Squashed but not Defeated

Covid-19 first arrived at our shore on 25-Jan-2020 and it has been raging on for the last 18 months. In Malaysia, more than 1.1 Million people have contracted the disease with over 10,000 deaths recorded.

The government has imposed rolling lockdowns to combat the virus but the results have been unimpressive at best. Daily cases continue to spike without showing any signs of slowing down.

The lockdowns may have been necessary but they come with a heavy price. Its effectiveness has been questioned since some industries are allowed to carry on while others deemed less essential, cannot operate.

It seems that the multiple lockdowns have not achieved its objective to prevent transmission in Malaysia. Instead, the consequences on the welfare and well being of people have been very severe. 

Since early Jun, we have lost our freedom of movement, again. Sports and physical activities are general prohibited. Education, from kindergarten to university, has been severely affected. Shopping malls and shops are closed. Restaurants cannot accept dine-ins. Many have been denied to earn a livelihood. Everyone is poorer.

Families have broken down under enormous pressure to survive. Mental health is affected and everyone is feeling the stress. Domestic violence and divorce rate are on the rise. Tragically, we have even started reading news about suicides. Spirits are crushed and humanity challenged. Lives are in despair.

Seven months into the year and the pandemic is still very much alive and kicking. Positive cases are still increasing daily. There is no light at the end of the tunnel yet. Someone commented the other day that we can basically write off the remainder of the year. 

But I don’t want to just let 2021 go without putting on a fight. There are still five good months to salvage and to make the best of them. This prompted me to take stock of where I am currently and evaluate what is important to work on before the year draws to a close.

I identified 4 things:

1 – Bring up the boys well – reaching for their full potential

Firstly, parenting is hard. It is much harder that I thought it would be. It can always be easy, if you want to let go and let it be. But if you want to instill discipline and push them to excel in their character and study, it can quickly become a challenge of not being driven up the wall.

We have a pair of twin boys whom we raise and provide equally. By nature and through nurture they should not be very much different. I mean, both have same genes and grew up in the same home, same school and same environment. We don’t spoil them. Both are loved and treated equally.

One is diligent, well-mannered and excels in his studies beyond his school syllabus. The other however, is less driven and care less about learning. Frankly the difference in opinion between what the parents think (is important for him) and how he behaves and treats his work (sloppy at best) has been a source of stress in our family.

My wife and I are running out of ideas. When he was younger it was easy to reprimand and discipline. Now at 10, he is getting harder to manage. Personally, I am desperate. He is turning into a teenager soon and with that, I heard comes new set of challenges. I need to find ways to guide him and help him reach his full potential.

2 – Grow the business – taking care of the employees and their families

Presently I lead a small business that employs 28 people. Thankfully, despite the pandemic ravaging the economy, we have been able to remain profitable and provide income stability to all employees.

A strategic decision made a few years ago has enabled us to not only survive, but to thrive in this trying time. I have taken some risks and worked to get the company to this position. At the same time I am also grateful for the opportunities entrusted to me along the way.

We had had our share of business lockdowns and operational disruptions. But I have always taken pleasure to assure my staff that the company is stable and their employment will always be secured, as long as they do their best in their respective roles. Last year we even rewarded up to six month of bonus to those who performed.

Despite this, as the pandemic continues and our government imposing lockdowns after lockdowns haphazardly (only certain essential sectors are allowed to operate), I begin to hear some of our staff struggling to make ends meet. In my naivety, I forgot that for most families, it takes two income to actually make ends meet. We may be providing constant pay cheques to our staff, but some of their spouses have lost employment. 

When I was younger and less wise, I have always seen my work ability as a means for promotion and increments, and to rake in more bonuses (and now dividends) when the company makes more profits. Today I understood that it is not just about me and how much I can take home each year.

How the company perform has a profound impact on all the employees that depend on every single cent they earn from their salaries. If the business folds, I can easily move on and work on other opportunities. I have the financial buffer and most importantly the education and skill sets to switch or start over. For many of my staff, not so easy.

Call this a small epiphany, I suddenly realized that I play a big part in the financial welfare of my employees and their immediate families. Therefore there is no resting on laurels. The day the business stagnates is the day it will start to die. So keep growing the business, I must.      

3 – Optimize investment opportunities – building a nest egg for the later years

The pandemic has affected everyone in many ways. Before, I am fortunate to have been spared since the business is chugging along unscathed for the last 18 months. Yes, raw material price did shoot up the roof (causing pricing havoc) and sales from some certain customer segments diminished (as they could not operate during lockdowns).

But generally, in terms of overall sales and profitability, we grew. I would say we did commendably, considering the circumstances. My investment of time and money into this business is doing well and bearing fruits.

However, I cannot say the same for my other investments. On properties, I have a tenant asking for rental reduction and another that is constantly a month late with rent payment. He is an expat from South Korea who brings in golfers to Malaysia for golfing holidays. With travel between countries stifled and golf courses in Malaysia shut, I can understand that his income is substantially jeopardized.

Another tenant recently left as he decided to move back with his parents to save living expenses. The apartment is still vacant and finding a tenant replacement would be tough in this climate. To make it worst, real estate agencies and negotiators are still not allowed to carry out property showings. They have been restrained since the beginning of Jun. How they survive for the last few months without the prospects of income is horrifying.

With businesses closed and work shifted away from commercial premises to homes, the demand for shop lots is also evaporating very quickly. For-sale and To-let banners are propping up on shop buildings everywhere as more and more retail businesses either shut down or morphed into online offerings.

The property landscape and the real estate industry have been permanently scarred. My wife and I have a ground floor shop unit (in a new relatively new commercial area) that has been vacant for close to three years. I have headaches every month when I make monthly mortgage payment to the bank.          

Generally the pandemic has wrecked most businesses regardless of industries. With the imposition of multiple lockdowns, company earnings have been severely impacted. For publicly traded companies, this have been translated to dismal share prices as foreign funds, institutional and retail investors fled or stayed on the side line waiting for recovery.

My share portfolio has suffered a big blow for the most part of this year. As I am writing, I am reminding myself to invest more time to review and re-evaluate my position in some of the counters in the hope to turn things around. It may be time to cut lost on some losers and double down on potential winners. With hard work and some luck, perhaps I would still be able to emerge victorious (positive return) at the end of this year.     

4 – Increase fitness and stay healthy – training hard for the upcoming races

My training to run a 100km trail ultra has been a hit and miss. For two weeks in July the government imposed a strict lockdown and barred everyone even from exercising outdoors.  Taking walks by yourself is even prohibited. I abided and happily took the two weeks off from running.

Beyond that I have been pretty disciplined running short distances to maintain fitness. I ran easy mostly, convincing myself that I am building my training based on MAF method. I was also just coming out of an injury (Iliotibial band syndrome I think, as it was self- diagnosed) so I did not want to aggravate it. I have not trained with elevations or climbs for a while now as all the forest and mountain trails are still closed.

All races since April 2020 were cancelled and at the moment it looks like no events are happening for the remaining of 2021 as well. There are still too many uncertainties moving forward for the organisers to plan and execute within short notice.

The good news is that vaccination rate in Malaysia is picking up good pace. Reception of the vaccines in urban areas have been very encouraging. The most populated locality in Malaysia, called the Klang Valley, which is also where the capital city of Kuala Lumpur is located, is racing fast towards herd immunity with 80% of the adult population being vaccinated.

There is still a possibility that the Malaysia Mountain Trail Festival 2021 trail race scheduled on 17-19 December, will go on. The organiser has just sent a timely reminder that a complete two dose vaccination is required before the runners are allowed to toe to the starting line. I have registered for the 84km category and if I could successfully complete the race course, it will be my furthest distance raced to date.

This is potentially happening in four months’ time so I really need to buck up with my training. First off, I need to work harder to increase my weekly run mileage. By September I should start hitting the trails weekly to train elevation climbs. Time to start planning and training for the specifics of the upcoming race.     

Aspire for more:

What is the one thing you want to focus your time and energy on for the remainder of the year?

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