Sunday, January 15, 2017

'O' level results and other milestones

Last Wednesday was the release of the 'O' level results. It shouldn't have been nerve-wrecking for Andre, since he'd already been accepted for early admission to the polytechnic course of his choice. All he needed to do was earn 26 points for his L1R4, which shouldn't have been a problem.

Yet, on Tuesday, he was a bundle of nerves. He moped around the house, mournfully singing Les Miserables' "One Day More", and repeatedly asked, "What if I don't make the minimum cut-off?" until I started having doubts myself. I began to wonder what rubbish he'd written during the exams to warrant this level of fretting. This is a boy whose self-assessment of how he'd done in exams holds a spotty record, to say the least. There had been times when he's come home to say the exam was "easy" only to be confronted later by a failing grade. This would inevitably lead me to shriek, "I thought you said it was easy! What happened?", to which he would look baffled and say "I don't know!"

He forbade me from going to school with him and said he would text me the results. So I waited anxiously and every time the phone beeped, I jumped. After a heart-pounded wait, I received a text from him. 11 points!!

This was a way better result than any of us could have hoped for and we were ecstatic. To put Andre's results in context, during his four years of secondary school, there have been exams where he had failed more subjects than he'd passed. In sec3, I wasn't sure he was even going to be promoted to the next level. We were particularly surprised by his B3 grade for A. Math, since he'd consistently flunked this subject in school. He had aimed for 16 points for the 'O' levels but surpassed that by a mile. The early admission turned out to be quite unnecessary after all. With this score, he can almost have his pick of courses at the polytechnic. What a wonderful boost to his confidence.

That's a nice close to Andre's secondary school journey and the last bit has been an especially eventful one. I'd shared in an earlier post how his school awarded him the Outstanding Leadership Award for his contributions in badminton, and how his teachers wrote him glowing testimonials. As it turned out, the school also chose him for another school award: Most Valuable Player...

as well as the Eagles Award (under Edusave), for leadership, service and achievements in CCA. The award ceremony was held yesterday.

I've always believed that God takes extra care to look after the sparrows and that's Andre - one big sparrow. As a student, he might not be considered the most "accomplished" in the traditional academic sense, but I've come to realise that he has made his mark in his own funny and affable way, and always on his own terms. My sparrow is all grown up and I'm so very proud of him. 💖

Prom night

Monday, January 9, 2017

Hong Kong revisited

Happy New Year! Bucking the trend, we were on holiday last week, during the first week of January, instead of December. We were in Hong Kong for an eat-sleep break - a great way to recharge before starting 2017!

Will write a few posts on my Travel Blog on where we ate and stayed. The first post is already up, so if you're looking for foodie ideas for Hong Kong, do check it out!

Meanwhile, here are just a few sneak peaks of food shots to tempt your tastebuds 😋


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Art, science (and math) in full glory

Every year-end school hols, we try to make an excursion to either a museum or an attraction of interest. This year, we made a trip down to the Art Science Museum at Marina Bay Sands for three ongoing exhibitions - Journey to Infinity: Escher's World of Wonder, NASA - A Human Adventure, and Future World.

The Escher exhibition was the one we were really keen on. In case you don't know, M.C. Escher was an artist who combined mathematical concepts in his art, playing with perspective and architecture. One of his most well-known contributions was the artistic interpretation of tessellations to a completely new level. In Singapore, primary school kids still learn about tessellations today.

This was one of his earlier works on tessellations...

Sky and Water 1
which gradually became more complex.

Angels or demons?
Circle Limit IV
From 1954, Escher began working on optical illusions and concepts of infinity, which resulted in some pretty captivating and today, iconic artworks. 

Ascending and Descending
All four of us loved the Escher exhibition, which probably says something about how OCD we are as a family 😆

As an undergraduate, I chanced upon a book of Escher's artworks and was immediately hooked. The geometry and poetry of his lines spoke to me so much that I attempted to recreate a colour version of one of his works. This was one of his early woodcuts during the period when he was consumed by the architecture of buildings:

Inside St Peter's
My not-quite-exact replica in coloured pencil.

Our main purpose was to visit the Escher exhibition but since there was a special all-access ticket to all three ongoing exhibitions, we decided to cover 'em all.

The NASA exhibition is good for kids and adults interested in all-things space. You get to see models of different space shuttles...

Saturn V
and gawk at space food...

 and space toilets.

You can also pay $6 to get a ride on G-Force - Astronaut Trainer Ride. It's a contraption that tilts you back and forth and spins you around. We watched for a bit to see if anyone came out of the ride walking sideways or throwing up. Nope, nobody did!

Finally, there's the Future World exhibition. In my opinion, this exhibition is great but more for younger kids (primary school and below). It takes interactive art and play to a whole new level. For example, you can draw your own a sea creature, scan it in a machine and see it swim on the digital wall. What's amazing is that the picture doesn't come out static - it moves and squirms like real sea creatures.

Something around every corner to enthrall the little ones.

The Crystal Universe with 4D technology and a heckuva lot of LED lights was quite spectacular.

I know this post might come a little late since it's nearing the end of the school hols (parents say "yay!" kids say "boo!"). However, the exhibitions are still on so you might want to book one of the upcoming weekends to take your kids.

Future World is on till 8 Jan, Escher exhibition till 26 Feb and NASA exhibition till 19 March. Special all-access pass to all three exhibitions available.

Monday, December 19, 2016

It's the most wonderful time of the year

December leading up to the Christmas season is always my favourite time of the year, and I'm sure I'm not alone. The kids are off from school, work usually slows down as people clear their leave and go on holidays. As if in cahoots, the weather cooperates, sending showers of blessings that cause temperatures and tempers to mellow. One of my favourite sounds in the world is the fall of raindrops on the roof. It reminds me of God's protection against the storm and makes me feel safe.

This year especially, I welcomed the winding down period because 2016 was such a hectic year for our family. Lesley-Anne started university, Kenneth embarked on a new job, and Andre completed his 'O' levels. Here he is happily clearing out his mountain of school and assessment books.

Lesley-Anne and I launched the new Danger Dan and Gadget Girl series, and on top of that, my business boomed, so much so that I could barely keep up.

I'm not complaining though - all these are blessings for which I'm deeply grateful. But up till last Monday, Lesley-Anne and I were still working on book-related stuff. We conducted our very last school talk of the year, and finished up the manuscript for a new Danger Dan adventure. So it was such a tremendous feeling of relief when that was done.

The very next day, we went shopping! Just some background, Lesley-Anne, my sister and I all hate shopping for clothes. Really and truly. It's such a bothersome chore and it seems like something is always not right - either the fit, the colour or the price (that's the reason I don't like shopping online for clothes. What looks good on the screen too often doesn't look good in person). So once every year in December, the three of us make a pact to dedicate a day for clothes shopping so that we're more or less set for the year (and since we'd be Christmas shopping too, that's two birds with one stone!)

This year, Andre unwittingly decided to join us gals, lured by the promise of brunch and tea. It probably started dawning on him that he'd gotten more than he'd bargained for when we spent a prolonged period at Topshop.

Six hours later, he declared the shopping trip more tiring than the 20km night walk he went on at badminton camp.

I have a funny feeling he won't be joining us next year 😆.

As for me, I'm a happy camper. All my shopping's done! Now all that's left to do is to enjoy the rest of the holidays, feast and be merry.

A very blessed Christmas to all of you, my fabulous readers! May you experience the joy and peace of the season, and bask in Christ's love, always.

Monday, December 5, 2016

My other badminton player

For a long time, sports was never Lesley-Anne's "thing". That is, until she went to JC and joined the Modern Dance CCA. Dance is siong, to put it mildly. Thanks to the numerous practice sessions which include intensive PT, by the end of JC, Lesley-Anne was a compact little package of muscle (she could hold her own arm wrestling Andre). She even managed to overcome her dislike for running and clinched a gold for her NAPFA test in JC2.

When she entered Yale-NUS, she continued to seek out Dance CCAs, but she decided to also try out for a sport. That's one of the great pluses of university life - you're encouraged to join as many CCAs as you like, without having to commit to just one (and without the fear of losing points if you drop one).

She tried out for badminton as that's one of the few sports she enjoys. She occasionally plays with Andre during the holidays, for fun. She thought it would be a great way to learn how to play the game properly, as Yale-NUS engages a professional coach for its training sessions.

What she didn't realise was that since Yale-NUS has a very small enrolment, its pool of athletes is tiny. Hence, some sports have difficulty attracting members, especially female athletes. So when Lesley-Anne signed up for badminton, the CCA happily welcomed her. Then two weeks into Yale-NUS and just four basic training sessions later, she found out, to her horror, that not only did she make the girls' school team, she was expected to represent Yale-NUS in the upcoming NUS Inter-Faculty Games!

Got official t-shirt and everything, don't play play! When she told us, in a panic, we didn't know whether to send congratulations or condolences. It was just so funny. With total confidence in her abilities, I told her, "Err...just try to win a few points, ok?"

It became even more unreal when she said she was being fielded as a singles player. This was pure strategy - Yale-NUS knew it didn't stand a chance playing against some of the other more formidable teams, so it placed all its bets on its doubles and assigned the rookies to singles to get thrashed for experience.

But as we all know, life is often stranger than fiction. It turned out that at the very first meetup, the opposing team had the exact same strategy of assigning the sacrificial lambs to the last singles match. Lesley-Anne's opponent was as petite and inexperienced as she was and upon discovering this, Lesley-Anne proceeded to desperately "anyhow serve" (her own words) and lob as high as she could. Final score: 21-17, 21-8! She didn't just win her match, hers was the deciding match (last singles in a set of five). WAHHH! Rookie win! Honestly, when we heard the news, we 😂😂. Except Andre who was slightly indignant. "Who on earth wins their very first competition match??" Lesley-Anne, apparently.

Since that very eventful baptism by fire, Lesley-Anne has been enjoying her twice-weekly badminton sessions tremendously. Then in end October, Yale-NUS organised an overseas athletics trip, where quite a few sports CCAs like badminton, tchoukball, floorball and basketball were given the opportunity to each send a team to Taiwan to play friendly matches with Taiwan universities.

Lo and behold, Lesley-Anne was selected to go! It was a real surprise since she's so new to the game and there are stronger players on the team. We're guessing that she was chosen because of her commitment (she diligently attends every single training session).

So off to Taiwan she went for four days and had a marvelous time. The team of eight players (four boys, four girls) had the opportunity to play against three different Taiwan universities and even though their opponents were way better than they were, it was a priceless experience.

Funny fact: Yale-NUS is known for its international mix and for some reason, the Taiwanese thought Lesley-Anne was Korean. One group of students called out to her, "Anyoung haseyo!" 😝

Lesley-Anne has been very fortunate. I can safely say that few other universities would have given such a golden opportunity to a newbie. And for me, I'm just pretty stoked to be able to say that both my kids are on badminton school teams!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Coming into her own at the Singapore Writers Festival

Another Singapore Writers Festival has come and gone, and this year, Lesley-Anne was the participant from this family, not me.

She was invited to speak at two panels. The first, Singapore Through Their Eyes, which focused on writing about local characters set in local contexts.

The second was targeted at teens: Write This Way,  where four teens shared their experiences and advice for writing.

After the second session, some friends and fans approached Lesley-Anne for autographs and advice.

She has received quite a lot of publicity for this year's SWF.

An SG Now Feature: "8 Singaporean writers you should know about"

As one of the writers interviewed for a Today newspaper article: "Words by Women".

And a full feature interview and writeup on 

Funnily enough, it's not the writing or speaking that she's most daunted by - it's the publicity. Over dinner before her first SWF session, I asked her how her week has been. She looked cross and said "bad". I thought maybe she didn't do well in some essay or was swamped by work. Turns out, someone in Yale-NUS had found out about her Today newspaper feature and spread the word, so random strangers had been stopping her and asking her about her books. What a nightmare for Ms Anti-Social.

Watching Lesley-Anne this SWF, it was evident to me how much she has developed as a writer and speaker. Her mindset on writing has definitely expanded, as demonstrated in her quote in the Today article: 
“You (as an artist) are not just there to showcase how well you can do your craft, you have to use your craft for something ... More than just providing entertainment, you are supposed to start a discussion of neglected topics in society.”

Having participated at quite a number of official events now, her confidence and eloquence have grown. Even among adults, she holds her own. In fact, some of the things she was talking about made me mutter, " Aiyoh, so cheem".

Nevertheless, it makes me proud to see her come this far. It especially warms my heart to see her talk to teens and kids about her passion. To be able to possibly make a difference in someone's life, that's something special right there and I'm glad to be part of her journey.

Monday, November 7, 2016

About Yale-NUS and demystifying liberal arts

When I tell people that Lesley-Anne is in Yale-NUS, I'm often met with puzzlement. "Oh, NUS?" Well, not exactly..."Oh, the medical school?" No, that's Duke-NUS.

Then when they ask what she's studying and I say that Yale-NUS is a liberal arts programme, the response becomes even more interesting. "Oh, arts! Cos she likes writing and stuff?" Then there are those whose faces show distinct alarm from which I know they've only heard the word "liberal" and think my daughter is gonna get seduced by dem wicked Americans keen on sex and drinking and turning people gay.

So this post is to clear up misconceptions and shed light on what a Yale-NUS education entails.


One of the main differences between a US and UK tertiary education is that for most UK universities, you have to choose a subject to study right from the start. Eg. if you wish to attend UCL or Imperial College, you have to apply for a particular subject like Econs or Engineering. Right from the start, your programme is designed around that course. The US, however, believes in a more holistic broad-based education, so for most universities, the first couple of years cover a wide spectrum of subjects to give students a good general knowledge across disciplines, including both sciences and the humanities. Only in the last two years (a US university education is typically 4 years) do students specialise in a chosen major. The intent is to create more well-rounded individuals and broaden minds.

Fundamentally, the latter is what a liberal arts education is about. Contrary to what its name suggests, liberal arts isn't just about the arts subjects. It covers the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, although the proportion of each can vary quite drastically among universities. At Yale-NUS, all freshmen (1st years) and sophomores (2nd years) have to undergo a common curriculum to ensure that the students are knowledgeable across disciplines.

For Lesley-Anne's first semester, she's studying four compulsory modules - Literature and Humanities, Philosophy and Political Thought, Scientific Inquiry, and Comparative Social Inquiry. What she finds particularly interesting is that true to the liberal arts approach, the lines between disciplines are blurred, which better reflect real life. In Lit and Humanities, for example, they don't just study a lit text like you typically would in a traditional Literature programme. They discuss a lit text in relation to history, culture, other forms of art, etc. Eg in Comparative Social Inquiry, they have discussed how an economic principle can also be applied to politics and education.

The point of a liberal arts education is less about content and more about the application of content. If I could be uber simplistic here, it's to teach you how to think, not what to think. That's the reason why a student who may be very good in Science may not do well in Scientific Inquiry, and likewise a Lit student may not do so well in Literature and Humanities. It's less about the facts in science or the ability to annotate texts in Lit, and more about how to analyse patterns, and see logic and connections across different fields. In other words, it can get pretty intellectual, so to do liberal arts, you probably should enjoy reading and finding out about different things, and pondering about deeper meanings. Which Lesley-Anne does, as she has this innate thirst for knowledge. You can find out more about liberal arts and its origins in this article.

Campus and Residence

Yale-NUS College is an entity set up as a collaboration between NUS and Yale University in the US. Yale is one of the oldest and leading proponents of liberal arts education in the world, so the partnership was meant to establish a solid liberal arts programme in Asia. Yale-NUS College is situated in U-Town at NUS in its own self-contained campus, where its students live and have their lessons. It's very, very new - it enrolled its inaugural class in 2013, so 2016 is only the first year where it has all four years of undergraduates.

One of the defining characteristics of Yale-NUS is its residential programme. Following the Yale tradition, all Yale-NUS students have to live on campus throughout their four years in the programme. This is because the College believes firmly that the residential model allows students to move beyond academics to interact and work better with others. Having stayed in the hostel during my university years, I fully agree that hall life made all the difference in my tertiary experience. Learning to live independently and with others offers invaluable opportunities to learn life skills.

The advantage about this compulsory residential programme is that students don't have to "fight" for rooms, vs at other NUS hostels, because of the lack of supply. There are three high-rise residential colleges within the Yale-NUS campus and all students are guaranteed a room throughout their four years.

The campus is very new, just one year old and we had a chance to tour the place the day Lesley-Anne moved in. Can I just say it? It's gorgeous. The facilities are closer to those of a serviced apartment than a hostel. Everywhere we went, Andre was muttering, "This isn't a hostel! It's a hotel!" Yes, he was pretty envious.

The students stay in suites of 4 or 6, meaning that each suite has 4 or 6 single rooms, with a common living area like this one (the doors you see are to each individual room):

Each suite has a shared shower stall and toilet.

This is Lesley-Anne's room:

Each residential college has its own facilities, like laundry room (with washers and dryers):

Student-run buttery where you can buy late-night snacks and chill:

And a Harry Potter-esque dining hall:

Don't even get me started on the food. The residential fees cover three meals a day (two on weekends) and these are buffet-style meals, with vegan, Halal options, and the type of cuisine changes regularly. The food is provided by SATS Catering and the students are free to take as much as they need, no fierce server dumping blobs of unrecognisable mush on metal trays like in my time. Fresh fruit, milk, coffee, they're all for the taking.

The rest of the campus is equally picturesque.

Many other spanking new facilities including a library, fully equipped gym and indoor basketball court. Lots of indoor and open areas to study or relax.

Before you go "wah, so unfair!", I should state upfront that the tuition fees of Yale-NUS are much higher than those of regular NUS courses, especially once you take into account the residential fees, which are compulsory. So I guess you get what you pay for.

Overseas representation

One of the biggest plus points for us is that Yale-NUS has a very high percentage of overseas students. For me, it's important to meet different people with different points of view - that's one of the advantages of studying overseas. I find that students from the local JCs tend to have a rather similar mindset, as they have gone through similar experiences with similar backgrounds, and I don't think that's healthy at all. At Yale-NUS, the overseas student makeup is as high as 40% and that contributes to richness of diversity on campus. In Lesley-Anne's suite alone, she has a Japanese suite mate and an American one.

Academically, this adds a dimension to discussions. A professor was sharing that when talking about the Israel-Palestine conflict, they could actually hear the views directly from  an Israeli student and a Palestine student, as well as those from the American student.

Lesley-Anne was recounting how she was in the buttery and an Egyptian student asked if he could play his country's dance music. Other nationalities later followed suit and they began jamming to different types of music, a lot of which she'd never heard before. It's instances like this that make for an enriching campus culture.

Another big draw about Yale-NUS is their abundant overseas opportunities, but I will talk about these in a later post.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Beyond the grades

This is a follow-up post from the one I shared on Andre's graduation from secondary school.

After that post, I received some emails asking me what school Andre was in, where the teachers sounded so fantastic. I feel I need to put up this disclaimer: I'm not saying every teacher in Andre's school is "good". I believe that every school has its share of dedicated teachers and not-so-good ones, however you want to define "good". But if a school culture is one which understands a child's worth is more than the grades in his report book, especially if upheld and reinforced at the top, you're more likely to have teachers who translate this philosophy on the ground. And that's where I think Andre's school has gotten it right versus Lesley-Anne's secondary school.

Over the last four years, Andre's secondary school journey has been eventful. Academic-wise, there have been heart-stopping moments when he's performed less than satisfactory. At one point in sec3, I even wondered if he was going to be promoted to sec4 as he struggled with his new subjects.

But at every juncture, I found most of the teachers to be encouraging. It has become a running joke in my own head that whenever I attended a parent-teacher conference, the form teacher or subject teacher would look at his grades, then turn to me earnestly and say, "but he's a very nice boy!" Translation: ok lah, let's focus on something else more positive.

It's not lost on me that should Andre have been in a different secondary school, he might have had his spirit crushed, due to his academic challenges, and for this, I'm so thankful God led him to this school. We didn't know it at the time but it turned out to be a much bigger blessing than we could have imagined. One of Andre's greatest passions is in badminton and here, his ability was allowed to bloom. He was given the opportunity to be Captain and Vice-Captain of the school team for four years, where he developed his own gentle leadership style by setting a good example for his teammates. Andre's a quiet leader and not one to expect anything in return, so it was a wonderful surprise when his badminton teacher picked him for this Outstanding Leadership Award.

In addition, he wrote Andre a glowing testimonial. Quoting a portion of it here:
"Despite the grueling nature of the physical training, he had endured the demanding sessions without any complaints. He had even taken the initiative to encourage his peers in striving to complete their training. During competitions, Andre has always shown his presence. On the court, he plays to his utmost and fights hard for every single point. Off the court, he is supportive and motivates his team mates throughout their games...He had demonstrated that he is a caring and nurturing leader. He treated his peers and juniors with respect and yet still managed to demand standards and quality from them. He is patient towards the beginning players and would work tirelessly with them in practicing their fundamental skills."
It's so heart-warming to know that Andre's efforts have not gone unnoticed (especially since the badminton teacher is a man of few words, so it was a real surprise to read such ardent praise). Andre also received a testimonial from his form teacher, as is the normal practice for all graduating students. Here's a snippet of what she wrote:
"Andre is extremely good-natured, often the peacemaker in difficult situations. He gets along easily with everyone regardless of differences in cultural background. He is sensitive to peers and has a strong sense of empathy due to his ability to see and understand from the perspectives of others. Andre works very well with others, contributing positively and effectively in teams. Andre shows the potential to be both a follower and a mover. He can adapt easily to situations, follow instructions or step up to lead others. He is a promising youth with aspirations."
I picked this snippet because I think the teacher has summed up how Andre's character has grown and solidified over the last four years. Today, when I look at Andre, I see someone who's compassionate, humorous and well-liked - qualities that I believe are what maketh a man. Many people have said, and it's true, that it's the secondary school years that mold a boy's character. For this, I give a lot of credit to the school for consistently looking at every facet of his development more than just academic, and giving him the space and opportunities to discover himself and develop his abilities.

To the school, thank you for helping my son blossom. You score an A+ in my books.

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