Saturday, April 29, 2017


The letter arrives just before he turned 13.



He’s a pre-enlistee now, and is officially on the Government's radar.

Any time he leaves Singapore for over three months, we need to inform them.

The boy has started on the road to becoming a soldier.

The next five years or so will just flash past.

A whisper of terror slakes up my spine when I open the letter, but at the same time I thiknk Day will do very fine. 

He might even love the Army and just like what it did for his father, it might even make him stronger in body and mind.

Thursday, April 27, 2017



Nine years later.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

the one who reads

Amongst the three, the one who started reading the earliest at age 3 is the one who reads the least today. His lovely reading habit gradually withered away, killed by the screens.

The one who started reading the latest at age 5, and I distinctly remember one concerned friend asking – She STILL can’t read? – is the one who reads the most. She, we have wisely decided, will preferably never have a screen of her own.

Lu is the one who heads to the school library every recess and asks me to bring her to the public library.

Her current obsession is the Mr Midnight series, and because it’s so un-putdown-able, she borrows 10 at a shot.


Day and Jo aren’t reading. They’re busy on their phones.

What I've also learnt, is that whatever I did in the past, I don't get the outcome I expect. 

In many ways, kids just grow and develop the way they're meant to, despite parental intervention.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

13 & 46

What do you want to do on your birthday, Day?

“I want to eat crabs.”

OK so on his and KK’s birthday, we go to eat crabs.

* Day's sauce-y fingers. We got him two flavours of crab, chilli and spring onion something-or-other

It would have been nice to ORGANISE something and do something FUN, just like what we did for Jo and Lu. But by now, I think I know the boys would prefer not to. Organised activity is not their thing. It's the same every year. I had asked Day from a month or two ago what he wanted to do, go out with his friends to bowl or cycle or play laser tag, maybe? He kept mumbling and shrugging his shoulders. I get it.

If I kept in line with my “do what you want on your birthday” approach, KK would want to watch TV / sleep and Day would want to sit at his laptop playing games all day. So I let them be.

* Cake-cutting too, with Keshiro who happened to be around


What was more exciting this year were the presents which were really cheap and good.


This is the very rare occasion when I knew exactly what to get for the fussy one. Or at least, something he would definitely use.

Ever since Rody left to go home to his original owner (he was actually a hand-me-down) KK has missed his inflatable horse. He’d go (just like the way he used to ask “Shall we have a fourth child”): “Shall we get another Rody?”

He really liked it. Not to play with, of course, but it was always around him, alternating as a footrest, a seat, even a headrest when its lying on its side. I was also used to seeing Rody in its usual corner, bearing some semblance to a live pet and brightening my day as I go about vacuuming duties.

I had to get it. Little did I know how hard it would be.

Online, it cost a bomb; never mind that, even, but I had left it so last-minute (as usual) I wouldn’t have time to wait for it to ship over. Phoebe helped me to try taobao but the quality and genuine-ness of the article was suspect. In Singapore, I called every shop which had some link to Rody, all said they were no longer stocking it.

In the end, Phoebe suggested I turn to Carousell. I’m a Carousell virgin, never went on it to buy or sell anything. The first experience was fabulous. I found Rody.

* Welcome to our home!

I paid $25 and collected it off a young mum in Punggol who came down to her condo driveway with two toddlers who wanted to bid farewell to a slightly grimy Rody in her arms. After a good scrub with a Japanese melamine sponge, Rody was good as new.

It’s not yellow with blue spots like the one before, but bright red with yellow spots.

KK tried his darndest to extract the “secret” of what his gift was from the kids before I returned from Punggol. But to my delight, they held out and he never guessed. He laughed and used it straightaway.


He’s been asking me for a Xbox for ages, but he knows I’ll never give.

It’s hard buying things for the boy. Toys don’t cut it anymore, books are a hit-and-miss, functional stuff is boring.

So I decided to get him a chin-up bar.

A friend installed one, said it was a hit with his teenaged son (and himself). Day’s at the age where he’d want to strengthen up. It’d be a reminder of his gym days. The girls might have fun on it. I could use it for some arm work too.

I managed to find one which retails from some warehouse in Tampines, selling for $10, and which doesn’t require drilling.

It was perfect. Its secured against the sides of the doorway as its progressively lengthened, until it has a super-tight seal.

I also got a big thick green “rubber band” for people who need some help with a chin-up.


It’s turned out to be one of my best purchases. Everyone has fun on it. The girls have improvised all sorts of things with the rubber band, doing the unexpected. Kids who come to the house are endlessly fascinated. It creates a lot of action in the house. See video.

* It's titled "copy" because I had to blur out body parts. Good grief

* With Eva

Its reminiscent of the swinging scarves the girls used to improvise, only this one is a thousand times better because its got bounce. Only thing is that one has be very careful – to make sure the seal is really tight and that no one does any upside-down tricks - because who’s to say the bar won’t drop halfway?

Friday, April 21, 2017


Looks innocuous doesn’t it? Like a nice clear sweet soup of curly jellies and wolfberries.


I’m sure the children have already eaten it in some form of Chinese dessert or another, thinking its jelly.

But it’s quite another when you’re told that it’s frog fat, specifically found around its fallopian tubes.

Continuing Day’s food adventures, Choon tells Day what it is, then cajoles and convinces until Day decides to order a bowl for himself to try.


He finishes it. Good boy.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

last days of childhood

Day turns 13 in a few days.

He’s suddenly shot up what seems to be a few centimetres in the last couple of months and his torso looks all stretched out. He's still slightly shorter than me, still wearing clothes from his pre-schooler days (because he only goes up and not sideways), but with a bigger shoe size.

He is all skinny and sleek, like a teen, but from the neck up at least, he’s still my boy. 

His voice isn’t cracking yet and his complexion is still dewy soft. He also still wants the occasional hug and kiss (in private, never in public), just like back in the toddler days which seem such a short while ago.

Did I really write this 12 years back? (today’s comments in brackets)

“He will want to be independent (YES), probably spend all his time on the computer (OMG YES), keep secrets (NOT REALLY), start horrific anonymous blogs with all sorts of swear words (NOT YET), stay out late (NOT YET), argue with his mother (NOT YET), argue with his father (NOT YET), not tell us what he is doing (YES). That is when the most repulsive thing, to him, could well be a hug and a kiss from his folks (THANK GOD NOT YET).

I want to remember him as he is now, with the last vestiges of baby and childhood still lingering in his face and voice. 

It's not that far off from this video taken three years ago, is it?

Monday, April 17, 2017

meanwhile at home

I was gone 10 days last year.

It’s just six days this year and they’re older. I expected them to cheerfully wave me off and say hello when I return.

Instead, two things made a huge difference:

One, wifi in Melbourne is a tad better than in Nepal, which meant that they could contact me much more easily.

Two, Jo now has a mobile phone. Last year, she didn’t.

I ended up getting calls every night, not even voice calls, but Whatsapp video calls. These were all from Jo’s phone. The moment I picked up, she’d put on her cute expression (pursed lips, blooming nostrils, widened eyes, lowered chin) and it was clear she was absolutely thrilled to see my face and hear my voice.

I thought it was a little intense, to make video calls, but oh well. Jo seems to need me the most.

She'd Whatsapp me: “I need someone to talk to. Everytime I think of you, I feel like crying! Just so you know, we love you. ❤”

Most times, she’d call Singapore time about 8pm or so, begging me for homework help. Half the time, I’d pass my phone to Teng, the resident Maths and Science tutor. Because Melbourne is two hours ahead, I'd get sleepy, but Jo would plead with me to stay up and check her work when she was done.

Lu sometimes came into the picture, to also put on her cute expression and tell me how much she missed me. I didn’t talk to or see Day, and KK, for six days. Guys.

How did they all fare in Singapore?

As usual, it was sort of a mix-up of boot camp and party time. They had to do a lot of housework, which is so, so, so great. They just don't do it when I'm around because I don't delegate.

* KK's housework list

I laughed when Jo sent me a photo of clothes hanging on the laundry line (the kids did the laundry, KK doesn’t like laundry) accompanied by the caption: “Mummy, it's also autumn here in Singapore! There are so many leaves! And the leaves are brown, yellow, etc..”

WhatsApp Image 2017-04-09 at 14.03.37
* Jo's picture, after which both KK and I sternly told the kids they are not to hang out the poles (even though I do) because its dangerous. They are to use hangers on the indoor poles

But they also got to eat out a lot.

And once again, I came back to discover a new acquisition. Last year, it was a mobile phone for Jo.

This year, it was…..

A vacuum cleaner! I suppose KK found it very tiresome to sweep the floor or use the heavy Delphine which needs to be filled with water.


At first, I was horrified. But now I'm a convert. I like it. It’s a dinky light-weight gadget which sits in a wall-mounted charger and works like a gun with a trigger.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

melbourne: highlight reel


… the day we drive into the Mornington Peninsula.

Phoebe packs stuff to celebrate for him. Teng and I didn’t lift a finger, haha.

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Choon’s good old cycling buddy from Darwin now resides in Melbourne in a vintage apartment complex earmarked as a heritage site. Visiting him was a bit like going on an interactive, immersive museum tour.


Everything in Mike’s apartment is old, mostly from the 1920s and 30s, with a story behind it.

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* Living room. Mike, like most Asians, does not like shoes in the house

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* Mike's grandmother. That's what he says for fun. She's not really his grandmother

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* Old door leading to a kitchen with a very old table and yellow chairs procured from some cafe in Europe

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* I think the cups and plates are also very old. Mike is clearly a fantastic housekeeper

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* A Kelvinator fridge from the 1950s. I believe it cost a bomb

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* The innards of a 70-year-old fridge. It looks in better condition than my fridge

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* I love the hole-in-the-wall bookshelf

Mike is a pathologist who was stationed in Malaysia with the British forces decades ago. He was married to an Indonesian lady but now lives alone, going on long cycling rides and enjoying life by the beach.

Apparently, he has filled his other property, a castle in France, with all sorts of old Oriental furniture.


Straight off the plane, I rush to the Hamer Hall to squeeze in one afternoon concert outing to watch the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra play pieces from Pixar cartoons, accompanying clips on the big screen.

* The concert hall, half of which is underground, so we walk down a flight of steps to our circle seats

* It's a child and autism-friendly concert

At nearly A$100 per ticket, I am most put out when I see Teng next to me (I paid for him) looking pale-faced and droopy-eyed. “I’m very sleepy,” said the boy who was mostly watching cartoons on his mobile phone throughout our seven-hour 3am flight.

I stuff him with some food during the interval to sustain him for the second half, because he hadn’t eaten for 18 hours. The orchestra was stellar and the conductor, beyond stellar.


This squid dish from Two Buoys at Dromana, Mornington Peninsula, blew my mind.

* Salt chilli squid, tequila, lime and coriander mayonnaise

Devoid of the usual rubbery squid texture (even the best-cooked squids I have eaten are still slightly chewy), and freed of all my expectations about what squid should taste like, the first thing we all felt after taking a bite was – This is squid meh?

It was almost creamy and melt-in-your-mouth, and tasted so fresh I’m still not sure if its squid.

The other unforgettable dish was eggplant from Lee Ho Fook. Crackling crisp outside, melty inside, smothered in a sweet caramelized sauce.



Teng, lover of gardens, spots this one on an app and we pop over to Heronswood.

It’s dripping with fruit and flowers and is so pretty.


* Avocado

* Parsley


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Thursday, April 13, 2017

melbourne: the wanderer

Sans kids, my camera is trained on my travelling companions.

I take plenty of photos of the couple. Like these:


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But then, I also take photos of the One Who Does Not Want To Be Taken. He's the one who shies off every photo in normal circumstances

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* Room-mate, youngest brother, wanderer

As Choon snaps away at Phoebe, indulging in his new-found passion for photography and a subject who stirs his heart, I furtively steal shots of Teng.


It is a very satisfying exercise to take photos of one who is initially reluctant, but subsequently lapses into bochup-ness. He is completely indifferent, and it’s these photos which I find delightful.

* Carrying photographer's bag

* Guarding photographer's bag 

* Guarding photographer's light stick and holder of jackets

* Being a photographer's assistant is tiring but at least he's amusing the groom

* Caffeine minion

* Beleagured

* Wind-blown

* Lepak

* Solitude

* Confinement

* In the darkness

* Enlightenment