Even the poster girl for Singapore’s artificial intelligence (AI) and tech industry needs to disconnect at some point.
For Miss Annabelle Kwok, founding CEO of AI start-up NeuralBay which offers AI-driven solutions for multinational companies, that involves unplugging in extreme fashion.
The 26-year-old, who was named Her World Young Woman Achiever 2019 at an awards ceremony last Friday (Aug 16), practises vipassana, a form of traditional meditation that focuses on spirituality and awareness.
She extolled the virtues of attending 10-day meditation retreats in 2016 and 2017 at St John’s Island and Johor Baru, where talking, smart gadgets and any form of interaction was not allowed.
Miss Kwok, who graduated from Nanyang Technological University with a degree in applied mathematics, told The New Paper: “Meditating really taught me a lot of lessons. With vipassana, you train your mind to handle pain and adversity within the framework of your body.
“Your mind is like an elephant – if it’s wild, it will endanger you, but if you tame your mind, it will be in your favour.”
During such silent retreats, participants are given assigned seats in dining rooms where two simple meals are served at 6.30am and 11am daily.
At other times, they will meditate for up to 12 hours a day.
Miss Kwok, who is single, said: “For some people, booking a villa in Bali is a way of relaxing, but vipassana works for me. It’s a useful outlet to express myself and to understand my body and not over-amplify frustrations. You’ll learn to be more conscious of subtlety.”
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She added: “Days four to six were really tough. At one point, I felt the misery of all the participants in the room. It was uncomfortable and something I wasn’t used to, but the teacher advised me to focus on myself and to have courage to thread through the days.”
As a young technopreneur, Miss Kwok admitted she is often underestimated because of her age.
She said: “In Singapore, people usually associate age with wisdom and experience. When I go for meetings, I can immediately tell when people ‘switch off’ seeing a young kid who is trying to talk business with them.
“I can’t change my age, so I decided to embrace it.
“From then on, I just wore sweatshirts and jeans to show them that I’m young and cool. I think that changes their perspective.”
At the same event last Friday, Ms Susan Chong was named Her World Woman Of The Year 2019.
For the 49-year-old mother of four and founder and CEO of eco-packaging firm Greenpac, it was her gender that posed challenges when working in a male-dominated industry.
Ms Chong recalled how she once instructed a group of male subcontractors to drive away a parked forklift vehicle as it was blocking a pavement, only to be ignored.
She said: “I was pregnant at the time and I just climbed up and started to drive away the forklift. I told myself if I could drive a car, then I can drive a forklift.
“Some men may think less of you because you’re a woman. But show them that you mean business, then they’ll respect you.”
This article was first published in The New Paper.
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