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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The rooster beckons

Hope everyone had a good CNY break! For us, Chinese New Year is the time where we visit relatives that we see only once a year.

Sometimes, this is bittersweet, especially when visiting the elderly. One of my aunts is suffering from dementia and can no longer recognise us. Over the years, the number of relatives to visit has slowly diminished, as some of them pass on. A grim reminder to not take our loved ones for granted.

Nevertheless, CNY is a time for much celebration - of family, most of all.

Kids continuing the tradition of serving tea to their elders.
Extended family
And of course, food! This year, since Andre has extended holidays, he learned how to make a few traditional CNY dishes from his grandma, including ngoh hiong. I dream of the day when he can cook us a meal!

We had a delectable feast, as always.

From our family to yours, have a very happy and fruitful Year of the Rooster! ๐Ÿ“๐Ÿ“

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. ๐Ÿ’–

Prom night

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