Tuesday, December 29, 2015


At the eve of the New Year, a friend asked if I counted and reflected. 

I think he meant my blessings, so I told him ‘yes’ - this year more than usual. Many people showed their true colours in positive and not-so-positive ways when I made the important decision to leave my former practice. The responses from these people showed up clearly like a litmus test. Fortunately, the blues of greed and self-interest were outweighed by the pinks of support and encouragement.

Colours that confirmed that my decision to leave was correct.

I am grateful that two young former partners invited me to share space, work and ideas in their new venture.
I am grateful for the colleagues who keep in touch and drop by for lunch, for the students and interns who continue to visit our studio to offer help with models or to take me out for lunch.
I am grateful that my friends who now use our office as a base for running, eating and teaching (soon).
I am grateful to have such a nice destination to cycle to everyday, and for the interesting people that I meet there.
I am grateful for my quirky team, and for clients who showed genuine support with new work and prompt payment.
I am grateful that Sam is working with me and that our children are 'safely' in Uni.
I am grateful for the clarity and purpose in my life now.

The pessimist in me expects problems from the past to resurface this year – but I am ready. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

It's Christmas time again

This is an excerpt from the latest issue of INTERSECTION, which I edit with Si Yong and Pik Shia. It refers to the Borneo Blitz Build by the local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity, which we featured last year and which we helped to build as volunteers. The article is also a reaction to some people in the local community whom I felt have not practiced what they appear to be constantly preaching.

Excerpt from last year's issue - note the news headline proclaiming the 14 houses 'meant' to be built in 6 days.

This is the article - IT'S CHRISTMAS TIME AGAIN.

This is Terry.

Full name Terry Henry Asun, his brother is Rio Ferdinand Radin. I met Terry and his family more than a year ago during the Habitat for Humanity Borneo Blitz Build (BBB) in September 2014. We were part of a team of volunteers from PAMSC to start and complete House 11 (Terry’s house). Over the weeks before and during the build, we became friends and my wife, Sam promised him English tuition when he moves into his new home – just in time for his UPSR this year.

 That promise was not kept.

Terry’s family and 13 of their neighbours in this Habitat for Humanity (HfH) Global Village have not moved into their homes. Shortly after the fanfare of press coverage, and after the foreign volunteers* have gone back, construction slowed to a halt. I understand that the original plan was for the home owners to move in by Christmas 2014. To-date, most of the houses are near completion but the roads and drains are incomplete and as a result, water and power supply cannot be connected. When I wrote to HfH Kuching, they informed us that the engineering plans have not been approved. And that they expect the houses to be completed by June 2016. The remaining works, including some touching up works for the houses will be completed by contractors. 

 This is an extra 18 month wait. 
When I met with Hfh, they explained the events that caused the delay – a recalcitrant engineer appeared to be their biggest problem. It is curious that a committee of architects, engineers and lawyers were not able (or willing) to deal with the engineer more decisively. Rather have 14 families live in sub-standard houses for 18-months longer than change the engineer? What was their priority here?  As I listened, I heard different priorities – worries about backlash from the sponsors of the BBB, the land donor wanting to know if his land will be put to good use. Only later in the conversation did the current situation of the home owners arise. The same 14 families will eventually occupy the houses and some of them have started paying already although they have not been told when they can occupy their homes. 

I would have thought that your clients should be the first to be informed about the status of the project. That’s right –clients. Habitat houses are not free; only the volunteer labour is free. The home-owners pay for their houses like any other house buyer. Some people seemed to have forgotten this little point.

 *A HfH Global Village engages overseas volunteers to help build their houses, who contribute financially to the local affiliate as well.

My wife who was a active volunteer at Habitat Kuching, thinks that this article is a little bit harsh on the HfH committee. I understand her point of view - that perhaps my opinion could have been tempered with a more tact - but I feel that is the problem. When the committee beat around the bush for fear of offending someone's feelings (the engineer's, in this case), instead of giving him a mandate with a dateline.

And as a result, 14 families live in sub standard housing for a further 18 months.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A spot of gardening

Earlier this year, I made a commitment to oversee the construction of a house in ten months - in time for one of the children's wedding in December. I would like to say that we did it - but we took eleven months and there is more to do. In Kuching, it is difficult to find suitable landscape architects to compliment our work, so we do most of landscape design as well. Mostly it is a layout plan with some key ideas to start a conversation with the client and landscape contractor - the plan evolves during the course of its construction. I have learned to be OK with this fluidity - and am rewarded when I learn new things from the contractor and his team.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Revisiting Bali

We spent an interesting evening with my clients who are also my relatives (or it is the other way around?). We meant to check on the lighting levels of their new house but as they were still having dinner, we sat with them and shared drinks and conversation. We have worked for the last 10 months building a new house for their 4 sons, one of whom was getting married in December (now).

A tight work programme, many meetings on site to draw, mock up, approve and build elements of the new house - we have been spending plenty of time together. As we were not able to attend the wedding party in Kuching, they suggested that we should attend the ceremony in Bali.

We declined, and the suggestion became a request and yesterday evening, the request became an instruction, with a suggestion that hotel rooms might be available for Sam and I. He 'warned' that if we did not attend the Bali wedding, he is liable to harp on it for the next year when the project enters Phase 2..so it looks like we are going to Bali this Christmas.