Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas is coming

We have survived four weeks of school holidays and there's two weeks left before we say goodbye to 2011 and hello to Year 4 for Caitlin.

The past week, which was the fourth week, saw me and C simply going through the daily routine rather lazily. E, on the other hand, was very busy at work, returning late because of work and because of the flashfloods which occured during rush hour traffic in the evenings.

We have yet to buy our Christmas presents. No need to panic (but I still wish we could have done it earlier). It will be done somehow. Based on experience, everyone who is supposed to get a gift will get one when the time comes. 'Last minute' is the norm every year when it comes to Christmas presents. I could have done it earlier if it were left to me but most times, E and I don't agree with the choice of gifts so I leave it to him in the end to do it. It does help when we exchange wishlists with others but there are pros and cons to that too in my opinion.

If only we can do away with presents for each other once awhile. Speaking for myself, after all, I do have what I need, and there's more to Christmas than presents, which I sometimes forget when I get caught up with the activities it involves i.e. shopping, eating, cooking, partying.  

We've not put up any Christmas decor or the tree at all till now. Somehow this year, the Christmas mood is lacking, and we've been busy most weekends. And I don't see any point in hauling out the stuff from deep storage at this late juncture only for it to be put back again after two weeks.

So I'm expecting a quiet Christmas this year as with most years, nothing out of the ordinary other than the normal activities that we have every year i.e. go to church, and spend time with family.

I hope I don't sound like Scrooge. I'm being a bit more contemplative this time about the real meaning of  Christmas - The Gift of all gifts, and what it means when we say it's better to give than to receive.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Weekend in Ipoh

We are now into the fourth week of the school holidays. Last week was a rather mundane one where we stayed home most of the time, and C had to attend BM tuition three days consecutively. However, on Saturday morning, we drove to Klang to rendezvous with E's parents and had breakfast at their favourite bak kut teh shop in Teluk Pulai before heading off together to Ipoh. We were invited to E's uncle's 80th birthday dinner there.

As Sunday was a public holiday for the state of Selangor (making Monday a holiday too), we expected traffic to be slightly heavier with people taking the opportunity to travel over the long weekend. We got caught in a jam due to the exodus out of the city along the North Klang Valley Expressway from Klang heading to the toll exit. Thankfully, after the toll, the highway was clear and we arrived in Ipoh in good time.

We had lunch in a coffeeshop before heading to E's aunt's house where we were staying the night. Shortly upon arrival, E and I followed E's cousin and wife to another coffeeshop as they had yet to have lunch....(greedy us...)

As Ipoh is a food haven, we got to savour some new flavours as the local hawkers gave their own twist to some Malaysian culinary delights. The coffeeshop had stalls selling popiah, Ipoh's well-known bean sprout chicken noodle (nga choy kai see hor fun), pork satay, sotong kangkung (their gravy is different from the ones in KL), rojak (Ipoh version) and caramel custard. Too bad this time I didn't bring my camera to take pics of the food. I didn't even think of using my cameraphone as I was distracted by the hustle and bustle of the crowded place, our conversation and the food! The name of the coffeeshop is Kong Heng and based on the number of food blogs that have written about it (google 'Kong Heng Ipoh'), I guess it is indeed popular.

While we were enjoying our 'second' lunch, C enjoyed herself at home playing with her cousins (kids of E's cousins) and more so with games on the two iPads that were making their rounds among the five kids. As they were about to play soccer outside in the garden, it started raining. After 'lepaking' indoors, it was time to get ready to attend the dinner.

Dinner started rather late with the restaurant being rather inefficient  in getting the first course out. The food was good and portions were large. A few dishes, especially those towards the tailend of the seven (or eight?) course dinner, had quite a lot leftover, and were 'tah pau-ed' (doggy-bagged), a typical Malaysian habit of not letting food go to waste. The restaurant's name is Kok Thai, located in Kinta City, near Jusco. (Another good restaurant we went to for a wedding dinner in August is Mun Choong in Jalan Pasir Putih - still can't forget its special tasty dish of stir fried freshwater prawns, sublime gravy!)

The next morning, E's uncle took us to a coffeshop famous for its pork noodles, and it served only that. It's called Kedai Kopi Kam Hor in Ipoh Garden. Breakfast conversation included Ipoh-KL comparisons. In Ipoh, you can still get good hawker food with relatively large serving at RM4.00 on the average. In KL, you get not-so-tasty food at a minimum of RM4.50 or RM5.00 or more, depending on what you order. In Ipoh, the food is cooked and served by the stall owner and their relatives or local workers. In KL, the food is cooked and served by a foreign worker like an Indonesian or Myanmarese who also runs the stall with the stall owner not present. The stall owner is probably at another coffeeshop manning his 'main branch' of his hawker stall 'chain', or maybe at home putting his feet up in front of the tv! So, imagine how 'tasty' the KL nga choy kai see hor fun is when it's prepared by an Indonesian 'cook'!

Before departing for KL, we introduced E's parents and C to our newfound Ipoh kopitiam, Kong Heng, to have lunch.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Nature trek at FRIM

On Sunday, ACE and some friends went on a nature trek at the Forest Research Institute Malaysia in Kepong. After some basic research through their website and some info from a friend who had been there before, I called them and booked a guide earlier in the week.

Their guide service costs RM80 and they can take a maximum of 20 people. You can make payment and meet your guide at the one-stop info centre at building D6 after driving past the main entrance where you pay your entry fees. They recommend you start your nature walk at 9.00am.

Our guide, Encik Wahid, took our group of 10 on a walk through a nature trail and showed the kids interesting plants and animals. He described the names, features and uses of the plants. He told us of the different types of wood - strong (hard), medium and soft - that the trees provide, which could be used to make things from pencils, to furniture, bridges and railroad sleepers, for example, depending on the type of wood.

Did you know that we need two trees per person to have enough oxygen in the air (that's why we need to protect Mother Earth from over-development, logging and deforestation), and only about 25% of sunlight penetrates the forest?

Caitlin and friends on the trail

Along the trek, we saw unique plants, their flowers and fruit, a giant milipede, a centipede, a cicada (we heard them first before spotting one),and two forest crested lizards. We also saw scratchings on the ground at two separate areas made by wild boars in search of worms, according to the guide.

The fruit and flower of the sea poison tree (local name: putat)

The mud tunnel or mud tube created by the cicada nymphs as they emerge from underground where they've remained for 2-5 years (some species up to 17 years!)

The Crown Shyness Phenomenon - the leaves of the Dryabalanops aromatica (kapur/camphor) trees do not touch each other!

A giant millipede

After the one-hour trek, we proceeded on an uphill climb to get to the Canopy Walk. Although the distance was only 500m, it was a challenging climb through the forest, for us with 'old, creaky' bones and our city kids. But they took it all in stride despite complaining a little of tiredness, and getting impatient as it got steeper towards the top. Upon reaching the entrance hut of the canopy walkway, we sat for a short briefing by the people-in-charge -- no running, jumping, keep a distance of two planks (5m) between each person, no turning back, the maximum number of people allowed at each of the three viewing platforms, etc. The canopy walkway is about 30m above ground, or 300m above sea level.

Entrance hut of the canopy walkway

The 150-metre long suspension-bridge canopy walkway

After completing the 150m canopy walk, we then had to trek down another trail to get back to ground level and head back to our car. Along the trek downhill which was also quite steep and slippery at some parts, we came across a picnic area and a small waterfall.

The entire trek up and down plus walking on the canopy walkway took about two hours. By the time we got to our car, we were all soaked in perspiration, rather tired but happy we got to experience a jungle trek and walking among the treetops of a tropical forest. It was C's first such experience and she enjoyed and learned quite a lot.

If you wish to visit FRIM, check out their website for more info on the activities available. Besides nature trails and the canopy walkway, they have a picnic and camping site (C wants to go camping next!), a botanical garden, mountain biking trails, birdwatching and treasure hunt activities. You need to pay an entrance fee (RM5 per car with driver, RM1 per adult and free for kids below 12). The canopy walkway charges RM5 per adult and RM1 per child below 12. It is closed on Mondays and Fridays. Beginning, January 2012, FRIM will be increasing these fees. Non-Malaysians are charged a different (slightly higher) rate :(

Remember to bring insect repellant, drinking water, a camera if you wish to take photos, a small towel or wet wipes (to wipe off your perspiration!), and a change of clothes if you wish to feel more comfortable after the hike. It would be handy to have a small plastic bag too to collect whatever rubbish you have like used tissue paper/wet wipes, sweet/food wrappers so that you can discard them later properly in a dustbin, and not litter the jungle.

That's how ACE concluded the second week of school holidays. Another four weeks to go before we get back to routine and C goes to Year 4 in school.

There's still school books and Christmas presents to buy...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I (yes, me!) survived the first week of school holiday

Last week, I survived the first week of C's school holiday pretty well. In between some piano practice and BM tuition, she watched TV, read, and made breakfast. I'm glad she enjoyed doing some stuff in the kitchen and I hope this will be the beginning of some independence in the near future where breakfast is concerned, especially on weekends when we are not rushing to get to school on time.

Before the school holiday, she had made a potato soup for dinner. Then she made pancakes (as mentioned in the preceding post), omelet(twice), and Milo. Over the weekend, she made a pineapple upside down cake (with my supervision) by following the recipe I provided.

I hope to continue to get her excited about cooking simple food in the next few weeks.

While E was travelling for work for four days last week, we were left with E's duty of what he terms as 'poop patrol' i.e. taking Rusty out for his night-time walks. While I walked him and used un-Earth-friendly plastic bags, C cycled.

We also went out for lunch twice in malls and did some window shopping (which I didn't enjoy because I kept hearing complaints of boredom if we were not looking at kids' stuff!).

Monday was a public holiday so E did not have to go to work. I had managed to get a good deal I found on Groupon, and we went to a new karaoke place at a new mall with a mum I know from school and her kid, C's friend. The kids enjoyed themselves singing their favourite songs, while we adults also chipped in with our oldies, sentimental hits, ballads and some contemporary ones. Of course, C had to sing songs by her favourite singers Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift besides this one that the two kids kept singing repeatedly.

Yesterday was spent at home. C read and played with her four-year-old cousin who visited in the morning.

Apart from going to the supermarket this morning for some grocery shopping, we've been at home today. C's busy filling in her journal, and 'writing' by pasting cut-out letters from old magazines ala scrapbooking.

The weather is gloomy and I feel sleepy......

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Smile and/or shudder - school holiday starts today!

The six-week year-end school holiday officially starts TODAY! C woke up and it was obvious that she was happy as she was drawing pictures in a notebook (yet another new one...aargh!). She announced happily that today is the first day of the school holidays, and said she'd like pancakes for breakfast when I asked. I told her she should make it herself because I was feeling lazy. In the end, she sort of did with some help from me. She measured out the flour, baking powder, got the eggs, read and followed the recipe, mixed the batter, set the table and even washed the utensils used in the preparation. I was surprised she did all that without me asking! Must be the holiday 'angin' ('crazy' wind). She found the teddy bear-shaped mould and said we could make the pancakes in that shape, so we did.

After breakfast, she went back to her drawing and reading while I put out the laundry and did some gardening. So far today, because we're all busy, we've not got into each other's hair but I shudder on the thought that we've another six weeks to go! I've a few activities planned for her with a few classmates and their moms but they're just a few....I guess I'll have to have a few more up my sleeve. Together with practising her musical instruments and going for music lessons plus attending BM tuition and hopefully doing some homework, I'm hopeful that the six weeks will zip by very quickly. And there's also having to go to school to pay next year's fees, buying school books and uniforms, shopping for Christmas presents for family.

My parents have plans to go on an overseas holiday starting Dec 23 and my dad has offered to sponsor us to go along. Dec 23 is the only time they are free as my brother and sis-in-law have taken leave from work to look after their son, whom my parents help care for on weekdays when they are at work. As much as I'd like to take up my dad on his offer, it's not so feasible as that would mean being away at Christmas, i.e. not spending Christmas with E's family who celebrates it in a routinely traditional way every year....

It's a dilemma. I want (or rather need!) to go on holiday and spend time with my side of the family because we hardly do so, yet there's the other family I'm married to to consider....E's family spends way more time together compared to mine. They find reason to get together and celebrate every occasion - birthdays, anniversaries, festivals/religious events, Mother's/Father's Day, and there's 15 family members altogether so you can imagine how many get-togethers there are (and how much time and money is spent on food and presents...)

As I was in the garden this morning, I came across two small butterflies mating so I told C she should come and take a look. It was a 'National Geographic' moment as we observed the butterflies moving about together on a leaf as if they were doing a waltz :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A fun day, especially for C

Again, WOW! Another week has passed me by so quickly! The activities at school are finally coming to an end with this week being the last week of school before we break for six weeks. Today, C is off on her field trip to a chocolate factory and ceramic art place.

Yesterday, E and I attended C's school annual Speech Day & Concert. We didn't stay right up to the end as towards the finale, they were giving out prizes to the older kids. As it was almost time for lunch, we decided to head to Mid Valley Megamall which was about 10 minutes' drive from the concert venue. We hoped to get tickets to our much-awaited Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn as we didn't manage to make any online bookings.

After parking our car, we headed straight for the cinema and luckily, there was hardly any queue as the peak lunch hour crowd had yet to appear. We got tickets for the 3D version for the 2.10pm show. We then headed to lunch and dropped by MPH bookstore as we had some extra time before the movie.

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, directed by Steven Spielberg, is a movie adaptation of the popular comic series by Georges Prosper Remi, better known by the pen name Hergé,a Belgian comics writer and artist.

Tintin comics have been one of my favourites during my childhood days when I used to borrow them from the school library and friends to read. I doubt I ever managed to finish reading all the comics in the series as such books were not so readily available in smalltown Melaka back then in the 70s and 80s. Now you can find the individual comic books in hardcover and paperback, and also the 3-in-1 hardcover collection in major bookstores in the city. And thanks to YouTube, I can also catch up on the stories in cartoon version for free without having to buy the books or DVD. There are quite a lot of episodes lasting between 20 to over 40 minutes uploaded by some YouTube members who are obviously Tintin fans too.

Here's the episode for Secret of the Unicorn.

C has also been enjoying Tintin for some time now as I had bought a few of the comics for her when they were on sale, and she gets the rest from her school library and friends. One classmate even gave her Tintin and The Land of Black Gold last month as a birthday present!

So the three of us thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Since it was a weekday and at an odd hour, the theatre wasn't full house. The pros to that was we didn't have to get caught in any crowds queuing to get our 3D glasses and to enter and find out seats. We had chosen a short row and had the whole row to ourselves. The cons to a less-than-half full theatre was that the aircon got very cold with less body heat to 'share'. Luckily C had her jacket on and I had brought my pashmina and we ended up huddled together under it.

The movie is entertaining, especially if you're familiar with the characters like Tintin, his wire-haired fox terrier Snowy, Captain Haddock and the Thomson and Thompson twins. However, the storyline is not entirely true to Herge's version. For example, in the movie, Tintin met Captain Haddock for the first time on the latter's ship, but in the actual comic, it was in the Crab with the Golden Claws episode that they met. And the bad guy (like many movies, there must be at least one!), Mr Sakharine, was not a descendant of the pirate Red Rackham and did not live in the Haddock family mansion Marlinspike Hall. Captain Haddock did not regain ownership of the mansion in Secret of the Unicorn. It was in the episode of Red Rackham's Treasure that Professor Calculus bought back the mansion for Captain Haddock if I'm not mistaken. Also, there was no Madame Castafiore in Herge's Secret of the Unicorn. Okay, I guess it's enough for now lest I reveal any spoilers!

I've to go hang out laundry now.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Activity-filled weeks

C's school year-end exams ended quite early this time and the school has stopped giving academic lessons. They are now busy getting organised for their Speech Day which takes place on 16 Novermber. Everyday, they are busy rehearsing their respective performances. And there's lots of free time in between for the kids to play games or read.

The Year 3 students this year are involved in two items for Speech Day - choral speaking on the theme of 'harmony' where the children will be dressed in various national/international costumes, and singing a Chinese, Malay and English song in a choir.

C was earlier in the choral speaking team but she prefered (or rather loves!) to sing so we requested for a change. To C's delight, the teacher allowed it. Apparently, the teacher had chosen her for the choir at first but because the choral speaking team needed more kids who could speak/pronounce well, they decided to put her in choral speaking instead. This week, they will be having a full dress rehearsal at school and two other rehearsals at the actual venue.

Caitlin's school hall is too small to accommodate all the parents who will be attending Speech Day so every year, their Speech Day is held at an auditorium of the church the school is affiliated to.

The very next day after Speech Day, there will be a field trip. Last year, C missed the trip to a rabbit farm because it clashed with her drum exam. This time, C gets to go to a chocolate factory and a ceramic art centre.

Last week, the school celebrated Children's Day. In the past years, parents were requested to organise the party (food/activities) for their respective classes. But this year, the PTA committee decided to centralise it by organising it for the entire school. The celebration was held in the school quadrangle with singing, speeches by the PTA chairman and the principal, fun activities, a short skit by the teachers, performances by the Year 5 and 6 students, some fun exercises by Ronald McDonald (yup, they catered McDonald's meals for the kids) and the highlight was an educational dog show by the police K9 unit.

A video of teachers and kids having fun singing:

A video of the Year 5 and 6 kids dancing:

With all these activities, no pressure from studies and the coming long school holiday, C is really taking it easy these few weeks. She spends most of her free time reading (she's got a relatively big stash of unread books). Over the weekend, she resumed her 'writing' in yet another 'diary'. Every now and then, she'll write stuff in some notebook and she has a few in her 'collection'. This time, I told her she should stick to just one notebook so that all her thoughts and self-chatter (a more appropriate term in my opinion!) are properly kept in just one notebook.

The past few days, she's written the most in her history of journaling. Every free moment she had, she'd be writing and 'talking' to her diary - mostly about what she was doing at that point in time, what she observes around her, what she thinks E and I are doing/thinking. She adds colour to the text by using various pens, crayons, pencils, and drawing pictures and pasting stickers. She'd also share her writings by reading it aloud to us. I'm glad that this time she shared it with us. There had been times when she'd say it's secret and would write 'warning' instructions preceding her writings.

I am wondering how to keep her occupied this coming holiday which is between 19 November and 3 January 2012. I doubt we're travelling anywhere on vacation. If at all, it might be adhoc, short local trips. We seldom take major holidays locally or abroad as we can hardly afford it. Last year, we bit the bullet and went to Hong Kong, and we're still paying for the 'after effects'!

Lunch with mothers

Every now and then, I have lunch with one or two mothers whose children are Caitlin's peers at school. We see one another at school when we are there to pick up our kids and chat a bit while we wait. Recently, we came up with the idea of lunching together as and when we're able since we are around the school vicinity at about the same time. It is a good change from having to eat leftovers at home, eating in the car while waiting, or eating alone outside. And there are relatively nice and affordable 'makan' places in the school neighbourhood.

Connecting with other mothers is good when the mothers are of the same wavelength and have healthy conversations. We can share parenting ideas and tips and encourage one another along our rollercoaster journey as parents. It works when the mothers are open to one another's opinions, and have no-holds-barred discussions and banter. It is fun when we can just let loose and spill out whatever is on our minds and let the conversation jump randomly from one topic to another - about life in general, current news and happenings around us, children, parenting, food, cooking and 'women' stuff. We can learn from one another when we approach conversations positively and objectively.

It is not healthy when conversations are one-sided, with one more-talkative person dominating and steering the discussion. It is not healthy when the mothers start comparing notes about their kids with the intention to feel 'one up' and put others down. That is so 'kiasu'. It is also not healthy when mothers get together to gossip about other parents or children, or complain about the school and teachers unconstructively. I simply feel uncomfortable when around such mothers. I don't like it when mothers ask me questions about my kid, or what she's learning at school or outside, and then clam up after I share my info with them. It feels like they are 'processing' the info and forming judgmental opinions and keeping it to themselves. Yuks.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sickness and birthday

As I had mentioned in the post before this one, the weather's been bad and this week is no different. Caitlin had high fever (40 deg C)on Monday but by Wednesday, the fever broke. We celebrated her ninth birthday a day earlier on Wednesday which coincided with the Deepavali public holiday. Family came over, we had lunch and did the customary song and cake at home.

She felt tired by evening and took a late nap, woke for a later-than-usual dinner.

Yesterday (Thursday 27th) was her birthday. We had planned for her to go to school and at lunch break, I'd bring a cake to celebrate with her classmates. But since she didn't seem fully recovered on Wednesday evening, we decided to let her skip school and luckily we did as her fever, although mild, returned when she woke in the morning (37.5 - 38 deg C). Her usual morning sneezes and stuffy nose due to her allergic rhinitis condition was more pronounced and her stuffy nose seemed worse than usual. I took her to the paediatrician who said she has mild flu and her nose allergy needs to be managed again with a nasal spray. She seemed a bit better by afternoon but went back to lethargy by late evening but fever appeared under control without paracetamol.

This morning she seemed fine when we went to the hair salon to get a trim (she asked for temporary curls too, and the stylist was kind enough to use her curling iron for free since she found out her birthday was yesterday). But by lunchtime, she felt tired again, with a slight temp, and is now asleep.

Sigh, I hope this viral fever will come to pass soon and I hope it's nothing else. She's not attended school or any other extra classes this whole week. I hope she'll be able to go to school next Monday. I'm glad exams are over and they're not doing much in school other than going through their exam papers and practising their performances for the Speech Day in two weeks' time.

I hear a number of kids in her class have also been absent due to fever or sickness...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bad weather

The weather has been quite bad lately. We read about bad floods in our neighbouring country Thailand. And here, it's scorching hot in the mornings and afternoons but come late afternoon and evening, it starts to pour very heavily. Sometimes the rain can continue into the night for hours.

With such weather, I'm sure the doctors are getting good business with more people getting sick. Week before last, E caught the flu. He had traveled to East Malaysia for work for a few days. Couple with lack of sleep and stressful work, his immunity let its guard down and he caught the flu. Then last week, it was my turn. I caught a cold and till today, some remnants of it is still lingering.

This morning, C woke up to get ready for school and told us her head felt hot. She has a fever and has skipped school. I guess we'll keep her at home tomorrow as well. Wednesday is a public holiday for Malaysians as it is the Hindu festival of Deepavali or Diwali. We will be celebrating C's ninth birthday on Wednesday with lunch at home with family.

C's actual birthday is on Thursday. I hope she will be well by then to go to school as she wants me to bring a cake to school at lunchtime to celebrate her birthday with her classmates.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Cheeky Girl

Me: What essay did your teacher ask you to write?
Her: 'My Father' or 'My Mother'
Me: So which did you choose?
Her: My Mother (Me - feeling the pride rise in my chest :D)
Me: What did you write about me?
Her: That you're 46 years old
Me: Aiyo...I'm not that old! What else?
Her: At the end I wrote that I hope my mother will live a long and happy life with me and my father.....but I bet you won't.
Me: Why???
Her (giggling and sniggering): Because I'm so naughty and give you so much stress!

This week, C is having her final exams at school. In her three years of formal schooling so far, she has yet to be nervous or afraid of exams. During exam season, she continues life as usual, reading her story books and watching TV.... and after my nagging she would revise by flipping through the pages of her books, reading its contents cursorily. One to two weeks before the exam, the teachers would do revision with them in school so I guess if one is confident enough, one can get through the exam without studying more or cramming at home.

I remind her that although she knows her work, she should study so that she can remember what she has learnt and can do better. So far she's been scoring A's and B's, except for the Malay language which she finds too hard. I think that the standard of Bahasa Malaysia is quite high now compared to my time. During my time, we leart 'simpulan bahasa' (idioms) and essay writing when we were around Standard 5 or 6 (11 or 12 years of age). Now 'simpulan bahasa' is taught in Year 1 (7 years old) and in Year 3, they are already writing essays, informal and formal letters. It is hard to do well in these if your BM vocabulary is weak.

While I nag and keep reminding her that she should study, I've also made her aware that she will ultimately be responsible for the consequences or outcome of her choices. I can only lead my horse (her Chinese zodiac is the horse coincidentally!) to the water, provide her with the necessary books, reminders, words of advice. I can attempt to force the horse to drink but in the big picture, it will not be effective..

So for now, we are letting her learn in her own way. Success is not measured by milestones the world sets for you to achieve, the strings of A's one has collected, the tons of facts one can regurgitate, or the x-figure salary you earn. Of course, there are people who measure success in those terms but I prefer not too.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dolphin Tale

Movies these days are jumping into the 2D and 3D trend bandwagon. There's a new movie that's just been released (in the US that is...) that has been reported to even top other new ones this season.

The movie I'm talking about is a family-friendly one, based on a true story about a dolphin that was rescued. The dolphin lost its tail when it got injured and infected from being caught in a trap, but was eventually fitted with a prosthetic one (amazing!), all these in the backdrop of a budding relationship with a young boy who was very attached to it. The actual Dolphin named Winter stars in the movie alongside one of my favourite singers who also acts -- Harry Connick Jr., and Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson and Morgan Freeman.

I'm looking forward to catching this movie with my family when it opens in Malaysia. Caitlin would certainly love it as she loves animals and animal stories. Some of her favourite animals are dolphins, cats, dogs, tigers and other big cats.

Here are two trailers for Dolphin Tale.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Busy, busy, busy....bump! and dent!

This is a rather long-winded post.

Time flies when you're having fun, they say. I agree with the first part about time flying. As for the second part about having fun, I'm not too sure. I've just been busy, busy, busy. And sometimes when you're busy, busy, busy, you forget to have fun. Or even if the busy, busy, busy bits are related to fun events, you're just too tired to have fun because you had been busy, busy, busy earlier. Am I making any sense? Aah, these days, things just seem to go round and round like in a carnival where many things are happening at the same time - there's music, there's jugglers, stiltwalkers, clowns, magicians, side shows with loud announcements, all the kiddy rides blaring their own music etc, all going on at the same time it makes you dizzy. Busy and dizzy - they rhyme.

On weekdays, I have the daily routine of waking up, preparing breakfast, doing laundry, going online for various reasons, feeding plants, dog and fishes, cleaning/tidying house, going to the wet market/supermarket, cleaning and putting away groceries, preparing food and cooking, chauffering, supervising, nagging etc etc etc.

Meanwhile, the past weekends have been activity filled too. Besides the usual chauffering duties on Saturdays for music lesson and Sundays for Sunday School, we've attended two birthdays and one full-moon do, and this weekend, two reunions with old friends.

Yesterday was a crazy day. As I was merrily sitting in my car at standstill at morning 8.30am peak hour traffic on my way to the market, listening to an interview with the great David Foster (anyone has free tickets for his upcoming concert in KL?), I was suddenly jolted out of my world by a loud bang. Someone had rear-ended me. So I got out. Our cars were on the fast lane but I was oblivious at that moment to the jam we were causing. Ms Myvi had hit me because the car behind hers, Ms Peugeot, had hit her. My back hatch door was dented and the bumper had a few scratches.

It was about 'Breakfast'. You see, Ms. Peugeot who started the chain accident had somehow lost control of her car (yeah, in standstill traffic, sheesh...) because she had reached down to get some food (found that out from Ms Myvi two hours later). She must not have had her breakfast yet so she decided to eat while driving.... She hit Ms. Myvi so Ms. Myvi hit me. Luckily, I didn't hit the car in front of me. Poor Ms Myvi's front and back were smashed. She was Sandwich-ed.

It's strange how each of us just got out of our cars and started calling someone, more so the other two ladies....I had started out wanting to get the whole thing settled asap but since they got preoccupied on their phones, I decided to do the same. In between phone calls, we decided to move our cars to a side road nearby to sort it out.

About 45 minutes of my time was wasted talking, discussing options, wondering which police station to go to if we were to make reports, getting distracted by some workshop guy offering his services, waiting for Ms Myvi and Ms Peugeot's husbands to come and 'rescue' them as their decisions affect me... As for me, hubby was available only via mobile phone but it was no sweat.

Ms Myvi and her husband decided to settle upfront with me, no police report about her hitting me. She didn't want to lose her no-claim bonus from her insurance. So I led her, again through the peak hour jam, to my workshop so that they could quote the repair cost and they paid for it (RM450). By the time I got to my original destination of the market, it was another hour later. I was somewhat relieved that I could move on with life. I bought my chicken, meat, and other stuff and drove home. Just as I was about to reach home, my phone rang and the circus started.

Ms Myvi said Ms Peugeot's insurance can pay for Myvi's repairs (of course!) and MINE as well (really? but Ms Peugeot didn't hit me so why would her insurance pay me?). So the phone calls between the three of us started going around again. I was trying to confirm if such is true and how now that Myvi has already paid my workshop etc etc....

To cut the long story short, I finally had to go to the police station later in the afternoon to make a police report to enable Ms Myvi to claim insurance from Ms Peugeot and to allow the former to get her refund from my workshop. I also had to make the report to avoid getting a fine since Myvi had reported she hit me (in an accident, it is required that the other party(ies) involved make a police report too within 24 hours if one party does so). I told Ms Myvi she had to deal with my workshop herself to get her refund. And my poor workshop has to now go through the hassle of the paperwork to claim the cost of my repair from Ms Peugeot's insurance. I've yet to send my car in to be fixed.

By the time I got done at the police station and got home, it was time to hit the kitchen to cook dinner. By the time dinner was over, I was totally exhausted, having been on the go with my juggling act all day.

I'm thankful the damage to my car was not too bad compared to Ms Myvi Sandwich, and that other than the hassle I had to go through and time wastage, I'm still in one piece :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Harry Connick Jr

I like Harry Connick Jr. He's a good singer and musician/pianist, and he acts too. Some of the moives he's acted in are Memphis Belle, Independence Day, Copycat and New In Town.

Check him out here singing and playing:

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mini Great Wall of China, Pangkor Island

These are a few sections of the Mini Great Wall of China as you walk along the paved and stepped walkway.

Before our recent visit, I had come to Pangkor Island only once before. That was more than 10 years ago. I had heard about this place on the island but had never been there before this. The Mini Great Wall of China as it's called, is simply a very scaled-down replica (doubt this word is even suitable in fact). But it still manages to attract lots of tourists by the vanloads.

The reason I say 'vanloads' and not 'busloads' is that during our three to four hours in Pangkor, all I saw were pink vans going about the narrow roads of the island bringing tourists to all the various attractions. And speaking about narrow roads, the road leading to the Fu Lin Kong Chinese Temple where the Mini Great Wall is located is very narrow, just enough for 1.5 cars to pass either way, meandering through a haphazard housing area (a village is more like it).

As you approach the temple, the first thing that greets you is a bright, colourful Chinese arch. Walk past the parking area where you also find a few stalls selling drinks, snacks and souvenirs and you reach the temple with rock-arch entrances on both sides.

Archway entrance to the temple

The parking area in front of the Fu Lin Kong temple, with many pink taxi vans.

I did not step into the temple but I could see that it's well-maintained, clean and has a fresh coat of paint. The roof of the temple is typical of most Chinese temples with its various intricate designs and sculptures. This one has figurines of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals as well.

The temple with its various sculptured structures

The horse atop one of the roof corners

The Mini Great Wall is towards the back of the temple. On one side of the temple, there are some cages with monkeys and squirrels inside. They were not well-maintained and the animals didn't look too happy to be there. I wonder why the management of the temple (or whoever owns the animals) wants to have those animals and cage them up.... :(

We walked around for a bit, went up the gradual steps along the 'great wall', saw some tortoises at one corner of the temple, and left after browsing at the souvenir stalls.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Chronological account of our trip to Ipoh-Lumut-Pangkor

Every year, the school third term holiday falls in mid August. This year, however, the one-week holiday was a bit later and coincided with Hari Raya and National Day (first day of Raya was also Merdeka day). On the first day of the school holiday on Saturday 27th August, we drove to Ipoh to attend E's cousin's wedding dinner.

As it was the school holiday cum 'balik kampung' rush for almost all Malaysians, one would expect the highways to be congested. Our initial plan was to leave home at 6am to beat the jam and arrive in Ipoh for breakfast (tasty Ipoh dim sum!) but alas, it was not meant to be. E got home late the night before and hadn't packed his bag yet. I had packed mine and C's. I don't pack E's bags for him for travels as he's one picky guy. Unlike some husbands who happily leave it to their wives to pack for them, be it for business or leisure trips, E being the vainpot that he is (ha ha ha, hubby bashing here) seldom agrees with my choice of clothes for him. If I pack for him, he'll re-pack so what's the point? So it was only that morning before we left that we waited after breakfast for him to pack and then we left home at around 10.30am.

Traffic was smooth at first until we came to a point where the highway narrowed to two lanes with undulating terrain. That's when we started crawling. Thankfully, it eased up when we were nearing our destination and the usual two-hour travel took us three hours -- not too bad.

After lunch, we checked into the hotel that we were to spend that one night in and rested for a bit before getting ready to attend the dinner.

The following day (Sunday), after a sumptuos lunch feted by the bridal couple again, we left Ipoh for a short two-night holiday at Swiss Garden Damai Laut near Lumut. It rained all the way there and what was left of the evening after checking in was too gloomy and wet to go frolicking around the pool or beach. We decided to drive out to Lumut town where the waterfront and jetty to Pangkor Island is to forage for dinner. We ended up in a small Chinese non-airconditioned restaurant and had a simple dinner of fried rice and oyster omelet. C the city girl hates non-aircon places and wasn't too happy with our choice.

We then took a short stroll along the shops selling dried seafood products (Pangkor Island and Lumut are famous for these) and bought a set of beach toys for sandplay for our grumpy kid who had insisted that a beach holiday must include such paraphernalia to make sandcastles.

The next morning, we took a day trip to Pangkor Island. It was C's first ride on a ferry. She enjoyed it very much, standing out on the open deck all the way there. At Pangkor, we rented a car for three hours and visited a Chinese temple popular for its mini Great Wall of China. Then, we visited the Dutch Fort. After that, it was time for lunch.

We ended up in another non-aircon shop which sold chicken rice. Many of the coffee shops and eating places in Pangkor that day were packed with tourists. You can hardly find any air-conditioned place in Pangkor Island as it is still considered a small fishing village with narrow roads and old shops apart from its popularity as a beach/tourist destination. Being holiday season, the island was swarmed with visitors and the chicken rice seller was laughing his way to the bank. We found a table but his supply had run out so we had to wait awhile for a fresh batch of steamed chicken to arrive. Soon after we got our cold drinks, a motorcyclist arrived with a plastic bucket in hand. Out came two or three steamed chickens which promptly landed on the chopping board to be served quickly to a number of tables of ravenous people, including ACE. We were served only chicken and rice, no soup, no cucumbers as sides. We couldn't complain as we were hot, sweaty, hungry and what could they do if we did? They had run out of soup and cucumber and weren't going to replenish.

After lunch we returned the rental car and hopped onto the next ferry back to Lumut. Back at the hotel, Miss Grumpy became Miss Happy as she quickly got into her swimsuit to head for the beach and pool with daddy while I headed to the spa for a painful foot reflexology session. I sometimes wonder why I subject myself to pain instead of pleasure at a spa. That night's dinner was at one of the restaurants at the hotel. It was a buffet and the spread was nothing to shout about, not too bad but not great either. Being the first day of Raya, the spread included Raya delicacies like lemang, ketupat and rendang too.

The next morning after breakfast, we checked out and headed back to Ipoh to E's aunt's house to collect a boxful of frozen, boneless roast ducks to be brought back to KL for E's sister who had ordered them through the aunt who has contact with the supplier. Direct purchase from the outlet in bulk (a minimum of 20) gets you a 10 per cent discount. So we carted 18 frozen ducks in a box home (the aunt had taken two). I took four and E's sis took the rest for herself and for distribution to other people.

Upon arrival in KL, we detoured to where Rusty was boarded for the past four nights to take him home. We got home, unloaded our bags and Rusty, showered quickly (all that in under half an hour), and started driving again, this time to Klang for dinner with E's parents who had just returned from a trip to UK/Europe and were not able to attend the wedding dinner. It was the only night available for them to meet the bridal couple who were leaving the next day for a trip to another Asian country. Again, the bridal couple bought us dinner at a nice (this time air-conditioned) restaurant in Klang. It was a very long and tiring day for us that day. Poor E drove almost all day since noon (I drove only the KL-Klang leg) and by the time we got home from Klang, it was past 11pm.

I will write separately about some of the food we had, the places we visited and what we did in another post. It's bedtime now and I'm still recovering from a mild flu I caught after returning from this 'whirlwind' trip. Sometimes I think going on holiday causes more stress!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Caitlin's Yogurt Banana Pops

Caitlin has been subscribing to this children's magazine for almost two years now. They have another 'junior' version for younger children aged 4-7 years too. Every month, she looks forward to receiving it in the mail and would finish reading it in one sitting (it's not too thick). It contains nice and interesting stories and facts, with good (Christian) values, and many ideas for activities like craft and cookery for the kids.

Yesterday, she decided she wanted to try out a recipe she found in the latest issue. It's called Raspberry Banana Pops. As we didn't have raspberry yogurt which the recipe called for, we substituted it with a Mixed Berries yogurt which I happened to have bought a few days ago.

Here's Caitlin's 'handiwork' before it was put into the freezer:

The recipe:

3 bananas
6 wooden popsicle sticks
6 ounces raspberry yogurt
sprinkles (optional)

1. Cut bananas in half crosswise.
2. Slide one popsicle stick into each banana.
3. Pour yogurt onto a plate and roll the bananas until covered.
4. Pour sprinkles on a second plate and roll the bananas.
5. Place the bananas on a baking sheet with wax paper.
6. Place in freezer for 2 hours or until frozen.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

News article

I came across this in thestaronline's ParenThots section today. The link to the article is here. Or I've copied it below.

Excuse me, are you a Tiger Mum?
17 August 2011



Amy Chua’s controversial memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother details her strict parenting style which includes no sleepovers, play dates or TV. In addition, the American author and Yale Law School professor talks about the virtues of drilled academic learning and intensive daily practice on the piano and violin. With a stroke of her razorsharp pen, the mother of two teenage girls has set most well-intentioned parents wondering: Is this the right parenting style? Does it really work?

Even though it feels like we respond to our teens on a case-by-case basis, our decisions have a lot to do with our parenting styles, which are shaped by the way in which we combine our warmth and affection for our teens with structure and discipline.

Years of research have categorised four different parenting styles, each of which contributes to various characteristics in teens. If you are not a self-confessed Tiger Mum, see if you can identify with any of the following styles:

Authoritarian parenting

In this style of parenting, children are expected to follow the strict rules established by the parents. Failure to comply usually results in punishment. Authoritarian parents fail to explain the reasoning behind these rules. If asked to explain, the parent might simply reply: “Because I said so.” These parents have high demands, but are not responsive to their children.

According to US clinical and developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind, these parents “are obedience- and status-oriented, and expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation”.

Authoritarian parenting generally breeds obedient and proficient children. They, however, rank lower in happiness, social competence and selfesteem.

Authoritative parenting

Like their authoritarian counterparts, the authoritative parents establish rules and guidelines that they expect their children to follow. However, this style is much more democratic. These parents are responsive to their children and willing to listen to questions.

When children fail to meet their expectations, they are more nurturing and forgiving, rather than punishing. Baumrind suggests that these parents “monitor and impart clear standards for their children’s conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive.

Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, self-regulated and co-operative”. An authoritative parenting style tends to result in children who are happy, capable and successful, according to US psychologist Eleanor Maccoby.

Permissive parenting

Sometimes referred to as indulgent parents, they have very few demands to make of their children. These parents rarely discipline their progeny because they have relatively low expectations of maturity and self-control.

According to Baumrind, permissive parents “are more responsive than they are demanding. They are non-traditional and lenient, do not require mature behaviour, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation”.

Permissive parents are generally nurturing and communicative with their children, often taking on the status of a friend more than that of a parent. The children will probably rank low in happiness and self-regulation. And they are more likely to experience problems with authority and perform poorly in school.

Uninvolved parenting

This is characterised by few demands, low responsiveness and little communication. While these parents fulfil the child’s basic needs, they are generally detached from their child’s life. In extreme cases, these parents may even reject or neglect their children’s needs.

Uninvolved parenting ranks lowest across all life domains. Their children may lack self-control and have low self-esteem, and are less competent than their peers.

How do you know your parenting style? It can be helpful to consider these questions:

- How clear are you about boundaries and the rules of the house?
- What do you do when the rules are broken?
- How comfortable are you in hearing your teen’s opinions and suggestions, and alternatives?
- How often do you find yourself explaining your reasoning?
- Do you know who your kids’ friends are? Their parents?
- How comfortable are you with compromise?
- Do you have to nag your teen to get things done?
- How often do you feel like your teen is taking advantage of your good nature?

If you are interested in finding out your parenting style, there are a number of websites that offer free quizzes. The best way to use this kind of information is not to criticise yourself, but identify your strengths and weaknesses. Having more knowledge on how you parent can help you to grow in the areas that you deem important.

Below are a few recommended sites for parenting quizzes:

While you discover which style you use, we will discuss the most suitable style and the role change necessary for parenting teens and tweens in a fortnight. Till then, happy parenting.

Charis Patrick is a trainer and family life educator who is married with four children.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Too much toilet time

C loves to read. When she is doing something she considers boring like eating or when she's on the 'throne', she has to read. When she gets her hands on a book, she'll not put it down until she's read the last page. We have difficulty getting her to stop reading during such times. While reading is a good habit, I feel, like in everything we do, there's a time and place for it.

Reading during mealtimes takes your attention away from enjoying your food and the company of the people you are eating with. You miss out on bonding time, sharing and talking with your family members.

Many people read while sitting on the 'throne'. I think that there's nothing too wrong with that except that when most people do that, they tend to spend a longer time in the toilet. It's alright if you are self-disiciplined and stop reading once you're done. With C, she can spend between half to an hour in there, even if she's done what she's supposed to do within 15 minutes. My main concern is that it is not a physcially healthy habit. Sitting too long on the toilet can cause hemorrhoids. As it is, she is sometimes constipated and has to strain.

Pressure to the anal veins, due to improper diet and straining causes the veins to become irritated and swollen, resulting in hemorrhoids. Sitting for too long on the toilet, like when you read in the toilet, also causes strain to the anal veins.

Here are some links for further information:
Mayo Clinic info
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC)
Hemorrhoid - Understanding Its Causes and Symptoms
And here's an excerpt from an article in Esquire dotcom:

Explains Dr. David Gutman, founder and lead physician of Advanced Hemorrhoid Specialists, "Hemorrhoids are derived from anatomical structures called anal cushions — like small balloons — embedded within the wall of the anal canal. When abdominal pressure is increased, these cushions instantly fill with blood to form a hydraulic seal to help prevent leakage.

"If the anal cushions become stretched out or get irritated, they are called hemorrhoids and can cause bleeding, itching, pain, and the protrusion of tissue through the rectum," the last condition also known as Jimmyfallonitis. "Sitting on the toilet too long can increase pressure on these anal cushions, which may eventually cause them to become hemorrhoids."

But doc, how long is too long?

"Well, you shouldn't be reading on the toilet. Bowel movements should be quick. I know people like to read in the bathroom, and what I would recommend is once they are done with the movement — if they insist on wanting to stay and read — they should wipe, flush, put the toilet-seat cover down, and sit on that. It's almost like sitting on a chair."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Putting it on paper

When C gets her hands on freebie spiral notebooks, empty school exercise books, or one of the few fancy cartoon-character pocket diaries in her collection, she will scribble, write or draw all sorts of things that come to her mind. Over the years, there's quite a pile of these half-used notebooks lying around.

She's written stories of her own in some of them. Some are short stories, some longer ones complete with prologue and chapters. She's designed 'game books' ala computer games, she's drawn pictures of her current craze whicb usually involve the books she's been reading. And then in some, she's jotted down her feelings, usually those of daydreams like a few years ago, her crush on a boy (not joking, and she was only 6 then!), or those of dissatisfaction and anger.

Her handwriting is not the nicest and if she were to participate in a 'best handwriting' contest, I can be certain that she'll not win. There are times when she's disinterested or impatient, especially when it comes to schoolwork, that her handwriting will be the most atrocious and sometimes totally illegible. She just doesn't care when it comes to being 'forced' to write things she doesn't like. But when it comes to writing on her own free will on a subject that she's interested in, like writing her own story, she can write pages and pages of words that are reasonably legible with proper punctuation even. She is one who does things only when she's interested and wants to, not because she has to, is forced to, or fears the consequences if she doesn't. I think there's pros and cons to such character....It's a challenge to draw the line and keep her in line where this is concerned.

And even in anger, she's able to write systematically. I came to this conclusion when I chanced upon a notebook she titled Who I Hate (original edition). I chuckled when I read it, and wondered what the 'original edition' meant. Inside, she wrote the date on the top right hand corner, and on the first line, the name of one of her teachers. Then on the next line was "Why: 4 reasons" and proceeded to list the four reasons in numbered format (talk about being systematic!). And those four reasons were actually valid, in my opinion. At the bottom of the page, she ended with "no one else" i.e. that's the only person she 'hated' at that time of writing. The rest of the notebook has been empty since that first jotting of 29 March.

While some parents might think I'm invading my child's privacy by reading her jottings, I feel that at this phase when she's still young (she's only turning nine later this year), it is still okay for me to find out things that she sometimes does not tell me verbally. Most of the time, she does express verbally her thoughts and feelings, especially when she feels strongly about something. It's important to know her 'inner workings' to better understand and deal with her. As she grows older, the privacy issue can come into the picture as respecting their privacy and giving them their own space will hopefully teach them to behave responsibly, knowing that we have entrusted them with the responsibility to know and do what's right.

Of course, verbal communication and sharing thoughts, feelings and problems every now and then is also important so that they know we're there for them when they need our support and understanding, and especially when it comes to the future turbulent teenage years.

Conscious parenting is certainly not a breeze!

Organic Farming > Conventional Agriculture

This is an article I found in Scientific American.

Ten years ago, Certified Organic didn’t exist in the United States. Yet in 2010, a mere eight years after USDA’s regulations officially went into effect, organic foods and beverages made $26.7 billion. In the past year or two, certified organic sales have jumped to about $52 billion worldwide despite the fact that organic foods cost up to three times as much as those produced by conventional methods. More and more, people are shelling out their hard-earned cash for what they believe are the best foods available. Imagine, people say: you can improve your nutrition while helping save the planet from the evils of conventional agriculture – a complete win-win. And who wouldn’t buy organic, when it just sounds so good?

Here’s the thing: there are a lot of myths out there about organic foods, and a lot of propaganda supporting methods that are rarely understood.

Read the rest of this article here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sun & Surf with the MPO

Every two months, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) will present a weekend programme called Family Fun Day. It is a great way to introduce children to orchestral music in a fun, colourful and interactive manner. Last Sunday was one of them which ACE took the opportunity to enjoy. The Orchestra titled their performance 'Sun and Surf' and it was truly apt for this season of summer that many countries experience at this time of the year. Although here in Malaysia it is sunny all year round, many of the orchestra members come from countries with the four seasons and are looking forward to taking a summer break for some R&R from their hectic performance schedule.

When we mention 'orchestra', we tend to think of having to sit in our formal wear in a dim but grand hall, seriously concentrating on classical music played by the orchestra which members are all dressed formally in black gowns, suits or tuxedos with the conductor striking his most intense pose, baton in hand. No clapping in between movements, no shuffling in your seat and god forbid if you start chatting or coughing, or worse, allow your phone with its Lady Gaga ringtone shock the audience. No noisy kids or crying babies. It is an activity for the 'cultured' some would say.

But at Family Fun Day (note: they included the word 'fun'!), it's totally different. The dress code is smart casual (no sports attire, sneakers, slippers, jeans) and you can bring children. Children feature prominently on Family Fun Day. Now back to Sun and Surf. The usually boring rich wood-paneled stage with its rows of black chairs and music stands was decorated with just enough props of fake coconut trees and children's rubber ring floaties to let you know that you've arrived at the right place. And when it was time, an announcement was made to remind us to turn off our handphones. Then the entire orchestra, dressed in colourful floral shirts, many of them holding their instruments, walked onto stage! What a sudden burst of colours that changed the entire ambience. Some donned straw hats and sunglasses too!

Usually at Family Fun Day, there will be a presenter on stage to introduce the songs that will be played, giving a short background story of the song and its composer. He/she also gets the audience movin' and groovin' with some physical activities like getting the audience seated at one end of the hall to bounce a ball to audience at another end (that was at a previous performance we attended), standing up to do actions, dance and clap along, answering fun questions, and some kids also get to go on stage to do stuff.

At Sun & Surf, the presenter stepped onto stage with a rather large straw hat, gaudy Hawaiian shirt and shorts, beach slippers and gigantic plastic-framed sunglasses, giving everyone a bright and cheery greeting. He then introduced the condcutor who was also dressed in a blue floral shirt and huge sunglasses. They looked really funny. But this did not steal the limelight from the amazing, mesmerising, foot-tapping, hand-clapping music the orchestra played marvelously well that made you feel like getting off your seat to dance along -- which I could see many cute children doing with their parents swaying along. The presenter also got us to do some actions such as making wave-like motions, sunshine actions, flamenco finger snapping, clapping and at the finale, we all got to get up and shake or dance.

Songs that were played included (Sir) Cliff Richard's Summer Holiday, the classic Hawaii Five-O theme, Herb Alpert's Spanish Flea, an African lullaby (which included the use of the vuvuzela of the Fifa World Cup fame - a young girl got to go on stage to give a few blows into it), Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnole and the popular Brazilian Carnavale music. A male Brazilian-looking dancer came onstage and managed to persuade a female cellist to join him dancing to the lively Carnavale at the finale.

The array of instruments, besides the regular ones in a typical orchestra, that were used and highlighted through their respective solo parts also helped the audience learn the names, hear the sounds and see what they looked like. Other than the vuvuzela, there were the cowbell and timbales, glockenspiel, marimba, and castanets. The electric guitar and modern drum kit were on stage too. Listening to music played live in a concert hall by an orchestra is a totally different experience from just listening to it over the radio or watching it on TV or Youtube. Your entire body is involved and all your senses just come alive watching the various instruments and musicians in action and listening to how they all blend.

Family Fun Day is a good and exciting way to enjoy classical (and pop) music and widen our musical knowledge and experience. I would recommend all families, especially those with young children, to attend this event. Ticket prices are affordable from as low as RM15. It is held bi-monthly on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Photography and video recording of the performance is not allowed so I'm not able to include any pictures in this post. I hope my description of it helped to give you an idea of what ACE enjoyed last Sunday at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas with the MPO.

Check out this website to learn more about the MPO and the many things it has to offer. Other than concerts, they have activities such as forums, chamber/ensemble performances, master classes, and talks.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Trains and Chinese Weddings

The train of life keeps going "chugga, chugga, chugga..." and doesn't seem to run out of steam, or diesel or electric (whatever trains use as fuel these days anyway). And sometimes I feel like I'm running late and have to run alongside the train and try to catch up so that I can jump up onto one of its open doors, sigh a big sigh of relief, plonk myself down on one of its empty seats and say to myself "Aah, at least I can stop running for a while until the next stop..." before I have to get down and start chasing the train again.

Even with this blog, I feel like I'm getting left behind as there are things to write about or report here but they just keep getting postponed. There's always something that keeps me busy or occupied every day, every weekend, all the time. And when there's nothing, I'm just what I pictured earlier, plonked down on a seat, sighing with relief until the next time I have to start playing catch-up again.

Last week, we were playing catch-up with getting back into our daily routine after having our rhythm disrupted by the school holidays. This week, we're almost there but still feeling rather tired. For C, it meant getting back into the swing of relatively long school hours, homework, extra-curricular activities and erratic sleep cycle. For me, it involved having to manage everything that concerns C, and the usual household chores. For E, I think it wasn't much different because he still kept to his usual routine of fighting traffic jams, going to work and dealing with the stresses of his job, and coming home to walk Rusty.

Over the weekend, we went down south to Melaka (or Malacca) to attend my cousin's wedding. The event included the Chinese tea ceremony in the morning and wedding dinner at the Bayview Hotel later that night. I may write with more details about our overnight trip to Melaka in another post (still running alongside the train...)

After attending so many Chinese weddings, it suddenly dawned on me that usually these weddings are not just about the newly-wed couple (aiyo, why have I been so blur all this while?). It is about their parents too. Many of us don't realise it but it IS usually about the parents of the bride and groom as they are overjoyed and proud to announce the marriage. That's why most of the time, the invitation card is worded such: Mr & Mrs So-And-So invite (your name) to the marriage of their son/daughter (name of child) to (name of bride/groom), son/daughter of Mr & Mrs So-And-So.

Who's the host of the dinner? I would think it'd be Mr & Mrs So-And-So since the invitation is worded such. Usually, the bride's parents will throw a dinner for their side of the family and friends and so will the groom's parents for their side of the family and friends. That means the wedding couple will be the stars of the 'show' twice, and maybe once more if there is a church wedding.

Who pays for the dinner? I think it would be the parents, who will then keep the angpows they receive from the guests. That means guests should address the angpows to the parents, right or not? Who organises and makes the decisions for the dinner and invitations? Most likely the parents in collaboration with the bride and groom. How much say the couple has on the arrangements and decisions depend on the intricacies of  their relationship with their parents/parents-in-law. It may be easy for some, complicated for others, and definitely require lots of discussions, compromise, negotiations, especially if there is a generation and culture gap.

I've also seen invitations worded as such: Bride & Groom (their names), together with our parents, Mr & Mrs So-And-So (groom's parents), and Mr & Mrs So-And-So (bride's parents) invite (your name) to share in the joy of our marriage... That means the bride and groom are the hosts, right? But of course, the parents will also share the limelight and be given a say in the organisation and decisions as most filial children would accord their dedicated parents. As for who pays and who keeps the angpows, that could be a rather tricky question I think. It still boils down to the intricacies of  their relationship with their parents/parents-in-law I would think. Some parents are happy to pay for everything regardless of whether they or their children are the hosts. Some children would prefer not to burden their parents and pay for the wedding and dinner themselves. Some share the cost? But I, as a guest, would address the angpow to the bridal couple in this case.

Whatever the case may be, there are many grey lines everywhere in such matters. It's a tangled web when it comes to the Asian extended family concept.

Getting married and making plans for the celebration is a tedious, lengthy and stressful affair for sure, amidst the joy and excitement. I'm glad I've 'been there, done that', whatever anyone may say, comment or complain -- why no wedding dinner, only tea reception, no banquet with sharks' fin soup, not enough food......

My conclusion is, there'll always be people who will comment and have different opinions. That's human nature. For the bride and groom, if they are hosting and organising, they just need to try to do it the way they want while considering their parents' viewpoints. For the parents who want to be the host, they should consider their children's needs too. Disagreements without compromise will just lead to an unhappy occasion and tarnish the family relationship. At the end of the day, what everyone wants is happiness, and how that's achieved may differ from one generation to another, the young and old, black and white, rich and poor. Mutual respect and love are needed. Newlyweds want the blessings and support of parents, family and friends, and also their God if they believe in one. And also to be a blessing to their parents, family and friends in return.

So here's to joyful and lasting unions. Yuuuuum seng!

p.s. I don't believe in love at first sight! ha ha....

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The stage - Dewan Filharmonik Petronas

I took this picture with my BlackBerry, lighting in the hall was dim.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The past two weeks

In a blink of an eye, the two-week school holidays are over. Today, C goes back to school. Having gone to bed around 11.00pm every night, past her usual bedtime of 9.00pm the past two weeks and waking up late after 8.00am, I was afraid she'd have trouble waking up this morning. I had tried getting her to return to her normal bedtime hours the past few days but failed. Thankfully, we managed to wake her up this morning without much fuss. But I wonder if it'll be the same tomorrow since she might be tired out from today's relatively busy day at school compared to the two weeks of rest and relaxation. As usual, I'll have to take it one day at a time.

Workwise, C spent the two weeks catching up with piano practice, and going for music lessons and Malay language tuition. Playwise, she read and re-read numerous books, played with her toys, watched tv and we went out a bit.

The highlights were outings to malls, catching Kung Fu Panda 2 with E and me, and getting a free tour of the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas (DFP), the concert hall in KLCC, home to the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.

C also made her official first ride on her bicycle without the training wheels. While I had noticed that she  could do so already earlier on, those wheels were still attached to the bike although they were slightly raised.

The visit to  DFP on a weekday morning required us to leave home at 8.15am to 'wade' through office-hour traffic. We got there at 9.00am, 45 minutes early. To kill time, we took a walk around the KLCC park and studied trees and plants. The park provided good opportunity to revise our knowledge of plants. We saw a number of bird's nest ferns, an epiphyte according to C, other tropical trees like those from the palm family. I pointed out other ferns growing on host trees, lichen on tree barks and learnt from C a lichen genus called Cladonia which she said she read about in Guardians of Gahoole. Then I showed her 'duit duit' or felt fern, another epiphyte. We took a look at the deserted children's water playground in the park which is usually crowded with kids on weekends. Then, it was time to head to DFP.

We joined another 20 or so adults and children inside the concert hall for a short talk about the place and later went on a backstage tour. The conductor and soloist have their own rooms while the other musicians share a common lounge. The lounge has comfy sofas and dining tables, a piano, tv, dart board, books, notice board, pantry, lockers, dressing rooms, washrooms and shower stalls. Backstage was a maze of corridors and staircases (there are lifts too but we didn't take any). In my hurry to leave the house that morning, I had forgotten to put my camera in my bag so I had to use my mobile phone camera to take pictures which I've yet to download to my computer.

The DFP conducts free tours every first Monday of the month and you can make an appointment for it online here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A touching video clip

He ran away from an orphanage at the age of five and have been surviving on his own since. Watch the video for more details of his life and listen to him sing. Amazing, inspiring....

Monday, May 30, 2011


I've been hearing and reading every now and then about i-City, the place with those beautiful LED light sculptures etc that finally yesterday evening, we managed to check it off our 'been there, done that' list.

The tree-lined park

This place is located in Shah Alam and is part a commercial property development. The main attraction of this place is the park where various trees and sculptures made of LED lights turn this otherwise boring place into a wonderland at night.

I can imagine how dead this place is during the day and on weekdays as most of the shoplots and office space are not taken up, save for a number on the ground floor closer to the park where some eateries and a bank are located.  We were rather disappointed with the entire package of the place in fact.

The restaurants were nothing to shout about. There's a steamboat buffet place, a few cafes serving local and western food, a sort-of Middle Eastern restaurant and KFC. There are a few shops selling cheap souvenirs and a few others operating cheap carnival games. I don't mean cheap in terms of pricing but 'cheap' in the tacky, unsophisticated way.

There's a Reptile Exhibition place on the upper floors of one shoplot and the current attraction - The Snowalk - where you pay to enter and enjoy the -5degC man-made snow funhouse.  They charge RM10 per car per entry to i-City. Tickets for the Snowalk cost RM25 for adults and RM15 for kids 3-12 years old, and you can redeem your carpark ticket there. They lend you their winter jackets for free (imagine the jackets having been worn by thousands of other visitors and how they could smell!). Wellingtons are available for rent for a refundable RM20 fee.

If you intend to visit Snowalk, it's best to bring your own winter jackets and wear appropriate shoes. We arrived there before dark, around 7.00pm and chose the safest place, KFC, for dinner. I believe the steamboat place could be relatively good too compared to the other eateries. By the time we finished dinner, it was dark and time to venture out to see the lights. They also have pony rides for RM8 per ride. There's also an amusement place with bumper cars, train rides, arcade games and a karaoke place.

Here are some pictures I managed to catch with my point-and-shoot Panasonic Lumix digital camera:

A peacock

Moo... by the way, you cannot touch the sculptures/lights. Security guards are around and will blow their whistles at you telling you to not touch them! 

The crowded Snowalk building


School holidays - mine then and C's now

The school holidays are here again. This time it's for two weeks. The trend these days for upper middle class families with school-going kids are to go on overseas holidays. Some infants, toddlers and children are more well-travelled than me in fact. Every holiday, I'd hear a kid mentioning a holiday to some exotic destination. In school yearbooks, kids write about their Mediterranean cruise or holiday in Europe, no longer about 'A Visit to the Zoo'!

As for ACE, we are not as fortunate as some couples who can afford to take their kids travelling almost every single holiday, even with that popular tagline of  'Now Everyone Can Fly'. The cost of living is high in the city, the cost of raising a family is high too, especially for a single- and average-income family. We try to have one holiday a year, and usually we seldom plan ahead due to E's work schedule and our limited budget.

In the past, my generation of kids were just happy with the simple idea of not having to go to school during the holidays. We were satisfied with entertaining ourselves in various ways at home - playing games, reading, watching the limited children's programes on just two TV channels, playing outside with neighbours and schoolmates who lived nearby. No Astro, Gameboy, Playstation, Nintendo, shopping malls, nice movie theatres with popcorn and other 'canggih' (sophisticated) activities. We knew how to entertain ourselves with the limited stuff around us. As for C, she'd start complaining of boredom and pester me once she's tired of what's readily available.

Those days, if we were lucky enough and our parents could afford it, a holiday meant an outstation trip to a neighbouring state within the country, an outing to a tourist attraction like Batu Caves or a day trip to a nearby beach. Overseas holidays were unheard of, for me at least. It was an activity that was as distant as a dream that I only read about, and saw on TV of celebrities and the rich and famous. The only 'overseas' country I had visited in my childhood was Singapore and that was because we had relatives there. And my first real holiday overseas was to Thailand after I had started working and earning my own money.

I recall the many carefree school holidays I spent in rubber and palm oil plantations where my dad worked, satisfied with cycling around, playing with the dogs, checking out the flora and fauna outside, collecting rubber seeds or the red saga seeds which fell out of their pods from the giant tree in the vast green garden, reading the tons of books I borrowed from friends, and savouring the tasty fried chicken, roti canai, curry and Chinese food my mum taught Saroja, our young Indian girl helper (whom I enjoyed chatting with) to cook. No KFC, Pizza Hut (pizza? what's that?) or McDonald's.

Saga seeds from the Adenanthera pavonina tree

It's a huge difference comparing C's school holidays and mine. She's a city girl whose idea of comfort and fun include airconditioned restaurants, entertainment via electronic stuff, her own brand new story books bought from mega bookstores, and walking about in brightly-lit, loud-music-blaring malls. I was a small town girl, undemanding and happy with what was made available to me, or what I could find to occupy myself with. A short outing to what was called an 'emporium' those days was already adequate.

What about your holidays during your schooldays? How different were they from the ones your children have now?