Untitled Journal

What's the story, morning glory?

Category: Work

Architect-ing

Its been awhile. Not awhile, I think. Too long actually!

The only thing I write these days are corresponding letters to Authorities, angry emails to Engineers for putting columns where I don’t want them or sympathetic emails to Project Manager explaining why I need an extension to a deadline. The only thing I seem to think of these days are all about that building, due to be built in months time, pending on my efficiency. It has become the subject on dinner table, in the car and even on bed! I can’t shut one eye to sleep without talking about it with Fakhrul, about all the could’ve, would’ve, should’ve of the project.

There comes a point in an architect’s life when its not just about ideas and sketches anymore. Its about materializing them. And for me, that time has come and happening right now.  I actually have a very vague idea before this on how to actually build something. Most architects start small like renovation projects, a bungalow or a housing with repetitive floor plan. But I’m a bit unlucky to learn the hard way with this hospital. It comes in slightly complex shape because Client wanted something different, has totally different layouts, services, usages at each levels. And the hardest part is, designing and building a hospital is when an architect has to be at her most sensitive when it comes to the users. I’m not only dealing with the Building By-Laws but also complying with Healthcare Facilities Act. Its hard enough to make a building beautiful using one Act, let alone two!

The project at the moment doesn’t really have a good start to it too. There were too many bumps with the Ministry and the Authorities that we are now way behind the schedule. There are internal disputes between consultants and I have to become the person stuck in the middle trying to resolve them. I’m a bit too overwhelmed with this being my first real project where I’m involved since day one, sometime I have days of desiring to dump it to somebody else. But I can’t, really – it is my baby. Poor Daisy having to compete with a non-human. Working too hard is just not my nature (I’ve always been an average or just-OK in something) and it will be almost unbelievable if I can actually pull this off.

At times like these, I am so glad I had some experience working under people back when in UK. It was 2 miserable years, but I needed those years to happen to me. I couldn’t imagine coming back straight after completing my study and having to coordinate people under me if I had never experienced being the one who’d been coordinated myself. I’m also thankful that I’ve been put in this position where I can work at my most convenience (although there is nothing convenient being in my position right now) where I can still have a life (a little less life than before project gets up to this stage) and not overwork like a maniac. The key is to utilize working hours and get things done before 6pm. Not Facebook-ing, tweeting, BBC-ing, People.com-ing, Daily Mail-ing, or blogging like this!

Hah ~

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Overjoyed, Overachieving

Something amazing happened at work today.

On Monday morning, Abah’s aka Big Boss’ usual routine is to dump meetings, even the important ones to us. Ditching them over golf games invitations which by the way none of our nagging will work on him. I guess he’s in the phase where he just wants to retire but cannot just yet. So this time I naively volunteered to replace him on what apparently was a project bidding interview by this government body. In all honesty, I thought it was just some casual discussion between us and this Encik Nasir, and oh man, I was so wrong about that.

When I reached there, I was stunned by a lot of senior looking men, either balding or had grey hair, all from other architectural practices waiting for their turns. And all of them went in either in pair or more and here I was all alone, inexperienced and too young for this sort of things! I called my mother and asked what is this meeting is actually about and all she said was, “Buat muka confident je..”. Sure thang Ma, until I was finally called in. I was only expecting En. Nasir or maybe another one of his aide but to my horror it was something like this:

Just imagine they are all Malay and way older than this

Yes. About 8 or more people sitting like that all looking at me entered the door. I did not almost pee, I probably had shit all over my new pants. One of them even asked, “Sorang je keww?” with a sneer. If this was any other kind of interview, I would’ve asked if she was blind but since this was part of everybody’s rice pots I just nodded, took my seat and nervously passed around my name card.

I had a bad start when one of them asked whether I knew where the site is. Moakil in Segamat? Where on planet earth was that? They were like, “You didn’t even look up on the map??” Well, no lies believable enough pops in my head so I just said no. The rest of the meeting went on and apparently most questions after Moakil were easy enough to my shallow knowledge, until they said that the proposed fee that I tabled was actually too low. In sessions like this they said, they’d normally ask for discounts but we came up with such low figures. We weren’t being unethical, we did base on minimum scale of fees regulations. Even that has been marked up. So they asked whether we can sustain with such figure.

I went on explaining about the nature of a housing project. You only design intermediate, corner and end lots; the rest are repetitive. And the fees doesn’t include reimbursable like printing costs and travels to site. Plus of course we have other projects and most importantly, “Kita tak ambil untung banyak sangat..”

After I babbled about possibilities of using IBS and shamefully answered no when they asked whether I have had my Part 3, it was over. I was free and I could not wait to go back and rant about how-could-he-sent-me-to-that-meeting to Abah. But truthfully, it was such a thrilling experience, although I didn’t think I did well and they probably thought we took it so lightly by sending someone like me.

Until today when I received a call from En. Nasir with two good news, he said. “One is that my boss is giving you the job and secondly, my boss asked you to resubmit your fee proposal but please double it. We are paying you more.”

Oh God. I must’ve done something right, I thought. It was probably that RM10 notes I kept passing to Fakhrul everytime he goes to Friday prayers for donation. Probably all of those recites of murahkan rezeki in all the doa.. But of course, for sure, part of it was because we were probably the cheapest. Probably in all honesty, we do not intend to make so much money out of this. Here I was, thinking its almost impossible to get any jobs without internal connections in Malaysia, let alone being asked to charge more than what we wanted!

I had been too humble and a little insecure with myself, career wise. Being surrounded by too many architects in my life, in words of Khaled Hosseini, I cant’ stretch a leg here without poking an architect in the ass. Especially the fact that most of them are overachievers, like the only Malaysian Foster+Partners’ Associate Amer, or the Ken Yeang’s number 1 Qadir, or born architect artistic Fakhrul, or his ARUP 3D Visualizer brother, my Dean listed and best designer award winner little sister, not forgetting the rest of the families.. But I think I can stop being insecure for now because it makes Fakhrul sooo pround, that he had to say he loves me (always), publicly, for the first time.

The Ground Beneath My Feet

I gotta say, last week was definitely the most exhausting, knackering week of the entire year.

You see, other than the fact that my friend Grainne (by the way, its pronounced as Groin-ya. Its an Irish thing) and Osama were here for 2 weeks, soon after they left, the architect we’re collaborating with also from UK came the next day. Ultimately, I had a whole one week meeting-marathon continuously, consisting of consultant team meeting, site visit, clinical users meeting, facade specialist meeting that by Thursday, I swear I almost vomited in my car on my way back from home around 7pm. I honestly can’t remember the last time I use my brain this much. Yes, I don’t really do much thinking in my life.

(Sorry, I have no other boring picture to show you but this typically lined up consultants on site)

Naturally I had a lot of “English” conversations with them, and it sort of made me think about my times back in UK.

I thought a lot about my life there, the friends I made, the people I’ve worked with, studied with, the things I learned and the things that changed my perceptions… and I realized what a different person I have become. And how humbling, especially humbling, most of those experiences are.

But I’m also becoming very, very annoyed of people who think so highly of themselves out of their fortunateness. I have friends who after 2 years coming back from UK, still can’t bloody stop whining and complaining about how things are in Malaysia. How crap the Malaysians are, how the Brits are better and all that bullshit arrogant talk. Its puzzling really, because if there’s one thing I learn about the citizens of the developed world, is that they are rarely arrogant, mostly humble and keep their intelligences to themselves. I might be wrong and if I do, I must had been socializing with the wrong crowd. And hopefully I didn’t.

Sometimes I really do run out of polite words to say that condemning doesn’t help (note that condemning and constructive criticizing  are different things), that to those who are being so whiny about it doesn’t improve much of themselves either. Sure enough, Malaysians aren’t perfect. There are too many assholes on the road, too many local dramas and bad titled movies portraying the stereotype Malay culture, too much fabrications in the local news, too many trying to be someone they’re not or faking their accent, but isn’t this your root? Aren’t you one of them? Isn’t that your mother, father, brother or sister? Is it not where you came from? Like give me a break. If there’s anything more second class or backward, it is that – condemn.

We should know that not everybody is lucky enough being sent abroad, get all the exposures and have the advancement of mentality. Even that, I don’t really pity them because truthfully speaking, they are not that bad at all. They are as smart as other foreigners I met, except that they are more comfortable communicating in their mother tongue and that you can see they have been living in their comfort zone too long, its hard for them to cast certain habits away.

I might be shallow or short sighted in my observations, I might be too soon to judge or conclude, but I find hard to tolerate people who despise their own race. I’m not being so overwhelmingly patriotic or anything, I just find it funny when they do that. Makes me want to hand out a brand new shiny mirror, assuming the one they already have is not reflective enough.

A Hormone Would Do You Good

Some people just don’t know who they’re dealing with.

Look, if you know me personally, you’ll find that I’m quite a happy go lucky person, oftentimes childish to the point that it doesn’t fit my status as a person who has another child, unnecessarily loud, laugh at the silliest jokes even its hardly funny because I believe it’s the best medicine and generally I’m nice. You know why I’m confident enough to say I’m nice? It’s because I’ve been around awhile enough to conclude that the world of construction industry makes people so stressed to the point they can discard the politeness and friendliness that they actually have inside them. But hey, it will be a long life if I be one of that people, taking things too damn seriously and not to at least try to see the fun side of it.

I actually one of the few lucky people in the world who can honestly say I love my job. Heck, I never thought I’d say it, giving my history of struggling with my studies, trying to find any remote natural architectural talent in myself, seeing my father draining out of it for years until he decided to find joy in golf instead of being in the field and them talking of how you have to be the menopausal, unmarried woman to make into that world. I’d really thought the closest thing I’d be in architectural field is a lecturer, talking about concepts, how to draw a line and breed more architects. Sometimes when I think back, I have no idea how I got into practising it, let alone running a show trying to build something half a million square feet.

(OK, save me the smirk. Its hard for some people like me to get this far, even though it might not seem far enough.)

So my normal self is to do what I have to to my best knowledge, defend my actions, take precautions, do everything in advance and on certain bad days, suck up to this ever so vulgar project manager who is a guy that I personally think knows better of PMS than any other women that goes through it. Because that is all he is – ranting, shouting, mocking, cursing, blaming like there is no tomorrow. On any other days, I’d pity him, for going through high blood pressure and heart attacks like that on daily basis. Sympathizing him for leading such a stressful life during weekdays I can’t even imagine how he is around his family and friends during weekends. Geez, can you imagine, being bitter and angry as part of your scope of work? I really don’t.

And I had come to terms with a few of his favourite thing, calling me so bloody early in the morning, nagging. Normally its because of what I said to the client, as if my mouth belongs to him. So today with combination of slumberous and hormone due to a real woman’s period, I shouted back at him. Seriously, its a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself. Yes, just like Lester Burnhum in American Beauty. I’m not proud of it though. I’m not proud that I lost my cool that I shouted back til my voice cracked, that I snapped, that I revealed the other side of me til he shuts off. But this morning I decided I’m done being a bully victim, who despite endless commitment and overdoing things, still had to fight to get her official letter of appointment. That after months of “voluntarily” works, I still can’t claim a single cent? That after advancing my own personal saving for trips and meetings, I still have to put up a war for my eff-ing two percent?!

So after that 10 minutes phone call which felt like 8 hours by the way, I got a text saying they have finalized the L.A, and I can start sending my first claim. Haighhh… Its true what John Doe said in Se7en, wanting people to listen, you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you’ll notice you’ve got their strict attention. Thanks to my hormones, today that was my sledgehammer.

When Homecoming

I’m back! Well, few days ago already actually. Just when I thought I had finished unpacked, I was packing again for my cousin’s wedding in JB. So here I am still contemplating about the short trip I had back to the UK.

Let’s go through my list shall we:

1. Eat Thornton ice cream : I did, I did, I did! Sedap nak mampos.

2. Eat Chicken Tikka Masala at Kebab House in Headington: Unfortunately no. But I did peek from the top of the bus, the cook is still the same guy.

3. Eat M&S’ potato gratin : I didn’t, since I was craving for nasi lauk the whole time when I was there. So the whole time I was stalking Malaysian Hall for food.

4. Buy panties and bras at M&S – I swear they make the most comfortable lingerie : I think I stocked up like there’s no tomorrow. Well, technically there was no tomorrow for me on M&S Summer Sale.

5. Take a drive to Burton-On-The-Water : Took a drive to Cambridge instead, visiting a place I’d never been and a friend living there at the same time made more sense.

6. Sit at Borders in Broad St in Oxford – I used to do this with Fakhrul when we had nothing to do :  Sadly Borders are not there anymore, and I didn’t make it pass Broad St when I was walking in Oxford town. 

7. Stalk HMV to find DVDs I couldn’t find in Malaysia – Before Sunset, Great Expectations, A Good Year, East is East, to name a few : Only found A Good Year. And even that was a last minute one at the airport… Well, better than nothing I guess.

8. Take a bus no. 400 or no. 7A from Headington to Oxford town, as this was my transportation for the whole 6 years when I was there : Took a bus no 4 to Botley instead to my friend’s place for mini gathering.

9. Walk to Oxford Brookes campus : No chance, just passed through it on a car.

10.  Have hot chocolate at M&S in Summertown. This was where I always wait for Fakhrul until he finishes his office hours during the last few months before going back to Malaysia : Missed both Summertown and hot chocolate. Sobs.

It was a whole lot different this time now that I was only there for few days and occupied most of the times. I didn’t have much free time as I thought I would, nevertheless I’m glad whenever I have some I got to see my friends and spent time with Amer & Nizam. It was so nice how everybody seemed so accommodating, offering places to stay, bought us lunches, dinner and paying some of our transportation but most importantly, they made time for us. The trip was such short noticed for anybody to take a day off or arrange a rental car but for some reasons, we managed.

Funnily enough, I think I bump into many people I’m acquainted to during this trip than I ever do in Malaysia. First there was Ramona who I’d known ever since before I even came to study in UK, then Kak Rini who was the first and only person I’d agree to take a photography assignment for and the most surprising of all,  we bumped into our tutors back in Oxford Brookes Uni! I can tell from their faces that they were so surprised when I told them I was in London for a meeting, they must’ve never thought I’d end up being an architect considering how bad I did in school, hahaha..

So, here are pictures, with memories of rides in the parks, lunch at Hampstead, dinner in Covent Garden, Peter Zumthor’s pavillion, architectural trip to the Olympic site, playing piano in Canary Wharf, seeing Richard Rogers’ latest work at One Hyde Park, the vertical landscape in Trafalgar Sq,walks through the mews, punting in Cambridge, friend’s lamb chop under a grape tree, strawberries and cherries, tensed in meetings, hugging friends I’d missed, revisiting Oxford and everything else I left off, in a short brief but at my own sweet times.

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