Sunday, November 19, 2017

going home


Today we fly back to the place we called Home for a year from July 2006, for a ten-day holiday.

To see if Day remembers anything, to show the girls what they missed (Jo won’t remember and Lu didn't exist), to see if anything’s changed.

Why the Homecoming?

Frankly, I wanted to do a Campervan drive and KK refused. So… Homecoming!

I look through the old photos and videos and I feel a rush of warmth.

Here’s one I never posted, of the girl I just brought for Open House, as a lovely eight-month-old in her prettiest pink dress tottering on the green of Coogee Beach as KK keeps her upright.

Saturday, November 18, 2017


With Day there wasn’t much choice.

There wasn’t any talent he could use to shove his foot in to a good secondary school via DSA or direct school admission (in which case the PSLE result would not even really matter), and his results were not quite good enough for him to consider anything other than the O level stream.

With Jo there is more choice.

Which means we (or rather, I) have to be a little more sensitive to what would suit her best, and be more diligent in finding out exactly what the options are. KK’s opinion is, “I think she’ll be fine wherever she goes.” Righto.

DSA? Yes, I believe she could use the erhu to get into a good school. Only she doesn’t want to. “I don’t want to have to join the Chinese Orchestra in secondary school," she says.

What I see is that she doesn’t yet have a demonstrably strong interest in any one area. She’s never had a go at sport, not a team sport anyway, perhaps secondary school would be a good place for her to try.

Then what course? O level? IP? IB? She could possibly qualify. What, then?

If grades permit, we are leaning towards an IP programme in an all-girl’s school, where she wouldn’t be distracted by boys. (She has said, “But I like having boys in my class because they make so much noise the teachers don’t pay so much attention to me.”)

Why IP? I think she, er, likes project work? (She said, “But I like structure, Mama. I like the teacher writing everything on the board, and I copy everything and take the exam, I don’t have to speak in class.”)

Whatever it is, I hope she knows what she wants by then. I think she will. Unlike Day who didn't mind anything, I think she's more picky.

I bring her for two Open House events today. Day’s school, and another all girl’s school which is nearby. I just wanted her to get a sense.

* Jo, who meets up with best friend Emilyn to check out the Open Houses together

* Checking out the room for the Enhanced Art Programme, which I pay attention to not for Jo, but for Lu, who is wavering from her SOTA dream because she says she doesn't want to be competing amongst the best

* My highlight of Open House? Seeing Day on stage!

Friday, November 17, 2017

book prize

Prize-giving day in school, Jo gets a Top Performer award. This year, she is a lot less hung up, and only screams at me just before we leave the house because I lost the official letter which tells her exactly what to bring and where to go at what time.

* Alamak. Sorry Jo...

* Cert and a nice little Smiggle gift card

Many of my fellow parents come up to me to congratulate me - they stick out a hand to shake my hand not Jo's - which is really nice, but I feel really odd.

Is it so automatic that a child’s accomplishments (or lack thereof) is attributed to the mother, or parents, even if they have nothing to do with it?

It seems so.

Never mind. I shall bask in the limelight while it lasts and be perceived as a Mother Who Raised a Top Performer, even though the credit is entirely hers. 

If she won a Good Character award, though, ah! I would want to take full credit. That is where I have to work the hardest and it really is Herculean labor which makes me huff and puff, rant and rave, shout and scream, though at this stage, the less said the better.

Have I ever mentioned she has a steel will?

* Award venue in the school hall

* Jo's supporters: Me, Lu and Eva

* Jody, 我们永远支持你!(the photo backdrop was meant for the prize winners but Jo refused to take a photo)

Friday, November 03, 2017

catty girls

One of Jo’s favourite past-times. There are tons of these in her phone.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

lockdown drill

My phone alarm doesn’t ring one morning. When I open my eyes it is 7am and it is theoretically possible for the girls to get ready and get to school by 730am. But since the exams are over and the teachers are screening movies in school all day, I roll over and go back to sleep after some cursory failed attempts to wake the girls.

When Jo arises naturally at near-noon, she weeps. “MAMA! Why didn’t you wake me up? I’m going to miss the lockdown!”


The way she wails, it seems like this lockdown is, for her, one of the most highly-anticipated events in school.

“It’s going to be so much fun, all of us hiding under the tables! I really wanted to do it, MAMA!”

What is it, exactly?

I ask the girls and I gather its preparation for terror attacks. For in case someone barges into school with machine guns blazing. A lockdown drill is something I never experienced in school but which kids started going through this year. I read up a bit, and it seems like the schools are shifting from fire drills to such lockdown drills because, you know, in Singapore, when it comes to getting attacked, its “Not If But When”.

Jo describes to me in great detail how the announcement over the PA system would be a signal and a decoy. “So if we hear ‘Everyone stay in the canteen’ we know we should not go to the canteen but stay in our classrooms.” They’d switch off all the lights and fans, pull the blinds over the windows, push the tables and chairs against the wall, close and barricade the doors, and then crawl under the tables and stay there for 45 minutes.

Sure sounds like fun. As long as it’s a drill.

Monday, October 30, 2017

sungei buloh


My idea of a perfect weekend outing: Hitting Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

* In my defence, I brought the trolley because I thought we were going fishing

I was in the car, fell asleep on what seemed a long long journey, and next thing I knew when I opened my eyes KK had brought us there.

I will remember this as a golden moment, one in which the man actually had a weekend idea which is unique. And one which I liked!

At the start, I doubt it was anyone else’s idea of a perfect day. It was hot and mosquitoes buzzed around us even though we liberally sprayed ourselves with repellant.

But in the end, I think Lu and I enjoy ourselves the most. She grabbed my camera and excitedly ran alongside KK who was leading in front, snapping pictures whenever he pointed out wildlife, mostly loads of fat sluggish monitor lizards.

* She loves them

* A fat one. Pix by Lu

Jo and Day tolerated the outing.


Results are out. Nutshell:

Day is… very relaxed. He only fails... one subject! And he makes it to Sec 2 Express! Yay!

Lu is getting her stamina up for the PSLE. The year proved somewhat draining for her, due to the homework load, and she's more tired than she's ever been before. But she’s come through. Next year, we'll take it a day at a time.

Jo owns her school career. Without a pushy mum or extra assessment books or a proper study schedule and always relying on last-minute mugging (during which I yell at her to go to bed and forget the books), she manages fine. She cares a lot about her work and results. 

Like, she actually bothers to memorise good phrases for her English composition while the other two just go in and whack because they think their English is good enough.

She dutifully calculates her estimated PSLE aggregate based on her results while I'm out one day and Whatsapps me in distress: "Ma... I'm so sad. SO SAD. Wahhhhh!!! I converted my total results in P5 and it's XXX! Like it isn't even more than YYY! Nooooo.... It'll only get worse in P6!" I suppose she is somewhat mollified when she converts Day's P5 result and discovers that its lower than hers.

Amidst the moans and groans of her siblings about how they hate school, she quietly comes up to me to admit (like it’s not quite a cool thing to say), “Actually, Mama, I think I like school.” That is really, really one of the most fabulous things I can hope to hear. She LIKES this education system! One out of three is not bad!

For her, the fearful P5 drop didn’t quite happen. But I’m also glad that she knows herself very well. “That’s because I’m meticulous and careful,” she said, on a good Maths result. “But if they want me to think out-of-the-box I don’t think I can do it.”

Saturday, October 28, 2017


I’ve always thought the American practice was utterly silly, yet another opportunity for the retailers to make money off idiots who revel in something they don't understand and is therefore devoid of meaning.

The kids "celebrated" a lot of it when they were in pre-school. And till this day, Day's "costume" is the one we all remember as the ultimate Halloween get-up. I suppose it was just fun.

I still think Halloween is meaningless.

But we had our first taste of going “trick-or-treating” around Gong Gong and Por Por's neighbourhood, and aside from the idea of Halloween itself, the practice of knocking on neighbours’ doors and getting loads of sweets in return proved intoxicating.

It started from one of their neighbors, who sent around flyers to the entire neighbourhood advertising an open-house party. I wanted to go. Not because of Halloween, but because I am eternally curious (kaypoh) about other people’s homes.

The girls went along with me because they wanted the sweets. They were not in costume because they’re not the sporting sort. Day took one look at the juvenile merry-making and announced, "I'm going to take a bus home now, bye." (he's at that age)

It was socially awkward, stepping into a stranger’s house full of revelers you don’t know, not a single one. But I've learnt how to make small talk with one-off acquaintances.


There were many people who didn’t know each other either, but I suppose they had managed to strike up conversations with fellow strangers. We hung around, slightly uncomfortable, as they went through the whole programme of Best-Dressed (girls took care to hide out of sight) and hitting the piñata (girls refused to hit it, but surged forward as part of the stampede when the sweets spilled forth from the cracked pinata).

The real fun started when we stepped out of the house for the neighbourhood walk.

The group, probably about 50-strong comprising adults and kids, took off, the kids at a sprint. They merrily searched for the gates which had the “Halloween” notice on it, shouting TRICK OR TREAT, entering and helping themselves to the sweets.

* Very lame last-minute sign we put up on the gate

* The sweets we prepared for the kids

* Jai, the "dispenser". Fairies, Captain America and... Lu

It took, maybe 30 minutes. It really was tremendous fun.

Under the guise of Halloween, I talked to neighbours I never knew, entered palatial houses I only admired from a distance, enjoyed a very nice night walk, while the girls came away with two huge bags of sweets. “A year’s supply” said Jo.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

bbq food snapshot

The BBQ at the Folk’s Place is something that I, that we, take for granted.

Whenever anyone wants a gathering of any sort, it’s so easy for any of us to say – Oh I want to have a BBQ on this date, with X number of people.

And that’s it.

It’s like placing an order for a BBQ and on the day itself, everything is magically done up. The benches are pulled out, the tables are covered with clothes and moved out to the porch, the food is prepared and marinated, and someone is on standby to do the fire work.

* Usually its Jai. Or KK, if he deigns to socialise. These days, Day takes over, he loves fire

It is an incredible luxury, one which I try not to tap on more than once or twice a year.

* The joy of garden space

* The most recent: A gathering of JC classmates, folks I have not seen for nearly 25 years

For these BBQs, blessings come in the form of the house (garden for BBQ-ing, dining under the stars… that sort of thing), the kids’ Gong Gong and Por Por (who do all the buying of ingredients because they know the best places to go, but of course I pay them back) and Jai, the superwoman who prepares and processes all the food from morning, through to evening.

I recently host one BBQ and not one, but two friends come up to me to say: “Oh my goodness, your folks have an amazing helper. Can she come and train ours?"

These BBQs are woven into the fabric of our lives, and lest things change (and of course it will at some point), I want to remember the food that we are treated to. The menu never changes.

Drink: Always rose syrup

Carbs: Jai’s incredible fried bee-hoon, fried using stock boiled from pork and prawn heads

Curry with baguette, this is Lu’s favourite

Kueh Pie Tee, this is my favourite

Sausages, which the kids devour


Bananas, meant to be put on the BBQ until it melts inside. This, Gong Gong learnt from a friend who brought bananas to the BBQ (instead of the usual wine or cake or dessert) and demonstrated the kampong delicacy. The friend, Uncle Gae, said, "Last time we got no money we had to improvise on what food to cook."

Stingray: One of Day’s favourites


Japanese yellow-fleshed sweet potato and corn

Rojak, mum’s specialty

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

stories, notes ‘n’ adventure

Jo and three of her friends – a new bunch this year – started a comic of sorts: Stories, notes 'n' adventure.


It’s a lined notebook, and rotates from person to person. They started it in the middle of the year, thereabouts. What each person does is to draw a little comic, to add to the adventures of the four girls featured in the book.

Jo and her friends have very different drawing styles.

* Noreez and Miki, the two whom Jo says can really draw

* Khuan Hui and Jo

This little side-project got Jo interested in drawing once more (she had stopped entirely) as she tried to draw as well as her friends.

The book is a gem, the imaginings of 11-year-old girls. Something which, if Jo gets to keep, I’ll certainly pop into a Ziploc bag and hope to treasure forever.

School camp shenanigans, shopping mall excursions, café hopping, going all over the world, hanging out at Hong Kong Disneyland…. It’s cute as can be.

* Dressing Room: (This outfit is so cute! Woah!) (No money, $5 only) (I don't think I need to buy anything) (Same here)

* We're all in Alice in Wonderland! (Shopping bags sent to hotel) (New outfit bought) Fifth girl below is by Emilyn, Jo's best friend who is a "guest artist"

Sunday, October 22, 2017

fish devastation

Major tragedy occurred recently when five of Lu’s fishes died, all within a few minutes of each other.


What’s worse is that they probably died after going through her hands.

She was cleaning out the tank. (She’s been a very good little caretaker, feeding her fishies twice a day and spending a good hour or so to clean out the tank once a fortnight)

What usually happens is that she scoops the fish out with a net and places them in a tub while she goes about the lengthy process of scrubbing out the algae-encrusted walls and using pipe cleaners to go into the tiniest parts of the water pump to clean it all out.

That day, during her cleaning, the fish were still fine in the tub.

Then, with clean water in and pump settled, it was time to put the fish back.

The problem was that the fish were swimming in algae-filled water. Lu refused to use the net which would deposit algae back into the tank together with the fish.

She tried catching the fish with her bare hands, scooping them up in her palm and picking out the algae. I was no help because I am very squirmy about touching live fish. I shouted verbal encouragement: “Go, Lulu, go! Aiya… there! There!”

(Everytime she did this in the past, it was always with KK or with Eva, a friend who visits regularly on Fridays and is quite the expert fish scooper)

She must have gotten overly rough in trying to catch the fish. I can’t think of any other reason.

Because right after they were all put back into the nice, clean tank, something didn’t look right.

Five of the fish appeared drunk. They dangled upright in the water like seahorses, spinning around dizzily with no apparent sense of direction. They started floating upward, belly facing up, but with fins still beating weakly. Two kept getting caught in the water filter, like they had no strength left to swim.


Oh I could hardly bear it. I kept the faith, prayed that it was temporary disorientation, and told Lu to stop hanging around to check if they were still alive.

We came back five minutes later. All five were clearly dead. They belonged to two particular species. (The other two species of fish, numbering six in total, were swimming around like nothing was wrong. Perhaps they're stronger.)

She fished out their bodies and gently touched it to check for a heartbeat (she said).


The quintet will join the rest who have expired, in Lulu’s Glass Fish Coffin. (she's decided to dry them now, instead of burying them)

* The one on the left had a chunk taken out by a bird, we think, and the other two wormy ones committed suicide by leaping out of the tank. This fish hobby is really quite morbid

Friday, October 20, 2017


This is the year he starts shaving, sometime in July

* When a boy becomes a man

How wonderful, that he blithely ignores the camera in my hands, as I capture the precious coming-of-age ritual which will occupy his days for the rest of his life.

(The girls happily apply the shaver to their hairy fingers and legs until I told them that if they kept doing that their hair would grow out like the black bristly stuff on Papa’s upper lip)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Grabbing a small sweet-smelling kid and bolstering down for an afternoon nap.

Monday, October 16, 2017

lao shit

I Whatsapp Day: What’s the name of your Chinese teacher? I need to e-mail her to ask for something.

He responds: Zhou Lao Shit.

I’m not sure if its Freudian or deliberate.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


While I’m not paying attention.

The girls scurry off to the back toilet where they remain for a long period of time. Ten minutes, maybe 15.

I realize that the house is abnormally quiet and when I figure they must be in the back toilet I try to push open the door. They squeal and say, “we’re shitting Mama!” I repeat, “We??” and leave. Some things are best not to know.

They emerge, breathless, laughing at themselves and each other, giggles running up and down the scale as they shimmy away like nymphs, with my make-up bag in their hands.


IMG_4067 copy

“Are you angry with us, Mama?” No, of course not, I say.

All I can think is: They did a good job.

Eyebrows are drawn on point, lips are properly outlined and filled, foundation is smoothly smeared, sparkly eyes are just enough to not be vulgar.

They’ve seen me applying make-up on the rare occasion, I just didn’t realize how much they were learning. (on a side note, they see me playing the violin too, how come no one gives it a try?)

* What they used: BB cream foundation, eye-shadow, cheek tint, lipstick, eyebrow pencil, mascara

They allow me to take a photo, which is a big deal. They seem quite proud of their work. And they’re not the least bit shy or ashamed.

I remember, every time I had make-up put on me in the past, I felt thoroughly embarrassed, like I didn’t know where to put my face, like I was trying to be someone I was not, I didn’t know how to behave. I never liked the made-up face I saw in the mirror, to me always overly-dramatic and too OTT, and much preferred my own sallow plain one. Even today, to some extent.

The girls aren’t the least bit like that.

“It’s fun!” declared Lu, who does have a tendency to try the odd item or two from my make-up bag. From an artistic perspective, I see where she’s coming from. I also think she has the confidence to try and look how she wants to look, what with the hats and socks and face paint. Jo is a little more shy but Jo, too, likes looking pretty.

Removing the make-up is another thing altogether. I teach them how, stressing the importance of getting every bit of it off, and they realize how troublesome it is.

I seize the opportunity: “I think I prefer you both without makeup.”

Thursday, October 12, 2017


After many, many years of performing, this is a life first: Having to pee really badly during a show.

Third night of the Romeo and Juliet ballet, I feel slightly full five minutes before the 8pm start. I don’t dare to go out, I’m afraid there isn’t time. I hope the pee production stops there.

But five minutes in, I can feel the bladder slowly filling to the brim, and there’s more to come.

Unfortunately the first act is also the longest. Introductions to the Montagues and Capulets, Juliet comes of age, meets Romeo at the ball, troublesome Tybalt comes in and there’s nearly a quarrel, the lovers meet on the balcony and declare their love in what feels like an impossibly long time.

As my bow quivers (luckily it’s a tremolo), my lower half aches from the effort of holding it in for an hour.

The moment the conductor takes his post-Act 1 bow, I wait, agonized, as he walks out and I scurry after him, bent in pain. The moment we’re out of the theatre, I overtake him and scamper into the toilet for blessed release.

I share my tale with my colleagues, they laugh.

Then they tell me an urban legend of a musician who tried to hold it in but failed and ended up doing a Big One. Yes, it wasn’t a pee but a poo and he wasn’t in an orchestra pit but on stage. The players around him apparently had to abide the smell throughout the performance – he continued after his release - and the chair was either thoroughly washed or discarded, I’m not sure.

Anyhow. The kids didn’t go to the Big Ballet this year. I didn’t particularly compel them to, they weren’t very keen and tickets were prodigiously expensive.

Pity. My pee debacle notwithstanding, it’s another stunner. Prokofiev’s score for Romeo & Juliet doesn’t move me as much as Tchaikovsky’s Onegin did, but the plot, action (fight scenes, carnival) and fantastic sets probably do more for the audience.


And I have to give thanks, again, for the opportunity.

Just as the wedding gigs have dried up completely (I’m not young and pretty anymore, market is flooded with competition, I never did any marketing, didn't make friends with the right people) I never know if a concert / ballet / opera gig will be my last. So many brilliant young players out there.

Following photos, beautifully taken by my violinist colleague, Gerard Chia, from the pit, of the dancers during their curtain call. Thank goodness he's sitting on the right side of the 1st violins (best views):

* The Korean "Juliet" on night 3, and on her right the ballet conductor, whom we all remember clearly after three years because he's just that sort of man who leaves an imprint

* Romeo and Juliet on night 2

* The clowns!

* Violin 2s and violas

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

a gift

When I returned home from rehearsal tonight, I was bestowed a great gift.

See, the week has been a mad one.

The same German ballet company I played for three years ago is back in town to dance Romeo and Juliet, and every day of the week is filled with rehearsals, twice a day, from 3-10pm with a dinner break. Before that, I go to work.

Just like last time in 2014, they bus to Gong Gong and Por Por’s place after school and they stay there, through lunch and dinner, after which they come home.

By the time I stagger home at about 1030 - completely exhausted by the harmonic and finger gymnastics and mental focus required of the Prokofiev ballet, on top of the tons of research which started the day - they are usually still awake. Because no one had ordered and nagged them to go to bed.

I see them all awake (I still need to put them to sleep and I know I’ll have a hard time waking them up the next morning) see the messy house, and I just lose it.

One night I just gave up. Took off my shoes, plonked down my stuff, changed, washed my feet and collapsed into bed all grimy without a shower, kids all still up. Half-awake, I blearily ordered them to brush teeth and sleep. My fatigue was edged with fury.

I think Lulu felt really sorry for me.

Tonight, when I returned home, I opened the door to see a spotless living room with shoes all lined up in a straight line and nothing on the floor.

I felt an instant lifting of my spirits.

Then Lulu ran up to me. “Do you like it, Mama? I packed the living room!” She took my hand and led me around the house. She had also washed the dishes, cleaned up the kitchen and parts of the bedrooms, which usually look like explosion sites.

The wonders didn’t cease. She handed me a little bouquet comprising flowers she had picked from the roadside, during her walk from the bus stop as they were making their way to their grandparents’ house. “For you, Mama”.