National Cancer Research Month

Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Because May is National Cancer Research Month, it seems fitting that we touch on cancer awareness for this post.

Cancer battles have been on my mind of late as I've recently heard two of my closest friends being diagnosed with the disease. And although I am realistic enough to know that cancer does not discriminate and can strike anyone (even the good people), it breaks my heart that I can only help my friends with their fight in spirit.

I don't profess to know how it feels but I believe that cancer survivors are rare, brave, courageous people who face their adversity head-on no matter what. I suppose that is the only way to deal with such things.

I had recently been approached by Heather Von St James, a fellow blogger and a Mesothelioma survivor. I must admit that at first, I had no idea what Mesothelioma was. But after reading about it on Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, I learnt of Heather's experience and knew that I had to help spread awareness about the harmful effects prolonged asbestos exposure brings about.

Wikipedia describes mesothelioma (or malignant mesothelioma) as a rare form of cancer that develops from cells of the mesothelium, the protective lining that covers many of the internal organs of the body. Asbestos exposure is the most commonly known cause of mesothelioma. Sadly, asbestos is not a banned mineral (nor is it likely to be anytime soon). So the disease will remain afflicting people with constant contact with asbestos.

In support of National Cancer Research Month, I'd like to encourage readers of this post (most especially, my fellow bloggers) to take the time and learn more about cancer. Cancer is a broad subject and if we research, learn about at least one, and share our knowledge (through our platform)....we contribute towards awareness.

We may not be able to alleviate the pain and sufferings of those that live with cancer but we show our support when we raise our voice.

To find out more about Mesothelioma and to read Heather's blog about surviving it, visit the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance website.

US Visa App - the Quick and Easy (AKA the Down and Dirty)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014
After waiting for just over a year since landing in Canada, the family has decided to take the plunge and apply for US visas.
It was not a quick decision as we've been hearing some horror stories about people getting denied with their applications for many unknown reasons (unknown to me anyways). Plus each application costs US$160 (circa March 2014) and this, by no means, a small change. So getting denied not only hits the self-esteem of the international traveler in you, but also financially painful if you are a family of 4 like us.
To apply within Canada, we were directed to a website, which contained everything we needed to know about getting a non-immigrant visa to the United States. The whole process was online, from the application stages through to payment and booking of interviews. It was seamless and efficient, I must say.
The day of the interview comes and we pitched up at the US consulate in Toronto ('cause that's where we applied) about 30 minutes before our scheduled interview time. There's a bit of a queue outside the consulate before going in and the website states that it is best to arrive a little early.
We go through security, which by the way, is a strict process of body scans. I made the scanners go wild again because of the pins and metals on my leg. But otherwise, all was well. We go through the next round.

It was a hallway before entering the main office where the security asks us to produce our passports and application forms. We pass and move along to the main office.

There was a queue and once called, you hand in all your passports and application forms to the nice person across the glass window. She asks a few questions, here and there, nothing major or serious. Like "What's your status in Canada?", "Where do you plan to go in the US?", "What do you do here?", etc. Our answers satisfied her and she gives us a number to go to the next counter for biometrics.

Once biometrics were done, that was that. The whole process took about 45 minutes.

We received an email after a week to tell us that our passports were ready. We collected our stamped passports at a collection centre.

Can't wait for that day I put my feet on US soil for the first time. You see, I've always wanted to go to the US ever since I can remember. So now here's my chance. I hope to tell more crossing-the-US stories in the coming years. :-)

For more details and updated information, check out their website.

Writer's Workshop: The Medea Experience

Thursday, May 15, 2014
Mama’s Losin’ It

Public speaking? These days I avoid it like the plague. The most public speaking engagement I do is when I post my status on Facebook  to tell my circle of friends what I'm up to. And because it's mostly one-liners, I'm not sure that even counts.

I was subjected to public speaking most during my formative years. I don't remember much about my elementary school days, but there is definitely one experience that comes to mind when I think of "speaking" and "the public".

I remembered when I was in high school, I was chosen to represent my class in a declamation contest. I was a loud child, and our teacher probably thought it suitable to put my voice to good use.

Initially I was excited. I found a declamation piece, learnt all the lines and gave a passable version of it in class. I've narrated in front of the class many times before (when I was in grade school and couldn't care less if my classmates understood me or not), and this declamation thing was really not much different.

D-day finally came and I was really chuffed; I was a contestant at a declamation contest! I knew I had all the lines etched in my brains. And no amount of shaking was gonna make me forget them. Nothing should go wrong now. Of course, the minute I thought those words, Murphy's Law kicked in and I started feeling all nervous and sweaty. 

You see, I realised after watching a couple of the other contestants do their pieces, that it was not just a memorizing blitz of words, this declamation thing. On top of knowing what to say, you had to deliver the whole act convincingly. Now how do I act like I'm not declaiming when I am, in fact, declaiming?

And it was my turn. This is it! I swallowed a big gulp of saliva as I walked to the front, thinking "I just gotta make sure I don't faint".

I started the brain dump with my singsong voice as clear as day. I chose to do "Medea", which was a story about a mad woman who killed someone because she loved him. As I was nearing the end of my piece, my palms started sweating profusely, my eyes watered, and I started shaking (probably from the anxiety). I even gave off a nervous laugh at the very end.

And then, that was that. Results came in and the winner Go figure.

The judges thought that my tense demeanor was all part of the act of being bonkers.

I don't remember any of the words to that declamation piece anymore. Not a single one. I just knew I was quite mad and that my name was Medea.

After a long period of absence, I'm breaking my rut and joining Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop today for prompt #3 - Public Speaking.

What's in a Designation?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014
CIMA Associate Certificate

Believe you me, when I started this whole thing, the pessimist in me half-thought that I'll never get here someday. Last March, I finally passed the last of my exams, the T4 (or TOPCIMA as it was called then), to finally become an Associate member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) in the UK.

And so here I am, now a fully-fledged something. In the world of finance, there is so many designations that one can drown in an alphabet soup just by reading them all aloud. I don't mean to make light of it. It's not. I know how difficult it is; to get accreditation is no mean feat.

Each institute (and its members) always profess to be the best, yet I know that our designations don't make us all good nor bad. After all, not all 12 eggs in a dozen tray are equally the same. I'd like to think that all accountants have our day in the sun and if we act professionally and do our jobs well for whomever we work for, we do right by our professional association.

Much like a Midas touch, designations can work wonders for any career in accounting - more pay, more respect, more direction, more open doors, more opportunities, more responsibilities, promotions, et al. And though I admit that I didn't study further for all the mentioned benefits, they did cross my mind once I started. I suppose it's cliché but in all honesty, I did it for myself, to see if I could push myself to achieve more of something else.

And what more can you ask for than to proudly write the letters after your name, knowing that you deserved them?

How The X-Files Turned Me

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Before NCIS and Desperate Housewives ruled my life, I used to be part of a revolution - a fan of the television series, The X-Files.

I used to love following FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (played by Gillian Anderson) on their quest to find the truth out there. I suppose you could say I was hooked in the unexplained phenomena. I remembered watching the first few episodes of the series, feeding my penchant for unsolved mysteries, not realising at the time that the series and its characters would turn out to be such cult classics afterwards. The series made Mulder and Scully household names. It also nurtured the frenzy on government conspiracies and secrets. "Trust no one" was a common theme across the series. Was this why I became so distrustful of higher authority?

I recently stumbled on the series while looking through the Netflix catalogue. All 9 seasons of it. The temptation is too great. I've started watching it again just to brush up on my X-Files trivia. The years have certainly dulled my knowledge a bit. But it has not lessened my longing. I own the first 2 feature films on DVD. And I am currently patiently waiting for the 3rd movie (hopefully, there is one).

X-Phile? Maybe. Sometimes I don't deem myself fanatic enough to call myself that. I can only say that it has been (and still is) an honour to be part of the fandom. Even now, more than a decade since the last X-Files television episode has been aired, I still call myself an enthusiast. I still possess the one underlying message that The X-Files has encouraged from the's that "I Want To Believe".