When the Dust Settles

I sat motionless on my seat, unable to move because I could not believe what I was seeing. My face slowly scrunched up in a silent scream NOOOOOO!!!

Amidst the drilling and hacking noises that were taking out my eardrums, billows of visible particles happily made their way into my flat from the front door. Wave after wave the particles floated in, riding the wind currents, and quickly settled onto any exposed surface in my flat, including me. Soon, I was covered in a thin film of whitish dust, as with anywhere else.

I did not sign up for this, but with the Man blissfully away on reservist, and the Housing Development Board (HDB) conducting mandatory improvement works (Home Improvement Programme) to all eligible units in our block of flats, I became the only available body to be subject to the “coating of dust”. Worker after worker came in and out of the flat carrying out their assigned tasks dutifully from 8am to 6pm daily. I sat quietly in 1 visible spot in the living room, getting up only to direct the workers. And cleaning up after the workers were done for the day.

I limited my water intake, because that was the only way I could limit the number of visits I would have to make to the 1 of 2 make-shift, communal toilets downstairs at the void deck. I shall not atttempt to describe the condition these 2 make-shift toilets that all females in the entire block of flats of over a hundred households have to share during this period, while HDB replaces our old, rusty sanitary pipes and toilet wall/floor tiles.

I count my blessings that my parents opened up their flat for us to stay in during this period, especially the kids, for the dust and noise made our flat inhabitable. A wonderful haven I got to crash out every evening, after I was done cleaning for the day. And my parents-in-law helped take care of the kids over 2 weekends, while the Man (who thankfully got to book out during weekends and help) and I tried to restore our flat daily after the damage, I mean, improvements.

The improvement works to our flat were finally done after 10 days. The workers have since moved on to other units. And I am so relieved to put down the broom/mop/rags/sponge for the time being, and get back to my regular job as an employee, sitting in a comfortable, air-conditioned office in front of the computer.

Sure, there are still baskets of laundry and bedsheets waiting to be washed. The floor still feels dusty. Dust still coats the surfaces of the furniture, although at a slower rate. Every corner I turn, my now-trained eyes zoom in on remnant debris and dust left behind from the renovation works. My sensitive skin and nose are still reminding me of the combined effects of insufficient water intake and prolonged exposure to dust. But I am so thankful of the help I had from supportive parents, every morning I pass by bleary-eyed neightbours waiting their turn to use the toilet downstairs, carrying their toiletries in baskets or pails. There is much restoration to our flat to do, but I am glad the worst is over. And I would know how to better protect our flat and minimise the amount of cleaning the next time. Not that I wish there were would be a next time …

Caesar Park Taipei

APRU Conference

I have had the privilege to be in Taipei, Taiwan, for a conference recently. The hotel of choice – Caesar Park, Taipei.

 Maybe this is just the norm in the hotel business, but because I was on my own most of the time and hence free to notice details – this hotel is big on branding. And the little comforts and attention to details for the guests made my stay so comfortable.

The cosy hotel room came with a transparent glass writing desk (did not add to the smallness of the room) complete with a desktop lamp, television, and a power track with 2 adaptors (I needn’t have brought mine if I knew!).

Much space was dedicated to the bathroom, which was great because I didn’t feel claustrophobic in a hotel bathroom for once. And the bathroom walls were half-glass (blinds were provided for some decency and privacy, if desired) instead of being opaque, adding to the spaciousness. The shower area was quite big, with side and overhead shower options (think raindance!). Best of all, the glass screen door was fully functional and water proof and I had DRY floors every time I had my shower! Oh, and a properly functioning toilet bowl with bidet! Warm seat cover …

Let There be Light

I have not been around much, but I thought this pretty little guy, the overhead swivel-able lamp, was evidence of the hotel’s attention to details. You could drag this little guy to hover above the writing table if you need additional light, or pull him to shine brightly down the middle of the queen-sized bed if you so choose to ignore the bedside lamps and sit in the middle of the bed to read. Don’t ask …

Logo

 And speaking of branding, this ‘guy’ is everywhere!

Postcards

Postcards (yeah, that’s normal), stationery, and the hotel’s own L-shaped folder

Branding

At the rooftop garden.

But carved onto the chinese-style wooden chairs? Yes, the hotel has its own furniture at the restaurant. I was tempted to lift up the table cloth to check if the carving is also on the table surface or legs; but in the crowded restaurant with lots of Japanese guests displaying impeccable table manners, I quelled my curiosity.

Speaking of the rooftop garden, I visited it on the last morning of my stay at Caesar Park.

To the Roof Garden

No way one could get lost, with directions like this.

I was expecting some teeny weeny strip of narrow walkway and some greens. I was wrong.

Fishy Greetings

Koi greeted me the moment I opened the door to the first part of the garden.

Lotus Pond

Lotus pond and some benches for resting.

That's the Loo

Pretty building for toilets, eh?

Taipei Railway Station

The biggest draw of staying at Caesar Park – less than 2 minutes walk to the Taipei MRT/Train station!

Scene 1

Some of the scenary from the 2-storey roof garden.

And complimentary to hotel guests were the famous pineapple cakes from … Have you guessed it yet? Caesar Park, Taipei’s own pineapple cakes! It was not bad-tasting (as was expected) nor too sweet (which was a big plus for me). The ground coffee with disposable filter was, unfortunately, not the hotel’s own, but good-tasting, nevertheless.

I have never felt more at ease in a hotel room, and considering I spent more time in this room compared to other trips where the agenda was not work (nor study). The hotel room was just fantastic and memorable. Even though the only view I had were other tired-looking windows opposite, and there was the smell of bamboo shoots/smelly tofu in the room sometimes (no, it was not brought back by me from the night markets). Despite the minor imperfections, I will definitely choose Caesar Park, Taipei, again. If I get to go back to Taipei, that is …

Of Zombies, Slugs and TNT

“MaMa, what is the Pinata Party today?” is a question I get asked every evening, by a 7yo boy with an excellent memory. Unlike his MaMa, who struggles to even remember what she ate for lunch the same day.

Every evening, I roll my eyes skyward, sifting through my cluttered mind to try to reconstruct the battle visually, so I could describe it to Matthew. “Have you gotten Mista Saturday yet? What Slugs did you use?” Again, I reply him. Satisfied, he would let me off, only to quiz me again the next evening.

If my eyes remain in the unnatural position a tad too long, with a scrunched up face for trying too hard to remember, he would say matter-of-factly “It’s okay if you don’t remember, MaMa. It’s okay.” Yup, I have a very cool, it’s-okay-no-biggie-chill son.

That is the start of my daily conversation with my fast-growing up boy. My boy who is into Plants vs Zombies 2, Slugterra, Skylanders, and Minecraft. In fact, he and his friends share stories, tips and books about these electronic games every day in school.

Unlike his friends, Matthew only gets to play games on the Ipad once a week. So he relies heavily on his friends’ stories, and my limited playing to feed his thirst for knowledge about these games. And yes, I play the games as well. Well, at least the free ones, which are limited to PVZ2 and Slugterra. And I play them not because I like playing electronic games, but to have a common topic with Matthew. And I’m glad I do. I just wish I have more time to engage him in conversations and share common interests. I shall endeavour to allocate a little more time to do that, for he is growing up too fast. He is already displaying signs of what is to come in about 3 years when he reaches his tweens. Independent, able to engage in his reading or playing (alone!), and spending long periods of time not talking to anyone.

How much time does MaMa have before I lose you, Matthew? MaMa is starting to get worried …

How to Make Dentists Happy

In the span of one generation (between mine and the kids’), the experience when visiting the dentist has changed vastly.

I used to be so terrified of visiting the dentist that my Dad helped pull out my baby teeth when they started to wobble. And when I started Primary school, oh man, the twice yearly visits to the formidable dental nurses were enough to send trembling all the way to the clinic, and return to the class after on weak knees. I used to freeze up and pray that the clipboard-bearing classmate/schoolmate would not be coming for me. I was so traumatised by dental visits that I stopped visiting the dentist for several years after my last major operation, when I had my wisdom teeth extracted.

It was only when the Man recommended his dentist to me, whom I would find ‘very handsome’, that I overcame the fear of visiting dentists and scheduled regular visits again.

I didn’t want my kids to go through the trauma and fear of visiting the dentists the Man and I went through as children, so I did some research and brought Matthew to a paediatric dentist when he was about 5 years old. Even then it was too late; for Matthew had 2 small cavities in his front teeth, which we spent a bomb to fill in, and which he promptly dropped 6 months later. Now that Matthew has started Primary One, we leave it to the school’s dental nurse to take care of his oral health (saving on dental expenses at the same time).

Having had the experience, we brought Megan to the same dentist at an earlier age, but she was too shy to sit by herself. That first experience was also good for her as it left no traumatising memories.

But ever since the wonderful dentist moved to an outlet very far from where we are staying, I decided to look for another dental clinic. So I booked Megan an appointment with the paediatric dentist at the NUH Dental Centre, and an appointment for myself too.

When the morning came, I made sure both of us reached the clinic earlier to prepare Megan mentally, in case she became worried about the visit. But I had nothing to worry.

Megan already felt at ease at the registration counter – the manager even let her paste our sticker labels onto our case notes files! She also led Megan to hand our files to the respective dentists who would be seeing us. Before long, Megan was prancing along the corridor in high spirits, peering often into our designated treatment rooms, and chatting with the dental assistants.

My appointment was first. Megan was so cheerful throughout my treatment, asking the dentist tons of questions, and touching everything in sight. The gentle dentist was so patient with her, answering her questions while giving my teeth his full attention, and occasionally warning her not to touch the sharp instruments. I could not stop Megan for I could not speak nor see her, but I was very glad the dentist was able to keep her under reasonable control.

Megan was so impressed by her experience that she declared very loudly she would become a dentist when she grows up. That made the dentist really happy, and his happy voice came through the mask, when he replied that it was a good vocation to choose.

Megan repeated the same declaration to her dentist soon after. Again, she made her dentist very happy too. And by then, Megan was so relaxed and cheerful that she sat in the seat by herself. The dentist was also very patient with her, introducing her to the instruments she would be using on Megan’s teeth. These thoughtful gestures made Megan at ease as she knew exactly what was going to happen next. Her teeth were done in no time. And her favourite part of the visit? Stickers as reward! She even wheedled 2 stickers for her GorGor, while negotiating 3 stickers successfully for herself. Sales person in the making?

At the Dentist

A cheerful gal with white-again pearlies.

I hope Megan will continue to make dentists happy by sticking to her childhood wish as she grows up. Will she? Keeping my fingers crossed…

This Read is Hilarious

Don’t judge a book by its cover?

I have since stopped believing in that saying, despite it being drummed into my head by various teachers back when I was young(er) and impressionable. When it comes to books, especially children’s books, those with attractive covers are the ones I pick up over others. Biased? Missing out on good reads? Superficial? Maybe. But when I have impatient family members, time in the library becomes very limited. And with an enormous (read: dizzying & overwhelming) selection of books before me, and an active 5yo who pulls out book after book from the shelves and running over to me repeat “Mama, can we borrow this book?” a gazillion times, I have to adapt by quickly picking out books with attractive covers, then skimming through the contents of the books before heading to the checkout section.

And as it turns out, many children’s books with attractive covers are good reads as well. And once in a while, we find a platinum-diamond gem amongst these books.

 I Am Otter

Needless to say, the superficial me chose this book because of the cover. The illustrations on the cover alone called out to me. “Bring me home?”, the book beseeched, and I gladly obliged. The book introduced Otter, and her best friend, the stuffed Teddy. Together, they opened a Toast restaurant and ended up with … Otter, however, is already famous online. You can read more about her here. The humourous story and the beautiful illustrations made the kids and I spend a longer time poring over this book. Megan laughed because Otter was funny. Matthew laughed at the mis-spellings of Otter’s signs and notices she put up at her toast restaurant, and the funny antics Otter and Teddy got up to.

Beautiful IllustrationThese 2 pages of the book were truly amazing! The beautiful colours and amount of detail turned it into a mini-game for us – to spot misplaced stuffed toys in funny poses. And not to mention what Matthew quickly pointed out – mis-spelled words at the top right side of the page on the right. I cringed and could imagine myself fainting if I ever come home to this mess! I love Sam Garton’s drawings! And check out the final, hilarious moment of the book – on the last page. Classic!

And the true guide to the readability and success of a children’s book? The kids themselves. Matthew was seen reading through the book again, and chuckling to himself as he re-read the story and admired the pictures. And pointing out Otter’s mis-spelled words to us again, then laughing away merrily. Yeah, he is my funny guy.

Good or poor reads, there is always something to learn from the books. And to have the kids look forward to their reading time at night with me is something I will cherish as the countdown has already started …

Girls’ Day Out

There was no school for Megan on 23 May 2014 so I took the day off work to spend it with her. We booked ourselves an appointment each with the dentists, and we went to the Science Centre after our teeth were sparkly clean again.

I thought the Science Centre would be a great place for Megan, a highly tactile learner, to run around and touch all the displays as much as she wanted. I was half right, though. Granted she had lots of fun touching and playing with all the displays we went to, I think I learnt more from many of the displays reading the descriptions and then experimenting with the dials, knobs, sounds etc.

I did not expect to learn more about Megan during our outing though.

Floating Balls

We spent a considerable amount of time at this exhibit. By playing with the air flow along the tube, we were able to get the ping pong balls to travel down the length and then stay afloat in the air. Megan was very fascinated by the ‘floating’ balls. She meticulously and repeatedly balanced the balls right above the jet of air so they remained afloat. Usually an active child who cannot sit still except when she is doodling on her art pad, I discovered another activity she could totally focus on.

Look Ma, No Legs

Although she is a very sociable child, Megan has her shy moments too. When I dramatised my reaction to seeing her ‘without legs’ through this illusion, she laughed merrily and posed for a photograph, but her smile was so shy (before I asked her to smile more) that I wanted to scoop her out of her ‘cage’ for a big hug. This little girl is a mystery.

Need for Neatness

We met two groups of student-volunteers who either demonstrated and explained experiments or set up little booths with science-related activities for us to try our hands on. The game in the photo above was meant to be one where you navigate a tank out of the maze of animals by moving the pieces about a square. The young man who manned this activity tried very hard to explain to a 5yo the objective of the game. Megan, not understanding the rules of the game, simply picked up the tank and put it on the table. Her “So simple! There, the tank is out!” left the young man speechless. He decided to just let Megan have her own fun, and this was the result. I was very taken aback, for hidden behind her usual leave-things-about-if-I-can behaviour, she is actually one who is precise and organised.

Favourite Past Time

Spending 3 hours at the Science Centre was about the maximum we could manage, for we were quite tired out after all the stimuli from the exhibits. After a trip home to nap away the fatigue, we ventured out for a satisfying dinner together. Megan occupied her time colouring the kid’s activity handed out at the restaurant while I busied myself getting us dinner. This was the happy Megan indulging in one of her favourite desserts. We had a very leisurely time during dinner; it did both of us slow-eaters a lot of good to have the time to get distracted and finish our food at our own pace.

Spending the day with Megan (or Matthew) was more tiring than being at work simply because there are more uncertainties. There is also the added emotional burden (be it fear for their safety, irritation at their inappropriate behaviours, indignance at other bullies etc) on my shoulders that work does not impose. Of course, work is not all smooth-sailing and all, but it’s just different. Nevertheless, I truly enjoyed bonding with Megan, and I hoped she had a great day too. Looking forward to the next day out to the Zoo as part of the school’s Family Day! Stay tuned!

I am a Piece of S**t!

Disclaimer: This post is not one of those feel-good pieces about parenthood. If explicit mention of shit offends your sensibilities, please stop reading.

I might have mentioned before that this year has been challenging for us so far, mostly because Matthew has started Primary One. The second of four school terms has just ended, and Matthew has had bouts of behavioural issues in school because of peer influence already.

The quality of his academic work is also constantly under scrutiny and fire. It also doesn’t help he is the first-born, and naturally the centre of (negative) attention when it comes to producing quality work and being on the best behaviour all the time.

As the education system is nothing like that of my time, I will never comprehend the full extent of pressure being heaped upon 7 year-olds nowadays. With pressure in school and at home, Matthew’s short temper is rearing its ugly head more often now. “I hate (insert phrase)!” escapes his mouth, and hot tears of frustration pool in his eyes so often. Therein lies my inadequacy; I can only explain to him that all is not hate as he sees it, but love. Very tough love, nonetheless.

I try to soothe his ruffled feathers as best as I am emotionally capable of (at the end of a long day at work is not an excuse but a real factor), but I still feel I have failed him. I have failed to make him understand that these stem from love.

I knew I have failed as a mother, when I entered his bedroom one evening to see his precious artwork, done during his free time in school, lying lifeless and ‘broken’ all over the floor. Not that they were actually broken, for he would never intentionally let bad things happen to his possessions. He takes very good care of his things; he’s a darling for that, and more.

“Matthew, what happened?” I exclaimed in mild shock, gesturing to his artwork on the floor.

He slashed his paper figurine through the air in anger, and replied “Because I’m a piece of shit!!”, angry tears immediately pooling in his eyes.

“Huh?! Why would you call yourself that?!” I raised my voice unconsciously, reeling from the force spewed forth from his words.

It turned out he was scolded a few days ago. Hence his work, as evident in his English file, was “full of shit”. There were plenty of careless mistakes that could have been avoided had he copied the words carefully and double-checked them. “So I am a piece of shit!!”. Goodness, he still remembered what happened a few days ago.

He was chided this particular evening for leaving his artwork all over his shelves, making the bedroom unusually untidy. It does not help he has sensitive skin and nose either; dust collects easily the more things he leaves in the open, and he knows that. Still, he was having an emotional meltdown at the moment.

Immediately, the Ice Queen in me took over, blocking all my own emotions and focusing on getting Matthew to calm down. I knelt down in front of him and forced him to look me in the eyes. I pointed out to him that work that was not done to the best of his ability was just that – that was targeted at his work, not him at all. He was still indignant.

“If you are a piece of shit, then what is MaMa? I gave birth to you. If you call yourself a piece of shit, what does that make me? Do you know you are hurting me too, by saying such nasty things about yourself?”

He immediately calmed down and had a thoughtful look on his face. Whatever he saw in his mind from my words must had been funny, for a tiny lop-sided smile escaped his mouth. Well, at least it worked.

Next, I posed him a challenge, to prove all those out there that Matthew is far, far away from shitty. I challenged him to prove those out there he is good, by producing good work from now on. And that he should not let his mummy be hurt too. He looked as if he understood; I decided to leave it at that, and helped him to pack his artwork away neatly into the box.

Once the meltdown had been dealt with, and I left his room, the Ice Queen in me retreated. The shock and pain from his words came flooding back, overwhelming me. I kept replaying his words in my head over and over again, unable to stop the self-bashing. It took me a few days before I was well enough to write this.

If he thinks he is a piece of shit, what does that make me, what does that make me? He and I have some healing journey to go through together…