Tuesday, January 31, 2017

girls’ cny gear

The theme for the girls’ new clothes this year is scales or ruffles.

It just so happened, and I’m documenting because I am realizing these things are of interest to Jo and Lu when they read back the posts. Like, “I wore this in XXXX because I liked sequins, eeew!”

(I am getting a real sense now of what they want and would NOT want to read about in future)

KK, just like with his bak kwa bee-in-the-bonnet, insists that all the kids have new clothes. “At least two sets,” he said.

He comes back one day with something like three pairs of new pants, an equal number of new shirts and loads of new underwear. He and Day, in Vivocity, settles the boy’s stuff very quickly. Easy.

I buy my own a day or two before Chinese New Year proper. Easy also.

As for the girls, thankfully, Xueying gave them two lovely identical purple dresses over Christmas with a ruffled strawberry so gloriously red it pops out from far away. Red is auspicious. That would be outfit 1.


* With Liyen in their strawberry dresses

Outfit 2, I actually have to bring them shopping because KK won't have them wearing one of the (very nice) hand-me-downs which friends and family passed on. Shopping is onerous and tiring because they’re fussy. 

Finally, at Vivocity, I troop into Desigual where they are rooted to one spot flipping colour-changing sequins up and down. I buy the clothes even though they cost more than all of my clothes combined and require hand-washing. I just want to get it settled.


* Jo, sequin shirt, jeans, winter boots (bought for Japan) and my brown clutch thingy

* Lu, dress with sequin bag and winter boots

* Because the ruffles and sequin flips are fascinating, to me at least. They change colour with one sweep!

They also get alphabet necklaces.



Sunday, January 29, 2017

family pics

Twelve years of annual Chinese New Year family pictures. A few more years and I think I’ll have enough to compile them into a book of us, looking our best, getting older, year after year.

I’d call it: CNY Finery – 2004 to XXXX. Maybe 2024, so it makes a nice twenty. Eight more years to go.






* The BBs are part of the family

Friday, January 27, 2017


Chinese New Year is upon us once more! (ya I know its outdated but I'm catching up)

I really like writing about our reunion meals because these posts have served a really useful purpose in analyzing what went right or wrong.

I mean, nothing in the rest of the blog is very useful. But these meal posts, we actually go back to it for reference.

This year, we take it down a notch. Since we end up every year having to heave our bellies post-meal, Por Por decides to cook much less.

It’s a spectacular success (again, thanks to Jai and Por Por who do all the cooking).

In terms of quantity, the best reunion meal ever. Almost everything – apart from some chicken bones and soup stock which my mother-in-law brings home – is wiped clean. I revel in gleefully removing each plate as its emptied and bringing it to Jai in the kitchen, yelling – Finished! (and knowing very well that I didn’t overeat)

People really have to get over this notion of having to over-provide every time there is a meal. I'd rather be a little hungry and snack on some junk or fruit to top up.

Item ranking (my ranking, since not everyone agrees with me):

Prawns (new dish): 9/10
Finally! After so many years the prawn dish is a hit! One of the first dishes to be cleared, it is most happening dish of the night because its spicy. It gives kick to my rice, and to the rest of the meal. What makes the prawns appealing this year (previous years they never seem to go away): Smaller quantity, the spicy sauce, and the prawns which are rather big and plump are shelled. THE PRAWNS ARE SHELLED. That’s all it takes.

*A very small mound of prawns

* Me and my prawn

Broccoli with scallops (new dish): 8/10
I tell my folks that the kids love broccoli. Turns out almost everyone loves broccoli, including the in-laws, especially with some stringy bits of salty scallops. This was the first dish to disappear.


Pig stomach soup with pork, cabbage, bai guo and water chestnut (repeat dish): 8/10
Good as always.


Steamed fish (repeat dish): 7/10
We wisely steamed half the fish instead of the entire thing this year. It was picked clean, even though the fish only emerged from the kitchen after we had all finished our rice.


Pen cai (new dish): 7/10
Something we never had before, pen cai or poon choy, was a gift from Phoebe, who went home to Malaysia for CNY and wasn’t with us. It’s a mish-mash of seafood and meats, the likes of abalone, fish maw, dried scallop. It came in a huge can full of sauce, which led Choon to remark: I’ve never seen anyone pay that much for canned food in my life. But it was good and briny and glue-y, every luxurious mouthful.


* The ingredients as shown on the pen cai box

Mum's red-bean soup with a tang-yuan (repeat dish): 7/10
It’s an annual feature. This year, it’s a little sweet so it falls in the ratings. Jo eats her tang yuan and passes me her entire bowl of red bean: Mama can you eat for me?


Salt baked chicken (new dish): 6/10
Instead of the “samsui lettuce-wrapped chicken with ginger sauce from Soup Restaurant” we make our own chicken. Truth be told the dish was on the other side of the table and I was so lazy to stand and reach, I didn’t eat a single bit of it. Plus it’s got bones, which makes it leh cheh on a night when there's so much else to feast on. But I’m guessing it’s a six?


Lap cheong (new dish): 2/10
I guess it’s easy? Just steam and slice? It’s pretty normal and boring. And I’m never one for sweet meats.


Other shots from re-union dinner night:



* Lu has no space at the glass table. She sits by herself, isolated in the living room facing the TV screen

* Brothers

* More brothers

* Tata, with pursed lip

* Nene, with pursed lip

* Gong Gong chopping up the chicken

* Bonding with Kaofu Teng over the screen

* Bonding with Kaofu Choon on the bikes...

* ... and via badminton

* Bonding in the back garden

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

visual arts club

Lu’s clarity of purpose continues to shine bright.

She’s started with the school’s Art Club – formally known as the Visual Arts CCA – and she thoroughly enjoys her two-hour Monday afternoon sessions.

They’ve drawn butterflies, made a clay butterfly, and did some volunteer duties during recess helping other pupils with recess arts and crafts.

I am hoping the activities will be sufficiently invigorating for her to build up a portfolio worthy of SOTA, which is still her dream school, I still have no idea why, although I've been gently suggesting that she could opt for Art Elective programmes in normal secondary schools.

My reluctance to send her for external classes is because it is costly, time-consuming, I’m not sure if she’d be made to copy things wholesale, and because PK is a damn good working artist who started off by drawing Chinese opera faces on her own without attending a single class ie art is one of those things which could possibly be self-taught, for the better.

Lu is still happily generating her own art pieces and directing her own learning. While I’ve bought her a box of pencils and she’s been trying to learn about shading via Youtube videos, and copy manga, she’s a bit frustrated at her lack of painting skills.

* With her precious box of 12 Lyra pencils, from 4H to 6B

* Her copied manga

* A stationery holder which she suddenly produced one afternoon with ice-cream sticks and UHU glue, humming her way through, when she didn't have homework

I’ve taken to “storing” her pieces online here so even if things get lost she’d have a record. “Maybe this could be your portfolio if you want to apply to SOTA,” I told her.

Monday, January 23, 2017


Day loves secondary school.

* The rite of passage. Humongous watch courtesy of KK who gave Day his old one.

(I told him not to be one of those men who get their wives - or other men - to tie their ties, or who tie it once and keep re-using the same loop. It's a life skill! He learnt from Youtube and got a bit obssessed with making sure its a triangle. Well he ties it better than I ever did, all I ever got was fat, slightly tapered rectangles)

Perhaps it’s still the honeymoon phase, but he’s settled in beautifully.

For one the school started the kids off on a high. The first 1 ½ weeks of school was devoted to outings, a leadership course, and a 3-day, 2-night camp in school, complete with Orientation games, hiking and a campfire round which the kids performed skits. Some people really don’t like this sort of thing, but I do and so did Day. He came back flushed and rosy, chanting cheers.

For another, he really likes the students. The seniors apparently did a fabulous job of introducing the newbies to secondary school life, and Day was quite enamoured of them. He said, “They’re so very friendly.” He likes his classmates too. Curiously, he has seven Filipinos in his class, nattering away in Tagalog when he first met them.

He gets a lot more autonomy and independence, which suits him to a tee. Heading off on the public bus on his own every morning at 640am and coming home at whatever time suits him, often past 4pm, and his after-school activities haven’t even started.

He likes the school food. There’s a cafĂ© in school which sells $1.60 waffles, which are a hit (for now), and the food (he says) is much better. That said, I expect he’d get sick of it soon, and that’s where the Subway and MacDonalds outlet near the school comes in useful. The seniors, he says, all hang out there or they go to the nearby mall. Of course.

Work-wise, it’s very different. They’re expected to discuss and apply. In Science, for instance, he’s told to read his textbook and work in a group with his classmates to fashion a working catapult which has to meet certain parameters, to be considered a success. In another group project, they are to take on different roles (industrialist, environmentalist etc) to discuss the energy crisis. He’s already cooked macaroni soup in Food and Consumer Education (former Home Economics).

And oh, the school doesn’t have mid-year exams. Fingers crossed the good feelings last.

* Day and some of his new classmates

Saturday, January 21, 2017


* She hates this picture because of the hair. I love it because of the hair. She's probably going to make me replace it and I'll try to convince her otherwise but I'll probably end up changing it... that's how we roll.

Different child, different needs.

I was motivated to get out of bed and attend a parenting course one Saturday morning. (while KK was queueing, I was going to “school”!)

Because I don’t know how to parent Jo in a way that would retain both of our sanity and allow her to thrive. Yes, I find her remarkable, I couldn’t be more proud of all that she is and does, and I love her with all my heart, but if my parenting journey was a graph, and Day’s and Lu’s are rather straight lines, hers is all peaks and troughs. I blog about the peaks but I'm most concerned with the troughs.

She is very different from me, and her values and fundamental outlook are so at odds with mine we sometimes end up in screaming matches.

There is a pattern. I find her behavior disagreeable, she talks back, I feel the lava rising, I talk and reason nicely, she talks back some more with a point which I completely disagree with, I start to shout, the volcano erupts, I launch into a screaming tirade which starts with the issue at hand and overflows into all the other things which I deem she has done wrong in the past.

Some volcanic issues which keep cropping up are the way she unduly punishes Lu when Lu makes one of her silly mistakes (perhaps Lu was happily fluffing about and bumped into Jo while she was doing her work, causing her to make a little blot, and Jo full-on roars and hits Lu), how she takes so long to do things (eight hours over two days to wrap an exercise book, tearing off the original cover she made when it was a millimeter off), her refusal or inability to listen to me (especially when I tell her to get going but she doesn't, resulting in her getting only six or seven hours of sleep a night), and her tendency to put herself before others.

The bad phrases I inadvertently lapse into in my anger, and which I keep hearing myself say (I know, they’re quite awful or funny, depending on how you see it):
  • ·         I don’t know how to help you, Jo.
  • ·         I give up, Jo, I can’t make you bath or brush teeth or sleep on time or practice your piano and erhu, I just can’t get you to commit to a timetable, I’m just going to focus on David and Lulu, you deal with it.
  • ·         Relax, Jo, it’s OK. It doesn’t have to be perfect. (she whines and wails, I give up)
  • ·         You’re not my mother, Jo.
  • ·         I’m your mother, Jo, you should respect your parents.
  • ·         Don’t you dare bully me, Jo.
  • ·         You are not to scold or punish your siblings, Jo. Only Mama and Papa can judge and inflict punishment, not you.
  • ·         Don’t say I’m being unfair, Jo, I’m not.

Honestly, I try. But I have realized, it’s not possible when I am not like her. The reasons and arguments I use to try and parent her are shaped by my life philosophies, which she doesn’t necessarily agree with. Every time we finish a bout, I’m exhausted and completely drained.

It’s like I’m in some sort of bad relationship, and I always feel like I’m not a good enough mother to her. Day and Lu, from the sidelines, know to leave us both alone when we’re licking our wounds.

Fundamentally, I cannot be trying to raise a replica of myself (easy-going, spontaneous, happy-go-lucky, bo chup, always putting others first, being adaptable and changing with the situation) and parenting her using these values. It’s no good telling her “It’s OK” and “never mind” - my favourite phrases - when it’s not, to her.

I have to raise her differently because she is different, and in that regard, I have finally accepted that there is no such thing as every child being treated the same way. I think I did use to think that way (another stupid ideal!). I have to be unfair, giving Jo leeway in some areas, Day and Lu in others, depending on their needs and personalities. Of course, the one who always points out the “unfairness” when she’s not benefiting would be Jo herself…

So what did I learn?

The trainer showed us a model of personality types, DISC, its fairly old and well-known but in this context I saw it with new eyes and it puts a name on what I already know.

I saw that Jo and I are diametrically opposed. I’m the fast-paced people-oriented I (Influence), flitting from one thing to another with nary a care in the world and unfortunately being somewhat permissive and accommodating and impractical, while Jo is the slow-paced task-oriented C (Conscientiousness). She likes rules, predictability and everything perfect, safe and solid.

I’m the balloon and she’s the brick.

Incredibly, the trainer happened to be the same type as Jo. He understood her completely.

He told me, that as an I mother parenting a C child, I have to bear in mind that:
  • ·         It will be very draining for me, but I have to guide her slowly
  • ·         I have to watch what I say
  • ·         I should not rush her, or criticize her, because she’s already so hard on herself
  • ·         I should set clear limits and follow through (I find this SO hard, I am SO bad at rules and follow-through, I suspect she punishes her siblings because she sees how I completely forget to punish)
  • ·         I should talk less and listen more
  • ·         Arguments must be based on fact and logic, not emotion or ideals (urgh, SO hard)
He also told me that C people are generally not strong in languages, but love Maths and Science. That’s Jo. She has epic struggles with anything that encourages free thinking with no clear answers, like compositions and I fear, in future, General Paper.

Will his advice work? I don’t know. It’s overly simplistic for sure. People in the world certainly don’t fit into just four categories. But for a start, he’s given me some suggestions on her biggest challenge at the moment: how to get her to manage her time better (Do it fast, do it once, do it right, and not do it perfect), using facts and logic to hammer home the necessity of her doing so.

In the meantime, apparently I need to be a little bit more strict with Day and Lu. With such a carefree mother, and with such carefree personalities themselves, they could potentially float their way to a happy but direction-less life of poverty.

If I may say it again, this parenting gig is so damn hard.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

bak kwa

KK set his alarm for 8am on a Saturday morning, hopped out of bed and drove down to a famous bak kwa outlet in Chinatown to queue.


The day before he had tried to queue but was told that the barbequed pork had all been sold out.

This year, he has no foreign workers at his disposal, so he has to do the queueing himself. He arrived before 9. Joining the end of the line, he couldn’t see the shop. He thinks some people queued overnight.

At 11:05am, he messaged: Still queueing. I think 1 more plus hour.

* Refreshments for the queue-weary

Two hours later at 1:11pm, he messaged: I’m not done yet but I can see the shop already.

* He can finally see the shop! And he sends me a picture to relay his happiness! Hurray!

At 2:30pm, he got his hands on four packs of 1kg bak kwa, 5 1/2 hours after he started.

He later found out he had chosen the one outlet which put no restriction on the number of packs a person can buy, and people in front of him were buying in the region of 50 packs and more. It wasn’t that the queue was very long, it was very slow.

So it's not that he can't queue, it all depends what's at the end of the queue. He said Disneyland was great practice.

Like his rising fear of flying on planes, this bak kwa thing is one of those quirks which have gotten more intense over the years: He must have this brand of bak kwa at CNY. Not at other times of the year, and not other brands.

OK lor. 

(I don't like bak kwa very much, half a slice and I'm done)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


I was having a nice dinner with some friends when my phone beeped.

Ever since Jo lost her phone, she has had to use mine. She wanted me to text her friend to ask for some information. The friend was part of her chat group, but wasn’t yet reflected in my contacts. Borrowing KK’s phone, she sent me a Whatsapp message, one of the longest I've received which isn't spam, which made me laugh and laugh and laugh, even now, as I read it aloud. It's truly an Idiot's Guide.

Mama, this is Jody. So there's this person in '4U Alumni'. I didn't add her to your contacts yet, so you must do it (add her to your contacts) so that you can have a private chat. All you have to do is go to the group chat '4U Alumni' please ignore the messages, then go to the place where there's all the participants of the group. As you will see, all the people that I added to your contacts will start with a 'Jody'. But because I haven't added her to your contacts, she will be a number. So some of them have the tag thingy, like yours is 'Wong Sher Maine'. It's like the '~Whatever your name is'. Okay? So hers is '~Mary Lee'. Tap on it, and there will be a few things coming out. Tap 'Add to contacts'. Name it 'Jody Grace', then press 'Save'. Now you will have her contact. Go back to your WhatsApp home screen, and go to 'Contacts' Scroll down to 'J', and the find 'Jody Grace'. Tap on it, and then type, "Hi Grace, this is Jody. Can you send me a picture of Science activity book page 2 and 4? Thanks." Send it, and when she answers with the pictures, send them to Papa's phone. (This phone) And then you're  done! Thanks Mama!

Presumably she was afraid I would bungle up and its clear now how little she thinks of my tech abilities (she may be right). I wonder how long she took to type it, making sure all the spelling and punctuation is correct even in a Whatsapp to me, and how she managed to remember Mary Lee, the name of her friend's mum (her friend Grace was using her mum's phone too)

I followed her instructions to a T, since she took so much effort to instruct me. But I later asked her: Why don’t I message Papa this girl’s number, and you can message her yourself using his phone? (Hmmm)

She also noted with some displeasure that I did not capitalize the girl’s name properly when I saved it in my phone.

Sunday, January 15, 2017


My Xiaomi, thankfully, finally expired. It was crap with no space for apps and my Whatsapp functionality never worked properly, but I wouldn’t junk it unless it spoilt, and it eventually did after 2 1/2 years which I figure is pretty long for a mobile.

It started hanging for long periods of time.

So now I’ve got a free Samsung upon renewing my contract, which joins the other two Samsungs in the household. What I like most about it is that its metallic pink.


Jo is in love with it. She says that the phone, with its white face, reminds her of her lost Oppo (which we have not replaced) and her heart quickens whenever she sees it lying around.


Friday, January 13, 2017

eye shields

Jo is the most sensitive member of the family. I am slowly starting to see how some of her character traits fall into a certain category, and this sensitivity is up there along with a thirst for perfectionism and not liking change.

Her sensitivity came to the fore during our trip to Japan, when many things which didn’t bother us, bothered her.

For instance, she found the static on the Delta Airlines plane seats unbearable. She could also hardly bring herself to eat the plane food – admittedly worse than SIA’s - although she feels that it was better on the return trip.

However, one of the most useful things we brought back from Japan was a Delta Airline’s eye mask.

Supplied in the pack for all passengers, she brought it home and has been using it, almost every night, because the slightest bit of light bothers her. It is a nice solution to the fact that she sleeps with her two siblings, who must have a bit of light or they’d feel insecure.

(She also can’t bear to sleep in air-con, the gentlest of fan drafts is what works for her, but her sibs love their air-con. That is an unsolved problem)

Along with that, we recently procured a pair of sunglasses for her because she’s always complaining that the sun is too glaring.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017


There was a whole field of bubble balls around Parkland Green the other day.

* What the balls were supposed to be used for, this is a random photo I pulled off the Net

Remarkably, they were free for trying.

They were part of a NParks programme to get people out and about, and there was plenty happening including an origami station, boxes of chalk for people to draw on the ground, hula hoops for kids to play with and free passionfruit tea from Starbucks.

Even better, there were very few people because ever since the opening of Marine Cove, Parkland Green has been a shadow of its former self. Boy, the crowds shift fast in Singapore. I think there were more people there from NParks than members of the public. 

So there was plenty of opportunity for the girls and I – Day had gone home by himself – to give the balls a try. You’re supposed to strap in, hoist it up and run around playing bubble soccer. Fortuitously, the soccer idea fell apart (because the girls would never take part in any sort of organised game) but the balls lay fallow, ripe for the picking by any kid who came along.


It is horribly hot and moist once you crawl in. I bounced off Jo, fell many times, and decided to crawl out after my shirt started sticking to my back and my old bones didn't feel quite right. Lu didn’t even manage to stand, I think she's a little short, and she decided she feared the seasick feeling of bouncing around once you lose your footing.

But Jo had the best time. Grass was in her hair (when she went upside down the grass stuck) and her face was red and slick with sweat, but she wanted to stay in there, turning upside down and going every way.

* Lu the ball pusher huffing and puffing her way across the field

* Jo and her front-and-back bubble somersault

She wants to go back on 11 February when the balls come out to play again.

Monday, January 09, 2017


It was all my fault.

I didn’t know the oven toaster was so hot it would melt the clayey stuff which is supposed to be baked – under gentle heat - into erasers.

Day saw smoke rising from the oven toaster after 5 minutes, yelled and turned it off. “It’s not looking good, Mama,” he said.

I strode over and gingerly opened the toaster’s front flap. When the smoke which poured out cleared up and the toaster’s contents became visible, that was when Lu, next to me, screamed.


She clapped both hands over her mouth and started wailing, tears swiftly starting to stream down her fingers, “BB! My BB!” Her heart burned for the mini-BB which she had so lovingly crafted, complete with tiny little black dot eyes and mouth and stick-up ears and paws, all melted into a pockmarked puddle, and her blue-and-white penguin with the yellow beak.

Day, behind me, started to giggle. The brown and green pile was his dog and ball-with-eyes respectively, but he chose to see the funny. He grabbed his mobile phone and snapped a shot for his Instagram account with the caption “Too hot”. Yes, he has an Instagram account.

All I could think was, oh my goodness, the smoke stinks, is it toxic? And will I still be able to use that oven toaster for my toast and chicken nuggets and whatnot?

Over the next 30 minutes, Lu couldn’t stop sobbing. She’d wander into the kitchen, look into the oven toaster, and wail and tear up all over again. The tragedy.

Once cool, she lovingly peeled BB and Penguin off the foil and reverently placed them on her desk.

“I still love them,” she said.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

day teaching lu

I decided to take a break and tossed Lu’s Chinese ting xie to Day.

I asked, “Can you help me to help her?”

He, with a renewed sense of responsibility and zest imbued through exposure to inspiring seniors at his new school, enthusiastically took up the task and actually saw it through.

For more than half an hour, he sternly taught Lu and made her write the words many, many times, in batches (because when it comes to Chinese she has the memory of a sieve with very big holes).


Then for the testing process, he settled into the chair, crossed his legs and wielded the cane like he was an army general.

* Flicking the cane 


There was a lot of foot stomping, wailing and frowning from Lu, who thought she was being subject to a hellish dictator and there were plenty of arguments.

* What she hopes will happen to her instructor

* How she feels

There were also plenty of false starts as she failed to write the first word he uttered and he gave her chance after chance to “study” again.

* False start. Cannot write

* Brows furrowed anxiously

Through it all, Day stood his ground. From 5/13, he brought her up to 13/13.

In conclusion, he stated mightily: Tomorrow we must test her again before she goes for tuition. By the way, Mama, I’m never doing this again.