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Monday, December 26, 2011

Mongrel Puppies Need a Home

Fatty Puppy

Friendly Puppy

Frightened Puppy

Here is a BIG BIG thank you to all those who helped to advertise the puppies' plight. They have all found owners now.

These puppies are now being fostered at a construction site. Fatty Puppy loves to eat. He has a very placid, calm temperament and clearly prefers to be lying down and observing than running around. Friendly Puppy looks the most dominant of all. She is unafraid and readily approaches strangers to check them out. The funny thing though is that she is the runt of the litter - smallest in size of all the 3. This one has spunk and spirit. Or maybe she's just stupid, and has no notion of danger. Friendly Puppy may be more suited to a family with some dog experience. Frightened Puppy is not a dominant female even though she is bigger sized than her brother and sister. She is anxious and easily frightened but is quite affectionate when she knows you will be nice to her.

Do help me spread the word to rehome these puppies. Just email this link to all whom you think will be able to provide a loving good home. Otherwise, they will almost certainly have to be put down. If you want the puppies, please leave me a contact in the comments section. I won't publish your comment so you need not worry about privacy.

Friday, December 23, 2011


The Daughter found a waitressing job at Sque, Clarke Quay. She loves it 'cos the people she works with are nice to her (seriously, I haven't yet met anyone who isn't nice to my gentle daughter) plus, she can get up close and personal to yummy food. Unfortunately, she doesn't get to eat the food. WE got to eat it instead. because we went there to check it out. The food is quite well made, and the service is good, as long as you're sitting in The Daughter's section. The Daughter smiles a lot you see. Of course, I am biased.

Anyway, back to the food.

I was very pleased with the bone marrow. My last experience with bone marrow was at The Disgruntled Chef, and I came away very disgruntled because I was served a huge bone with a small crevice containing about a teaspoon of bone marrow. Shared between 2 people, that was half a teaspoon each. See previous blog post here. As you can see, the bone marrow at Sque came in bones that had wide valleys, and was augmented with bits and pieces of other savoury stuff. It was nice but a bit jelak because it was quite greasy. Clearly, the chef at Sque is not disgruntled and was very generous.

I really really loved the caesar salad. I've had many caesar salads in my life and this was one of the best. Little Boy loved his sausages. There were FIVE on the plate - 3 flavours. One kind was spicy hot. All were good. As far as ambience goes, we were there at lunch. There was a laid back sense to the place and I loved being able to look at the pretty boats and colourful shops on the other side of the Singapore River.

Maybe I am biased. The Daughter works there you see.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A's Little Boy

AL is a Daddy I met on the kiasuparents forum. He made contact with me asking for the audio recordings of the chinese compositions that had helped Little Boy achieve some competence in Chinese. He seemed like a very lost Daddy, and in his own understated way, he was overwrought with worry for his son. One thing lead to another and I found myself face to face with AL's son, who whilst here ostensibly to learn from Little Boy how to do Chinese compositions, had somehow contrived to entice my son to go and play. AL's son reminded me so much of Little Boy back when he was really little. Playful. Dreamy. Careless.

AL himself seemed a little despondent. His son's grades were poor. AL feared for his son. "It is not that I have hang-ups about Normal Stream. I don't want him to end up in a school where he may be subject in his adolescent years to unhealthy teen influences." AL looked through the China compos and said that he would probably not use them. "They're too difficult. My son will never be able to manage. He can't even read his textbook, which is way easier than this" AL said. I could not explain to him why I thought he was wrong. I knew he was wrong because I know motivation. If you possess the right motivation techniques, you can help your child to persevere towards impossible goals. But I could not explain.

So I offered to show AL.

AL came by again with his son. I first worked directly with his son whilst AL observed from an armchair. As he observed, he took notes. Once in a while, I would interrupt myself to point out to AL specific techniques that I was using. Next, I phased myself out and phased in AL to work directly with his own son. It was my turn to observe. I next gave AL feedback on his own behaviors that were either discouraging, or not actively helping his son's motivation levels. Then we did a sum-up. Meanwhile, AL's son was kept busy on his task of memorizing his very first China Compo.

We started work at 11am and by 3pm, AL's son had completed half the composition. This took into account a fair amount of interruption and a nice lunch break. What AL had deemed impossible for his son was already half done. And AL took away with him a nice set of motivation techniques for close one-to-one coaching that I had modeled for him.

I feel good about what I did today. I think I made a difference to the lives of one man and the boy he loves so much that he quit his job to see him through Primary 5 and 6.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

He Cares for My Insignificant Wants and Needs

I am part of a bible study group during the school year. It's forms part of the International Bible Study Fellowship. Within the framework of this fellowship, each group generates a list of prayer items and we pray for each other every week. It has always been difficult for me to give my group specific items from my life to pray for. I was shy. See, some of my wants are so trivial... others are so intimate that I just cannot let others know what I am praying for. Also, I don't think I pray enough. I tend to rely on my own strength too much.

So, when my BSF group leader calls me up every week to get my prayer requests, I will proffer some generic item that does not embarrass me, nor reveals the extent of some of the pain or fear I feel inside. Judging from the kind of prayer requests that were generated, I guess I was not the only one to feel that way.

This year, my group is very special. We have broken for the holidays and will integrate new study groups next year. For all intents and purposes, my 2011 bible study fellowship group is no more BUT it still is. 2 ladies in particular have volunteered to collate prayer requests through email, and each week, I still receive prayer items from the group to pray for. This time, though, the prayer requests reach into intimate regions of the others' lives that were not revealed during the year. Somehow, via email, people venture to share more and deeply too.

But I have not made any prayer requests of my own via email.

Now that I read of others real needs and wants, I am even more hesitant to reveal my own. Others pray for dying family members. I am thankful that I only need to pray for Little Boy's flu and The Husband's conjunctivitis. Others pray for being able to rent a small flat at subsidised rates. I am praying for guidance on how to buy a property overseas. Others pray for straying husbands and wayward children. I am praying for The Husband to come home early for dinner more often, and for The Daughter to find a good husband who will love her and protect her.

In the midst of others' agony, I cannot bring myself to share my insignificant woes. I do not know how it would make the others feel. In fact, in the midst of others' very real and deep pain, all my wants melt away into fervent prayers of thanksgiving to God for somehow blessing me with so much.... and please, please, please... don't stop. I fervently pray that I will not forget that He is behind all this.

In truth, I have had more pain in my life than many others, more pain than I want to dwell on. Yet, it is no excuse to taunt others with the blessings he has given me in recent years. And then my prayer needs just completely dried up. Already, I wasn't praying enough... and I began to pray even less.

Then I picked up a book entitled WHEN FAMILIES PRAY, by Cheri Fuller. As I read the book, I felt very encouraged to pray again. I learnt to pray BLESSings into every individual's life. B for Body. L for Labour. E for Emotions. S for Social. S for Spiritual. Then, I learnt that God answers prayer even before one has prayed. A last minute prayer works! Because God has set in motion the answer to our prayer even before we know to pray.

That was what He did for me yesterday. I had stupidly scheduled a mammogram and a PAP smear back to back in the morning, forgetting that I had also scheduled for lights to be installed at Grandma's apartment. I couldn't be in 2 places at the same time. I desperately prayed for help. Somehow, it turned out that He made the guy come late. Phew!!

This morning, I went out to buy soil. Driving home, I looked at the sky and groaned. It looked like rain. Somehow, God prompted me to pray for good weather. I giggled. Seriously, I did. I was happy that He cared for my teeny weeny insignificant need. The weather held out till I had finished gardening. I planted rocket salad, dill, nasturtiums, chamomile, lemon bergamot, nettle. I repotted the rosemary. I treated the brinjals and lady's finger for aphids. God had told me that the weather would hold for as long as I needed. So, I took my time.

He cares for LITTLE needs too.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Almond Meal Bread

Here is my 3rd attempt at making low carb bread using a mix of almond meal/flour. I used 100g of almond meal and 300g of white flour so it was still pretty carby. Blurting came by and I gave her half the loaf, which she walloped for lunch thinking it was low carb. She felt sleepy after. Sorry Ting!

It was quite a yummy bread. I cut bits of fresh rosemary into it and the whole loaf smelled like Provence. Hmmmmmmmmmm!!

When Ting Ting left, I made another bread. This time, with 200g of flour and 200g of almond meal. It is denser but still very bready. I am so relieved. I haven't had bread in 2 weeks because the earlier 2 attempts didn't look anything like bread and I just couldn't bring myself to eat them. I love bread. I miss bread. I look forwards to having toast tomorrow morning! Phew!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

HappyCall Roast Chicken

Our family loves roast chickens. The problem with roasting chickens is the mess that it makes in one's oven. In the past, making a good roast chicken was an involved affair. I blended spices in olive oil and froze it into blocks. The chicken's skin had to be gently detached from the meat with a blunt knife so as to be able to insert small pieces of frozen olive oil under the skin. This added layer of olive oil bubbled through the skin and one would have marvellously crackly skin with very very juicy meat. The chickens roasted this way were so juicy that when carved whilst hot, juices would spurt out.

But all that oil also meant an ultra dirty oven.

Now that I have a new oven, I am loathe to dirty it. I tried roasting inside a glass roasting pan with cover. Juicy but not crispy. The children did not like it one bit. As a result, we haven't had roast chicken in a while because the thought of a dirty oven is a real put off, even though I did buy a self-cleaning oven.

I managed to roast a chicken in the HappyCall today. There was no need to insert frozen olive oil under the skin. I placed the oil-and-spice blend on the pan and the chicken on top. I turned the fire up high until I could hear the sound of frying and see steam escape from the HappyCall vent. Then I brought the fire down low for 20 minutes. Flip over the pan and turn the fire up again. Then, bring the fire down low for another 20 minutes.

Voila! A roast chicken with some bits of crispy skin. It wasn't as crispy as when oven roasted but it was crispy enough to offset the convenience of not having to wash the oven. And it was very juicy even though I hadn't inserted extra oil under the skin. The combination of steam and fry cooking that takes place inside the HappyCall pan does absolute wonders for retaining the flavours of food.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Another Bird

This is the 3rd pigeon to fly into our house. This one allowed itself to be caught and gently held in Little Boy's hand. I wanted to make pigeon soup but decided that this was too small a pigeon to be worth the trouble of offending my son.

I think the high ceilings confuse them into thinking that this might be a cavern with nice roosting spots. This is one half of a young couple. Both are small birds (therefore young?). Possibly newly married in search for a nesting site. Both birds flew in. One flew out and one flew up the stairwell and explored my master bedroom. Do pigeons mate for life?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Almond Milk & Brown Rice

Ever since I read Ting's blogpost on a low carb diet, I've been exploring the benefits of nuts and unrefined grains. It really is a measure of how much influence other bloggers have over my life that I would move to act in new directions, try new things, eat new foods and adapt my lifestyle just because of a single blogpost.

Nuts and unrefined grains contain phytic acid. Over consumption of phytic acid leads to inability to absorb important minerals such as iron, magnesium and zinc. Cooking reduces phytic acid somewhat, but soaking is better... and sprouting even better. I have not got around to sprouting anything yet but I have learnt to soak.

Almond milk was the first thing I made. I soaked 500g of almonds overnight, threw away the water and rinsed well. Then I added 1.2 litres of water to 250g of nuts and pulsed it in the blender. Once the nuts were in small pieces, I set the blender full blast. Then, I strained it through a cloth (those thin cotton square cloths for folding into nappies work beautifully). You can add dates before you blend the nuts for that hint of sweetness. We all like almond milk without flavour enhancers though. Little Boy nodded his head and said that it was as good as cow's milk. You can see a video of how to make almond milk here. I collected a whole mound of almond pulp which I mixed with some honey and bananas. Then I laid the paste out onto the food dehydrator sheets to dry. They dried into nice crackers with a hint of sweet and a whiff of banana. I learnt that from this lady here. All that fibre gave my intestines a good sweep, I think. The pulp also dries out nicely into almond flour. I'll try and make bread tomorrow with almond flour.

The next thing I learnt was to soak brown rice. This is done with non-chlorinated water for 22 hours. I used small bottles of mineral water. After 22 hours of soaking, bubbles appear in the water, indicating that some degree of fermentation has taken place. I give 50% of that water to my plants and reserve the other 50% in the fridge as beneficial bacterial culture for soaking the next batch of brown rice. These bacteria eat the phytic acid. Soaking also makes the brown rice much easier to cook. It can be cooked like normal white jasmine rice but with less water.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Typical Asian Parents

I feel so guilty now!!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sinfonia's Hen Eggs

Little Boy was very serious about his temporary chore of collecting eggs. He would throw on a coat and go out to the chicken house every morning after brushing his teeth. The eggs are HUGE. The photo above has one large egg surrounded by even larger eggs. Look at how small the teaspoon is next to the egg. The eggs are soooooooo fresh that they were still warm when I cooked 'em. The photo below shows how orange the yolks are. They're the most delicious eggs I've ever tasted. I'm thinking of getting The Husband to build me a chicken house.

The Salmon Ponds

The Trout Ponds

The Fisherman's Shack

Inside the Fisherman's Shack

The River Plenty

Wild Dandelions (a powerful detox herb) by the River Plenty

Australia had no salmon nor trout before the British arrived to colonise it. We made our way to THE place along the Plenty River which incubated the very first salmon and trout eggs that had made it alive across the mighty oceans from England to Australia. It took a few attempts before people figured how to pack the salmon in living moss and ice well enough to survive the trip. We were very amused by the name of the river running next to The Salmon Ponds. It was called River Plenty. Clearly, the early colonists were down to earth people who called a spade a spade. If a river was full of fish, just call it Plenty. It leaves one wondering though... what happened at Break Me Neck Hill? And were there really pirates at Pirates' Bay? Or are there?

Strangely though, The Salmon Ponds is a trout hatchery. The salmon that were released into the Plenty River didn't come back nor did they reproduce in the wild. Salmon breed in fresh water mountain rivers and then migrate to the ocean to live, coming back to the place of their birth to reproduce. But the salmon didn't come back. As such, salmon didn't really take hold in the rivers of Tasmania. However, the smaller batch of trout eggs were raised and when released, they multiplied and colonised Australia's rivers and streams.

We really enjoyed The Salmon Ponds. The sun shone gloriously and the spring flowers were out in force. I had been everywhere looking for dandelion puffs and only found them here, because everywhere else that I had looked, it was too early for puffs. The lawn was carpeted with flowers. There were those with white petals and yellow eyes. There were others with yellow petals and green eyes. Then there were the bright yellow dandelions. It made you wanna lie down and roll on the lawn because everything smelled so sweet. There were a few touch and feel museums situated at various parts of the park, and these were very nicely presented. I really liked the fishing shack in the picture above. They named it "The Sanctuary", which just underlines the whole attitude to fishing - it's a healthful activity where one drinks in the sun and breathes in the wind... in a place where troubles can't get you.

To end a wonderful morning, we went to the crêpes restaurant on the premises. The crêpes were really good, especially the ham-egg-cheese one... and we had a great burger. I normally don't go near burgers... but this one actually tasted good.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tasmanian Devils

It seems that the Tasmanian Devil is vastly misunderstood. This park ranger treats them like teddy bears, and the little creatures talk to him in much the same way that Milo talks to us. It turns out that this park ranger helped to hand raise these Tasmanian Devils and they recognise his scent. However, he has to make sure that he uses exactly the same shampoo and body wash. Else, his little Devils won't recognise him, and may attack. That is a scary thought because the Tasmanian Devil generates the strongest bite per unit body mass of any mammal. This surpasses even a lion's bite. It is this powerful bite that helps it to take down wallabies 3 to 4 times larger than itself.

Still, despite its strong jaws, the Tasmanian Devil prefers to scavenge rather than hunt. They're the vacuum cleaners of the Tasmanian bushland. Whilst they fight each other a lot, they don't kill each other (unlike humans). However, they will eat another Tassie Devil found dead in the bush, because meat is meat, and it is their job to scavenge.

We later observed it feeding on a piece of wallaby meat with a large bone in it. The little fur ball ate the bone like it was keropok. The park ranger had some dead yellow chicks in the food bucket. To the Tassie Devil, that must have been soft and creamy ice cream. It is said that when people go missing in the bush without a trace, they could have been cleaned up by the Tassie Devil after they had collapsed and died. The Tassie Devil eats everything... bones and all...

Friday, December 9, 2011

It's Spring You See...

The effects of spring on animals is one of nature's greatest mysteries I think. Something in the changing of the seasons turn animals into absolute *** maniacs. Insects joined in pairs landed on my arm. Colourful lorikeets necked each other and frisked about from branch to branch like they were main characters in a Bollyhood movie starring coconut trees. We saw wallabies do it. Kangaroos too and a couple of horses.

It really is no big deal all this animal porn.

I only REALLY objected when we got acquainted with a very friendly 12 month old sheep dog. We had stopped by the road to examine some hay bales. One doesn't get to see hay bales up close and personal in Singapore so we stopped by to ooh and aah. The dog drove up in the back of a truck with an 81 year old sheep farmer at the wheel. The dog was chained to the back of the truck so The Daughter climbed on to play with him. But doggie didn't wanna play. He had other things on his mind. Our well-mannered daughter said nothing when she realized what Doggie wanted but she firmly gripped him at his throat and pushed him away. None of us said anything because we weren't sure if Mr 81 Year Old would be offended. As a result of our silence, clueless Little Boy clambered on the truck when we were all deep in conversation with Mr 81 Year Old. Before he knew it, Doggie had gripped Little Boy from the back and proceeded to hump Little Boy's woolen sweater with great gusto.

Doggie's grip was very very strong indeed. Someone had to go and grip the dog's throat again and save Little Boy, who was still clueless until we all got into the car and started yelling our indignation and shock.

Then someone remarked that the dog might have tried something with the sheep!! To which someone else asked what would result. Why... a sheep dog, of course.

Singularly Favoured

As much as Miss Mao loathed Little Boy, she adored The Daughter. More than once, The Daughter woke in the middle of the night to see Miss Mao settled comfortably on a pillow nearby contemplating her sleeping face. This spooked The Daughter so much that Little Boy was soundly scolded for not closing the door properly.

None of us knew however, the extent of Miss Mao's adoration until the day before we left. Miss Mao had laid a little tribute at the door to The Daughter's room. It was a little bird, the size of half my hand. It lay so still we thought that it was dead. We ran to get Sinfonia, who assured us that the bird might still be alive.

Somehow, Miss Mao had caught the bird gently enough in her jaws that no damage had been inflicted, and then Miss Mao had contrived to bring the living bird as a gift to The Daughter. At the door to The Daughter's room, Miss Mao lay near Little Bird, mesmerizing it with her golden-eyed gaze. Little Bird lay there, unable to move.

The Daughter cupped the little thing in her palms and settled it in a flower pot far out of Miss Mao's reach. It took a while for Little Bird to recover and fly off into the bushes where I managed to get a photo. Even then, Miss Mao bounded into the bushes and stalked the bird for another 15 minutes. We could only watch helplessly as hunter hunted prey. Fat cat Miss Mao hunting was a creature of deadly speed, precision and elegance. We had no idea she could run so fast or leap so high or strike like lightning.

Happily, Little Bird got away.

When it was all over, The Daughter realized that she had forgotten to thank Miss Mao for her little love gift. It is no small gesture when a cat brings a human a still living prey. Even more interesting was that Miss Mao brought The Daughter the WHOLE bird. Sometimes, cats bring a thigh or a head or some innards to share. Miss Mao's gesture that spoke of love, and her willingness to share the best and freshest of what she could offer.

How does The Daughter do it? How does she charm all these animals? The sheep come rushing when they see her. They will jostle each other to be able to get themselves up closest to her. Very often, when she is in the sheep's paddock she is hemmed in on all four sides by woolly bodies. Our Milo clearly loves her most. And now she has gone and charmed the Queen Mother, Miss Mao.

Next to such obvious favour, Little Boy feels quite bad because his relationship with Miss Mao is very poor indeed. And I am jealous too because hey... Miss Mao comes to ME in the mornings to get some extra helpings of Friskas. So why didn't I get a gift?! Hmmmmmmph!!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Miss Mao Moment

Miss Mao doesn't like Little Boy and she makes her antipathy very clear. They started off on the wrong foot, you see. Miss Mao is friendly but strictly on her own terms. Miss Mao doesn't GET cuddled, SHE comes and cuddles you. If you're lucky, she'll come and settle on your lap whilst you sit at the sofa to read. But if you presume to touch her in a way she dislikes she'll get up, give her ample bottom a good shake and sway off with as much dignified portliness as The Royal Garfield himself. And you are NEVER NEVER NEVER rough with Miss Mao.

Miss Mao expects respect and she gets it.

Anyway, Little Boy is the clumsy affectionate sort. When he saw Miss Mao, he thumped across the wooden floor with heavy boy steps to try and hug her. Miss Mao gave him a cold look and swayed off like the best of them Queen Mothers when faced with rude and uncouth serfs of strange provenance.

Hug me? You presume to hug me? Don't you know who I am?

Oh well... Little Boy shrugged his shoulders and then went off to play with the sheep and steal eggs from the chickens. A few days later, Miss Mao peered through the gap of the door at Little Boy reading in his bed. The Daughter and I observed her from the corridor when all of a sudden, the door slammed shut and poor Miss Mao leapt four paws in the air, her fur standing on end. When she landed, she shook her head to clear it and then recovered the shreds of her dignified self, and went to wash herself on the step leading down to the dining room. Little Boy was of course very sorry. He hadn't realized that Miss Mao would get offended. Our Milo of course wouldn't have got offended. Milo would have sat outside the door and whined until we opened it for him. Don't expect Miss Mao to do that though.

But Miss Mao never forgave him. She never went near Little Boy again and when Little Boy tried to mend bridges, he was rewarded with 2 bites, a scratch and a few hisses. Little Boy was somewhat sad to be likewise ostracised, and he confided in me. I didn't think much of it until this morning.

The Daughter sat on the carpet hoping that Miss Mao would come by to cuddle her. Miss Mao did because The Daughter moves gently and talks softly, and has a talent for figuring out where animals like to be scratched. Little Boy, seeing an opportunity for a detente of sorts, stepped forward and reached out a hand. Miss Mao gave a low meow and gave him The Look... then she sauntered off. The Daughter translated the meow... "You again!?"

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Port Arthur: Australia's Convict Past and Present

If there is one thing about Australians that I have noticed, it is that they are independent minded and egalitarian. Once, I talked to an Australian academic who bluntly told me that it didn't matter that Singapore produced top of the top academic results, Australians just didn't wanna be like anybody else but themselves.

Not till yesterday did I realise why this country, settled by the British, is so un-British in the way it embraces life. Skilled trades are respected in this country. Snobbishness is not. And the notion of classes just does not cut it here. Here too, men are respected for their ruggedness and ability to live with nature. And women here are no shrinking violets.

Australians live with the painful memory of convict transportation. Many of the people who settled in Australia were from the classes of Britain hemmed in by extreme poverty. Mothers of children stole in order to feed their little ones. Fathers too stole to keep their families alive. Mothers prostituted themselves. Fathers and Mothers drank away their stress and were arrested for drunkenness. For these transgressins, they were transported to the other side of the world... unwillingly... and made to work for free in timber and quarry industries (sometimes in chains). These were people who knew exactly what it felt like to be the under class. As time passed, the strongest in mind and spirit gained their liberty and in their new continent with fertile soil and large open spaces, many ex-convicts prospered lawfully. Since a man could earn a good living through hard work, there really was no more need to steal. Some ex-convicts produced grandchildren and great grandchildren who rose to sit in courts of law as judges. Other ex-convicts reimbursed those that they stole from to expiate a sin that they had no choice but to commit because the underclass was cut off from every opportunity in life.

It has thus been seared into the Australian cultural psyche that all men are equal. No underclass for Australians thank you very much!!

The idyllic paysage in the photo above is that of Port Arthur, former penal colony wherein men were whipped with the cat o' nine tails. The cat o' nine tails inflicts far more damage with every stroke than a cane. It was also in this place where psychological torture was used that rendered many convicts insane. Things got so bad that an insane asylum had to be built on the premises. It is a place haunted by great cruelty... a place that has seen complete human degradation... a place where death was a welcome release.

So much historical pain leaves something in the soul of a country, and it is possible that the most admirable aspect of the Australian psyche is the result of this pain. Australians don't follow the crowd. They don't care. The unconscious memory of their own pain conquered gave them the confidence to do what THEY thought right. In a world where the USA was in ascendance, the Australians did what they wanted, never for a moment following the US lead slavishly. Today, Australia is alone amongst all Western countries to be relatively unscathed by the global financial meltdown.

Monday, December 5, 2011

What a Woman!!

When Sinfonia first recounted to me the escapades of her sheep, I smiled correctly and nodded empathetically. For a city dweller, this is all very theoretical you know. Sheep got out of paddock and shepherdess herds sheep back in paddock. Anybody who has read Heidi can understand that... or THINK they do.

Until your children come in to dinner yelling that Hornblower has gotten out.

Well... we tiptoed over to tell Mr Sinfonia, who shrugged his shoulders and mumbled something about ... normal... Hornblower does it all the time... nothing to worry about. After about 20 minutes, we got worried that Hornblower would escape again. so we went over and talked to Mrs Sinfonia, who strode across the hall, out to the garden and surveyed her domain. The next thing I knew, dear Hornblower was again standing outside the fence and Sinfonia was trying to lift this oversized woollen pillow with eyes all by herself. Sinfonia calls Hornblower a lamb. I can tell you that Hornblower looks NOTHING like a lamb. It is very big, and if anybody tells you sheep are white, they are lying. This one had a tail caked with some brown pasty substance... which also stained its legs. In short, there she was, this slender Chinese woman wrestling with a big and dirty sheep-lamb.

The Daughter came and helped to squash the sheep through a hole in the fence.

Then, Sinfonia disappears for a while and comes back carrying an IRON GATE. She strode across the field like some sort of medieval warrior Queen and positioned the gate in front of the offending hole. Then she disappeared again and came back carrying a WOODEN TRELLIS. By that time, my jaw was well and truly on the floor. By the time she, The Husband, The Daughter and Little Boy were hammering fence to ground in the half light of the Tasmanian dusk, I had fled. I was half afraid that she might next stride across the paddock with an entire roof. I could hardly believe that this was the same woman who played classical piano so well the night before that I almost rudely went out to ask her not to stop playing.. and who meekly opens up a packet of cheese for her husband when asked... and who makes fine jewelry... and who cooks like a dream.

Now, if you ask me if we saw many of the most famous sights in Tasmania, such as Swansea, Launceston and Cradle Mountain, I'll say "No"... but if I had a special holiday, I'll say "Yes". Not many people go on holiday to chase sheep you know and listen to the liquid notes of the piano played live deep into the night. I really think Sinfonia is an amazing woman. Singapore lost a precious Daughter when she decided to leave for Tasmania.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Elderflower Cordial

This image was sourced from here.

I've an elderberry plant in my garden that has never flowered. I dunno if it ever will. My job, I guess, is to keep the plant alive in case it does flower. Meanwhile, at the gourmet organic foods store down the road from Sinfonia's place, I found bottles of elderflower cordial made by these people. Hot or cold, it makes for a marvellous drink.

Internet lore documents the elderflower as a remedy for anything from flu to sinusitis and freckles. I simply like the way it tastes and if it has health benefits, then why not? 2 tablespoons of elderflower cordial in a mug of hot water and a squeeze of lemon made the sun come out on the miserably rainy morning at the Hobart market. I passed the cup to The Husband and was peeved when it came back empty. I had to buy another cup, plus 8 bottles of the cordial from the very same people who supplied to the gourmet organic foods store near Sinfonia's place. Then, this morning, Little Boy accidentally made a cold elderflower drink instead. It was just as good, if not better.

Then I remembered that Open Kitchen Concept had blogged about elderflower syrup here... and I am so very pleased that I'll be able to get it at Ikea in Singapore. It's a drink I don't ever intend to do without.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Grandvewe Sheep Farm

Just down the road there is a sheep's farm. It sells lambs and sheep's cheese. The sheep are milked at about 3.30pm so if you make it there at that time, you'll get to see how the sheep line up. The "milkmaids" put a portion of sheep pellets inside each of the stalls. The sheep enter to get at the food and wave their butts at the milkmaids. Pop and pop... the milk pumps go on and out the milk comes flowing.

The milk is later pasteurised and cheese cultures are added. They curdle nicely inside the cheese moulds and then are cured for a time. Then, people like us taste the cheese, fall in love and buy 'em.

On the Way to Antarctica

From Sinfonia's kitchen window, one can see Bruny Island in the distance, separated from the main island by a stretch of blue water. When we got to Bruny Island, The Husband, with one of his rare flashes of pithiness, said "Australia is a continent at one corner of the world. Tasmania is an island at one corner of Australia. Bruny Island is an island at the corner of Tasmania." It seemed to me that we were at the edge of the world... and if you look carefully, you can actually find a place on the Tasmanian map marked "Edge of the World".

The waters around Bruny Island are cold and pristine. Oysters grow there in great abundance. All ya gotta do is pick 'em off the rocks, shuck em and eat 'em... that is, if you own one of the beachfront properties on Bruny Island, with a jetty. Since we don't own such a property, we stopped by an oyster shack and carted home 12 oysters for AUD12.

From Bruny Island, we took a boat out to try and catch sight of whales, dolphins and seals. There were plenty of wild seals to see. They looked lovely in the water, frisking about... flipping into the air and turning somersaults, dancing in elegant pairs of Mikhail Baryshnikovs. We saw a baby humpback whale too. There were flocks of sea birds - cormorants, gulls, albatrosses and eagles soaring above the clear blue water riding on the crisp cold air currents that blow from the South Pole. It is an invigorating air, clean, pure... and 2000 km away is the Antarctica. The ocean is large and whilst Bruny Island is the same size as Singapore, it only has 550 people living there. So, everyone seems to know everyone else. We would spy a lone boat in the distance and it would invariably be a friend of the boat captain, Robert. I gather that it is the social custom here to drive up and say hello.

We met an oyster diver, a couple of fishing boats and one bright red boat on its way to the Antarctica. I'm sorry for the misleading title of this post. WE didn''t actually make it to the Antarctica, though for a fee, such trips can be organised.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Sinfonia's Villa/Farm/Cottage

I am not sure what to call Sinfonia's place. So, let's just say it is a cross between a farm ('cos it has hens and ducks that lay HUGE eggs, sheep that give wool, garlic sprouts with garlic bulbs, apple trees...), a villa 'cos it has these stunning views of hills and ocean (which calm the spirit and settle the mind), and a cottage ('cos on the inside it has every convenience we've come to remember fondly from all our cottage stays in almost every Western country we have travelled in).

It's always special to finally visit a place that one has only read about. You wander around the property with the same sense of wonder that you feel when you visit Chenonceau after reading about Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medicis... or when you visit Milan having read about Ludovico Sforza. For 2 years I've been following Sinfonia's warm tales of animals and life as it should be lived... where people exist in community, not competition... where the quest for economic growth is secondary to the preservation of nature and lifestyles... where people live close to Mother Earth and in harmony with it.

Where shoppers have nothing to buy because Mother Earth provides everything.

The eggs produced by Sinfonia's hens are HUGE. I've never seen larger eggs nor yolks that are so firm it actually takes effort to beat them into an omelette. Down the road, is a cheese farm, one of the 4 sheep's milk cheese farm in Australia. Ever tried sheep''s milk ice cream?

Sinfonia and her husband are so very warm and hospitable. This is the first time in any family holiday that I have not had to cook in our little cottage kitchen. Sinfonia cooks in half the time I need and her food is so good that my kids wolf everything down in silence. This night, we had barbeque... cooked by Mr Sinfonia, and much appreciated by Little Boy, our little carnivore. Check out Sindonia's home stay here -

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Poor Little Boy

When I look at Little Boy, I lament the loss of a childhood. My only consolation is that I left him pretty much alone in lower primary to be a child. I gave him no enrichment classes at all. I didn't even send him for the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) screening because I thought GEP would be too much hard work for a child. I kinda figured that as he got older, school will just get more and more challenging, and so he had better indulge in being a child earlier than later.

So, Little Boy spent the early years of his primary school catching grasshoppers in a forbidden school field, harvesting caterpillars off our orange tree for sale, tending to his moss culture etc... He had very average grades indeed. But well, the PSLE is coming up next year and I can't let him waffle along anymore. This year, 2011, has been a high stress year. The stress began last year when we realized that he was scoring in the 90s for every subject but Chinese. So began the Memorize-Recite Chinese project, which lead on to the current Memorize-Write Chinese project.

I think I begin to understand how Mothers in China must have felt when it came time to bind their daughters' feet. Foot binding was a custom practised in well-to-do families in China up until the last century. Mothers would break the bones of the arch and toes on their daughters' feet and bind the foot in long swathes of cloth to prevent it from growing out. See photos here. In that particular cultural context, women with bound feet were much honoured. As a result, Mothers who loved their daughters and wanted to give them a good future, made sure that they inflicted all the pain necessary to buy that future. It was a world where women were chattel. They had no education. They could hold no jobs. Their only hope was to marry well. Women with bound feet married well. Some Mauritanian women still inflict terrible pain on their daughters today.

These seem such a strange and barbaric customs no?

Am I doing anything different to Little Boy though? We evolve in a cultural context that prizes academic achievement. Little Boy has to compete with children who have been attending enrichment/tuition classes since Primary One. He has to compete with children whose parents paid large sums of money to train their children to do well in the Gifted Education Programme screening tests. He has to compete with all these kids and be better so that he can pip them all and get into his first choice secondary school.

As a result, 2011 stands out as the year where we covered 4 years worth of Chinese, and 2 years worth of content in the other subjects. Through it all, Little Boy has been nothing but co-operative. To bring him up to speed in Math material his school tested but had not yet taught, I passed him books that he read and then practised with. To bring him up to speed in Science, I bought Science guidebooks and he spent hours researching independently on the internet. Then, he did practice exams till they came out of his ears... and he marked the exams himself too. At one point, he wrote one Chinese composition every day. And all this was done whilst we also did impossible things with Chinese (like Memorize-Recite and more recently Memorize-Write). When I told someone (so completely bilingual that she can do real time translation) that he could write out a 2100 word Chinese composition from memory after 2 days of practice and study, she was very very surprised, and I felt very very guilty. I didn't know it was that difficult a thing to do. For the sake of a better future, I am breaking the toes and arch of my son's spirit and imprisoning it in long swathes of suffocating love.

Today is Sunday. On Sundays, Little Boy never does any schoolwork. Sunday is play day. It has always been. But we are leaving on a long holiday soon, to which we will bring no books. So, I convinced Little Boy that he should work today. He agreed. This morning, it was painful to look at his face and see his disappointment when he was reminded that whilst today might be Sunday, he still needed to write out his 2100 character Chinese composition again.

Ohhhhh... I am sorely tempted to ditch that silly compo and let my son play. Should I? Oh should I?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Reaching the Tipping Point for Chinese: Part 6

Last year, in Nov-Dec 2010, Little Boy had to work all day on a single Chinese model composition (written by 12 year olds in China) in order to be able to read it fluently to me, and explain all the words. Last week, in Nov 2011, Little Boy could process and fluently read FOUR Chinese model compositions in 4.5 hours.

It occurred to me that instead of doing more of the same thing, I could perhaps introduce writing into his process of learning Chinese in order to stimulate even deeper learning and better recall, leading to enhanced literacy. I decided early this week to stop asking him to READ 4 Chinese compositions a day. We are pushing our Potato Chinese experiment even further. Little Boy now has to memorize and recite ONE WHOLE composition at a stretch... and not only that, he has to WRITE out ONE whole composition from memory.

Like last year, I really dunno where this will end up. I am hoping that we will end up with another quantum leap in true competence in Chinese. This goal looks as impossible to us as last year's goal to memorize and recite one whole composition. However, we did achieve what we set out to do last year (with excellent results) and chances are, this year's goal won't be impossible either (but I still dunno about the results).

We've been working on the same 2100 character/pictogram (approximately) Chinese composition over the past 4 days. He successfully wrote out the whole composition for the first time yesterday with mistakes. He wrote out the whole composition for the second time today, and we think he will have to write out the whole composition another 5 times to be sure that the learning is deeply anchored. Meanwhile, on a daily basis, he has to learn to fluently read ONE new composition.

I popped over to Grandma's earlier today to get her opinion on whether this would help him learn. Grandma stated (rather smugly too) that that was how she was taught when she was young, that Chinese pictograms (like people's faces) need to be committed to memory... and learning to write well required writing practice in drawing the characters (like you had to learn to draw people's faces)... and that given the intricate connection between sound and picture (i.e., the same sound means different things if the picture is different), you absolutely had to read, recite and write all at one go from memory so that you could learn and retain the intricate connections between meaning, sound and picture.

Grandma then said that back in the 1960s, this was how she herself taught Chinese to her students. Later though, in the late 1970s, there was a huge resistance from people who were largely English educated to teaching via memorizing. Memory work is for dumb people. It is boring. We should be teaching students to analyze, not memorize. Therein lies the problem. To learn to write in English, you MEMORIZE your 26 characters of the alphabet (see... you still have to memorize even in English), and then you use them to represent sounds. Sounds then convey meaning. The process of making words in English is to compose them from only 26 sounds. These sounds can be easily broken down and analyzed, and powers of analysis can put them back together again.

To be literate in Chinese, you need to memorize at least 2000 characters. Each character has it's own face. Different faces have the same sound. Sound and meaning are intertwined, and whilst some analysis is possible, it is not easy. Ya just gotta remember the character like you remember every face you have met since childhood. Have you tried remembering people's faces by analyzing them? Possible, but not the fastest way to recall them.

I'm not sure, perhaps Chinese is a language you can only truly master when you memorize more than analyze. After all, Dr Lee Wei Ling (Mr Lee Kuan Yew's daughter) freely admits that she spent half her time in secondary school memorizing Chinese classics. PhD candidates from China that I met some years ago also shared that they did a lot of text memorizing, and once, 2 or 3 of them even had a good time reciting to each other, beloved bits of literary texts that every child in China would have to know. These are all highly educated people, and that was how they learnt Chinese. Grandma herself possesses high levels of competence in Chinese and that was how she learnt Chinese too. Do I want Little Boy to possess enough Chinese to be on par with such highly educated people... or do I want him to be only as literate as a Chinese street hawker? Certainly, if it is possible, I want him to be well educated in the Chinese language.

So, who are English educated people like me to judge that one should not teach Chinese through memory work? Seriously, I am not hung up about any method of learning. I refuse to judge METHODS. I want results. Period. If memory work produces Chinese literati like Grandma, PhD candidates and Dr Lee Wei Ling, then it produces lasting results and inculcates a love for the Chinese classics.

So, that is the method we will muck about with, and see what happens.

High Carb Dangers

For the better part of my life, I didn't like carbs. I ate few carbs and did not have a sweet tooth. In the past 2 years, I've developed a strange craving for carbs like durians, pasta and rice, where before I shunned them because I didn't like the taste. The more carbs I eat, the more I want to eat. The USA Food Pyramid depicts carbs as healthful energy food that one should consume the most of. So, you can imagine my surprise to find that when I was finally eating healthily, I was actually feeling worse.

I felt hungry every morning but after wolfing down my 2 pieces of toast and jam, I would feel tired again. By noon, I would again be famished, and would chow down one bowl of rice instead of the half bowl that I used to, plus the usual servings of vegetables and meat. And I had this thing for root beer too!! I had to have it at dinner every night. Before bed, I would crave a bowl of cornflakes, a chocolate bun, a croissant or a slice of chocolate cake. As I indulged my cravings, my weight inched up and my waistline inched out. Clothes that I had worn for 20 years had to be pushed to the back of the wardrobe. I bought new bermudas with some allowance and walked through my day like a frump. I even decided to never wear high heels against because I reasoned that my feet could no longer support my weight.

Then I read Blurting's post here.

Since then, I've had a banana/apple/pear and some almonds/pistachios in the morning with my tea (sans sugar nor milk). For lunch, a slice of ham and an avocado... or an egg with an apple... or a banana with more almonds. I hope you get the idea. I eat a little protein and a piece of fresh fruit that contains slow releasing sugars. This diet prevents insulin spikes in my bloodstream. When we ingest refined sugars, glucose enters the bloodstream quickly and causes a spike in levels of insulin. Insulin in turn stimulates the conversion of glucose into fat for storage in cells. In other words, insulin leaches all the glucose out of your bloodstream and plonks them onto your waistline as fat. When this happens, your glucose levels drop and you feel tired. This explains why after a large meal of rice or wheat pasta, I feel so tired I can't keep my eyes open.

My new diet of fruit, nuts, meat and vegetables starved my body of glucose. This forced my body to make a metabolic transition to burning fat and protein for energy. The transition itself was unpleasant. I had a low grade headache for about one day, and then developed a thirst that wouldn't go away no matter how much I drank. And my breath smelled bad because of the ketones (the byproduct of burning fat as fuel). I had to keep drinking water to clear these ketones out of my bloodstream.

I continued to ate protein and fat regularly in the form of nuts and meat. I drenched my vegetables in olive oil. I cut out sugar completely (no cakes, no jam, no sweet drinks). It has been a week. I feel a great deal more energetic. It's no trouble keeping awake after meals, and I fit into my old shorts again. From now on, I am gonna be real careful with what I put into my mouth. The cravings have gone quite away. Burning fat and protein has blunted the edge of my hunger. I no longer feel famished after every 4 hours and must eat something. I eat because it is time to, not because I have an uncontrollable urge to eat a horse. Best of all, I can stare down a chocolate cake. Once in a while I indulge in sweets but I try to re-establish a healthful routine immediately after so that my body knows it has to continue to burn fat and protein.

I really like this diet. Whenever I am hungry, I eat 5 nuts. This gives protein and fat, and is not easy to digest so I never feel hungry. More of this and I might be able to go back to the 43kg I used to weigh? I am keeping my fingers crossed.

I read somewhere that our bodies are not built for a high carb diet. In the wild, hunter gatherer humans ate mostly meat and complex carbohydrates. So... that is what Petunia will eat too.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fruits Paradise

More than even the French, the Japanese have an eye for the aesthetic at mealtimes. At our ryokan in Japan, we ate art at every dinner when we tucked into our kaiseki meals. Bite-sized morsels of fresh shrimp and fish were served on porcelain and clay plates and decorated with rosemary flowers or dried maple leaves. The whole meal had to have a theme, and the cook would match decoration with food, sometimes to the theme of obscure Japanese poetry or to co-ordinate with the ancient painting in the alcove which is changed every season. Actually, one doesn't quite TUCK INTO a Japanese kaiseki meal. That would be very disrespectful to the chef. One needs to interact with the meal like it were an installation art piece. Ask questions. See connections. Understand the meaning behind the presentation.

Wow! That is what I call civilization.

The Chinese in China have completely lost this. Centuries of dishonest feudalism had the entire populace starving. They would have eaten the dried maple leaf instead of using it to decorate. Then, another century of civil unrest followed. After, there was the Cultural Revolution where books were burnt and scholars sent away to work as farm hands. Today, some of the worst excesses happen in China... some of the worst crimes against humanity take place in China. A pity. I am told by people who know the Chinese classics that once upon a time in China there was a level of decorum and civilization, that far surpassed much that there is today. Food for average folks in Japan is often beautifully presented. Food for average folks in China tends to be served in a sort of gravy hodge-podge. If you want nicely presented food, ya gotta make sure ya can afford it like here (and even then, there clearly isn't the same level of artistry as when you sit down to a Japanese kaiseki meal). Even in the smallest tucked away boutiques in Japan, the premises are clean. We ate the best tasting steamed dumplings in the world in premises where the floor looked like it hadn't been cleaned in more than decade. I won't even tell you what the kitchen looked like. If the dumplings weren't steaming hot, I would have feared for my tummy.

Anyway, when the Japanese folks decide to interpret French desserts, they go one better. The tarts on display at Fruits Paradise looked so perfect that they didn't look real. They tasted every bit as good as they looked. The fruits were fresh and sweet. The cream was light and not too sweet. I had a floral tea to go with it that came in a simple teapot and a transparent teacup. And of course, I had really good company to go with that tart and tea set.

Fruits Paradise belongs to the publicly listed company Japan Foods Holdings, which also happens to own many other Japanese restaurants pitched at different market segments, offering a variety of different Japanese foods. I've noticed that their restaurants are often crowded. I think I won't just buy their tarts. I'll go buy their stocks too.

Reliable Contractor 3: Kim Huat Electric

The man who owns Kim Huat Electric is called Cliff. He looks thin and dried out, has teeth stained by years of smoking, and hands that shake when he holds a pen. I am told that this is the result of having been electrocuted innumerable times in his long career. He used to run a largish company and did very large jobs. One day however, a main contractor did not pay him his electrician's fees amounting to 6 figures. Things were bad for a few years (whilst he recovered from the big financial dent) and the experience made him selective of clients and business partners. To weather the possible lean times, he keeps his operations small - 2 employees only. Strangely, Cliff's hands don't shake when he is working with his wires.

Cliff is taciturn and unfailingly polite. I suppose he is the sort that believes that if there is nothing important to say, then don't say anything. He has a long time Thai employee who, had he grown up with all the opportunities Singaporeans generally have enjoyed in the last 2 decades, would probably be highly educated. I say so because this Thai fellow's children are DOCTORS, thanks to a father who found employment in Singapore. The children's intelligence and good work ethic must have come from him. When a very hardworking and intelligent man does a blue collar job, you can be sure that it'll be a job well done.

I saw Cliff and his team work through all of 10 months, and not once did I find anything amiss. He has both an eye and a head for detail. No other specialist contractor that I worked with could remember all the details I had briefed. Cliff remembered so well that he recalled things that I had forgotten. He would say something and when I checked my own minutes and drawings, I found that he was right.

Cliff's number is 96250250.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Reliable Contractors 1: Elite Deco Pte Ltd

In the course of building my house, I have had to work with many many specialist contractors. Some of them have driven me up the wall but once in a while there was a company that was reasonable in pricing (without me having to haggle), delivered high quality installations and even after the money had been paid up, they would return to fix problems without fuss. I thought that I would do a series of posts on such gems so that people looking for services (and unsure whom to engage) can be aware of some of these good, though small companies.

This is Elite Deco Pte Ltd's website:

Elite did all my aluminium composite panel external roofs. I had hoped to give the job to The Panda but he could not provide a method statement that was clear enough for me to know that he knew what he was doing, and that he had the right specialist for the job. Also, I didn't like his time frame of 3 months given that he had only one welder to weld the steel beams and columns that would form the roof support (and I was not sure that this welder of his had the proper certifications).

Elite Deco did everything in 2 weeks. The sales fellow who came by was quiet and serious. He quickly explained to me where he would put the columns and how the roof would slope. I asked him to clarify how some specific parts of the roof would be constructed and he made me a quick sketch. By the time I met Elite Deco, I had already developed a sense of the market pricing and so I confirmed without haggling. There was no irritating sales spin.

Elite Deco then swooped in with 2 certified welders (Malaysians) and a largish team of unskilled Indian workers who were closely supervised by the 2 certified welders. This is important. Another company I had hired (to install my window grilles) had no control over their unskilled Indian workers at all. These turned out to be insolent and careless. One of these workers walked into every one of my bedrooms like a VIP because he was curious how we lived (we were already living here by then). Another worker in that team made it his life's mission to terrorise Milo. I was so angry that I went up to him and said "If I catch you frightening my dog one more time, I will let him loose and I will command him to BITE you." It's cruel to provoke a tied-up dog who cannot defend itself. Not surprisingly, with such workers and ill-supervised, the same iron grille installations had to be redone 3 times, and even then, the workmanship was very poor. It was a nightmare!!

Elite Deco however, kept their unskilled workers on a tight leash. The 2 welders in charge of them made them clean up the worksite properly, repaint stains properly. When the whole team left, you would have not known that they had ever been there if not for a new roof structure that had magically grown up in a space of 1 day. I was very worried about a spot on the roof that I thought might pool with water and become a mosquito hazard. I was really impressed when one of the welders whipped out his iPhone and said "I knew you would ask this question, so here is a photo of what it looks like up there to assure you that there is no pooling water".

The wet kitchen developed a leak last weak. I sent an sms to Elite. Someone came yesterday to fix the leak. Polite and no fuss. Done and gone in 10 minutes. Milo didn't even have time to get revved up into a barking fury. So if you ever need patio roofing solutions, get in touch with Ken at 91002001.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Daddy Come Drink With Me

This was Little Boy and his Dad. Drinking buddies.

Friday, November 18, 2011


It's quite funny how boys seem to be born with the knowledge of guns. When he as 2 and half, I was going through the letters of the alphabet using plastic alphabet shapes. I picked up the F and explained knowledgeably "This is an F". Little Boy shook his head and explained concisely "Gun". As he grew, his gun lore just grew and grew.

Little Boy can give you a lecture on the History of Guns. He tried to give me that lecture once. The very first guns evolved from cannons, and they were long tubes where people rammed in gunpowder, tamped in a bullet and then lit the wick to light the gunpowder. Later, people created guns with mechanisms for igniting the propellant (gunpowder). There were a few ignition devices. The matchlock was a burning string....blah blah blah...snore... The flintlock was... blah... blah... blah... snore... hmmm... I wonder whether my chilli con carne is done.

The boy down the road has a different angle on gun lore. He makes guns. This boy goes onto the internet to look up the different models of guns, and then he'll devise a way to make it using white paper and scotch tape. He is the sole arms supplier to every one of the 15 children next door, who need these guns to kill each other every Sunday afternoon. He came by to deliver Little Boy's gun yesterday. I am very impressed. Even I felt like Angeline Jolie as I stood by the staircase pointing it at The Husband.

Little Boy REALLY likes guns. We've done a variety of different sports - badminton, table tennis, swimming, jogging, yoga... and none ignited any passion whatsoever. In fact, he couldn't WAIT to get rid of yoga. On a whim, I signed him up for shooting classes 5 minutes away from where we stay. Man! That was it. Little Boy is quiet and subdued in his show of enthousiasm. However, I can tell that he loves to shoot because he gets ready to go for shooting class one and a half hours before. One time, I forgot to bring him to class and since then, he has made sure to remind me that he has shooting class the day before. Then, when I told him that yoga would help to improve his balance, stability and muscle control, he makes sure he wakes up early on SUNDAY to tag along with his Dad to yoga class.

That's how I know my son is in love with shooting.

Chilli Con Carne

Chilli con carne has always been something of an exotic food. We've never had it before but Ting's steaming hot bowl of chilli con carne looked so good that I had to try and make it. Little Boy did a taste test this morning. His verdict was that there was too much vegetable and no meat.

"But... but... but... there is one kilo of ground beef in there, my love!" He looked at me and said "Then why can't I taste the meat? Either, you make a dish with a lot of vegetables, like ratatouille... or you make a proper meat dish. It's not good to disguise vegetables with meat."

You know what I think. He just wants to be able to clearly distinguish veggie from meat so that he knows which dish NOT to take at dinner. The chilli con carne has everything all mushed together and that makes it difficult for him to pick out the carrot bits.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Reaching the Tipping Point for Chinese: Part 5

Petunia's Chinese Boot Camp has started again. Little Boy wakes up at 5.45am, jogs for 15 minutes, bathes, eats and starts work at 7am. This year, things are going MUCH faster. Last year in Nov 2010, Little Boy spent 7 hours a day to learn ONE Chinese model composition well enough to read it through fluently, without looking constipated.

This year... today... now... this week, guess what!! Little Boy can process FOUR Chinese model compositions by 11.30am every morning. He listens to it ONCE. He pops over to Grandma's side of the house and gets all the new Chinese characters explained ONCE THROUGH. He comes back home and can already read the whole FOUR compositions fluently to me AND explain all the words that I don't know.

Increasingly, I am beginning to feel very stupid. We both started out very incompetent in the language and even more incompetent at learning a language written in pictograms, and tonal in nature. There are homophones aplenty in Chinese. The same word, with the same tone can mean vastly different things depending on how it is written and the context (i.e., the other words around it). When he reads to me, I often confuse one word with another that sounds similar but is written differently. You see, I can't write Chinese. Next, I also confuse one word with another that sounds similar because my spoken Chinese is so rudimentary that I simply cannot decipher meaning from the context of all the other spoken Chinese words.

Little Boy, however, has accumulated a large store of Chinese characters. He can recognise them quickly. He is more sensitive to the small differences in shape and design of the characters he sees for the first time. He has also accumulated enough contextual knowledge to guess the meanings of some words. Things are going so MUCH faster for him that I feel quite inadequate. He often has to slow down and explain words twice or thrice before I fully understand. And being a child, he is impatient, and so he rolls his eyes at me and says "Mom, I JUST read it to you."

But Mom, like the slow child that Little Boy WAS needs a few repetitions to get it. I might have to butt out altogether of Little Boy's Chinese because I might start to slow him down. When a kite properly takes flight, you can't follow it into the air.

It amuses me to see that even in learning Chinese, the rich get richer. The more he knows, the faster he learns. The faster he learns, the more he knows. And the gap between Little Boy (rich in Chinese) and I (the pauper) gets wider and wider. This is no different than the more money you have, the more you can invest. The more you can invest, the more money you have working for you. Thus, the more money you make.

Parents who want to see a picture of the 1000 China Compositions Compendium can click here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Milo's Food Belt

Grandma and Grandpa have moved in next door. Slightly more than half the ground floor of our house has been structured into a self-sufficient apartment for the two old folks. They have a small kitchen (which is STILL 2.5 times the size of the kitchens in the show flats I visited here), a bedroom (equivalent to twice the size of the showflat bedrooms) and a living (just a little larger than showflat bedrooms).

This arrangement has worked out great for everyone. There have so far been no disagreements about untidy living spaces, unwashed dishes and tubes of Super Glue next to the eggs in the fridge. There have also been no disagreements about the bad effects of the microwave oven, cookies that won't keep outside of the fridge and unhealthy levels of neat freakness.

They manage their household and I manage mine. Phew!!

However, the happiest fellow in this arrangement must be Milo because he gets way more food than he used to get. He starts the morning at 5.45am at our back door begging scraps from the kids' breakfast. At 6.30 am, he wags his tail politely at Grandma's back door whilst she is having toast and jam. A little later, he makes his way to Grandpa's breakfast which he takes in THEIR living room. Still later, he puts on his gentleman's manners and waits for scraps from MY breakfast on the patio.

After that, it's the lunch round, which he makes sure he does before the dinner round. And THEN, there are night snacks in BOTH households because my growing kids are always hungry, and the old folks can't eat too much at a time, so they eat often.

And I haven't yet mentioned Milo's OWN food that he gets twice a day at 7am and 7pm.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dishonest Show Flats

Many showflats have mushroomed in our neighbourhood. When we take our long walks on weekends, The Husband and I drop in on the new ones (as part of our walk). It has been more than 10 years since the last housing boom, and it struck me that showflats these days border on dishonest advertising, and when developers build such show flats, they are implying promises that they cannot keep.

It doesn't matter whether the property is a 3500 sq ft townhouse, 1500 sq ft penthouse or 650 sq ft shoebox, the showflats don't have walls where walls should be. Gauze curtains are used to represent walls. Wooden decking is used where empty air would be in the real flat, and the boundary between air space and flat space is denoted by gauze curtains. Worse still, they actually put FURNITURE on the wooden decks where air should be. The whole set-up is attractive because light and air flow freely from one space to another. If you settle in a bit and visualize what the apartment would really look like if air is air and wall is wall, you're in for a nasty shock. This kind of dishonesty really irritates me as much as it intrigues Open Kitchen Concept here. It doesn't help that the agents walking us around smiled widely and assured us that others have bought these flats because they were more SPACIOUS than the ones down the road.

When I compared the floor area, both developments had flats of the same size. I don't get it... how can you sell a flat for its spaciousness when it clearly is not spacious? It's like trying to sell lemons by saying they're sweet.

There is also the trick of reducing practical space (kitchen and utility) so that show spaces (living and dining) look bigger and better. Let me tell you what the reality of life in such apartments will be. You will have to dry your clothes in the living room, and prepare food in your dining room. Clutter will accumulate on the floor and in the corners. Your real flat will look NOTHING like the showflat because one doesn't have space for the ugly details of real living - like underwear and garlic presses.

I was mildly interested in a townhouse with rooftop terrace and basement. It was supposed to have 3300 sq ft of built-in area. I asked for the floor area minus rooftop terrace and basement. The sales man told me that such numbers weren't available. When I snorted contemptuously and pressed for the numbers, it turned out that the true liveable space in that townhouse was all of 1500sq ft ONLY. The liveable space in my old HDB flat was 2000 sq ft.

Lies. All lies. They give out thick brochures featuring idyllic families doing lifestyle things with not a piece of panty in sight. I looked puzzled at one such brochure and asked, "Are you selling a house? Or a lifestyle?" The fellow said "Both". The problem though is that when you actually get the house, you won't get the same lifestyle as what the glossy pictures promise. Why? Because to get such a lifestyle, you need enough space to store your unmentionables.

Some people buy the property for rental. I have my doubts even there. Shoebox flats will be a dime a dozen soon enough. The discerning tenant would rather go for an older and larger flat instead.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Snakes Galore

Back in the penthouse, I shared my garden with 3 sunbirds who were small chirpy and cheerful... and they only ate fruits - mulberries and curry berries. Now, I have to share my garden with flocks of pigeons, mynahs and sparrows who have taken a fancy to my Mediterranean herbs. They had completely uprooted my thyme... trimmed my rosemary... decapitated my sage... pecked my Japanese bamboo to shreds.

There is bird shit all over.

The Husband was so smart. He went to buy me these plastic snakes and the birds have all stayed away, except for one mynah (whom I shall devise a way to trap and eat). How does roast mynah sound to you?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ghostly Light

At bedtime, Little Boy and I were chatting in the dark when we noted a bluish glow from one of the ceiling lights. It had a ghostly ethereal quality to it. It was really really spooky because it looked like some mist was gonna flow out that and form a ghostly figure right at the foot of the bed.

I jumped up and switched on the room lights. Then I switched them off again.

We went to get reinforcements. The Husband was forcibly brought in to stand vigil under the light just in case a misty figure DID begin to form in the room and point its finger at us to tell us... well... whatever it wanted to say. The Husband was intrigued.

Then, Little Boy slapped his thigh. "Mom! It's the rat light!!" Oh boy... what a relief. I had installed fluorescent lights above the ceiling boards and under the roof to scare away any rats that might decide to make a nest under the roof. Every now and again, we switch on the rat lights to flood all the under roof areas with white light. My friend L taught me this cheap pest control trick.

Well, when the rat lights are on whilst the bedroom lights are dark, the white light escapes through the tiny openings that bring electrical wires into the bedroom to power the bedroom lights. This light infuses our ceiling light fixtures with a ghostly blue glow. But they're only rat lights.