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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Gelang Patah Grocery Store

The Husband was quite disapproving when I proposed to go to the neighbourhood grocery store. The facade did not look like much. However, it is a very neat and well-organised shop with all the essentials.

Now I know where to go when I run out of basic essentials in JB. Cheapo is as cheapo does I guess. The Husband and I will grow old one day. It will be hard to sustain the costs of retiring in Singapore. One really has to be very wealthy to retire in Singapore. It makes me feel more secure to know that in a pinch, I can stretch my dollar in little shops like these... still eat fresh veggies and seafood. Hopefully, in 20 years time, such shops offering such value will still exist in Gelang Patah.

Anyways, I intend to poke around the Gelang Patah wet markets for fresh local produce.

Shop looks a bit doubtful.

Up close, they have seafood.... not sure how fresh though...

Their veggies look good. These are all locally grown and look fresh. Maybe they are organic too? Maybe?

Quite well-organised right?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Samm Construction (Johor Contractor or JB Contractor)

The house in Iskandar has a rather impractical design that appeals not at all to the peasant in Petunia. The living room rises out of a rock pool. I suppose it is an errrr... "sexy" design but all I can think of is capillary action under my living room floor. Despite waterproofing, water MUST be slowly seeping under the slab and over time soaking upwards to create floor damp. It won't be very sexy in a few years time when patches of damp and mould start to appear on the floor of the living room. 

I interviewed 3 contractors before deciding on Sam. There was a particularly memorable one who gave me an oily feeling. He appeared at my house with a nubile young lady (seems to be his mistress), 2 huge rings on his right hand and looooooong fingernails on both pinkies. He phoned me twice to ask about what the other contractors had quoted, intending to undercut their prices. I was wary. In every renovation, there are changes and additions. A dishonest contractor can charge ridiculously low prices at first and then add this cost and that cost. 

Sam came across as competent and honest.

Sam assigned one skilled worker, Ah Choy and an Indian worker. Ah Choy is very serious about his work. He tiles very, very carefully and slowly. It is clear that he takes pride in his work. The work progresses quite slowly but well (since there is no tenant in sight)... I am not in a hurry. I guess I can afford the trade-off between careful (and intelligent) work and speed. I have always prized quality above quantity and speed. Take the time to do a good job so that you don't have to redo.

I do wish Sam would give me a few more skilled workers but well... I guess he has other jobs to parallel task too. Sam can be found HERE.

See that rock pool? It surrounds all 4 sides of the living room.

Sam, the contractor, emptied it for me and laid rebars.

He filled it with concrete (with waterproof admixture mixed in). See how Sam took care to lay out plastic protection for my living room full length glass windows? In myriad ways, Sam has made sure he did not damage other parts of the house.

Concrete setting in the sun.

This area was outside our kitchen. The house came with no laundry space so I decided to create one.

Sam cleared the grass and laid down rebars.

After concreting, I now have a utility patio for the wet kitchen and laundry area. We will have to put out a polycarbonate roof so that clothes won't get wet when it rains. I am okay with an ugly house but an impractical one is very stressful. How can people design houses without a utility area for laundry and wok fry? In fact, I am thinking of getting the kind of stove they have in the zi char places to impart "wok hei" to my stir fries. Hee!

Here is the swimming pool that flows over into the rock pool.

Rebars were laid and concrete poured in.

I am much happier with this concrete and tile floor that I can walk on and use as practical floor space (think tables, chairs, sun lounges) than that rock pool that I cannot step on. Work isn't quite done yet. When the time comes, I will post the final results and also the contact of the polycarbonate roofer (maybe... if I like him).

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Please Don't Mess With My Policemen

I cannot believe it!

People are actually criticising the Singapore Police Force for handcuffing some teenagers who committed theft. If there is one thing I am grateful for in Singapore, it is the low crime. The low crime is a direct result of a highly performant police force.

The boys stole. They committed a crime. The police intervened and remanded the teens. In the process, they handcuffed them. They did not taser the teens. They did not punch them up. They did not shoot them dead.

They handcuffed the teens.

How else do you suppose the poor policemen can properly arrest people? Hold them in an arm lock? Drag them by the hair? Use raffia string, twine, ribbons? Straitjacket them? It is quite reasonable to handcuff them, no? Did the handcuffs hurt? Did the handcuffs draw blood? Let them off with a warning? In no time at all, all those teens who wish to steal will know that police will let them off with a warning even before a visit to the police station. Guess what... that will just mean more of them will try thievery. Really? You want that to come hit you in the face or handbag or business?

When It Is Outside of Police Powers
On the one hand, everyone is jumping when the police do nothing about Jover Chew (simply because the law is written in such a way that police powers stop short of an arrest)... and about Data Register Pte Ltd (also because our laws are written a certain way)... and when the police do actually move to protect citizens (in line with their police powers), people jump again?

It is the lawmakers at fault here, not the law enforcers.

Our Low Crime Rate
I don't care if those pictures of huge Singaporean police officers towering over some tiny teens raise up a stink in other more liberal countries. It also happens that these other countries have a higher crime rate than Singapore.

I like my SPF the way it is.

Oh for goodness sakes... our government has gone so far to liberalise and liberalise... our economy, the gambling, the F1 (which no one but the rich and beautiful foreigners really care about), our immigration, our healthcare, our transport system, our post office, our car ownership policies... and as far as was possible, even our schools. Only the SPF (and MinDef) has been immune from the over enthusiastic PAP efforts to get more and more money (for shareholders), and to pander to those who want freedom and more freedom. Only MinDef and SPF have stayed true to LKY's design and intent.

We are very lucky that the new PAP didn't go and liberalise, privatise and marketise the SPF and MinDef too!

Even Within Police Powers Our Officers Are Restrained and Wise
I like my SPF the way it is.

The officers are friendly (provided you commit no crime) and restrained. The SPF was restrained (and courageous) in how it dealt with the Little India riots. Look at how restrained this police officer was when confronted with Han Hui Hui's very uncivilised behaviour - HERE. Our SPF was also able to track down and capture the 2 German sillies who thought they could get away with vandalising our trains. I think those 2 Germans did not expect to be caught (probably because the German police force would not have caught them).

So hey... our Singapore Police Force tracked them down and nabbed them. I am proud of the SPF.

The SPF has a job to do. They have shown themselves capable of discerning when to use how much force. When I teach, there are times when I have to mete out discipline. It is not enjoyable for me. I put it off as loooooong as I can. I will try every which way. I will even discuss with parents the appropriate disciplinary measures. However, if discipline must be meted out after months of patient trying... and the parent objects, my response is, "If you don't trust me to discipline wisely and well, withdraw your child and find someone else you trust more."

So, for those who complain unceasingly about our SPF, maybe you would be better at policing criminals yourself?

Seafood Soup at Restoran Xing Ho

We found another gem in Gelang Patah. This one makes seafood soup that comes with oysters, abalone, fish slices and fish cake. The soup is so flavourful that The Husband finished all of it. We paid about $3.50 per person. When we arrived, the place was packed.

24, Medan Nusa Perintis 7, Gelang Patah, 81550

Huge signboard

Very Marché (or hawker) style... you can see the food cooking...

Rustic in the way only Singapore (in the 1960s) and Malaysia can ever be. There will never be anything quite like this anywhere else in the world. In Singapore, this look and feel is quite quite gone.

Cut chilli comes in a basket. Cute!

See those fat oysters... and that 1 slice of abalone? The fish balls are really Q-Q.

The rice noodles could be a little more al dente but overall, it was still lip smacking good.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Sunny Fish Head Soup

Around the area of JB where there are tile shops, light shops, sanitary ware shops galore (i.e., Taman Molek), there is a gem of a restaurant that does excellent steamed fish, sliced fish soup and fish head soup. The fish is tender and moist. The soup is light, clear and flavourful. We spent $9 per person.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Chewy Gluten-Free Pizza Bread or Mini Loaves

This post is for P, whose sister needs to eat gluten-free too.

3 egg whites. 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add enough water to all the previous ingredients to make 750ml of liquid.

Half teaspoon of salt. 3 teaspoons of xanthan gum. 1 teaspoon of guar gum. 1 cup of sorghum flour. 1.5 cups of potato flour. 1.5 cups of tapioca starch. 1 tablespoon of Herbes de Provence. 5 tablespoons of parmesan/mozzarella cheese. 2 teaspoons of yeast. 5 tablespoons of white castor sugar.

I use a measuring spoon. Parmesan cheese or mozzarella cheese does more than just flavour the bread. These elastic cheeses also give a gluten free loaf its elastic structure (in the absence of gluten). Sugar is important too. It nourishes the yeast so that the dough will rise.

Put all the dry ingredients into the mixing bowl.

Mix the dry ingredients well. This is important. The dry mixing step ensures that the xanthan gum and guar gum is evenly dispersed throughout the mix. If you add water before you have properly mixed the dry ingredients, you will get clumps of gooey gummy bits in some parts of your loaf, but other parts will just fall apart. The gums do the job of gluten in a gluten free flour. 

Use the mixer hook to churn the wet ingredients and dry ingredients together. There is no need to churn it for to long. There is no gluten to develop by kneading. Gluten free loaves do not need kneading. Just mix until you have the above consistency. Add some sorghum flour if too wet. Add some more water, if too dry.

Oil a reusable vinyl cookie sheet.

Oil a piece of plastic wrap.

Cover the dough with the plastic wrap and press out with fingers into a rectangle.

Remove the plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for 2 hours.

I put extra dough in the muffin pans. The dough in the muffin pans here has risen to 2.5 times their original size.Gluten free dough does not hold its shape. To make buns, fill 1 tablespoon in each hole of a muffin pan. The small buns are fluffier. Big loaves of gluten free bread are less fluffy because the loaf falls after it comes out of the oven. The air bubbles get all squeezed out by the weight of the dough.

The pizza bread dough has also doubled in size.

Pizza bread... ready for toppings. The dough is too wet to place toppings BEFORE cooking.

Store in individual portions in the freezer. When I make pizza for everyone else, I take out one frozen gluten-free pizza bread portion for myself.

These are the muffin-shaped buns. Generally, gluten free bread is less chewy and somewhat more powdery than normal bread. With the addition of chewy cheese, these buns taste very much more like normal bread.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Data Register Again?

(1) ... misleading small business owners to register their company details with Data Register, as if it were a bona fide representative of ACRA (Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority).

(2) ... subsequently charging small business owners for the ummm... bogus "registration".

Small business owners need to pay a $20 re-registration fee to ACRA to ensure their business registrations are current and properly registered with ACRA as a legal business entity. Data Register Pte Ltd charges me $490 for a subscription that I never signed up for.

I did not register my business data through Data Register Pte Ltd in January 2014. I ignored their correspondance, and then I was pleased to find that ACRA had taken action. Good! There is justice in Singapore.

Unpleasant Surprise
Since I had not registered any of my business data with Data Register Pte Ltd, I was very surprised to receive an invoice and a threatening letter.

I have been threatened with a letter from Data Register Pte Ltd, stating that Data Register Pte Ltd's lawyers "Rodyk & Davidson, LLP" will take me to task if I do not pay up $490 for "subscription fees" (despite the fact that I have subscribed to nothing at all from Data Register Pte Ltd). In addition, there is a 8% per annum penalty for late payment. 

Gee... sounds a bit like a loan shark don't you think? At least a loan shark has lent out money and charges interest. In my case, there has been absolutely NO TRANSACTION, and I am both threatened and penalised.

Firstly, I really doubt "Rodyk & Davidson, LLP" are their lawyers. Secondly, I also wonder if the good sirs at "Rodyk & Davidson, LLP" are aware that their good name is being used to threaten people to pay up $490 (with 8% per annum late penalty) for absolutely NO TRANSACTION at all.

What Happened to the Investigation Started in January 2014?
Data Register provides its bank details and address. One wonders what the relevant authorities have been doing since January 2014 because Data Register Pte Ltd is seemingly legally doing something that seems wrong on many levels.

Should not our country's laws be re-defined to bring such companies to justice? I did not fall for Data Register Pte Ltd's shenanigans but others might.

This company has an address and a phone number. The phone number does not answer, and I have not checked out the address. The company does provide a bank account number (which is bona fide or else their "strong armed sales tactics" will not work). Surely, the police can track these bullies through that bank account?

It is a thuggish business practice. There is not much difference between ...

- a mafioso saying "I have you under my protection. Pay me protection money."
- Data Register Pte Ltd saying "I have you in my subscribers' list. Pay me subscription fees."

I have no idea what this subscription is all about. I have never subscribed to Data Register. Why am I being charged $490, threatened and penalised? What happened to the strong arm of the law that should be protecting me?

Why do our Singapore laws allow Data Register Pte Ltd to operate like this (in broad daylight) in December 2014, when ACRA has already filed 78 charges against Data Register Pte Ltd in January 2014?

It boggles the mind.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Memorisation: A Useful Pedagogy

I Had No Respect for Memory Work
When I first started teaching English, I eschewed Memory Work. Like everyone else, I sniffed at it.  Indeed, I despised it. After all, I myself learnt to write excellently well without resorting to text memorisation. Smelly Boy actually writes better than I do. He did not memorise English texts. The Daughter won local and international essay competitions. She never memorised English texts either.

Instead, Smelly Boy, The Daughter and I... we read voluminously. I used to be a book junkie. If I did not get through 2 thick books a week, I would feel depressed. 

A Digression
My addiction to books only ended during my PhD research years when I had to get through about 50 research papers in a day (for days and days on end) in order to complete an "exhaustive" literature review of a domain. Since I was still searching for a research question, it also meant doing "exhaustive" literature reviews of more than one domain of research (plus related domains). There was so much to read that I actually had to start an Excel spreadsheet to track the stuff that I had already read.


All that forced reading effectively cured me of book addiction. I still read but I don't feel depressed if I don't read. I cannot believe I actually put myself through that. If I had known the PhD would be such a difficult journey, I would not have even started. Indeed, I am DISCOURAGING both The Daughter and Smelly Boy from going the PhD route. I am pushing both children towards the Entrepreneur Route.

Make Pots and Pots of Money!

Back to Memory Work
Anyway, back to Memory Work. I made Smelly Boy memorise Chinese texts in Primary 5 and Primary 6 because he read practically no Chinese from Primary 1 to Primary 4. It was logical that if he had not absorbed words, he could not produce them. Effectively, this explained why he failed his Chinese composition regularly. 

Thanks to text memorisation, Smelly Boy gained enough vocabulary to pass Higher Chinese.

Refused to Give My Students Memory Work
Still, I was stubborn about assigning Memory Work to my students. I scolded them for memorising Model Compositions. I pushed them to read widely instead. However, there were children who...

(1) hated to read
(2) would read only books with simple words

Now, to ace the PSLE, the Primary 6 child needs to master vocabulary like my son - see HERE. Necessarily, if you are still reading books meant for 12 year olds, you are not going to absorb any such vocabulary. If none such vocabulary has gone into your head, you will produce none such vocabulary when you write.

By guiding their reading, I was able to get very good results from parent-child pairs who were conscientious about reading the right books and regularly enough. However, there were children who improved little. These did not read. The parents were too busy to ensure they read, or the parents just could not get them to read. 

Finally, Giving My Students Memory Work
In the end, desperate to put vocabulary into their heads, I assigned regular Memory Work. I put effort into searching for and creating texts that had between 9% to 12% of Power Word Density. I devised a tight process for parents to follow at home with... 

(1) in-built motivation mechanisms and... 

(2) targeted cognitive stimulation (i.e., I was targeting actual physical growth in specific parts of the brain, but not others)

(3) efficient cognitive stimulation (i.e., maximum results for least amount of work)

The results were quite spectacular. Children with poor grammar developed a good sense of the language. Children with poor spelling began to write more accurately. Children with little vocabulary began to smoothly employ some interesting words. The 4 children who were failing made 10 to 12 point gains upon 40 marks. That is a good 25% jump in marks!

Even though they memorised texts, they were NOT to regurgitate entire compositions for my marking. The point of memorising was to put words into their head. When they wrote compositions, they still had to make up their own sentences using the words that they had internalised. Remembering is necessary but insufficient for writing well. They still had to create their own stories and convert their own imaginations to text.

The Case for Text Memorisation
Today, I am humbled by my own prejudices. I wasted time with some of the children. I could have started them earlier on memorising and helped them to better results faster. On hindsight, I realise that Memory Work makes a lot of sense in language competence.

Take for example, the very common 5 Senses technique. One can teach this technique, but if the child has no access to a store of vocabulary, he/ she CANNOT write as follows...

That day had started spectacularly well for Adrian. The house was filled to the brim with a horde of cousins. The alluring fragrance of glutinous rice dumplings permeated every gaseous inch of the house. Even the bedrooms were redolent of dumplings. Plump and neatly tied dumplings hung down from makeshift bamboo racks. A cacophony of conversation and a shrill voice singing Chinese songs added to the festive air.

The child knows that he or she needs to describe the 5 Senses vividly, but can remember no words to express himself/herself. Imagine if I asked you to describe the 5 Senses in French. If you can remember no French words, you will necessarily have no French words to express your content. The 4 children who experienced huge improvements from Memory Work were intelligent kids. They had no words because they hardly read in English, or they read easy readers.

Remembering words is NECESSARY to good writing, but INSUFFICIENT. Over and beyond remembering words, you would need to work on imagination, clarity of thought and logic. However, if you have imagination, clarity of thought and logic... you can write NOTHING without remembering words.

Smelly Boy, The Daughter and I did not have to memorise English texts because we could REMEMBER just by reading. Not all children can do so. I used to do well in History simply because I could remember everything by reading the textbook ONCE at the start of the year. It took a while for me to errrr... grasp that not everyone can do this.

And so... I no longer despise Memory Work as a pedagogy.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Lemongrass Essential Oil

100% pure organic lemongrass essential oil.

Lemongrass essential oil flew quite under my radar. 

It was only when someone gave me a bottle from the Traditional Chinese Medical Hall that I stumbled upon a REALLY GOOD thing! The lemongrass oil from the Traditional Chinese Medical Hall was great for mosquito bites. It had been diluted with other oils and felt comfortable on the skin. 

However, after reading up on lemongrass essential oil, I also tried using it for pimples and scalp disinfection (i.e., itchy scalp, dandruff etc...). The bottle from the Traditional Chinese Medical Hall was not very good for these. It was too diluted.

So, I ordered PURE lemongrass oil from Herbal Sense Life. Google them. They are great! They have a very wide range of teas and oils. The lemongrass oil that arrived from Herbal Sense Life was VERY potent indeed. It is...

- anti-fungal (click HERE)... It cured me of a recurrent candidiasis infection after 2 applications only. For oily scalps that are prone to malassezia globosa (a fungus that feeds on hair oil and causes itchy scalp and dandruff), lemongrass oil does wonders! I wash my scalp twice a day and am still prone to itchy scalp. 2 drops mixed into shampoo is all it takes.

- anti-septic (click HERE)... It got rid of a pimple, and sorted out the foul-smelling bacteria under Smelly Boy's armpits

Lemongrass oil was even better than tea tree oil and lavender oil! The only problem is that it really burns the skin so it has to be very very diluted. For every 6 drops of tea tree oil in my shampoo, I need only 2 drops of lemongrass oil. The best thing is that lemongrass essential oil is non-oestrogenic. Tea tree oil and lavender oil are both oestrogenic (i.e., they contain plant oestrogens that   can worsen a host of female complaints). Overuse of tea tree oil has been shown to stimulate breast growth in men. Tea tree oil and lavender oil also tend to give me very bad PMS symptoms. 

This does not happen with lemongrass oil. I am thrilled with my discovery... and to think I live in the tropics, and this oil has been right under my nose all these years!!

Diluted lemongrass oil from the Traditional Chinese Medical Hall. 
This is good for mosquito bites.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Not Afraid to Fail

Smelly Boy will be 15 next year in 2015. He will need to compete in B Division Shooting for 15 to  16 year olds. The thing though is that he will need to compete internally with the 16 year olds to secure a spot in the competition team. It is something of a stretch because the 16 year olds are really good. They have had one extra year to train. The other 15 year olds decided that it was a bit of a long shot so they have decided to train less. I guess they figured that it was pretty hopeless so why even try?

Smelly Boy has been training EXTRA hard... everyday, however. When I understood the situation and asked him why, this was what he said, "Mom... if I work very hard and very smart, there is still a chance I can make the team. If I don't try, I will never know. If I try and fail, too bad. I owe it to myself to try. Besides, I love shooting anyway."

So that's that. I really am proud of him. He is not afraid to fail.

I guess having conquered abject failure in primary school has developed his resilience to failure. He still remembers the time when he was close to last in class, and how the "smart ones" in his class would not even talk to him because they thought he was a loser. At that time, there was even one boy who made Smelly Boy cry by pointing at him and teasing, "You're a lazy, lazy, lazy boy..." The teasing only stopped after Smelly Boy topped the class in Science in SA1 of P4. He remembers that he climbed from 28th in class... to 8th in class... and then to 2nd through hard and smart work.

Nowadays, Smelly Boy hangs out with a clique of boys who are either student leaders or accomplished sportsmen, and they pull in good grades. The other boys poke good-natured fun at this group and call them "nerdy". This is also the same group of boys that set up an afterschool tuition clinic (just before the end of year exams)  to help the rest of the class get up to speed on selected subjects. Smelly Boy took on Physics and Biology... and resolutely would not touch History.

Smelly Boy has come a long way since the days when his peers looked down on him. So this time, he just shrugged his shoulders and got on with it. No drama about... no hope... sure cannot... forget it... sure fail one lahhhh! He will give it his best and whatever will be, will be.

I am glad my son had a chance to fail badly early in life and he has learnt not to fear failure.

The problem with a high stakes PSLE at 12 years old is that parents are afraid to allow their children to fail. In this manner, our children never learn that failure is nothing to be afraid of.

Parents sometimes misunderstand that I expel children in order to maintain a stellar track record of an A*. That is not the case. Children (and parents) are expelled for lack of effort and diligence. Till today, I have not ever scolded a child who pulls in less than stellar results, after putting in diligent and obedient effort. Some of the children that I ask to withdraw are immensely intelligent. Others that I have chosen to keep, are dyslexic. I have a couple with anxiety issues who fall apart when even somewhat stressed.

You see, my Smelly Boy is NOT immensely intelligent in the same way that Dr Pet is not immensely intelligent. He is my son. The apple does not fall far from the tree. Deep down inside, I believe that effort gets children somewhere. In the long term, this forms the character. It would be good for children to grow up unafraid of failure and believing in hard work.

Just. Give. It. Your. Best.

As long as I see effort (on the part of parent and child), I will get the child to potential. That potential may not be an A*... but I am damn bloody well going to try and get them there.

Sometimes, the most unlikely child can get that A*.

There is the fable of the tortoise and the hare. The hare who chooses to fall asleep under the tree stands no chance at all of that A*.

Mushrooms, Mushrooms and Mushrooms

I have been coming across many mushrooms lately. First there were the yucky truffles. Then there is was this furry brown thing growing from my chengai wood. Then there were the fleshy and delicious looking ones that carpeted the grass under the trees at Bishan Park.

Truffles are served with a sense of occasion. They lay out all the paraphernalia and shave the truffles right in front of you.

Shaved truffles. Pity they tasted like nothing.

Home grown mushroom.... probably poisonous.

These look edible no?

They really look yummy lehhh...