Tuesday, 31 July 2007
Are you happy?
Apparently wealth, education, youth and good looks don’t contribute very much to happiness. So what does matter?
For a start, married people are significantly happier than those who are not whereas divorced people tend to be more miserable. In case you’re wondering, having kids doesn’t do much to boost happiness, especially if they are living at home! There’s an injection of joy when a child is born, but that wears off after 2 years.
The good news is friendship has a significant effect on happiness. The wider and deeper your relationships with friends, the happier you’re likely to be.
On the other end of the scale, circumstances like losing a spouse or a job can produce lasting unhappiness and long term damage.
How to boost happiness? Genetic disposition makes up a whopping 50% while circumstances account for only 10%. Are you surprised that factors like health, wealth and good looks have so little impact? Well, this is largely due to a psychological process known as adaptation. People adapt to new circumstances rather quickly. For example, once you have adapted to new found wealth, your happiness soon reverts to original level. Similarly, it allows people to bounce back from setbacks like an accident victim who has lost his limbs will recover from depression and regain something very close to their original level of happiness.
There is still hope. Psychologists believe that adopting appropriate intentional activities (thoughts and behaviors that require effort, and that we can control) can make us happier. Some happiness-boosting strategies include performing acts of altruism or kindness as well as cultivating and expressing gratitude.
Living a productive and meaningful life is another essential ingredient of well-being. Dr Seligman, a renowned psychologist, says that you can achieve this by identifying your personal strengths (curiosity, ingenuity, social intelligence, courage, etc) and using them to achieve worthwhile goals.
Do you feel happier already?
Monday, 30 July 2007
The art of apology
We learn that apology is an admission of error, yet we learn that making errors is terrible. Learn to apologize fully without adding a 'but'. Don't expect an apology in return.
On our drive home from school yesterday, YK was ranting about his best friend. Nic is weak in biology and had asked YK for help. So YK postponed his math tuition (and got an earful from me for the last minute cancellation) to revise biology with Nic after school.
That afternoon, Nic changed his mind and decided to join his friends in a game of DOTA. Before he left, he asked YK if it’s ok. YK was very disappointed that he couldn't keep to his commitment but said “Ok”.
Feeling guilty the next day, Nic apologized again but YK was still upset and refused to speak to Nic. After a while, Nic also got mad at YK. Now they're mad at each other.
So, I was giving my two cents' worth and imparting the art of apology (and forgiveness). I hope I got the message across. In a way, I'm glad the kids always come to me for advice.... they have a lot more to learn in life.
A parent's joy
Seeing our little kids grow up into well-adjusted teenagers is perhaps a parent’s biggest joy. The changes are often subtle but there are growth spurts that never fail to astound me. I am beginning to see amazing changes in the baby of our family. At 13, SK is displaying a level of maturity and self-motivation I have never witnessed before. From a dreamy and quiet child, he now has meaningful discussions with me about things in general, especially in health and fitness.
While it was so difficult to get him moving in the past, now he accompanies me to the gym and has embarked on a healthier lifestyle. We used to fight about the amount of Coke he drinks but he has given it up totally and watches his diet carefully. It pleased me to see him pursue his interest with such dedication, I went out and bought him a new set of dumbbells yesterday.
YK, on the other hand, loves experimenting in the kitchen and is always plying us with his latest culinary creations. When he’s passionate about something, he spends hours researching and acquiring knowledge beyond his textbooks. For someone who used to baulk at anything Chinese (except for Chinese food of course), he has suddenly developed an interest in Chinese dramas and pop songs. He can even sing Chinese songs even though he can barely communicate properly in the language! It has always been my dream to see him embrace his mother tongue and what a joy to see it happening now.
Like they say, kids don’t come with any manuals.... so, it’s a never-ending lesson for us all.
Sunday, 29 July 2007
This morning I woke up to find him sleeping under my bed, on my blanket that had fallen on the floor. When I got out of bed, he promptly jumped onto my warm bed to continue snoozing.
What can I say? It's a dog life!
It was fun exchanging letters with Jung. He was always sincere and earnest though his staccato style of writing made it difficult to interpret what he was saying sometimes. I could detect that he became infatuated after we exchanged photos for he began the letters with “My dearest girlfriend…” After he migrated to San Diego with his family, he sent me photos of his new home on the coast and updated me on his exciting life in the new city. We stopped writing to each other when he was in the university. Perhaps he found better things to do or we simply lost interest in writing letters.
Marcus John was a different character altogether. From his letters, I visualized a matured young man who spouted inspiring quotes and stories. He wrote long letters of encouragement and hope. One day, he sent me a blurry photo of himself in a park. Well, let’s just say I couldn’t really make out his features on that tiny photo. We exchanged letters for a couple of years before we decided to meet for coffee. He hinted that I shouldn’t be expecting a pretty face. Ha ha, maybe he was being modest? What the heck! I wasn’t going on a date or something, we were just penpals!
I kept scanning for his face at the mall. Finally a lanky chap walked up to me. “Hi, I’m Marcus John.” He stretched out his hand and flashed a big smile. OMG! He had decaying front teeth! I wasn’t trying to be judgmental or anything but I am quite anal when it comes to personal hygiene and presentation. What a bummer! I forced a smile and shook his hand. At the coffee place, my eyes kept focusing on his two front teeth, already rotting and blackened at the edges. Call me shallow if you want but I just couldn’t help it! I couldn't believe he was that guy who wrote so beautifully!
We continued writing for a while but eventually stopped as other priorities took over.
Saturday, 28 July 2007
The first day I walked into a class full of new faces, I was nervous without my regular friends by my side. But soon, I became chummy with a bunch of girls from other girls schools and we stuck together like glue. This honeymoon period was the best days of our lives as there wasn’t much actual syllabus. Pretty soon, we were sizing up the guys in our school. The boys from ACS were the most sought after, followed by those from mission schools like SJI (St Joseph) and the Saints (St Andrew's). As you would imagine, there were lots of secret admiring, cards exchanging, day dreaming, gossiping and giggling going on. We were convent girls unleashed for the very first time. But it was all sweet, innocent fun.
I received my first Valentine’s Day card from a SJI guy that year, along with an invitation to go on an ‘ice cream’ date. It was flattering and sweet. I used to joke with him and his best friend Ray and had no idea that he liked me. With some encouragement from my pals, I accepted the date on condition that Ray came along. It was funny, the three of us ended up eating the gigantic ‘Earthquake’ at Swensons. That was it! We lost touch after we were posted to different schools after that.
At St Andrews Junior College, we had only 7 boys in our class of about 30. They were either too sissy, nerdy, pimply or short….well, simply undesirable. So two unexciting years flew by. It didn’t help that my best friend at that time was a very attractive girl who strutted about with the confidence of a beauty queen. She was very popular with the guys but none of the girls liked her very much. Perhaps I felt sorry for her lack of friends and didn’t mind her by my side. It was a mistake because she dominated the friendship and I became an invisible lamp post during the 2 years.
My first real date was quite bizarre. My friend wanted me to tag along with her on a blind date. So we were at the mall, looking out for a guy K in a green cap. It wasn’t difficult to spot him at all. During dinner, I could see that no sparks were flying between them. As it turns out, my friend was starting to develop feelings for another guy. Somehow, K started calling me. We found that we shared the same birthday and had many common interests. He was in the army and we started going out for dinners and movie dates on his days off. Dating at that time was really innocent and sweet, so please cast all the dirty thoughts aside. Anyway, mum started getting all worried and anxious and told him over the phone that at 18, we should just be friends. We soon drifted apart and went separate ways.
I attend lots of ‘functions’ at that age. Some were just jamming parties at function halls or friends’ place. It is mandatory for our guys here to enlist in 2 years of National Service at the age of 18. So I was invited to a lot of army functions and passing out parties. Well, there were some admirers but at that time, I just wasn’t too interested in dating.
A guy friend once made a sweeping statement, “There are only 3 kinds of girls. The ones like you are like mass produced goods, they get taken up very quickly. Those that are left on the shelves are either very beautiful or very odd.” I thought he was an idiot.
For some reason, I had no lack of suitors. When my friend and I were doing vacation jobs at a fast food chain, the manager she had a crush on, started asking me out. It was flattering but I felt like a betrayer. When I joined an adventure club at the community centre, the club leader wrote me a long mushy letter saying that he could envision me being his wife. At 19, I had no interest in becoming anyone’s wife. One day, he showed up at my house on his bicycle. Too bad I was on my way out. I didn’t even offer him a drink after his tiring 30km ride. I think he hung around and chatted with mum because I returned home to find mum saying all these nice things about him. I retorted by saying “Why don’t you marry him then?’
I was quite wicked. Once I invited two suitors to a big BBQ party and ignored them the entire night. Looking back, I was a mean girl!
I'm a little teapot
Then I hear her singing sweetly "I'm a little teapot, short and stout. Here is my handle, here is my spout..."
Though I can't see her, I can imagine her standing in the kitchen, looking at the teapot on the counter, singing her heart out while gesturing this way and that.
Suddenly I hear mum's voice from the kitchen, "Aiyoh, why are you in the kitchen? Go outside, go outside. Don't go near the pots. Go, go go!"
What a bummer! Adults always have to spoil the fun!
Friday, 27 July 2007
I had a crush on a geeky boy at our bus stop. I doubt if he even noticed me but I was always secretly hoping to see him every morning. I also secretly admired another tall dashing school boy who looked like an actor. His mum sold ‘towgay’ (beansprouts) and tofu at the market. So my best friend and I referred to him as Towgay but he already had a girlfriend. These were just silly teenage crush. We were too shy to make friends with them anyway.
I grew up thinking I was ugly though looking back now, I think I must have been quite cute. I was never aware of anyone giving me any attention. On the way to school one day, I was standing near the exit door of the bus when an older boy got up from his seat and walked towards me. He was alighting at the next stop. Just before he got down, he stared into my eyes and touched my face gently. I was surprised and embarrassed, but did not react for he was already gone. It left me puzzled but I was too innocent to see the signs. I don’t remember now if I saw him again after that. Yah, I was dense like that.
When I was working in the design firm, I attended a briefing at an IT company one morning. The moment I walked into the big meeting room, one of the engineers exclaimed loudly “Oh my God! I can’t believe this. I had the biggest crush on you when I was in secondary school!” I was amused and embarrassed at the same time. He went on to ask if I remembered him from Swiss Cottage Secondary School. We used to take the same bus every morning. I dug into the deep recess of my memory but just couldn’t pull out his face. Looking at his joyful face, I didn’t have the heart to hurt his feelings, so I said “Of course.” which made him very happy. He then went on to tell me about how he is now married with two kids….
Thursday, 26 July 2007
They were not allowed indoors and usually slept along our verandah. We had a pregnant dog that snuck into the house and delivered a litter of puppies under my bed. It was a huge effort for mum to shift the beds and clean up all that mess!
As I was walking home one day, I found a baby musang (common palm civet cat) amongst the bushes, looking lost and vulnerable. I brought it home and dad nursed it back to health. It became a family pet who often sat on dad’s shoulders while he watched TV. Sadly, it was mauled to death by one of our dogs one day.
I bought a pair of white baby bunnies from the pet shop one day. From two bunnies, we had 6, then 10, and they multiplied so quickly, we had a huge enclosure full of bouncing bunnies. Dad bought vegetables by the truckloads but they had such ravenous appetites, they started chewing on the grass and wooden fencing. Soon they were escaping one by one until we were left with some old ones. When they finally died of old age, dad said “No more rabbits!”
So I stopped bringing home bunnies but he started adopting the chicks from the Science Centre. They had an exhibit that showed the life cycle of chicken. Now, what did they do with the chicks that hatched from the eggs in the incubator? Yes! They ended up in our yard! They were cute at first, but cute chicks grow up into ugly chickens. Mum was obviously quite mad at the sight of chickens all over the place. So dad built a big coop to keep them under control and was quite happy to buy chicken feed. I guess he had no choice. He agreed to adopt the chicks.
Then came the turtles. I can’t remember what kind of experiment Science Centre conducted but we ended up with hundreds or even thousands of tiny turtles (or terrapins). We had a huge concrete pond that served as a reservoir that mum could tap on for her garden during dry seasons. Of course mum was upset to see the fresh water pond being invaded by these little critters. Unfortunately, these turtles didn’t last very long. Maybe they couldn’t acclimatize or the tank was overcrowded for they perished soon after, contaminating the water inside.
A tedious task of draining the tank and cleaning ensued. I think dad learned his lesson because he didn’t bring any more animals home after that.
My childhood wasn’t all work and no play. We had barrels of fun playing with our friends in the countryside. Being the tomboy, I joined my brothers and neighbours in their ‘combat’ exercises. We dug trenches, built sheds using leaves from the coconut palms, climbed trees, shot each other with our home-made wooden rifles and threw eggs (sponsored by friends from the neighbouring chicken farm) at the 'enemies'.
Saturdays were the most exciting! We would be glued to our black & white television screen, watching “Sesame Street” in the morning, the Japanese superman “Ultraman” in the afternoon, the much anticipated “Donny & Marie Show" in the evening, followed by "Combat” starring the unsmiling hero Vic Morrow. Can you remember the Combat music at the start of the show? So lame... but that was our favourite show!
On some weekends, dad would bring us to Uncle Cheng Nam’s place. He’s my dad’s best friend who lived by the sea. Today he’s a professor in an Australian university but during those days, he used to do a lot of research on marine life in his backyard. There were always tanks of shrimps and marine creatures to mess around with. He went on to discover a specie of crab in the mangrove swamps. Maybe there’s a crab named after him! We had so much fun playing with his 2 boys and always ended up with a beach BBQ!
Mum’s best friend Aunty Madevi lived near Tengah Air Base with her Chinese/Indian parents. I enjoyed the Deepavali visits the best! Their pristine little Indian village under the coconut grove would be beautifully decorated with colours and festive lights. Everyone would be dressed in beautiful sarees and traditional costumes, and plying us with sweets and traditional goodies. So festive and happy, certainly a sight to behold!
There was always some kind of festival going on according to the Lunar calendar. Grandma would make rice dumplings one day, and glutinous rice balls on another. On the special dates of the Toaist calendar, you would find her beating eggs and sugar in her big red bucket at the crack of dawn, preparing sponge cakes for offerings. We always had plenty of food from the celebrations and festivities. She always stocked our favourite orange fizzy soda during Chinese New Year.
As if not enough, we had all kinds of fruit trees growing in the yard – rambutan, durian, jackfruit, buah dong dong, mango, starfruit, orange, sugar cane, lemon, lime, pomelo, jambu… just about any tropical fruit that can thrive in our climate! You could find us eating ripe, succulent rambutans up on the big old tree, tossing the empty shells to the ground like monkeys!
We often got into all kinds of mischief. Mum would start yodeling for us if we went missing in action. Mostly she would catch us netting colourful little fishes at the river bank or creeping in the undergrowth, catching butterflies or spiders. She would threaten us with a cane but we always outran her! Till today, she still marveled at how we managed to stay out of big trouble despite all the potential danger around us.
When I was a teenager, (and no longer enjoyed being a tomboy) my favourite hideout was at the river bank where I would plant myself amongst the tall grass swaying gently in the breeze. You would find me gazing into the distance, trying to imagine I was on a prairie, crafting poems in my head while posing like a model on a photo shoot. Cringe!
Dad was very resourceful. He acquired lots of exotic orchids for the garden and negotiated a contract with RISIS who purchased our orchids for gold-plating. These were made into unique brooches and pendants which became very popular with the tourists. We probably had the largest collection of exotic orchids in Singapore at that time. Till today, I had no idea where he sourced them from as there was no Internet then. Perhaps having a job at the Science Centre provided him with the right contacts. He worked in the exhibition design department and I remember he would let me wander around the exhibition halls on Saturdays while he worked in his office.
During school vacations, we were expected to help mum in the garden. We had loads of stuff to do. Depending on the species, the orchids were either planted in ceramic pots or directly onto the ground. When a plant outgrew a pot, mum would break it up into smaller parts. Our job was to put each part into a new pot, secure it with several chunks of broken brick pieces and top up with charcoal.
My elder brother and I would do the strenuous task, like breaking up whole pieces of bricks into smaller chunks while my younger brother did the less labourious stuff like sorting out the plants. I remember he was quite accident prone, like he would cut his finger or injure his toe. So he was more of a handful than any real help. Then again, he's 4 years younger than me.
On some days, we would transfer hundreds of potted plants from one section of the garden to another. We hated that! But looking back, I am thankful for all that strength-training and muscle-building exercise!
I think mum brought out the entrepreneur in me. During weekends, we were allowed to harvest the smaller stalks of flowers in the garden, the ones that were not suitable for export, and she would bundle them and supply to her flower shop customers as ‘miniature bouquets’. Our little bouquets actually made us a decent amount of extra money every month which she would put into our savings account.
In a way, we were pretty comfortable and the home-based farm grew in size and became more commercialized when we moved to the agrotech farm. Of course today, mum has workers helping her in the farm and we stopped doing anymore work.
Wednesday, 25 July 2007
I used to go on these really long bus rides before I had my driving licence. We lived so far away from the city, any journey to anywhere was long. I had to change 2 buses to get to school and later, to work. Only 3 buses plied our district. Along the way, the buses did an extra loop within an eerie little village along Muslim Cemetery Road.
Whenever I came home at night, there would be very few passengers in the bus. I would get so spooked out as the bus rattled through the dimly-lit roads of the little Malay kampung (village). It was like a scene out of a horror movie. If you looked out of the windows (the old buses had sliding windows which were usually opened to allow air in) into the distance, you would see nothing except total darkness, and the soft flicker of lights from the wooden houses and the silhouettes of tombstones in their backyards. I could never fathom why anyone would build their houses right next to the cemetery!
Mostly I would hope that the bus driver would avoid that stretch because nobody every got up or alighted in the spooky village! But the driver always did the loop, faithfully, without fail.
I was on the way home from school one day, as usual, seated happily near a window seat. The window was open and I was enjoying the breeze, feeling the wind in my face. Suddenly I was startled by the sound of a man clearing his throat. This fat, middle-aged man who sat 2 seats before me, stuck out his head and spat a huge blob of phlegm out of the window.
In the next second, the wind carried the blob back into the bus, right onto my sleeve! EWWW! It was so horrible! I almost gagged at the sight of a gooey mess on my school uniform. But being a meek teenager, I took out a piece of tissue and wiped the mess quietly without making a squeak. I wiped every single trace of moisture from my sleeve, feeling so digusted and sorry for myself.
Needless to say, I never enjoyed the breeze in my face anymore.
I guess that's what they mean when they say it's important to have quality sleep. Last night's sleep was probably of inferior quality. I was too busy dreaming.
I don’t usually buy lottery but yesterday, I walked in the light drizzle to the shop nearby to buy my birth date. Why? Because my friend just announced the date of his wedding dinner. It’s on my birthday! What a coincidence, right? Then when I was surfing around yesterday, I saw a photo of a digital clock showing the same 4 numbers. My intuition was ticking away like a time bomb. I told myself lady luck was calling me! I hurried to the lottery shop near my office. All the signs were pointing that way.
So I placed a decent bet and waited with bated breath for the results to be published in the evening. When I checked the results, I almost fell off my chair. The very same numbers emerged top prize! But wait, two of the numbers have switched places. That means I don’t get a single cent. $20,000 went down the toilet!
That was so damn close! I don’t really care about lottery but on the rare occasions that I buy, the results are always so close, it’s like heaven is playing a trick on me.
I remember one day, mum told me she dreamt of my old car. Now mum is not into lottery and never talks about it. But that day, she said I should go buy the car plate number. I drove to the shop, the line was too long, so I decided to go shopping and return later. Well, I forgot and guess what, the number came up top prize that night!
I was lucky once. The kids were still very young and Chinese New Year was around the corner. During Chinese New Year, everyone puts on new clothes, invite people to their homes and exchange hong paos (lucky money). Money was tight at that time and I was fretting about how I was going to celebrate the New Year. Driving to work, I saw a car with the same car plate number as mine. I turned a corner and came across a taxi with the same number. Coincidence maybe? Down the road, I saw another car that’s the same make as mine, with the same 4 numbers! I couldn’t ignore the signs. So I went into the lottery shop and placed a $20 bet on the numbers.
That night, I won a consolation prize. Because I had placed a $20 bet, I won about $2,500. It was heaven sent! I rushed out to get the kids some new clothes to usher in the new year!
A typical village toilet in the early days was a tiny shed somewhere far away in the backyard with a hole in the ground. If you’re lucky enough to live near a river or stream, the wooden hut would be erected on stilts above the stream, with a hole cut-out on the timber floor.
For most village folks, night visits to the toilet posed the biggest challenge. I remember one tragic incident whereby a light aircraft crashed into a village toilet, killing the unfortunate man who was emptying his bowels.
My friend who lived near the shops had the pan latrine type of toilets. She remembers how she would see the laden metal bucket disappear right under her when the soil collectors came along and a clean one reappear the next moment. She would be holding her breath the entire time, turning blue, until the commotion was over.
The public toilets near the market were the most appalling. There were rows and rows of foul smelling latrines, I would stop breathing whenever I walked past any communal toilets when I was little.
Till now, I find it hard to imagine that in the early years, human waste was collected in buckets by night-soil collectors every night from homes. From night soil collectors to automatic flushing toilets, we have definitely undergone a remarkable revolution.
I think it’s one of the best inventions!
Tuesday, 24 July 2007
My grandfather was a Teochew who arrived in Singapore on a Chinese junk, after a long and treacherous sea voyage. Like many other Teochews, he had left home in search of a better living because of natural disasters, societal unrest and poor economic conditions in China.
While majority of the Teochews settled along the banks of Singapore River in Chinatown during the 19th and early 20th century, others set up plantations in the dense forests of Singapore. As such, the "Kangchu" system eventually started to form. "Kang" (江) means river, while "Chu" (厝) means house. However, in this context, "Chu" is the clan name of the first headman in charge of the plantations in the area.
Of all places, my grandfather chose to build his house on an elevated land facing the Sungei Kranji river bank, right inside a dense rubber plantation in Lim Chu Kang Village. Maybe it reminded him of his coastal home back in China.
Lim Chu Kang Village was founded by Neo Tiew, a Chinese immigrant who was the sheriff of the village. Incidentally, he was also my best friend’s grandfather! As our village on the banks of the Sungei Kranji was controlled by the Lim clan, it was named Lim Chu Kang.
Grandpa eventually set up a tiny grocery shop in Ama Keng, our village marketplace. Ama Keng was named after the Ama Keng Chinese Temple built in 1900 to worship the holy mother, a goddess of peace and happiness. Ama means "grandmother" in Teochew, and keng means "temple". My parents attended the Ama Keng Primary School nearby. I went to the same school too. Now you know why I was taunted so much in my secondary school in the city.
Grandma kept some poultry and several sows in their farm but gave up after grandpa passed away. They had a big rubber and coconut plantation in the estate. Dad and his siblings used to spend their childhood playing along the river bank, fishing and catching crabs.
Grandpa died when I was little. I don’t remember him very well, except that he was thin and rather slight, and that he used to bring us bananas from the shop in the evenings. He would hide them in the large pockets of his ‘kungfu’ shirt. After he died, I used to stare at his black and white portrait hanging in the living room of my grandmother’s house.
After my parents got married, dad built a new house just steps away from grandpa's. We spent our childhood running from one house to another within the big estate. We had lots of fruit trees growing in the yard. Mum started growing orchids after she left the Royal Air Force while dad worked as a draughtsman. I spent lots of time reading his copies of Architectural Digest, hoping to become an architect one day.
We witnessed some major changes to the ecosystem of the river that arose from the development of Kranji Reservoir. The old Sungei Kranji was once a tidal river with mangrove growing up to the furthest limits of the tidal influence. Later, the damming of the river destroyed the tidal and mangrove habitat. Our large coconut plantation was wiped out because of the changes in the soil condition. The salt water crabs disappeared as the tidal waves stopped flowing in.
The river eventually became a marshland with its own distinctive ecological elements and wildlife. We began to see white lesser egrets feeding on freshwater fish and shrimps. Dad could fish huge snakeheads anytime he wanted until 1987, when we finally moved out of the house.
Today, Kranji Marsh Bund is a freshwater wetland dominated by grasses, sedges, ferns and other plant species that are adapted to a flooded or waterlogged condition, fringing the shoreline and the banks of rivers and streams as well as the edges of the ponds, and are attractive to certain categories of wildlife such as aquatic reptiles, amphibians and herons.
I don’t know why I am reminiscing about all these today. Maybe it’s the wet weather we’re having. I hope you've enjoyed this nostalgic journey as much as I did.
Looking back, I believe my parents did their best to treat us fairly. In spite of their best efforts, sibling rivalry was an inevitable part of our family life. Thank God it ended long ago, after our adolescent but now I see it happening with my kids.
I am always bombarded with the “Who do you love more?” question. Or they would innocently ask “If both of us fell into the river, who would you save first?” or the “I wish I didn’t have a brother!” outburst after a big fight.
They bicker, fight and compete for attention in spite of my reassurance that I love them both equally. The fact that they are both at a different stage of development and their different temperaments probably make the personality clash more apparent. How should a parent react?
Experts say sibling problems will arise regardless of the kind of parents we are or what style of parenting is used. They are a normal part of family dynamics. It is also very natural for parents to love their children equally, while favoring one over the other due to factors like compatibility, aptitudes or because a particular child is more compliant.
I try to tell my kids they’re each unique in their own way. I never did as well as my brothers when we were in school. Everyone had his own hang-ups and insecurities but we all turn into well-adjusted adults.
Well, we’re all learning everyday, as a parent, a child or simply as a human being. The kids will have to learn too.
There were endless deadlines to meet, design briefs and brainstorming sessions to sit in, storyboards to present, clients to convince, print checks, proofreading, fire-fighting, proposals, sales pitch, not forgetting a huge list of "to-dos" that stay perpetually on the back burner… We’re not even talking about the never-ending battle of the limited budget, cost tracking or roughing out the bad times.
But there are some perks. For a start, you get to work in an intellectually stimulating environment. You’re learning something new everyday…. about wafer fabs, how things work, how public-listed companies stay afloat, how technologies change…
I’ve been out of this business for several years now, though CH is still in it. That explains why his adroit answers always impress me. While my brain cells are slowly dying, he gets to go food-tasting in restaurants or stay in the suites of luxury hotels. Sometimes he appears in advertisements (when they have no budget for hiring professional models) and even gets to muck about posing for cheesy product endorsement shots in between the actual work, like here...
Gee, I do miss this job!
It's a small world
She lived in Oregon before moving to Japan, while I live in Singapore. We have never met in real life yet today we discovered that we have something in common.... pillows!
It all began with blogging.... she wrote about her job today. I vaguely remember meeting the people from her company several years ago in Shanghai and in Singapore. You see, my friend used to import health pillows from a Japanese company called Geltec. I was roped in to assess the products and sit in the meetings. I vaguely remember Geltec has another company that invented a water transfer technology for graphics printing.
While chatting with Jyankee today, I realised she's working for that same company!
My friend has already stopped doing the health pillow business but I am using those pillows at home. And no prize for guessing... Jyankee uses them too!
What a small world!
Monday, 23 July 2007
A hug is a sign of love and affection, an exchange of warmth, support and comfort. While it is practised in almost all countries, it is a characteristic which many traditional Asian families does not acquire.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my parents to bits yet we are brought up in a conservative Chinese household where we show our love and affection in a million different ways except hug and kiss each other. Though both my parents are English educated, they themselves were brought up in very conservative Chinese families.
Growing up, my parents would take very good care of us and ensure that we were well fed, educated and lived comfortably. We would run to mum for comfort or advice whenever we had any problems. Dad would bring home our favourite books, toys or snacks and even cook us special dishes. That’s how they show their love… even until today.
I remember about 10 years ago, I gave dad a birthday card, telling him what a wonderful father he is and how I appreciate him. I didn’t even have the courage to tell him face to face, and I avoided him for days after I gave him the card. Later, through his conversations with his friends, I heard him say he’s proud of me. That meant a lot to me for I was the rebel who’s always making them worried.
Our generation is a little different. We hug our kids all the time but when it comes to friends, it depends. Though my best friend and I are close like sisters, we don’t hug each other. She’s also brought up in a similar environment and is not used to public displays of affection. Yet, I hug my other friends when we meet or when we’re happy.
Strangely, while my mum doesn’t hug me, she hugs my kids. Maybe it’s awkward if we suddenly change our habits, but as long as we know we still love each other a million different ways, that’s ok.
Sunday, 22 July 2007
The north-eastern region of Thailand or Isan is isolated from the rest of the country by the mountains on the south and west. The inhabitants of the area are culturally closer to Laotians as the region was originally part of the Khmer empire until the Thais captured it in the 12th century. Isan is noted for monks who, in the Thai forest tradition, retreat deep into the jungle, mountains and caves to pursue meditation and enlightenment.
If not for Jimmy, we would never have discovered it on our own. Tucked away in a remote and quiet site, it contains an ancient Khmer monument as well as a big pond that’s full of catfish. There is no tourism here which makes visiting a real pleasure.
After strolling around the temple grounds, Jimmy suggested we should feed the catfish. Catfish? We didn’t see any catfish swimming in the murky pond at first but after throwing in some food, the feeding frenzy began!
Fighting for food.
Even crawling out of water...
A beautiful, modern Thai temple next door.
Invasion of the macaques
It reminds me of a book called Murky Woods that I used to read to the kids when they were little. These monsters invade the school at night when the kids have gone home for the day.
Saturday, 21 July 2007
At 11pm on Friday night, I joined my friends at the neighbourhood K Box Karaoke. They were already belting out Chinese songs by Jay Chou, Eason Chan, Wang Lee Hom and Jacky Chueng when I arrived. I don’t sing at KTVs but I enjoy watching people sing, especially if they are great singers like my friends. I particularly like Chinese songs because they’re so emotional and meaningful.
Yesterday, we met up with CH’s best friend Chris and wife Eun Young for dim sum at Yum Cha Restaurant that's nestled in the heart of Chinatown. It's famous for their award winning dim sum, hence very popular with the locals and tourists. After savouring a meal of mouth-watering dim sum, we met up with some friends for coffee at Starbucks in Orchard Road.
Our shopping district was surprisingly quiet on a Saturday evening. Maybe everyone was in the malls due to the light afternoon drizzle. Orchard Road got its name from the orchards and plantations that existed in the area until the turn of the 20th century. In the 1900s, a mysterious disease swept through the nutmeg plantations, wiping them out within a year. Today, it is a shopper’s heaven, and a great haunt for fabulous fine-dining and swanky restaurants.
We rejoined Chris and wife again for dinner at House of Peranakan which serves authentic Nonya cuisine. The Peranakan people are descendants of early Chinese migrants who had settled in Penang, Malacca, and Singapore, and who had inter-married the local Malays. Nonya food combines Chinese ingredients with exotic Malay spices and herbs, thus bringing together the culinary skills and flavor of both cultures.
We ordered their traditional dishes like Bakwan Kepitin (meatball/crabmeat soup), Buak Keluak (distinctive dish that combines chicken pieces with Indonesian black nuts), Assam Pork (sliced pork cooked in a rich, spicy gravy), Ngoh Hiang (minced pork/prawn and vegetable roll) and Chap Chye (mixed vegetables stewed till soft).
For desserts, we walked over to Three Monkeys Café in Orchard Towers, the infamous mall on Orchard Road. Having ice cream sundae was just an excuse of course, for we were really there to look at beautiful Lady-boys (He-she) in action.
These beautiful ladies who are dressed to thrill, come from all over Asia to work in the clubs with provocative names like "Queens Disco" , "Pink Pussycat" or “Naughty Girl”. For me, it was a novel experience watching these tall, sexy ladies in skimpy dresses sashaying across the road, their long shiny hair bouncing with every step they make on the stilettos, casting flirty glances at every man they see. Afterall, they’re out to look for a date for the night.
Friday, 20 July 2007
Over the moon!
Lonely Planet will be mailing me prize pack of 'Paris Encounter' and 'Hong Kong Encounter' soon!
Yay! This is the best news ever!
Thursday, 19 July 2007
My little niece
My parents’ house is pretty inaccessible. It’s situated deep within the agrotech park, at the end of a 3km undulating road. That means if the kids were to walk to the main road, take a bus to the train station, then take a train to the East, followed by a bus to school, the entire journey (30km) would take at least 2 hours. They’ve not done it before because I have been ferrying them to and from school all these years.
Now that they’re older and going out with their friends more often, I don’t want to be their driver forever! So the best solution is to look for a house in the East. It was exciting at first, driving around looking for houses and apartments, contacting housing agents.
All of a sudden, our property market went crazy. Prices started escalating, first 10%, then 15% and now it is at an all time high. It seems to be going on an upward trend for the next few years. According to a new study by Jones Lang LaSalle, Singapore’s property market is the hottest in the world for major real estate investments. Astounding rental growth and rising values were cited for the strong showing. Even the rise in office space is now the highest in the world!
At the rate it's going, we can never afford one with a beautiful garden to attract butterflies and for Rusty to run around in. Sigh, looks like we can only dream about it now. I’ll be their driver for the next few years… I might as well be a taxi driver.
On a lighter note
The waiting hall was full of senior citizens with hearing problems. The nurse was calling out loudly, "Mr Singh! Mr Singh!". I looked across the hall and saw three Singhs sitting there but none of them responded.
I was thinking to myself, "Come on, these people are here to treat their hearing problems. They certainly can't hear you!"
The Impossible Quiz
Gosh! It's so damn difficult, I couldn't even get past Question 2! It's loads of fun though. YK and friends can breeze through it and get a score of 80 to 100. Geez!
You really must try THE IMPOSSIBLE QUIZ!
The quiz that is almost impossible. Some of the answers may not make sense to you, but I'm sure they will make sense to somebody out there!
So, I'm definitely cheered to see the Creative Blogger Award from HollyGL! Now that I have redesigned the blog, I feel more confident about receiving this award. Thanks Holly!
Some of my favourite bloggers deserve this award for they are always surprising us with new looks, formats, photos, creative and entertaining stuff. Two blogs that come to mind immediately are:
New Beginnings and Mooiness.
I must have missed out a couple of creative bloggers but my mind is not really here right now...
The rules are:
1) If you have received an award simply choose either the dark or light background image and save it to your files, then post it proudly on your blog!
2) Pass the award on to five other people, you can choose any of the awards from the series, you do not have to pass out the exact award you received. Choose whichever of the awards below that you'd like to give out. You can give out one of each or five of the same one, whatever you prefer.
3) You can change the size and color of awards to suit your blog, that's up to you, it's your blog, just leave the titles the same.
4) Please link back to this post so that people can read these rules and so that the meanings of the awards will not be lost.
Wednesday, 18 July 2007
It helps us go through life with an awareness that performing positive actions results in a good effect, whereas a negative action results in a bad effect, whether the effect is immediate or delayed.
We explained the concept of Karma to the kids since they were young. They would often come running to me “Mummy! Is it bad Karma if we kill those ants under the tree?”
I'm pleased that they have grown up to be rather compassionate towards people and animals. That is all I ask for.
Do you believe in Karma?
Run as fast as you can
Though I grew up in the countryside, I was never afraid of ghosts. Our house was situated right at the end of a long, windy road. When I was in school, I walked home everyday along the mud tracks flanked by rubber trees, passing all my neighbours before climbing uphill on the final stretch home. Whenever it rained, my white canvas shoes would turn orange from the mud puddles. It was fun skipping over the portholes. The roads were so bad, my dad drove his Mini-Cooper at a snail speed of 20km/hour along the 3km stretch.
When I was older, I had to walk home in the dark after work. The entire village would be pitch dark except for the soft glowing lights of the houses in the distance. It was almost like a scene out of Hansel & Gretel. The neighbourhood petitioned to the government for better facilities and one day, workers were sent to pave the roads and install street lights. As you can imagine, it was eerily quiet at night and the street lights were spaced far apart, casting an unnatural orange glow from the weak lamps. My court shoes would go ‘clok clok clok’ on the ‘metallic road’ as I walked home.
Every single day, I would take a shortcut through my friend’s house to get to the bus-stop. CS was my primary school classmate for many years, but we were never close. His parents had a huge yard near the bus stop. One day, they rented out their yard to a married couple who were scrap metal dealers. I started seeing the couple busy at work - sorting out their huge pile of junk.
On the way home one day, I saw his yard being cordoned off. Police were everywhere. I was curious but didn’t linger. I found out later that an explosion had gone off at the site, killing the couple instantly. They were chipping away on a bomb from World War II, not knowing what it was.
My unfortunate friend who was near the premises was badly injured in the blast. I found out from the newspapers the next day that he was badly burnt and blinded. The doctors were fighting to save his life and eyesight. But his injuries were too severe and he died shortly after.
I had nightmares about him for months… images of a charred face and body kept haunting me in my sleep. I stopped taking the short cut through his house. I became terrified of walking home in the night after the accident. I took the longer route so that I didn't have to walk through his yard but there was no way to avoid it completely. Every night, as I walked near his house, my heart would be thumping wildly in my chest. I’d remove my court shoes, take in a huge breath, count 1,2,3 and SPRINT all the way home. I could sprint for a long time, as far as my legs could carry me, until I became too winded to go on any further. I would put my shoes back on again and walk home.
I did that every single night until we finally moved out of the place. Maybe that was how I developed my passion for running.
Now I Feel
It's so cool. You can create an amazing interactive artwork using their sound clips, animated graphics, pictures, background music and a whole spectrum of colours. It's a SONY website. This is a static picture of what I've created. It's alot of fun. I'm sure you can do better!
My friend told me the best place to buy them was at the wet market in Chinatown. I drove around and found the fish market situated in a dark, dingy basement of a hawker centre. I walked slowly on the wet and slippery floor, groping my way through the maze of shops. Finally, I saw the sign!
I walked up gingerly to the old fishmonger, who asked gruffly "How much do you need?"
"Not so much. Enough for a small family."
Before I could utter another word, he hauled out a live fish from the tank, tossed it onto the huge wooden chopping board and in one big sweeping motion, hammered the poor fish with a humongous wooden mallet. BANG! The fish was dead. He started cutting up the fish with the smashed head.
I stood there, shocked and terribly upset! I didn't know that's how they sell a snakehead. I was expecting him to hand me small slices. If I had known that I was responsible for the fate of this fish, I wouldn't have been there in the first place.
It was such a horrible experience. I was miserable. He handed me the slices in a bag and I didn't have the heart to cook it anymore. I think I even said a little prayer....
The snakehead fish, also called serpent-headed fish, is an elongated, torpedo-shaped fish with a small head, big teeth and long dorsal fin. Snakeheads may grow up to 33 inches in length and weigh up to 15 pounds. Snakeheads can live outside of water for up to three days, and some can wiggle overland with extended fins. The name comes from the presence of large scales on the head and the forward placement of the eyes.
According to Mr Anonymous:
The 'whacking' of the snakehead comes from an old Cantonese belief. The fish has an 'evil twin' that is outwardly identical but harmful to eat. The only way to tell them apart is to whack the fish before slaughter. Little legs will supposedly emerge from the evil twin's body when you whack them.
Raining cats and dogs
Tuesday, 17 July 2007
My best friend
We were on the phone this morning...
Best Friend: 25 years is a long time but I've known you since we were 6!
Me: Yah, that's why we're best friends.
BF: I was telling hubby about how you're always blogging about us. By the way, do you refer to me as "Best Friend" in your blog?
Me: Yah, mostly. Sometimes I use your initials WK. You should ask your hubby to read my blog.
BF: Oh, he's so busy....I think you should use a name that makes me sound more mysterious.
Me: Aiya, you don't need an hour to read my blog everyday. It takes only 2 minutes!
Besides, whether I use BF or MBF or WK or Anabella or Dr Spock, it doesn't matter cos you don't read my blog anyway!
Happy Wedding Anniversary, my goofy BF! (hope you're reading)
The driver, in his smart army uniform, was leaning against the railing with his head in his hands. He was still in shock but had miraculously escaped unscathed. I guess it helped that he was driving a new VolksWagen Passat.
The accident made my hair stand for a long while. All the rubberneckers, including me, sobered up and continued driving, within the speed limit.
Sadly, it always takes a bad crash scene to drive home the message.
Suddenly I woke up. I was only dreaming! Do you ever get dreams like that?
I used to dream about sitting in the examination hall, totally unprepared for the papers, panic written all over my face. Or going to school without my school bag or shoes?
Well, not that it has never happened before. I remember going to primary school one day carrying only my water bottle! I had to run all the way home to get my school bag. Last year, the same thing happened to YK but our house is 30km away from school, so he skipped school instead. Not the best solution I know...
Well, I guess dreams imitate life.
National day song
I was standing in line at the bank during lunch hour. The 2 huge TV screens behind the counter were playing our National Day Parade Theme Song 2007 over and over again. My eyes were glued to the screens, I was transfixed. There's something about these songs that makes me feel so patriotic, and proud to be a Singaporean!
Let's hear what the singer of the new NDP theme song, Kit Chan has to say:
"Oh I really like it. I think it’s more a love song rather than a patriotic song. If you notice what to me is really special is that throughout the song, the word ‘Singapore’ doesn’t actually appear, and yet interestingly enough we talk all about the wonderful places we’ve been to, Paris, New York, whatever, and to me what’s special is that when you are really talking to someone close or very intimate, you don’t actually have to say their name, you just have to say I love you… And the chorus goes ‘There’s no place I’d rather be/You’ll always be a part of me’ and I think that that’s really sweet… And as Jimmy (the composer) said, it’s his love song to Singapore. I guess its mine too.”
Enjoy the song and lovely video of Singapore below....
There's no place I'd rather be
Monday, 16 July 2007
Shanghai nights and days
Last May, we were back in Shanghai. A city that's one of the most exciting in the world demands time to soak in its energy, to appreciate its complexity, and to sample its many offerings, which may not be apparent on the surface. We tried our best to soak it all in within the few days we were there.
We did the usual routine... we visited temples, strolled along the Bund, stared at the scintillating lights along the skyline, checked out the parks and pubs, shopped at flea markets and malls, dined at big and small restaurants, cruised along the Huangpu river…. you know, the touristy stuff.
One rainy night, we had dinner at XinDianDi, Shanghai's trendiest lifestyle destination featuring some of Shanghai's best restaurants, bars, shops, and entertainment facilities, mostly lodged in refurbished traditional Shanghainese stone-frame housing. Busloads of domestic Chinese tourists traipse through here in the evenings, Western visitors feel like they've never left home, and hip Shanghainese flock here to enjoy the good life. What can I say? It felt like we were in Singapore!
Tired of playing tourist, we ended up at an obscure bar one afternoon. Tucked away amongst a row of old shop houses along a quiet road flanked by large shady trees, we sat on the bar stools, listening to old English songs, enjoying the cold beer, soaking in the old world charm around us… I guess this is what the real Shanghai feels like.
Nanjing Road is considered the "No. 1 commercial street in China". Along its 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles), you will find over 600 shops that on average are visited by some 1.7 million people each day.
In the small alleys, you can find shops selling fresh seafood.
The picturesque Bund, Shanghai's waterfront promenade stretching for one mile (2km) along the bank of the Huangpu River, is renowned for its strip of Art Deco buildings. Being the most imposing spectacle in Shanghai, the Bund has been seen as the embodiment of Shanghai for a long time. This is the beautiful HSBC Building at night.
Snake in the bucket
I remember when YK was about 1 or 2, we were having dinner at a restaurant in town. He was sitting on the 'high' chair, pinching raisins from the adults' salad bowl. Towards the end of the evening, he kept fiddling with his nose and started talking in a very nasal sort of voice. It was difficult to pry any intelligent answers out of a little toddler, so we figured he must have shoved something up his nose.
We rushed him to the children's hospital and the doctors attended to him right away. Upon inspection, they found a raisin stuffed deep inside his nostrils. If they couldn't remove it using a pair of tweezers, they might have to operate on him. The doctors bundled him up tightly with a blanket and held him down, wielding a pair of tweezers. By then the terrified boy was bawling his eyes out. It was a heart wrenching moment. I felt completely helpless and sorry for my poor kid. Tears began streaming down my face.
Suddenly the doctor flashed a triumphant smile, holding out a golden raisin for us to see, now plump and swollen from the moisture in his nostrils. Such a huge relief!
Many years later, we ended up in A&E again on a Sunday evening, carrying a little bucket. YK was in the yard, trying to capture a baby snake using a pair of tweezers. The snake retaliated, reared its head and bit him on his palm. It was a shallow but painful bite. Now YK had read alot about keeping snakes as pets. Though it was a tiny one (about 3 inches long), it had a diamond shaped head which meant it could be venomous.
While driving him to the hospital, he started getting worried. I wasn't too worried at first but his fear rubbed off on me. By the time we got to the hospital, I was quite a nervous wreck. That in turn, made him very anxious. The boyish doctor who attended to us was delighted to see us and the snake. (especially the snake)
"Very good! You did the right thing by bringing the snake here." He examined the snake closely and said "It's too small to inflict any venom but it's always good to be careful. I grew up in the village myself and had my share of snake catching. Oh, those days were so fun! You guys are lucky to live in a farm."
Suddenly, all the worries just rolled off our shoulders. "Thanks Doc. What a relief! You can have the snake and the bucket." I said.
PS: That doesn't mean SK didn't get into any trouble. I'll save his stories for another day.
Sunday, 15 July 2007
Sunny side up!
You Are an Optimist
Little India surprises
That's what I like about Little India...it is always full of surprises, there's life in every street, back alley, nook and cranny. I can never get tired of this place!
The kernels of these old coconuts will be ground and squeezed to produce coconut milk.