Friday, September 30, 2016

workplaces compared

Choon has been hard at work in Singapore for a month now. It’s very natural to want to compare his work experiences in Darwin where he spent over 10 years, and where he is now.

The context: Choon’s a dietitian. He used to work in a public health organization in Darwin, attending mainly to diabetes and renal outpatients (so they don’t actually stay in the hospital), and he was part of a team of eight dietitians.

Now, he is the solo dietitian at a private hospital and he has to take care of the diets of every single patient, including those who are warded and who may need tube-feeding.

ATTIRE. In Darwin, he went to work in shirt and shorts, and track shoes were fine. Here, the moment he got back he stocked up on Zara shirts and whatnot because he needs to be wear long-sleeved shirts and pants and proper shoes.

* Quick change to slippers and readying the bike for some weekend cycling

WORKING HOURS. Both start at about 8-ish. In Darwin, 430pm marks the end of the work day and if he should want to stay back, he can’t as the lights are turned off. Here, work ends at 6pm, 530pm on Fridays, but he has to stay back late often and once had to work on Saturday.

FRIENDS. He eats with people in Darwin. Here in Singapore, he lunches alone. I hope its because people are slower to warm up.

STRESS LEVELS. He says he’s a little more stressed here, but that is likely due to the very steep learning curve.

PAY. He gets a lot less here. Maybe 70 percent of what he used to get in Darwin.

TRANSPORT TO WORK. He used to drive to work. As he can’t afford a car now, he takes the bus. Happily, Phoebe drives him to and from work some days.

Lifestyle has definitely changed. The good thing is that he doesn’t have to cook, Jai takes care of that. But when it comes to exercise, he simply has no time to work out the way he did in Darwin, every day after work. He’s become a weekend warrior, cramming cycling, rock-climbing, swimming, gym work, on Saturday and Sunday.

The kids are going to read this and they’re going to ask: Why would anyone want to work in Singapore? (Kids, for the answer to that, ask Papa)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

big day

Today marks the culmination of Day’s entire primary school career, when his performance over four days will determine the course of the rest of his life (it's English today). Or, it’s just another exam.

* This morning

I haven’t written about Day’s exam preparation because there isn’t much to write.

For me, the point of greatest worry was somewhere around the first half of this year, when there was still time and space to Do Something in response to dire CA1 results. And the breaking point within that point (again, for me, not for Day) was when I saw what he got for one of his mock Chinese papers a few months ago and tears filled my eyes (out of depair, mind you, not exhilaration). Day saw, hugged me very tightly and assured me he’d try harder (no he didn’t cry!).

As with my usual style when it comes to the kids (perhaps not the greatest), I accept what they are and what they want.

The time since the June holidays has been peaceful for me, as I, as usual, leave Day to his schoolwork and do some slow, daily revision with him. Slow meaning we take our time, there’s no particular study schedule or goal to finish this or that. All the assessment books and whatnot are half-done. On my part, there’s a kind of stoic acceptance, that traditionally (according to a teacher), the score which kids get in the PSLE don’t veer off more than 5 marks up or down from what they get in the Prelims.

Day? He has been consistently obedient but not self-driven. He does his homework, if he has his phone or laptop, he’d go on it right after, and if I take the screens away, the next thing he’ll do is to find some games to play with his sisters or draw or read a book. When I ask him to study, he will, but only when I ask him to. Sometimes, he goes to the library with his friends after school to study.

If he feels any stress, it would be from how everyone expects more from him. Well-meaning teachers who give him knowing looks when they talk about careless mistakes or how some in the class definitely have the potential to do better, friends who tell him "I thought you were better than that?" when he talks about going to a particular neighbourhood school, and from his own parents. We do, keep telling him he can do better, if he works harder.

But if I had hoped the PSLE would be an exercise through which he appreciates the value of hard work, it hasn’t worked. He regards the PSLE with a massive sigh, as an irksome duty which he doesn’t quite care about, as a demonstration of why Singapore sucks. He once said, to my fury, "I can do better but I don't want to." He also seems to have adopted my attitude of acceptance as he seems quite happy with the prospect of going to lesser schools. I hate using the word lesser, but you know what I mean.

I also remember the ideals I had from years ago, when I thought to myself that I wanted my child to enjoy learning, and that the sense of joy would power him through the PSLE. Hmmm. Nice ideal.

He goes in today with a hug, a kiss, a ham sandwich and hot Milo in his tummy. He has a jacket in his bag because the air-conditioning in the classroom is really cold and he's right smack in the draft. He also goes in sick. He’s down with a cold and sore throat.

* Sick, yesterday

Here he is, sounding slightly croaky, in a pre-exam interview.

* Famous last words: "I feel great, that, it's finally boiled down to this. But I also hope that I can do my best. I just wanna say that PSLE ... will be easy."

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

coping devices

In the lead-up to the PSLE. For Day.

Enough sleep. This is crucial for Day. 930pm if possible.

Exercise. Some cycling, playing badminton with Kaofu Choon, perks him up.

Medicated oil. He discovered he likes "feng you" because it helped get rid of his headaches, on the rare occasion he got them.

Pills. Someone asked what sort of pills he was eating. This isn’t something Choon would approve of, the dietitian is very much against these supplements. But as my folks and a few other oldies I know have been eating stuff from this multi-level marketing company for years and they all seem terribly healthy and energetic for their age, and since I’ve started on it too, I let Day have it. It seems to work, is the best I can say.

* Feng you and pills

Lack of interference. Good or bad, I don't know, but I don't interfere or nag much, while KK is far too busy with his own studying (he never seems to stop studying) to do anything more than say, "Look, Papa is studying hard too, let's study together!"

Sunday, September 25, 2016

friendly neighbours

As Xueying herself puts it, we were colleagues in the newspaper over 15 years ago and now she’s become my neighbor! Life is so… circular.

* Girls, Xueying and Kei An on an outing to Gardens by the Bay

Some time ago, I saw that a unit in our estate was up for sale and I immediately let her know. She and Kelvin were looking for something in the vicinity. Something old and charming. They bought it. While they were based in Hongkong, the unit remained occupied by the waiters working in the nearby Indian restaurant, who were renting it.

Now they are back and staying in the newly-renovated pad. Xueying has even got Jo's mobile phone number and Whatsapps Jo - whom she has literally seen growing up! - when necessary.

The best thing? Baby Kei An!



Of late, since the sleepover, the girls have not been getting along so well with Liyen, who has grown up and whom they think is no longer cute for some strange reason. Sometimes they spend an entire day at Liyen’s without speaking or playing much.

Kei An is the New Baby and they are thrilled. The first time we went over, Kelvin put his gleaming kitchen in use for the first time and cooked us a scrumptious omelette. Day whispered to me as he inhaled it all – “This is much better than anything you cook, Mama.”


The girls love gazing at and squishing fleshy little Kei An, and I think the bub loves having the girls around. The girls also love to, erm, read Kei An’s books and play with Kei An’s toys. They also like going over because it’s nice and clean and stylish – “our house is so disgusting Mama, so dirty” says Jo – and there’s central air-conditioning.

* In Kei An's playroom

Friday, September 23, 2016

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


The way in which Jo attempts her first attempt to swallow a pill is so… Jo. Day never worried about it, started takings pills when he was seven without fuss.


Why does she want to try?

Because she sees Day swallowing three capsules every morning. These are well-being pills, the sort of stuff which people pay through their nose for and pop for no other reason than to feel good. It contains the likes of ginseng and cactus and other “good” ingredients which have actually worked on Day as it puts some pink in his cheeks and a spring in his step.

“She doesn’t want to lose out,” said KK, “that’s why she wants to take it. I know her. She’s just like me.”

She holds a capsule in one hand and a cup of water in the other, for over 30 minutes, working up her guts and worrying herself into a frenzy. The entire time, she is plagued with What Ifs.

·         What if the pill gets stuck in my throat? Will it make me choke or vomit?
·         What if I can’t swallow it and I keep it in my mouth? Will the covering melt?
·         What if there is an air bubble in the pill which enters my blood and kills me?

KK helpfully gives her a demonstration.

* Now you see it

* Now you don't

I don’t say anything, I can’t, because I can’t swallow pills.

She sits at the kitchen table, stares at the pill, mutters her way through all the things that could go wrong, gets up, paces, goes to the balcony, stares out into the night, perhaps thinking that it may be better if she doesn’t look at any of us or the pill, slowly brings the pill up to her mouth, puts it down, turns around and goes to the living room, peers over Lulu’s shoulder as Lulu tries to work out a Chinese app on a handphone, brings the pill to her mouth, puts it down.

By the time she’s done upping and downing, the pill covering has turned soft and squishy.

No, she doesn’t down it. I think she feels like she has failed.

Sunday, September 18, 2016


She made me take this picture, I’m not sure why.


Friday, September 16, 2016

weighty bags

I thought I’d weigh their bags, just for fun. Maybe in future kids won’t have to carry books to school and this will be a record of the “good old days”. Or the bad old days.

These are their bags.


Lu: 2.7 kg (13 percent of her 20.4 kg body weight)
Jo: 6.1 kg (22 percent of her 28.3 kg)
Day: 8.6 kg (26 percent of his 33.3 kg)

According to a medical website, the maximum a child should carry is 15 percent of his body weight.

There are lockers in school where the kids can put their bag contents.

Why don’t my kids use them?

Day says, “It gets messy”. What he means is, he’ll forget what he put inside and sometimes he may leave his homework in there and forget to bring it home. In other words, he's not able to keep track of work that is split in two places.

Jo says, “Erm I’m afraid it’ll get stolen”. I THINK she’s kidding.
(EDIT: Jo says she didn't say that. What she means is: “I don't want everything to be in different places because its very messy and whatever.")

* Day's bag content

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

lantern walk

We still do this, thankfully.

Delightfully, there is no haze this year and the moon is as round and bright as can be. (The kids all ask - What rabbit? What rabbit, Mama?! – when I point out there’s a rabbit in the moon. Goodness, can’t they see it?)

* Bright moon in the middle 

The kid’s school give them a lantern which is a really funny thing, like a round Japanese paper lantern with foam paper cut-outs with double-sided tape behind, which they can stick onto the lantern to make animal faces. It’s got a small bulb powered by a battery and after carrying it for a few minutes, Jo tosses it aside.

“I don’t like this light Mama, it’s ugly. It’s not nice like the light from the candles.”

I didn’t say it, but I agree. (But I end up carrying her discard)


What is Lantern Festival without fire and burning lanterns? (yes one did burn off this year, reduced to a charred black pile of ash)

Day, once again the official fire starter and lantern lighter, grips a candle and prays for good PSLE results.


For the first time, Choon joins us too. He makes it back in time from his exhaustively long working day. Long working hours are a Singapore thing which he now has to endure.


Monday, September 12, 2016

art over music

That’s Lulu in Miss Mona’s piano room.


Jo is having her lesson, Day is awaiting his turn.

Lu takes one of Miss Mona’s pieces of paper and copies a butterfly from a book. She isn’t interested in the music. I take a picture because its one of her nicer drawings. 


Drawing in her music class fully demonstrates what she always tells me: Mama, I much prefer art to music.