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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.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Titanic Experience

Just to be contrary, Little Boy is forbidden from studying during exams. So, we found time to visit the ArtScience Museum's newest exhibition on the Titanic. It was a strictly NO PHOTOGRAPHY exhibition so I'm gonna have to try my best at painting the experience in words.

I have concluded that the Curator of the ArtScience Museum is a creative genius and an accomplished artist. An artist elicits an emotional response through his/her skill at communicating deep meaning. You cannot walk through the Titanic Exhibition without feeling emotion. I am not talking about just one emotion like for example, grief (after all, it was a tragedy). I am talking about the kind of emotional experience such as one gets when watching The Phantom of the Opera. There is joy and humour... there is awe... excitement... suspense... fear and deep grief.

When you enter, you're given a ticket with a name on it. I was 3rd class passenger Mrs Alma Paullson, travelling with children. Little Boy was Mr Julius Van der Planke, travelling with wife and children. We took the tickets and looked up at the bow of the huge ship sticking out of the wall. Right then and there, you understood how passengers would have felt when they walked along the quayside and caught sight of the behemoth - the world's largest and most luxurious ship.

Then, we walked up a ramp and viewed some exhibits and explanations of the engineering marvel that was the ship. With every explanation, we were bombarded again and again, with the ominous assurance that this was an UNSINKABLE ship. Because I know that the Titanic DID sink, I was kept on a knife's edge, like a woman with highly developed intuition who knows something is wrong but cannot argue with these knowledgeable and confident engineers. You know how you sometimes feel when someone you don't trust, tells you "Trust me".

Then we walked into a perfumed corridor, richly carpeted and hung with elegant wall lamps. Doors to to the first class cabins lined each side of the corridor. I walked through it with a sense of marvel... how lucky I am to be experiencing such luxury. If you've ever been to a 5 star resort in Bali (when home is an HDB flat) you will know what I mean.

Then we saw the insides of a first class cabin as it would have looked, all new, to a passenger. The feeling of being thoroughly spoilt by opulent creature comforts was compounded by learning that each first class ticket cost the equivalent of AU$64,000. Indeed, the 2 best suites were sold at AU$112,000 per ticket. Even Little Boy got lost in the world of extravagance. He said that it was a very nice hotel room. In the same hall as the first class cabin, we saw taps with marble splashbacks and sinks. The first class cabins had private baths and tap mixers for hot and cold water. Then we moved out of the cabin and looked at photos of the gymnasium, the Smoking Room (men only), the Reading Room (women only), the Palm Court (an indoor outdoor space with trellises and palm trees, serving tea and cakes). The chinaware from 1st, 2nd and 3rd class were displayed for all to see. There was ambient music and even a menu detailing the dishes served. It felt like a walk through the shady courtyard of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

Then we turned a corner and entered the boiler room. Of a sudden, we were enveloped in the red glare of the burning hot coals that were burnt to boil the steam that powered the ship. Pictures of the Black Gang appeared on the walls with their names. The Black Gang was the crew that shovelled coal into the furnaces. We were deep in the bowels of the ship.

From the boiler room, we stepped onto the ship's deck. It was a very dark night and somehow, the curators had managed to give one the illusory sense of walking down a very very long deck and when you looked over the railings, your gaze was met with an endless night and a hundred million twinkling stars. I had never thought twinkling stars could ever look evil. The air was still on that deck, and all sound muffled. If you've been up on the ski slopes alone and afraid in the muffled silence, where every scream is absorbed by thick blankets of snow, then you will recognise the feeling again when you stand in the middle of that deck.

And then, we came face to face with The Iceberg and the words of a woman who had had a strong intuition that the ship was doomed. It is reported that Mrs Esther Hart had said to her husband when he made her board the ship "I feel worse than ever before. This ship will never reach the other side of the Atlantic". Next, in the solemn cold darkness, you can reach out your hand and feel the iceberg. In the same hall, we found more belongings that had been brought back from the depths. A pair of boots in soft leather... a chain... a wallet... a piece of paper printed with a travel itinerary. There were photos and more photos... and stories of people who had perished. In that dark endless night, you could almost hear their haunted screams.

And just when I thought I had reached the end of the exhibit, I came upon a wall of names. These saved... those perished. With a sense of reluctant eagerness, we pulled out the Boarding Passes that had been given to us at the start of the exhibition and searched our names on the wall. We had both perished. In that moment of learning our deaths, I thought that this must be what it feels like to have an out of body experience, where you've died and your spirit floats aloft to read the wall and discover its own corporeal demise.

And then when you turn the next corner, your out of body experience continues as you hover 1 foot off the ground to look at ocean sand beneath your feet and see the remains of plates, of wreckage... of chandeliers and the twisted forms of wrought iron benches. I was surprised to learn that an archaeological dive trip down to the Titanic takes 15 hours. It takes 2.5 hours just to get deep enough to see the wreck... and another 2.5 hours to come up to the surface. And again, just when I thought the exhibition had ended, the Curators brought me home to Singapore. I walked straight into a large wall depicting Singapore's streets as they were in the year 1912, and I saw newspapers and letters and condolences ... and the outpouring of grief and sympathy that was Singapore's response to the sinking of the Titanic.

That, finally, was the end.

Little Boy agreed that it was a magnificent exhibition but he has a suggestion for the ArtScience Museum. The Curators should try to replicate the ship's rocking motion on the high seas.

Little Boy's very comment itself speaks well of what the Curators have done. ONLY when the exhibits have been able to bring visitors almost there somewhere... would one feel that the rocking motion is missing. If it had been any other museum, we wouldn't have expected the rocking motion only to be startled to find it not there.

Check out this link for what I have just described...