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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Groggy Mosquitoes

After a day of rains, starving mosquitoes swarm out of the jungle patch nearby. On the mosquito buffet table, I must be some sort of popular dish. Everyone else gets one or 2 bites. I get 9. The itch lasts for days and it feels so goooooooooooood to scratch them that I scratch till sores form and my nails have flecks of blood.

I learnt to close the windows at 5pm. Mosquito coils are lit at strategic spots to dissuade the hungry beasts out for blood, from entering the house. The few that do enter the house become quickly disorientated by the odourless chemical diffused into the air by the electronic Baygon plugs I placed in every room.

There were more than the usual numbers of mosquitoes this evening because it had rained all day. The Husband's sharp eyes saw mosquitoes fall out the air onto the tiled floor in his study. He saw mosquitoes flutter around me but I was not bitten. He plucked another 2 mosquitoes out the air and slapped one against the wall.

I wonder how these anti-mosquito wall plugs work. The mosquitoes can smell me but can't find me. They look like they're drunk.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fond Memories of the HDB Flat

The Study

The Master Bedroom

The Living Room

The Dining Room

The Guest Bathroom

It's funny how the human heart forms attachments. Till today, I regret the sale of my HDB flat. Me... the Petunia who thinks herself hard-headed and unemotional and rational about financial investing.

As a young couple, we bought a 7-room HDB because we thought it would maintain its value better even as flats become ever smaller. We hadn't much money to furnish it, so we put in cheap iron grilles that flaked rust after some months, until we learnt how to apply rust conversion primer. The floor was covered with vinyl sheets. Some years later, with savings in the bank, we overlaid wood laminate on it to create a woody, rustic feel. And we kept furniture to a minimum so that we would have less to clean, and one could simply drag a mop up and down the room without meeting any furniture. The children learnt to walk on a soft and bouncy vinyl floor. And when we laid wood laminate on it, it was yet another low cost and low maintenance option to renovating.

But till today I think of that flat with an ache in my heart because it no longer is mine. I sold it for mercenary profit and it still feels like I had sold a piece of my soul.

You see, it was a really nice place. All the rooms were large and well-ventilated. Every room had generous windows and the monsoons breezed through it at all times of the year. I had a corridor along which I could grow a small herb garden and dry my clothes on days where it rained nonstop.

It was a nice place to stay. It really was.

But that's not all, I guess. There really is something unexplainable about how the human heart forms attachments. The Husband has given me many gifts throughout the years. There have been expensive watches, and handbags, and diamonds. Yet, the thing that I took care to wrap in layers of tissue and masking tape (personally, not trusting the packers and movers to do it for me) ... was a shiny seashell he had picked up on a beach on one of his trips overseas 10 years into our marriage. It was such a pretty shell that it shone resplendent on the sand, and made him think how I would thrill at its beauty the way he did. And he brought it home across half the world - for me. He brought home other gifts too, but I forget what they are. I think I like this shell so much because it represents a moment shared in spirit even though we were half a world apart. I was pleased that after 10 years of marriage, he found a shell and thought immediately of me.

And maybe I like that HDB flat so much because we shared so many joys there. The birth of our children... their toddlerhood... the many little joys that make up life and living.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Getting Used to a Big House

It seemed like a good idea to get a big house, with spacious rooms and generous windows. When I awoke after the first night and opened my eyes a slit, I noted that the other wall was perhaps a mile off, and the ceiling had disappeared into the clouds. I felt like Garfield in the Tale of 2 Kitties, waking up to stare upwards at the canopy of drapes that hung over his bed.

But we're a family so used to getting in each other's way that it feels oddly lonely and impersonal to have so much space to myself. The children are in their rooms. The Husband is making eyes at his computer and I sit alone in a huge room contemplating the mile off wall and the ceiling lost in clouds. And so it is that I trot across the landing to The Daughter's room and sit on her bed to feel the cosiness of her rather smaller room... of a somewhat more manageable size. And then I went to persuade The Husband bring his laptop over to come sit by me in companionable silence, on our bamboo day bed. And then I offered to Little Boy my wide expanse of bedroom floor to conduct his chemistry experiments.

There are insects too. The patch of jungle about 500m away was an attractive green lung. It really is nice to see greenery out the windows. But this little patch of green sends out armies of mosquitoes. Many are the deadly Aedes mosquitoes which bite at dawn and at dusk. I sustained 9 itchy welts which I scratched into open wounds on the first night we sat out at the patio to play Uno Stacko. Mosquito coils are now lit at 6pm and placed at the main entrances to the house. Mosquito coils are very effective but they represent an extra daily chore. Bees and wasps fly in and out of the house. We leave them alone because there is so much air space that they don't bother us.

And then of course, I've had to crack my head to reduce the helper's workload... make cleaning more efficient... automate some chores... and nag at everyone to be less piggy in their daily habits. It is rather a good thing that the children are grown and don't make as much of a mess as toddlers do.

Still, I am rather ambivalent about this house. I'm proud that I've actually built it (and it has proven to be a worthwhile investment already) but I still think my old 7-room HDB flat was a nice, manageable and spacious dwelling. I didn't quite like the penthouse as much because it really had less liveable space than the jumbo HDB... and now, in this house, I kinda have too much liveable space.

I guess I will get used to it in time to come. I'm just old and resistant to change.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Cliff, My Arch Enemy

Mom likes this dog. He's called Cliff. I disliked him from the moment he licked my nose from across the fence. I gave him a good telling off with my teeth bared and growls from deep inside my chest. I wouldn't have minded Cliff very much if Mom didn't like him quite so much. Mom feeds him MY treats and Mom pats his head, and this Cliff fellow is SUCH a suck up. He smiles at my Mom and wags his tail like he was the only one who knew how to wag tails. Come on, I wag mine good too you know.

I need to keep a close watch on Mom and him to make sure that MY Mom doesn't pat him or talk to him or feed him MY yummies. Mom is completely undiscerning when it comes to dogs. She absolutely can't tell a good dog from a bad. So long as the doggy wags its tail and licks her hand, Mom goes nuts and feeds the dirty beggar every scrap from the dining table and the fridge. That leaves me with no scraps at all!! That Cliff is a no good dog I will tell ya!!

It's good thing that I have taught him a lesson or 2 about what's mine. He stays away from MY fence now... and MY Mom.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Move (Experienced by Milo)

Oh man! I am so sleepy! I haven't been sleeping well at all because my whole life has been turned upside down by my pack of humans.

I should have known something was up when a skinny stranger whose teeth shone from his dark face smiled at me and waved a paw. Never trust people with glowing teeth. He stood in Mom's study room (which doubles up as my refuge from lightning and intruders because there is no place safer than under Mom's study table) and started taking things and putting them into boxes. And then he broke apart Mom's study table and made the whole thing disappear.

I ought not have contented myself with barking at Mr Shining Fangs. I should have rushed in there to bite him to the death because he left and came back with his whole pack (all with shining fangs) who then took away everything one by one. There wasn't even a book shelf left in Mom's study for me to hide behind. And then, Dad took me out for a walk. It wasn't a nice walk because I had a hunch that something terrible was about to happen. Sure enough, when I got home, they had made off with my kennel!!

I was upset!! Very upset!! And then everyone disappeared for hours and hours. I had 2 bowls of water... but Dog Shall Not Live By Water Alone. When Mom came looking for me, she actually looked happy. It was the worse day of my life and the woman looked and behaved like it was my wedding day. She took me for a ride in the car and we came to this Place of No Privacy.

My patio used to have 4 walls and I felt safe in there. Now, my patio has no walls at all. Humongous trucks pass by and rumble threats at me. Masses of humans walk in front of my patio and stare at me. And there is this long long alley by the side of the house which is dark but if I want some food scraps, I gotta run down it to get to the back of the house where the kitchen is. I hate that dark alley.

AND... I have to guard this whole place by myself at night. That's no joke ok. There's the front door and the back door and I am one dog... and I like my sleep. When I settle into the front patio, I hear noises at the back and so I trot over there. When I settle into the back patio, I hear noises out front and I trot over there. How's a dog to get any sleep this way?

Thankfully, Mom lets me sleep behind her chair in the study during the day. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dining & Kitchen



Dining Cum Kitchen

Here is the kitchen and dining area. I wanted the kitchen to last at least 30 years. There is no way that European style all wood kitchens can last that long without warping or rotting, especially in this very high humidity and very wet kitchen and dining areas. I stubbornly eschewed the fashion of the day and insisted on a brick and tile countertop base.

The tiler's eyes widened when he realized what I intended. He said "Madam, it will look very ugly. We haven't built something like this for 20 years." I was quite surprised but it must be true because my Mom's kitchen was built 30 years ago and my own first kitchen was created 20 years ago. Mom's kitchen is still going strong, and she has only had to change the wooden doors.

Seriously, I had no idea what the end result was gonna look like. But between an robust ugly kitchen and a wimpy stylish kitchen, I absolutely made up my mind for robust. So... if you're looking for something out of style magazine made of sleek lines and expensive artistic kitchen utensils, that's not my kitchen.

My kitchen is one where a hodge podge of unassorted plates are stacked out to air dry before the next use. Note also the wooden chopping board that is 15 years old and cannot be mistaken for style by any stretch of the imagination. The countertop is 750mm deep instead of the usual 600mm deep. This means I can stack a mini fridge for dried medicinal herbs on the countertop and still have space left over for food preparation. I tell you, this kitchen is a pleasure to work in compared to my old kitchen which was cramped and full of wood.

The countertop extends outwards into a tongue that is 1.5m by 1.1m. This space doubles up as the dining area for when we dine en famille. Further down the space is a sort of library like corner which holds an 8-seater dining table. This table doubles up as my study table. When guests come, we will eat here.

Study Cum Dining

Sunday, August 14, 2011

After the Labour Pains

It seems to me like a miracle that I am actually living in the new house. I look around me and remember what this was like when it was raw concrete and without a roof. I remember how I looked at the outlines of the rooms on the floor and thought the rooms too small. I remember the trials and tribulations with waterproofing, and my anxiety over budget over runs, and my ghastly fears of having created a monstrosity of the sort you read about in the papers.

A big eyesore in a landscape of discreet and tasteful dwellings.

The rooms are way bigger than I expected them to be right up till the curtains and wooden cabinets were installed. The waterproofing seems to be holding up very well. This beige and olive green house with dark chocolate walls is not so opulent as to be an eyesore. It is a little odd because I have no sense of style... but it is plain enough and discreet enough to be in sober taste. Think a woman in white blouse and brown skirt, with flat pumps.

The happy consequences of lazy shopping has ensured a continuity over all 3 floors of the house. Since the same floor tile is laid on the floor, spaces seem to flow into each other... through the living, up the staircase, across the landing and into the rooms. The same kind of wall lamp hangs outside and inside the house. The same colour of lights (different shapes) hang in living and dining. There is only a single colour on the walls. I cannot visualize how colours and textures match so it is so much easier to just be the same right through. It may be boring but it works for me.

And I did do what I promised myself to do - decorate the spaces with nothingness so that empty air speaks for itself. Odd way of decorating a home but it sure saves a lotta money!!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Durian Mania

I've come late to the appreciation of durians. I know. This seems so weird for a Singaporean. My parents were nuts about durians and they MADE me eat them. I hated the way the smell clung to my hands and I hated my own breath and I hated the burps that always came after a durian binge.

Since last year, I've had inexplicable cravings for durians at certain times of the month, much like a pregnancy craving... or like how some people crave chocolate. I snoop around those cheapo stalls that sell durians at $10 for 3 boxes and then I buy up 6 promising to share with my parents'-in-law. To be fair to me, I do share with them. I give them 1 box and wallop the other 5. Some days, the durians are dry and bland. On other days, they're sweet and creamy (a cross between roquefort and camembert but sweet)... and they practically fight to get into my mouth. I keep buying those cheap durians because once in a while I hit the jackpot and get a whole lot of yummilicious ice cream without the cold.

Just for fun, I fed some to Milo. Milo is crazy about durians. When you appear with one seed of durian, he skips about like he's gonna be going for walkies, but it's just durian you know. Once or twice, I fed him the bland sort that I didn't want to eat only to be looked at reproachfully. I could almost hear Milo say "What sorta owner ARE you? How can you feed your pet, durian of such inferior quality?" But after I tell him to take it or leave it, he takes it.

The Husband is more than glad at my newfound appreciation for durians because for many years of our marriage I wouldn't let him eat any. I hated even more kissing a fellow with durian breath and burp. Yuck!

The Husband held a durian party for his colleagues and he came home with something called Cat Mountain King. There was a lot of it. He kept mum about the goodies and I discovered them as I snooped about the fridge for breakfast. Sniff! Sniff! Sniff! There is durian in here! My heart beat faster and when I saw the box of creamy delights, I let out a squeal that drew a curious stare from my domestic helper. One normally doesn't wake up before breakfast. Well, that day, I was well awake before my durian breakfast I tell ya!!

I ate so much that I felt sick and couldn't eat another meal till the next day. I am still thinking of that Cat Mountain King. I'm gonna go get me another pile before durian season is over. Om nom nom nom nom! Oh yeah!!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Waterproofing Your Bathroom

I designed my bathrooms to wear well. I put in an under the counter sink because the joints between countertop sinks and the countertop is often sealed with silicon which looks great for about one month before black mould starts to grow on it and under it. This is difficult to clean off without damaging the silicon seal. See a picture of silicon mould below. Where possible, I tried NOT to have any exposed silicon at all. My under counter basin has silicon sealant hidden under the granite slab. When it turns black, as I know it will, I can't see it.

Silicon Mould

I also made sure that in every shower cubicle, where water would hit the walls, the waterproofing membrane was applied to a height of 1.8m. This prevents water from soaking through the porous bricks and making spots of damp on the other side of the wall. On either side of some bathrooms are bedrooms. It wouldn't do to have damp spots appear on the walls there... nor would it do to have the backs of the built-in cabinets get wet and become termite heaven. See a picture of the high upturn below. Waterproofing membranes are liquid when applied but dry into a plastic membrane that keeps water inside the bathroom.

The High Upturn at Shower Areas

The windows at some bathrooms are large and come down the wall far enough to reach my chest. The window sill doubles up as a toiletries shelf. BUT, whenever we shower, the window sill will get wet. So, I made very sure that even the window sill was painted with waterproofing membrane so that water would not seep through to the outer wall and turn the pristine cream coloured external walls mouldy and damp. I made sure that the waterproofing went right up the sides of the window frame by 2 tiles.

The Window Sill In Shower Cubicle

Floors need waterproofing certainly, and it is important to make sure that the membrane reaches about 300mm up the sides of the wall so that when water ponds in your bathroom it doesn't seep over the waterproofing membrane on the floor into the brick walls. I call this the low upturn and it is applied in every other part of the bathroom except the shower cubicle (which has the high upturn). See below.

The Low Upturn

Any pipes that stick out of the floor need to be shaved to be level with the floor so that the waterproofing can be painted across the floor and right onto the sides of the pipe to ensure a single solid plastic membrane between floor and pipe. This prevents the water from seeping into the joints between the pipe and the floor.

Lastly, do make sure that your construction contract specifies that the waterproofing will be applied by a specialist contractor, i.e., someone whose job it is to apply waterproofing day in and day out. Also, it helps to pop by twice a day to take pictures of the process. This way, if the contractor quickly covers up with tiles, you have photo evidence to show that waterproofing was not yet properly done, and therefore you have reason to demand that the tiles be lifted and that place retiled.

Embargo Bear Bile

Read this article here. Please, never take bear bile.