Monday, July 27, 2009

Gone Too Soon

Once in your life, you will meet someone that will have a great impact on your life. I first met Yasmin Ahmad at my job interview for Leo Burnett back in 2000. It was the longest interview I've ever had.

That's the thing about Min. She has such presence and yet she makes you feel comfortable. Unfortunately, I wasn't very comfortable that day. I was nervous as hell. Here was the greatest creative director in the country asking to see my humble work. As my shaky hands and quivering voice took her through my book, she interrupted me, the way only Yasmin could.

"Nervous ah?" she laughed, "No need to be nervous lah. This is good work."

That still didn't comfort me though. I was still nervous, especially so when she brought Ali in to show him my work. "Ali has to see this," she said. "Don't worry, he won't bite. He only looks fierce because of the janggut!"

She kept laughing about how nervous I was. The interview lasted almost three hours.

She called me on the Friday the week after and told me my offer letter was ready. I went over to pick it up and she showed me around the office, pointing out the hottest girls there!

My first day at work, she brought me to an offline session for a MAS commercial. It was the one about the two boys saving up money to watch the Malaysian hockey team play at the Sydney Olympics. The music track was Man Bai's "Kau Ilhamku".

I sat in a corner and watched as she made comments to what I thought was an already perfect spot. Then she turned to me and asked me, "Eh... What do you think?"

What? The great one asking me for my comments? Wow! I was honoured! Unfortuntaly the only thing I could muster up was, "It's nice..." Damn, I must have looked like an idiot! Not a good start to my career at LB!

But that was Min. She was always excited about any new commercial, script, idea. She would get the entire creative department in and eagerly show them and get their feedback. She was like a kid with a new toy. And her work was always brilliant.

My first assignment and I nervously walked in to her office to show her my headline and first draft body copy. She liked the idea and immediately went to my desk to fine-tune the copy. She was always brutally honest with her feedback. If she liked something, she'd get really excited and sit down with you to see how we could take it further. If she didn't like it, she'd say some thing like, "Boring lah... Try this or that." Honest, but always willing to give a guiding hand.

Over the three years I was at LB, as I got to now her, I slowly managed to overcome my nervousness whenever I had to see her. She was larger than life, yet down to earth at the same time. She was charismatic, charming, funny, witty. And this helped me calm my nerves.

She never encouraged late nights at the office. She believed we were all adults and knew what our responsibilities were. She only asked that deadlines were met and the work was decent.

She loved movies. We'd be sitting around the office, brainstorming and she'd just walk up to us and invite us all to go watch a movie. At 3pm on a workday! She believed no good ideas can come from sitting around the office. We have to go out, experience life, then and only then, can we create advertising that people can relate to.

She taught me about advertising. She taught me about life. She taught me how to write. "Write from the heart," she'd say, "not the head." The one piece of advice I thought made me a better writer.

She was my boss, my mentor, my friend.

I left LB in 2002, seeking greener pastures. I rarely saw her after that. But she continued to make an impact on me through her work and her movies. I wish now that I had kept in touch more.

Today, I heard Man Bai's "Kau Ilhamku" on the radio, played in tribute to her. And I found myself crying. It reminded me of that first day at LB, the day I started to get to know this truly wonderful person.

Good-bye, Min. You will be missed.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Who's the DRAMAthlete now?

A couple of weeks ago, Senn labeled herself DRAMAthlete in her blog. At the PD tri yesterday, I proudly took that title off of her.

PD has always been my drama stage. I've raced there four times and only once did i have a drama-free race.

My first year, I got completely disoriented on the swim course (the swim course that year was complicated, zig-zagging through the pier). I was so winded after the swim that my bike and run suffered. Finish time 3:26.

My second year was drama-free. And I went on to record my personal best Olympic distance tri. Finish time 2:48 (a PB that still stands today).

My third year (last year), I crashed on the bike with about 2km to go to transition. Adrenaline got me going, pushing the bike back to transition and continuing on to the run. With blood dripping down my legs and arms, I managed to finish it. Finish time 3:02.

This year, everything was running smoothly pre-race. Got to PD early, had lunch, went jalan-jalan (not that there's much to see in PD), picked up race kits, caught up with old friends, went for carbo-load dinner, laughed at Uncle Chan's race briefing, etc.

Then the drama started.

I was setting my stuff up when I took out my bike shoes. It didn't have cleats on it. I had accidentally packed my old shoes.

Panic stations.

Thought about what to do:
1) I could do the bike in run shoes. But the Newtons and its lugs at the forefoot don't quite gel with the KEO clipless pedals.

2) Call around to see if anybody has spare cleats. But it was already 11-something at night and I seriously doubted anybody would have spare cleats lying around in PD.

3) Race back to KL, pick up the correct shoes, and drive back down to PD. But would take at least two hours and I'd only be back in PD at 1:30am. I'd have not enough rest for the race the next day.

At this point, the most viable option was option 3. Senn, bless her soul, was sweet enough to accompany me on the drive. We made it to KL in an hour flat. The drive back to PD was a little slower as I was getting a little sleepy. Kudos to Senn for not dozing off during the trip. Must have been a first for her!

Got back to PD close to 2am. Prepped my stuff, took a shower and went to sleep. Only, I couldn't sleep. Adrenaline from from the drive, mixed with pre-race jitters plus a very violent sleeper (no, not Senn) on the bed next to me made for a sleepless night. Next thing I knew, the alarm went off and it was time to get up. Damn, no sleep at all.

Patrick went out to the balcony and said it was raining. At this point, I really didn't want to race at all. I was sleepy, It was raining, and I still didn't know how well my knee would hold out.

But then I thought about the drive to KL and back. It would have been such a waste of a drive if I didn't race. And Senn would have killed me for dragging her all the way for nothing!

So we got ready, had our breakfast and moved on to the race site. Set up transition, got body-marked, wished friends good luck and off we went to the swim start. Drama's over, let's just get this over and done with.

But then oops, during Uncle Chan's last minute briefing, I realised I could hear him. I normally can't because I have my earplugs on. So, how is it that I'm hearing him now?


Left my earplugs in transition. Ran back to get and the earlier question about the knee holding up was answered: it wouldn't.

Got back to the start line and I was winded, completely winded. Looked at the sea and it was a lot rougher than in previous years. Oh well, let's get it on.

Off we went. I made it a point to swim on the outside, away from the line, to avoid the mass of arms and legs. After a few strokes, I was back on the inside, swimming over people, people swimming over me, getting my feet, calves and ass touched. It was a mess. It didn't help that the sea was rough, bouncing us up and down like rag dolls. Kept telling myslef that this was only till the first bouy, after that it gets a bit more strung out and there'll be space. Water will be calmer in the marina

Rounded the first bouy and found some space. Thought I was swimming quite well. Got around the turnaround, then back to rough seas, and onto the beach. Looked at my watch: 44 minutes! 11 minutes slower than my average time here. My slowest time in an OD swim. There goes my sub-3 race!

The only consolation was that Stupe was right behind me. Year in, year out, Stupe and I have always exited the swim at the same time. So maybe it wasn't that bad a swim, just that the conditions slowed us down a bit.

By the time I go on the bike I was winded. Just didn't have the legs. Struggled for about 10km or so then, as if right on schedule like in previous years, Azmar shows up with a long train behind him. I catch on, hoping to ride the train all the way home like in previous years. But, unlike previous years, I couldn't hold on. They accelerated up a hill and I suddenly puked, right there onto my top tube! I had to let them go and stop at the side of the road for a while.

That was the story of the bike. Trying to catch on to other people's wheels but failing to hang on. Stupe tried to drag me along, Dicky tried to drag me along, Patrick tried to drag me along. I just couldn't hang. After a while I gave up and just coasted home to a 1:28 bike time.

In T2, I sat there contemplating whether to continue or not. It was already going badly and I knew my knee couldn't handle it. But I learnt my lesson about quitting during Ironman 2007, so I continued. I decided to walk the 10k.

I've run marathons, 30Ks, half marathons, etc, but to walk 10 is damn far. Not to mention damn long. It took me 52 minutes, just to get to the turnaround. I tried running for a bit, because I was getting impatient with the slow pace. I saw some of my first-timer friends passing. I cheered them on, tried running with them, but the pain got too much so I went back to walking.

Senn passed and gave me words of encouragement. When I ran to keep up with her she scolded me, telling me not to be stupid and risk permanent injury. So I walked some more.

Finally, got back to finish line. Bandit was catching up so I tried to put in a final burst to stay ahead. Couldn't do it. We crossed the line side by side. After almost four hours on the go.

I honestly don't think I deserve the medal, not after a performance like that. Sure, I had the injury, but that's no excuse. It didn't affect my swim or bike, and those two legs were just plain slow. And don't tell me about off days. I know all about them and I know that this was just one of them. Just allow me to wallow for a while, ok?

A big thank you to friends who offered words of encouragement along the way. It really helped. Also a big thank you to Big Mac, who accompanied me on his bike during my long, slow walk. Thank you for your support. Stupe, too, who came out on his bike after his race was done.

And of course to sweet, sweet Senn, who waited for me at the finish line after her race was done and walked with me the final few metres. Seeing her there was a sight for sore eyes after a long, painful walk.

So there. I've always said my races were always low-key and drama-free. Just put the head down and get on with it, just like a triathlete would. On Sunday, I got to see what it's like to be a DRAMAthlete.