FCX: the gold standard in finding love.

By Estella

Before you ask, “What the hell is FCX?” let me first tell you this tale. Some two years ago, I came across an album of a friend, who for the sake anonymity I’ll refer to as R. Now R and I come from the same home town and both speak Cantonese. In Cantonese, FCX is Foo Chai Xiong. In Mandarin, Fu Chi Xiang.

Whether in Cantonese or Mandarin, both refer to husbands and wives looking alike to the point they can be mistaken for siblings. For Chinese to say you look like your spouse – and not just that you have two eyes, a nose and a mouth – is the highest compliment they can pay you. Being extremely fatalistic, this is us saying, based on centuries of inherited wisdom, that your relationship has been blessed, nay ordained, by the Gods.

Perhaps, I should shoot off an email to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, who are divorcing, to find future mates that look like themselves. FCX. In recent years, the British painter Suzi Malin, has made that connection between similarity of spouses faces and physical attraction. Friends who’ve known me since I was 18, are well aware of my 500 photo collection stemming from my fixation with lookalike spouses. I look nothing like mine, but that is a different story.

Back to R. A month ago, he suddenly asked me to divine for his love life. He was skeptical about my ability to read people and situations from an astrology chart until I demonstrated my art to him via instant messaging. FYI, I only do this as a hobby and only for friends who really need it, when I have the time. R was patient enough to wait weeks between the first and second reading as I launched this website then tinkered with it.

R asked if I remembered what I said about FCX on one of his albums. I said no since I’m such a major busy body that I even have difficulty remembering my own birthday. Yes, I once got the day wrong. He dug out my comments from 2 years ago about this girl he had gone hiking with. At the time, he insisted they were just friends. I told him that she was a good match because they had FCX. He argued with me about the validity of my beliefs and I told him that for Chinese, FCX is the gold standard in compatibility. I’ve seen it work many times even in partners of different races, even in homosexual couples.

From that time to this, he had been dating someone else. Why R and I were having this conversation was because – drumroll please – he and the girl he’d gone hiking with were actually attracted to each other. TA DA !!! There are problems which I’m not at liberty to discuss but suffice to say, I was right all along about FCX.

Rain, rain, go away…

By Estella

It’s been raining all week in Brisbane. We’ve had swimming pools where there once was puddles and puddles where there once was dry land. The only good to come out of all this rain, other than a full Wivenhoe dam, is the chance for Brisbanites to wear their wet weather gear.

Amanda and I, living 3 blocks from Brisbane’s Cultural Precinct, spent a rainy Monday, at the Museum cafe. After examining the quirky art works by final year arts students, I ordered her a babycino and I, a regular latte. We adjourned to the top deck of the cafe, where I stared out over the rim of my take-away coffee onto a city shrouded in grey, whilst Amanda played happily with other children there.

Here are some happy snaps I took on the day.

Art work at Brisbane Museum Cafe.

This is supposed to a miniature of a metropolis at various stages of growth and decay. The entire structure was made from wooden pegs by third year arts degree students.

Art work at Brisbane Museum.

Another art work by third year arts degree students. Fashioned from women’s stockings, this one is about people reaching out for warmth and connection in today’s technologically advanced world.

Amanda with an art work at the Brisbane Museum.

This one is a bookshelf held together by nothing but pencils.

View of Brisbane city from the Brisbane Museum Cafe top deck.

Great view I enjoyed while sipping my latte at the Brisbane Museum Cafe.

Amanda on the swing at the Brisbane Museum Cafe.

Amanda was on this swing made from bicycle tyre tubes at the Brisbane Museum Cafe.

Gallery of Modern Art.

View of GOMA from the Brisbane Museum Cafe.

Garden seat at the Brisbane Museum Cafe.

This seat at the Brisbane Museum Cafe is made from plastic attached to bicycle helmets. If you look closely, you can see how it pokes out like a gigantic durian.



Please don’t make me into your project.

By Estella

I have one thing in common with bad boys everywhere: it appears I walk about with this invisible sign above my head that says, “Project.” Girls who are in to bad boys will know what I’m talking about. Mothers look at bad boys and see basket cases, their daughters look at them and see potential.

In my case, the potential is for me to be saved from just about everything. If Christians see me, they see my potential to be saved from hell – rather oblivious to the very long line of people who’ve gone before them, who’ve already attempted to do so. I might be converted at some point, but the short answer is, “Not today.” If you keep bombarding me with arguments on the validity of faith and belief and trying to paper mache my house with reading material, the answer may soon turn to “Never.”

Trust me when I say, “I’m not going to be your project.” While you were playing hopscotch and chasey in the backyard as a child, I was earning myself a PHD in comparative religions. I must add, against my will. You better not ask how unless you want to know all about crazy paternal relatives, doctors and witch doctors, being part of a cult, and having strange people share your dinner table almost every second day of the week.

Ditto people who say I should have a second child, open a Chinese take-away shop, cut my hair or do this and that. What I’ve discovered from having that “Project” sign above my head is this: people who are single, want you to be single. People who are married, want you to be married. People who are…fill in the blanks…want you to be whatever they are.

For reasons I cannot fathom, I give off vibes that say I’m amenable to whatever suggestion is pushed my way. It must be my face. I should take to painting on a moustache like Mr Potato on Pringle Cans to deter well-meaning people from moulding me into their likeness. If I could interest you in astrology for just five seconds, you’d see why this is a thoroughly futile exercise.

My chart, representative of my whole person, is one of fixity. It is the dominant characteristic of my personality. If you have to ask how the entire earth’s population can be divided into twelve types, then you don’t know enough about astrology to object. It also means that if you see the damned “Project” sign, you’d better just save your breath.

That’s not to say I don’t love debate. Close friends know how much I enjoy splitting hairs over Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha, whoever you want to discuss, the weather, American colonisation via the TV…But they know that my position with regards to everything will remain unchanged at the end of the night. That’s because I reserve the right to have my own thoughts, come to my own conclusions and make my own decisions. If all this smacks of arrogance, consider for a moment how you would feel if someone tried to cram your throat with the liturgical equivalent of a can full of mace. Horrifying, isn’t it? That’s exactly how I feel about being someone’s pet project every time.

9 parental milestones.

Everyone speaks of childhood milestones without realising that for parents, these too are monumental events in their journey down that road called parenthood. From first words to first dates, every stage calls for adaptation as parents guide their offspring through childhood and beyond. Here is a compilation of them:

1) You discover you’re pregnant. You house within you another life whose development depends largely upon you. As such, you can’t just guzzle down wine and puff away like a chimney like you used to. Most experts suggest you cut down on coffee. While one large cup is unlikely to harm your baby, over-indulging might put you at risk of miscarriage or premature labour. Understandably, many first-time parents discover a hitherto unknown interest in health, fitness and nutrition.

2) Your baby is born. This is probably the most sleep-deprived and confused you’ll ever be in your life with a hundred and one experts giving conflicting advice on everything from starting on solids to co-sleeping. Total strangers will come up to you to comment on how well you’re doing as a parent or to offer what feels like unwanted advice.

3) Your baby starts to speak. This means you have to watch what you say as the little tykes  can and do soak up anything that comes out of your mouth. The next thing you know, you’ll have other parents coming up to you to report that your child taught their child “the f word.”

4) You baby goes off to school. Parents either rejoice or mourn the loss of their babies for 6 hours of the day, as the little ones first go off to kindy, then “big kids school.” For many, this is an opportunity to go back to work or if they are already working, to feel less badly about being away from their children.

5) Your baby goes off to high school. For the first time since he or she was born, you have sleepless nights as the baby discovers disco, mini-skirts and the opposite sex. Actually, it is the last more than the first two that keeps you up, as rampaging hormones, peer pressure and media influence causes your baby to go from sweet child to under-dressed, sulky, petulant teenager.

6) Your baby goes off to uni or gets into an apprenticeship. While probably still living at home and off you, you’re child now has holiday and weekend plans that exclude you.

7) Your baby moves out. With the cost of housing escalating, many don’t leave the nest until they are in their mid to late twenties. Moving out heralds the beginning of weekly telephone dates to keep you updated on their lives.

8) Your baby gets married. It’s a cause for celebration, unless you are made to pay for the wedding, in which case you only have yourself to blame for not teaching the baby about money. At any rate, it means there’ll be someone to care for him or her and to share life’s burdens with when you finally shuffle off to heaven.

9) Your baby has a baby. Hooray! We’ve come full circle. But for the masochistic few who refuse retirement, this is a time to play consultant instead of unpaid nanny.


8 misconceptions about romantic relationships.

People go into relationships having all these expectations of the other. Many are erroneous and not helpful in sustaining the connection. Here are the most common misconceptions:

1) “You complete me.” Blame Jerry Maguire but there’s been a lot of looking to another for completion since that movie came out. The way I see it, you’ve either got your shit together or you haven’t. All this completing business says you want someone else to wipe your arse.

2) You’re no longer lonely. Two lonely people does not a party make. You can be in  relationships with ten other people simultaneously – assuming none find out – and still be the loneliest person ever.

3) You share everything. Again, no. This is because we are too complicated beings, however simple we’d like to think we are, to be totally identical to the people we choose. It’s likely we’d share some interests with our partners, but many more with family and friends.

4) You’re together all the time. At the beginning of the relationship and in your retirement years when you don’t have to rush off to work, yes. In between, you’ll spend more of your waking hours with colleagues and agreeable strangers than you do with your other half.

5) You know everything about the other. With time, you can know a lot. Certainly more than if you had never entered a relationship. But there will be instances in your relationship when you see gaps in your knowledge. It’s not necessarily a bad thing unless those gaps hide a different sexual orientation, a second family or participation in criminal activity.

6) You like everything about the other. I’m afraid the other is no different from the myriad of people that pop into our lives. There are aspects of them you like, aspects of them, you don’t. The only difference is you’ve made a commitment to work through your mismatched interests.

7) It’s how they make you feel. If this is the case, I hope you have a pre-nup agreement because he or she is not going to make you feel on top of the world, all the time. Obviously, if the other half made you feel terrible you wouldn’t want to be in the relationship, but expecting to be constantly in love is like expecting it to never rain in the tropics. Unrealistic.

8) It’s one big love fest between your partner and your family. FYI His Royal Highness’ family thinks I’m a rude, arrogant, snob (his words) because I want to keep our decision-making about finances, lifestyle and child-rearing to ourselves. I mean, what are we? Communists? If your family likes your partner, good. If they don’t, ask yourself why. Family is our first port of call in a storm but they don’t always know you as well as they’d like to think they do. What I told His Royal Highness in response is that, if I had been what his family would like, he’d have no house, no child and very likely, no money.







Celebrity persists after death.

If you are unconvinced of the value of celebrity, consider the following: I spent close to $80 for Amanda and myself to see Tutankhamun in Melbourne and only $32 for us to view Nefer-something or other in Brisbane. For those short on Egyptology, one was a famed boy-king, while the other, one of very many priests in ancient Egypt.

No doubt both played a particular role in ancient Egyptian life, but only one’s remains and relics command top dollar. In death, as in life, it would seem that reputation precedes a person.

The difference in price probably also reflects the size and scale of the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Melbourne Museum versus the relatively modest number of exhibits on priestly life, on loan by the British Museum, at the Brisbane Museum. The former covered 10 halls – I remember because I was out of saliva from reading and explaining exhibits to Amanda by the end of it – while the Mummy exhibition at the Brisbane Museum only spanned 3 halls.

At the Melbourne Museum, I saw Tutankhamun’s entire extended family modelled in various materials, salivated over the delicate craftsmanship of furniture and various day-to-day bric-a-brac and paused in awe at his gilded Sarcophagus. At the Brisbane Museum Mummy exhibition, I saw Egyptian priests in various forms – bronze statuettes,  stone statues and mummified bodies – and learnt all about their daily lives.

For instance, I read that Egyptian priests worked on rotation and for defined periods of time, that roles were passed down from father to son, and while serving, had to adhere to a strict cleansing and dressing code. They also had to abstain from sex. By the end of the exhibition, Amanda could even pick out who were the priest on the Stela – pictorial stone carvings – based on which character had a bald head.

Amanda at Brisbane Museum's Mummy Exhibition.

Amanda, waiting for the doors to the 3D movie at Brisbane Museum’s Mummy Exhibition to open.


Interracial romance of Yasmin Ahmad’s “Sepet”.

If you’ve seen the late Yasmin Ahmad’s movie “Sepet”, bear with me. Since foreign movies take forever and a day to reach Australian shores, last night, courtesy of the intellectual property rights disrespecting of Youtube, I was finally able to catch the interracial love story in all its glory on His Royal Highness’ crook laptop.

Ever since Amanda accidentally sprayed His Royal Highness’ laptop with urine, we’ve only been able to use it for limited surfing of the internet. If ever you do receive an extremely curt message from me with no h, t, j or l, then you know which computer I am using. Anyhow, it’s still good for Youtube and we managed to enjoy “Sepet.”

If you’re a white dude or dudette reading this and wondering whether “Sepet” is the movie for you, read on. You can read a synopsis of the movie on Wikipedia but since you’re already reading this, I might as well tell you about it. It was awesome!

It’s the love story of a Malay girl and a Chinese boy set in modern-day Malaysia that captures the ethnic, social and political conflicts of the multi-racial, multi-cultural country. If you think European movies on SBS speak a different language, wait until you see this.

Reflecting how diverse Malaysian society is, dialogue is a combination of English, Malay, Cantonese, Hokkien and Peranakan patois. There are English subtitles throughout for the linguistically-challenged viewer. As a Peranakan, I adore the movie because it explains to the viewer indirectly what we are and touches on our special place in the nation’s history. As a Malaysian, I am proud to say it is from our local film-making industry because it is a production with creative integrity.

The late Yasmin Ahmad, herself married to a Chinese, did not trivialise the issues that arise from Malays perception of Chinese or Chinese perception of Malays but instead sought to give the racial tension between Malaysia’s two major races voice by acknowledging its existence through the nuances of the script. Friends of the main characters were opposed to the relationship, even though family was mostly supportive, because each held long-standing racial misconceptions of the other.

For example, Malays are viewed by Chinese to be lazy. Chinese are viewed by Malays to be shrewd and mercenary. The movie shows how both groups co-exist within a multi-cultural framework but have ample mistrust of the other. It is a love story, but it also a story about the love-hate relationship between Malays and Chinese; the private admiration and the open condescension, the historically close relationship and present-day alienation.

As for the title, “Sepet” means slitty-eyed. It refers to what Malays call Chinese eyes.


Why I allowed my child to watch American Psycho.

Two years ago, friends were aghast when I mentioned that I allowed Amanda, then-five, to watch the American Psycho of misogynistic repute. For those who’ve never heard of the book which spawned the movie, starring the current Batman, Christian Bale, it’s about this suit-wearing narcissist who’s an ad-agency executive by day and a prostitute killer slash cannibal by night.

Anyone who’s even seen the trailer of American Psycho will know it is full of blood and gore. Sort of like Luka Rocco Magnotta’s escapades, except that this is merely fiction. After getting over the shock of such a confession, the question they put to me was, “Why?”

You’ve got to know the child you have. I didn’t take Amanda straight from the womb and plonked her in front of American Psycho. We’d been having conversations about life through films long before she could even question what was on the screen.

Why use the TV, you ask. If you are going to watch the idiot box, then you might as well learn something from it. I can’t teach Amanda about stranger danger, rapist and murderers without giving her examples of what evil these people do. After all, how do you explain to a five year old there are worse things than her doll being chewed by the neighbour’s dog?

Obviously if you haven’t laid the groundwork of talking to your child about what they see, you shouldn’t even go there as such images are likely to give them nightmares. I started off when Amanda was still a baby by talking to her about her environment. I pointed out objects around the house and gave them names. When I took her for walks and we came across a dead frog, I allowed her to see it, to prod it with a stick if need be to confirm the cessation of life.

Some people argue that 3 years of age is too young to know about death but by 3, Amanda already knew the difference between suicide and being killed. All this from our many encounters with dead frogs, which were a common sight in our neighbourhood.

I explained to her that everyone and every living thing dies and for that reason, life is precious. Some people like the American Psycho, appear nice and smiling, but are really very, very, very dangerous. I left out big words like sadistic and misogynistic. All she needed to know was that some people need to be avoided.



10 things my parents taught me about money

Being fortunate enough to be born when there is no war or famine, many of us have lost the money-habits that enabled our parents’ generation to thrive. Here are some of them:

1) Never tell anyone how much you are worth. I was seven and my father had managed to save X dollars towards my future. My mother said to me, “Don’t tell anyone because many people have much more than that. Those that have more will think it so little. Those that have less will want to borrow from you.”

2) Your siblings may be millionaires but that doesn’t make you one. My mothers sisters all married very well. While they’ve always been generous towards us, what my mother wanted me to learn was to live within my means.

3) Your clothes/shoes/household goods cannot be turned into money. Arguably with a huge garage sale and eBay they can, but you’d lose money on the lot unless you bought those items direct from the manufacturer especially for resale. In others words, you shouldn’t spend all your money on consumables. My parents were very against keeping up with the Jones.

4) Don’t borrow if you can’t afford. They meant for consumables like clothes, holidays, that new car. Refer to number 3. These are items that can’t be turned into cash without incurring significant loses. If you borrow to buy them, you’ll still be making monthly repayments long after the item has lost its value.

5) Don’t ask anyone for money. Be it your parents or your siblings, don’t ever stretch out your hand and say, “Lend me a bob.” Your parents only owe you love and a good education. If you have both, you’re already very lucky. Your siblings only owe you love. “Forget about asking friends because that’s the easiest way to lose them,” my mother said.

6) There’s no shame in second-hand. Whether it’s clothes or a car, as long as it’s useable, it’s good. When I was growing up, second-hand was practically brand new as my  older cousins wore something before handing it to my sisters, who handed it down to me. Even underwear found a second life by being recycled into cloths to wipe the dining table.

7) Never underestimate the power of a single cent. My mother liked to say, “Even if you are one cent short, the baker won’t sell that loaf of bread to you.” In this new economy where they no longer make one cent coins, he might, but what she was trying to teach me was to care for my pennies. Many pennies make up a pound.

8) Learn to save. It won’t make you as rich as Croesus but without a good savings track record, the bank will be unwilling to lend you money. Or if they are already lending you money, unwilling to lend you more because you haven’t shown an ability to extend yourself. Of course there are many lenders out there, but those willing to lend when you have no demonstrable ability to repay are sharks out to gouge you with high lending rates.

9) Teach your child to save. There’s no point leaving your children money if all they know is how to spend. Unless you are Bill Gates, your money will run out before they get to the ends of their lives. Give them a piggybank and show them how it is done. Encourage them to have savings goals and allow them to use their own money for purchases so that they know the actual value of their savings.

10) Have goals worth saving for. My parents goals before they had me and my brother was for us to have a good education. They knew it would cost a lot so started saving well before I came into the world. My father didn’t want to be like his father who knew how to take his family for holidays, eat nice food and buy a car – then a luxury item – only to die destitute. He kept telling his wife they’d buy a house when they could afford a big one. They never even bought a small one as he died when my father was nineteen, leaving him as the eldest to support the entire family.

For 15 easy tips on how to slash the weekly family food budget, check out my article.


My cousin and I: a story about decades of sibling rivalry.

I was chatting to a friend this morning about a cousin of mine whom I haven’t seen or spoken to in over a decade. The reason my cousin came up in conversation was because most people I went to school with know we are related. For a start, we are the same age and the same gender. Our mothers are sisters and we spent many a Saturday afternoon playing with dolls at my house after our weekly piano lessons.

What is less widely known is that we were also fierce competitors. Older by five and a half months, my mother never let me forget that I was supposed to be better at whatever we were both doing because I had come into the world first. To my mother’s disappointment, my cousin was on to her fourth Royal College of Music exam before I even attempted my first. What made it worse was everyone knowing I was perfectly capable of going for grading but I was simply disinterested. Hence, from a young age, I was labeled “lazy.”

Later, my brother would tell me that he’d overheard her mother telling another aunt that I was “difficult.” But not before my mother had already told me, some time in childhood that she wished my cousin was her daughter instead of me.

My cousin, having a six footer father, was bigger, taller, stronger, and with Punjabi blood, much more determined to succeed than me. As an aside, I’m convinced Indians have a natural drive few Chinese possess which explains why many Indian taxi drivers have doctors for children but only a handful of Chinese taxi drivers do.

I was Lex Luthor to my cousin’s Clarke Kent; small, skinny and forever sickly. I was the underdog our other aunts would occasionally rejoice over, because I was not expected to best her at any race. Where she was organised and determined, I was playful and rebellious;  I was pound for pound as naughty as a puppy with a pile full of shoes.

I bit my cousin on the hand when we were both14 – she expressed surprise, then refused to talk to me for I don’t know how long. I think she did ask me why and I must have told her that I was angry. The next year she went on to another class and I, another school. My father had a transfer up north and I remember complaining bitterly all the way to our new home, how whenever she came to town, I had to be shoved in to some hell hole.

It turned out the change was good for me as after a year of readjustment, I became more studious. We both did equally well in our high school leaving exams and for once, the elders had nothing bad to say about me. Unfortunately, we both went on to do accounting at university. She, because she wanted to, instead of engineering. I, because my mother wanted me to, instead of mass communications. You can imagine how her being allowed to choose her field of study versus my being disallowed to choose mine, reflected in our results.

When we graduated, she easily found herself a job in one of the big accounting firms while I opted to work in Singapore, where I eventually meandered in to mass communications. The lesson for parents? Que sera sera, whatever will be, will be…

Our relatives continued to compare us, although less and less with each passing year. The last time I saw her was before I went to work in a TV company. She said, “Now I’ll be able to tell people I’m related to some minor celebrity in Singapore.” I have no idea if that was a compliment or an insult. Small matter for I soon found myself jobless in Australia.

I married and then she did too, on the same day, five years later. Her mother told mine it was because all the churches were booked solid on the other days. My mother told me, who had a registry wedding she never attended, followed by a three-table dinner in a nearby Chinese restaurant, my cousin’s wedding was graced by many Malaysian VIPS. Among them the brother of Najib Razak, Malaysia’s current Prime Minister.

By then, I was a mother so I was too sleep deprived to be jealous or to care less. In a few years, my cousin became a mother too. Like me, she had a girl. Our daughters have never met although family members love commenting on how tiny her daughter is – her husband is roughly my height, and how huge mine is. In a reversal of our childhoods where she was tall and I was small, she married someone family joke “is small enough to hide behind her” whilst I married someone big enough I can hide behind.