Saturday, 31 March 2007


There’s a traffic jam near my house today. On most days, we don’t see many vehicles on the roads around here. It’s different today because of the QingMing Festival. These roads lead to the biggest cemetery in Singapore. I see families with bags of offerings waiting patiently as the cars slowly inch forward along the small road.

During QingMing, Chinese families visit graves of their ancestors to clear away weeds, touch up gravestone inscriptions and make offerings of wine and fruit. Giving them their favorite food not only shows respect for them but also brings the descendants good life and health.

When I was little, visiting my grandfather’s tomb on the hilltop during QingMing was quite an occasion. The plot offered a panoramic view of the vast cemetery and the kids had a field day exploring the area. The extended family would turn up with lots of food, incense and paper money. Everyone took turns to kneel before the headstone, holding 3 joss sticks. My grandma used to bring cooked cockles and after a little picnic, the cockle shells would be strewn around the tomb stone.

For us, tomb sweeping is a thing of the past. My grandpa's tomb was exhumed to make way for a new highway and his ashes are stored in a vase in the columbarium.

Qingming is not just a day of remembrance, it is also a day to celebrate the coming of spring, often by going out for a picnic. With the coming of spring, nature wakes up, everything is new, clean and fresh.

Qingming was frequently mentioned in
Chinese literature. Among these, the most famous one is probably Du Mu's poem (simply titled "Qingming"):
清明时节雨纷纷 / qīng míng shí jié yǔ fēn fēn
路上行人欲断魂 / lù shàng xíng rén yù duàn hún
借问酒家何处有 / jiè wèn jiǔ jiā hé chù yǒu
牧童遥指杏花村 / mù tóng yáo zhǐ xìng huā cūn

English translation
A drizzling rain falls like tears on the Mourning Day;
The mourner's heart is going to break on his way.
Where can a wineshop be found to drown his sad hours?
A cowherd points to a cot 'mid apricot flowers.

Friday, 30 March 2007

Old vs New

YK is impressed that his friends can compose messages on the hand phone without looking at the keypad. Hey, did you know that your grandma can type quickly and accurately without looking at the keyboard?

In the past, it was mandatory to have a certificate in typing before you could secure an administrative job. Computers today are a lot more forgiving than the typewriters of old. I remember I used to type invoices on the typewriter and how much paper and correction tapes I had wasted.

In the 1980s, when I was in graphic design, we outsourced typing to the typesetters. The bromides that came back would be cut, arranged and pasted to create artworks. Product advertisements with tiny fonts and lots of pictures were the worst. One typo error and we had to go through the whole process again. We were always rushing and working overtime to meet deadlines.

If you think about it, life is much simpler now with desktop publishing. Today, there’s spell check function to correct typos. If you make a mistake, simply erase and retype again. Typesetting is a thing of the past.

Recently, I bumped into my friend Kenny who’s now a cab driver. He used to be our typesetter. "No need for typesetters now." he said.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

More malls?

Oh no, another mega mall is in the pipeline. There is a mall everywhere you turn in Singapore. As if not enough, mega malls are all the rage. Our mall density in land-scarce Singapore is probably higher than most cities around the world.

The proposed mall measuring 36,000 sq m, is part of a new Sports Hub at the Kallang waterfront. Three consortiums are vying for this mega project which is slated for completion in 2011. While this is still at the drawing board, the developers of Singapore’s first integrated resort at Marina Bay slated to open in 2009, have been teasing the public with promises of compelling attractions, entertainment and, more mega malls.

With a population of 4.5 million, do we need that many malls? I know we welcomed 10 million visitors into our country last year, and these integrated resorts will send more flocking this way, but…but… do we need more malls?

Now let’s turn to some of the pressing social problems. That's what I gleaned from the newspapers…new malls.. flip... mall sales.. flip.. old people killing each other. Why like that?

In Singapore, if you are old and single with no place to call your own, you can rent a tiny flat from the state-owned Housing & Development Board. With limited stock and heavily subsidised rentals, the rental policiy is aimed at optimizing flat use and getting these singles to pair up to optimize space.

But often when elderly singles have to live with complete strangers (with different habits) in a small space out of circumstance, conflicts arise. There are cases of bullying and there are those who quarrel from day to night. In few cases, the fights have resulted in deaths.

It’s about time to revamp the concept of housing for the elderly and let their golden years be filled with joy and warmth instead of pain and suffering.

Hey people, let’s stop mall hopping and start looking at more pressing issues. Don't forget we're one of the fastest ageing population in Asia.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

The Tent

It’s Singapore Fashion Festival again. There’s a flurry of activities going on in Orchard Road. From what I’ve gathered, the Tent at Ngee Ann City is the place to see and be seen.

You see, this week lots of beautiful people congregate at the Tent… the fashion types, skinny models, airheads and air-kissers, fake people with fake accents (no fake labels in chi-chi events like this!), businessmen and their trophy wives, wearing-sunglasses-indoor types, tai-tais with big hair, socialites, fashionistas and wannabes.

Well, if you ask me, this is the only Tent that I don’t want to be seen at. According to this greenhorn journalist who was sent to cover the event, everyone in the Tent seemed to know everyone as they stood around in little circles, sipping champagne, telling each other in fake accents how gorgeous the other person looked. *cringe*

Let these beautiful people indulge in such superficialities. You will find me togged in my oversized tent, sitting outside my tent, gazing at the stars above.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Loans that change lives

Have you heard about microfinancing? It's something that you and I can do to help fight poverty.

In a nutshell, you loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world. By sponsoring their business, you are helping the world's working poor make great strides towards economic independence.

Kiva ( is one such non-profit public benefit corporation that connects you with and loan money directly to the beneficiary without having to go through a bureaucratic and costly layer of aid groups in between. Kiva’s website provides information about entrepreneurs in poor countries – their photos, loan proposals and credit history – and allows people to make direct loans to them. When your loan is repaid, you can choose to withdraw your funds or re-loan to a new business.

It’s such a fantastic idea. You can loan as little as $25 at a time. Can you imagine if we forgo one meal in a fancy restaurant, we can literally change a person’s life forever. Through the website, you can track the progress of the businesses you have sponsored. After reading stories of how much the lives of families in Ghana or in Afghanistan have improved, I am moved to become a microfinancier too.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Judging by appearance

People say I don’t look like someone who sells shipping containers. Well, do they expect me to look like I can lift a 2-ton container?

We are often quick to judge…we expect a builder to look tanned and rugged while a programmer should look somewhat geeky. A doctor who dresses like a fashionista may be criticised while a hairstylist with a bad fashion sense will be frowned upon.

I have friends from all walks of life… writers, photographers, bankers and engineers, even Buddhist monks. You probably can’t tell from their appearance. Really, a person's worth cannot be measured from what clothes they wear or how they present themselves.

Unfortunately we can't stop people from judging. In fact, psychologists have persuasively demonstrated that attractive defendants (in court) are perceived as more credible, are acquitted more often, and receive lighter sentences than their less appealing counterparts. But judges and juries can be swayed by more than just a pretty face: the clothing defendants wear, the jewelry they display, the way they style their hair, can sometimes mean the difference between doing time and dodging jail. The influence of appearance in the courtroom is so great, in fact, that an entire industry has emerged to advise lawyers, plaintiffs, and defendants on their aesthetic choices.

Wow, I don’t get it…. Maybe I really should start building muscles to look the part.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Scaredy cat

Call me a scaredy cat because I am afraid of heights, depth and speed.

I would gladly run a marathon. I won’t hesitate to backpack alone around the world, cycle through valleys, climb ragged mountains and hike through jungles. Just don’t make me bungee jump, parasail or sky dive.

While I enjoy snorkeling and swimming, I am not keen to go scuba diving or white water rafting. Or even wake boarding and water skiing for that matter.

I’m not a big fan of theme parks either. I shy away from roller coasters, simulators and other rides. I’m not even talking about the steepest and fastest ones.

I love cuddling furry animals but snakes and big lizards freak me out. You can ask me to dig for earthworms, handle caterpillars, slugs and even spiders, please don’t make me fondle a frog or salamander.

Egged on by friends to confront my fears, I have sat on the fastest roller coasters, steepest water slides and touched scaly snakes... still, that hasn’t alleviated the fear.

But really, if you are like me, we have nothing to fret about. There is some room for healthy skepticism but just don’t let it conquer you. More importantly you must enjoy what you’re doing. If you can’t find your thrills in the theme parks, then do something else that gives you the adrenalin rush.

Be courageous in your life and in your pursuit of the things you want and the person you want to become.

Sewing so good

I spent few hours this afternoon sitting before a fan, sewing patterns on a piece of white cloth, with Nerina Pallot singing in the background about Idaho, Sophia, heart attack and war. Interestingly, each time she reads an inspiring book, she writes a song about her thoughts.

I was never good at sewing. When I was in primary school, the girls had to do cross-stitch during art lessons. I was so hopeless at it, the teacher made me weave rattan baskets with the boys.

I am still not good at it but I am beginning to find it therapeutic. Moving from one stitch to the next has a really calming effect on me. (Maybe because I don't have to use my brain very much.) The boys are surprised that my tolerance level (for noise and their squabbles) becomes elevated when I am sewing. I even stay unperturbed when they test my patience.

Now I can see why the sweet old grannies knitting on their rocking chairs always look so calm and contented.

In case you’re wondering, this is part of a batik project. The piece of cloth will eventually be dyed in black and the hand-sewn patterns will remain white.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Unleash the potential within

I attended a talk organized by SK’s school about “Unleashing the potential within” and emerged a little wiser.

We are often too quick to judge a child’s intelligence by their school grades. What we do not realize is everyone has a dominant learning style. Once you have identified what kind of a learner you are, whether visual, auditory or kinesthetic, you would be able to learn effectively with the right techniques.

Here’s a simple exercise. If I show you these 10 words on a card for 20 seconds and remove the card, can you recall the 10 words in the right order?


However, if I draw a picture of book, then draw a heart on the book. Instead of blood, lotion is flowing out of the heart, dripping into the glass below. A balloon floats up, the ribbon attached to it gets caught on the fan which starts spinning a rainbow. Imagine a mouse sliding down the rainbow and crashes into the wall.

Now, can you remember all the 10 words in the right sequence?

Well done!

Friday, 23 March 2007

Sunshine after the rain

It’s another sunny morning. Who knows how long it’s going to stay that way? It may rain later. But that's OK.

The garden is just a riot of colours. That’s the beauty of our tropical weather… it’s always hot and wet, hence the humidity stays high. It’s the perfect condition for plants to thrive. After a bout of rain, even the roadside trees burst into a cheerful display of pink, yellow, white and red blooms.

I love it when the sun is out. I don’t care if it makes me sweat or give me freckles. Our weather is always pleasant enough for us to stay outdoors anytime of the day, especially after the rain.
For a change, I had lunch by the beach at East Coast Park yesterday. Instead of sitting in the food court amongst throngs of people, I was sitting on the bench, watching the ships in the horizon and the coconut trees swaying in the wind. It was peaceful and quiet except for the mating calls of two kingfishers and the sound of waves crashing against the shore.

It’s such a lovely way to spend the lunch hour, therapeutic even. You should try it sometime.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Birds of a feather

Last night, my two best pals and I had a blast! One treated us to Indian food at a small but wonderful restaurant and the other bought us dessert at Rochor Bean Curd. We talked about vacations, dogs and hamsters, agonised over our injured toe and fractured pinky and griped about office politics all night long.

It is so nice when all the friends that I bring together can get along so famously. We often take this for granted but imagine if your husband and your best friend can’t see eye to eye, or your boyfriend thinks having dinner with your friends is a torture…

Then, wouldn’t you be missing so much fun in your life? Well, I am happy all my friends get along nicely. Well, they say birds of a feather flock together. That’s why they are my friends.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

From zero to hero

I read an extraordinary story of how Rene Godefroy smuggled himself into USA with US$5 in his pocket and zero command of English. Today, he's a top motivational speaker in USA. I have not heard of him before but there is a lesson to be learned from his story.

Born poor and sickly in a tiny village in Haiti, he was abandoned by his father and left behind by his mother when she went to work in the city. None of the villagers believed he would make it to adulthood.

When he returned to visit his village 9 years later, he remembered how there was almost no opportunity to break the barrier of poverty. Lots of village folks, most of them still barefooted and half-naked, came to see if he was indeed the sickly child they once knew.

The villagers didn’t change a bit. They came expecting handouts and were saying how bad he was as a kid until an old villager intervened: “Now, all of you come here to remind him of his past because you expect money. Why didn’t you give him some encouragement when he needed it?

After today, I hope you will learn to be kinder to the unfortunate kids in the village. This is a lesson for all of you. Treat people with respect, regardless of their circumstances.”

Such wise words! We are not living in villages like them. We have schools, electricity and broadcasting agencies, yet many of us think like villagers. Here, the cream of the crop are singled out and lauded, then sent to the top schools and groomed to be elitist while slow learners are denigrated from a tender age. Such is the harsh reality of life, when will we ever learn?

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Mind your own business

I finally tasted the famous fish and chips at Fisherman’s Wharf last weekend. It serves good old fish and chips and nothing else, except for few items like scampi fritters and battered oysters. Well, it offers a wide selection of fish though, from Cream Dory and North Atlantic Cod to Snow Fish, Grouper, Lemon Sole, etc. Everything is coated in batter and deep-fried.

The restaurant was crowded when we got in, jam packed when we left and still half full when we walked past again much later.

Before you conjure up wonderful images of Fisherman's Wharf near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, let me tell you this one along New Bridge Road is an old shop house with Spartan furnishings. We almost missed it because it was hidden behind some hoardings from the construction work nearby.

The food was pretty good. Service is unspectacular and the location…well… But why so successful, I wonder?

We have seen restaurants that opened to much fanfare but only to fold up within a year. They had seemingly done everything right… good chefs, the right menu, concept, ambience, location, etc and yet they can’t stay afloat.

Then there are mediocre restaurants with bad service and no ambience to speak of, yet they stick around forever.

Hmm, there must be an explanation. I wonder if it is fengshui? It's none of my business anyway....

I need my fix!

It has been a week since the toe injury. The swell has subsided but the nail is probably dead and about to fall off. It still throbs with pain every now and then.

My colleague commented that I haven’t been smiling very much. I thought about it, yeah, not only am I grumpier, I feel so lethargic too.

That's because I am not getting my fix! I haven’t been to the gym or done anything strenuous all week. I usually walk a lot and very quickly too. But lately, I am forced to slow down, I'm practically dragging my feet. This sudden inactivity has turned me into The Grouch!

Our body releases endorphins that promote an increased sense of well-being when we exercise. Regular exercise eases the gloominess of depression, reduces anxiety, promotes relaxation and helps one sleep better too.

No wonder, I haven’t been sleeping well these few nights…

Looks like it's time to hit the gym again. If I can’t run, perhaps I can start with some resistance training. I can’t wait!

Monday, 19 March 2007

The dark side

This morning, a newspaper story caught my eye. It’s about a married Singaporean woman who befriended a man over a chatline and eventually tricked him out of $68,000. This very ordinary looking woman had sent him pictures of a pretty movie star, claiming they were of herself. The US-based software engineer soon became so besotted by her beauty and promises of marriage that he remitted money to her on several occasions.

Once again, this is another story that reminds us of the darker side of the Internet. There are scams and spam, hoaxes and bogus information going round the Web. With the proliferation of blogs, dating sites and chatlines, it is all too easy for any conman to find his victims.

If grown ups can be victims, what about the young ones who spend hours chatting and interacting with ‘friends’ on the Internet? Parents will find it difficult to constantly monitor who they’re chatting with and what they are discussing about. Come to think of it, it is really scary.

I read people’s blogs everyday and even though they’re perfect strangers, I know what they love to eat, their favourite hangouts, their pets, friends, the cars they drive, their aspirations, inner thoughts and so forth.

Is this a good or bad thing? Gee, I really don’t know…

Sunday, 18 March 2007


Last night, CH introduced me to Ska.

To be exact, it was the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. He had bought a pair of tickets to the 11th hour show at the Mosaic Music Festival at the Esplanade. He likes Ska and thinks that I would too.

I went into the concert hall with nary an idea of what to expect. Suddenly 10 Japanese men in pink tuxedos took over the stage and in an instant, had everyone bobbing and bouncing to the beat.
In 60 minutes, they played a mix of traditional ska, jazz, big-band and rock. They were jumping up and down, shouting, singing, playing instrument-war, and having so much fun onstage, the energy was unstoppable, and highly infectious. Everyone had as much fun as they did!

Now I know a little bit about Ska. It is a fusion of Jamaican mento rhythm with R&B, featuring a strong bass and drum, lots of horn, guitars, keyboards and brass.
I still don’t know enough but I do know that I love it already!

Saturday, 17 March 2007

A blessing in disguise

As it turns out, I didn’t miss my Saturday outing after all. In fact, I spent two relaxing hours reading by the reservoir, enjoying the gentle afternoon breeze.

It is on days like this that I begin to see things from a different perspective. The park no longer becomes a running track. It transforms into a haven for recuperation. I no longer feel frustrated and crippled by the injury, instead I see an opportunity to slow down and enjoy the peace and tranquility.

We often take life too seriously and fail to enjoy the little moments. When we are on vacation, we systematically march from one attraction to another in the limited time frame. We totally miss the point of traveling. What is the merit of traveling the world if we fail to immerse ourselves in a different culture, or soak in the ambience and experience life in a new environment?

This happens too often in our lives. We trudge through the years, working towards the ultimate ‘good life’. But what is a good life if we fail to enjoy the little pleasures along the way?

Don't pack your bags yet. We don't have to go anywhere. It all starts from within.

The walking band

My 9 year old niece is a budding writer. She used to make tiny story books and cards when she was little. Last night, she sat and wrote this poem before dinner.

The Walking Band

In Happy Town from day to night,
there is something always in sight.
It is the walking band!
Hand in hand,
and it plays tunes again and again.

The conductor waves his baton
so nothing can ever go wrong.
The violinist strums his fiddle
and makes a tune that goes diddle diddle.
The trumpeter blows his trumpet out loud
so it can make a loud sound.
The drummer’s drum go rat-a-tat-tat
so a rhythm we will all get.
The pianist plays his portable piano
so we can have a spectacular show.

In Happy Town from day to night,
There is something always in sight.
It is the Walking Band!
Hand in hand,
and it plays tunes again and again.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Simple pleasures

I'm munching on 'gems'. If you have ever eaten gems, that exquisite biscuit with a colourful sugar topping, you would know why you simply can't stop at one. With every crunch, the tiny gem bursts into pieces and the icing sugar melts in your mouth, delighting your palate and filling you with oodles of childhood memories.

In the past, when there were less food choices and imports, it was a popular snack. But it no longer appeals to the sophisticated taste of kids today. The high sugar content and food colouring may even render them unhealthy.

Well, it is always nice to treat ourselves to traditional gems like these before they do their disappearing act in Singapore.

Crippled by a toe

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning yet I’m staying indoors. No running or gardening today.

Oh man, the injured toe is starting to cripple my life.
I sound so whiny. Come on, it’s such a tiny injury… yet I have not been able to take a good bath. I shower with one leg propped up and my toe wrapped in a plastic bag.
I avoid crowded places in case someone steps on my toe.
I stay indoors when it’s raining to keep my feet dry.
I walk slowly to avoid kicking into something.
Besides, it hurts when I walk too much.
I am so careful around the dogs too.
Gee, I can’t even bathe Rusty this weekend.

I didn’t know a small injury can affect my life in so many ways. How I have taken good health for granted!

Oh, I guess that means I can’t dance and prance around at the concert tonight huh?

My favourite Cookie

We met Cookie three years ago at Serangoon Gardens. He was with a middle-aged woman. When we stopped to pet him, she asked if we would like to bring him home. She had found him wandering nearby and brought him around the neighbourhood to ask if he belonged to anyone. Nobody had seen him before and she couldn’t keep him. We said “Yes!”, opened the car door and he walked right in.

Cookie is a mongrel with a unique brown coat. We suspect one of his parents is a Labrador. He has the sweetest temperament and treats Rusty like a little brother. He lets Rusty eat first and never steals his food. You can always find them playing tag or just romping around the yard together. He enjoys rolling on the grass and basking in the sun. He particularly likes to sleep under my car. He’s not very agile and often bumps into us as he screeches to a stop. Yet, when it comes to meal time, he eats with such finesse.

He always looks like he is deep in thought as he stares at the floor for the longest time. Well, I think he is a wise dog for he knows when to walk away from dog fights. He always comes out unscathed.

Though he’s loving and friendly, he’s also always wary. We think he’s a Houdini in disguise. He never wears a collar or a leash. Somehow, he knows how to slip out in a flash. For the same reason, he had eluded many baths. Hence he is always scratching.

He may be stinky and clumsy, but he’s still our favourite Cookie!

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Have I told you?

Have I told you about my poor toe?

About how I tripped and fell flat yesterday evening and landed unglamourously before a bunch of kids and adults at the playground? How I picked myself up and hobbled home with scraped knees and a bloodied toe that bore the brunt of the fall? How the flesh of my right toe is now torn and the entire toe nail almost ripped out?

Did I tell you about how Rusty accidentally trod on that bandaged toe last night? And the throbbing pain that kept me awake at night?

Oh, well, no use crying over split milk. Better be more careful next time!

Meanwhile, how am I going to continue with my daily runs? Will my new toe nail grow out beautifully? What shoes am I going to wear to work? *wail*

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

A desirable place

Singapore has been crowned the world’s most desirable place for Asian expatriates. This is the fifth consecutive time that Singapore has beaten 254 cities to take top spot since the annual Location Ranking Survey started 15 years ago by Hong Kong based human resources consultancy firm ECA International.

While many expats agree that Singapore is one of the world’s best places to live in, I often hear nothing but complaints from fellow Singaporeans. They complain about our expensive housing and cars, the education system, the lack of social welfare and freedom of speech, the job market, the government, the size of our island, the lack of natural resources, the influx of foreigners, the law, the traffic, the humidity, the heat...the list is endless.

Singapore is a great place to live in. I feel blessed to wake up everyday without having to worry where the next meal is coming from. Or whether there is going to be another earthquake, snowstorm or hurricane. Or a siege or bomb attack. I know that the kids are safe in school and will have lots of opportunities to further their education or seek employment right here when they grow older. And that they can walk in the streets without getting mugged.

I know that the tropical weather is perfect for my skin and for the plants in the garden. I love that I can step out of the house in a light cotton top anytime of the year without catching a cold. I can go camping, hiking or sun bathing all year round, or even steal a getaway to our neighbouring countries in a heartbeat.

I relish the huge array of food that is widely available and so affordable too. Yet, I can step into the swankiest restaurants and clubs when I feel like living it up. I even love our Changi Airport that is amongst the best in the world. And appreciate the fact that we can almost fly to any city in the world without any stopovers or special permits. Or that everywhere is within easy reach on our little island.

We probably have the nicest looking cars on the road. I think traveling by public transport is cheap and convenient. I appreciate the cleanliness and greenery around us. And the racial harmony that we all take for granted. I like our unique culture and even our weird Singlish accent.

I am grateful that we do not have beggars on the streets and that almost everyone has a roof over his head. And that we have a high literacy and low unemployment rate. I am thankful that running a business here or expanding overseas is not that difficult.

Sorry if I sound like I am gushing but I have read and seen enough about what’s going on around the world to know a good thing when I see one.

Working from home

I am working from home today. If you think that working from home makes you feel lazy and uninspired, then you’re wrong. Maybe that will happen if you are having a slow day. If you have lots to do, it can be really productive.

By staying at home, I saved
30 minutes blowing my hair, applying make up and dressing up
30 minutes driving to the office
30 minutes walking to/from the nearest food centre during lunch
45 minutes driving home in peak hour traffic
That is a savings of over 2 hours!

At home, as I sit before my computer replying my emails, working on the spreadsheet, answering phone calls, communicating with my colleague, basically, just working without missing a beat, Rusty is under my desk, quietly sleeping the day away.

During lunch and coffee breaks, I chat with the kids, walk around the garden, feed the dogs and read the papers.

Now, my work is almost done and I am still feeling fresh.

Oh, it is starting to rain. The best part is, there is no need to rush home today because I am already home.

Monday, 12 March 2007

New chapter

This morning, I walked past my old estate. The two blocks of old apartments and the spacious playground where the kids spent the first ten years of their lives are no longer there.

Standing before me is a big condominium development with spanking new apartments. I looked up and remember how our apartment on the 4th floor was spacious and bright, with a wide balcony that was always breezy.

As I walked down memory lane, I recall the lazy afternoons by the pool, watching the kids frolicked in the water. How weekends were spent with them… baking cookies, reading, drawing and colouring, playing with Lego bricks and dinosaurs. I think of little Daisy, our baby cocker spaniel who was eventually given away to a friend; and birthday parties with the other kids next door.

There are good memories and bad ones. The day the apartments were demolished to make way for the new condominium was the beginning of a new chapter. It is no use dwelling in the past. We have to move on and embrace the changes in our lives, only then will the future begin to take shape.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Victims of modernisation

I read about the plight of the charcoal dealers in Lorong Halus. After relocating there 2 years ago, and spending a lot of time and money setting up their business again, they are forced to move out again. This time, it is to make way for the redevelopment of Lorong Halus into a nature park with facilities for young people to wakeboard, kayak etc.

It is by no means a thriving trade. In fact, it is a dying industry. Only some old timers are merely getting by. Who uses charcoal in Singapore these days? Life is difficult as it is. Yet the authorities are not making it any easier.

We keep pushing for and supporting the IT or bioscience sector, what about the other people still in the ‘archaic’ trades?

I remember years ago when the villagers were forced to move out of their ‘kampongs’. These farmers have spent all their lives working in the fields from day break till dark. The work kept them healthy and the fact that they are providing for their families gave them a healthy sense of pride. Not forgetting the camaraderie in the villages made kampong life particularly enjoyable.

Suddenly they had to give up everything. Armed with a small sum of money compensated by the government, most could only afford a small flat. Imagine from the vast open fields that they have been so accustomed to, they started waking up to face the four walls of their apartment. Being illiterate, many could not find jobs, nor could they adjust to the new way of life. Some were driven to insanity. Illnesses started to creep in due to the lack of exercise and change in lifestyle. Suddenly they even had to rely on their children for allowance.

Sad. Really sad. But who is really listening to the woes of these people?

Baby talk

I brought my niece out for a morning walk.

The moon was still in the sky but quickly fading away.

She exclaimed, "Look at the moon! It's upside down!"

I smiled, "That's a half-moon."

She looked at the sun and said, "The sun is coming back. Good morning sun!"

I corrected her, "The sun is coming up..."

Then I realised she's right. The sun did go away last night and is coming back again in the morning...

Pup in sneakers

You've heard about "Puss in Boots".

Now, let me introduce you to "Pup in Sneakers".

The power of music

The radio was playing slow rock, making me run sluggishly on the treadmill. Oh, how I felt like stopping. Suddenly a fast number came on and I was revitalised. I began running like a hamster on the wheel! The next song propelled me further and soon my 35-minute segment was up. Piece of cake!

That’s the power of music! I brought my niece out to the yard to gaze at stars. Upon seeing the glistening stars, we broke out into “Twinkle twinkle little stars…” all at once. The right songs can evoke all kinds of memories…your first kiss, that horrible break-up, your school days or old friends.

A song can lull you to sleep or keep you up all night. It can make you euphoric, dreamy or homesick. The right songs will make your drive home more enjoyable, or your task more tolerable.

Some of my favourite songs make me dream about going away, living simply in a beach house or in an apartment by the sea.

Don’t underestimate the power of songs. Research has shown that playing the right tunes will make shoppers spend more at the shops. Or make your child smarter.

Who knows, songs may even inspire you to make your dreams a reality…

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Good job!

We arrived at the reservoir later than usual. The morning joggers have long gone. I started running but the mid-day sun overhead quickly took its toll, forcing me to slow down.

As I slowed to a leisurely stroll, I began to enjoy the rhythmic hum of crickets and insects. Suddenly, a flash of brilliant blue sped across my path. It was a kingfisher in flight! Butterflies of all hues and patterns like the Bluebottle, Malayan Lace Wing and Grass Yellows were fluttering about in the sun. Even the wildflowers were displaying their colourful blooms.

I stumbled on a plaque obscured by overgrown ferns and plants. Upon closer look, I could make out it was installed on 3 November 1991 to commemorate the reforestation project at the Upper Peirce Reservoir Park by (then) Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.

While there are beautiful lakes and rivers in other countries, we have some impressive reservoirs in Singapore, our tiny island with little natural resources to boast of.

As far as I can see, the project has been very successful because the plants have definitely proliferated so much they hide the plaque from public’s view. Today, even a big community of macaques lives here. Our authorities have done a good job indeed.

In case you’re interested to know… Peirce Reservoir, originally named the Kalang River Reservoir, is Singapore's second reservoir. It was impounded across the lower reaches of the Kalang River in 1910. Following the development of Peirce Reservoir, the forest surrounding the reservoir was protected as a water catchment reserve. Much of this forest along the northern shore of what is now known as Upper Peirce used to be thriving gambier and pepper plantations in the late 19th century. In 1922, Kalang River Reservoir was renamed Peirce Reservoir in commendation of the services of Mr Robert Peirce, who was the municipal engineer of Singapore from 1901-1916. In 1975, a major water supply project to develop new water resources was undertaken to support Singapore's rapid housing and industrialisation programmes. A dam was constructed at the upper reaches of the Peirce Reservoir, forming the Upper Peirce and Lower Peirce reservoirs.

Holland Village

We were at Holland Village this afternoon. It’s the only place in Singapore where you can find a windmill! It’s not a real one of course.

Dubbed the “bohemian enclave” of Singapore, Holland V is an eclectic mix of old and new. Traditional coffee shops and a wet market jostle for space aside ritzy wine bars and fine dining restaurants.

We arrived at 3.30pm and parked behind a row of popular restaurants along Chip Bee Gardens. The chefs and cooks of Michelangelo's, Original Sin, Da Paolo and other restaurants were out in the backyard having a late lunch.

We couldn’t resist going into Phoon Huat Bakery Supplies to look at the fascinating array of baking and confectionery goodies. Several new eateries, a couple of cooking schools and some interesting shops have sprouted nearby.

The sun was beating down mercilessly. We found some reprieve from the heat inside Holland Shopping Mall. A favourite haunt among expatriates, the shops here are well-stocked with an interesting array of ethnic clothes, Asian arts, antiques and handicrafts. Even the newsstands here carry all sorts of titles and newspapers from around the world.

Feeling peckish, we went up for pizza and drinks at the 211 Rooftop Café. Despite the heat, we sat out in the alfresco area to catch a bird’s eye view of Holland Village.

Then we strolled to the pet shop to look at puppies for sale (nope, we don’t need any more dogs) but we can always admire them for free. The old Holland food centre had undergone a major revamp and is looking bright and clean. It even has shops selling clothes, shoes and lifestyle products.

We sat down at Ya Kun Kaya Toast for a cup of coffee and watched the world go by. Finally we stopped by Da Paolo to pick up some cakes before heading home for dinner.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Home sweet home

My phone rang at 6.30am! YK just got back from Taman Negara.

I heaved a sigh of relief. I haven’t heard from him the past few days. They were not allowed to bring their phones.

First question I asked when I picked him from school was “How was the trip?”

“Very Fun!” He went on to describe about the family of wild boars (including 3 tiny piglets) that visited their campsite every morning, the deers and exotic butterflies he saw. He talked about how they crawled through the narrow Gua Telinga bat cave, experienced rapids shooting in a wooden boat at Kuala Trenggan and Trenggan River, trekked up Teresik Hill and walked through the world’s longest treetop canopy walk.

At the Orang Asli settlement, they learned fire making techniques and saw how these shy and gentile natives used blowpipes for hunting. The boys slept under the stars by the riverside that night.

We laughed at how they got into mischief and played pranks like all boys do. Then he said he didn’t visit the loo for the past few days….
“What?!" I exclaimed.
“No urge, I think they didn’t feed us enough.”

Enough said. When we got home, he went straight to the loo.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day (IWD), a global day connecting all women around the world and inspiring them to achieve their full potential. IWD celebrates the collective power of women past, present and future ...

IWD is an official holiday in Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts.

Women have come a long way indeed. We have female astronauts and prime ministers, school girls are welcomed into university, women can work and have a family, women have real choices.

If you're a woman, reading my blog in the comfort of your home or office, please be very thankful for what you have. Spare a thought for the millions of under priviledged women out there who live under bleak and improvished conditions.

Get this! 800 million people go to bed hungry every day. Some 18 million people a year or 50,000 per day die due to poverty-related causes. That's 270 million people since 1990, the majority women and children, roughly equal to the population of the US.

What is there for us to complain about really?

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Lucky dog

Rusty is such a lucky dog. He gets cuddled while SK is reading or when YK's watching telly. Sometimes when the kids smother him with too much affection, he runs and hide. He will not go near them no matter how much they cajole him.

Even Rusty can tell us that he needs his space. In any successful relationship, whether it is between parent and child, boss and employee, or husband and wife, we must give each other room to breathe. That applies to pet owners too.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Gone camping

YK has gone camping with the rest of the boys in his cohort. They will endure a 12-hour bus journey followed by a boat-ride to Taman Negara (The National Park). Located in the state of Pahang, Malaysia, it is one of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world, dating as far back as 130 million years. The boys will spend the next four days in the lush tropical jungle, trekking, white-water rafting, climbing hills, exploring caves and visiting the natives (Orang Asli).

As I dropped him off in school yesterday evening, I felt a sense of pride. At 14, he is becoming independent. The night before, he had packed his own haversack. I couldn’t help but sneak a quick peek. Pretty impressive! Everything was nicely sorted out and neatly packed.

On the way to school, I reminded him to look out for leeches and be careful about what he eats. He said in jest “Yah, yah, you’re starting to get naggy you know. Is it because you’re getting old?”

No, I haven’t changed much. In fact, I used to say a lot more. When you were little, you couldn’t get enough of my stories. I had to invent a new one every night before you went to bed. You loved listening and were always asking “Why this, why that?”

It is you who have changed. As a teenager, you’re learning to stand on your own two feet. You need to explore your own needs and voice your opinions and become yourself. This is part and parcel of growing up.

Happy camping, my dear son.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Those rebellious years

During those rebellious years of my adolescence, I was always making mum angry. In my old family albums, I sulked more than I smiled. But I wasn’t always that grouchy. In school, my friends called me Ms Sunshine but at home, I was mostly Ms Sulky.

It must have been hard on my mum. I know, because I am dealing with two teenage boys now. They can be charming and loving one moment and totally obnoxious the next. Sometimes I wonder what I ever did to deserve the way they are treating me. My best friend says it’s pay-back time. :-)

As teenagers, they are self conscious and easily embarrassed. Nowadays, they don’t like hanging around with me very much. They can also be down right opinionated and think they know it all. When cornered, they’ll say “Look, I’m going through a sensitive period…” and leave me feeling exasperated.

I know it’s normal for teens to challenge their parents' values, beliefs, and practices as a way to test parents and assert their independence. So, meanwhile I'll have to put on my best behavior and be a supporting mum. Boy, I can't wait for them to grow up quickly!

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Of butterflies, pork sandwich and musang

After a rainy week, we finally woke up to a sunny Saturday. What a difference a sunny day makes! At last, I could wash my new t-shirts and dry them in the sun.

We didn’t let the beautiful morning go to waste! We went to World Farm and picked up some new plants for the garden. We even swung by Upper Pierce Reservoir and the butterfly trail at Alexandra for butterfly watching.

The sky turned cloudy after lunch. CH wanted to look for sports sandals at Queensway Shopping Centre. By the time we got there , it was already pouring. The mall has a mind boggling variety of sports shoes but he managed to find the right pair quite quickly.

We drove to Colbar for a drink. Sited in the middle of the idyllic Wessex Estate, Colbar is famous for its no frills, quaint laidback charm. Unlike any cookie-cutter food establishment you’ll find anywhere, this rickety shed is a haven for beatniks and beer-chugging expats. We had a pork sandwich and fried potato wedges. Where, in Singapore, can you find a sandwich made using porkchop wedged between 2 slices of buttered white bread? It is nostalgic food at its best!

Later, when we were strolling around the estate, we stumbled on a tiny musang (common palm civet cat) lying weakly on the grass. We were wondering what to do with it when a Caucasian couple came along. Apparently they had seen a similar one several days ago and contacted the zoo which promised to nurse it back to health before releasing it back into the wild again. They were happy to deal with this little one too.

Maybe we’ll visit our little friend at the zoo sometime soon.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

On a more serious note

During lunch, EE and I were talking about our growing up years. Being brought up by protective parents, both of us had a sheltered childhood. We attended girl schools and mingled with other girls from similar backgrounds.

While waiting for our A level results, we did a short stint as relief teachers in government schools. It was an eye opening experience for us.... nothing like the mission schools that we have attended.

We learned that about a quarter of the students in a class came from divorced families. Some had abusive parents and they often came to school with cane marks all over their bodies. Many had financial difficulties. Every month, many could not hand up the school fees despite reminders. A handful of students in the class were older than their peers. They were more interested in making rude remarks and off-coloured jokes during lessons. Discipline was clearly lacking. Some students simply strolled out of the classroom while lessons were going on. PE lessons were a nightmare. Our students were running around like monkeys in the field while other teachers had theirs under control.

The teaching experience really made us grow up overnight. At 18, we had to learn how to educate kids that were several years younger than us. We were not given much guidance from the other teachers. It was a struggle dealing with our charges. We worked extra hard but never quite knew if we were doing things right.

That was many years ago. Today, we hope the situation has changed for the better. We certainly hope so.

Laughter is the best medicine!

It has been a hectic week for me. EE was also feeling stressed out, especially after suffering from migraine all week.

The weather is gloomy. It was drizzling when we decided to go out for lunch together. En-route to the new Hong Kong Cafe nearby, I had several incoming phone calls. Even when we were seated in the cafe, both of us were busy replying emails (EE using her Blackberry) and messages (I was sending SMS).

We settled down to order lunch. If you ask me, I would say the service was so-so and the lackluster food isn’t even worth remembering.

Yet we had a most enjoyable lunch. We laughed and laughed till our belly ached.

Guess what saved the day? It wasn’t the food at the Café or the aromatic coffee at Coffee Club. It was the wonderful company of my dear friend EE.

We always have so much to laugh about when we are together. She is a real entertainer. We can talk about everything under the sun, from work to pets, to family….and sometimes even off-coloured jokes.

Soon her migraine dissipated and my worries simply rolled off my shoulders. We went back to work feeling rejuvenated.

Laughter is the best medicine indeed!