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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Clash of Civilisations

This is a Mother-in-law post.

A Woman With Male Chauvinist Beliefs
I have known my mother-in-law for 30 years. Until now, I see the trees but not the forest. I address problems but have never taken a helicopter view to sum up the macro level dynamics that lead to micro level clashes between us. I see reason to blog about this because it might actually help other women in my situation.

Grandma is a woman of her times. She is a woman with male chauvinist beliefs. Women are worth less than men. Her own daughter was neglected in favour of her son, my husband. When I gave my daughter into her care, my daughter developed emotional issues arising from Grandma's very obvious favouring of my son. These emotional issues underpinned The Daughter's poor academic results. Back then, my poor daughter scored in the bottom 25% of her cohort until I stepped in to resolve these issues, whereupon she went straight to the top in cohort.

Feudal Notions of the Matriarch VS Daughter-in-Law Relationship
In line with these subconscious beliefs, Grandma's mental model of a daughter-in-law was one that made sense only in feudal China. Grandma's view of a MIL was one of an all powerful matriarch who could order the daughters-in-law about, and freely dispose of all said daughters-in-law's possessions (including dowry and children). This probably made sense in an era where the matriarch of a wealthy family controlled all family resources. In those days, daughters-in-law were illiterate and the only way to prove their worth was to render service to their MIL, and thereby gain favour.

30 years ago, I did not understand this.

I simply found it puzzling that Grandma would go into my room, take one piece of my jewelry and then lend it to her sister without even asking me first. It was NOT jewelry that her son gave to me. It was a piece that I received from my own family. From Grandma's perspective, everything that belongs to her son (including his wife and all his wife's belongings) is hers.

I never understood why Grandma insisted on having her own bedroom in my HDB flat when her own 5 room HDB flat was within shouting and gesturing distance across the HDB carpark. Since she insisted, I gave her own bedroom. That was the biggest mistake of my life. Ensconced in her bedroom, she proceeded to take over my home entirely. She said that she disliked the way I had disposed the furniture and moved it around to suit her tastes. She did not like the spot where I had placed my kitchen condiments, and also moved those. She told me that my brands of soya sauce were not good, and proceeded to replace those too. If I told the helper to fry kang kong, she would go into the kitchen and tell the helper to fry bayam, not kang kong.

I felt like a guest in the apartment that I owned. I had no say in the home whether it pertained to my children or my furniture.

Since I was working full time, I mostly gritted my teeth and suffered in silence, except for the few instances where I thought she had really gone too far. When she proposed to mediate a quarrel between my husband and me, I told her bluntly that we were quite capable of conducting our marriage without her help.

To me, I was asserting my rights. However, from her world view, in the few cases where I did lay down the boundaries, I had impinged upon her rights as the matriarch of the family. What little I did to protect my rights, she experienced as a violation of hers.

Save My Family
Then, my children started to show dysfunctional behaviours. Little Boy only had eyes for Grandma. Grandma possessed him entirely, body, heart and soul. Little Boy hated his sister and absolutely detested his Father. The Daughter was in the bottom 25% of the cohort and was convinced that she was not loved. I came home from work to a whining daughter, a helper who complained about MIL and a MIL who complained about my daughter and the helper. Only my son could do no wrong. I looked into our joint future and I saw a loser daughter, a spoilt son and contentious relationships all around.

No way!

I tried to manage by working more from home. It was futile. My household and my little family were in a mess, even as I strove to please everyone and do the right thing...
- Convince The Daughter that she was loved.
- Repair the relationships Little Boy had with his father and his sister.
- Allow Grandma to occupy space in our little family unit to the exclusion of me.
- Discipline Little Boy (because The Husband held me responsible for how spoilt his son was)

The dysfunctional relationships had gained momentum. Grandma did not understand what I was trying to do and acted in ways that undermined my efforts. To reverse the momentum successfully, I needed her out of the way.

I prayed very hard. God sent our little family to the USA, where I had 12 months to do the emotional labour I needed to do, to root out the dysfunctions in my little family. Once I had repaired all our relationships, we came back as a united family and then Grandma found that it was hard to monopolise Little Boy's affections. The Daughter also knew that I was her rock. It took 2 more years to get Little Boy to like his father but I had already laid a good foundation which was relatively easy to build on.

Maintaining Boundaries
However, I became wary of MIL. I feared that if she continued to intrude into our lives, she would undo all that I had done. So, I took back the bedroom I had given her, explaining that I needed a personal study room. She would still come over every day but there was a limit to her intrusion because she had to go home to sleep.

Then, we moved into a penthouse duplex. She vigorously demanded a room in our house. In order to avoid an all out quarrel, both The Husband and I listened silently BUT did nothing. MIL cried real tears because she felt that her rights as a matriarch were being seriously violated. She was a matriarch without a place in my home, and thus, she was no longer in a legitimate position to control my little family. She was as if bereft. Me, I was puzzled at her emotional response. I did not understand why she absolutely needed a bedroom in my house, when she owned a 5 room flat 5 bus stops down the road. It was really puzzling.

It did not stop her from trying to assert her rights as matriarch. At first, she came over daily and would tell me that my toilets were dirty and needed washing, my pineapple tarts should go into the fridge. One day, I bluntly told her that she should govern her own home 5 bus stops down the road, and leave my home to me to manage. Privately, I thought to myself, "I have a Masters degree. Surely, I can be trusted to decide when to wash my toilets." Again, she was as if bereft. I had impinged on her rights as matriarch of the family, deserving of obedience and blind respect even in the smallest things.

Over time, she came over less often (3 times a week). She complained that it was because she did not feel at home in my home. Privately, I thought to myself, "Thank goodness for that! If you feel at home in my home, I know I will again feel like guest in my home."

Moving In Together Again
Then, we moved into a semi-detached home. By then, MIL was getting on in years. She really wanted to live in the same house as us. On the ground floor, there was space to build her a mini apartment of 1000 sq ft with her own kitchen, living room and bedroom. To get from her apartment to my home, you have to go outside. I made it very clear to her that she should leave me to manage my side of the house without her interference. Else, I was prepared to move out of a landed home and into a condo. She would then have to move back to her own HDB 5 room flat.

This worked for 5 years. However, we had still not addressed her world view. She still feels wronged. Lately, she has started complaining again that this is her son's house, and she should be allowed to do what she wishes where she wishes. She should be allowed to manage the helper as she sees fit. She should have free access into even my bedroom when she wishes. When I left the house, she would come over and tour our bedrooms, telling the helper that this is her son's house and therefore hers. She commented that perhaps I would be more compliant if she had more money, which made no sense to me.

My reaction was violent. I had a major meltdown and actually suffered 2 hormone crashes. I crudely told my husband, "Perhaps we should invite her to watch us have sex in the bedroom she claims belongs to her, by dint of it belonging to you."

The thought of having her dictate my every decision and action was no longer tolerable. I had experienced it for long years and had developed a psychological allergy to it. My reaction escalated into 2 panic attacks and 4 days in bed. No no no! I will not be chattel again! Why should I be chattel? I have a bloody PhD!

I had thought that I was being a good daughter-in-law to let her have her own self-sufficient apartment in my house. I thought I was being a good daughter-in-law to make her kefir every day and almond milk every now and then. I give her home grown veggies regularly. I do hospital duty. Over the years, I have gifted her with diamonds, opals, ovens, vacuum cleaners, spray mops and air purifiers. In my will, it is specified that should I die before her, this house cannot be sold until she passes on. Living in my house means that she has income of $2000 a month from renting out her HDB flat.

Yet, she still thinks she is badly treated.

Now, I realise that it is a lost cause. Only total ownership of me and mine will satisfy her. To satisfy her, I must be prepared to take on the position of chattel. I will never do that. Why should I?

She is not a bad person. She is simply a woman with values from a bygone era - where women had no rights and no wealth, except what they had through their son. Think about the Empress Dowagers of China. They held power insofar as their sons had power. MIL claimed rights and power through her son, my husband. For a better idea of how this translates into practice, click HERE.

If I were illiterate and non-wealth generating, I suppose that I would HAVE TO be compliant and have no sense of me and mine. This is the position that many domestic helpers and foreign workers are found in. Employers impinge on workers' basic human rights all the time. For those who treat their helpers like less than human, think on the fact that not 50 years ago, many daughters-in-law were in the same position.  There is no way either of us can come to an amicable solution because to uphold her rights, is to deny me mine. To uphold my rights, is to deny her hers.

I wish I had had this moment of epiphany years ago. I would have saved myself so much heartache from trying and not getting appreciated. Henceforth, I know there is no pleasing her. I am not able to give her what she considers rightfully hers, without denying myself what is rightfully mine. I will do what I can and not expect any appreciation at all.

It is not my fault. It is not her fault. It is a clash of civilisations.

I am very grateful that in my country, women have rights as men do. I am aware that there are still places on this earth where women have no rights at all. I am also grateful that my husband finally understands how much aggravation I have borne in 3 decades. He understands chiefly because he now has a high achieving daughter starting her journey through life, and he does not want his daughter to go through what I went through.

Finally, my husband is prepared to defend my rights.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Garden Veggies Are Not Free

Let me ask you. Would you go to your relatives' or neighbours' fridge and help yourself to their fresh vegetables, smiling and saying, "It's just for me. One person. I don't eat much." Would you also go rummage about in their NTUC grocery bags and take some fresh tomatoes and a few pears, saying, "They're just laying there. Spare me some."

Would you?

I doubt anyone would. However, people do think that it is ok to help themselves to the vegetables in my garden. A neighbour I hardly know, passed by, and said, "When I pass by, I will snip those long beans hanging on the outside of your fence. She was not asking me. She was telling me. Relatives snip and take smiling and saying, "It's just for me. One person. I don't eat much." Friends look upon my tomatoes and say, "Pass me some!"

You know what, I prefer to go and buy vegetables for you than give you from my garden. It is difficult nowadays to get truly organic produce that is pesticide free. The "organic" labels cannot be trusted. So, the little vegetables that I produce for my family are precious. It is also precisely because mine are fully organic and pesticide free veggies that they stimulate veggie lust from relatives and friends. Everyone recognises the value of such veggies in today's chemically toxic world.

What they do NOT know is how expensive it is to produce these veggies. I spent more than $4000 on benches and trellises and close to $1000 on soil alone. These are only the sunk costs. What about the running costs? Organic fertilisers do not come cheap, and I buy them in bags of $25kg. Then, there is the TIME invested in inspecting the garden every morning to hand pick insects that would otherwise devour the veggies and herbs. How else do you think I can raise vegetables without pesticides? One physically pores through the leaves and removes the bugs by hand. It takes about 30 minutes to apply fertiliser and one needs to water daily too! It takes effort to make compost and vermicompost to feed the plants.

People assume that if the veggie is growing under the sun and in soil, that it must be cheap and free. It isn't. Home grown veggies are expensive to produce, in money, time and effort.

I regularly give away my surplus. To relatives, I sometimes give even though it means I need to go buy supermarket veggies to top up for my family. The irony is that it is because I give generously that people start to take me for granted... and then, they go through my garden and cut what they want.

The Husband is convinced that the witches of old are nothing more than highly intelligent women who knew herbs and could grow plants. The ability to make plants thrive and use them for medicine must seem like magic to some. The Husband believes that back in the day, I would qualify as a Good Witch because I know how to make children behave, heal my family with herbs and cast a spell on my garden so that leaves grow green and lush.

What readily comes to mind is the story of Rapunzel. Here is my take on that story. When Rapunzel's mother (let's call her Thief 1) was pregnant with her, she glimpsed the lush vegetables in a witch's garden. She really really wanted to eat those vegetables. To satisfy his wife's yearning, Rapunzel's father (let's call him Thief 2) climbed over the high wall and stole 3 NTUC bags worth of greens and root vegetables. He did this DAILY.

Every morning, the witch walked her garden and she saw bare patches here and there where vegetables should have been. Daily, there were more and more bare patches. The witch was broken hearted. She mourned the loss of her priceless veggies. She resolved to catch the thief. She did catch the thief, and to the Witch's mind, priceless must exchange for priceless and in return for her priceless veggies, she exacted from Rapunzel's Father an equivalent price - his unborn baby.

Now, tell me. How is it that the witch went down in history as the bad guy in the story? That is so unfair! If I had acres of veggies, I don't mind, but my garden is small. It is barely enough for us. Now, if you will excuse me, it is time to teach a certain relative some kindergarten manners. Don't worry. I will not be asking for a baby.

Friday, July 20, 2018

I Blinked

I faced off with Maggie our Princess Hen and I blinked.

2 weeks ago, Maggie crouched on her feeding bowl like a lump of exasperated feathers. She gave me an irritated look. I offered her some millet, corn and sprouted mung beans, along with normal chicken feed and high protein food for insectivores.

Maggie took one look, turned around and strutted away with the hauteur of Queen Marie-Antoinette. You could almost hear her say, "No mealworms? YOU eat the millet."

I told her that she was a naughty girl and then I decided to treat her the way I treated my kids. I said, "Fine! You eat the millet OR you eat NOTHING."

The thing is, my children don't lay delicious eggs. Maggie does and she has the upper hand. Out of spite, our NAUGHTY princess hen stopped laying. Then, today, she absolutely had to lay an egg so she laid such a tiny egg that she might as well be a quail. See below.

See that tiny egg on the left! This was Maggie saying, 
"No worms for me!? Tiny egg for YOU!"

I lasted 2 weeks. Today, I obediently went to the store to get 8 boxes of mealworms for Princess Hen. I faced off with a hen and I lost.

Friday, June 22, 2018

French Cheeses

We like French cheeses. Really like French cheeses. It has not been easy to get hold of French cheeses in Singapore. Huber's specialises in Swiss cheeses. They're good (still way better than the plastic tasting cheddar slices and the mass produced camembert in the supermarkets).

We are still partial to French cheeses.

They all taste different and all have complex taste profiles. There is the smell of the terroir. Different cheeses have discernible notes of fresh grass, daisies, berries. French cheeses are real treats. My new fascination with French cheese started on Mother's Day this year, at One Ninety where they served Pouligny St. Pierre on the buffet table. It was Wow! The Chef at One Ninety is excellent. 

The One Ninety buffet does not have all the hype of Ritz-Carlton's Colony but each offering is well-chosen. Colony served Boursin from the supermarket. One Ninety served Pouligny St Pierre. I know which restaurant provides true quality.

Cheese platters (with artisanal cheese) for 4 in a restaurant cost about $30 and you only get a few slivers of 3 to 4 types of cheese. So, I decided to source for French artisanal cheeses. I found a good selection at The Marketplace and then, I found La Petite Boutique (which flies in exactly the type of French cheese I order). La Petite Boutique supplies to restaurants so you can get through them, really special cheeses that you cannot find in the supermarkets (or even their website). If you KNOW what cheese you want, just order through them. The prices range from $7 to $19 per cheese and I get the whole block (instead of a few slivers).

Pouligny St. Pierre - salty flavour that turns sweet in the mouth, and ends with nuttiness.

Banon de Chalais - rich and creamy, smells of mushroom.

Langres - oozy and creamy, with a full bodied umami taste.


For 10 years, I have enjoyed the bliss of NOT attracting male attention. No one hits on me. I didn't realise that getting hit on, and having to deal POLITELY with unwanted attention, was stressful, till people stopped doing it to me.

It never occurred to me to question why. I just enjoyed the peace.

Earlier this week, I finally realised why no one hits on me anymore. It is because I am UGLY! Oh man! When did I become so ugly?!

I went on my annual hunt for good quality t-shirts. Usually, I head straight to Giordano and buy 10 t-shirts of 5 different colours. This lasts me all year, till the next t-shirt hunt. This year, Giordano did not have designs I liked so I wandered into Uniqlo to hunt. Giordano's changing rooms are dim and forgiving. Uniqlo is so sure of their products that they have bright white light in the changing rooms.

I gave myself a fright when I looked at me in the Uniqlo mirror. Where did all those freckles come from? Why are there wrinkles on my belly? Why are there ugly folds of skin on my back when I turn? You know how those Hollywood stars do the back turn for photos on the red carpet? I tried that in the Uniqlo dressing room and almost scared myself to death.

I looked like Najib's wife, Rosmah!

I stood there and only THEN was I hit by a moment of epiphany. No wonder no one hits on me anymore! If I glimpsed me over a glass of white wine in a romantic restaurant, I would run away screaming!

So, I texted The Husband, hoping that he would... you know... look at me with the eyes of the beholder kinda thing and say, "Oh no darling, you look as beautiful as the day I met you." Instead, The Husband merely said... see below...

He did end off by saying, "I love you regardless," which did NOT make me feel much better because it means he agrees that I am ugly! Then, I became even more depressed because things aren't gonna improve! If I already look like Najib's wife now, can you imagine what I will look like when I reach her age!?

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Fratini la Trattoria

There are not many restaurants in Singapore that I can safely eat at. So, I am thrilled every time I find a new one.

Fratini la Trattoria is helmed by a slip of a girl who looks more like your regular PRC waitress than the Head Chef...
- with a degree from NTU in Banking and Finance
- who paid for her own uni education selling home made cakes
- who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in London
- blah blah blah

Since it is a No Menu restaurant, the chef designs your menu. You simply have to trust the Chef. Think about it. That is what the Queen of England does, no? Her Chef knows what she likes and dislikes and he has carte blanche in deciding what to cook to please her (depending on what produce is of highest quality at the market).

Wah man! Today hor... I felt like the Queen of England leh! I just sat there and thought to myself - "Please me!"

Was I pleased? Oh man, yes! That is not all! Of the whole family, I am easiest to please. If you can please The Husband, that is when you know you are good at your kitchen craft. The Husband was very pleased indeed!

The Husband even said, "The best thing is, I don't even need to order!" He is a man who needs to make so many decisions at work that when he gets home, he really doesn't want to make any at all. I usually decide what he eats and I have gotten good at it because The Husband will COMPLAIN if it is something he doesn't like. Not quite fair, huh? You don't wanna decide and you complain when I decide for you.

Today, Chef Chomel decided for him and the man was THRILLED!

Scandal That Was Not A Scandal
It was after the meal that we did a spot of internet sleuthing and turned up some scandal about Chef Chomel! Seriously though, I really did not think it was a scandal at all. Apparently, Chef Chomel will post your name and details on the internet if you make a booking and then do not show up.

The whole internet behaved as if she had comported herself wrongly. I say "Good for her!" She stood up for the dignity of all chefs who care about putting good food into people's mouths. Her attitude reflects the attitudes of European chefs who have pride in their work.

Competence deserves respect. Establishments that care, deserve respect. If customers are so uncouth as to no show after confirming a booking, I won't just shame them, I would black list them and ensure that they never get to eat in my restaurant again... unless they call to apologise and explain (because sometimes, people have life and death reasons). Actually, this is what I do to my clients. Those who are inconsiderate and abusive, I smile nicely and gently take steps to make sure I never see them again.

Singapore is so big and cosmopolitan that people don't have to behave. They can disappear into the crowds after misbehaving. In Europe, restaurants are often found in rural areas and they serve a clientele that they see at village townhalls and suchlike. The chefs are your neighbours. People behave better in such situations. They are less cavalier and less careless about no showing. Chefs will also fly into a rage at such no shows.

Still, I have never thought it wise to offend chefs, you know. They cook things I like to eat, My policy is to suck up to every hawker centre chef who cooks stuff no one else can cook. I get very generous portions this way because people just want to be treated considerately and live with dignity.

Smoked salmon. Sous-vide pork. Brown rice. 
Dunno what is the yellow puree below nor the white sauce topping because Chef Chomel spoke very fast when she explained the dish and I was too shy to ask her to repeat. Ya man... the service here is so good that someone actually explains the dish to you and tells you which region of Italy it comes from! When she did it for the 1st time (and I thought she was a PRC waitress), I thought to myself, "What if she made it up? How do I know that this dish really comes from that region?" After the first mouthful, though, I wasn't thinking anything anymore. Whatever was going on in my mouth was very distracting!

Scallops With Yummy Sauce. I promise that the next time I go, I will make Chef Chomel repeat and I will write down NOTES so I can tell readers exactly what the dish is all about. However, you are unlikely to eat what I ate. Everyone gets different things, on different days.

Lamb on purple sweet potato puree. There was beef tenderloin too BUT The Son had eaten it before a photo could be taken.

Seabass on Yummy Vegetables.

Truffle Pasta.

Seafood Pasta With Cream Sauce.

White chocolate pavé. Tiramisu. Mint panna cotta.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Nice Handbag

At the risk of appearing like the gargoyle Rosmah Mansor, I hereby show off my newest handbag. The design is originally by some Japanese designer. Please don't ask me whom because I am not sure. For almost a decade, you can only buy this handbag from the actual label itself, which sells it for SGD$700. Yes, yes... I know the price because my brother's wife bought one.

There is no way I will pay SGD$700 for a handbag. No way.

I loved the design though. I have loved it for years. So, when I came across it at a pasar malam, I bought it for $35. I bought 2. Then, in a fit of affection for my Mother-in-law, I gave her the extra one that I had bought. My 70+ year old mother-in-law loves it too. Then, I went to the photocopying shop to get some stuff printed. The lady admired my pretty bag. I popped by to get her one and delivered it when I went to pick up my printouts.

Driving home, I saw a very fat lady pushing a market trolley and laden with plastic bags. She was carrying one too.

It really is a pretty bag. The problem is, all the ladies carrying the bag are NOT pretty at all. I tote it everywhere in my slippers and shorts. Grandma totes it. The 60 year old at the photocopying shop now also has one. That fat  karung guni lady was carrying one.

By this time next year, this bag won't scream style anymore. This bag will scream "Auntie!" That's ok. To me, it is still a pretty bag. I am going to buy one more to keep in the cupboard so that when the one I have gives out, I have a spare!

I wonder why I can get this bag for so cheap. Of course, it is brandless. Did the copyright whatever it is lapse?