Friday, 26 December 2014

Day 1: Bobbidi Bibbidi Boutique

We arrived at Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel at 7.20am on the same day we departed from Singapore!
I was surprised and relieved that the hotel granted our wish for a super early check-in at 7.30am. The usual check-in time is 3pm and an early check-in is 2pm. I had emailed the hotel about my concern about our early arrival and was asked to check with the hotel upon arrival.

The Deluxe room was as quaint and beautiful as it was 4 years ago.
The comfortable beds made everyone reluctant to leave them, but Baby and I had an appointment at Bobbidi Bibbidi Boutique at 9am.

We were possibly the first customers at the boutique.
Bobbidi Bibbidi Boutique caters to girls from 3 to 12 years old. It dresses the girls up as princesses of their choices and allows them to go to Disneyland in a princess outfit and feel like a princess all day! It also includes a photography session which entitles you a picture out of the many pictures they have taken.
There were two packages, Crown and Castle packages.
The difference between these two packages is the absence of a princess costume in the Crown package. It is probably for girls who bring along their own costumes.
I had booked the Castle Package at HKD 1580 at the earliest timing so that we could go to Disneyland at 10am. Well, that was my original plan anyway.
I requested to try on a few princess costumes to see which one was the most suitable and comfortable, as advised by a mummy blogger.
She said,"No."

Many girls had chosen Belle for its comfort and beauty, but it didn't delight my princess.

She was eager to try on the Cinderella costume, but she thought it was a no-go.

She liked the Aurora costume the best.

I was happy that we found something she liked, but we spent the next 30 minutes finding the right Aurora fit.
It turned out that the princess costumes were made differently even though the sizes were the same. Baby noticed that at least 3 sets had necklines that were too low for comfort and one that had awkward-looking off-shoulder.
The Fairy Godmother in-training was a nice young lady by the name of Wini.
She was the most patient service personnel I have ever met! Despite our repeated requests of changing the costume, not once did she show signs of impatience or displeasure! By the third time I asked for a change, I was getting very paiseh. I actually asked Baby to settle for the one with a low neckline. Thankfully, Baby refused to, citing that her nipples would show!
Through it all, Wini demonstrated the best customer service I have ever experienced. Penning this post reminds me that I need to write in to compliment her service!
Making up and dressing up took another one hour!

The dressing room

Finally done!
There were at least 5 Elsas in the dressing room!
The photography session that took about 20 minutes

This is Wini!
By the time we left Bobbidi Bibbidi Boutique, it was 12pm! Other mother bloggers recommended a 1 to 1.5 hours allowance for the session, but ours took 3 hours!
Overall, the experience at the Boutique was fantastic. The only thing that marred the otherwise marvellous experience was the pushy aftersales for the prints after the photography session. I had read that they were not pushy and it was alright to just have the entitled picture that comes with the package, but that was not my experience at all. The lady who helped out at the photography section kept asking me to buy the whole photography package, which cost about HKD2388 if I remember correctly. She would not let me go when I just wanted my entitled picture. I was not impressed with the prints and was not keen on it, but Baby was delighted with her glamour pictures naturally and wanted a few more prints. We finally bought one more print at HKD168.
Would I recommend Bobbidi Bibbidi Boutique?
Hell yes! The magic lies in the impeccable service by the Fairy Godmothers-in-training and how your little princess feels like a real princess at Disneyland for the whole day!

The Best Budget Carrier: Scoot!

The not-so-great experience I had with Jetstar had deterred me from booking flights with budget airlines for my subsequent flights. The too-upright seats, the narrow leg room even for the petite, short-legged me and the awful chicken rice I had to pay $10 for were not a great start and end for a holiday. However, I had heard and read about good reviews on Scoot, so I decided to give it a try.

Scoot did not disappoint indeed!

I booked 'FlyEatBag' for the trip to Hong Kong and upgraded us to ScootBiz on the return trip as the upgrade cost just another $50 for four of us. The next day when I logged in to check the prices of the air tickets, the prices had changed and the upgrade price was a lot more per person.
I was prompted to choose the meals prior to the flight.

Coco had beef stew, a wonderful meal with unforgettable aroma.
She liked it so much that she had the same meal on her return flight.

William and I settled for soy sauce chicken rice. Not fantastic but edible. We are no fans of beef, pasta or thai curry with brown rice so this was the most comfortable option for us.

Baby chose marcaroni, but she was too soundly asleep for the meal.
Coco ate it instead, but commented that it was so oily that it gave her a queasy stomach.
So halfway through our trip, I amended Baby's return flight meal to croissant with ham and cheese.
'FlyBagEat' put us in the Economy Class seats. I was happy that the seats were comfortable with ample leg room. I didn't think the seats were any different from the ones in non-budget carriers.
ScootBiz seats had even bigger legroom that  I totally didn't need! I did a quick count and concluded that there were only 32 seats in the Business Class and we had 2 toilets to ourselves.
The best thing about ScootBiz was the luxury of priority boarding.
On return, there was a very long queue for Scoot Economy Class.
I suddenly remembered that we were on Business Class so I went in search of the counter for priority boarding. And there was no queue! Wow, wow, wow!
However, I must say that with everything in ('FlyBagEat' (to) and 'ScootBiz' (return) tickets, seat selection cost and insurance), Scoot was not the cheapest. It came up to about $2200 for 3 adults and 1 child for a Hong Kong trip.
But for all the great experience I had with Scoot, I will definitely check Scoot out for my next trip, or subsequent trips.

Hong Kong Again!

I went away from my blog for a while to feast and make merry whilst the holidays lasted.

I don't travel much. At best, I take a plane once a year. And I almost always do that in June, or latest, September.

December is a cold month for many countries, so I stay home most of the time.

However, given that the last time I boarded a plane was 1.5 years ago, my eyes started to turn green at the sprouting of Florida, Manhattan pictures on Facebook, my ears started to itch with envy when my neighbour mentioned that they were travelling to London and Paris. My ears continued to itch big time when Baby's ballet classmate's mother said that she would be going Hong Kong.

I decided that I would also be going on a plane, in December!

The destination was quickly decided: Hong Kong.

Hong Kong had been on my mind ever since my first trip there 4 years ago. Besides the food that had been on my mind for the past 4 years, I felt that Baby was old enough to appreciate Disneyland a lot more than when she was four and a half.

Baby had whipped out a photo of herself and Coco with Pinocchio at Paris Disneyland during a Show and Tell at school.

The moment the children saw the picture, they shouted in unison,"Hong Kong Disneyland!"

It took Baby by surprise. She clarified,"Paris Disneyland!" and surprised the rest of the children back!

When she came home and told me about what happened in school, my first thought was 'My poor Baby!', so taking Baby to Hong Kong Disneyland had been at the back of my mind since then.

I booked the air tickets and hotels on a Sunday and we flew on the following Thursday morning at 1.55am!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Putting in the 6 Choices for Secondary School Selection

Every year after PSLE, parents would be seeking advice on how to put in their 6 choices on their Secondary School Selection Form.

At first, I was perplexed.

Coco's primary school principal was very detailed in informing the parents how they could fill in the 6 choices on the day PSLE results were released. I had assumed that what she did was the directive given by MOE, until my own boss did her talk with the students' parents.

So, I will share what Coco's principal had shared with the parents two years ago, with what's left in my memory.

Example: Child's T-score is 240

1st and 2nd choices: Child's dream schools eg. Raffles Institution (259) and Hwa Chong Institution (256)

3rd and 4th choices: Schools with slightly higher cut-off points eg. Nan Chiau High School (242) and Chung Cheng High School (Main) (241)

5th and 6th choices: School that Child meets cut-off points eg. Swiss Cottage Secondary School (239) and Commonwealth Secondary School (238)

Placement of students in secondary schools is by MERIT, NOT BY CHOICE.

As long as you meet the cut-off point, you will be accepted into the school, no matter where you place the school. If another child's first choice is Chung Cheng High School (Main) and he scores 239, the child who scores 240 and placed it as the 4th or even 6th choice would get in first.

The above example is given without considering home-school distance, so home distance to secondary schools will play a big role in the selection.

Many will think that the first two choices given by Coco's principal is unrealistic. I think what she was trying to say is that since the selection is by merit, it doesn't hurt to put the dream schools down as the first two choices. Personally, I would not have done that. Instead, I would select two schools with cut-off points in the range of 242 and 245.

Appeal Intended
Then there are parents who have their children's dream schools in mind and their children's T-scores are just one point below the cut-off points. For these parents, they may put the dream school as the first choice, and put in an appeal to the school. For appeal cases, you need to put the school as the first choice. Most schools do not entertain your appeal if they are not your first choice.

Lower versus Higher Cut-off Points
Some parents make the mistake of putting schools of lower cut-off points above schools of higher cut-off points. That is what I call 'wasting the choice'. If you can't get in the school with a lower cut-off point at the first two choices, what is the chance you can get in the school with a higher cut-off point at the third or fourth choice?

IP versus O level
Generally, IP schools have higher cut-off points than O-level track schools, so it doesn't make sense to put O-level track schools ahead of IP schools. Even within schools that offer both IP and O level programmes, the Integrated Programme has a higher cut-off point than O level Programme. So don't make the mistake of placing O level programme before IP. And schools that offer both programmes have different codes for the two programmes. You do not get considered for O level programme in the same school automatically if you had only put in the IP code.

Affiliation Matters
For secondary schools affiliated with primary schools, you must put the affiliated secondary school as the first choice to qualify for the affiliation, if you meet the affiliation cut-off points. If you put the affiliated school as any other choice, you will be considered for entry on equal footing as students from any other school and your T-score will have to meet the non-affiliated cut-off point.

My list on how to put in the 6 choices is not exhaustive, and different children have different T-scores and needs that require different placement of the choices, so nobody is obligated to follow what I say as  THE rule.

Just sharing what I have learnt and observed.

Monday, 24 November 2014

If you feel you have failed: for the PSLE parents

At one of my lowest points in parenting, I came across this letter by the writer Darci on Facebook.

It is for the parent who feels he or she has failed.

In the event you feel you have failed as parent, especially after you have received your child's PSLE results, please read the letter. It is for you.

A love letter to parents

Dear moms and dads and caregivers out there: I have said this before, but I am feeling the need to say it again - This is a love letter to you.

Time and time again while talking to parents, I hear about the intense guilt and fear that we feel in our parenting. We worry that we are doing something wrong, that we don't love our kids enough, or in the right way, or in the same way that our friends love their kids. We worry that we did the wrong thing or said the wrong thing or that we have somehow missed the boat with our children.

We worry that our kids are eating too much or not eating enough. We worry that our kids aren't getting enough sleep or reading enough books or learning the right things. We worry that our instincts are wrong or that we chose the wrong parenting book to follow or that we are pushing too hard or not pushing hard enough.

Every day I talk to parents who are doing their best and striving to do better. Parents who are reading and thinking and changing and growing along with their children. Parents who are contemplating their own practices and interactions with their children and challenging themselves to go deeper into this world of parenting than ever before.

And I think it is amazing.

And I think you are amazing.

And I think we are all human. Destined to be less than perfect much of the time. It is easy to find countless things to worry about and regret and struggle over. It is easy to find things that don't make sense or that we did differently from others. It is easy to get lost in those things and lose sight of what is in our hearts. And when we do that, it is almost impossible to trust ourselves, our instincts and our own inner wisdom about what is right for our families. And that is when we get lost, feel alone and judged and scared and overwhelmed. It's easy to go there.

But instead, let's be gentle with ourselves and realize some simple truths:

1) There is no perfect parent.
Parenting is not about perfection. It is about supporting another human along this path called life, with all its twists and turns and bumps. There is no perfect path, only amazing journeys. When we stop judging ourselves on how imperfect we are according to others, we can start truly being present in the path we are on.

2) We will mess up.
If there is a parent out there that hasn't lost their cool, said something they regret, done something they wished they hadn't, I would like to meet them. Most of us will have moments, days, weeks that don't look like we want them to look. The question is not whether or not that will happen, but what we do about it. How do we pull ourselves back together? How do we process it with our children? How do we get help when we need it?

3) It is never too late to change course.
So often I hear parents say,"It's too late, I did X when I should have done Y and now my child will never ..." It's never too late; that's the beauty of being mindful and aware of our parenting. If we are aware, we can be flexible. If we are gentle with ourselves, we can understand that something isn't working and try something new. If we are open, we can become aware of changes in our children, ourselves and our environment that call for a change of course. That's life. It doesn't mean we did something wrong.

Parenting is a journey. The path is rocky. We will probably trip and fall sometimes, and it's never too late to change direction. When we realise that we are walking this path with our children, rather than for them, the journey becomes so much more enjoyable. When we spend our time looking back at all the things we stumbled on, we miss the connection to our child in the moment, we miss the scenery we are currently passing by and, maybe most importantly, we miss the road signs that are up ahead. Our child, our families, our hearts may be trying to tell us something and we just can't hear it because we are too busy feeling like bad parents.

So, this is my love letter to all of you, all the moms and dads and caregivers who are thinking about parenting so deeply. Instead of focusing on guilt, let's focus on what we are doing right. If we are leading with our hearts and doing what we feel is best for our child, we can and should trust our own path. If we are listening to our families and exploring our own patterns and becoming aware of our own mistakes, then we are leaps and bounds ahead of the game. If we are guiding our children with love and respect, they will feel it. Even if we mess up. Which we will. And if we treat our children like people in their own right, they will live up to the task. Even if they mess up. Which they will. And together, our messiness becomes life. A life worth living.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Sleepless on the Eve of PSLE Result Release

Tomorrow is THE day. Technically, it is 'Today' as it's past midnight, but since it is 1am of 21 November, and I haven't slept yet, I will call it 'Tomorrow'.

The day when PSLE results are released.

Strangely, ever since Coco sat for her PSLE and received her results two years ago, I have developed a 'habit' of losing sleep over PSLE result release, even if I don't have anyone in the family who sat for PSLE that year, like this year.

I am not sure what the feeling is called. It can't be 'excited' because PSLE results can be unpredictable. I am not rooting for a top scholar in the country. There is no expectation of any sort for anyone. Or perhaps, there is. I happened to tutor a motivated boy for a few sessions about two or three weeks just before PSLE. He has been placed on the waiting list for a top boys' school through DSA, and it's no secret that the waiting list offer will be converted to Confirmed Offer (Then why go through the hassle of offering a wait-list?). He didn't need to do any better than he already was. He just wanted to get a better score. I was moved by the boy's intrinsic desire to do well. Two or three weeks was too short a time to do anything substantial, but I was willing to give it a shot if the boy was that motivated.

However, I don't really have anything huge to look forward to. The mother understood that time was a constraint and she didn't expect too much of me. She was happy that the boy managed to learn something new within a short span of time. To claim that I could push up his score by a large margin would be too optimistic. We hope for the best though.

Back to why I lose sleep over PSLE result release, it can't be 'anxious' since I have no one close to me straddling between 'pass' and 'fail' or 'express' and 'normal'.

I am not a Primary 6 teacher who looks forward to receiving her report card, as indicated by the performance of her students, tomorrow.

Maybe I am just a kaypoh.

Or maybe I am indeed 'excited'. I learn more about judgement of standards with each PSLE result release. I learn how to gauge possible T-scores of different students.

Maybe I hope to be surprised.

Whatever it is, I hope that no parent will show his or her disappointment should the child's T-score falls below parents' expectation.

That is the least we can do for our children we claim to love.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Studying at Cafes

There have been strong, nasty views on students occupying seats at fast food joints and cafes.

I would like to oppose to those views, but I quickly realised I would invite a backlash from the working adults.

When I was a teenager, I shared a bedroom with 5 other siblings. My father did place a study table in the room, but it was difficult to study in a 4-room flat filled with people constantly talking loudly and sometimes having a bone or two to pick with you over things that were trivial to you but mattered gravely to them.

I went out in search for a place to study. My final destination was the airport. I could get a drink when I was thirsty. I could have my toilet breaks when Nature called.

I also remember having our Bible study sessions at the Bedok Central KFC on weekday afternoons. We would buy a drink and sit there for at least two hours doing Bible study. On Saturday afternoons after our cell group meeting, we would fellowship at KFC, eating a big tub of whipped potato and occupying the seats for hours. There were times when the crew chased us away.

So, while I am annoyed that I can't get a seat at Coffee Bean or Starbucks cafes, I totally understand the need for these students to study at a cafe.

I do believe some of them, like me, do not have a conducive environment to study at home. There are too many distractions at home eg. TV, titbits and siblings. And sometimes, it helps when you have an abler study buddy with you to help answer your questions.

And to people who ask,"Why don't they go to the library?" Have you tried studying at a library yourself?

I hate to say this but students in the north area of Singapore are not the most hardworking students around, but even then, when I tried looking for a seat at the Woodlands Regional Library for Coco to study on a weekend, I could not find one! Students were sitting on the floor to study. Others invaded the Children's section to occupy the seats meant for young children and their caregiver.

We learnt to arrive at the library at its opening hour, and rushed to the study tables to get one seat. The tables were quickly taken up within the first hour the library was opened. And the seats were occupied for the whole day. It was obvious that there were some inconsiderate users who left their belongings at the tables while they went for a one-hour lunch, but there was nothing much one could do.

If we ban students from studying at cafes, being economically strapped or powerless, they would have nowhere to go. Changi Airport may not be viable for students who live in the west and north although it is accessible to the ones residing in the east.

I would appeal to the public to leave the students alone. You were once students. You might have the good fortune of having a room of your own, or a conducive environment to study in, but many of us don't.