Monday, May 30, 2016

jo’s time cover

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* 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

camperadarie

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.

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

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* 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.

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* 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.

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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.

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* 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)

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* 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.

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* 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.

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

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

angry boy

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Day is black-faced most days.

I think he tends toward anger anyway, but he has become even angrier!

It is likely a culmination of many, many things.

He hates his family, particularly his siblings. In his mind, he is powerless to stop Jo from bullying Lu and Lu from bullying himself while his too-nice mother and workaholic father do very little.

He hates his friends. Suddenly, they annoy him no end. It’s worse when they ask him: Why do you look so angry? Why do you look so tired? I remember the exact same questions asked of me all the time. (it’s just our face. What do they call it? Resting bitch face? When we don’t smile we look fierce or tired)

He hates his teachers. They try to motivate him by telling him that they expect no less than a particular grade from him because he can, but I’m not sure if he is responding the way they think he would.

He hates school. It’s virulent and intense. Every time I see his face when I pick him up from school, I get scared. I think of cases where boys his age commit suicide after school.

He hates the PSLE. He really, really hates the PSLE. Every time something PSLE-related comes up (which er, for him is like every single day), he rages silently.

He hates his life. He’s said it – I HATE MY LIFE. Which is kind of sad when I think of how I have never made his life miserable; but then I wonder if he’s like that now because I never made his life miserable, if that makes any sense at all. That PSLE video? (The one which everyone is shaking their head over because, oh my, poor girl!) I’m actually very impressed by how cheerful and resilient the girl seems. She takes it all in her stride, while my son rants and rages against society and the system and whatnot.

Or maybe it's just puberty, clashing spectacularly with the PSLE. Most days I walk around him on tiptoe, trying to say and do the right things and wondering if I'm pressing the right buttons.

He also hates talking about all the above, especially with me, and his cynicism when he does talk is bottomless. For instance, when he hears that the teacher said he’s the lucky one and Lu’s the unlucky one because the Chinese syllabus will be ramped up, he rolls his eyes and states – No, Lulu, by the time you take the PSLE people will be telling you that YOU are the lucky one because it’ll be even harder after your batch.

When does the thundercloud over his head go away?

Well, the sun comes out when he doesn’t go to school, when he gets enough sleep, and when he gets some exercise. Oh, and when I give him unfettered unlimited access to screens. Then he becomes a very nice, jokey, smiley little chap.

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* Getting some Vitamin Happy

Sunday, May 22, 2016

long hair turns brown

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That’s the end of Jo’s ponytail, held against her head.

It’s high time to trim off the poor, old, sun-burnt ends of her hair. Her locks are almost waist-length now.

Friday, May 20, 2016

keep her humming

I gaze upon Lu as she cheerily embarks on her latest boliao project, ripping the cover off a Primary 1 Art and Music file to turn it into a sticker repository.

She uses a Sharpie to carefully label each transparent page, before transferring stickers from all the sticker sheets lying around the house into the correct category.

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As usual she has a small smile lurking at the corners of her mouth as she hums nonsensical tunes under her breath: hm-hm-hm-hm-hm…

She’s always been a hummer. We've become oblivious to it, but if I purposely tune in, she actually hums the whole day long: In the shower, while pottering around the house, scrabbling for new bits of junk in the recycled bag, organising her possessions.

Then the image, unrelated and unwelcome, comes to me like a knife in the dark: Her Chinese teacher telling me at the recent Meet The Parents session that the Chinese syllabus is being revamped. By the time Lu takes the PSLE in 2020, it will be much, much harder.

Her exact words: Luanne’s brother is the lucky one. He can still get by and score through memorizing. She won’t be able to do that. She will have to be able to react off-the-cuff, not memorise, as if she were truly bilingual.

Aside from the first few questions of - WHY THE HELL WOULD THEY DO THAT WHEN KIDS ARE ALREADY STRUGGLING? YES WE HAVE TO MOVE BEYOND MEMORISING BUT THAT'S WHAT KEEPING THEM ALIVE! THE TEACHERS DON'T KNOW HOW TO TEACH HIGHER-LEVEL CHINESE PROCESSING SKILLS WHEN THE KIDS ARE SO CRAP AND OH, THE TEACHERS AREN'T THAT GREAT THEMSELVES! - I was terrified.

One, amongst the trio her Chinese is by far the worst, but her character is by far the most easy-going. Day and Jo both asked for Chinese tuition by the end of Primary 1, not Lu, not even when she does badly. Which means any pushing – if warranted – will not be self-directed. It will have to be external, from me.

Two, because of this, I am most loath to make her “grow up” and become “resilient” in the Singapore context by sending her to someone who will drill her in Chinese, and potentially rob her of her humming time.

Three, while I fear that she will be pressured, I am even more alarmed at the possibility of letting it go and letting her slide back, further and further, as the Chinese syllabus ramps up, higher and higher, while I watch her become disheartened and withdrawn and the only lame thing I’d be able to muster up is – It’s OK, grades are not everything.

Anyway. I will have to start her on Chinese tuition. But today, she’s still humming. The hum must never be silenced.

And if the tuition is done right, it would - in the words of a fellow mum - stretch her capabilities and give her the confidence to go to school with a smile instead of dreading Chinese class. That way, tuition will be what keeps her humming.

(or is that my very lame justification?)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

exercise high

My favourite exercise routine when there is no need to rush anything in the morning and when I have the luxury of time, is to ride the 8km to the Gardens by the Bay and back. I used to do these things with KK but cycling doesn't fit into his schedule these days. I go solo.

This must be done on a weekday. The best timings are: 730am to start, hit MacDonalds for breakfast which opens at 830am with a book for company, and then visit any one of the conservatories at 9am.

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* I'm the sole Macs customer

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* Not a single soul in the entire Flower Dome, apart from a few staff

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* Changing the tulip display to lilies

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* Last glance at the tulips

The timing is ideal in that there is no one (most times, GB is swarming with people like ants) and the weather is still cool. By the time I head back, at 9-ish near 10, it is already somewhat hot. But that’s fine.

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It is most calming and rejuvenating – it’s great to start the day with plants - and I like to reward myself with such a trip after I finish onerous jobs.

Monday, May 16, 2016

baby of the family

We fall easily and willingly into the trap of wanting to treat the littlest one like a baby for as long as possible. KK is particularly permissive toward Lu (although he would say it’s due more to her blur sweet harmless demeanour more than her age), every morning she wraps her legs around my waist and I carry her down the flight of steps from her bed, and I tend to snuggle up with her more than the other two because she’s still small and soft.

Jo accuses us of favouring her more than her and Day.

What can I say? Once upon a time, I said – I’ll never have favourites – but I realise now while I love them all equally, I have to love them all differently because they are three unique individuals. Maybe the way we treat Lu appeals to Jo enormously, but the fact of the matter is that Lu never resists. She’s like the sweet bully-able bunny in the house, while Jo is the pit bull who bites against instruction. That demands different parenting approaches and treatment.

Also, while I snuggle up to Lu, I probably wouldn’t let her go out alone with money, but I would for Day, even when he was her age. And the one I’d be most likely to send for a course or class is Jo. Does that make sense?

Birth order also matters. I didn’t’ use to understand this. Choon and I used to think that Teng was given special treatment. He absolutely was. For he, like Lu, will always be the youngest child and that will be a lifelong badge in the parents’ eyes. I think it’s just human nature. I can’t resist Lu’s lure as the baby of the family.

I was looking through photos, though, and I realize that through the lens Lu looks all grown up. With a decidedly university campus-ish dress sense (jeans and cardigan and haversack and high ponytail) and skinny long chopstick legs.

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* She's that tall already... she also seems to have outgrown her slippers, I never noticed

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* Looking very much like Papa, no?

How long more can I envelope her in my arms?

(to those people who keep telling me to have a #4 - there still are - NO)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

squid

I try cooking squid for the first time. I like squid but don’t usually think of it as a home dish.

First time the squid emerges tough as rubber bands. I go online. The instructions are: Cook it very, very fast or very, very slow.

Second time I fry the squid for what feels like 20 seconds or less. I recall that the Hokkien Mee sellers only add in the squid rings and prawn at the last-minute, and they seem to spend very little time tossing the seafood around before dishing out the noodles.

The squid is perfectly chewy tender. I pray it’s cooked through. No one gets tummy upset. Yay!

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* Squid, only for the one night in a week when I go beyond a one-pot meal

Thursday, May 12, 2016

neighbourly relations

It’s become a bit of a ritual so I thought I’d log it.

Neighbour Ah Qiong likes to treat us all at the nearby shopping mall’s food court when the exams are over, or whenever there is early dismissal for a public holiday.

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* Ah Qiong with Yi Shen

She also likes dropping in with pots of red and green bean soup whenever she makes it.

I’ve never had much luck with getting close to neighbours. The people who live opposite us, in seven years I have never seen the man crack a smile much less looked into his eyes. He lumbers up and down, passes us on the stairs, as if we were invisible.

Right now, Ah Qiong is the closest thing I have to a neighbourly Neighbour, the sort which people in the 60s and 70s might have plenty of when the community spirit was strong. But it's an interesting sort of friendship, because we are different in so many ways. She disapproves of many things I do (without saying so outrightly but I know so because she shouts at her kid to not do it, like cycling in the rain or flouncing themselves onto display beds in Ikea), and I raise an eyebrow at many things she does, like being what I deem as over-protective.

Another lady I met today from Ipoh who came to study in Singapore said the one thing she found odd when she came here in the early 80s, was that people here don’t invite friends back to their homes. At least, to a much lesser extent to what she was used to in Ipoh.

I thought about it. It’s true. Very few people come to our place. Up till now the kids have never invited a single friend back home. The one time Day’s friend came, it was because he insisted on coming over to visit, such a sweet boy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

the ring

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KK, for his 45th birthday, indulges himself. He buys a Bulgari ring.

It’s a centimetre-wide clunker of a ring, huge and heavy and totally at odds with KK’s role as the official family dishwasher, which he still is because I insist. (won’t detergent and suds get trapped under?)

It comes in a heavy box with sheen and a certificate. That ring cost more than my entire trip to Nepal.

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I’m overall really terrible at buying presents for anyone (except kids perhaps) because I really hate shopping and I can’t quite relate to people who enjoy pretty packaging, things which cost a bomb because someone else was paid to brand it, and buying things which don’t actually serve any function in life. So I always end up buying not-very-nice presents.

I’m particularly terrible at buying things for my own husband because I can’t bring myself to spend on the things I know he’d like.

Now that ring has become part of our lives. It is a very striking ring and no one can miss it. Neither of us wear our wedding rings but he's taken to wearing this one. It's like a symbol of his, er, consultancy.

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* Spot it

The moment I saw it, I sighed but left it at that.

Then within two days, KK turned to me as I was ready to nod off in bed at about 12 midnight: Did you see my ring?

What, what, what???

He took it off to cut a mango, and when he wanted to put it back on his finger a few hours later, it wasn’t where he thought it’d be.

I swear. My heart rate went up and I started hyper-ventilating. I flipped out of bed and started searching with him. First slowly and patiently, then increasingly desperately. We turned out the dustbins, searched through food peels and slimy mango skins, looked in all the nooks and crannies, found a lot of things but none of them were The Ring. We searched till past 2am then gave up.

I cursed the day he bought it. I thought – Why would anyone spend so much money on such a small useless thing so easily lost?

The happy ending is that Lu spotted it the very next morning at 630am as she was combing her hair in our dark bedroom getting ready for school. I asked if she saw it, she made what she meant to be a cursory search of our table, and there it was right in front of her at her eye level in the shade of a file. KK swears he searched that exact spot.

I said: The Ring is hiding from you. It was searching for Lu. I HATE that ring. I HATE it. It’s such a stressful thing in our lives.

He didn’t think it was very funny.

I didn’t think it was very funny either when he misplaced The Ring AGAIN a few days later.

He called from his golfing session – Did you see the ring somewhere lying at home on my table? I took it off to cut mango last night.

I swear. My sweet kid-free Sunday was instantly decimated. I tread tentatively to his table. It wasn’t there.

Worse. I had just spent the morning cleaning house. Vacuuming and whatnot. I didn’t see The Ring. A thousand questions haunted me as I searched in the most ridiculous places including boxes which hadn’t been opened in years: Did I accidentally vacuum it up and throw it away with the rest of the refuse? Had I accidentally swept it away as I was cleaning the table? Had I subconsciously hidden it somewhere? Was The Ring haunted?

He returned home with the kids. I screamed, I shouted, I yelled, which is totally out of character: How could you misplace it again? I’m so stressed!

I shut my mouth up when he miraculously found it in his jeans pocket, where he had put it the night before.

Me and this ring, we ain’t friends.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

me mum

One of very, very, very few photos of me and my babies.

Happy Mother’s Day to me.

Mothers Day

* Jo’s phone and its beautifying effects in action. I really don't look like myself. Which is good.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

no more silverware

The last gym competition will be their last, I think.

They (and I) are simply not taking it seriously enough to warrant entering a competition.

At the start, in the beginning when everyone starts on a similar base, it’s easier to bring home some silverware, for Day and for Jo.

Now, at a higher level, the work ethic shows.  Those who work harder do better. How can they, on just two hours of practice a week, do well? They go home empty-handed.

Fortunately or unfortunately, neither of them are compelled to look at others, look at themselves, and say – I will work harder. Not in gym anyway.

Instead, they say – Aiya I don’t want to take part in competitions anymore. Can't we just have fun?

I also find it terribly difficult to try and inspire anyone, starting with my kids, to work harder or look beyond failure or how failure is the mother of success and all of those clich├ęs which can actually be really powerful coming from the mouth of the right person (not me).

I just ruffle their hair, grin, and take videos of every one of their events, for posterity, lest it is the last time they wear their sparklies and do those routines. I'm grateful they had the chance to. Gymnastics and taking part in competitions is a luxury.

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* Buay-song Day with Gyan and Giorgio

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I hope that one day they will find that something in which they want to be better than everyone else, and will work for it. 

Thursday, May 05, 2016

minjoot

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This is a minjoot.

It’s the name I plucked from thin air for the oven-baked eggplant (or brinjal or aubergine), so the girls would try it.

At first I refused to name it. They asked me repeatedly, what it was. I sagely shook my head. Then they said, “If Mama doesn’t want to name it, it means she knows we won’t eat it once we know what it is.”

Sometimes, it’s even harder trying to introduce new foods to young girls than it is to babies.

So I said it’s a minjoot. A WHAT, they chorused. Is it a Korean vegetable?

Visually, they didn’t recognise it as the slimy purple vegetable they sometimes see on the dinner table at their grandparent’s place, and which they deemed disgusting after a glance and a taste. The baked eggplant also seemed to smell very nice, like roasted sweet potatoes.

I really wanted them to like eggplant. So if I cooked it at home I won’t be the only person eating it.

Did they put the minjoot in their mouths?

Sort of. Lu took a bite and said it’s disgusting. She’s consistent.

Jo took one slice, ate up all the gooey insides leaving the skin behind because she said it was tough, and said it tasted like and had the consistency of “a cross between a banana and a marshmallow”.

Which sounds like it’s a good thing. Only she looked very doubtful and didn’t want a second slice.

I ate up the other 15 or so slices, which comprises one entire eggplant, for my lunch while they sucked up all of my baked mushrooms and potatoes.

A while later, I said – Girls I want to tell you something. The minjoot isn't really a minjoot. It's a brinjal.

Lulu mock-wailed, “Mama, you’ve changed! You’re not the same anymore!” while Jo got really mad.

I just wish they (and Day and KK) would someday fall in love with eggplants and bittergourds.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

exam lull

Examination season is actually quite a nice time to relax.

Apart from Day-Before panic, the weeks leading up to the four big ones (Science, English, Maths and Chinese) are halcyon days, because all supplementary and enrichment classes and CCAs stop.

That effectively means that instead of having to stay back in school multiple days a week, they get to reach home after school at an honest 2pm for leisurely home-cooked lunches, and on most days, unless its classes I send them for, they have nothing else on.

Coming after a madcap routine where at least 1 kid would stay back after school every day of the week, and juggling chauffeuring duties every afternoon, it’s such a break. Their cheeks are pinking up nicely because they get more rest, and I’m enjoying cooking dinners because I don’t have to try and slice and dice and fry in between ferrying kids.

By rights, shouldn’t school be like that? When they say school dismisses at 1.30pm, shouldn’t it? Without supplementary lessons and without enrichment classes which are supposedly optional, but which you know you should sign up for because it came through the school?

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* Time for play

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* Time for evening spins around the carpark

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* Time for helping Mama to cook

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* Time to zuobo

Sunday, May 01, 2016

choon’s ST byline

Kaofu Choon gets his first byline in the national broadsheet!

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It appears on what is probably the most-read page in the paper, the Forum page! And its right on top! (placement matters!)

It’s about his life work in combating diabetes, which is very much the talking point in Singapore right now; what with the Health Minister declaring war on the disease and the Health Promotion Board saying that white rice is more potent than sweet soda drinks in causing diabetes.

Here’s what he wrote:

I disagree with the arguments put forth by Mr Chan Yeow Chuan ("Sugar tax may not be best weapon in war on diabetes"; last Friday). Singapore should consider a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
The war on diabetes has already started and we would be fighting a losing battle if we adopt a wait-and-see approach.
As a diabetes dietitian, I see the disease manifesting in many forms, from heart attacks to amputation and kidney failure. I am constantly encouraging people with diabetes to adopt a healthy diet and maintain a suitable weight.
For those who are overweight, all too often, when they manage to lose weight, it is due to a bout of illness, coupled with poor appetite.
Hence, I have found that even after educating patients, they do not make informed decisions. It is perhaps only with taxation that we can hope to alter behaviour.
All consumption taxes, including those on tobacco and alcohol, are regressive, representing a higher proportion of a low-income family's expendable income than that of the rich.
A tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is no different. But it is the poor who are much more likely to have unhealthy diets and experience ill health than the affluent. This leads to higher costs in the form of medication, more sick days off work and, ultimately, lower productivity.
Improving public awareness works only for the upper class, who are better able to make informed decisions. The economically underprivileged families tend to make decisions based on price.
I think most would agree with me that there is no place nutritionally for sugar-sweetened beverages.
But when we walk into the supermarket and notice a 1.5-litre bottle of soft drink selling for between $1 and $2 - in some cases, cheaper than water - we have to ask ourselves, what are we promoting?
The science about the link between sugar and diabetes may not be all that clear. But the decision to impose a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages should not be a scientific one but, rather, one of moral obligation.
Gerard Wong Choon Hoe
To me, when I sent him the link to the white rice article for advice, he said: Look at the Nepalese porters. (they ate mountains of rice) Rice is not an issue if you’re working it off. You get KK and the kids to give up all sugar-sweetened drinks and lollies and cereal. Those might be worse than your rice.

Uphill battle, man, uphill battle. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only person who drinks water in the house.

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* Here's Choon looking very healthy and strong (while doing yoga) and the reason why he's so is because he's in Darwin where he can get off work at 430 to work out every day