Happy 5th birthday Byestelladotcom!

I know. I know. The stories have become fewer and much further apart. There’s a good reason for this: not only do I have a finger in every pie, it would appear in every piece of confectionary coming out of my local bakery. I kid you not.

Now that the house is 95% complete, I have thrice the cleaning. For awhile, to get on top of household chores (after a day spent doing HRH’s paperwork and catering to the kiddos) my after-dinner “entertainment” consisted of either washing bathrooms, cleaning floors, wiping the glass balustrade or dusting the several kilometres of skirting boards in the house.

It’s a great house to be sure and I’m proud to have come this far, but it’s the sort of house typically maintained by a barrage of maids instead of one frazzled mother. Would I do it again? Definitely. I enjoyed the creative process and learnt a lot from my builder, John Hardy, and his men.

Just a month ago I had a neighbour stop to congratulate me on adding value to our area and for choosing a builder who took care to keep noise to a minimum. In his words, “It went up like magic.”

I love that my eyes can feast on all that green while cooking.

You won’t believe this is the inner city!

Amanda now has friends come over weekly for study sessions and to complete assignments. I’m pleased to report that after the hell of grade 6 (teacher failed to see her need for acceleration and she sought to escape boredom by zoning out) she’s kicking ass in grade 7. Not only is she in the gifted and talented programme at the top semi-selective state school (number 2 State-wide after Boy’s Grammar) where a minimum of B is expected across ALL subjects, she scored 5As out of a possible 6 last term.

See how cheeky she is?

Ethan horsing around IKEA.

Amanda the clown.

Ethan wearing Amanda’s clown wig.

Ethan is a typical toddler; he’s wilful, stubborn and inquisitive. I somehow manage to get work done with his Gangnam Style blaring away. We’ve hauled him to the cinema for a late-night movie a couple of times. He usually winds up asleep on my lap even before the opening scenes and leaves thinking that the stream of advertisements beforehand is what we came to see!

I hope this post finds you well. I’ll see you again some time in July. Hopefully…

  • Hanging out with Erlin at GOMA.

    With Geetha at home.

    A wefie with Amanda.

So long 2016! Hello 2017!

OMG! Where does time go? We are at the end of 2016 and – I don’t know about you – but it feels like there’s still so much left to do.

About this time you are probably taking stock of the year: the highs, the lows, the saggy middle. I’ve been neck-deep into my house-building project since November 2015, and busy getting approvals and finance for a good 6 months before that so 2016 has been about seeing this project come to fruition.

Although challenging at times, largely due to my inexperience, the whole process has been extremely rewarding. Here are a few pics of the completed addition before we moved in.

1 of 3 kitchen bar stools.

This is the beating heart of my home. It’s where I spend the most time. I have plans to upgrade all the plugs in the kitchen into those flat recessed ones but for now, we’ll just leave them as they are.

Now the space is cluttered with furniture from the old wing, parked wherever we can find the odd spot (think walkways, on top of stairs) so that the old girl can be, let’s just say, “rejuvenated.” The old Queenslander, having gone up in November 2015, already sports a new bathroom, a new wet bar in what will eventually be the children’s wing of the house.

I imagine Amanda’s friends will soon be coming over to work on school projects and together they will be mugging for exams – ah, the typical psycho Asian tiger parent’s dream. She has already asked, “Can we have pizza if they come over to study?”

Me, “Definitely. Anything so long as you are studying.”

Notwithstanding the difficult year we’ve had trying to make Amanda to focus in school, she has been accepted into the Aspire Program for Brisbane State High School. It’s a program with a differentiated, targeted and extended curriculum for kids who are (cough, cough) “gifted and talented.” According to Amanda, this means we cannot keep calling her “dumb ass” like the loving Asian parents that HRH and I are. She googled Asian parent memes and reported that ALL of them sound exactly like me!

At Amanda’s graduation from primary school. With her new bestie.



Basement of State Library, Brisbane.


Ethan is now 3 years old. I’d like to upload a video of him naming the countries of the world, but unfortunately the file is too large for WordPress. So you’re just going to have to take my word for it, unless we are friends on Facebook, in which case you’ve probably already seen it.

He can name and find all 196 countries of the world and locate them on the globe HRH bought for his 3rd birthday. This is going to sound like a brag, but he taught himself to read at 2 years and 3 months. He can read planets, names of shapes, colours, vehicles, animals, baby animals, days of the week, months of the year and of course, countries of the world.

Ethan playing in the State Library, Brisbane.

I allowed him to dictate his own learning as I was too busy with the house project, doing HRH’s paperwork and tackling Amanda’s tendency to unplug mentally in class. Like I said, it’s been a difficult year. Arduous really.

Ethan doesn’t look like he talks but when he does, he says things like: what TYPE of fruit is that?

Frankly, I’ve never thought about categorising fruit but I suppose now that he’s asked, I will have to look into it. He’s already enrolled for kinder in 2018 but on the wait-list for 2017; they give priority to those born in the first half of 2013, whereas he’s a December 2013 baby.

Enough about me. How has your year been? Have you achieved everything you set out to do at the start? What are you resolutions for the new year?

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.


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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Back to Brisvegas!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She nodded. “It’s a big school.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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