Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Art & Craft

Came across this fabulous website/blog today called Skip to my Lou.

I followed a link from the Guardian website on a story on how to make a zippered pouch. I'm also inspired by Skip to my Lou's one hour bag.

I love pouches of all sorts of shapes and sizes. Actually I am one of those girls who love to sew. I used to make tissue covers, cushion covers, and I can't remember what else. I couldn't keep all of them so I gave them away as gifts.

I love shopping for bags and pouches. I like the Japanese ones, then I found that the ones in Finland are wonderful too. People spend so much effort sewing each piece of lace or felt ornament. But €10 or more (up to €25 sometimes) for a little pouch is too much.

It's been a while since I used the sewing machine. When we left Singapore, I decided to leave it at my aunt's. The sewing machine is over 50 years old and it belonged to my grandmother. It was a present from my grandfather who had either won money at the lottery or horses or got his annual bonus. The original receipt showed 1 Jan 1955 or something. Apparently this was one of those few times my grandfather showed love to his wife.

When I was a little girl, I'd watch my grandma turn the handle with one hand while holding to the fabric with the other. She would place the machine on a table next to the window. With that machine she sewed clothes, pillow cases and blankets for the family. I was often called to put the thread through the eye of the needle and like that, I learnt to set up the thread network and work the machine.

During my grandma's final days, I asked for the sewing machine which was kept at an aunt's home at the time. I figured it was easier then than after she passed and we had to "divide the assets". I didn't care for the money - I just wanted the sewing machine.

I haven't opened the machine since we left Singapore the first time. It's now at another aunt's place for safekeeping. She reminded me just a couple of weeks ago to go get it and work on it in case it got rusty.

So, after looking at the interesting crafts on Skip to my Lou, I think I might bring the sewing machine home soon.

If you receive a pouch sometime soon, you'll know why.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Speed reading

Met an old friend at Great World City for lunch today and was browsing at Harris bookshop.

I scanned the bookshelves quickly and didn't realise that I mis-read the title of this book until 5 seconds later.

I read The Idiot's Accent: American.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Toilet, loo, bathroom...

One of my favourite authors Bill Bryson has a new book out. This one is called At Home: A short history of private life.

I'm guessing it's a record of the evolution of modern home life as we know it. There is a short excerpt in The Guardian newspaper where he revealed a little about the history about toilets, stairs and the lawn. I especially like the part about Thomas Crapper.

Amazon lists this book for pre-order. It will be launched only in October. It probably won't be as hot as Harry Potter or the iPad, where one has to queue up overnight or even 48 hours in advance to get hold of the goods. As for me, I will probably wait until next year when some bookstore out there offers 20% off.

I've read two of Bill Bryson's books so far: A Brief History of Nearly Everything, then Shakespeare. The first book is like reading a science textbook, but also like a history text packed with trivia. Also, it's not brief at all. As someone who has spent more than a decade of my life studying science, the book was filled with familiar information yet I feel like I'm re-discovering science all over again.

Same for Shakespeare. It's a book about a famous figure and Bryson weaves in Shakespeare's life history with some little-known facts. Even the name Shakespeare is apparently a consensual name because the guy had signed off with different spellings on different occasions.

Bryson delved into libraries and history records, as well as visited the sites and conducted interviews with experts. The books are based on real research but they are also extremely funny because he has a really great sense of humour. He is subtle though so if you get his joke, it's really funny. I laughed and giggled when I read Brief History.*

Bryson also enjoyed travelling. He has written several books based on his travels. I'll buy one of them next time it goes on sale.

* HG has said it's a matter of perspective when it comes to humour. What's funny to me may not be funny to you. Hahaha

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The end of an era

An empty shell, that's all there is left now.

This was Blessed Hope, a place where I spent many hours of my youth. This was a little shop at Coronation Plaza that sells Christian music and literature.

I used to work here during the school holidays during my late-teens. Initially I was roped in during November and December to help out during the months leading up to Christmas. The shop would be really busy and I became good at wrapping presents of all shapes and sizes.

One year, the proprietors asked me if I wanted to work there full-time during the school holidays. Vacation could last up to 3 months at the university and this was the time to top up my bank account. But pay was pretty miserable. Since it was a long time along, I can now reveal that I was paid a mere S$25 a day. I could have earned twice as much had I taken on a data entry job. In those days, data entry jobs were highly coveted; pay was good but one could get cross-eyed at the end of the day.

But the non-ambitious me decided this job was what I wanted. Work started at 10 am, there was no supervisor, there was a direct bus to work and I could invite friends over. I spent my days playing the racks of CDs (customers came in asking for the complete Praise 15 cassette collection), reading the shelves of books (like Stick a Geranium in your Hat and Laugh - about coping with grief) and crocheting little pouches (I stuck in M&S eclairs for my friends). There were interesting - sometimes strange - customers. At least it was an interactive job.

I can't remember exactly who came over to relieve my boredom. The shop was tiny so sometimes, I had to relieve my visitors' boredom by sending them to the supermarket downstairs.

The owners knew I wouldn't stay long. This was definitely not my career of choice. The lady in the picture is Auntie Maureen, who would succeed me and stayed on for the next 10 years or so. At that time, she had just been laid off from her factory job, anyway she was the aunt of one of the owners.

We spent one month together so that I could "show her the ropes". I couldn't see why she was chosen. She had no interest in music and didn't read very much. She wasn't even a Christian. Okay, she was Catholic. Then how do I reject her when she tried to invite me to send my petitions to Mary?

Auntie Maureen is nice. She bought me drinks in the afternoon. She liked to know who was coming to have lunch with me. I was safe if a girl turned up, but I would get probed if it was a boy. How many ways are there to ask about a friendship without mentioning the word "boyfriend"? I was often teased by the owners about my interrogations. But she was really harmless.

Over the years, business at the shop waned. Blame it on the location. Or blame it on the stock. One of the partners wanted to give up a long time ago. It wasn't profitable and was a hassle keeping it going. Business carried on because it was a form of ministry. They wanted to meet fellow Christians' spiritual needs.

29 April was Blessed Hope's last day. I came to witness the hacking and removal of shelves. The smell that was so familiar was gone on that day. There were stacks of magazines in boxes that I thought looked familiar. 1992 said the date. Gosh, those had been hiding under the counter all these years.

CDs are out of date; the internet is the main supplier of music nowadays. Christians apparently aren't reading so much now. Gone were the little cards of encouraging words and scriptures. SMS or Facebook fulfill this function now. The shop was filling up with stationary and knick-knacks.

Ultimately, Blessed Hope was bought out by a bank. I was told the bank, one of the largest in Singapore, sought out the landlords of 3 adjacent shops and offered twice the rental. a neighbour moved across the aisle and 2 others folded.

There goes another piece of memory. I don't really go there much anymore but just felt comfortable seeing it every time I pass by. It was selfish of me to want things unchanged.

Life has to go on.

As for Auntie Maureen, she is going on a long holiday and is choosing between a choice of jobs.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Growing seeds

It's been a while (yet again) since my last post. I could put up a image to enhance this story but you will see that it won't be appropriate.

As Estelle was getting ready for her shower today, she picked at her chest and asked, "What are these?"

"They are called nipples," I answered.

"I know, they are seeds," she offered.

"Because they will grow big. And for boys, they will grow hair. Lots of long hair."

Then she went on to name several members of the family as evidence.

So you see, I have no such pictures.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

5 more hours

Five more hours before I have to wake up from sleepy stupor to start my trip to Shanghai. The cab has been booked for 6 am and hopefully with light traffic in the early morning, I can get to Changi Airport by 6.30 am.

I won't be able to access blogspot in China. So my friends living in China tell me. Thus before this blog lapses into obscurity again, I'd better update it before next week.

Although I've been to Shanghai many times, this is probably the first time I'll get (substantial) off time to do some sightseeing. My colleague and I will arrive in Shanghai around lunch time and we'll have the rest of the day to walk around. This weekend is free too because I can't fix any appointments on the weekend. I'd thought the Chinese work on Saturdays. Maybe the VIPs I am hoping to meet would rather take the time off. Being able to spend quality time matters to those striving in the Chinese economy too.

The last time I was in Shanghai was around 3 years ago but the itinerary was managed by the PR company who shuttled us around in a chartered bus. My hotel was next to Plaza 66, a swanking mall with big brands - a top shopping centre in Shanghai and I went there only 3 years ago. Such a frog in my little well, I thought.

The famous Bund has been renovated and recently reopened, just in time for the World Expo 2 weeks from now. The iconic Peace Hotel has also been refurbished. The pictures I will take this time will be different from the ones I took before.

Perhaps change, drastic change, is a necessity of the new Asia. Change signifies that the city is moving forward and willing to let go of the past.

Some trees along Bukit Timah Road (in Singapore) outside Chinese High and what-was Hwa Chong JC have been chopped off. The avenue is bare as the road, cars and passers-by are exposed to bright sunshine. It looks like a different road to me. The majestic trees are making way for a new MRT station which will bring convenience to the students and residents in the area. An improvement in the quality of life, the chopped trees will bring.

Good night. Going to zzz... Less than 5 hours til the alarm rings.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Busy at work

It has been a long time since I blogged. So long that I forgot my password and how to navigate my way around the settings.

In a way, nothing much has happened the last couple of months. Time passed while I watched TV, roamed the streets, run errands and took naps. With such little excitement, my interest to do anything dwindled.

That's me. When I am idle, my days just... idle... away.

As I am writing this, I'm actually crunched for time. I have less than 7 days to finish producing the magazine. Yes, I'm back to my old job and had just taken over an emergency, trying to squeeze 1 month's work in 1 week. 2 weeks later I'm off to Shanghai.

The multi-tasking mode is turned on as the Standby light goes out. Thus I blog.

HG is in Finland this week. It is still snowing even though it's April tomorrow. When it rains, I like to imagine the drops are lighter and whiter. Then the stickiness on my exposed arms and shoulders remind me that this is hot and humid Singapore.

Where is the camera? I've got photos to upload.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Money problem

Now that Estelle is in primary school, she has access to the school canteen where she can buy food.

Estelle feels grown-up when she can buy something for herself without an adult's help. She prefers buying to bringing food from home. Her pocket money was withdrawn for one day last week when I found that she had been buying sweet drinks and jelly instead of food. By the time she was dismissed from class, she was famished. We have come to an understanding that she has to spend the money on food and she can decide what to do with the balance.

She has done pretty well this couple of weeks. For days she had fishball noodle during recess. Finally, on Tuesday, she ventured to a new territory called chicken rice and yesterday (Wednesday), she conquered another frontier, duck rice.

I suspect she is still not sure how much her food cost. For days she told me her food cost $1.00 but she got money back. Nevertheless, she has come up with a clever way to pay.

Apparently, she gives the stall owner $1.00 and waits for change.

She is figuring her way around the economics of buying and selling.

I have used this trick myself during my travels. Whether in Bangkok, Tokyo or Finland, I will try to speak the local language to assume the role of a local expatriate. In other words, I'm faking familiarity with the market place. Usually in the first couple of days, my ears are still not tuned and I can't make out the price quoted, so I'll give a sufficiently large note and wait for change. Throw in a smile and a word of thanks in their language always makes the shopping trip a pleasant one.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Frustrations of renovation

Last Friday, we officially moved back home. It feels great to come back to where we started. For 5 years, this apartment was someone else's home. Finally, we reclaim it as our own again.

Early last year, we decided completely renovate our apartment. We'd thought we would take this chance to give it an overhaul and have it done up the way we want it.

That was the ideal. Reality sometimes sucks.

Boxes waiting to be unpacked

By the time the movers came last Wednesday with our belongings (all 80 boxes of them), renovations were still incomplete. The kitchen wasn't ready, the children's wardrobe hadn't been fully installed and our bookshelves were also left undone.

Storage aside, other fittings like the kitchen countertop was not ready - without which we couldn't use the taps. Simple washing like mugs or hands and even brushing our teeth were done under a shower head.

As of today, we still lack a gate and to make matters worse, the lock on the main door is faulty.

"When are you coming to fix it?" I asked. "We are rushing it," was the answer: a response I've heard many times this past month.

Last month, there was an article in the Straits Times entitled "Dream house, renovation nightmare". Ours isn't exactly a nightmare but it's certainly no sweet dream.

As days go by, we detected more and more defects. Chips in the kitchen, a hole on the wooden laminate floor, scratches on the bathroom doors... There were some gooey patches on the kitchen floor and other parts of the kitchen. When we pointed this out to our designer/contractor, he suggested that we buy some Jif because Jif would clean it silicon binders. What a turnaround in attitude compared to the start of the project when they would take care of everything. A month ago, we'd probably get "don't worry, I'll take care of this" and they would sort the problem out.

Now that 90% of the costs have been paid - we felt we were hunted down by loansharks for the last 30%, perhaps less forthcoming help should be expected.

Today, a couple of men came to install locks on our kitchen windows and change the panelling on the bathroom doors. Not only did I have to clean up the mess they left behind, I noticed they also left hard-to-remove stains on the doors and wash basin.

How long does it take to fit in 5 wooden planks for my shelves? The carpenters take at least 6 days, and counting. The same guys are responsible for changing the hinge on one of the kitchen cabinets. I'm still waiting.

I have 20 more boxes to unload. A OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) seems to be developing as I sweep the floor 5 times a day, each time cleaning up more debris and dust. Frustration continues to build up.

So I wouldn't recommend Cartel Design if you are considering renovation works in Singapore. We chose the company through the reference of a friend. Renovation is a dodgy industry, at least in Singapore, so we had expected delays and shoddy workmanship. Other friends we asked say they would recommend their contractors only to their enemies.

While other aspects of our life seem to be getting on fine, this on-going renovations, especially the dribs and drabs in these last phases, is clouding up my nice outlook.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The patriot

Third week into Primary 1, Estelle still thinks school is fun.

Tomorrow will be her first spelling test. She has never had spelling tests before so when she got the list of words to be tested, she told me those were for a "spelling contest". There is a programme on Singapore TV called Spell Cast, which is basically like the Spelling Bee in the US. She thinks she is like one of the contestants on TV.

She has learnt a favourite song at school. It's called Majulah Singapura, which is our National Anthem. For 2 weeks now, this is the only song she's been humming. Last week, she thought she was learning a Malay song - our national anthem is in the Malay language, not English. Today, she sang it at the top of her voice, much to her parents' amusement. She was a little shy so she closed the door and sang passionately. She didn't realise the walls have ears.

We call her our little patriot.

At Estelle's school, each class has a class blog where the teachers update parents on the topics covered in class or inform us of administrative matters.

In today's entry, her form teacher wrote: "The children sang the national anthem loudly and with pride at the end of the lesson, which I thought was great."

That explains the loud singing we got at home today.

When Jules came home later in the afternoon, she tried to teach him the song and bring him through the procedures during morning assembly, when the children start the day with the singing of the national anthem, the school song and reciting the pledge.

So far, Estelle seems to be fitting in well into the new system. School continues to be a fun experience.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Getting ahead of the pack

After 7 days of formal schooling in Singapore, I'm getting a little worried.

Today, Estelle brought her English language worksheets home. She not only learnt about pronouns (like female = she, male = he) but had completed a cloze passage: this is when she had to read a short story and fill up the blanks with helping words. Looking through the list of new words she will be learning, one of them is 'exasperation'. I am exasperated she is learning this word at Grade 1.

I'm happy to say that she had all the answers right. At this point, she can quite easily cope with the English exercises. Many thanks to her teachers at ICEC who have helped her so much!

So what am I worried about?

Do all 6 or 7 year-olds in Grade 1 already know how to read? If they can't read - and I don't mean simple words like cat or dog but stories - they can't do their English worksheets at all. Pitching the level this high, it is little wonder Singaporean parents send their children to prep schools months before they start Grade 1.

How much flexibility are the school and teachers giving to students who are not up to mark to catch up with the syllabus? I'm furiously resisting tuition. But if Estelle can't cope in time to come, I may have to change my mind. I hope and pray I don't have to.

Since we came back to Singapore 2 months ago, we caught up with old friends and long-lost friends whom we have not seen for a decade (or more). For those with children, when they learnt the school Estelle is going to, their responses range from "Wow, congratulations, that school is really hard to get into" or "Well, good luck!" The school does not achieve glowing results through fun and games.

Our friends ask which school she is in and how we gain entry. For the record, we submitted the necessary forms online and were chosen in a balloting exercise. We learnt that our friends sacrificed to get their children into the school of choice. We heard real-life examples of parents who spent tens of hours "volunteering" to serve the school, some paid premium real estate prices to live near the school, and others paid (one told me he spent S$1,000) to join the school association. The highest "donation" I've heard of was... S$200k.

I am thankful we got things easy. If we were living in Singapore and didn't get in the school, we'd probably blame ourselves for not trying harder. I am grateful we didn't have to think about Plan B. Truly grateful.

In Finland, and in other Scandinavian countries, children are not expected to have learnt to read, count or write when they start Grade 1. Children play all day before 6 years old. Some children are obviously ahead of their peers, but the rest are given ample time and opportunities to catch up.

In Singapore, we pride ourselves as a meritocratic society where the ability and talent gets one ahead of the game. Egalitarian Finland, on the other hand, believes that everyone is equal regardless of economic, social or political status.

The Singaporean system exalts the educated and wealthy; the Finnish society helps the less abled, sometimes at the expense of the better-off.

People living in Singapore are urged to excel in the rat race; the incentives to move ahead are limited in Finland.

Merciless meritocracy vs forgiving egalitarianism.

The complete argument should be multi-faceted and would reveal that each society has its pros and cons.

I wish for my children to shine in their strengths and allowed to grow where there are weaknesses. Where is my perfect world?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A new start

I'm back!

Sweeping aside layers of electronic cobwebs, I realised that only one miserable entry was posted for the month of December.

Here is a brief account of what I accomplished - a word that makes me feel good about how I used the time that has passed me by - in the last one month.

Renovations of our home is almost complete. Almost every morning last month, we visited furniture stores and shops for kitchen equipment, bathroom fittings, lighting, tiles... Sometimes we would meet with our designer to discuss colours and progress of the project.

I'm happy to announce that we are nearing the end of this project. Just in time since the lease of our temporary accommodation expires next week. The movers will come middle of next week and we will move ourselves in by the end of the week.

Next week, we bid farewell to regular housekeeping service, the swimming pool and the convenience of a shopping mall under our feet. We will then say hello to our "new" home and stability as we finally settle into normal life in Singapore.

Estelle started primary school last Monday. I've been meaning to post her progress since Monday but the routine has been pretty tiring.

For the past week, we woke up at 6 am so as to get ready to leave for school before 7 pm. We noticed the kids move in slow motion in the mornings. Nevertheless, time proceeds at its regular speed. Thus one whole hour just to wash up, change and have breakfast.

As for me, what I had been feeling this week is somewhat close to jet lag. My time zone shifted 3 hours ahead since Monday. I much prefer the old schedule of waking up at 9 am.

Estelle seems to be taking to Primary 1 (Grade 1) pretty well... better than we had expected. She has made new friends, found her way around the school and learning new cultures, like singing the national anthem, school song, putting on the school uniform or bowing to greet teachers.

On day 1, Estelle conscientiously finished the bread I packed for her during recess.

By the second day, she bought food herself in the school canteen. She bought a bun and a bottle of Yakult - the latter a treat for herself since it is restricted goods at home.

How much money do you have left? I asked her when I picked her up after school.

Three coins, she replied.

So how much is that, like 10 cents or 20 cents, I queried.

Oh, 30 cents, I think, she said.

On the third day, she bought a bowl of fishball noodles and a bottle of flavoured water.

The noodles cost $1 and the drinks $1,20, she proudly announced.

Where did you get the money from? I asked. Her daily allowance is $1.50.

A teacher had "lent" her money, apparently. I don't know who this good Samaritan is or if she is keeping track of her "loans".

By the fourth day, my little girl lost her purse.

Thus is Chapter 1 of the chronicles of Estelle's adventures at school.