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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Private, Public or Alternative Healthcare

Private Healthcare
When I was very young and had a small salary, I thought that polyclinic healthcare was inefficient and ineffective. I preferred to pay $35 to a private General Practitioner, even though I earned little then. Mostly too, my employer had a stable of GPs that I could visit, and I wouldn't have to pay. I was very happy with private care for a while.

Then, after a particularly harrowing experience giving birth at a "premier" private hospital, I began to question the quality of private versus public healthcare. This was especially after I was told by my gynaecologist that if anything went wrong with my birth experience, I would be sent to Kandang Kerbau Hospital simply because it was only there, that they had certain equipment. Kandang Kerbau Hospital is public healthcare.

Shortly after that, I was made to wait an interminable 2.5 hours at a one of the clinics belonging to a very reputable and large private healthcare chain. The bill came up to $65. I really began to question the quality of private healthcare. That was 10 years ago when $65 could buy a lot more things than now.

Public Healthcare
Since then, I've always gone to the polyclinics, where I sometimes pay as little as $8/=. 10 years ago, I was pleasantly surprised that the wait was as short as 45 minutes. Compared to the 2.5 hours I spent at the private chain of clinics, this was heaven. The polyclinic had also undergone a facelift. There were potted plants and landscaped gardens. The doctors and nurses were friendly. To be sure, I don't often have the occasion to visit the polyclinic. With all the herbs in my garden, most small illnesses can be easily chased away.

Lately though, I've spent more time at the polyclinic than I would like to. Strange perimenopausal symptoms and a very stubborn upper respiratory infection has seen me at the polyclinic almost once a month this year. Running a fever and feeling very sick, I was dismayed to find one Monday morning that I would have to wait about 3.5 hours for my turn. I guess times have changed. The influx of immigrants has burdened the resources at my polyclinic. Perhaps the population is also older and falls sick more?

Feeling really sick that Monday, I went to the private GP I knew from my younger days. He charged me all of $75. It gave me a shock. I used to pay him only $35 per visit. I guess times have changed. I've not visited the doctors for so long that I'm out of touch with consultation fees.

I noticed too that the clinic was none too clean. The doctor's files lay helter skelter on shelves in his consultation room. A thick layer of dust covered the Barbie dolls he had placed on a high shelf. My daughter was 1 year old when this clinic opened and the dolls were placed there. I think I will have to change a GP. I am sure my friends are more progressive GPs than he, except that their clinics are ever so far away!!

Thanks to the huge difference in pricing (and the cleanliness of his clinic), I went right back to my polyclinic. I registered myself and then went off to do some groceries. Then I came back to see the doctor. He sent me to an x-ray and a blood test. Then I went off to get some work done. When I came back I saw the doctor again. With x-ray, blood test, medication and consultation all in, the bill was less than $35. I was also pleased that I could get all these tests done in the same place.

I was given a specialist appointment at Khoo Teck Puat hospital on the day when The Haze hit 300+. It's a spanking new hospital with manicured garden spaces and a huge pharmacy staffed by friendly young people.

That fellow there behind Counter 12 was very patient and kind. He explained to me how to use the nasal spray very gently. I suppose I begin to look a little on the elderly side and he was being very sweet indeed. His name is Isa. The wait to collect my medicine was 45 minutes. It was a long wait indeed. I went to have lunch first and got back just as my number was being hailed.

The genteel lady at the reception counter spoke in clipped educated tones. She was kind but firm in explaining that I could not request to see Dr Grace again, no matter how much I liked Dr Grace (and I did like Dr Grace very much). I would have to see whichever specialist doctor was on duty. Pity! Dr Grace was funny, caring, informative and kind. I didn't have to wait long to see the doctor, because again, I registered and came back when they called me on my phone.

Beautiful gardens

Spick and span surroundings

Alternative Healthcare
Unfortunately, I was still coughing. Conventional medicine could do nothing for me it seemed. So I resorted to Traditional Chinese Medicine. It all happened in this small half shop chock a block full of anything you might imagine.

The doctor took my pulse and asked a few questions. I was asked to cough. It was a phlegmy cough. She disappeared behind her wares and appeared with a mug of black liquid. I drank that and then swallowed a few pills. Then I was asked to cough again. Tada! No more phlegm!

That was weird.

I didn't quite believe what had happened. I went all introspective trying to feel if there was anymore phlegm at all in my throat. There was still a little bit but I had to agree that the phlegm production was drastically reduced. I was told to stay away from "cooling" foodstuff... and "heaty" foodstuff. I could only eat "neutral" foodstuff.

Why am I surprised though? Years ago, a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner stuck an acupuncture needle into my hand and the 2 lumps in my throat went down immediately. The problem is... I don't understand TCM, and find it hard to trust what is mysterious to me. I am too steeped in western logic to be convinced by the heaty and cooling and meridians blah blah blah of TCM.

A strange powder and some cute round pills. The powder is what got rid of the phlegm.

A bottle of something to go with the pills and the funny powder.

A not very confidence-inspiring set-up, especially when compared with the manicured gardens at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. I wouldn't have stepped in there if not upon the recommendation of a friend who got well from her stubborn phlegmy cough thanks to this doctor's care. 

For what it's worth, I can feel a marked improvement in my respiratory condition 1.5 days after the first dose of medication. If this continues, I'll be all well by tomorrow night! I paid $39/=.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Of What Import the University?

It's summer break in UK and USA. The Daughter's good friends have all flown home from Cornell, Cambridge, Oxford, Berkeley, Stanford... blah blah blah... and seeing the hive of reunions on Facebook, I realise for the first time that about two thirds of The Daughter's class are in top ranked universities. For the first time, information is bubbling through in a stream of happy chatter from The Daughter about this person and that person in this or that Ivy League university.

So I turned away from my steering wheel and peered at The Daughter: "You had EIGHT A level distinctions and a whole host of CCA and research awards. If those people got in, why didn't you? Why did Cambridge University reject you?"

I must shamefacedly admit that I was very sore about having been denied the prestige of having a child in a top university.

The Daughter:
Cambridge makes its selection BEFORE the A level results are out. I could have reapplied the following year but I decided not to because I didn't want a scholarship with a bond, and I didn't want you to pay.

Me (still very sore about being denied a child in a top university):
Whaaaaaaaaat?! Why not?! You're a twit! You're a silly slip of a girl!! I TOLD you that if and ONLY IF it's Cambridge, I would happily pay. I would sell a house to pay for ANY Ivy League university if I had to!!

The Daughter:
I wasn't sure if I would do well at A levels, Mom. When push came to shove and everyone was taking the SATs, I chose to prioritize the A levels. Mom, you said yourself that the global ranking of an university doesn't matter. You said you wanted me to ENJOY university... that you didn't want me to slog in university... that you wanted me to chill out and hang out... and still be in the right hand tail of the bell curve. You said yourself, that in university, I should learn about people and explore avenues that are non-academic. I am having so much FUN now!! You said yourself that as long as I graduate well from the best university in the country, I would be able to find a job... and after a few years, it'll be my job performance that would count. You said so yourself!

Dang! I once said a sight too many things for my own good! Are you sure you didn't CHOOSE to stay here because The Boyfriend chose to study Law locally?

The Daughter:
Mom, ALL my friends have long distance relationships. In my opinion, The Boyfriend would have gotten into Oxford Law easily. We didn't want bonded scholarships and we didn't want our parents to pay. The no bond scholarships we both have, work out great for us both.

Me (wailing loudly):
But I waaaaaaaaaaant to pay!!

The Daughter:
It doesn't matter what you want, Mom. It's what we both want, The Boyfriend and I. I am enjoying myself in university. I've started 2 businesses. I get to see my family every weekend. I've been to Russia, France and Switzerland on exchange programs. I get to work part--time. I'm happy. Like you said, I hang out and chill out... without having to kill myself trying to stay on the right of the bell curve. I like things the way they are. You're sore because of the lack of prestige. I'm a little sore too when I see all my friends come back cheeks glowing. At the end of the day Mom, it's only the lack of prestige that goes with studying locally, that bothers me... and I just tell myself that it doesn't matter.  My friends, no matter what their university... they still love me, Mom. I should be happy for them.

I have no crystal ball. I have no idea whether my advice about hanging out and chilling out in a local university will do The Daughter any disservice in the long term. I ask myself whether her decision had anything to do with fearing failure so much that she didn't even TRY to get into any of these universities except for Cambridge. Did she chicken out so much that she didn't even apply?

Ohhh... I am such a witch to even think that.

I do know that she has denied herself the prestige of being able to say "I'm in Cambridge/Stanford... blah blah blah...", and I must confess that I am proud of her for being able to tell herself "It doesn't matter to me. I am happy for my friends."

Meanwhile, I am blessed to be able to see her every weekend. And I pray... oh I pray... that it really doesn't matter what the university she attends.

This Teacher Makes Her Kids Hate Each Other

This is a beautiful video wherein a Teacher makes the little children in the class hate each other. Click HERE. She is a very inspiring and intelligent teacher indeed!!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mommy K Made My Day!

It really doesn't take much to make life beautiful again. Just a few lines of text in one's email box and the world suddenly looks like a better place despite Haze and Hail. Mommy K sent me an email this morning and made my heart leap so strongly that it felt like I was looking at a picture of Takeshi Kaneshiro.

Thank you Mommy K, for thinking of me and sending a note to brighten my day and lift my spirits above the haze.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Pointing Fingers at The PAP Government

If people don't like you or refuse to acknowledge your leadership, you can't do anything right. Through these hazy days, there have been reports of pigeons falling out of the air (thanks to the haze)... people accused the government of lying about the PSI (to make a bad haze look better)... people accused the government of being ineffective (because they weren't prepared for the haze).

15 Years of Nut-sy Policies
I don't much like what PAP has done to our country in the past 15 years but even I pity this poor government whom people paint blacker than black when all it is... is a sickly shade of gray. My list of grouses against this government is there... (1) Vivian Balakrishnan's under-budgeted YOG, (2) unfettered immigration, (3) HDB policies that have forgotten what HDB was meant to be to Singaporeans, (4) no one thought that the fast-growing growing population would burden transport, healthcare and other public services (5) a badly researched population white paper (without a proper bibliography) (6) an MOE who expects more of its students than it can itself deliver.

15 Years of Educational Inequality
Indeed OECD numbers show that the richer the parent, the better the kids do in school.  You don't believe me? See the pictures herein below taken from this document found HERE.

This screenshot explains the graphs depicting the relationship between socio-economic background and educational attainment.

This screenshot shows that in Singapore, socio-economic status of parents has a greater effect on children's educational attainment, than in England. The opposite is true of Finland. Lest people say that this effect in Singapore is due to extraordinarily kiasu Chinese parents, let's also note that even in Hong Kong and Shanghai (FULL of kiasu Chinese parents) the influence of parental socio-economic status is much more temperate.

This screenshot shows Singapore in the quadrant where parental socio-economic background has a HIGH impact on educational attainment.

I only need to look at my own son to see the impact of socio-economic background on educational attainment. From P1 to P3, I stubbornly believed that I didn't have to get involved in his education. He went to school. Let the teachers teach him. He ended P3 close to the bottom of the class.

From P4 to P6, I got involved. I became so involved that I was practically homeschooling him. I planned curriculum. I sourced for textbooks to replace the lousy ones provided by MOE. I taught him how to study. I marked his compositions. I marked his exam practices. He went to school to take his tests. The more he skipped school, the better his results. In Primary 3, he attended school every day. He languished at the bottom of the class. In Primary 5, he skipped 4 months of school (to play and self-study) and finished 2nd in class and 16th in level.

Were I less well off (I could afford very expensive study materials)... less resourceful (I sourced study resources from all over the world)... less well educated (I have a PhD)... my son would STILL be languishing in the system. 

Happily enough, in secondary school, his school teaches actively and pays attention to the Whole Boy. At present, I have no complaints in the least. I leave HIM to study with his teachers. The teachers do their jobs. My boy does his job. I don't get actively involved anymore except to donate money at regular intervals. 

Betrayal of Founding Fathers
There have been moments where I have HATED this government with a vengeance. In my view, it had betrayed all that Goh Keng Swee and Lee Kuan Yew stood for. I STILL think the MOE is run like crap (errr... the Teachers aren't crap... but the they're certainly managed crappily by a system that expects too much of them and supports them not enough).

Yet, even I feel some sense of injustice at the accusations of late, leveled at a government who breathes the same dirty air as its accusers. Come on... pigeons fell out of the sky due to haze?! Surely, that was deliberate misinformation? Try as I might, I can't see that NEA is withholding information. It's all there on their website!! I myself check the PM2.5 numbers a few times a day.

Let's be fair. I want to hear opposition voices that make sense and appeal to reason, not to emotion using erroneous facts.

Winds of Change
Many PAP Ministers have been replaced. The previous generation of snooty and out of touch Ministers have been replaced by Tan Chuan Jin, Lui Tuck Yew and Khaw Boon Wan. Policies have now moved towards slightly left of centre. People like Kishore Mahbubani are leading thinking in new directions AWAY from an excess of Reagan-Thatcherism.

For some reason, MOE is still managed crappily... hmmmm...

Government Did Reasonably Well
I think the government rose well to the Haze occasion. It wasn't very prepared for the Haze. No one was. 

Were you?

I kicked myself for not having a contingency plan for my own family. I now have one. I will be constructing a Haze Kit for everyone in my home. Once this Haze is over, I will standby all the equipment needed to clean the air, with spares. We now have only the minimal. I will need more machines and much better face masks than the N95. I will buy them when this haze is over, in preparation for the next haze. I will assume that the PSI can potentially reach 700.

I, the housewife with a first-in-first-out inventory system for everything down to tomato sauce, was not prepared. I'm upset the government was caught somewhat UNprepared (after all, they're not housewives) but well... I can understand why they weren't quite prepared either.

Prepared or not, I do believe that in the past 15 years, the government has done a very good job at building external relations (at the expense of internal relations with its own people). If not for 15 years of relationship building with Indonesia, I doubt President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono would have apologised so graciously. President Bambang fears us not at all. President Bambang does esteem the years of warm ties our 2 countries have shared. He also feels for us. He is not a neighbour who does not care. He knows us as friend and so he cares. He cares and so he apologized.

I do believe that people like Tan Chuan Jin are trying their best to balance competing interests. Maybe we disagree with him. Maybe we don't like what he didn't do. Nonetheless, he's still an honest man with the moral courage to do as he believed to be right. Khaw Boon Wan has really made a difference at HDB, and even before the 2011 elections, under his watch, hospitals and polyclinics became more efficient.

Undoubtedly, some rapid decisive action could have been taken. Childcare centres closed. Guidelines for stopping work for a couple of hours... all that. But you know, we're such a planful country. We're REALLY bad at shooting from the hip. If we've planned for it, we move fast. We didn't plan for this you see. So everyone was a bit indecisive.

The only thing I didn't understand was Vivian Balakrishnan's initial sabre rattling. When I read his first Facebook post on the matter, I went "Uh oh!" in my head. Surely a Minister ought to have more poise? His sabre rattling almost started a media war that Lee Hsien Loong was wise enough to side step.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

If You REALLY Can't Get Hold of an N95 Mask

Cut up a fleece vacuum bag

Surgical Mask - This is the side that faces your nose. The fleece vacuum bag is assembled to the OTHER side (i.e., NOT the side that faces your nose).

 When you cut up the fleece vacuum bag, you will see 3 layers of material.  Assemble the fleece vacuum bag layers in the order shown above. The layer with the criss-cross patterns is outermost. The gauze thin layer in the middle. The thickest layer is closest to the mask. 

This is because the gauze layer and the criss-cross layer give off loose fibres. You don't want to breathe in these loose fibres so you want them furthest from your nose and in closest contact to the dirty air as possible.

Attach the 3 layers from the fleece vacuum bag to the OTHER side (i.e., NOT facing your nose) of the surgical mask. See how the criss-cross patterned layer faces outwards?

Here is the finished mask. Make sure you wear the mask with the fleece vacuum bag layers facing AWAY from you. You don't want to breathe in cloth fibres from the vacuum bag. Face the surgical mask towards you instead.

This mask is a DIY mask. It is in no way comparable to the real N95 mask. However, if you cannot find the N95 mask then this is still better than nothing. The only problem is that this mask does not provide a good seal. When I wear it, I use my hand to press it to my nose so form a seal.

Go HERE for reviews of 2 high quality face masks, of which one fits children.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

More Haze Pollution Counter Measures

Haze was creeping in at the joints of the windows. I still wanted some air circulation from outside (for fear of carbon dioxide build-up) but I didn't want the particulate matter. I sealed the joints with 4 layers of baby wipes and scotch tape. This way, air still gets in but some of the particulate matter is filtered. The rate at which haze creeps into my bedroom is much slower.

The louvered windows in the bathroom received the same treatment.

Since air purifiers are nowhere to be found, I made my own by cutting up a fleece vacuum bag and attaching it to a tunnel fan. This seriously cuts the airflow but I'm not using it as a fan. I'm using it to clean the air. I don't think it cleans very well but if you can't FIND an air purifier to buy and your room is quite small, this is better than nothing.

Click HERE for more haze pollution counter measures.
Go HERE for reviews of 2 high quality face masks, of which one fits children.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fire Fighting Planes

Every year, we have smoke haze from the Slash and Burn jungle clearing practices of our Indonesian neighbors. Some years are bearable. This year it is Unbearable. We KNOW the Indonesians. We KNOW that Slash and Burn happens every year with a fair amount of enthusiasm. It's just that the winds don't blow the smoke over to Singapore MOST years.

What happens in Indonesia is none of our business. If there is smoke and it blows over Indonesian territory or out into the oceans, that is none of our business. BUT when the smoke settles like ash from Pompeii over our entire country, surely we are within our rights to do something about it. We CANNOT depend on the largesse of Indonesia to look after our lungs... our little children... and our octogenarians.

We can have a plan as follows.

We can buy and place on standby a fleet of XXX firefighting planes. We can negotiate with the Indonesian government for the diplomatic privilege of maintaining this fleet on Indonesian soil. In the years where haze in Singapore is very bad, these non-military planes fly out and put out every BLOODY fire that they see. Instead of helping out with our military aircraft... I mean who wants another country's military planes flying about over their sovereign air space, this is a fleet of non-military humanitarian relief aircraft.

In fact, we could even set up a non-profit humanitarian organisation to help the Indonesians fight forest fires.

Yes I know. There are logistical issues. Pilots, costs... blah blah. In years where haze blows out into the ocean, then there's nothing to do. Pilot wages are paid out for no reason. That year's maintenance costs go down the drain. But hey, if God gave men nipples JUST IN CASE they need to breast feed then what's the problem with a few logistical challenges and costs.

This problem is beyond the Indonesians to solve. It's like bugging my mother-in-law to teach Little Boy better in Chinese Language. I decided not to bug her. I figured out a way to use her strengths and then I made up for her weaknesses. Result: Little Potato Boy passed Higher Chinese at PSLE.

We should stop being so rule abiding... and legalistic. That's a very ethnocentric approach that works only within Singapore and some other 1st world countries. Things get done in Indonesia through a system of interpersonal favors. That's how things work there. It should be NO TROUBLE setting up an ostensibly non-governmental humanitarian agency in Indonesia armed with a fleet of fire fighter planes. Even if it's an open secret, no one will care... as with many things in Indonesia. If you wanna get things done in Indonesia, think like an Indonesian... not Singaporean Ivy League graduate.

All we need is for Indonesia to give us some land to build hangars... station Singaporeans there on a rotational basis... and maybe 2 out of 10 years, these planes fly out and put out EVERY BLOODY FIRE they see. Only those years when the winds blow over to Singapore.

Only those years. Everything else is none of our business. We're not infringing on Indonesian sovereignty. We just want a way to protect our lungs. The Indonesians are reasonable people. We must be reasonable too. We can't expect them to do what they are incapable of doing. We need to help them to help us in a non-military way. These aren't even military aircraft. Just humanitarian only.

Instead, we are writing letters and trying to remain calm whilst allowing Indonesian Co-ordinating Ministers to tell us it's our own fault that we breathe smoke. Nobody cares about our lungs more than we do. We can't expect Indonesia to care so much. They can't. They won't. They don't.

Haze Pollution Counter Measures

Last night, the Pollution Standards Index (PSI) breached 400 at some point in the night. A PSI above 100 is considered unhealthy. A PSI above 300 is deemed Hazardous. A PSI above 400 is deemed Very Hazardous. As a Mother, I cannot NOT act to protect mine and my own. I was grateful that a few years back I bought up Guardian Pharmacy's left over stock of face masks in that year's Post-Haze period. 

I didn't think the Indonesian authorities would or could do anything about the Slash and Burn in their forests. I expected the haze to come back given the right weather conditions... wind directions etc... Even as I write, Indonesian farmers are setting huge forest fires to clear the land for plantations. They're trying to make money you see, and they don't care 2 hoots that in Singapore and Malaysia, we are slowly dying of smoke inhalation. More about that another day.

Mine are not N95 masks, but they work beautifully with a baby wipe folded into 2 as an extra layer between my nose and the face mask. The baby wipe can be changed and the mask can be used for a few days. I dug out my stash of face masks to everyone's surprise. I gave out masks to Mom-in-law, Dad-in-law, The Daughter, Little Boy and The Husband. If you can't buy N95 masks, these are better than nothing.

That's why God made Mothers. We're the ones that magic up masks when all the stores have run out. Little Boy and The Husband think they're smelling baby poop all day (because baby wipes remind both of baby poop). That's just too bad. They'll just have to get used to the smell of baby poop.

A kind... though gratuitously rude reader... has posted concerns about inhaling the substance on the baby wipes. See comments below. Make sure your baby wipe is alcohol free... and yes... don't keep that mask on all day. You could also rinse the baby wipes in clear water first. Or use a folded wet towel. We use the baby wipes only when we have to be out and about. Probably an hour or so. At home, we don't use masks. The Air Steriliser works quite well.

Folded baby wipe and a simple face mask.

Alcohol free baby wipes. I rinse these in clear water and discard after use. If you're using wet towels then make sure you microwave the towels after every use to prevent mould.

Go HERE to learn how to make a good air filter using a fleece vacuum bag.

I've also got also on standby a large pot of ginseng-chrysanthemum-honey tea to soothe parched throats irritated by particulate matter in the air. I can tell you that there is a lot of particulate matter in the air. I only need to see how the dust settles onto my dark wood shelves to know how much junk is floating in the air. We can all feel it in our throats too. The Husband will be given his own personal 500ml thermos to bring to work tomorrow.

American ginseng

Chrysanthemum flowers


I was first in the queue at the warehouse office of a company that sells air purifiers. Thank you Mommy P for this lobang (Singaporean lingo for "tip-off"). The only stocks they had left were of their high end and most expensive model. I couldn't understand that people were asking about the functionalities of the lower end models at lower prices (which were out of stock). They stood around CONSIDERING if they should wait for new stocks to arrive. For me, it was a no brainer. This was the only model left. It was their most expensive. It was their best. The only reason why they still had stocks was because the price was so high people preferred to buy the cheaper models.

Petunia is a famously stingy person. I once fixed The Husband with a baleful stare when he wanted to buy this huge car that I thought completely impractical. I am QUITE happy to drive a beat up car. And I drive my beat up car with pride. I mostly go around in cheap t-shirts, baggy shorts + slippers. No branded shoes nor handbags for me. It was quite funny to see people carrying their branded bags actually CONSIDERING waiting around for a lower end model.

Hey... this is air I breathe. It's a matter of life and death. I'll stinge on everything else but not this. I've 2 octogenarians at home who may sometimes irritate me (a lot) but I still do like having them around. If this smoke haze continues at PSI 400, we may lose them both. The Husband won't be able to work properly if he can't breathe properly. And I've invested close to 20 years in my children so I'm not risking them either.

I didn't even look at the other models. "What? This is the only model left? No problem! Quickly! Take my money and gimme 'em!" I was out of there in 10 minutes. By 2 pm in the afternoon, the warehouse had no more stocks of the machine. I know because I went back there at 2.30pm to buy another 2 just to be very kiasu.

No. More. Stock.

Novita Air Steriliser

When I got home, I learnt a little more about the machine. It has a coverage of 1200 sq feet. Our bedrooms are between 400 sq ft to 800 sq ft. One machine is sufficient to clean even the largest rooms. One mode of operation removes air particles. Another mode uses ozone to kill germs and mold. The 3rd mode is to be used when humans are not IN the room, to sterilize all surfaces in the room. I'm not too comfortable about the ozone thingy thingy. I reckon that whatever kills other organic beings (fungus and germs) could also harm my lungs. I'll just use this for the air particle remover thingy. Go easy on the ozone thing if you're using one of these.

If I figure out more anti-haze measures, I'll blog again.

Post Script: 
If you can't buy an air purifier, try using a Bagless Vacuum like the Dyson to suck particulate matter out of the air. It really is the particulate matter you need to remove from the air you breathe. This is what damages lungs and airways. Don't use the vacuum cleaners with bags. The 2.5 microns small particulate matter goes in one end and comes right out the other end of the dust bag.

Post Post Script:
Go HERE for more Haze Pollution Counter Measures.
Go HERE for reviews of 2 high quality face masks, of which one fits children.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Expository Writing Workshop

One of my favourite Mommies has a son in Secondary 2 who was doing very badly in all his Humanities subjects. The poor child had studied so hard for Geography, History and Literature. He still managed to fail something. Mommy became worried to see her son drown his sorrows in a computer gaming marathon. She approached me for help.

At first, the problem looked so very big. I even suspected a gaming addiction. Mommy said that his personality had changed. I wasn't sure whether I could help but I did agree to set up an Expository Writing Workshop. It was a workshop with lego blocks, wooden blocks, pieces of coloured paper and raffia string. After the workshop, I was supposed to coach Mommy through the steps of helping her son.

After the workshop, I realised that it was all a tempest in a teapot. The poor boy had tried ever so hard and still failed. He decided that it was no point trying. After all, he had tried his best and couldn't make the grade. So, the logical thing was to find solace in a never ending stream of computer games. 

He had no motivation to work.

Upon close analysis of his motivation levels, I realized that the boy had done badly because no one had ever given him clear guidance on expository writing. The skills of expository writing are critical to doing well in Geography, History and Literature. He stopped working because he had lost faith in his own hard work. He was working hard... but was he working right? He didn't know what was wrong. He had no solution for his poor grades.

He gave up and went gaming. Of course! I would probably have done the same!!

After being taught Expository Writing skills, he became like his old self again... hardworking and conscientious. He had begun to hope again. He knew how to fix his problems. It made sense to put effort into his work again because he knew what to do.

We fixed his motivation problems just by giving him a skill... and Mommy didn't even have to waste money on a parent coaching session.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Not Just ANY Bag of Tau Gay

"Tau" means "bean"... and "gay" means "sprouts". In my feverish weakened state, the bag of bean sprouts caught me by surprise. It was a gift from a caring Mommy. She had explained to me how to use beansprouts to get back a lost voice. When she heard that I was both too busy and too sick to venture out to get myself a bag of bean sprouts, SHE marched out in the hot sun, queued up at the supermarket, bought me a bag and delivered it to my house. Then she left without disturbing my sleep.

I only got to know about the bag of vegetables last night when the family crowded around my bed to chat. I tried out her Beansprout Cure once last night and once this morning. My voice is coming back.

I begin to feel very blessed. 

One Mommy sat down to patiently listen to me rant one day. One Mommy has my health in her prayers every day. Then there is another Mommy that I shall call Mommy Thoughtful who wrote me a good long email on the types of food that produce phlegm. Another Mommy sewed me a stunning quilt... a quilt that must have taken her hours and hours and hours to piece together. Another Mommy thought of me when she visited a German Food Fair. I received from her these deliciously wafer-like whatchamacallit biscuits. Yum! Then there was a lady (whom I had never before seen) who came by and gave me a subtitled version of the popular Indian movie "Three Idiots"(starring the incredibly handsome Aamir Khan). It took her a while to FIND the subtitled version. This is not counting all manner of little handmade crafts and small wrapped presents (which I leave unopened so as not to spoil the pretty wrapping) and poems and oranges and cakes (home made and bought) and bottles of syrup that appear by magic on my kitchen table.

Home Made Quilt

Artisanal German Biscuits

I suppose this is as close as one can get to the kampong spirit in Singapore? Above and beyond what is a purely commercial transaction, people share of their hearts? I put my heart in what I do with the children. I care and I feel for them. In return, the Mommies give me a little of their hearts.

This said, I have met all sorts of people ever since I started Motivation Genome.

There are the rather mercenary minded people who think everything is a commercial transaction. They ask if I would do free talks in return for the opportunity to sell my books. I never do. I do give free advice and help. There are days when I labour 1 to 2 hours over an email to explain to parents whys and wherefores. On other days, I spend 1 to 2 hours with a particular parent chatting about their child. To other parents, I offer free places in my seminars and talks. In almost every run, there will be 1 or 2 people attending for free. When I do give things free, I do it of my own free will, for reasons that I know best and I ask nothing in return. It's like the tithe that is given out and back to the community. You give it, but not with mercenary gain in mind.

I'm not going to give anyone a free talk for the opportunity to sell my book. The book sells very well by word of mouth. I don't have to give out free goodies to sell a good book.

People I've never even seen call up and explain to me their problems in detail. Ostensibly, they want to sign up for parent coaching but what they're really hoping for is for me to let slip some small piece of advice that would help them along. I figured this out when the same Mommy called me up 4 times asking me to sign her up for coaching. Each time, I would share a little, and the Mommy would thank me... until the next time she needed some help again. After the 4th time, I got wise. 

Then there are those that think that their money handed to me is an excuse for bad manners and boorish behavior. I have one effective way to deal with people like that. I refuse to take their money and send their business somewhere else. You see, I put heart in what I do. When you mess with my heart, you might hurt it. No amount of money can compensate me for that, so I would rather NOT take your money.

This must be a very French way of seeing things. Traditional France has always been a collection of small businesses. The corner bakery or the neighborhood butchery or the village schoolhouse are all staffed by people who know you and your family from way back 5 generations. These are people proud of what they do and when you step into the shop, you had better mind your Ps and Qs... and treat these shopkeepers like people, not servants that you pay. Else, they'll ask you to buy your bread from the next village, which could well be 50km away. Waiters and waitresses are quite capable of NOT serving your table if you've been out of line. That's because they really care whether you like your food. Our waiters would ask worriedly if they saw that Little Boy didn't finish his pumpkin soup, and they would beam when they saw that he had finished his tenderloin steak.

Even if my business gets bigger... and my business will only get bigger if I can ensure the kind of quality that parents currently experience, I would want people to be kind and civilized with my staff. Part of what it takes to work for me is passion and a heart. It's not just about marking papers or facilitating sessions. The facilitators must care. Now, if my facilitators and markers CARE, then no one should be allowed to break their hearts. Besides, it takes a very long time to properly train markers and facilitators. Those that have had experience with MOE take twice as long to train because they do things the MOE way, which is not how we do things in Dr Pet's Enrichment.

Happily though... such people are few and far between. There are many more parents who are loving, gracious and considerate than there are parents who are mean. I love all my Enrichment Centre parents very much!

Alright! This post probably shows me up to be a very lousy businesswoman.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ciabatta and Cream Cheese Croissants

Really nice ciabatta bread.

I still haven't much luck with croissants but my ciabatta bread is really getting quite good. See above.

I made cream cheese croissants today, instead of butter croissants, i.e., I roll cream cheese into the dough instead of butter. I really wasn't getting good results with butter. The tropical heat melts the butter so fast that it gets absorbed into the dough. This interferes with the dough rising because oil retards yeast growth. As a result, the bread stays flat. Worse still, when it comes to baking, the melted butter leaks out of the dough into a puddle on the tray and starts to deep fry the base of my croissants. Aiyaiyaiyaiyai! I've just made fried croissants!

To make good croissants, the layers of dough and butter must remain distinct. To make good croissants, one needs to roll the dough in a room cooled to 22 Deg C. It was impossible to do that in my open concept kitchen even with the air conditioner at full blast. A 3-storey air well leads up from my kitchen to a skylight in the roof. This makes my kitchen impossible to properly air condition.

But I still like croissants.

So I decided to roll cream cheese into the dough. Cream cheese is more tolerant of the tropical temperatures and still able to give flaky dough... albeit without the buttery sinfulness of a real croissant. What the heck though! I like the croissants for the fluffy flaky texture. I can always spread butter on top eh? 

I think this method has potential. I'm still quite lousy at it but with practice, I should get better results. 

The cream cheese laminated layers look quite good.

Just out of the oven.

Still not quite there with the crumb... more practice needed!!

The Chief Hobbit's Farewell

The Husband has been nicknamed The Chief Hobbit by the colleagues who used to work with him. It is a term redolent of the warm affection and friendly regard they hold for him. After 2 decades in an organization, the things people say in speeches and gestures at one's farewell dinner is a sort of summary evaluation of a man. It's the end of a journey when a peer panel convenes and judges you for whom you are, and what you've done... or failed to do.

It made me proud to note that again and again... in speech after speech... story after story, people described The Husband as Approachable, Reliable, Trustworthy, Morally Courageous and Kind. Still, what was more meaningful was what people did NOT say than what they did say. No one said that on The Husband's watch, this or that KPI was hit and exceeded, even though the organisation collects KPIs aplenty and these show a picture of robust organisational functioning. No one praised The Husband for his powerful capacity for analysis and sheer speed of intellectual processing.

People didn't care about that. They didn't care one bit.

Instead, it was the words Kind and Morally Courageous which came forth again and again - qualities of the heart that bear no quantification and could only be illustrated by stories told and retold from the podium, in the words of real people with warm beating hearts. They listed The Husband's many achievements. Many of these in the last decade (when he came to a stage in his career where he was able to influence strategic thrusts) were various successful efforts to improve people's wellbeing at work, and through that, to deliver organizational results.

I guess at the end of a journey, no one really bothers about how much a leader KNOWS. People do remember how much he CARED... or cared not. This said, don't expect The Husband to SAY he cares nor gush about his concern. His face betrays little emotion and his words of praise are few. People were astute enough to note that he would just go and do something to make things better.

Little said. Much done.

For me, it was a dinner where I saw people honour my man for the qualities I love him for, but did not know other people could see as well. The Husband's kindness and empathy is often misconstrued as fearfulness. Many I have known who first meet The Husband and think him a pushover. He speaks gently and is more wont to give concessions than to demand them. Many people think he is kind... and weak.

All these years, I thought I was alone in knowing that running deep inside The Husband was a thread of moral courage that was as a steel cord. In some things we've lived through together, I worried and feared whilst The Husband stood steadfast and fearless because it was about "doing the right thing." Without a husband like mine, I would be a lesser woman than I am.

So I do think Chief Hobbit is a good nickname for The Husband. Hobbits don't look like much. They're fat and hardworking creatures who like a warm bed and good food... preferring a life with less adventure than more. It's easy to look down on a Hobbit, until push comes to shove, and you discover that it was The Hobbit who stood by you, spoke up for you, acted on your behalf.

For the very first time in 2 decades, I felt a sense of real connection with The Husband's colleagues. Hey... they see the same thing I see!! I love Hobbits. I'll take a Hobbit over an Elf any day! And what's more I got to bask in reflected glory... The Husband's secretary appreciated The Husband so much that she gave ME a farewell gift.

The Husband has his feet firmly on the ground however, "Petunia, people will say nice things. It's a farewell. No one will say bad things. Don't let it get to your head." So ok... I'll just be contented with knowing that The Husband has many many friends.

Friday, June 7, 2013

An Extraordinary Child

I met a most extraordinary Primary 4 (i.e., 9 to 10 years old) child this week. Let's call him Clarence. He is a GEP (Gifted Education Program) child that had enrolled in the June Compo Workshop. Since we practise differentiated teaching, I always ask for a Pre-Workshop Diagnostic Composition for analysis and lesson planning. This way, I have a separate lesson plan for each student.

When I received Clarence's horrendously written composition, I called the Mother to ascertain whether there had been any mistake in communication. I wanted to know...

(1) Is the boy really in GEP?
(2) Did the boy put due diligence into the compo?

It turned out that the boy was really from the GEP, and he DID put in reasonable effort to do his composition. This was his horrendous Pre-Workshop Diagnostic Compo below...

"The next day, as Jim was taking another boring english lesson, the friend seated in front of him secretly took out her handphone to show of. Jim spotted this immediately and told his teacher about it. The English teacher then pulled both of them to the discipline office, this moment, the class captain seated beside him was alarmed by the second of the afternoon bell and ran off to go for the training. Jim, being very grumpy that day, thought of the incident and a bad idea crossed his mind…"

Strings of perfectly spelled words that perfectly obscured meaning. The Mother agreed that after Day 1, if I should assess her child unsuited to the demands of my workshop, she would pull him out. Never had I been so wrong in my assessment of a child. At the end of 3 hours on Day 1, the child produced the following text. All his mistakes are in there. I changed nothing. I copied this whole chunk from his Word document and pasted it here.

The intolerable stress of being summarily expelled hung like the Sword Of Damocles over me. The Sword Of Damocles frighteningly threatened to drop if I did anything slightly wrong. I started merely by pretending to be dreamy. I looked out the frosted window. I faked looking awkwardly dreamy. But unfortunately, it only made Mr E even angrier. He shouted angrily at me, “JOHN! STOP DREAMING!” “One failure so far” I thought miserably to myself. I dragged my miniature foot steps towards the clear whiteboard. I started the debate by saying, “I did not copy any work. I did it all on my own. He is lying.” My partner continued, “You liar! Then why is your work the same as mine!” I could nearly feel the Sword Of Damocles above me drop. “One more mistake, then I will be doomed” I thought again. I continued to argue, “WHAT RUBBISH! I can pick out a person that has the exact same answers as you. Why must that person be me? It can be anyone!” this moment I quickly erased my working. I did not want Mr E to suspect me. Mr E got restless after sometime. He brought us both to the principal.

He had not only mastered the skills I had to teach (in half the time other children needed)... he mastered them well too! On Day 2, I planned extra skills into his Skills Analytics Grid. This was the same lesson plan I gave the other GEP children in my class on Day 2. The other GEP children had fairly good Pre-Workshop Diagnostic Compositions. Nothing too shocking.

Clarence sort of munched and chewed his way through all the skills like some famished rat which hadn't seen food for a week. I would give him an instruction, turn my back for a while and then he was there waiting to be taught the next skill. It was all very cartoon. I gave the rat something to eat and then in no time, the rat was back, tongue out, waiting for the next morsel.

If you have ever walked my dog Milo, then you know how I felt. I felt like this boy was dragging me onwards and forwards along the paths of creative writing. I had a sense that he was thinking "Why are you so slow in teaching me these skills? Mooooove it!!"

 On Day 3, he produced the following text... Again, all his mistakes are left in.

I crept down the dark and gloomy stairway. The stairway had been locked up for a month. The stairway smelt like it had all the nastiest odours in the land. It tasted exceedingly bitter and sour both at the same time. My hands turned cold and clammy. I could hear the malicious vermin scatter all over the room. Some were blissfully nibbling on leftover pieces of mouldy bread. Cobwebs wedged to the cracked walls around the room. My imagination erratically morphed a ghost out of the door. I did not care if my colleagues called me a scared cat. I did not care whether I was going to be teased everyday by my mischievous brother. I just hopped down the stairs petrified. I hooked the white handbag with my last finger. I sprinted up the stairs. I knocked the imaginary ghost away from me. I felt I did a good job. I thought my ungrateful colleagues would laugh at me after that.

The mother explained to me that her son had failed English in GEP. I am perplexed. This boy is so smart and so HUNGRY for learning that he is excellent raw material to work with. If I were a seamstress, I would be pleased and honoured to work with rare and expensive material like silk. If I were a chef, I would be thrilled to work with material like white truffle or heirloom tomatoes. How was his English teacher in GEP so dismissive of such latent talent that she dissed him by saying to the Mother ... "Your boy can't cope with the GEP curriculum"?

Can't cope? Wow! Did she not recognise a diamond in the rough? I have children who do compositions for me week after week... and I reinforce the same lessons week after week... and they can only do half of what Clarence did for me after 9 hours of class.

Maybe the GEP standards are really really high... I wonder how those GEP Primary 4 children who ARE gifted in the English Language, actually do write. Hmmmmm.... 

Yup... it so happens that this child's name starts with C too... like this one and these two... How very very odd!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Make Failure a Motivator (May 2013 Issue, Singapore's Child)

Failure is usually demotivating. Nobody is spared from failure experiences. Learn to change abject failure from a discouraging experience, into a motivating one. Look out for the May 2013 issue of Singapore's Child to read more.

This May 2013 article is the first of a 2-part series advising parents how to turn a bad situation into a highly positive one.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

DIY Floor Cushion

I'm not into buying furniture. The bamboo day bed is too small to fit the four of us. So, when we're watching TV, Little Boy ends up trying his best to get comfortable on the cold hard floor. I took pity on him. So I made a floor cushion from 5 pillows. It's really idiot proof to make because one just had...

(1) To sew 5 or 6 pillow cases together
(2) To pop in the pillows

I just wish I had chosen more colorful pillow cases like HERE. I wasn't exactly sure if these would turn out well so I bought the cheapest pillowcases I could find. They were cream colored. Now that I know that these work so well, I think I'll go poke around for nicer pillowcases. Maybe something with flowers. I like flowers.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Mom, Can I Punch Him?

Little Boy has come a long way since the days when he talked with his fists. A gap of 7 years separate my 2 children and yet I often found The Daughter (older) crying from having been punched up by Little Boy (younger). There would be a commotion... some yelling (all yelling on the part of The Daughter) and then a high pitched wail (also The Daughter).

It was exasperating. Would they NEVER stop fighting?

In the beginning, Little Boy was roundly scolded because he was the one who had inflicted bodily harm on another person. I felt that it was important to teach little boys physical restraint because boys grow into men, and men are large and strong. Without physical self-restraint, the human male can really hurt another.

It took Stupid Petunia some years to realize that The Daughter was not altogether innocent in the altercations. The Daughter was expert at verbal barbs. Poor Little Boy often endured her provocations for a couple of hours before he exploded ... lost it... went berserk. Then he would deliver his physical vengeance silently, with a wide-eyed, expressionless though determined face. He hit his sister with all manner of things - spoons, toy guns, sticks, toy cars etc... He even had the good sense to choose objects that were hard. He never ever, for example, used a pillow nor a cushion.

Somehow, we managed to get Little Boy to understand that no matter who started it first, the person who first struck a physical blow would get the blame. We explained that he should alert me to instances when he felt emotionally aggravated and we would discuss a solution. It wasn't wise to take things into his own fists because if he did that, I would punish him as well, for certain.

Little Boy internalized these early lessons rather well. Indeed, he retained the lessons so well that when he met a taunting bully in the school bus in Primary 1, he came home and asked my permission to punch the older kid. He said, "Mommy, he calls all the P1 kids 'Dumb Babies.' He keeps making fun of us. I think I will punch him tomorrow. May 1?"

"Of course you may not", said I.

By this time, the whole family had gathered around. It appeared that the other Primary 1 boy was oblivious to all the bully's taunting because he promptly fell asleep 5 minutes into the bus ride. So, Grandma advised Little Boy to look asleep too. Very soon, the bully got tired of taunting 2 sleeping bodies... and Little Boy's problem was resolved without having to resort to violence.

I was most amused, though. My Little Boy had had the self-restraint to stay his fists. He had come home to ask permission to punch his friend.