Tuesday, July 21, 2015


I’m really, really, really, really tired.

In 11 years of doing what I do, I have never felt so tired. There has never been a worse year. This Pig Year is very bad one for a Rabbit like me. One hurricane blows over and before I can inhale to sigh in relief, another one has me in its grip.

Will it never end? Maybe December? Please?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

still a teacher-wannabe

Jo’s favourite past-time these days is to play School with Lu.

Two years on, her passion for teaching hasn’t abated. It has grown.

I’ve been interviewing several incredible teachers, and what struck me about some of them was that they knew from the time they were pre-schoolers, that they wanted to teach.

I don’t know if Jo will really become a teacher. But it is clearly a childhood passion.

Now, she prepares printed worksheets for Lu, who is still known as Lily but now she has a surname - Ng. Jo (Miss Tan) spends time sitting at the computer making up her own syllabus – Maths, English (never Chinese) and fun stuff like writing about family members - and carefully types them out. One imperfection (like crooked lines) and she starts from scratch.


She marks carefully (and lovingly), pastes encouraging stickers, writes encouraging notes and always makes Lily’s mum sign her worksheets. 


All of the work is kept in a recycled school file. The school’s name is Sunflower School.


They have a school anthem too, which Jo wanted to compose, but Lu (always good at taking the easy way out) blithely found a rather nice folksy guitar-strummed one on the Internet, which they cheerfully sing by heart now.

I leverage, of course. I tell Jo what Lu needs work in. Like working on her mental math or getting her capital letters right. Jo will fix it.

* Conducting a lesson on capital letters. Jo is typically precise, she orders Lulu to make sure the horizontal top and bottom ends of the capital I touch the lines she has printed out in the worksheet

Lu, on the other hand, is most difficult. Sometimes she is very good, doing Miss Tan’s homework to the best of her ability, at other times she is recalcitrant. She refuses to attend school despite Miss Tan’s exhortations and misbehaves in class, turning up her chin at Miss Tan’s lessons, ignoring her worksheets and not filing her work properly.


(These are the times Lu just doesn’t want to play school anymore. I do understand because it really is work for her)

Jo is grief-stricken. She can’t take it. Tears flow.

I tell Jo: You know, if you are a teacher, you will sometimes get students who are naughty, right?

Friday, July 17, 2015

movie shock

We still do our movie nights. There’s a lot less pomp and pageantry. No one takes out the mat anymore and no one really bothers to clean up the living room to make it a “movie theatre”.

But the essence is there: Watch a movie, eat chips, drink green tea.

The hardest part is getting a suitable movie. It’s really hard finding a Family Movie every week that would entertain all five of us. The responsibility inevitably falls on me. Sometimes I browse the shop and stumble on something which looks fine. Sometimes I draw inspiration from what I watched before, and would want to share with the kids.

The other night I borrowed Billy Elliot. What I remember of it, was that it was an uplifting movie about a boy who danced his way out of the doldrums against his father’s wishes.

Post-movie, it just confirms that I have a very, very, very Poor Memory.

The F-word is stated, shouted, yelled, 44 times, and its all there in its subtitled glory for the kids to read. (How I know the number now is because I googled the script) Like so:

Listen, son, from now on you can forget about the f*&king ballet. You can forget about the f*&king boxing as well.

There’s talk of sex. Like so:

Why do they sleep in separate beds? So they can’t have sex.

Billy’s best friend also dresses in his sister’s clothes and fancies him.

Oh man. What do I do?

We watched right through and I tried to muffle my horror as I apologetically looked toward KK. KK, cool as a cucumber, finished the movie with the kids who were spell-bound, I hope for the right reasons.

Why did I think it was rated PG?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

old shoes

Day orders me to blog about his school shoes.



His instructions: People should know how hard I try to save you money.

(Shortly after these photos were taken I bought him new shoes. The teacher couldn't take it.)

Monday, July 13, 2015

craft of the day

We’ve discovered a bloody craft. As in, blood has flowed.

The innocuous $2 packets of colourful wool balls and promised final results (fluffy blue birds) caught Lu’s eye at Daiso. She had to have it.

It’s $2 per pack, what can I say?

We brought it home, with no idea of what to do.

I Youtubed it. It’s the most amazing craft.


You stab at a shapeless skein of wool with a needle multiple times and it miraculously takes shape! It turns into balls and ears and noses which are ‘poked’ together to make the sweetest little pet blobs!

* 'Sticking' the beak to the penguin. Yes it's supposed to be a penguin

It’s called Needle Felting. Where’s the science in that? I completely didn’t get how it worked. What is the needle doing in the wool to make it stick together?

Anyway. I didn’t understand it, but we soon got the hang of how to poke, me apparently being the best poker of all.

Lu keeps bringing me little bits of wool to shape and I end up doing the entire thing.

We’ve all stabbed ourselves a few times too.


But those blobs are really adorable.

* The lined palm is most distracting but it's meant to give a sense of scale

Saturday, July 11, 2015

dish of resort

There’s a Dish of Resort which I rely on whenever I am busy.

(As it turns out, the good times haven’t returned and I am still mired in work.)

This particular dish has evolved to becoming the Dish of Resort because the kids have just grown to like it very much.

They might have turned their noses up at it once upon a time, but when Mum keeps trotting it out, they now welcome it. I think they eat it at least once a week, maybe more. (perhaps this also explains why they are so thin!)

It’s the simplest humblest plainest dish of white rice boiled in water with minced pork and cabbage, without any seasoning. I cook it because it has carbohydrates, protein and vegetable (really). I also love cooking it because the only thing I have to do is swing by the supermarket to get a pack of minced pork and cabbage, then chop up the cabbage. The rest is wash and pour.


What makes it sing is the huge pile of preserved olives which they dump on top and mix in.

I remember once interviewing an old man staying in a one-room rental flat, relying on public assistance funds to get by, and when he cheerfully opened his cupboard to show me jar after jar of preserved olives which he puts into white rice porridge (the olives which come in a jar are really cheap), I thought – Poor Thing.

Well! It’s now our Family Delicacy!

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

rehearsal for life


For me, there will never be another book like this.

It will be the first (and probably the only) book I have the honour of writing together with a Cultural Medallion winner, a woman who terrifies and inspires me at the same time, and whose hanyu pinyin name happens to be the same as mine (Shimian).

It will be the first book where my name is actually on the cover. (Most times publishers don’t put my name in and even if they do it’s a small line buried with the rest of the fine print on ISBN and copyrights and what not)

It will be the first book where I am featured on the inside flap.


I get to write an introduction, which comes with photograph.


On the day of the book launch – in conjunction with a concert - there’s a proper sales booth. This is the first book I have written which people will have to pay for (ie not given out at a commemorative dinner or launch)


* Kids with the banner

People ask me for my autograph.

The people whom I write about send me Thank You notes and one said he nearly cried.

My face is everywhere. During the concert, I flip open the programme book and close it right back out of shock.


Conductor and co-author Ms Vivien Goh calls me on stage after the concert, to talk about the book.

XYO Concert-195
* Pix by Gilbert Chan

It’s all very surreal and I know, years down the line when I am still plodding along in the dreary world of corporate writing, that I will look back on this with pride; as a moment in time when one woman, Ms Goh, appreciated, valued and respected my work even more than I did.

(because, you know, I tend to be really shy about what I do and I must say I enjoyed being in the limelight for a while!)

How did it happen?

Funnily enough, this blog had something to do with it.

The background is that the pioneer members of the Singapore Youth Orchestra (the one I used to join) were getting together on their own (with no money and no backing) to organize a SYO 35th anniversary concert. It was an incredible undertaking.

One of those members happens to read (and I think, enjoys!) this blog. 

* There she is! On my left with brown hair!

So when talk turned to the publication of a commemorative book, she turned to me. So I was given the opportunity to write about something I love (music), something I was a part of (the SYO), and people I know (friends).

It was truly a labour of love. A book of this nature, which is usually worked on by an entire committee (more than 10), came down to me and Ms Goh. Ms Goh paid for the publication of the book, I worked for free.

But it was also joyful. Never has a book been so easy to write. No one gave me any trouble, no troublesome clients to please. I wrote past midnight, the words flowed easily, Ms Goh corrected my work in the early morning. The process was so seamless we didn’t even have each other’s mobile phone numbers (never needed to call).

Of course the other joyful part was the 5 July concert itself, titled "XYO - Our Musical Journey" (XYO meaning Ex-SYO)

XYO at VCH Rehearsal-34
* XYO members in their Musical Home, Victoria Concert Hall (Pix by Gilbert Chan)

That, was another labour of love. Players who stopped playing music to earn money and raise families dusted off their old instruments and practiced for the concert.  Some had not played for decades. Ms Goh herself had not conducted an orchestra since she 'retired' from the rostrum in 1990.

Rehearsals started at the end of last year. No one was paid.

XYO at VCH Rehearsal-100
* Me in XYO (Pix by Gilbert Chan)

Did we sound good? We weren’t perfect, that’s for sure. But that wasn’t the point. What got the audience roaring and cheering was the fact that ours was a unique orchestra of old friends playing their hearts out for one last song.

(Yes I know my same grin appears too many times here, and yes I always pose the same way with hands clasped in front. But it is also true that my face isn't going to appear in this blog for the rest of the year.)

Sunday, July 05, 2015

sg50 lego

I go to school to fetch the kids and I see that every student going home is holding a box in their hands.


Unbelievably, it’s a box of Lego. Even more unbelievably, I see some bits of Lego on the floor, carelessly dropped by careless students.

The Lego is a SG50 gift to every student in Singapore, from primary to tertiary level and over 600,000 sets will be given out. Lucky, lucky us.

Each set has 244 pieces of Lego which allow the construction of three different models: The Cavenagh Bridge, Changi Control Tower, and the Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay.


But because there are three of them (the luxury of a trio!) we get to make all three at the same time.


Do we need three boxes? Probably not. Like profiteering people out there, we could sell them for a pretty price.

But I think it’s only right that we keep them for posterity. Day, Jo and Lu can pass them on to their children.

Friday, July 03, 2015


As much as I love music and the violin, I don’t have the slightest desire to push any of the children to take up a second instrument.

If it happens, it would be because they want to (nope, no one wants to) or through circumstance.

Jo has been assigned to learn the erhu in the school Chinese Orchestra, an instrument which is the violin equivalent in the world of Chinese music.


It wasn’t her first choice. After she had been asked to list out three preferences and after I took her through loads of Youtube videos, she wanted to learn the pipa or the ruan. Erhu was her third choice, which KK disapproved of because he said ‘it’s an instrument which old men use to play sad music’.

Anyway. She ended up with it.

Happily (maybe not), practice is lackadaisical and she hasn’t beyond playing six notes in six months. This, perhaps, could be termed ‘giving the child time to develop instead of pushing them’!