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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Exam Stress

I didn't get it at first. When I picked him up from school, Little Boy was cheerful and happy that he had earned 40 cents of profit from selling something.

- "Did you have a good day?" I asked.
- "Yeah!" he said.

So I left him to his own devices. After all, there is so much to do at this stage of my life that I can't be ever watchful... ever vigilant... and ever ready. For efficiency and effectiveness, one learns to swoop in for a close look, and then swoop out when nothing seems the matter. And for sure, nothing seemed the matter when I checked on Little Boy at noon.

So I went and did other pressing stuff.

Over the course of the afternoon, Little Boy remarked about 3 times that he had never been so worried about exams before. The remarks brushed at the corners of my consciousness as I went about busy with other stuff. After all, in the week just before exams, Little Boy is not allowed to study. The rule is meant to ensure that he has enough rest and relaxation to be in top form for exams. So, "hmmmmm" was all I said.

Then as I prepared for bed, Little Boy came upstairs to insist "When you're done, please come and get me. I need you to cuddle me to sleep." And I said "hmmmmmm" again.

Then I forgot. Oh bad bad mother!!

Anyway, Little Boy found his way back into his old spot between Daddy and Mommy... a humongous piglet wiggling and snuffling... until all we could see were 2 eyes peeking out from under the quilt. He was a bit upset that I hadn't gone to get him, but I guess the important thing was that he was where he wanted to be - in that warm safe place between his Mommy and his Daddy.

And then it all came out. Teacher had given some Math worksheets to do which Little Boy couldn't do, and it was already the day before the Math exam. And before long, as Little Boy tossed and turned and wiggled into his Mommy's comforting embrace, he started to wail "I've neeeeeever not known *sniffle* how to do her worksheets befooooooooooooore" (which really isn't true). If such questions come *sob* out *sob sob* tomorrow, I will not do weeeeeeeeell". And then the tears came in huge drops.

Now he got my attention.... and his father's too.

We sat there and assured him that EVEN IF there were questions he didn't know how to do, then that's just too bad... that his job is to ensure that he obtained full marks for the questions he COULD do. And that if he gave in to his fear, he would certainly perform less well than he was truly able...

You know, it's really painful to see our little children experience the kind of stress that they should not experience until they're adult. And such stress is experienced even when the child is amply prepared and reasonably confident. It's a good thing for Little Boy that I am not a parent who will cane when results are poor... and that I am there (well sort of) when he needs to confide in someone.

What about the intelligent children who don't have such emotional support at home? What about those whose parents yell and scream? What about those whose parents work till late? What about those whose parents pay all they can afford for Tutors who teach the material, but fail to realise that knowing the material is only half what it takes to make it?

How do those little ones cope?

The Singapore Education system has become one wherein reasonable intelligence is no longer enough to get by. One needs access to high quality family support too. Our educational system has become a test of family unity and love, more than a test of student ability.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Of Grasshoppers and Pigeons

Many decades ago, when our Dads were growing up, Singapore was Little Boy Paradise. Our Dads used to regale us with stories of their exploits. Mine had access to a rooftop where pigeons came to roost. I spent my childhood listening raptly to Dad's stories of how one could get pigeons addicted to rice soaked in Chinese tea... and how one could trap pigeons using nothing but a box, a stick and a long long string. Then there was something about stealing ice cream. But shush now... because that's illegal and I don't want to get a whole lot of geriatric patients in trouble for their youthful misdemeanours!! Someone else told me that HER Dad and HIS brothers tried to parachute down 2 storeys with an umbrella. The Husband's Dad grew up in Pulau Ubin and spent his days swimming and hunting and trapping and... and... and... That whole generation of boys (now old men) had a whale of a time growing up.

There weren't any past year papers to practise on... and certainly Popular Bookstore hadn't quite made its fortune on assessment books yet.

Little Boy however, isn't so lucky. He is growing up in an asepticised environment where entire school fields full of enticing green grass are declared off limits to students in Primary schools. WHY?! What a waste of prime real estate?! If the school has a field, why can't the kids go there and run... get sweaty... a little muddy... somewhat dirty... and smell bad? After all, if you know little boys like I do, you'll also know that there is no way to prevent little boys from stinking... and so you might as well let them go to the school field. At least then, their stink can be explained.

Luckily, Little Boy has the good sense to break such a silly rule (together with some kids who strongly object to report cards). The school field has grasshoppers. It's just too fun to catch grasshoppers to stay out of the field. So child after child sneaks and sidles secretly over there to catch grasshoppers.

Very soon, pigeons got into the act. Pigeons are better at catching grasshoppers than our lily-livered... lily-coloured... flabby and asthmatic kids (because schools declare school fields out of bounds), and pigeons always know where the fattest and biggest grasshoppers are. And so, our lily-livered... lily-coloured... flabby and asthmatic kids with overgrown brains (that come from doing lots of past year exams) use their wonderful brains to good effect.

Step 1: Spot the pigeons.
Step 2: Chase off the pigeons.
Step 3: Catch the grasshoppers.

But nobody thought of catching the pigeons eh? We'll have to get our geriatric patients back into school and have them teach our kids a thing or two about catching pigeons. Meanwhile, Little Boy is inspired by the stories of his illustrious forbear's exploits with pigeons and ice cream. He is planning to go pigeon hunting in the school field that is out of bounds to school children.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

House Construction 2: The Demolition

Work has finally begun on the site. The old house has no more roof, and its windows and grilles have all been torn down. It looks now like something from an old photo of wartorn Beirut.

There are three young and robust Indian men housed at the back of the house under a remnant of a sloping ceiling, on 4 single beds. There is a fridge, some cooking utensils and a square dining table. I even saw a washing machine, and then I knew that the workers are well-treated. The other 2 worksites that I had viewed had workers washing their clothes by hand in a pail. Not surprisingly, the workers are friendly and they look happy. That is important to me. When I interviewed my contractors, I wanted to get a sense of how they treated their workers and their suppliers. If the main contractor abuses his workers and short changes his suppliers, you can be sure that there'll be corners cut when your house is being built.

I talked at some length with the foreman. He is a grizzly haired Indian man who looks very steady and has been with the company for more than 10 years. That too is a good sign. Long time employees would have mastered much tacit knowledge and skills, and when the contractor's team possesses strong bonds built over time, fewer things will fall between the gaps.

The time to be tough is over. Even as we peeled our eyes and scrutinised every line of numbers and terms within the building contract, we now are prepared to be understanding and evolve within a give and take relationship.

We checked out our contractor's past clients. It's easy. Ring the doorbell on any one of the houses he previously built and ask the people staying there. Check out his credentials on the BCA website. Our contractor has been around since the 1990s, and their name has not changed from the start. It's a boutique contractor who builds 4 to 5 houses a year, and the company is run by a father and his son. I thought it a good sign that the son made it through university and is a qualified civil engineer. The father, who is overseeing my construction is probably not a graduate, but he does know what he is doing and he did build the company's track record.

Our contractor is helpful and I wish to be understanding. And since we really did our homework this time, it is time to place our trust in them. This isn't so different than recruiting staff. Recruit someone good and then trust. Of course, I feel good that the architect and the quantity surveyor are there to monitor aspects of the house that I don't know how to monitor.

The time to be bitchy is at the point of qualifying/sourcing the contractor. Once the contractor is on the team, then being bitchy will just make everyone edgy and then the house will suffer. Most owners building houses for the first time fail to be picky at the very very start. They trust because they know no better. After my experience with the dodgy architect, I picked through eggs to look for bones... and sieved through water to find stones. This way, I hope I can avoid having to be bitchy as the project proceeds.

So far, I am quite pleased. The worksite is neat, and the work progresses quite systematically. This is a sign that the person co-ordinating the work really knows what he's doing, from man management to work scheduling. At this point of the demolition works, it is important to be gentle with the house because a semi-detached house shares a wall with the neighbour. As we tear down our half of the structure, we must strive to preserve the neighbour's half in pristine condition. So, I was quite pleased to see that the workers were careful with cutting the beams between the 2 houses and removing the roof. I'm very pleased that they have been very professional in engaging my neighbours. I don't want to move into a house with angry neighbours!!

It's early days yet though... but this is a good enough start.

Once the 2 houses are properly separated, they will bring in a Monster Machine to knock down the whole structure. We've arranged for an ALL TOGETHER photoshoot where all of us will don hard hats and construction boots, and look cool in front of the Monster Machine.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Women's Charter

The government is proposing changes to the Women's Charter. "Last amended substantially in 1996, the Women’s Charter is the basis of family law in Singapore. The current review seeks to enhance the enforcement of maintenance orders, update marriage registration requirements, and address the impact of divorces." See source of text here.

The government has asked for feedback to the Women's Charter. And I am finally getting around to doing just that. It really is lovely that the government actually asked!!

I don't like the thing about the maintenance order. On the face of it, it seems to help. But in substance, these measures will disempower women. A maintenance order that compels a man to pay his wife maintenance is premised on the assumption that "It is the man's job to earn wages for women and children". It lays the responsibility of wage earning squarely on the men.

With responsibility, comes power.

These new amendments effectively give more power to men. I know the logic is convoluted but think of it this way. If it is the man who should earn money to upkeep women, more and more women will stay home... and more and more women will give up career and earnings... and more and more women will be locked in an unequal power relationship with their men (because the one who has the money or earns the wages has more power). Power corrupts. More and more women will be abused. And then the government will have to police other problems.

It is far better to amend the charter in a counter-intuitive way. I suggest that we go the way of the Swedes. "In 1995, Sweden passed a simple but revolutionary law: couples would lose one month of leave unless the father was the one who took it. A second use-it-or-lose-it month was added in 2002, and now more than 80 percent of Swedish fathers take four months off for the birth of a new child, up from 4 percent a decade ago. And a full 41 percent of companies now formally encourage fathers to go on parental leave, up from only 2 percent in 1993. Simply put, men are expected to work less and father more.

By altering the roles of the Swedish father and the Swedish worker, Sweden’s paternity-leave legislation has, in turn, rewritten the rules for Swedish men (and, by extension, women). “Swedish dads of my generation and younger have been raised to feel competent at child-rearing,” writes Slate’s Nathan Hegedus, an American who experienced the system firsthand. “They simply expect to do it, just as their wives and partners expect it of them.” If a man refuses time at home with the kids, he faces questions from friends, family, and, yes, other guys. Policy changes produced personal changes—and then, slowly but surely, society changed as well." Find the source of this text here.

By making it alright for men to care for children, more women will feel able to work. At present, too many highly educated women opt to stay at home for the children, and when a marriage turns sour, women and children suffer because compelling a man to pay maintenance is easier said than done. When young ladies witness such stories of pain and abandonment, they immediately start to think "If I marry, the kids will retard my career progression... and if the marriage turns sour, I will have neither wealth nor love AND I still am stuck with the kids. If I earn enough to amass wealth, then why get married? Hard work and consistent investment will get me wealth. Hard work and consistent investment may not get me a good marriage." As a result, fewer marriages happen.

Blur Ting's example is classic. Her ex-husband has gone AWOL and if she were waiting around for maintenance, she'd have starved to death by now. Happily enough, Blur Ting is one smart woman - beautiful, empowered and strong. She had never stopped working even through the years of an abusive marriage. As such, when divorce happened, she was able to give her kids a good education.

Besides, the men won't like the obvious gender inequality in our legislation either. It makes it easy for gold diggers to entrap men. At the end of the day, mutual respect is founded on an equal power relationship in the home. It sounds cynical, but it is true. Make it alright for men to look after babies. This encourages women to work. Men and women will respect each other's contribution to the marriage (whether child care or financial)... and marriages will be stronger because neither party has an occasion to abuse power.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Runaway Milo

I made up my mind this morning to walk Milo properly, i.e., no more Milo the Bullock pulling Petunia the Cart.

The way to do it is to pull him back firmly and make him sit everytime he pulls ahead of me. The thing about Milo is that he has a stout neck and a small head... like a hen you know... Ever tried to leash a hen?

It didn't take my smart dog long to figure out that he could slip the leash by pulling his small head through the noose of his collar. The collar is quite tight enough thank you... it's the dog's chicken head that's too small.

Anyway, he slipped the leash. I screamed and lunged. He feinted and dodged. And then he stood at a tantalising distance and I swear that he was laughing at me with his tongue lolling out. I begged a piece of bread from a bemused Filipino maid and her giggling charges aged 3, 4 and 5. The 4 people found me the comedic highpoint of their boring morning. Of all days to have an audience, it had to be the one day where I ooze inelegance from every pore. Why isn't there ever such an appreciative audience when I am dressed to the nines, and off to a ball/dance/party/dinner?

It wasn't funny for me who had to run after that chicken head Milo, but it was mighty amusing for the maid and the three kids. One kid laughed so much he had to sit on the floor. Meanwhile, I ran hither and thither trying to catch the chicken head dog.

The piece of bread brought Mr Chicken Head Dog to grabbing distance and then he dashed away just as soon. And I had no more bread. Desperately, I yelled "SIT!!" And he sat. I collared him and then carried him home.

Milo is a big dog. I am a small woman. It was not a good experience in the least having to carry Mr Chicken Head Dog home!!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Still in Love With Singapore

Everyday, on the internet, there are people with nothing better to do than to spout negative things about everything Singaporean. Those who are grateful for their opportunites are often too busy to write counter remarks to gratuitious insults about who Singaporeans are and what we do... and mostly what the government has done and is doing.

It is these persons' very own negativity about the world that blinds them to the beauty of Singapore and the opportunities the government provides and provided. These people would lose out anyway whatever the system of government because they see no opportunities when opportunities abound. They see nothing to be thankful for even when they live and breathe the blessings of clean water, clean estates, clean politicians, clean hawker centres, good education, continuing education, varied cuisines, eclectic entertainment, loving families, warm weather... and so much more.

Yet, there are those who are grateful and give thanks all the way from faraway Tasmania - This is a post worth reading because it says so much that I had no words to say.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Family's True Colours

A family's true colours are seen when it grieves. Call me stupid but I downloaded every single one of Mrs Lee Kuan Yew's eulogies, and saved them. As I read them, I cried and cried and cried... One cannot help but feel a deep and enduring bond with a couple that has done so much for Singapore, and could have shared in its prosperity through gold-plated taps and marble vestibules... but who choose to bathe with a water scoop (from a tub)... and think twice before buying a cheap hairbrush... and whose children played with odds and ends from a tailor's shop.

It makes me mad that people write awful things about the Lee family. How they are motivated by money, and how they are guilty of nepotism... Why would someone who eschews gold taps want more and more and more money? If I recall correctly, Lee Hsien Loong did not draw a salary for an entire year. Do they live in palaces? Do they have a personal fleet of Rolls Royces? Do their wives appear in public decked out like X'mas trees with baubles that nourish neither mind nor soul? Why would they be guilty of nepotism when they seem to give so much effort but never claim their ascendance? What this family does, I wouldn't want to do. You give so much of yourself and you still have to live like anyone else. There is nothing in it for me.

I'm not sure that the average Singaporean like you and I would be able to withstand the temptation of being at the top of the world and being able to cherry pick off the prosperity of an island miracle. Wouldn't it be so easy to say "My family brought you where you are today, and we deserve our dues." These dues being wealth, wealth and more wealth? Palaces, yachts and diamonds the size of my eyeballs...

But no... Mrs Lee Kuan Yew ensured that her children lived the values that she believed. She taught them to live restrained and sober lives, dedicated to the defence of what is good.

If there was error, perhaps they erred in their enthousiasm to make life good for a people who started out poor, and in these people's joys of being nouveau riche, these people went berserk with branded goods, gold taps and ostentatious consumption... even when they could afford it less than the Lee family could.

It's awful that people are so ungrateful. That they have forgotten that were the story differently written... women may not have equal access to education... grown men may not know how to read and write (let alone graduate from ITE)... we might still be living in 3rd world squalor.

Who to blame then?

If you want dialogue in Singapore, you CAN dialogue. Those who wish to give feedback to the revisions to the Women's Charter can do so. The MCYS website invites feedback. I intend to feedback. I just have to find the time. I even wrote a post telling people not to vote for George Yeo and two others much maligning the poor man. No one has yet come in the night to bundle me up, clap me in jail and torture a confession from me.

It's awful that poisonous words still circulate on the internet about a family that is just like yours and mine, worried about spending too much on a hairbrush... pained at the suffering of a loved one... and grieving at her loss.

But no... what am I writing? The Lee Family is NOT like yours NOR mine. It is a family that has preserved the values from the 1960s through the generations. Singaporeans no longer live frugal and simple lives anymore... and money has become everything. Our cares are replete with Le Creuset pots, Longchamps bags, Louis Vuitton wallets, Nespresso machines and all manner of THINGS.

And when our little country is buffetted by global storms and some degree of over-compensation in policy leads to temporary runaway housing prices... or when our children don't do well in 2nd language... or when bus routes change... we take out our expensive laptops and curse the government on the internet.

Really all we need to do is dialogue. There is no need to fling insults and curses. Because really, when we accuse another of being money-minded, it shows that we are the money-minded ones... because humans tend to project their own motives on others. When we accuse another of being a nepotic, it shows that in their position, we would be... because humans tend to project their own motives on others.

When you point a finger at someone, three fingers point back at you.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Hand Which Rocks the Cradle Rules the World

I logged onto the Straits Times portal over the weekend and read that Mrs Lee Kuan Yew had passed away. "So... it has finally happened," I said to myself. And then I read the comments which accompanied the post. Many of them offered condolences, but there was one which upset me some. This person asked "So many people say she is a great lady. Why was she so great? What has she done?"

Why is it that so many people equate greatness with personal achievement? Many women spend their entire lives helping others achieve. Behind every successful career woman, there is a grandmother who helps with the kids. Behind every scholar who walks up to the podium to receive his/her scholarship, there is an encouraging and loving mother. Behind every successful man, there is a woman who listens, cares and value adds.

Here was a woman whose silent voice was heard through her husband's strident tones. She wrote his speeches. She vetted them. Here was a woman whose love for gardening was translated through her husband into a reality that every Singaporean takes for granted today - The Garden City. Here was a woman who stood between all those who would hurt her husband with dishonesty and subterfuge by identifying them, and flagging them out. And therefore, she gave to her husband the political victory that helped him bring Singapore from 3rd World to 1st.

Here was a woman who never once broke trust with her husband. Everything she said or did prospered him. How great a woman is it who can do that without fail for 70 years? How difficult is it to shoot a ball into a hoop every time, every day, many times a day, for 70 years?

She was a constant woman who put her entire life to the service of her family and her husband... and because she was so very intelligent and so very capable, she amplified their mark upon the world. How many of us spend thousands of dollars on high quality stereo amplifiers? The wifely amplifiers of the world are no less important, and I would bet my bottom dollar that in their generation, no other better wifely amplifier exists.

A very successful young lady (straight A student and more) I know commented in a half-ashamed tone that her mother was only a housewife, and doesn't really know much. Now, I also know that this young lady has 2 other siblings who are straight A students and more too. One successful child may be pure luck, but THREE successful children is SKILL.

And so I said, "Don't say that about your mother. If she hadn't had to stay home to labour over you, she could well have become a CEO of some large organisation, for the apple falls not far from the tree. Where does your intelligence come from, if not from her? You wouldn't be who you are today without her hand rocking your cradle."

And lastly, how great a woman is it who could have herself leapt into the political fray and having beaten Lee Kuan Yew once, she could have done it again... but she chose to eschew the in-your-face greatness and fame, for the bland and gentle greatness that I have always associated with her.

She was a great lady because she was as necessary to Singapore's success as air. Every day you live and breathe air. You don't notice it do you? But when there is no air, people die. Without her towering presence in the background of the Singapore Story, history books may well document an alternate reality today.

And I haven't even mentioned that she co-founded one of the most illustrious law firms in Singapore... a feat which many men cannot match. She was as good as any man, and more because she was also mother and wife extraordinaire.

Friday, October 1, 2010

10 Things I Love to Do

I promised another blog follower to play a game. It's a simple game. All it needs is for me to list out the 10 things I love to do. Of course, I can think of more than 10 things I love but 10 is all it takes to play. Then, I am to invite 10 other bloggers to play. But I think I will take some liberties with this last rule-of-the-game... and invite all who read this post to play.

So, when you are quite done reading about Petunia's Ten, the sit down with pen and paper, or your iPAD, or your laptop, or your handphone... and play with me. 10 things you love to do.

1. Smelling babies' tummies... especially my babies.
2. Cooking up a storm.
3. Eating up my storm.
4. Sit on a bench and watch the morning dappled sunlight make patterns on the floor.
5. Watch fruits and vegetables grow into edible size.
6. Writing into words the daily ball of feelings that form in my stomach.
7. Watch my savings and investments grow.
8. Watch my kids grow into nice people.
9. Teach people useful things.
10. Play tricks on The Husband.

Alright, now it's your turn. You dun have to be a blogger. You dun have to share your list. Just sit down and think of 10 things you do that make you happy... and then go have a happy rest of the day.