My history of receiving flowers.

A picture John Goh from Bloom the floral shop in Malaysia, tagged me in.

A lovely bunch of blue gardenias artistically arranged by Bloom the floral shop in Malaysia.

My friend, John Goh, runs a thriving floral arrangement business in Malaysia. We’ve never met, but either he or our mutual friend, Mei Ling, who I went to school with when I was 12, usually tags me in pictures of beautiful blooms from his business, Bloom, the floral shop.

I love the pictures, even if at times, I suspect this is the closest I’ll ever get to receiving an actual flower bouquet. My history of being the recipient of flowers is like most girls, a long story of never getting what you want from the person you’re with.

The first flower I ever received was from a boy called Chua Kok Seng. Unlike all the other boys who were closer to midgets at 13, he was over 6 feet tall and very well-built. You can imagine the rows of eyes that turned to watch from their seats, as he stood outside my class with a single rose in hand, as rain fell, somewhat dramatically, in the background.

Since our school was forever trying to raise funds for this and that by allowing the student body to sell roses, he was often outside my class, waiting for me to retrieve his plastic wrapped single stalk like a basset hound – that’s the Hush Puppy dog – with a bone in his mouth waiting for someone to play throw and fetch. As an adult, I realise the amount of courage he must have had to endure the stares and whispers, for even grown men would rather walk over hot coals with ants in their pants than subject themselves to that level of scrutiny. What more since it was a known by all and sundry that I was mooning over this midget named Irwan.

The next time I received flowers, I was eighteen. I had gotten over the midget Irwan and was dating someone ten years older, who although lacking in imagination, had the money to buy me a dozen red roses for Valentine’s Day. The joy at receiving them lasted 4 days, because without flower food, they withered after that.

Deciding to woo me through my stomach, His Royal Highness only bought me three stalks at the beginning of our relationship. He said he wanted to get a dozen roses but had no idea they’d cost as much as a good meal out. The next time he bought me flowers was for our wedding; I had a bouquet of about 20 to 30 white rose buds he’d paid a floral wholesaler in Springvale, Melbourne, to gather and pretty for me.

For the next ten years, the only bouquets I received were from Amanda, who plucked flowers from the roadside for me. I know, how pitiful. Then for my last birthday, His Royal Highness came back with three red roses for me. He was a smidgen embarrassed when Tania, my good friend, gave me a ginormous bouquet overflowing with flowers and leaves of every kind, dwarfing his small offering. He kept saying over and over again, “Isn’t that a big bunch of flowers?”

Mixed flower bouquet.

The flowers I received from Tania lasted two whole weeks with flower food.

Since he’d been outdone by Tania, His Royal Highness splashed out on a bunch of white Lilies from Coles for me on our tenth wedding anniversary. He had to. He figured he’d either be sleeping in our non-existent dog house or evil-eyed by my entire family for making less effort.

A bouquet of white lilies from Coles.

His Royal Highness bought me this bouquet of white Lilies for our tenth wedding anniversary. They had great perfume.

 

 

Birthday blues.

It’s no secret I’m getting older. Officially, in another two weeks time. Unofficially, every time Amanda and I pass a cake store. She loves asking me which birthday cake I’ll be getting and which candles I’ll be picking to go with the cake.

On our walk home from school the Thursday just past, she ramped up the birthday talk even more by asking me, “Are you going to have a birthday or are you going to have BIRTHDAY?” It must be all the American sitcoms she’s been watching because she thinks exaggerating a word makes me sit up and take notice.

“My birthday’s not for a while yet,” I told her. When she’s older I’ll tell her how I share the same birthday as 2 Rockefellers – both Godzillionaires – but have none of their talent for making money. Coincidentally, Amanda’s birthday is the death-day for one of them.

Yes, I know. It’s freaky. Still, I’ve won no lotteries or even scratch-its, so luck must be limited to just their family. Although, the big book of birthdays does say that real estate and anything to do with earth is a money-making avenue for me. So maybe I’m just in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, at the wrong time. Typical story.

Anyhow Amanda asked, “Will there is balloons and goodie bags?”

“For who?”

“For the guest.” She looked at me with all the eagerness of a seven year old expecting a jumping castle on wheels and clowns to come down the road.

“There won’t be any goodie bags because won’t be any guests,” I announced like a funeral director. Forgive me, but after your thirtieth birthday, every birthday is a reminder of your blasted biological clock.

“Oh,” she said sounding like a whimpering dog. She must have thought it the worst birthday party  ever. American sitcoms are all about exaggeration. “How about cake then?” she asked.

“I might have a slice.” Or two, depending on how much skiing His Royal Highness, Amanda  and I do the two days before. As far as I’m concerned, being alive is present enough for one’s birthday when in the larger scheme of things, one could be dead.

Ok. I’ll try not to be such a kill-joy. Happy birthday 2 weeks in advance to me. Thank you for your kind thoughts and greetings on the day.

 

 

On being the token Asian among whites.

By Estella

Once in a way I will join a group of mothers from school for morning coffee. With the exception of yours truly, every other person in the group is white. One or two are married to non-whites, but the coffee shop we meet up in is only frequented by whites and the topics we talk about are mostly white.

What do I mean by white topics? First world issues like the weather, trips to the beach, gym memberships… One of the women once spoke about a trip to Port Dickson in Malaysia, but even though I am from Malaysia, no one thought to ask me about it.

Don’t get me wrong. Everyone is friendly and welcoming, but while they want to solve the world’s problems over morning coffee, no one wants to hear about how LYNAS, an Australian company, is going to pollute Gebeng, a small seaside town just outside of Kuantan on the East Coast of Malaysia, with effluvients from their rare earths processing plant. The specificities of such a potential atrocity on the natural environment are too much for any one of them to deal with – especially after I point out that these rare earths, which go into their solar panels and Ipads and Iphones, will give an impoverished fishing population anything from birth defects to leukemia.

So it is back to the safety of first world topics: school sports days, the increasing costs of going to the movies or how apartments are unsuitable for a growing family…

There was a time when I stopped going for these coffee mornings altogether because I felt excluded from the general flow of the conversation. They would greet me and urge me to pull up a chair and sit with them, but none would show me the pictures they took when visiting the Louvre in Paris or of their home’s renovation, even though by the sounds of it, everyone else at the table had already seen them.

Eventually, I managed to put aside my misgivings about being the token Asian because it occurred to me that if I am to thrive and prosper in this land, I have to first master the art of communicating in generalities about topics I have an in-depth knowledge of. Then I have to put aside my feelings of people asking how I am but not really wanting to know.

White Australians want the romance of the East, the escape and adventure, not the reality of rampant poverty, corruption and discrimination that living in a third world presents. They want lovely word pictures of home births assisted by family instead of the truth that no Asian would ever want anyone other than a doctor delivering their baby. It is this knowledge of their mindset and how to communicate effectively with them that I gained from returning to the group.

In many ways it’s no different to learning how to avoid talking about Malaysia’s racial tensions. Now that I have come out as a Peranakan, essentially a hybrid of Malay or Indigenous and Chinese, anything I say with regards to Malaysian politics will be read as pro Malay by the Chinese, pro Chinese by the Malay, when all I am stating is simply my own conclusions, the result of long and intense observation.

 

The staggering ignorance of the second generation.

By Estella

With second generation Asians, for whom Asia is a fabled land they go back to for holidays, I have to water down my conversations to only include topics like tuition, fees and choice of high school. Some are polite enough to bear with me as I delve into the dynamics of race relations but for the most part, all many want to discuss is this year’s Ikea catalogue.

Take for example this girl who I used to hang out with often. She was born in Australia, but her Malaysian family lived for many years in Papua New Guinea where her father owned a chain of grocery stores. All was fine and dandy until I mentioned that I am Peranakan. “What’s that?” she asked.

I explained to her. “Haven’t you heard of it before?”

Most would just say no. She had the nerve to say, “That’s not what Malaysia is about.”

Pray tell, ignorant second generation migrant, what is Malaysia about? Eating spicy street food, buying cheap knock-off Louis Vuitton at Chow Kit or having manicures down at Sungai Wang? The unofficial definition of the country might be wide enough to encompass all three, but contemplating the staggering ignorance her comment revealed, I shuddered to think how clueless of her cultural heritage and ethnic history my daughter is going to be.

To tell me, who was born and raised in Malaysia that being Peranakan – essentially bi-racial and bi-cultural, descendants of the first ever Chinese settlers in the Malay archipelago – is not what Malaysia, a multi-racial, multi-cultural country is about, is to spit on everything that her family stands for. If all my place of origin represents is foreign food cooked by my parents at home and a smattering of a tongue the locals have no appreciation for, then I might as well call myself an Aussie. At least, white Aussies are brave enough to admit they are a hodgepodge of European races they do not know.

 

10 things to do with your kids during the school holidays.

By Estella

Here is Australia, the mid-year school holidays almost upon us. With that in mind, below is a list of cost-effective activities you can do with the kids to occupy their time:

1) Take them to the museum. Museums used to be all boring ol’ exhibits, but now most feature a section for children along with commentary for less-advanced readers.

2) Go swimming. With heated pools, swimming in winter can be as much fun as it is in summer. Just remember to bring and apply sunscreen so no one gets sunburnt.

3) Have a picnic or BBQ in the park. They can burn off excess energy on playground equipment or scoot along in their mini-scooters on paved walkways while the adults indulge in some non-child-related conversation with other parents.

4) Have a home bake-off. You can make cookies and tea cakes to share with neighbours, family and friends, while teaching your child simple measurements. Make sure they wash their hands properly before and after and remain supervised while handling sharp objects or the oven. To simplify proceedings, you can buy pre-mixes for them to make.

5) Have a night at the movies. Go to the video store together on cheap Tuesdays to borrow a whole heap of DVDs for a dollar each. Then go home and make pop-corn together to enjoy with your selection.

6) Organise a play-date. Most kids enjoy just hanging out with their friends. It’s a fuss-free option that can fit around most other holiday plans.

7) Go on a road trip. With younger children, the road trip has to be shorter otherwise there will be plenty of whining and “Are we there yet?” in the car. It pays to get them excited about where they are going by telling them what they are going to see beforehand.

8) Attend a sports clinic. Most sports clinics for children start from $50 a day, lunch excluded. You can either phone up community centres to ask about their school holiday programme or perhaps like me, your child has already come home from school with brochures to events.

9) Use your yearly pass. All the theme parks on the Gold Coast and places like the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary sell yearly passes. If your kids enjoy frequenting such places, it might make sense to get one. Get together with friends to save by bulk purchasing passes.

10) Explore interesting parts of the neighbourhood. What’s interesting? You’ve got to remember that children see the world with untainted eyes. We see flowers on bushes as flowers on bushes. They see flowers on bushes as pretend food for their dolls, hair accessories, home decorations, parts of a necklace…even taking them out for the fresh air is good.

Schooling in Australia vs schooling in Asia

By Estella

When Amanda started school 3 years ago, my mother’s first question to me was, “Is there any proper learning?” Followed by, “Or is it all just play play?”

To the Asian mind, play is synonymous with bad. It’s also related to laziness and low achievement since ten-hour or more work days are still the norm in Asia. It’s what kids do when they wag school, instead of stay in school.

The current education model followed by most Australian schools puts an emphasis on play, especially among kindergarten and early primary learners. They talk about fun in learning, something I decided to leave out when updating my mother, in case she insisted that I ship her grandchild back straight away.

I did however tell her that children here learn through play; it’s a concept that blew my mind when I heard about it for my recollections of kindergarten are mostly a treasure trove of instruction on how to be unfailingly studious. One of my standout memories of being in kindergarten is of a male classmate, bound and put by the window by the teacher, his mouth taped shut for talking too much in class.

Nowadays, even Asian parents would kick up a fuss at such mistreatment. Then, it was a perfectly acceptable form of punishment for a none-too-disruptive little boy. Here, he would be labelled as “cheeky” and lauded by all as an adorable “larrikin.”

Apart from learning through self-discovery, there is also an emphasis on applying what is learnt to real-life situations. The Australian syllabus may be lacking in coverage, but educators try to make sure that what is learnt is applicable in real life. For instance maths.

In Asian schools, children are drilled in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division until many can function as human calculators. Here they teach them to look at the patterns of a string of numbers, see how fractions apply to a family-sized pie, add and subtract by counting money. Parents are asked to give their children money to buy them Mothers and Fathers Day presents with. This helps them exercise decision-making and to learn about money since most bring pack-lunches to school.

When I was in school, money and maths were learnt by going to the tuck-shop with a couple of thousand other children during recess. Too bad if you didn’t know what you could buy with your money. My mother never packed lunch for me, neither did she read to me at bedtime nor hear me read for that matter. Here, I have to do all three with Amanda everyday.

 

 

By Estella Dot Com, a change of tag.

By Estella

After posting 60 odd stories on By Estella Dot Com in the last 3 weeks, it dawned on me that my former tagline “the heart-song of an unapologetic sentimentalist in suburbia”, while representative of this blog, might be less than helpful to the would-be-reader trying to decide if my writings are suitable for him or her. I appreciate that for many of us, time is scarce, and our after-hours reading should not only be entertaining but edifying.

In light of that, I have changed my tag to “Cross-cultural parenting, relationships and lifestyle stories for every person, everywhere.” What do you think about that? Would it better help the potential reader to discern what this blog is about?

10 things I taught my husband.

By Estella

If you read the previous post, you probably wondered what His Royal Highness learnt from our relationship. Here’s what I taught him:

1) You are not your parents. Both of his were overweight gamblers. Even if they were svelte  social icons, I would still say the same thing. We have the right to determine our individual paths through life and what worked so well for them, might not work for us.

2) You can say No. Being from the East, we want to be as agreeable as is possible. We bend backwards and accommodate everyone from our meddling in-laws to people down the street who mind our business but quietly seethe inside. It’s better to risk being seen as belligerent, then to be dragged through what you have no interest in.

3) Speaking up is not rude. Most Asians equate being loud with being rude. People need to be able to hear us. Speaking at an audible level saves them from saying, “Pardon” over and over. Perhaps in the West, people equate being softly spoken with being unconfident.

4) Say whatever is on your mind. Asians are very direct with each other, but find it hard to broach topics with Caucasians without taking a roundabout route. We expect that they know what we are alluding to, but our intent is usually lost in a haze of semantics. This is especially true for His Royal Highness since English is not his first language.

5) Putting your own interests first is not selfish. His Royal Highness is at times, simply too altruistic. If he hadn’t married me, his family would have made away with all his money and he would be embittered by the many people out to use him.

6) Cars are a waste of money. Typical boy that he is, he says he needs to drive a flashier car once he becomes a consultant as that will inspire confidence in his patients. I tell him that if a car can inspire confidence in anyone, they would have to be as shallow as a puddle for a new car loses 30% of its value the moment you drive out of the dealership. In addition, an expensive vehicle costs you an arm and a leg just to service. Often, I can tell how much one has in the bank just by the car driven.

7) Big houses are also a waste of money. You can see a consistent theme here, can’t you? Big spaces cost more to buy, more to maintain, more to heat and cool plus there’s all this furniture you need to buy in order to prevent the space from feeling cavernous. Many say that children need room to run around in but think about it: do you want a child running about your house knocking over all your ornaments and precious keepsakes? Besides, there’s such a thing as a public park.

8) Things last only as long as they are maintained. Whether it is houses or cars or that new shirt you just bought, everything requires constant upkeep. Even relationships need to be nurtured in order to keep alive. If you dislike the amount of effort called for maintaining what you’ve got, then you might not have it for very long.

9) Expensive and good quality are distant cousins. Being royalty, His Royal Highness likes the finest of everything. From numbers 6 and 7, you can tell that I’ve put my accounting degree to some use by doing the math before opening my wallet. The fact is, you can live very well for very little, so why should you pay through your nose for just about everything you touch? I remind him that some of our most enjoyable meals have been cheap ones, just as some of our most expensive ones, total rubbish.

10) You live on through your child. Perhaps I shouldn’t add this to the list because it is something he is still learning. Since he has his own career – one which takes up most of his time – he sees success as being solely in relation to himself. I tell him that the greatest career success would mean nothing if he failed our daughter. He likes to ask me, “Do you not think I love my daughter?” I always answer, “You do, but not as much as I would like you to.”

 

10 things I learnt from my husband.

By Estella

His Royal Highness and I are very different people and it is precisely for that reason our mental exchanges are so stimulating. Here’s what he taught me:

1) The poor are not necessarily bad. I argued criminals were typically poor because hunger and deprivation can drive a person to dispense with their morals. He countered by saying that his uncle and aunt are poor but the most morally upright people he knows.

2) Those most likely to come to your aid may be racially different to you. Growing up in racially-sensitive Malaysia, where everyone has friends who are ethnically different but still tends to trust most those from within their own ethnic group, I contended that our closest allies are of a similar racial profile. After all, isn’t it in familiarity that empathy grows? He countered by citing numerous examples of when racially different people were more helpful than those from our ethnic group.

3) Being smart is no guarantee of success. While some might think it insensitive, he points to yours truly as a shining example of being very smart but utterly unsuccessful. I like to remind him that as a support person, my success is actually his, but it is true, on my own and of my self, I am unsuccessful.

4) Persistance pays. He’s had many setbacks in his career. A lesser person would have said it’s too hard and walked away. Instead, he’s borne the indignity of multiple failures with fortitude and emerged victorious.

5) How to be the bigger person. He’d rather lose an argument than lose a relationship. As a result of letting others get away with their thoughts and actions – some erroneous – his relationships are a lot more enduring than mine.

6) To give more than you get. It’s a very privileged person who gets to help another out as not everyone is in the position to do so. However, you have to make a distinction between someone who genuinely needs help and one who just wants to piggyback on whatever you’re doing because there are many users out there.

7) To be proud of being different to everyone else. Like me, His Royal Highness has never been part of a herd. However, while I’ve constantly felt out of joint with society for marching to my beat, he takes immense pride in marching to his.

8) To filter my thoughts before speaking. Most who know me well would concur that I have somewhat confronting views. What I now realise is that not all of those views need be shared with everyone else. The socially acceptable ones I air on this blog, the more contentious ones, I keep to myself.

9) Doing nothing can do a lot for you. I often like rushing off to activities on weekends. He likes to sit around and just take it easy. I tried doing it his way last weekend and found myself more refreshed and looking forward to the week ahead.

10) The other is not the enemy. In fact, the other is probably a friend, but when you argue, that’s the last thing you remember. Learning to be less defensive helps you to hear the other person out and embrace life without turning everything into a battle.

 

Child irritated by parent’s humour.

By Estella

Amanda is none too chuffed at my sense of humour. Once she asked me, “Why are all your stories about eating me?”

Like Homer Simpson talking to baby Maggie I responded in my sweetest voice, “That’s because you are so delicious, honey.”

“But you don’t really want to eat me, do you?”

“Of course I do. It’s just illegal.”

“But you’ll have no more baby.”

“I’ll also have no more problems,” I said, smiling at her. “I’ll swallow you whole the way a python does a wild boar.” I stretched my hands out to illustrate how wide my mouth was going to open.

“Well, I’ll eat you up first then.”

“How will you manage that?”

“There’s always the fridge.”

Another time I asked her to tell me a story. I don’t remember what it is about because I wasn’t listening. I suddenly yawned.

“And the baby got eaten up. The end!” said Amanda, sounding quite exasperated. On reflection, I realised that she was being sarcastic.

Yet another time, I overhead her telling a classmate, “My parents want to fatten me up because they want to eat me.”

“Not just yet,” I interjected. “We’re waiting for a famine first.”

Then one day she said to me, “Why don’t you eat Lily up instead?” Lily is her best friend.

“Lily is only skin and bones. No meat. I prefer to eat you because you’re meaty.”

She harrumphed at me like an annoyed camel about to kick dirt into its master’s eyes.