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Monday, September 30, 2019

Different Types of Intelligence

Many people say that I don't look autistic. Only people who have known me since my youth say, "Ohhh! The diagnosis explains a lot!" or, "No wonder!" or, "I am not that surprised." With 5 decades of life experience behind me, and a very high IQ, I have developed all sorts of coping algorithms to mask my internal reality. Ever since my diagnosis, I have also spent time compulsively analysing my behaviours and responses in order to develop even more coping algorithms.

My internal reality has not changed. I am still autistic. 

I recognise now that I am compulsively drawn to Chong Pang Market. Cheap goods, good food and quirky products are attractive, yes. What REALLY draws me to Chong Pang Market is the challenge it provides me. Chong Pang is my training ground and experimental lab. It is where I go for my daily dose of Learning To Be Like A Neurotypical. Chong Pang Market is where I go to train myself to tolerate smells for longer periods of time. It is where I go to stretch myself in the area of facial interpretation.

Frankly, Chong Pang Market makes Dr. Petunia Lee feel stupid. I go there almost daily compulsively. Yet, I carry with me this fear of being thought stupid/snobbish by the hawkers there. Most days, I come home and actually FEEL stupid. This feeling of stupidity draws me there. For me, Chong Pang Market is a training ground. I go there to fail and learn about myself.

Dr. Pet feels stupid? I know that is so hard to believe for blogreaders who know me personally. Really? If she feels herself stupid, why is she always pontificating at me? Why does she like to share her knowledge on herbs, psychology etc...? If she is keen to share her knowledge, she must feel her knowledge worth sharing. Hence, she must think herself so damn smart!

Didn't you know? Overwhelming other people with facts about our areas of interest is how autistic people converse. But, I digress. Let me explain why Chong Pang Market makes me feel stupid.

The Chong Pang Market hawkers are intelligent in ways I cannot hope to be. 

Firstly, they have excellent sensory filters. Without effort, they can ignore all the smells of the market. I cannot. Once I step into Chong Pang, I need to  allocate mental bandwidth to control my frustration. If a Chong Pang hawker and I both possess 100 units of mental processing capacity, I have to tie up 30% of my mental capacity to control my emotional response to smells. He ties up no bandwidth at all because his brain is able to automatically do sensory filtering. See the meaning of sensory filtering HERE.

I only have 70% of processing capacity left.

Secondly, the Chong Pang hawkers can read social situations AND faces with little effort. It is the nature of a hawker centre to have crowds. At the braised pork stall alone, there are FOUR men within a confined space. If you consider that I need sometimes 5 times longer to figure out a facial expression within a situation, then, asking me to process 4 different facial expressions within a few seconds is quite overwhelming. This alone is enough to take up the remaining 70% of my RAM.

I have no more processing capacity left.

Thirdly, the hawkers do not have to expend mental capacity on controlling their eyes. To them, eye contact is natural. They know whom to look at, when and how without needing to think. I need to think about my eyes and what they do.

Here, I am running on empty.

Fourthly, the hawkers' brains (being able to do sensory filtering) know how and when to screen out irrelevant faces and expressions. I don't. I end up trying to look at all 4 faces, or focusing on only one face. When I focus on only one face, I fear that the other 3 think I am ignoring them. When I try and focus on 4 faces, my brain LITERALLY hangs. I become unresponsive.

Here, I have shut down.

When the hawkers aren't looking at me, I quietly observe them sometimes and often envy the way they can so QUICKLY respond to each other's banter. I am still figuring out what the 1st person was trying to say without saying it, when his friend has already responded with a knowing look or smile, which completely goes over my head. I have no clue what is going on.

Occasionally, I can hear them calling me and talking to me. I cannot respond. Like a person in a coma, but still conscious of the goings on, I cannot respond. Then, I go home and kick myself because I know I might have hurt their feelings. Often, when I am not buying from them, I walk past and try not to look at them because it is really overwhelming. It is much easier for me to cope with the Sugar Cane Auntie. She is the ONLY one at the stall. I only need to focus on ONE face and ONE pair of eyes.

I remember feeling this way all the time, as a child. Back then, my parents told the all and sundry that I was stupid and slow. I too believed myself stupid.

A combination of situational factors and childhood conditioning makes me feel stupid every time I go into Chong Pang Market.

The good thing though is that the rest of my life is autistic friendly. I see almost no one for much of the day even though I coach parents. I interact with parents via email and texting (where I don't need to look at faces nor interpret the unsaid). My work environment is entirely silent and smell-less.

Then, once a day, I go to Chong Pang and put myself in psychological harm's way. Hopefully, I will get better at ONE to FOUR, if I practise enough.

With thinking, learning and practice, I have come a long way since those days when I was 80% of the time unresponsive. The journey is never done though. I want to continue to learn and to develop algorithms so that I can help children like me to shortcut their learning. They can learn to mask earlier and better than I can.

In so doing, they will experience lesser social rejection and a happier life.

Different Types of Intelligence
I have been told I am stupid before. I reckon the Chong Pang hawkers with their fast interpersonal reflexes and the ability to make sense of their environment quickly and well probably think I am dumb too. They are present in their moment and are not absent-minded. Too often, I order a drink and forget it there! I am so busy processing things that they have the ability to process without them needing to think!

At this point in my life, conventional wisdom would say that Dr. Petunia Lee is smarter than those hawkers. In truth, there is no comparison. We aren't comparing the same thing at all. It is simply a mindset that positions my strengths in pattern finding and conceptual thinking as "being clever". From a different perspective, I am actually very stupid.

It is the hawkers who are clever.

Note how poor sensory filtering floods the limbic system and ignites an emotional response. I need to activate my cortical control to tamp down this emotional response at all times. I can do it quite well with practice.

I shutdown more often than meltdown. Some other autistics meltdown more than shut down.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Dr. Pet's Ex-Students

See above. I received, with great pleasure, a note from a parent whose child was with me in 2013-2014. This child was very fragile. On the eve of too many exams, she would be rushed into hospital because she had turned blue from asthma attacks. In her PSLE year, she engaged in self-harm (cutting herself in unseen places of her body) to cope with the stress. It is because of this girl that I instituted specific processes and practices to protect my students from stress. Thanks to these processes and practices, I am happy to say that for the past 5 years there have been no cases of self-harm in the PSLE year.

Physically and emotionally, this child was fragile. However, she had a first rate brain. Her body was weak but her brain was not. We preserved her internal drive and passion for learning. She went on to do well through secondary school and now is doing very well in university. It is well worth it for parents to play the long game, and look beyond primary school achievement, into character and passion.

With my guidance, this Mommy did that in P6. Even though the results were disappointing in P6, we had laid the foundation for internal drive and an interest in learning, that has since powered this child's trajectory.

My own 2 children were losers in primary school.

The Daughter did so badly at PSLE that from Sec 1 to JC2, she felt inferior to her classmates in Nanyang Girls High School. Yet, she scored 8 A level distinctions at A levels and is now well loved at her workplace. I say "well-loved" only because I am not allowed to go into the details of her  workplace achievements.

In primary school, The Son was still building machines that did not work, whilst others were already shining at this or that Olympiad. Yet, it was he that SUTD sent to compete against MIT, Tokyo Tech, Tokyo Denki, Tsinghua, Zhejiang Unis. His team won the championship, and at that point, he was only 16 years old, competing against 20+ yr old university students. The Son went on to score 44 points at IB. Again, I am not allowed to blog about his most recent triumphs.

What I want to say to parents is this. All the achievements that you HELP your children get in primary school through being overhelpful, risks damaging...
- long term internal drive.
- long term self-concept.

The children learn 3 things:
- My parents want me to win. I really don't care that much.
- I cannot win without parent help.
- I am entitled to help.

The even worse outcome is when the children do not achieve, and do not win, even though parents push them very hard (beatings, scoldings, punishments). These children have nothing. They enter secondary school with no achievements and they also have no internal drive (the drive being utterly destroyed by parent beatings and scoldings and punishments).

No drive. No primary school achievements. Plenty of emotional pain. Surely, there is a better way to be a parent?

It is good for children to learn that they can do things without our help. Of course, this comes at a price in a society where all the other parents are helping their primary school children to win. I know because I paid the price. My children were losers because I refused to do like other parents. I refused to help them win. I refused to push them too far.

As a result, my children wanted to win. They KNEW that they had lost to children who benefited from parent help, and they did not mind to lose because they enjoyed the process.

They simply enjoyed the process of participating in their area of passion, and doing their best. 
Later on, when came a time when parents no longer were helping their teenaged children as much (because teens resist parent help and rebel), my children had already accumulated a formidable internal drive to win, and they were used to competing on their own steam and passion. This helped them surpass the overhelped kids, because these overhelped kids were still trying to find their footing now that their parents were no longer able to help as much.

Below is another child whom I believe will excel later in life, as long as his Mama does what I taught her for the next 6 years.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

A Tale of 2 Chuan Kees

I simply had to assure myself that my neighbourhood's Chuan Kee Boneless Braised Duck is just as good as the one at Ghim Moh Market, that Michelin keeps citing. It simply is not fair that my neighbourhood market never gets cited in the Michelin list.

I feel offended. Hmmmmph!

So, when I went to Lower Delta Rd today for an errand, I dropped by Ghim Moh Market to try for myself. Either Petunia's palate is biased or those people at Michelin never even bothered to come to Chong Pang to taste the food. I swear to you that the Chong Pang branch is better on 4 counts...
- the plating
- the rice
- the soup
- the service

Messy plating.

The stall at Chong Pang Market is very particular about plating. I have never had a plate handed to me looking messy like the above. Every plate that I have ever had from the Chong Pang branch has come out looking like it could sashay down a catwalk alongside a Guo Pei dress or an Abercrombie & Fitch male model, AND look better than both of them.

Abercrombie & Fitch male models + 2. The plate of braised duck rice looks better than these male models minus 2.

The process at the stall is slightly different too. At Chong Pang Market, I am served the tray with all the cutlery nicely and neatly placed next to the plate. At Ghim Moh, I had to go pick out my own cutlery after getting my plate of food. 

The rice tastes different too. It is hard to get rice to the exact point of doneness where each grain is separately chewy. The stall at Chong Pang Market can do that consistently. The plate of rice I had at Ghim Moh had rice that was a tad overcooked and so, not quite as chewy as it should be. I also thought the soup somewhat less flavoursome.

Of course, I could be biased. In any case, I have assured myself that my neighbourhood market is in no way inferior to Ghim Moh Market. In fact, we're better. In fact, I am now quite pleased that my local branch does not get cited. Then, the crowds will all go to Ghim Moh instead.

Having ascertained this, I next queued up for 40 minutes at Guan Kee Fried Kway Teow. Unfortunately, I cannot review it because the nice lady told me that it was impossible to make me a dish of her food, without yellow noodles. Since I am celiac, I cannot eat her food. I did tapau 1 packet for The Daughter (since I had already queued for 40 minutes).

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Respect My Expertise

It is funny how parents expect parenting tips for free. I receive emails where parents detail their problems in great detail. They end off that they hope to hear from me. When I share that I charge, I never hear of their problems again. 

I do wonder if people think that I should move out into the streets and earn nothing at all from my skills and expertise. Or, am I the online equivalent of a wise bartender who sells a listening ear and some advice for the price of a beer. Actually, the bartender at least makes a living from selling drinks. People expect Dr. Pet to reply their emails with advice that would take an hour + to write and they expect me to do it for free.

I wonder if these people would go to work every morning if they knew they would not get a salary. If not, why would total strangers expect me to help them turn around their children and families, for free?

Once in a while, you meet someone with a sense of humanity and consideration, like the Mama above. I like her a lot and had discreetly undercharged her by 25 minutes. Her response was to email me the above. For this one email alone, you can be sure that this client will get special treatment from me. 

For those who expect or silently hope for free stuff from me, nothing is free.

For people like her, I don't mind doing more and charging less because she respects my expertise and acknowledges that it is worth every cent (since she is well into her 4th coaching contract with me). Her journey with me is long still. She can draw upon my experience, expertise and knowledge for another 8 years because her child won't reach 18 years till then. There will be many opportunities for me to repay her for her simple, humane consideration of me as a person, instead of as a faceless, nameless, free fountain of parenting advice.

When I eat at certain hawker stalls, I am given free rice or extra food. I try to repay these gestures with gestures of my own. The more I refuse to take these freebies for granted, the more I am given free stuff. I like these heartwarming exchanges because these gifts come from the heart and are not taken for granted. Few and far between, some clients become my friends.

Then too, there are friends who are no longer my friends because they put too much effort into trying to sneak free expertise from me.

Think of it this way. If the hawker keeps giving you free chilli and free rice, who will fund his retirement? You? If the lawyer keeps advising everyone for free, who will fund his children's university education? You? If Dr. Pet sits at her computer 8 hrs a day to explain to you the impact of dopamine on motivation or to help you with strategies to prevent explosions at home, then it is Petunia's husband who is funding the improvements to your children and families. Else, who is paying for my clothes, my house, my food, whilst I pour time into advising people I have never even met.

Why should my husband take on the financial burden that belongs to other parents vis-a-vis their own kids?

Don't go everywhere and 贪小便宜. It simply shows up how ugly a person you are. Strangely, some of those who 贪小便宜 are actually quite wealthy. They drive Lexus and Jaguars! Some of the most fair and considerate people are not very wealthy at all.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Haze Mask: The Vogmask

I bought kickass masks (aka Mordor Orc Mask) for every member of the family. No one will wear them. So, when a friend recommended The Vogmask, I thought it a good compromise. The Vogmask is re-usable for 4 months to a year depending on the quality of air. It is washable too. See HERE.

Vogmasks for all of us.

My personal Vogmask.

The Mordor Orc Mask (i.e., the mask that one can wear
safely into the Mines of Moria, in Mordor, in Lord of the Rings).

For breathing comfort, nothing beats the Mordor Orc Mask. It is designed for easy breathe in and out. I don't care what the others say. When I am alone, I shall be wearing the Mordor Orc Mask everywhere I go. Actually, I have been doing that and I notice that no one stares. People all have their own lives and preoccupations. No one has time to stare at me. If I don't care how I look, they care even less.

You will never be able to convince a sensory autistic that comfort should come secondary to looks. The same reason why I don't use make-up, cut my own hair, wear the same t-shirt everyday, wear cheap clothes and cheap shoes... is the same reason why I wear the Mordor Orc Mask. 

Autistic people have little cognitive empathy. We have trouble figuring out what people think or feel in response to us. This includes the way people view our clothes and hair etc.... I have learnt to be neat and clean. However, deep down inside, I really don't care what other people think about my clothes and my mask. In the past, when the children kept me busy, I often forgot to brush my hair for up to 5 days.

The Vogmask is a good mask. It filters well but like any N99 mask, breathing is harder. I will wear it only because my family won't let me wear my Mordor Orc Mask. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Chong Pang vs Northpoint City

I am such a creature of habit that I need an external push to change. For months already, I have developed the habit of eating tauhuey &/or lunch at Chong Pang Market every day. It seemed like a cost effective way to settle my lunch. When the children were little, I cooked all the meals to ensure that they ate healthy and fresh food.

Now, The Daughter works and The Son is in the army. I only need to feed myself and the helper. I have absolutely no motivation to cook for just the 2 of us. Eating out at lunch also gives me a chance to stretch my legs. Chong Pang Market has become a habit. However, this habit is not tenable when the market is closed, when the market is too hot or when there is haze. 

This week Chong Pang Market is closed for washing. I had to go to Northpoint City. 

Previously, I had only compared the prices of drinks. Looking at drinks comparison, I had thought that I would spend double in Northpoint than in Chong Pang. Today, I did a more thorough quantitative vs qualitative comparison. It turns out that in totality, Northpoint City does offer a good alternative as a daily lunch place.

Chong Pang Market
Teh si = $1
Meal = $5
Tauhuey = $0.80
Total = $6.80

Northpoint City
Teh si = $2.30
Meal = $6
Tauhuey = $1.60
Total = $9.90

Quantitatively, I spend $3.10 more at Northpoint City. This extra money pays for the airconditioned surroundings, cleaner tables and absence of mynahs (who scavenge off the uncleared tables at Chong Pang Market). $3.10 is not too bad a premium to pay for a more pleasant lunch experience. Else, I keep having to decide where in Chong Pang Market is the coolest place to sit at various times of the day.

Qualitatively, I like it that I can easily buy the best tutu kuehs I have ever had from Eastern Rice Dumplings. I also like that I can have the option to add tang yuan to my tauhuey from Mr. Bean. If I like, I can have nice chendol too. Getting good dessert is problematic in Chong Pang Market. I also love that Ban Heng Teochew Porridge offers many vegetable dishes. Also Northpoint City is right next to 925 Chicken Rice which is a better chicken rice stall than the one in Chong Pang Market.

I think it is good to get a kick in the pants to motivate me to try something new and to develop new daily habits.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Weighted Blanket

It is inaccurate to say that autistic people hate to be touched. What is true is that we are sensitive to touch. Unwelcome touch is felt more strongly. Welcome touch is also felt more strongly. Clothes tags and touch by strangers are UNwelcome. For this reason, I have never agreed to go for a massage. The thought of a stranger massaging me is stressful. We have a strong negative reaction because we are more sensitive. 

Hugs and cuddles from people we love are also MORE enjoyable because we are MORE sensitive to the welcome touch. Hence, many autistic children are actually very cuddly with people who have earned their trust and affection, even though they refuse to be touched by anyone else. This is also the reason some autistic children benefit from companion dogs. Dogs comfort these children by lying on top of them.

A funny internet meme details what autistic flirting looks like. 
Note that the last point on the list addresses touch. 

The weighted blanket started out as a therapeutic tool for children with autism. In a way, it works the way a companion dog would. Weighted blankets deliver Deep Pressure Therapy to the body's sensory receptors. This calms the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), using touch. If autistic people hate to be touched, then touch therapy would be useless.

The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) has two sub-systems:
  • The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS): this delivers the flight or fight response and activates whenever the human body is in danger.
  • The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS): this activates when the human body feels comfortable and relaxed, e.g., after a bath, or just out of the sauna.
Deep Pressure Therapy delivered by weighted blankets reduces SNS activation and increases PSNS activation. This calms the body, not just for autistic people, but for other people with stressful lives too.

The weighted blanket is very effective in calming me when I have sensory overload, and my heart is beating very fast. For example, when the getai performance was too loud, the weighted blanket should be able to calm me down in 15 minutes when normally it would take an hour or more for me to get my heart rate down. Oh... if only I had been diagnosed early, and owned a weighted blanket. I would have saved myself many instances of feeling like a coiled spring, trying to fight off a meltdown/shutdown.

Anyway, The Husband borrowed my blanket last night. He has a stressful job and I thought I would lend him my blanket so that he could dial down his SNS too. He woke up this morning raving about the blanket, and how fast he was able to fall asleep, and how deeply he slept. This is not surprising because people in stressful jobs have overactive SNS that prevent them from sleeping well.

I bought a second blanket today so that we can have His and Hers blankets.

Postscript: the 2nd night, The Husband went to bed early and slept right through 8 hrs without waking. This is rare because The Husband tends to wake after 5 hrs of sleep. I feel happy that he had a good night's sleep throughout.

Don't Wear It!

I am not allowed to wear my kickass mask. It really is a kickass mask because it is used in a wide variety of industrial applications including welding, brazing, torch cutting, metal pouring, soldering, and exposure to lead, asbestos, cadmium and arsenic. It is not just N95. It is a P100. The N95 blocks out 95% of airborne particles (that are not oil-based). The P100 blocks out 99.7% of airborne particles including non-oil based and oil-based.

I can probably wear this mask right into the Lord of the Rings, deep into Mordor, visit the Mines of Moria, and breathe easy. Did you see those orcs and trolls in the Armies of Mordor? They are all wearing masks, right? Those would be a version of my kickass mask.

Clearly, this is a superior mask.

The Husband won't let me wear the mask when I am out with him. Apparently, it is too ugly. Himself, he has opted for the Air + Smart Mask below.

I don't see much difference between this mask and mine. It also covers the face. The Daughter and The Son have both opted for this mask. I don't like it because it is only N95 and it is a disposable mask. My kickass mask will last the whole season and it filters out more particulates.

Do you see anyone in Lord of the Rings wear this mask? No! Not even the elves wear this supposedly better looking mask, and we all know that elves are the arbiters of good taste. Clearly, this mask does not cut it.

In any case, I have gone ahead to order the Vogmask. It is a reusable mask that doesn't look like part of an orc/troll uniform. I rather think it looks like a bra cup. Apparently, my other family members think that wearing a bra cup looks better than an orc mask. Come on! Who can look serious with a bra cup on the face? An orc mask looks way more badass than a bra cup, no?

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Biology of Falling in Love

I must confess that I have been giving The Husband a rather hard time for a few months. One fine day, his menopausal wife said, "You don't love me anymooooooore!" Then, I proceeded to recount all the things he used to do when we were dating. He did not do them anymore. Therefore, logic dictates that he loved me less than when we were dating.

Right, which menopausal woman out there can relate?

The poor husband was completely befuddled. He had not been doing all those things for our 30 years of marriage, and it did not seem to have bothered me any for 30 years. All of a sudden, I was kicking up a fuss and requesting romance in our marriage. Of a sudden, the poor man found himself coerced into buying me jewels, flowers, expensive hotel stays... plus a whole host of other things. In the past, I eschewed jewels for houses and flowers for stock market shares. Instead of expensive hotel stays, I took pride in AirBnB lodgings. The Husband stared at me wonderingly, "How can anyone change so much overnight?"

My response was, "Good for you! Now, it appears that you have a whole new wife! Isn't that fresh and exciting?"

The Husband really put his back into this romance business. He spared no expense in his effort to be romantic. However, to his greatest dismay, he found that it was not enough! I further complained that all that he did, did not count because he did not WANT to do them. He was compelled to do them by me! I wanted him to do these romantic things not just willingly but spontaneously and enthusiastically!! I wanted him to treat me like a girlfriend again!

At this point, he gave me the mother of all wild-eyed looks! Then, he said, "But, you are NOT my girlfriend! You are my wife!" What he meant was that being a wife is better than being a girlfriend. What I thought was being a girlfriend was better than being a wife. So, for that one comment, he was banished to the couch, and I retired to bed with a box of tissue paper.

We finally found our resolution in the research of Dr. Helen Fisher.

Fisher has famously identified three neural systems that controls human mating:

— a sex drive that is testosterone-based in males and females,
— a dopamine-fueled network that focuses attention on one person and creates the feeling of exclusive romantic love,
— and an oxytocin- and vasopressin-led circuit that fosters feelings of deep attachment and the development of a bond that can last at least long enough to raise a child through infancy.

The three hormonal systems, and the emotions they cause, don’t always work in co-ordination “You can be in bed at night and
(1) feel deep attachment to one person,
(2) swing into feelings of wild infatuation for somebody else, and
(3) then feel sexually attracted to someone you hardly know,”
... says Dr. Helen Fisher.

Petunia does not do anything in half measures. In my tiny little menopausing head, my marriage was not good unless we had all 3 for one another. So, I took the research and shared it with The Husband, stating that we should work towards having all 3.

Then, I said, "Since these emotions are controlled by hormones, I shall go and see what herbs to use to help us along."

At this point, The Husband said, "It is bad enough that I am married to a psychologist who specialises in human motivation. I am not even sure which things I do because I want to or which are things YOU psycho-engineer me into WANTING to! After all, if you can make my son WANT to study, you can make anyone WANT anything! Now, you are gonna FEED me herbs to manage our marriage?! There are 3 types of women one should never marry: (1) journalist (2) lawyer (3) psychologist. I think the psychologist is the worst! I am married to a Psychologist-cum-HerbalistWannaBe!"

He stopped short of saying, "Woe is me," but I know he was thinking it. Then, he said, "We have great things going on in this marriage. We have gone through so much together. You are my closest buddy. Why can't you be thankful for what we already have?"

Finally, I came to the realisation that it just was not possible for the human body to be flooded with so many hormones (testosterone, dopamine, oxytocin and vasopressin) all at once. Human emotions needed to be experienced one at a time so that each could be savoured fully.

Petunia had to prioritise the 3 neural systems.
(a) testosterone drives lust
(b) dopamine drives romance
(c) oxytocin and vasopressin drive a deep connection and attachment.

And then I understood why The Husband would think that being a wife is better than being a girlfriend. In his view, the Wife is in neural system (c). She is the one he cannot live without and will never tire of. She is the one that weaves beauty throughout his life using the deepest roots of his heart.

I feel privileged to be the woman who weaves beauty throughout The Husband's life, using the deepest roots of his heart. Unfortunately, I am still a Psychologist-cum-HerbalistWannaBe. So, I am still gonna play around with The Husband's dopamine and testosterone levels, just not both at the same time! Hahahahahahahahahaha!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Champignons de Bois (Woodland Mushrooms)

In France, from the tail end of summer to early-ish autumn, you are likely to find people selling woodland mushrooms in the markets and even in the malls (temporary stalls). As an impecunious student in France, I would stare at the mushrooms wishing that I could afford to buy them. 

I almost could not believe my eyes when I saw woodland mushrooms being sold at Chong Pang Market by an itinerant hawker. I tell you... my Chong Pang Market is something special.

This said, I did not like the hawker very much. She was rude and dismissive when she thought that I was not interested in buying. When I did actually buy, she was also very pushy, trying to push on me the ultra expensive abalone and fish maw. Frankly, I am a little fed up with rude hawkers. There is only so much mistreatment one is prepared to take. She gave me her number but I won't be calling. I think.

Anyway, I bought my mushrooms and made a stew with Job's tears, buckwheat, mung beans, assorted vegetables and various woodland mushrooms.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

À la Monkey God 孙悟空

Grumpy Alex was beyond generous. He has given me 5 fig trees. These trees fruit well in pots and need a Mediterranean climate. So, I have them on the 2nd floor terrace where we have a glass roof that shields out rain and lets through sun. This is where I keep my rosemary plants too. Both figs and rosemary are Mediterranean plants.

We have been rewarded with a fig or two everyday. The thing I did not quite expect was The Husband's reaction. He was extremely pleased. Yesterday evening, as he munched on a fat fresh fig that I had harvested and kept for him (I always keep the best ones for him), he said, "I feel like 孙悟空 (aka the Monkey God) munching on the 5000 yr old peaches from the Heavenly Empress' heavenly peach orchards." I stared at him, bemused. I rather thought that these figs were more like something from 花果山 (Flower Fruit Mountain) outside the Monkey God's 水帘洞 (Water Garland Cave).

Again, Google Translate is a wonderful thing, and Grumpy Alex is a lovely man!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Michelin Bib Gourmand 2019

See the list HERE.

Yay! My favourite braised pork guys (Chuan Kee Boneless Braised Duck) made it into the Michelin Bib Gourmand again. I don't know why I am so happy. The stall does not even belong to me. It simply exists in my little corner of Singapore. Is all.

This said, I am a little peeved that it is always the Ghim Moh outlet that is cited. I wonder if there is an appreciable difference between the Ghim Moh outlet and the one in my corner of Singapore. One day, I will drive all the way down to Ghim Moh to eat and compare.

And guess what! Bedok Chwee Kueh made it in too! I have that in my corner of Singapore as well! Now, what we should do is to get rid of those Chong Pang Market hawkers whose lack of pride in their craft, give hawkers a bad name. The fruit juice hawker at Chong Pang Market is horrendous. I gave specific instructions to him to NOT add sugar into my fruit smoothie. We make smoothies every day at home so I know what a smoothie without sugar will taste like. The idiot added so much sugar that I felt ill after drinking it. It takes absolutely no skill at all to make a smoothie. This poor specimen of a hawker cannot even make one properly.

Then, there is that dessert stall with tang yuan so mushy that it is fairly melting into the soup. You can always tell when a hawker is a bad one. Just look at the housekeeping of the stall. Sloppy people are sloppy in everything, including hygiene and organisation. The good ones run their stalls with military precision.

Once we have got rid of those lousy hawkers (who don't deserve to be called hawkers), we can hopefully attract more Michelin Bib Gourmand hawkers into the Chong Pang Market.

This year, I have copied the list into my file and set myself the goal of eating my way through the list systematically. Every weekend, I will try one Michelin Bib Gourmand eatery.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Sugar Cane

M, our helper, is a very greedy gardener. She is always on the lookout for territory expansion. When she saw the 82 year old lady down the road plant a thriving copse of sugar cane, I was tasked to get sugar cane for planting. This time, I put some effort into it because I know very well that M WILL get her sugar cane whether I get it for her or not. She is very determined, our M.

When she wanted asparagus, I dragged my feet. I told her I did not know where to get. The truth was that I did not even try. One fine day, a Myanmese gentleman appeared and passed her 2 asparagus plants over the gate. When she wanted bottle gourd, I again dragged my feet. Miraculously, she got seeds from goodness knows where!

Then, she looked at me. I felt a little embarrassed because she was so resourceful, and I, with my extensive gardening network on Facebook and a friendship with the Godfather of Exotic Plants (aka Grumpy Alex) was not at half as resourceful. M's spirit and determination made me feel like a wimp. Even though I mostly enjoy being a wimp (because, do you know, people tend to look after wimps... and I like it when my hub and kids look after me), I decided that this time, I needed to rise above my wimpishness before M gave me another smug look.

I asked all the veggie sellers at Chong Pang Market, who did not have sugar cane. Then, I approached the Sugar Cane Auntie and had a conversation:

Me: Can I please buy your sugar cane stems?

Auntie: What for?

Me: To plant in my garden.

Auntie: These won't grow for you.

Me: **mumbling uncomfortably** My maid said it will grow. How much is one stem?

Auntie: $2

Me: I want 4 stems.

Auntie: **opening her box** Ok... pick your stems.

At that point, a whole table full of aunties wanted to know how I was gonna squeeze the juice out on my own. I shyly explained that I wanted to plant them in my garden. All the aunties looked at me and said, "These will not grow for you." At this point,

Sugar Cane Auntie: ** very loudly** I already told her but if she has too much money and wanna buy 4 stems for $8, I am happy to sell her.

I turned and "Hmmmphed!" at her, and got a cheeky smile in return. Then,

Sugar Cane Auntie: Ok lah ok lah, I won't cheat your money. You go over to that old woman selling tropical herbs on the steps there. She will have stems with intact root nodes which will grow for you.

So, that was how I got 4 stems at $2, instead of $8, and made a new friend. This said, I rather suspect that the people in Chong Pang Market  think that I am a sort of bimbo-ish wimp who survives in competitive Singapore solely thanks to a doting husband. You see, I also tried to buy popiah without the skin. I am celiac and popiah skin has gluten but I really wanted to eat popiah. I swear that the hawker's face went through a sequence of indecipherable emotions only to culminate in a very loud, "I sell you the cooked turnip for $5 a box."

When I asked about the taugeh, he yelled, "That one you buy from wet market cheaper lah!"

It was one of those social situations that I could not decipher. So, I shut down, looked unresponsive and walked away. When I do that, I know I look stupid. So, yeah... I am sure the hawkers at Chong Pang think I am dumb.

Monday, September 9, 2019

What's With The Sun These Days?

I was already in the car on my way to Chong Pang Market, thinking of fish soup and the distinctive galangal in its taste profile.

My head began to throb. So, I detoured to Northpoint City instead.

I don't understand it. I am a girl who loves the sun. I love how it looks on the pavement, with its droplets spread on the grass under the trees. I love the way the sun kisses my cheeks when I upturn my face. I love the way the sun infuses my garden with energy. I love the sun's straight rays shining into my bedroom.

The sun has not been kind recently. Instead of gentle kisses on my skin, this sun conjures up a miasma of heat waves that choke me and start a throbbing in my head. My head aches unbearably on days when the sun in Singapore is angry and unkind.

I have become such a wimp. This was never me. This is a new me... a me that is afraid of the sun.

Did The Sun change? Or did I?

Thursday, September 5, 2019

SkipHWCoupon for Dr. Pet

I am thrilled to bits. My adult daughter gave me a SkipHWCoupon for a job well done! I guess this is one of the things that makes a lifetime of sticking my hands into toilet bowls worth it. It feels good when a grown adult child gives one a thumbs up for a job that one mostly muddled through. See HERE.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Autism Is NOT A Disorder/Disease

The Maori word for autism is "Takiwatanga." It means "his/her own time and space." In native American cultures, autistic people are considered uniquely talented to be trained as shamans. See HERE.

The English words for autism are "Autistic Spectrum Disorder." That says everything about how the modern world views autism VS how tribal societies view autism. Our modern world thinks of autism as something undesirable and requires a cure. Tribal societies think of autism as a difference with a place in their world.

I recognise that neurotypical people can do things I cannot do. Neurotypicals intuitively get social situations.

Faces and Eyes
When eyes meet eyes, neurotypical faces intuitively do something to acknowledge each other. Till today, I cannot quite fathom what exactly to do, except smile. Consciously, I understand that if I just look at another person with no change in my facial expression, it is rude. So, I smile. Then, I am told that I must not smile at everyone, especially strange men. Then too, when my mind is pre-oocupied, I sometimes forget to activate the smile. In a split second, the other person looks away, thinking I am a snob (and the moment is past for me to make amends). I know what my face must do. I just don't have the immediate reflexes to do it. Also, I may apply the rule I know without nuance. I still have not quite grasped when I should smile at men and when not. You see, sometimes it IS ok (and even desirable) to smile at men I don't really know (or risk looking like a snob).

I have lost potential friends that way. People think I have rejected them when I simply just forgot to instruct my face what to do.

Neurotypical people intuitively know when to look at a person and when not to. I don't. I need to remember to make eye contact because my natural tendancy is to look away from a person's eyes. Again, looking away from someone's eyes can be construed by the other person as a rejection. People think I have rejected them when I simply just forgot to instruct my eyes what to do. Often too, my eyes won't do what I tell them to do... and since the window for the correct facial expression to be shown is so small, the moment is past when I do actually exert control over my eyeballs.

All this language of looks and facial expressions is one that I speak haltingly and with conscious effort. In primary school, the people around me thought I was stupid and dumb. Things went on inside my brain that never made it to my face, nor came out through my mouth. Those looking on thought that nothing went into my brain because they saw nothing come out.

People said I was "slow."

However, there are things that I can do that normal people cannot. My Father and my Brother were stuck on a particular puzzle for more than a day. I took one look and saw the answer. I simply saw the pattern immediately. I remember this incident because my Father was so shocked.

Pattern Finding
Systems thinking comes naturally to me. I can visualise complex conceptual systems and dynamics almost instantly like HERE. Many autistic kids are excellent at pattern finding. We like to map out systems. One child loved the system of drains and canals. He would run around following the flow of water. Many autistic kids are fascinated with transport systems. They know the MRT network by heart.

I am fascinated by psychological systems and dynamics.

This is an advantage in my work as a psychologist. I can visualise family psychological systems and dynamics just as easily. I see family dynamics in a system of levers and balances that allow me to troubleshoot issues as varied as...

- Why a specific child is stealing.
- Why a specific child likes to suck up to Teachers.
- Why a specific child is aggressive.
- Why a specific child pretends to be stupid.
- Why a specific child cannot stop whining.

The above are only symptoms. The underlying family dynamics that lead to the above dysfunctional behaviours are as varied as there are families. Just like a fever can have many different underlying causes.

Once, after teaching a child for a while, I walked up to his parent and asked, "Do you have another child who is a very high achiever in something?" The parent was shocked and wondered how I knew without being told. I knew because the autistic brain is good at pattern finding. People who can see patterns, know what to fill into gaps in patterns. Family systems and dynamics are nothing more than complex patterns. If I see enough to discern the patterns, I know what to put in the gaps that I do not see.

I was one of those children who learnt how to read entirely on her own. Language has very complex patterns, but they are still patterns.

Now, I am learning Chinese. I do so by watching the same drama series 3 to 5 times, paying attention to what I hear and to the Chinese subtitles. Very naturally, my brain has begun to see patterns. If I keep this up long enough, I will be literate in Chinese with very little effort on my part.

The autistic's tendancy to hyperfocus often leads to mastery. For a long time, I was hyperfocused on herbs. This played a large part in maintaining the health of my family. We can go for years without seeing a doctor. I was also hyperfocused on psychology. That of course, lead to a PhD and my current field of work. Right now, I am hyperfocused on the ethnographic study of Chong Pang Market. I am not sure what that leads to but I can tell you that I am now friendly with the sugar cane lady and the braised pork guys. Right now, I am also hyperfocused on Chinese language and culture. This can only lead to enlarged vistas of thought and understanding.

Knowledge is never a waste. Whether I am hyperfocused on the ethnographic study of Chong Pang Market or on herbal medicine, good will come from knowing more. The autistic tendancy to hyperfocus practically guarantees the extension of knowledge in one way or another.

Not Disordered, Just Different
So, you see, saying that an autistic person is disordered is just like a giraffe saying that a fish is deformed. A giraffe cannot swim. A fish can. A fish cannot reach the tops of trees. A giraffe can. Neither are deformed. We are just different. The world needs autistic people like me as much as they need people like my daughter who thrives in any and every social situation. We are not lesser. We are not diseased. We are not deformed.

The Famous Autistic Meltdown
True enough, autistic people have meltdowns. I melt down (or shut down) when...

- there is too much social information for me to process
- there are too many smells or touch for me to process

Heading Off Meltdowns and Shutdowns
However, to fault us for having meltdowns or shutdowns is like faulting a fish for gasping for breath when out of water. Since my diagnosis, I have not melted down even once. I make sure that I stay in situations where I do not gasp for breath. I shop when the malls are not crowded. I deliver coaching via email so that I am not overwhelmed by too much social data - facial expressions, gestures, the unsaid. This means I can focus on finding patterns in psychological data.

In instances when I have to enter a situation where I am likely to gasp for breath, I train for it. This is why I don't shy away from Chong Pang Market. A small dose a day every day trains my tolerance. This is no different than a man learning to hold his breath under water for 5 minutes. Yes, I will enter meltdown if I have to work at Chong Pang Market. Yes, a man will drown if kept forcibly under water for 5 hours. However, with training, I can function well in Chong Pang Market. With training, humans can hold their breath underwater for 19 minutes and 30 seconds.

Stress = Misunderstanding
In many instances, parents of autistic children find their children difficult because they don't quite understand what the children need. Once I have translated the needs of these children, things calm down a lot within the home. Having an interface allows each to understand another and once that is achieved, both parent and child are no longer overwhelmed.

Another way of seeing autistic people is that we have different operating systems in our heads. It is like a Mac trying to talk to an android OS without an interface.

Autistic people have no problems interacting with autistic people, you know. If neurotypical people were the minority, and the world were filled with a majority of autistic people, then the group with social "problems" would be neurotypical people. The ones considered "disordered" would also be neurotypical.

Person With Autism
This is why I took exception when the mother of an autistic child told me that I should refer to myself as "person with autism" like "person with flu." Would you refer to yourself as "person with Chinese" (instead of Chinese) or "person with American" (instead of American) or "person with Indian" (instead of Indian) or "person with architecture" (instead of architect) or "person with law" (instead of lawyer) or "person with hawk" (instead of hawker)?