Saturday, June 11, 2016

ipoh: family

Gong Gong’s eldest brother had nine children of whom eight are in Malaysia.

This trip, the kids met Numbers 3, 4, 5 and 6.

* Ah Seng (#6) and Ah Fong (#3) flanking Gong Gong

* Ah Thim (#5), Ah Seng (#6), Ah Yew (#4) and KK at Concubine Lane, where the towkays used to stow their mistresses

That would be Ah Fong, Ah Yew, Ah Thim and Ah Seng.

By now, it's a fact of life for them that I have a huge, flourishing family tree while KK’s is a withered bush.

They also understand that it’s not because his isn’t flourishing, it’s because he’s cut off all the branches. Till this day, I try every year to persuade him to go up to Segamat at Christmas with his folks (we only did it once 12 years ago), so the kids can see their only surviving great-grandmother, but he refuses to. He says, “It’s very boring lah.”

But how can connecting with your family be boring?

In Ipoh, my cousins make special trips from wherever they are based, in various parts of Malaysia, to say hello to Gong Gong.

Thim’s house, which he generously insists we stay in for two nights, is the central point for all of activity.

* One squeaky clean room for us all

* In Thim's toilet, the kids have discovered and love the old-fashioned way of bathing - scooping (cold) water from the trough and squealing

In between meals, the kids hang out at home, a two-storey terrace with a nearby lake. They play badminton (we brought the rackets up), play with the neighbourhood cats, try to figure out mahjong (no go), play Uno, play on the piano, sight-read music books in the house, and get to know their Malaysian family.

* Kids playing in the foreground, adults chatting in the background




* Mahjong, which Gong Gong is eventually drawn into playing

#6, Uncle Seng, makes a particularly strong impression because he's loud, he's brash (he coos "I LOVE YOOOOO! willy nilly) and he's hilarious. He had the kids literally rolling all over the floor, unable to catch their breath, way past their bedtime one night when he played his (beer) belly like a drum.

* Girls with Uncle Seng

KK will never forget this man, too, because Seng (who calls KK Ah Biao) force-fed him copious amounts of beer. Until I had to secretly help him drink.


Family also means anything goes. Teng is a driving-phobe who despite obtaining his licence refuses to get behind the wheel of a car. Thim happened to have a 30-year-old manual Datsun lying around, and Teng was effectively shanghai-ed into practising his driving around the lake. He did fine.

* The 30-year-old Datsun, which Thim has kept in great shape. Old things do last long. He most recently "cut and pasted" a door from another car when the original door was damaged. 

* Teng with "driving instructor" Thim

* The window opener which confounded Day. He's never seen one and had no idea what it was for

* Us with Thim's family

Thursday, June 09, 2016

ipoh: food

This wasn’t a trip which was planned with the children in mind, at all.

There were no theme parks, no attractions to look at, nothing kid-oriented. We didn't visit any of the tourist spots.

Instead, they spent much of their time travelling within Ipoh in a car and driving for long hours to arrive at food destinations where they were expected to light up at the spread. The agenda firmly belonged to the adults.

Compared to our last trip, we really ate this time around because my folks were involved. Somehow when senior relatives visit from another country, top-notch food is compulsory.

* Tim sum breakfast

But kids - well these kids anyway – don't really appreciate food. You know, they eat to live, not live to eat.

After Day 1, Lulu stamped her foot and said – I HATE eating. Do we HAVE to go out to eat again? Can I NOT eat?


And after what seemed like an hour-long drive to a dusty remote village with really nothing much to see called Sauk for not one but three fish dishes (it’s famous for its freshwater fish), a drive so long we all slept on the way there and back, Day whispered – I’m a little disappointed. This is what we drove all the way here for?

* The fishes of Sauk, at the Restoran Lau Kai

Who cares? The adults lapped it all up.

Aside from the usual suspects (fat Ipoh beansprouts, salt-baked chicken, soya beancurd, Ipoh hor fun), these are the food highlights from our trip this time around, which are a little different:

Fish. For some reason we eat fresh, sweet, steamed fish whenever we pop into a restaurant, which is nearly every day because everybody wants to treat Gong Gong.

* A singular Soon Hock fish weighing nearly 3kg

* As part of the seafood spread, prawns as long as my hand. Its very luxurious, but none of the kids like this one, they find the prawni-ness too jelat. The prawns spill over with thick royal-yellow roe. At least I think it's roe.

Fish balls. Not quite the Singapore type, but what in Ipoh is called Yu Dan (Yu3 Dan2). These are tiny irregularly-shaped (therefore clearly handmade and not manufactured in a factory) blobs of fish meat. Our attention is drawn to how, upon spearing with a fork, the yu dan is so tender it shivers for a while. This is apparently a great local delicacy which we really eat a lot of, and which we eat so quickly I didn't get any pictures.

* The nearest thing to it which I photographed (in foreground), but these are more fishball-y

Incredibly sweet tiny pineapples.

* This, the kids loved to bits

And last of all, the first thing we ate in Ipoh which we ate almost every day, in between meals: Durians.

I spy in Thim Gor Gor’s mobile phone a long list of contacts which start with Durian. His durian-seller friends call him when they have new stock, he calls to reserve stock from top durian sellers before we head down; he just seems incredibly well-connected to the Ipoh durian supply chain.

Day one, he purchases over 600RM worth of Mao Shan Wangs (nine in total). The deep yellow flesh is uniformly warm, creamy, sweet and thick. 

* Enjoying Mao Shan Wang straight from the shell under the shade of a tree next to a car booth. Good boy 

* The girls stay in Thim's air-conditioned car - the engine was idling - watching us sweat through the tinted windows (car behind Day)

* Talking prices with the durian man

* Durian stems kept moist with leaves

Day two, he buys more of different types of durians from a Malay seller, with paler flesh and a bitter tang.

We eat so much durian I think a few of us fall sick from the heatiness when we return home.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016


“Ha, you dare to go on holiday?”

A fellow mum with a 12-year-old cannot believe we are going to be gone for five days, five precious days which Day could have used to prepare for the PSLE.

All around me, mums are sending their kids to special holiday classes for a last-minute boost which might secure that A-star.

I don’t know. I didn’t sign Day up for any of that. I suppose school holiday homework and some assessment book work from me would suffice.

In the bigger picture, I figured it’s more important that we have our family break, for while one child is having the PSLE, the other two are not.

Also, after Pa’s lung episode, I think it’s really important to create holiday moments while he’s still hale and hearty. Years down the line, Day would probably treasure, much more, the time he spent with his grandparents and relatives in Ipoh, than swotting.

The concession is that we make it short, and near. A five-day Ipoh getaway, once again to visit my cousin there.

We drive the VW. We make it there in a record-busting 5 ½ hours of smooth uninterrupted driving starting at 5am, and back in a relatively longer (but still smooth) 7 hours including a surprisingly smooth entry at the Singapore Woodlands checkpoint on a Tuesday night.

The children are now great road travellers. They drink little (so they don't need to pee), require zero entertainment (they make up their own games and play Uno) and generally nap a lot in the car. 


* A neck pillow which Lu insisted on buying in Ipoh. She was very proud of her acquisition

My folks and Teng take the plane (none of them can make the 600km drive), which takes all of 55 minutes.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

beach obstacle course

On a not-so-sunny day, we head to the beach and Day devises an obstacle course on the exercise equipment near the hawker centre.

Station 1: Pole run.


Station 2: Hang man (must hang for 5 seconds)


Station 3: Run around (run in one complete circle around the stumps)


Station 4: Ring hang (must hang for 5 seconds)


Station 5: Log hoist (only the two lighter logs because even I can hardly twitch the third one)


Station 6: Board run (run up and down each of the five boards)


Cross the finish line.


We took times.

The result: Jo (54 seconds), Day (60 seconds), Mama me (64 seconds), Lu (66 seconds)

* Jo in 1st place, Day in 2nd place and Lu who refused to join in the award ceremony

Jo clearly really doesn’t like to lose, and I’m clearly not very fit.

Lu was most put out and flounced off, despite all our yelling that “Lulu it’s OK you did very well, you finished it, you hoisted the logs!!” The rest of us, however, had a rollicking good time.

Jo then suggested we run around the foot reflexology course. That mini-track comprising pebbles which are supposedly stimulating when you walk over it.


We all peeled off our shoes and slippers. This time, Lu literally scampered across the track (she doesn’t seem to find the pebbles painful in the least), putting her in a very respectable 2nd place behind Jo who couldn’t bear to see Lu in front and somehow managed to outrun her on the stones.

Day (3rd) and I (4th) were deplorable. We hobbled our way to the finish line, me yelping and squeaking at every slow agonizing step. When Lu finished I was only halfway done.

Friday, June 03, 2016


Jo flings her mane over her shoulder and smiles at herself in the mirror.

I say - Don’t be so narcissistic.

Jo – What? What? What’s narci-sii-what?

Well, I say, there’s this Greek myth about a stupendously handsome young man called Narcissus (girls interrupt – Oh we know this one! – but I go on anyway) who can’t help but stare in mirrors because he’s arrested by his own beauty.

One day he happens to gaze upon a lake and he sees his own reflection. He is transfixed. He has never seen anyone as beautiful and he falls in love. Day after day, week after week, he is frozen by the side of the lake as he pines away for his loved one.

What does this tell you?

Lu – Ooh I know! He’s gay!

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

inspirational quotes

Inspirational quotes have been appearing on our kitchen wall.

Jo has been picking them out (from where I don’t know) and writing them down. I think she’s using the holidays to think about how to proceed in life.

Since she’s so keen, I try to carry out a written conversation with her.




Monday, May 30, 2016

jo’s time cover

* A magazine cover App

Jo revels in apps. She’s got a colourful keyboard app, beautifying apps, and a useful one which apparently snaps a selfie when the phone passcode is wrong more than three times.

My next phone will be an Oppo. So she can help me with apps.

Saturday, May 28, 2016


At least, I think that’s how it’s spelt.

School ends on Thursday the 26th, and Camperaderie is on Friday the 27th.

No one else has to come back to school on Friday, but the Primary Sixes are invited back, after lunch, for an afternoon of fun and what I presume must be camaraderie (hence the name).

Day’s face was black. He bitched about Camperaderie – Must I go? I don’t want to go.

After the event, he changed his mind. He had a lot of fun (even though he doesn’t like a lot of his classmates).

They played team-building games in the school hall, rolling giant balls around, cat-walking down the length of the school hall showing off recycled-material fashion and whatnot, to see which class which triumph at the end of it.

Their parents (like me, the ones who don’t have to report to work in an office) were invited to play too. Adults against the twelve-year-olds first (the adults trashed the kids), then adults against teachers (draw).

They were treated to a nice buffet, for which tables with duplicate trays of food were snaking all over the area outside the school hall because there were so many kids. The potato wedges were the first to go, followed by the fruit punch.


They were given light sticks which they waved gaily to the strains of a song (I forgot what they sang).

* Sorry blur but I think the light sticks look nicer

The dirty word didn’t come up at all. Until the kids who took their PSLE last year, those who scored over 250, were invited back to school to receive certificates on stage.

What is a mum to do but start scrutinizing uniforms? Lots of Dunmans, yes, a few Tanjong Katongs…. So on and so forth.

Academic awards were given out to top performers, and most improved performers in each class.

And a teacher gave a speech: “Some of you started studying for the PSLE three years ago. Some two years ago. Some last week. (titter) Well, your journey starts today…” so on and so forth.

I think it's all collectively meant to inspire the kids, and let them start the June holidays with a smile and a fire in their belly, to run the last lap, fight and bring home the PSLE glory.

I think Day left with bitter-sweet feelings.

* Day and his class

Thursday, May 26, 2016

jo’s napfa

Singapore’s physical fitness test for primary school kids rolls around once more.

This year, Jo goes through the NAPFA test for the first time, while it’s Day’s second.


The girl practices for it. Not for the 1.6km run, but she occasionally does her sit-and-reach stretches or standing broad jumps at home. “I must get Gold,” she huffs.

In this school, the run as usual is the big beach-side event.

* Jo with Emma Grace and Emilyn

I head down to the beach with Lu and run between two starting points to support first Jo, then Day. Many kids are shod in brightly multi-coloured track shoes, but the two of them run in their too-big school shoes, Jo praying that hers won’t fly off her feet.

(if there’s one sort of shoe we hardly wear in this family, it’s track shoes. We tend to do our sports in slippers and sandals, and school shoes if a sport shoe if required)

* See shoes?

Jo comes in third in her class, the first girl in her class to reach the finish line, and Day’s the fifth in his class.

* Go, Jo, go!

That’s about all I see, as I scream until I go hoarse. Lu doesn’t see anything, she’s busy on the beach trying to scrape together a few shells at shell-sparse East Coast Park.

* Day at the start line with Russell, Aaron, Wei Teng

* Emma Grace, Jody, Yun En, Grace and Emilyn at the start line