Goodbye Perth!

Dear gentle people of the world,

We’ve been privileged to call Perth home for the past 2 years. However the time has come for HRH, Amanda, Ethan and I to return to Brisbane. It is with a somewhat heavy heart that we bid this place farewell for it is here in Perth that my family of 3 became an awesome foursome, here in Perth that HRH found his (further) calling in breast cancer surgery (more on that in a bit) and here in Perth that Amanda realised all of my dreams (and some of hers) by transforming from a middling student of no-particular-note (she will agree) to a “maths whiz” (the words of her class teacher, supported by her classmates), a real achievement since even her father had written her off as “not a genius” – even if he does adore her to excess. Like most mothers who sang, patted and sent ABCs via mental visualisation (Shichida method) to their offspring in the womb, of course I was mortified by the repeat suggestion from teachers (prep to Year 3) that Amanda was “more creative than academic.”

Helloooo! I’m a Tiger Mama. For me that is like saying, “Er well, here’s your 4th place ribbon” which I can totally accept for things like Sport and Art. It’d be different if they said, “She’s creative AND academic.” Ha. That I can accept.

When we first moved to Perth, I was especially worried about Amanda’s academic performance because we had chosen to put her in Nedlands Primary, reputed to be Western Australia’s number 2 Primary School. We came from a good public school whose ranking I’m not completely certain of except I know is not in the top 20. This, going by a ranking I saw when searching for a new home in the 4101 this year. Once in Perth, we tried to enrol Amanda in school number 1, Rosalie Primary but were unsuccessful in securing a shoebox townhouse in the area. Quickly Amanda realised that she would have to work at a much higher level than what she was used to.

I won’t lie – she was very unhappy for the first 6 months here. Every day she used to ask to go back to Brisbane where she and I both had friends, play dates and birthday parties. This transition was hard on the both of us: Amanda who hitherto had been wildly popular among her peers, found kids at school nice but not especially welcoming. People wanted to know how long we were going to stay before they were prepared to “invest” in friendship with us. I decided early on that I wasn’t going to hide the fact that we were only in Perth for a while.

I didn’t expect to make any friends or the sort of friendships one would be sad to leave behind but I have: I have friends whose company I will miss, who I am sure will miss my company. For me, this has to be the toughest aspect of relocating constantly – people accept you into their hearts and lives only to have to let you go.

When reports cite surgeons as being top earners, none factor in the physical, social and mental cost of training for surgeons and their immediate family members. People compare it to undertaking professional exams like CA or CPA or CFA or even 2 year long postgraduate studies like MBA, but this is a way longer (try a DECADE) and much tougher on everyone concerned – the many moves, the long hours, the weeks that morph into months of neglect… For the record, we haven’t celebrated Chinese New Year in Malaysia with our kith and kin for the last 12 years because Chinese New Years typically coincides with the start of the new medical working year. It also coincides with the start of the new school year and being a parent, the last thing you want is for your child to miss out on that first week of fitting into a new grade. On top of which, we are usually moving from one place to another (like in the coming year) or have just moved (meaning: I have to unpack and sort a whole range of stuff relating to the move) during that time. Yes, you read it right: 12 years without celebrating Chinese New Year. For those of you who don’t celebrate the Chinese New Year, that’s like going without Christmas for 12 years.

Which is why I am looking forward to moving back to Brisbane. I regret having to leave my friends in Perth behind but I am pleased that this “surgical training journey” is at an end. I don’t want to jinx myself by saying it out loud but we’ve bought an old Queenslander to give our children an authentic “hippie upbringing” (in the words of HRH), the address numerically translating to “completion.” The end. No more moves, thank you very much.

Thanks to excellent mentors at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, HRH is now a qualified breast oncoplastic surgeon. In simple English, it means he removes diseased breasts and rebuilds them. He also removes breasts for women with the breast cancer gene and rebuilds them. It’s a procedure that’s since been associated with Angelina Jolie, who bravely spoke about her medical decision to have her breasts removed. Apart from enlarging, reducing, removing and rebuilding breasts, HRH can also remove appendixes, resection bowels, remove gall bladders, remove skin cancers… I’m the only one who wields a knife at home, in case you’re wondering.

Ethan has by far been our best souvenir of our stay in Perth. He is probably too young to remember his time here so we hope to bring him back to show him where he took his first steps when he’s older. I’ve invited many of my Perth mates over to Brisvegas to check out my hippie commune and promised them I will come back for a visit.

Here are some pics from our 2 years in Perth. Be sure to check out my posts from my visit to Margaret River and Yanchep National Park. When I have time I will blog about our trip to Albany, where we walked amongst the treetops, and Rottnest Island.

A picture of Amanda's first concert at Nedlands Primary.

A picture of Amanda’s first concert at Nedlands Primary.


A picture of Amanda with her teacher's bear.

A picture of Amanda with her teacher’s bear.


A picture of Amanda checking out a racing car at UWA's open day.

A picture of Amanda checking out a racing car at UWA’s open day.


A picture of Amanda at school assembly.

A picture of Amanda at school assembly.

Until we meet again in 2015, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! God bless!
 

 

 

 

 

 

To migrate or NOT to migrate, that is the question.

Being something of an expert on migrant life in Aussieland, I have between 3 and 10 people broach the matter with me every month. These couple of months I’ve had more. As in, more people want to know how to migrate, whether it is worth migrating, how will they fare after migrating here…

These are all subjective questions and their answers depend on factors too random to discuss in one post. However, I have developed a list of questions that might help you decide, wherever you are in the process of migrating:

  • Why do YOU want to migrate?

    This one seems rather obvious. Many people moan about the political situation where they are, the lack of personal safety, the escalating price of goods and services…Okay. Alright. But why do YOU want to migrate? You are not your country any more than I am Aussieland.

    People will say, “Oh, I want to migrate for my children’s education.”

    I would say to them, “Aussie education is not better, just different. Asian education places an emphasis on knowing lots. Aussie education places an emphasis on doing lots with what you know.”

    That aside, we have good schools and bad schools, just like you do in Asia. Private education costs anywhere between AUD15k and AUD30k p.a. As for higher education, Permanent Residents are only entitled to reduced fees, not the government grant scheme that allows deferred payment.

  • When you say you want a better life, what exactly do you have in mind?

    Answers to this range from, “Oh you know, less stress, shorter working hours,” to “Equal rights. Being able to speak my mind in public” to “Government will support me in old age – financial security.”

    For the most part, everyone is correct, except to say that working hours and stress levels are dependent on what you do for a living. HRH works very long hours I can assure you.

    You can speak your mind in public and while no one might arrest you, no one might listen to you either.

    As for the age pension, if you’re my age, you won’t be entitled to it until you are 70. Even then there is a means test AND presuming you do get it, won’t be enough to live on comfortably unless you own your own home outright; otherwise all your money will be swallowed up by rent or mortgage repayments. This also presumes you are in good health because not all medications are covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (there is a co-payment with that) and there is a long waiting list for elective surgery in most states. Tasmania doesn’t have a waiting list altogether because the state’s health system is broke!

  • Are you handy and adaptable?

    Trust me. Handy and adaptable are 2 very important qualities for successful migration. If you pick up the phone to call a tradie as soon as anything goes wrong in your house, you’ll be dining on grass before the month is out. For instance, an electrician charges AUD150 per hour, in cash, per call out. So does the average plumber. If you don’t know how to check to see if you have a faulty appliance or faulty wiring before ringing anyone, you might be paying AUD150 for nothing.

    Shadow your maid for a day, preferably a week. Can you do whatever she’s doing for yourself?

    This is where adaptability comes in. Forget you ever were a prince or princess or a mini tycoon in your circle of friends. Part of the charm of Aussieland is that everyone is equal. And by that, they don’t just mean those of your social standing. They mean everyone. So you have to be courteous to the people you hire, be it grass cutter or cleaner. You’ve got to abandon any thoughts of being intellectually/morally/financially/racially etc superior. They are there to do a job and you are only paying them by the hour. Save your attitude.

  • Where is your life?

    This is perhaps the most essential question: people say they want to live happily ever after in Aussieland but find themselves missing family, friends, social activities, their job, their house, their previous social standing, what-have-you, once they get here.

    Before you have kids, it will be easy for you to take time off to go home for Chinese New Year, Malay New Year, Indian New Year etc…You can hop on a plane any time you need to attend a wedding or a birthday or a funeral. But after you have kids, you will have to firstly budget for their travel expenses too (cost of ticket multiplied by number of family members), then you’ll have to time it for school holidays (unless you want your kid to miss school), at which rate you will be paying through your nose for seats because that’s the time when every other family will be travelling too. If you live outside of the major city centres, you’ll need to factor in increased time and cost of getting to the airport.

    Are you prepared for this? Are you prepared for life back home to go on without you? Because that’s what it amounts to: for you make a new life for yourself here, you’ve got to be prepared to let go of the old one. Anything short of this and you are just looking at an extended working holiday. So tell me: are you really ready to migrate to Australia?

 

The new REWARDS plan.

Ha. I know the word REWARDS was bound to grab your attention. It has the same effect on my 9-almost-10 year old; her eyes light up like a lit Christmas tree whenever I mouth the word. Let me breathe it out slowly…rewards. Ah…

Yes, who doesn’t like them? We have loyalty card programmes, frequent flyer points accumulation programmes, buy 1 get 1 free member incentives…but these are rewards of a different kind. I call this the Mama – Baby (Amanda still thinks of herself as a baby) Rewards Scheme or MBRS for short. A stroke of genius if I may say so myself, it has taken Amanda from daydreaming average student to driven and focused, top of her class, solid performer (of course, we also have Ms Amy of the Dalkeith Kumon Centre to thank); I only wish I had implemented it sooner.

Before I proceed, you’re probably wondering, will this work for my child? My question to you is: do you know your child well enough to know what he or she would consider a reward? It’s NOT what you consider a reward, it is what he or she really desires but has to get your co-operation or at least approval for.

Having allowed Amanda all the latitude in the world to learn through play up until 8 years of age (you’re probably wondering how that has worked for me or if you’ve been following this blog religiously you already know), I’ve come to realise that what constitutes a reward for her are the following:

* playdates

* having her bestie sleepover

* attending birthday parties

* going for tea somewhere nice

* getting new art supplies

* going clothes shopping or to the movies

* extra computer time

Okay. So it’s pretty obvious that Amanda is a regular girl. Some kids are not motivated by material things; in fact, many would be pleased to just have you show them some attention. But REWARDS are extra special. I give Amanda my full-attention 80% of the time so it is not a reward but a basic requirement in her book.

So how can she “redeem” these wonderful rewards I used to give her freely when we lived in Brisbane? To turn them into real rewards, I first took them away. Yes, I know this part is a pain but I took them all away: I cancelled every play date, every “fun” excursion…I wiped the slate clean and we focused only on work. We did this for 1 whole year and a bit. 

You’re probably going, “Yikes, this is hardcore!”

Whenever Amanda said she wanted to quit Kumon etc…I said her father and I would ship her to Singapore if need be to get her grey cells (aka brains) into shape.

Brains are muscles,” I told her. “Yours are currently mush. They need to pump some iron.” I’d lift invisible weights with my hands for emphasis and flex my equally mushy arms.

“Ya, but I don’t like math,” she used to tell me.

“That’s because you’re no good at it,” I said. She was then average or perhaps slightly above average in that department. “Trust me, the moment you get good you’re gonna love it.”

She’s now the best in her class. Her Kumon instructor Ms Amy says it is to be expected. Amanda now finishes tasks with time to spare, in some cases enough to help another 7 of her floundering classmates one by one.

I love how Ms Amy ripped up Amanda’s work when her handwriting was bad too. Amanda now has beautiful handwriting.

I’ve been told I am a Tiger Mum. I don’t think so but if I am, it’s only because I want the best for my kid. It’s like the Dulux slogan: Worth doing, worth Dulux. Mine is: Worth doing, do it well the first time for God’s sake!

Now, for Amanda to “redeem” a reward, she  has to successfully complete another level of Kumon or make an A or High Distinction. Extra rewards will also be given for school awards recognising achievement or participation in outside (ICAS for example) tests that lead to “demonstrable achievement.”

I even give Amanda permission to daydream. Where? In the toilet, in the shower, in bed, while waiting for her father in the car…But when she’s in class or at Kumon or doing homework, she has to be mentally present and ready to make neurological Carl Lewis sprints.

We went back to Brisbane for a fly-by trip recently (Sorry, if I didn’t call on you. It was only 2 days and I had too much to do) and we met up with Amanda’s bestie Lily and her mum, Melissa. All have been informed of this new REWARDS plan, MBRS. Now you have been too. Try it. It works a treat. Just be prepared for some major sulking before that.

Our trip to Yanchep National Park.

 

Our trip to Yanchep National Park was one of those impromptu family outings that presented itself after lunch one lazy Saturday not too long ago.

“Do you have any plans?” asked HRH as we drove away from Sri Dewi, my new favourite mamak-style curry house in Northbridge.

“No,” I said. I racked my brain, fearing there was some place somewhere we were supposed to be but nothing came to mind.

“Would you like to go for a drive then? I’ll take us somewhere new.”

“Okay,” I said and left it to him. He drove for a good hour until we reached a heavily forested area with boom-gates where he paid $12 for the car load of our family of 4.

We were ill-prepared for the ever-popular 9 kilometre “Ghost House Walk Trail” which called for water, food and camping gear, so instead we attempted the highly do-able trek around the lake which took us just over an hour. In the interest of word-economy, I’ll just let the pictures tell the rest of the story:

The lake at Yanchep National Park.

The lake at Yanchep National Park.

IMG_6025 IMG_6026 IMG_6027 IMG_6028 IMG_6029

IMG_6034 IMG_6035

Going for a 2 hour walk around the lake at Yanchep National Park.

Going for an hour long walk around the lake at Yanchep National Park.

IMG_6037 IMG_6043 IMG_6044 IMG_6047 IMG_6048 IMG_6058

Walking around the lake at Yanchep National Park.

There is a tea-house there that sells an amazing array of “homemade chocolates” but if the price of our carrot cake and bottle of water is anything to go by (over $11), I dare say none of it is cheap. The whole place closes at 5 pm so be sure to arrive early if you want to check out the Koala sanctuary and the wildflower garden. There is also an inn in the park that caters to guests who want to stay in comfortable lodgings overnight.

If farmer Joe can want his kids to inherit the farm, why can’t HRH want his kids to do medicine?

Pretend you don’t know me and answer me truthfully: If farmer Joe can want his kids to inherit the farm, why can’t HRH want his kids to do medicine?

My closest white-y mate F and I had this heated debate yesterday. It arose when I said I’d only cough out AUD25k for Amanda to attend a private school if she could be assured of an OP1. To those of you unfamiliar with the Queensland education system, OP stands for Overall Position and 1 represents the top 1% of students who sit for their Year 12 exams annually.

“But you can’t buy an OP1, Estella!” F said.

I wasn’t talking about “buying” anything other than the tuition and attention to make this possible. This is where white-y and Asians differ: they believe in “inherent potential” getting a child where the child wants to go while Asians believe in taking that potential and guiding it where we, parents, want it to. After all, we oldies have eaten more salt than those young ‘uns have eaten rice. It isn’t just about ego: we do want what’s best for them and what’s best is having them take care of themselves in adulthood, as opposed to mooching off us as 50 year olds.

Regardless, what’s wrong with a doctor’s children following in dad (or mum’s) footsteps when lawyers can aspire for their kids to inherit the firm or builders the building business? Even the late Croc hunter, Steve Irwin, would have hoped for his kids to carry on Australia Zoo for him and here in Oz, fourth generation farmers and butchers are lauded all the time. So is it just tall-poppy syndrome in disguise or are the children of doctors somehow different? Here in Oz, you can say you want your children to be AFL players but God-forbid you want anything that shows off the size of the walnut between their ears. That will just invite criticism about you having plebeian Asian aspirations and “being another crazy Asian who refuses to assimilate.”

Related to this, but on an entirely different note: what is the point of assimilation if one gives up being what they ethnically are altogether, along with the quirks associated with such ethnicity? It is also interesting to note that among Asians, 3 generations of doctors in a family is very common, whereas among whites, it is very rare. If my children were to do medicine, my Asian friends would pat me on the back for having “raised the kids right and maintained their father’s legacy” while white-ys will say I “robbed them of the chance to be their own person.” Never mind that I’ll be sparing my fellow taxpayers the cost of having to feed, support or subsidise 2 other people.

I don’t mean to rant but one would think that the children of doctors are better equipped for the profession because their view of it is informed by their relationship and proximity to their doctor parent, instead of SCRUBS and ER. For the non-TV watching public, one’s a sitcom and the other a TV drama. Neither however, captures the long hours of the profession adequately or the personal sacrifices attendant to it, or if they do, it’s incredibly entertaining, which life isn’t always. Life also doesn’t come in half hour instalments with ad breaks in between.

Back to the issue of private school: why would I want to send Amanda there if an OP1 is not on the cards? Come on, I can buy myself loads of clothes with AUD25k a year.

“You do it for the contacts, Estella,” reasoned F. “Stop thinking like a poor Asian migrant. These contacts are what’s going to get your kid jobs in the future.”

Then I might as well move back to Asia where I have loads of contacts and none involve me having to spend AUD25k pa – AUD30k if you want Grammar. Here, people make contacts in private school. In Asia today, children go to private school because the parents believe the quality of education is better. When I was growing up, one only went to a private school if one was scholastically weak. The strong had no use for molly cuddling. Contacts were and are, still largely established, fostered and maintained through family ties.

And if anyone’s asking, I still have strong friendships with many of my secondary school mates and university mates, all of whom went to PUBLIC school and many of whom are successful, unlike moi. My success, one should note, is of a different kind.

So what’s your take on this? Why is it wrong for me to want my children to follow in their father’s footsteps when it is perfectly fine for the children of farmers, butchers, builders, croc-hunters to follow in theirs?

P.S. I have a lot of love for F and she is STILL my closest white-y mate even though we don’t see eye to eye on some things.

P.P.S. I would move back or to some part of Asia if it were in the best interest of my children.

 

 

Back to Brisvegas!

It’s still some months away but it’s pretty much confirmed we’ll be moving back to Brisbane aka Brisvegas aka Home of Happy Hippies. The last one is my personal take on the place. Yay! Perth has been a great ride but we’re longing to put down roots and Brisbane is where HRH’s work is and where the next chapter of our lives await us.

It goes without saying I feel a mixture of emotions: it’s never easy leaving a place one calls home, knows the locals on a first name basis and has made loads of new friends. But move we must and move we shall, back east to Brisbane, this time by plane. If you want to relive my yet unedited (I don’t have the time with the baby) 9-day trip across Australia’s backyard moving from Brisbane to Perth click here.

To coordinate our move back to Brisvegas I have mental lists and paper lists and lists I’ve misplaced somewhere around the house for all the things that need doing. And for that question everyone seems to be asking: are you going back to West End?

Yes, by the grace of God we will. Amen. We will be moving back to live in the 4101. It’s home. I told HRH that for me Brisbane = West End. It’s the only equation I know even though nothing else about the future adds up at this moment. We travel to other parts of Brisbane for food all the time – it’s our family’s “collective hobby” – but 4101 is where it’s at for me. 4101 is home. I’m a WALKER who delights in all the wonders of the area that I can’t imagine wanting to live anywhere else. Even and especially with a baby, I’d still move back to live in an 85m2 apartment. Why? There are a number of reasons but chief of which is Amanda’s education.

In 2 years time Amanda will be off to high school. Living in our area we have the option of sending her to Brisbane State High, the best PUBLIC high school in Brisbane, possibly the best high school, sharing the podium with Grammar, which costs $30k pa. From the value-for-money-education angle, there’s no arguing it makes sense but of course since my mind almost never shuts off, what with the baby waking me 10 times a night (sometimes literally), I’ve had some reservations about this, namely: what if my child is NOT Brisbane State High material? I’m just throwing it out there. She has the highest LEXILE score for her grade (almost double the average grade 4 student) and is doing long division of many numbers and long multiplication of many numbers and will be at least 1 year ahead of the NATIONAL school syllabus by the time we go back to Brisbane (thanks to our wonderful Kumon instructor Ms Amy Lee-Smith of the Dalkeith Kumon Centre which we have been attending since December of 2013) BUT is she good enough to tango with Brisbane’s best? Can she foxtrot and samba her way to a decent OP there?

I laid it straight to her. “Amanda, Brisbane State High is a very big school.”

I showed her the latest edition of Kumon magazine with a grade 4 boy doing the level of math she should be at in 2 to 3 months time. That article got me worried.

HRH chimed in, “It takes students zoned to the area and those who get in on merit. Do you know what that means?”

She nodded. “It’s a big school.”

How big? 4000 students at last count with more on the way. In Malaysia that would be a regular size secondary school but in Oz, 4000 is a humongous number.

HRH said, “Those that get in on merit will be really very, very good.”

It was my turn to butt in, “So do you want to be one of those kids who are in the school just because your parents can afford a house in the zone or do you want to be one of those who deserve to be there?”

Right here is my mountain of a concern: Brisbane, unlike Melbourne that has Macrobertson and Melbourne High, doesn’t have a purely selective school that admits kids into high school from grade 9 onwards based on an entry exam. While I understand the desire for parents to want to send their kids to a local school the BSHS model means that there will be very scholastically capable children and those that will flounder and possibly drown under the weight of such competition. Which will my child be?

They say a mother knows best but this mother is at a loss as to how to proceed. Some friends with kids have said I should put her name down for a private school, just in case she needs that extra attention a public school can’t give her. I am considering that but am I already too late when others have registered before their kids can walk?

Regardless, living within the 4101 will give us the option of sending her there. Perhaps tonnes of others think like me because in my absence I’ve acquired only a thousand new neighbours, in the form of new apartment blocks all around mine. With the new addition to our family, I want to get into a house or something from which my now-crawling baby won’t decide to try his “superman” skills while I am in the toilet. Alas, that will require some serious financial re-jigging which even the thought of gives me migraines.

So in the interest of my sanity the 4 of us (2 adults, 1 child and 1 baby) will move back into our 85 m2 (that includes the balconies) for now. At first the impossibility of “squeezing in comfortably” (an oxymoron in my book) depressed me but then my friend L said, “Remember how you were going on and on about taking Amanda to Museums, art galleries etc? You can make it work! I know you can!”

You’d have to agree good friends make the best cheerleaders. All right. We’ll give it our best shot. I’ve been binging on posts from apartment therapy and www.dwell.com to see just how I might achieve the impossible – taking a leaf or ten out of the books of New Yorkers who have done just that since the advent of skyscrapers. Yes. I will do it. I will “squeeze comfortably” into my tiny pad and make it work. Wish me luck.

Happy birthday ByEstellaDotCom!

Well, whaddya know? By Estella Dot Com is now officially 2 years old! Before we blow out the candles on the virtual birthday cake, let me give you a brief run-down of what I’ve been up to since my last post:

At the beginning of this month, I went to Singapore for a week. HRH had a work conference and we both took the opportunity to see family who travelled down from Malaysia to meet with us there. With an almost 5 month old in tow, it was one of the hardest journeys I’ve ever had to make anywhere – not only because of the logistics of travelling with a crabby infant, but because we missed the flight we booked through Scoot (which they changed 4 times, the last without informing us) going to Singapore! Oh, the drama!

I had a nearly 9kilo infant in my arms, the baby bag slung around my shoulders, my handbag stuffed inside it (fortunately I downsized to a smaller bag), running from one end of Perth airport to another looking for the Scoot desk, which had closed 10 minutes (yes, only 10 minutes!) before our arrival. Behind me was Amanda, huffing and puffing, moaning and groaning, all 36kilos of her, pulling our 19kilo bag while HRH parked our car in the long term parking bay. Meanwhile, the screen with the information of flights kept blinking BOARDING NOW!

As HRH had to be in Singapore for a 9am presentation, we just bit the bullet and bought another 4 tickets to Singapore with Singapore Airlines, which is indeed a better way to fly. There is nothing quite like the service and comfort of flying with a major carrier, as opposed to a budget one.

Even though I was born in the tropics, I felt like my head was about to explode from the heat the moment I stepped out of Changi Airport. I think it was a combination of having cradled Ethan from 5.30pm until our 1.10am flight and holding him a further 5 hours until we reached Singapore, while the other two slept and having coffee afterwards (which I’m allergic to) which really did my head in. Fortuitously I had not made any plans for the day and had time to relax once we’d checked in to our accommodation. HL, my good friend from secondary school swung by with her kidlets that evening and we had a quick catch-up after 18 years!

Thanks to HL, who played tour guide over the next six days and co-coordinator (the other was CCM) of a get together, I managed to see couple of our other classmates who also live in Singapore. It was a great reunion had by all! Obviously, an evening is hardly enough to make up for 18 years but we did try! Apart from HL, whose husband cooked for us (congratulations on having trained him well, HL!) and minded the kidlets, they each brought local hawker fare I’d been craving so badly. Now, if only I could get them to visit me in Oz…

Infernal heat aside, which neither of my children could stand – rather surprising since they are both born in summer – we enjoyed our trip to Singapore very much. I’m pleased to have noted the following for your reference:

  • Hawker fare is 1/3 the price of Perth and ½ the price of Brisbane. Servings are ½ the size. Drinks are the same size but ½ the price.
  • The price of restaurant food is roughly ½ but so are portion sizes. Unlike Oz, there is no such thing as free tap water.
  • Taxis are much cheaper than Oz for the same distance. In Oz it is almost AUD1 a minute. It was roughly SGD35 for the ride from the airport to our accommodation along Orchard Road during peak morning traffic. Travelling on the MRT is cheaper still.
  •  You can drink water straight from the tap but most people boil their drinking water.
  • Best place to change money is at Lucky Plaza, which gave us SGD1.16 for AUD1, instead of SGD1.12 offered at another plaza around the corner. Almost all moneychangers in the building offer the same rate.
  • Since we didn’t go during the island-wide sales, things were only slightly cheaper than Oz, however there was infinitely more choice. Come on. Don’t look at me like that! How can Chadstone or Westfield compare with the never-ending parade of sky-scraping malls on Orchard Road?
  • Breast pads are sold at selected department stores, unlike in Oz where they are sold in pharmacies. Comparing apples with apples, breast pads are much cheaper over there.

I don’t know if my trip coincided with some new national speak Mandarin campaign but everywhere I went, people were speaking Mandarin to me. And everywhere I went, people were calling me ma’am – another curiosity since I was dressed in shorts and thongs most of the time.

Okay. I’ve got to love you and leave you as Ethan is squealing his little lungs out. Happy birthday to my 3rd baby! Until next time, enjoy a slice of cake for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girls are sheep and Boys are sheep-dogs?

My son just hours old.

My son just hours old.

Same face different baby. A picture of Ethan and Amanda at the same age.

Same face different baby. A picture of Ethan and Amanda at the same age.

Why the tears? Amanda has yet to come to terms with having a sibling.

Why the tears? Amanda has yet to come to terms with having a sibling.

But look at Amanda now? She's the proud big sister!

But look at Amanda now? She’s the proud big sister!

My sleep-deprived brain quite forgets how this random conversation transpired but it was back when I was some months pregnant.

Stranger: Oh, I see you’re pregnant. (Duh! Stating the obvious when you see a humpback whale.) Is it a girl or a boy? (I suppose it’s a polite-thing to ask.)

Me: It’s a boy. Oh, you have one too. (Equally polite to show that you’ve noticed.)

Stranger: Yes, indeed I have. Girls and boys aren’t quite the same thing, apart from the obvious hardware differences.

Ah, now, courtesy of some randomly-firing synaps I remember fragments of this encounter. The stranger was a dad, standing in line next to me to enter the school hall to see our children performing. He has 3 girls and a boy.

Me: And what would the difference be?

Stranger: Girls, they sit there quietly and play their games. I remember giving my daughters a toy plane and they wanted to put a blanket on it and put it to bed. They petted it and gave it names. Boys, they make the vroom-vroom noises and spin it through the air even before they know what a plane does.

His wife comes up to us at this point and chimes in: Girls are like sheep, Estella. Boys are like sheep-dog. You’ll have him running rings around the girls and ruining their games and girls sitting in the middle looking cross!

And so it has come to pass that I’ve been the proud owner (I mean mother) of both a sheep and sheep-dog for the past 4.5 months. How has it been you ask? I’m so exhausted I’m practically sleeping with my eyes open. The speed with which I’ve lost the baby pounds (17 kilos and counting) through a combination of full-breastfeeding and this non-human sleep-deprivation – although most wonderful, don’t get me wrong, I love being able to fit back into my pre-baby jeans – beggars belief. I now constantly marvel at my body’s ability to keep going; unlike after I had Amanda, I’ve been able to get by on regular serves of food. I also have very few cravings which I put down to a more wholesome and nutritious diet.

Amanda has gone from quiet resentment at the new little person taking all her mother’s time and energy to open adoration of her little brother. Ethan, her brother, is a boy’s boy. He was born rolling and tummy-crawling. He’s a little adventurer that eats, poos and pees his weight every day. He’ll grow to be as big as his old man, perhaps bigger. Other parents have promised me that he will scale my fridge at the first opportunity once he is able to do so. I’m locating a padlock just in case.

I hope this finds you well.  Enjoy the happy snaps from my “new baby” adventure!

 

Going from 1 to 2: the long awaited BABY news.

Good people of the world, I have a very important announcement to make: after what seems like a lifetime in child-rearing years (9 precisely, next Australia Day) I’m going to give my singleton, Amanda, a sibling. Yes, you read right. I’ve got a bun in the oven that’s due this Christmas. It’s a boy. And yes, I’ve been teased about hogging all the public holidays – as though one can time these things.

I shared the news with my facebook friends this Monday and everyone was extremely congratulatory. After all, 9 years in anyone’s book is a long, long, Rapunzel-please-let-down-golden-hair long time. The question hovering on everyone’s lips, but which none were rude enough to ask, at least not openly, is “Is this baby the result of an accident“?

I can emphatically say No. This is very much a planned baby, one whose journey into being has been marked by way more concerns than Amanda’s (it has a lot to do with me being much older), whose very arrival has been anticipated by HRH’s clan (yes, I don’t mean family) for roughly 2 decades. HRH, who you might remember me saying is Chinese-school-educated, is a second son of a second son whose clan adhere to the tradition of giving all males a “generation name” from a typically 40 character “family poem”; a once flourishing practise that today is followed only by the most traditional of Chinese families. With HRH’s brother and male cousins all having resisted marriage, this boy is his paternal great grandfather’s only male descendant to go forth into the future, a living symbol of the clan’s continuity.

Although his English name Ethan Alexander was chosen by HRH, his Chinese name Tzetan (pronounced “Certain”) was picked out at the time of HRH’s mother’s death from bowel cancer, some 18 years ago, etched on her tombstone as a promise to perpetuate her lineage, since dying without descendants is very bad for a Chinese person. Amanda’s Chinese name is there too, but as we are a sexist, ageist and dare I say, racist, people (that’s just being honest), use of her name was optional whereas this boy’s is not. There is one other male name there but I’ve already informed HRH I’m shutting down the baby factory after this. In more ways than one, this has been a difficult pregnancy for me and even HRH agrees that my body might not be able to cope with another.

In the first 4 months, I had horrible “night sickness” and was constantly fatigued. For a meat-eater, I couldn’t stand the smell, much less taste of meat, and had terrible sleep, which left me even more run down than what I already was. At the 12 week mark, I went for the obligatory blood test and ultrasound to determine the health and development of the baby. I walked in to the doctors’ rooms with roughly a 1:300 chance of having a baby with down syndrome, I left with 1:83. I was told that this put me in the high-risk category.

Even though I knew that in no way had I contributed to those odds, I was distraught and devastated all the same. I opted to have my blood extracted (from my arm) at a cost of AUD1250 (with zero subsidy or reimbursement from my medical insurer or the government) and flown to the US for the Verifi Prenatal test that’s just been recently offered to expectant mums in Australia.

A close friend of mine on being told the news commented that, “It’s good to have money.”

I replied, “Money doesn’t change the outcome of the test. All I’m buying is information.”

I would have much rather not gone through the angst of being told my high-risk as I walked around with lead balls in the pit of my stomach for the next 3 weeks – it ended when I received a call from my doctor with results from the test. 99.9% accurate, I was told the baby is healthy, normal and well, a boy. I was so rapt at the news I quite forgot HRH’s and my desire for another girl. Yes, we are strange Chinese. Most people would think we’d want a boy but he and I actually wanted a second daughter because we are so enamoured by our first.

Throughout this pregnancy, we’ve consistently said to Amanda, “The only reason we want another child is because you’re fabulous. You’ve made us very happy just by being yourself and we want to give you someone for when we are dead and gone.”

Amanda had the mother of all melt-downs when she was first told. I was so upset by her reaction that I had to leave the room while HRH placated her. With weeks to go until D-Day, Amanda has not only come around to having a sibling, she’s actually looking forward to it. She’s already talking about the games she’ll play with her brother when he is old enough.

In my second trimester, the nausea subsided and my energy returned, but so too did my appetite with a vengeance. At this point I could out-eat even HRH who is 6ft 1 inches tall. Where he ate just the 1 Vietnamese roll, I had 3. Suddenly Australia portions were just the right size. I could wolf down a typical main meal and still have space leftover for desert. Predictably I gained weight at an alarming rate of 1 kg a week. My back began to kill me and I had to see a physiotherapist at the hospital, who kindly undid the knots in my back, kitted me out with tubi grip and taught me some exercises.

Around 26 weeks, I went for a Glucose Tolerance Test. I didn’t expect to have any problems since I guzzled 5 litres of Ribena a day while carrying Amanda and was perfectly fine. That, on top of the requisite Boston Bun for breakfast. This time around, apart from the vast quantities of food I was consuming, my diet was a lot better. The midwives I was now seeing told me that under new guidelines, I had gestational diabetes. One of the hospital’s dieticians rang me and we went over my diet. Without my realising it, I was eating enough carbs for the whole Australian army.

At 28 weeks, I looked like I was 32 weeks along. At 32 weeks, I looked like I was due. Thankfully on my new “diabetes-friendly diet” my weight, 20 kg more than when I fell pregnant, has stalled. Another mother from school, also due about the same time and in the same “no-sugar boat” as myself, and I started to go for walks after school drop off.  We formed ourselves a “Diabetes Club”, the purpose of which serves to spur us on to eat within the recommended guidelines while still allowing us to enjoy the foods we love. In the weeks since, we’ve both controlled our blood sugar while partaking in such delicious meals as Seafood TomYam soup, Kerabu Tanghoon (Peranakan Green Bean Noodle Salad), Soto Ayam ( Indonesian Chicken Soup),  Tekwan (Palembang Fish Ball Soup), Yam Woon Sen (Thai Glass Noodle Salad) and so on and so forth.

A picture of me 35 weeks pregnant.

A picture of me 35 weeks pregnant.

Now in my third trimester, my water-retention is so bad that my toes resemble sausages and my neck has all but disappeared into my puffy face and shoulders. The skin feels tight and somedays, I can’t bend any of the fingers in my right hand, which, along with the left, has been afflicted by carpal tunnel syndrome. Sleep is sort of a hit and miss affair, with me no longer needing PJs since I am 5 or more degrees warmer than everyone else. I have been sleeping on my side since 25 weeks as on my back, I simply can’t breathe. The fatigue has returned and with it, pain in the pelvis and knees.

So there we are, folks. Soon enough my parents will be here to help me through the period post-birth. Like with Amanda, I will be observing the traditional Chinese practise of “confinement”, which lasts for a whole month. During this time I will be fed a special diet, mostly consisting of copious amounts of ginger with protein, and won’t be allowed to bathe or go out of the house. Don’t fear for me: I’ve already bought myself 2 cans of Klorane dry shampoo to manage.

So if you don’t hear from me for the next couple of months, you know what I’m up to. If this is to be my last post for the year, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year! May we meet again in 2014!

 

 

 

 

The Great Gatsby: is it a story of love and lost or inevitable self-destruction?

By now everyone’s probably heard of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, said to  be the magnum opus of a master storyteller, based very much on his own life, which some might say was defined by a compelling need to be a success, in order to win the woman of his dreams. Made for the sixth time into a movie, this adaptation stars none other than Hollywood heavyweight Leonardo DiCaprio, himself too, like Fitzgerald, of humble origins, once a long time ago.

I think it’s instinctive for those of the middle and lower classes to cheer for the underdog, even when that underdog assumes alpha status and thus, The Great Gatsby has that timeless appeal of poor boy – Gatsby – made good; his subsequent quest for what I’d call “social validation” by the rich whose ranks he’d managed to  scheme and maneuver his way into is what the more aspirational among us can relate to. Most men I’ve observed, like to imagine themselves as him. Women like to imagine that a young, handsome fellow such as Gatsby would set out to conquer the financial world, only to sleep alone on a bed of fine Egyptian Cotton a good 5 years just for them.

Perhaps I’m too cynical for a tragic love story such as this, but I watched it 3 times, the first 2 times with Amanda and the last with HRH, to make sense of the melancholy I felt after the first time watching it. And as a writer, I was keen to see how Fitzgerald had drawn from his own life because, as we acknowledge in the business, the best told stories are the ones we know most intimately. Furthermore, I was told by an old friend that a cousin of mine (on my father’s side, estranged due to family politics) worked on the special effects for The Great Gatsby and since she’d raved about his work in the past, going so far as to send links to me with it, I decided that even if not for the sake storyline analysis, I had to see the great talent she was determined to show me.

The story is set in the 1920s, an era characterised by superficial strictures on morality and underlying excess and decadence. In it we have Gatsby, the protagonist, Daisy, his married love-interest, Tom, her blue-blooded husband, Myrtle, his mistress and Nick, Daisy’s cousin, narrator of this timeless tale. Summarily, Nick is forever scarred by enabling Gatsby’s relentless pursuit of Daisy, whose flakiness combined with duplicity, eventually costs Gatsby his life.

The story is timeless even in the year 2013 because we all still want to get ahead – now perhaps more than ever – and we all still fall in love with impossible people in ever more impossible situations. It calls to mind a poem I once studied doing English Literature in secondary school about whether it is better to love in hell than to suffer in heaven. Personally, I’m partial to the latter, but you’ve probably figured out by now I’m not the most romantic person around. I did however, so like how Gatsby woo-ed Daisy.

The third reason why The Great Gatsby is timeless is because even in the year 2013, mid November at that, men are still expected to make a go of themselves before committing to a woman. Now, definitely more than ever, with the steep price of housing and spiralling cost of living, peer pressure to live a lifestyle commensurate with one’s social standing, that’s proving to be even more impossible than finding someone suitable to fall in love with. Alpha men may settle for Beta and Gamma women – in fact, most rather prefer it that way – but women, all the way from Alpha to Epsilon want to marry Alpha men. But such is life; we struggle and strive for our 5 minutes in the sun.

At the end of my viewing with Amanda, she remarked, “It’s NOT really worth falling in love with such a person (like Daisy), is it?”

I said, “Why do you say so?”

“She didn’t even send Gatsby a flower when he died.”

“That’s why you’ve to be careful who you fall in love with. There are worse things than not receiving flowers when you’re dead.” In my mind I was thinking, things like people disappearing for donkey years and expecting you to still be in love with them. I fancy that Gatsby was not so much “the most hopeful person” that Nick ever came across or is likely to come across again in his life, but the most unrealistic one: Gatsby “felt wedded to Daisy” even though Daisy was, for all the time that he was away, wedded to someone else.

Watching the movie with HRH, I was taken aback to see he had tears in his eyes. Usually, with his inviolable sense of right and wrong (as opposed to my flexible one) he sides with the chuck-holds; after all, one most relates to the character closest to one’s self. Husbands relate to other husbands, wives to other wives. But with Tom being a compulsive cheat and born-privileged racist one to boot, HRH couldn’t help but side with Gatsby, who, when you think about it, is the very definition of a home-wrecker.

HRH exclaimed, “But what pure love he has! To love only the one person.”

I contend that Gatsby was in love with an image he had of himself  and Daisy just happened to be a means by which to manifest it.

Afterwards HRH had me find on youtube “Young and Beautiful”, the haunting theme song from The Great Gatsby by Lana Del Ray. You can click the video below to have a listen.

Having said all this, the movie is a well-crafted adaptation of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece through which we can all study human motivation and character, the intricacies of relationships and the consequences of choice. Here is the trailer if you’ve yet to catch it. And like the song accompanying the official trailer, I do agree that “Love is Blindness.”