Monday, April 06, 2015

bird war

What’s with this house and animals? We live next to a road, for goodness sakes, not a nature reserve.

After rats and lizards, I just fought a war with a bird. 

IMG_4156
* That's IT

My adversary was a big black bird with a yellow beak. I’m not sure what it is, it could be a crow but KK says crows are far bigger. Maybe a mynah.

It decided that my kitchen was ripe territory.

See, our kitchen set-up is such that it opens to a small balcony – where clothes are hung to dry – and the balcony ends at a grill from floor to ceiling.

That bird must have hopped into the kitchen one day, effortlessly flying through grill through the perennially-open balcony door, and discovered a store of ripe fruits on the table.

Now I like putting fruits on the table and not in the fridge. I like the colours and those fruits – orange papayas, deep red apples, sunny yellow mangoes and bright green pears - make my kitchen look like a nice kitchen.

That bird hollowed out several apples last week.

I pulled down the balcony bamboo blind, effectively cutting off half the sunlight, so that the bird would not fly in.

IMG_4153

Today, it drilled through several pears. I don't know how it got in. A blind is no barrier, it seems. Slices of pear which had been on the table were eaten clean, with skins left behind (that blasted bird ate my sliced pear like how we eat sliced oranges).

My papaya was shot through.

IMG_4150

On top of that, the bird saw fit to mark its territory and merrily defecate all over the kitchen table, the balcony floor and our clothes.

IMG_4151

IMG_4152

Often, it bided its time, perched on the grill. Lulu smacked the bamboo blind hard several times. “Go away, stupid bird!” she said. Man, that commando bird refused to retreat.

I am now going to keep my fruits in the fridge and see what happens.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

parenting workshop

Nope, it’s not the kind of parenting workshop where we learn to be better parents.

IMG_20150314_120744

It’s the kind of workshop where we parents learn how to do our kid’s work so we can teach them at home. (Hey! Which arguably makes us better parents too, no?)

I’ve had to attend a couple of these things which the school nicely organizes for us, so instead of lying in on Saturday morning I troop to school for a 9am lecture by hapless teachers who also sacrifice their Saturday mornings to face a bunch of clueless, sometimes frustrated parents.

Subjects: Maths and Chinese for Primary 5, which both seem to be perennial bugbears.

The Chinese teacher cheerfully and optimistically brings us parents through the usual P5 Achilles heel - Comprehension passages. She exhorts: 难! 难! 真的不难!(not difficult at all!)

The Maths teachers take turns to each tackle one question, and there is a lot of furrowed brows all around.

“I give up”, says Mum on my Left, throwing down her pen. “I hope his father can understand”. Mum on my Right struggles valiantly to use algebra instead of the weird boxes she is supposed to draw, but wow, she can’t get the answer even with her X’s and Y’s.

Happily, the few Primary 5 kids who are in the audience are all able to ace the questions. (But apparently that’s because the questions were dumbed down for the hapless parents. Just so we can get the rudiments of The Model Method, see)

Thursday, April 02, 2015

kkgeo

So what if KK failed so many papers he had to be retained a year in NTU?

He’s very slowly but surely moved, step by step, toward his dream.

The Masters, the Professional Engineer’s certification and now the business – kkgeo (short for KK Geotechnical) – which we registered in July last year, but which only sort of went ‘live’ in March (bank account, email domain) when a worthy opportunity came along for him to take on freelance work.

kkgeo1s (1)
* Here's the logo again, for good measure

Right now he has a foot in two boats. There’s kkgeo, but his old company still wants him. So he splits, four days with his employer, and two days for his own stuff.

I, too, have the privilege of being “Wong Sher Maine, Administrative Support, KK Geo Consulting” (the ‘administrative support’ part really tickles his funny bone).

I have come full circle from the days I used to be his secretary in a committee to organize joint hall orientation activities in NTU. We were 19 and 23. Now we’re 40 and 44.

Then it was just writing minutes. Now it’s about business registration, working out the bank details, getting the logo done, designing name card, designing invoice, choosing a web service provider, chasing for payment.

He makes these requests of me, along with requests for supper snacks of Milo and peanut-butter toast.

Why is it that every time a man steps out on his own, the wife becomes administrative support but it’s never the other way around?

The children know all about kkgeo. Jo zooms straight in to the heart of it: Will you become very rich, papa? Will we be rich?

No, Jo, no.

But what is for certain is that he is much busier. While I actively pushed him toward setting up the business and coming out on his own as early as possible – you’re 44! If not now, then when? Go! Go! Go! - I did not quite anticipate that he’d be gone Saturdays as well.

(He has to ‘clock’ time at the other employer’s)

So the kids are all mine on Saturdays too.

I’m not sure I like it. I think he'll get busier. But oh well. All for the sake of a dream. 

IMG_4147
* Saturday on the bus

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

dance: kanon in d

These will only get rarer and more precious. This may even be the last one, who knows?

Clad in their one-and-only ballet costume (same as always), the girls choreograph what they think is a ballet, to Kanon in D.

I will miss Lu’s baby-ish earnestness when she grows out of it.


* Soundman and applause soundtrack courtesy of Day

Sunday, March 29, 2015

bangkok madness

This is my Bangkok story.

So for once, I became the overseas competition mum. The crazy parent who splashes out hard-earned money to fund her child / children to travel overseas for a competition.

Never again, man. Never. In point form (the easiest way to write, really), here’s why this 3-day, 2-night trip was a not-very-nice personal Learning Adventure:

* No husbandly support. In truth, Hong Kong didn’t pan out because plane-phobic KK refused to risk his life to sit in a gym in HK and watch his children. This time, the same occurred. KK refused to go. In truth, I was heartened when I arrived in Bangkok and realized that some children, like mine, were accompanied only by their mums because their dads didn't want to waste their time this way. Meaning KK is fairly normal and what I have to accept is fairly acceptable.

* I bring two, I have to bring three. KK said – Why not you leave Lulu behind? It’ll easier for you. (And also, lest something happens, he has one daughter left) But Jo would have none of it, she needed Lu. And of course, Lu would have none of it. I also can’t get around this stupid mummy guilt about leaving a child behind. As it is, Lu is already well aware that she wasn’t in Penang, wasn’t in Sydney, wasn’t in Tasmania, so on and so forth.

* I was completely left on my own. There was zero support from the gym – another reason why KK refused to go, on the matter of principle that this gym sucks. (But he let me go my stupid way) All I was asked to do was pay up for competition apparel, competition fee (1000 baht) and handed the Thai gym’s address on a piece of paper. Now, I’m not a well-travelled person and I am famously blur. I managed to change money, buy air tickets – not the cheapest at nearly $2000 – from Tiger Airways and booked the hotel which I found out the coaches were staying at. That was the extent of my preparation into Unknown Bangkok. It didn’t help that I was swept up in LKY mania the week we were supposed to leave and I couldn’t be bothered to read up on Bangkok, which I had never been to and knew nothing about.

IMG_4011

* I had no friends. I realize that mums went with other mum friends, travelled on the same flight and stayed in the same hotels. They knew better hotels to stay in, were there on shopping agendas and knew what to avoid. I had no friends and no plan. Although I'm glad to say I made some friends there who helped.

IMG_4015
* Me and the gang upon arrival in Bangkok

* I couldn’t get my phone roaming to work. KK insisted that I be in contact at all times. But despite visiting a M1 shop prior to the trip to rehearse what to press (to activate roaming) I did not manage to. That was another source of stress, why the hell was I so useless that I could not even activate my roaming?

* Bangkok was a shock, well I didn’t do research right? It was only upon arrival that I realized the hotel (at Sukhumvit Soi, near this mega mall called Terminal 21) was far from the gym (Ramintra suburb). Why the hell would the coaches stay at a hotel that is 40km away from the gym? I still don’t know the answer.

* We were beset by Bangkok traffic jams on what was apparently a long weekend so the jams were worse than usual. I confess, at that point in time, the imaginary ERP gantries which sprung up in front of my eyes on the grid-locked Bangkok expressway was my paean to the marvels of Singapore’s future-proof ideology. We arrived on Friday 2pm after sitting 2 ½ hours on a plane, sat 1 ½ hours in a taxi crawling its way to our hotel in the heart of Bangkok, dumped our bags and then sat another two hours in a taxi crawling its way out to the gym, trying to get there by 6pm practice time. My trio were incredibly tolerant. When practice ended at 8pm and after we cursorily grabbed our dinner, we were hit by another jam on the way back to the hotel, so the kids only bedded down near midnight, and we had to wake up at 530am so Jo could get to the gym on time at 630am for her competition day. No she didn’t get enough sleep.

IMG_4018
* Blessed Sukhumvit! Finally!

* Taxi drivers from the hotel didn’t want to go to the gym, and vice versa, because of the unrelenting jams in-between. Standing at the side of the road near 10pm in some strange corner of Bangkok with three kids who were dependent on me, confronted by a never-ending stream of traffic which meant I could not even cross the road, trying to flag down taxis and then seeing the taxi-driver shake his head, was most depressing. Some savvy parents, I later found out, used some Grab Taxi app which I of course had no idea how to operate.

* Not every taxi driver spoke English. I should have known this, but it didn’t become an issue until one of our taxi drivers got lost, he couldn’t read the exact hotel address which was written in English, he wanted me to use my mobile to call the hotel, my phone battery was dead, then he had to use his own phone to call the hotel with a lot of under-breath swearing. It's slightly scary to be in a taxi with an angry cab driver and three kids in a foreign land.

* I didn’t know how to bargain. I think one has to know how to bargain in Bangkok. I was fleeced by taxi drivers left right and centre, roadside shops, God knows what. Lulu wanted to buy little cloth elephants. The vendor asked for 300 baht. I hesitantly opened my mouth and said - 250? - and I could almost see him thank his Gods for this idiotic tourist who dropped from the Heavens when his face cracked a huge smile and he said straightaway, OK!

* I don’t have a good directional sense. In the crazy streets of Sukhumvit where numbers don’t line up and taxi drivers rolled their eyes dismissively when I kept desperately repeating the street number of the hotel, and where I just could not recognise the way back despite several trips to and fro, it’s disaster. It didn’t help that the name of our hotel had the word ‘President’ in it which was similar to several more established hotels in the area. Twice we were brought to the wrong hotel and every time I could not find my way back.

IMG_4092
* Ours. President Solitaire Hotel and Spa

* I thought it would be an adventure, as in, fun. It wasn’t. (although on hindsight it was rather memorable or I wouldn’t be so motivated to write!) I unbelievably had the naivety to pack Uno cards into my bag. Time to play? Good Lord we didn’t even have time to eat! Because I had two children competing, I had to reach the gym at 630am two days, one for Jo, one for Day.

* Where I went, all three had to go. So even when Day did not have to compete, he had to wake up early and spend a day waiting for his sister. Lu, well, the whole trip she just sat down to wait.

IMG_4032
* My patient sweetie

* Food was a disaster. I never thought I’d be that person, but angels sang when I saw a KFC or a Mos Burger outlet. Anything familiar, to still my beating heart. The one time I attempted walking into a Thai coffeeshop for lunch (everything on the menu was in Thai), an hour before Jo’s award presentation ceremony, the cooks took an interminable 45 minutes to emerge with the food and when I hastily changed my order to ‘takeaway’, the food was dumped into little plastic bags and no cutlery. Not, you know, like Singapore’s convenient plastic boxes which you can eat out of. Which meant Jo was late for her award ceremony which she was very, very, very sore about. And which also meant we could only have our lunch at about 4pm when we finally made it back to the hotel through the jam.

IMG_4088
* 4pm lunch in our hotel which was admittedly luxurious. Tom yum soup, yum woon sen and chicken macaroni soup in our room

* Adventure was a disaster. Our one relatively free night, we ventured out to the streets of Sukhumvit Soi on a tuk-tuk, where Day was most excited to see drugs being sold on the street. That’s not the disaster. The disaster was when I was convinced we could walk back because it seemed a short distance. We got lost. In small narrow streets of what appeared to be a bars and clubs district. I ended up hailing a tuk-tuk charging an extravagant fare for a two-minute ride, I was too tired to argue.

IMG_4097

The best time I had on the trip? When I wised up, checked out of the hotel at 530am on the day of Day’s competition, brought all our luggage to the gym, and went straight to the airport after competition was over. Yes we were four hours early, but those were my BEST four hours in Bangkok, all spent in the comfort of Suvarnabhumi Airport, knowing that I could rest and eat in peace with nowhere else to rush to.

Oh and the supermarket next to the gym where I spent many happy hours with Lu, buying cheap seaweed and chewing gum.

So why never again? I think first, Bangkok was unpleasant for a blur, not-very-street-smart, first-time visitor mum with three kids. Second, its extravagant. Unless its a life-changing competition, or unless KK or a friend goes with me so its a holiday too, I'm never doing this again.

Friday, March 27, 2015

bangkok haul

I made a promise to Jo and I kept it.

After the last disappointment, I said the next time she is asked to take part in a competition, I’ll support her all the way, so she can get her medal.

The opportunity came sooner rather than later, and it (unfortunately) wasn’t in Singapore but in Bangkok. I brought her, and Day, on a might-as-well basis.

The event was the Bangkok Gymnastics (Moose Game) Invitational Meet: Couple of hundred kids from the region gathering in the Thai Canadian Community Sports venue in Bangkok, showing off their routines for two days.

IMG_4114

IMG_4046
* A very large comfortable gym with upstairs viewing area, cafe and wifi, Day and Lu in foreground

IMG_4044
* The participating kids from Day and Jo's gym

How did they do?

Truth be told, I’m not certain.

It wasn’t a competition-competition per se, where everyone slugs it out, is accorded a rank and awarded 1st place, so on and so forth.

Instead, every child was individually evaluated, given a mark upon 10 (like 9.2) and is then declared to have achieved Gold, Silver or Bronze status.

IMG_4074

On that basis, Jo who took part in four events got two Golds, a Silver and a Bronze.

IMG_4035
* Waiting for her turn to practise

IMG_4078
* On the bar, in her $170 (I still can't believe it) competition leotard

IMG_4083

Day who took part in six events got six Golds.

IMG_4024

IMG_4113

I was really very proud of them, silverware be damned, for the hard work and going through all their routines without a wobble.

But it also now leaves me confronting the spectre of inter-sibling rivalry. (Day: Hahahaha you only got two golds I got six!)

I tried very hard to explain that the girl’s and boy’s events were completely different, and that while Day was compared with fewer than 50 boys, Jo was compared against a field of 220 girls. Still. He rained on her parade.

Day the savvy one also noted disapprovingly – But where’s the competition? I’m not competing against anyone what, cheh.

IMG_4121
* The girls who competed in Bangkok

IMG_4131
* The boys who competed in Bangkok

Thursday, March 26, 2015

heartfelt thanks

When I say heartfelt thanks, I do mean that we only managed to say Thank You to the old man in our hearts.

It was hard not to be swept up in the tidal wave of sentiment which poured thick and treacly from my computer screen every day to the point that I felt, we had to go. Stand in line at Parliament House and pay our respects.

So, too, with the kids, who suddenly came back from school talking about Lee Kuan Yew like he was Ironman.

I checked the Estimated Waiting Time like I used to check the PSI. It just kept going up, four, five, six, seven, eight hours.

Finally, with my folks and Teng and KK and the kids, we went to the Padang on a muggy humid Thursday night, the sort where you feel itchy around your calves even if there are no mosquitoes around. My folks are both over 65, and we were channeled to the priority queue. The wait, we were told at 11pm, was seven hours.

Next to us were plenty of old folk and women with babies in arm. Babies.

Their Gong Gong, aged 78, the pioneer of pioneers in the family, said straight off – I’m going to the Bedok Central tribute site. No point what, you say thank you in your heart is good enough! What for you queue to walk past a coffin?

Day, the one who needs the most sleep, was tired, fed-up and saw no point in queueing. Lu the mummy-lover would do whatever I did. Jo the patriot wanted to prostrate herself in front of LKY.

KK, Por Por and my brother Teng were willing to stay. I would be, too, if I didn’t have to catch a flight to Thailand with the children the next day for Day and Jo to take part in a competition.

Finally, after an hour or two of standing in situ, I made the call. I went off with the kids. KK followed. Gong Gong gleefully came along.

Por Por and Teng continued to queue. I think they managed to file past his coffin at about 2-ish, which was actually less than 7 hours. They joined another half a million people or so who persisted in paying their respects.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

poppy

We had an avian guest stay over the March school holidays.

Poppy is a small wild parrot which flew into PK’s house a year ago and refused to leave.

IMG_3886

Since PK was going on holiday for a week, PL brought Poppy over from Bishan.

For a week, our house came alive with the sound of tweets and chirps as Poppy merrily filled our days with her chit chat.

True to form, KK and Jo showed themselves to be the animal lovers.

KK unfailing went to his (or her, we don’t really know and neither does PK) to stroke its head after work. He tried to bring Poppy out, but the Tame One preferred to stay in its cage.

Jo, too, loved Poppy to bits. She drew up a Poppy schedule – time to feed, time to change water etc – and remarkably stuck to it.

IMG_3884
* Picking out and discarding the husks of Poppy's favourite sunflower seeds everyday from the food bin

Apart from having to occasionally change the newspaper lining the bottom of the cage, I didn’t have to lift a finger for Poppy.

If Jo ever wanted a pet, I think she would be the one I can trust to stick to her commitment.

IMG_3888
* Jo giving Poppy its daily head massage

Thankfully, she is also the one wise enough to foresee the long-term implications of having to clean up shit for years. She does not ask for a pet.

Monday, March 23, 2015

black day

When I brought the kids to school this morning, the radio stations all sounded like 92.4. Morose moving piano music, the sort heard in weepie Korean dramas, replaced the usual chirpy DJs and upbeat morning pop.

No explanation was needed. I knew he was gone.

Last night, Manchester United beat Liverpool 2-1. KK was thrilled. The match ended at 1130pm. About four hours later, the man who defeated the odds for our little nation died in his hospital bed in the intensive care unit of the Singapore General Hospital, while we were all sleeping.

The children are not back from school. But I know they would have been informed. Any sort of ‘happy’ school event in the week has been cancelled. It will be a gray week at school.

I am sitting at my computer, reading tribute after tribute popping up on my Facebook feed. Online, I see his son the Prime Minister addressing the nation and I cry a little when he cries a little. On my desk are reams of notes and books about him. One of my jobs over the last few weeks has been to write a commissioned tribute.

But really, like the Law Minister said in his Facebook post, what is there to write that hasn’t been written?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

fish don’t sleep

The stupidest thing the girls and I tried to do during our Aquarium Sleepover (Day didn’t go because he was over-aged and KK wasn’t interested) was to bath.

Honestly. If I had even stopped to think, it would be obvious that an aquarium, even if it is a swanky one like the S.E.A. Aquarium (one of the world’s largest aquariums), is not going to have sufficient or comfortable shower facilities, like a hotel.

But bath, we did, because Jo insisted on being clean before she bedded down for the night in her sleeping bag, even if we had been in air-condition the entire day and nobody was really grimy.

There was a queue – between 20-30 women and children vying for three shower stalls (the army-trained dads were smarter and not many showered) – and when we got in, the water pouring down was ice cold. Without a hair dryer, we slept with wet hair in the cold. And I sneezed a lot because I had been chilled.

That, was the worst part of our Aquarium Sleepover.

The best part was everything else.

For one, it was free. What would have cost over $400 (for me, Jo and Lu) was part of a package put together by one of the community development councils, to involve parents and children in family-bonding activities via an overnight camp. We had to work, too.

The work part was mostly on Saturday where the girls and I holed up at Changkat Changi Primary School with all the other families from other schools, listened to talks on family values, and come up with a family values book. 

IMG_3892
* Changkat Primary School

The part where I had to work, was when we had to work out an idea for a community project.

IMG_3890
* Our project idea!

IMG_3900
* Lulu's classmates, Nicole and Amanda, were there too

The fun was when we were bussed at 4pm to the aquarium, for their Ocean Dreams programme (it’s on their website, $138 per child and $158 per adult, only in our case the council paid).

Honestly, this is the ONLY way to see the aquarium. Not when it’s like a fish market but when the doors have closed, the hordes have left, the camera flashes have ceased, and you are left on your own with a handful of others to quietly and serenely put your face right up to the glass and marvel at the sea creatures in silence. It's expensive if you have to pay. But I think its worth it.

IMG_3915
* The girls actually get a chance to TOUCH a creature!

IMG_3968
* There are NO crowds at the jellyfish!

IMG_3961
* There are NO crowds, full stop!

There was the tour of the maritime gallery, of course, and the obligatory jaunt through the 4D typhoon theatre (lots of ‘lightning’ strobe lights and ‘thunderstorm’ mist sprays) but the after-hours aquarium tour was tops.

Even better, the entire group was broken up into small groups of less than 10 which were guided by enthusiastic young things (they come off like Club Med GOs) who are astoundingly knowledgeable about the sea life. Ask any question and they answer. Every tank was a personalized Discovery Channel as the kids (except my two quiet ones) had an endless list of questions.

IMG_3992
* Our Manta Ray group guide, Jun Hao, a 19-year-old army-going tourism polytechnic grad

11pm, post (horrible) bath, we wrapped ourselves in blankets and snuggled into our sleeping bags – all dry-cleaned, courtesy of the aquarium – and drifted off to sleep admiring the flight of the three manta rays (M1, M2 and M3), groupers, sharks and schools of fish.

IMG_3981
* Bathing towels, sleeping bags and blankets provided. Bring Your Own Pillow

Yes, thereabouts 11pm, they do switch off the music ('Aquarium' from Saint Saen’s Carnival of the Animals played on an endless loop) and the lights excepting one dim spotlight, for us to sleep.

IMG_3972
* Bags and bodies scattered on the floor, Jo holding onto her supper snack of giant chocolate chip cookie

The fish do not sleep.

Freed from work and housework, I savour one of my best going-to-sleep experiences as I languidly watch the graceful sea creatures swimming through the night (I’ve always liked sleeping in sleeping bags, too)

IMG_3976
* The girls writing in their diaries by the stairway lights

Most of the other parents tell me they had a horrible night: Floor too hard, not comfortable, not used to the environment etc etc.

Lulu, too, had a fearsome night. My little worrier was very concerned about what would happen if the glass broke and the water bore down on her in a crushing torrent - But I can’t swim, mama.

The all-important food's fine too.

IMG_3913
* Saturday night dinner

IMG_3991
* Sunday morning breakfast