It has been ages since I blogged about my life and my ongoing journey to live life to my fullest potential as God would have it. I spent the day looking back at my posts and I cried many tears recalling how God had guided Theo, myself and our children through this tapestry of life. A tapestry in the works because where I am now, I definitely cannot see the outcome, but when I’m finally looking down from heaven, I’d be able to see His beautiful creation and give thanks.
2022 has been touted to be the year of the Great Resignation and I was no exception. I joined the ranks of millions of workers who decided that in this post COVID world, we can no longer keep to the same routine or suffer the dissatisfaction in our current role. The pandemic has taught us much about the fragility of life and how human structures and systems can be easily transformed and adapted, so much so, that we are no longer satisfied with status quo.
It all started with a desire to take a 6-month sabbatical from work. I had wanted a break from corporate life before I joined my current company but by divine intervention, I joined a start up fintech and became part of its pioneer senior management team. Who would have thought that I would ever be in the ranks of senior management? The desire to take a gap year from work arose sometime in Q3 of 2021. I started to fantasize about all the things I wanted to do when I finally have the time to do them, without the baggage of work constantly on my mind.
Then HoyoFest came to town and I think it changed my life forever. Since March 2020, I had started playing an otome game called 100 Sleeping Princes, then Mr Love, Genshin Impact, Tears of Themis and most recently Twisted Wonderland. Those who have been following my blog would know how much I love these games because I can always look forward to fresh content around my beloved characters. Then in November 2021, Mihoyo (now Hoyoverse) collaborated with Aniplus Cafe to bring 1.5 months of fan service that revolved around Mihoyo games to Singapore.
I fell in love with the whole concept of an anime café, of bringing my favourite games, manga and animation to life in a F&B setting, where it transcends beyond culinary excellence, anime appreciation or expensive merchandise to an entire community of like-minded individuals who can feel like they finally belong. If I could, I would have bought over Aniplus Cafe there and then. However Aniplus Cafe is owned by Aniplus, a media company which licenses and distributes certain anime titles in Southeast Asia. So I started asking myself, aren’t there more of such places in Singapore?
It drove me into my research mode and as I started to find out more about anime cafes, I realised that there was a dearth of supply in Singapore, with the cost of intellectual property licensing being the biggest hurdle for F&B to overcome. But I was not ready to stop here and before I knew it, I had developed a business concept deck which I had even brazenly shared with Mihoyo, another media company and a total stranger from UK that I had planned to partner! Perhaps it was the culmination of my close to 20 years of working experience in various functions, my frustration of always working under inept bosses, and the final realisation of my lifelong dream to own a business, I decided that it was time to finally take the leap of faith.
My original plan was to wait till 10 years later when I retire, to set up a manga café and chill the rest of my life away while sipping on a cuppa of mocha. But a recent book I read called Entrepreneur Revolution changed my perspective. The author wrote that when we are working in a job that we love, we never need to retire. That really blew my mind. All this while, I’ve been planning around a desired retirement age, save and invest regularly until I have a tidy nest egg, then retire at age of 50 years old. By why do I have to wait till 50 years old to fulfil a lifelong dream, when I never intend to retire from it? When I can technically continue doing what I love till my God takes me home? If that were the case, then why do I have to worry about needing to save and invest till I got this huge nest egg?
And so I told my CEO that I wanted to set up my own business, that there was no better time to do this because Singapore is growing to become an ACG hub for the region, and I sought her understanding to replace me. She had originally suggested that I continue on my planned sabbatical so that I could always return back if things didn’t work out. In addition, because a few people knew that I was going to quit, they also offered me roles in their organisation. To be honest, I was really flattered. I didn’t expect that over the last three years, I had built up a relatively positive reputation for myself as a spokesperson on personal finance and all things CPF. For a month, I struggled with the decision to stay, to go or to join another company.
Then one fine Sunday during church, God spoke to me loud and clear. He asked me why I felt that there was a need to hang on so tight to all these man made safety nets when I have already decided to leap. Why couldn’t I trust God to catch me if I fall? Suddenly the fog of confusion dispersed and everything became crystal clear. I swallowed my saliva and I rejected every offer. I told them that I really needed to wipe clean my plate so that I could concentrate on setting up my business. I told my boss that I was going to quit a week before they went up to the HR committee to seek approval on our bonus package. On hindsight, I must have done a darn stupid thing to declare my intentions so early. Thankfully, my boss recognised my contributions and did not withhold my bonus.
And so with much fear and trepidation (and some tentative support from my family), I am finally embarking on the road to building my own business after trying to do so multiple times over the last 15 years. I guess this was something that God had written in my little life book because it was a dream that wouldn’t go away. Somehow or rather, this desire would always rear its head and I would start researching and writing business plans that would get drowned out in the busyness of my day job. If you recall, since 2016, I had been inspired to find a role in community engagement and corporate social responsibility and I intend to fulfil that through my business concept.
The amazing thing about this faith journey is that the moment I decided to let it all go, the perfect café location turned up on my radar. I had started searching for a location since December but each location didn’t work out either because the environment wasn’t suitable, the place was sold off before I could even offer or in my latest venture, the supposed business partner disappeared into the depths of South Africa. I was beginning to think that my intrepid journey was going to end even before it began. Then it appeared.
On Business for Sale portal which I had been combing for months, I found the perfect central location, with the right environment and target audience, affordable rental for the space and layout, and the most supportive landlord, owner and agent. The icing on the cake was that the place was listed on the day I received my bonus which worked out to be sufficient for the takeover fee! That day, PM Lee announced the relaxed measures for social distancing and F&Bs rejoiced. If this wasn’t godsend, I really don’t know what is. It turned out that the place had already been reserved but for some reason after to-ing and fro-ing for two months, the would be buyer decided to bail out.
The only unfortunate thing about the place is that the current owner wanted to offload it as soon as possible, which meant that I could potentially be taking it over as soon as early May! I was in a desperate fix. I had exactly one month to register a business, come up with a concept plan to propose to the landlord, design a menu from scratch, find someone who can cook, complete the interior design and retrofitting works of the café, all while serving notice! I seemed to have a penchant for getting myself into this kind of impossible situation.
Maybe it is God’s way of reminding me that this is indeed a faith journey like no other. I spent the entire night before I was to sign the OTP for the takeover developing my café concept, menu and even came up with an inspired name. Though I was alone working through the night, I think God was sitting next to me, watching over me and giving me ideas when my mind went dry. Because honestly I really think my café name is so good from so many angles and I doubt I could have come up with that in my half stupor.
“Daijoubu” is a Japanese expression often heard in anime that means everything is going to be fine, and it expressed exactly the kind of emotion I want my customers to have when they dine at my place. I may not serve the finest cuisine that would cleanse the palate, but I want to deliver the best dining experience that would refresh the soul, just like how comfort food after a long tiring day, a well-choreographed anime that shakes us at our core and the warm fuzziness that belonging to a community can give you. And then perhaps one day, when people say that Singapore is a fine city, it isn’t meant to jibe at the fines you get for doing this or that in our lawful country; rather it is a fine city because everything is going to be daijoubu.