Wednesday, June 29, 2016

feet

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* My foot on the right with bruised big toe still in recovery mode 

The top of Day’s head skims the top of my ears but his feet are now the same size as mine.

The 12-year-old can wear my shoes and I’m a Size 7.

He’s got big feet with leathery, wrinkly, weathered soles and unkempt toenails.

I still remember, so clearly, when I so admired his sweet feet.

Monday, June 27, 2016

time with papa

It’s a rare Saturday when KK spends it with us.

He’s gone six days a week. Sunday he’s gone half the day, for golf.

He says, what can I do? If I don’t go to Mandai to clock time (something like 75 hours a month), I won’t get the full monthly payment.

I said, forget the full monthly payment. We’d rather have you with us.

So here he is! (one Saturday)

* Cooking aglio olio spaghetti with Day
* Bubble tea by the pool

Saturday, June 25, 2016

tech change

I have never felt such a dinosaur as I do now, and the pain of change has never been as acute.

My trusty desktop breaks down. It was the computer my brother built for me when I first moved into this house, and it’s held out from the time Lu was 1 until now, when she’s 8. In an age where everything fails spectacularly quickly, it’s had an incredible seven-year run.

But it started crashing. Weird symbols started appearing in the middle of the screen.

I called on my trusty IT guy, Teng, and his diagnosis was that it’s time for a change.

We hop on down to Sim Lim where he heads into the shop for IT nerds, ticks off all the computer innards he needs on a piece of paper so tightly crammed with lists the tiny font looks like it was from the Yellow Pages of old, the men take two hours to assemble the machine he’s customized for me and we’re out of there with the CPU after I make the $700 payment (I re-use my old monitor and keyboard)

* A crappy camera-to-Blogger upload. Sucks.

Teng loads up all the software I need. Thankfully, all of my files and photos are saved, because he had designed that I store them in a separate drive from the start.

Things are different. The Windows is updated. The interface feels weird. Not in a good way. It all seems a lot more complex. But I’m OK.

Owing to the way in which the computer was configured, I also have to transfer all my data files (saved from my old computer) somewhere else, combine two drives into one, and then re-save them all back into the computer. Whatever.

Then it’s time to organize the photos. Ah.

Pardon the gobbledy gook, but I used to download, organize and edit in Picasa, downsize the photos in Irfan View and upload to Flickr for the blog.

Picasa apparently no longer exists. It’s gone to Google Photos.

Problem is, my Internet connection is actually very slow. Ever since we had to convert to fibre, I have been connected wirelessly using a not-very-good thingy (I don't know what its called); it’s actually quite a bit slower than when I had a directed wired connection from my CPU to the telephone line. The Old Way. So uploading to Google Photos takes forever.

In a nutshell, when it comes to tech, it’s DAMN HARD for me to change. And things are changing so fast, as what I get used to is phased out faster and faster.

Again, as I struggle to think of an offline solution for photo management (not to mention the 5,000 photos from the old computer which I’ve now got to organize) I want to cry. Honestly. I’ve got a lump in my throat.

I don’t mind doing it in a new way. But because Teng doesn’t know much about photo editing or management, I have to find the new way. A new, sustainable way (that won’t change) that I can use to download, organize, edit and upload photos just as quickly and conveniently as I used to.

And that SUCKS. The new way is lost to me. Fibre sucks, Google Photos suck, Irfan View sucks as an editing tool, everything sucks. Now I know I have to embrace change.... learn and re-learn and all that. It's just going to take some time to slowly find The Way and get used to it, even while I struggle with multiple commitments.

(I am also beginning to understand why some people, older than me, lament about the pace of change around them. I'm starting to feel it. In tech at least.)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

dependent

Our children are our dependents, but I recently found out just how dependent some kids are. It came as a bit of a shock, although I kept my face straight.

The nine-year-old’s mother has been hospitalized and for the first time I had a peek into the reality of their home when I visited.

The father who works the night shift has to return home much earlier than usual so he can help the child – whom I’ll call X - get ready for school. This means bathing X and putting on the school uniform. X cannot shower or wear a shirt independently. Father then carries X’s bag to wait outside for transport to school.

Why can’t X shower independently, I ask the mother. Oh, X tried before but it wasn’t clean. The butt crack got itchy and I had to put cream on it. X thinks it’s dirty, does not like to put the hand near or into the butt crack.

Er, does X independently go to toilet to shit, then?

No. Mum has to wipe the backside.

What about in school? She replied, X never shits in school. In fact, sometimes, X will wait for Mum to come home before shitting so she can do the wiping.

X also did not brush teeth while she was in hospital, she lamented. A gargle will suffice.

I ask, why not?

Because X is unable to clean the toothbrush effectively after brushing. Toothpaste and particles are trapped in it. Rather than put the dirty toothbrush in the mouth, X would rather not brush, until Mum cleans it.

Long-suffering Mum agreed with me, that X is too dependent because she has done everything. She so protective, X has probably never been touched by a raindrop. (God forbid X gets wet, other than in the shower) And that her sickness is a good opportunity for X to toughen up.

I don’t like to judge. But … wow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

phone hunt

Every night when they fall off to sleep, I play Phone Fairy. I make off with Day and Jo’s phone, because I so hate to see them busy on their phones when I wake up the next morning.

One night, I find this at Day’s usual phone charging station. The phone is missing.

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* How illegible his writing has become. My presbyotic eyes can hardly make it out.

He’s laid out a Treasure Hunt for me!

It’s great fun and there’s a great big smile on my face as I go around the house trying to seek out the phone.

For posterity, his clues:

CLUE 2: Great job! But more is yet to come… It is somewhere in Mama and Papa’s room, but where could it be? Somewhere secretive, where the eye cannot see, let me give you a clue, how about “The Monster Under the _________”? (Answer: Bed)

CLUE 3: Nice work! You’re almost getting there! How ‘bout a riddle? 15 14   13 25   2 15 15 19 8 5 12 6 (Answer: The code reads, On my booshelf – he forgot the ‘k’)

CLUE 4: Last riddle! I have keys but no locks, feet but no socks. What am I? (Answer: Piano)

I open the piano and there’s the phone. His note says: Congratulations!! (but I still want my phone…)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

giving in to sweetness

A fascinating card from Lu.

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* "I'm sorry life is hard for you mummy, I'll try my best to be good."

Why did you write this, Lulu, I ask.

She says, I see you doing the laundry, cooking, washing the dishes, so many things.

But do I look sad, Lulu?

No. But I can see that life is hard for you.

She is so sweet, she still makes cards and little things for me every other day, and her luuuurve is another reason why it’s so darned difficult to say NO to the little one.

It suddenly hit me one day in a moment of self-reflection on motherhood that the third child has an endless litany of wants – which I meet.

Simple wants, yes, but wants nevertheless which cost money and time (mine as I have to make trips to purchase them), sugar-coated in her usual soft harmless demeanour.

These would be things like a “reading” pen for a Chinese magazine, neck pillow, puffy colourful foam paper, cotton balls from the pharmacy for her art, apple pie from MacDonalds at night, a trip to the beach, a packet of Maltesers, strawberries, Gardenia butter rolls, green tea ice cream…. Right now she wants a blue polo shirt-dress exactly like her old one (she saw it on the blog and wants to wear one just like it again).

She is the one who comes up to me nearly every day, eyes wide open, to say “Mummy can you buy me XXX, please?” She is the one with instructions every time I am about to pop off to the supermarket, to buy this or that.

When I don’t, she accuses me of not keeping my promises and I instantly feel guilty.

Day and Jo never want anything, which is super.

(Well, Day does want an X-box and a holiday abroad, but Lu’s wants are simple, wholesome and affordable, and she really chips away at me in her sunshiny way until I happily give in)

She is also wonderful at expressing gratitude. Her face lights up and she is happy for a long time with the purchases which she really makes use of, instead of chucking in one corner.

I have called her out (I think Day and Jo are very pleased that I recognise my “weakness”) and told her to dial back on her requests, because Mama will not be emotionally black-mailed into giving her special treatment over her siblings.

(Even though, well, she’s the only one who thinks that my life is hard… which is kind of touching)

Friday, June 17, 2016

a sleepover

Finally! We’ve had someone sleep over at our home!

Who’s the guest?

It’s dear little Liyen. At the grand old age of 34 months, she declared to her mummy that she wanted to have a Sleepover Party at her cousin’s place, just like the rabbit in her story book.

(Mind you, she’s not even three years old. At that age, all of my trio were still hanging off my shorts and they’re rather die than sleep in someone else’s house. Oh, actually the girls are still like that.)

Chye Ling’s intention was to drop Liyen off and go home.

KK was horrified: What if something happens? We don’t want to be responsible! She’s still wearing diapers and drinks from a milk bottle! We no longer know how to look after a tot! Why don’t our girls go over and stay with you?

Guerilla mum Chye Ling was non-plussed. Can one lah, she insisted.

She did exactly as planned. At 6pm on a Saturday, she dropped Liyen off at our place with a bagpack stuffed with diapers, spare clothes and some milk (just in case Liyen asks for it), and drove off with no further instructions.

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* Liyen's backpack

What was it like taking care of our very first sleepover tot?

Well, Liyen was remarkable. Hardy and adaptable, she didn’t cry, didn’t kick up a fuss and went along with whatever Jo and Lu did. (Liyen is terrified of Day because he has scared her as a monster on several occasions)

Watched Inside out with the rest of us on TV, even though she couldn’t sit still and kept bouncing around on Rody which earned her a bump (very stressful) when she fell over on her head, ate one potato wedge and lots of sweeties from Cold Storage for dinner, and managed to fall asleep in a strange environment at 10-ish.

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* Liyen loves Rody. We put a helmet on her after she bumped her head galloping

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* She eats a handful of potato wedges for dinner

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* What's a party without gummies and beer?

She didn’t sleep well. Her eyes were open in the dark when I checked in. But she continued lying down and presumably drifted off later. What an amazing child.

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* Liyen's mattress, pillow, bolster and bear which she brought from home, tucked next to the girl's mattress on the floor

KK and I didn’t have to lift a finger, either. Jo and Lu did all the work. They kept Liyen occupied, showered with her, told her stories at bedtime and pretended to sleep next to her until her eyes closed. 

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* Lulu attempting to read DRAMATICALLY to try and engage a three-year-old, to no avail. Liyen is wearing a pink costume hat of Lulu's from three years back which no longer fits Lu's head

Jo, all grown up by now, did all the things I had to do with her when she was a baby and she didn’t like it at all.

She rolled her eyes and hissed – “It’s FAKE!” – when Liyen insisted that Jo “eat” her food. (I told her, Jo, I had to pretend-eat your fake food and sit in your restaurant for hours and hours and hours when you were small OK, so suck it up)

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* Jo in the foreground pretend-licking her ice-cream

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* The ever-popular cooking set

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And when I told Jo she had to lie down with Liyen and pretend to sleep for as long as it took, there was a lot of disgruntled muttering.

But it was really sweet when she fell asleep. Tiny tots with their small heads, soft hair and warm smells are so nice to have in a bed.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

day refreshed

Not going to school has had a visible effect on Day. Now I know it isn’t puberty. It IS school (plus stress and lack of sleep).

It’s remarkable how fresh he looks every day of the June holidays, all saturated with colour (he looked gray during school days), with bright sparkling eyes.

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* He's in such a good mood he gets up to make pancakes for us

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The moodiness evaporated. There's no talk of hating anything and he doesn’t mind even if I take away his mobile phone. He just haruumphs with a grin and goes off to disturb his sisters. They have a rollicking good time getting up to all sorts of mischief.

He doesn’t mind either when I make him sit down to do some work (I do!). It’s all very pleasant.

However, the revitalizing effect of the June holidays also tells me that at this stage, he is still unable to handle pressure. He crumbles when the fire is hot.

As we move into the roller coaster that will be Term 3 (last mile of the PSLE journey), I pray he cooks nicely ie toughens up, and be less of a strawberry.

Monday, June 13, 2016

ipoh: haven

The second half of our holiday was less about family, and more about enjoying its scenic beauty.

We book ourselves into a resort called The Haven.

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* The clubhouse next to the serviced apartments

It’s a completely different world from the Ipoh we have known always, away from hustle and bustle and stifling hot coffeeshops and traffic jams.

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* Lots of private residences being built around the hills

A good 20-minute drive away from town, it’s an area with towering limestone hills, rainforests and hot springs and is dominated by the Lost World of Tambun which we visited last time, the Banjaran Hot Springs Resort (no kids under 12 allowed, it’s a Banyan Tree-ish type luxury high-end resort) and The Haven.

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It’s clear who this area is for when upon approach, we see a MacDonalds and a Starbucks.

It’s the unreal, touristy part of Ipoh, but one which we (especially KK) enjoy tremendously because it’s comfortable and calming with good Wifi. It's also very, very quiet with the occasional bird call and monkey shriek. It's like Xiao Guilin in Singapore.

The Haven itself comprises a lake with limestone hills towering over it on one side (plenty of monkey colonies), and three blocks - a mixture of serviced apartments for long-stayers and a hotel for tourists - flanking the other side.

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Online, it’s clear from reviews that there are times when it’s swarming with guests who then complain about bad service. But when we go its almost empty. I count 20 lit-up units on our first night.

Therefore, it’s perfect. We are kings of the castle, and we have the run of the place. At check-in, they know who we are before we even identify ourselves. The lift is almost always empty. We are the only occupants of the entire floor. We have the entire seahorse-shaped pool and Jacuzzis to ourselves when we swim. 

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Same case for the badminton court and gymnasium. 

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* Gong Gong playing against KK

Breakfast is a quiet leisurely affair, there are so few guests. Everywhere we go, the service staff greet us because there’s no one else around.

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* One of the waiters was so free (and nice) he approached us several times to take a family photo during breakfast, and waited until we were all at the table

The three bedrooms in our apartment are perfect, almost too-large, with views of the hills and the lake, and everything feels brand-new. Even the light switches are gleaming white. I think the resort is only three years old.

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* It's THAT kind of toilet

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* Gong Gong enjoying himself at the balcony, where he does his morning exercise facing the hills, and Por Por's feet

Away from the reality of life in Ipoh which we got from staying with Thim, The Haven offered a completely different Ipoh experience, which we also enjoyed a lot.

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.

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

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* 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.

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* One squeaky clean room for us all

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* 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.

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

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* 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.

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* 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.

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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.

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* 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. 

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* Teng with "driving instructor" Thim

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

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* 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.

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* 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?

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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?

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* 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.

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* A singular Soon Hock fish weighing nearly 3kg

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* 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.

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

Incredibly sweet tiny pineapples.

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* 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. 

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

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

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* Talking prices with the durian man

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* 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.