Monday, June 24, 2013


Nothing, in truth, can ever replace a lost companion. Old comrades cannot be manufactured. There is nothing that can equal the treasure of so many shared memories, so many bad times endured together, so many quarrels, reconciliations, heartfelt impulses. Friendships like that cannot be reconstructed. If you plant an oak, you will hope in vain to sit soon in its shade.
For such is life. We grow rich as we plant through the early years, but then come the years when time undoes our work and cuts down our trees. One by one our comrades deprive us of their shade, and within our mourning we always feel now the secret grief of growing old.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery 

In light of recent event, I found these  words comforting.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Goodbye to a mentor and a friend

The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.”

Anton Ego (Ratatouille)

In the first year of my undergraduate study, I've told people that I want to work in a think tank. For some reason, my words (and my results) are strong enough that I managed to be employed in one. In my 4 years and 6 months there, I realised that securing a dream job meant nothing if you are not welcomed as a part of the tribe. Dr Mahani Zainal Abidin was the head of this tribe.

I’ve encountered Dr Mahani at first as a student of Malaysian economy. Her book, “Rewriting the Rules: The Malaysian Crisis Management Model” makes me realised how important it is for economic lessons learned in class to be translated into clear actions. Despite clear-cut solutions presented in the textbook, her book presented a case where economic policymaking in an art, a process where the outcome can be uncertain. The book was based on her experience as a member of the Working Group for the National Economic Action Council (NEAC) in 1998 Asian Financial and Economic Crisis (AFC). If any of you recall, the proudest moment of the NEAC existence was when it convinced the nation that Malaysia can ride the AFC without the help of international bodies like the IMF.

One of the questions that she asked me during my job interview was, “why do you want to work in ISIS?” My answer was because I’ve always wanted to work in a think tank. I got my bubble burst few weeks after when my boss, Steven Wong makes this remarks, “sometimes you like the food in a restaurant, then you work in the restaurant’s kitchen and found out it was a messy process”. In this respect, I’ve learned the importance of being coy. Coy-ness in this case is not a bad thing but rather an advantage especially if you are dealing with multitude of audiences, from politicians to the ordinary Pak Mat on the street. You need to break down your point of view and messages in different forms and then start the dissemination process that in the end, the person on the other side changed their perspective and felt that it was driven by their own thinking. I admit I never really mastered the process but I'm glad that I got to see it done by a master. I still don't know whether to call it coyness or Jedi-mind trick.

Formerly an academician that worked in international trade and economics, Dr Mahani tried her best to bring the world of academia and policymaking together. We worked together on issues that required instant solutions and those that will be important in the future. However in an institution that employed around 20 thinkers there’s only as much as this tribe can do. There are times even I felt that an institution we could do more, but my youthful notions was always shut down by hers. It took me awhile to realise that there is clear distinction between throwing half-assed efforts in different directions and having focus on a distinctive area. As an economist-to-be, you always get hammered with the term trade-off but once it is in front of you, you freaked out. In a way, we traded small multitudes of issues with a singular vision and dream. I wish I learned this lesson earlier.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in ISIS and Dr Mahani was there to correct some of those mistakes. I’m not joking; she even corrected my grammatical errors. She was kind to the new. She took a lot of young researchers in and provides a lot of avenue for us to interact and shaped each other views. She started the tradition of yearly presentations where I bombed in most of my presentations. She took a risk on a newbie like me, without a graduate degree, okay writing skills and shaped me. She opened many doors for me, like when she’s written countless of reference letters for my scholarship applications. I'm in Nottingham now due to the last recommendation letter she wrote. We also undergo some adventures together. I still can’t forget when she fearlessly took me gate-crashing an event that we both don’t RSVP (the trick is to have enough clout and always act like confidence). She also saved my skin when she bailed me out in Bangkok after I got pickpocketed.   

I'm gonna missed dropping by to her office around 6pm everyday and talked about small and big things. I'm gonna missed her laugh. Most importantly I'm gonna missed her tone of 'Izzatina' when I ticked her off. 

I never get to say my last goodbye, physically. I’m currently all alone, more than 10 thousands kilometres away in Nottingham. This essay is my chance to throw to the universe about my feelings on a friend and a mentor. 


Here’s my favourite picture of us together.

Mahani, I wish you all the best in the afterlife.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Go the Distance

This is corny to the max. I'm facing examinations so I guess it is fine.