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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Reaching The Tipping Point For Chinese: Part II

In an earlier post, I wrote about working with Little Boy to memorize Chinese Compositions using (1) digital audio files made by Grandma, (2) glossary lists prepared by Grandma. Here are some encouraging interim results after having memorized 15 compositions. Meantime, I was also encouraged by learning that Chinese students in China also memorize important literary works, and Lee Wei Ling (Mr Lee Kuan Yew's daughter) who is effectively bilingual, also memorized important Chinese literary works. And she enjoyed it.
So, got hope. Heh!

15 very long Chinese Compositions is actually a lot to memorize given that when he started off, he knew only about half the words in one composition. He was so brave. It took him 7 hours to memorize the first composition but he stuck with it. It got easier and faster by the time the 5th composition came around. By the 15th composition, he could do it in 2 and a half hours.
I was so proud of him... for his determination and persistence.
We started this experiment in the last week of November, and proceeded at a rate of 3 compositions a week for 5 weeks. Then, Little Boy took 1 week off at X'mas and New Year to play, play and play.

Little Boy also wrote one Chinese Picture Essay a week over the 5 weeks. Grandma noted that the quality of his Chinese Picture Essays improved from week to week on 2 points
  • He was using very nice "cheng yu" (Chinese descriptive proverbs).
  • The structure of his Chinese Picture Essay became tighter and more coherent.
To get a sense of the amount of content he was learning, I asked Little Boy to rate upon 10 the amount he was learning (a day) by memorising high quality Chinese Compositions in contrast to the amount he had learnt on each day of last year's Chinese Composition Day Camp. He thought for a bit and said 2/10 for Day Camp and 8/10 for memorising.
That too was encouraging. It was important to keep evaluating this process because it takes so much effort. I was anxious to know if it had any chance of working.
School has started for Little Boy and he has been attending Higher Chinese classes regularly. He bounced into the car in Week 1 and reported that he found reading and understanding in Higher Chinese class much easier... and that this made Higher Chinese quite a bit less boring than it used to be.
That was good.
In Week 2, Little Boy climbed pensively into the car and explained that merely reciting was not pushing the learning far enough because he wouldn't be able to write the words he could recognise. This meant that he was slow at writing in Higher Chinese class. I was really pleased that he had had the sense to evaluate his own study process and suggest an improvement. I praised him for his wisdom at requesting to consolidate some of the more useful and evocative words... and learn to write them.
So, Little Boy set to work. He consolidated what I termed "yummy vocabulary", and gave himself "ting xie" (spelling) by using hanyu pinyin. It was a long effort. There were so many words in each composition to learn. And since Chinese words cannot be spelled using phonics, each word is a picture that must be committed to memory. I tried to make the task easier by limiting him to 5 phrases from each one of the 15 compositions he had memorized.
He still found it tough... because "Mommy, every word is useful" he said.
"I know, but you don't have to learn them all", I responded. "Learn some and others you will learn when you encounter them again later, in other compositions. It's only Chinese. I don't wish you to die learning it" I added.
"But... but... it's hard to choose" he said.
"No buts... You have to choose" I decided.
And so it was that Little Boy completed the consolidation of the lists. He felt very proud of himself. We still don't know if all this will translate into good grades at the next Chinese exam but we will continue to hope. Whatever it is, this whole process has shown me the temper of the steel in my son.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Amy Chua's Parenting Style Cannot Produce Creativity?

I would tend to disagree with the premise that the Chinese style of educating students cannot produce innovation and creativity. Rather, I think that the Asian cultures do not reward/fete/celebrate/recognise highly creative people, and hence few of these very creative people become famous.

Creativity stems from a certain bent of mind that propels an individual beyond rules and accepted conventions. Steve Jobs broke every rule in music retailing, and created new rules with the iPhone and iPOD. Elvis Presley broke all the rules of accepted and good music by making black music white. Lee Kuan Yew broke all the previous rules of industrial engagement by enacting new legislation about land acquisition and labour relations. Coco Chanel broke all the rules of feminine fashion to build an enduring empire. Vincent Van Gogh broke all the rules of painting technique and was at the forefront of Impressionist art.

Creative people break the mould.

In a collectivistic culture where people tend towards the hive mentality, the social context does not reward people who break away from the accepted way of doing things. These highly creative people are considered disobedient rebels who bring dishonour to family and country.

I grew up in Singapore with parents who demanded everything. I mopped the floor before I went to school, carried the groceries, helped with dishes and the clothes. I wasn't allowed to even go out for movies (nor drink soft drinks... and had to eat EXACTLY what mom wanted me to eat). I had never even heard of playdates and sleepovers. There were so many rules that I could break a few by just breathing (ok... that's exaggeration). My Mother was not a Tiger, she was Tyrannosaurus Rex (ummmm... exaggeration too). And yes... my report card needed to be perfect or I would get caned. Well... my report card was NOT perfect when I got to my teens. Just for the heck of it, I chose to be caned instead. And if being caned was the price of freedom, then hit me, Mommy, one more time.

Consider the notion that when you work a muscle you strengthen it. And hence, when a child prone to creativity hits road blocks all the time from parents, he/she hones that potential for creativity.

No? It doesn't make sense to you?

If creativity stems from the propensity to break rules and make new ones, then how would a liberal education provide enough rules to give a child with a creative bent any practice in breaking rules? Did not Coco Chanel grow up repressed in an early 20th century strait-laced Catholic convent? Did not Lee Kuan Yew have a very authoritarian father? Is it not plausible that creativity is honed in The Crucible of Childhood Rule Inflicted Pain?

In the 1st year of my PhD programme, a renowned researcher working in the field of creativity came to give guest lectures to the PhD students. There were 6 people in that lecture, and we did a series of creativity tests.I was the only Singaporean there. My scores were not only the highest in that group, the 2nd guy was really far behind. He was German, and somewhat of a rebel himself, except that his parents respected his rebelliousness and didn't fight him. Mine fought me every step of the way.

I am older now and more able to control my reflexes to do the opposite of what is accepted... to find odd ways of looking at problems... and to try it out just for the heck of it. But people like me don't succeed in cultures where a collective identity is prized.

Many many ground-breaking researchers today (in USA) are Chinese. Amy Chua's father was one such. Notice that he was the black sheep of his family. Had he stayed in the Philippines, he would've been the loser son. Research requires creativity even if you're doing just mediocre stuff. To achieve recognition amongst researchers (which Amy Chua's father obviously did), needs a lot of well-honed creativity indeed. One of the founders of Yahoo was Chinese, rebel son of immigrant parents. Amy Chua (herself a researcher) demonstrates a lot of creativity. Her writing is evocative and holds a sense of drama that twists in your guts. Otherwise, why do we react to her book with so much emotion? Indeed, she is creative enough to even put out the book that broke every rule in American parenting. She dared what no other Chinese nor American parent dared. That's part of being creative.

Elvis Presley dared to take black music and make it white. Black music had always been there. Adopting and adapting it was possible for every musician. Only Elvis thought of doing it in a big way. The difference is, you do that in USA, you are idolized. You do that in China, you are ostracized.

Even Amy's threats were creative (whoa! donate a doll house piece by piece?)... though no one can beat my friend's mom who told her grandson that she would put him in the toilet bowl and flush him away. Even I was horrified by that!

Ballet dancer Li Cunxin danced with the Houston Ballet for sixteen years. He moved to Melbourne with his wife and their two children where Li became a principal dancer with the Australian Ballet. Li was one of the world's best in his time. Ballet is a creative effort. Yet, Li grew up in China and was trained in a horribly repressive way in a school where the Amy Chua style was institutionalized. Watch "Mao's Last Dancer" to understand.

I don't think Amy Chua's methods kill creativity. If anything, I think it hones a child's potential for creativity because it invites and strengthens the child's will to rebel and do things her way... differently. That's Lulu. I'm willing to bet that if anyone tested Lulu for creativity, her scores, like mine, would be off the charts.

The only thing though... is that you never HEAR of famous creative people in China because such souls aren't feted nor celebrated. Gee... you're not supposed to idolise such people. Art to the Chinese are time-honoured traditions. You learn an ancient art form. You don't create your own Elvis Presley style. You don't hear of such people in China (because they are social outcasts) but that doesn't mean the system does not produce them.

I don't want my kids to be creative. What's so great about being creative that I need to put my kids through The Crucible of Childhood Rule Inflicted Pain? Creativity is a burden and a curse. As a Chinese parent, I want my kids to blend into the world they belong to and be good enough to live a comfortable life where they have enough to eat, a nice home and people to love. I vaguely remember that the Japanese have a saying "A beautiful flower that sticks out in a field of grass, gets its head chopped off".

Western eyes trained on Asian cultures cannot but achieve a distorted view. One should not interpret the ways and social mores of Asian cultures using Western values. It becomes too easy to simplistically draw negative judgment.

Nobody talks about 4000 years of Western history though in actual fact, Western history is old... very very old. Westerners simply don't see that as important. Chinese people are ALWAYS talking about those few thousand years (ad nauseum). This is because the Chinese think it is important to stay true to history. This means there is great respect for the old way of doing things. Hence, young upstarts (creative no doubt) are pooh poohed. Hence, artistes feted in China are kungfu artistes (long tradition), face mask changers (again long tradition), xiang shen (again long tradition). No Elvis.

Similarly, if you examine the personalities of the Chinese leaders, you won't find fiery Churchills nor charismatic Obamas. You find personable and highly effective people who look bland - something like Singapore's Goh Keng Swee. You don't have to be charismatic to be a good leader, and make an impact on your world. Who can say Goh Keng Swee left behind no mark as a leader? Indeed, research has shown that a certain type of charismatic leadership can actually harm the community.

Chinese leaders don't stick out, and therefore their heads don't get chopped off as they rise through the ranks. Lastly, has anyone noticed how creative Chinese fraudsters are? The last I heard, the Chinese in Hong Kong have devised a way to get around Singapore's latest property dampening measures. Incorporate a company. Use the company to buy the property. Sell the company when you wanna sell the property. Voilà! Save on property tax.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Steam Cleaning the Aircon

Steam Cleaner Detail Nozzle

Steam Cleaner Floor Mop

The Mother Ship

Six years ago, I bought a Karcher steam cleaner. It was one of the small ones because I had wanted to buy it to steam the wall-hung aircon unit in the bedroom. I had observed how the aircon technician serviced the aircon and I hit upon the idea that if I could shoot hot steam into the blower, I could keep my aircon sterilised of all pathogens (especially those that cause Legionnaire's Disease)... and resolve The Husband's sinus problem.

I didn't need a big unit, I thought. It's just a small aircon, I thought.

After one month, I so regretted. The very night after the aircon was steam cleaned, The Husband's sinus disappeared completely. I steam cleaned the aircon once a week, and saved $30 a month on servicing... and we breathed clean air every night for 6 years. Then, I discovered that the steam cleaner blasted oil off my stovetop... whitened grout lines in our rental apartments (where the tenant seemed to have NEVER cleaned house). I regretted I didn't buy the unit with the biggest tank because I ran out of steam before half my kitchen was done. So, I reverted to the good old scrub and soap technique for the kitchen.

Anyway, I was faithful to my puny Karcher for 6 years. Then, before X'mas 2010, it gave up its ghost. A Karcher is a good $500 plus and so I held back from buying one. After all, soap and scrub worked ok... and I decided that perhaps the aircon could be washed with a normal tea tree oil spray.

Last night, The Husband complained that his sinus was so bad that his throat was sore from swallowing the mucus produced by his nose. And Lazy Petunia felt immediately guilty. My nose could already detect the smell of fungal growth blowing from our bedroom aircon unit. It was no wonder that The Husband's nose went on strike!!

So, we rushed out to Harvey Norman and bought us a steam cleaner with double the capacity. The aircon was steamed 3 times, drenched with rosemary oil solution, steamed once more. The Husband can breathe again.

The unit went downstairs where I steam mopped the kitchen floor tiles. Oh! The smoothness! There was no trace of any stickiness and I didn't have to use any soap!! Whoooooo! Petunia was inspired. Steamed EVERYTHING... cackled and laughed like an old witch with a new broomstick. Steamed EVERYTHING!

I had so much fun asking The Daughter and The Husband to identify which grout line had been steamed... which tile had been steamed... and WILL YOU LOOK AT THAT DIRT that flew outta there!!??

Today... the kitchen. Tomorrow... the bathroom. And then... mwahahahaha... THE CAR!! Okay lah... maybe not the car.

Anyway, here's what I do to my aircon blower...

  • Remove cover, and filter panels.
  • Wash filter panels as per normal.
  • Attach the detail nozzle (see first picture at the top) to the spray gun and shoot high pressure steam into the exposed metal parts of the blower.
  • Fill a pump spray canister with 1l of water plus 30 drops of tea tree oil.
  • Spray into the exposed metal parts of the blower.
  • Wait 15 minutes for tea tree oil to kill the fungus.
  • Shoot high pressure steam into the blower again to rinse.
  • Voilà! Clean air all night!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Pant! Pant! I Will Eat Your Veggies

We've been having raw food dinners lately, in the form of smoothies. Very healthy smoothies comprised of avocados, bananas, apples, pears, pineapples etc... I toast linseed and wheatgerm in the little toaster oven and grind them into a powder that smells of toasted nuts in a bakery.

Then, I blend everything together with some water and fruit juice.

So, dinner these days is a smoothie with a pile of pistachios, almonds or cashews. This diet has been good for me and The Husband. We've both lost weight, and I haven't been feeling my PMS symptoms very much since I started on this diet.

The Family chatted over dinner tonight and we wondered aloud if Milo would like the smoothie. Little Boy was fast to confirm that Milo loves smoothies as well as all other types of green stir fry. Hmmmmm... The Father asked "How do you know for sure?"

And Little Boy was caught out. The vegetable diet that I had been carefully apportioning to my son had all gone down Milo's throat. Whatever the smoothie or the stir fry, Milo has downed them with gusto, unaware that dogs don't eat plants... and possibly unaware that he is a dog!!

He Still Puts Singapore First

I found it quite amusing to read about The Straits Times' interview of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in today's papers. He clearly stated that he could never be non-partisan, given his long association with the PAP (and the fact that he was its founding member). BUT, he also said that his first and foremost concern was Singapore, not the PAP. Hmmmmm... that's as good as saying that he is non-partisan eh?

But that's what I like about Lee Kuan Yew. He puts us first. Always has. Always will.

And if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. PAP is the tool. Singapore is the creation. As the master craftsman of Singapore's success, it is easier to change the tool, than destroy one's creation by stubbornly keeping a tool that no longer serves its purpose well.

All Singaporeans are children of Lee Kuan Yew. Any new opposition parties that are birthed are scions of his legacy. The man OWNS us, opposition or not. But I ain't complaining about the PAP. It HAS really come through in many ways, responding to the electorate's concerns about poverty, housing, widening income gap. I worried for a bit, but no longer. There are men in power who are compassionate, honest and wise.

Petunia can make apple pie in peace.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Boy's Pride

Little Boy has to write a journal entry a week for his Teacher. Sometimes, they can write anything they want. Other times, they have to write to a topic. One time, after he had made some money selling caterpillars to his friends, his Teacher (studiously NOT looking at Little Boy) asked the whole class to write their thoughts about "Should schools prevent children from selling caterpillars to their friends?"

Oh... that was a wonderful topic. Little Boy had lots to say, hoping to convince his Teacher to let him continue selling his caterpillars! Another time, he wrote the gripping tale of the time we almost died up in the snow capped mountains of France.

But after a while, I decided that time was precious and there was really no need to spend so much time on journal entries so I told him to do enough and not more. An obedient Little Boy, he did just that.

Little Boy came home today and remarked that the best 3 journal entries in class were picked to be read out in class. He added "I can do much better than those Mom. This week, I will do my journal entry on Sunday."

You see, Sunday is Play Day. Little Boy gets to do what he wants on Sunday. I have no control whatsoever over what Little Boy does on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. Instead, Little Boy gets to tell ME what he wants me to do with him. And since I had told him to spend as little time as possible on his journal (so that we would have more time for Higher Chinese), he has decided to journal in his own time instead.

Me: You wanna show Teacher that you can do better journals than your friends?

Little Boy: *Smiling sheepishly* No... I just like writing journals.

Me: Really? You are saying that there isn't even ONE little little little bit of wanting to show your Teacher that you can write better than they can?

Little Boy: *Squirming* Hmmm... of course there is a little bit lah... But I also like writing journals and since I like, it is considered play, and so I will do it on Play Day.

Me: Oh... I see.

But you know what, I know better.

When he was 3 and we had to drive 2 cars out at the same time, Little Boy invariably rode in my car. His father feared his son's famous temper, and terrible obstinacy. The moment I turned the key, Little Boy ordered "Let's get home before Daddy."

When he was 4, we met a little 2 year old girl waddling around a huge hall at Suntec City. Seeing Little Boy in his undersized pram, she marched over and said "Hello baby!" Little Boy's face went dark. He looked as dark as Sauron from the Lord of the Rings. And he NEVER EVER sat on that pram again.

When he was 5, we went to Pulau Ubin. Little Boy sat on a bicycle with training wheels on each side. Another little boy rode by on a bicycle, gloating "I can ride a 2 wheeler!" And henceforth, no more training wheels either. He could fall and scrape his knee but no way was he gonna get on a bike with training wheels. It was terribly inconvenient because cycling as a family was no fun until he mastered the bike.

So... this journal thing? There is some testosterone in it, I will tell you that.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My Thoughts on Amy Chua, the Tiger Mother

The Wall Street Journal excerpts do not do justice to the book. Readers who have never read the book may not understand this post.

I am a Chinese Mother who does not have constant face offs with my kids. I've never pushed them too far... partly because I am probably neither as stubborn nor as intelligent as Amy Chua. It takes too much strength to push someone. I would much rather they pushed themselves and early on, I realized that for my kids to push themselves, they had to want to... and to want to, they had to choose to.

I gave them choices, and I respected those choices.

However, I did everything I could to ensure that they chose to excel in the areas that mattered to me. I'm a psychologist researching into Human Motivation. So perhaps I had some unfair advantage when it came to influencing them towards the right choices gently but determinedly). My approach was different (less frontal assault, less violent, more respectful) but I was no less determined, and I was motivated by the very same reasons that Amy Chua was. And I gave up a lot of me to get them there. I was a woman on a mission to get my kids right.

The Chinese culture is collectivistic. Whom you are belongs to others and whom others are belong to you. We own each other as it were. A Chinese Mother will invest and intrude into her child's life because her child is her and she is her child. Where does one life begin and the other end? The question of whether one does it for self, or does it for the child isn't even relevant because one does it for both self and child. The 2 are same.

This notion is completely alien to the Western culture.

Think of it this way. Would any human being so selflessly dedicate hours of heart-wrenching effort and brave universal opprobrium if she did not feel at one with the person she is striving for? It is this hive mentality that propels bees to sacrifice all for the nest, and the same hive mentality that propels a Chinese mother to sacrifice all for her Chinese Children. Simply, we don't see ourselves as individuals apart from our child. We are one and the same.

Similarly, a Chinese Mother speaks the honest truth in the baldest terms to her child because we owe to ourselves not to lie to ourselves. The Chinese almost never speak forthrightly to those who are not family for fear of breaking tenuous ties of friendship, and when friends become enemies, the world becomes a dangerous place. Diplomatic lies are pretty and gives you friends, but truth hurts (and is a privilege granted to those you most love). Shakespeare (not Chinese I don't think) said it best with "cruel to be kind". For a Chinese Mother to tell diplomatic lies so that her child will think kindly of her is to be the ultimate "mère indigne" (mother of shame). The Chinese Mother will meet your eyes and say "Hate me. But I love you so much that I will do my best for you even if I lose your love and all else that goes with it. And I will love you even if you don't love me back."

The Chinese Mother dares to say this because it would never really occur to a true Chinese Mother that a child can become an enemy. The Chinese Mother cannot easily envisage that the child would hate her for what she has done or said. It's like hating yourself. Not really possible if you are one and the same person.

And if you are an individual used to pushing yourself to excel, then you will naturally roll up your sleeves and get into the trenches to push your child. It's like you pushing you. The 2 are same. Fortunately, I am not the sort to push myself as hard as Amy pushed herself... and so, I pushed my kids less.

We live in Singapore, a country where East meets West. Something in the air ensured that I hung on to my own individuality enough that I encouraged The Daughter's development as an individual. She had choices. I just guided them where I thought was wise. In that way, I was intrusive, so I was not entirely respectful of her individuality as maybe a Western parent would have been.

If I thought I knew better, it was then my duty to ensure she made the right choices. Not for me, a Chinese Mother, to say "It's your life. Live with the consequences of what you choose." Not for me, a Chinese Mother to stand by and watch her choose a thing that would bring her sadness, and us shame, in time to come. You see, the entire social context frowns upon Chinese Parents when adult children go astray. No Chinese Parent can say "It's not my fault. That child made his own choices." The society would not allow that. It is expected that parents guide children's choices and if they choose wrongly, parents share in part, the shame.

One day, The Daughter challenged my guidance. It was a short terse remark to tell me I had contradicted myself in my guidance of her, and of a sudden, I felt that an entire lifetime of effort had slipped into the deep nothingness of the bathroom floortrap to be greedily set upon by cockroaches in the dark. "Did I give up so much of me for this?" I asked myself. It would be better to not have kids and amass more money in the bank. Money provides security but children bring heartache. I recoiled in shock and in pain, even though our little tiff was nowhere close to what Amy and her kids went through.

I was devastated. I spent a day crying into my pillow only to have The Husband say "Don't blame yourself for how she turns out. She needs to be responsible for her own life. If she fails, she fails. Whatever happens, you and I have each other."

I decided to pull back and stop offering guidance. For a Chinese Mother that is an act tantamount to child abandonment. But part of me is also Western, and I hung onto the Western idea that she was her own woman, and I was mine... and that what she did was not my business. But when push came to shove, I could not do it. When she next got into trouble, I had to help somehow. Her business was mine and I expect that in the future, my business will be hers.

That is the bond that links Chinese Mother and Child.

In that same moment, we both realized that the same bond that chafes both her and I, is the same bond that brings comfort, solace and help to her and to me. Amy cannot help herself. The bond is too strong. Daughter and Mother will feel both pain and joy through it, and to severe it means that a part of each person will die.

I could even relate to Amy Chua's fear of family decline - the famous 3-generation curse. The Husband and I started with nothing. It took years of saving to be financially comfortable and we have some way to go before we are financially secure. My kids did not have branded goods because I don't have any. We wanted our kids to learn a formidable work ethic, and material self-restraint.

Again the collectivism kicks in, you see. We are A Family. As The Husband and I age and pass into weakness, we want the next generation to be strong and wise. To them we can pass all we have that is most precious - our bloodline, our name, whatever wealth we have. We count on them to build on what we have built... further grow what we have cultivated so that future generations will prosper. In that way, The Family will prosper. In a collectivistic culture, one looks past The Individual's likes or dislikes to ensure the survival of The Collective. Such a culture can have scant respect for the individual. For the good of The Family, I cannot be soft with my kids.

I understand why Amy did what she did, and I understand her pain. It's a different underlying philosophy that drives behavior... and it is easy to judge the behavior negatively when one does not grasp the philosophy behind.

It mayn't be entirely fair to judge a culture's philosophy. Much of it is programmed into our subconscious. You grew up that way just as your ancestors did. Somewhere in the long time ago, it started with perhaps a confluence of geographical events, that lead to a lifestyle, that lead then to a system of shared beliefs... that is now deeply ingrained in the cultural psyche.

Is it right or wrong? Who knows? The individual... or the collective... which is more important? For me, it's just the way things are. The sky is blue. Is that good or bad? How does one judge the sky for being blue?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Battle Hymn of the Chinese Pet Pooch

A lot of foreign pooches I meet wonder how Chinese pooches have such doting owners. They wonder about the dynamics of these relationships that produce owners who are attentive, adoring, and even willing to sweep up every bit of shed fur. Often, these foreign pooches wonder whether they will be able to have such owners too. Well, I can tell you that anyone can be a Chinese pooch, if you are able to enforce some basic rules. Here are some of the things my owner is required to do:
  • produce 1 pair of new Adidas track shoes for me to chew every month
  • not complain about the chewed up Adidas track shoes
  • appear on that thing called a laptop every night when travelling, to skype me
  • spend the weekend and every weekday with within 2 metres of my presence
  • cook exquisite meals with liver/beef/salmon/mutton/duck with green vegetables
  • buy me a toy every month
  • bring me their socks immediately upon entering the house
  • let me use them as couches
  • greet me the moment they come home
  • open their mouths wide every time they greet me so I can smell whatever they have been eating
  • let me smell their crotches
  • provide expensive plants for me to murder at will

I’m using the term “Chinese pooch” loosely. What I mean by this term is me, Milo. I just like the idea that I represent an entire population of pooches because I have the best owner in the world. Just take “Chinese pooches” as “pooches who act like I do.” I also use the term “foreign pooches” loosely. It just refers to “pooches who don’t act like I do, because they grew up somewhere else, so are less likely to know how to act like I do without these specific instructions.”

When foreign pooches think they have their owners under control, they have no idea what control really means. For example, my foreign pooch friend who thinks he is rather strict with his owner (who lives in the apartment next door) requires that they feed him twice a day. They must also walk him once a day. My response: Are you kidding me?! This is what I require from my owner:
  • Feed me whenever I whine
  • Feed me WHATEVER they are eating, be it stalks of celery, carrots or pistachios
  • Break the speed limit on highways to come home and feed me on time
  • During walks, find a large field and let me off the leash so that I can drink from dirty puddles of water and disappear into the undergrowth

Foreign pooches are extremely obsessed with the notion of “obedience.” In my own small-scale study, a comparison of my 1 foreign pooch friend and 1 Chinese pooch friend, 100% of the foreign pooches said obeying their owners was paramount. By contrast, 0% of the Chinese pooches had even heard of obedience school. Instead, the Chinese pooch friend argued that obedience was completely unnecessary to a healthy relationship between owner and pooch.

When I told a foreign pooch friend that I only obeyed my owner if I felt like it, she looked really upset, her tail went right between her legs and she gave off a smell I can only describe as distressed. She actually had to leave the big field we were in to go home and mope. Poor poochie!

What Chinese pooches understand is that for any relationship to succeed, the owner must be putty in our paws. Sometimes, it seems like clinginess, insecurity, and neediness to foreign pooches, but it is actually good for Chinese owners’ psyches. A disobedient pooch is a pooch who cares. You see, Chinese pooches are disobedient but they also do not expect complete obedience from their owners. I am willing to do things that many foreign pooches find uncomfortable, such as howl and whine like Pavarotti, let my tongue hang out slavishly, grovel, paw, lick my owner's feet, smell her crotch and roll on my back in absolute bliss when getting my tummy scratched. But all this is for my owner's confidence; it shows that she means the world to a loyal poochie. She is an all-important owner capable of provoking doggy passions.

Chinese pooches can order their owners to pay attention to them. Foreign pooches can only hope that their charming qualities, patience and understanding will instill such devotion. They have to tip-toe around their owners like good and obedient pooches.

Foreign pooches care too much about respecting their owners' territory. By contrast, Chinese pooches believe that the best way to nurture a relationship is by intruding into every aspect of an owner's life, because without this, the owner would feel unloved.

Ok! I know this is bad... but I couldn't help myself! And my apologies to Ms Christine Tan for having borrowed so many of the words in her well-written satire here.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Chinese Girlfriend

After the big hoo-ha on Amy Chua's Chinese Mother, meet the Chinese Girlfriend by Christine H. Tan based in Shanghai via London, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Hilarious read!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

It's Just a Dog!

"Petunia, it's just a dog!!"

I guess... but The Husband sure behaves otherwise. Many outdoorsy activities like kite flying, long walks and cycling are best done at about 4. Once or twice, we get home at about 9... you know, dilly here and dally there and it's 9.30pm.

Milo needs his dinner at 7pm sharp. He can tell time. My dog can. I don't mind not eating. I don't find it difficult to not eat. Often, if I am busy, I forget to eat. So I don't really find that it's a big deal that Milo waits till 9 for his dinner. After all, I often wait up for The Husband past my preferred 5.30 dinner hour.


But The Husband will step on it when it suddenly occurs to him that his dog may be starving. He will shriek into the parking lot and race upstairs... and feed his dog.

After feeding, The Husband will insist "Petunia, it's just a dog!"

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Milo the Vegetarian

I have been having mostly vegetarian lunches these days. I need to cleanse my body of all the toxins accumulated over X'mas, and prepare for the next round of binge-ing over Chinese New Year. So, mostly lunch is one carrot, a few sticks of celery and a bowl of nuts.

Such a meal must be eaten alone in my study before Little Boy comes home and tucks into his delicious carnivorous lunch. Else, Petunia would have no heart for her own lunch. Milo must have gotten fed up that I haven't been sharing my lunch with him this past week. He looked through the gate at me and put up a persuasive hullabaloo of whines and howls and half-whines and half-howls and other sounds that bear no name in the English language.

I kept trying to explain to him that he wouldn't like my food this week but he would have none of it. No way! So I gave him a stick of celery as I chomped on my own. He wolfed it down and then he asked for more. So, another stick of celery went to him... and then there was no more. So I gave him pistachios. Oh... he loved the pistachios. After every nut, my nutty dog sat down and begged for the next.

It's so odd. Milo has bags of mutton odds and ends (I made mutton soup)... and duck skin (I made duck à l'orange)... and he hankers after my pistachios.

Silly dog!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Crying in Preschool

This post is written specially for Malar - a blog reader who specifically asked if I had just such a story to share.

I tried to put The Daughter in preschool when she was 1.5 years old. With her in preschool, I would not have to hire a live-in helper, and that would save us a great deal of money. On Day 1, I was allowed to spend the whole day with her. I accompanied her right through the day. On Day 2, I spent half a day there with her, and she cried herself sick the 2nd half of the day. On Day 3, I left her there by herself, and she cried herself so hard that she had no more tears to cry. I arrived to pick up a wan and listless baby who had been bouncy and full of life the week before.

And a dagger twisted inside my heart when she caught hold of my ear with one hand, and her father's ear with the other hand and pulled our heads close to hers and repeated with a desperate earnestness "Mommy, Daddy, Baby. Mommy, Daddy, Baby." She didn't have much vocabulary then but I knew she was telling me that she wanted the three of us to be together. When she got home, she placed little puddles of urine where she wasn't supposed to, and she wouldn't look at me when I talked to her about her Naughty Pee Pee. I knew she was telling me that she didn't want to go back to preschool. Lacking the vocabulary, she communicated her fear and her anger with Puddles of Pee. I picked her up and placed her on my lap. Then I said "Okay. No more school tomorrow. No more school."

Her next puddle of urine went nicely into the potty.

The experience made me fearful of the day she would HAVE to go to school. So I cracked my head to figure a way around it. When she was 2, I found her a 3-times weekly class in the evenings which allowed me to attend the 1.5 hour lesson with her. When we started, I sat her on my lap and she stayed there holding onto my finger for dear life.

By the 2nd lesson, she was toddling off to different parts of the class to examine all sorts of interesting stuff. By the 3rd lesson, I was able to excuse myself for a little while by telling her that Mommy needed to pee-pee and would come back quite soon. I left the room and came back almost immediately. Slowly, as the sessions wore on over the 10 weeks, I lengthened the time I spent outside of class. By the 10th week, I could stay outside for 45 minutes before going back in. Through it all, I kept assuring her that I would ALWAYS come back for her.

I signed her up for another 10 weeks, and by the end of that time, I could bring her in, leave her there and then get her after class. From there, she transited to 3-times weekly daytime preschool and it was no trouble at all leaving her there by herself because I had already trained her to expect that I would always come back for her. And after that, she went to a daily preschool and was the only kid there who didn't cry on the first day.

I think toddlers very much fear being abandoned. Once they understand that you'll come back, they stop worrying and crying so hard.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The First in a New Collection

The first bone to be hoarded, stored and kept away from the LWSTB (Lady Who Steals Bones) has appeared between the glass door and the iron gate.

Nothing Wrong With a Shy Child

According to documented research on the MBTI Personality Profiling Instrument, each child is born with innate personality preferences, in the same way that they are born either left or right handed. Each preference has strengths and weaknesses.

Introversion (which is often misunderstood as unhealthy shyness) is one such innate personality preference. Introversion carries with it strengths important for success. Introverted people tend to be reflective. They listen, observe and process.

In the past, parents used to force left-handed children to write with their right hand. Left-handed children who write with the right hand tend to have bad handwriting, at the same time, they've never had the opportunity to learn how to use their left (natural) hand properly. They're neither here nor there.

As such, a school of thought advocates that parents allow young children to develop skill first with their innate preference (whether left-handedness or introversion), only introducing a non-preferred skill later in life.

Little Boy is highly introverted. I left him quite alone. Ignored the issue and respected his preference. Instead, I concentrated on bringing out the strengths of the introvert. He listens well and hears people. His teacher credits him with empathy and consideration. He observes and processes well. Without trying, he scores 90+ at Science most times. If he tries, he tops the class. This is because the Science Syllabus is heavy on observation and process skills. Another introverted girl in his class is known to write very powerfully. Somehow, the reticence to speak up encouraged her to find expression elsewhere... and her parents encouraged her in that direction.

Only in P4 did I gently nudge Little Boy towards public speaking by leveraging on his love for Science. I taught him Powerpoint so that he could document his independent science research. Then I encouraged him to present to the whole family. In this way, I moved him (without making a big issue of it since it seemed so natural) from the introverted activity he preferred (science research) to the extroverted activity he did not prefer.

His Powerpoint and presentation skills improved to the point that his friends nominated him to present their Social Studies Group Project. He did such a lovely job with the Social Studies presentation that his teacher picked him to do a Show and Tell in the foyer to 3 sessions of students (P1&2, P3&4, P4&5).

He went and did all of that and wasn't stressed at all because I didn't make a big deal out of his shyness. He never knew that I worried about his shyness.

Someone told me many years ago that a gifted sculptor discerns the shape inside the marble block before he or she begins to sculpt. It was a lesson I took to heart as a parent. When a parent knows to discern, respect and bring out the best in the shape of the child he/she is blessed with... then nurture can work with nature to create a beautiful human being.

Going against nature is painful for both parent and child. I think more painful for the child who is being bent against his/her natural shape. Maybe that is why parents are encouraged to love the child for who he/she is? It is only in doing so that we can sculpt the child's shape in accordance to blueprint God had already put in our child.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dogs are Capable of Deception

Milo is ridiculously paranoid when it comes to his bone. Maybe he is so because Somebody recently cleared out his stash of teeny weeny knucklebone leftovers from ever since he was old enough to chew bone. He remembered that the stash was there before he went out for a run-and-play... and then lo and behold, it was no longer there when he returned. Judging by the look on his face I was the prime suspect.

Poor Milo. That was a mound of bone bits collected over 2 years of weekly bone gnawing.

Anyway, today is Milo's bone day. I gave him a huge one today. The butcher had been most kind. He gave me 2 large bones which had A LOT of meat still on. I was happy knowing Milo would be thrilled.

But Milo didn't look thrilled when I gave him his bone. Having taken the bone gently from my hands, he laid it down in a corner of his patio and pretended nonchalance. So nonchalant you could almost see him whistling. If he had pockets, his paws would be there. As I stood there, he paced around the patio... laid down a few times and DID NOT EVEN LOOK at the bone. He was so convincing that I quite believed him.

I shrugged my shoulders and turned to go. Then I turned back... at which point, Milo who had turned to look at his treasure, turned back just as fast. Kaching! Now I see it... and now I won't!

Oho! Milo! I see what you are up to now! I walked away. I pretended nonchalance too. After all, 2 can play at a game eh? I stayed away for a while and when I went back. His bone was in bits.

I wonder where he will hide them this time.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Plank

Little Boy is a hoarder. The Husband recounted that Little Boy hugged and kissed the two shelving planks he had been tasked to throw away, before he reverently placed them next to the dumpster, like they were the ashes of his mother. The Husband took pity on him and allowed the rescue of both planks. It turns out that the planks make lovely coasters for baking trays and pots of boiling soup. They now sit in the middle of our long dining table. They look great too.

When I threw away my market trolley, Little Boy's eyes turned red and a sniffle or two escaped. With a quavering voice, he made me promise that I would give him the right to protest (without reprisal) any future throwaways. And if he protested, I was to justify my decision and either convince him why it should be thrown, or allow him to convince me why it should be kept. He presented such a woebegone face that I agreed.

I threw away a wooden table today. One leg had quite broken off you see. Little boy protested vigorously, with the result that the plank that formed the table top now stands propped against a wall. Little Boy presented the various options for recycling. One of them involved a river and a raft. It wasn't long before he had convinced his sister to carry his plank to the swimming pool for him to experience some Huckleberry Finn. He rafted up and down the pool and decided that it was so fun, it needed to be properly experienced in a swim suit. Whilst he was changing, The Daughter guarded the plank, whistling nonchalantly and smiling politely at the security guard who came by to marvel at a table with no legs by the side of the pool. Meanwhile, Little Boy hid behind a pillar in his incriminating swim suit.

The Daughter suggested rafting the plank out to sea, and Little Boy was thrilled. I was not pleased but as we bantered back and forth, I found myself agreeing to driving him to the beach and launch the raft IF Little Boy manages to get 90 and above for Chinese in the next exam. If little Boy fails, I keep the plank and will make it my canvas for a painting of 6 daisies. If he succeeds, I will help him raft at sea. This is really against my better judgment but it appears I am no match for a determined Little Boy.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Pompeii at the Singapore National Museum

Artifacts unearthed from the ancient city of Pompeii came to town. To cut a long story short, Pompeii was the thriving city hub of a wine making, vine-growing region of very fertile volcanic soil. It nestled tranquilly in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius. It was a city of gold, silver and good food. In it, archeologists found frescoes (i.e., painted walls) and rich mosaics of bright colours. There were marble statues of Roman Gods and Goddesses (half naked). There were frescoes in brothels and boudoirs depicting certain excesses that were possibly related to the many wines (causing inebriation) the region was known to produce. People ate out often (like we do in Singapore)and so there were market stalls and restaurants and taverns. And only the rich had fully functional kitchens 3 times a day, 7 days a week. The rich had slaves to do the cooking and cleaning you see.

We wouldn't be able to understand nor admire the life and times of an ancient Roman city if not for the fact that Mt Vesuvius erupted one day and buried the whole city in pumice stone and volcanic ash. This preserved the city from one point in time till now.

Pumice stone is originally expelled from the volcano as foaming molten rock. You know, like the way a Coca Cola bottle shoots out foam? Except that 35km up in the air, the rock foam solidifies into rock with plenty of holes in it. Each piece is light but when 10 to 20 feet of pumice stone fall on the roofs... beams collapse and all the pumice stone fills the rooms in all the houses. The pumice stone protected and preserved the beautiful wall paintings much like how we protect our valuable paintings using styrofoam peanuts.

Then there was the expulsion of volcanic ash. Volcanic ash lay like a blanket of snow on all the fallen bodies. They fell lightly and entered every crevice (eyes, nose, folds in the clothes... straps of the sandals)... and when the blanket of ash hardened into rock many centuries later, a hollow was left where the body had lain and rotted away.

An archeologist pumped resin into each hollow he found and created for us the unspeakably horrific resin casts that Pompeii is now famous for. Every fold in their robes were outlined in the hollow. Sandal straps that have crumbled to dust are preserved in the hollow that gave rise to the extremely detailed casts.

Above, I have uploaded a picture of the famous cast of the chained dog. The dog had been chained to a post. As the pumice stones fell, the dog clambered atop the stones until it ran out of chain. It died smothered with its snout pointing upwards to get air. Little Boy was most upset, and I could not but feel my stomach twist. We both thought of Milo. In some houses where the roofs did not collapse, skeletons were found preserved by the dry air (dessicated by the heat from the volcanice eruption). There was a pair of skeletons of an old man holding his old wife. There was another of a young girl in an advanced state of pregnancy. There were alive and well one day, and completely carbonised the next. There was a note that informed us that these were not works of art nor interpretations of death. They were actually people and animals in the throes of death and the midst of dying... preserved for eternity in resin or in the position where their bones lay. It was horrific.

However, if one does not tarry too long upon the morbid, there is much to wonder at. The frescoes and mosaics are really beautiful. Pompeiians had beautiful gardens... and like us in Singapore, they loved bringing the outside into the house. One villa had a doorway leading to the garden but the wall holding the door was fully painted with plants and flowers of every sort. Air wells in atriums let light and rain into the house. Perhaps fish swam in these indoor outdoor ponds?

The volcanic ash preserved tables fully laid out with food... half eaten. There were dates, and olives... and olive seeds. There were loaves of bread and fish... all preserved in the stone. It was amazing. It was like travelling back in time to the New York of the Roman Empire, and watching the bustle of New York life re-enacted in a different form.

The Pompeii exhibition is well worth a visit. However the new interactive history gallery put up by the National Museum of Singapore was eye poppingly well done. One walked around it with an IT companion. Every exhibit was explained... and the sights and sounds were recreated for you just in private. We got lost in there and almost forgot that we were there for Pompeii. We tore ourselves away, promising to go back to see it all. I reckon it would take all of 4 or 5 days to see it in its entirety.

Our Singapore Holiday

We had never taken a holiday in Singapore before. But having spent so much on last year's holiday, it made me feel good to be thrifty this year. So in December 2010, we played where we live.

It was a great holiday though. We went cycling. We ate at nice restaurants. We watched a few movies. We flew our kite 1000 feet up in the sky... went cycling for hours... went for long walks in nature parks. We woke up late, lounged in bed, ate sinful breakfasts at the hawker centre (nasi lemak, kaya toast, eggs, chee cheong fun, loh mai kai). We spent hours at the bookstore and hours playing tag with Milo all over empty fields.

So busy having fun that I've had little time to blog.

In between, I managed to do springcleaning (sterilised mattresses, got rid of furniture, threw out the junk of the past decade), repaired the washing machine, messed around with diatomaceous earth (my latest discovery against termites, ants and garden pests). I even made a few cakes, tarts, stews... We also stuffed ourselves silly at celebrations.

I didn't think it was a hardship holiday at all even though we saved a big bundle. A holiday filled with food, fun and laughter for less than $1000/=. We had planned to go somewhere at Chinese New Year, and we've decided to scrap those plans because this cheapo Singapore holiday was so fun, we wanna do it again!!