Tuesday, February 24, 2015

$4.90 kite

I was assigned to buy a kite to fulfill the family’s kite-flying aspirations so I did, from Giant, the supermarket of choice for cheapskate housewives.

The kite, a thin plastic sheet stretched over satay stick-thin rods, cost $4.90.

Upon my return I was expectedly met with derision all around (except Lulu): You sure or not? This kite looks crap. $4.90? Aiyoh.



Mr Sunny soared straight up taking its full length of string behind it, stayed up and didn't break even when it 'crossed' with other kites. Everyone was pleasantly surprised and I was full of righteous laughter as I watched others struggle with huge expensive tentacled octopuses and whatnot from the expensive kite shop at the Marina Barrage.


* Admiring our kite through the sunglasses which she lifted off my face

Cheap is not always bad, OK. Especially if we’re a bunch of novice kite-flyers who will only be flying the kite once or twice a year. Or less.

* A metre higher!

* Handstand at the Barrage

Anyway. The other thing about the Barrage is it’s got a nice eating place that is cheap (!).


The Sembawang Eating House Seafood Restaurant doesn’t look like much, but it sells tea and coffee for a dollar, canned drinks for $1.50, lime juice for $2, and there is no service charge or GST. Plus it offers a sea view and sea breezes as good as the entire lot of overpriced restaurants at the East Coast stretch, if you get one of a handful of coveted al fresco tables.

Our entire family had a nice meal with drinks (two lime juices and a Coke) for less than $50 and these days, when eating out in Singapore for a family of five costs a bomb, that’s really little.

* The free toilet paper-type tissue slices which so reminded me of cafes in Malaysia

Sunday, February 22, 2015

people around the house

This year I go around marshalling every family, who come visit my folks for CNY on Day 1, for a quick smartphone snap.

As the numbers diminish every year, it’s a way to remember those who came. Will the children know who these people are when they're adults?


And us, too.


Friday, February 20, 2015

new clothes

Our yearly family photos.



Wednesday, February 18, 2015

reunion dinner rating

It's Chinese New Year and what comes first is the Reunion Dinner.

House prince (because my youngest bachelor brother is served hand and foot) Teng announces that he does not want to do a steamboat for reunion dinner this year because it’s plain and not very tasty.

So our folks wrack their brains for a sumptuous new menu of food, mostly painstakingly prepared by Jai and my mother.

* Jai and mum in the back kitchen, soup stewing over a charcoal burner

Some were hits, some were misses.

Here’s my Reunion Dinner rating (I’m very liberal with my points) based on the volume of each dish consumed and taste, as reference for next year.

Stir-fried kalian with liberally-strewn abalone: 9/10. The entire dish was finished, everybody loved the vegetable (the abalone not so much) and as the only stand-alone vegetable dish for the night it was relatively healthy (in the midst of unhealthy snacking and lots of bak-kwa, we need our vegetables).


Pig stomach soup with pork, cabbage, bai guo and water chestnut: 9/10. Such good peppery soup to wash down rich food and slosh around warmly in the stomach. The soup finished fast, leaving behind all the dregs which nobody wanted because we were too full.


Store-bought yam ring (heated up) with fresh stir-fried peppers and cashews: 6/10. Not everybody likes yam and by the time the ring was served on the table it was cold.


Stewed black mushrooms with chicken feet: 3/10. It was untouched. Not because it didn’t taste good. On a normal day I would lap it up. It was all left behind because it can be kept and eaten the next day. So we all focused on the must-eats, leaving the leftover-ables.


Fried fish slices with spring onion: 8/10. Nice. And all finished because it couldn’t be kept.


Fried prawns: 2/10. It was delicious. But see, nobody likes to get their hands dirty and when there’s a table of other good easy eats, who will get cracking on the shells? Also, some people have high cholesterol. So a lot of prawns were left behind.


Roast pork: 3/10. It was finished but it was meh. Can do without it.


Samsui lettuce-wrapped chicken with ginger sauce from Soup Restaurant: 9/10. Everybody went for this first. It’s a very tasty and nice-looking novelty.


Mum's red-bean soup with a tang-yuan: 10/10. This is the dessert tradition which has stayed on! Despite bulging tummies, everyone welcomed their bowl of hot red-bean soup and some, impossibly, even had two after a quick walk up and down the street.


The dinner table.

* Teng (who gets the food he wants), KK's brother, father and mother

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

expectation mismatch

Of late, Day has regretted his choice of after-school activity. Back in late 2012, he chose soccer and it was something which I left entirely to him. As long as he has fun doing something he likes, I said.

Why does he regret it now? He says: The soccer team never wins anything (all they do is have fun). And I get to play soccer with the neighbourhood kids anyway. I don’t need a CCA to do that. I wish I had joined (drum roll) Chinese Orchestra (!). At least I would have learnt an instrument.

Here then, is what is probably the first instance of my admittedly unpragmatic laissez-faire parenting philosophy backfiring on me, a case of the parent should know better and should have directed the child – albeit bearing some unhappiness in the beginning - to a happier long-term outcome.

For what my kids want is possibly not what I want for them. Space to grow up? A love for learning?  Having fun? Free time? Unfettered space to explore the real world around them? Perhaps not.

Not if its at the expense of what I think makes them feel good, which is to be like, or better than, their peers. They possibly do not appreciate, and might resent, how they were held back instead of being developed to their fullest whatever-potential.

Would they say in future, Mum why didn’t you send me to more tuition? Whenever I did lousy in class, why do you always say It’s OK there are more important things in life? I felt lousy! Why did you let me drop piano? Why didn't you let me do something that would let me get in to X school via DSA?

Perhaps the worst kind of mum they can have in the Singapore context is a mum just like me, where they are pulled one way by their peers and teachers in school, and pulled the other way at home.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

not funny

Day grabs a packet of sugar from the restaurant and as we are walking home, he tears it open and jauntily draws a line of sugar on the road at the entrance of a carpark.

What are you doing, I ask.

Oh I want some ants to be killed, he says.

(I think this is meant to be 11-year-old humour)

Friday, February 13, 2015

behind the ears

Lu cuts her hair. She was starting to get rashes on her neck and I finally managed to drag her to the salon.


She’s got a thing for putting her "new" hair behind her ears. She hates it swinging forward. “Mummy, stop it!” she yells whenever I reach out a finger and swig a sheath of hair forward. “It’s about how I feel and not how I look and THIS (pointing to cheek-grazing hair) is uncomfortable!”


So even though I do think she looks so much better with the hair in front, I’ll let her do what she wants because I know exactly how she feels.


I, too, hate my ears covered.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

lu’s beloved

Jo fell sick and could not go to school.

The night the fever struck, Lu suddenly realized that Jo would not be able to go to school the next morning.


And she bawled and bawled.

Every time the thought struck her that Jae Jae would not be in school with her, which occurred multiple times in the day, tears flowed anew.


Clutching a tissue, uselessly trying to dry her streaming face, she wailed:

Who's going to comb and tie my hair for me?
Who’s going to hold my hand and walk in to school with me?
Who’s going to eat with me at recess?
Who’s going to buy fishball noodle for me?
How will I know when recess is over? I don’t know!!!
Who will bring me from the canteen to the parade square to line up after recess?
Who is going to kiss my cheek?
Who is going to wave goodbye to me?
Who is going to wait for me at the sibling's place?

On the side, Jo, lying down with a raging fever, wept quietly: I feel so sad to see her crying, mama. Shall I go to school?

Lu has a Show and Tell session coming up. The topic is “My favourite person”.

Well. We all know who she’s going to talk about. It's certainly not her Mummy!

* Once upon a time...

Monday, February 09, 2015

middle names

In Jody’s dreams. Still.


Saturday, February 07, 2015

chinese changes

We all do seem to be spending the most time on the Chinese subject these days. And it’s rather fascinating, so I’ll do a snapshot of what each kid is grappling with (lots of page pictures, every time its Chinese there are lots of pages!).


Her textbooks are completely different from what Day and Jo used in Primary 1.

* Lu's textbook, with a new title which roughly means "Happy Companions"

* Day and Jo's batch series of textbooks had and still do have the dull title "Primary School Chinese"

Lu is in the first batch to undergo a new curriculum for Chinese instruction in the primary schools, which strives to make learning the language an “enjoyable experience” so that the children will “continue to use it a living language after they leave school”. (quotes from the brochure)
I think the basis is that being able to speak the language comes first.

Big Two’s Primary 1 textbooks have been given away, so I can’t document it here, but textbook-wise, Lu’s book is clearly all about speaking. From Page 1, it assumes that the young ones are already all familiar with hanyu pinyin, so it features daily phrases and nursery rhymes with hanyu pinyin which the kids learn to recite. It’s more fun, in a sense, and Lu does enjoy it as she comes back singing away.


Day and Jo’s books focused on the learning of hanyu pinyin at the start (a, o, e, i, u) and then the writing of simple words.

Anyway. By now, I know that the bottomline is regardless of what happens in school, unless we speak more Mandarin at home or watch more Chinese TV, she will be just as clueless as Big Two.

And Lu is still terrified of the subject. Curriculum aside, it is ultimately the teacher who makes all the difference and she unfortunately has the same teacher who demoralized Day four years ago.

* My messy Lu

She also has a memory for Chinese words like a net (holey) and hates drills.


Some people are better at Mandarin than others and at the moment Jo, luckily, has gradually developed a greater facility for Mandarin than her siblings. She's no longer fearful even if she makes mistakes.

* Jo loves her drills although she gets very irritated with how her digging into the page leaves imprints on the other side which offend her aesthetic sense, but she says she can't lighten up

She enjoys the subject more, from the sound of it to its requirements – drilling, discipline, memory work, correctness in strokes. And while she is very shy in speaking the language in daily life, she can inherently string together a sentence in Chinese which is not awkward.

So demands are higher this year (hello, 作文!), but she is fine. Chinese tuition has also been a great help.

* Composition from tuition, which she did at home with a lot of help from Chinese dictionary handphone app Pleco (school hasn't actually started composition, but that's tuition for you)


It is a great leap forward this year because the PSLE is within sight.

Day, I think, is fairly typical of a child from an English-speaking family. He did well in Primary 1 to 3 (80s and 90s), and plunged to the 60s and 70s in Primary 4 onward.

Why? Because once the oral and composition components kicked in, his discomfort with the natural use of the language superceded his exam-smart ability to memorize contextual cues and words. I suppose Lulu's new curriculum is meant to address this?

(By the way, he’s taking Standard Chinese and not Higher Chinese which is even tougher.)

Based on Day’s progress alone, he faces three main challenges now:


I was told several times, by current teachers, that the “oral component in the PSLE has gone up to 50%”. I can’t find a record of this anywhere online and I find it hard to believe that oral could take up half the total, but I don’t doubt the general systemic shift toward speaking.

Now this is tough because, well, he doesn’t speak Mandarin except on Sundays when he goes to the in-laws. He now has to practise oral by reading and semi-memorizing descriptions of all sorts of situations, from a road accident to killer litter.



Same problem, the neural connections to string a Chinese sentence together properly are not quite there yet.


This was what shocked me the most, and it’s where Day fares the worst. According to his tutor, it’s an Achilles Heel for many children. Day has to do not one, but two comprehension passages, B being harder than A. The passages are tough (a lot of very small words). He needs the Pleco like he needs water.


But more than that, the questions are high-level, so they don’t just ask why the person did this, or what he did. It’s the sort of question where you cannot just lift the answer and worse, you actually need a certain level of maturity: What can you say about the character of the person? What moral value do you derive from the passage?

He needs vocabulary outside of what he learns in school, and a fine sense of right and wrong, to answer these questions.


He’s been given a list of character-describing words by his tuition teacher to learn (selfish, stingy, magnanimous etc), to help him tackle these sorts of questions.

Do I think the requirements are OTT?

Hell, yeah. I can’t do the work, especially the comprehensions. But that’s progress and that’s life. Looking past bad results, if I could ignore the zeroes, I’m glad he’s learning so much more than I did. God knows, I have interviewed (and probably been influenced by) enough old Chinese teachers who rant and rave about the dilution of their beloved language these days.

And thankfully, most importantly, I think he still likes Chinese and he's quite happy to put in the work to get better at it.