Thursday, December 28, 2017

10 Years of Blogging

Can't believe the year is almost over already! It's time to wrap up this 'workful' year and gear up for another round of busy season as I enter my 8th working year. Ughh..feels old! As usual, I'll end the year with a final post to recap:

10th Blog-niversary!

I started this blog on 11 March 2007, and since then I've published a total of 424 posts (pretty persistent despite not making any money huh!). I've pretty much documented my entire 20's on this blog and it has served as a great platform to help me remember all the memorable moments that will put a smile on my face when I look back in the future. Memories fade, and that's why I chose to make an effort to cherish these memories. 

Turning 30
One of my major milestone this year is turning 30! To commemorate this milestone, I've put together a summary of my Top 30 Experiences Before 30. A great way to pause, reflect, and be thankful for all the experiences I've had thus far.

New Website
The number of posts on this blog hit its lowest in 10 years this year mainly because of I've been spending time building a new website - "ALABA+MA+LAYSIA". I've been wanting to have a drop down menu for all the places I've traveled to, and I'm happy with how it turned out on this new website. =)

This year seemed to be a year of hustle for the both of us at work. Hubby switched job earlier this year and every change comes with learning curve. As for me, I feel like I've established myself as the one who doesn't mind traveling out of town for work, which I really don't mind (can't speak for hubby though). I'm thankful for such a good set up being a telecommuter. 

Apart from Texas & Ohio, all my work travels this year have been stuck in the Southeast:
  • March - Texas, Ohio, Atlanta 
  • April - Atlanta 
  • September - Atlanta 
  • October - Tampa 
  • October - Tampa 
  • December - Auburn 

Last year's accomplishment was completing the CPA exams, and this year's accomplishment was getting a promotion (finally)!

Travels/Round-the-World Trip
To celebrate my promotion and our birthdays, we rewarded ourselves with a trip around-the-world, and the entire trip costs only $625 per person (all-in including shopping!), thanks to points and miles! We visited 5 countries in 3 continents (UK, South Africa, Germany, Japan, Malaysia) during this trip, and I'm glad that I was able to squeeze in a home trip as well.

Summary of my travels for 2017 (work+leisure):
  • Number of hotel nights - 85 nights (SPG-59; Marriott-13; Hilton-13) 
  • Number of hotels - 18 hotels (SPG-8; Marriott-6; Hilton-4) 
  • Number of flights - 49 flights (Delta-28; AA-8; United-3, South African-2, Lufthansa-2, ANA-2, MAS-2, Airasia-2) 
  • Number of airlines - 8 airlines (Delta, American Airlines, United, South African, Lufthansa, ANA, MAS, Airasia) 
Another travel win this year was getting super cheap flights for my parents to travel from Malaysia to visit us for 3.5 weeks. 

After being overwhelmed with tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchinis last year, we decided to scale down and focus primarily on broccoli this year. 

To celebrate my 10th year of blogging, I'll wrap up this post with a compilation of all the year-end recaps over the last 10 years (impressed that I didn't miss a single year):
2007 · 2008 · 2009 · 2010 · 2011 · 2012 · 2013 · 2014 · 2015 · 2016

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Fall 2017 Updates

I'm definitely slacking this year with my blog updates, on track to have the least number of posts in a year since 2007. Been busy with work and travels ever since we returned from our trip, and the last 3 months flew by just like that. It's time to catch up on some updates over this long weekend before work gets hectic again soon.

Sept 3 (Sun): Gathering with relatives.

Was traveling back and forth Tampa, FL for 6 weeks in Oct and Nov.

Fully utilized my United Club membership at the lounge in Atlanta airport.

Spent a good number of nights in hotels.

Views from the hotel.

Traveling for work means eating out...

a lot...

and fixed my cravings for Asian food.

'Test drove' these cars over the last few weeks, as if I'm looking to buy a new!

Oct 21 (Sat): Pumpkin carving party with the family at SIL's new place.

Continued with meal prep routine even though I was traveling, I'm a good wife...haha! =P

Nov 18 (Sat): Made curry chicken for Thanksgiving potluck party with friends here in Huntsville. The bottom two photos are my best attempt for Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Thankful for 3 Years - Work Edition

1 Dec 2014...the day I pressed the 'reset' button and started my career anew in this country. It's hard to believe that 3 years have flown by since then! 

I was on a Friday evening flight home after a week-long work trip recently. As I looked around, I can't help but to notice that most passengers were American men traveling for work. I don't usually think much about this but it struck me that day that I am traveling on a path less traveled (not unique though). Being a female who came from a developing country where English is not my first language, I have been incredibly fortunate to be where I am today and to be able to do what I am doing now. Looking back at all the things I've accomplished done over the past 3 years, I certainly have a lot to be thankful for. 

1. Thankful for a smooth relocation

Apart from lucky, I can't think of a better word to describe my entire transfer/relocation process. I was lucky to be working with an American boss who was on tour in Penang, and he was the one who suggested me to do an inter-company transfer. He even helped to find out about this client in Huntsville and hooked me up with the HR from our Birmingham office. Coincidentally, they were looking for a senior based in Huntsville, tell me about luck! 

The US company took care of the relocation process, including my work visa application. All I had to do was to provide all the necessary information and attend the visa interview at the embassy. I received a relocation allowance (more than enough to cover my flight),  and the company also arranged a relocation management company to assist with the logistics of my relocation, but I didn't use it because I had hubby to help. =P

I vented about having to redo all the little things like applying for social security, opening new bank account, taking driving test, driving on the other side of the road, and applying (and getting denied because I had no credit history) for credit cards, but I really shouldn't be complaining because I received so much help along the way. For that, I'm thankful.

2. Thankful for a perfect assignment

As mentioned above, I was fortunate that the assignment in Huntsville was looking for a senior and I fitted right in. What are the odds that the only tech client we have in our small office is actually located in Huntsville and is a public company, basically a perfect match for my previous experience! Best of all, my commute to work takes only 15 minutes with zero traffic. Another good thing about this assignment was that it kept me busy and in town for at least 60% of the year, so I was able to stay home and work remotely for the most part. So thankful with how things worked out so perfectly for my first 3 years here!

3. Thankful for a great boss
I always tell people that whether or not you enjoy your work depends not so much on the work you do, it depends more on who you work with. The nature of our job is such that we don't really get to choose who we work with, and it really depends a lot on luck. The company hire good people in general, but everyone has different personalities and work styles, and I've been lucky to work with bosses that fit my style and appreciate my hard work. Over the past 7 years, I've really only worked with 3 partners, which is considered very few for our industry. In some way or another, they've helped me progress professionally and personally. I've enjoyed working with and learning from them, and I'm truly thankful to meet these great bosses throughout my career.

4. Thankful for good team members

Being the only Asian in my office, people hasn't treated me any differently, which I take as a compliment probably because my English is good enough. =P Coming in as someone new, I had to establish new relationships and build trust with others in my team. My motto is that nobody owes you anything, and seniority doesn't necessarily mean you are more knowledgeable, smarter, or more superior than others. Respect is earned and being conceited will get you nowhere. Gratitude goes a long way and I constantly remind myself to keep both feet on the ground, be humble, and be willing to learn. I'm thankful to have worked with team members who are nice, helpful, and responsible (for the most part). =P

5. Thankful for the opportunity to travel

I enjoy traveling for work and I'm one of the rare ones in our office that raises my hand for any travel opportunities. I clearly remember how excited I was to travel on my first work trip to Shanghai back in 2011. Over the last 3 years, I've been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to 12 cities for various types of work - Houston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Tampa, New York, Dallas, Orlando, Auburn, Minneapolis, Tyler, Ohio, and Atlanta. I don't get paid more for work travels, but the points and miles makes up for it. =P

6. Thankful to work on a special project

I spent two months traveling back and forth Dallas for a special project last year. It was related to the work I worked on back in Penang so the team asked if I wanted to help out. The manager and partner on this project were people I used to work with back in Penang 3 years ago. It's weird how all of us ended up working together again in the same team despite working in 3 different states in the US. Even weirder, one of the client came to the US from Penang just to work on this project and we've known each other since college. This is a 'special' project indeed! From Malaysia to the US, it's amazing how small the world can be! You never know where life will take you and who you will cross path with, so always put your best foot forward in everything you do. You may not notice it but people do remember and recognize your good work. On a side note, these two months of travel pretty much funded our round-the-world trip this year and getting a special bonus was icing on the cake. =P

7. Thankful for completing CPA

It was frustrating that my UK-based professional qualification is not accepted in the US and I had to take all 4 CPA exams to be certified and licensed here. Being the only person in our office with a foreign qualification, I had to navigate my path through the exams and getting licensed in Alabama myself with almost no help from HR. I lost count of the number of nights I stayed up till 3-4am to study after a full day of work, but I'm just glad to be able to pass all my exams without failing (with an average score of 89). =P 

8. Thankful to be promoted

I came here knowing nothing about jargons like 10-K, 10-Q, or 8-K. It was a steep learning curve but I'm glad I was given more time to learn and pick up all the new things here in the US. It took a little longer (than in Penang) to get promoted to Manager because of this whole transfer thingy but I'm still thankful to be promoted before turning 30. =P Slowly but surely. It was actually a blessing in disguise because it allowed me to spend more time in town over the last 2.5 years. 

Be thankful for what you have, while working for what you want. ​- Hellen Keller

I sound like I have the perfect job, but there are certainly times when I get stressed or frustrated with work. Most of the time, they are 'human-created' problems. However, I constantly remind myself that I can't control how others think or behave, but I can control how I look at things. I'm thankful just to be able to have a job that pays fairly well.  Work is a long marathon, and at some point it may break your heart, but gratitude will keep us going. Always remember, things could always be worse. =P

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Around-the-World 2017 ✈ Penang

I've always been fascinated by the idea of traveling around the world, and I'm thankful to be able to fulfill a realistic version of this bucket list item for my 30th birthday. =) Our Round-the-World adventure brought us to 5 countries, 4 continents, covering 36,000 miles in 20 days. It was a great trip and I'll chronologically share about our adventures in the next few posts, so follow along!

Day 13-15 and 18-20
KL & Penang, Malaysia

A trip around-the-world certainly wouldn't be complete without making a stop back HOME! When I left 3 years ago, I set a goal to make a trip home at least once a year and I'm glad that I've been able to do so. Even though I didn't get to stay as long as I'd like to during this trip, I was glad to be able to spend the final week of this RTW trip with my family. Unfortunately, hubby didn't have enough vacation days to take another week off work so we parted in Tokyo and I flew this final leg solo.

21 Aug 2017 (Mon): Tokyo - KL

Used 22,500 Enrich miles + $27 taxes to redeem my flights from Narita - KL - Penang on MAS and 'strategically' added a free layover for a few hours in KL to run some errands. Lost count of the number of red-eye flights we took during this RTW trip. Even though it's not the most comfortable way to travel but at least it's efficient. Gotta make the most of our limited vacation days and do crazy things like this while our body still allow us to. =P

Landed at KLIA at 4am, took shower at the airport lounge, stored my backpack at the luggage storage, then took a free cab (Citi Premier Miles complimentary free ride home) to the US Embassy. One of the most important 'mission' for this trip is to get my work visa renewed within 5 days, which explained why this was the first thing on the agenda as soon as I touched down in Malaysia. Made it to the embassy ahead of my 8.30am appointment and fortunately everything went smoothly and I was done by 9.30am.

Headed back to KLIA to continue my journey back to Penang. Grandma and grandaunt didn't know that I was going back so it was a good surprise when they saw me at the door. =)

22, 23,26 Aug 2017 (Tues, Wed, Sat): Penang

Home is all about...

Family (celebrated big bro's birthday in advance)...

Friends (glad to be able to meet up with some friends despite my short trip home)...

...and Food! Yumsss!!

Finally had the chance to check out my apartment that was completed since last Oct.

27 Aug 2017 (Sun): Penang - KL

Thanks to bro and sis-in-law for driving back from KL over the weekend and drove me down to KL catch my flight. I paid my 'Uber' fee by helping to replace their tire on the way. =P

28 Aug 2017 (Mon): KL - Tokyo - Chicago - Huntsville

The week went by really fast and it was time to say goodbye again. =( Thanks to mom and dad for waking up super early to send me off at the airport! I was surprised to be able to get into the Plaza Premium Lounge (printed on my boarding pass), probably because of my UA Gold (temporary) status.

Had some extra time before my 7am flight so decided to lounge-hop to the SIA lounge next door using my United Club membership. This lounge is much smaller and quieter.

Glad to get front row seat again for the flight from KL to Narita. ANA's service is ichiban!

Spent my 2-hours transit at Tokyo Narita airport at the United Club lounge, making full use of my United Club membership. =P Got myself some sushi and played with the automatic beer machine. There were a lot of people at the lounge but the lounge was spacious with plenty of seating areas so it wasn't too bad.

Was happily chilling at the lounge and mistaken my boarding gate (thanks United for also having a flight to Chicago at the same time) so I ended up running to my boarding gate. My final long-haul 12 hour flight for this RTW trip was rather uneventful. ANA service was good and I loved that they had self-service snacks and beverages at the galley throughout the night. =)

Arrived Chicago at 3pm and spent my 4-hour transit at the United Club at Concourse B (near Gate B18). Including the 2 United Club that we visited on our way to London, I successfully visited all 3 United Club that I had access to in Chicago airport. =P 

It's a wrap for this Round-the-World series! Glad to finally complete all 6 posts after 2 months, slowly but surely. =D 

✈ Around-the-World 2017 ✈

As mentioned on my header, I'm extremely thankful to have had the opportunity to embark on this crazy adventure right before turning 30. Of course, doing all these for almost free made this trip even more awesome! From Europe, to South Africa, to Asia, we've seen and experienced a wide variety of sights, scenery, and cultures. So where shall we go next? Well, gotta get back to work and save more money, points, and miles first. =P At the meantime, I'll have to catch up on editing our GoPro clips from this trip.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Around-the-World 2017 ✈ Langkawi

I've always been fascinated by the idea of traveling around the world, and I'm thankful to be able to fulfill a realistic version of this bucket list item for my 30th birthday. =) Our Round-the-World adventure brought us to 5 countries, 4 continents, covering 36,000 miles in 20 days. It was a great trip and I'll chronologically share about our adventures in the next few posts, so follow along!

Day 16-17
Langkawi, Malaysia

One of the main reasons for this home trip is to spend time with family. Besides, I wanted to give grandma and grandaunt a special treat, and also take the opportunity to celebrate grandma's belated birthday. They couldn't travel far these days due to their age so I figured a short getaway to Langkawi would be perfect. Besides, I've got a SPG free night award so I redeemed it for the Westin Langkawi Resort and Spa (Category 5). Both of them actually didn't know that I was going back to Malaysia, and were only informed about this Langkawi trip 2 days before departure. =P

24 Aug 2017 (Thurs): Penang - Langkawi

Thanks to mom for helping to book grandma and grandaunt's flight last November (yes I plan very far ahead). The total cost for both their return flights cost only RM37 ($8). =)

After a short 35 min flight and a 20 min Grab ride, we made it to Westin Langkawi around 3pm. As I was checking in, the staff served cold drinks to grandma and grandaunt.

I was informed at check-in that we received a complimentary upgrade to the One-Bedroom Ocean Front Suite for our stay! Honestly, I've been eyeing this room since I made the reservation so I was absolutely delighted when I found out that we got a free upgrade to this room. =) The excellent customer service continued with a personal welcome from the customer service manager, Nor Burton, who then brought us to our room (*felt like VIP*). They were obviously prepared for our arrival with welcome amenity of red wine and snacks, and handwritten welcome notes already in our room.

I've seen photos of this suite online but it was even more astounding seeing it in person. All I could say was WOW!!!

Our room was at the top floor of the hotel and our suite had a private balcony with spectacular view of the Andaman Sea!

The bedroom and another balcony.

Pool view from the bedroom balcony.

Spacious bathroom with both walk-in shower and a tub.

My lovely models. =)

We spent about an hour taking photos all around the suite. =P

Continued our photo session around the hotel grounds. =P

Walked to the beach...

and decided to have dinner on the beach.

Delightful sunset beach dining experience surrounded by stunning views of the Andaman Sea and nearby isles.

When we went back to our room after dinner, we were welcomed by this wonderful surprise arranged by the customer service manager. I really can't give enough credits to this team for their impeccable service...very impressed! By far the best customer service I've ever experienced! Malaysian hospitality at its best. =)

25 Aug 2017 (Fri): Langkawi - Penang

I chose the complimentary buffet breakfast (for 2 person) for my Platinum welcome amenity and it was certainly a good choice. The breakfast buffet was extensive with a wide variety of food.

While grandma and grandaunt enjoyed the breakfast, I went around the hotel to take more photos and jumped into the pool for a quick dip.

And walked to the 'Float' for photos

This was what happened when there was nobody else around. I set the timer on my phone and took these jumpshot photos. 

I think I jumped at least 20-30 times until I almost got a cramp. :P

Finally managed to get a good one!

View of the villas and resort from the Float. 

Spent the rest of the morning and afternoon chilling and relaxing in our suite before checking out at 3pm.

Wrapped up our wonderful relaxing getaway with a visit to the Westin private lounge at Langkawi airport (for suite guests, villa guests, and SPG Platinum members) before hopping on our flight back to Penang.

GoPro Selfies

Big thank you to the Westin Langkawi Resort & Spa, Nor Burton and team, for making our stay at Westin a memorable and wonderful one! Even though this was just a short trip, I think grandma and grandaunt enjoyed the entire experience. I'm blessed and thankful to be able to spend some quality time, share the experience and make memories with them. Hope that we'll get to do another trip like this the next time I go back home. =)