Saturday, July 08, 2017

snapshot

I know, I know, we’re so fortunate in so many ways, everyone’s healthy, family’s intact, we can put food on the table, the showers of blessings are raining down from the heavens.

If I may just gripe a little, though. The parenting gig has gotten really tough. Most days I am utterly devoid of joy as it is marked by quarrels, showdowns, mediation attempts which leave me with the bitter taste of failure and a throbbing headache. Nothing is resolved before something else blows up.

It's not anything I can write about specifically (although sometimes I desperately yearn to because writing helps me to think) out of respect to the kids.

There must be people who find the older years more rewarding, the art of firm but gentle loving as the children move into the double-digit years, the skill of discipline, negotiation, setting boundaries, building up respect and trust, of guiding the formation of life character.

Would I be amongst the majority or minority if I confess that I find diaper-changing and feeding and playing goo-goo ga-ga all day long far more gratifying? I miss the open-ess and innocence and simple-mindedness.

I can deal with simple minds. I think now, that I love dealing with simple minds. I find it Herculean to have to deal with the increasingly complex emotions, needs, politics and relational dynamics of three very different growing adults. Whenever possible I avoid confrontation, which is another way of saying I'd bury my head in the sand and ignore the problem.

Being a mother who is merely loving apparently wasn’t, isn’t and will not be enough.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

anniversary

We are all gearing up for Choon’s wedding lunch. No one’s in the mood to celebrate anything, too much eating.

But it’s the 14th anniversary of our wedding dinner! (must be precise)

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A friend pointed out, and I agreed, that while KK used to actually go cycling with me he’s gone off outdoor sport entirely so we should turn in the other direction (gain weight not lose weight) and fully embrace it. By eating.

We don’t go over the top, not like last year. (I think once at Restaurant Andre is quite enough)

Instead, we visit a restaurant near us where we ventured nearly two years ago, to put strange high-end things in our mouth.

What do we taste for the first time?

Beef tartare. And slivers of actual truffle, summer black truffle. We’ve never had either.

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The raw beef sits like a short cylinder in a pool of what appears to be some sort of mushroom-y soup, with the truffle scattered on top.

This is delicious. I wasn’t sure about the beef, but in my mouth it's just like very chewy sushi.

The girls – who are with us, yes I know, why are they with us? We just didn’t’ know what to do with them – stuff a slice of truffle in their mouths. “It tastes like the French fries at Por Por’s place, but the flavor is not so strong” Jo declared, on the fries which Jai usually drenches in truffle oil. I tell her she’s having the real thing, not oil made in a lab, so it tastes delicate and subtle.

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* Lulu and Jo mostly sticking to ham and mushroom pizza, and lasagne

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The other thing we tried was uni (sea urchin) in a risotto with tiny cubes of squid.

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Good Lord, it tastes like diluted shit. KK had one, laughed, turned to me and said, “You can have the rest.”

I did, eat it all up. It didn’t make me retch and I think I could go on, but I don’t think I like uni very much.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

art developments

(only relates to Lu)

Art Friend

A favourite outing for Lu and I which has come into being, is going to Art Friend at Bras Basah.

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* May Bras Basah never be equipped with air-con and cookie-cutter shops

She generally hates going out. But for Art Friend, she will agree to move.

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* Pardon the face, which reads: Do I have to take photo?

The place is a fascinating repository of all sorts of professional art equipment which make her eyes gleam. I love it too. Looking at art stuff is infinitely more exciting than looking at the usual mall line-up.

What is this, Mama, she asks. Most times I can’t answer, or I guess. She always keeps things simple and walks away with, say, three pieces of chalk (in the most marvelous colours) or one bottle of acrylic paint. She is never extravagant.

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* Her pick, guarded by Bibi

After that we head to the National Library, another fav destination of us two, and end off at Hans to enjoy our books while feasting on chicken chop and coffee cake. Yes I know the food at Hans isn’t exactly gourmet, but that place is one of the few places where, for me, the price and ambience and association (open sunny airy space where I can savour my books) trumps food quality.

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(Anyway I do like their chicken chops and coffee cake and teh si. I always have all three at the same time)

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Art Mediums

From pencils and shading she has moved on to experiment with other mediums.

Chiefly, chalk art and some 3D stuff, thanks to the school Visual Arts Club. I hear they are doing pottery next.

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* Chalk drawing of all three Bibi's, on her room wall

Art Corner

After months and months of talking, I finally take action and grab a plastic table and chair from Ikea to create an art corner for her at the back balcony.

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It’s a bright and breezy, probably one of the best spots in the house were it not next to the dustbin, but Lu doesn’t mind.

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* Good for reading and chilling out too

As she does her art and crafts, she faces a line-up of tiny pots of green, mostly hers. 

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They thrive because she gives them lots of love, watering them every day carefully with a syringe, the sort used to feed babies medicine which I had kept from their childhood. Her cactuses actually flower.

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* She remembers where and how each cactus came into her care, and they're all special to her

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* Latest addition - kangkong from school

It’s a really happy space, full of life and goodness.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

华语不太好

(Chinese not very good)

A Whatsapp conversation in which the state of my Chinese is brought into stark relief. Context: I am messaging the Chinese tuition teacher.

Me:
老师我会迟到, 差不多 630
(Teacher, I’m going to be late, about 630)
对不起, 交通很坏, 要到了
(I’m sorry, traffic is bad, I’m reaching)

My kid (cannot say which one) scrutinizes my message, cringes, and proceeds to message the teacher):
对不起, 我妈妈的华语不太好。[交通很坏]?! ~XXX
(Sorry, my mother’s Chinese is not very good. Traffic is bad?! - XXX, XXX being the kid's name)
[交通很坏] 是错的对吗? ~ XXX
(Traffic is bad? Isn’t that wrong?)

Teacher:
是错的。应该说"交通阻塞"
(Yes it’s wrong. It should be ‘Traffic is congested’.)

My kid:
哦。~XXX
(Orrr)

In my defence, I want to say that I am already very proud of my willingness to Whatsapp in Mandarin. I cannot make it but still try, can?

Friday, June 30, 2017

crash

Straight home from KL, we opened the door with luggage in tow to find that the awning which sheltered the balcony of the neighbor's flat above had crashed into our balcony.

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Heavy rain and torrential winds had apparently ripped the aging awning off the structure it was clinging to, and blew the carnage not vertically down to the ground floor, but sideways into our balcony, shearing and destroying our bamboo blind and knocking off some bikes in the process.

What a strike!

We can only be very thankful that the awning didn’t fall all the way down and flatten some unsuspecting person who might have been walking down below. Or hurt us.

And I am very thankful KK took charge of the “claim”, firmly batting away the endless apologies and making sure that the owner of the flat above paid for the swift replacement of our blind. I wisely kept quiet, because if left to me I’d make friends with the owner, tell her “it’s OK, it’s OK”, accept her apologies and pay for my own replacement blind!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

kl: a community

For a short spell, we hung around a cluster of aged public flats, with dark stains mottling the walls and patches of rust where there was metal.

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* Choon, who also feels the pull of the flats

Never mind the cosmetics. It seemed a community I would be happy to live in. (It’s where Phoebe’s cousin grew up in)

Day and Jo don’t agree, of course. So old and dirty, they said. They didn’t even want to stay very long in the playground.

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* The slide, which comprises marble slabs

But I'm a bit of a romantic at heart. As the sun set and kids started streaming out from the flats which bordered a patch of green, and as parents came out to sit on the stone benches to chit-chat, it felt rustic and homely and golden.

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Some of the ground-floor occupants ran provision shops, all manner of drinks and ice-creams and sweets and chips and biscuits dangling enticingly in their balconies which attracted  children by the hordes. “Uncle, ice-cream,” a little boy with ringgit in his hand shouted, as the owner who was watching TV in his living room walked out to make the sale.

Outside, we heard loud pops as some kids started playing with what appeared to be firecrackers.

Monday, June 26, 2017

kl: siu yoke

Once we knew that we’d have to go to KL, Gong Gong went on and on about a Siu Yoke (roast pork belly) stall.

He ate there with a friend before. He felt it was very good and he wanted to have it again with us in tow.

So apart from the wedding stuff, that was the sole item on our KL agenda: Eat Siu Yoke.

On the morning when Choon and Phoebe were at the Chinese restaurant to put up their wedding decorations and fix last-minute issues, we hopped into two Grab taxis and went to the address scrawled on a piece of paper which Gong Gong had been keeping in his pocket.

Gong Gong had been hustling us to hurry up and get to the place to beat the queue. We got there just past 11am and found out that lunch was only served from 1230pm. Never mind. The few servers who were languidly sitting around the empty coffeeshop waiting for their boss to prepare the pork told us: OK, you’re Number 1!

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* Signboard

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* Price list. Not so cheap

The kids have never waited 90 minutes for a meal. We sat around, drank tea and coffee, chit-chatted, helped ourself to free-flow pork-bone soup, I walked around the neighbourhood and spotted some men skinning a bull’s head, everyone went to toilet.

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* The entire coffeeshop tanking up on drinks and soup while waiting

By 1230pm, the place was packed with people standing around waiting for tables and nothing had been served yet. We were bored out of our brains. Por Por said, “This Siu Yoke had better be good”. Gong Gong, not wishing to commit, replied, “You eat and then see lor.”

All the cooking - at least of the Siu Yoke star of the show - was done by one man and he was still roasting behind the shop in an alley. Each time he was done, one of his assistants would haul the slab of pork and bring it to the front of house.

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* The chef, labouring over two, er, oil drums in which the pork is roasted. He only makes enough for lunch and apparently closes at 3pm

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Happily, we were really #1. The first plates of roast pork, rice, char siew and roast chicken came our way, which we polished off in a hurry as a family stood over our table. (they later said that they came to queue every day)

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* Family waiting for our table, and the queue

The rice and chicken were forgettable but the Siu Yoke, what can I say? I daresay it’s probably the best I’ve ever had. My fussy father, mother and brother were all nodding their heads in satisfaction. Thick with distinct layers of a heck-of-a-lot-of fat, it melts in the mouth with a delicate spray of warm oil and a crackly crunch of crust. Frightfully sinful.

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* Siu Yoke

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* Char Siew 

KK and Day rather enjoyed the char siew too. The girls, however, had their usual issue with fat (they don't like it, they think its slimy) and so they separated and ate only the lean park of the Siu Yoke. Which completely defeated the purpose.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

kl: wedding

Following the March ROM, and the April photo shoot in Melbourne, the penultimate event in the very long runway of events leading up to Choon and Phoebe’s Big Wedding Lunch in Singapore was their wedding in Kuala Lumpur.

(This year is really the couple’s year)

Phoebe is a KL girl. While her father and three siblings reside there, she’s the only one who came out to Singapore during her university years. She goes back pretty often and she’s got heaps of family and friends there.

The Singapore contingent heads up North and comes back down in two cars. Three days, two nights. This was our time to get to know our new "relatives" in Malaysia a little better!

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* The patriarchs

We mostly hung out at the KL suburb where Phoebe’s family home is located, in Jinjang. It apparently used to have loads of gangsters in the 70s, but is now a residential neighbourhood with a high proportion of Chinese.

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* View of Jinjang from our hotel room window

These are the wedding bits which struck me:

The Dowry

Phoebe’s family is fairly traditional and there are many things – never done during my wedding because we are so bo chup - which I see for the first time.

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My parents have to present her dad with a dowry.

Upon arrival in KL, my folks quickly assemble a basket of fruits and alcohol. I think the dowry also includes gold jewelry and a roast suckling pig (money was passed over in a red packet for the pig to be served during the dinner).

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* At the KL bridal shop, Fai Fong Bridal Gifts & Bakery

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 * Por Por, tired from the six-hour drive

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* Selecting beautiful fruits for the basket

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* My parents present this basket to Phoebe's dad

The House Buffet

The night before the formal dinner, Phoebe’s family host an outdoor buffet dinner at their family home for what feels like hordes of people.

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* Before the deluge...

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* Phoebe in white in the middle, greeting all her relatives

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* Us

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Tents were set up, tables brought in were accessorized with pink tablecloths and red plastic chairs, the cooking (including the preparation, we saw them cutting and slicing at about 3pm) was done on-the-spot, in huge woks, with gas and water tubes running all over the sidewalk.

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* Preparing food at 3pm, next to the er, lamp post and street sign

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* Frying chicken wings!

Phoebe’s brothers, in preparation for the onslaught of cars, “booked” lots with the neighbours. And there really were so many cars, after the party there was a traffic jam with cars passing within inches of each other. But I don’t think anyone really minded. That’s the nice thing about Malaysia. If we did that in Singapore, the neighbours would raise a ruckus and complain to the Prime Minister. (I suppose one could argue that in Singapore, no one would organize a party which spills into most of the neighbours' private spaces..)

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The food, was divine. Maybe because it’s piping hot, it was really excellent. Especially these chicken wings which were snatched up batch after batch, despite being fresh out of the oil and sizzling hot. KK ate tons.

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The Dinner

The wedding dinner was at a Chinese restaurant which wasn't an ordinary restaurant, it looked as if it had been built for events. 

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It had a cavernous ceiling and no pillars, with an enormous stage and what looked to be a super-bright LED screen on which Choon and Phoebe’s wedding photos were beamed with crystal-clear clarity.

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* I wrote that board!

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* The unforgettable first-dish song, which was so blaringly loud it caused quite a few guests to clap their hands over the ears

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* Our menu, which I can't read. But food was great

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Por Por was asked to sing a song at the last-minute. She showed off her karaoke chops with Shanghai Beach.



Phoebe’s father, we find out, is also a karaoke fan. He showed off his vocal prowess with Cao Yuan Zhi Ye.