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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Niao Niao Again

Niao Niao getting some morning sun.

Niao Niao getting some morning exercise pecking grain.

Niao Niao is fast on the mend. Its feathers have grown back and whenever it hears Grandma's voice, it'll get all excited, ruffling its feathers and moving its shoulders up and down... rather like a child who is hopping from one foot to another in anticipation of a nice toy. Niao Niao anticipates a treat of worms... bread... oatmeal or rice grains.

Grandma is trying to teach Niao Niao how to fly. Go figure how that's done eh... 'cos Grandma the octogenarian has never flown anywhere (at least not with her own wings). Someone pointed out that I did teach Little Boy Potato Chinese(R) even though I know not a single word of Chinese. I maintain that this Niao Niao case is completely different. Firstly, I can SPEAK Chinese even if I can't read it. Grandma can neither speak nor write pigeon. Secondly, I can TEACH languages because I was trained to teach French as a Foreign Language, and English... AND I have a basic degree in Linguistics so I can actually deconstruct ANY language... even those I don't speak. I spent an entire university semester deconstructing Russian and Swahili. It's like a rabbit dissection, except that you cut languages apart.

Grandma is no aeronautical engineer, and is not trained to deconstruct flight.

Niao Niao has grown attached to the INSIDE of Grandma's house. Grandma puts it outside to sun and exercise, but come nightfall, Niao Niao will insist to go back inside the house by pecking on the glass windows. Oh thank heavens we have a dual key system, and whilst we live together in the same house, Grandma has her own space and I have mine. I would go ballistic if I had to share my space with a pigeon.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Dr Pet Is Recruiting Facilitators &/or Markers

Dr Pet is recruiting markers and facilitators. Interested parties, please leave a contact email HERE. The jobs descriptions are as follows:

- Facilitate learning activities on 2 Saturdays a month from 2pm to 5.30pm on site in Sembawang.

- No lesson preparation required.

- No marking required.

- 15 minutes before class (at 1.45pm), come and get briefed on the learning activity.

- 15 minutes after class (at 5.45pm), stay and debrief the learning activity.

- Requires an outgoing personality, firm and kind.

- Requires an enjoyment of children.

- Have the ability to laugh and play.

- In short, you need to be like Mary Poppins - firm, kind and with a mischievous sense of fun. Ideally, you are someone who has never forgotten what it's like to be a child.

- Distinction in General Paper.

- Work at your own time and from home. Your work is done entirely offsite. We will conduct interviews and aptitude tests via Skype. Scripts are sent back and forth by email.

- You can work from overseas. One of our markers resided in France.

- Stay-at-home moms are welcome.

- Markers have 3 days to mark 6 scripts.

- We mark VERY differently from others. Please see picture below for how we mark. 

- Training & companion marking will be provided via Skype.

- Each script needs 30 minutes of high concentration marking. We practise Positive Marking strategies where we comment on good things consistently. Training is provided.

- We only remunerate pieces that pass quality standards. Stringent checks on each piece are performed, and the marker has to make good errors in marking that surface in these checks.

- Distinction in General Paper, Literature, Geography or History.

Interested parties, please leave us a note HERE. Please specify in your note the following:
(1) Full Name
(2) Age
(3) Subjects where you achieved distinction
(4) Which job you are interested in: Marker or Facilitator

Sample of Marked Composition

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Niao Niao

The poor pigeon Grandma rescued a few days ago, now has a name - Niao Niao.

It's left wing is broken and its left foot damaged. It now lives in a laundry basket with layers of newspapers and a small water dish tied to the corner. Grandma is very diligent about removing the newspaper layer by layer everytime she sees pigeon poop. Grandpa says the birdie is a baby birdie because instead of cooing like adult pigeons do, this one cheeps like a baby bird. The skin along its vertebrae is exposed and there are cuts also. Something must have torn off it feathers and scratched Niao Niao's back.

Every morning Niao Niao is put outside in the garden for an hour or two to walk about and get healthful exercise. Grandma will scatter rice grains on the floor and Niao Niao will spend its time picking them off the floor. Grandma watches dotingly.

Petunia told Grandma that once fattened up, we could all have pigeon soup. Grandma said "Well... if it lays eggs, we could just eat the eggs."

Petunia replied, "It might be a male. Males don't lay eggs. If it's male, we'll eat it ok?"

Grandma stayed silent.

Hmmmmm... looks like this birdie has just joined the family for the long haul, unless it's wing heals and it learns to fly. Oh well... at least it keeps Grandma occupied and happy. We now have a dog, a pigeon, Arctic shrimps, a large turtle (that Grandpa rescued) and many pretty fishes. There are also 3 cats and 1 mynah that'll come when called.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What It Means To Really Focus On Effort

The picture was copied from HERE.

Celebrating 2nd LAST in Class for Chinese
In 2010, when Little Boy was in Primary 4, he was last in class for Chinese. He was so very LAST that  the 2nd last was way above him. In December of 2010, Little Boy spent 15 man days (8 hours) memorizing-reciting compositions that were 4 years above the normal Primary 5 textbooks in difficulty. In addition, Little Boy picked 5 good phrases from each of these compositions and wrote them inside an exercise book. On a daily basis, he would give himself Chinese spelling from a targeted list of 8 phrases. This sustained effort continued through to mid-year of Primary 5 (2011).

He was 2nd last in class in Chinese in the mid-year exams of 2011.

He came home a little sad. I hugged him and jumped around in joy... "You are SECOND last? That's WONDERFUL. You climbed 25 marks to SECOND last? Wow!" Then, I took the whole family out to celebrate his fabulous achievement.

Dissing 2nd in Level for History
Since early this year, I've done NOTHING to teach nor facilitate Little Boy's academic progress. He has had a free hand to manage his time and schedule. For a while, he had 3 CCAs, and he went to the shooting range almost everyday to get in some target practice. I observed that he wasn't working very hard at Math and at Chinese. When I commented, he said, "Mom, I know what I'm doing." I next observed no improvement in his effort to keep abreast in Chinese and Math.

He got through SA1, pulling in stellar results for Literature and History (2nd in level). He topped the class in English Language. He was quite happy with himself. The Husband nodded a pleased approval. The Daughter congratulated her brother. 

I said with as much contempt as I could muster, "Only 3rd? Why aren't you first in class?"

Little Boy was shocked. I had NEVER said such a thing to him before. He exploded and had a melt down. He cried and now that he is taller than I am, and more muscular, he picked up his office chair and flung it against the wall. The chair broke into 5 pieces.

I left him to stew.

He was still sobbing when I went to him an hour later. He was MISERABLE. I explained, "I don't really care what you've achieved. I noted that you did not put effort into Math and Chinese. You're a responsible boy but you got distracted. If you had come back 1st in class, after goofing off in Chinese and Math, I would have asked why you didn't get 1st in level. If I see you goof off, and you still manage to get me a President's Scholarship, I would ask 'Why didn't you get me the Nobel prize?' The important thing is not the actual achievement. The important thing is that you are UNDER-performing to your capability BECAUSE you goofed off. Now stop crying. I love you anyway and yes... you did really good in History, and I am happy for that."

Little Boy got my message, and he dropped out of 1 CCA... and as far as I can see, he is putting effort in all his subjects now.

Dr Pet's Enrichment
In Dr Pet's Enrichment Centre, the children have customised marking grids. The children are not assessed according to the same criteria because they all have DIFFERENT strengths and weaknesses that I wish to work on. There is no way to determine who is best. We never celebrate the best writers and we don't make children compete with each other. Our learning ethos is completely different. Instead, we stretch the children whenever they are ready. I really don't care how well a child can write because there is always scope for stretch no matter whether you are GEP or failing in mainstream. What I look at and insist on is...

(1) effort
(2) enthusiasm

With both these... results will follow... and the result will be the best that each child is capable of. The children will perform AT potential, not below. The children will also not be stressed by unreasonable expectations of their potential.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Why I Make Children Play In Class

Kick Ass Water Guns

When I saw these at the Pasar Malam I could not resist. The thought of a group of rowdy kids running amok shooting wetness at each other was too much. I bought every gun the vendor had to sell. On Saturday, Dr Pet's English Enrichment kids had a blast after class. They don't ALWAYS get to play games. The class has to work hard and well enough to earn the 5 minutes of play after class.

They were drenched right through to underwear. As they skipped down the stairs fulfilled and joyful, one boy said to me, "I have ONE word."

"What is it?" I asked.

"GG" he replied with every machismo possible from a little boy.

"Eh what?" I said.

"Good game!" he yelled, emphasizing his point by pumping his upturned thumb up and down.

Children at play reveal aspects of themselves that adults don't see in the context of serious work. The way children play to win, has often given me invaluable clues on what to do to crack a motivation problem. All too often, children pull in mediocre grades in school to only reveal how fast their brains work at play. I'll tell you this, I rather suspect that how often children win at play with their peers is a good predictor of life success. Of course, no one is interested in children playing so I doubt anyone has researched this interesting question.

Little S' mother explained to me early in the year that Little S was SLOW to learn and understand. In class, Little S did a marvelous job convincing me that she was trying her best-est and doing her most-est... but she just COULDN'T make it. 

I believed her for about 3 months... always indulgent... always forgiving.

Then Little S made the mistake of taking her subterfuge too far. She tried to explain that her bad handwriting and blanks in worksheets (even though we had gone through the worksheet TWICE in class - orally and in written form) was ALSO due to her being slow and unable to understand. Really? In that case your IQ would really be sub-normal and try as I could, I coouldn't see Little S as sub-normal in intelligence at all. "My daughter has tried her most-est", her Mother assured me. 


So I made them play musical chairs in class as I moulded their reflexes for English Oral. As the game progressed, I noticed that Little S who refuses to speak in normal times, always shrugging her shoulders and saying "I don't know." possessed an extraordinary presence of mind. She far outstripped the others in her class with her ability to quickly apply words that I had thrown up randomly only 2 minutes before. Her delivery was smooth and she met every single dimension I had set out for good oral performance. Little S gave me CONSISTENT flashes of brilliance as she played musical chairs. She was very motivated because she wanted to have a go at my Kick Ass Water Guns at the end of class.

This showed me 2 things. She had above average capability to convert knowledge to skill in real time. It takes a rather big IQ to do that, you know.

So, after class, I looked deep into Little S' eyes and I said, "I've seen the fox's tail. I only have to see it once to know that you are capable of far more than you are producing. I want more effort out of you."

Friday, July 19, 2013

Poor Pigeon

During my morning exercise today, I saw 2 elderly women grab roughly at this pigeon out of the grass patch. They chattered excitedly in a heavy accent, examined it and put it back. I think they wanted to cook it but decided not to because they thought it wasn't healthy. I didn't really know what's wrong with it and I was tempted to leave it there.

I came home and talked to Grandma. Grandma didn't think twice. She grabbed a bag and a towel. She marched off determinedly to bring the pigeon home and nurse it back to health. That's the thing with my in-laws. They love animals. My Father-in-Law has brought home all sorts of ailing little animals to nurse, and when he takes his morning walks in the park, stray cats come up to him purring. Recently, a mynah has even learnt to perch on his arm. Looking at him with his wizened old face surrounded by animals, you'd think he was the Wizard Radagast from The Hobbit.

When The Daughter's pet fish was found to be pregnant, she made me walk over to Grandpa's house close to midnight to deliver the fish to Grandpa's care. When The Daughter's pet turtle grew sluggish and looked ill, off he went to Grandpa's house. Both my kids have immense faith in Grandpa's ability to bring dead pets back to life. The turtle died in Grandpa's care, but rather than face his broken-hearted grand daughter, Grandpa bought a brand new turtle and announced... "Tada! Tommy the Turtle is well again!"

Actually... me too... I have great faith in Grandpa's ability to make sick animals well again. I thought first of Grandpa when I saw the pigeon. I also... I am ashamed to admit, thought of roast pigeon.

Grandpa said the poor birdie had been run over by a car and broken a wing.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Easy Peasy Roast Chicken

Spatchcock your chicken. If you don't know how to spatchcock a chicken, check out THIS VIDEO. This is an easy recipe for busy people. It takes 15 minutes to prepare and then it cooks in the oven without supervision so I can basically go and bathe, supervise a child's homework. I use a mini toaster oven instead of the big oven because I dislike cleaning the big oven. 

Fry minced garlic till golden brown. Chop chilli fine. I used 1 bulb of garlic and 3 chilli padis.

Put in a thick slice of butter  (75g) and a large tablespoon of Herbes de Provence.

Mix into a paste. Add 1 teaspoon of salt.

Gently insert a blunt butter knife under the chicken's skin to detach skin from meat. Insert the paste under the chicken's skin. Massage well to ensure that the paste is evenly spread beneath the skin.

Grill the chicken in a mini toaster oven for 50 minutes. My mini toaster oven doesn't allow me to set the temperature. The butter inserted under the skin bubbles through the skin and fries it to a crisp. The herbs, garlic and chilli infuse the meat because there really is nowhere else to go since all of it is stuck underneath the chicken's skin.

Serve with a salad on the side, doused liberally with a balsamic or lavender vinaigrette.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

An Open Letter To A Frightened Little Girl

This is an open letter to a child who is afraid to try because she thinks she will fail. She has recently joined us and demonstrates all the symptoms of a child under stress, who does not play enough.

Dear Little One,

Mommy shared with me that before you joined our class, you had wanted to impress Dr Pet with how good you were at English. At first, you put great effort into Dr Pet's English homework in order to impress Dr Pet. You wanted Dr Pet to like you. You even chose a nice t-shirt to make me happy. That was so very sweet.

Then you discovered how difficult Dr Pet's homework is, and you despaired of ever meeting my standards. You were afraid that I would not like you because you couldn't meet my standards.

Do not be afraid. However many mistakes you make, I will like you anyway. There are other children in class who are naughtier than you, and who make even more mistakes than you do. Can you not see that I love them all?

Mistakes are precious because they teach us lessons. The person who does not make mistakes, does not learn. The person who fears to fail, will never take risks. Such a person will grow up into a boring adult whose life has no adventure. Such a person will never achieve anything great in life because he or she will never dare to try anything new, for fear of failing.

Do not be afraid of your mistakes. Do not be afraid of failing.

Dr Pet is never impressed by children who do perfect worksheets and never make mistakes. Dr Pet is impressed by children who have courage and curiosity. I am impressed with children who are not afraid to ask silly questions because they want to know more about the strange things we do in class - like how bacteria can talk to each other, or how bees can help us prevent terrorist attacks.

Dr Pet is also impressed by children who are nice and kind to their classmates... who help each other to succeed as a team, in order to earn the right to play the game after class.

Lastly, Dr Pet is impressed by children who try, even though they think they might fail. These are brave children who tell themselves "It's ok to fail with Dr Pet. I am safe with her. Dr Pet will show me where my mistakes are so that I will be able to do better in school. It's safe to fail with Dr Pet but it is not safe to fail in school. If I fail with Dr Pet, she will just show me where my mistakes are. If I fail in school, I will go to a bad class or a bad school."

I am willing to wait for you to learn to feel safe, and to stop feeling afraid. Underneath all that stress and all that fear, I know there is a lovely little girl. I will wait for her to emerge in time.

Best regards,
Dr Pet

Monday, July 15, 2013

Elderflower and Gymnema Herbal Teas

2 large packets of herbal tea

I was so thrilled to find a Singapore supplier of herbal teas HERE that sells the elderflower. I have previously blogged about the elderflower HERE. My blogger friend OpenKitchenConcept also blogged about it HERE.

I brought home a dozen bottles of the elderflower from our trip to Tasmania. Hot or cold, it was a delicious drink, especially with a squeeze of lemon. When the bottles were all drunk up, I went to buy more from Ikea. Unfortunately, I didn't at all like the taste of these, even though lemon was pre-added to the cordial, and it saved me an extra step.

Unlike the cordial from Tasmania, the cordial from Ikea was high on sugar and low on floral tastes.

Hence I was happy to find the dried flowers on sale at Herbal Sense Life. The tea brewed from the flowers did not disappoint in the least. The floral scent was strong and calming. My body reacts badly to sugar intake so I was pleased to note that even unsweetened, the dried flowers steeped out to a flavorful tea. The tea is supposed to chase away colds and clear the respiratory tract. It is traditionally used to alleviate the symptoms of asthma sufferers. See more HERE.

I bought another tea called the Gymnema. It's something traditionally used by diabetics to normalize blood sugar levels. I don't have diabetes but I am over sensitive to sugar. This tea is not as delicious as the elderflower but I like the way it prevents me from getting sleepy after lunch. It's not bad tasting.

The Husband and I went for a walk last evening and we stopped by a charming café. I couldn't order anything though because they only had caffeinated teas and coffees, which are both not good for hypothyroidism. If only cafés sold healthful herbal teas too.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Will That Happen To Me Too?

Children tend to live in the present. I knew that. I was still surprised though, by what happened in yesterday afternoon's class.

One child will be taking the PSLE in mid-September. I arranged with his Mommy to terminate his enrollment in end-August. Children should be allowed to relax and unwind in the 2 weeks leading up to PSLE so that their performance would not be unduly affected by stress. The other children overheard my conversation with Little XXX on his impending departure.

Child A exclaimed, throwing Little XXX a look of pity and shock, "He's leaving? Why?!"

As the other children threw Little XXX more pitying glances, I explained, again.

Child B hopefully suggested, "He'll come back after his PSLE, right?"

This was a very strange question because I had thought all the children understood that they were being taught by me in order to tackle the demands of the PSLE. Laughing, I replied, "After the PSLE, there's no point in coming back. You'll be big by then. Too big to attend class with Dr Pet." Meanwhile Little XXX, looked miserably at the floor between his feet.

Then Child B looked up at me with stricken eyes and said in an aghast whisper, "Will that happen to me too?"

I really wanted to laugh out loud, but the child looked so sad that I thought it would be unkind. So I said seriously, "Yes, you will be taking PSLE in 2 years. At that time, I will also ask your Mommy to pull you out by end-August so that you will have time to relax before the big exams. You should be happy right? You don't have to do one compo, one compre and one listening compre every week, anymore. You can play!"

A pall descended upon the whole class, like someone had announced the death of a beloved pet.

Happily, the irrepressible Child C piped up merrily, "I have 2 years more!" Now this one, he really lives in the present.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Notice to Dr Pet's Parents: English Oral Practice

Please access the Motivation Genome password protected pages to watch videos of your kids practising English Oral.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Praising Kids: Hail Efforts and Not Achievements

I was both shocked and pleased to see Professor Carol Dweck featured in the Education Minister's speech at the Primary School Education Seminar and Exhibition. I was shocked because the last thing I expected from MOE was the citation and acknowledgment of more recent psychological research than Professor Lewis Terman (who died in 1956, and whose dated research is STILL the rationale for the form and shape of Singapore's GEP).

I wrote about Professor Carol Dweck HERE and HERE.

I was pleased because finally, someone important, and with influence, is telling bureaucrats and practitioners in MOE that celebrating SMARTNESS is a sure way of demotivating a child in the long term. In fact, this finding is not as recent as that. Professor Carol Dweck has been working on this area for the past 30 years. This said, 30 years ago still brings us to 1983, which is still way more recent than Professor Terman's research done in the 1920s!!

What has not been said is that there are systemic mechanisms in MOE that on a daily, monthly and annual basis celebrate achievements and smarts, not effort. It's not enough for parents to NOT praise the child for smartness, parents have to UNDO the smartness (or stupidness) message sent by the system.

I know because I have been doing this UNDOING business for YEARS. I spent 6 years telling The Daughter that she WASN'T smart. My excuse was - I'm not smart and The Husband is not smart. Since you're our daughter, you can't be smart. I made sure The Daughter knew that even though she was in a special class in a top school, she wasn't smart. Thank God she believed me!! I spent 3 years telling Little Boy that it's OK not to be smart, we just have to work harder.

I tell you... it's not enough to NOT praise the child wrongly. One has to UNDO the subliminal "praises" or "judgments of stupidity" from the school system!

(1) Streaming
When children pass tests and get into GEP or Express or Normal, the system shouts at them
(1) "You're smart" (Gifted)
(2) You're OK smart"(Express)
(3) "You're dumb"(Normal)

The systemic message is "You're born that way and it doesn't matter what effort you put in, you're either destined for great things OR you're run-of-the-mill."

Every single day of existence in that particular labeled stream tells the children how smart they are... or not.

What Happens to Gifted Kids?
Many GIFTED children pull back and tell themselves. I know I am gifted. The IQ tests have confirmed it. Why should I work so hard? It doesn't help that in certain GEP centers (certainly not all), kids are badly taught and many gifted kids hate it there. There is no joy in learning for these precious children with an innate propensity to learn fast and an innate propensity to love learning.

The child is smart, right? It doesn't take long for him/her to decide "Hey! This is crappy. I have no life. Whatever it is, I'm gifted, right? Even if I don't try, I'll get somewhere. Let me just coast along." In the short term, that's ok because the child is bright enough to still scrape through again and again. Nonetheless, an entire childhood spent like this moulds one's character a certain way, no?

Are we really maximising the potential of our precious Gifted children?

What Happens to OK SMART Kids With Wise Parents?
The OK SMART ones with wise parents who focus on effort... will pour in resources of time and money. These are the students who will bypass many of the GEP students to do very well at the PSLE. These are the ones who come through with strength of purpose and attitude. They tell themselves "I'm not gifted but I will do well if I put in effort."

In the end, it is these who will be more useful and productive citizens.

It's a crying shame because these kids are nowhere near bright as those in GEP. If the GEP were motivated to put in half that effort to excel, perhaps we would have a few Nobel prize winners by now? The system has done our gifted children a terrible disservice, and GEP parents often don't realise what the system is doing to their kids by labeling them.

This said, if the parents have little time or money for enrichment, then the OK SMART kids will just let the label "OK SMART" define them, and not try. You see, learning outside school is UBER important if one wishes to do well.

What Happens to OK SMART Kids With UNWise Parents?
The OK SMART ones with UNwise parents who focus on nothing but achievement blight their children's entire childhood. Learning is stressful and days are filled with recriminations and tuition.

The Straits Times reported a while back that teens in a certain top school populate an entire tuition centre specializing in IP tuition for that certain top school. It was also reported that this was not because the teens NEEDED the tuition. It made them FEEL better. Clearly, here are students who cannot face failure because achievement defines their self-esteem. These children will suffer when they meet REAL LIFE because no matter how clever you are, REAL LIFE always always deals you blows. Somehow.

The system has done our OK SMART children (with UNwise parents) a disservice too.

Speaking from my own experience, it took a lot of courage for me to deny my OK SMART son tuition in Math, Science and Chinese (subjects that I could not teach because I knew so little)... and letting the PSLE chips fall where they would, based on HIS OWN EFFORT alone. Not many parents have the nerve to do what I did to my son (in view of how PSLE results are used to allocate places in good and not-so-good schools).

I only found the nerve to do so because I had read Carol Dweck's research and I was prioritizing long-term character development before short-term achievement.

What Happens to Kids Labeled Dumb?
Many give up.

(2) Bell Curve
The forced ranking at PSLE that pits student gladiators each against the other SCREAMS smart or stupid, when the PSLE results come out. Even if parents refrain from praising their children for smartness, it matters little. Parents like me have to actively UNDO the subliminal messaging that comes through to our children every day, every quarter and every year of school. The PSLE t-score that arrives in a sealed slip messages Smart. Smart. Smart. ....... or....... Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. With Little Boy, I made an effort to reframe the slip. How many parents know they have to undo MOE's messaging or risk long-term motivation to study?

(3) Class Streaming
Parents don't have to tell their children they're smart. The children tell it to each other when they see all the clever ones go to one class. Those in the top class KNOW they've achieved. The entire system has made judgment and TOLD them without words how smart they are.

Celebration of Achievement or Smartness is Endemic in MOE
The celebration of Achievement or IQ is endemic in MOE. I am hoping that since the Education Minister has cited Professor Carol Dweck's work, some of these outdated systemic features will be reviewed and updated in the light of more recent psychological research.

So... is it any surprise that Singaporean PMETs are a generally unmotivated bunch? See HERE.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ms Ayuni and Ms Shidah

We used to have lots of Malay neighbors. The Daughter's first admirers were mostly Malays - Irman, Ismail and Hafiq. They were all young gentlemen of good family with parents who held honest jobs and Mothers who were warm and kind.

My Malay neighbours maintained spick and span homes. It didn't matter that some lived in humble 3-room flats. They didn't allow their living quarters to degenerate into a mess of disharmonious clutter.  My Malay neighbours had matching curtains and sofa sets. I didn't even have curtains and it was some years before I got around to buying a sofa set.

My neighbour's homes were clean oh... so very clean... and this was probably the only dimension of house pride where Petunia matched up. I always felt a kinship with these Malay neighbors merely because we shared a strong appreciation for cleanliness and tidiness. Their homes always smelled good. The floors sparkled. Guests would be treated with much ceremony. Pretty cups and pretty plates would be taken out and displayed. I used to entertain with paper plates and cups. In fact, I still do.

The Malay mommies I knew were warm and indulgent with their children. They didn't practise tough love like so many Chinese mothers did. None of the Malay mommies I knew ever yelled in the way I sometimes yelled at The Daughter after work, frazzled and tired... but still determined to make sure The Daughter understood the Math that I myself failed to understand. I learnt a great deal about graciousness, gentleness and kindness from my Malay neighbors. I admired my Malay friends for their capacity for contentment. The relentless drive to accumulate and show off and compete... is not something I associate with the Malays. In many ways, they were like those French people who grew up in the country (not in Paris).

They're a loving and gentle people, with a capacity for contentment.

Little Boy went to a PAP kindergarten. The entire staff was comprised of Malays and they were wonderful with him. They were kind, gentle and indulgent. Little Boy had a crush on Ms Ayuni with the long flowing ponytail. He came home and tried to explain to me how nice Ms Ayuni's hair was.

Then there was Ms Shidah, a motherly lady who sparkled in the presence of children. This lady was so sweet that she was quite at a loss as to what to do with Little Boy when he went through the phase of "white eyes". Somehow, he had developed this tendancy to show his unhappiness with whatever it was by frowning and rolling his eyeballs back to expose the whites of his eyes. Goodness knows where he had learnt that! It made him look like a crazed drug addict! Ms Shidah was both hurt and perplexed. She didn't complain but I witnessed an episode of "white eyes" at the end of class... and needless to say, I made Little Boy apologize then and there. I checked with her in the weeks that followed for it pained me that my son had hurt such a sweet and loving teacher. Little Boy understood how bad the behavior was and he never did anything like that to Ms Shidah again.

There was only one Chinese teacher there whom Little Boy very much disliked and feared. As a result, I didn't like her either.

But that was many years ago.

Our Malays have become less Malay and more Singaporean. Unfortunately, the Chinese have learnt so little from the Malays in the ways of graciousness and gentleness. The Malays have learnt plenty from us in the ways of aggressiveness and competition. Some people think this is good. They want our Malay friends to start fighting and hustling and competing and winning. Some people think the world is all about competition.

I mourn an aspect of our collective soul that died when the Malays learnt the ways of the Chinese. I've mourned this for quite a while. I had 2 Research Assistants, both Malays. One was an RJC alumni, brash and aggressive. The other was a sweet and gentle young lady who opened my eyes to the value of accepting others as they are. I had a long philosophical discussion with her and came away impressed at how she was able to accept people they way they were... without doing them the disrespect of trying to change them for the better. This young girl told me gently "Dr Pet, how do you know that your better is really better for them?" Young but so wise in her cultural heritage.

So I mourned doubly when I noted that the childcare teacher arrested for fracturing a child's left shin was Malay. 20 years ago, this would not have happened.

- Written in memory of Ms Ayuni and Ms Shidah, 
the teachers who loved my Little Boy even
when he misbehaved. -

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Yin-Yang Balance

Little Boy has been very sceptical of the time-tested Chinese notions of heaty and cooling foods. He listened to me with great interest at this novel way of perceiving medical diagnosis. Since I am no expert, I suppose I wasn't convincing enough. This was an area that The Husband knew more than I, and even he didn't know much.

The Husband recounted that he has a tendancy towards heatiness. In his teens, he was prone to breakouts and nose bleeds. High blood pressure is known to run in his family. I went through puberty with nary a pimple to speak of, so what less nosebleeds. Despite Singapore's hot tropical weather, I used to perspire very little. I always had warm dry skin no matter that everyone around me was sweating like swine. (Actually, pigs can't sweat. Hee!) Over the years, doctors tell me that I tend towards low blood pressure instead. I suppose then that I have a tendancy towards being cool?

I like fruits, salads, vegetables and soups. According to Chinese pharmacology and food therapy, these are highly cooling foods. This diet has protected The Husband's health. He has normal blood pressure despite a genetic disposition to high blood pressure. He hasn't had a nosebleed in years. This diet has wrought havoc with my health. Over the years, it has cooled my body down to such an extent that I have poor circulation and possibly hypothyroidism &/or adrenal fatigue.

I've become a sort of reptile you know. The Husband is perspiring but when he touches my skin, I am cold and clammy. If I don't heal myself, I'll have to do like lizards and snakes... bask in the hot sun to warm my blood. I might even grow scales.

Hmmm... maybe that's how the legend of Madame White Snake started. Once upon a long time ago, a lady ate too much fruit, turned cold and had to bask in the sun. She met a scholar whilst sinuously enjoying the sun atop a rock. Blah... blah... blah... married the scholar... blah blah blah... grew scales... blah blah blah... grew fangs.... blah blah blah... wreaked havoc under heaven.

In this last week, I have changed our diet. For one thing, I'm eating confinement food from Chilli Padi every lunch. I've been loading up on home made Cognac Chicken, Pig's Trotters in Vinegar, Black Bean Chicken Soup, Stirfried Liver in Rice Wine. Little Boy is a Curious Gourmet. He wants to try everything and he LIKES it all. Being the teenager he is, he can eat a LOT of what he likes.

Result: He was doubled up all afternoon on the sofa with very painful constipation. He couldn't errr... you know... go. The junk was errr... stuck. I gave him the coolest thing I could think of - Chrysanthemum and American Ginseng tea. After 2 large mugs of this brew, he went to the bathroom to clear his bowels.

The Husband hates confinement food. There are pig innards and pig's trotters that he hates. Since there was nothing else to eat, he downed whatever was on the table this past week. Grumpily. Today, The Husband and I drove over to Hong Wen Mutton Soup to eat the highly heating concoction. It was mostly for me to reverse my reptile transformation.

Hong Wen Mutton Soup
Beauty World Centre, 4th flr food court

On the drive back... lo and behold... 2 pimples had popped up around The Husband's mouth. I decided that I had better feed The Husband salads and cooling soups before he develops nosebleeds and high blood pressure. I'll have to cook different dishes for us from now on.

Little Boy laughed. This all sounded like hogwash to him. "Heaty? Cooling? Yin deficiency? Yang deficiency? It has NO resemblance to real life, Mommy!" said he.

Hogwash it all you like but hey... it's not much more hogwash than people who drink alkaline water hoping to alkalinize their bodies, or people who drink vinegar to chase away coughs, or people who eat yoghurt to beat a candida infection.  Try drinking 10 cups of coffee and see what happens to you. Foods... herbs etc... do have an impact on our bodies. So, why wouldn't food therapy improve health?

There is something in confinement food that helps my blood circulation and helps me metabolize, and dry heats Little Boy so much that he had painful constipation. I don't know what it is but no more will I forget my Chinese roots. I will watch what I eat from the lenses of Yin-Yang philosophy and try my best to learn more.

It's quite interesting. I have so much to learn. I am IMMENSELY grateful to all the Mommies who have emailed or Facebooked me to give me tips on what to do and what not to do. You'll be surprised at how ignorant Petunia is about food therapy.

Clara's Claybox

Croissant and Cream Puff

Baguette with Ham and Lettuce

A very talented young lady of 11 owns a small FaceBook business selling clay figures. I think she is very good at what she does! She makes little key chains and pendants, as well as mini shelves laden with pastries. They're really such CUTE little creations... and she has such an entrepreneurial spirit too! I love her pastries best!!

You can find her at Clara's Claybox HERE.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Beef Rendang

The Husband has been eating confinement food with me, with very little enthusiasm. To mollify his taste buds I made him a stash of beef rendang. It's important to feed The Husband properly. Else, he gets grumpy.

The finished dish.

The rempah: 2 bulbs of garlic, 12 dried chillis (soaked and seeded), 4 lemon grass (white parts only), 12 shallots, 2 thumb sized lumps of galangal (or blue ginger) and 2 thumb sized lumps of ginger

Fry the rempah in the wok till fragrant.

Fry the beef in the rempah until every piece is nicely brown.

Place in the thermal pot with 500ml of coconut milk and 250ml of tamarind water (4 teaspoons of tamarind paste mixed in water). Or enough water to submerge the meat. Bring to a boil. Place in the thermal insulator for 6 hours. Every 2 hours, remove and bring to a quick boil again.

Once the meat is soft and fall apart tender, pour the whole pot into a large wok and fry until the gravy runs thick and dry.

Pour 150g of minced coconut into the wok (or a non stick pan). Do not use oil. Dry fry until brown. This is the kerisik.

Here is what the kerisik should look like when almost done. Next, add the kerisik to the beef rendang and fry for about 5 minutes more. Ensure that the gravy is thick and almost gone.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Reusable Filter Masks for The Haze

I decided to make a Haze Kit for each person in the family. So, I ordered 2 different types of face masks and will be shortly taking orders from each person on exactly which one they want. I'm so never gonna be caught unprepared for The Haze again. It happens every year anyway. It has just never been really as bad as this year.

This is the 3M 7501 Half Face Respirator. This model has a Cool Flow Valve(TM) that makes it very easy to breathe without compromising on filtering quality. The ease of breathing is much superior to the N95 mask. This mask is also reusable whilst the N95 needs to be thrown away after just a few hours of use (especially if it gets damp with the wet air you breathe out). There are 3 sizes 7501 (small), 7502 (medium) and 7503 (large). The small size fits me perfectly. I am a very small woman.

The mask is useless without the air filters. You have to buy filters and spare filters. There are compatible filters for every kind of environment (gases, vapors, ozone etc...). I ordered the Advanced Particulate Filter 2291. Compared to its predecessor 2091, this model of particulate filter filters well whilst making it easy to breathe as well. You have to attach the filter's plastic knob to the mask's air vents. These filters last through between 30 to 40 hours of use depending on the level of air pollution.

Here is the assembled mask. This mask configuration provides better protection than N95 because this is classified as P100. It is supposed to filter out 99% of the particles from the air you breathe. Construction workers can wear this mask and still continue to work because it really blocks out a lot of particulate matter AND it is easy to breathe through it. Some of the other compatible filters even block out gases such as ozone. It is important to choose the right filter for the work environment, however. So, if you don't have to block out ammonia or ozone, don't buy those filters.

This is the Totobobo mask. You can purchase a nice Totobobo bag to keep your mask in. The mask is meant to perform at the same levels as the N95 except that this mask is reusable. The filters need to be changed whenever they turn gray with particulate matter OR they are 2 weeks old - whichever is earlier. Unlike the mask above, this mask does not make you look like an alien. However, I find that it is slightly harder work to breathe through this mask, and also, the fit is not as comfortable as the 3M 7501. The best thing about this mask is that it can be cut to fit children's faces. I need to cut it to fit my face, because right now, my glasses fog up when I wear this mask. This shows that the mask doesn't quite fit my small face.

I'm pretty sure the rest of the family will pick the Totobobo mask. Little Boy's reaction to the masks was dramatic. "I am NOT going to wear the Alien Mask to school. EVER!"

My 2 octogenarians were completely oblivious to The Haze. I asked them to sleep with the air conditioner on, and the air purifier at full blast. They slept instead with the windows all opened AND the air purifier at full blast. Both are somewhat deaf so I had to yell some to make sure they understood why they had to keep the windows closed. Even understanding, they didn't agree with me and would open the windows if I wasn't looking. My 2 octogenarians will probably ask me to save money and NOT buy them any masks. Hence, it is highly unlikely that either octogenarian will agree to look like aliens.

I guess I will be the only one left wearing the Alien Mask since I don't really care what I look like as long as I can breathe clean air, without too much effort.

Post Script:
Totobobo has provided a nifty solution to the problem of mask fit. The Totobobo mask can be made to fit any face. Soften it in hot water (about 80 Deg C) and mould it to your face. Don't use boiling water. The mask will melt.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Black Heaven in a Pot

All in the pot!

All done! Looks kinda disgusting huh?

I am taking very seriously the advice of the TCM practitioner to put myself on a post-natal confinement diet. I went and made myself a pot of pig's trotters in black vinegar. This is not a dish people stay indifferent to. One either LOVES it or HATES it, with vigor.

I love it. It's addictive. It's hot and spicy and sour and sweet all at once. After one spoonful of the sauce, you want another spoonful... and another spoonful... and another spoonful. It's like Mardi Gras on your tongue, with music that shimmies up your nose and takes your brain in a giant bear hug. It wakes you up... warms you up... and makes your hands and feet tingle. Yup! That's what it does.

I bought 2 front trotters (because these are very meaty) and 1 back trotter for the gelatin and cartilage. There's 800g of old ginger in there together with 375ml bottle of sweet rice vinegar, 375ml bottle of black rice vinegar, 250g of brown sugar and 200 g of molasses. I added salt to taste.

It was kinda half braised at lunch but I couldn't wait. I downed a large bowl of it with rice. Just now, I asked the helper to deliver a bowl to Mother-in-law next door and I could hear squeals of drooling ecstasy from over here.

The next dish I am making is Cognac Black Chicken essence. I wonder why everything is black. Maybe the ancient Chinese thought black is powerful. Hmmmmm...

Hopefully 1 month of such foods will give me my mojo back... and as my husband said, "It's important to get well so that you can get your life back!" Yes. I want my life back. I don't want to live the next 3 decades as a half corpse wandering about the house with no zest nor energy, tired and faint in a cold sweat, after a mere 30 minutes of shopping!!

I want my mojo back!!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Anne Li the TCM Practitioner

I felt a whole lot better this morning but was still not completely well. Nonetheless, I was pleased enough with the results to venture back to the little cramped half shop to see Ms Anne Li, the TCM practitioner. I'm not sure how to address her. Is she a doctor or not? She certainly didn't look like one. No middle-aged doctor I know would be wearing lycra tights and figure hugging mini-skirts. 

But hey... you can wear a loincloth to work if you want. As long as you know your stuff, you're well worth the money spent. I respect your knowledge and competence... and you.

A side effect of Anne's medicinal herbs has been to give me back warm hands and feet. Part of my PMS experience involves very cold hands and feet. I actually need a hot water bottle on some nights! 

Golly! I sound like I'm 80 years old!!

I was very pleased with how my energy levels had improved. My hands and feet were warmer. My phlegm had all but gone away. WHAT did she give me that brought the blood circulation back into my hands and feet?! 

I ventured a 2nd visit to Anne. She took my pulse and listened to my cough. I've been advised to go on a pregnancy confinement diet. She thinks that my PMS symptoms are rooted in having had no post-natal confinement care for one, or even both my pregnancies.  I was impressed because she was right. I had had practically no confinement care at all after the birth of The Daughter. I did not make the same mistake with Little Boy's birth.

I'm quite pleased with Anne's prescription. I looooooove Chinese pregnancy confinement food!! And now I have full license to indulge!! Miam! Miam! I think I have been very stupid to be staring eyes wide shut at my entire Chinese cultural history without thinking that my PMS symptoms could be managed with Traditional Chinese Medicine. How could I miss something so obvious!!?

I also regret my love for Western food - cheese, milk, yoghurt, bread. These are all foods that cause "damp heat", resulting in inflammation and phlegm. I've also been doing salads every day. That has overcooled my body to the extent that the "qi" is stagnant, so circulation is poor.

Ok! I have NO CLUE what all that means. I just know I am feeling healthier.

Anne Li, the TCM Practitioner in her mini-skirt and lycra tights.

Anne Li's clinic assistant

The cramped little half shop

The medicinal herbs, pills and powders

Anne Li's name card

Cooking up my herbal medicine in a small thermal pot.