Monday, December 28, 2009

Family vacation

Rim Talay Beach, Hua Hin

It was SOOO nice to be able to breathe clean air, out there in the beach paradise that is Hua Hin.

(Not too mention the unblocked Internet sites.)

"Chat Chai" or Night Market

Hua Hin is less touristy (and less pricey) than Phuket. Walking through the streets of central Hua Hin feels a lot more local than Phuket. "Chat Chai" (or the night market) in Hua Hin not only had the usual t-shirts, shorts, & Thai crafts that seem to appeal to tourists, but also had numerous seafood restaurants, and a good variety of local street food. It was interesting to see the Thai versions of familiar yet different hawker food: wanton noodles, roti prata (known as Rotee - available with different kinds of fruits + condensed milk!),fried kuay teow (pad thai), and rojak (lots of raw vegetables with suspicious looking sauces that looked like ground up raw seafood!).

For me the best part of the holiday were the walks on the beach with my younger son, wading in the sea waters at low tide, and looking for sea life in the receding waters. Also, nothing beats a good exfoliation of dry, cracked & chapped heels like walking barefoot in the sand!

Of course, I can't go to a beach resort without visiting the spa. I certainly felt like a well-seasoned wok after all the massage oil treatments I received...a very relaxed well-seasoned wok.

On the way back from Thailand, I saw a family traveling with a toddler of about 2 years old. It made me reflect on how much my older boy has grown (he turns 18 today). I still remember how he would fall asleep on my chest during similar flights to various destinations. It also made me appreciate how I do NOT have to carry around bag loads of diapers/formula/extra change of clothes/baby food/toys etc! Bittersweet memories indeed.

So now we are back in the frigid cold of Beijing & it's coal-laden winter air. I am already missing the beach, and the warm sunshine, and the sound of the ocean waves.

And starting to think of where we should go for our next beach vacation...

Thursday, December 24, 2009


We fly off to a seaside resort Christmas day (tomorrow) to enjoy some sun, sea & spa. We miss the beach so much, being in landlocked & currently frigid Beijing. It used to be an annual pilgrimage to a beach resort when we were living in Singapore with its central location & easy access to places like Bali & Phuket & Langkawi.

So, adios for now, China, & see you again next week!

And to everyone, a happy Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2009


I should have realized this long time ago: a sure remedy for a fridge full of leftovers is to invite a house full of teenagers over. They'll work like Pacman through all that food.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holiday Season

Been bloody busy - that's the reason why I have not been updating as often as I would have liked. Who woulda thought that a non-working person could be so busy??? No complaining though, as I am thoroughly enjoying my "work" as a parent volunteer in school. And no, I don't miss clinical practice at all (I have been asked this question ad nauseum when people realize that I used to be a doctor in my previous life:)).

The boys are in their finals week & are off for 3 weeks. We are heading towards tropical climes, where I am looking forward to Sun, Sea, Sand & Spa (not necessarily in that order). I don't mind the cold here in Beijing but I really do miss the sounds of the waves & the salty smell of the ocean breezes. We leave Christmas day, so will celebrate with a Chinese-style Christmas feast of "huo guo" (or hot pot) that is so popular here in the winter. Mmm...good.

This is Z's "last" Christmas with us before heading to college, his first step towards independence. Certainly, I hope that he will be able to spend Christmases with us, as long as we can afford the air fares back here (or wherever we may be!) But I know it will be different somehow, once he has flown the nest. Our nuclear family unit will not be the same again. Oh dear, I am starting to sound morose.

Anyway, on to happier topics, at least one college application has been successful, I am happy to say. Whew. The others will take another four months or so before we find out.

Well, here's wishing everyone a happy Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwaanza/New Year!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Again and Again

Once again, the issue of the teaching (& learning) of Chinese as a second language in schools continues to be discussed after MM Lee Kuan Yew's recent interview was published in a magazine.

I see the same old arguments in the Straits Times Forum page: those who are die-hard "all or nothing" pro-Chinese-at-the-highest-possible-standard; and those who had struggled with the language when they were in school & who are happy that FINALLY, the Power That Is, announces publicly that the original bilingual policy may have been a mistake.

I have blogged about this before, so am not going repeat my opinions.

I am skeptical, though, if the changes that have been made to the system will work better than previously or not. I still hear my friends who still have kids in the Singaporean education system, lamenting about their childrens' struggles with Mandarin, and can only breathe a sigh of relief that my own two sons do not have to go through that. And yet, they can get by with the Mandarin they have learnt here in Beijing (and I am going to go out on a limb & say that their accent is a lot more authentic than the Singaporean accented Mandarin we hear in Singapore), and have enough vocabulary to be able to communicate (for the most part!) with the local Chinese in China for the usual activities of daily living.

If they wish to pursue a higher level of Mandarin as they eventually move into tertiary education, they can still do so, but for now, they (and I) are quite happy with what they have achieved so far.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Germs Germs Germs

Our home is a hotbed of germs; cackling viruses, rubbing their filthy hands with glee as they spread like wildfire.

From different corners of the house come sounds of coughing, sneezing, hacking, sniffling, groaning.

I should buy some shares in Kimberley-Clark (owner of Kleenex) - we certainly have given them good business this past week.

Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Aleve, Benadryl, Ventolin, Piriton, Sudafed....we've used them all between the three of us.

W. remains healthy, probably because he already caught the bug last month, resulting in being absent from school for almost a week.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


My guys are in a rock band. They have performed in school events, community events & even clubs in downtown Beijing. They perform covers and also write their own music and have now started recording these songs with the intention of burning a music CD/putting their music on iTunes, youtube, or some other website that allows music sharing. Maternal pride aside, the songs are pretty good & have found their way to their friends' iPods.

They have a passion for music, especially my younger boy. We have, at last count, a full drum set, a keyboard, a cajone drum, 2 bass guitars, 4 acoustic guitars and seven (yes SEVEN) electric guitars, each lovingly given unique names.

Neither my husband nor I discourage this passion. As a matter of fact, we are occasional roadies, helping them cart their instruments & various accessories (a couple of times, this included the ENTIRE drum set!!!) to the different venues for concerts. We offer constructive criticism on their performances, listen to their new compositions in order to offer advice, chaperone them on gigs. My younger son may eventually pursue the music business as a career path.

I know that my parents would NEVER EVER have encouraged me nor my siblings if we even showed any inkling of any form of musical or artistic talent or showed any tendency towards pursuing these areas as careers. And I don't blame them as they grew up in an era when poverty was rampant & the only way out, for many, was a good education & career in the traditional professions of law or medicine or engineering or accountancy.

My older son heads off to college next fall, followed by my younger one 2 years later. I always tell them, when we talk about what they want to study, that it doesn't matter to me, as long as they have passion in the field that they eventually end up working in.

To me, if you have the passion for what you do, half the battle is won...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Impressions from China - More crazy weather

10 inches of snow dumped on us overnight in a heavy snowstorm. The boys' school had to call it a Snow day which meant no school today for them, much to their glee & joy.

We spent the morning making a snowman, & the boys & their friends having snowball fights.

They say more snow is expected either tomorrow or Thursday. The kids await with bated breath, hoping for another Snow Day.

I hope not. (I don't mean the snow; I mean the kids missing another day of school while frolicking in the snow then bringing home a horde of teenage boys whom I subsequently have to feed.)

Much of the snow is gone now, since the ambient temperature was in the teens. My guys had their coats off and were outside in their tee shirts within 30 minutes of rigorous snow play! The snowman has also since collapsed and lying sadly on his face in our backyard.

As I said, crazy weather.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Impressions from China - Haggling

Location: Yashow

Products in question: 2 pairs of winter gloves

The exchange that ensues (translated from Mandarin):

A.: "How much?"

Vendor: "150 kuai"

A.: "60"

Vendor: "100"

A: "60"

Vendor:"No, it's too cheap! 100!"

A: "60"

Vendor: "80!"

Me: "I'm hungry - let's go have dinner."

A: "65"

Me:"Let's go eat, I'm hungry."

Vendor: "80, it's very cheap!"

A (giving in to a hungry wife):"Ok, OK, 80"

I hate haggling. A. loves it. It's like a game to him. That's why I drag him along when I go shopping at places like Hong qiao or Silk Street or Yashow where bargaining is part of the shopping process.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Impressions from China - Crazy Weather

Poor trees...

Willow trees with leaves still green & covered with snow!

We were dumped with at least 6 inches of snow on November 1st after the Chinese authorities seeded the clouds. Temperature that day was a max of 6 degrees Celsius. The poor trees hadn't even had a chance to lose their fall foliage yet. As a matter of fact, many of the leaves are still green! Some of the branches on a couple of trees in our yard have snapped due to the heavy weight of wet snow which was caught on the leaves (as you can see in the pictures above).

It was frigid the next day with a max of about 4 degrees.

Today, just two days later, the max temperature was at a relatively comfortable 15 degrees (thought it felt warmer than that to me). I only needed a light sweater outside.

Next week on Tuesday, more snow is expected (whether due to seeding or not, I don't know) with max temperatures of 2 degrees expected!

All this yoyo-ing of temperatures is really quite annoying. The snow that arrived over the weekend caught us by surprise. I hadn't even taken our winter coats out yet nor our winter shoes! So now, on our heavily laden coat rack hang lightweight sweaters, a denim jacket, a couple of leather jackets, a couple of layered thickly insulated coats, and a couple of medium weight coats - all this to accommodate the rather wishy washy weather pattern we've been experiencing.

Global warming? El Nino? La Nina?

Whatever the cause is, I wish the weather would make up its mind already.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Road Bumps

Whoever said that parenting gets easier as the kids become older have got to be kidding.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

College Apps

Early Decision, Early Action, Early Response, Regular Decision, Rolling Decision...

These are terms which we have had to learn as we travel down the sometimes confusing road of college applications with our older son. Even my American-educated husband is occasionally confounded by the new terms & processes that we have to go through in order to try to secure a place in college.

Common Apps, Supplements, "Reach" schools, "Good Fit" schools, "Safety" schools...

One additional challenge are the essays/personal statements that my son has to write to "sell" himself to the various colleges he is applying to. For those of us who enjoy writing, it's not so big of a deal. For him, who finds writing essays a bore & a tedious task, it's like pulling teeth. I am sometimes tempted to write the bl*** essay for him but he needs to do it on his own. But I have to say, the end products of his efforts are commendable. We'll see what the outcome is come mid-December, when the early decision & early response results are released (*fingers crossed*).

In the meantime, he still needs to continue working on the essays for "regular decision" schools.


Monday, October 26, 2009


*Singapore's version of pidgin English which, for the most part, can only be understood by native Singaporeans

This letter was published in last week's ST Forum:

Don't use culture as an excuse for Singlish

RECENTLY, there was a programme on television which discussed the standing of Singlish in view of the recent debate on using correct spoken English. One participant held the view that it was the country's culture which should not be eradicated - it was the flavour of Singapore.

If it is a cultural characteristic pertinent to Singapore, it must be at least more than 100 years old - which it is not.

When our forefathers came to Singapore from their homelands to find a better life, they had no education, or very little of it. Then, English was the lingua franca under the rule of the British. The immigrants were creative and resilient and learnt a few words of English to survive in an alien land. Their dialects were of no use except among themselves.

So, to survive, they had to use some English. From this was born pidgin English shorn of its grammar and sentence sequence.

The situation today is different - vastly different - and the need of our forefathers does not exist any more. Why then is there this tendency to cling to broken or fractured English?

Why must we take mistakes in semantics and elevate them into a culture? Is it because it is too much trouble to master correct usage of the English language and, like water, it is easier to flow down than up?

In the TV programme, Japan was cited as a country that did not speak English and did well, with translators at meetings. I have had business meetings in Japan, with Japanese CEOs who spoke impeccable English (without translators). And the same in China too, where the country's young are being groomed in correct English to make inroads into the English-speaking world.

If one can speak correct English, without translators, the one-on-one relationship gives an edge and develops a much stronger sense of rapport with the individual spoken to.

Our children must be given this edge and not be forced to rely on translators to decode their Singlish for the English- speaking world.

The choice has to be made now.

This is an oft repeated argument, & I wholeheartedly support the author of this letter. I always see the die-hards who argue that Singlish should not be put down, that those of us who speak proper English are trying to show off blah blah blah.

The point of the matter is, many Singaporeans think that they speak English when they actually speak Singlish. It is advertised that Singapore is an English speaking country. But the reality is when foreigners visit Singapore & talk to the average man in the street, they find it very difficult to comprehend what he is talking about.

Recently, a friend of mine whose daughter just graduated from an International school in Beijing & is now attending a university in the UK, told me that her daughter noticed that many Singaporean students there tend to clique together. And when they speak, it is difficult for the British people to understand them. That is the sad state of affairs now, with regards to spoken English among Singaporeans, even the most highly educated ones.

Another friend of mine in Beijing, whose son attends immersion classes in Singapore during summer breaks, told me that her son has to switch to speaking in Singlish during his stints in the Singaporean school (an elite school, no less), otherwise he is ostracized & made fun of for trying to speak like a foreigner!!! A fine example of xenophobia in Singapore, which, unfortunately, is not that uncommon these days.

Singlish should be treated as a dialect of its own. And learning PROPER English is a must for Singaporeans, if they want to be understood by others. Keep Singlish, by all means. But know when to use it, & when not to. Otherwise we will all sound like we are speaking gibberish when we speak pretend English (i.e. Singlish)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Happy 40th, Sesame Street!

I grew up watching Sesame Street. Every Saturday & Sunday afternoon without fail, I would be glued to the TV set watching Big Bird, Bert & Ernie, Gordon, Oscar the grouch, Kermit (pre-Miss Piggy days), Grover, the Count & Mr Snuffalopicus, laughing & learning along with the hundreds of thousands of kids around the world.

I knew all the words of all the songs, and would sing along with the muppets & their human friends Gordon, Mr Hooper, Maria etc etc.

This November marks the 40th season of this educational program.

Happy Birthday Sesame Street! And may you have many more!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Impressions from China - Lockdown

I am certainly not going to even try to venture into downtown Beijing tonight. Roads are closing in preparation for the big parade & celebration in Tiananmen Square tomorrow commemorating China's National Day. Heard that there has been some major paranoia surrounding security leading up to tomorrow's big Do. Hotel windows being blocked off, residents in the surrounding area, being asked to temporarily move off site, etc.

I'm going to watch it on TV to see what they have been rehearsing so hard for. I'm sure it will be impressive. The Chinese tend to be very meticulous about things like this.

Unfortunately, the paranoia has also resulted in the Internet being blocked. Many sites are inaccessible & now, even proxies have been blocked!

We have resorted to subscribing to a VPN in order to access Facebook & Blogspot. So far so seems to be working well.

Fingers crossed.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I can't believe I forgot that it is Sept 11 today until I saw a live telecast of a memorial service on TV.

Why did I forget? Well, like many, memories gently fade especially after 8 years. And especially when we get caught up in the day to day activities of, well, just living life.

But for those who lost a loved one that day in NYC, or those still suffering the after effects of the terror that ensued that day, they will never forget.

I wish them well and hopefully, peace in their hearts.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My son the Senior

One year from today, my first-born son will be a freshman in a college/university somewhere on the other side of the world.

When he was born almost 18 years ago, it was the start of an amazing roller coaster ride of an adventure,nurturing a new life that was entirely reliant on me for sustenence, then seeing him develop to an initially very shy toddler, to a sociable little boy, and now a strapping teenager on the cusp of adulthood.

I am proud of him, my very own teddy-bear-lovable-considerate-intelligent-guitar-playing-born-leader of a son. He is ready to fly out of our nest...more ready than I will ever be to let him go.

But it is a milestone in every mother's life to do so. And I hope when the time comes, I won't be a blithering, blubbering idiot.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

It's He...ere...

The H1N1 virus has reached my boys' school. It was a MOT anyway, I reckon.

One child has been diagnosed with it, so his whole class has to stay home for the rest of the week for observation.

I hope they won't have to close the whole school down.

We'll just have to wait and see if the madness ensues...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Definition: a killing of one human being by another (from the Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary)

Michael Jackson's death has been ruled a homicide by the coroner. Whether or not his physician will be criminally charged remains to be seen.

This is a sobering reminder of the power that lies in the hands of physicians, in the form of know-how & accessibility to drugs, equipment, procedures and technology, that, if used wrongly or negligently, can result in death. Sometimes, even when used correctly, patients die, due to errors or unforeseen circumstance. In techno-babble, when something like this happens, it is called an Adverse Event.

When does an Adverse Event become criminal? I don't know the answer. I am positive that Dr Murray did not mean to kill Mr Jackson. But if he did administer all those drugs as reported, IMHO, that would amount to negligence.

Someone once said: "With great power, comes great responsibility."
(No prizes for guessing which movie this came from & which character said it :)... )

Why this particular doctor chose to do what he did...we can only guess that it was likely to be a combination of the lure of money + the fact that it was the King of Pop himself who had demanded the drugs to be administered.

Wealth and Celebrite can be a deadly combination.
Heath Ledger.
Anna Nicole Smith.
And now MJ.

What a waste.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


If I were still living in Singapore, I would be gleefully joyful to discover this company that provides a service to help you ship mail ordered stuff from the States to Singapore at reasonable rates.

I'd order from here (my favorite store to shop at in the US!).

And here.

And maybe here if I needed to buy in bulk.

And I just KNOW that my guys would be ecstatic that they could shop from here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

McAllen, Texas and the high cost of health care:

McAllen, Texas and the high cost of health care:

Shared via AddThis

This is an insightful commentary on the state of health care in the United States.

Dr Gawande's suggestions on how to cut costs certainly make sense. Problem is: how receptive would doctors be to improving quality instead of quantity (i.e. making less money).

I see parallels happening (or already happening) in the state of health care in Singapore. I wonder which direction our doctors will follow? Towards quantity where the money lies? Or towards quality?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Different Faces of New York

My attempt at capturing the different aspects of New York with my amateur camera lens...

Grand Central Station

The New York Times building, I assume?

Memorial at St Paul's Chapel near Ground Zero

....supposedly the best hot dogs in town!

3 storeys of candy & ice cream!

...maybe about 10,000 calories total?

42nd Street

This is made of jelly beans

Rockefeller Plaza from the bottom

Rockefeller Plaza from the top

from the top of the Rock...

...and again...

...and again.

where I was touching distance from Constantine Marulies' shoes!

The not-so-pretty side of the Big Apple

We saw 2 film crews working on location on 2 separate occasions...looks like a popular venue of filming dark alley scenes!

Thought that interconnecting bridge at the top was cool.

Brooklyn Bridge in the background, man-made beach in the foreground

South Street Seaport

New York Subway


And some pictures from West Point in upstate New York

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Travelog - New England : a pictorial journey

Mystic, Connecticutt

A pretty seaside town with wonderfully fresh seafood. Had a deee-licious lunch of lobster bisque followed by a baked dish aptly named Seafood Ambrosia comprising crab, scallop, cod and shrimp baked in a butter sauce topped with a seafood stuffing gratin at a restaurant called S & P Oyster Company. Mmmmm....
This is the restaurant where we had this...

New England Clam Chowder! And...

Lobster Bisque!

Newport, Rhode Island

The Breakers - a mansion owned by the Vanderbilts

The Breakers' "Backyard"

Another view of the Breakers

A Newport sunset - view from Newport Bridge

Brown University - Providence, Rhode Island

Lovely architecture typical of the buildings in this Ivy League university founded in the 18th century

The Van Wickel Gates - only opened twice a year: once when a new class arrives and once when the seniors leave upon graduation

Cape Cod, Massachusetts (where I pretty much had Clam Chowder every day - I shudder to think what my cholesterol levels are right now)

Salt Marsh Lake - along the eastern coast of Cape Cod

The following pictures were all taken at Marconi Beach, Cape Cod

Kind of reminds you of "Finding Nemo", doesn't it?

That black blob in the water is actually a seal. A group(a herd? or is it a pod?) of them were frolicking in the water just about 30 feet from the beach!

Couldn't resist capturing this picture of the cloud that reminded me of a face

Sand dune

Lovely beach- but the water was freezing!

Boston, Massachusetts

We found this car decal in the Harvard store (where prices of Harvard paraphernalia were ridiculously exorbitant)

Harvard (IMHO, Princeton is much prettier)

Inside MIT - was not impressed by the long corridors. Looked much better in Good Will Hunting.


The Boston cityscape as seen from across the Charles River