Tuesday, August 30, 2016

first opera

The girls attend their first opera.


* These days their only good shoes are the sports shoes...

I was playing in the pit and as I kept talking about it – telling them the story about the murderous princess who chops off her suitor’s heads, and watching the performance on Youtube of the opera in Beijing’s Forbidden Palace -  they got really curious.

* The huge orchestra in the pit, which was deeper than usual so we would sound "further away" and not overpower the singers

Actually it was just Jo. She wanted to know how the cruel Princess issued the three riddles to her suitors, what those three riddles were and how the victorious Prince guessed the answers.

(Day wasn’t interested)

I really had my doubts about buying them the tickets which cost $46.50 apiece, after the student discount. Opera is not for everyone.

It’s long. This one ran from 8pm to 1045, in three acts with two intervals.


This particular one is set in China and apart from Nessun Dorma which every other talent show contestant attempts and which every plebian would know, the music is a lot less ear-friendly than Puccini’s usual fare (Madame Butterfly etc etc). Perhaps the composer was trying to reflect Oriental tones. It features a lot of that old Chinese folk song, Mo Li Hwa (Jasmine Flower). Apparently Puccini appropriated the theme for the opera.

* The load of "ancient-Chinese" kids backstage

* Gorgeous Chinese costumes

There is also a lot of agonizing going on stage which consists of inordinately long, slow songs.

Did they girls like it?

* Jo took this photo of the last-night audience from the cosy balcony box where they were ensconced, together with Gong Gong

When I finished, Jo greeted me with a litany of complaints.

“Mama, you said the Subtitle TV was next to us but we are one level higher than the TV! And I couldn’t see the other TV on the other side of the stage! Lulu had to whisper every single subtitle to me and she missed some!” (I know how Jo hates missing anything)

Lulu: “Mama I had to read the subtitles for the whole opera without anyone else hearing except Jody. I’m very tired.”

Apart from that, they reveled in trying to spot Mama in the pit. While I can see them perfectly clearly, they apparently found it hard to find me.

No, they didn’t fall in love with opera. 

But at least they saw one in their life! And they will always know the story behind Nessun Dorma!

Sunday, August 28, 2016


After 10 years in Darwin, Kaofu Choon has decided to come back to Singapore. For good.

Got a job here, quit his old one (he was just shy of the 10-year mark which would have earned him six months of paid leave, SIX months!), gave or sold off all his things, said his farewells and left his life there.

Yesterday morning he arrived back in Singapore with three bicycles in bags and a couple of smaller bags. Ten boxes are following on a ship.

* Unloading the bikes from Auntie Margaret's van

* The first lot of luggage

The decision was made, fast. Following his last visit to Singapore four months ago in April, he applied for a job in Singapore, did an interview via Skype, was offered the job, accepted it in a day, tendered his resignation and packed up.

It’s like all the steps were already lined up, mentally and emotionally rehearsed, just waiting for all the right pieces to fall in place.

As I’m someone who never got to really live overseas and am still itching for a stint (will probably never happen though), it puzzles me why people who enjoy what seems to be far better lifestyles overseas want to come back.

Choon isn’t the only one. I know a few others, people who despised Singapore and left for greener pastures, who come back sometime around the age of 40 for what appears to be a worse life.

Choon is taking a big pay cut and he’s calculated that he needs to work an extra 200-plus hours a year. He also came back from Australia where the air is forever clear and crisp, a day after the haze rolled in.

Here’s why I think he returned.

FOOD. Well as someone who doesn’t really care about what goes into my mouth, I think food is the silliest reason to come back for. Seems a lot of overseas Singaporeans think otherwise, but I still think people can come back occasionally to pig out on their local favourites. That’s not the main reason for Choon, though, I think.

* First meal back: Fu Lin Yong Tau Foo


FAMILY. So Pa had that lung episode in March. The only thing Choon could do then, was to send a hamper of nutritious goodies to Pa. It probably served as a reminder that our parents will only get older, and it might not feel very nice to be overseas when our folks need us around.

Lastly and most importantly, there is one person whom I think embodied an alternative future, singlehandedly set all of the wheels in motion and made coming back for Choon the only viable option.

* Guess who?

It looks like Mum’s birthday wish for Choon might very well come true.

Friday, August 26, 2016

ice-cream celeb

Prelims are over for Day. Four consecutive days of exam, Monday to Thursday, to simulate the big one which starts 29 September.

Watching his prelim prep, we concluded that he really is one cool cucumber; coolly completely utterly unconcerned!

* Cool post-prelim treat

Thursday, August 25, 2016


The latest trend to hit the girls in this household: Tutting.

It’s a weird hand dance. That's right, a HAND dance.

The girls learn them from Youtube. To be more accurate, Jo learns them from Youtube and she teaches Lu.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


* Me and Alyssa

When I ask my latest stand partner – How old are you? – and she tells me she’s 13.

I could have given birth to this girl.

What an utterly dreadful feeling.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

karaoke competition

The kids’ Por Por takes part in a karaoke competition.


She has been taking karaoke lessons at the nearby Community Club for a while now (to be more precise, it should be singing lessons), with a group of fellow oldies who all revel in old Chinese and dialect songs.

I actually made Por Por sing for me once, because I love the old theme songs from the Hong Kong drama serials, like 万水千山忠是情. The kids aren’t really interested.

So her teacher decided recently that she was good enough to go for competition. And this really was a grassroots competition.

* Por Por's teacher. Who is also one of the competition judges. Hmmm.

Of late, according to Teng, she’s been playing the tune on her mobile phone and practicing by singing to it.

Today, we all popped into a Community Club at Toa Payoh to cheer her on. In that tiny little dark room (the photos look otherwise but it’s really dark) with blue sofas, a whole bunch of silver haired (some with black dye) folk dressed up to the nines to sing their hearts out. I saw sequins, getai makeup and poufy hair. I told mum she should have worn her gold cheongsam which would have truly dazzled the crowd, but she said she doesn’t want to be like a peacock.

* The competition venue. Por Por in red.

* A shiny suit (is that a toupee?) and a tutu skirt

Along with them came supporters, like one of Por Por’s friends from her singing “club”. (and us three)

* Por Por's supporter


* What two of the supporters were doing most of the time, when other people were singing

There were 51 contenders singing from 1 to 6pm. The top prize was $110.

I don’t know what my mother sang, but it was in Cantonese and it sounds like a terribly hard song to sing, to me.

But for the $5 entrance fee, I made sure I took a nice video of her effort.

Yeah she makes a mistake at 1:50 (“my goodness I have never made a mistake when I practice and the first one I make is during the competition!”) but she stoically shakes it off and concludes that she should leave early because she isn’t going to win any prizes.

Still. She’s a champion in our hearts! And that video is going to make me smile for the rest of my life!

Friday, August 19, 2016

oral’s over

* Day with freshly-mown hair, which he cut on the advice of his teachers who said he needed to make a good first impression

That’s two stones thrown off, English Oral and Chinese Oral.

What essentially happened over the last two days is that the Primary 6 kids report to school at two different times, sit around in a waiting room, are called into a classroom where they face two teachers from another school and then have to be eloquent. Or pretend to be.

In general for both languages, they read a passage, have to be able to describe something like a picture or a poster, answer questions as well as engage in conversation.

The morning of Day’s first oral session, for Chinese, a huge moth flew into the house and landed on the clock. I called it his Good Luck Moth.


For posterity, for Chinese, Day was shown a picture of a school garden which he had to describe. Then he was asked if he had done community work and how it had impacted him. (funnily enough when I asked Day and all of his friends who emerged how the oral went, none of them could repeat this question they were asked in Mandarin. They all told it to me in English. And when I insisted on the Mandarin question they struggled) 

For English, the kids had to read a passage about an obese kid, and then carry on a dialogue about healthy living and eating. Day got somewhat stuck! His dietitian uncle would be so disappointed!

I have told Day to pack up and pass on his stack of Chinese Oral notes to Jo. He'd be literally giving away his burden.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

inspired… the other way

I did pop by with Jo. The Marine Terrace meet-and-greet.

(On a side note, PSLE Oral went off without a hitch, the screaming couldn't be heard at the school)

It was a madhouse. Unlike the later session at Raffles City, this was an uncontrolled mob.

* The only photo I took because I took one look and retreated to the far off side where people mainly stood still

A seething mass of heartlanders, many dressed in red, I saw familiar faces everywhere because many of the kids, and their parents, from Day's school were there carrying home-made posters and whatnot. The early-finishers from the PSLE oral exams were also scurrying around trying to get in a good view of the hero (they did; at least, Day’s friend did, as I think the kids are somewhat smaller and can squeeze through adult armpits).

He did a circuit, stopping at the carrot cake stall (I hear from a photographer friend that the guy has become thoroughly sick of carrot cake by now), going round to the kaya toast coffeeshop, and coming back on stage. (I also feel for the poor carrot cake ladies, who have been looking a bit tired after conducting interviews and posing for photos and videos for at least two days)

We barely even got a glimpse of him because the media scrum surrounded him on all sides, even while he was on stage, holding their cameras and video-cams so high up all of his 1.84m was completely blocked. I heaved and managed to hoist Jo up as I carried her around her knees, but as other kids were also carried the same way, it didn’t work.

* The craziness

As he left, right in front of our eyes, a fight broke out. A guy who appeared to be holding a personal drawing pushed forward, perhaps desperate to give it to Schooling before he left. The security guards walled around the charge, shouting at the guy to stop pushing. The guy shoved two fingers, hard, against a guard’s head. Everyone started pushing, shouting and people nearly fell over. Schooling himself, who at the moment was giving a thumbs up to someone else behind me, looked completely bewildered. I cowered with Jo in one corner and I noticed that the guy seemed to be a special needs individual. He looked completely bereft when the posse left.

What do my kids make of all this spectacle?

I think they have become determined that they never want to win an Olympics medal.

The moment right after Schooling won, I went through the spiel about hard work and making your dreams come true, and asked the kids, Wow, what do you all think of this?

They were very proud of the moment. But Jo responded right off the bat: I never want to do this. So pressurizing. The whole country is looking at you, and you have to train so hard. I don’t want to wake up at 4am to train before going to school. Anyway I don’t know what I want to do.

When Schooling returned, as every other piece of news unearthed more and more of his personal life, and parents on the school Whatsapp chat groups started to gush over Schooling sightings, Day actually got really mad. “What the hell, mama. People should give this guy a break. I think he just wants to rest.”

In the aftermath of Marine Terrace - which was frankly a bit scary - Jo has decided she wants to live her life as another free-and-easy face in the crowd. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

psle starts

I’ve always thought of what I write here as pulling memories out of my head, strand by strand, like the Pensieve in Harry Potter.

So much to catch up on, I figured I’ll start from here and fill in the blanks (the back parts) bit by bit!

Right now, the Big Thing is: Day’s oral exams on Thursday and Friday.

This is the actual thing. Chinese on Thursday and English on Friday. It's started!

IMG_8844 (2)

The girls are joyous. They don’t have to go to school, probably because the noise would filter into hallowed PSLE oral halls.

I’m not sure it’d be all that quiet though, because our Olympic swimming champ is making a pit stop at the hawker centre opposite the kids’ school just about the time Day is doing his Oral; it's part of the victory bus tour, and the whole estate might be there screaming his name. I think I’ll be there too, waiting with the girls after I drop Day off, after which I might get a plate of carrot cake from the stall which the champ likes and which I like too. (on that note, two photographers and a reporter were busy at the stall this morning, asking questions about how many packets the champ bought this morning. Five, if I overheard correctly, but I could be wrong)

* There! Bee Bee Carrot Cake, next to Marine Parade coffee and drinks. Photo from here.

Something interesting I discovered while trying to dry-run some of Day's Orals with him: He lies.

Particularly in Chinese Oral where he literally memorizes chunks of text (provided by the tuition teacher) to spew out during the dialogue part because otherwise he would not have the vocabulary to talk about saving the environment or family bonding or racial harmony.

That’s fine. But I also found that he lies during English Oral too. He regurgitates a family event which never happened before.

“I have to lie, Mummy, to score.”

I was thoroughly disappointed. Not with him but the system.