Friday, February 10, 2017

gong gong is 80

Well as Gong Gong is exactly the same as Por Por when it comes to parties, there’s little fanfare when he turns 80.

We have him a birthday lunch at a nice restaurant, and even then Por Por tells me to keep quiet. “Don’t say it’s for his birthday,” she warns.

* Chinese timsum lunch at Lan Ting Cuisine

At least we celebrate. Every year, as far as I have noticed since I was born, his birthday passes and no one notices, so having a meal and a cake is really something special. He doesn't even really know when his birthday is because he comes from a time when births weren't properly recorded. Just that it's around this time.

* 1 candle = 10 years

He even gets birthday presents, courtesy of Choon and Phoebe: A balancing board and a raincoat.

Recently, completely forgetting that he’s 80 with a lump in his lung, he cycled out in the rain to buy groceries from the wet market and fell sick promptly after. The raincoat will help a lot.


* Birthday boy


* Lulu the photobomber with her favourite cutesy face

When it’s time for him to make his birthday wish, he’s all smiles: “I have three wishes but I’m not going to say what they are.”

* Making his wishes

Por Por, having had her wish fulfilled at Choon's birthday (he IS getting married in March, before he turns 40 in April!), shouts out, “I know, it’s for Teng to get married!” Gong Gong laughs very loudly, “How did you know?”

Teng screws up his face like he smelt something very bad. 

Unlike when Por Por made her wish for Choon, I don’t have a very good feeling for this one.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

healthy cooking oil

My cooking oil just finished, time to get a new one.

At the supermarket, I send Choon a text – what oil should I get?

I use olive oil for the Western stuff which doesn’t require high heat, but for the Chinese stuff, I’ve been meaning to get a healthy cooking oil for ages, but there’s so much literature and misconception I get confused.

Last time, I just picked up the Knife brand one because it was right in front of my face. I used to just pick whatever I felt like, including vegetable oils which I thought were healthy. Veggies, right?

This time, the dietitian happily responds in super-quick time:

Sunflower, peanut, rice bran oil is good. Read the label. Make sure there isn’t refined palm oil. Don’t buy vegetable oil. Or NTUC premium oil.

* Sounds good but the RBD Palm Olein is a red flag

* Avoid because of the Refined Palm Olein

I pick up the rice bran. I take a picture of the ingredients, which say: 100% rice bran oil.



Choon: Yup OK. Rice bran has natural cholesterol lowering effects.

OK. You know this means?

I’ll probably end up buying rice bran oil for the rest of my life. I don’t need to know why it works or why it’s good. I just want someone I trust with no hidden agenda to tell me its good and I’m a lifelong fan.

(I try it out: It looks light in colour and feels clean. Does it add any flavor to the food? Probably not. But taste is not my criteria for cooking oil.)

Monday, February 06, 2017


From this…


To this.


For him, braces have always been a consideration. The boy has been chomping at the bit for braces, particularly since last year, I think he dislikes the way his teeth look. But the dentist advised him to fix it after his PSLE.

Good thing, because it hurts. (The pain might have affected his results AHAHAHAHA)

Simply put, the wire is progressively tightened over months, years, until his teeth give up and stay put in nice new positions. Eating was a pain in week 1, biting down was agony, and I thought he looked even more sylph-like than usual due to weight loss.

* Higgledy-piggledy teeth and a tiny moustache!

Is it really necessary?

I guess, not really. I actually have no issues with his teeth and it defines his cutesy smile. But he does, KK too. KK, who has no dental alignment issues apart from a gap between his two front teeth, recounts wistfully: “You’re so lucky. I needed braces when I was young but Nene was too poor.”

Day's procedure costs over $4k. (so I fully understand when the dentist's wife tells me that dentistry is one of the most over-subscribed and hard-to-get-in options at the university now. Who doesn't want to be a well-paid medical professional with sane working hours and little risk of killing a patient?)

Happily, Day doesn’t have to pull out any teeth, because he’s just got a big mouth with a jut-out jaw, resulting in his teeth growing out at a 45 degree angle in some portions. Dentist says ideally he would require plastic surgery to fix his jaw.

Nah, we won’t go there. So the doctor will try to do what he can with just the braces.

In the meantime, to friends who say he looks ugly now, he says he's a caterpillar which is on its way to becoming a handsome butterfly. May he have teeth which were as straight as his original milk set.

One last look at the God-given alignment which will never exist henceforth:

* Quite cute, wat

Saturday, February 04, 2017

higher chinese

Last year, Jo was recommended to take up Higher Chinese.

Day wasn’t recommended to take it, so I never had cause to think about it. I don't think Lu would be recommended either, so this would be one-off, only for Jo!

I've said this before. Jo, unlike her siblings, clicks with Chinese. For all the talk about the home environment and families (like ours) not speaking Mandarin at home, some people are just genetically programmed to have a slightly easier time of it.

Memorizing characters, remembering them and understanding the flow of the language comes naturally to her. She still never has to study for ting xie.

These days, when I’m not sure of a word which Lu is struggling with, I consult Jo on how the word is written, and the stroke order. (she’s good at stroke orders and generally makes it a point to get them right, Lu doesn't give a hoot and draws the characters anyold-how)

Oral and composition is an entirely different matter, Jo never finds these easy, even in English. But essentially, she gets Chinese at the building block level quite easily.

We turned down the chance. She will not be taking up Higher Chinese.

Very simply put, because Jo has issues with time management, she is still learning how to get things done in a reasonable amount of time, and an extra couple of hours a week of Higher Chinese class plus the associated stress (they need to go for separate classes because it’s a different examination paper altogether) is going to put more load on her over-burdened shoulders.

As it is, she doesn’t have much time to faff around with her siblings or think about her actions (very important for her). And I don’t want to turn her life, at age 10, into one big serious grind by opting for things which will give her a competitive academic edge, but which rob her of her sleep and good humour and other life pleasures.

We may live to regret this. 

Or rather, I, who rob my competitive daughter of this competitive edge, may live to regret this.

Like at the end of 2018, if she lacks a point or two to get into a SAP secondary school of her choice (Higher Chinese will give her a bonus point or two depending on her performance), or in 2022, if she bemoans having to do Chinese in junior college (doing well in Higher Chinese up till O level would exempt the kid from this), she will look at me and say: It's your fault.

But there it is. It’s important to me that today, she has time in the day to enjoy her meals, get enough sleep and fool around a bit. She can spend the rest of the time stressing about her remaining subjects and trying to do well at all costs.

As it is, she asked that I send her for Chinese tuition for basic Chinese. She deems that unless she goes, her grades will fall. She evaluated several options and I dutifully sent her to her teacher of choice, back to the same Dragon Lady who once told me "这个不须要补习" (This one - meaning Jo - doesn't need tuition).

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

girls’ cny gear

The theme for the girls’ new clothes this year is scales or ruffles.

It just so happened, and I’m documenting because I am realizing these things are of interest to Jo and Lu when they read back the posts. Like, “I wore this in XXXX because I liked sequins, eeew!”

(I am getting a real sense now of what they want and would NOT want to read about in future)

KK, just like with his bak kwa bee-in-the-bonnet, insists that all the kids have new clothes. “At least two sets,” he said.

He comes back one day with something like three pairs of new pants, an equal number of new shirts and loads of new underwear. He and Day, in Vivocity, settles the boy’s stuff very quickly. Easy.

I buy my own a day or two before Chinese New Year proper. Easy also.

As for the girls, thankfully, Xueying gave them two lovely identical purple dresses over Christmas with a ruffled strawberry so gloriously red it pops out from far away. Red is auspicious. That would be outfit 1.


* With Liyen in their strawberry dresses

Outfit 2, I actually have to bring them shopping because KK won't have them wearing one of the (very nice) hand-me-downs which friends and family passed on. Shopping is onerous and tiring because they’re fussy. 

Finally, at Vivocity, I troop into Desigual where they are rooted to one spot flipping colour-changing sequins up and down. I buy the clothes even though they cost more than all of my clothes combined and require hand-washing. I just want to get it settled.


* Jo, sequin shirt, jeans, winter boots (bought for Japan) and my brown clutch thingy

* Lu, dress with sequin bag and winter boots

* Because the ruffles and sequin flips are fascinating, to me at least. They change colour with one sweep!

They also get alphabet necklaces.



Sunday, January 29, 2017

family pics

Twelve years of annual Chinese New Year family pictures. A few more years and I think I’ll have enough to compile them into a book of us, looking our best, getting older, year after year.

I’d call it: CNY Finery – 2004 to XXXX. Maybe 2024, so it makes a nice twenty. Eight more years to go.






* The BBs are part of the family

Friday, January 27, 2017


Chinese New Year is upon us once more! (ya I know its outdated but I'm catching up)

I really like writing about our reunion meals because these posts have served a really useful purpose in analyzing what went right or wrong.

I mean, nothing in the rest of the blog is very useful. But these meal posts, we actually go back to it for reference.

This year, we take it down a notch. Since we end up every year having to heave our bellies post-meal, Por Por decides to cook much less.

It’s a spectacular success (again, thanks to Jai and Por Por who do all the cooking).

In terms of quantity, the best reunion meal ever. Almost everything – apart from some chicken bones and soup stock which my mother-in-law brings home – is wiped clean. I revel in gleefully removing each plate as its emptied and bringing it to Jai in the kitchen, yelling – Finished! (and knowing very well that I didn’t overeat)

People really have to get over this notion of having to over-provide every time there is a meal. I'd rather be a little hungry and snack on some junk or fruit to top up.

Item ranking (my ranking, since not everyone agrees with me):

Prawns (new dish): 9/10
Finally! After so many years the prawn dish is a hit! One of the first dishes to be cleared, it is most happening dish of the night because its spicy. It gives kick to my rice, and to the rest of the meal. What makes the prawns appealing this year (previous years they never seem to go away): Smaller quantity, the spicy sauce, and the prawns which are rather big and plump are shelled. THE PRAWNS ARE SHELLED. That’s all it takes.

*A very small mound of prawns

* Me and my prawn

Broccoli with scallops (new dish): 8/10
I tell my folks that the kids love broccoli. Turns out almost everyone loves broccoli, including the in-laws, especially with some stringy bits of salty scallops. This was the first dish to disappear.


Pig stomach soup with pork, cabbage, bai guo and water chestnut (repeat dish): 8/10
Good as always.


Steamed fish (repeat dish): 7/10
We wisely steamed half the fish instead of the entire thing this year. It was picked clean, even though the fish only emerged from the kitchen after we had all finished our rice.


Pen cai (new dish): 7/10
Something we never had before, pen cai or poon choy, was a gift from Phoebe, who went home to Malaysia for CNY and wasn’t with us. It’s a mish-mash of seafood and meats, the likes of abalone, fish maw, dried scallop. It came in a huge can full of sauce, which led Choon to remark: I’ve never seen anyone pay that much for canned food in my life. But it was good and briny and glue-y, every luxurious mouthful.


* The ingredients as shown on the pen cai box

Mum's red-bean soup with a tang-yuan (repeat dish): 7/10
It’s an annual feature. This year, it’s a little sweet so it falls in the ratings. Jo eats her tang yuan and passes me her entire bowl of red bean: Mama can you eat for me?


Salt baked chicken (new dish): 6/10
Instead of the “samsui lettuce-wrapped chicken with ginger sauce from Soup Restaurant” we make our own chicken. Truth be told the dish was on the other side of the table and I was so lazy to stand and reach, I didn’t eat a single bit of it. Plus it’s got bones, which makes it leh cheh on a night when there's so much else to feast on. But I’m guessing it’s a six?


Lap cheong (new dish): 2/10
I guess it’s easy? Just steam and slice? It’s pretty normal and boring. And I’m never one for sweet meats.


Other shots from re-union dinner night:



* Lu has no space at the glass table. She sits by herself, isolated in the living room facing the TV screen

* Brothers

* More brothers

* Tata, with pursed lip

* Nene, with pursed lip

* Gong Gong chopping up the chicken

* Bonding with Kaofu Teng over the screen

* Bonding with Kaofu Choon on the bikes...

* ... and via badminton

* Bonding in the back garden

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

visual arts club

Lu’s clarity of purpose continues to shine bright.

She’s started with the school’s Art Club – formally known as the Visual Arts CCA – and she thoroughly enjoys her two-hour Monday afternoon sessions.

They’ve drawn butterflies, made a clay butterfly, and did some volunteer duties during recess helping other pupils with recess arts and crafts.

I am hoping the activities will be sufficiently invigorating for her to build up a portfolio worthy of SOTA, which is still her dream school, I still have no idea why, although I've been gently suggesting that she could opt for Art Elective programmes in normal secondary schools.

My reluctance to send her for external classes is because it is costly, time-consuming, I’m not sure if she’d be made to copy things wholesale, and because PK is a damn good working artist who started off by drawing Chinese opera faces on her own without attending a single class ie art is one of those things which could possibly be self-taught, for the better.

Lu is still happily generating her own art pieces and directing her own learning. While I’ve bought her a box of pencils and she’s been trying to learn about shading via Youtube videos, and copy manga, she’s a bit frustrated at her lack of painting skills.

* With her precious box of 12 Lyra pencils, from 4H to 6B

* Her copied manga

* A stationery holder which she suddenly produced one afternoon with ice-cream sticks and UHU glue, humming her way through, when she didn't have homework

I’ve taken to “storing” her pieces online here so even if things get lost she’d have a record. “Maybe this could be your portfolio if you want to apply to SOTA,” I told her.