Niki Cheong is blogging

Looking back - My 2011

At the end of 2010, I was interviewed by a magazine for its Leading Men of 2010 editorial and was asked what 2011 held for me. My reply was that it would be a year of learning.

By then, I had known that I would be heading for Singapore where I would spend three months at Nanyang Technological University as part of the Asia Journalism Fellowship, a programme co-organised by the Temasek Foundation. Then, I thought it would be the highlight of my 2011.

Me at the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

I figured that with my 2009 and 2010 – both great years for me – that it had to go downhill at some point. The Fellowship would end in April so I thought that the “downhill” would begin there.

How wrong I was. In fact, it would only be the start of another fantastic year.

I have in the past reflected on my year with blog posts which captured highlights in my life from month to month (2009’s posts are here and here, 2010’s ones here and here). This year, however, I feel that it has been an equally amazing year but I can’t compartmentalise the moments as I did previously.

For one, there were so many overlaps. And I feel that my 2011 wasn’t actually filled with experiences per se, but with lessons.

This went really well with my “prediction” of having a year of learning.

The Asian Journalism Fellowship experience was one I would carry with me for a long while. Although I had 10 years of journalism experience going in (and many more as a young and student journalist before that), I discovered that there were so many facets to the industry that I hadn’t seen.

That was an eye-opener. While I believe that I have encountered good journalism in the course of my career, I had little exposure to how the industry worked in other parts of the world. The people I met through the Fellowship opened my eyes to this.

I also enjoyed being back in an academic environment. I had started on my Master’s many years ago after I completed my Honours thesis in Australia but cut it short before I went too far due to personal issues. It had remained on my mind since, and in 2008, I applied for four scholarships – all of which rejected me.

In 2011, however, I attempted one more while I was still in Singapore. Fresh from enjoying the stimulation of being among academicians and students, I applied for the British Chevening Scholarship. It would be the second time I would apply for the scholarship, and this time I would emerge successful.

This meant that in September, I had to quit my job at The Star as editor of R.AGE, the publication that I was brought in to start up back in 2005. It was hard leaving my colleagues, many of whom I would consider good friends (many all grown up and got married!), and the section as well because it was my baby, but it had to be done.

The good news is that before I left, we made arrangements to put R.AGE up for the Asian Digital Media Awards 2011 for Best in Social Media. As you all know, social media has been my area of interest in the past couple of years, and I tried my best to incorporate it into the working culture, and product outcome, of the youth portal.

Gold Award - Best in Social Media

I found out while I was here in London that we won the top award in that category for our work in social media over the past year, beating media outlets in Singapore and China. I was over the moon, and really happy for the team.

But it also came at the time when I was discovering more about the digital humanities as a MA Digital Culture and Society student in King’s College London, which co-funded my scholarship. The learning continues and every day, I discover something more about digital culture that I had never thought about, or understood. Call me weird, but I find that learning experience totally refreshing.

In my course, I have made several good friends (who are all away at the moment, and I miss terribly). I have a reputation for being “sociable” but I have always found myself to be mostly shy in meeting new people, and a cynical friend. But the friendships that I developed in just three months during the AJF programme reminded me that sometimes it is not the length of a friendship that dictates the nature of the relationship – it is the people.

I now have a few people I can call good friends here in London, along with some good friends who have been pestering me over the years to come over. But it is not easy being away from my old friends, and more importantly, my family especially in times of special occasions – like the first Christmas I missed this year just last week, or the birth of my second sister’s first child.

Sara, Adam, mum and dad with Ali

Being away from home, however, is a good way to learn life skills. I’ve learned to rely on public transport instead of driving everywhere in my car (which I have since sold), learned to make new friends (from both within uni and my outside social circle) and learned to adapt to a different way of life. I now cook for myself again, something I’ve not done in over a decade before the AJF experience (that was a trial run!) and to do housework, my own laundry and grocery shopping.

Most of all, I’ve learned humility from being in a city where nobody knows who I am, who do not feel the need to do me any favours and to whom I’m just another person in a cosmopolitan city.

I also learned to be optimistic and to have more faith in humanity, no less when I lost my passport a few weeks ago during a late-night tube journey, and then panicking about getting it (and all my documents replaced) only to have been saved the hassle by a kind samaritan who returned it to the Malaysian High Commission anonymously.

I can haz my passport! Bless the good Samaritan who returned it!

That day, I decided to pay it forward and bought my first copy of Big Issue (I had last year decided that I was going to boycott the magazine, after one of the people selling it tried to steal my handphone and wallet during my visit here), a magazine published to help the jobless earn money. When I went up to one of the men selling it, he looked shock and told me that in over-10 years of him selling the magazine, I was the first Asian person to purchase it from him.

We had a nice chat, and I hope I helped change a stereotype, yet it broke my heart to hear him say that and I regretted at once my “boycott” decision to paint them all as villains when it was only one person who had wronged me.

I actually got angry at myself for having thought less of them, considering the amount of things people have done for me in so many ways, and also the ways I’ve tried to reach out to our communities back home through my involvement in a variety of causes included HIV/AIDS (the highlight of the year of which the Twestival KL team raised over RM26,000 in March for children and single mothers living with the disease) and cancer awareness.

This year, I also decided to run for charity on World AIDS Day on Dec 1. I only decided a day before the actual run and we were supposed to pledge to raise £50 but instead, I raised £73, which I’m really happy about.

I could go on and on about what else I’ve taken with me this year but I think what I’ve written sufficiently captured my 2011. The lessons I’ve learned would hopefully serve as a springboard for more life experiences next year, which promises to be equally as eventful – there’s travelling to be done, the London Olympics and of course, my dissertation.

Looking back, it’s hard to say what lesson I’ve learned most but my gut feeling is that the greatest lesson all this put together, and knowing how the last 32 years of my life has lead to where I am now, is to be grateful for everything that I have.

If someone was to tell me that I live a charmed life, I couldn’t – and wouldn’t – be able to deny it.

To my family, friends and any people I’ve come in acquaintance with this year who are reading this, I want to (soppily, no doubt) thank you for being part of my 2011, and part of my life.

Here’s to 2012. Happy New Year. :)

12.07am Greenwich Meridian Time

Discussion (17)

There are 17 responses to “Looking back – My 2011”.

  1. Stephen Lee responded:

    · Reply

    Great Review =)

  2. glad to see you had a good 2011! all the best niki and happy new year 😀

  3. Tammy you know who responded:

    · Reply

    My very first comment on your blog.

    Wishing you a very very Happy New Year and have a good one. We all miss you.

  4. Sorry to hear someone tried to steal your stuff. Maybe the guy was really desperate but it wasn’t the right thing to do.

    I bought the Big Issue once. Not sure why I bought it but at that time I really wanted to read it. I have a feeling it was because I saw Angelina Jolie on the front cover and I had £1 in my pocket (usually don’t carry money). Besides that, I remember the magazine being quite thin and there wasn’t much else to read… Maybe it was that one issue. The person selling didn’t seem surprised at all! :-/

    • I don’t buy the Big Issue to read, to be honest. I do it to support a worthwhile effort. :) And it’s £2 now!

      Thanks for dropping a note here. Happy New Year!

  5. I know that place..Winter Wonderland!! 😛 Happie New Year Niki!

  6. all the best in pommie land and have a great year ahead!

  7. Woon Chin responded:

    · Reply

    another great piece of writing! to share with you, i m starting my learning journey in 2012 too. hope that i will have a similar experience like yours as well coz i am currently starting to feel a tiny bit reluctant in leaving my current comfort zone.

    have a blessed 2012 and make sure it is a happy, happy one! 😉


    • Good luck with your journey. I’m sure it will be terribly fulfilling. :)

      Happy New Year!

  8. Very inspiring journey of yours. All the best!

  9. Too bad didn’t get to meet you last year when you’re @ Singapore

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