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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

三姑六婆 Journalism

I have been perplexed for a while at the 三姑六婆 journalism that Christopher Tan has been doing on SMRT CEOs, and how talented he is in finding the SMRT CEOs' chinks in the armour, in order to exploit them for news.

Desmond Kuek's Chink In the Armour
Desmond Kuek's (DK) chink in the armour was his salary. Never mind that DK did not CREATE the problem. Never mind that in his 6 years helming SMRT, DK laid the foundations for the reliability improvements of today. In 6 years, DK rescued what other people had run to the ground in 30 years. I blogged about him HERE. If you read carefully, Christopher Tan's reports were all snidely crafted to ignite popular opinion against DK and his salary.

Excerpt 1
Mr Kuek's remuneration package is also larger than that of Mr Kua Hong Pak, his counterpart at rival transport group ComfortDelGro Corp - a significantly larger company. Last year, Mr Kua, 71, drew between $1.75 million and $2 million - a remuneration band that has not changed in recent years. In its last financial year, ComfortDelGro posted a turnover of $4.05 billion and a profit of $283.5 million, while SMRT recorded a turnover of $1.24 billion and net earnings of $91 million.


In a recent interview with The Straits Times, Mr Kuek said: "We have made tremendous progress on many fronts... but there is much more to be done to improve rail reliability."

Excerpt from HERE.

The above report made it sound like Desmond Kuek was trying to justify why his own salary was higher than Kua Hong Pak's. Only careful readers would ask, "What exactly was the question asked in that vague "recent interview" when Mr Kuek responded, "We have made tremendous progress on many fronts... but there is much more to be done to improve rail reliability."

Such sneaky strategies to cast DK as an incompetent villain were often employed in Christopher Tan's reports. No wonder the whole country hates DK. Poor DK.

Neo Kian Hong's Chink In the Armour
Apparently, Neo Kian Hong's chink in the armour is his "inability" to keep long time and high performing staff.

Excerpt 2
In the past 8 months, about 30 executives in the Temasek-owned company's human resources (HR) department have quit. 2 senior engineers have also resigned.

Excerpt from HERE.

Many of us have worked in corporate environments before. It really is quite normal, when the boss changes, to have some sort of turnover. However, turnover in the HR Dept is not as damaging to SMRT as turnover in the engineering corps. So, Christopher Tan made it a point to state that 2 senior engineers have also resigned.

Questions are:
How many senior engineers does SMRT have? What is the actual percentage of turnover in 8 months? How does this percentage compare with other companies? Many of us not only have worked in corporate environments before, we have also managed people. We are familiar with these metrics of staff turnover. So, when information is provided like this "2 senior engineers have also resigned," we wonder why the facts given were incomplete. Was it that hard to find out the total number of senior engineers in order to report the percentage turnover of engineers in 8 months? Or was the percentage turnover so reasonable that it simply makes Neo Kian Hong look more incompetent if the report read "2 senior engineers have also resigned."

Excerpt 3
More management changes are afoot at rail operator SMRT Corp, which witnessed a spate of resignations in recent months.

Excerpt from HERE.

Implication: The incompetent Neo Kian Hong cannot keep staff. Oh my... what kind of paper general cannot command loyalty of new troops, huh?

Excerpt 4
SMRT Trains chief executive Lee Ling Wee is expected to relinquish his post, and is currently working to hand over his duties to Lam Sheau Kai...


"... another veteran, Ms Dawn Low... is also expected to leave. Ms. Low served under Desmond Kuek and his predecessor, Ms Saw Phaik Hwa. Ms. Low served under former SMRT Corp chief executive Desmond Kuek and his predecssor, Ms. Saw Phaik Hwa. Ms. Low helped to build up SMRT's retail arm, which eventually became the group's single biggest income earner.

... 30 HR executives... exodus..."

Excerpt from HERE.

Implication: The incompetent Neo Kian Hong cannot keep good staff like Ms. Dawn Low, who brought in so much money for SMRT. And, OMG... he also cannot keep the chief engineer who has helped bring rail reliability to what it is today! Call himself a general! What kind of paper general cannot inspire good soldiers to stay!? Huh!? Come on fellow Singaporeans. Go online and heap abuse on Neo Kian Hong's incompetent generalship.

Note the emotionally loaded terms:
(1) exodus (à la Moses and the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt... so poor thing hor... slavery leh...)
(2) spate (synonymous with flood, deluge, flurry... wah... deluge leh...)

The most laughable thing is that Christopher Tan was so EAGER to set fire to Neo Kian Hong's reputation that he really became a 三姑六婆. He neglected to check facts, and hurried with fan aflutter and greasy lips quivering, to spread the salacious news.

It turns out that Lee Ling Wee and Dawn Low did not resign. See HERE.

Apparently, Lee Ling Wee was not available for comment, but surely the HR Head, Tan Kian Heong (whom the 三姑六婆 did actually manage to talk to and quote) could have answered Yes/No to the question, "Has Lee Ling Wee tendered his resignation?" No HR Head can lie in answer to such a question because time will show whether Lee Ling Wee has really tendered or not. Wait 1 month or 3 and you will know.

Facts don't matter to 三姑六婆 journalism. The 三姑六婆 merely wants to stir shit, titillate readers and create buzz in the village square. Sooooo exciting hor!? So, what did this 三姑六婆 do? He cited some vague "people close to [Lee Ling Wee]" who said that [Lee Ling Wee] is likely to leave once Mr. Lam is ready to assume the helm.

Which person close to [Lee Ling Wee]? The 三姑六婆 heard it from whom? The kopi soh? The cleaner? The night guard? Don't underestimate the kopi soh, the cleaners and such honest folk, you know. They go places no one goes and see things no one sees. I am sure my domestic helper at home knows stuff about me that I don't want people to know! The last time The Straits Times was able to report on a nationally extremely important monitor lizard in the SMRT train depot, they relied on information given by honest folk like these.

It pains my heart to see good men publicly destroyed by sleaze balls who don't come right out and say what they mean and mean what they say. Instead, they hide behind nasty innuendos hidden between
- incomplete factual statements (2 senior engineers out of how many resigned?)
- erroneous facts (Lee Ling Wee and Dawn Low resigned)

This type of reporting is not only poor quality, it is potentially damaging to KPIs. What if... what if... what if... Lee Ling Wee had some minor disagreement with Neo Kian Hong and were a vindictive person. Such reporting serves to signal to him that he CAN harm his boss by resigning. It's like a man had a tiff with his wife, and then runs into a temptress. Then, what if... what if... what if... after Lee Ling Wee resigns, something goes wrong in SMRT. Whose fault? Neo Kian Hong chased away Lee Ling Wee. It is Neo Kian Hong's fault. What if... what if... what if... the instability introduced by such staff turnover resulted in fatality?

Wah! More fuel to burn Neo Kian Hong with. What was simply a minor work disagreement escalates into a national scandal with one man to blame - the paper general Neo Kian Hong, who does not know how to command the loyalty of good staff.

That is the kind of thing 三姑六婆 people want to see. They stir shit, destroy relationships, turn people against each other. It is biblically wrong and God sees what is happening. If you are Buddhist, then darling... note that karma can be a bitch.

James 3: 5-6
5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

Journalists are tongues which can be used to redress injustice or perpetuate injustice. Thanks to this 三姑六婆's reporting, a great fire arose in the hearts of the Singaporean people unfairly against Desmond Kuek.

To Neo Kian Hong: your reputation has managed to narrowly escape one pyromanic episode. Maybe you should quit before similar 三姑六婆 reporting fans another great fire to consume you as it did Desmond Kuek. And then what? Who will helm SMRT, huh? Are the interests of Singaporean commuters really best served when one SMRT CEO after another is enthusiastically burned at the stake?

To the ruling party in government: this type of gratuitous anger fanned by innuendo, using incomplete or erroneous facts disseminated by the national broadsheet does not just damage SMRT. The populace sees SMRT as an extension of the government. The common man in the street does not buy into the differentiation between SMRT and the government. Any flames fanned gratuitously against the SMRT CEO will lick at the edges of the government and burn you in slow but sure degrees.

On the surface, the only casualty is the SMRT CEO. Under the surface, it is the government's own credibility that is cast into doubt by such 三姑六婆 journalism.

It is one thing if full facts (and responsible journalism) show both Desmond Kuek and Neo Kian Hong to be incompetent villains. Then, the government gets burnt for good reason. It is another when half facts, WRONG facts ALLUDE to them as incompetent villains and spark unnecessary flames. Surely, you can see the covert damage this 三姑六婆 is doing to the PAP too.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Eye Contact and Autistic Empathy

I do not like looking into other people's eyes. Autistic people are like that. See HERE. There is a reason for it and I think it has to do with autistic empathy. I was not able to find any research studying this link between eye contact and autistic empathy so readers need to think critically about what I write in this post.

There is a common misconception that autistic people have no empathy. Thanks to Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, the whole world now thinks that autistic people do not have empathy. That is not true.


There are 3 types of empathy. Source HERE.

Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand how a person feels and what they might be thinking. Cognitive empathy makes us better communicators, because it helps us relay information in a way that best reaches the other person.

Emotional empathy (also known as affective empathy) is the ability to share the feelings of another person. Some have described it as "your pain in my heart." This type of empathy helps you build emotional connections with others.

Compassionate empathy (also known as empathic concern) goes beyond simply understanding others and sharing their feelings: it actually moves us to take action, to help however we can.

Practical Emotional Empathy

Emotional empathy works via mirror neurons.

A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron "mirrors" the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting. Such neurons have been directly observed in primate species. Birds have been shown to have imitative resonance behaviors and neurological evidence suggests the presence of some form of mirroring system.  In humans, brain activity consistent with that of mirror neurons has been found in the premotor cortex, the supplementary motor area, the primary somatosensory cortex and the inferior parietal cortex.

Source HERE.

When I look into another person's eyes and see anger, the mirror neurons in my brain fire anger. If I see love in your eyes, my mirror neurons fire love. If I see irritation in your eyes, my mirror neurons fire irritation. What I see in your eyes, I actually feel. Autistic empathy works a bit like a transducer. We pick up and amplify the feelings reflected in someone else's eyes. The problem is that we have no way of understanding where these feelings come from. They are not OUR feelings. They belong to someone else who himself/herself understands why and from where his/her feelings come from. This inability to make sense of what we are feeling makes us uncomfortable and thus, we would rather NOT make eye contact at all.

It does not help that the autistic brain is hyperconnected in the amygdala region. This means that there are more synapses and more dendritic mass in our amygdalas, than in a normal brain. Whatever you are feeling, we feel it MORE... much MORE. We just cannot make sense of it. Now, YOU imagine someone yelling at you in a language you do not understand.

Imagine yourself looking into a pair of eyes that pulse lust, and amplify that feeling inside yourself X 3. Imagine next that these feelings are not yours but you cannot stop them from flooding you, nor do you even understand why you feel them. Now, do you understand the sheer panic some of us feel when we look into someone else's eyes?

Of course, I have been deliberately provocative in using lust as an example. I want neurotypicals to understand the extreme distress caused by the emotional transfer. Anger, irritation, hate, interest... these are no less overwhelming when they do not belong to you. Too much of this and you are looking at the famous autistic meltdown. In the grip of an autistic meltdown, I have actually even bitten The Husband on his arm.

Personally, I am only comfortable making eye contact with little babies. Their eyes are clean of those disturbing emotions that I can pick up, but cannot make sense of. Babies' eyes only communicate curiosity about the world. I like feeling wide-eyed wonder again.

Of course, at my age, I have become an expert in masking. I have 3 ways to pretend that I am making eye contact:

(1) I look at your nose and mouth.

(2) I take off my glasses. Without my glasses, I can see nothing. If I look in the direction of where your eyes are, you think I am looking at your eyes but none of my mirror neurons fire because I actually see nothing at all.

(3) If I am rested and alert, I can force myself to look into your eyes and fight the mirror neurons. However, nearer the end of the day, if I am tired, this is something I find impossible to do. I just want to NOT look at you at all.

Practical Compassionate Empathy
Many autistic people become social activists. Click here for one. Personally, I went on a warpath in the years 2010 to 2012 to push for changes to the education system, driven by compassionate empathy for overworked children and children from disadvantaged homes.

Non-Existent Cognitive Empathy
I have very little cognitive empathy. I cannot read faces and immediately understand what they are feeling and thinking. I need time to figure it out. Yes, I literally FEEL what these faces tell me to feel but I don't understand what I am feeling. That scares me and makes me uncomfortable. If you want to get through to an autistic person, be explicit in naming what you are feeling. This helps us to assign what you feel (and therefore what we also feel) to something meaningful. If you are not explicit then I am just going to avoid looking at you, because my own feelings that mirror yours, scare me shitless.

More damagingly to my social relationships, I cannot read hints. When The Husband first tried to date me, he asked me to go out for a coffee. My response to him was, "I don't drink coffee. I drink milk." It is my life's greatest blessing that The Husband did not give up on me right then and there. It is a miracle that I have a doting husband. Many autistic men are single and lonely. Many autistic women are sexually exploited. If you want to make friends with an autistic person, do not drop hints. We will not understand.

Even more damaging to my social relationships, I cannot project what is offensive or not until AFTER I have put my foot in it - like HERE. It is hard for me to reason out a priori how people will feel when I do or say certain things. I am just grateful that I have a few friends who look past my awkwardness and accept me as I am. These friends are so precious to me that thinking of them makes me cry. All neurotypical people have to do to get through to me is to explain. I will ask forgiveness for my rudeness.

Accumulated Learning
For people like me, scenario accumulation is very important. In my socio-emotional classes, I break down for low EQ children, scenarios that I myself have previously encountered and analysed. This is something that neurotypical people cannot do, because neurotypical people do NOT have to analyse such things. They intuit these things. I do not. I need to slowly reason it through.

It is a little like someone who is gifted in Mathematics who cannot explain how to solve a certain equation. He just knows. This was the case of Srinivasan Ramanujan. Click HERE. He had huge problems detailing his working. He intuited his solutions. 

Most people need to break down Mathematics into parts and solve. 

Emotionally, this is what I have to do and know how to do and can therefore explain to kids, in the hope of shortcutting their learning process. I do that in the same way I am doing the breakdown and analysis in this blogpost.

People who cannot intuit Math can get quite good in Math too, right? People who cannot intuit emotions can get quite good at them too, right? That is my hope for all the little kids who are like what I once was, except that I can now show them the way.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Oh! Turf Wars!

Workers' Party

People's Action Party

I saw men in blue today at the Chong Pang Market. They gave me a newsletter and I happily paid $1 for it because we all know that the Workers' Party is not rolling in money.

Then, I saw men (and women) in white with the PAP logo. They gave me a name card pouch but I did not have to pay for it. Then, I took a photo of the wrong PAP man. The man in white looked like an MP so I took a picture of him.

See that lovely smile?

I did not know that the actual PAP MP is dressed in red. So, I shook the wrong man's hand. Then, the man in red asked me why I took a picture of the man in white and not him. I got a bit confused so I smiled brightly at the handsome man in red and said, "Because the other man is more handsome than you."

I mean, the red man was clearly younger and more handsome mah... so I did not think he would believe me... but I think I offended the poor man. So, Mr Louis Ng, please rest assured that you really ARE the more handsome one. Aiya... now I worry that when I blog this, I will offend Mr Louis Ng's wife. You just CANNOT please everyone, but I suppose MPs from the PAP already know this.

Handsome or not does not matter. Louis Ng's work with ACRES is something that already earns respect. Respect is better than attractiveness anytime, no?

So there! I hope I am forgiven.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

When You See No Way Out

We all have these moments when we fight against our lot in life. My moment came 16 years ago when I realised how much my children needed me to stay home with them. The Daughter was a snotty nosed little girl with a perpetual scowl. She was always whining that we did not love her. The Son was Grandma's pet and he had no attachment to anyone but Grandma. The Son has a strong personality and he entered into direct conflict with his Father (also a strong personality) rather too often. The Daughter hated The Son who proceeded to punch his sister whenever he could. I fought with Grandma, who fought with the maid, who complained to me.

What is a family if no one is happy?

With such fraught relationships, no one could excel. The Husband could not. I could not. The kids could not. Achievements require emotional investment. If people have their energies distracted by unhappiness, nothing substantial can be achieved. My life was like a whirlwind of unhappiness and stress (at work and at home). I felt like a failure.

So, I quit my job.

The Husband was not happy with me. Money was in short supply and foregoing my salary seemed like a big sacrifice. So, I had to face down The Husband's displeasure too.

The first year was the hardest. I had not realised how much self-esteem I drew from my job and my salary. To suddenly have to depend entirely on The Husband for all my material needs was unpleasant. I had to watch my spending or face questions from him and disputes with him. Then of course, I became everyone's Girl Friday. Post letters. Drive people around. Throw the garbage. Get the groceries. Clean up the house.

Hey... I had 2 Masters degrees even then.

My lowest moment came when I had to reach my hand into the toilet bowl to remove a thick wad of toilet paper that The Daughter had flushed in there, after pooping. I sat there thinking that my life was over before it had even begun. When I had a job, I dressed up, looked pretty. Sometimes, when I walked into a room, people stood up for me. I spoke and people listened.

When I spoke at home, nobody listened. Work wear is now shorts, t-shirt and slippers.

I saw nothing but a long long tunnel of nothing to look forward to. I could not even say that I looked forward to the day my children would make me proud. They failed more than they achieved. One was a bitchy little sharp tongued virago. The other was a taciturn and sullen looking thug rather too free with his fists.

I would be lying if I said that I knew exactly what to do and how to do to get the children I am now so proud of and who love me so much. Like every other Mother I encounter in my work today, I had no definite answers and so many problems.

Then suddenly, it is now today. The Children have grown up. My job is done. By some miracle and by the grace of God, I managed to get most of the questions to my Life's Longest and Most Important Exam right. Today, I am actually proud of the...

- of the times I stuck my hand into the toilet bowl
- of the days when I had no time to brush my hair
- of every knee I had to kiss
- of every tear that I scolded away
- of hug, every cuddle and every caress I gave my children
- of looking like a frump every day
- of every failed exam
- of every lost competition
- of every time I closed myself into my bedroom because my children disappointed me with their bad behaviour.

Looking back, it is all the icky things that I went through that makes today worth living. So, Mommies, when you see no way out, know that God's grace is sufficient for all of us. When you see no way out, just keep going.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Ne Me Quitte Pas, by Jacques Brel

This is a very old French song which was translated into English and popularised as the song If You Go Away, by Frank Sinatra. I much prefer the poetry in the original French version. The original meaning was also lost in translation. I decided to translate the original for readers.

Don't leave me
Let us forget
All can be forgotten
That has passed
Forget the times of misunderstanding
Forget the time spent in asking how come
Forget those hours which murdered
Using repeated blows of Why
The fragile heart of wellbeing.

Don't leave me
Don't leave me
Don't leave me

Me, I will gift to you
Pearls of rain
From desert countries
I will dig the earth till after I die
To smother your body with gold and light
I will make a land where Love is king
Where Love is the law
Where you will be Queen.

Don't leave me.
Don't leave me.
Don't leave me.
Don't leave me.
Don't leave me.

I will invent nonsense words
That only you will understand
I will talk to you of lovers
Whose hearts caught fire
A second time for each other.
I will tell you the story
Of this king who died because he
Could not meet you.

People have often seen
The revival of flames within an ancient volcano
Thought to be too old
It appears too that there are
Burnt lands which produce more abundant harvests
Than a better spring
And when comes dusk
In order for the sky to burst into brilliance
The burnished red sunlight and the black of night
Must marry.

Don't leave me.
Don't leave me.
Don't leave me.
Don't leave me.

I will no more cry
I will no more speak
I will just hide there
To look at you
And smile
To hear you
And then laugh

Let me become the shadow of your shadow
The shadow of your hand
The shadow of your beloved pet

The song implies a relationship dying away into embers. The song brings forth the hope of a renewed and better relationship (e.g., a revived volcano, and burnt soil that is more productive than a better spring) fed by the purest treasures of the world (e.g. pearls of rain from desert countries). The song recalls shared moments from the past that ensures the understanding of made up nonsense words. The song erases past pain and misunderstandings. The song makes clear that the man has arrived in the world and is successful in every way, but whose only vulnerability is that he cannot live without his love (king died because he could not meet her).

Every single argument that a man can bring to bear, in order to keep a fed up wife from leaving is written into this song. It would be impossible to leave anyone who sings this song. Jacques Brel was not just a song writer. He was a poet.

The English version is herein below. It is pretty too, but the meaning has completely changed. The English version is a lot more shallow, I feel.

The lyrics are HERE.

Not Quite Fair

Petunia's braised pork, cooked sous-vide for 9 hrs at 70 C. 
Let me put it this way: nobody who ate it, raved about it. It is impossible to compete with Chuan Kee Braised Duck. This said, I am going to try and improve my recipe. The first time I made it, I gave myself gluten poisoning using some questionable pre-mixed spices. This is my 2nd attempt and I used real herbs. The next time I make it, I will do 80 C for 8 hrs to improve the tenderness. Maybe, one day, my family will rave about my braised pork too.

Since I am celiac, eating out can be a gamble. There is hidden gluten everywhere. When I find a place where I can eat safely (without tummy cramps, diarrhoea and hypothyroidism) I keep going back. I don't choose where I can eat. The place that I eat at, chooses me!

Within a single foodcourt, there are usually not more than 2 stalls that I can eat safely at. In Chong Pang Market, there are NINE, and this is because Chong Pang has really a lot of hawkers who make everything from scratch. A woman laughed at me when I asked her if her food came from a central kitchen. She said, "I am not successful enough to afford a central kitchen," which I found ironic because if she had been successful enough to afford a central kitchen, I might not have ordered her food.

Often, before I even start buying from a stall, I would have stood outside and peered in to see their kitchen processes. Only when I ascertain that food is made with good ingredients from scratch do I even approach the hawker to order their dish.

Having stared (discreetly) at all of them so much and so often, it occurs to me that our hawkers are the true artisans of Singapore food. In Italy, anything that is "artigianale" like this parmigiano- reggiano or this balsamic vinegar is priced at a premium in recognition of the expertise that goes into producing the food. The famous and outrageously priced iberico ham that I blogged about HERE retails at $10 for 4 slices at Huber's Butchery (the last time I bought). In Singapore, the true artisans are hawkers like -

- Shaj, at Marsiling Market
- Chuan Kee, at Chong Pang Market
- Herbal Mutton Soup, at Chong Pang Market
- Lian Yin Soya Bean, at Chong Pang Market
- Seafood Pirates, at Yishun Park Hawker Centre

... make real food with deep expertise at every step of the food production process. Yet, for some reason, they do NOT charge a premium. The Waterfall Cafe charges $25 a plate at least for pasta (which really is Italian bak chor mee). It does not take skill to make pasta. Petunia makes kick ass pasta, al dente and flavoursome but there is no way I can make braised pork the way Chuan Kee does, nor will I ever be able to replicate the mutton soup at Chong Pang. How can people not respect the extent of these people's expertise? How come we can get away with paying them so little for the high level work that they do?

After a certain quality threshold, these people are not hawkers. They are chefs like Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay.

These days I simply walk past the mid-priced (aka between $15 to $25 per pax) restaurants in the malls), without even looking twice. I would rather meet friends in a hawker centre than a mall restaurant. Firstly, I cannot observe the kitchen processes in a mall restaurant so there is no way of ascertaining if I will be gluten-poisoned. Secondly, even if the food were safe, it is mostly factory made and heated up on site. No love, no pride goes into the making of that food. Usually, it tastes horrible and I refuse to waste my calories on yucky food (even if the ambience is nice).

For a third that price, I can get better made food in a hawker centre. Of course, I am happy that I can get food that is cheap and good. I just feel that it is so unfair, though. Singaporeans pay for looks and ambience, instead of looking past the marketing and branding to ascertain quality. Singaporeans pay too much Fool's Gold and under pay for what is real gold.

Stupid, right?

Seafood Pirates at Yishun Park Hawker Centre is made without msg. Opposite the hawker centre is a lovely little park. On cooler days, sitting under the trees with a book and my music is pure bliss!

Seafood Pirates' crayfish seafood soup.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Nice Song

If anyone has the youtube link to this song, please leave me a comment. I cannot search because I don't know how to write Chinese.

Many thanks to the reader who found the link for me. Here is the song below. Enjoy.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Root Bound Rosemary

My rosemary plants grow very fast. Even though we eat them daily, they still grow faster than we can cut. Within a year, they become root bound, no matter how big the pot. The following are signs when your rosemary becomes root bound, and also what to do when your rosemary becomes root bound. If steps are not taken to address the root ball of the rosemary, the whole plant will die a sudden and mysterious death.

Leaves turn brown (not black, just a milk chocolate brown).

White root nubs appear on the woody stems because the rosemary is trying to find space to grow more roots.

I divide the rosemary into parts and bury the white root nubs in the soil. I leave in bright shade for 1 month. The white root nubs will send out new roots quite quickly.

I hard prune the root ball and repot the rosemary back into its old pot.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Ultimate Love Gift: Permission To Fail

People always malign the strawberry generation, saying that these young people are not resilient. What people do not do is to take responsibility for the strawberry generation. It is we, the older folks who made them strawberries.

You see, when we were parents, we never gave them our permission to fail. If they did badly at something, we would get disappointed. We took each one of their failures to heart. We insisted that they do well at every exam. Get into top schools at every milestone. We tuitioned them to death and prevented them from tasting failure. When they did fail anyway, we spitefully told them, "See lah... fail... I hope you learnt your lesson!"

Strawberries are not resilient because they are so afraid to fail. Failure is shameful and associated with every negative emotion recorded in the human experience. Who taught them that? We did!

I think that the best gift of love you can give someone you love is your Permission to Fail. If you fail enough times and get back up, success is a matter of mathematical probability, especially if you have a highly intelligent child with a stubborn attitude. If your child fights your efforts to help him/her, you have a stubborn child. Make that work for you. Stubborn X Intelligent = Success provided the child fails enough times and gets up again.

In Primary 2, The Son submitted 11 toys to the Sony Toy Competition. The competition required each entry to be accompanied by documentation. The Son was only 8. His handwriting was horrible. He did not know how to use the computer to type out his documentation. He handwrote all his documentation in his bad and childish handwriting. Other kids submitted documentation typed out by their parents. They submitted toys that their parents put together. Of course, they won and my son lost. We all agreed, as a family, that The Son had fun making toys.

In Year 3 of secondary school, The Son competed in the Amazing Flying Machine. I blogged about it HERE. He registered 1 week after the registration deadline, scrambled to build his plane and lost to the ITE boys. He lost and he lost good. His attitude was "We will learn from this year's mistakes and put up a better fight next year, Mom," and then he went off to disinfect his smelly armpits. Since he was not bothered, I also did not bother. The year after, he errrr... lost again to the ITE boys. Don't underestimate the ITE boys ok! They are formidable opponents in these competitions.

The Son never let losing bother him. The joy was in the process of achieving. The achievement itself did not matter. Humility was the armour that kept him resilient and pride is a useless thing. Parents who threaten their children with "People will laugh at you if you fail," are destroying their children's resilience. Their kids are so afraid to fail, that they refuse to try. They have so much pride that they think losing will hurt too much.

There were times when I sent The Son into an exam in primary school telling him, "For the Chinese compo, I expect you to get last in class. This is because we have not got around to fixing that section of the Chinese exam paper yet. Don't feel bad if you fail." When he did badly, as expected, I shrugged away his disappointment and said, "Nehmind one... we will learn from this."

As a psychologist, I know that the stream of research that examines top performers in every field from Beethoven to Babe Ruth to Einstein show that these people do not just achieve more than others, they fail more than others, AND they fail more spectacularly too! It is simply that their failures are not generally spoken of. Don't believe me? Go read THIS.

It was the same with The Son. When he brought home the championship from IDC Robocon 2017 (where at age 16 yrs, he went up against university students from Asia's best universities and MIT), I told everyone I knew... but of course, I did not tell them that he lost to the ITE boys at The Amazing Flying Machine.

When his research paper finished in the top 3 spots at the Young Defence Scientist Program and he presented his research the the Minister of Defence (or 1 of the many Ministers of Defence that we have), I also told the whole world... but I did not tell them that he had previously lost the Sony Toy Competition despite submitting 11 toys.

Personal success is built on the corpses of many personal failures. Parents who help their children win right through primary school deny their kids the important lessons on How to Fail Spectacularly. If you don't know how to lose spectacularly, you will never learn how to win big.

The same gift of love can be given to husbands too. When The Husband set out to do the most awful job in his entire life, I told him that it was ok with me if he gave up, let go. I did not mind going back to live in an HDB flat. As long as I could be with him, nothing else mattered. It was my love and my permission for him to fail, that fed him the strength to stay the course.

Great achievements come only when someone you love affords you the permission to fail. Parents should give that type of love to their children.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Dream Bathroom

For the sake of modesty screening, bathrooms tend to be enclosed affairs. I mean, Singapore is so densely built up that if a bathroom had this design (with full length glass windows opening out onto a patio and swimming pool), the neighbours could easily peek in. There would be a view from the inside of a kaypoh neighbour and a view from the outside of an ugly you (or in this case, me). It would be a lose-lose situation all round.

However, don't you think a bathroom like this where you can shower amid the greenery so lovely?! When I grow up, I wanna build me a bathroom like this!

Saturday, June 8, 2019

FOC Sentosa VS The Knolls at Capella

We love both of FOC's restaurants downtown. FOC takes food allergies seriously and all their servers know what goes into each dish. The menus are clearly marked with allergen advice, and the servers will take the trouble to ask the chef if they are unsure about ingredients. I have never been sick from eating at FOC. FOC Sentosa did not disappoint.

Our server, Charles, was AMAZING. He did not behave like a server. He behaved like a host. He made us feel at home, knew his dishes well and made intelligent decisions to maximise our comfort. The table was small and we had chosen to eat tapas. Charles changed our plates to smaller ones. He changed our plates every so often to make sure we always had clean plates. When he saw the marinara sauce in our clam and mussel dishes, he specially asked the kitchen to make gluten free bread... so that we could soak up the marinara sauce. He made good conversation and even knew the provenance of the clams (Phillipines) and mussels (France). I was so impressed that I asked his name and photographed him.

Interacting with Charles, I could not help but compare him with servers at The Knolls. Last night, our server had worked all day in an air conditioned restaurant. Yet, his uniform was crumpled and his body odour made me gag. Should not The Knolls have ensured that their wait staff maintain minimum standards of personal hygiene? Charles had spent all day in a non-airconditioned beach restaurant tending to the deck chairs, in the hot sun. Charles did not smell bad. 

Then, this morning, there was a server at The Knolls who literally HID the fresh coconuts from The Husband and lied that there were no more coconuts. Yet, he served coconuts to quite a few attractive women. I mean... The Knolls is a restaurant at Capella. Anyway, I went to ask for coconuts from the Head Waiter and I got them. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would have thought it impossible that a waiter would discriminate against male guests like that! At FOC Sentosa, Charles went to get gluten free bread for us which we did not even ask for.

Capella is expensive. The rooms are very comfortable. The Husband and I had a great time inside the villa. However, Capella's staff training and management is terrible. Staff seem quite stupid. The lady who checked me into my villa told me that she had no idea how to walk from my villa to The Knolls. She works here and has never figured it out? I am sure she is not that dumb. There is something about the way staff are managed that renders them stupid.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Capella Hotel Singapore

Some things happen when one reaches a certain stage in one's life, you know. All of a sudden, things, people and behaviours that one has tolerated for decades become intolerable. Of a sudden, one simply wishes to live selfishly. Have you, my readers, experienced this yet?

I am told that at menopause, a woman's levels of oxytocin drop, leading to behaviours that are less "we" and more "me." A woman who once renovated an entire 2000 sq ft of HDB flat in under $15,000 (included all appliances) for the long term good of the family is suddenly making spending decisions that look nothing like the sensible, practical and frugal mother, wife and daughter-in-law of 30 years. Now, I want to live for me.

I want jewellery, perfume and expensive staycations. For me.

I looked at 2 grown children, a lifetime of hard work and personal sacrifice for family and husband, and something inside me broke. I no longer want to be the person who gives in, who gives out, who effaces herself so that I can meet someone else's needs and help someone else achieve important things. For the remaining years of my life, I want to be more important than my children. I want to be more important than my husband. I want to live for me.

Married life can make room mates of lovers. You spend years worrying for children, about finances, about doing well at work. Romance lies buried deep under piles of clean smelling laundry, disposable diapers, school HW... and even our dog Milo is prioritised over romance. 

I wanted to dig our romance out again. I wanted the relationship we had when The Husband and I walked hand in hand along the Canal du Midi, held each other close as we looked over the river Rhône from a bridge, picked mussels off the rocks along the Côte d'Azur, looked into the Mediterranean Sea from the top of Agamemnon's palace.

Before the children arrived in our lives, The Husband doted on me. Boyfriends always dote on girlfriends, don't they? Then, sometime in the past 3 decades, I doted on everyone else and no one doted on me.

And so it is, with my change in attitude, my family members have been forced to adjust. To dote on me, The Husband booked a weekend getaway at Capella Hotel, Sentosa. Just us. No kids. To dote on me, The Daughter paid for our upgrade to a villa. So here it is, the digs we hope will dig out our romance from under 30 years of marriage.

Private pool.

His and hers bathroom.

Outdoor shower.

Complimentary chocs and fruits.

Am I impressed with Capella? Actually, no. Oh dear... after my previous post raving about Chuan Kee's heart warming service standards in a hawker centre, readers will think I am such a hypocrite for dissing the Capella. It is all about expectations I guess. Capella falls short.

For a hotel that is world class, one expects a bit more sophistication. To begin with, they completely forgot that I am celiac. So, on arrival, they served me a standard cookie. For the money I am paying, you would think someone would care enough that I might get sick from eating a gluten-y cookie. But then, I forget, money cannot buy caring. Next, instead of citronella oil diffusers (a more natural mosquito repellent) the hotel provided pesticide plug ins which I am allergic to. Then, a very stupid man (in beautiful clothes) came by with mosquito coils. He knocked, did not wait for an answer, and opened my room door with his master key. If I had been undressed, he would have seen everything.. Then, he plonked the paraphernalia down at the sink, completely spoiling the aesthetic of the bathroom. Dinner at the Knolls was even worse. I have a keener sense of smell than most, and so, I could smell the server’s body odour. When I ate the food, I could taste the server. It was nauseating. Even the restaurant decor was sloppy. The edges of the ceiling had paint over runs, like a child’s poorly coloured drawings. Really? This is Singapore’s best hotel? What shame!

Really, our Chuan Kee guys may not be wearing beautiful designer clothes but in everything they do, they demonstrate high standards and a lively intelligence. They even have an eye for the aesthetic when they plate the food. Furthermore, none of them smell vile despite working in a market all day. There is quality at Chuan Kee that is missing from Capella. Nope! Not impressed!

Cooler Weather Lush Growth

My garden sings when the weather turns a little wet. The plants wake from their parched slumber and tell me how refreshed they feel. I love looking at the lush green leaves covered in a sheen of small water droplets. The rain also washes the home made compost deep into the soil so my plants not only drink well when it rains, they eat better too.

Creeping foxglove. This makes a delicious stir fry.

Bottle gourd.

Mani cai.

Telosma cordata.

Centella asiatica.

Sweet potato leaves.

Buah cherry flowers.

Goji berry flowers.

Very rare four-legged brown plant who thinks he can garden but really cannot.

The Braised Pork Guys At Chuan Kee

Years ago, when I first started queuing up for braised pork at Chuan Kee braised duck, I got yelled at. By now, I cannot quite remember which of the 4 people who man that stall scolded me for being rather too slow or too soft to tell him my order.

I did blog about him HERE.

My friend AL went with me on another occasion. She queued for braised pork and then ended up telling them she wanted a mixed platter for two, chiefly because she could not understand what the man was telling her and she panicked because she did not want to get yelled at. So, my poor AL just nodded her head no matter what he asked. As a result, the both of us had to chomp our way through a mindboggling plate of duck innards - liver and gizzards, and stuff.

Let me tell you that my friend AL is no pushover (but apparently, this applies only in the boardroom to Senior Managers and VPs and Ps and the like). Faced with an irate hawker (who cooks like a dream) AL is as chicken shit as I am.

Over the years, these guys have mellowed. They now speak a lot more kindly to me. Me, I have also become smarter. You see, I now know exactly what to order and I also know exactly what and how to order. I don't irritate them and so, they no longer yell at me.

And today... oh my readers... I must tell you about today. I experienced service good enough to rival the St. Regis brand. In general, I get extremely good service from my favourite hawkers. The kopi auntie at the different foodcourts that I go to, start making my drink the moment they see me in the queue. I often get my drink even before the 2 people ahead of me. I know it is not fair to other patrons but I never asked the aunties to do this, and I don't want to hurt their feelings by asking them to stop.

The Chuan Kee guys really outdid themselves today. After I placed my order, I scooted off to queue at another hawker stall. By the time I got back to our table, the blessed men had already served my order right to our table. Then, somehow, they knew that it would not do to collect money from E, my friend! They declined her offer to pay and waited for me! At this point, I was already so pleased!

Then, my friend E decided to take away an order of braised pork for dinner. I placed the order requesting to have it prepared only later, when we were about to leave. Reasonably, I thought they would need me to sort of let them know when I was ready to leave. Amazingly, when I turned around to let them know, they were already handing me E's packet of food. I was so surprised! How did they know we were about to leave?

In customer service training, this is called preempting client needs. You expect that in a 5 star hotel, not in a hawker centre. I am simply so heart warmed by their effort. In USA, I would have hugged them. In France, I would have given them the “bises”. They are Singaporean. So, I went back afterwards to gently thank them... but got something of a bear-like growl in return.

Monday, June 3, 2019

More Chong Pang Hawkers

After going there almost daily for the past month, I am proud to say that I have finally acclimatised myself to the heat and the smells of Chong Pang Market. In the process, I discovered unknown hawkers who are excellent. It helps that I now know the rhythm of the place. I used to go to Koufu at Admiralty at 10.45 am every day because that was the time without crowds. Chong Pang Market is very crowded at 10.45 am. It is much less crowded at about 1.10 pm or so. The best time to go is about 4 pm when there is almost no one, but I cannot take lunch that late. 

I like to go at 4 pm if I am doing a take away for dinner. This is also a great timing because the 2nd batch of braised pork or duck comes out fresh at around this time, AND there is no need to queue! I now also know the best place to sit. Never sit in the inner quadrangle. Always sit along the outer perimeter. The inner quadrangle is a heat trap. The powerful fans do their job but they blow hot air at you.

Dim sum.


Excellent mutton soup.

Lovely tau huey.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Milo's Depression

Our Milo takes it very badly if I take my dinner alone, upstairs, without him. He expects to be included in my dinner because he is often the only companion I have at meals (the others all work late and eat dinner later). If I look into Milo's eyes, I will melt and give him bites of what I am eating. Sometimes, I stubbornly refuse to meet his gaze because I know that if my eyes connect with Milo's eyes, I will shamelessly capitulate. The eyes are windows into my soul and also a means to control me. When Milo looks at me with those eyes, my heart beats faster and a knot forms at the pit of my stomach.

Milo knows this and if I am eating something that he particularly likes, he will nuzzle my belly and put his head on my lap... all the while looking up at me with those penetrating eyes. I cannot meet his eyes. If I meet his eyes, I am lost. I do everything those eyes ask me to do, which usually means that he gets much of the food off my plate.

Thank heavens Milo is not a man! If a man made those eyes at me, I think I risk losing far more than half a plate of food!

The Daughter started commenting that on some nights, Milo is depressed and moody. He won't wag his tail when she gets home. He won't stand up and run to her. He won't ask for petting and cuddles. Those are invariably the nights when I choose to get my dinner sent up to my bedroom on a tray. On one occasion, it was really obvious that he was angry about me taking dinner alone upstairs, without him.

When the tray was sent upstairs to me, Milo was out in the garden. When done, I brought the tray downstairs myself. When Milo saw me, he expected that I was coming downstairs to eat my dinner with him. He pranced and skipped around. Then, he saw the tray in my hand with empty plates and glasses. His doggie face changed.

When The Daughter got home, he was so depressed and I felt so bad for him that I came downstairs to re-enact my dinner, and share a few bites with him.

Happy Milo.

Depressed Milo.

Nerdy Milo.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Everyone Has a Story of Pain

I begin now to understand that everyone has a story of pain. Sitting across from me during parent coaching are often parents who were:

- abandoned by their Father
- emotionally abused by their Mother
- rejected by their biological parents and given up for adoption
- physically abused by their Mother
- overly controlled by their parents

These parents come to me because their children are 
- not motivated 
- not performing at potential
- getting into trouble in school.

To fix their children's issues, I need to examine the parent's parenting reflexes, which then leads me to examine the family's psychodynamics, which leads me to look into the types of childhood my client has had, which leads frequently to stories of intense pain that has not dulled with the passing of years.

It is so easy for non-parents to lock away their pain and get on with life. As long as there are no children involved, most people do not look for healing. But, when children come and parents understand that the pain in their past are leading to present uncontrollable behaviours which hurt and define their children, many choose to face their unresolved issues and resolve them. Not all do, though. Some simply have no courage.

Those who do, are really very brave. It is not easy to revisit pain and re-live it in order to face it down and resolve it. Often, when one re-lives the pain, it means to mentally become that helpless child again. To have grown up and out of the abusive situation, who would willingly return to that trap, even if it is only in one's mind?

Yet, Numbers 14:18 states...
The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.

Sinful patterns of behavior are often passed on to descendants. For example, an environment of alcoholism, sexual abuse or violence can scar children for life. The same children can grow up to repeat these same behaviours, unless the cycle is broken through obedience by faith. Stories of childhood abandonment and childhood abuse can go 2 ways. In one, the new generation faces the sin and resolves it. In another, the new generation submits to the same sin and perpetuates the cycle.

By now, I have heard so many stories of so much pain that my own story of intense pain (that I wrote about HERE) seems to grow unimportant. And it is with this realisation that I truly learnt the meaning of Luke 6:38 - Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” You see, when I reach out to heal others of their pain, God has poured on me in equal measure healing in abundance for my own pain.

Also, when I revisit the moments when I cried out to God, "Why? What have I done to deserve so much pain in my life?" I now realise that I asked the wrong question. My question should have been... "God. What task do you intend for me to do that you bless me with so much pain in my life?"

I suppose that every instrument needs to be bent into shape and forged in fire, and if I had not gone through my own pain, I would not be able to help others today.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Something Smells Good

It started with a Yves Rocher soap bar that Tracy (my PE tuition teacher) gave me. The scent was charming and lingered about The Husband when he kissed me goodbye in the mornings. It is nice to be woken up in the mornings by the smell of an orange grove in late summer.

So, I started exploring Yves Rocher fragrances when there was the one-for-one offer every International Woman's Day. I tried out the Lilac, Rose and Lily of the Valley eaux de toilette. In French, "toilette" means grooming and "eau" means water. The extra "x" in "eaux" simply denotes the plural form. Translated, "eau de toilette" means "water used for personal grooming."

The Yves Rocher Lily of the Valley was most unsatisfactory. The sillage was poor and the scent lasted barely 30 minutes after it was sprayed on. I found that Rose was just too cloyingly feminine for me. It made me feel like some disempowered princess waiting for a knight in shining armour. Sometimes, the Rose scent made me feel like a gluten free cake.

The nicest of the 3 Yves Rocher fragrances was the Lilac. This scent smelled the most natural and when I wore it, I felt like a woman, not a food. It could also last all night if I sprayed it on at bedtime.

But the Lily of the Valley has a special significance for me. There are certain memories that are etched into the mind's eye. The Lily of the Valley is one of those for me. 30 years ago, I was walking through the overgrown garden of an abandoned house outside Lyon when a delicate fragrance rose up around me. I had walked into a cluster of Lily of the Valley plants. The spring was wet. The sun was more intense that it had been in 4 months. There was the smell of freshly dug earth. The moist smells of spring mixed in the delicate fragrance of Lily of the Valley were heated gently by a sun slowly awakened from the slumber of winter.

It was one of the scent memories that I will never forget. In that moment, everything that I saw and felt etched itself into my mind.

I now live in a tropical country with sun all year. The sun here is so abundant that people consider it a nuisance. Back there, in Toulouse, after 3 months of winter where the sun barely made an appearance, the first rays of golden sunlight would entice me outdoors in search of a bench where I could feel the gentle kiss of the sun on my skin. There was a spot in a courtyard outside one of my university classrooms where the sun would drape itself onto a bench. I loved to sit on that bench and let the sunlight drape itself on me, instead. It made me feel like a chocolate croissant, with soft and melty insides. 

Now, whenever I smell Lily of the Valley, I think of the sensual caress of the French sun, the smell of freshly dug earth, the wetness of spring and inside, I feel all melty.

I was unhappy with the Yves Rocher Lily of the Valley. It evoked none of the same memories. So, The Husband bought me a bottle of Diorissimo (which really does smell like Lily of the Valley) and since we were already at the perfume counter, I also picked a bottle of j'adore to add to the bottle of Pleasures that I already have.

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Father's True Pride

When we returned from Italy last year, our taxi was driven by a man who boasted about his children all the way from the airport to our house. It is nice when service staff chatter on because then we don't have to put effort into small talk. So, I encouraged the taxi driver with intermittent questions - enough to keep him talking right through the 30 minutes journey home.

It turned out that he was previously an engineer so illustrious that he had patents to his name. He had risen to a certain level in his organisation before he retired and then, started driving taxis just to pass time productively.

I was impressed with his achievements.

However, he spent barely 3 minutes telling us about his professional achievements and the better part of 30 minutes waxing lyrical about his 4 children. All had become professionals. 2 attended Cambridge. All 4 were loving, kind and family life was joyful. It was heartwarming to feel his fatherly pride pulse throughout the car, as his low and husky voice rose and fell, in measured cadence.

I remembered, then, reading in "Neither Civil Nor Servant" a quote from Eugene Yeo (Philip Yeo's son) - "I've always felt that [Philip Yeo] was unnaturally proud of us." Then, I turned around and looked at my own husband's chiselled face, and a truth hit me like a punch in my belly.

The Husband has an impressive list of achievements under his belt. Yet, he has not once boasted about what he has done. He never tells strangers what he does for a living. He seems to have no pride in what he has himself achieved.

- What do you work as?

- Aeronautical Engineer.

... is the curt response delivered in a tone that discourages further questioning.

The only time The Husband came close to boasting was when he posted The Daughter's 8 A level distinctions on Facebook. In private and amongst company, The Husband never ever recounts his own achievements. Yet, his pride in his children (who have accomplished so much less) is palpable.

When our children were small, he was often critical. He showed great displeasure at The Son's handwriting, did not approve of The Son skipping school and not doing HW, flew into a trembling rage when he caught The Son licking his plate at the dining table, and threw away The Son's most comfortable t-shirts because they looked like clothes only a beggar would wear.

The Husband praised them rarely and when they misbehaved, he shut them out of his consciousness. He did not want to know. I could never tell The Husband to scold our children. He simply assumed that was my job. As he got promoted upwards in his organisation, he became completely uninvolved in caring for them (aside from driving them around on weekends). HW, skinned knees, bullying, broken hearts, naughtiness... all were my job.

Yet today, if you ask The Husband to recount his greatest pride and joy, he will point at MY work - his children with me. He will say that he is most proud of our children. He thinks his daughter extraordinarily beautiful and accomplished. He is practically bursting with pride when he looks down at our son, asleep in his bed on weekends home from the army barracks.

I wonder if all men are like that. At the end of their lives, it appears, that nothing they have done to change the world even matters. They are proud only of their children, in a way they have no words to express.