Volunteering at the National Museum Wales (Preventive conservation)

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Hello! Before i begin talking about my time volunteering i should do a short introduction about myself. I’m a MSc Care of Collections student at Cardiff University. It’s a one year masters program where you learn about how to do preventive conservation. What is preventive conservation you may ask, don’t worry I only really understood what it was halfway through the course so we good. It’s the actions that we as conservators take to prevent museum objects from deteriorating quickly. We can’t stop deterioration but we can sure try to slow it down. We take actions so that (cross our fingers real tight) we don’t have to send them off to a conservator to work on….at least not in the near future, probably in a 100 years or so but not while i’m alive baby. I know there seems to be a lot of stuff added on to my description of what preventive conservation is but that’s because there’s a whole lot of debate about those issues so i’m trying to be as clear as i can but not go into too much detail ya know?

Anyways, so that’s what i learn and so this volunteering is specifically for preventive conservation because there are other volunteering opportunities available at the museum like conservation, interacting with visitors, cataloging, gardening, etc. I want to be as specific as i can to help whomever in the future who is interested in volunteering for this.

So let’s jump right into it. The main thing that i did as a volunteer was integrated pest management (IPM). Now don’t worry, it doesn’t involve catching any insects (although you may need to pick up pest monitors filled with insects) it’s really about monitoring pests by laying pest monitors and checking them in this case every 6 months to see what sort of pests we’ve caught. This will allow us to determine what sort of pests we’re dealing with and where so that we can take action. Pests are a problem because they (especially the larvae) find museum objects especially delicious. National Museum Wales has a natural history collection so dead animals and pests don’t go well together especially if we don’t want our collections to be eaten and destroyed. The part i found easy was the one where you looked at a floorplan with the pest monitors marked on it and located the pest monitor. The not so easy part was the identification of insects. We identify the insects caught in the trap and write down the type and approximate number on the back of the monitor. It took awhile and i made my own cheatsheet to help but really after awhile you’ll see that the same pests come up again and again so it’s a matter of learning how to identify them by certain distinct features. We would also change pest monitors once they were filled with insects.

Two interesting things i learned from this is that spiders are not considered pests because they don’t eat the collection, but they are a sign that there are insects that we should worry about because the spiders eat those insects. Secondly is that sometimes when the pest monitor is not too full we leave the monitor there again even if it has one or two dead insects. The next time we go and check it we can see what changes there are (since we mark what type of pests are caught on the monitors) and sometimes we find things have changed after some months. For example if there was a larvae and an adult insect, 6 months later we find only the larvae shell what do you think happened? Basically the larvae hatched and the sticky parts of the monitor wasn’t sticky no more from the dust trapped on it, so the larvae found some convenient food – another insect, ate it, grew and went away. Not everybody finds that fascinating but i thought that was cool when i learned about it. Other IPM related things we learned was to identify frass. Frass is insect droppings. Being able to identify them will enable you to learn if you have a pest infestation.

Moving on, another thing we did was dusting and interacting with visitors. Why do these go together? Usually we dust in the galleries and it’s a fantastic opportunity to talk to visitors about what we’re doing and why. As you can see from the picture here i’m wearing a backpack vacuum holding a brush and my fellow volunteer is holding a small vacuum too. We usually set up like this with the poster and sandwich board just so that if visitors are shy they can read about what we’re doing on their own. In the background you can see some pictures and the organ so we’re in the gallery with the organ and we had just finished dusting the frames. Dust comprises of dead human skin and some organic material from clothes and other objects that enter the galleries so they can accumulate on frames especially those around the height of the average person. We vacuum because dust can cause damage on the frames and it doesn’t make them look very nice and dust is also food for pests.

One of the most amazing experience i had whilst volunteering was being able to vacuum under Dippy the dinosaur! Dippy is a dinosaur from the Natural History Museum and now (2018-2020) he’s on tour around the UK. National Museum Wales Cardiff hosted dippy from November till end of January and he brought in a lot of people. Lots of people means lots of dust so i helped to vacuum all the accumulated dust and keep Dippy clean and happy. I think it’s really fun because how many people can say they cleaned up in a dinosaur enclosure? I had to be real careful of course and not bump into any of his bones especially the feet. As you can see i’m the perfect height as i’m short enough to not bump into the bones making up the body section.

Dusting a bronze sculpture

We were taught techniques for dusting objects and it’s really about the magic wand swish and putting the nozzle of the vacuum at an angle to catch the dust.

Lastly we did microclimate conditioning. We worked with the archaeology collection for this. They were kept in stewart boxes and we needed to change the silica gel so that the microclimate in each box was dry enough to prevent corrosion from happening on the metal archaeological objects. We also put a humidity indicator to see if the silica gel was doing its job. Metals need to be kept in conditions with low humidity to prevent corrosion from happening so the silica gel functions to absorb the moisture that is trapped in the box and the moisture that seeps into the box after awhile. It was fun seeing all the cool archaeological finds especially the helmet collection.

Another thing that i really loved was the diversity of the volunteer team. I’m from Malaysia and my fellow volunteers came from Ireland, Scotland and Senegal. It’s really good that we all had this chance to experience this, learn and get to know each other through volunteering. Background wise 3/4 of us were Care of collections and conservation students at Cardiff university while one was volunteering time doing media shoots. So you don’t need to be in conservation to do this you just need to have the interest and passion to learn.

I hope this has given some helpful insight to anyone who wants to learn more about volunteering at NMW or preventive conservation.

Please note that everything here is my own personal experience and opinions, everyone has a different volunteering experience. If you want to learn more check out the links below.

Here is the NMW preventive conservation twitter account if you want to check out some of the things i did and preventive conservation related topics. The official Amugueddfa volunteers twitter account is really useful to get more information too and of course the Amgueddfa Caerdydd/National Museum Cardiff twitter account.

Another volunteer has written about his experience doing the same volunteering program so you might want to check out his post. Also check out the ‘Volunteer’ tag in the blog for other posts and volunteering position experiences.

10 weeks of self-isolation: the story so far

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TLDR Highlights:

  • Wo hen lei (I am very tired). Learned this new phrase from watching the chinese drama Ming dynasty and it is very appropriate
  • Praise the Lord that in this time where it’s not been good financially for the world that my contract was extended till the end of July.
  • The biggest flaw of this period and biggest lesson learnt : the false sense of rest and time
  • Finding rest in God

I’ve got it down on my calendar that i started self-isolating on 17 March. Since then there’s so much that has happened and being 10 weeks in honestly it feels like i’ve been running a one person relay race. It is emotionally and mentally tiring and it’s only now that i’ve stopped to take a breather.

Background context: Before self-isolation my schedule looked like this –

Monday – Part time work (5 hours), Tuesday – catch up on reading/ work for class, Wed – Volunteering at the museum (6 hours), Thursday – Class (6 hours straight), Friday – Part time work (7 hours), Everyday – read at least 2 articles for class

And this is my schedule once self-isolation happened.

Monday – Part time work (4 hours), Tuesday – catch up on reading/work for class, Wed – Part time work (4 hours), Thursday – Class (2 hours – live session), Friday – part time work (4 hours), Everyday – read at least 2 articles for class

If you compare it there isn’t really a difference except that there is no more volunteering, some classes will be uploaded and i don’t have to go through a 6 hours marathon each week and i don’t have to make a journey to work or class, or dress up, pants? who needs them?. I would say that this really was the problem the first month in. With this ‘new’ situation i thought that i would finally get a rest and get to do a lot of things like getting ahead in my assignments and reading. I’ll actually get to work on figuring out what i want to write for my dissertation, i’ll catch up with friends because everyone has nothing else to do. There’s so much time now, I really was so ambitious. I’m not the only one who felt that way as i remember the sentiment/mood was about the same (at least online). Suddenly you saw all these virtual courses and virtual theatre popping up on social media. All in the good intention to help people stay indoors of course.

However my mistake was that i just jumped into it thinking that i was getting rest now but not actually resting. In fact i think i got busier or more pressured to do more because i ‘had all this time’. The false sense of freedom actually put pressure on me to do more whilst ignoring my emotional and mental health. I didn’t acknowledge the fact that things are different, sure everyone said that but what did it really mean? How did it apply to me specifically? I guess i didn’t really want to think about it too because i was so busy wanting to do all these things that i could finally do.

Pop quiz time – do you think i managed to accomplish that? Find out if you’re right after the next section. (Since i’m trying to do like a chronological order sorta recollection of events, i’ll talk more about this after the section about my part time work).

I also remember in march i was looking for a new part time job because my contract ended March 31. I had gone for an interview to be a student ambassador but that didn’t work out (so many nerves in that interview). When self-isolation started so did work from home because i do admin work so a lot of it can be done from home. It sounded and felt really cool to be honest, I set up my little workspace and it was nice that i could get up and snack/eat anytime because the kitchen is 2 steps away. Again at this time many people were also starting to work from home and you could see instagram stories about everyone’s different set ups and lots and lots of stories with coffee mugs and a laptop in the background. It was a little stressful at that time workload wise because the year was ending for the centre and a lot of things had to be tied up and completed before 31 March. I think the thought that this was all ending in 2 weeks gave me the sense that again, i would finally get to rest. I told a friend of mine that i was looking forward to having time to focus on my studies and resting and then a few days before 31 March i got an email from work saying that they would love if i would stay on for another 4 more months! OMG mixed feelings here. On one hand i had just said to my friend that i was looking forward to this break and on the other hand the economy is looking like it’s not going to be so great and this is a very good opportunity for income at this time. After a few days of back and forth internal debates with myself on whether or not to take the job i decided to take it. I still have mixed feelings about it now because 10 weeks later people are loosing jobs, furloughed (zech included) and getting pay cuts so i’m definitely grateful for God’s providence. At the same time it has added to the stress that i have experienced. Thinking about it, i know myself and either way i think i would be stressed because if i didn’t take the job i would just be stressing out about finances. I guess the moral of the story here for me is that it’s not really about the thing that is causing me stress rather it is how i handle stress that needs improvement. I’m a W.I.P needing a lot of God’s grace yah.

So back to the part where i thought i had all this time and could rest. Based on stuff i wrote on my calendar (i’m using it as reference so i get it right) this is all the work i was doing for the past 10 weeks. I had to read up for class weekly. Each week we had minimum 12 to 13 articles to read and they vary from 8 pages to 30+ pages for each article. Sometimes we get a podcast to listen to but it’s always at least an hour and half long. This was going on all the way up to the 7th of May so that’s about 6 weeks of that, it would take the entire week just to finish the reading for that week of class. Then i also had two assignments due so we’re talking about at least a week worth of solid work on it for each assignment, i also had to think about what i wanted to write for my dissertation (this really became optional after awhile) and do part time work (12 hours per week). Basically, once i got that weeks reading done i immediately had to start on the coming week’s reading. Along with that, once i got one assignment done i had to study for my exam (oh yeah that was not an announcement i appreciated especially when it was only 2 1/2 weeks notice, i was moaning for 5 minutes out loud, zech was not amused), once the exam was done i had to finish another assignment and now i still have to figure out my dissertation before the end of the month. There was no rest, there was no time TO rest.

I don’t know about you but just writing that all out made me exhausted. This picture really sums up what i feel about this schedule in the pre-COVID 19 time vs self-isolation. Nothing has changed. But also not really.

Why not really? Yes i nothing had changed work wise but mentally and emotionally it was actually different because of all those false expectations i had, the expectation of the ability to rest because i had ‘more time’ and that i had ‘more time’ to do things i always wanted to. So basically i was running on a ‘normal’ schedule but also struggling to reconcile that with my expectation that i had more time. This just led to a lot of disappointment in myself. I remember in week 2 and 3 it just went downhill and i was sad and full of anxiety. It didn’t help my relationship with zech which added even more stress. It was not pretty.

I remember at the end of week 3 i had realized that i needed to deal with my mental and emotional health because i had put it off for long enough. I also realized that i needed to be kinder to myself. All these expectations to do so much and accomplish things at this time had made me judge myself really harshly. I posted a list of things i learned in these 3 weeks on twitter and they were:

1. Be kind to yourself

2. Don’t rush whether it be about adjusting to the new normal or rush through your feelings

3. Boundaries

4. Don’t forget to breathe

5. Where you are right now is because something changed, you can survive change

7 weeks later i still think those lessons are important but i also have learned that circumstances may change but really the source of that stress is me. I make the decisions to worry about something or to do something about it, i make the decision of how i want to approach the challenge. In relation to that the biggest thing I learned and am still learning is about the idea of rest.

On Jan 1 2020 i woke up and felt God put a word in my heart and that was the word ‘rest’. I felt that God was saying that this was what He wanted me to learn for this year and i put it down as a 2020 goal. Almost 6 months later I have seen many facets of the concept of rest. At first it started off with taking the Sabbath off. Like really resting and doing nothing because i was really bad at doing nothing. So that was the thing at the beginning of the year. Then when classes started and i had assignments due the question became what attitude do you need to have about rest? This is a bit confusing but basically i was doing the ‘do nothing on Sunday’ part pretty well but i felt like i didn’t feel refreshed like i thought i would be on Monday. Yeah it was partly the monday blues but also there was something else. This was harder to adjust to because hey i was doing really well at part 1 so it took awhile to see that there were more parts to this concept of rest. And that was going back to God’s design of rest. Mentally i was still doing a lot of work worrying and that was not resting was it?

Matthew 11: 28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and i will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and burden light.”

So to reiterate (not for you but for myself really). I was doing the physical resting part well, but now it was time to learn about the mental and spiritual rest. Admittedly i’m not doing so well in Part 2 as the last month has been really stressful and i can say that i am worn out. But i’m a work in progress by God’s grace and writing this has really helped to get me to refocus on what is important, finding rest in God. My devotion these few days have been about the topic of rest. Mary and Martha, Mary choose what is important which is not the busyness and doing things but to sit at the feet of Jesus and receive. Then there’s Matthew 6 where worrying is not going to add an hour to your life and Father God loves you more than the flowers and sparrows which He gives lots of love and care to, so what more you? I think the message is pretty clear. Rest, refocus. It’s also spiritual and mental rest.

Finally, in writing this i got Part 3 (or is it Part 2.1?) of the concept of rest which is the reconciliation of the idea that i have time to rest vs actually resting. Note to self: They are not the same thing girl. It’s really about not telling myself i get rest when i’m not actually resting, being real with myself. Again a work in progress.

At the end of the day i think the wonderful part of life is that we keep on learning, evolving and hopefully become better people. These lessons have not always been an easy pill to swallow but with God’s grace i believe i can learn what rest is.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you. I tried putting in images to spice things up a little. But yeah, let’s take care of ourselves and lean in on God who wants us to find rest in Him.

Self-isolating grocery shopping tips

My husband and I run an instagram account documenting the food i cook or put together as a sort of fun activity we do together. However in light of the recent COVID-19 escalation in certain countries i have compiled a few tips from my experience of meal planning for the both of us. Hopefully this helps you get an idea of a strategy you can use for this period of self-isolation. I believe it’s very different from your everyday meal planning as you really have to stretch and plan further along rather than just a week. So here are my tips:

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If you would like to follow the instagram account search @amanda.good.cook. We have some fun plans ahead and would love for you to be part of it.

Living/Studying in the UK update

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Hello! It’s been a month since we’ve left Malaysia and moved to the UK for our studies and i suppose this would be a good time for an update. First and foremost, I thank God for seeing us through this move, settling down and getting a rhythm together. It was a whole adventure, figuring out banks, phone numbers, visa’s, employment and so on. I’m also glad that i’m doing this with my husband. I think back to my undergrad and doing that by myself and i’m in awe at myself, but i’m also glad i don’t have to do it alone this time. There’s someone to share the burden with, awww that’s marriage for you right? I’m also too old to have the energy to do it by myself so there’s that.
So i shall not bore you with the details, but here’s some highlights:
1. Hamilton – watching it was amazing, and i think really apt because it reminded me not to throw away ‘my shot’

2. Visa was supposedly missing – When i initially registered for my visa, i accidentally put the collection point as the post office instead of the university, this meant that i had to walk 40 minutes just to get to the post office (and we did this three times in total, read more to find out why). When we first got there, we were told that it had not arrived, so we were told to come back on saturday (we went on a thursday). We did and were told that it was still not there, visibly upset, the postman suggested to email Home office. I did and was told that they could not help me with the retrieval of my BRP (biometric residence permit, it’s a card you need as a visa holder). This made me even more anxious. Zech and I prayed constantly about it and my family was praying about it too. Then suddenly one day, it occurred to zech that they could have filed it under the wrong alphabet because that was what happened in his case. We went to the post office and by the grace of God there was a chinese man that helped me with it, immediately he saw the problem and located my BRP, it had arrived a month ago! He told me that he had a few Malaysian friends so he knew how Malaysian names worked. Isn’t it the grace of God that he was the one who served me? With that, i could finally get my student ID and we celebrated this blessing by using my student ID to get a discounted movie ticket to watch Downton Abbey.

3. Setting up a home – We live basically in the city centre and accessing shops is really convenient. I found out that a lot of the places i thought were just selling clothes had a home section, this seems to be a trend as Primark, Zara and H&M had it (the ones i went to so far). For me this is a novelty, but by far the cheapest place is Wilko. Thank God for them as we got a lot of our stuff there and it was budget friendly. This was also where i had to think about the practicality of things. Do i really need that 20litre pot? How often am i going to use it, can i survive with what i already had? All questions for someone setting up a home in a new place. It took us about 2 days to really get the basic stuff down. Oh, thank God for poundland too. Other than just buying stuff to set up our home, there’s also keeping it clean, yeah the chores. I’m still amazed at home much work we need to put into keeping a small place clean. It doesn’t help that the kitchen is used a lot, but it really makes me think about how big of a house we really want in the future. (This is why they invented the roomba and robots)

4. Finding a church – We had a few church recommendations from zech’s cell mentor’s daughter who had studied in cardiff previously. We set out to check those churches out and it reminded me of three years ago when i was doing the same thing in Malaysia. It really brought memories (good ones) back and it made me want to do my best to find a church that we could feel at home with. One of the things we prayed for before coming was to find a church to serve in, and i think we might have found one in Vineyard Church Cardiff.

5. Volunteering gig – The very first thing that i picked up from the orientation was, experience gets you jobs, not a paper. It’s been a long time since i’ve done anything related to museums and i was in dire need of some volunteering experience. Prior to orientation, there was an advertisement for a volunteering position at the National Museum of Wales cardiff. It was 10 minutes away from where i lived, a reputable museum and from the job scope, i would be able to put into practice everything that i learned (okay, maybe not everything, but a lot of it). I really wanted this gig, but i didn’t hear back after a week and a half, so i emailed the person in charge and was given an interview slot! Come the interview date and i felt that i messed it up, or at least i didn’t say what i wanted to say, to make my pitch. That irked me the whole day and i shared my concerns with zech and my mom. We prayed about it and halfway through the night while i was doing my reading, i had the inspiration to write a thank you letter. I did a little research about thank you letters and found out that i could include things i thought i should have in the interview, it also allowed me to show that i was paying attention during the interview and to highlight my strengths. It was an inspiration from God honestly because i don’t think i would have thought to do so. So i did, and after that, i felt peace. God also led me to see that my hope should be in Him and not this one gig. I had mistakenly believed that my future hung on getting this gig instead of on God. All that time i had believed that this would allow me to get the future i wanted, but in reality, i had set my sights too low when i should have been looking up to God for help for the big picture. So that week after was just a week of praying, believing but still focusing on God. It was tricky because it’s a good position, but yet i knew that it wasn’t everything. Fast forward to this week, i got an email saying that i got the volunteering gig! i’m excited, thankful and so happy. God is ever faithful.

So i hope you see the thread here, this whole journey so far is a lot of depending on God, praying and praying. It’s been amazing so far and i can’t wait to see what happens next!

VFS Global UK Visa Application Experience in Malaysia

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This is an account of my experience with VFS global in Malaysia. Please understand that everyone’s visa application situation is different and I am in no position to offer any advice on what you should do. I am simply giving my account as i felt some comfort reading about other people’s account when i went through this terrible experience with VFS Global and thought it could help someone.

I have divided this post into several sections so that you can skip the whole narrative of the entire process and go to the section that you’re most interested in. The sections are:

  1. Basic information about my visa application situation
  2. The appointment phase
  3. After the appointment, 15 working days processing time phase
  4. The collection email and getting my husband’s passport phase
  5. Going to VFS without a confirmation email
  6. Summary

Note: Each situation may vary for each individual.

Basic information about my visa application situation:

I applied for the Tier 4 Student visa, i made my application in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, I did not pay for any premiums nor did I pay for it to be delivered to my home address. Btw, my husband and i applied together which is key to this experience of mine.

The Appointment phase

My appointment was on 9th August 2019 and it took about 3 hours to hand in my passport which is ridiculous, the reason being that they only had one counter open to scan your biometrics. I was annoyed especially when i wanted to buy some water for my husband (the water dispenser in the waiting area was broken/had no water) and was told to wait till i had scanned my biometrics to buy water. The boy was even snarky and said that if i left the waiting area, i would have to wait all over again. It had already taken an hour and a half just for 30 numbers to be called, and i had to wait for another 30 numbers to be called to get my biometrics. It was a good thing that i ignored the snark remark made by the boy at the counter because a) he wasn’t there to make sure i stayed in the waiting room b) i was right, it did take that long. I just said that i needed to go to the bathroom which was outside and happily made my way to buy some water and even run some errands! (Please note that i first handed my documents to the counter then waited for them to call my name to return my passport then only did i leave. Make sure you get your passport back first before leaving the waiting room area).We were told that since it was a Friday, the 15 working days processing time will only be counted starting from Monday, even though it was a holiday in Malaysia because it wasn’t a holiday in the philippines (more about this later). At the end of the three hours i was tired and felt i had wasted so much time just waiting to do something so simple. Who knew that this was just the tip of the iceberg.

After the appointment, 15 working days processing time phase:

On Monday we got an email saying that our passports had been received at the processing centre at Sheffield, which is a huge lie because i was told by the staff that they processed it in the Philippines. I don’t understand why they needed to lie and say Sheffield, maybe it’s to legitimise their scheme? Come on VFS Global, we know the UK government has already outsourced the visa processing to your company, we don’t need a show. So the wait begun. By right, 15 working days from 12th August (monday) would mean that it would be done on the 30th August.

The collection email and getting my husband’s passport phase:

However, on 23 August (Friday), my husband received an email that his passport and visa were ready for collection. Was it approved or rejected? It didn’t say. Worried that it was rejected, we made it a point to go on Monday so that if it was rejected we would have enough time to reapply. At this point, i had not gotten an email and didn’t think much of it.

Monday came along and we went there at 3.20pm, by then the line for collection was so long that it had snaked a couple of times around the outside of the office. Please note that the time listed on the receipt for collection is 3pm. So the wait began, I left my husband at the office to collect his passport and I went shopping to kill time thinking it would take only an hour at most, after all, they just had to give him the passport right? Wrong. It took three hours, and it was three hours of standing, you’re not allowed to sit in the waiting area.

After that long ordeal, my husband got his passport back and it was approved. I think it’s a terrible thing that they don’t tell you if your visa has been approved until you collect it, why is it so difficult to add in an extra line to reassure someone instead of leaving them anxious and wondering?

Anyways, when he got his passport, it suddenly dawned upon us that we were going to Singapore on the weekend and I needed my passport! This was when I got really worried. My passport should technically be done by Friday, but what if we could only collect it on Monday? We would have missed our flight and trip.

We prayed and hoped that if my husband had gotten his passport then there would be a chance that mine was done too. I went online and started reading and watching YouTube videos about how bad this company was not just in Malaysia but worldwide too. If you’re interested in reading it here’s the link https://www.trustpilot.com/review/vfsglobal.com.

Going to VFS without a confirmation email: 

Please note i’m basing this on what i experienced in the Kuala Lumpur centre. Situations may vary for different centres. Information is correct at the time of writing this post.

Before i begin with my experience, if you’re here to know whether you can go to the Kuala Lumpur centre without a confirmation email (as of Aug 2019), the answer is yes. This is because, when you’re there, they do not ask to see the confirmation email. They will ask you to hand them the receipt that you were given after your appointment. With that, they will scan the barcode and that will tell them if the centre has received your passport or not.

These are my observations from my time waiting.

  1. What time should i go to the centre? The collection time stated on the receipt is 3pm, however, i went there at 1.50 pm just to start lining up. I was second in line. By 3pm, the line had snaked a couple of rounds. If you came at 3pm, expect to wait at least 2 1/2 hours to collect your passport. (This is for peak periods)
  2. Tips on lining up: There is nothing to indicate where the line starts and ends, well, the line gets really long and snaky so they can’t do much about it, so ask anyone you see if they are at the end of the line, do not simply line up and assume you’re in the right line.
  3. Speaking of which, I was applying for the UK where the amount of applicants was huge, there were others who applied for Canada and they were able to go in quickly because they were on a different line. So please save yourself the hassle and ask. Ask the people lining up, ask the officers there. Double check also cause sometimes, people give you the wrong information.
  4. As stated above, the collection process goes like this. You wait in line. They come up to you and ask for your receipt, in exchange, they give you a number. They will go in and scan your receipt to see if your passport is with them in the centre, if it is you will proceed inside where they will hand you your passport after you have shown some proof of identification. If not, please come back again.
  5. But i called the UK Embassy directly. Because i was at the front of the line, i managed to see the complaint line. This might just be for the Kuala Lumpur centre but those who had complaints such as “It has been more than 15 working days and i have not received a confirmation email” or “I called the UK embassy directly and was told that my passport has been couriered back, but i didn’t receive an email” were put in the line where the guard would attend to them. Let me address the latter and what i saw unfold. There was a guy who also needed his passport as he was going overseas for a holiday the next day. He said he had called the UK embassy and was told that the passport was in the centre. He was in the line that i was in but was put in the complaint line. After a lot of complaining, the guard finally took his receipt and went in to get it scanned. At first it came out with nothing, but the guy insisted that it was there, he was then asked to wait. When it came for his turn for his complaint to be addressed, he was brought into the waiting area and then came out with his passport. I don’t know why he got to cut the line, but the complaint line worked for his.
  6. Complaint line situation 2 “I paid for premium service and still have not gotten an email after 8 working days”. There was a girl who had paid for premium service, and she actually went on the same appointment date as i did. Meaning that, she should have gotten her passport way before me, but here we were. So they took her from the line i was in and put her in the complaint line. They scanned her code two times and both times it said that her passport was not there. Unlike the first situation, she was not brought into the waiting area. My guess is that the other guy got confirmation from the UK embassy that it was there while she did not. She was turned away and couldn’t do anything about it.
  7.  Complaint line situation 3 “I have not received an email even after 15 working days”. This is the standard one, no premium service paid. She was also taken out of the line and put into the complaint line. They scanned her barcode actually found her passport in the centre, unfortunately, the time taken to process her complain was from about 2.15pm to 3.15 pm and by the time she was told that her passport was there, she had to que all over again, it so happened that where she stood was now the end of the line. Like i said before, if you come about 3 or 3.15 pm, expect to wait for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. This, i felt sad for her too because she was not allowed to go back to where she was in line previously but had to wait all over again. Here’s a tip that i’ve learnt from this situation. If you want to complain, bring someone with you to stand in the normal line. At least when your complaint is done (ex. you know your passport is in the centre) then you don’t have to wait too long. They only need the proof of identification at the end, so technically, anyone can stand in line. 
  8. What system do they use to locate my passport (when you know it’s in the centre)? Well, there’s the scanning, but that only tells them that it’s in the centre. It does not tell them which box it’s in or its exact location. For my situation, there was a row of boxes filled with envelopes with barcodes. It was not put in any order because it took them forever to locate my passport.

In the end i did get my passport, but they did not email me a confirmation email. Ironically, half an hour after i collected my passport then only did the email stating that my passport could be collected was received. I don’t know if it’s because they scanned my barcode and it generated an email or something else. Overall, the experience with VFS and applying for my UK visa was bad. This made the US visa application process look like a walk in the park. UK please consider doing the visa application yourself or find a better solution.

Summary:

  1. Additional services: DO NOT, i repeat, DO NOT under any circumstances pay for the additional services such as scanning, mailing the passport to your home address or expedited services. You’re burning your money. Also, throwing more money at the company will not help too, they have a monopoly on this and don’t care about their customers complaints.
  2. The website is apparently garbage, my husband had a difficult time uploading the documents. I have read other accounts where they were unable to upload anything.
  3. Appointment phase: Be prepared to wait for hours during peak periods. I had to take half day of leave for this.
  4. Staff: Rude and the appointment centre was severely understaffed. The first lady i met told me that she had been serving customers for 2 1/2 hours straight. For the amount of money they scam from others, they could afford to hire more people. Also, the staff will not allow you to speak to a supervisor or manager, they’re really good at keeping you outside, waiting without any result.
  5. Emails: You may be lucky to get emails from them, you may not. I have read from the forum that emailing them is almost useless because their replies are the standard ones that don’t tell you anything and you are unable to contact them by phone call (i tried)
  6. passport: please take a picture of the condition of your passport before you hand it to them. In some videos and forums, i read that the passport was returned torn and the customer blamed for giving a passport in bad condition. Terrible and dishonest. So, this may not stop your passport from being torn but at least you have evidence to protect yourself from blame.

To the girl of 3 Jan 2013, thank you.

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Please read my post https://mylittlechateau.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/the-packing-dillema/ to get the context of what i’m writing about.

I don’t think one post is enough to fit in all the things i would like to tell you but to sum things up, God has been extremely good to you. I think a good place to start would be to address the questions and the hopes and dreams you had when you wrote that post 6 years ago. Well for one, your writing style has changed a little. You’re a lot more focused in your writing, but i digress

The first thing you talked about was coming back to Malaysia for holidays. In the span of three years of being in the the US you managed to come back once for your first year winter break. The other winter break you decided to go skiing with your friends, that was a good decision because you discovered that you’re a natural at skiing.

Next on the agenda was that you wanted to pursue a double degree. As much as i want to tell you that you did it, it didn’t happen. And if i remember right you wanted to pursue a degree in communications and history. Here’s the thing, the communication thing flew out the window never to be heard of again. Funny thing is, you discovered linguistics and almost majored in it but you were one class short. It’s okay, graduating and discovering the love for a subject you did not know existed is much more important than getting that double major. As for the internship, you got that one checked. In fact, it’s more than you could have ever dreamed of. Hold on to your seat because the things i’m gonna tell you, you will not believe.

So here’s how it goes down. You’ll apply for a job at the international student office but get turned down. You’ll be sad but that’s to be expected. Then one day while you’re desperately going through the jobs page you’ll find a posting for ‘Library Technical Services Assistant’. You will not understand what the job is about but you’ll apply anyway because you LOVE the library and any job there would be a dream job. You will meet your future boss Steve, he’s a nice guy. Towards the end of the interview he will ask you if you have anything to add on and you’ll ramble about how walking in the library and how touching the spines of books just makes you feel at home. As silly and whimsical as that sounds, to this day i believe that is what got you this job. From there you will be given the opportunity to work for the summer, such a bonus because you were hoping for a summer job. This summer job allowed you to work on the Binford collection which introduces you to Amanda from special collections.

One day while you’re busy processing books (yes of course you found out what a library technician does by now) your boss Steve will call you in to his office. He’ll say that you have been promoted to special collections. And by the way, you got that internship for paper conservation over the summer that goes with this promotion. You get trained on basic paper conservation skills and paid too. Oh and you get course credits for it too. Triple score! Are you blown out of your mind yet? (side note, the ladies in special collections love puzzles and you learn how to puzzle like a champion through them, they’re still the best though) Thanks to all the skills you pick up as a paper conservator and museum assistant (Yes you’re hearing me right, you can claim that title) you will get a paid internship at a local museum after you graduate!

In your post you said and i quote “who knows if anything i say in this post will actually happen”. It happens alright. It happens way better than you could ever dream of. Above all the experiences, the dreams come true, the relationships that you’ve formed, you got the most valuable one of all, a relationship with God. Retrospectively, it was when you said you trusted in God and meant it that this whole journey began. Everything that you will go through develops a different form of trust in God. You will learn to trust Him in keeping you safe far away from home, your grades, making friends, getting part time jobs, travel, your future, etc.

But don’t think that you’re an expert in this trust God thing, i’ll tell you why. Remember i said that you will learn about different aspects of trust? Well you haven’t learnt it all yet obviously. Right now i’m 28 and about to embark on a new chapter of life (i’m not gonna tell you about it here, that’s another long story). Emphasis on the word new. Yeah, it’s really challenging to be honest, i’m not gonna lie. It’s 6.35 in the morning and i have not slept a wink all night. It’s a mixture of factors but one of them is worry. Worry about the future. One thing that you will have to re-learn over and over again is that no matter how much you want to know what will happen in the future, you will not be able to truly know. You would think that it’s a simple lesson to learn but we’re human and we forget easily. And that is where remembering what God has done in your life is so important. Doing so acts as proof for the present that the future will be alright.

To the girl of 3rd January 2013, thank you for writing that post. As much as i have to share with you about the things i have learnt and experienced (or you will learn and experience), you have shared with me something as valuable too. A reminder to trust God.

And thank you Lord for this timely reminder because everything, even this post is because of You.

What i’ve learned so far while planning my wedding

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I recently got engaged (about a month ago) and my wedding is in 163 days. That’s roughly 6 months to the wedding date. It’s a relatively short time to plan a wedding, not impossible especially considering the scale that i’m planning for. We estimate about 350 guests which is nothing compared to many other weddings in Malaysia. I guess i’d like to pen down a few thoughts about this entire process and i am not sure if there is a point other than to rant. So here it goes.

  1. When to start planning?

I was honest with my fiance and told him that i needed  a year to plan things. Wait, didn’t you just say you had 6 months to plan it? Yes and no. A lot of the ground work already started 6 months ago when we talked about the possibility of marriage. It was difficult to start planning before I got engaged because i was afraid that I was being presumptuous, if you’re like me then this advice is for you; you need to start because if you’re gonna wait till he proposes to start, you’re going to be filled with a lot of anxiety and stress before and after the proposal. Why before? because you’ll be anxious to start because who isn’t? I’m not the girl who has her wedding planned since she was little so i’ve got a lot of planning to do. At least do some scouting for prices, ask around. It’s also a good time to solidify your wedding vision so that when you get engaged you can hit the ground running. Although, i have to admit that it is a bit challenging because you don’t have a date when you enquire about vendors. You’ll have to come up with an estimate date and wing it. I’m glad i did this because now that i’m in full planning mode, i find that i have simple things checked off the list easily and that gives you some relief because it’s not just a big question mark on all decisions.

2. Talk to other brides

There are two categories here, brides who have walked down the aisle and brides who are at the planning stages just like you. Talk to both. The ones who have walked down the aisle have great advice and contacts. It’s always safer to go with a contact rather than one off your internet search because you can ask how the experience was working with that person. Now i understand that people are different and how your friend could connect with that wedding planner will be different from you, but just ask questions about what you would be concerned about working with this vendor. This is the time to ask the questions you can’t find answers for just by looking at the website. If you don’t know anyone who has been on the journey you’re on right now, there are plenty of forums for brides. Unfortunately, some of the posts are from years ago and may not be the most up to date information. (Some places may not even be in business anymore) The next category are brides who are planning their wedding too. Only a bride going through the same experience as you at that moment can really empathise. I’m lucky to know a few girls who are also planning their wedding and we can rant and share tips with each other. It’s a relief and also we swap contacts, sorta like a bonding experience too.

3. Don’t make decisions until you consult key people

Who are the key people? It really depends on your situation. My key people are my mom and future-in-laws. Oh and of course the fiance. Rule of thumb is, don’t make decisions on your own. I know it’s your wedding, but reality is, it’s not. If you were to elope, then yes, it is your wedding. But a wedding is when two families are joined through the marriage of the couple. So they gonna wanna say something, trust me. It can be frustrating because sometimes you don’t understand why archaic traditions have to be enforced. However, you have to consider that these people are important to you. I’m not saying you let them control the whole thing till your original vision is lost, but it’s all about diplomacy. I admit, sometimes when i get frustrated i just let out a loud, long groan to show that i’m not happy. Not the most elegant way to disperse tension, but it works. It makes my mom look weird at me, but it gets me a pause from the heated discussion. So find a way that works for you, even if it’s weird. Remember point 2, yeah, you’re gonna talk a lot about this to other brides.

That’s what i’ve learnt so far, i’m sure i’ll learn more these coming months, so i’ll post an update on this list soon! Thanks for reading!

That time i accidentaly attended a MLM talk

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It was called 60-Day Startup. Jumpstart your business. The event description described things like “Explore and Compare different business models that are easy to start, sustain, and scale” and ” Discover modern ways to start a “side hustle” while keeping your full-time job”. Looking back now, I should have seen all the red flags. There were words like “side hustle” and “income stream”. But it was so cleverly worded that it did sound like a talk for people looking to start their own business, it was in the event name after all. Much of the event description also focused on what it is to be an entrepreneur, and the guest speakers lined up looked impressive. I was sold, plus it was free too, who can resist that?

What was the event like? It started like any networking event. We had a few ice breakers and then the speaker came up. She talked about what makes a good business, what factors need to be taken into consideration. So far everything checks out with the event description. Then we were asked to get into groups and come up with a business plan in 20 minutes. Something like a shark tank thing. This was fun right? And so we all came up with our ideas and even presented it. After that was when events took a whole new turn. It felt like i was on this roller coaster for It’s a small world and suddenly the ride takes a sharp turn into jurassic park. (Yes, i understand they’re in different parks but that is the point) Suddenly it was all, “yes your business ideas are great but here’s a better way to earn money faster.” Terms like network marketing came out, videos of this guy from a MLM was shown and my heart began to sink. Just in case you were wondering, it was a pitch for the MLM Melaleuca. Now i have nothing against Melaleuca’s products per say, i’ve heard good things about it actually. My issue was that this event was presented as a talk to build your own business but it turned out to be a recruitment for a MLM. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, there was another guy, as soon as the MLM portion started he began to be disinterested. And he was the one who was really energetic during the shark tank bit. He knew it, I knew it. We were duped.

A huge takeaway from this event would be that MLM’s these days are getting craftier with the way they present themselves. For someone who has seen countless acquaintances promote MLM products on facebook, i thought that i was immune to it. This event struck at the right chord. The chord that wanted to start my own business. It provided the answers to common questions like where to start and how to sustain yourself. Unfortunately, it was all a sham. I’m sure that for them to be able to form their own business to recruit others into this means that they’re on a pretty high tier. People who are up there do see the fruits of their labour. Unfortunately, i believe that if we were to be recruited we would not be at the same level, nor do i think i’m entitled to be there. To end this tale i would like to include a few links which helped me laugh at this and move on with caution.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6MwGeOm8iI  John Oliver’s piece on Multilevel Marketing

http://www.finance-guy.net/streetonomic/melaleuca-review-make-money A review of whether or not you can really make money with Malaleuca. Spoiler alert: No.

Note: If you want to join a MLM so be it. As long as you’ve read all the information on that company, really understand how you’re earning your money and then if you still want to go on with it then sure. I personally do not believe in MLM’s because the case studies and the research has shown that it does not work for the everyday person. And i’m an everyday person. Also, I think that a business should be earning profit from what your business is supposed to sell, not off recruiting others (not the same as employment).

My exercise journey

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It’s been slightly more than a year since i started exercising seriously. By seriously i mean i bought an exercise program, i kept to it and i’ve seen results. If you saw my post earlier in the year, it talked about why i worked out. The reason is still the same, it allows me to relax. Have time for myself on top of looking and feeling better. There are a few things i’ve learned from this journey. Most of them you’ve read in articles that talk about how to loose weight and all. However, i’m writing it because when i first read them, i didn’t really believe it. I know, it’s so silly, but here they are:

  1. You need to follow a plan – Either make one or buy one. When i first started, i didn’t know how important having a plan was. I thought the phrase leg day was just a phrase. Turns out it’s not. You need to split the day to focus on either different parts of the body or different types of exercises. Cardio, strength, HIIT, stretching, etc. This needs to be couples with the right amount of intensity/difficulty. Either in terms of time or weights. Going too hard on yourself when you’re just starting will not only motivate you, but you may hurt yourself. I would suggest paying a few bucks to buy a plan. At least you can see for yourself what a exercise plan looks like instead of just stabbing in the dark for something.
  2. Eat well. I worked out, but i didn’t take care of what i ate. Soon i found out, to much surprise that my body fat index and my visceral fat was really high! I was in shock and this really woke me up to think about what i ate. Also, i was hitting a platoon in my weight loss and wondering why. When i finally took notice of what i ate, i saw weight loss.
  3. Do weights. I didn’t like weights at all. I was lazy to have proper form and also didn’t have access to weights. However, i found out that these were really effective and i felt like i completed a good workout when i’d finish a weights exercise. Give it a try, it’s a good thing to add to your exercise if you want to see changes in your body shape. Of course get a plan.
  4. Sleep. Yes, sleep is important. I’m working on that myself too, but sleep affects your health in the long run. So remember to sleep

Well that’s all i have for now. It’s nothing new, but it’s all true.

It’s December once again

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It’s December once again. We’ll hear people say “I can’t believe it’s December, time passes by so fast/quickly!”, “Time to make your new years resolutions” or “Let’s reflect on how the year has been”. This year, the coming of December has a little more meaning for myself and I’ll explain in a little bit.

If you’ve been through with me on my journey this year, you’ll know that this is one of the toughest years i’ve gone through. Work was challenging, from the students i taught to the incident that happened at school (maybe one day i’ll write about it) and the workload, most of the time, i was just trying to catch my breath. I remember in May i asked my boyfriend “will i make it through this year?” I wish it was said as a passing comment, but i really questioned whether I could.

Here’s what I have to say about December. December is a sign that God is faithful. It is a testament to what He has done for me. It feels funny to think that back in May, i thought that that was the toughest time of my life. Current me wants to tell past me “Oh honey, you think this is tough? buckle up, you’re in for the ride of your life”. I’m thankful that at the end of the day I can truly say that

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

Psalms 27:13-14

Sometimes it’s tough to say it because I look around and see all the injustice. How things have changed, how morals have changed. How we make excuses for something that is obviously wrong. But i know that God is God. And God is good. At least in that knowledge, i can cling on and know that i can take it to the bank. That’s all i want to say for now. It’s still difficult to put into words all that i feel and learnt this year. It’s overwhelming and confusing, i hope one day i’ll be able to untangle it all and write about it so that someone might benefit from it.

By the way, this is the first post to what I call the 30 day writing challenge. The goal is that I write something in my blog for 30 continuous days. December has 31 days so i get the last day off (booyah!). I felt compelled to improve my writing once more and this is what I felt like I needed to do.

Sorry if the writing in this first post is terrible. I am super rusty, but that is why I need to do this challenge. Cheers!