Wednesday, May 31, 2017

fairy’s letter

Lu is still a fervent believer in the tooth fairy.

In a family of non-believers (except me), she stands firmly alone.

The only time her faith was somewhat shaken was when the tooth fairy wrote back to her.

See, she put her tooth in a little bag and attached a note, asking not for money, but for a written message in return.

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What would the tooth fairy do?

Well the fairy wrote back.

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Lu frowned: But Mama, this looks exactly like your handwriting. Did you write this?

At the same time, Day and Jo – everyone was at the breakfast table – couldn’t roll their eyes any further up their heads. (Yes, Jo has fallen) 

Lu was very very suspicious.

But the end of the day, she still believes in the tooth fairy. Although I think she’s determined to try and prove it when the next tooth falls by… not telling me.

Monday, May 29, 2017

bling bling

Jo has developed a definite fashion sense and it doesn’t gel with what I would buy for her if I were out on my own.

What would I buy?

Simple stuff, I suppose.

Comfortable, cool, understated, and if I had some money to spend, something possibly classic.

One of the priciest things I ever got for her for a Marks and Spencer dress which she seemed OK with when she tried it out, but has never worn.

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Well above her knees by now, she declared, “This makes my waist look so small, Mama. It makes me look like a doll, the waist is so awkward. I don’t want to look like a doll.”

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The other day, as we were out looking for a cap (she had outgrown her last one), she laid eyes on a demin cap with bling and to my massive surprise, she fell in love with it.

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KK was equally put out. Pointing to a replica without the bling, he suggested, “Jo why don’t you get this one?”

Nope. She wanted the bling. Thankfully, she didn’t want the ones which screamed LOVE or SEXY and picked a fairly innocent snowflake. It goes with the shirts and shorts she prefers these days.

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The dress, meanwhile, will be worn by someone else.

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

just lu

It’s only the littlest one these days who tags along when I run errands and offer (hopefully) – Who wants to follow me?

I miss the days when all three were open to new experiences.

Now they mostly know. The era of gai-gai and going out to see new things for the sake of it is long gone.

Unless I’m going someplace with air-conditioning or snazzy things or loads of fun, they’d rather stay put at home.

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* Lu with me at the market

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

steak

It’s still steak.

Thanks to blog archives, I realize KK’s obsession with cow meat truly stands the test of time. (I also notice that while I wrote then that Lu is not a fan of steak, she is now)

Five years later, he wants to up his steak game, and invests in more steak paraphernalia.

The girls very excitedly crowd around me when I came back from rehearsal one day: “Mama, Papa bought a XX which costs $Y!” To which KK cuts in, “No lah it was discounted”.

It doesn’t matter, really, he can spend his money however he wants. The reason I softly sigh is because I have to store these things.

And I know I won’t use them.

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What would I do with a sexy chopping board, heavy cast-iron pan which would strain my violin-playing wrist, and why the hell would I want to go through the hassle of carefully pouring olive oil from the glass bottle it already comes in, into another albeit prettier one?

I think the impetus was after we ate steak from a rather nice little coffeeshop restaurant out in the Pandan Gardens boondocks, right after trampolining, as recommended by Josephine who stays there. Part of a HDB block, its steaks, ribs and accompanying sides would inspire KK to drive 25km out, and I think he wanted to cook his own steaks again.

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* Ministry of Ribs

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* Its steak

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* Its ribs

When he does cook steak, by the way, there are no sides. No veg, no carbs. Dinner is just two thick slabs of beef, three if I'm around. (If I'm around, I also make sure there are sides)

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Anyway.

Besides the cast-iron pan (which I burn a salmon in so obviously it’s not very user-friendly), what’s new this time around is that he wants to make sauces to dress up his steaks.

Yes, sauces.

Our steaks never had sauces. Just butter, maybe.

He’s now into manufacturing his own sauces from scratch. Eccentric blended concoctions of peppers and parsley and garlic, or cream and stock and crushed black peppers.

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* Green peppers, parsley, garlic, lemon, salt... I think. Nice but slightly too parsley-ish

I mutter: why can’t you be obsessed with steamed fish?

(which is about 10 times healthier, cleaner for the kitchen and cheaper. I don’t know how to steam fish)

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* KK's steaks, always medium and a bit bloody (the way we all like it)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

results

A mummy friend asks me how Day did in the exams. “I don’t really know,” I say. I turn away and yell at Day to tell me the numbers, but he doesn’t remember either.

At this stage, with three sets of results to monitor, and Day doubling his list of subjects, I fail to register everything.

The broad impression is that Lu is very good in English, Jo is very good in Maths and Day is very good in cooking.

And that Lu is very bad in Chinese, Jo is somewhat weaker in languages and Day is possible not academically inclined in the least.

His teacher, a very young lady who looks to be in about her 20s, looks me in the eye and pronounces in a somewhat uncertain manner: “If he doesn’t buck up he could go to Normal Academic.”

Alamak.

That about sums up results.

The one course of action I absolutely need to take?

Send Day to a tutor for secondary school Chinese. I thought, maybe there’s hope yet, but no. His old tutor was right. He needs someone to whip him on.

Friday, May 19, 2017

trampoline find

They (and I) still like to jump.

But I refuse to go to the tiny over-crowded space in town.

Online, I see there are several other trampoline parks in outlying parts of Singapore.

Well, since we have a car, why not?

We hit one which is about 25km away in the West and strike gold.

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* Industrial building

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* Jumping quartet

It’s huge, with three basketball “lanes”, two dodgeball courts, a rock climbing wall, special Olympics super-bouncy trampolines, and three trampoline lanes for stunts.

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* Day on the trampoline track


* Me doing something which makes the girls laugh

There are very few people (for now).

It reminds me of the very first one we went to in Tanjong Katong, in that it feels a bit like a factory without central air-con (huge standing fans instead) with sunlight filtering through.

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* Monsoon air-con units

It’s cheaper. Monday to Thursday, its $14 per hour (for all) compared to $19 per hour (student rate) for Bounce.

There’s free drinking water from water dispensers, so there’s no need to pay for expensive bottled water.

The way things are run, it's all pretty relaxed, it's not popular to the point where rules are enforced in a draconian manner. So if we arrive early and want to start five minutes before, they're fine with it.

We can use any socks we want. They don’t force us to buy their socks.

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* Great form of fun exercise

Most importantly, it has a cafĂ© with wifi. Why is that important? 

Because it’s a lure for KK, who has totally gone off outdoors sports and all sorts of exercise apart from hot yoga in a hoity-toity pricey yoga studio.

Finally, here’s a place where we can sweat it out and he’s actually THERE with us, sitting at the cafe hunched over his laptop / mobile phone, with a drink.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

dying to meet you

I first met her in July 2015, at the office of the book publisher which match-made us.

She wanted to write an autobiography, my name was one amongst a handful of writers which the publisher provided to her, and she fortuitously chose me.

Nearly two years later, the book is finally out.

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She’s not famous, not like various politicians and top civil servants whose books are written and which Singaporeans seem to love, because these routinely top the best-seller non-fiction lists.

But I wanted to write her book because of what she does.

See, AJ is a funeral director.

For me, it was a dream come true. I was later told that not many writers would have wanted to delve deep into death, but that subject sparked my writing and questioning. It was effortless, there was so much I wanted to know.

Finally, I got to write a book I would want to read (I really do appreciate corporate work but there’s only so much that’s interesting about an organization or a campaign) and which would be sold in a bookstore.

A fellow freelance writer asked – But who would want to buy that sort of book?

I mean, who doesn’t have loved ones who die, and who will die themselves one day? Death is the only certainty in life, isn’t it?

There’s all the questions I had about the hard facts of funerals, how to organize one, things to watch out for, traditional Chinese funeral rituals.

I was most curious about embalming and my high point was dressing up in scrubs and standing in one corner of the embalming room with notepad in hand, watching an old gentleman being readied for the casket.

Then there’s the emotional element. So many stories she had to share of memorable cases, of a double suicide, a family where five people were killed at one shot leaving three shattered survivors, a mother who hid the truth of her husband’s death from her son who was taking his PSLE, three sisters estranged from their father who finally made peace with him when they saw his body at his funeral.

And then there’s her.

This didn’t come out in the book (which is written in first-person and it’d just sound weird) but she’s a whirl of contradiction.

There’s the job where she buttons down in somber black and pins her hair up in a chignon, and off-work where she slides on the butt-high shorts, clips on the shoulder-duster earrings, lets loose a backful of jetblack hair and dances the salsa with abandon with strange men. (“I really live life outside of work because I know how precious it is,” she says)

She wheels and deals in English and her company is somewhat atas in nature, catering to the high-end funeral crowd, but with me, we natter on in Mandarin, which makes me very comfortable straightaway, and she lapses into Hokkien. She comes from a very traditional Chinese background.

Most of all, despite all that she’s achieved and that she’s the boss, I’m astounded at how easy it was to work with her. She didn’t give me trouble the way most of my clients do, allowed me to freely roam her funerals and the embalming room, and she even put in my name. Yes, bylines may seem a natural entitlement for those not in the know, but you wouldn’t know how hard it is to fight for one sometimes. She respected my work, which is all too rare.

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I think it takes someone who sees death every day to not make life too difficult for others, you know?

So, I’m really proud of this one. And I'm really glad I got to meet her - while I'm alive - and that I like her.

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(the book is only available in Kinokuniya and here. I understand not every bookshop wants to stock it, and she’s even having trouble with finding an official launch venue, maybe because the pantang thing is still prevalent. I have no idea)

Monday, May 15, 2017

mother’s day

Breakfast (supposed to be in bed but I told them very nicely I'd prefer to eat in the kitchen) by the girls.

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(Only unlike Day, who had to go out, the girls are not enthusiastic cooks and they rouse KK up from slumber to fry up the bacon and mushrooms and egg).

And sweet cards.

Choice quotes:

Without you we wouldn’t survive for long.

You are always so kind to me, and even though you don’t have a pretty face, your personality outstands (sic) you on the inside.

I don’t think a great mother like you deserves a careless, clumsy and forgetful child like me.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

penmanship opportunity

Choon and Phoebe’s wedding cards - for the formal hotel wedding event in July - are breathtakingly heavy and classy.

I was entranced by the four triangular “gates” of impossibly intricate cut-out motifs which fold over the ivory invitation.

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I love writing nice fonts, and the moment I saw those cards I was dying to write on them.

I mean, what opportunity is there to display penmanship these days? Who cares about handwriting?

We used to practice cursive writing in school, but the kids these days don’t even do that. I’ve had to teach the trio how to write in cursive and mind you it doesn’t come naturally. And my "training" is so sporadic they're hardly proficient.

My mum, who has the neatest handwriting, also jumps at the chance and writes on the cards meant for the elders.

I do Choon and Phoebe’s guests.

I ventured to Art Friend and gleefully purchased a calligraphy pen with three different-sized nibs for about $20.

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The time outs I took to write those cards, in between doing the laundry and working on articles, were truly pleasurable. It’s so therapeutic.

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Jo and Lu, taking turns to slot the invites into the “gates” and then the entire piece into the envelopes, completed the card conveyer belt.

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I think I wrote perfectly well but in response to my offer to write her wedding invites, Jo declared – “No Mama I’ll get a professional. You made some mistakes.”

(chiefly being that the words on the envelopes were occasionally off-centre)

And now that I’m done writing, the girls can use the pen for… homework charts.

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* Lu's chart

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* My practice sheet

Thursday, May 11, 2017

lu the accompanist

Lu’s makes her school talent show debut!

Her classmate’s mum asks if Lu can accompany her flautist daughter for an item. I think, why not?

She passes me the piano score for the Radetsky March. No way Lu can manage the jumps and octaves.

I simplify it for Lu into the base chords so its easy, and teach her over the weekend.

The most important thing to do, I tell her, is to always, always, always listen to and follow Carolynn.

And with Carolynn, away she goes! It's a fun song!

 * This video is of their practice. The show itself is far too noisy

I think it might be her last time though. Like her jie jie, she doesn't like the stage.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

eczema update

The weather’s turned hot. 

Well its blistering hot and raining in turn, but as I was sweltering under the full blast of the fan the other day, I suddenly realized I wasn't scratching.

This was exactly the kind of hot, wet weather which would have caused weepy patches to bloom anew on my fingers and legs in the past, throughout my 20s and most of my 30s.

They don’t come back anymore, and I'm not taking anything.

Aside from an occasional itch, I just realized they haven’t haunted me for a while. I think it's been about six years since I visited the homeopath. Even when they return, its with decreasing intensity, until it hardly bothers me. 

I don’t know if it was the homeopathy, generally getting healthier (more exercise and sleep, less stress) or staying completely clear of Western meds especially antibiotics. 

It may well return at some point, but for now, I’m just very, very grateful for my state of skin.

So while the weather is horrible, it makes me smile to realize I’m just hot and sweaty, like normal people, and not itchy or battling a skin infection.

Maybe I can even start swimming regularly again.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

dissolved shell

Lu’s many attempts at doing strange things often fail.

Mainly because it requires some too-weird ingredient and she improvises, or I didn’t help. Like the time she tried to make drawings with salt she dyed. Or when she follows Youtube instructions and its far too complex.

The other day she finally scored. Really, its finally, because she's had so many fails.

She saw on Youtube that immersing an egg in vinegar would melt off the shell, leaving a bouncy rubbery ball.

The egg smelled really bad and sour (to me anyway, because I hate vinegar and the egg had absorbed it) but it worked! 

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* Remnants of shell clinging on

The egg bounced, once, twice, and then the thin membrane split and the runny egg thudded into the sink, but she was delighted!

Friday, May 05, 2017

terrarium gift

I suddenly decided that I wanted to thank a few people who slogged their butts off to make the Tainan trip possible for us.

I thought I’d make them mosaic pictures, or terrariums. (See, all these crafty classes can be put to good use!)


I imagined a tree (the cactus lah), a bench, a streetlight, a pond and a character. I just went down to the shop to buy what I needed to make at home.

It was dead easy. Except for the characters.

See, I wanted each terrarium to be customized with a character resembling the person I was giving it to. In my head, I figured I would fashion it with the girls’ coloured eraser clay – like making Playdoh, simple right? – bake it so it’d harden, apply a coat of laquer, fix a pin on the base and stick it into the soil.

I didn’t think that with lao hua yan it’d be hell trying to make the tiny little people.

I employed Lu’s help. Showed her the pictures of my friends, she did a great job following the hairstyles and their attires. I busted my eyes out making the instruments and drawing the lines, but gave up at the bows. How to make stick-like bows?

Then I sprayed the coat of laquer. It wouldn’t set, not after days. Instead it left a sticky veneer so it felt like a licked lollipop.

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* They're about 3cm tall. My eyes!

I sprayed over and over, to no avail. It stayed stubbornly sticky. I couldn’t use the sticky people. It’d be icky to touch and would collect dust. I had to junk them. Lu was broken-hearted. I was completely pissed for not testing first.

I made another set, this time without Lu’s help because she was most put out. I busted my eyes out again.

And because I had run out of brown for the instruments, I had to use orange and because I used orange, I couldn’t use it for the skin and had to resort to yellow.

The girls thought the characters looked horrible. Like they had jaundice.

Well it’s the thought that counts.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2017

tainan: in one post

We stayed four days, which isn’t very long, and spent most of it rehearsing and performing, so we didn’t see very much.

But Tainan is quite lovely. It’s Taiwan’s oldest city and it doesn’t appear touristy – a local tells us that it was only in recent years that there have been more things for tourists to do – but reminds me of Japan in its prettiness and the way the light strikes it.

Its also not city-ish. Our hotel with its attached mall is the only high-rise for acres around. Most developments are low. When we get there, the air is a shade cooler than that in Singapore.

Oh and everyone gets around on scooters. Including kids (sitting at the adult's feet) and pets.

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Highlights.

PERFORMANCES

We played thrice: at the Xinying Cultural Centre (to a paying audience), at a private dinner (hosted by our Taiwanese sponsor who happens to own a company manufacturing iPhone cases) and at a museum (to members of the public).

(These performances were what the loaned violin was for)

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* Xinying Cultural Centre

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* (Impressive) wheelchair-friendly slots at Xinying

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* A giant briefcase art installation at Xinying

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* Rehearsing at the Chimei Museum, standing around and trying to prop up our scores as we have no stands

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* Chimei Museum, which is as echo-y as the average toilet

The audience is very enthusiastic, more than those in Singapore.

I learn that while there is no lack of fantastic soloists in Tainan, there are few string ensemble groups and even fewer which play unique arrangements.

So what we bring over is very refreshing, especially when we perform the Singapore-arranged versions of Taiwanese hits like Gan Lan Shu (Olive Tree) and Ku Sha (Sands of Sorrow).

MUMMY RETREAT

My room-mate is Kathleen, a violinist and fellow mum who is going away from her children for the first time since they were born.

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* Kathleen savouring the feeling of being alone. We two enjoyed a dinner of beef soup and rice

In some ways, we both felt like we were being released from prison.

She kept going shopping on her own, reveling in being able to walk around without toddlers hanging around her knees, while I took every opportunity to have fun.

In the hotel, we both marveled at how easy it was to keep the room and toilet neat and clean. We completely understood each other’s ecstasy.

KARAOKE

I’ve only sung karaoke twice in Singapore, but how can I not sing karaoke in Taiwan?

I pop over with three boys on our last night, two Taiwanese and one Singaporean.

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* Christoven, me, our incredible Taiwanese "tour guide" and friend Hsu Ko

It’s a blast. The auntie screams her way through Mariah and Whitney (I didn’t pick those songs, the boys sabo-ed me).

It’s dirt cheap, with food throw in to the package, fabulous individual microphones for each of us, disco lights and an attached bathroom.

OYSTER MURDER

We head out to an out-of-the-way pier with walls of oyster shells and sit down at dirty knee-high tables.

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The best meal I had in Tainan was a tub of oysters freshly pried from the seawater.

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Encrusted with barnacles and algae and whatnot, the oysters are laid – flat side facing up – on a hot grill. The seawater inside is boiled, the oyster dies, and we know its time when the shell pops open with a hiss, like what you hear when water over-boils. We slurp.

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* Hsu Ko demonstrating how its done

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No sauce, no nothing. Just pure freshly-killed oyster in briny boiling hot seawater which explodes in the mouth and slides down the throat. It is amazing.

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* Small but so fresh and packed with flavour

Cost? We paid a fixed fee, a pittance, for the entire excursion which included a trip out to sea, and we could have kept on asking for more oysters only I didn’t think it’d be good to eat more than 20.

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* Someone's dog at the oyster fest. People there seem to love toy dogs, plenty of them around

NIGHT MARKET

This is Taiwan’s delight, the night markets. Packed shoulder-to-shoulder, we jostle with the locals (who head there for late-night suppers or to buy cheap stuff) and stuff ourselves with mostly fried food.

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* Eric (in blue) and wife playing a kind of pinball

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* Big fat squid

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* Nok the Thai boy trying out smelly beancurd

Not my thing, fried food, so one visit is sufficient.

FOOD

Food in Tainan is curiously sweet. So the batter from the fried stuff would be sweet-ish.

I learn that sugar was a treasured commodity in the past and it was considered a privilege and honour to be able to eat it. That has persisted, and sweetness now laces most of the food.

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* Sorbet-ish ice cream with peanut and coriander wrapped in popiah skin. It sounds wrong but it works right

INSTRUMENTS SHOWCASE

Funny I just blogged about trying out good violins, because in Tainan we were treated to a rare show-and-tell of the Chimei Museum’s string instrument collection.

Who knew this museum in this corner of Taiwan has one of the most impressive and valuable collections of old instruments in the world?

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* Eye-catching. A gutted-out double bass's second life as a shelf

It was paid for by a self-made Taiwanese billionaire, who grew up poor but along the way fell in love with the sound of the violin and taught himself to play. When the money came rolling in from his plastics manufacturing businesses, he started acquiring instruments.

The collection is apparently the world’s most comprehensive in breadth and depth (in 2012, nearly 1,200 instruments by 904 makers and 603 bows by 300 makers) and plenty of classical music big shots borrow them. These are instruments worth millions and are centuries old.

(I hear the collector's wife, however, thinks he is purchasing over-priced planks of wood)

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* Curator Dai-Ting Chung

Funny thing is, after the curator lovingly went through the entire row of violins all lined up in front of him, nobody dared to go up and play because it’d be like a performance and would be too freaking stressful. I mean, even our decorated soloist was reluctant.

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* Say Ming finally relents

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* Shue Churn taking a video of Juan

It was only later when the formal session had been disbanded that people went up to touch.

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(No, I didn’t. I didn’t think I was worthy. And I had nightmares I’d do something stupid like drop it.)

BONDING

That's the best part isn't it? Just having fun with old and new friends.

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* Kenneth, Zeng Ying, Ye Zhi, Nok

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* Out on the streets enjoying the stellar tea of Tainan