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Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Touching Email Someone Sent

One young academically excellent person went to apply for a managerial position in a big company. He passed the first interview. The director who did the last interview, made the final decision. The director discovered from the CV that the youth's academic achievements were excellent all the way, from the secondary school until the postgraduate research. There was never a year when he did not score.

The director asked, "Did you obtain any scholarships in school?" The youth answered "none". The director asked, " Was it your father who paid for your school fees?" The youth answered, "My father passed away when I was one year old. It was my mother who paid for my school fees." The director asked, " Where did your mother work?" The youth answered, "My mother worked as a clothes cleaner. The director requested the youth to show his hands. The youth showed a pair of hands that were smooth and perfect. The director asked, " Have you ever helped your mother wash clothes before?" The youth answered, "Never, my mother always wanted me to study and read more books. Furthermore, my mother can wash clothes faster than me." The director said, "I have a request. When you go back today, go and rub oil on your mother's hands. Come back and see me tomorrow in the morning."

The youth felt that his chance of landing the job was high. When he went back, he happily requested his mother to let him rub oil onto her hands. His mother felt strange, but with mixed feelings, she showed her hands to her son. The youth cleaned his mother's hands slowly. For the first time he noticed that his mother's hands had no fingerprints. Years of soaking her hands in soap water had worn away the whorls on every finger, that serve to distinguish each of us, one from the other. Years of toil and erased her very identity so that her child could have a stronger identity for himself.

Then he noticed that his mother's hands lacked 2 fingernails. These had been removed as a result of chronic nail infections. Yet, the woman had persisted in her profession. Washing clothes was the only thing she knew how to do. And her son needed her lifetime's labour to start him off right in his own life.

That night, mother and son talked for a very long time. Next morning, the youth went to the director's office. The Director noticed the tears in the youth's eyes and asked, " Can you tell me what you did and learned yesterday in your house face to face with your mother's hands?" The youth said, Number 1, I know now the meaning of appreciation. Without my mother, I would not be whom I am. Number 2, I now realize that I carry in me the investment of an entire lifetime's suffering and pain, and I am humbled beyond belief. Number 3, I have come to appreciate the importance and value of supportive and nourishing family relationships.

The director said, " This is what I am looking for in my new manager. I want to recruit a person who can appreciate the help of others, a person who knows the sufferings of others, and a person who would not put money as his only goal in life. Son, you are hired." Later on, this young person worked very hard, and received the respect of his subordinates. Every employee worked diligently and as a team. The company's performance improved tremendously.

A child, who has been over protected and habitually given whatever he or she wanted, would develop the entitlement mentality and would always put himself first. He would be ignorant of his parent's efforts. When he starts work, he assumes that every person must listen to him, and when he becomes a manager, he would never know the sufferings of his employees and would always blame others. This kind of person, may be good academically and may be successful for a while, but eventually would never feel any sense of achievement nor contentment. He will grumble and be full of hatred and fight for more.

As loving parents, are we really showing love or are we sacrificing our children's souls on the hungry altar of academic excellence? We can allow our children to live in a big house, eat good meals, learn music and watch a big screen TV. But when your gardener mows the lawn, let your child experience it. After a meal, let him wash his plates and bowls together with his brothers and sisters. It is not because you do not have money to hire a maid, but it is because you want to love him in the right way. You want him to understand, no matter how rich his parents are, one day the world will no longer exist to pander to them, but that they must exist to help others.

Friday, February 25, 2011

House Construction 10: My Building Contractor, Mr Grizzly

View From 3rd Floor

1st Storey Ceiling Height

The house is starting to look like a house because there are walls and some parts have a ceiling. With some walls up, it becomes possible to properly appreciate the size of each room. The sizes are nowhere luxurious because half the 1st storey is designed to be a self-contained apartment for my in-laws. Nonetheless, I think we will be comfortable enough there.

And I love my building contractor.

I rather think that contractors are a misunderstood bunch. Not long ago, poor Mr Grizzly was accused by one of my neighbours of trying to chat up her maids. And today, he is being made to repair parts of another neighbour's house which he did not damage. Nonetheless, he has decided to go ahead and do that little bit of extra work to maintain the goodwill of the neighbour. Not long ago, there was some issue about whether or not we ought to apply liquidated damages on him to the tune of $300/= a day because he is late and will finish the construction of my house 40 days later than he promised to.

I didn't want to apply liquidated damages on him because it seemed obvious to me that some of the delays were not his fault, and other delays were actually good for the house. There was a delay because of some issue with government authorisations. He absolutely would not cast the Household Shelter prior to having had the proper certification. He explained that the last time he did that, he was made to tear down the Household Shelter AFTER the house was built. Now, if you understand that the household shelter is a concrete box with steel bars set at very close intervals within the concrete walls, you will realize that it isn't easy to demolish. The challenges rise tenfold when you have to demolish it whilst leaving the rest of the new house intact. The huge jackhammer they brought inside to attack the wrongly built Household Shelter gave off copious amounts of carbon monoxide which was trapped indoors by the walls and ceilings. Mr Grizzly, who wanted to boost his workers' morale, was operating the giant jackhammer. He passed out and quite nearly died from breathing the odourless fumes. 2 men carried all 1.85m of him plus paunch outside.

So, Mr Grizzly absolutely WOULD NOT build the Household Shelter until the permit had come through. I don't blame him. It's not worth giving your life to earn a living eh?

Then, there was the issue of the time needed to cure the concrete. Certainly, developers who build a house to sell, wish to build it fast. Often, the concrete is not given time to properly cure before one builds upon it the next level. Time is money, and nobody can tell that the concrete did not cure properly. But hey... I am going to LIVE in that house and I want it to be strong. So I insisted that the concrete be allowed to cure as long as it was necessary. So, there were delays there too.

It turned out that in his desire to get my project, Mr Grizzly had committed to a timeline that was somewhat too aggressive for him to manage, and he would complete the work late - by 40 days. In life, there is what is legal and what is right. What is wrong may not be illegal. I thought it was quite wrong to make Mr Grizzly pay me back $300/= a day for each day of delay, when the delays were well justified.

Of course, when you apply Liquidated Damages, the contractor will mount a defense and if the delays were truly not his fault and were yours and the architect's, then YOU owe the contractor. But why go there? Why create the administrative and legal hassle of attack and defense? I would rather the man spend time supervising the construction of my house.

But from this experience, I conclude that I would never want to be a building contractor. It isn't the mud that turns me off. It's the fact that the whole world wants a piece of you, and very often gets it. Clients want freebies. Clients' neighbours want freebies. Clients take advantage of contract clauses to apply liquidated damages that cut into one's profit margin. Indeed, some contractors (not terribly educated in legal speak and rights) have folded when their clients insist on applying liquidated damages. And I also find it odd that architects can cause delays (by being late with plans... or being rather unresponsive) and not have to foot liquidated damages. Meanwhile, who has capital costs tied up on site? And who has workers to pay? Who suffers when contractors are so squeezed that they can't pay their workers? Yes... the contractor does.

It's a tough life I tell you, and nobody has a good word to say about contractors. So, you can't blame contractors when they factor in some tens of thousands of dollars as padding into the contract fee in order to protect themselves from these incidental costs. Or if you've gotten a good price, then you can't blame them for using humble materials. You also can't blame them for sometimes being rude to you either because many a times, they are the ones who get the short end of the stick. No one likes contractors like they love bankers. You get scolded and mistrusted and looked down upon. Even housewives get more respect than contractors. To be sure, there are unscrupulous contractors but so too there are unscrupulous bankers eh?

My contractor gave me a good price. I know it because everyone I know who has built a house has said so. I am afraid that if I squeeze him, the poor fellow will end up building me a house at his cost. Now, everyone will say that it's his business but why should business have to be cut-throat? Besides, my contractor is really patient with me. He explains the different options, highlights impracticalities in my requests, worries about where I will be drying my clothes so that he can help me plan my yard. He encourages me to think through my lifestyle, wants and desires...

He even does what is necessary to build a strong house without being told, and without attempting to charge me more. I have 2 very wide windows on the 1st storey and a very high ceiling. He added required supports to strengthen the lintels just above that window because it was clear that with such a wide window, the brick wall above that window would weigh down too heavily upon the lintel (the reinforced concrete beam that holds up the brick wall above your window). Regularly, he walks me through my house so that I can see the impact of my decisions. And he always gives me time to think... and never ever scolds me for changing my mind.

I love Mr Grizzly. But I won't tell you who he is YET. You see, Selfish Petunia would like to keep his identity secret until he has about completed my house. This way, he'll be able to focus on my house without getting unduly stressed by having to make proposals and compile tender documents and whatnot.

So watch this space. The identity of Mr Grizzly will be revealed in time to come. Akan datang.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Scratch the Pillow... Scratch... Scratch

The Daughter was (is) a stubborn child. When she sang "Mari kita rakyat Singapura..." she stubbornly maintained that it was "Mari kita yuck yuck...". When I insisted she proposed that we agree to disagree "Mommy, you sing it YOUR way and I sing it MY way, ok?"

Then, there was a long debate about "in front" and "behind". According to her logic, these 2 phrases should exhibit some degree of symmetry in construction. Hence, she forged right ahead and changed them to "in front" and "in the hind". When I corrected "in the hind" to "behind" as it very illogically is... she promptly changed "in front" to "befront".

The longest running disagreement we have had involved her head and her pillow, as well as the sole of her feet and her shoe. It is a disagreement that lasts until today because at 18, she maintains that it made perfect sense to scratch her pillow to soothe her itchy head... and to scratch her shoe when her sole was itchy.

The entire neighbourhood knew of her famous habit and maids would crowd around her as she painstakingly sat down on the floor in the middle of nowhere, took off her shoe and scratched it to relieve the itch on her sole. Or she would sit up in her bed all bleary eyed and claw at her pillow with a vengeance. I explained till I was blue... for 18 years.

Her latest riposte over a game of Monopoly deal last week was... "Mom, I stand by the logic of what I did. I was a very clever child. I believed that I should not tackle the symptoms of the itch, but the root cause of it. Since the pillow caused the itch, the solution had to be wrought upon the pillow. So there!"

Very sweetly she said it. Most calmly too. But unyielding she was.

I give up. I'm not even gonna try and explain why it doesn't make sense to put the disinfectant and the plaster on the Mickey Mouse when the cut was obviously on her knee. She won't buy my story I don't think.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

More on Useless Textbooks

Over dinner today, I gloomily confided in Little Boy that the way standards keep rising at the PSLE, it was quite likely that in 10 years' time, 12 year olds would need to publish research papers in order to ace exams. BUT the textbooks will still be written for 10 year olds.

Little Boy hates to see me unhappy so he put a happy spin on a situation that really is more painful for him, than for me. What he said is sure darn impressive considering that he is only 10. Here is our conversation.

LB: Mom, this happens because as different groups of students go through the educational system, children become better and better. Therefore, this forces the government to raise the standards of the PSLE

Me: Yes... but where will it end? Maybe in 10 years time, PSLE students will need to do research in order to get into a good secondary school.

LB: That won't happen Mom. It's just like a bubble you know. It will burst one day.

Me: Hah? What?

LB: See... it's like food. Last time, people used to farm with horses and ploughs. Then they found ways to be more productive so they could make more food and feed more people. One day, they will reach a limit to the food production. Then resources will disappear and people will starve, and as people die off, there will be balance again.

Me: Hah? What? People die? What's that gotta do with your PSLE eh?

LB: Sigh! You see, it's like a bubble. It will burst one day and become smaller.

Me: Whaaaaaa? Haaaah?

LB: Ok... the government will raise the standards of the PSLE. The PSLE bubble of skills and knowledge will get bigger and bigger and bigger. Then, when the students cannot take it anymore, they will all commit suicide. Then the PSLE bubble of skills and knowledge will pop and become smaller because the government will be forced to bring down standards... otherwise there would be no more children left. We would all have died. So, as long as you help me get through this, it will be ok. We can do it, Mom. And don't worry about your Grandson because I think when that time comes, the bubble will have burst.

Me: Oh!... Wow.... wow... whoa!

As you can see, I didn't contribute much intelligence to the conversation. But Little Boy was not yet done. As an afterthought, he said...

LB: But there is a problem because the country needs to become more and more productive... and the only way to do that is to make the children smarter and smarter. But then, when the bubble bursts, Singapore will have stupid children again. So, the country will not be productive.

Then Little Boy paused to think...

LB: Aaaah! What the government needs to do is to figure out a way to be productive using stupid people like us.

Without realizing and in a few strokes of simple child's logic, Little Boy has defined the challenge of leadership. Great leadership is not when you can get a group of smart people to do great things. It's when you can get mediocre people to do great things.

By this time, Petunia is on her knees with her forehead touching the floor, completely mesmerized by Little Gong-Gong's incredible insight into issues that escape many a wise adult.

I feel like crying. Partly because the next 2 years will be a hard slog for him, and partly because he is so full of courage he does not falter.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Of What Use The Textbook?

I realized something odd about our primary school language textbooks today. The level of difficulty of the language printed in a Primary 5 textbook is about 2 years easier than the level of difficulty in the Primary 5 exams. After examining Little Boy's Chinese textbook in detail (something I have never done because I had never found them useful in preparing Little Boy for the exams, and therefore intuitively ignored them). It occurred to me to ask myself why today. Why don't I find school textbooks useful in preparing Little Boy for exams? Why did I spend years fighting with Grandma trying to get her to ignore the Chinese textbook when helping Little boy with Chinese? And why was it that Grandma's stubborn focus on the textbook produced a steady downward trend in Chinese grades?

These are obvious questions that I, like most parents, did not ask.

I asked Grandma to read passages from the Chinese textbook for me, and compared these to Little Boy's latest Chinese Composition, which has been graded 16/20. This is something of a miracle because in November last year, Little Boy's score was 8/20 on the P5 marking scheme. However, the meteoric rise in Little Boy's Chinese Composition grades was largely due to a combination of memorizing Chinese Compositions by students in the People's Republic of China AND the method steps proposed by The Foster Daughter AND an Amy Chua wannabe (me!) who sat by Little Boy implacably encouraging him right through 6 hours of sustained effort at writing ONE compo. Yes... I do mean " implacable". When we embarked on this crazy Compo Memorizing Venture, Grandma remonstrated with me. These Chinese Compositions are far too difficult for him. They're more appropriate for Secondary 2 or even 3. I was too desperate to care. I was a blind man clutching at a straw. Happily, my straw turned out to be a rope.

On hindsight, I learnt something. If you want a child to write at a certain grade level, he must be READING stuff that is at least 2 grade levels above the language level he is expected to produce. No child can produce language on par with his reading level. Hence, it made perfect sense for me to get Little Boy to memorize essays printed in a 15 year old's textbooks, so that he can produce language printed in a 13 year old's textbooks, which is still 2 levels higher than the language printed in Little Boy's textbooks.

The same thing applies to English. In order for Little Boy to comfortably tackle his English homework, I have assessed that he should be reading Time, Newsweek and the National Geographic regularly. In fiction, he should be reading Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, Arthur Conan Doyle, P.G. Wodehouse and Michael Crichton. All are adult writers. Meanwhile, the text printed in his textbook looks fine for a 10 year old.

This begs 2 questions. Of what use are the textbooks if they are pitched at 2 levels below what the child needs to produce, when they should be pitched at 2 levels higher than what the child needs to produce? And, do the people who WRITE textbooks in the Ministry of Education ever talk to those who DEVISE exams?

Hopefully, parents who read this post will realize that to get an 'A' in schools exams, there is a need to expose the child to reading material at least 4 or 5 years beyond that written in the textbooks. Not all parents know this. I surely did not.

Does this not go against the MOE's stated intention to use education to lift people out of poverty? Lower income parents have little means to pay for the enrichment classes to fill the gap between textbook and exams. Lower income parents also have not the skills to coach and help their children to bridge the gap between textbook and exams. Lower income parents may not know that there is dangdang.com from where one can source Model Chinese Compos, and if they knew, would they have the money to buy? Lower income parents may not even have heard of Isaac Asimov, P.G. Wodehouse and National Geographic.

Click here for Little Boy's opinions on this matter.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Feeling of Dread

We attended yesterday's Parent Workshop in force yesterday. The Husband went because he is our math expert. The Foster Daughter (who is bona fide Chinese from PRC) went because she had very kindly offered to tutor Little Boy in Chinese. Little Boy went in order to hear the bad news first hand. I went just to punish myself.

The Teachers went through the intricacies of Chinese oral. Things looked quite manageable until they played an audio-recording of a student's stellar performance. I felt a brick added to the burden that I was already feeling. The Teachers taught us that...
(1) it wasn't acceptable to point at the picture when talking about it. Locational references had to be verbal.
(2) it was good to progress through the picture systematically from one cluster of picture events to another
(3) it was good to make moral judgments about the picture events and characters
(4) it was good to describe the emotions present in the picture

Then the Teachers went through Chinese Comprehension. I felt more bricks added to the load on my back. To cut a long story short, the requirements for Chinese Compre were the same as those I have already blogged about for English Compre. Given that Little Boy is far less competent in Chinese than in English, AND he isn't quite getting it for English Compre, I actually feel a bit nauseous.

Thankfully, math seemed manageable enough. Little Boy is already conversant with the topics being taught, and his Teacher had already properly trained him in the Polya's 4-step process to solving problem sums.
(1) Understand the problem (grasp concepts, visualize and organise info).
(2) Devise a plan (choose a method i.e., diagram or model or algebra).
(3) Carry out the plan (compute)
(4) Reflect on the solution (check by inserting the found answer to the problem).

We just needed to make sure that Little Boy uses the EQUAL sign and the ARROW sign appropriately... as well as reflect the proper conventions when expressing $ and cents and kgs and grams.

Alrighty! We is gonna work on English and Chinese!!

The one silver lining on our HUGE gray cloud is The Foster Daughter. She sat down with Little Boy and outlined an almost scientific/logical approach to writing Chinese Compositions - a template for action as it were. Little Boy's eyes began to shine... like he saw a bright light shining into the dark mysteries of how to write a Chinese compo. It seems that The Foster Daughter was systematically taught a template for Compo Writing in primary school and she merely reproduced it for Little Boy.

I love the template and am so grateful to The Foster Daughter for her generosity.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pet Rat

The brickwalls are going up at the construction site. Funny how that made my kitchen look bigger. The workers have also set up their kitchen in my kitchen. When we arrived, they were scooping out curry chicken from their wok. The foreman has moved into the Household Shelter since he is Top Dog around there and deserves his own room.

AND the men have found themselves a pet.

Last week, I saw rat cages set up around the perimeter of the construction site. Today, I saw a little rat in one of the cages. It's the size of half my fist, has a twitchy nose and black beady eyes. It shared the cage with titbits of all sorts that the group of rough and tough machos threw in. Who would have thought that this band of roughs and toughs had hearts so tender that they would adopt a pet RAT?

It certainly isn't something Picky Petunia would do. Rats and the Black Plague remain a strong association in my mind but this was a baby rat with a bald spot on its back. It looked cute, very scared and quite harmless, BUT both The Husband and I refused to bring it home. Firstly, it isn't our pet. Secondly, if it ever turns out to be a Girl Rat who'll grow up into a Woman Rat, who'll give birth to a bunch of Baby Rats, we're done for.

No way.

And now I worry. What if Macho Construction Workers' Cute Pet Rat runs off and gives birth to Baby Rats? And if there is ONE baby, surely there are others? And if there are others, surely there is a Big Momma somewhere. Oh dear! Oh dear! Oh dear! And we will be moving into that house. How ah?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Paternity Leave Hits Norway Cabinet

2 of Norway's male ministers have gone on childcare leave.

In Norway, both mothers and fathers get 2 weeks off right after the birth of their child. They are offered a combined 46 weeks of fully paid leave. 10 weeks out of these 46 weeks are reserved for the father, and if the father refuses to take them, these 10 weeks are forfeited.

Two thirds of Norway's active cabinet are FEMALE. Enough said?

The social fabric in Singapore has undergone a sea change. In my Grandma's old sprawling house in the 1960s, an entire family of 8 children camped in a large bedroom, pulling out mattresses to sleep on the floor. The patriarch of the family paid an allowance to his wastrel brother's wife and her 8 kids. He provided them lodgings and saw them all through school. Meanwhile, my Grandma ruled over all with an iron hand. At no time was I, the precious bundle, left to a maid. In families all over Singapore, spinster aunts, unmarried sisters and feisty Grandmothers were happy to pull childcare duty because they knew that the extended family would look after them in their old age.

We are now a nation of nuclear families. If I look after your kids today, nothing says you will look after me tomorrow. Sorry... I need to earn money for my old age. Go find someone else to look after your kids. Go on. Fob your kids on to someone else or give them a latchkey 'cos I ain't no sucker ya know.

People are now encouraged to work beyond retirement. All over our island, mothers need to work to help fathers make ends meet. Meanwhile, there is a funny maid levy that is supposed to keep the numbers of maids down to some elusive proportion. Was there even a target proportion in the first place? Hasn't it been aeons since this target was busted? Does not that show the ineffectiveness of the maid levy? Did not someone realize that this mechanism is ineffective against the momentum of the social forces which have created a vacuum in every home. The economy has sucked up Mothers, Fathers, Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Aunts, Uncles and Sisters... who is left to look after the kids? And one expects the maid levy to be effective against the HUGE social vacuum created by a voracious economy?

Fine... if the government wants the money, keep the maid levy. But why reject paternity leave à la Norway on the pretext that the society in Singapore is not ready for it? Which part of society is not ready for it? In every Singaporean marriage there is a woman. This woman is likely to say 'No' to kids because she knows the burden will fall heaviest on her. Who in the right mind wants to hold 2 heavy duty jobs without help from extended family nor maids? No male married to that woman will dare cry foul at paternity leave because he KNOWS he cannot manage without his wife's income. Singaporeans (men or women) will welcome paternity leave.

The other pretext for rejecting paternity leave is that employers will stop employing married men with children. Duh?! Who else is there left to employ huh? Monkeys? Right now, the economy doesn't like women ('cos they have kids to look after and won't be 100% committed to their jobs). The economy doesn't like old people ('cos they're old). If the economy refuses to employ men too, then we really will be scouring the forests around MacRitchie Reservoir for monkey talent so that we can pay them peanuts in view of rising costs. The fact is, giving paternity leave will ensure that everyone gets discriminated against in the employment market (men, women and old folk) and what that really means, is that no one will be discriminated against, no?

Something has to give somewhere unless Singapore's biomedical research can breakthrough to the creation of children who care for themselves and educate themselves.

What really is happening is that we have an almost all-male cabinet where female representation has long been socialized to the male-ish way of thinking. It is a cabinet that reasons from a bedrock of capitalistic ideals, and wont to think that free enterprise American style is the way to go. Since when has the Singapore government become a blind follower of Western ideals?

We were never like that. We were not averse to social engineering when it came to race, language and religion. Has no one yet realized that those old problems are now under control (pretty much... just requires maintenance) and now we have NEW problems that require savvy social engineering through innovative government policy? We made government policy that broke down race barriers. Why can't we make government policy that'll break down the social stigma against men pushing prams, and enjoying babies?

In the USA of today, the majority of the unemployed are MEN. They worked in construction and automobile industries, and reskilling them is an uphill task. Meanwhile, women there pull double duty. Is this what we want in Singapore? When a family functions on ONE salary, what happens to the family when that salary goes kaput? When a family functions on TWO salaries, who looks after the kids in a nation of nuclear families? Maids?

Toyota's manufacturing processes are the stuff of legend. Cross-training is a key component. Industries everywhere believe in cross-training so that when a man is down, others can take over. Gone are the specialized jobs typical of the Ford factory line. It is stupid that family work processes in Singapore hark still from the days of the early Ford production lines. Your role as a woman is this. My role as a man is this. The way I see it, the women are happy to be cross-trained and it is time to enact government policy that'll make it alright for men to be cross-trained in childcare too.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day Came and Went

I checked out Valentine's Day promotions on the internet a few weeks back and had to pick my eyeballs off the table, rub them on my shirt and then put them back in my eye sockets (and hold them in place) for a good look at the prices. "Those aren't promotions", I thought to myself, "Those are rip-offs preying on the need of young males to display health, wealth and commitment to potential mates." I wonder how many young males' wallets bled to death and had to get transfusions from parents and siblings.

Stingy Petunia passed on the chance to pay 3 times the price of a normal dinner at the same ol' same ol' same ol' restaurants. What DO my favourite restaurants serve on Valentine's Day? Caviar from sturgeon raised in a rock pool on the north side of the moon? Phoenix eggs? Peach ambrosia from Zeus' table? Pork knuckle from the halls of Valhalla? Snow melt mineral water from snowfall in the Jurassic millennia?

'Cos if it's your regular wagyu beef, caviar and foie gras, it just ain't worth it.

So here's a tip for any Young Male reading this. Celebrate Valentine's Day 1 month before. For the same price, you'll get 3 times the cool factor, and have enough left over.

So Valentine's Day came and went. The Husband was trying to catch Milo's hind legs to teach him how to walk wheelbarrow style when I commented "It's Valentine's Day today". Of course, Milo was very indignant about being treated like a wheelbarrow, rushing hither and thither to keep his hindquarters away from The Husband's grasping hands. In between lunges, The Husband said "So.... what shall we do about it?"

Eh what? Do about it? He made it sound like a problem... The Husband did.

Little Boy said helpfully "We can all go out for dinner maybe?" I think he was trying to propose a good solution to his father's problem. Also, Little Boy sincerely believes that Valentine's Day celebrations should involve him as well. Thank goodness we don't celebrate Valentine's Day on Valentine's Day 'cos it effectively means we need to pay (4 X 3) DIVIDED by 2 times what a couple pays to eat out normally. Whooooooo!

Anyway, we still dunno what to do to celebrate a belated Valentine's Day. But that's not really important. What I really wanna know is what The Daughter got for Valentine's Day and from whom (actually I have a pretty good idea). And whether the male involved was too dumb to do the sums and celebrate Valentine's Day on any other day (preferably everyday) EXCEPT Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Baby Porcupine

Here are pictures of a REALLY CUTE animal.

PSLE Panic!!!!!!

Yesterday, Little Boy's school ran a Science and English workshop for the parents of Primary 5 & 6 students. It was an eye opener. The Daughter took her PSLE 7 years ago and the demands were rather different. Or perhaps, I was just blissfully ignorant back then because The Daughter's (very famous) primary school never once organized such Train-the-Parent workshops.

What I did not know, could not cause me panic. Now that I do know, I have this urge to reach for Little Boy, enfold him in my arms and apologise for waiting so long to have given birth to him.

The comprehension passage I had to do in the workshop was challenging enough that I got 2 questions wrong... well, not exactly wrong but not exactly right either. And that's terrible because Petunia's GMAT (the equivalent of SATs for post-graduate admissions) verbal scores were in the top 2% of global norms. And even I couldn't get full marks for a PSLE comprehension exercise. Whoooooooo!

To be sure, I had taken my GMAT many years ago... and I was sleepy yesterday because I had woken up late and so I had skipped breakfast... But still...

To do well in a PSLE English comprehension exercise, one needs to make logical inferences. The answers are not all found in the passage. For example, the passage might describe a blood-stained machete lying next to a dead body with its throat slit. There will be no specific mention that the knife was used to murder someone. However, one question might be "How did Sir Arthur die?" The child must then infer that "Sir Arthur died of a slit throat inflicted by the machete lying next to him" Now, if one had written, "Sir Arthur died of a slit throat", it would only be partially correct. Petunia was only partially correct. "Hey!" I thought to myself "I must remember to tell Little Boy that to do well in PSLE, he'll have to pretend to be Sherlock Holmes and draw inferences from CLUES!! He'll like that." Nonetheless, I wondered if it was a test of language skills or of thinking skills.

The Science Department teachers shared about the focus of inquiry-based learning. Inquiry-based learning is actually learning through scientific inquiry. To do well in Science, one needs to grasp the fundamentals of epistemology (specifically, the "logical positivist epistemological position"). The whole purpose of me writing all these "cheem" terms is to communicate to the reader the sense of dread so many parents must have felt at the Science workshop when the teachers began to explain the fundamentals of the logical positivist epistemological position... though they termed it simply "The Scientific Approach".

I am not sure what to make of all this. On the one hand, I quite like it that the requirements of the PSLE have evolved to reflect real world skills in English comprehension and logical thinking. To be sure, this makes the subjects great fun. It is no longer about memory work. One really needs to think and analyze. I also think it is good training for the mind. One needs to have clarity of thought and precision in language. In the PSLE of today, there is no room for intellectual sloppiness. Our primary schools truly are training children how to think, and think clearly/precisely too! This appeals to the nit-picking fuss-pot side of Petunia.

On the other hand, parents who were never trained in scientific inquiry nor logical thinking would find such skills hard to grasp and pin down. It isn't as easy as content (words, definitions, scientific facts) to grasp and remember. To help a child, you need to be able to understand and break down skills steps. Step 1, do this. Step 2, do that. Like writing out a recipe for performance. Whoooooooooooooo again!!

Many parents would be at a loss how to help their children. I also wonder at the wasted dollars that such uninformed parents give to the armies of untrained Tutors who themselves only have 'A' level qualifications, and who also know nothing about Scientific Inquiry and have not the practice in logical thinking to manage the inferential questions of a PSLE comprehension exercise. I was shocked and gave myself up to a slight moment of panic yesterday.

I am over it now though. It isn't something we cannot tackle as a family. Little Boy's school is also one where Teachers are very conscientious. We have all of P5 and P6 to get Little Boy ready. Nonetheless, it'll be a lot of work. The happy thing though, is that it'll be FUN work. Not lots and lots of memorizing.

Next week, I'll be attending the Parent Workshop on Math and Chinese. So, watch this space for updates.

Monday, February 7, 2011

USA: The Greedy Romans of Today

We had put bets on the Dow Jones Index. The Dow Jones Index is comprised of a basket of humongous American businesses whose share prices move up and down as a reflection of what we had assumed to be the American economy.

Well... this assumption was dead wrong.

Casually observing the economic indicators and government interventions in the USA, we had concluded that the fundamentals in the US economy were weak and would stay weak. We could not understand the run-up in the US share market in the past few weeks. It didn't make sense to us, and so we decided that the share prices would drop soon enough. We bet on the Dow Jones. If it drops we make money. If it rises further we lose.

Oh well... the Dow Jones Index keeps going up.

Then it hit us between the eyes. The US share market is no longer a reflection of the US domestic economy. It is a reflection of the global economy because everyone of the companies in the Dow Jones basket is a mega transnational with tentacles stretching from China to South America and perhaps even Greenland. It doesn't matter if the people at home in America do not buy their products, these companies will still report robust earnings because people elsewhere in the world will buy their products.

American healthcare is in shambles. The public school system limps along. The strong government that can intervene to redistribute resources to the have-nots is tying itself up into snarls because of powerful lobbies. Too many have-nots sleep in the streets. Too many bright young children face a dismal future for lack of opportunities.

Meanwhile, the American elite (the captains of world industry) are citizens of the world. Indeed, with such a wide base from which to draw resources, the captains of world industry are masters of the world, running companies bigger than Singapore itself, without the social accountability that comes with running a country.

American companies seem poised to take off into the stratosphere leaving behind their aged and weak launchpad of a country that is slowly sinking into a quagmire of poverty... and millions of other poor Americans sink with it. It's almost as if the richest and most privileged of the Americans have, in a frenzy of unfettered appetite, depleted theirs and their own, and now rise up in spaceships to colonize and consume other planets of bounty.

Property prices rise everywhere in the world. Every country battles food inflation, as well as a wider income gap. American companies can hire talent at global prices. Top talent in Beijing are paid American salaries, but average person is paid many times below equivalent American salaries. Such top talent can afford housing at prices far above what their compatriots can afford. They too are global citizens (or de facto American citizens by dint of their appartenance to a transnational with American roots). As such, housing prices in Beijing are so high that you can't see them from Ground Zero.

Everywhere in the world the poor stay poor whilst the rich become richer. Poor people are not wanted by American companies. These citizens are the responsibility of the traditional governments. The global economy can fire them. Traditional governments cannot.

This rich-poor divide places pressures on the social fabric of every country in the world. And being business concerns, American companies have no responsibility to maintain social equilibrium, nor preserve the social fabric of the communities they embed themselves into.

These transnational firms are bigger and richer than many individual countries. Someone needs to clip their wings before they tear the social fabric of the whole world by exacerbating social inequality and widening the income gap to levels that many countries have never experienced - like us, in Singapore. There is a need for government policy where none have gone before.

This said, if I were looking at a safe investment, I would buy into the shares of large American transnationals. Their economic base is so very wide that it would take a global depression to bring them down. The greenback (sign of US government strength) no longer seem as safe as before. Share prices of American transnationals (sign of the strength of industry moghuls) seem safer these days.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Milo's Ang-Pow


The person who likes to say "Petunia, it's just a dog!" (I won't say who it is)asked me three times today if we should give Milo an ang-pow (or hongbao or red packet). For international readers, the ang-pow is an ancient Chinese tradition. It is a small red enveloppe containing token sums of money that one gives away to little children and unmarried people (for the Chinese believe that as long as you aren't married, you're still a kid). Hence, theoretically, a 70 year old bachelor can still receive ang-pows.

Being Chinese, I am wont to think that such little red packets are far more practical than presents. At the very least, they can be saved up for a rainy day... and it saves the giver a big headache when it comes to gift shopping. Besides, they're easy to carry around. If Santa Claus gave ang-pows instead of gifts, then maybe he wouldn't need such a big sled (pulled by so many reindeer) and he wouldn't need such a big bag (to put the gifts) and he wouldn't be all red in the face lugging those gifts around eh? Hee! Indeed, if Santa Claus gave out ang-pows to all good children, he could do it from beside his fire in Lapland (or somewhere) because at the click of a button with internet banking, virtual ang-pows containing real money could be sent and simultaneously reach every single child in the world. Think of that... no need to climb down chimneys which anyhow, don't really exist in many modern tenements eh?

Ok... before I get flamed for being cross-culturally insensitive, let me just say that I love Santa Claus and I love opening presents especially when it is something I've been hinting for.

But well, that's beside the point. Milo's ang-pow had 20 shelled pistachios. Like any good Chinese child, he was very happy with his ang-pow even though he didn't quite know what to do with it at first. We had to help him open it up. Next year, we hope he will know how to open his own ang-pow.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chinese New Year Shopping

It's Chinese New Year's Eve. I went out to the shops this morning to get 60 oranges, 2 strips of pork loin and some shallots. There were no shallots to be had. The shops were chock a block full of abalone, fresh ocean fish, shrimp, pork and all sorts of expensive food items but the humble shallot was nowhere to be found... Odd huh?

Only one of the 5 pork stalls at the wet market was open. The vegetable stall was shockingly bare. Whatever fruits left on display looked like they had gone through spousal abuse. A swarm of locust people seemed to have descended on the wet market last night and made off with abundant provisions for the Reunion Dinner that all Chinese families eat on Chinese New Year's Eve.

All Chinese families except us... maybe?

We eat our Reunion Dinner on the Sunday or Saturday just before Chinese New Year's Day. It's like celebrating X'mas on the weekend before X'mas. It makes sense to us because restaurants charge so much more for Chinese New Year's eve... and food item prices spike in the days leading up to Chinese New Year's eve, especially for items that everyone eats at Chinese New Year - abalone, rabbit fish with roe, shrimp and all such.

So, it's also the Family's recent tradition to eat anything BUT Chinese food at the Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner. I guess there is still a bit of the rule-breaking rebel in ol' Petunia. Our Reunion Dinner is a culinary globe-trotting exercise. This year, we had Swiss cuisine. It was a throw-up between Barracks and Marché.

And Marché won. Here's why.

Marché (French word for "market") is set up like an outdoor fresh food market. You gotta line up, point at what you want and see it cooked right in front of you. Then you grab a tray and bring your loot back to your table. It was far more convivial than Barracks because we had to stand there and decide who was gonna queue where and get how many of what to put in the middle of the table to SHARE. That was fun. Then everybody headed off in different directions to gather food. That was fun too. Then everybody went looking for everybody to ask for more specific details about some orders e.g., drinks... dessert. Fun again. Then a few people went looking for cutlery and plates. Meanwhile an octogenarian member of the Family sat quietly guarding the spoils of our various expeditions. I think he had the fun appropriate for his age and physical condition eh?

Then someone spilled orange juice and there was a big hop around. That was fun.

When it was time to eat, the plates were handed back and forth up and down the table. Paella over here... pass the rosti... why is my piece of sausage so small... if you guys don't start on the veggies I am gonna start distributing... whose root beer is this 'cos I just drank it. And we swept right through the plates and ate till nothing was left.

Fun! Like a big steamboat dinner except that it was self-service that required a complete run-around in the restaurant.