Wednesday, January 27, 2010

CNY then and now

In two weeks' time, Chinese people all over the world will usher in the Chinese New Year of the Tiger. My excitement for the Chinese New Year has somewhat fizzled since I 'grew up' (is it because I now have to give instead of receive angpows? Ha ha..). Compared to my childhood days, CNY was such a big, big thing then.

The CNYs I had as a child was filled with merriment, lots of cookies and junk food at every house we visited, and those tasty fizzy drinks that came in wooden crates, bottled in glass bottles. You need to use the old-fashioned bottle opener to pry open the bottle cap which was made of metal with crimpy edges around it.

Nowadays, all these drinks come in plastic bottles and you only need to twist open the caps to pour out the drinks. The bottles if bought in bulk are now in cardboard boxes sealed in a plastic film. You can buy cartons of them from the supermarkets or hypermarkets while those days, these wooden crates of glass bottle drinks have to be ordered from your neighbourhood 'kedai runcit'. They will deliver them to you using their bicycle, or tricycle (the bike with the sidecar) or if the grocer is better off, he will own a small lorry.

One week before the big day, my grandmother will get our daily 'washer woman', a lady from the nearby kampung who comes over daily to wash our clothes and does ironing, together with some of her women relatives to come and wash (yes, literally) the whole house. Fans, lights, ceilings, interior floors all get a realy good washing (mopping the floor was not enough, it had to be splashed with buckets of water and scrubbed with a soapy brush). Cushion covers and curtains are changed. In some years, the entire house or parts of them like the exterior or window grilles or gate gets a new coat of paint.

Home-made decorations using red paper and angpow wrappers were put up. Now you seldom see people doing that. All the decor are store-bought and very elaborate with lights, sequins, tinsels, glitter. The same goes for cookies and other delights. They were all homemade back then but now, you can easily buy them from stores or enterprising people who make them for sale.

The children will get new clothes and shoes and my mother will let me wear some real (gold, mainly) jewellery. My angpow collection from all the relatives and friends who visited us and whom we visited was sizeable. Of course, back then the euphoric feeling of our increasing stash masked the fact that in order for us to have amassed that much, our parents had to also fork out similar sums to other children and unmarried people in return!

My grandfather would buy lots of fireworks for us to play with every night. They came in all sorts of shapes and sizes and it was such fun to arm ourselves with a lighted joss stick to ignite the fuse of these fireworks. These days, such fireworks are not readily available or sold openly. We probably can only get sparklers while the real noisy exploding fire crackers are reserved only for lion dance performances.

On the reunion dinner night, the entire dining table will be filled with a huge spread of CNY delicacies. And all these dishes will continue to be served for the next two days at least before they all get mixed up in a pot to become "choy keok" (a dish concocted combining all the leftovers).

Those days, families were larger. There were more people to make gatherings larger and noisier. Everyone lived nearby and those who lived further away made it a point to return to their parents' home as a mark of respect, as well as to meet siblings and relatives. Despite having met up at the family home, the younger siblings or relatives would still make it a point to visit the older ones at their individual homes. Return visits will also be paid. I remember meeting the relatives once at our home and then we went to their homes again later in the day or the following days. Unfortunately, we collected angpows only once from them!

Now, families have shrunk in size. And with 'globalisation' and overseas study opportunities, many families have members living in other countries, making it inconvenient to return home for the CNY. And if we had already met at the family home or somewhere else, it is considered enough and we don't visit them at their individual homes anymore.

Those with smaller families have smaller-scale reunion dinners. Many even eat out at restaurants to save the hassle of cooking. When I was a kid, I remember our kitchen and backyard as a bustling cooking place, with a few grandaunts, and aunts working together with my grandmother and mother, each doing their part to come up with the many dishes to be served.

While some of us may still travel back to our hometown to celebrate with our families, there are some families who take the opportunity to go on holiday during CNY. Back then, going on a holiday overseas during CNY was hardly heard of.

Indeed, times have changed. I wonder what the CNY will be like for the next generation, C's generation, when she's all grown up as an adult....

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lot 10 Hutong

After reading about the refurbished foodcourt at the lower ground level of Lot 10, we decided to give it a try last Saturday. It was said that the foodcourt boasts 'the best of the best' hawkers from all over Malaysia including Singapore, some personally invited by Francis Yeoh himself (Lot 10 is part of the YTL-owned high-end malls in Bukit Bintang).

My first impression and conclusion of the place was not as flattering as the journalist's. I was actually quite disappointed.

First, let's talk about the layout and decor. While it was a much improved version of the old foodcourt (I'm talking about 8 years back -- yes, last Saturday's visit to Lot 10 was my first after 8 long years), I did not like the new layout.

There is of course many more stalls this time and they were clustered in islands and at various corners. If there was a system (probably synonymous to the original hutongs in Beijing), I could not tell. It was like a maze. Maybe it was meant to be that way since it's a "hutong". But for the hungry person who just wants to be able to check out what's available with one sweeping glance around, this place does not offer that.

After walking around to check out the variety, trying to return to the one I had decided on took some work. There were many hidden corners for seating too. Because of the low ceiling, and many pillars (they mirrored the pillars to make them less imposing and to give the place a spacier look I guess), the entire foodcourt felt claustrophobic. Lot 10 Hutong does not have the typical open, high-ceiling foodcourt feel. Chairs and tables are of different designs unlike the typical foodcourt with uniform chairs/tables arranged in straight rows or neat clusters. I'm indifferent to that.

As for the food, there is indeed variety. I didn't notice the 'famous' stalls mentioned in the newspaper article accept for Lameeya where I happened to find seating. Not all the food was as tasty as I had expected them to be, after getting the impression that all the various stalls served great tasting fare. I spent more time walking around trying to decide on what to eat, then trying to find my way back to the stall I finally decided on, and waiting for the food to be ready than actually sitting down to enjoy the food.

I ordered some lamb chops from one western food stall and didn't really get my fill. The meat was tasteless (not well marinated) and if not for the accompanying mushroom sauce (RM13.90), I wouldn't have eaten whatever little meat there was stuck to mostly bones with overfried french fries. C and E had fish porridge (RM6 something)which was nothing to shout about. We also tried the fried oysters (RM10) -- no big deal. My sis-in-law had wan tan mee (RM8.90)- also not that mouth-watering.

As for pricing, you can tell they are much higher than the average. For the price you have to pay, I was disappointed with the quality and quantity per serving. I can't help but compare it with the foodcourt at Pavilion. I like Pavilion's much better in terms of layout, ease of navigation and more balanced price-taste-quantity ratio.

I didn't take any photos of that place or the food we had unfortunately.

As for my visit to Lot 10 mall after 8 years, I discovered that some shops remained while many other new ones have opened. Lot 10 now also boasts a hip rooftop (Forest in the City) hosting various cafes and bars, as well as the new Actors' Studio.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

My ramblings about 'Chinese' education

While I am of Chinese descent, I am not 100 per cent fluent in spoken Mandarin and other than my name and a few simple words, I can't really read or write Mandarin. I am a third generation Malaysian Chinese. Both my paternal and maternal grandfathers came to this country (known as Malaya then) from mainland China, like millions of other mainland Chinese who emigrated those days, in search of greener pastures.

Is not being able to speak, read or write Mandarin well a disadvantage to me? It has not been of significant disadvantage so far for all the four decades of my life the way I see it. While knowing foreign languages is certainly an advantage in various aspects, I don't see not knowing any particular language in depth, especially one that is not required in daily use, study or work, any disadvantage either.

Colonialism played a part in my parents' and my generation's education I believe. It was perceived that an education in the English medium offered a better future with more opportunities since English is the lingua franca of the world. That was then.

In the recent years, with China moving at a rapid pace towards becoming the 'superpower of the east', some people here are saying that a Chinese medium education could give you better advantage, especially when the Malaysian national education system is fast becoming what I call 'Frankenstein', an ugly,confused monster resulting from all sorts of 'experiments' the powers that be have performed.

But is going to a Chinese-medium school the answer? Many are saying it's good, it's a must since China is "opening up". You should and must learn how to read, write and speak Mandarin. You are Chinese after all. Even the non-Chinese are sending their kids to Chinese schools. When you hear them speak Mandarin, you are put to shame. Sorry, I don't quite buy that.

Be really clear as to the real reason why you have sent, are sending, or plan to send your children to a Chinese-medium school. What do you want to see your child benefiting from by sending them there? Is it just because everyone says Chinese-medium school is the way to go, government schools are cr*p, you have no other choice because you can't afford private/international school? Is it because people are saying China is "opening up" and therefore it's "good" to know Mandarin? Unless you're dead set that you and your children are going back to live in China (if you're Chinese), work in China, and die in China, then I would say yes, you must know Mandarin, do or die.

People are always saying "People are saying...". Who are these people? Reseachers, scientist, education experts, fortune tellers? Everyone has an opinion, everyone gets drawn into the majority's consensus opinion. If you don't know how or what to think and have no opinion of your own, you tend to listen to these "people".

Why not learn German or Dutch instead since some countries with these languages are already very advanced countries and offer a high-standard education and better quality of life? And education in some countries using those langauges I believe is free. They're definitely way above China that's fraught with its corruption, rampant abuse in various aspects (remember the tainted milk case? and other dangerous products? pollution?) Why not?

What kind of education do we want to give our children? What is our definition of 'education'? What kind or style of education/learning is best for our children? How well do we know each and every child of ours to best develop their potential? If one child is in a Chinese-medium school and is flourishing there, does it mean another child should go to the same Chinese school too? And it's not only about Chinese schools, but even other types of schooling systems, be it private or international schools, government schools, boarding school, homeschooling, extra curricular activities or enrichment activities.....Does one size fit all our kids? We tend to think "if they can do it, why can't we?" Again, who are "they" that you must follow and why? Why think that way at the expense of our children's potential and wellbeing?

We are supposed to be the ones who know our children best and would want to provide a learning environment that best suits that child in relation to his/her inclinations and aptitude, and in relation to the family as a whole. In my humble opinion, Chinese-medium school is not the way to go for everyone, Chinese or not. It could work out really wonderfully for some Chinese, and non-Chinese people -- I am sincerely happy for them. But it may not be the way to go for other Chinese, and non-Chinese people. Those who are not sure might try, and even succeed - congrats. But if it doesn't work out for the child and family, and you choose to tread a different path, do not think you have failed or chickened out. You only fail when you stop trying, and in this case trying to do the best for your child. You have not chickened out, instead you have the courage to be the captain of your own ship. While we could be sailing on the same stormy ocean, we each have different ships of different shapes, sizes and strengths to weather the storm.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What Wiki says...

...about indigo children. Here are some excerpts:

Indigo children is a New Age concept developed by Nancy Ann Tappe describing children who are alleged to possess special traits or abilities.

Ummm, I'm not into New Age stuff.

Beliefs about indigo children range from their being the next stage in human evolution, possessing paranormal abilities such as telepathy, and lacking communication skills to the belief that they are simply more empathetic and creative than their non-indigo peers. There are no scientific studies that give credibility to the existence or traits of indigo children. Many children labeled "indigo" are put on pharmaceutical medicine .

Umm, I don't think C has paranormal abilities. Neither does she need pharmaceutical meds.

Skeptics suggest that the indigo phenomenon is due to parents preferring to believe their children are special, rather than having a medical diagnosis which implies damage or imperfection. Also criticized are the traits used to describe children, which have been compared to the Forer effect - so vague as to be able to apply to anyone.

Possible?

According to research psychologist Russell Barkley, the New Age movement has yet to produce empirical evidence of the existence of indigo children and the 17 traits most commonly attributed to them were akin to the Forer effect; so vague they could describe nearly anyone. There is also concern that labeling a disruptive child an "indigo" may delay proper diagnosis and treatment that may help the child.[2][5] Others have stated that many of the traits of indigo children could be more prosaically interpreted as simple arrogance and selfish individualism, which parents with certain New Age beliefs see as being something that they are not.

This is not the only link I checked out. When I typed "indigo children" into Google, it produced over one million results. I checked out the top few. So far, I've found nothing highly convincing.

Indigo children

We (more so I since I'm the one who spends more time with C) have been having difficulty getting C to listen and do all the stuff she is supposed to, when she is supposed to. Most times, she's strongheaded and has a mind of her own, ignoring our requests and orders, does whatever she pleases according to her whims and fancies. That's how her homework and music practice turns out to be last-minute efforts, or how we are sometimes out the door later than desired for an appointment or outing.

Even the routine, simple stuff like getting ready for bed can turn into tug-of-wars, making life very tiring and frustrating sometimes. I question myself at times, if we had been too lenient with her and giving in to her too much when she was younger, in the name of instilling independence of thought, the ability to question, make choices and decisions. Only children tend to get labeled as 'spoilt' and from the beginning, we have been conscious in not allowing ourselves to 'spoil' her.

We have to remind her to get ready and stop what whe's doing to the point of nagging, scolding and threatening at times. When she sits down to do some homework or for a meal, she tends to get distracted easily, think and talk about other things, walk away to do something else i.e. cannot focus. However, that does not happen when she's at school, where she is attentive, participative and compliant.

I sometimes wonder if she has ADD (attention deficit disorder). Other times, we tell ourselves she's only a playful, strongheaded typical seven-year-old. Despite the inability to focus or lack of self-discipline, she still manages to do reasonably well in school and other activities. While we have idealistic dreams (don't all parents have that?) of her ace-ing every subject in school and coming out tops in everything she dabbles in, we are realistic that we can only provide her with opportunities to learn and develop and the rest depends on her 'in-built' character, personality, aptitude, talent and desire to excel.

A few years back, I had come across articles which described certain children as indigo children. I had 'filed' it at the back of my mind. Today, while surfing through a child learning-teaching site, it directed me to another article about 'new' or indigo children.

Based on the article, C does fit 95% of the characteristics of such children. Every word I read in there seemed to jump out at me. I could identify with and relate to the situations described. According to this article, knowing that your child is an indigo child will help you finetune your parenting style to work around situations and bring out the best in the child (and you, I guess!).

I shall try to find out more about this subject and see if I can accept their theories, research findings if any, and if the info can be applied to our situation.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Friends come, friends go, friends remain

Come March, it will be five years since I left a full-time career in the corporate world after 14 years in the rat race. Again, as I seem to be saying rather often these days, time flies.

The circle of people you connect with change when you move from one phase of life to another. In my student days, my good friends were my class or coursemates and friends with common interests. When I was working, I spent lots of time with colleagues and a handful of childhood and close friends from university days. Some business contacts also became personal contacts.

As I moved on, and grew older (can't escape using that word unfortunately), got married and started a family, the people I connected with also changed. My single friends were preoccupied chasing their careers and busy with their single lives while a large chunk of my time was spent juggling career and family needs, connecting mainly with friends who are parents with young kids, comparing notes and sharing parenting complaints, stories, and ideas.

Now, after almost five years as a stay-home mother, again, the friendship circle has evolved. It now includes parents of school and extra-curricular classmates, and other interest groups mainly.

When I used to have only one or two strong cliques of friends during my student days, I find that now, my friends are more diverse, separated into different categories - old childhood friends, ex-colleagues, family friends and parents of C's friends. Some from the past remain, some have become distant, some have grown closer, some don't seem to be interested in maintaining the friendship. Priorities change, focus and interests change. Hence your circle of friends will change I guess. Does that mean I ignore and forget those who are not within my current priorities or interests? No.

Thanks to technology and all the available networking sites through the Internet, finding lost friends, reconnecting and keeping in touch with everyone is much easier now.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Take nothing and no one for granted

Be thankful for your lot, love and respect all God's creation

AY is a single lady in her forties. She has been working as a masseuse for the past 13 years. She is good at what she does. She seems down to earth and easy to strike up conversations with. I guess that's why she has many regular customers who call her directly for her services, instead of calling the centre to make an appointment.

What's special about her is not only her massaging skills. She is sight impaired. In current less politically correct terms, she is blind, totally. But that does not stop her from living life, learning a skill appropriate for her condition, earning her keep and taking care of herself.

There are many others like AY who are partially or completely blind, young and old, who have learnt skills like massage, reflexology, basket weaving, etc from charitable organisations, help centres and associations like the Malaysian Association for the Blind. I applaud these places for helping these people get on with life. I applaud people like AY who have the courage and desire to get on with life despite what life has thrown at them.

AY was not born blind. She told me that her sight slowly deteriorated and was discovered only when she started going to school. She went to a Chinese school and those days, she used to get beaten for not writing the Mandarin characters correctly, missing out certain strokes etc. Little did she or the teacher know that she had trouble seeing. It was only when the teacher decided to write the words much larger for her to scrutinise the strokes that they discovered her eyesight problem.

She related her story as if it was just a story, without much emotion. She sounded positive, saying that at least she had known what being able to see felt like.

Over the years, she had undergone numerous surgeries. She had to, according to her, as she could not live life seeing double or triple of everything in front of her, getting headaches all the time.

But after one final operation, she went blind completely. At first, she felt disappointed and sad but according to her, time healed. A friend had asked if she was prepared for the possibility of going blind and she said it did cross her mind. With support from friends (not so much family, according to her) and given time, she managed to pick up the pieces and move on.

It appears to me she has adjusted well to life in darkness, walking around with her cane, knowing where to go and using her other senses to 'see'. She even laughed when she told me how she kept falling into drains when she was newly blind. She said she kept forgetting that she could not see and went walking about as if she could.

In the one hour I spent with her in a dimly-lit room, where she was pretty adept at loosening some knots and tightness (albeit causing some pain!) around my neck and shoulder area, I was reminded not to take everything we have for granted. It was my first time meeting her as I had not been to that place for quite some time. It was a meeting made in heaven, like for everything that happens in life the way I see it.Coincidentally, an 'uncle' in his 70s, said "marriages are made in heaven", when we were waiting at school a few hours after my encounter with AY.

We need to be good stewards of what the One above, whatever name we choose to call Him - Lord, God, Jesus, Buddha, Al*ah (or I can't use this word now?? Sigh...)- has blessed us with.

And we need to treat everyone with love and respect, regardless whether they are blind, handicapped, rich, poor, young, old, differ in views or opinions.

That's my 2 cents' worth for today. I paid RM40 for one hour with AY but the 2 cents I got in return is pretty valuable.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Man trapped in 23-year 'coma' reveals horror of being unable to tell doctors he was conscious

When I read this, I didn't know what to feel...or think.
Here's a commentary about the case.

The field of medicine has come so far in this day and age and yet, there are still cases beyond help, cures that have yet to be found, and mysteries to uncover when it comes to the 'less than perfect' conditions of our human body -- the condition referred to as 'sickness', 'illness', 'disease', 'suffering', 'pain', 'epidemic', 'pandemic'....

Monday, January 11, 2010

School traffic headache

The first week of school came and went with little fanfare except for the horrendous traffic jam around the school area due to the many anxious parents of Year 1 pupils hanging around and parking everywhere. They have yet to familiarise themselves with the 'special' traffic system set up by the school and residents of the housing area where the school is situated. To make things worse, this housing area is an old one, with narrow roads and bungalow houses on both sides of the steep slope. Imagine trying to manoeuvre your car downhill or uphill squeezing between cars parked on both sides of the road.

Or even more challenging, parking your car on the steep slope bumper to bumper with other cars or trying to get out of the slope when your car is squeezed bumper to bumper between two cars....or worse than worst, not being able to find any parking and being forced to queue from the bottom of the hill, inching your way to the school entrance, waiting for your turn to arrive at the gate for the teacher on duty to notice the placard on your dashboard displaying your child's name, hollering out the name via a hailer for your kid to climb into the car....

Top that with the 'exemplary' attitudes of Malaysian drivers and kiasu parents who want to be first in line, cut queue or get the choice parking spot to be the quickest in getting their kid out of school during dismissal. Major stress and headache.

Today, the first day of the second week, the traffic doesn't seem too bad, almost back to normal. I hope it'll be better in the weeks to come once new parents, kiasu parents, and Malaysian-style driving find an equilibrium somehow.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Technology

It appears that even technology is not exempted from hiccups. Our desktop computer failed to power up two days ago just when I needed to check on a few important email. At first I thought the electrical connections were loose or something, so I crawled under the table, checked out all the switches and plugs, tested them but still nothing changed. It looked like the computer just died overnight without any warning, like a sudden cardiac arrest!

Since we are not computer hardware repair experts, we've got to take it out for someone to take a look. And since I'm not the techie around the house, we'll have to wait for E to do that, probably over the weekend hopefully, or whenever he is free enough.

I'm using E's office notebook right now and learning to get used to using a notebook, the reason being that we just got a new notebook as an alternate to the desktop (E is setting it up right now). This would give me the option of having computer access in any part of our home other than the third floor where the desktop is.

All this while, I've not really enjoyed using a notebook due to the limited screen size and keyboard space (read failing eyesight and clumsy fingers!) but I guess there's no escaping since notebooks are such a norm these days with the convenience it brings.

In general, I like wide, open spaces - be it on computers, indoor and outdoor living, public places, practically with anywhere I'm at and anything I use I guess! Gimme an open park anytime instead of a crowded mall, or a long stretch of quiet beach instead of a strip of busy street....

Monday, January 4, 2010

MegaZip at Sentosa Island

I'm too tired and lazy to write another long-winded account to continue my story of our holiday in Singapore so here are some photos and links of our MegaZip adventure in Sentosa.


As we were walking around Siloso Beach, we came across the ticketing booth for the MegaZip. The MegaZip is the thrilling flying fox that zips you all the way from the top of Imbiah Point down to a landing off the beach. Get a virtual tour here.

After checking out the age requirements, we found out that C qualified and she was very excited, suggesting that we experience it. So after paying, we went back up to the Megazip take-off point at Imbiah on their complimentary shuttle. There, we queued for our turn to get harnessed up, climbed up the tower (that took a long time because there were many people waiting in line).

Finally, it was our turn and it was indeed a very thrilling 'flight' 75 metres high and 450 metres long, all the way down past the the tree tops and across the sea. It was indeed an adrenaline pumping experience!

Actually, at the MegaZip Adventure Park, they also have the ClimbMax High Ropes (like tightrope walking) and the Paramax Jump (vertical jump from the top) but C is still either too light or too young for those two.

All the way down:

Some guys on their way down:

A&C just before take-off, C was too light to go on her own so we had to fly tandem:

C & E all harnessed up:

Happy New Year 2010

Happy New Year! Today is the first day of the new school year for Malaysian children. Luckily, we didn't have much trouble getting Caitlin up this morning. Last week we tried getting her to bed earlier (she had been going to bed very late since the school holidays started six weeks ago). Then we tried getting her up half and hour earlier each day to target the 6am school-day waking time. Unfortunately we only managed to get up around 7am or 7.30am these past few days and I was worried if we could actually get up at 6am without much fuss.

Also on New Year's day, she woke with a fever, followed by vomiting after breakfast. We managed the fever with paracetamol and gave her light food. She kept her lunch down but at tea time, after a snack, she threw up again. Her fever was under control so we decided to still wait and see. Thankfully, by the next morning, she was better. However, it was my turn by late evening on new year's day to feel ill with almost the same symptoms - no fever but headache, body aches and lots of wind in the tummy. I wonder if we caught some stomach bug.... Rested all day on 2nd January and took it easy, lazed about, grumbled, nagged (my way of therapy but the people around me suffer as usual) and am better today, despite averaging five hours sleep the past few nights. Must be some kind of insomniac stomach bug because I had difficulty going to sleep!

So with the kid back at school again, I guess life goes back to the usual rhythm once more. Blogging and writing to catch up on, bills and household stuff to settle (When will these ever end? Never!), cooking, child minding, chauffering and all the busy-ness in between. Juggling act? Balancing act? Headless chicken or cool cat?