About Estella

I'm a wife and mother whose musings come from the many fascinating people, events and places I come across daily.

Happy 4th birthday ByEstellaDotCom!

Hello! Hello!

It’s that time of the year again. Byestelladotcom is now officially 4! Thank you for being here to help the blog blow out its virtual birthday candles on the imaginary birthday cake.

How have you been? As you may have gathered from my last post (I know, it’s getting further and further between posts and I feel a tad guilty about that), I’ve embarked on the mother of all renovations; I did the math the other day and it turns out my Queenslander may be closer to 100 than 90.

Right now, you wouldn’t envy her; she has a half-formed infant’s body and the face of a hag! But never fear – she will have her full Megan Fox-esque facelift once I locate a couple of gold bars somewhere. In the meantime, John Hardy, my trusty builder, and his men have been slaving away on her body. She’s shaping up to be a stunner, if I may say so myself.

As of this week, we have finished the foundation of galvanised steel and Hebel, built at a height determined by Hydraulic Engineer Anthony Lenehan of Lenecon to withstand flooding, framed to roof trusses, protected her from the skies above with a welded and painted Colorbond roof, had some of the custom-made double-glazed and tinted windows put in, and three quarters of the external Hebel skin put on. Members for the frame were specified by my wonderful Structural Engineer Steve Hackworth, and built by John Hardy to both their exacting standards. Here I wish to thank Michael Nguyen of Fresh Design & Drafting for his countless updates and changes to the original plans.

In the interim, I’ve been reviewing fixtures, fittings and tiles for the 2 en-suite bathrooms, deciding on balustrades for the stairs (HRH has his heart set on glass), pendant lights to hang over the stairs (with a nod to Queensland, I’ve picked 3 plywood pineapples – pretty groovy), put a down payment on kitchen stuff at Winning Appliances after Janaki so graciously ferried me to and fro, and babysat the boy while I swan about the showroom, trying to picture how each appliance would jive with the interior scheme of my future kitchen. I gave more consideration to function over form. Still I went with a Schweigen black glass cassette rangehood as it not only looks hot (hello, black glass!) but has a mean suction of 3200 rpm. It’s silent to boot, thanks to twin motors, installed on the roof of the house.

I was meaning to leave it to the final reveal, but I also must thank Kirby Hood of Big Ass Fans for assisting me in my purchase of 5 absolutely efficient (I am a stickler for utility), bespoke, utterly drool-worthy ceiling fans that will keep the building cool in summer and warm in winter. As I’ve told HRH, the house is a modest-gal but she will have a touch of sparkle here and there; probably not apparent to most except dedicated readers of Inside Out and House & Garden like myself. I’ve also drawn heaps of inspiration from all the articles and pictures on Houzz – my style album is yours to flick through should you wish.

Even though its size (350m2 inside) obscures the fact, it is a GREEN build: the ancient front (98m2) has been kept in entirety, the new build (252m2) is of quality material which is fire-rated, insulating and sound-retardant. Hebel also boasts green credentials, in that it is recyclable – although I chose it for its other attributes and longevity.

On the non-house-related front, my hours pedalling away in the sweatshop of HRH’s admin office have increased in tandem to his burgeoning private practise. We are a family enterprise so all (including the kids, who frequently roam hospital lounges) must put in their time. Just this evening, HRH was harassing me  to get his Business Activity Statement done, chase payments and type what he says are two weeks worth of patient letters. Oh brother!

I’m still routinely prodding my brain for inspiration to complete my next manuscript; Amanda likes it better than the one I was writing when I gave you my last update, so its yippee-ki-ay-aye for me. Picture me doing a happy jig in my jammies.

I’ll leave you now with pictures of my Queenslanders journeying to the 22nd century. Do Enjoy!

Holes for foundation.

Holes for foundation.

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Looking from under the old house.

Looking from under the old house.

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Side profile of my house taken from my neighbor’s place. Trees obscure part of the length. Total building is 43% of my block size.



Renovating a Queenslander!

Hello again!

Happy 2016! How was your Christmas? I took a blink-and-you-will-miss-it break from the business of renovating my resident wooden geriatric, my 90 y.o. Brisbane-City-Plan-protected Queenslander and joined HRH in country NSW where he locumed over Christmas.
Between drives around the countryside, we binged on Pringles and veg-ed out in front of the telly as all shops were closed, save for service stations. Which is just as well because breathing new life into a 90 y.o., stumps-all-gone, termites-chewed-on-your-walls Queenslander is certainly not a cheap affair!

With the guidance of my trusty French builder, John Hardy, recommended by a friend he’s done work for, it took me close to 9 months to get all the necessary surveys, plans and permits for building work to go ahead. I won’t bore you with the number of hurdles I’ve had to jump, or the tricks I’ve had to perform standing on my head but in getting to this stage I’ve had to engage a town planner, building designer, hydraulic engineer, structural engineer, building estimator, building certifier (who not only granted permits on behalf of the city council but also organised for my new home’s energy efficiency to be assessed), John the builder…There were consultations with HRH’s accountant, then our personal banker, the highly efficient Chris White of Commonwealth Bank, as I first put our apartment up for sale, the our Melbourne home. In the end we decided to sell neither. Instead I worked with our managing agents to upgrade our investment properties so as to make them solidly tenantable. They are all well located so it was only a question of doing the necessary works, fixing and refurbishing, to make them as competitive as similar properties in the area. I didn’t have to do much to our Melbourne home as 7 groups came to view the first Saturday it was listed for rent. By the following Monday morning I had a tenant who offered me 2 months rent (excluding the standard 1 month bond) upfront.

As for my old gal, her Cinderella-moment started on November 30 when after 4 more weeks of to-ing and fro-ing with the builder and the banker, we were given the green light to go ahead. Yes, finally! I slept like a baby that night. Well, a good baby, not my now 2-year-old son who still treats me like a 24/7 booby bar – not that I mind. I adore my children.

Even as John started demolishing my old bathroom and front stairs and cleared away what I had underneath the house, I had to liaise with Energex and Origin and APA to disconnect utilities. It took 2 months and 4 requests to Origin to get them to disconnect my electricity. I had to beg APA to disconnect gas in time for the old gal to go up. After 1 neighbour backed out of lending power for the house raise (despite being offered compensation), John approached my other neighbour who thankfully agreed. To see me would have been to belie my mental state which was alternating between excitement (yay! It’s finally happening!) and anxiety (oh no! Please don’t throw a spanner in the works).

Since she is a cottage we have elected to build back instead of under. If she had been a grand Queenslander with wraparound verandahs, building down would have been the preferred course of action as the bigger footprint would have justified the cost of working with an old building and factoring additional cost to get the project through council. At the end of this, we essentially have a house that is 3/4 new (excluding car parking as that will bring the proportion up further) that is built to exceed an energy rating of 6 stars (most built of similar material have a rating of 8 stars) fire and sound-proof (due to the natural qualities of the material and windows chosen), designed and engineered to withstand flood waters and local wind speeds, every footing, beam and pole engineered to ensure safety of her occupants.

We are only halfway through phase 1 of a 3 phase project. Here is a visual timeline of the renovation so far.

My belongings covered in plastic to protect them from construction dust.

My belongings covered in plastic to protect them from construction dust.

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Why 10 children cannot care for 1 mother

Among the many gems I’ve gleaned from countless hours of listening to my mother is this: a mother can care for 10 children but 10 children cannot care for 1 mother.

Over the years I’ve pondered the validity of this statement, like I do my mother’s many other gems and in that time, have heard of many family situations that support this. 10 children cannot possibly care for 1 mother, even though 9 out of 10 will declare some desire to. Every one will “chip in” some time or money but ultimately the heavy lifting will come down to 1 very brave (or stupid, depending on how you see it) child.

Here’s why:

1) Mother will require a lot of support; from running errands to ferrying to doctor visits. While they are fit and healthy they can lead very independent lives but you don’t have to read Atul Gawand’s “Being Mortal” like I have (and I highly recommend the book) to know that at the end of our time on earth, we all go back to being as helpless as babies – except no where near as uplifting or endearing. Mother needs someone who can commit to this reverse babysitting.

2) Everyone Mother is linked to – siblings, cousins, total strangers – will have an opinion on how well you are caring for her. They won’t hear of the many hours you play therapist for many of her unresolved issues from 5 or more decades ago or the many ways you advocate and protect her interests. Instead, they will know all about how Mother disapproves of your parenting/friends…you fill in the blank. It’s okay if they keep their opinions to themselves but as is the nature of humans, they will feel compelled to give you a critique about how you are doing.

3) Mother meddles. She is proud of how she raised you but won’t trust you to make decisions for yourself. I once had a friend from school tell me WITH TEARS IN HER EYES how her wheel-chair-bound mother was ripping her marriage apart (because she disliked her husband), guilt-tripping her with stories about filial piety in Asian culture (even though she was already catering to her mother full-time), saying the most cutting things daily (because they are supposedly pearls of wisdom) and alienating her from her children (with the many demands on her time)… Meanwhile her brother was the “family darling” for doing absolutely nothing. How typical!

Understand this: I grew up writing many essays about why the West are degenerates for putting their old in nursing homes. You scored extra points if you wrote about how you are duty-bound to change their adult diapers because they once changed yours. You were criticised if you pointed out that adult poo smells a lot worse than baby poo and that adults need pulleys to lift them whereas the average baby weighs less than a sack of rice.

But this isn’t about the challenge of changing adult diapers or old parents vs cute babies. It’s about why those who put their hands up to caring for their old (as opposed to being bullied into it by kith and kin) deserve awards. It’s so easy to say one is busy. FYI with moving from West Coast to East Coast of Australia, home buying remotely, renovating a 90 year old building, refurbishing an apartment in an increasingly competitive market, attending to the prolonged vacancy in another (after refurbishment), working for HRH (I handle his admin and bills), caring for 2 children 24/7, 365 days a year, I can honestly claim to be bogged down with work. After all, I have no nanny, no Yati or Maria (insert your favourite maid names) to do my housework, no family around to give me a day off. I wake up several times a night to nurse my 20 months old son because it protects him and me from cancer.

This is about why 10 children cannot care for 1 mother. Only 1 (at this point I’m leaning towards “stupid”) child can. This is about enduring gems like “The young are only waiting for the old to pop off so they can get their inheritance”, in Cantonese, “the old are stopping the axis of young’s world from turning”, “they don’t want the mother now that they’ve USED her”, even though you have neither demolished your mother’s house nor attempted to shove her onto your brother after she has raised your kids (these people are both still “hero children” btw) and getting up to do it again and again. You get gang-bashed by family for simply standing up for yourself because everyone expects you to roll over and play dead. They want you to shut up about your hurt and your anger and your right to that hurt and anger. Gee, and you wonder why more people are studying psychology! There is an obvious societal need for it!

So what’s your take: can or can’t 10 children care for 1 mother?
















What we can all learn from Jennifer Pan, woman sentenced to 25 years prison for murdering her mother.

Scanning my facebook feed yesterday, I came across the story of Jennifer Pan, a one-time high-achieving student sentenced to 25 years prison with no parole for ordering a hit on her parents, which resulted in the death of her mother. It is a story that resonates with the offspring of many Asian migrants to the West and with good reason: many have been brought up with the same weighty parental expectations and strictures imposed upon her.

However, unlike Jennifer Pan, so few of us have actually murdered a parent to break free of the perceived shackles of being tiger parented that the only other case that comes to mind is that of Sef Gonzales, currently serving 3 concurrent sentences for the murders of his parents and sister.

There are plenty of parallels between Jennifer Pan and Sef Gonzales – both were raised by strict Asian-migrant Catholic parents with high hopes for their respective futures, both wanted to inherit the family purse, both were in relationships disapproved of by their families and given ultimatums to end them, both were pathological liars… Like I said, Jennifer Pan and Sef Gonzales are such rare cases that to say tiger parenting should be discarded in favour of Western-style laissez-faire parenting because it produces murderous children is to say we should ditch all forms of transport because someone, somewhere, a decade ago, got into a car accident.

With any method of parenting there will always be success stories and stories such as Jennifer Pan and Sef Gonzales. They are the extreme. What you will find in most cases though is a happy, occasionally angst-ridden, murder-less middle. Which brings me back to Jennifer Pan. What can we learn from her?

Parents need, nay must, have reasonable expectations of their children. I know you’re reading this thinking, “She’s one to talk, wanting Amanda to do medicine.” Ha. But you’ve forgotten that HRH is a surgeon. It’s not such a stretch.

It’s like what my bosom buddy T says, “We’ve got 8 degrees between P (her husband) and me. It’s a given that our children are going to university.”

To be sure, there are Einsteins and Mozarts whose parents are illiterate and tone-deaf. But those too are rare. Remember the word: rare. Even Einstein himself was a pedigree of high intelligence, as was Mozart of musical ability. Meaning, such fabulous traits, while can be enhanced through sheer hard work, which is what Asian parents emphasize on, are rarely (there’s that word again) random. The good news, and which you’d have realised by now, is that no one needs to be Einstein or Mozart (or take your favourite celebrity) in order to be perfectly happy with life. You can be perfectly happy with being perfectly mediocre, even if mediocrity is not something any parent, especially a tiger one (God-forbid) strives for. The thing to ask yourself is: what can I reasonably expect of my child?

The next thing to learn from Jennifer Pan is the importance of parent-child-dialogue. That way the missing high school diploma when your child is supposed to be graduating from University won’t spring itself on you unannounced. And by dialogue, I mean allowing your child the chance to explain him or herself without fear of recrimination. Hear them out, even if you disagree with what they have to say, even if they disappoint you with what they have to say. Over and over, the question to ask yourself is: what can I reasonably expect of my child?

Most children want their parents to be proud of them. My Amanda constantly asks, “Are you NOT proud of me? Why did you NOT say you’re proud of me?”

To which I answer, “I’m always proud of you but you don’t need me to congratulate you when you win a race against toddlers.”

She will say, “It’s not my fault there are only toddlers to race against.”

I will say, “For now there are only toddlers but when you go to high school, that won’t be the case. The kids who get in on scholarship will give you a run for your money. Some of your current classmates may also surprise you. ”

What I’ve noticed is that even the most well behaved child will have issues once the hormones kick in. Amanda doesn’t believe me. She says, “All the other kids wonder why I only listen to my mother. I tell them I love my mother. They all say Eeewww.”

Even then, in true tiger parent style, I make it a point of getting to know all her friends – not just the ones I approve of. I ask them about their families, school, hobbies… in fact, the more time they spend with my child, the more time I spend with them.

When it comes to boys, I give Amanda the unvarnished truth: the cute ones will all be bald and pouchy by the time they’re in their mid 30s. The nerds will be 100 times more attractive than they are now because they’ll be going places career-wise. So why look at any of them right now? You’re just wasting your time.

The last and perhaps most important thing to learn from Jennifer Pan is for parents to live their own lives. Have your own goals, interests and friends. Have dreams that do not involve your children. By all means have expectations of your children but be the vehicle for your own desires. Freeing them of your hurts, fears and unrealised dreams while preparing them for a life without your incessant input is the greatest gift you can give them and you.


What God Knows About Me.

This was January 2014. I had just given birth to Ethan and my parents were helping out with Amanda. Being very religious folk, the 3 of them had been having nightly Bible studies. I have no objection to religious education of any sort so long as no one tries to convert me. Well, to each their own.

Anyway, one morning my mother showed me this, written by Amanda.

What God Knows About Me by Amanda O.

What God Knows About Me by Amanda O.

In case you can’t read her just-turned-9-year-old scrawl, the product of an immature pencil grasp, it reads:

What God Knows About Me by Amanda O.

1. I love chocolate.

2. I don’t like running.

3. I don’t like bullies.

4. I love plum candy.

5. I love new things at school.

6. I hate work my mum writes.

7. I love A on my report card.

8. I have many habits.

9. I have a bad temper (from my mum).

10. I am usually cross because my mum doesn’t have time for me.

11. How many times I’ve been bullied.

12. I now cry every night.

13. I have panda rings.

14. I am slow at most things.

15. I don’t like Maths.

16. My least favourite part of the day is bedtime.

17. I don’t think my brother loves me.

Now, I’ve been meaning to respond to this list, but as you can see from item number 10, finding the time hasn’t been easy. I’ve got so many balls in the air, I have considered joining Cirque Du Soleil or whichever circus will have me. Nevertheless, this is long overdue. So without further ado, here is my response in order of items:

1. You left out candy canes, keropok, jello, anything vaguely desert-like actually.

2. You take after me. God knows we live in a city and don’t need to out-run any wild beasts so you’ll be just fine.

3. Neither do I so give me their names and I’ll take care of them. Refer to post on death threats in the playground.

4. Refer to number 1.

5. You love new things, not just at school. You must learn to love the old things too.

6. Since Kumon, I haven’t written you anymore Maths or English questions.

7. Me too.

8. I know all about them. Trust me.

9. You could be right. But I make a real effort to rein my bad temper in.

10. Now that baby is older, we have time to talk and do stuff like we did before. Obviously no one wants to be in close proximity to a squalling infant so we have to work around baby’s nap times.

11. You were bullied 17 times in 2014. Dealing with the bullies, you came to to the correct conclusion that bullies bully because they feel inadequate next to you.

12.  I’m very sure you’ve stopped crying every night. In fact, I think you’ve been secretly breaking the “NO TV on weekdays” rule before bedtime because I often find my computer with Safari open and Masterchef on it.

13. You have panda eye rings because of all that secret computer/TV usage.

14. What you lack in speed you make up with endurance and persistence. I know this from watching you run 15 rounds around the school field, long after everyone else had stopped.

15. This is pre-Kumon. Post-Kumon, your favourite subject is Maths, as I knew it would be when I first enrolled you.

16. This hasn’t changed.

17. You and your father, both. What does a baby have to do to prove that he loves you?


Multigenerational living: can old and young live under the same roof?

For my sake, I hope the answer is yes. But the common consensus of those around me, some of whom are already housing their old, is that it’s not something they would embark on if given half a choice. Those who do house their old do so out of a combination of obligation and necessity, which it should be noted, bring a fair deal of resentment. When I have conversations about the trials and travails of multigenerational living, no coaxing is needed for either young or old to open up to me about what the difficulties are: a loss of privacy and independence, clashes of opinion due to differing generational views, both parties unable to reconcile themselves with the parent-child role reversal.

Call me crazy but I still want to live with my kids when I grow old. That’s why HRH and I are “old-age proofing” our home; planning a single-level floor  with corridors  and a bathroom wide enough for walkers, wheelchairs and the like.  The kids, in 30 years time adults, will have free reign of the other parts.

“It’s well and good to want to live with your kids,” I hear you say, “But what about living with your parents?”

Mother and I may have only spoken once in the last 6 months (we had a tiff over some of her “life choices”) but if she showed up at my door tomorrow, I’d have no hesitation taking her in. That’s not because I’ve some martyr-complex or latent masochistic tendencies but because when all is said and done, she’s my mother and I couldn’t let her be old and homeless (even if I deeply disapprove of her “life choices”) any more than HRH allow his father go hungry just because the latter is a die-hard gambler.

Regardless of whether one is care-giver or care-recipient, independent and able-bodied or decrepit and enfeebled, co-existence  will always call for compromise. For example, my mother would like to be housed in a separate dwelling, built to her standard (read: concrete with attached bathrooms and air conditioning) but I can only provide a 90 year old semi-inhabitable (my friend SJ says it sounds like I live in the Viet refugee camp in Kuala Lumpur) wooden box. Obviously I see merit in my choice – it’s inner city location and zoning to the best public high school in Brisbane are lost on someone who lives in Malaysia, for whom wood is synonymous with primitive housing for the not-necessarily backward but impoverished, whereas in my suburb, it’s the result of the city council’s decision to maintain the historic look and feel of the area.

What’s important, you will glean from this is the need for both parties to be as flexible and negotiable in their approach to living together as is possible. While I  would like to accomodate  Mother in the dwelling of her choice, my duty as a parent to provide the best educational opportunity I can for my children MUST trump this.

On a day-to-day basis, young and old should not take the other for granted; old parents don’t want to be unpaid maids to a place the size of Alcatraz or full-time babysitters to a brigade of brats any more than the young want to change their parents’ adult-diapers and babysit them 24/7 once infirmity sets in but life is such that there’s a time to reap and a time to sow.

My time to sow is now. So that it comes as no surprise to the kids, I’ve been telling them daily of my intention for us, the parents, to live with them, the kids. Amanda says it’s all she’s ever wanted and I believe her – she still tries to sneak into my bed every night. In the now-immortal words of my whitey mate F, I should “just get a huge one bedroom apartment” since the 4 of us enjoy being within arm’s length of each other.

“But marriage calls for compromise Amanda,” advises HRH. “Your husband might not like living with your parents.”

” Then I’ll dump him,” she says.

” You’ve got to tell him that we’re a package deal.”

Perhaps, it will be my house he’s living in. In the future, a house in my location will be wildly expensive. It’s already beyond the reach of many young double-income households. Which is not the point. I live for my kids. I’m amenable to most things except being separated from them. I sleep with them, bathe with them, toilet with them, share the food in my bowl with them. I don’t trust others to care for them as well as I do.

But I understand that they have a need for company other than mine and thus maintain an open-door-policy with their friends: as long as their friends are respectful of me and are law-abiding, responsible persons, they will always be welcome in our house. It matters  not whether they are LGBT, agnostic, atheist, purple unicorns or bridge-dwelling trolls. Lest it be said that I am overly-accepting, it is my kids and their judgement that I trust, not that of outsiders. If I can’t trust their judgement, which may some day be called upon to decide whether I live or die, then I must  surely have failed my parental duty in some way. If that is the case then I am better off in a nursing home somewhere.






Hello from Brisbane!

Hello everyone!

I hope 2015 has been going swimmingly well for you so far. My awesome foursome has been back in Brisbane for almost 2 months now. Not much has changed, in that I’m still busy tending to hearth and home while HRH goes hunting for the bacon, but we now make it a point to spend more time at home because “the boy” (that’s what we call him apart from “the baby”) will not allow us to go anywhere without chasing after him. Literally.

Amanda, who has always relished her role as “big sister”, keeps asking if she can bring him to school for “show and tell” – reasoning that if other kids can bring in their dogs to do what she calls “show off”, then she should be able to bring in her brother – except that in Year 5, they no longer have such a thing. I know! How can they NOT have show and tell??? It’s like Mcdees not selling burgers and fries!

Anyhow, I’m happy to report that Amanda is excelling at school. Her class teacher, Ms Carolyn, inspires  her to do her best and believes in her (almost) more than I do! Using various online resources, Ms C has been able to provide Amanda with the extension she needs in all areas. Looking back, I can see that her constant daydreaming in class was a symptom of boredom, which in turn led to underachievement.

That’s not to say we didn’t have great teachers at Nedlands Primary. We had Mrs Bray who advised that Amanda was off with the fairies every time she dished out work and was worried she’d get lost in a class of 35, and we had Mrs Sahai who taught Amanda to believe in herself and her abilities and kept at bay the bullies who picked on my little girl 17 times last year. Yes, 17 times! One particularly dimwitted creature who shall remain nameless, tried to drown Amanda at the end of Year 3. Bullying is rife at Rosalie Primary, number 1 primary school in Perth, too from what I hear.

Thank God for Ms Amy of the Dalkeith Kumon Centre who used to tear up Amanda’s work when it was subpar! I’m sure she hears it all the time but Kumon transformed Amanda’s life. I’ve now passed the mantle of Kumon instruction on to Ms Jasmin of the Annerley Kumon Centre, who shares Amanda’s aspiration to be a Kumon completer. What does this mean? Finishing high school maths by next year. Ms Jasmin of the Annerley Kumon Centre tells me that after completing high school maths, Amanda can even continue with University-level Maths through Kumon.

This might read like a paid advertisement for Kumon but I assure you it isn’t. Just 2 years ago you wouldn’t have picked Amanda for a top student. Last week Amanda was 1 of 200 kids from around Brisbane chosen for the Brisbane City Cluster High Achievers Program, which extends and accelerates Year 5 & 6 kids in one of the following areas: Maths, Science, English, Information Technology, Visual Art and Business. Kids are nominated by their teachers based on their results on a PAT-M test and demonstrable literary and numeracy proficiency and selected for the program of their choice based on merit. I’m pleased as punch, prancing about like a peacock out to woo peahens to announce that Amanda was given her first choice of Mathematics through which she will be building a robot, programming the “intelligence” for said robot, culminating in a test to get the robot to perform a set task.

Here’s a picture of Amanda with the offer letter from the Brisbane City Cluster Academic Alliance:

A picture of Amanda with her offer letter.

A picture of Amanda with her offer letter.

Other than that, I’ve been busy scheming, plotting and planning for what can only be likened to a brain transplant for a geriatric; saving up for a total overhaul of this 90 y.o. wooden box I call home. I hope to give the old gal a new lease on life but due to her advanced age, this transplant won’t come cheap. Hence my frequent visits to the utterly informative home owners forum that is whirlpool. A lot of the info may be years old but there’s much to learn from there. It is my fervent wish that, regardless of whether I know you in person or not, have a close relationship with you or otherwise, that you  take away something from reading my many posts. Maybe it might help you resolve to actively parent your child (as opposed to allowing the media and society to do that for you), may be it might inspire you to investigate other ways of living or simply being. Keeping this blog, apart from enabling me to engage in meaningful continuous discourse (that fits around my life), has allowed me to reflect not just on the people and events that populate my life but those that shape it. Thank you for continuing this journey into wonderment with me.


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.