Sunday, July 16, 2017

desk purge

Jo really doesn’t do things by halves.

Just as she lopped off her hair, she decided to purge her desk.

It’s like she is going through some Marie Kondo phase, to de-clutter and rid her life of excess hair and junk.

I’ve been trying to get her to clean her desk and the area around it for months, maybe since last year. I start every holiday by asking the kids to wade through and weed out. Jo never does.

But suddenly, again to my great surprise, she took it upon herself one weekend to do so.


It wasn’t an effort of an hour or two or even several, it took the entire weekend.

And it was a complete clean purge, surgical and unsentimental in the extent to which she methodically cut off and discarded all the things piled on her desk and on the floor.

Bear in mind that up until the purge, she tended to be a hoarder. She had kept all her school notes, from the early Primary’s, on a “just-in-case” basis. This time she threw it all out, even the notes from just last year.

In an uncharacteristic move, she merrily trotted things out from her room, happily giving them away to Lu and Eva who was visiting. It was like an auction: "Who wants this?" and the two younger girls would jump up and down for it. There were things which had never been touched, little souvenir elephants I gave her, stationary which had been gifted to her for good performance, stale food which she never opened but kept from months back (OK these were thrown and not given away).

* Things she threw out but which I am keeping. The cute little white puff, the elephants I bought her, a Children's Day present from the piano teacher of Hello Kitty in bed

There were photos, Polaroids of her and her friends, little half-completed diaries. She took down all her class photos from her board. She even wanted to junk her Japan travel diary which contained loads of things she had written and postcards. “If I’d finished writing the whole thing I’d like it and keep it,” said Jo, who had only documented half the trip. “But I didn’t so I don’t want it.”

Then there were all the brand-new books, in which she had tried to start personal diaries. “This is such a nice book, but I don’t want such disgusting stuff inside.”

For the first time, I found myself imploring my child to keep, not throw or give away!

While I regularly throw things out, my weakness is sentiment. I asked if I could keep some of her stuff. And I think that as long as it’s not on her radar, she doesn’t care what I do with her “disgusting stuff”. Her lack of sentiment scares me, but I think it is truly admirable.

The good thing is, three years after we created the space for them, Jo is finally using the desk not as a storage platform, but as it was meant to be used: To study and do her homework.

In her clean, minimalist, de-cluttered space, she is at peace. And I think she is finally of age to be able to clear up every time she finishes, and keep the space clean.

* Nothing was "shifted" to be stored somewhere else. Everything was thrown out. I guess what's left are the things which, in the words of Ms Kondo, "spark joy" for her!

(Lu is still using hers as a storage platform)

Friday, July 14, 2017


See something different?


It was the result of a long, well-considered and arduous decision.

For weeks, Jo had entertained the notion of cutting her hair.

It came out of the blue. Since her haircut in Primary 2, she never wanted her hair to go above her shoulder blades, and had notions of it reaching her waist.

Why did she suddenly want to cut her hair?

It had to do how she decided that taming her ponytail in the morning was too much work, with little to show for. First, she combs, combs and combs before gathering her hair back in a super-tight tail to ensure that there are no “balls” popping up on her scalp (anyone familiar with tying ponytails will know that hair will inevitably pop up in slightly looser places). Second, it is a great source of irritation to her when the ends of the ponytail don’t go in one direction. She curls, curls and curls, to no avail.

(her morning hair ritual can take 15-20 minutes)

There are many steps she takes before conclusively arriving at the eventual decision.

Simulation. She gathers up the ends of her hair and arranges a kind of bob, scrutinizing herself in the mirror to see if it’s acceptable. She does this not just once, but multiple times over weeks.

Feedback. She sends a message to the class group chat: Should I cut my hair? A boy replies: You should go bald.

Last-minute changes. A couple of times, I am on the brink of bringing her to the hairdresser when she says – No, no, no, I changed my mind. Of course I relent. This decision is firmly in her court, because I don’t want to be scolded if the cut is not ideal.

The day arrives. I walk with her to the hairdresser. 

* One last look

She very specifically details to the lady exactly how short it should be, and that she does not want a short fringe.


* Lady presents the ponytail. I could theoretically clone Jo in future with the DNA in that hair


Result: She is not very happy.

Because the hair “springs” up a bit, it is shorter than she’d like. After her shower, she also realizes to her great dismay that her hair, in a bob, does not automatically curl inwards. She still spends about 15-20 minutes every morning trying to curl in the ends with her brush.

The good part is that aside from the irritating "ticks", she doesn't really care what other people think about her new hair, unlike in Primary 2. And KK, the man who hates long hair, is absolutely thrilled. He whoops - like how he’d whoop when Man U scores a goal - when he returns home to see his daughter’s new bob.

WhatsApp Image 2017-07-17 at 20.39.04

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

big family

For Choon's wedding, the relatives turn up in droves, including the whole bunch from Malaysia who would normally have no good reason to step into a country where the exchange rate is so unfavourable.

It was a big family reunion of sorts. Between Gong Gong and his four siblings they produced over 20 children who had their own children, so on and so forth.

* Gong Gong's family: #5, #3, #2 and Gong Gong who is #4. The father of my nine Malaysian cousins, #1, has passed away

* Everybody's here for Choon!

* My niece, Li Wen's, baby. I tell the girls that the baby's mummy is their generational peer. That is, if Gong Gong had married earlier they'd be having babies by now. They gape

* Gong Gong and Ah Thim, saying something which must have been very funny

* Some of our Malaysian relatives with Phoebe's relatives


As Choon said in his wedding speech, a big family is a blessing and something to treasure.

For I don’t think there will be many big family photos like these once my parents pass on. Families are so small and contained these days. It’ll probably just be me, Choon and Teng and our offspring. Tiny.

Monday, July 10, 2017

choon & phoebe’s big day

When: Saturday, 8 July 2017

This - the gatecrash, the tea-ceremony and the hotel lunch - concludes Choon and Phoebe's matrimonial journey, which has enlivened our lives thoroughly in the past year. It was full-on, not an event(s) to be gotten over with to please the parents, but really, cause for celebration every stage of the way.

Here's the timeline of the big day. I hardly took photos, too busy, but of the few photos I took I decided to use the time stamp feature. The one which tells you exactly what time the photo was taken!

KK and I wake up at 6am and make our way over to my folks. The two of us are part of the groom's party. KK's the driver, I'm the calefare. Here I help Teng to put on suspenders. He is a best man virgin. He's never done it, and he's certainly never worn suspenders in his life so he doesn't quite know how.

Arrival at Phoebe's home where the boys are greeted by the bride's ladies in waiting, for an early round of fun and games in the quiet back alley, as the neighbours rise from slumber and poke their heads out to check out what's going on. 


The trio of best men: Mario (Choon's friend from primary school), Sean (Choon's tenant in Darwin, who flew back for his wedding) and Teng. Phoebe has a network of very close girl friends to play bridesmaids, but for Choon, at the grand old age of 40, and having lived in Australia for over a decade, he was hard-pressed to find people who would be willing to go through the trial of Chinese wedding fun and games. Fortunately he managed to get these three. (Teng was very unwilling but no choice)

The games revolve around the idea of 酸甜苦辣 (sour, sweet, bitter, spicy). Sour starts the day as the boys manouver lemon slices from their foreheads to their mouths without hands. Something like that.

Sweet. They dangle bananas from the waist with raffia string and get another best man to remove the skin with teeth only.

Sporting chaps. KK stands with me at the side and silently gives thanks that he was the designated driver. Although the camera crew note that the fun and games are really quite tame, perhaps because "the couple and their friends are more mature".

Teng: "Ha? Is this never going to end?" Bitter is a drink, and spicy is chilli instant noodles, which they all slurp up with great enthusiasm because hungry...

After Choon and the gang make it through and upstairs, the bride comes down. Phoebe's dad holds a red umbrella over her (auspicious symbol I think) as they get into the bridal car, her Merc, to travel to the site of the morning photo shoot.

Somewhere around Gardens by the Bay East.

Phoebe and her gang of "sisters", beautifully clad in dresses custom-made and ordered online.

KK admiring the Malaysia-based photography and videography team's drone. "I want a drone," he murmured, to my great consternation. 

Choon's party. Comprising Sean, KK, me, Mario, Teng

Group shot against the Singapore skyline.

Upon return home to my folks, everyone in the house yells for Day. "What? What??" he responds. "Get on the bed and jump on it," orders the cameraman and videographer, who are poised with fingers to snap. "Ha? What? Jump?" Yes, everyone says in chorus. So he's the only "little boy" around who can do this. He gamely complies, jumping, lying on the bed, rolling everywhere. Its somewhat fitting as this was the room he used to hang out in as a baby, and he used to jump in exactly the same spot, next to the window, on a single bed (it's been converted into the master bedroom for Choon and Phoebe). Footage of his doing so makes it into the wedding video, its that important a tradition as its supposed to bless the couple with fertility.

Day has to punch his fist to break a barrier of red paper placed over the opening of a potty, which once broken reveals a packet of sweets which Day is supposed to take. Meaning of the ritual? I don't know.

Or thereabouts (no idea of time because I took no photos) was the tea ceremony at the hotel during which I was completely swamped collecting red packets and scrambling to help Choon and Phoebe pack more for a surprisingly large number of kids.

At the reception waiting for guests to arrive. Again, no photos of anything because I was too busy saying hello. This photo was fortuitously taken because David (the guy in the centre), who moves musical instruments for a living and who worked closely with Por Por during her youth orchestra days, insisted on a photo with us. Thank God he did. Por Por custom-made that cheongsam she is wearing, while my dress was gifted to me by Pris who has a sense of style which dwarfs mine. 

Guests waiting for the lunch to start at the St Regis ballroom. Why St Regis? Por Por suggested it way back in December right after Choon made his proposal - she did the homework and got the information - because she thinks the food there is good. They gamely went along with the hotel and all of its luxe pricing.

First march-in, him in checks, she in white. Not bad, the lunch didn't start too late.

Phoebe walks in to the ballroom solo, singing a Cantonese song as she starts tearing, to join her bevy of bridesmaids on stage. While she walks in, choking on the lyrics of the song as she is overtaken by emotion, Choon whispers to me, "I think I better go to her." Ya lah, then? You should cry too! (He didn't...)

Blue for the second march-in.

The couple make their Bombshell announcement during their speech, to cheers and applause: They're expecting a little girl in December! KIDS WILL HAVE ANOTHER LITTLE GIRL COUSIN! Day didn't even have to jump on the bed at 10:29am!

Pa takes to the stage with great gusto, charisma and a whole lot of cheer. He's so thrilled that his eldest son is finally married, and that he'll have another grandchild. He speaks in Chinese (I meant to transcribe but its too cheem) before presenting Choon and Phoebe with the English song, "Only You" at the 2:20 mark. He didn't want to sing but we (Por Por and me) made him.

After all the hands are shaken and goodbyes are said, Day, Lu and I head up to the bridal suite with my folks (KK had to bring Jo to the NDP preview which she is attending with her school mates). It’s all hands on deck as we form a conveyor line to open red packets and count money, as Choon and Phoebe catch up on their meal (I’ve never met a couple who managed to eat properly during their own wedding). What’s the rush? The couple (very efficient) want to bank in the money that very evening.

Day and Lu who were acting terribly fatigued after the long lunch, weren't involved at first but after it becomes clear that counting money can be a tiresome task, they perk up when they get to join in the conveyor belt. Lu to open packets and check that they're empty, Day to count and categorise the notes. They are thrilled to touch all the dollar notes. Finally, Maths makes sense.

Saturday, July 08, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 06, 2017


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

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


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

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

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

What do we taste for the first time?

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

art developments

(only relates to Lu)

Art Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Her pick, guarded by Bibi

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


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


Art Mediums

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

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

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

Art Corner

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


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

* Good for reading and chilling out too

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


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

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

* Latest addition - kangkong from school

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