Thursday, June 15, 2017

National Museum Children's Season: Meet us and see illustrator in action!

It's the school holidays and I'm sure all your parents have given your kids one month off to play and relax! No? Okay lah, I understand. Singaporeans parents mah, must include something educational during the school hols.

Well, here's an activity that will be both fun AND educational for your kids these holidays. And the best part's FREE!

On Sunday, 25 June 2.30pm, make a date with Lesley-Anne and me at the National Museum for a launch of our latest book - Secrets of Singapore: National Museum.

Here are five reasons why you should attend the event with your kids:
  1. Lesley-Anne and I will share interesting stories about some artefacts in the museum and why we wrote them the way we did.
  2. Elvin Ching, illustrator of the book, will make a rare appearance and do live demonstrations of his drawings (trust me, you don't want to miss this - he's amazing!) 
  3. There will be mini games with prizes - winners will get a drawing from Elvin...wah!
  4. If you have a copy of the book or buy a book at the event, all three of us will autograph your copy (yes, we will sign your other Danger Dan books as well!)
  5. After the event, you can do a tour of the museum using the book as a guide.

The event is held in conjunction with the National Museum's Children's Season. Here are the details:

Secrets of Singapore: National Museum – Uncover the Secrets behind the Pages
Reading and Illustration Session by Authors and Illustrator
Sun, 25 Jun | 2.30pm (45 min)
Singapore History Gallery, Level 1
Free (but you must register on-site at 2pm)

Hope to see you there!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Should SOTA churn out graduates for the arts?

Recently, a news article in Strait Times sparked debate when it was revealed that more than 80% of School of the Arts (SOTA)'s 2015 graduating cohort ended up pursuing non-arts degrees. This has triggered some people to complain that these brats are squandering taxpayers' money by going to SOTA when they have no intent of an arts career, or that SOTA is therefore a flop.

When I was in secondary school, I dreamed about playing in an orchestra. I played the piano and I was quite good at it too, so I thought it would be the coolest thing ever, to become a musician. One day, the Singapore Youth Orchestra (SYO) paid a visit to my school and after giving what I thought was a totally awesome performance, they mentioned that they would be holding auditions for members. I don't remember how I found out about the audition date, I must have scoured the newspapers daily for the notice, but I did manage to find out and went for it. It was quite out of character for me, really. I was so shy and retiring back then, it must have been a stomach-churning experience.

I went for the audition, played a few pieces on the piano and sat for some sight-reading and aural tests. The auditioner, a bubbly lady, told me very kindly that she thought I was an accomplished pianist but since I was already 16, there would not be enough time to train me in a new instrument for the SYO.

On my way out, I met another young hopeful in the waiting room, gripping her violin case. She was with her mother and they were both visibly kancheong about the audition. The girl asked me what happened in the room and when I told her I was auditioned by Vivien Goh (she had introduced herself), both mother and daughter gasped "Vivien Goh!" in hushed tones. That's when I had an inkling that Vivien Goh must be somebody of repute in that circle. I had no clue myself, an outsider in this mysterious world of musicians and orchestras. 

Anyway, after finding out that just knowing how to play the piano was not going to get me into any orchestras, I decided to try and pick up a new instrument at JC. I joined the chamber ensemble CCA which opened up a violin class for beginners. There were only five of us, if I recall, and we paid a small fee for a violin teacher to teach us the fundamentals every week. We could only afford cheap $100 violins which made the most horrendous squawks. If you entered the music room when we were having our lessons, you would hear these blood-curdling screeches fit for any horror movie scene.

I think I lasted for about a year. Even when I had improved and the sounds from my instrument bore the semblance of a tune, I came to the realisation that a violinist I would never be. I could never tune my instrument properly and holding it under my chin for a long period gave me a stiff neck. The violin always felt like a foreign object to me, and I was never as excited to learn a new piece on it, the way I was with the piano.

If not a string instrument, then what? Later on, a friend gave me a few lessons on the clarinet. This wasn't for me either. I figured that as a musician, you probably should be able to play for more than half an hour without feeling like you're going to pass out from the lack of oxygen. So that ruled out all wind instruments.

Why am I relating this long, grandmother story? My point is that as kids, many of us have dreams of pursuing a certain career, but being kids, we have very little idea what it takes or whether we're even suited for it. It is also not surprising that many kids' dreams are in the arts and sports, partly because in kids' minds, these areas appear more "fun" and tend to be more visible. For instance, if they enjoy playing soccer, they might think that being a professional soccer player is the best job in world. Or they might look at Taylor Swift and think, "I want to be a singer!" Whereas no young kid will dream of becoming an IT analyst or logistics manager because they won't even know such jobs exist, let alone know what these people do.

It took me most of my youth to figure out that not only did I not have the aptitude to be a musician, that career (which demands exacting standards and passion in a very specialised area) would have made me utterly miserable. Note that I was already into my teenage years when I was harbouring those dreams. Yet, we expect 12-year-olds to have decided on their careers when they enter SOTA?

The point is that for most kids who enter SOTA, they have an interest in the arts, that's for sure. But at 12, it is really premature to say that they will pursue a career in the arts. The value of SOTA is not in grooming careers, otherwise we fall back on the age-old fallacy that education should be purely vocation-driven. Certainly not at the secondary school level. The value of SOTA is providing a place that is conducive to grooming ability and nurturing interest in the arts. In fact, sometimes in the course of studying something, you discover what you DON'T want to do.

One student was quoted as saying "SOTA gave me a safe space to experiment", and that, I feel, is more valuable than people understand. It's a delicate balancing act when it comes to the arts because for some art forms which have a short shelf life, you definitely do need to cultivate talent early. Think ballerinas who traditionally retire at around 40. However, the discovery of passion can take time so we need to groom talent without forcing it into a mould.

Side track: The only people I have an issue with are the parents who encourage their kids to enter SOTA simply to bypass the dreaded PSLE and have a through train education to IB. They know full well there is little chance their kids will pursue the arts, yet will put their kids through special DSA coaching classes in theatre, singing, dancing, music, etc. I know this practice is prevalent in certain schools, especially  a particular girls' school in the east. I'm quite certain if you do a check on which primary schools SOTA kids come from, a few schools will be over-represented. In these cases, the parents are doing their kids more harm than good and it's baffling that they're too myopic to see that.

Back to the criticism that SOTA has failed in its purpose or that these kids are brats. My question is: why then don't we go after people who go to law school and don't become lawyers? Or go to medical school and eventually change their minds mid-career? Many, many students sign up for law and medicine not because they have the elusive "passion" but simply out of prestige and the illusion that you can do anything with these degrees. After getting their degrees, they promptly pursue careers in other areas (law more than medicine, partly because of the long bond attached to medicine). Why don't we take them to task for wasting taxpayers' money? By the way, these are undergraduate degrees, so the students are much older than the ones in SOTA when they made their choice. Shouldn't they know better?

My suspicion in this: the arts is traditionally perceived as the poorer cousin in our society. Whether in school or in careers, it's always considered the second (or last) choice. Because of this, there is a prevalent mentality that the arts is undeserving of help and therefore arts folks should be eternally grateful for any form of support. In fact, it's a given that people should suffer for their art, so to have the chance to attend a fancy school like SOTA and not do arts after? What ungrateful brats!

I wouldn't be surprised if the people who expect a direct return on the support they perceive to have provided ("taxpayer dollars!") are the ones most unsupportive of the local arts scene. I bet they are unable to tell you when they last went to a local concert, play or read a book by a local author. These are also the people like to pigeon-hole others - you belong to the arts! You sports! You stay in those lanes. As if individuals are digitally programmed to have only singular interests and pathways in life.

Of course I hope that the SOTA graduates who decide not to pursue arts-related degrees are doing so for genuine reasons and not because they think they won't earn enough moolah as an artist. That would just be tragic and contrary to the spirit of the arts.  Anyway, what the ST article says is that SOTA graduates go on to pursue non-arts degrees (how many arts degrees are there anyway, especially locally?), not that they won't still end up being involved in the arts later on. The optimistic part of me keeps hoping. Look at me - I ditched my dreams of becoming a musician but I embraced another - to be an author. (I also worked at the SSO, not as a musician but in marketing, which was fulfilling in a different way).

People who love the arts usually find their way back to it somehow. And if SOTA's purpose is to nurture more people who can create and appreciate all forms of art, then regardless of whether the graduates pursue the arts as a career, the role of SOTA remains an important one.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mothers' Day feature and special offer for new Secrets of Singapore book

Happy Mothers' Day to all readers who are mums! Whether your kids are little ones or not-so-little-ones, being a mum is a privilege — to be able to raise and nurture another human being.

The Straits Times arts beat had a feature last Tuesday on "Mothers pass their artistic passions on to their children", and Lesley-Anne and I were interviewed as one of the mother-child pairs. Click on the link above to read the article (we're the third story).

Photo: SPH
My favourite quote in the article is Lesley-Anne's description of how we envisioned Gadget Girl in our Danger Dan series:
"I was always annoyed at kids' books with stereotypical girl characters who were ditzy or boy-crazy or always shopping and painting their nails," says Tan. "I couldn't identify with them at all."
Which brings me to a Danger Dan update. Those of you whose kids follow the Danger Dan and Gadget Girl series may have been wondering why we've been so quiet ever since the release of The Gruesome Garden last October. The reason is this we've been working hard on this book: Secrets of Singapore: National Museum.

This book is very close to my heart and is possibly one of my favourites. Like the original Secrets of Singapore, this book similarly tells the story of the history of Singapore, but this time, the narrative is woven around the artefacts at the National Museum. We wrote it with the view that kids would take the book with them on their visit to the museum and use it as a guide to reference the artefacts. The artefacts described in the book are numbered and you can find the gallery where each is located in a list at the back of the book.

As with the original Secrets of Singapore, we use very simple language and we try to explain everything, even the word "artefact":

The point is to make the museum (and history) easily understandable and even interesting, by breaking down the facts and artefacts into digestible, bite-sized chunks. Then we throw in loads of humour and Danger Dan-style puns. The National Museum was very helpful in providing info, especially where we thought we would need to bring in trivia that appealed to kids. Such as this one on the very first NS uniform.

Of course, Elvin Ching's fantastic illustrations also helped bring the artefacts to life. We ♥ his drawings. Here's an early review of the book:
"What a wonderful book to teach children (and adults) about the history of Singapore!  Danger Dan and Gadget Girl deliver so much information in a fun, humorous and interesting way with lively images and information about many of the artefacts in the National Museum. Parents, teachers and students will all want to have their own copy because it brings so much life into the fascinating history of Singapore. A visit to Singapore, and the National Museum, would be incomplete without this book!" - Sarah Mounsey, teacher librarian, Dulwich College, and children's book author
I hope you're as excited as I am about this book! It will be available in bookstores by end May/early June, but you can be one of the first to get your hands on it with this special pre-order offer of $14 by Closetful of Books. (There's free delivery with a minimum order of $25, so get another for a friend!) Order now and you will receive an autographed copy of the book by 29 May 2017.

Do support our efforts to keep writing for kids - appreciate this lots!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Pain, my foot

Ever since Andre started playing badminton in school at p2, he's complained of pain in his heels. His coach said the muscles and tendons in his feet were probably very tight and set him some stretching exercises.

Then as he grew older, he would often complain of pain in his soles after running, walking or standing, even for a short period of time. When he went on his secondary school badminton camp night walk (which was around 20km), he would start limping after 2km or so, even while wearing two pairs of socks. We thought he might have flat feet but his feet looked normal to our laymen eyes, so we dismissed it and told him to keep stretching.

Before he started poly, we finally decided to send him to a podiatrist to check out his feet. We took the polyclinic route and received a referral to Geylang Polyclinic which has a podiatrist clinic. Well, there's a reason we parents are not doctors because the podiatrist took one look at Andre's feet and declared that he was "extremely flat-footed".

Flat feet (or fallen arches) is a condition where the feet don't have a natural arch. Because of this, pain is often experienced with prolonged standing, walking or running. In fact, high impact sports like badminton, with constant jumping. can trigger severe pain.

I'll tell you what else it triggers - it triggers severe feelings of guilt in parents. Because we have dismissed the problem and let him do sports in pain all these years. ๐Ÿ˜ฑ๐Ÿ˜ฑ

Of course, I glibly told him, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger!" And "better late than never!" (When in doubt, spout idioms.)

The podiatrist recommended a few ways to remedy the problem. One of them was stretches but the most impactful method was making special insoles to correct the fallen arches. According to him,  some flat-footers can get away with buying off-the-shelf shoes with arch support, but Andre's condition was pretty severe and would function best with insoles customised specially for his feet.

Geylang Polyclinic takes the dimension for the insoles on the spot, using special equipment that scans the feet.

The scans are then sent to Australia where the insoles are custom-made. They're not cheap - $260 per pair. Ouch! However, I later found out that this price is much lower than what you'd have to pay at private specialist clinics. Anyway, the insoles can last three years even with daily wear, and can be removed to fit other pairs of shoes, so I guess you get your money's worth.

Funny aside: The morning of the appointment before we left home, Andre asked me if he needed to "dress up". Of course I said no. Why would one need to dress up to go to the podiatrist? It was only when we were sitting in the waiting room that I noticed his t-shirt had two big holes at the shoulder. Alamak!

On the plus side, as someone told me, maybe the podiatrist took pity on him and gave him a discount on the insoles.

Andre has been wearing shoes with his new insoles for the past few months and they work like magic. He no longer experiences pain when standing for prolonged periods, which was a life-saver when he was working as a waiter. I guess you could say the insoles got him back on his feet...literally.

Monday, April 17, 2017

When boredom turns to creativity

As mentioned, Andre is on a long break and even with his part-time job and lounging around, he was bound to get bored at some point. Some kids like Lesley-Anne, would have no problem filling their time in productive ways, like reading, but we all know this has never been Andre's favourite activity and he wasn't about to start now.

"Play a game with me!" he would pester but to this mum, a two-hour Monopoly game is as mind-numbing as reading maths equations. "Play mini table tennis with me!" asked the hopeful boy, lugging the table into my office. Sometimes, out of sheer guilt, I obliged but after a while, every sedentary bone in my body would whine in chorus, so I fell back on the age-old excuse: "I have to work!"

Left to his own devices, Andre figured he had to find ways to entertain himself. So here: let Andre show you how mini table tennis can be a solo sport. Not just one, but three different ways!


At the start of the holidays, I told Andre he should use the time to do something worthwhile. One of the activities he told me he would do during the break is to restart his piano playing. Those of you who have followed my blog those many years back might remember how I decided to stop his piano lessons when I grew tired of fighting with him about practising. That was back in 2011 and I was mentally prepared that it would be the last time I would hear Andre on the piano. 

So when he told me he wanted to start playing the piano again, I was skeptical, to say the least. (I think my exact words were, "Yeah, riiight! I'll believe it when I see it.") True to form, when he asked me for help, I realised that he had completely returned his few years of music training. I mean, COMPLETELY. This is a boy who had actually passed Grade 5 theory and Grade 4 practical piano exams, but he asked questions typical of a new student, including: "What's a rest?" "What's a bass clef?" "What's this black note with a stick??" DOH!

But then, he started searching and printing out sheet music of pop songs. With just cursory help from me, he diligently plodded through them, note by note. And quite to my astonishment, he stuck with it. Not only did he learn song after song, he even played them from memory. These past few weeks, my piano has sung more than it has over the last few years. I can scarcely believe it.

As a friend said, it's amazing what kids can conjure up when they have enough free time to dream. I whole-heartedly agree. Forget about classes or curriculum to nurture creativity. Just give them time to be bored.

So Andre's no Lang Lang but it's a mini miracle to me that he actually returned to the piano on his own. That makes my heart sing. ๐Ÿ’–


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Hymn for the weekend

We had a celebratory weekend. First, we had an early birthday celebration for Lesley-Anne because she wouldn't be able to come home the coming weekend. As a surprise for her, we decided to go vegetarian! I say surprise because except for her, we're pretty much carnivores in our household. Even our helper, knowing our preferences, once served macaroni salad as the "salad", much to Lesley-Anne's chagrin.

But hey, it's Lesley-Anne's birthday so we eat what she likes! After some surfing, we decided to go to Original Sin at Holland Village, which many consider THE place for vegetarian food. Here are our orders:

Feta cheese balls
Broccoli pesto pasta
Absolut - penne in pink sauce
Fried corn fritters for grandma
Cannelloni verde
I say this unreservedly: everything was delicious. And I mean, everything. Even the cannelloni verde, which doesn't look like much in the picture, was super tasty. After the meal, Kenneth said, "if all vegetarian food tasted like this, I can easily go vegetarian!"

Ok, so it's quite pricey, which would be the only reason stopping us from making this a regular haunt, but if you're looking for a nice vegetarian treat with lots of options, I highly recommend this place.

Dessert was, of course, birthday cake at home - Over the Moon cheesecake from cheesecake specialist, Cat & the Fiddle.    

This is the year she enters her 20s and I shall refrain from going into the usual lament of "where did my baby go?" as I do every year. But seriously, WHERE DID MY BABY GO??? ๐Ÿ˜†๐Ÿ˜†

The second "celebratory" event of the weekend was the Coldplay concert I attended with Andre. I just HAD to write about this because it was one of those incredible experiences that you don't just remember but bask in for a long time.

Perhaps it's no secret that I consider Coldplay the most, musically brilliant band of our time. In my book, The Good, the Bad and the PSLE, I named some of the chapter titles after their songs. When they burst into the scene in 2000 with Parachutes, they caught the world's attention with their very different and intriguing sound. Then A Rush of Blood to the Head propelled them to fame and there was no looking back. 17 years later, they are still mesmerising the world with their iconic musical style, meditative (and sometimes trippy) lyrics reminiscent of the Beatles, and often earworm-inducing melodies. With the exception of Ghost Stories, which I personally feel was an insipid letdown, each of their other 6 albums is exceptional.

I attended the last Coldplay concert in Singapore in 2009 with Kenneth at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, and it made such an impression that I promised myself I would bring the kids if they ever played again in Singapore. Unfortunately, Lesley-Anne was uninterested in being at a venue with loud music and 50,000 other people, but Andre was game. Purchasing tickets was a nightmare, as you probably know, with tickets being snapped up within minutes. Fortunately, thanks to a friend, we managed to secure terrific seats.

How can I describe the experience? It was like being in a dream bubble for two hours. The choreography was superb. Psychedelic, kaleidoscope backdrops synchronised perfectly with wristbands (given to the audience) that flooded the stadium with colour. There were pyrotechnics, lasers, balloons - perfectly paced to keep the momentum going.

Chris Martin is the consummate showman. His infectious energy (running and jumping around on stage) kept the audience enthralled. It's no easy feat to engage a 50,000-strong audience for two hours but he did it. Up tempo songs were interspersed with ballads, where his hauntingly plaintive vocals soared. Every time the distinctive opening to a song started, the audience cheered. Viva La Vida, Fix You, The Scientist, Yellow, Hymn for the Weekend, Every Teardrop is a Waterfall, Something Just Like This - we lapped it all up.

A very rapt boy

Two hours of unadulterated bliss, according to this Fan Girl. Who says you need drugs to get high ๐Ÿ˜. After that, Andre and I lived in a happy glow, even till the very next day. Andre has had Coldplay on loop in his playlist ever since that evening.

I am a firm believer in paying for experiences rather than things...and what an experience that was. A sky full of stars, a head full of dreams. Call it magic. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Waiter! Waiter!

When Andre finished his 'O' levels last year, we knew he was in for a long holiday, since the poly academic year only begins in late April. One of the things he's been doing during his free time is volunteering at a nearby community centre, giving tuition to needy kids.

Once, he arrived there only to find that the week's sessions had been cancelled and the coordinator had forgotten to inform him. Some of the kids must not have known too because about 6 kids turned up. Instead of telling them to go home, Andre took the keys from the cc office, opened up the room and helped all 6 kids with their homework. Sometimes, this boy really surprises me.

However, since this tuition gig is only once a week, Andre has been enjoying himself, lounging around and basically doing whatever he wants (which is often nothing). By January, I got tired of seeing him either playing on his phone or watching TV, to the point that I was sure his brain was going to rot to nothing.

So I bugged him to find a job. He resisted at first, protesting that he deserved a break, but reluctantly caved after a bit (I can be very persistent, doncha know it). Taking the easiest way out, he walked to a row of restaurants situated right behind our home, found one with a 'Help Wanted' sign, talked to the manager, and ta-dah! Got a job as a waiter.

Even though I know he got the job primarily to get me off his case (I know this as a fact because right after getting the job, he told me, "Ok, I've a job! Can you stop bugging me now??"), I couldn't be more pleased. It gave him something useful to do and some hands on experience while earning some pocket money. 

The restaurant turned out to be a great environment for him. He learned some useful skills, such as packing food for takeaways, and serving customers. Having done this job, he's now very sympathetic to waiters. When we eat out and sometimes a waiter gets our order wrong or forgets something, he would insist that we not make a fuss. "It's very difficult to remember everything, ok!" he would say.

The funny thing is the chef only speaks Mandarin and I'm sure you all know by now how brilliant Andre's Chinese standard is. The first few days, instead of telling the chef "ๅ…ฉไปฝๆนฏ" (2 portions of soup), Andre would yell, "ๅ…ฉๅˆ†ๆนฏ!" (2 cents of soup). Luckily, the chef finds this terribly amusing so he would just laugh and nod his head.

As a bonus, the staff seem to like him and are very patient in guiding him. The chef, knowing that Andre loves fried chicken wings, sometimes fries a few extras just for him to take home!

On his part, he ended up enjoying working more he thought he would. It makes him feel useful and it gave his confidence a boost when he realised he could do a good job. See? Mummy does know best ๐Ÿ˜

Upon receiving his first pay check, Andre surprised us with a couple of slices of cake from a nearby bakery.  Pretty sweet and I'm not talking about the cake  ๐Ÿ˜‰

Monday, March 13, 2017

The DSA vs kiasu parents

The latest news on the education front is the changes to Direct School Admissions (DSA). A reader asked me what I thought about the changes and I told her that after all these years, having witnessed cohort after cohort of students and parents undergo the system, I've become quite pessimistic about the possibility of a real transformation in education.

Two reasons: one, the mindset of parents in this country HAS NOT CHANGED. If anything, parents have become more kiasu than ever. This is not to say that all parents are kiasu, but as long as the majority of parents believe in chiong-ing to ridiculous extremes to chase the "best" school, the top grades etc, change cannot take place, no matter what tweaks are done to the education system.

The second reason is related to the first: the changes that MOE have made do not address the root problem of parents' mindsets. Removing DSA via academic ability will simply shift the focus onto sports and other abilities. If your attitude is that the DSA is a fast ticket to the school of your choice, then you will work backwards to calculate what it takes to get the DSA. This accounts for the horrifying number of pre-schoolers being pushed into swimming, golf, theatre and what have you, with the aim of hot-housing them for the sole purpose of DSA.

Honestly, how do you, as a parent, know that your 5-year-old has or will have a real passion or talent in competitive badminton? Or violin? Or hip hop? The short answer: you don't. These misplaced efforts have the potential to do real damage by forcing a child into an activity which serves only a pragmatic purpose, with almost no consideration for his or her real interest. I personally know of parents who pour thousands of dollars into singing or acting lessons with the hope that their kids can get DSA into SOTA, without even thinking whether their children have any interest in pursuing the arts as a career.

Education Minister Ng Chee Meng was quoted as saying, "With this expansion, students can better access schools with suitable programmes via DSA to nurture their strengths, talents and interests."

That may be MOE's intention, but the way that parents are trying to game the system, I argue that the DSA currently does not nurture strengths, talents or interests. If you have been training for a sport for 7 years by the time you're 12, chances are you will be very good at it, simply due to the amount of time invested. It does not mean that you have the natural strength or talent in it, let alone interest. In addition, the DSA nurtures nothing. Let's not kid ourselves - students don't have their abilities honed upon being successful in DSA. The DSA rewards students who ALREADY display ability.

The only way that the expanded DSA relieves stress is simply by increasing the number of spaces allocated. So instead of being able to take in only 2 basketballers, maybe a school can now take in 5. In other words, the child now doesn't have to be the top 2 trying out, just the top 5. Whoop dee doo!

Another problem is the schools themselves have a pragmatic agenda. Schools who offer DSAs via sports and arts see these kids as potential medal grabbers for school glory. Don't believe me? When was the last time a school offered DSA for a sport or CCA that wasn't competitive?

In fact, this clumping of DSA students into niche schools for specific activities creates other problems at the secondary school level. The same old schools tend to dominate all the medals in specific sports, which is not surprising because they already took in all the top players to begin with. It makes a mockery of competitive sports and the arts, leaving very little room and recognition for schools who don't take in DSA kids and actually DO nurture students with no prior experience. Forget about sportsmanship, growth and effort. Those take a backseat.

The DSA, therefore, has become an avenue for schools to become "elite" in certain sports and the arts, in the same way that branded schools like to trumpet their academic achievements, when the chances of success are already skewed in their favour. Ironically, instead of closing gaps, the DSA has inadvertently created an unlevel playing field in a whole different arena.

Andre's experience

I was initially reluctant to post about this topic because I felt that nothing I said would make a difference. It's like using a fly swatter to pit myself against the kiasu parents wielding Thor hammers. Plus, I'm perfectly aware that the parents who follow my blog tend to share my views, so I'm only preaching to the converted.

But in the spirit of giving encouragement, I thought I should share Andre's case, so for those of you who are despairing, you might take heart.

When Andre was in p6, he tried out for DSA for badminton to a few schools. He was rejected by every single one of them. There was one particular school that his badminton coach recommended him to, that she was quite confident he would be successful in. Then just three months before the badminton trials, the school changed the coach. The new coach took a different approach and didn't select Andre.

At a badminton competition
Back then, we were bitterly disappointed and so was he. We couldn't understand why God seemed to close all the doors to Andre, even though he realistically should have stood a chance. It was only years later that we realised we should have just trusted God from the beginning. The school where he eventually enrolled in, via an unlikely appeal, became such a blessing for Andre. It amply recognised and rewarded him for his badminton achievements and efforts, as I've blogged about before. He even became the CCA's captain and vice-captain for four years, an opportunity he would have been unlikely to receive in the other schools with DSA candidates.

In addition, many of the schools which offer badminton DSA are SAP schools, meaning Andre would have had to take Higher Chinese. With his horrendous Chinese standards, this would have been an unequivocal Disaster with a capital D, and maybe caused Andre to be retained. As a poetic ending, Andre's school badminton team, with no DSA students, beat out that earlier school he had missed out on the DSA for, in this year's school badminton tournament. It's a lesson in sportsmanship, humility and character-building.

I'm sharing this from the vantage point of a parent who has been there and done that. For Christian parents, have faith that God really knows what's best for your kid. You may not see it now, but it's my experience that every time we try to arm twist God into giving us what we want, it usually turns out to be disastrous. No need to chiong and stress - just trust that He will provide. Remember, God knows the future, we don't.

For non-Christian parents, I know it can be nerve-wrecking to trust that you're making the right decision in not chiong-ing with the crowd. But from the many parents I've spoken to and know about, I found that a significant number of children who took up DSA sports or arts eventually regretted doing so and dropped their speciality. I'm not saying that DSA, or even preparation for DSA, is bad. I'm saying that if you want to take this route, do make sure that your child is truly passionate about the chosen sport/art form, and it's not just because you're trying to bypass the PSLE or chope a place in a desired school at all costs.

As I'd also observed from the paths Lesley-Anne and Andre's friends took, the vast majority of them ended up in a similar route in higher education. At Yale-NUS where Lesley-Anne is now, the students come from a wide spectrum of schools and had amassed an equally wide range of grades, which makes me believe even more fervently that all the panicking and stress are so needless. The Big Bad PSLE is REALLY just one exam and it doesn't make as great an impact on your child's future as you might think.

It all boils down to perspective. At the end of the day, if what you want are happy and fulfilled children with values and character (and I hope you do), then understand that it doesn't start with killing their childhood with work, drills and more work (both academic and non-academic). I see so many unhappy teenagers around who are stressed out, insecure and hate their parents, and I say this emphatically: it's not worth it.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11

Monday, February 27, 2017


For parents of young kids, the zoo is usually a popular venue for outings. For us, we were Friends of the Zoo, so we were frequent visitors. Then for some reason, when our kids grow up, the zoo shifts away from our radar. It really is a pity, since animal watching is hardly an activity just for children.

Recently, Andre suddenly had a hankering to visit the zoo. We tried to remember when it was we last visited the zoo and figured it must have been at least 8 years ago. Spurred by his enthusiasm, we decided to make a day trip to the far north of the island. Luckily, we had a 1-for-1 coupon for tickets. Honestly, we haven't been there for so long, I had no idea that zoo tickets had become that costly!

Lesley-Anne brought along her camera and tested out her wildlife photography skills.

Prowling cheetahs (behind glass)
Hungry otters
It was a little poignant to see Inuka, the 26-year-old polar bear, all alone, after his mother, Sheba, died in 2012. Polar bears in the wild tend to live only up to 10 years old, so Inuka is quite a senior citizen by now. I understand that the zoo will no longer take in any more animals from the Arctic due to concerns raised by animal welfare groups, so do go see Inuka while you still can.

Inuka (behind glass)
The Fragile Forest section is particularly beautiful. The animals are free-roaming so you can see them up close.

Flying fox
"I don't wanna move it, move it. Lemur alone."
This monkey was sitting on a stump with her baby, happily minding her own business and letting Lesley-Anne take her photo, when a squirrel jumped right on top of her. Both the photographer and subject were startled and the monkey let out an indignant screech. I guess squirrels are the pesky young brothers in the animal kingdom!

Mr Toad
Baby meerkat: "I wasn't going to do it, mum! Really!"
After lunch, it started pouring at the zoo. We saw this poor pelican at the seal enclosure, totally drenched and shivering.

"Stand guard, they said. Riiight."
Hamadryas baboons
Tree kangaroo
White tiger

This is not a paid post, so it's my true opinion. If you're looking for a fun and meaningful venue for a family outing, we highly recommend the zoo. No matter what ages your kids are, it really is a great way to spend a morning or afternoon. Admission fee: $33 (adult), $22 (children aged 3 to 12), $15 (senior citizens). Get 25% discount if you buy tickets online.

Monday, February 13, 2017

When the son shines

Ever since the end of Andre's 'O' levels and with Lesley-Anne away at Yale-NUS, I've been spending a lot more time with Andre. Since he will be enrolling in a polytechnic, he's officially on holiday till mid April. Shiok!

Personality-wise, I have a lot more in common with Lesley-Anne. We share many interests (we write books together, for Pete's sake!) and we interact on a similar wavelength intellectually. Andre, on the other hand, is sometimes quite alien to me. He loves sports, never over-thinks and seldom worries about what will come next. I once asked my kids, "I sometimes get backaches when I'm stressed. Do you?"

Lesley-Anne replied, "No, I don't get backaches when I'm stressed." while Andre's reply was, "No, I don't get stressed." ๐Ÿ˜ณ

In our family pictures, Andre is the one who features the most often because he's the most sporting. He doesn't mind appearing silly and he just makes us laugh.

Andre's happy-go-lucky nature is completely foreign to naturally anxious me but I realise that's precisely why it's so easy to be around him. Despite our differences, or maybe because of them, hanging out with him is very relaxing and I'm loving it.

Sometimes, we lounge about doing absolutely nothing. Other times, we indulge in the one common activity we love - eating!

Nom, nom, nom.

Lounge, eat...until guilt propels me to say we have to get off our butts. Then we attempt to get some exercise. Either going for a walk...

or playing table tennis, which is a challenge for me, with my almost iconic lack of hand-eye coordination.

Recently, Kenneth bought Andre a mini table tennis table from Decathlon. It's fun because you can play it anywhere, even in the comfort of your own room. However, it's not much of a workout because the table is so small you can even play it sitting down (see how small it is in comparison to the paddles?)

So Andre made up this rule: whoever loses a point has to do the twist or jumping jacks or simply jiggle about for 5 seconds. This plus the giggling that follows helps us break a sweat and shed calories (hopefully).

Part of the reason why it's great to hang out with Andre is that he's game for most things. I've scored tickets to the Coldplay concert in April and we'll be making it a mother-son evening, I can't wait. His enthusiasm is infectious and makes each experience fun. He's also the most fun to be with on holidays.

But fun-loving is not the only attribute Andre exhibits. Whenever we go out with my 86-year-old mil, Andre is the one who holds her arm and walks with her. When she came down with a bout of gastric flu and was vomiting, he was the one who stayed by her bedside, patiently holding her puke bag and rubbing her back. I was so impressed, I told him after that, "That's it. When I'm old, I'm so staying with you."

If nothing, we raised a son with a good heart. That's better than all the fun in the world.

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