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Monday, May 31, 2010

Please... I need more food.

The Husband finally managed to capture Milo's expressive eyes when the stakes are dinner... dinner and more dinner.

Check out Milo on Youtube here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ms Priscilla See

I first wrote about Ms S. here. Ms S. stands for Ms Priscilla See. She is Little Boy's form teacher and the best teacher we have met in the school-going lives of our 2 children over more than a decade. Ms See is so good a teacher that I am amazed that someone like that even exists.

First off, she noticed Little Boy, and actually paid attention to him. He would come home and tell me that Ms See praised him for this or that today. When I got to know Ms See better, I found out that she systematically goes through her class list to ensure that EVERY child is praised for something or other. In this way, she managed to draw my quiet Little Boy out and build a relationship with him.

And Little Boy was just about invisible to his teachers in previous years. He is quiet and likes to fade into the background. Being noticed by Ms See was a new experience for him. And he cherishes it so much that all Ms See has to do is to frown at him and he will come home all contrite, and I will have to ask him what went wrong.

Next, Little Boy has had a somewhat chequered school career. He is a dreamy boy. It can't be helped. We are a dreamy family. He is the sort of boy that hands in work without his name, forgets to write the date, writes "cm" when he meant to write "km". My boy is so blur that he ran an extra round in his 1.6km physical fitness test... and didn't know until I noted that his timing was so impossibly long that one would have to be built like Mr Potato Man to clock that timing. Yet Ms See never once judged him incapable. It was always that he didn't work hard enough. Never that he was dumb and therefore, hopeless. She was always there. Stern at times when his head was too deep in the clouds, and praise-ful at others. It made Little Boy feel that if he tried hard enough, he could do better.

Next, Ms See respected Little Boy's right to choose. She made the children sit down to plan their own goal targets for each subject. Under her guidance and encouragement, Little Boy planned to score above 90 in every subject. He chose his own goals and these self-chosen goals provided a focus for his efforts. It worked very well indeed.

Best of all, Ms See treated me (a parent) as a person... and as material in her hands to mould and guide. She has this non-threatening way of explaining what is good parenting... and she helped me understand her mind, her approach and her expectations. She didn't much like that I didn't value accuracy as much as creativity. For me, learning has to be fun, especially when you're that small. Ms See thought that the creative rein I gave my son was done at the expense of rigour and discipline. I got the message and I helped Little Boy with accuracy. Learning needed to be fun, and I still valued creativity... but the PSLE was going to be an exercise in creativity, rigour AND discipline.

I felt that Ms See treated me as a parent partner... and I grew to see in her my teacher partner. Often, we would connive and collude to teach Little Boy important lessons.

Ms See's approach to parents is refreshing because once or twice I have sought advice from the odd teacher passing by me at the gate only to have the person recoil from my question and her face contort from a smile to a frown at me. Once or twice, people in the General Office have scolded me. Whilst one understands that the children's security is important, one does feel that this can be communicated politely to a lost parent... or a parent in need of help.

And there is more, Ms See has so many creative ideas to motivate children. There is a system of reward cards... and a system of group reward points and so much else... Little Boy works hard for those itsy bitsy cards. He keeps them carefully in his wallet and counts them once in a while. And when he is given a card, it's always the first thing he tells me.

And the result of all this is that Little Boy moved from 28th place in a class of 38 students... to 8th place in a class of 38 students. In fact, I think that Ms See has a thing or 2 to teach her colleagues about engaging parents... and about motivating children.

In fact, I even think that she should be awarded Master Teacher status for her mastery of motivational techniques. It is one thing to know different techniques of teaching content but it is so much more important to have a collection of strategies to motivate children and influence parents. In this way, Ms See harnesses the energy of parents and the energy of the children to meet her goals for the children. It's really a resource efficient way of meeting goals.

Petunia is not easily impressed. I too am a trained teacher. I graduated from NIE in the top 10% with a distinction. Today I still teach... and I actually even teach a class on motivation at a local university. Between the masterful theoretician-researchers who were my mentors and the confident Ms See who practises her craft with such effectiveness, I would say Ms See wins hands down.

Hospital Visit

We love KK Hospital. We've rushed Little Boy there often enough for fractured arms and legs, persistent fever and listlessness.... Once, he was suspected of bird flu and our whole family was quarantined in a small cosy corner whilst nurses bustled in and out with cheerful smiles and gentle voices. The Husband believes that KK Hospital has the prettiest doctors anywhere too.

Everywhere you go in KK Hospital, there are clear signs telling people that whilst illness is a traumatic experience for the whole family, KK Hospital will not tolerate any abuse of its staff. Maybe it's because KKH protects its staff and ensures that all who work there are treated with respect, staff are happy and it shows.

I would be lying if I said I wasn't scared. But the nurses spoke kindly and explained line by line sheets of written information about what would be done to me, how I would feel, what side effects there might be and what the potential risks of the procedure were. I signed at the bottom of each sheet to document that I had heard and clearly understood all that was written and said. I think that is wonderful. It's a standard operating procedure that ensures the patient is given information about her condition. What a well run hospital!!

The decor was warm and inviting. There were shades of deep brown and red. There were tea coloured frosted glass doors and beige wall paper. The laminate flooring mimicked wood. Vases with red flowers matched the red on the huge round clock, and the light brown screen curtains that ensured my privacy had an abstract floral design etched on them in even lighter brown. It was very calming. The nurses workwear was fabulous too. They're these pyjamas like get-ups in light cotton, and flat foot wear. No wonder these nurses are happy. They dress for comfort not style. None of the tight and constraining nurse uniforms to cramp their style and movement.

The anaesthetist had to insert a catheter into my hand to put in the drip that would send me off to deep sleep. It hurt and I was scared... and Nurse Ann held my hand. I walked into the operating theatre and saw a narrow bed in the middle of a large bright room. There was the glare of spotlight and machines of all sorts. I wished The Husband was with me.

A male nurse looked into my face and held my shoulders firmly saying "Don't worry. We will all be here. We'll take care of you." Such comforting words. The doctor had had long years of experience. He exuded confidence, and was gentle and kind.... and he was considerate enough to schedule my follow-up appointment at the KK Hospital Branch Clinic in Ang Mo Kio, nearer my home.

I am terribly pleased that I had chosen public healthcare. I had to go to the polyclinic for a referral. I waited some but was impressed that my blood test results for anaemia from the polyclinic lab, reached the doctor upstairs in 15 minutes flat. It was all so efficient and patients are humanely treated.

The polyclinic experience was in contrast to my experience at Raffles Medical. The bill was many times larger, the wait was twice as long... the doctor was arrogant and abrasive... I noted her name and when I went there again, I specifically requested NOT to see this doctor. The Daughter too had had a bad experience. At 15, she had to stare down the doctor to get properly treated. And if you wanted tests done, you had to go queue up elsewhere and wait a couple of days to get the results interpreted. I decided to go to the polyclinic after that.

The KKH experience was also in sharp contrast to my stay at Mount E a decade ago. The nurses yelled at me. The quarters were cramped. It was noisy... and smells of strange sorts assaulted my nose. I checked out as as soon as I could.

Singapore's public healthcare has come a long long way.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

No Such Thing As Safe Herb

The thing about herbs is that many people think they're safe drugs. There is no such thing as a safe drug. If a drug is to be effective it has to affect the human body in definite ways. Take too much of any drug and you will harm yourself.

Rosemary Tea is an effective anti-fungal agent. I have used it for dandruff and digestive candidiasis but take too much and you can end up vomitting. Tea tree oil is great for killing bacteria but ingest too much and you'll get liver failure. Take a little over a prolonged period gives men moobs (male boobs) because it is high in plant oestrogens, and can aggravate PMS symptoms. Dandelion tea is a great detox, but take too much and you'll wash out all the oestrogen in your body... and then you will be prone to hardened arteries. Or if you're a man, you'll have too little testosterone, and then you'll feel tired.

Goldenseal is a good anti-histamine. I drip it into my nostrils to clear a blocked nose. I soak it onto an eczema patch to reduce the itchy swelling. However, too much of it causes hypotension (low blood pressure) and can cause damage to the cardio-vascular system. Cabbage juice is great for gastric ulcers but take it in excess and you will find that potassium gets leached from your body, and you will start to feel ill.

Green tea has been widely touted as a health food. The Husband and I love it and used to drink it everyday. Result? Yeast overgrowth in the gut. Green tea (like chrysanthemum tea) is quite an effective anti-bacterial agent. I have cured myself of tonsilitis by sipping green tea throughout the day and allowing the liquid to wash down my throat slowly with every sip. But when it gets into the gut, it also kills gut bacteria. Without gut bacteria, you will experience yeast overgrowth (bloatedness, flatulence and fatigue because the yeast releases toxins into your blood stream).

Elecampane clears my bronchial tubes of phlegm in 20 minutes but because it acts so fast and is so effective that I fear taking too much. I don't know what'll happen, but I know something will. The faster acting the herb and the more obvious its effects, the more we need to fear it. Herbs are medicines, not health supplements.

Being as sickly as I am, without these herbs, I would be at the doctor's once every quarter. With these herbs, I self-medicate quite successfully but VERY carefully. They are powerful drugs.

And there is no such thing as a safe drug. Therefore if a herb is a true healing herb, then it is not safe. Not rosemary, not thyme, not sage, not basil... take too much and something will happen that you don't like.


Blur Ting and I have similar taste buds. The family and I love all her recipes when I make them at home. And we all love the restaurants she recommends. Recently, she recommended Barracks.

The place is about dressed-down chic. The pillars of old concrete are yellow and pock-marked. The tables are gently rusted. The electrical wires that power the light bulbs are exposed and hang in loops from off the ceiling... and the entrance is a hole in the wall with exposed brick and irregular edges. Like someone had had a good go at that wall with a wrecking ball... and then regretting, decided to paint it white to salvage the damage.

I can only imagine that quite a fair bit of money was saved at the renovations and seriously considered doing the same thing for my new home. Grunge chic.

I eyed the squid ink paella twice but ordered an ahi taki salad instead because The Husband wasn't with me to help eat up my leftovers. I promised myself to drag him there to share the squid ink paella with me. We did that at lunch on Sunday only to find that the item isn't on the menu on weekends. Hmmmm... disappointed mou.

But my anchovy pesto skinny pizza with boccancini cheese was gooooood! There was tart and salty. There was crust and mushy. There was bitter and sweet. Everything came together to dance on my tongue. Quite nicely co-ordinated too!! Most times, The Husband is un-enthousiastic about food places. He prefers the robust flavours of our hawker centre and only goes to restaurants to humour me. Then he'll shrug and say "It's an ok place". And then he'll say that he prefers what I cook.

As a family, we never order spaghetti bolognaise out... nor pesto sauce spaghetti... nor aglio oglio... nor spaghetti with cream sauce... nor mushroom cream sauce risotto. These are easy to make at home and our garden provides the fresh herbs to make these dishes surpass those overpriced items in the restaurants. In fact, Little Boy ordered the mushroom cream risotto and decided he didn't like it. "Mom.... the food is too creative. I like the risotto you make at home."

But The Husband actually said that the truffle fries were good... and he loved the sweet potato fries that came with his burger. The meat patty was good quality meat... nice thick and with very little fat. And when The Husband crunched into the anchovy and pesto Skinny Pizza, he nodded and chewed. It's hard to get The Husband to smile at anything so nodding and chewing says a lot.

I like the combi of flavours that came on the anchovy and pesto Skinny Pizza. It's given me some ideas on how to play with those flavours. It's been a long while since a trip to the restaurant has inspired me to play in my kitchen.

Hmmmm... I wonder how they make that thin thin crust. And it shouldn't be difficult to make truffle fries, right?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sock Fetish

Milo loves socks. Dirty smelly socks fresh off the children's feet. The longer the school day, the smellier the sock, the wilder the transports of joy our Milo experiences. It's come to a point where I wonder whether he is happy to see The Daughter or Little Boy home from school, or if he's happy to get his fix of smelly sock sniff.

He not only sniffs 'em, that disgusting pooch!! He chews 'em!! Yuck!! I always think of Milo as part human except in moments when he grunts happily whilst chewing a pair of socks. When he does that, I suddenly remember that he's all beast.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Different World

I had a most interesting experience today shopping for groceries at Shop N Save. I needed white button mushrooms early this morning and Cold Storage doesn't open till past 10 o'clock so I went to an unfamiliar supermarket.

The queues were far longer than I am used to at Cold Storage... and the cashiers were very focused on quickly processing one customer and then another. Their manner was brisk and no nonsense. Don't expect a "Good morning!" or a "Thank you." or a "Goodbye." Those cashiers are there to make sure you get out of that queue fast so that the someone behind you can get out fast too. Cashiers at Cold Storage move briskly... but a tad less briskly because they will make eye contact, smile and observe some other of the more refined social niceties. At least, the well-trained Cold Storage cashiers do that.

But you know, I don't think the clientele at Shop N Save cares for social niceties. There was a horde of people at the check out and I managed to find some sort of queue to join at the 9th place. As usual, Petunia dreams along as she queues along... after all, how challenging can queueing be right?

Wrong! It turned out to be more challenging than usual!

After 5 minutes of daydreaming, the old lady behind yells in Hokkien "Has the cashier gone to die? Maybe she has gone to the toilet to have diarrhoea? Where is that dead cashier? Stupid dead cashier!" (Note to all Singaporeans... translate this into Hokkien or Cantonese to get the full flavour ok?)

Nobody can daydream properly in all that ruckus... so Petunia started to pay attention. I left Little Boy in the queue and went to check the front. On the belt was a sign - "Counter Closed" and there was no cashier in sight. At the head of the queue was a very Unfriendly Woman who answered me when asked "Yes! Counter closed! So?!"

I announced to the rest of the queue that the counter was closed. The queue melted. I joined another queue at the 12th place. The very Unfriendly Woman at the start of the queue stayed put though!! In another 5 minutes, the counter opened and the Unfriendly Woman was first in line whilst I was 12th in another queue!! Aaaaargh! Stupid Petunia! A monologue began in my head "Stupid kiasu Singaporeans... rude and ungracious Singaporeans... this is a developed country with undeveloped manners!"

Mostly though, I was just a sore loser. And I had lost to that Unfriendly Woman. Hmmmmph!

So, imagine my gloating joy when the newly arrived cashier found that her counter was malfunctioning and therefore she opened the counter immediately to my left instead. I quickly hopped over there. This time, Petunia was 3rd in line. This time Petunia didn't daydream because she took the added precaution of leaving Little Boy in the queue at 12th place just in case this counter too malfunctioned. It's called hedging your bets and I learnt it in the stock market.

The Unpleasant Woman realized with consternation that she was now at 12th place. Willy nilly, she squeezed herself into the 1st place by sheer push and force. Nobody dared to tell her off. After all, I think many of us (at least I did) reckoned that she did have the foresight to stay at the initial closed counter till it opened ... and so she did somehow deserve to go first even if she was rather rude about it.

"Gosh! Did these people grow up in the same country that I did?!" I asked myself.

Oh well, never mind, I was somewhat comforted by my having found 4 pretty and large plastic storage boxes with lids and wheels. I squeezed through the hordes with my mushrooms and the huge storage boxes feeling very pleased. After all, I was 3rd in line instead of 12th... and I had found pretty plastic storage boxes. I felt like a winner.

Just then an old woman stopped me and asked for the little sticker stamps that supermarkets give out whenever you shop with them. Collect enough stamps and you get free cutlery, bags, pots, tea sets, porcelain ware etc... In the world I evolve in, it just is NOT DONE to accost complete strangers in order to despoil them of these little sticker stamps. It's such an embarassing thing to do!

An unflattering monologue began again in my head, but I smiled graciously and dug out all my stamps to give to the little old woman. I had bought about $100/= worth of stuff so there were many many stamps because I think most people there buy in smaller quantities each time. The little old lady smiled widely and thanked me very VERY loudly.

As if by magic, a gaggle of housewives formed around me. They pointed to my storage boxes and told me off (very warmly and helpfully) that I had been silly to pay full price... and that they could pass me coupons that would allow me to get each box for $6/= less. So, each of these ladies, dug into their ugly little purses, stuck the coupons under my nose and almost pushed me back into the queue to go get my discount.

The cashier said that since I had paid, it was too late. The entire gaggle of housewives shared in my sadness. I felt a bonding with them that I had never felt with the clientele at Cold Storage.

To top it off, one very tall and large lady with a pock-marked face walked with me to one of the counters and made me pick up a coupon book. She explained to me very loudly (though patiently and kindly ... as if to an idiot) that I should go home and cut out those coupons to make sure I get the discounts. Then she showed me her purse and explained how I should organise those coupons.

So you see... it isn't true that Singaporeans are un-gracious. Different people enact graciousness differently, that's all.

I am so going back to Shop N Save. These ladies have a thing or two to teach penny-pinching Petunia about her professional wife-lihood. It won't hurt to learn more ways to penny-pinch.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Naughty Naughty Workmen!!

Two cleaners stood at our gate today making loud and threatening noises at Milo. They lunged at him and flapped their arms around emitting deep growls and fearful grunts. One would have thought they were warring gorillas.

Milo was so distressed that he pee-ed all over the living room floor. Hearing the commotion, I tore myself away from my work and went downstairs. The flapping gorillas flapped a last flap and disappeared into the lifts like the cowardly bullies they were. Milo was shivering, his nerves stretched taut by those men who behaved so ill-manneredly even by dog standards.

How dare they intimidate my puppy?!

I was so mad that the I remonstrated somewhat with my helper, asking why she didn't tell those naughty men to go away. The gentle girl nodded her head saying that the next time it happens, she will intervene or at least call me down to intervene. Meanwhile, my seething anger had no vent since the cowards had quite run away.

So I decided to write this post.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Chinese is a Joy

Having sacked Grandma as our Chinese Tutor here (blogpost entitled "Chinese is a Pain"), I refused to believe that my children were too stupid to learn Chinese.

My kids are straight A students in every other subject. My kids get chosen to take part in national competitions and THEY WIN! My kids fly off to Europe to present research papers they wrote themselves. My kids take part in research conferences and get commended.

My kids are not stupid... and nothing ... but nothing... can shake a mother's faith in them. I began to teach Little Boy myself, having identified the flaws in Grandma's approach.

She taught everything out of context. She gave my children lists and lists of words to copy and memorise. They could copy and memorise all they wanted but they would never learn because it is difficult to remember decontextualized words. Our brains are wired to remember by association, and whilst a Chinese-speaking child has already associated each word in the list with its appropriate context, my children COULD NOT because they don't speak the language at home.

When I took over, I replaced "ting xie" with "mo xie". I took the stack of model compositions that the teacher gave us, and I made Little Boy read them aloud to me... and memorise them... and write them all out. All Grandma had to do was mark them.

She worked on one skill at a time. Copy... copy... copy... Memorise... memorise... memorise... Learn meaning... learn meaning... learn meaning. This bores the brain. When you bore the brain, it switches off and even an intelligent person like The Daughter becomes stupid. To learn, the brain must be awake and to keep it awake, it must be required to enact multiple skills. It's tiring, but it works.

I got Little Boy to read Chinese storybooks and write summaries. This requires multiple skills. You need to recall and reproduce the characters. You need to understand the text. You need to draw out the key points. You need to understand the context. You need to create your own sentences. It's interesting for the brain.

To manage the difficulty levels posed by the convergence of these multiple skills, we chose somewhat easy texts... cartoons... thin books with lots of pictures. Interesting books. He read each summary to me. Each reading was proof that he had read the whole book.

I didn't care that I knew not enough to correct him. I wanted him to read tons of stories. Through reading, I made sure that he developed a context for the lists of disembodied chinese characters he had to memorise. Learning word lists became meaningful. It took a shorter time to prepare for class "ting xie" because he could now associate each word he was memorising with a context in a story read some time ago.

She chose all my children's reading materials and imposed them. They didn't like the stories she liked and reading Chinese storybooks became a chore, not a pleasure. Grandma believed that all good stories needed to have a moral. Over time, I was lead to believe that no one wrote interesting children's books in Chinese... and Chinese children's literature was full of ideal moral standards that Chinese adults don't adhere to.

I asked The Daughter to choose Chinese story books with Little Boy. I gave her one brief. Find something about a naughty someone who gets into trouble all the time. They came home with a treasure trove of books that I never knew existed in Chinese literature. There exists plenty of children's stories that appealed to Little Boy!! Stories about naughty someones who get into trouble at every turn.

Yummy stories! Lovely prose whose music charmed even me. Chinese is a tonal language. There is music in it that mesmerises and captivates.

Grandma worked harder than Little Boy. If a student is to learn more, the Teacher must teach less. Grandma spent hours manufacturing word cards for Little Boy to memorise. These were the must-know words from the textbook. At the end of it all, Grandma knew the textbook inside out. Little Boy knew nothing.

I made Little Boy craft his own cards, asking him to identify what he thought to be "important words" in the textbook. I made Little Boy sit with me and teach me those words. I don't know how much I learnt. But he sure did learn all the words.

After 4 months, Little Boy began scoring in the 90s for "ting xie". After 6 months, Little Boy achieved his very first 100% in his class "ting xie"... He recently scored full marks in his Chinese Listening Comprehension mid-year exam...

Today, he spends a quarter of the time he used to spend on Chinese... and his grades are way higher than they used to be when he spent 2 hours every day on it. Best of all, Little Boy actually looks forwards to Chinese exams... and he enjoys reading Chinese books... and he is proud of his hard work and results.

Mind you... I, who teach him, am illiterate in Chinese. I should have sacked Grandma when The Daughter was small. But I was a young mother and not confident enough to stand up to Grandma.

It is also gratifying when Grandma acknowledged that for some strange reason, my method works.

Chinese is a Pain

Little Boy's experience with Chinese has been a painful one. The only person in the family who can help him with Chinese is Grandma. One would think that this would make the journey easier since Grandma has been tutoring Chinese for a living for at least 2 decades. Amongst the children she tutored were kids of various dignitaries and even big shots from the Ministry of Education at that time ... so very very reputable she was.

Was it a blessing? No.

Because she approached the tutoring of my children with an arrogance born of a proven track record. And when my children did poorly, it was because (1) they were lazy and (2) they were stupid and (3) their mother (i.e., that's me!) had a bad attitude that prejudiced them towards Chinese.

My children's days were filled with "ting xie" (Chinese spelling) and she gave them stacks and stacks of cards that she had painstakingly manufactured. They were asked to memorise those cards. Like many Chinese teachers steeped in Chinese values and morals, Grandma worked very hard... very very hard. And she made sure I saw her work hard too.

When the children's results were poor, she could look me in the eye and say that she had tried her best, and that such middling results were not her fault. And since it was not her fault, it was the children's fault. My heart bled as I watched my children's confidence shaken and their self-esteem battered by her subtle innuendos... a look there... a word here... a roll of the eyes... every lesson (that meant everyday).

The Daughter did rather well in primary school under this regime. Once she reached secondary she had developed such a phobia of the language that she stayed away from it as much as she could (and teenagers tend to do what they want... not what Grandma wants). The Daughter was a straight A student in a top class in a famous school, who failed Chinese every year. As for Little Boy, I had retire to my room on occasions when she reduced him to tears with her accusations (lazy and slow) couched in a variety of different terms and phrases.

Every time I gently raised the topic with her, I was told that I knew nothing of how to teach Chinese. I bore with this for 15 years. I witnessed the damage of such teaching strategies to The Daughter, but when I saw history repeat itself with Little Boy, I went to war.

I fairly yelled at her saying that she had already damaged one child, and that I would not let her damage another. I stated that if the methods worked and she was such a great teacher, why was The Daughter failing? A part of me grieved at the pain I was inflicting on Grandma because I punched Grandma's self-esteem to smithereens that day by denigrating her sense of professional worth. I finally told Grandma that henceforth, she was NOT to help Little Boy with Chinese. I would do it myself.

I sacked Grandma. It was a terrible moment for our family. This bilingual policy tore our family apart.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mother Tongue Faux Pas? Not At All!!

Petunia has a soft spot for the underdog. Petunia also hates to see people being unfairly accused. And all I can say is poor Dr Ng Eng hen. It's quite saddening to see people on the internet accuse him of making a policy U-turn on the Mother Tongue issue. There can't be a U-turn because there never was a policy change to begin with.

It is not a bad thing for our Ministers to throw up possible ideas for discussion with the populace. It is an even better thing that after hearing from the populace, our government listens and uses the feedback to strengthen policy.

In the past, our government always knew best. In the past, our government thought through every policy and when people gave feedback, it defended policy aggressively, and most times, successfully too. To be fair, many of the policies thus implemented worked very well, bringing Singapore to where it is today. No one can look at Singapore today and say that the PAP did a bad job. But then, people began to feel that it was an arrogant and uncompassionate government. Lately though, 2 Ministers have floated ideas before casting policy in stone. These were ideas-in-progress.

Mrs Lim Hwee Hua spoke of breaking up long bus routes into short ones. There was an uproar and an outcry and a hoo-ha. And Mrs Lim Hwee Hua's ministry noted the feedback, strengthened her ministry's idea-in-progress and the result is that not all long bus routes will go.

Dr Ng Eng Hen spoke of reducing the Mother Tongue weightage. A lot of people make him out to be a fool. I don't think so at all. I think the man merely broached a topic for discussion and then concluded the discussion after everyone had said their piece. His conclusion addressed the concerns of all parties. (1) The weightage does not change so as not to disadvantage those who are good in Mother Tongue; (2) The weightage does not change because Asia (China, India, Indonesia and Malaysia) is on the economic ascendance; (3) Teaching Mother Tongue as a Foreign Language methods will be strengthened so as to help talented pupils from English-speaking homes make the grade in Mother Tongue.

I have taught a foreign language before and I know that the strategies and philosphies are different, whether one is teaching a child who speaks the language at home... or one who does not. Once the MOE has decided to address this issue, I have no doubt that children like Little Boy and The Daughter will receive a better grounding in Chinese. This will address the concerns of parents whose children spend an inordinate amount of time on Mother Tongue. These are are exactly my concerns and I feel that Dr Ng's conclusion has addressed it.

In essence, our government started a dialogue with us and included our feedback in its decisions. LKY lead a people who were less educated. As a country, we were toddlers then. His government was autocratic. His government always knew best. Gee... I too was autocratic when my kids were toddlers - e.g,, "Little Boy! You play with those matchsticks again and I will pinch you black and blue!!"

That, in essence, was LKY. He was a leader of his time.

LHL's government leads a people who are vastly more discerning and educated. We have grown up. But not truly grown up. We are but adolescents. And for all of us who are parents of adolescents, we know that this is the age where they develop judgment, and the first people they judge are their parents. Adolescence is the time when parents are harshly judged by children... and when children fight their parents for control over their own world... Some parents hang on tight for fear that their child veer out of control.

Then there are violent struggles. Go peek in on Thailand and look at those awful photos of a General with a bullet hole in his head.

Other parents, who have spent enough time on their children in their early years, know that their kids have a good grounding in all that matters. So these parents let go. These parents initiate discussions with their teenagers, respect their views and delegate personal authority. And apart from a few spats, adolescence passes by uneventfully. Our government is doing just this and there are political adolescents who take this new "respect for the populace's views" as a sign of incompetence?

Come on... when I ask The Daughter whether the somewhat low-cut dress or the mini-skirt looks better on her, it is not because I don't know how to dress myself... or that I have no clue what she should wear. I ask because I want to respect her burgeoning sense of identity. If I have to decide for her, I can. But will she be happy?

I cannot believe that Dr Ng and the legions of intelligentsia in his Ministry did not know that Mother Tongue is a sensitive issue. He started a discussion on Mother Tongue and then concluded it. That's all. He does not look like a fool. The man is doing his job.

So, for those Singaporeans who keep on judging the PAP harshly despite having prospered under its rule... AND despite ample present evidence that it listens and includes our views, know that it is because you are as yet political teenagers. Those who are truly political adults merely discuss, conclude and move on to better things.

It isn't so much that I support the PAP for the sake of supporting it. After all, I have asked people not to vote for George Yeo before. But every citizen has a vested interest in the relative political calm and the strong performance of the Singapore government. Too often, brickbats are thrown and not enough bouquets.

So here is one big bouquet.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Staying Slim

I was in 2 minds about blogging about weight loss until I read Blur Ting's blog here. I was amused that we were both preoccupied with the same topic on the same day.

Anyway, 20 years ago, I tipped the scales at 42kg. After 2 children, I maintained it at 44kg up until I became anaemic 4 months ago. I was tired and I thought that if I ate more, I would be less tired. So I ate more. The more tired I felt, the more I ate and the more I slept.

I gained 7kg.

However, it seemed to me that the more weight I gained, the more tired I felt... and the more I ate. And I felt caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. If I didn't eat, I would be malnourished and probably anaemic. If I did eat, I would be fat and still tired.

The thing about staying slim is that The Husband appreciates it. When I was padded with post-partum adipose fillings, he was too polite to comment. He maintained that it didn't matter to him. But there are some things you read in your husband's eyes. When I eventually did lose weight because of a tight work schedule, The Husband was most pleased. Since then, I have made a real effort to maintain my weight.

I broached the topic with him last week. You know, my love, I'm sort of very well into middle-aged even by the newer standards of longer life spans. It's about time I reflected some middle-aged corpulence, no? Maybe I should leave the weight on and allow myself to enjoy the respect people give to portly matrons?

The Husband said somewhat hesitantly... "You can eat less carbo and still make sure you take those iron supplements? Would that work?" That, I guessed, was his way of saying that he would rather that the weight stay off. So, I've been on a one meal diet since Sunday.

I eat a well-balanced meal at dinner, and dutifully pop my iron and calcium supplements... and I don't eat breakfast nor lunch. I've done this before and the fat comes off quickly after the 5th day. It's the 5th day today. Already, I am feeling quite a bit more energetic and once I get past the first 3 days, I don't even feel hungry at breakfast and lunch anymore.

As one grows older, one needs fewer calories. I know of this retired nurse who eats only one meal a day because that is all she needs. Maybe, this is all I need and I should do this for the rest of my life.

But you know... I do so like food.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


I love it when my kids make things for me. The Daughter made me a video some time back and I cried. Little Boy built me a Doll's House because he always sees me poring over them when I go to the malls, and I loved it too. See it here.

This year, I received a handmade paperweight. It's bee-oo-ti-foooool! And it made my heart skip when I saw it close to midnight when I could barely crawl up the stairs after an interminably long dinner.

Friday, May 7, 2010

House Construction

Here is an approximate 3-D rendition of the house we're building. We've changed the design quite a bit, and I am now working on details such as kitchen layout, window sizes, iron grille designs etc ....

It really isn't as difficult as I thought it would be especially after I faced the fact that I have absolutely no talent in art and aesthetics... but I do have an incredible sense of what is or isn't practical. As long as I am not hung up about how beautiful the house has to be, I'm less stressed.

Armed with confidence in my sense of the practical, I asked to change the 2 wooden kitchen doors (yes... the house has a main kitchen for me, and a mini-kitchen for the in-laws) to sheet metal. I took away the sexy 2-storey glass panel and imposing timber main doors that the architect had proposed ... and I requested for a wide expanse of sliding doors to improve air flow.

I took away shower doors completely. In my experience, if a shower screen is long enough, a shower door doesn't need to do much to keep a bathroom dry... and it's dangerous because when a moveable glass door slams, it will break. And it sometimes shatters by just being there.

I asked for heel-posts at every doorframe because the foot of the doorframe is the first to rot in a house where we mop the floors everyday. I widened all the windows to improve airflow. I asked for iron grilles.

"No one builds houses with iron grilles nowadays" said the architect.

I designed my kitchen with concrete plinths on the floors to hold kitchen cabinets so that the floor may be scrubbed without fear of damaging wood. I included a 3 inch concrete and tile wall separating the sink and countertop area from the wood cabinets so that any splashing from washing dishes won't damage the wood. The sink, the stove top and the oven will be supported by a concrete and tile structure instead of wooden cabinets. And I took away all the parquet.

"No parquet?" said the architect.

I think my poor architect alternates between feelings of incredulity and pity for this woman with so sense of fashion and aesthetics. He first said hesitantly... "Forgive me... but you do realise that your house layout is somewhat 'conventional'?" I think he meant boring but was trying to be nice.

And I said "Yeah... my house will never go out of fashion because it was never fashionable to begin with. It's simple, bland and a bit weird. That way, I won't get sick of it... and I won't have to renovate after 5 years".

Then he said "Since it is a conventional house, it normally has a timber main door. Putting in sliding doors is more the fashion of the post-modernists". I looked at him happily and said "Oh... ok! Then I will have a hybrid house! Rojak!"

Then he said "You want concrete and tile plinths to hold your wardrobes? But... but... but... nobody does that because it constrains you to place your wardrobes at the plinths. Not practical." He won that argument because yeah... it wouldn't be practical.

And then I got anxious and I asked "After you build all that I want Mr A., will I have an ugly house?" And Mr A. was so sweet. He said "It won't be the height of fashion but it won't be ugly after you've grown your plants all over it. But you must grow your plants ok?"

I love my architect.

I do. He is a fatherly gentleman with an eye for the practical too. He is great at managing contractors. He takes the time to listen to me and he was sensitive enough to design a plant roof (a wire grid roof for sweet potato to grow on and give shade)... vertical plant walls (as privacy screens from street view) ... sunlit spots for plants (my Mediterranean herbs)... planter boxes etc...

I think much of what is house design in Singapore hails from the West. It always has. To design a house that is coherent with the weather and lifetyles here, you need to inspire yourself with HDB living, and features from old Peranakan houses and the sprawling bungalows of the 1950s.

The old Peranakan kitchens had concrete and tile structures to hold stoves. So I want those for my house. No Corian thank you! The old Peranakan houses had light wells and airwells and wide wide casement windows. So I want those for my house too. Wide casement windows and skylights.

And I remember the sheet metal kitchen backdoors in my Grandma's house in Joo Chiat... and at Granddad's shophouse in Middle Road. Sheet metal kitchen backdoors last through all the wet and the heat... and they deter break-ins. I want sheet metal back doors too. And remember those old bungalows with tall swing open doors that let help air to flow through the house? I want those too.

I'm not looking for an old-style house. I just think that some of these features are weather and lifestyle friendly. I don't want a kitchen where I have to be careful all the time. I don't want a house that needs 24-hr air con. I don't want timber back doors that rot after 12 months... or marble floors that can't take spills. Gee... when the grandchildren come, they'll pee on the floor ... and I wanna be able to tell them to pee all they like and anywhere too!

It won't be a pretty house but I'll be comfortable there... and then my architect smiles kindly at me and says... "It's only ugly if you think it is."

Yup! I love my architect.

More Cheap Slippers!!

I was so proud of myself for having found simple and elegant looking slippers (AND non-slip) for $2.90 a pair some time back. I think I bought 6 pairs back then. 3 pairs for me and 3 for The Daughter. As Milo went through his teething phase, he chewed up all 6. We salvaged bits and pieces undigested in his poo.

I went back to the store to get more pairs only to be told that stocks had run out and they had problems getting new stocks. I was so sad that I went and binged on 6 other pairs of slippers at the same price (ALSO non-slip) but quite quite ugly. They had all sorts of fantastical designs that Petunia will only wear because she rarely looks down at her feet.

But TODAY... aaaaah... TODAY.... I found my beloved slippers again. I bought 8 pairs in different sizes. Each family member has 2 pairs in different colours. Hopefully, I won't need to buy new slippers for us for the next 10 years. This is what Petunia calls shopping. Never mind if the whole world laughs. I bought enough white Giordano t-shirts 5 years ago to last 10 years... It's been 5 and the inventory looks healthy.

I wonder though... if in this instance, I have been penny-wise and pound foolish. How does one a family get through 14 pairs of slippers?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Another Milo Somewhere Else

I googled Milo and found a hilarious THIS!

Choose Your Tongue

There seems to be some recognition by the Ministry of Education that not all children can successfully learn 2 languages. With that, someone suggested that Mother Tongue (Chinese, Tamil and Malay) be weighted less in the PSLE exams. This raised concerns about further diluting Singaporeans' grasp of Chinese. This raised concerns about disadvantaging those who are better at Chinese than at English. This raised concerns about positioning the Singaporean workforce to meet a future world where China is powerful and wealthy. PM Lee Hsien Loong decided to weigh in on the matter, stating clearly that the emphasis on Chinese will not be lessened.

However, the fact still remains that not every child can successfully cope with 2 languages. The fact still remains that some very English-speaking intelligent children are denied a place in elite schools because of Mother Tongue. If Mother Tongue weightage were cut however, it would mean that some very Chinese-speaking intelligent children may be denied a place in elite schools because of English.

No fair. Not fair at all.

That being the case, why not compute PSLE t-scores on only 3 subjects? Math + Science + [MotherTongue OR English]. This way, the best and the brightest in Math and Science PLUS one language can stand an equal chance of getting into elite schools no matter whether they are from Chinese, Malay, Tamil or English speaking homes? Of course, to maintain a minimum level of literacy in 2 languages, it would have to be stipulated that students must at least PASS the other language.

This sounds fair to me.

However, downstream, there will be a whole lot of adjustments to make. Would those who use Chinese more need to be taught Geography etc... in Chinese too? If not, it does mean that these Chinese-speaking children will be even more disadvantaged in secondary school and JC especially since General Paper is taught in English... and every other subject is taught in English (History, Geography, Literature).

Computing the PSLE t-score on 3 subjects would mean that these Chinese-speaking students have an excuse not to work at English in primary school. They will suffer in secondary school and JC because their poor grasp of English disadvantages them in the elite school system. Unless of course, the elite schools run 2 separate systems wherein those who are Chinese-speaking are taught everything in Chinese... and those who are English-speaking are taught everything in English. Somehow, I can't see our elite schools do that at all.

Furthermore, at the end of 15 years of such segregation, the fault lines between Chinese-speaking and English-speaking would have become so deep that we'll probably revert back to 4 subjects computation just to unify the country again. Possible right?

The problem of Chinese-speaking students failing in our elite school system is a real one. I teach many who get poor grades because they have a poor grasp of English. These people are talent too! They just have so little competence in English that they cannot write English essays well enough to do well in subjects that are taught in English. All along, in the past few decades, these are people who could have made it into the elite school system if only they didn't have to score well in English.

Hmmmmm... sticky problem this huh? It ain't easy to be a politician. Much easier to be an armchair commentator.

But the 3-subject computation is an idea, no?

But at the end of the day, I think it's odd to change a policy to suit student performance. Policies should be based on national exigencies. Bilingual education has gone some way in unifying a melting pot of cultures that Singapore still is. Chinese will become economically more important in a world where China is THE economic power. Malay is important because we need to be able to relate to our neighbours. And hey... India is no economic pushover either as the world meets the future.