Friday, July 30, 2010

Wise Words from a Wise Man

Oh, Prof Feng, I love you...

Good health not just about weight, says a 'lighter' doctor

I AGREE with Dr Yik Keng Yeong ('Excellent doctors despite wide girth; July 19) that doctors should look their part.

Since my girth has been mentioned, your readers may wish to know that I have lost 10kg after three years, but am still trying to lose another 5kg, which so far has proven to be mission impossible. This is because I enjoy food, in particular, roti prata, cheesecake, char kway teow and ice kachang.

However, obesity is only one of the risk factors of poor health. Recent research has shown that about 20 per cent of obese people are perfectly healthy with normal cholesterol and blood sugar, and a good family history. They also live a long and healthy life.

My late friend, Professor Chao Tzee Cheng, used to tell me that 30 per cent of people who die suddenly of heart attacks are not obese, but they indulge in unhealthy habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake, lack of exercise and risky sexual behaviour, and have a poor diet and poor family history.

Good health is a lifelong journey and you start when you are young. Parents must instil in their children healthy lifestyle habits such as having a good diet, regular exercise, not smoking and not drinking alcohol, as well as prevent childhood obesity.

Good health is not a number, be it your age, weight, body mass index, how often you jog or the number of kilometres you run. It is a sense of well-being physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.

In this regard, the National Arthritis Foundation, together with a geriatrician, is organising a number of seminars and talks in the latter part of the year and next year to address issues of health literacy, active ageing and patient empowerment.

We need to change the whole concept of health, focusing more on prevention and self-management. The present debate of 'girth and health' is simplistic and does not address the more important issues of good health.

Professor Feng Pao Hsii
Chairman, National Arthritis Foundation

Prof Feng was one of our professors in medical school. Like the late, great Prof Chao (mentioned in his letter), he was (still is? Have not seen him in years) rather rotund & a wonderful teacher.

I wish that more people could appreciate the truth of what he has to say about health being more than just a number. Today's society is incredibly obsessed with appearances especially how heavy one is. Look at how popular weight loss drugs are, to the point that many doctors have been charged (in Singapore, anyway) with indiscriminate dispensing of appetite suppressants like phentermine. I used to have patients with BMI's of 18 coming to my clinic asking for weight loss medication!

Open your eyes, people. Good health is not just skin deep.

Movie Mania

Summer in the US usually means movie mania in our family.

Our list of "have-watched" so far with my verdict in a nutshell:

The Karate Kid - pleasant enough, but I still prefer the original one
The Last Airbender - awful
Inception - one of the best made movies I have ever watched
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse - better than the first two...but then that really doesn't mean much since the first two were pretty darn bad. The Twilight movies, like the books, are like whirlpools - fascinating to watch from afar, and then it pulls you in & draws you, unwillingly, into its swirling maelstrom of bad writing/acting, and you can only but helplessly allow them to do so......

Movies to watch before we return to the land behind the Great Firewall:
Dinner For Schmucks - starring the ever funny Steve Carrell
Charlie St. Cloud - a tearjerker starring Zac Efron - perhaps this may give him a chance to prove that he is not just a pretty face.

Movies that I want to watch but will probably be able to only catch on bootleg DVD's:
Eat, Pray Love - starring Julia Roberts, it is based on the book by Elizabeth Gilbert. A great & inspirational read.
Easy A - admittedly, this is targeted towards a teenage audience, but looks entertaining
The Other Guys - starring another funny guy Will Farrell
The Expendables (although this one has a high likelihood that it will be played in the Chinese theaters since one of its starts is Jet Li) - pack load of action movie stars
RED - another action movie with the unlikely Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich & Bruce Willis as aging retired ex-CIA agents. Helen Mirren wielding a gun is enough to make me want to watch this!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Nationalistic Fervour

I had to smile at this letter to the Straits Times...

Pointless to have new ones every year
IS IT necessary to compose new National Day songs every year?

My sense is that these new compositions seem to be written to promote the artists singing them rather than as a song that Singaporeans can truly connect with.

There is nothing wrong with the two classics, Count On Me Singapore and Stand Up For Singapore, which are inspirational and tug at the heartstrings.

It would be wrong if the organisers' intention is to cater to the young generation because this would suggest that older Singaporeans are left out.

It would be better if the creative sparks organising this year's National Day Parade re-record a fresh, uptempo version of the two classic songs. Then they will be recognisable and easy for all to sing or hum along to.

While change is good, it must be for the better. I hope that next year's organising team will bear this in mind. It is the song and not the singer that matters.

I have always wondered who composed the annual National Day songs, all revolving around the same theme (I'm so proud to be Singaporean; Singapore is such a great place to live in; Singaporeans are wonderful; no where else compares to Singapore get the picture). Most of the songs that have come after the two classics mentioned in the letter have been cheesy at best, with forgettable melodies& lyrics which made me cringe.

If this is not a form of propaganda, then I don't know what is.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Driver's Ed

Z. got his learner's permit a couple of days ago. Because we do not live in the US, his acquisition of a driver's license has been delayed, compared to his peers in the US. His previous classmates now living in the States got at least their learner's permits at the age of 15 or 16 (depending on which state they live in), and now, at the ripe old age of 18, have their full license to drive. (The thought of a 15 year old behind the wheel makes me shudder).

He has driven under the guidance of our driver in China on the mostly empty suburban roads of Beijing. He is, apparently, a steady driver, according to our faithful driver. He has also acquired some degree of road sense from riding around on mopeds around our neighborhood.

Having said that, it does not lessen the nervousness of riding in a car whilst one's first born is at the wheel. I am trying to let him practise a bit more before his road test next week. I hope my nerves survive, though I have to admit that he is more steady on the road than I ever was at 18.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Heat Wave

It's been hot, hot, hot everywhere we've been - from New York to Indiana to Texas to Louisiana to Tennessee. Hot, hot, hot. And we got hail today in Texas accompanying a severe thunderstorm.

Temperatures hitting the 90's is the norm these days down south. I hear that it is not much better in Beijing. And of course, in Singapore.

Maybe the perimenopausal hormones in me are acting up, but I, for one, am ready for the cooler weather of the Fall to arrive. Even the frigid Winter of Beijing sounds like a welcome respite from this draining heat.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


This weekend, my schoolmates from secondary school will meet for our 30th year reunion. I will not be able to join them as I am here in the US for the summer, but my thoughts will be with them as they get together & reminisce.

It is hard for me to come to grips with the fact that is has been THREE DECADES since we graduated from secondary school.


That seems like a heck of a long time to me...much longer than it feels. I haven't seen some of them since the last day of school back in 1980. I have connected with a few through Facebook, and to be honest, if I didn't know it was them, I may not have recognized their faces if I were to pass them on the street somewhere.

Thirty years ago, many of us would not have been able to imagine that we are what/where/who we are now - wives/mothers/widows/divorcees, most still in Singapore, but many scattered throughout the globe, working/having worked in politics/education/health care/finance/law/banking/media. I like to think that most of us have made our mark in whichever arena we have chosen our careers in, and that our teachers would be proud of us.

I am sure they will have a great time remembering our school days, ex-classmates & teachers.

I wish I could be there too.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Impressions from China - Demolition Derby

There is a whole lot of 拆-ing going on (chai - demolition).

Next on the radar of the blood-thirsty developers in Beijing is an area around Gulou (Drum Tower) where hutong-style buildings & structures still stand. Many that line the streets of Gulou Jie (Drum Tower street) are music stores selling various kinds of instruments. It's a popular mecca for musicians looking for supplies. It is also home to Mao Live, a popular venue for live music, but was recently closed for "fire safety violations"...or so they say.

Even the area around where we live, in the north-eastern suburban area of Beijing, has not been spared the encroaching bulldozers. Acres of rubble & flat vacant land now stands where there used to be villages & single story buildings surrounding the new metro line that is being completed now, which will eventually urbanize the once-rural landscape.

I am all for progress & improvement of living standards.

But when the old is so completely wiped out in this way, with no effort to preserve the heritage & old way of life, well, it's just sad.

Unfortunately, I think that this trend is not going to stop anytime soon. With the Chinese hunger for the almighty dollar (or the yuan in this case), any thought of preservation will likely fall to the wayside. Heck, the track record of how unethical they can be all in the name of making a buck speaks for itself.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Supersize Me

The average US supermarket never ceases to amaze me.

The wide, wide aisles, the VAST variety & quantity of produce & products, all make it seem like a consumer's paradise, especially for those of us who live in a country where imported goods are

a) very limited in supply, and
b) taxed a whopping 40% resulting in exorbitant prices (RMB 268 for a box of
Tampax, for crying out loud)

I love the supermarkets here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Musical Journey

Koa. Maple. Spruce. Mahogony. Rosewood.

Headstock. Neck. Fretboard. Body.

Frets. Humbuckers. Pick-ups. Tuners.

I am outnumbered, not just by gender but also by interest. Over the last several years, by sheer osmosis, I have learned some basic electric guitar anatomy. An electric guitar, apparently, is a work of art, and not just some pieces of wood put together, with electronics & strings. I have tagged along to guitar stores - Sam Ash, Guitar Center, Tom Lee, City Music, Davis, Matt Umanov, and most recently in Nashville, Artisan. My guys oooh & aaah over the different instruments, occasionally trying them out. Guitarists tend to be passionate about their music, & their instruments; it doesn't matter if you don't buy, the opportunity to teach or learn is enough for most of them.

This recent road trip of ours has revolved around college visits, music & guitars. Heck, even one of the highways we traveled on is nicknamed The Music Highway (I-40 between Nashville & Memphis). We have seen the famous music streets in New Orleans, Memphis & Nashville, and visited the Gibson Guitar factory. & listened to the Blues at BB King's. And the guys have discovered three new boutique brands of guitars - Collings, Santa Cruz & Bourgouois. I suspect my presence in the store was a deterrent against an addition to our already ample family of guitars at home.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Southern Warmth

We have traveled from the birthplace of jazz to the birthplace of the King of Rock & now the birthplace of rock & roll.

I find the people in the South much more friendlier & more polite than their fellow countrymen on the east coast or even in the north-east. Strangers on the street greet you regularly with at least a "Hi", and "Sir" & "Ma'am" are terms of address used very frequently.


I have to say that having a GPS system is pretty cool. Not only does it help with mapping the routes from point A to point B, but it also helps to search out locations of interest nearby. Things like restaurants, hotels, shopping malls, movie theaters etc etc.

Our Garmin has turned out to one of our best buys.

Friday, July 09, 2010


*New Orleans, Louisiana

We literally drove over bayous & lakes to get to New Orleans. The sight of trees growing straight out of the Louisiana swamps was an alien looking landscape, especially for "newbs" like us.

First stop: Bourbon Street - a rich history, lots of color, raucous crowds, music bars, plenty of alcohol (including huge ass beers :)), & a dash of sleaze pretty much describes this area in a nutshell.
We went to the French Quarter of New Orleans, where Bourbon Street is located, going on a walking tour of the allegedly haunted buildings in this notorious part of the city. We didn't see any ghosts but learnt some interesting history & trivia of the city, including how jazz music originated (music played for prostitutes - "Jezebels"; hence Jez -> Jazz) on their day off, why prostitutes are also known as hookers (hooks were a means they used to pull men into their brothels) and why excrement is also known as "shit" (Ship High In Transit - referring to ships which were used to bring in excrement used for manure).

Tulane University has a lovely campus situated not far from the Garden District. Damaged by Hurricane Katrina, this university has experienced an amazing resurrection with the highest ever number of applicants to its undergraduate program this year. We visited the school with W. who expressed that he really likes it. We will see what happens. :)

The Garden District, in which our hotel is located, has many lovely old homes with beautiful architecture. I wish we had had more time to go on a walking tour of this area. But with our tight time schedule, & the debilitating heat/humidity of the New Orleans summer, not this trip.One of many examples of the lovely homes along St Charles Ave in the Garden District

And we HAD to try the famous Cafe Du Monde chicory coffee & beignets! Scrumptious donut-like pastries, slightly crispy on the outside, tender on the inside smothered under a generous pile of powdered sugar, I had to control myself & limit my intake to just one & a half pieces (with great difficulty, I must say!). Like many things that are delectable to the taste buds, these unique snacks are, alas, highly caloric.