Saturday, December 17, 2011

Grinch (kinda)

The festive season this year will be rather blue for me - Z in the US, me & A in Singapore & W in Beijing working on the last of his college apps.

First time that we'll be "celebrating" separately.

First time that Z will be spending his birthday away from us.

The house is not decorated (apart from a few Christmas candle votives & a red & green colored table runner). The fake Christmas tree has been sold, knowing that it won't be used this year.

Call me Scrooge or the Grinch....but hey, it is what it is....

But then, if you think about it, everything is just trimmings, right? The true meaning of Christmas is that it celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. So not having a tree or holly & mistletoe, & wreaths on the door really is OK. And presents?

Have a good one, everyone.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Impressions from China - Beautiful Day

Two days ago, I went to the Great Wall at Mutianyu with a friend from medical school who was visiting from the USA. In the almost five years that we've lived here, I've visited this part of the Wall several times; but I have to say that this last time was the most beautiful day I've ever seen it in.

With the Beijing air "at crisis level", in the words of a Beijing official and having to endure moredays of bad air than good, it was a blessing indeed to see the clear blue skies & breathe fresh air.

Temperatures were higher than normal, and I even broke into a sweat because I was wearing a heavy winter jacket which I eventually had to shed!

Here are some pictures...
We climbed all that way!

It's rare to be able to see the Wall on the distant mountain ranges


Look at that sky!



Early Decision

We'll find out in less than two days.

For the sake of my peace of mind, I hope he gets in...

If he does, WE ARE DONE!!!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Impressions from China - Winter

A light snowfall is coming down even as I type this, the first snow of the Winter. This will be our last winter in Beijing.

We are off to a new adventure once W graduates next summer. Except that the "we" will be just A & me. Empty Nesters, we will be. I haven't quite wrapped my brain around that yet.

Where we will be going, our home will probably be a fraction of the size of our current abode. What are we going to do with all our stuff? Things which the boys have and don't want to throw away but yet do not need in college? We don't have a Home. And that bothers me. I'm approaching my 6th decade of life in a couple of years and this rootlessness is bugging me.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Things they are a-changin'

It used to be that 'housekeeping' meant tidying up things around the house, dusting tabletops, organizing things that tend to get strewn around the house, throwing out the trash, sorting out unwanted items to get rid of.

In today's digital age, it also means sorting out & organizing files that tend to clutter up your computer desktop, going through your folders and deleting unwanted documents.

Less physical, but time-consuming, nonetheless.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Growing Up

A friend with a freshman daughter in college recently lamented to me that she couldn't sleep as her daughter had told her that she was going to consult a doctor for birth control advice. She couldn't yet accept the idea of her daughter having sex. I said well, at least her daughter is smart enough to know to take precautions with regards to reproduction. And honest enough to be upfront about it with her mother.

Many parents do not even talk about sex with their kids. Embarrassment? Wishful thinking that their kids will never ever "do" it?

My philosophy is this: Safe Sex. I think that it's fine and dandy to proclaim abstinence as the safest way to go, but in this day & age, with our children inundated left, right and center by the various media, you would be living in a glass bubble if you think that they will not be tempted to experience sex especially in the 18 - 25 year old age group.

Emphasize responsible sexuality. Teach them that the act of sexual intercourse should be treated as something special which one experiences with a person when you are committed to each other. But having said that, we still need to make sure that our offspring are equipped with the knowledge to stay safe IF they do take that step.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Impressions from China - Fraud

This article makes me so mad.

Fraud in China is not uncommon. After all, this is THE country for knock-offs & fake anything-under-the-sun.

But after going through the process of college applications (2nd time around now in progress) and the laborious efforts that are needed to write those essays & fill in those application forms & meet those deadlines, it angers me that so many Chinese students are getting in through unethical ways & means.

I have heard of how some of the local SAT "schools" hothouse the students - it's not about learning vocabulary, but it's about statistics & tactics. Eg. if it's question 58 on the reading test, you have a higher chance of a correct answer if you mark "B" on the answer sheet. It's not as ludicrous as it sounds - the Chinese have the gumption of collecting years & years worth of SAT questions/answers, doing statistical analyses on it then come up with probabilities which are used to "teach" these students.

I hope that the colleges in the US wake up to this aspect of admitting students from China.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Blind

Mothers of boys, I am sure you have had the following exchange of conversation (or something like it) with your sons before:
Son
"MOM!!!  Where is my shirt/jeans/pants/shorts/underwear/socks/cap/jacket?!"

Mom
"In your closet!"

Son
"I looked...it's not there!"

Mom
"Look closer, it's there.  Check in the pile."

Son
"I did, it's not there!"

Mom goes into Son's closet & pulls out missing item. 
"Here it is."


Similar scenario happened today.  Except that the "missing" item was the "Early Decision" button in the Common Apps website.

W
"Mr S said that you did not submit the ED signature.  You need to do it again."

Me
"What???  I did!  I even received an acknowledgment!"

W
"Well, I couldn't find it on the Common Apps today.  It's not there."

Me
"Are you sure?  Did you look properly?"

W
"Yes.  You need to do it again."

By then, I was very intrigued as to how an important link on the website could go missing.

I go on the site, log in and a couple of clicks later, I find it.  Not even buried within a pile of links.  It was RIGHT THERE.  Same as other previously "missing" items.

Sigh.....MEN.

Sad

I'm realizing that W will be leaving our home soon.  I'm sad to think that we may not have holidays together much anymore as a family unit.  I've always looked forward to our beach holidays, just walking on the beach together, looking for sea shells, checking out sea life in the rock pools, lazing in the pool.  Simple pleasures.

Next year when both boys are in college, chances are family holidays will be few & far between.  Excited as I am with the changes to come, I am also melancholic.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tired

Sigh.

And I am going to sigh again because the topic of this entry makes me tired.

Sigh.

When Z did his college apps two years ago (has it only been two years???), he went through the whole tedious process of filling in his personal information, academic information, test scores etc into the Common apps or online applications forms for the universities of his choice.  Then he had to fill out the supplement applications and write the essay/s for each of the colleges & submit them.  I had to keep track of the deadlines & keep pushing him to complete his essays so that we & his college counselor could review them before he submitted them.  It was a tiresome, tedious & time-consuming task especially since Z DID NOT/DOES NOT enjoy writing essays!

Now it's W's turn & to add an extra layer of complexity to the whole process, because he is applying to study Music, he needs to submit extra applications with the associated essays to the universities' music colleges AND record his music so that it is sent off to them for prescreening, AND THEN, if it passes the prescreening process, he would need to submit a recorded audition or go for a live audition.  AND all these have deadlines!

I feel tired just thinking about it.

I will be happy when Jan 15, 2012 arrives or Dec 15, 2011 when the Early Decision results are released (hopefully he can get in but then it's a tough school to get into).

I am so glad I only have 2 kids to put into college.  I don't think I can survive another round.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Gravity

I notice new wrinkles on my face this week. Time marches relentlessly on and leaves its unmistakable footprints behind.

I have always pooh-poohed aesthetic intervention as something that I would never resort to. But I must admit that now, looking at myself in the mirror, there are fleeting thoughts of "lasers", "dermabrasion" and the like.

They remain just thoughts.

For now, anyway.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Impressions from China - Blue


This is the Beijing sky today. You don't see a lot of this here. It was like this the last couple of days, and hopefully will last a few more days.

I realize how pathetic this post is, with a picture of just the blue sky.

But then, living in Beijing, one learns to appreciate the most seemingly mundane


Thursday, September 29, 2011

About Change

I like change, the noun. Change is good. It keeps us on our toes, makes life more interesting, expands our experiences & horizons.

I don't like change, the verb. This is a year of change. New country, new lifestyle, a smaller family unit....all in store for us.

Exciting, no doubt, but the getting there is, well... going to be a challenge.

They say life is about the journey and not just the destination (which is still a big unknown).

But right now, just the thought of all the STUFF we have to get rid of/pack/move is enough to make a girl cry.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 years...

9/11 Anniversary Plot: Terror Suspects Came From Inside U.S. - ABC News

So they have us running around like headless chickens.

City gridlocked.

Police up in arms.

Millions of dollars spent trying to find the suspected terrorists.

Hundreds of hours lost by the innocents trying to go about life as normal.

Tell me they haven't already won...


Saturday, September 10, 2011

10 Years

10 years.

10 years since the two towers fell and the world lost its innocence for good.

And yet, we're still at it. Saddam is dead, as is Osama, but terrorism survives, probably forever. As long as there are fanatics in this world (and there always will be), there will be the possibility of another attack somewhere, sometime.

The terrorists have won, I think. They have affected how we travel, how we view the world. They have made us suspicious of those who look a certain way. They have cost us billions of dollars and worse, thousands of lives.

I really don't see how & when this can end.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Countdown

In less than a year from now, we will no longer be living in China. W will be off in college somewhere, and I will finally join A and officially become empty nesters.

The thing about change is that it's scary. And it's stressful. And it's inconvenient. And it's troublesome.

To be honest, right now, I am not anxious about W leaving the nest. Not yet, anyway. I am more stressed by all the packing that we will have to do. And the logistical planning of where all our STUFF will go to. We don't have a home, you see, having sold our apartment in Singapore a couple of years ago. And we have all this STUFF: all the stuff that accumulates in a four household family which will essentially have to be consolidated into a shipment for two. Much of the stuff can be sold or thrown away. But still, there are those memorabilia and keepsakes that will need to remain with us even though much of it will probably remain in our storage boxes till we are, possibly, dead & gone from this earth.

I am starting to sell some of the non-essentials. It's easier that way, but still, I know that as the time draws nearer to the date when we have to leave, I may possibly reach Panic Mode.

Friday, September 02, 2011

College Apps 2.1

I think I am more stressed than W. I look at the list of essays he has to write, the number of songs he has to record for auditions & add on the school projects he has to do this year with deadlines looming ever closer, and I have to take a deep breath to calm myself down.

"I have it covered," he tells me.

"I'm glad to hear that," I reply.

I, for one, will be glad when this school year is over.

Or at least, till the college admission results come out.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Easier

"It gets easier;" I told her, a parent who had just sent her eldest son off to college.

"It does," I emphasized, as she looked at me with faint disbelief and said, "Does it?"

I could see the sadness in her eyes - I imagine that mine must have looked the same a year ago.

It does get easier, but it doesn't really go away completely, that pang that you feel of not having him around. I wandered through his room today, looking at the things on his desk, and his wall. A class schedule is still pinned up on the board from his junior year - something he never quite got around to throwing away. Then there are those little bits & pieces of note paper & junk mail still lying there.

It's his way of telling me that he'll be back sooner than I think - his claim on this place that he still calls home.

It does get easier, but it doesn't really go away completely.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

College Apps 2.0

And so it begins...

It is W's turn to apply for colleges. Except that for him it is going to involve a lot more work with the added requirement of submitting audition audios/videos since he is going to be majoring in Music.

I am hoping that it will be easier this time around. W seems to be more pro-active than Z insofar as getting his b*tt moving. He started on the essays before the summer break began. Z thinks that it's because W has a deeper passion for his chosen course of study than he ever did.

I certainly hope so. With this year of transition, I have a whole lot more on my mind than before.

Wish us luck.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Role Reversal

Happiness is...

...when your "baby" makes you coffee & a hearty breakfast all on his own accord.

:)

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Magnificence 2

We have made our way through three national parks on the Colorado Plateau: Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon (North & South Rims).

They are, in one word, spectacular. Thinking about how they have been here on this Earth for millions of years makes me feel small and insignificant.

If I had to choose a favorite, I would say Bryce Canyon with its reddish colored rock formations called Hoodoos. The Paiutes believed that this was an evil place, and people who wandered in were turned into stone. W & I did the easy hike into the canyon and came up close & personal to some of these Hoodoos.

The Grand Canyon was, well, grand. The views from the both rims were breathtaking. With the Colorado River snaking through what essentially is a chasm in the Earth formed from shifting tectonic plates & volcanic activity, there were many areas along the Rim Trail where we were literally steps away from certain death if we were to take a wrong step over the edge!


We drove through desert highways, mountain roads, up to 9,000 feet above sea level. We saw mountains & valleys, rivers & lakes, forests & deserts, and the bright lights of Las Vegas.

But you know what the best part of the whole trip was?

Just doing things as a family and spending time together.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Magnificence

We are road tripping through a few of the national parks in the American southwest. The splendor & beauty of the landscape we have driven/hiked through can best be described through pictures.

This is Zion National Park in Utah. The pictures speak for themselves.

Panorama


Sunrise



Valley

Friday, July 22, 2011

Violation

W's guitar was stolen from a secure building in the university where he is currently doing a summer course.

This is a guitar which he painstakingly saved up for with a combination of pocket money & giving guitar lessons; he bought the parts, and put it together, and tuned/tweaked/toned it just so that it sounded just right.

So of course he is upset by the theft. I am sure he feels violated. I know I do. And my husband. That something like that can happen in a reputable university makes us angry. But then, this is the USA where crime happens probably more rampantly than what we have been used to in our sheltered lives.

As a parent, you want to shelter your child from adversity & turmoil. But it's not possible to do so, I know.

I am proud of how he has handled it, all on his own. He has kept a calm head, reporting it to the authorities, getting the help that he needs from faculty, staff & students. He is trying not to let his anger affect his behavior & attitude. He still has lessons & tests & performances & concerts to do which he will have to do with a borrowed instrument. I am sure he will still excel.

I am a proud parent.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Car Hunt

We are car shopping for Z. He is living off campus this coming school year, rooming with a friend in an apartment that is 5 minutes away by car. It will allow him greater privacy & more flexibility with his meals, as living in the college dorm last year meant enduring cafeteria meals day after day, ad nauseum (literally).

He got his license to drive a year ago. He is generally a safe driver, but still, an inexperienced one. As a mother, I can't help but think of "worst case scenarios" when it comes to one's progeny, and when it involves putting said progeny behind what is basically a gigantic projectile, well....imagination knows no boundaries.

Anyway, A & I have been discussing with Z what kind of car would suit, taking into account:

a) Z's morphology (XL)
b) the mid-west winters
c)the requirement of ample storage space for moving stuff at the end of each school year
d) efficient gas consumption, given the price of fuel these days.

I think we have narrowed it down to about 4 possibilities.

This "letting go" process seems never ending. I suspect it will not end, but just evolve into one thing or another.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Finales

On the one hand, I am excited and so looking forward to watching Part 2 of "Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows".

On the other, I am also sad, as it is the last installment of the series. Although not all of them were well made, these movies (and the books, of course) have brought some magic into our lives, not matter how young or old we are.



Sunday, July 10, 2011

Househunters

I am hooked on to "House Hunters", a TV series on the HGTV channel.

I guess I am living vicariously through the people featured on this program, who are looking for homes in various parts of the USA, as well as the international edition which features house hunting in exotic locations like the south of France, Normandy, Belize etc.


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Chillin' 2

Z & I are visiting with my sister in Houston where the heat is sometimes worse than in Singapore.

It is nice to have nothing on our daily agenda, to wake up when my body tells me to instead of being jolted awake by the shrill ring of an alarm clock, and to just relax for a while.

Monday, July 04, 2011

SoCal


We've been here in Los Angeles for just over a week now & have been enjoying the great weather, the clear blue skies & most of all, just being together as a family unit. Living separately makes this time together all the more precious.

It's been several years since I've been in Southern California. We've done all the usual Disney/Universal/Legoland theme parks before, when the kids were much younger. This time around, these places are not as appealing as before. Instead, we visit the less
hyped about places in Los Angeles like Venice Beach & the Griffith Observatory.


Venice Beach, with its bohemian atmosphere, is a great place to people-watch. Apart from the
touristy souvenir shops, one can also visit a "doctor" to get medical marijuana (and I am
assuming that one would need a legitimate prescription to do so!), as well hookahs & shisha pipes & other such similar "herbal" paraphernalia!

The Griffith Observatory is located on a hill in Griffith Park not too far from Beverly Hills. Apart from the exhibits inside the observatory, you can also see amazing views of
Los Angeles & its surrounding areas, including a nice shot of the Hollywood sign.

We watched an amazing panoramic presentation titled "The Center of the Universe" which gives a history of astronomy, and an explanation of how the universe began. We were treated to a view of the night sky, the planets & the galaxy with occasional vertiginous views as we "flew" through space to see these wonders of the universe.


An unintentional detour up a twisty hillside road through the Hollywood Hills brought us as close as legally possible to the Hollywood sign! This was an unexpected treat which resulted from Z pressing the wrong button on our GPS unit. Some of the homes we drove past probably cost millions of dollars & belong to celebrities but I can't imagine living in a house perched on the side of a hill (magnificent view notwithstanding) in an earthquake prone area.
Anyway, here's a picture we took when we hit the dead end. The only way up was a dirt track which had numerous warning signs telling us that it was a restricted area, no trespassing, no stopping etc etc etc. In any case, we were thrilled to be so close to this almost legendary landmark.

Another beach which is featured quite commonly in TV shows & movies is the Santa Monica beach & the pier located on there.


With music-crazy kids, we HAD to visit the Grammy Museum located within a complex called LA Live. Here, one can learn about the history of the Grammy awards, and about how music is written & produced & recorded with hands on exhibits which musician wanna-be's can try, from "playing" a musical instrument to recording to mixing a track. Basically, it's paradise for music lovers. For me, the most fascinating part of the museum was a special exhibit featuring John Lennon. Included in the display were actual lyrics of some of his famous songs handwritten on note paper & envelopes during the songwriting process. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside, so I didn't take any pictures of this museum.

I must say that I am surprised at how much I have enjoyed L.A. The weather has been great (check out the blue skies in the pictures!), the people friendly, and a lot more laid-back than the East Coast grittiness one gets when one visits NYC. We have been staying in a hotel in the Marina Del Rey area, which is right by the ocean so we get the coolness of the ocean breeze. There are lots of restaurants, supermarkets & coffee bars around (at last count, at least 4 within a one block area, including our favorite, Peet's Coffee).

W is doing a four week college course at USC. Both he & Z have hinted at how they would not mind living in LA. They like the cosmopolitan feel of the city, as do I. So, who knows....

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chillin'

We've been in Los Angeles 2 and a half days now & have not done any sightseeing at all. We are just enjoying being a family together in one place at one time again! Meals, movies, a bit of shopping & just trying to get over jet lag (read: waking up at 4 to 5 am) are enough for now.

Over the next few days, we will visit the University of Southern California, perhaps Venice Beach, Hollywood, and of course, with my guys, possibly visit a guitar factory.

Whatever we do, it won't matter....'cos we'll do it together.

:)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Vacation

We start heading out tomorrow for our yearly sojourn to the USA. A is already on his way from Singapore. W & I make our way out first thing in the morning, followed by Z at mid-day.

The logistical planning of this vacation has been challenging, to say the least.

I have started to feel quite unsettled, unsatisfied, in limbo with this lifestyle. With one son in college and the other heading to college next year, I am yearning for a Place To Call Our Own, somewhere for the boys to go to when they are on vacation, where A & I can retire to eventually.

The problem is: Where?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Diurnal Rhythms

It is my belief that teenagers are , innately, nocturnal creatures.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reunions

Our house has become Hangout Central, with returning alumni on their summer break trying to spend as much time as possible with each other before everyone heads out to their various destinations.

I can't blame them, really, as many of these TCK's will soon not have a "home" to return to in Beijing as their parents get posted to other cities & countries. They will have an amazing network of friends around the world, stretching over many continents.

It's hard to say whether the pluses outweigh the minuses in being TCK's. One thing is for sure - goodbyes are damned hard to say.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Summer Summary

Our family of 4 lives in 3 different countries. The logistical complexity of this situation is summarized in our summer itinerary as follows:

7 travel dates
9 cities of origin, transit & destination
11 different flights on
7 different airlines

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

an alien at home

I am back in Singapore for a short spell. Although I have been making fairly regular trips back here from Beijing, the pace of change that happens here is so fast that I feel lost when I am here.

It's almost like I am slightly out of phase from the rest. The buildings are different, the streets have been diverted, the people whom I interact with are also different. I look for familiar restaurants & they are gone. There are so many new condos that have been built & old ones demolished.

I don't quite feel as at home as I thought I would.

I am not sure that I like this feeling.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Senior Year

The class of 2011 graduated last weekend, so the students of the class of 2012 are now officially seniors.

Which means W is now a senior in high school.
My baby, the senior.
O. M. G.
I can so clearly remember the first day of pre-school with him clinging so hard to me & crying when I dropped him off. It was hard for me to contain my own tears.

I know this coming year will just fly by. And it will be even harder to let go (for me) on the day when we have to drop him off in college.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Quilting Bee, Quilting Me

My new hobby, quilting. Here's what I've done so far.

My first creation, using a mixture of modern batiks & material cut from my late grandmother's sarongs (she was Penang Peranakan):


This cheerful flowery quilt now resides in my sister's home.


This was my next creation - a quilted comforter for Z to bring to college. It was made with predominantly blue colored material (Z's favorite color).

Then there are these two throws made up of leftover material from the previous quilts. I hate waste, so with winter coming, I figured our house needed a couple of extra throws for chilly winter Beijing nights.


Throws & comforters aren't the only things you can quilt...

Here's a reversible bread basket, again made up of scrap material.
Side A...

...and side B!


And how about some quilted coasters, again made up of scrap material from previous quilts.
I made a set of 10, found a big blue ribbon, bundled them up & voila...! A housewarming gift for the dear friend who first introduced my to the world of quilting. Alas, she will be moving back to the UK this summer, but the one-of-a-kind coasters will remind her of Asia ( and me!).



W, not wanting to be left out, asked me when I would be making him one, when he saw me making one for Z! So here is his, complete with guitar motifs and all.
The flannel backing makes it a very comfy blanket.


This was another farewell gift for a friend. Using the "Tumbling Blocks" design, it is also made up of material from my grandmother's sarongs.



You can even quilt for a good cause. Our school recently held a fund-raiser for the victims of the earthquake in Japan. I made a quilt throw to contribute to the Quilts for the Quake silent auction. I called it Summery Reds, also using the Tumbling Blocks design and here it is. It feels good to make a difference to a good cause.



And my latest creation, using t-shirts belonging to Z which he got as freebies from all the gigs which he performed in before going to college. Being extraordinarily large in size by China's standards, he could never fit in any of these free shirts. So instead of allowing them to collect dust or eaten by moths in the closet, I decided to find a way of creating something useful which he could also keep as a memento of his musical "career" in high school! This is an extra large throw (for an extra large guy!) that will keep him warm in the cold winter nights of Indiana...



I find quilting to be therapeutic in times of stress. I love the satisfaction that comes from piecing the different patches together into a cohesive design. I like the way contrasting colors which seem like they would clash seem to be able to come together once you group them in certain ways using different materials to mesh them into a pleasing blend.

I guess it's kind of like life, isn't it? No matter how different we all are, if we work at it & come together, the Whole is usually more beautiful than each individual piece.

Debut

W. & his band release their first EP this weekend.

I am eager to see what kind of reception they get. I have yet to listen to the whole thing, just a couple of songs at a few of their gigs.

In my biased opinion, pretty good, for a bunch of teenagers.

Stay tuned for details....

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Radical Notion that Doctors are People, Too

This article was written by one of my favorite doctor bloggers.

She says what I've always felt about people's (as in non-doctor people) perceptions of what doctors are/should be.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Upgrades

A & Z keep telling me to upgrade my mobile phone to a Smart phone.

I don't need a smart phone, I tell them. I am happy with the one-handed action of my trusty old Motorola Slider. None of that hold-it-in-one-hand-while-you-slide-your-finger-of-the other-hand-on-the-touch-screen that one needs to do in order to answer a phone call. If I want to browse the internet or check my email, I have my iPod touch.

I've had my cell phone for the last 4 years - a record in my family, I think, as far as cell phone possession is concerned. I'm a simple girl, I am. I'll just use my phone for phone calls & text messaging for now, thank you very much.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Changes

It's that time again. Lots of change happening.

Z has just returned from the US having finished his first year of college. Wasn't it just yesterday that I saw him parade down the aisle during the high school graduation ceremony with his classmates?

W is preparing to apply to colleges this fall. Here we go again...

A's job brings him to Singapore, which leaves me single parenting for the moment. Because of W, I am remaining in Beijing till he graduates from high school next year. It would not be fair to uproot him from high school in his senior year. Besides, we don't think Singapore will welcome him with open arms (a whole different story which will be left to be told another day).

Me? Well. I just finished my 2nd year heading the parent organization in my son's school. It's been a fun & occasionally rocky ride. What a difference it has been from clinical practice as a physician. It has exposed me to so many people from so many cultures & backgrounds. It has enriched my life, and I have made friends whom I will call friends for the rest of my life. When we eventually leave Beijing next year, it will be with a heavy heart as we say goodbye & farewell to so many good friends. Some have already left. Some will be leaving at the end of this school year. But with technology, we will remain connected somehow.

Change is inevitable, I know. But it doesn't make it any easier.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Politics

I admit, shamefully, that I have never been much into the political scene in Singapore. I think it's partially because of the fact that growing up in the 70's & 80's, the PAP, under the leadership of the revered Lee Kuan Yew, was held in high esteem by most of the citizenry. And rightly so, as it was under its governance that Singapore was able to progress the way it did, from pretty much a Third World country, to the modern city with the super-efficient infrastructure of today.

Now, with the General Elections coming up, it has been wondrous to see the enthusiasm & interest shown by the citizens of Singapore. Living behind the firewall that China has built, it has been difficult to follow who is running for what, and in which constituency, Even with a VPN, it is difficult to view videos of speeches posted on Facebook and Youtube. What I can see are numerous postings of links to videos & articles about various candidates, but it gives me a disjointed picture of what is happening.

I will not be voting this election, only because when I tried to register myself as an overseas voter, the information required of me was quite impossible to get (detailed dates of when I arrived & left Singapore for the last three years???!!! Puh-lease.).

I do hope that it is a wake-up call to the PAP that they have to listen. Their arrogance in thinking that they will remain in power, no matter what they do has to stop. From personal experience, this arrogance permeates different departments in various Ministries; and their refusal to listen may come with a price.

We will see in about a week.

Impressions from China - Blockage

Here's the usual sequence of things whenever I try to watch a video on Youtube or Facebook these days, behind the Great Firewall of China:

Connect to VPN

Go on to website.

Wait for website to download (may or may not happen. If it happens, may take a few minutes to do so)

Select video

Wait for video site to download (ditto - see above)

Click "Play", then pause to allow download to happen

Open new tab & browse other website while waiting for video to download (if at all).

or Go do an errand (eg wash some dishes, put laundry in the washing machine, or dryer....you get my drift...)

Go back & check if video has finished downloading.

If partial - watch whatever you can first till the video stops, then press Pause again, to allow remaining video to download.

This way, a 10 minute video may take about an hour to finish watching, if I am lucky.
Or it may not load at all.

That is the state of internet blockage in China.

Frustration +++


Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Big M

There's something to be said about living in a temperate climate during a certain phase in one's life. Especially when said phase involves hot flashes which occurs sporadically without any warning, making one feel like there is a furnace within one's chest whose heats spreads upwards & outwards & makes one feel like one is suddenly sitting in a sauna.

I am going to miss the winter.

Hormones are powerful things.

My internal thermostat as been reset to a temperature lower than previously. I used to be the one to turn up the temperature setting in the winter. Now, I am the one who turns it down, much to the dismay of my significant other & our two boys. I throw off the covers in bed in the midst of winter, whilst A continues to snuggle deeply within its warmth next to me.

My sleep pattern has altered, & sleep requirement diminished.

My taste in food has changed: I suddenly crave salmon sashimi where previously I would turn my nose up at it & push it aside. Similarly, I now love cold soba & choose this over hot ramen soup. Cherry tomatoes are suddenly delicious. Perhaps the Chinese theory of the balance between heatiness & cooling-ness has some meat to it.

Some of my friends are surprised when I tell them I am peri-menopausal. I am in my mid- to late 40's already, I tell them. Perhaps I should be flattered that they think I am younger than I really am.

As the bumper sticker says, "I'm still hot, but now it comes in flashes. "


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Impressions from China - Spring Fling

The magnolia & apricot blossoms are gone.

Apple blossoms are on the tree.

26 degrees Celsius today. Two weeks ago, it was 5 degrees.

Man, that was a quick Spring.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Ideals

"Is it worth having a liberal arts college here?

THE deal is set for the Yale University and the National University of Singapore to set up a liberal arts college here ('Yale-NUS College gets faculty, alumni backing'; April 1).

But the question I want to pose is: Is it worth it?

The college will be offering a degree in liberal arts, which is not exactly a commercially viable qualification.

The fact is, to live and succeed in a competitive country like Singapore, there is more pressure on students such as myself to get a degree that will help us get a stable job, rather than something we would like to do.

The unfortunate truth is that students go to university for the degree, and not for the experience.

Also, the liberal arts 'scene' in Singapore is virtually non-existent. Students who want to actually apply what they learn in the programme will have to migrate to a country with more liberal arts opportunities, something conservative Singapore cannot provide.

Therefore, having a course that binds Western and Eastern cultures becomes moot.

Also, why not go straight to Yale, or any other university in a liberal arts savvy foreign country to study since they will have to migrate anyway? How useful will the students find this programme?"



I wonder if the author of this letter to the editor is being sarcastic or does it truly reflect the attitudes of the youth in Singapore today?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Inside Job

I have never taken a course in Economic.

And I would be the first to admit ignorance when it comes to the why's & wherefore's of today's global economic woes.

Watching this Academy Award-winning documentary has opened my eyes somewhat on what went wrong in the US. I am astonished at how this blatant abuse of power was allowed to go on and work its way insidiously into the American financial & banking system. I am also amazed at the millions & billions of dollars that ended up in the pockets of those who played their part in causing the 2008 economic downturn in the first place.

Shame on you.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

U Turn

Bring back medical fee guidelines

Concerns about over-charging highlight the need for a guide to

private doctors' fees

In the wake of the Susan Lim saga, it might be time to review the ban by the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) on medical fee guidelines.

Without going into the merits or demerits of the ongoing court case involving Dr Lim, many among the public have become concerned over the high charges being levied on medical services here in Singapore.

Singapore's reputation as a medical hub and its medical tourism business may also have been adversely hit by the court revelations and the testimony given by many in the medical field to overcharging by the profession.

In June last year, the CCS ruled that the guidelines were anti-competitive, on the grounds that price recommendations by trade and professional associations might harm consumers because they "distort independent pricing decisions" as there may be no incentive for cost-effectiveness or innovation.

The Guidelines on Fees (GOF) for services and procedures in the private sector were put in place in 1987 by the Singapore Medical Association (SMA) - which represents the majority of medical practitioners here - after complaints of overcharging for medical services by doctors who were more interested in squeezing their patients than in curing them.

The GOF is a set of recommendations on private doctors' professional fees, which includes fees for consultations, surgery, preparation of medical reports and court appearances.

But the CCS felt that the GOF was now redundant as other benchmarks had become available - namely that of government hospitals, which provide hospital care and medical services for 80 per cent of the population. And the CCS noted that since these restructured hospitals do not refer to the GOF when making pricing decisions, patients could use their charges as a basis for price comparison when going to private hospitals.

The CCS had also pointed out that the Ministry of Health (MOH) requires patient medical bills to be itemised and financial counselling be provided and that hospital bill sizes are made public on MOH's website.

The commission urged the SMA to "work with MOH and hospitals to further improve the delivery of pricing information ... so as to allow patients to make more informed choices".

"In general, price recommendations by trade or professional associations are harmful to competition because they create focal points for prices to converge, restrict independent pricing decisions and signal to market players what their competitors are likely to charge," the CCS said. "This is a common position adopted by many competition agencies in the world, even for the medical sector."

But now, in response to a recent article in Today, the CCS has suggested that the SMA could provide information on actual pricing.

"In general, CCS recognises that information on actual pricing, and transparency in the reporting of prices actually charged in the market, are useful for consumers to make informed choices in their purchases of goods or services. CCS, therefore, supports the publication of historical price information to help consumers.

"However, this is very different from issuing price guidelines, which by their very definition, are intended to influence what prices should be set rather than merely providing historical price data," the CCS said in its letter.

Although the SMA had voluntarily scrapped its pricing guidelines in 2007, in October 2008, it wrote to the Ministry of Trade and Industry to request that the GOF be excluded from Section 34 of the Competition Act. After consulting with MOH, the ministry declined the request last year.

But it may be time now for the SMA to restore the public's faith in the medical services by bringing back guidelines, perhaps with the proviso that these are only guidelines and not mandatory charges binding all doctors.

These guidelines could provide a range, as suggested by the CCS, rather than a specific price that those in the medical services could charge. However, they should avoid the extremes which could give a distorted picture and could include overcharging by the unscrupulous.

The guidelines are a useful frame of reference: Patients should not be asked to buy a pig in the poke - a service they do not know the true value of. Dying patients may not be in the proper frame of mind to make the right judgement call.

And foreigners could use a guide to the range of charges they can expect in Singapore, enabling them to compare the expense with that of other medical hubs.

Perhaps private clinics should be requested to post their range of fees, either at their premises or on their websites, so that it would be possible for patients to shop around, like in the case of restaurants. Some doctors might feel it beneath their dignity to post their service and price menus - but then, being unscrupulous is even worse.

More importantly, such a move would not be anti-competition.


Well.
I guess it takes sensational headlines to make the CCS wake up to what the original price guidelines were supposed to do for patients. Call it "historical price data" or call it guidelines. It's semantics, really. What they have suggested was really what the guidelines were meant to do in the first place.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Light Bulb moment


Finally, a bright spark.

(Letter to the editor, Straits Times Forum, March 19)

Ban ineffective screening tests

I REFER to the reply from the Ministry of Health ("Why Medisave can't be used

for all screening tests"; Thursday) to Mr Arthur Lim's letter ("Allow use of

Medisave for more screening tests"; Monday). In the name of medical ethics,

the Ministry of Health should perhaps consider a ban on tests that are of

questionable effectiveness when used as screening tools.

Going by the phenomenal growth of some medical centres, and the increasing

complexity of some packages they offer, medical providers must be doing

a roaring business.

With some packages costing as much as $9,000, could it be that a large

proportion of tests in the packages are probably not recommended as screening

tools? And if they are, why are they even allowed to be there? Shouldn't

the public be protected from such practices?


(Addendum: I am not advocating banning these tests, some of which are useful

for patients recovering from cancer, to check for recurrences. I just hope that

this is a wake up call for both patients and doctors - patients to start asking

intelligent questions about the tests & procedures which they allow themselves

to be subjected to; and doctors to stop pushing some of these health screening

packages to laymen who may have the false impression that these tests magically

detect early cancer.


Wake up, people.)



Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Feeling Small

Watching the horrific images of homes and cars and buses and ships being swept away so effortlessly by the tsunami in Japan is sobering indeed.

Mother Nature is a force that humankind cannot contend with. We are like little ants in the greater scheme of things. One big step whether in the form of an earthquake or a tidal wave is all it takes to wipe us out.

And to make things worse, we put in place potentially dangerous things like nuclear reactors in one of the most earthquake-y countries in the world and we have a disaster in the making, this time with regional, if not global implications.

We live within stone's throw (relatively speaking) of Japan. If there is going to be a nuclear explosion or meltdown, or whatever it is called that results in the spread of radioactive material, we can, potentially, be in harms' way.

I am hoping for the best.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Why Aren't Doctors Allowed to Care About Money?

Read this.

And this.

These two articles articulate very well the reality that has to be faced by all.

No, not all doctors are altruistic, nor should they be. Neither should they be ashamed of wanting to be rewarded financially for the work they do, same as anybody else, be they a banker, or engineer or waiter or plumber or bus driver.

Do not put us on pedestals and think that we are noble creatures who would work for less than what we are worth. We don't deserve to be on that pedestal. We do what we do because it's our job. And we should be paid for doing that job. We are not God. We have families to support, dreams to aspire to (some more expensive than others), children to educate.

We are human, after all.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Globe Trotting

Z in the US
W in South Korea
A in China
Me in Taiwan

We got the world covered.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Generation Gap II

Today, W. travels to Seoul, Korea for a Band festival with his school concert band.

In our day, participating in any kind of festival or inter-school sports league meant taking the bus to the local concert hall/stadium 20 minutes away.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

College Apps (Again)

Time is just whizzing past. Before you know it, the school year will be over & we will be into the summer holidays then in a flash, W will be a senior with college applications to work on. I feel tired just thinking about it. Because of what he wants to study, the process will be even more intensive than Z's with auditions & samplings of his work & additional essays to write in some cases.

He has already started working on his music portfolio which he will need to submit to apply to some music programs. We will be meeting with his counselor soon to talk about his list of college which he (we) is (are) thinking about applying to.

We've done this once before. Maybe it gets easier the second time around.

I hope.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Impressions from China - February Snow

It's been as dry as a bone this winter in Beijing, until last night. When I went to bed, there was a light dusting of snow; but when I woke up, this is what I saw.



Admittedly, it's nothing compared to the snowstorms that have been hit
ting the USA this winter. But the little girl in me who grew up on a tropical island just one degree north of the Equator can't help but feel thrilled at the sight of the white stuff drifting down. It also gave me an excuse to put on my brand new snowshoes which I had mail ordered back in the Fall in expectation of stupendous amounts of snow & more crazy weather this Winter. But alas, the boots only just saw the light of day today. And I admit, it was probably a bit of an overkill to wear them boots which were probably more suited for a blizzard rather than the inch or so that we had. But hey, I had to break them in :).

(Sidenote: snow boots are damned difficult to put on. And almost as difficult to take off)

I love making footsteps in the freshly fallen virgin snow!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Travel

Flights between China & the USA are getting increasingly more expensive & difficult to book. I guess I should not be surprised given the vast number of Chinese sending their children there for college, hence flights between these two continents during the popular summer & winter holidays get filled up six months ahead of time. What's left are the more expensive seats & business class seats - way beyond our annual traveling budget. What's made it worst are the cost-cutting measures implemented by many American airlines which have resulted in fewer (& more expensive) flights.

Z, who traveled back to Beijing for his winter break, said that on both legs of his trip, the plane was filled with mostly mainland Chinese students studying in the USA, going home for the holidays. I was horror-filled to discover that the economy saver seats (read: cheap) on direct flights between the the airport from which Z flies out of to Beijing were already full for the May flights (which is when the college semester ends for many). So Z will have to make one transit stop on his way "home".

I have just booked our trip for the summer. We travel in June, peak travel period, and I do not want to be left in a lurch with no tickets or stupendously expensive tickets if I book them too late. The early bird, in this case, truly gets the worm.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Year of the Rabbit

It's been 3 years since we've spent Chinese New Year with my extended family. We head to Singapore tomorrow to do so with family members still remaining there.

Over the years, uncles, aunties, cousins have all moved away to various parts of the globe. I have just realized that once upon a time, I was, what one may consider, "foreign talent" in the Lion City, where being such may not mean a warm welcome. I have also realized that my family's roots have not grown as deep as some of my friends, whose extended families have been in Singapore for at least 2 generations.

On tracing back my genealogy over the last 100 years or so, it has dawned upon me that my ancestors have lived in 3 different countries in 4 generations. Is it any wonder then that I find it hard to feel a deep connection to the country in which I grew up? Is it possible for this wanderlust to be passed down through the generations?

These questions arise now when I try to think about where we will be when I am an empty nester, which is looming closer. Z & W would both have spent their lives in 3 different countries. Will they, too, be global nomads in their adult lives?

I would like to have a place to call Home; a place where both our boys can go to when they are on vacation; a place where we can put our furniture & hang up our pictures and not have to worry about uprooting all our possessions every two years.

Our next move will be in less than 2 years. When the time comes, I hope that we will have a place to call Home, finally.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Manage 'managed care'


THE Jan 6 report ("Docs may face changes in ethics rules") highlighted the three ethical issues which the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) is grappling with, namely, organ donation under suspicious circumstances, overcharging by doctors and the possibilities for manipulation by managed-care companies.

The American Medical Association recently revealed that two-thirds of 200 doctors polled in the United States said they would misstate the reason for a diagnostic test for Medicare insurance reasons.

A recent survey revealed that most American doctors support a "single payer" plan that will eliminate the central role of private insurers.

Doctors in many countries are resenting the iron hand of large companies as they are held to ransom by insurers and large hospital chains. The corporatisation of health care is producing a seismic shift in the way doctors look at public health care.

They are experiencing a sudden loss of control at the hands of the insurers and hospital networks, while being snowed under by paperwork and bureaucratic battles with insurance companies over authorisation and payments.

The SMC should consider these global trends and tread carefully lest our health-care system is hijacked by the insurance companies.

Heng Cho Choon


Perhaps unbeknownst to the author, this has already started to happen in Singapore....

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Parenting

Read this article about parenting - Chinese style, in the Wall Street Journal online edition. I couldn't believe that the author would actually advocate this!

My parenting style is the direct opposite of what she describes, and yet, I have one child going to Engineering school (one of the desired outcomes of the stereotypical Asian parent, although in his case, it was entirely his choice altogether), and I have another child who is immensely talented musically, though not classically trained in either violin or piano.

I know of people who have grown up with the sort of parenting style that Ms Chua describes. And oh my goodness, what a dysfunctional lot they have become, with neuroses & baggage galore.

No thank you, Ms Chua. I will treat my children with respect, teach them how to be good, civilized human beings and allow them the freedom to choose who & what they want to be.