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 youth.sg. 

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.

Curriculum

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.


Monday, October 17, 2016

A brighter shade of Danger Dan

A Danger Dan update!

First up, #3 of the Danger Dan and Gadget Girl series has arrived! Introducing The Gruesome Garden. A behind-the-scenes reveal: the original shade of the cover had a lot more yellow and was closer to an olive green. I didn't like it. To me, Danger Dan is synonymous with all things bright and unsubtle, much like his personality. So I kept asking the Epigram Books designer to go "Brighter! Brighter!" like some attention-seeking Ah Beng.

This is the result...and I LOVE it. Thank you, Lydia!


This book was one of the more fun ones to write in this series, because its storyline somehow flowed naturally and there weren't any plot holes to cover (I shan't reveal which one gave us the most trouble). The jokes also came quite easily.You may not realise this but coming up with original jokes can be quite a challenge, especially if we're feeling uninspired. Being funny is hard work!

Here's a sneak peak of what is perhaps Lesley-Anne's and my favourite illustration, not just of this book but of the series. I wish I could have a framed copy of the pic - it's so comical it never fails to crack me up. Elvin, our illustrator, is a genius! (I'm showing a sneak peak of the two accompanying pages so the illustration makes sense).


It'll probably take a couple of weeks for the bookstores to stock the book. By then, exams should be over, making it the perfect time to go grab a copy for your kid :)

More news: Secrets of Singapore has been nominated for a couple of book awards! The first one is the Popular Readers' Choice Awards 2016. This is the third consecutive year a Danger Dan book has been nominated in the English (Children) category. You can cast your vote from now till 31 October. Popular vouchers are up for grabs.

The second award nomination is for the Red Dot Book Awards 2016-2017. These are books recommended by school librarians in Singapore and include overseas books, so we're very honoured to be part of the list.


It's been an absolute thrill seeing our books gaining traction. Media publicity is something that's notoriously hard to come by, so it's gratifying to know that more kids have come to know about and read our books nonetheless. In fact, three of our books have recently gone for reprint (Secrets of Singapore is into its third print run, hooray!)

Finally, the annual Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) is coming up in November and this year, Lesley-Anne will be participating in two panel events - Singapore Through Their Eyes (10 Nov 7-8pm) and Write This Way: A Guide for Teens by Teens (13 Nov 5-6pm). If you'd like to meet her and listen to the other participants, do come for the events.

Check out this piece by the SWF which lists her as one of the 8 Singaporean writers you should know about. Sharing as a proud mama, of course! Do support us, ya?

Monday, October 3, 2016

The happy boy graduates

Last weekend was a momentous one for Andre. For one, it marked his graduation from secondary school. "But wait!" you might say. "What about the 'O' levels?" Ah yes. The 'O' levels will begin for him on 19 October but most secondary schools hold the graduation ceremony for sec 4 and 5 students at the end of September. The rest of the time up to the 'O' levels, the students are on home study leave, although they are still free to contact teachers for consults.

The graduation ceremony on Friday was a blast. Unlike at elite schools where the graduation ceremonies tend to be serious affairs, the one at Andre's school was noisy, fun and well, downright celebratory. 


The students went up on stage to collect their testimonials, to loud cheers from their friends. I kid you not when I tell you that at least a couple of students took selfies with their teachers right there on stage! To me, it was such a joy to see the abundance of spontaneity and merriment.

But more than the fun and laughter, what came through during the ceremony was how much the teachers of this school cared for their students. A long video was played, featuring messages from many form and subject teachers wishing their classes all the best. Most of the messages were not generic ones. For instance, Andre's form teacher (also his geography teacher) created a powerpoint that inserted all sorts of funny puns using geography terms that the students had learnt. A literature teacher read out some of the inspiring poems written by the students in her class.

Then another video montage was played which featured photos of the graduating cohort, not just in 2016 but all the way back to 2013 during the sec1 orientation. The hall was in an uproar as the students would whoop whenever one of their friends appeared on the screen. It's amazing how much some of the chubby, cherubic kids have changed over four years, especially the boys!

Later, Andre showed me the cards he's received. One was a personalised note of encouragement from a teacher who was his form teacher for only a short while in sec2. Yet, she took the time to write to everyone who was in her class then. This same teacher had made them write a note to their future self. She had kept the notes and returned them on graduation day. One of the goals Andre had written was "Must learn more about Minecraft", next to "Must listen more in class" :)) It was a wonderful way for the students to see how far they've come.

Neighbourhood school, champion teachers. I couldn't have asked for a better school for Andre to grow in his secondary school years. Here, the teachers always looked beyond academics to see and care for the whole child. Even when he was failing badly, they never quashed his spirit and always looked to encourage him in other ways. The response of the students during the graduating ceremony was testament to what the teachers have accomplished. 

With that, Andre has (more or less) completed his secondary school journey. Just before he celebrated his 16th birthday on Sunday. I can scarcely believe that in a matter of months, both my kids would have entered the higher education phase of their lives.

More challenges ahead? Probably...but I'm ready! Armed with old flower eye glasses and glucosamine cream for creaky knees, I'm looking forward to the journey.





Monday, September 26, 2016

On the pages of Simply Her Magazine

A couple of months ago, I was interviewed by Simply Her Magazine and the story is out! It's in the October 2016 issue under the feature "Mumpreneurs We Want As Our BFFs". I noticed that I'm the only mum featured in her 40s, everyone else is in their 30s
:-O


The focus of the interview was on how I set up my writing agency and how it empowers others mums. As is usually the case in such features, there's a word count constraint, so the article is a heavily summarised version of the interview. For the benefit of readers, here's the full Q&A of my interview.

What is the main target of your company?

In essence, we want to help organisations communicate better through writing that is simple, clear and creative. It sounds straightforward but you’ll be surprised how difficult it is to achieve this. Often, when you’re in an organisation, you can’t see through the fog caused by massive information overload. Everything is important! And it’s made worse when people throw in jargon and buzzwords indiscriminately, often to mask the fact that they’re not quite sure what they really mean.

My writers aren’t just adept at writing, most of them also have extensive business and marketing experience, so we are able to capture the essence of what organisations want to communicate and wrap it in a succinct, readable package.

What made you decide to set up? What inspired you? How did you see the gap in the market?

In 2002, I’d been heading corporate communications departments in different organisations for about 10 years. My kids were only 5 and 2 then, and I didn’t want to miss their crucial, growing up years. So armed with a passion for writing, I decided to start a copywriting business, working from home. Thus, Hedgehog Communications was born.

It was a riskier decision than many people realise today. 2002 was at the height of the Asian Financial Crisis. Jobs were scarce, businesses were failing. Furthermore, back then, outsourcing writing wasn’t the norm. It was almost unheard of. Most PR departments took care of the writing internally. So it was actually a huge risk. I was giving up a great job and salary as head of communications at SMU to start this venture. With two very young kids to feed! Many friends thought I was out of my mind.

What life changes did you have to make personally to start your business up?

I didn’t have to make any drastic changes financially because writing has very low overheads and start-up costs, plus I did have clients almost from the get-go. However, once I moved from being a salaried employee to an entrepreneur, I started counting every cent. Somehow when your wages are not paid to you automatically every month, you tend to be more careful about how you spend your money. 

How easy was it to set up? Tell me about how you started, and what was easy, and was tough.

The physical aspects of starting up a writing business are almost non-existent – all I needed was a computer and I was good to go. What was harder was learning the ropes about starting a business. When you’re a one-woman show, you’re basically the manager, accountant, sales rep and worker all rolled into one!

Did you have a slow start or did the business boom immediately? How did you go about garnering interest and drumming up advertising?

In the beginning, winning the business is always the hardest part. I knew I could write, but convincing people to pay me to do so was another kettle of fish! But I gave it my best shot. I made a gazillion cold calls, knocked on doors and hawked my cv. Having said that, I must say I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had people willing to give me a try pretty much from the time I started. From there, word of mouth helped my business grow steadily and I never looked back.

After about five years, I found myself with so much work that I had to turn jobs down. That’s when I started thinking of ways to grow the business and I looked for copywriters to join Hedgehog Communications. It was slow at first because I only wanted copywriters who could write with the level of professionalism that Hedgehog Communications had come to be known for.

One group of people I actively sought was mums like me who wanted flexi-work so they could spend more time with their kids. It’s my way of paying it forward but I have to admit, it’s not entirely altruistic. I find these mums an untapped and underappreciated resource. They’re very capable, often with years of corporate experience behind their belt; they’re reliable because they’re used to getting things done quickly and effectively; and they’re loyal because they’re grateful for the opportunity to engage in meaningful work. I’m very pleased to say that eight of my 13 writers are mums with young kids. All my writers are on flexi terms, meaning they’re free to take on as much or as little work as their schedules would allow. And we have an extremely collaborative and supportive culture in Hedgehog Communications – when a writer is suddenly unable to take on a job due to an emergency, someone else will always step in or lend a hand. That’s the “mum” culture at work right there!

How has the business developed (staff, money, popularity etc)?

Today, Hedgehog Communications is one of the most established writing agencies in Singapore, especially for the public sector. Unlike some other companies which may be fronted by senior personalities but farm out the work to junior staff, all our writers are experts in their own right. We have among us, an ex general manager of a public relations company, managing editor of a publishing firm, deputy editor of a national magazine, communications head at an MNC, etc. And these are the people who actually do the writing, hence the quality of our work.

We’ve taken on many, many projects that help both public sector agencies and private companies simplify their written communications for websites, brochures, reports and so on. I don’t advertise at all so I’m sometimes astonished (and mystified) that clients from as far as London and India have heard of and wish to engage our services. It’s something I’m incredibly proud of – to have built a setup that I didn’t know whether would last six months, to an enterprise that serves a real need in the community and provides meaningful work for many people. I find great satisfaction in that.

How has your life changed since becoming a Mumpreneur?

Where do I even begin? The bond I have with my kids is strong, I mean elephant-glue strong. Even though my kids are now teenagers, we still chat all the time and we discuss anything from our love of books to our love of food! I even write books with my daughter, Lesley-Anne. Our first series of five children’s books, titled "Danger Dan", was published by Epigram Books from January 2014 to July 2015. The series has been supported by the National Arts Council. The series was successful enough for Epigram Books to offer us another series, so we embarked on the "Danger Dan and Gadget Girl" series, the first book of which was published in April this year. As mother and daughter, we also conduct talks and workshops at various events, such as the Singapore Writers Festival, and at primary schools.

As for work-life balance, most definitely. When I work, it’s in short productive bursts, which leaves me a lot of down time to be with my kids or to do other things.

What are the downsides?

Like with all businesses, financial uncertainty is right up there. There are good months and bad months, and the current situation is not necessarily a good predictor of the future. Fortunately, Hedgehog Communications is pretty stable now, but in the early days, I would get nervous whenever I faced a lull period.

What plans and hopes do you have for the future of your business? 

I’m actually quite dismayed by the standard of English I see in official collaterals and signs. How is it that with English as the official language of business and instruction, people are increasingly unable to use the language correctly and appropriately? It’s a lofty ambition but I hope Hedgehog Communications can play a major role in raising the level of written communications in business and the corporate setting (well, in Singapore at least!)

What advice would you share with other mums who are considering setting up their own business please?

Do your homework! It can be rewarding but running your own business is challenging. Having a passion is not enough – you need to have a plan, scrutinise the business aspects and make sure that it’s financially viable in the long run.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Early admissions to polytechnic

You might have noticed that the updates on this blog this year have mostly centred around Lesley-Anne - 'A' levels, university choices, scholarship, etc. There have been so many developments this year that time has just tornado-ed by. Are we already coming to the last quarter of 2016? Gosh!

No, I haven't forgotten that I have another kid (the perpetually hungry one). It's not that it's all quiet on the Andre front. It's just that some events were up in the air so I haven't been able to talk about them yet...until now.

This is Andre's 'O' level year and as any parent of a kid sitting for a national exam would know, it's called the "Year of No Life". Apart from mugging, there's really little time for much else. Andre's last experience of this was in 2012 when he sat for the PSLE. As mentioned in a blog post then, his leisure time was mostly spent playing sports like mini ping pong.

2012
Four years on, the mini ping pong has made a comeback!

In reality though, these upcoming national exams are a lot less stressful than the PSLE. One reason is that being four years older (and hopefully wiser), Andre is more responsible when it comes to planning his own revision and timetable.

There's another reason though. In 2014, I wrote about how Andre communicated to us that he wished to pursue the polytechnic path instead of jc and study a particular course. Since then, his interest in that industry has strengthened and he's now very sure that's where he wants to go.

So earlier in June this year, he applied for Early Admissions Exercise (EAE) to the course. EAE is essentially like DSA for p6 students, except it's for sec 4 or 5 students to apply for early admission to the polytechnics. It was previously called Direct Polytechnic Admissions (DPA) but was changed to EAE this year as the process was tweaked. You can find out more details about EAE here.

As part of the course criteria, Andre had to attend an interview and sit for an aptitude test. When Lesley-Anne and I were prepping him for the interview, we could tell he was pretty nervous as he'd never attended an interview before. He kept asking, "What if they ask me this? Or that?" until I said, "Aiyah, then just use your common sense!" To which, he replied rather indignantly, "Like I have any!"

Andre is usually quite chill so it was quite unusual to see him behave like an eager beaver during the process. On the day of the interview, he arrived at the venue a whole hour early, prompting the person marking attendance to mutter, "Wah, this is very rare." Thankfully, Andre was not nervous during the interview. He could answer all the questions asked and he felt that he left a good impression. It probably helped that he was captain and vice-captain of his school badminton team for four years (leadership attributes matter in EAE, from what I understand). The aptitude test was a series of general knowledge MCQs specific to the industry.

His instinct was good because when the results were released in end August, he found that he was successful in his EAE application. Woohoo! Once again, as with Lesley-Anne's tertiary journey, we'd prayed for God to grant Andre this pathway only if it was right for him, so we're very glad that all indications seem to be yes.

It definitely takes the pressure off the 'O' levels as he will just have to meet the minimum criteria and not the cut-off point for his course. But it's the knowledge that Andre has finally found some direction in life, that is more rewarding and reassuring. We've warned him not to think that polytechnic studies will be a piece of cake, that it requires consistent effort. He knows this but he says he's motivated to work. And that makes all the difference.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Overcoming the Chinese wall

During the Rio Olympics, one of the sports we followed closely was, of course, badminton, since Andre is a badminton player. The epic match was the semi-final between long-time rivals - Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan. It was cathartic to finally see Lee Chong Wei beat Lin Dan at an Olympic setting (Andre has idolised Lee Chong Wei ever since he could hold a badminton racket). Unfortunately, the fairy tale was still not to be as Dato Lee was denied the gold medal once more by yet another China player - Chen Long.

The less talked about match though, was the one where Viktor Axelsen, in his first Olympics, beat titan Lin Dan in straight sets to clinch the bronze medal. That was a real shocker and prompted some to say, perhaps Lin Dan tanked that match cos he didn't want to stand third on the podium.

I don't know if that's true but it certainly made me sit up and notice the 22-year-old Dane. Then he talked to a Chinese journalist after the match and that nearly made me fall off my chair. Because Axelsen spoke to the journalist in perfectly fluent Mandarin.



Later, I found out that Axelsen had only been learning Chinese for the past two years. WAH! Colour me impressed. I showed Andre, who struggles to get even the intonation of basic words right, the video. He watched it, mouth open, and mumbled, "What am I doing with my life."

The Chinese language was a topic of interest in our household recently because Andre had just completed his 'O' level Chinese exam last month. Studying Chinese has always been an uphill battle for our kids, even for Lesley-Anne who basically memorised her way to a B3 in Higher Chinese. Andre has even less aptitude and interest. Let's just call a spade a spade - we're a jiak kantang family lah.

For the Chinese 'O' levels, Andre flubbed his oral component because the topic was on water polo and he had no clue what water polo was called in Chinese. So we were mighty relieved when the results came in and he found out that he had managed to pass his Chinese exam. Woohoo! He was whooping so loudly when he received the results in school that his friends thought he'd scored an A. 😂 Hey, different strokes for different folks, ok? Don't judge.

For us, we're satisfied with his grade so he won't be retaking his Chinese exam at the end of the year. But we were surprised to find out that 90% of his school cohort intend to retake the exam. Except for those who had already earned their A1s, most of the students want a second attempt to improve on their score. In fact, for students like Andre who didn't want to retake the exam, the school asked for a parent's letter explaining why they should be exempt.

Where do I even begin? Here were the thoughts that were running through my head:
  1. After 10 years of learning Chinese, Andre's Chinese is still atrocious. What makes you think he can suddenly improve in 2 months? 
  2. We prayed so hard for him to pass. In other words, pass = miracle. If he takes it again, he might FAIL. 
  3. I dowan to pay for any more Chinese tuition. 10 years is enough. 
  4. He has 6 other O level subjects where he has a chance of doing better in. Can focus on those instead of flogging a dead horse? 
  5. Not everyone is like Axelsen.
In the end, I sent a polite version of this letter, thus marking the end of a chapter. Not that it's the end of Chinese in Andre's life, just the structured lessons bit. I'm sure at work or in life in the future, Andre will need to use Chinese at some point, and hopefully he'll be fine in this respect, outside of the academic environment.

Maybe the trick is just to find an Axelsen to play badminton with.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Scholarships and universities - letting God lead

This post is a testimony on Lesley-Anne's scholarship journey. Some of you may recall that I blogged about how Lesley-Anne would only go overseas for her university education if she could secure a scholarship.

While most students think of the scholarship bond as a burden, Lesley-Anne holds a different view. Since she's looking to study Liberal Arts or Literature (which don't necessarily have the best job prospects), she sees the bond as an advantage because it would guarantee a job upon graduation. I guess she's unusual that way.

So when exploring scholarships, she applied only to organisations where she was interested in carving out a career. One particular organisation stood out as her first choice. Funnily enough, it has nothing to do with the arts. What she found out about their role and work intrigued her. She was invited to go for the first round assessment centre and the process was rigorous. Lasting a full day, she had to analyse real industry papers, present recommendations, participate in a debate and do a written test. While it was exhausting, she found the content fascinating. That reinforced her belief that it would be interesting to work for this organisation.

From our past experiences, we have learnt not to just pray for something as what we want may not actually be good for us. So we asked God to grant her this scholarship and create a place for her ONLY if this organisation was right for her.

Lesley-Anne must have done well in the assessment centre because she received a call-back the very next day to attend the first round interview. Yay!
 
We were hopeful but the interview didn't turn out the way she wanted. She came back all moody and said "I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT." Later, the kaypoh in me managed to pry a little out of her. She said the HR director, who was the main interviewer, started off cheery but as the interview progressed, he didn't seem to like some of her answers and started looking bored. At one point, he even slumped in his seat.

She was deeply discouraged but I reminded her of what we prayed - if it's right, God will make it happen. If it's not, then it's actually a blessing in disguise not to get it because it wasn't right for you.
To be perfectly honest though, we all kinda thought it was a lost cause. She was shortlisted for interviews/assessments with other organisations, so she began preparing for those.

It was also around this time that Lesley-Anne had to consider which university she wanted to go to. She had received 4 offers from UK universities to study Literature, including UCL and University of Edinburgh. Apart from those, she also had an offer from Yale-NUS, the only local university she had applied to. If she didn't manage to secure a scholarship, the choice would be clear because we had told her we would only be able to fund a local tertiary education. However, if she did manage to get a scholarship, she would have to indicate her preference.

One attribute about Lesley-Anne is that she's terribly indecisive. If we left her to decide where to have dinner, we'd probably starve. On one hand, she knew that going overseas would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. On the other hand, she was very attracted to the Liberal Arts programme in Yale-NUS, with its broad-based curriculum, international student mix and incredible opportunities for overseas exchanges.
There she was, swinging like a pendulum from one to another, unable to decide. In the end, she added a request to God - if she were to land a scholarship, let the organisation tell her where to go. I could just imagine God smacking His forehead and going, "Aiyoh, this girl! Everything oso must specify until liddat." (Yes, in my imagination, God speaks Singlish).

Then out of the blue, the first organisation called her back. She had been shortlisted for a final interview with the top brass! It was an unexpected and fantastic surprise. I don't think the interview panel knew what to make of Lesley-Anne. She's just so different from their usual candidates, most of whom chose to study fields relevant to the industry, like engineering, law or economics. Here instead was this girl who had written books, enjoyed dance and applied to study Literature and Liberal Arts. She was an outlier if ever there was one.

But clearly, they must have seen something in her because in the end, after a long excruciating wait, they offered her the scholarship! We later found out that the organisation only gave out 7 scholarships out of 1,500 applicants this year. (I'm glad we didn't know the odds beforehand as she might have just given up due to the sheer improbability!) What was even more amazing: hers was the ONLY award where the organisation specified the university - they wanted her to attend Yale-NUS.

God answered every request she had made. Tell me that's not divine intervention. Everything happened with such uncanny leading that we could scarcely believe it.

A little more related information: after she was offered the scholarship, she was shortlisted for a final interview with the CEO and Chairman of another organisation. My gut tells me she would probably be successful in that application as well, as the people there like her and it's an arts-related organisation. Plus that scholarship would probably allow her to go overseas.

Some people may think, oh why not try for it then? But Lesley-Anne turned down that final interview with our blessings because she knew what the right path was. Isn't it great when God has shown the way so clearly, that you know that's the one to take? There's no better feeling.

So long story short, Lesley-Anne did get her scholarship but the irony is that she won't be going overseas after all. Sometimes, God is funny that way. And it's all good.

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