Wednesday, 26 December 2012


I woke up feeling queasy and bloated. Must be the result of over-eating these two days.

The only feeling that came to my mind was 'horrible'.

Then it came.

I dashed to the toilet bowl, and bits of liquidfied lamb leg trickled out my gullet forcefully, coupled with a bitter smell and taste.

Given vomit and diarrhoea, I'd choose diarrhoea anytime.

Stomach feels slightly better after that. Slightly not-so-horrible.

I will try never to over-eat ever again, even if the food is awesomely good.

Friday, 21 December 2012

A new chapter of her life

Yesterday, we made our way to Coco's new school for registration.

I woke up at 6.15am without the alarm.

I rummaged Coco's wardrobe for the whitest and most spotless set of uniform to iron.

As I ironed her primary school uniform, it dawned on me that it was the last time she would ever wear it.

Melancholy and nostalgia flooded me.

I remember the first time she skipped off her school bus, and smiled perkily with a sparkle in her eyes, that her friends did not mind her milo stains from recess on her uniform.

I remember her disappointment that her favourite Chinese-cum-form teacher punished her by making her stand in the hall for not bringing her silent-reading storybook.

I tried to recall something from her P2 to P5 school life, and I realised they were all a blur.

I have been a working mother. I can't remember anything except the few incidents about teachers that I blogged. Was I ever involved in her studies apart from her PSLE year?

The melancholy was soon overtaken by the excitement of her embarking on her new journey.

I took the MRT and bus with Coco to help her familiarise with the way to school. That would be the second time I did it with her. The first time we did it was to buy her books, a few weeks before.

When we were there to buy books, the school compound was empty except for some girls who were back for their CCAs.

I thought the school looked bright and clean. And it was a fine school.

And that was it.

Yesterday, during registration, the whole secondary one cohort was there.

Girls from different primary schools formed the majority - of course. It seized me that these children were the top brains in their schools, no matter which school they came from. Be it top schools, or neighbourhood schools, they were all among the top one, two, ten or twenty in their own schools.

The realisation that this is a good school, the dream school of many children for years hit me. In the words of the principal,"Before today, you only get to see the exterior of the school. Everytime you drive past the school, you would wish your child is studying in here. And now it has come true."

It is Coco's dream school since P1. In fact, she got to know the school from other children in her class. Everybody wanted to come here, and she is one of the more privileged ones to make it.

While the pride of Coco's new school swamped me, another part of me worries.

For the worry wart that I am, I think I would worry wherever Coco went.

If she had gone to a neighbourhood school, I would be really worried that she gets into bad company.

Now that she is in a good school, I am worried that she can't catch up.

See, we bought the books a few weeks ago. Most children with the slightest ounce of diligence in them would devour the books, especially the literature books.

No leh. Coco had left them on her bookshelves, like she did not have them in advance.

After two months of holidays, Coco is still at the second chapter of Maths.

In William's words, she has gone from a 50% 250 (score) environment to a 100% 250 environment.

I know of a blogger-mother whose child went to a top girls' school with 252 and eventually did well, given that the child is a gepper.

The mother said that some who got 270+ were struggling while others in the range of 250+ were acing their exams.

I hope it applies to Coco. We have too little faith in her, and then we rationalise why we have little confidence in her. We put her down too often. We don't lift her up enough. We nit-pick on her 'best' and break down 'the best' and 'her best' for definition. We are not the most nurturing or encouraging parents.

Despite that, she still exceeded our expectations.

She went for a selection test for an Art elective programme yesterday. I told her she didn't practise enough and didn't google for ideas despite knowing what she would be tested. She just said this,"I did my best."

And I believe her this time.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Bathroom Reno Journey Starts

I am going to renovate my two toilets. For the sake of sounding more refined, I use 'Bathroom' for my heading.

Hunting for a good contractor is a tedious process.

Usually, I get some contractors or IDs to come down to my place to give me an assessment and an accurate quotation. From there, I can also find out things that I need to do in order to achieve what I want.

I am actually quite keen to get a contractor's contact from the carpenter who did up my study. Although he got the measurements wrong for the the hanging cabinet and my settee which resulted in us not being able to put what we had intended them for, I was pleasantly surprised to hear from a contractor that the workmanship of my book cabinet is good, and the carpenter had indeed charged me at almost cost price for the sliding door. For some reason, I felt comfortable with the carpenter. I just felt that I could trust him not to cheat me or run away with a job half-done. However, he has been very busy and did not get back to me despite reminding him once.

This time round, I sent out a request for reno quotes on Renotalk forum. I received about 16 replies. I have invited some of them to come down to quote me for my toilet jobs. However, I don't have very good feelings with most of them.

So far, I have met up with:

1) Michael from Mix Box
However, I felt that he was more like a contractor. He was not able to suggest anything aesthetic and functional at the same time, but quotation is relatively cheap and quite a nice guy. However, I am not comfortable at the fact that he only wrote out the quotation on paper on the spot. There are quite a few items I had not thought of, and he only wrote down the items he could remember off-hand! When I mentioned water-proofing, he said,"Oh, now you remind me of something I haven't included - water-proofing."

Goodness! That was like a red-light warning to me.

2) Chen Kai from Hoe Heng Interior Construction
A very young guy in his twenties. Relatively inexperienced but rather sincere compared to the other contractors, but very honest in his opinion. I am not sure exactly who is right, but according to him, boxing and tiling up pipes in the toilets are not allowed. However, most other contractors said they are fine.

3) Ken from Edgespace
I was quite keen on meeting him as I saw that the company's website had a few toilet designs that I had in mind.

However, he said that he would email me the quotation - without getting my email address from me!

4) Mr Goh
No namecard. No introduction. A very private and quiet man who looked sad to come to my place. Quite inflexible I thought. He was not able to understand my puzzlement at why certain things had to be done in certain ways.

However, he was the only one who got back to me by smsing me that he had bought my floorplan and would give me a quotation by email soon. Unlike Ken, he got my email address before he left.

5) Mike Tan from Chin Ang or Esprit Interior
A big-tummy guy. I had thought I had good vibes about him.

He was able to advise on the hows and the whats. He was the only one who told me I had to change just about all my pipes to stainless steel. He could also give me an idea of what to do, and where to hang my storage heater. He was the only one who cautioned me against using natural marble as it is porous and sucks up water and any liquid that is placed on it readily.

I was quite ready to hand him the project. However a few things bugged me:

- he arranged a second meeting with me the next morning to show me the designs he would draw up but smsed me at the last minute to tell me that he had a fever.

I gave him the benefit of doubt and agreed to meet the following Monday.

However, he called on Monday and asked if he could come at a later timing, claiming that he was in the eastern part of Singapore for his lorry's repair.

- he called and smsed me the next day after the first meeting, telling me that he had lost his phone, and that that was his new number.

Naturally, I became suspicious. You mean you lost your phone, but still have my number?

- when he called me to schedule for the second meeting, he asked me if I was somebody else. Then suddenly, without any prompting, he asked if I was me!

All these make me highly uncomfortable. They sound like what an unreliable contractor would do. And if I am going to feel so uncomfortable, I would have to let go no matter how cheap or 'reasonable' the charges are.

He is just about the only contractor who follows up very closely. He would sms or call me to check on whether I have made up my mind on who to give the project to.

He arranged for me to view his workmanship after I communicated my worry about poor workmanship to him. We were to meet up at two flats that were half-done last Saturday.

However, something happened again.

He called me in the morning to tell me that the owner of the first flat had chased all his workers out of the flat as he was going to pray to the dieties, so we could not go over.

That made me suspicious: didn't he say that the flat was not completed yet?

But fine, there was still another flat.

Then he called me in the afternoon to tell me that the second flat was handed over to the owner and that the owner had locked it up.

Well, I just said,"Oh ok ..." I was quite sure I was not going to engage him because I had told myself to strike him off the list if he found excuses to prevent me from viewing his workmanship.

But he managed to source for a flat done up about 3 months ago and we viewed the common toilet.

I was not impressed with the grouting. Some of them were white while others were grey, like my kitchen grouting which I had done myself!

And something he said made me very uncomfortable,"This (wall) tile cost $3-something."

I was thinking,"You mean I have to pay more for this tile?"

And it made me reflect on the vague quotation - without specifications, measurements, type of materials used. Although he had told me there was no hidden cost, I don't want to get caught in the situation where I needed to top up because of the vagueness of the quotation.

6) Alan from Aian
Highly recommended by a few Renotalk members. A soft-spoken man, he gave me a quotation a few days after I smsed him a reminder. I am quite keen to engage him as his price is comparable to Mike - without the mirrors and boxing-up of pipes.

7) Mr Lou
A down-to-earth and seemingly honest man recommended by renotalk members. William was impressed that he closed the windows at the platform for us so that the rain did not wet the wood.

However, I was quite worried with the 'miscellaneous jobs' on his quotation and he was quite sure that he would build shower kerbs instead of the drop-down I prefer.

Some other ID firms which gave me quotations without meeting up:

1) Inspire by D'trenzo
The quotation is the highest among everybody's, excluding quite a few things I wanted to do - $13k.

On top of that, the parent company D'trenzo has a bad reputation among the renotalk forummers. So the answer is obvious.

2) Sky Creation
The quotation priced the works at close to $9k, excluding many things I wanted to do.

The quotation came very fast - 90/100 for their efficiency, but the service attitude did not sound great to me,"We can do it for less than $10k - what you had asked for ... Huh? You want us to go down to your place ah? Can you come down to our Ubi showroom tomorrow to see our workmanship? ... You want a quotation ah? Ok lah, later I got time, I do and send to you lah ..."

Haven't even met up, already so ya-ya. I can't imagine what would happen after I pay them a deposit.

3) Andrew from Designer Guys

Also highly recommended by Renotalk forum, we had arranged to meet up, but he had something 'urgent' to attend to and he emailed me a quotation after I specified what I needed to do. Wah ... the highest of them all: $17k for two toilets, without any sanitary ware.

4) Jiawei

Got his contact via a renotalk member whose house is tastefully done. However, his price seemed to be on the high side. He merely mentioned that hacking and tiling would be already more than $4000. And he did not seem to be willing to meet up. I tried arranging the meet-up at least twice and each time he could not make it.

After this arduous journey of trying to find a good contractor, I feel that this industry is quite similar to the photography industry - everything also hush-hush. And worse, it is largely unregulated besides having HDB officers coming down to check if you have done anything 'illegal'. No one is able to help you for poor workmanship, or if the contractor or ID decides to run away with your money and leaving you with undone or half-done jobs.

I always take a long time to think about the designs and colours I want. And I worry alot about whether the contractors would do a good job. After a horrible experience 7 years ago, it is enough to frighten me for a lifetime. The lousy works stay with you for a long time, so I don't want to repeat that awful experience ever again.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Her First Set

She chose pink and blue combi for her first set of braces! I'd preferred her to get just pink, but well, she is a big girl now, and has her own preference, so pink and blue it is!

She had some problems with eating solid food for the first few days, so I got her scallop porridge for her meals. She liked it though, claiming that it was delicious.

It was a good thing that she got used to wearing braces quite fast. She could eat the usual solid food after a few days. However, I need to urge her to brush her teeth after every meal. If not, she will try to get away with not doing it!

Pay the Price for Blogging

I had not been able to post any pictures because apparently, I had used up the "free 1 GB storage" provided by blogger.

Whenever I tried to post an image, a message that reads:

"Whoops! You are out of space. You are currently using 100% of your 1 GB quota for photos. Upgrade storage."

It seems that the photos I post on blogger are stored in a Picasa Web Album. So I went to the Web Album, and deleted some of my photos, thinking that that would free the space up. Surprise, surprise - the photos on my blog got deleted too!

After a lot of emotional and mental struggles, and the attempt to open another blog dedicated to travelling (since the bulk of the images come from there), I finally decided to just purchase the additional storage space for USD 2.45 per month for 25 GB. Sigh! Who says money can't buy happiness? When even $3 is a consideration ('What if I stop working and have problems with the subscription? What if something happens and I need that $3 per month?"), it's misery.

Feel so cheated by blogger lah. I don't remember reading anything about pictures posted having limited storage space and you need to buy the space if it runs out.

Monday, 3 December 2012

A Surprise with an Afterthought

Last night, when we returned from my birthday dinner at Lawry's, a pleasant surprise awaited me in the mailbox.

Coco got an 'Edusave Certificate of Academic Achievement' for 'being in the top 25% in terms of academic performance in the level and course and good conduct in school'.

It is the first time she ever received a certificate like this.

Top 25% in her school.

If you minus the GEP children in the cohort, she would be among the top 22 students in the mainstream.

I can't help but wonder if she would have got this certificate in her other years at school if I had not been a teacher.

Or maybe she was among the top 25% in her school at P1 and P2, or even P3, just that she was penalised for her conduct because I had been, admittedly, quite a 'difficult' parent by most teachers' definition.

Such things are by teachers' recommendation.

She didn't do very well at P4, a supposedly easy year. In fact, she did better at P5, which is 'strange', because most kids' results dip or plummet at that year.

But I was just thinking, if I had not ignored her academic progression, if I had stayed home and supervised her in her studies, if I had not been so stressed up and busy with teaching, could she have been among the top 25% all the time?

I was 'inspired' to take leave from work when an adjunct colleague told me that her children in a neighbourhood school would never have been able to get above 260 for their t-scores if she had not stayed home for their primary school years. Another colleague 'affirmed' this when she took a 3-month break from work and stayed home to 'be there' for her child before PSLE. The child hit 250, enough to get her into one of the better girls' school. The colleague didn't take leave for the second child though, at the request of the child herself. And she didn't do as well as her elder sister.

Time and again, parental involvement, especially the mother, seems to be the key to a child's academic excellence.

I just felt a little melancholic that the fact that we are not well-to-do enough to allow me to stay home for the kids, or my job is not one that allows me to spend time supervising and teaching my own kids. When I work, I basically ignore my own kids, not that I want to, but it is just that busy and preoccupying. I am called 'Ms Efficient' at work, but the amount of work is simply too much.

If 6 months spent with Coco can help her that much, I can imagine how much help I would have been to her if I had stayed home throughout her schooling years.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

An Encounter with the Malaysia Insolvensi

I have always said that Malaysia is my biological parent while Singapore is the foster.

Sometimes, I watch on TV about how a fostered or adopted child desperately seeks out his or her natural parents, just to realise how crass or materialistic the natural parents are, and feels awfully disappointed.

I would tell myself that this would never happen to me. I was, after all, making an analogy about the parentage thing. And for Malaysia to disappoint me? Come on! HA HA HA!

Recently, it happened to me.

My father bought a shophouse as a gift to my mother about 20 or 30 years ago.

He had bought a few properties in his better days. When his business hit a downturn, he sold them off to support his business, except the shophouse for my mother - because my mother refused to sell it for whatever reasons.

My father was sure that he had paid off the bulk of the housing loan, which stood at RM 90k then, but last year, when he tried to get the title deed of the house from the authority after he learnt that the developer went bankrupt and the Malaysia insolvensi took the house back, the lawyer representing him claimed that the authority wanted documentary proof that he had paid for the house. My father is not the most meticulous person where finance is concerned. He did not keep all the receipts he received for paying off the housing loan, but he did not think that was a case for concern. The incompetent lawyer sent in whatever receipts my father could find and came back telling him that he still owed the authority RM 58k.

Enraged, my father refused to pay the RM 58k.

Subsequently, without any written warning, the insolvensi sent two letters terminating my father's contract, stating that the house was now confiscated by the insolvensi! And if my father wanted to get the house back, he would need to pay RM 140k, the market price, instead!

One shock after another.

I spoke to the lawyer's clerk since June this year, because apparently the clerk was handling the matter.

I told her that we were willing to pay cash upfront and we would like to negotiate on the price - to be reduced to RM 110k.

When I called again in September, after the clerk took too long to revert to us, the clerk said that the insolvensi had agreed to it.

About a month ago, we paid the deposit of RM 11k within three days. In fact, we knew about it on Friday and sent the cheque down on Monday. They promised to call us in two weeks' time and we could have the house after paying the remaining sum.

We waited for more than a month.

I called again last week.

What I heard outraged all of us.

The clerk now said that the insolvensi had not cleared the cheque. They received a new bid for the house and that the new bidder was willing to pay more for the house. So if we wanted the house, we had to pay RM 140k, the 'market price'!

My elder sister was sure that it was a property agent's tactic: to show the cheque to potential buyers and ask them for higher bids if they want the property.

My father was upset that the insolvensi did not keep to what they had promised and had refused to issue a black-and-white to confirm the offer.

It totally changed the way I view Malaysia, my biological parent.

Like how those children in the drama serials feel, I am awfully, awfully disappointed. 'Disappointed' is an understatement. I am disheartened, disgusted.

It is clearly a case of corruption.

Could the drama serials a foreshadowing of what I was to experience?

I discussed with my father about the matter and we decided that we would give up the house if they would not sell it back to us at RM 110k.

If they had stood their ground and insisted on selling it at RM 140k at first, we would not have been so agitated. If the price had been non-negotiable, we would have paid the price.

But the insolvensi is behaving like a profitable organisation - whoever bids at a higher price is the keeper.

The house belongs to my mother in the first place.

In fact, they are withholding RM 22k which my father has receipts for to confirm his ownership on the house.

We have already confirmed that we want the house, paid the deposit for it. How can they say that there is no black-and-white to say that they are selling the house to us at RM 110k?!!

And isn't the lawyer our witness? How can a government organisation not honour what it had promised? How can it get away with all these?

You mean the country is lawless ah?

Totally ridiculous! Singapore's authorities will never do this, even if it's just spoken words.

As a child, I had heard from my aunt how corrupted the police were. Our neighbour's son was a police. Every night, when he went back to his police quarter, he and his team-mates would peel open the squashed notes surreptiously, inconspicuously thrust into their hands during their duty in the day, and divide the loot among themselves equally. These notes were also known as 'kopi money' for bribing the police into not taking the offenders to law. Sometimes, the police extorted money outrightly from locals or Singaporeans who drove Singapore cars in by threatening to charge them for an offence they did not commit.

Eventually, the acts pricked his conscience and the neighbour's son decided that he had had enough, and quit the job.

Like most other children, I naively asked my aunt,"Then why didn't he stop collecting the bribes? He could continue to be a police - an upright one!"

She replied,"Then the rest of his team-mates would wallop him, thinking that he wanted the bribes all for himself."

I had thought that such dark corruption would have ceased in this day and time.

Apparently, such practices are too rife, too rampant, too uncontrollable, such that even in this modern time, the government appears to give consent to them.

Like a wife who's betrayed by her husband, disgust and shock overwhelmed me.

I feel so stupid and lame to have stopped my brother in converting to being a Singaporean. What has Malaysia got to offer for us to retain our citizenship? Any faith I have in its governance is completely shattered by my encounter with the insolvensi, which is supposed to deal with bankruptcy. How ironical it is for such authority to want to take advantage of the situation!

The inefficiency, the ineffectiveness, the inability to converse or exchange in a global language - I reserve my judgement on these. But blatant corruption? I have nothing but an f-word for it.

Twisted Ankle

When I first saw a thread on a forum titled 'Twisted ankle', I thought it was just a case of bad English, until I experienced it myself.

'Twisted' is right.

About 3 weeks into the school term earlier this year, I was in the school hall getting ready for the flag-raising ceremony when my Science boss asked me for a document.

Boss: Do you have the (document) with you?

Me: Oh, it's not with me right now ... er ... (I think) it's at my cubicle. Do you need it now?

Boss: Yes. Is it on your table? I'll go and get it.

Me: (Not so sure, worried about Boss not able to find at my messy table and watching the time for flag-raising) Oh, no no no. I'll go get it.

Boss: No no no ... it's ok. I'll get it.

Me: No no no, I'll get it ... Ow!!! ...

It sounds comical and funny when I recount what happened to my friends and family, but the pain wasn't.

I twisted my ankle when I was making my way out from the hall. I did not see the drop from the hall's timber-strip flooring to the corridor's concrete walkway. And the fact that I was wearing heels didn't help.

The pain was acute. I froze for a minute. 

After that, I limped for the rest of the day, and a few days after.

The doctor gave me one or two days' mc and some painkillers and pills for reducing swelling.

I thought: give it a week or two and see how.

There was a slight but persistent pain on the ankle after that, which caused me to continue to limp. I thought: give it a month or two and see how.

It got a little better, but the pain comes back in the morning. In the afternoon, it gets better but on and off, the pain comes back to haunt me.

After PSLE and I had more time on my hand, I went to see a renowned Chinese physician, Cha Heng Choy, who has a PHD in what he does, highly recommended by my school gardener and netizens.

He said that it's an injured ligament. After 7 sessions of massaging or 'tui na' of my ankle, sometimes causing swelling because he rubbed very hard on it, it didn't get better still. In fact, after spending $210 on the massaging, I think it got worse. The pain was more frequent.

So I went to the polyclinic yesterday, waited for 4 hours for consultation, and 1 more for x-ray review, hoping to get a doctor's confirmation that I was being paranoid, and that it would just take a slightly longer time to heal.

The doctor suspected that it was an injured ligament, but the x-ray showed that there was a blurred area in my joint at the ankle. The doctor was not able to tell me much, except that there was a 'defect' at the ankle joint, and referred me to a specialist at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

What a depressing present to receive on my birthday! I felt like crying.

I asked if a surgery would be necessary, but the doctor was not able to advise me much. She said 'sometimes, physiotherapy is enough'. I think she was just trying to make me feel better.

I am quite worried that I can't wear heels when school reopens. I am going back to work and I don't want to look like I need 'special' treatment for whatever reasons.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Mixed Feelings

I had always thought that whatever feelings parents have for the t-scores begin and end on the day the result is released.

My first experience with PSLE tells me that the 't-score effect' continues to last through the week after the release. It could possibly last through Christmas and even Chinese New Year when we meet relatives and friends.

William was sharing with me how he had gone to the nearby coffeeshop to buy his lunch when he met a parent of a child he had tutored. Even before he said anything, she told him she already know Coco's t-score.

While we are relieved that Coco has passed the mark of her school of choice, we are very aware that most parents are having a hard time coming to terms with unexpected results. If those who score 250 and above are the top ten percent of the cohort, then there are about 70 to 80% of the children or/and parents who have not got their expected results.

I know of parents who are overjoyed that their children did not fail PSLE, meaning the children get to go to Normal (Technical). Some others are happy that their children made it to the Express stream, and still others are glad that their children could go to Normal (Academic).

Most of these parents do not impose high expectations on their children. Usually, they just want their children to do a grade better than what they do in school. A child who had consistently scored 30/100 for Maths managed to get a B at PSLE. I am sure the mother would have felt immensely relieved and ecstatic. A child who had consistently got 50/100 for English managed a B at PSLE. I have no doubt the mother would be all smiles.

Most people would focus on the 'Highest aggregate score this year: 285' and think about how far their children are from the score, and who this child could possibly be. Few would think about the 'Lowest aggregate score this year: 43' and who the child could be.

I am not sure how the child getting the lowest t-score islandwide feels about his results, but it's highly likely that he already know that he would not make it before he took PSLE.

Such a child would have:
- failed all his exams, consistently, throughout his school life
- got U grade (below 20 marks) for all his subjects
- nil parental support
- nil tuition
- not studied for PSLE
- been likely a Foundation stream student

It may sound ridiculous but there are children who are not able to read at P5 and there are some who can only read 'a' and 'the' in a sentence.

There are children who cannot write at P6. I have seen my fair share of poor writings, but William told me he once read a script at an official exam which had 'A boy is a man, a man is a boy, a boy is a man, a man is a boy ...' for the whole piece of writing.

Indeed, our education system has lost these children. They slip through the holes in the system and get 'promoted' to P6 regardless of their results, and get streamed into Foundation.

After the results are released, they are retained for a year and get to try at PSLE again. Then they fail again, and are asked to go to Northlight or other institutions for students who fail PSLE twice.

It is likely that these children are from neighbourhood schools. Is it because the teachers at neighbourhood schools are less competent?

My question then would be: Are not all teachers trained by the same institution?

My take on the seemingly wide gap between teachers in neighbourhood schools and 'good' schools is that: teachers in good schools are given time to teach, reflect on their own teaching and create customised resources for their own students.

Teachers in neighbourhood schools do not have this 'privilege'. They are expected to develop children, in my opinion, more holistically than the good schools' children, to make up for the shortfall in the academic performance. And to do this, they need to turn themselves into event planners, event managers, dance instructors, story-telling trainers, scriptwriters, decorators ... I am not sure how much of these do the teachers in good schools do, but you can be sure these adhoc roles take up a huge amount of time and energy.

Teachers are only human beings. When you keep them in school for 10 to 12 hours every day for meaningless meetings and workshops that achieve little, something has to give. And if teaching is at the bottom of the list to be appraised, you can be sure teaching well would be the last thing on the teachers' mind.

From what I have seen and experienced in Coco's school, the teachers do have alot more support from parents ie. from running events to supporting the academic programmes at home. When they need help, they write a letter or email to request for support, and most of the time, support pours in. They in turn become better and more motivated teachers. Yes, over the years, they do become 'better' teachers than the neighbourhood school ones.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

While we celebrate ...

The wait is finally over. Coco got 252 for her T-score.

William had asked Coco to let him look at her result first, even before she did. So she took her result slip, walked out of the classroom and obediently handed it to William.

William opened it carefully. With a frown and a hint of smile, he closed it, and opened it again before he gave it to us.

When I saw the score '252', the only word I could utter was Coco's name. Almost immediately, tears welled up in my eyes - for all the time and effort we had put in, for all the expectations and dreams we had for her, for all the frustrations, fears and stress that we had gone through, for all the months of salary that I had given up, for all the sleepless nights and nightmares that I had for the past one year. I cried. And cried. I didn't care if other parents saw me cry. My hands holding the result slip went numb. For the first time, I understood why Miss Universe always cry when they win the title. For the first time, I understood what people mean when they say 'it feels so surreal'.

Gratitudes overwhelmed me.

I don't care what the rest of the world get. Coco's class average T-score is 250. Her school has more than 30 students who got 270 and above. I only needed her to get 248 + Merit for Higher Chinese. And she got 252 + Merit.

I am grateful.

I am grateful to my principal who granted me no-pay leave at very short notice because I was stressed out by the guilt of not being there for Coco when she needed me most.

I am grateful to the mothers on kiasuparents who had generously shared their strategies for various subjects, especially the one on composition-writing. For all the years of teacher that I was, I could not break composition-writing down as well as she did. And she is not a teacher!

I am grateful to Coco's teachers who continuously set high standards for the children and paved the way for the children to achieve such results. Who says that brand-name schools are only about 'brands'? Who says that top schools push all the teachings to the tuition centres and private tutors? I can see for myself that the teachers had worked very hard at leveraging on the children's ability. They churned out worksheets tailored to the children's ability. The worksheets given were of good quality. The sample compositions given were almost-full-marks quality to show how the children should write at PSLE.

The teachers communicated honestly their feedback with the parents. When the Science teacher saw that Coco was consistently in the B range for Science, he told me that he was 'very worried' for her and that the school expected at least an A from her class. The English teacher told Coco that she was a 'potential A-star' pupil for English, making no promises that she definitely would be. The Chinese teacher said that Coco could get an A-star for Chinese if she continued to put in effort and improved along the way. The only teacher I did not get enough feedback from was her Maths teacher but I knew that Coco was a borderline-A for Maths.

I am grateful that William had put in alot of time and effort to coach Coco for Maths and Science. He probably worked harder than I did because he taught her the subjects consistently for ten months every Saturday and Sunday. He even found a studious girl to study together with her so that Coco could be motivated by a more hardworking girl.

Above all, I am grateful that prayer really changes things. We prayed alot over Coco's PSLE. Before she went for the exams, I prayed for peace of mind, intelligence and ability to remember whatever she had learnt or memorised. During the exams, I prayed at home that she could finish her papers and could recall what she had learnt and apply them accordingly. After the exams, I prayed that she would get lenient or enlightened markers who could see things her way. Even before the release of the results, I prayed and fasted for them. I still believed that God is a God of miracles even if the results had been printed.

We had not been faithful in going to church. In fact, we skipped church for almost the whole year because Coco had her tuition with William on Sundays. But God is faithful even when we are faithless.

Coco's PSLE results mean alot to us.

1) We are teachers by training. Even though both of us did not verbalise it, we know within ourselves that we need recognition that our teaching works, and her results are a reflection of our teaching.

She didn't receive Chinese tuition at all. Although I had always been a distinction student for Chinese, I was not sure if the way I taught her could work. So if she had done badly or even get an A for Chinese, I would have doubts with my own Chinese standard. By getting an A* for it, she affirms me that I did the right thing with her.

Although she goes for English enrichment, it hadn't really had an evident impact on her English result since P4. Her composition writing was still languishing in the 20s. With the enrichment centre's resources and the kiasuparents forum's mother's formula of teaching writing, I managed to get her to write in the way her teacher wanted and she was just reaching 30 or 31 out of 40, but I was hoping that it would be sufficient to hit at least a mid-30 at PSLE, and I guess it did, to bag her an A* for English as well.

The only tuition she received for Maths and Science was from William. It meant alot to William that she did well in them. He would receive sneers and jeers if Coco had got a B for either of them. I am sure he was hoping for an A* for the subjects but we are just glad that whatever her grades, her score was a good one.

2) We have invested alot of time, effort and money on Coco's PSLE.

I have taken no-pay leave and given up my pay and bonuses for her PSLE. William could have used the time he coached Coco to have a few more classes and earned more money. For this PSLE, we have sacrificed tangibly and intangibly.

We would have been sorely disappointed if she did not do well enough to get into a good girls' school.

We may say that how others look at us does not matter, but we did have this fear that we would be laughed at - by colleagues who might think that my no-pay leave had not been worth it, by my parents and sisters who had advised me not to take no-pay leave as a student's attitude is the determining factor in her studies, by friends and people we know who said that travelling so far to a brand-name school is silly and in vain. And we know that the laughing-at would last for a long time.

For all the vile effects and impacts I have listed, there are many parents out there experiencing them because their child did not do well.

PSLE is such a high-stake exam. Not just for the next milestone in a child's academic journey, but the comments and the looks that others give you which probably mean more.

It breaks my heart to see a crushed child being half-carried away by his brow-knitted father out of the school quickly upon receiving the results. The father was protecting his child from the happy crowd which was celebrating their children's good results, literally, emotionally, spritually. I was too selfish and wicked to show my emotions when I saw Coco's score.

The mothers on kiasuparents forum shared how crushed they felt when their children did not do well. They cried in their own room while their children cried in theirs. They doubt themselves, doubt their methods of training their children for PSLE. They have to think up alternative schools for their children. They think about how to appeal to their school of choice.

It's not easy. PSLE is so high-stake that, I dare say, every parent who is academically-aware treats it as a be-all-and-end-all, no matter what the Prime Minister says on his facebook.

Just like what William told Coco the night before the results were released,"It's not the end of the world if you don't do well. Study hard when you get into secondary school."

Coco asked,"Then why did you tell me it's the end of the world if I don't do well (before PSLE)?"

They are only twelve.

We know and we know that this is 'only' one exam in their life, but the system has made it such that this 'one exam' is an all-important one, such that it either paves the way for your future or makes the course ahead more challenging.

If I never had a child, I certainly would factor PSLE in as a consideration before I get pregnant. Up till now, I deem it as the most stressful thing in parenting.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

SSDC Review

Just thought I could give a review on SSDC (Singapore Safety Driving Centre).

I used to google for 'Woodlands Driving School' for SSDC thinking that it is the layman way of calling it. Even when I took a cab to the school, I said it that way and the cab drivers understood it perfectly.

It was not until I called up the school to enquire about something that I realised that 'Woodlands Driving School' was actually a small private driving school, located at the overhead bridge opposite Admiralty MRT Station! I had walked past it every day for at least a month without realising it!

Length of time I took for:

Basic Theory Test

I signed up as a student since November 2011 and the test was in January 2012. During this time, I went for two compulsory theory lessons and sat for 6 consecutive practices prior to the test.

The practice questions were just about what came out in the test, so it was easy to have a perfect score within 5 or 6 minutes during the test.

Final Theory Test

The test was booked immediately after my BTT and I waited for 3 months, till April 2012, before I could take it. I should have started my practical lessons in January but I wanted to make sure I could pass the Final Theory Test first, for the technophobic that I am and the fact that William and my elder sister told me I could never make it for the FTT. I didn't want to waste money on practicals if I could not pass the FTT.

Same thing. I went for two compulsory theory lessons and 4 practices. And passed with perfect score within 5 to 6 minutes again.

Practical Lessons

The manual car practical lessons have to be booked at least 3 weeks in advance. Auto car lessons are thereabout, if not 1 or 2 weeks more.

On and off, you could check the website to see if anyone has given up his date nearer to the date that you want. If there is, you have to give up your original date and book it immediately, lest it gets snapped up again. I think Manual car practical lessons have fewer give-ups compared to Auto car, not that I have a lot of experiences with Auto car practicals though. But I do believe there are a bit more people learning Auto cars, so by the law of large number, there are more give-ups of the dates compared to Manual.

The driving instructors are mostly competent and patient. They have a sticker on their passenger dashboard that reads

to remind themselves not to lose temper or get impatient with the students.

The training cars have rear view mirror and a foot brake at the passenger seat for the instructors to help look out for mistakes and brake in time should the students be at risk of causing an accident.  

The instructors are very willing to explain whenever you are in doubt. They are willing to practise what you are weak in, over and over again. Of course, the skeptical ones will say 'it's so that they can make you spend more time and money in booking the lessons', but my objective was to learn it right, and pass the test.  

They give practical tips on how to clear the courses:  

Crank course: turn at the kerb once it passes the underside of the side mirror or if you are small-sized like me, when it passes the end of the car handle.  

S course: keep the windscreen pillar at the centre of the road to ensure that your car is always in the centre  

Directional change: make sure the car is in the centre of the road and allow the side mirror to go over the front kerb by just a little bit before you do the course. When turning into the lot, do a full-lock to the right to get the car in. Reverse till the side mirror covers the kerb.   When getting out, turn left immediately when the right side mirror passes the kerb.  

Vertical parking: keep to the right side of the lane (without stepping on the white line) till the white line meets the GPS reader. Advance to the point where you can see the leftmost inner kerb lying on top on the car sticker at the left rear window. Do a full-lock to the left and reverse slowly and pay attention to the left rear wheel.  

If the left rear wheel is too near (about to hit) to the kerb, steer one round, or two rounds to the right to clear the kerb. If the left rear wheel is too far from the kerb, stop the car, advance forward as you turn to the right to close the gap, and straighten the car before you reverse it by full-locking to the left again.  

I took a long time to learn vertical parking because I could not grasp what 'too near to the kerb' meant. And I had to memorise the corrective actions: If too near, turn one round to the right while reversing; If too far, go forward and straighten the car first. It is a formula to me.  

Parallel parking: keep to the centre of the lane - the white line would be under the pillar of the windscreen. Advance to the point where you can see the front inner kerb from the left rear window. Then turn one round to reverse into the lot. When the kerb is cleared, reverse to the point where your right rear wheel touches the yellow line of the lot (which indicates the side of the lot). When it reaches the yellow line, turn one round to the right immediately. After that, keep reversing until the mud flap goes above the kerb at the back. Now the car is in the lot, except that it is slanted. To get it straightened, turn full-lock to the left and advance slowly. Then turn two rounds back to straighten the wheels. After that, reverse the car till the kerb at the back meets the centre of the mud flap and you are in the centre of the lot.  

I never had a problem with parallel parking because it is a set of formula and I was able to move the car super slow.

Some people had problems with coordination with turning the steering wheel and stepping on the accelerator. They tend to turn slowly and step lightly, or turn quickly and step hard on the accelerator. So the instructor would advise them to turn the wheels when the car is stationary. The instructor's rationale: it is better to lose 2 points by turning the wheels when stationary than lose 10 points by hitting the kerb or risk immediate failure by mounting the kerb.  

I have met about 3 in my entire experience at the centre that I deem as not-so-competent. The first one did not know how to explain why it was vital to check mirrors, the other two only chit-chatted with me throughout the driving lesson.

The good ones observe your mistakes and correct them immediately. A senior instructor told me,"Don't just follow what the instructors tell you. You must know what you are doing. If not by the time you go home, your brain is empty."

I went for the driving lessons every day on weekdays ie. Monday to Friday starting from 10 April and I completed all my subjects at the end of May.

Driving Test

Each wait for a driving test was about 3 months. That means that you need to spend some money on revision lessons closer to the driving test date so that you don't get rusty on driving.

I had booked both my tests on Wednesdays, not because I liked Wednesday. It just so happened that the dates fell on Wednesdays. I booked the revision lessons on consecutive weekdays just before the test date, including one just before the test so that I was more seasoned at driving. The centre includes one 'warm-up session' right before the test for you to familiarise yourself with the test car ie. to familiarise yourself with the biting point, to adjust the seat and mirrors to your preference before the test. The 'warm-up' instructor would take you on the circuit and a test route once, after which he would lead you back to the waiting room to wait for the tester.

Price to pay

In all, I spent about $2000 on the 30 lessons (mostly off-peak charges), spent close to $800 for the 8 revision lessons and the first test, and another $700 on the 6 revision lessons and the second test. About $3500 in all.

For a technophobic who needs clear instructions, step-by-step lessons and practical tips to learn driving, I think the centre worked for me. Rather than going to private instructors which requires a lot of online reading-up and taking the risk of meeting irresponsible ones, I think I made the right choice in going to a centre.

'Poor men pay twice'. I'd rather go the conventional route and pay more than have doubts if I was learning the correct stuff from private instructors. Besides, as students of the centre, we get to use the circuit every lesson. That to me is very important, because when you clear the circuit with zero demerit points, it boosts your confidence and you have a very high chance in passing the driving test since you would have 18 points allowance for the road-driving.

Thursday, 15 November 2012


I was googling for a solution to Coco's friendship problem when I came across an article about How to deal with mean girls cliques.

I was surprised to read that mean girls cliques are common just about everywhere, any country. Many mothers shared in their comments that their daughters were facing hostile treatment by girls' cliques. One thing was striking across the sharing: their daughters were good-looking or good in studies or something else. It appears that their daughters were ostracised because other girls were jealous of them.

When my sister was looking through a new stack of pictures I had recently developed, she saw Coco and her friends among the photographs and casually commented that Coco was the best-looking among them and said that her friends could have been jealous of her.

I took a second look at the pictures. Yeah, she IS the best-looking girl among those girls. One of the girls had actually remarked to Coco,"You do know you are ugly, right?" and hurt her very much.

For me, a statement from the articles I had surfed stood out well and strong:

Girls with low self-esteem will go around forming toxic relationships their entire life.

Mothers who shared in the Comment section are anxious that their daughters were ostracised because they knew that such alienation and ostracisation would affect their daughter's self-esteem. So do I.

The statement made me reflect on my own life.

Low self-esteem indeed makes you do a lot of stupid things, makes you believe that you don't deserve the good things, good people, relationships ...

When I was young, I never thought that I could get into a university. I 'knew' I was too stupid to do well in studies.

But when Coco came along, I told myself that getting a degree is imperative. Without it, I would never be able to give her a decent life, not to mention a good one. With what I deemed as supernatural intervention, for the criteria of NIE entry to be brought down solely for General Paper - from the previously required A2 to B3, while 'O' level English was brought up from B4 to B3, I could apply for the degree programme and got in quite effortlessly.

And I put in a lot of hard work for the degree. I sat through 9 hours straight at the computer to do up a 4-person project which undoubtedly got us an excellent grade. I started on my assignments the moment I received them. I was just very grateful that I was given a chance at studying again, and a degree programme at that.

Prior to the exams, I looked through the past year papers and sussed out the possible questions and topics. I ditched all the 'you cannot memorise' advice and memorised like hell. I believe too much in the 'you cannot memorise' rubbish since primary school and look at the kind of rubbish results I got all my life!

And I got what I wanted. A good degree that could give me a decent paycheque in teaching, my childhood ambition, except that it came really late - ten years after my peers who have decent self-esteem done it.


I was told I was stupid and slow since a young age. I could never grasp what others could in a heartbeat. When my sisters were asking my father about how to make a car move, I was disinterested, thinking that I could never understand what the gear does.

When my siblings got their driving license, I still could not picture myself driving. It did not help that I am a technophobic. I have this strange fear when I first come into contact with a new machine, that I may cause it to break down or explode. I still have great fear of the stove or microwave oven exploding whenever I use them, every single time. I imagine how I would dash to the sink or washing area to douse the flame if a combustion occurred.

I told myself I could never drive. In any case, my family told me I could never pass the driving test.

But my father's eyesight is failing. He is getting frail. One day, he will no longer be able to drive me or Coco. It suddenly dawned on me that it is my turn to drive him and getting a license is imperative. It is no longer a choice for me.

So I put my mind to it, and today I am a licensed driver. Not a proficient one yet, but a licensed one nevertheless, and I did it 18 years later than most people.


When I was in church, I told myself that the guys in church are 'too good' for me. When I met nice and good guys in school or outside, I told myself that I didn't deserve 'good guys'. In the end, I ended up with bastards and jerks. And I wondered why! 'Toxic relationships', indeed.

An ex-colleague told me that she was reading 'The Secret' and it said that everything that we are is what we have always wanted for ourselves. And she thought how true it was. She was often lamenting why things turn out this and that way for her but it struck her that she had subconsciously asked for them.

How true!

And all these, I have no doubt, are a result of our self-esteem.

Low self-esteem gives a girl nothing but pain. Yet the pain comes from the girl herself. Ironic and painful. With low self-esteem comes low self-worth. Low self-worth makes you think that you don't deserve something better.

It stems from childhood. We don't grow out of it if it is never dealt with.

Building self-esteem

A video at the end of the article gives some tips at 'How to boost your child's self-esteem':

1) Listen to your child
2) Give constructive criticism
3) Encourage independence and decision-making ie. allow the child to help out in the kitchen, trust the child to drive the family's car
4) Encourage creativity ie. allow the child to explore what they like to do or have a talent in doing eg. music, art, sports
5) Be a good role model ie. show the child how to stand up to bullying and how to find worth among family and friends

I am guilty of not consistently doing (1) to (4). The only thing I ever did for Coco was (5). For the weakling that I always had been, I braced myself to stand up to unfair treatment especially when I had Coco with me. Surprisingly, it did not quite rub off on her. Sometimes when she was given the wrong thing for which she had paid for, she would not dare to return to the shop and ask to have the stuff that she had paid for. I would go back with her and do it for her on her behalf.

Hope floats though. Just yesterday, she bought some vegetarian bee hoon and the stallholder took $1.15 from her when the bee hoon cost $1. I told her to tell the stallholder that he should give $0.15 back to her instead. It took her some hesitation and courage, but she did it anyway.

When she went to buy some milk at a 7-Eleven store shortly after, the cashier told her the milk cost $2.50 and took $2.60 from her. She was surprised and told the cashier that she had charged her $2.60 instead of the said $2.50. The cashier was a little taken aback but she quickly apologised and clarified that the milk cost $2.60.

Courage is not the easiest thing to build, but it is the first step to constructing good self-esteem.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

My First Driving Test

My first attempt was a wrecky, miserable failure which accummulated 30 demerit points with 1 immediate failure (mounted kerb).

It was 8 August, 11 am. I had timed it well - auspicious date (8/8), a day before National Day, a public holiday, so that the tester would be in a good or holiday mood; best timing as advised by my last driving instructor as it was supposed to have the least traffic during that period.

I told my sisters, parents, some friends about the test. They wished me lots of 'good luck'.

I wanted so badly to pass at the first attempt because my third sister, brother-in-law and brother had passed at the first attempt. I wanted to prove everyone who had laughed at me and 'prophesied' that I could never pass a driving test wrong very badly. And each time I return for revision lessons and driving test/s, it cost me another $700 to $800. On top of that, time was not on my side. I knew I would not have the luxury of time to learn driving when I return to teaching next year.

There was a lot of expectations and pressure from myself to pass at the first attempt.

But for some reason, I did not think that the tester wanted to pass me. It was the look in his eyes. The moment he met me, he asked,"First time?"

During the test, when I was doing parallel parking, he commented,"It's not parallel yet." when I was still adjusting my position; when I was doing directional change and reversing into the lot, he said,"Go in, go in." as if I was not reversing at all. Driving instructors had warned me against testers' telling or teaching you what to do as testers usually keep quiet as you go about your test except giving instructions on what to do. As I turned left to a straight route after completing my parallel parking, I mounted the kerb. And I knew I failed the test. After that, I went on to accummulate even more demerit points, especially when on the road.

He asked me to lane-change during heavy traffic. Suddenly, I saw all types of vehicles on the road - motorcycles, vans, cars ... ... I felt so deceived! What 'least traffic'? Never had I lane-changed under such heavy traffic condition!

So, my takeaway from my first attempt at the driving test are:

- if the tester had meant to fail you, you will fail;
- nevermind what timing it is. If the tester had meant to make things difficult for you, he will find a very busy road for you, especially at cross-road junction, to lane-change;
- you need a lot of luck - good ones - to meet a kind tester.

William and my driving instructors did tell me that the testers would fail you if they think you are not confident. I thought it ridiculous since there would be a set of rubrics or checklist to benchmark how you drive against it and they cannot fail you just because they feel or think negatively of you.

But they are really right. Testers can always give you demerit points for not checking blindspots and not doing safety checks at the drop of the hat. One safety check indicated by the turning of head would constitute 4 points. It is so easy to chalk up 18 points!

I had felt depressed after I failed my driving test. I told my family and friends that I would like to give up learning driving since it was not meant to be. My family members who took the driving test in Singapore passed at the first attempt, and I could not do it. So they were right about me not being able to pass a driving test ever.

But strangely, this time round, everyone encouraged me to do it again!

My brother said,"My colleagues only passed at *can't remember* attempt."
My third sister said,"It is not common to pass at the first attempt. Most people don't pass at the first attempt."
My fifth sister said,"Our third sister has a biking license, so it's easier for her to pass at first attempt."
My elder sister said,"You are crazy not to continue! Spending a few thousands on getting an experience for learning driving is too expensive!"
My father said,"You should try again. If not, it would be a waste of money."

All of them wore a shocked look as they dished out their 'encouragement'.

If you know my family, including William, you would know that the only words that come out of their mouth are "You will fail one lah!" "You look ugly!" "You are stupid!" "You can't do it!"

So I grudgingly signed up for another driving test and instead of 8 revision lessons which I had done for my first driving test, I decided to do just 6, just to show that I did 'put in effort' for it.

I chose the very next test date and an 11.45 am slot, a timing close to lunch time. But I thought: if the tester wants to fail you, you can choose a 12 am slot and he will still be able to find you an ultra-heavy traffic road for you to lane-change.

The first day I returned for my revision lesson, I saw a test car doing parallel parking. The car was in the lot already, but the tester was standing between the car and the kerb to, possibly, see if the car was in the centre of the lot. Then he went to the back of the car, and stood on top of the kerb, and said something. The car moved backward and hit the kerb. Undoubtedly, 10 demerit points would be deducted for striking kerb.

I thought that was a very mean tester, but that was not within our control. As what my mother said,"Keep trying. You can't have bad luck all the time." Yeah, but my question is: when will the good luck occur leh? 2nd time? 3rd time? 8th time? or 100th time?

I Passed!

I went for my second attempt at the driving test yesterday. And I passed, with a mere 6 demerit points!

The tester didn't even go through my mistakes with me at the waiting room after the test. He handed me the assessment slip and said,"You passed. Go to 4th level to watch a video."

'Overjoyed' is an understatement. I couldn't help but smiled and smiled and smiled.

The receptionist commended me as she returned me my result slip,"You are very good. So less points. Some people 8 times already still more than 50 points!"

This time round, the tester was an old, kind-looking man.

He was quiet throughout the test except giving instructions on where to go.

I breathed heavily to try to calm my nerves, almost throughout the test.

As I was about to move off at the start of the test, I realised that the car did not budge despite me stepping on the accelerator and lifting the clutch.

Then I realised I have not changed the gear from its 'free' position and released the handbrake!

I told myself that's at most 2 points off, or even zero, since it was the first time I made the mistake.

But I think the tester put it down as 'insufficient acceleration' which constituted 4 points.

It helped that I thought it was only 2 points. If I had known he had knocked off 4 points, I might panic, again.

Everything else was smooth and good.

Earlier on during the last revision lesson, I mounted kerb on the crank course twice. The instructor was so nice. He told me to allow the kerb to go past the handle before turning and that worked beautifully for me.

Upon returning to the centre, as I drove back to the waiting room, I saw the '!' sign on the board. I was shocked, knowing that something was not right. Terms like 'handbrake', 'seatbelt', 'clutch', 'brake' rushed through my mind, but I decided not to do anything and pretended all was alright. I did not want to show the tester that I did not even know what the sign meant.

This time round, the tester did not make me lane-change under heavy traffic condition, and he took me to a proper test route! So my hunch was right: if the tester means to fail you, he will take you to a heavy traffic area to do lane-change.

I am a worry wart and a nervous wreck. Practicals are far more challenging for me than an average person. My hands turn cold involuntarily, goosebumps rise on me all over and my stomach churns when nearing test time. I would need to go to the toilet, and something solid would really come out. In the days that lead up to the actual assessment, I would suffer insomnia.

How did I go through it all afraid and nervous? I read sad stuff that made me feel depressed or pensive. I read an article 'liked' by a friend about how the writer's lumberjack father was frustrated by his failing body. It calmed me and made me think that there is more to life than a driving test. And even if I don't pass the test, forever and ever, it is not as if I am handicapped or paralysed. I got nothing to lose, except money and time invested in the driving lessons.

It was not easy, still. I was still nervous when the tester sat beside me. So I breathed heavily. Doesn't matter that the tester know I am nervous. Know lor. Fail, fail lor. Not like I never fail before.

So I think feeling depressed and pessimistic about myself passing helped. Of course, at the back of my mind, I knew that if I failed again, I might not have the time to do it again, but I just had to tell myself that not knowing how to drive was okay. Anyway, I was deemed by the whole world not to be able to drive ever, for the technophobic that I am.

Oh oh, and for my second attempt, I did not tell anyone except William about it, until I passed it - an advice given by my third sister. Her exact words: Next time, don't tell anyone about it.

That really helped!

Friday, 2 November 2012

Baby's First Concert

Baby's kindergarten had a graduation ceremony and concert for the K2 graduands a fortnight ago.

 Parents of the graduands were busy taking pictures of their little ones
 Then I spotted Baby! She had told us that she was the 'flower girl', but we did not really know what she meant. We had guessed that she was to present flowers to the VIP or Guest of Honour, but I was skeptical about her being the 'selected one'. And there she was, sitting among the emcees.

 The steps were huge. She needed a little help to get her up on stage.
 And she presented the gift to the pastor who gave a speech prior to the ceremony
 She and her class performed an item, Victory Chant
 The children chuckled, amused to see themselves on the screen as they turned to return to the backstage. The audience laughed to see such pure innocence.

 And that's my nephew in another dance item
 All nursery and kindergarten classes performed, except the graduating classes

 Enthusiastic parents taking pictures of their babies' performance

A buffet awaited the hungry crowd after the concert. And I was just contented to have a picture with my baby.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

A Memorable Memorial

I was flipping the newspapers a few days ago when I came across the obituary above.

I don't have special interest in obituaries, but ever since my younger sister told me that she chanced upon her primary school classmate's obituary when she was in secondary school, I would sometimes glance through the page just to see if there are familiar faces. Thankfully, so far I don't remember seeing faces of people I once know. But from time to time, I sigh at the uncertainty of life. Many faces look too young to be on that page.

This obituary is particularly interesting because it is dedicated by a class of doctors. And the deceased looks kind of handsome, and young.

I wondered what he had done to have his coursemates to dedicate a considerable size of obituary to him, but since they are a class of doctors and are supposed to have better judgment than the average Joe, I thought this Dr Richard Teo must have done something memorable in his lifetime.

A couple of days later, a friend shared a link about him on Facebook. It is about a proud and intelligent man who had relentlessly pursued wealth and success, just to realise that he had stage-4 cancer in his prime, and eventually gave his heart back to God before he was called home to be with Him. It sounds like stories in those little Christian comic booklets which seem too good to be true, but it really happened to an earthly man right here in Singapore!

Just in case it disappears some time later, I post his transcript here:

Below is the transcript of the talk of Dr. Richard Teo, who was a 40-year-old millionaire and cosmetic surgeon with a stage-4 lung cancer, sharing at a Dental Christian Fellowship Meeting. He would have liked to share this with you too.


Hi good morning to all of you. My voice is a bit hoarse from the chemotherapy, so please bear with me. I thought I'll just introduce myself. My name is Richard, I’m a friend of Danny’s, who invited me here.

I’d just begin to say that I’m a typical product of today’s society. Before this, I was talking about how the media influences us etc. So I’m a typical product of what the media portrays. From young, I’ve always been under the influence and impression that to be happy, is to be successful. And to be successful, is to be wealthy. So I led my life according to this motto.

Coming from a poor average family, back in those days, I was highly competitive, whether in sports, studies, leadership. I wanted it all. I’ve been there, done that. But at the end of the day, it’s still about money.

So in my recent last years, I was a trainee in ophthalmology, but I was getting impatient, cos I had friends of mine who were going out into private practise, making tonnes of money. And there I was, stuck in a traineeship. So I said, ‘Enough, it’s getting too long.’ At that time, there was a surge in protégés of aesthetic medicine. I’m sure you’re aware, aesthetic medicine had peaked over the last few years, and I saw good money in there. So much so that I said, ‘Forget about ophthalmology, I’m gonna do aesthetic medicine.’ So that’s what I did.

The truth is, nobody makes heroes out of the average GP in the neighbourhood. They don't. They make heroes out of rich celebrities, politicians, rich and famous people. So I wanted to be one of these. I dived straight into aesthetic medicine. People were not willing to pay when I was doing locum back in those days. Anything more than $30, they would complain that “Wah, this lo kun (doctor) jing qwee (very expensive)”. They made noise and they were not happy. But the same people were willing to pay $10 000 for a liposuction. So I said, ‘Well, let’s stop healing the sick, I’m gonna become a beautician; a medically-trained beautician.’

And that was what I did – liposuction, breast augmentation, eyelid surgeries, you name it, we do it. It was very good money. My clinic, when we started off, waiting time was 1 week; 1 month; became 2 months; became 3 months. There was so much demand that people were literally queuing up to have aesthetic work done on them. Vain women – easy life!

So the clinic grew. I was so overwhelmed, from 1 doctor, I employed 2, then 3, then 4 doctors, and carried on. Nothing is ever enough. I wanted more and more and more. So much so that we set up shop in Indonesia to lure all the Indonesian tai tai’s. We set up shop, set up a team of people there, to get more Indonesian patients to come in.

So, things were doing well. I’m there, my time has arrived.

Around some time in February last year, I said, ‘OK, I have so much spare cash, it’s time to get my first Ferrari. So there I was, getting ready for the deposit. ‘OK! There comes my first Ferrari!’ I was looking for land, to share with some of my friends. I have a banker friend who makes $5 million a year. So I thought, ‘Come, let’s come together. Let’s buy some land and build our houses.’

I was at my prime, getting ready to enjoy. At the same time, my friend Danny had a revival. They were going back to church, some of my close friends. They told me, ‘Richard, come, join us, come back to church.’

I have been a Christian for 20 years; I was baptised 20 years ago, but it was because it was fashionable to be a Christian then. All my friends were becoming Christians then. It was fashionable! I wanted to be baptised, so that when I filled in a form, I could put there “Christian” – feels good. In truth, I had never had a bible; I don’t know what the bible is all about.

I went to church for a while, after some time, I got tired. I said it’s time to go to NUS, stop going to church. I had a lot more things to pursue in NUS – girls, studies, sports etc. After all, I had achieved all these things without God today, so who needs God? I myself can achieve anything I want.

In my arrogance, I told them, “You know what? You go tell your pastor to change your sermon to 2pm. I will consider coming to church.” Such arrogance! And I said 1 statement in addition to that – till date, I don’t know I’ve regretted saying that – I told Danny and my friends, “If God really wanted me to come back to church, He will give me a sign.”. Lo and behold, 3 weeks later, I was back at church.


In March 2011, out of the blues – I was still running around, ‘cause I’m a gym freak and I always go to the gym training, running, swimming 6 days a week. I had some backache, and that’s all I had, but it was persistent. And so I went for an MRI to exclude prolapsed disc. And the day before I had my scan, I was still in the gym, lifting heavy weights, doing my squats. And the next day, they found that half my spine had bone marrow replacement. I said, “Woah, sorry, what’s that?”

We had a PET scan the next day, and they diagnosed that I had terminal lung cancer, stage 4B. It had spread to the brain, half the spine, whole of my lungs were filled with tumour, liver, adrenals…

I said, “Can’t be, I was just at the gym last night, what’s going on?” I’m sure you know how it feels – though I’m not sure if you know how it feels. One moment I was there at the peak, the next day, this news came and I was totally devastated. My whole world just turned upside down.

I couldn’t accept it. I have a hundred relatives on both sides, my mom and my dad. 100 of them. And not a single one has cancer. To me, in my mind, I have good genes, I’m not supposed to be having this! Some of my relatives are heavy chain smokers. Why am I having lung cancer? I was in denial.


So the next day, I was still in a state of denial, still unable to accept what was going on. There I was lying in an operating theatre in a hospital, for a needle biopsy (for histology). There I was, just completed the biopsy, and lying in the operating theatre. The nurses and doctors had left; told me I had to wait for 15 minutes to do a check X-ray to make sure there’s no pneumothorax (a complication).

And there I was, lying on the operating table, staring blankly at the ceiling in a cold, quiet operating theatre. Suddenly I just heard an inner voice; it was not like coming from outside. It was inside. This small inner voice that I had never felt before. And it said very specifically, it said, “This has to happen to you, at your prime, because it’s the only way you can understand.”

I said, “Woah, why did that come from?” You know, when you speak to yourself, you’d say, “OK, what time should I leave this place? Where shall I have dinner after this?” You’d speak from a first person point of view. You don’t say, “Where should YOU go after this?” Whereas the voice that came spoke as a third party. It said, “This has to happen to YOU, at YOUR prime, because this is the only way YOU can understand.” At that time, my emotions just overflowed and I broke down and cried, alone there. And I knew then, subsequently, what it means to understand that why this is the only way.

Because I had been so proud of myself, my whole life, I needed nobody else. I was gifted with things that I could do, why do I need anybody else? I was just so full of myself that there was no other way I could have turned back to God.

In fact, if I were diagnosed with stage 1 or 2, I would have been looking around busily for the best cardiothoracic surgeon, remove a section of the lobe (do a lobectomy), do preventive chemotherapy…The chances of it being cured is extremely high. Who needs God? But I had stage 4B. No man can help, only God can.

A series of events happened after that. I wasn’t sold after that, because of the inner voice, I became believing, prayers, all that. No I wasn’t. To me, it was just ‘maybe there was a voice; or maybe that was just me talking to myself.’ I didn’t buy the story.

What happened next was that I was being prepared for chemotherapy. I started off with a whole brain radiation therapy first; takes about 2 -3 weeks. In the meantime they prepared me for chemotherapy, supplements etc. One of the things they used for chemo was a thing called Zometa. Zometa - they use it to strengthen the bones; once the bone marrow (replacement) is cured of cancer cells, it becomes hollow, so we need Zometa to strengthen the bone to prevent compression fractures.

One of the side effects of Zometa is that it can cause osteonecrosis (bone death) of the jaw, and I had to have my wisdom teeth removed. Years ago, I had my upper wisdom teeth removed, cos it was giving me trouble. The lower ones didn’t give me trouble so I said, “Forget it, just leave it.” So of cause, Danny volunteered to remove it for me.

So there I was, lying there in a dental chair, asking myself, suffering all the side effects of radiotherapy, and now I have to go through wisdom tooth surgery. As if I’ve not had enough to suffer! So I asked Danny, “Eh, bro, is there any other way? Can I not go though this?” He said, “Yes, you can pray.”

I said, “What’s there to lose? Ok lah, pray lah!” And so we prayed. And we did an X-ray after that. Everything was all there, all the appliances and everything. And lo and behold, the Xray showed that there was no wisdom teeth in the lower jaw. I know most people have 4 wisdom teeth, maybe some have none, but to be missing one or 2, as I understand – I’m not too sure, as I understand – is not that common.

Still I was, “Nah, I don’t care about that.” To me, as long as I didn’t have to take out the tooth, I was happy. At that point, I still wasn’t sold on prayers. Maybe it was just a coincidence – for whatever it’s worth.

I continued meeting my oncologist, asking him, “How long do I have?” I asked him. He said, not more than 6 months. I said, “Even with chemotherapy?” About 3 – 4 months, he said.

I couldn’t grasp that. It was difficult to come to terms. And even as I went through radiotherapy, I was struggling everyday, especially when I wake up, hoping that it’s just a nightmare; when I wake up, it’s all over.

As I was struggling, day after day, I went into depression, which is the typical denial, depression blah blah blah that you go through. But for 1 reason, I don’t know why, there was this specific day that I was supposed to meet my oncologist. At about 2pm, I felt this sudden surge of peace, comfort, and in fact, a little happiness. It was just overflowing. For no rhyme or reason, it just came about 2pm, as I was getting ready, dressing up to meet my oncologist. So much so that I whats-apped all my friends that, “Bros, I just feel so good suddenly! I don’t know why, it just came!”

And it was only days, or was it weeks after, that Danny revealed to me that he had fasted for 2 days for me, and he was bargaining with God, and fasted for 2 dyas, and he ended his fast at that exact same point, about 2pm thereabouts, that this surge of sensation came to me for no rhyme or reason. And I didn’t know that he was fasting for me. And when he ended the fast, I felt that sensation!

Whoa, things were getting a bit too coincidental. I was starting to buy a bit of the story, but still I wasn’t sold. As days passed by, I completed my radiotherapy, about 2 weeks plus. Getting ready for chemo, so they let me rest for a few days.

See, the mortality rate of lung cancer : Lung cancer has the highest mortality rate. If you add up breast, colorectal (colon) cancer, and prostate cancer (the top few cancers in Singapore for men and women), if you add up the mortality rate of these 3, it still doesn’t add up to lung cancer. Simply because, you understand, you can remove the prostate, the colon, the breast, but you cannot remove your lungs.

But there’s about 10% of lung cancer patients who do pretty well for some reasons, because they have this specific mutation; we call it the EGFR mutation. And it happens, only 90% of the time, in Asian ladies who never smoked in their lives. Me, first of all, I’m male. 2ndly, I’m a social smoker. I take one a day after dinner; weekends, when my friends offer me, I take it as well. I’m a light smoker, not a social smoker. But still, my oncologist was still not hopeful for me to have this mutation.

The chances of it happening for me was maybe 3-4% for me to get it. That’s why I was being primed to go for chemo. But through all the intense prayers, friends like Danny, people that I don’t even know, it turned out that, during my waiting for chemo, the results came back that I was EGFR positive. I was like, “Woah, good news!” Cos now I don’t have to undergo chemo at that time, because there’s this oral tablet that you can use to control this disease.

Just to share with you some idea – this is a CT scan – thorax – of my lungs, before treatment.


Every single dot there is a tumour. You can see all the mets (metastasis) there. This is just one single plane. Literally I had it in both lungs, and I had literally tens of thousands of tumour. That’s why the oncologist told me, even with chemo, at most 3-4 months.

But because of this mutation, they have this oral medication. This is what happened after 2 months of treatment. As you can see over here; this is what God can do. And that’s why I’m still here having this opportunity to share with you. As you can see over here, the difference between before and after treatment.

At that point, I said, “Well, it’s to be expected, isn’t it? The medicine is good.” I’m still not buying the story. Well, the guys prayed for me and the tumour markers started to come down. 90% of the tumours were wiped out, and the tumour markers came down to more than 90% over the next few months.

But still, you know, once you have the clinical knowledge, you know the statistics. One year survival, two year survival; having all this knowledge is not a good thing. Cos you live with the knowledge that even with all this, the cancer cells are so unstable, they keep mutating. They will overcome and become resistant to the drugs, and eventually you’re gonna run out of medication.

So living with this knowledge is a huge mental struggle, a huge mental torture. Cancer is not just about a physical struggle, it’s a huge mental torture. How do you live with no hope? How do you live with not being able to plan for the next few years? The oncologist tells you to bear with it for the next 1 – 2 months. So it’s a lot of struggles as I went through: March, then April. April was my lowest point, in deep depression, struggling even as I was recovering.


And one of those days, I was there in bed, struggling in the afternoon, asking God, “Why? Why do I have to go through this suffering? Why do I have to endure this hardship, this struggle? Why me?”

As I fell asleep, in my dreamy state, a vision just came, that says Hebrews 12:7-8.

Now mind you, at this time, I had not read the bible. I have no clue what’s Hebrews, I don’t even know how many chapters there are. Totally clueless.

But it says Hebrews 12:7-8, very specifically.

I didn’t think too much of it. I just continued sleeping. Then I woke up, and I said, “What’s there to lose? I’d just check it out lah!” Danny had bought me a bible; it’s still quite new. I said, “It’s ok, just try.” So I flipped to the Old Testament. Hebrews to me sounds like something ancient, so it should be in the Old Testament right? So I flipped through the Old Testament. No Hebrews there. I was so disappointed.

Then I said, “Maybe New Testament, let’s have a look!”. WOW – New Testament, there’s Hebrew’s!! It says Hebrews 12:7-8. It says, “Endure hardship as discipline as God is treating you as His children.”

I said, “WAH!! Where did that come from?” I was getting goose pimples all over my body. I said, “This can’t be, right?” I mean, what’s the chance of somebody, who has never read the bible, to have a vision of a chapter of a specific verse, that answers my question directly?

I think God called to me directly as I was there sleeping, struggling with it, asking God, “Why do I have to suffer? Why do I have to suffer this?” And God says “Endure hardship as discipline as God is treating you as His child.”

At this point, the chance of that happening is even lesser than my EGFR being positive. There’s just no way; there’s so many millions of thousands of verses in the bible, how can I just conjure up something like that?

So at that point, I was sold I said, “YOU WIN! YOU WIN!!”

Ok , I was convinced. And so from that day onwards, I started believing in my God. And the last time I heard that inner voice was the end of April. And that inner voice, same thing, in the afternoon, as I was sleeping (this time I wasn’t struggling, just going to sleep). In a dreamy state I just heard Him say, “Help others in hardship.”

It was more like a command, rather than a statement. And that’s when I embarked on this journey, helping others in hardship. And I realised that hardship is not just about being poor. In fact, I think a lot of poor people are probably happier than a lot of us here. They are so easily contented with whatever they have, they’re probably pretty happy.

Hardship can happen to rich people; it can be physical hardship, mental hardship, social, etc. And also over the last few months, I started to understand what this true joy is about. In the past, I substituted true joy with the pursuing of wealth. I thought true joy is about pursuing wealth. Why? Cos let me put it to you this way, in my death bed, I found no joy whatsoever in whatever objects I had – my Ferrari, thinking of the land I was going to buy to build my bungalow etc, having a successful business.

It brought me ZERO comfort, ZERO joy, nothing at all. Do you think I can hold onto this piece of metal and it’s going to give true joy? Nah, it’s not going to happen.

True joy comes from interaction with other people. And at a lot of times, it is a short term pride, the past. When you pursue your wealth, Chinese New Year is the best time to do it. Drive my Ferrari, show off to my relatives, show off to my friends, do my rounds, and then you thought that was true joy? You really think that those guys who sold you your Ferrari, they share their joy with you? And your relatives, wow, they share this joy with you? In truth, what you have done is just to illicit envy, jealousy, and even hatred. They are not sharing the joy with you, and what I have is that short-term pride that wow, I have something you don’t have! And I thought that was joy!

So what we have is basically a short-term pride at the expense of somebody else. And that wasn’t true joy. And I found no joy at all on my deathbed, thinking of my Ferrari – to hold on to it, sayang it?!?

True joy I discovered comes from interaction. Over the last few months I was so down. Interaction with my loved ones, my friends, my brothers in Christ, my sisters in Christ, and only then was I able to be motivated, able to be uplifted. To share your sorrow, to share your happiness – that’s true joy.

And you know what makes you smile? True joy comes from helping others in hardship, and because I’ve gone through this, I know what hardship entails. In fact, there’re some cancer patients who tell me a lot of times, people come up to them and tell them, “Stay positive. Stay positive.” Yah, right. You come in my shoes and you try to stay positive! You don’t know what you’re talking about!

But I have the licence. So I’ve been going out to meet other fellow cancer patients, to share with them, encourage them. And I know, because I’ve been through it, and it’s easier for me to talk to them.

And most importantly, I think true joy comes from knowing God. Not knowing about God – I mean, you can read the bible and know about God – but knowing God personally; getting a relationship with God. I think that’s the most important. That’s what I’ve learnt.

So if I were to sum it up, I’d say that the earlier we sort out the priorities in our lives, the better it is. Don’t be like me – I had no other way. I had to learn it through the hard way. I had to come back to God to thank Him for this opportunity because I’ve had 3 major accidents in my past – car accidents. You know, these sports car accidents – I was always speeding , but somehow I always came out alive, even with the car almost being overturned. And I wouldn’t have had a chance. Who knows, I don’t know where else I’d be going to! Even though I was baptised it was just a show, but the fact that this has happened, it gave me a chance to come back to God.

Few things I’d learnt though:

1. Trust in the Lord your God with all your heart – this is so important.

2. Is to love and serve others, not just ourselves.

There is nothing wrong with being rich or wealthy. I think it’s absolutely alright, cos God has blessed. So many people are blessed with good wealth, but the trouble is I think a lot of us can’t handle it. The more we have, the more we want. I’ve gone through it, the deeper the hole we dig, the more we get sucked into it, so much so that we worship wealth and lose focus. Instead of worshipping God, we worship wealth. It’s just a human instinct. It’s just so difficult to get out of it.

We are all professionals, and when we go into private practise, we start to build up our wealth – inevitably. So my thought are, when you start to build up wealth and when the opportunity comes, do remember that all these things don’t belong to us. We don’t really own it nor have rights to this wealth. It’s actually God’s gift to us. Remember that it’s more important to further His Kingdom rather than to further ourselves.

Anyway I think that I’ve gone through it, and I know that wealth without God is empty. It is more important that you fill up the wealth, as you build it up subsequently, as professionals and all, you need to fill it up with the wealth of God.

I think that’s about it. It’s good to share. Thanks.