a whisk at hand but I figured my barely there biceps and sheer determination would do the trick. Alas, that is not the case and my version came out nothing like what I’ve seen online despite my long agonizing whipping hours. Okay, I’m being a little dramatic here but you get the idea. I felt a little defeated considering the amount of time I put in, and yet not getting the results I want. Does this sound familiar? I’m sure this happens across many different facets of life. “I spent many hours dancing and yet can’t get that choreography right while another seem to be able to do it perfectly just after 2 hours of practice.” Or the classic “I work long hours daily, how is so & so getting promoted instead of me?” Truth is, life isn’t fair and everyone starts off on different pedestals with different circumstances and resources that shaped who and where they are in life. Or they are just really good at hiding the amount of effort and hours they put in a craft. There are no shortcuts in life. Everyone needs to put in the work to achieve what they want, and with odds stacked differently for each of us, it’s irrational to compare ourselves with others. Our one and only yardstick should be our yesterday. That’s the biggest competitor we should be defeating. Hence forth, strive forward to consistently get better at what you do daily even if it means you started off failing and stumbling a few times down the road. They say, good things come to those who wait. I say, good things come to those who wait AND take action to get it. So did I manage to get my perfect Dalgona coffee? You bet I did! After a few frustrating tries of course.

Mind over matter.  Yes, this holds especially true after 7 days of cooking and you are sick of your own food and you start hearing nasi lemak, kimchi jigae, beef fried rice and beef burger call your name. It took a lot of resolve to not turn to my best friend, Grab Food to satisfy my cravings. I constantly look at the Grab Food platform , scrolling for what I desire, stopping short of pressing the add to cart button. What kept me in check? Deep down I knew that I wanted to complete this challenge no matter what the temptations were and how hard it seemed at that time. So I stuck to it and here we are at day 30, revelling in the fact that I did it. I’m going to reward myself by connecting with Mr Grab tomorrow. Hehe

Our bodies are just like a bank account. What we consume compounds. The question is, what do we want to increase in time? Our health or our waist line? What we put into our bodies matter, which is why I choose to have nutritious balanced meals. Cooking my own meals allows me to control what goes into my food. Very little oil, no deep frying and no or very minimal sugar alternatives is my cooking mantra. If the food I consume outside is less than healthy, then I should balance it out by cooking healthy meals at home. It may be difficult at the start but once you start doing this consistently, it becomes a habit. Speaking of habits that compound, past the 7 days mark of cooking my own meals, it has become enjoyable to me. Plating and taking nice photos of them gives me a sense of satisfaction. I started off with cooking instant noodles and 1/4 into my journey, it is starting to be a part of my daily habits and it seemed less daunting and difficult than when I started. Cooking did not become any less difficult, I just got better. The same goes with exercise. If you started off lifting 2kg dumb bells and 5kg ones seemed impossible, the day you are able to lift the 5kg dumb bells, it isn’t because the weights got any lighter. You just got stronger.

Anything we want to achieve, we achieve through consistency, not intensity.  It’s okay to start small. As long as we continue to build on the habits daily, it will eventually compound and we will be able to take on more than what we did yesterday. A book that resonated to me on this is Atomic Habits by James Clear. One of my favourite phrase from his book is ” If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection.” You can also check out his book here https://www.amazon.com/Atomic-Habits-Proven-Build-Break/dp/0735211299

As days roll by in my cooking challenge, there were days where I was super motivated to try out new recipes but there were also days I did not feel like spending hours in the kitchen and just have instant noodles instead. As long as I did not stray away from my goal, it IS okay. So what if all I could manage on that day is just instant noodles? We all have our ups and downs. The productivity cycle has it’s peaks, troughs and plateaus. It is important to remember that and not get swept away by the notion that just because we have more time on our hands that we HAVE to be productive all the time. It is okay to not be productive all the time.  During MCO or any other time really, there are four levels of productivity. The Productive Sloth, The Productive Procrastinator, The Productive Warrior and lastly The Productive Jedi.

Productivity Cycle

In times of uncertainty and challenges, it is easy to turn into a Productive Sloth. If you’re productive, it means you are creating or producing large amounts of something. In this case, it can be curling up in a ball crying, laying in bed all day or just binge watching Netflix. Guess what, it is perfectly okay, human even, to indulge in this. The key is to be aware that you’re in this stage, feel it in it’s entirety and make a commitment to yourself to get out of this funk after a predetermined number of days. The length differs by every individual, as long as it is not for a consistent prolonged period. If this pervasive feelings persist, reach out to a trusted close friend or a helpline specialized in helping you to clear your mind or ease your burdens. In Malaysia, you can reach out to a special counselling 24 hours helpline called Talian Kasih. You can either call 15999 or Whatsapp 019-2615999.

As you slowly ease yourself out of the Productive Sloth stage, you start becoming the Productive Procrastinator. You’re slowly getting your mojo back but you’re just not quite there yet. So, you do stuffs to keep yourself busy while avoiding what really needs to be done. If this sounds like you, it is okay. At least, you are still getting things done. It is already better than inaction. This is me most of the time! As your motivation level peaks, you’ve turned into a full blown Productive Warrior. Just like a warrior, you go all out in the battle field. Pat yourself on the back,  for this is when you’re in the flow,  busy checking off that checklist in a blaze. You’re in the zone as they say. You feel accomplished and satisfied at this stage but bear in mind to not over do it, as you do not want to burn out. As with any goals or checklists, they should be challenging, but not overwhelming. Otherwise, you will either be too afraid to start or fall short before you reach the finish line.

The most optimum level of productivity level to me is when you’ve ascended to a Productivity Jedi. It is when you know what is right or wrong for you and what to do. There will be troughs and peaks in your life, but you are in a constant state of awareness and being. When you have clarity on what matters in life, you choose where to spend your energy wisely. As Mark Manson said, “In life, we have a limited amount of f*cks to give. So you must choose your f*cks wisely.” The key to stronger, happier people is to handle adversity better and stop trying to be “positive” or productive all the time. Know and pick your battles. Ignore the rest. THAT’s when you’ve known you’ve risen to the plane of the elusive few. The Subtle Art Of Not Giving a F*ck is one of my favourite books of all time and if you would like to delve deeper, you can get the book here https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B019MMUA8S/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

My last nugget of self actualization is you can when you believe. Prior to MCO, I did not know how to make steak, bake cookies or make my favourite Korean meals like Budae Jigae or Doenjang Jigae. They seemed too far fetched for someone like me but I’m one to test my boundaries. I was too stuck in the I can’t mind set that it became my identity. I’m that girl who can’t cook. However, the moment I stepped out of that state of being and into a new identity of I can cook, my worldview changed. I started off following recipes to a T, and as I gained my confidence, started evolving and making the recipes with a dash of my own little twist. What I love about cooking most is that you can experiment with your ingredients. It’s a 50:50 chance. If paired right, it turns into a master piece and if not, it’s not good or palatable. A 50% chance is still pretty good odds stacked to your favour. That beats baking in my books as  the rise and fall of your goods are down to the last precision.

The little rebel that I am, I’ll stick to cooking, thanks.

Get to Know CoronaTracker’s Open Data Lake and API

Before we suffer from information overload (as we are mostly glued to our screens with lockdown protocols worldwide), know that there is a true pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that is data for the pandemic age. Our open data lake is free, accessible, and rich in insights that can last more than this lifetime. Join us in this journey and together we can learn and beat this invisible enemy that is common to most countries in the world today.

Coronavirus — act responsibly

CoronaTracker is stepping up its game from being an ordinary dashboard into being a world-class hub for garnering insights through its API and open data lake for interested entities and researchers all over the world. We have gathered and continue to gather enough official data to create a data lake or open repository for all on matters of covid-19 as it happened and continues to happen in our lives today. The gatekeeping to keeping data integrity intact despite the growing information continues. We have previously been recognized by the World Health Organization for our initial work that was published last month, and it does not end there. 

Embed or Access Our Data Freely via Widgets or API

If you have your own use case for CoronaTracker’s data, you are also welcome to use it even without joining our research team. At present, a lot of individuals and groups are able to make use of embedding CoronaTracker iframes on their websites for their purposes of informing the public. Aside from this, we have a well-documented API that allows you to pull the data from our database for your personal use. 

Coronatracker API Documentation

For example, you can use a GET request with the right parameters to view stats per country. Some of the other things you can get from our API include total daily cases, top statistics, deaths, and getting the data of a country between a specified start and end date. There is also a separate document on accessing our data lake to be rolled out soon. These are all free of charge for public consumption. The documentation is well-written and easy to follow. 

The Covid-19 Data Frontlining Work

Data without action is useless. We are not just collecting data into our open data lake for the sake of storing information. There are open areas of research across various disciplines that require collaboration and a robust framework of analyzing the big lake of data. 

Our collaborative synergy with our network of volunteer researchers has 6 active research threads open today: 

  • Epidemic curves by country
  • Economic impact of COVID-19
  • Differentiating country covid rates by cultural factors
  • Differentiating country COVID-19 rates by demographic factors
  • Climate factors influencing COVID-19 rates
  • Transportation/network model (flights/telco) to predict COVID-19 trends

Data Visualization of Covid-19 as it Happens

Coronatracker’s App Analytics Dashboard for the Public

Even without special access parameters from API or the data lake, you can still view the platform at coronatracker.com free of charge anytime. If there is anything that needs correcting, our team of volunteers is actively making the necessary corrections to maintain data integrity for all the data points being shown on the dashboard we have created for public consumption.

You can join us in this challenge of studying these active areas of research today. You can also learn more about our open data lake initiative by visiting our site. Thank you for your continuous support of our app. 

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