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.

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?
















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!






What does the future hold for our children?

A month ago, Lucy and I had morning coffee after dropping our children off at school. Since she was about to go back to work and we wouldn’t be meeting for a while, our coffee went on longer than usual; we talked about all the job cuts in the mining industry – at the time, 3 mining giants had already laid off workers – the effects this might have on the economy in the months to come and whether a recession was likely. Being mums, our conversation inevitably meandered to our children and the sort of a future that is in store for them.

The future is not looking too good,” said Lucy and I couldn’t disagree with her.

Based on what I’ve seen, we’re indeed going downhill. 20 years ago, you could get a decent house in an outer suburb of Melbourne for $80k. Today, that same house in a now-established suburb is hovering around the $1m mark. If it’s a new house, it’s easily $1.5m. In moneyed suburbs closer to the city, $1.5m might get you a new 3 bedroom apartment or a dilapidated  house.

It’s the same story where I live in Perth: $1.5 gets you an unrenovated  brick-dwelling built in the late 60s or early 70s. If you want a semi-renovated 4 bedder, you’re looking to pay more than $2.5m. You could get something new for that price, but the acreage would be much smaller. You could live many suburbs away in a different direction, where you can get a decent 3 bedder for under $400k, but that area is not likely to have good schools or as long a list of amenities. If it does, it’s not going to remain that price for long.

With the average Aussie full-time wage hovering just above $70k per annum, any old fool can see that home ownership is beyond the means of many. While we don’t have China’s “ant-tribe” – a demographic of highly educated low-paid people – to contend with, what I’m seeing is the emergence of a generation that can’t give it’s children the very comforts and privileges they currently enjoy.

Let’s go back to housing. With house prices climbing steadily in the capital cities, very few of our children will be able to buy in the area they’ve grown up in. Even fewer will be able to buy homes like the ones they’re presently occupying. They might be able to rent, but for some, that too might be out of their reach.

The thing is there’ll just be fewer opportunities,” added Lucy, and again, I couldn’t disagree with her. Mechanisation and moving production to lower cost centres might be vital for business enterprises to survive, but it doesn’t bode well for future entrants to the labour force.

“But our children aren’t going to be working in factories!” you protest. “What does mechanisation and cost cutting have to do with them?”

You know what? I bet those in the IT industry pre-Y2K said exactly the same thing. Now their jobs have gone to people in India; folks with PHDs willing to work for the wages commanded by bachelor degree holders over here. The thing is, and I’ve said this to F, who disbelieves me, people working in factories in third world countries do not want their children to also be working in factories when they grow up. They have dreams, and their tenacity to achieve those dreams would astound many over here; you don’t have to look far, just the sports pages from during the last Olympics will tell you how determined and fiercely competitive they are. And in the future, what they’ll vie for is not just our jobs but a standard of living comparable with ours. The big question is, “What will our children’s standard of living be like then?” I foresee that in the future, the ant tribe won’t just be limited to China.


The Chinaman’s disease.

I’ve had a stuffed nose for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, Mum used to routinely remind me to breath through my nose. She used to say, “If you have your mouth open all the time, people will think you’ve down syndrome. They’ll think you’re mongoloid.”

Second sister called me a “gaping gold fish” and made onomatopoeic noises.

Such is how much I rely on my mouth for breathing that you’d be hard pressed to find more than 5 pictures of me with my mouth closed in my childhood album. Sometimes my nose isn’t just blocked, but produces blobs of mucous that flow down into my throat. It gets particularly bad after eating. Once I had such difficulty breathing post meal that F, who I mentioned in last Friday’s post, wondered if I was going to past out while driving her around. Yes, there have been a number of hairy moments arising from this, but I can assure you I’ve never passed out while driving, even if at times it appears I am trying to cough out a hairball through the nose.

I decided to do something about it when I moved to Brisbane. At F’s insistence, I booked myself in to see a well-known allergist. After a 5-month-long wait, my number was called. A bespectacled old chap, seemingly bored by my very presence, poked my arm with his arsenal of allergens, and pronounced, after a short wait, I have a mild dust allergy.

Perhaps sensing defeat in treating me – not that he really tried, as far as I’m concerned – he gave me a half-hearted lecture on an elimination diet I could try to pin-point my hypersensitivity. He said he can only run tests for known allergens. What I might have is a hypersensitivity to anything from food stuffs to chemicals in my environment. The upshot of this is I came out as clueless about the cause of my stuffed nose as I was when I went in.

F suggested I try a different allergist. Dreading another 5-month-wait for nothing, I went about life as usual, blowing out up to 10 tissues full of snot after each meal. My parents came from Malaysia for their annual visit and Dad, who suffers a similar predicament with his nose, said I might have inherited his sinuses. Since he had a spare bottle of prescription-only nasal spray, he gave me one to try.

“But you need to be monitored by an ENT for this,” he said. “Long-term use can be harmful. I have nasal scopes done every year at the hospital.”

Dad’s father and brother both had nasal cancer; one died from it, another suffered a fatal heart-attack before nasal cancer could claim him.

On my last trip back to Malaysia, mum and dad gifted me with 2 pairs of “special socks”. They look like regular thick socks except the pads have mineral-encapsulated micro pods stuck to them. Dad claims his nose is much better on the nights he wears them so I should give them a try.

Meanwhile, a mother from Amanda’s last school recommended I try washing out my sinuses with a Neti Pot, a small teapot-like contraption sold in most health-food stores. I gave it a go and for the first time in forever, the nose seemed under control; I could breathe reasonably well through my nose, the mountain of tissues post meal shrank to about a third or less. I improved so much, I postponed a trip to see my ENT friend in Sunnybank indefinitely.

Then HRH and I drove 9 days across country in our move west. During that time, the good ol’ Neti Pot was buried under so many of our belongings that I had no access to it. By the time I did, my nose was playing up again and a single wash wouldn’t work it’s sinus-clearing magic. I had to turn to the half-used bottle of prescription-only spray Dad left me. Except now, in addition to congestion, my sinuses were sore.

I took myself to see the GP across from where I live. He’s a nice, nearing-retirement, Aussie gentlemen who confessed that what I have is a “Chinaman’s disease.”

“I have only ever seen 1 case of nasal cancer in my entire career,” he said.

It’s a curious fact Chinese don’t get reproductive cancers as often as nose and throat cancers. Some have pointed to our diets and habit of consuming steaming hot food as a possible culprit. Anyhow, given my family history, it seemed only prudent to investigate the matter further so the GP ordered a CT scan for me.

“You’re a bit too young to be having cancer but we’ll check it out, just to be safe,” he said.

Ever since I caught wind of a former secondary school classmate with stage 4 lung cancer, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as too young. At 34 going on 35, vigilance isn’t just prudent, it’s necessary. I don’t want to die any time soon as I have a loving family and a lot else to live for.

I told a doctor-friend about the CT scan and she said, “What you need is a nasal scope. Sometimes Aussie doctors can’t even detect nasal cancer on a CT scan as they don’t see enough to know. Perhaps, they can’t take a biopsy with a CT scan.”

“Yes, but I already have an appointment,” I sighed. “We’ll see what the CT scan says.”

“The CT scan says you have no sinusitis but mildly bulky turbinates,” reported the GP a week later.

“What does that mean in English, doctor?” I asked.

The turbinates might be making more mucous than is desirable. It still doesn’t explain the pain you seem to have. How bad is the pain now on a scale of 1 to 10?”

“It’s a 2 out of 10. When I first came to you it was 7 out of 10.”

“And you’re still taking your antibiotics?”

“Yup. 2 tablets, 3 times a day. 2 puffs, 3 times a day.”

“You can stop the antibiotics.”

“But no cancer, right?”

“Not that I can see. I’m writing you a referral to a Chinese ENT who specialises in this Chinaman’s disease.”

And that, folks, is where we’re at. I’ve an appointment to see the Chinese ENT a month from now. HRH doesn’t approve of me taking this further – perhaps he’s in denial about my suffering (you have to have one leg in the ground before a surgeon thinks you warrant treatment) – but he’s asked me what I plan to do, even if the ENT can come up with a formal diagnosis.

“Do you want surgery?” he asked. “If he cuts your turbinates, you may lose some of your sense of smell. Food won’t taste the same anymore.”

“Are there no other options?”

“He might put you on medication but some will have serious side effects.”

AAARRRRRGGGGHHHH… More and more the Neti Pot is looking particularly alluring.



Our 9 day road trip from Brisbane to Perth (Part 2)

HRH, on reading Wednesday’s post says, “You forgot to add that we saw a flood.”

He means a swollen river an hour before Moree. Due to heavy rain in Queensland this past ten days, low lying areas to the south of the state have also been affected.

“You also forgot to add that we saw a bush fire,” he says with the look that suggests I’ve been criminally negligent.

By that he means several patches of bush with blackened soil, I suspect due to “controlled burning”, a technique used, ironically, to prevent bush fires by burning off ground-level foliage.

Well, this is life with a Monarch for you. Good for him, I don’t aspire to being royal.

Day 3

I awake with a glue ball in the back of my throat; the result of phlegm pooling there from the night before. I promptly cough out the offending blob onto a tissue and shove it under HRH’s nose. “See, I need antibiotics,” I say to him. “My GP says that if I’ve had this for more than 2 weeks, I need antibiotics.”

“Harrumph,” he says in response and starts loading up the car. Typical surgeon.

I make the 3 of us a hot drink each from the many sachets I brought out of our now-empty apartment in Brisbane, down another Aerius D and blow another hundred nose wontons. When I’m done, I pile into the waiting car beside an anxious HRH.

“Have you programmed Tom Tom?”

Just 2 days ago he didn’t trust the thing. Now programming it takes priority over all else. I dare say Tom Tom, the car GPS we bought in Sunnybank, has spared us many a “Where are you leading me to?” argument; without a doubt the best thing ever to happen to our marriage since Amanda.

Today we head for Port Augusta, another of HRH’s “short drives.” It’s 4 hours from where we are in Broken Hill. The road West, beyond Broken Hill, is very straight, almost devoid of cars, so HRH has the car on cruise-control for most of the time. My job as his trusty co-pilot is to change the playing list on our sound system every so often and maintain the flow of conversation so as to keep HRH focused throughout the drive, because God knows, other than the two flocks of crazy emus crossing the road, there isn’t much in the way of wild animals to look at.

Emus outside of Broken Hill in New South Wales.

Entertainment by day, possible dinner by night. Emus outside of Broken Hill in New South Wales.

The view on the road outside of Broken Hill in New South Wales, heading for Port Augusta in South Australia.

The view on the road outside of Broken Hill in New South Wales, heading for Port Augusta in South Australia.

“But this could pass off for Africa, couldn’t it?” says HRH.

“Yes,” I sagely agree. “We just need to import a couple of rhinos, tigers and lions.”

An hour into our drive, we pass a runaway cow munching grass at the side of the road.

“Run cow, run,” I urge it, as our car zooms past. “If they catch you, you’ll get turned into steak.”

His cow companions must be sitting under a tree on a paddock somewhere nearby.

A picture of the road outside of Broken Hill, in New South Wales, heading towards Port Augusta in South Australia.

A picture of the road outside of Broken Hill, in New South Wales, heading towards Port Augusta in South Australia.

 A picture of the Australian countryside outside of Broken Hill in New South Wales.

More railroad.  A picture of the Australian countryside outside of Broken Hill in New South Wales.

HRH stops in Petersborough, South Australia, 2.5 hours since taking off from Broken Hill. It’s another sleepy country town with a couple of pub cum hotels along the main street. According to the woman serving us our meals, the main employer around here, since the closing of the Petersborough train station, is an abattoir. Being the wise-ass that I am, and perhaps not registering her comment about the abattoir, I order grilled Garfish with a side of boiled vegetables. The vegetables are fine but the Garfish is drier than the wood serving as our table.

A picture of an old train at Petersborough, South Australia.

Relic from the past. A picture of an old train at Petersborough, South Australia.

A picture of the hotel-pub where we had lunch in Petersborough, South Australia.

A picture of the hotel-pub where we had lunch in Petersborough, South Australia.

We clamber back in the car after lunch and continue our drive to Port Augusta. We arrive by 5 pm; Port Augusta  is as bright and hot as if it were still midday. HRH splurged on an air-conditioned, river-view room at the Majestic Oasis Hotel, so we have all the comforts of home, some 2000 km from where we started.

A picture of our room at the Majestic Oasis Hotel in Port Augusta, South Australia.

A picture of our room at the Majestic Oasis Hotel in Port Augusta, South Australia.

A picture of our room at the Majestic Oasis Hotel in Port Augusta, South Australia.

The lounge and dining area of our room at the Majestic Oasis Hotel in Port Augusta.

A picture of Amanda posing in front of the Majestic Oasis Hotel in South Australia.

Amanda hamming it up for the camera.

A picture of the grassy area adjacent to the Esplanade at Port Augusta in South Australia.

Can you believe this picture was taken at 8 in the evening? Days sure go on forever around here.

We have take-away pretend-Chinese noodles from a shop on Commercial Road. To boost our diets, we buy fruit from Woolworths nearby.

Day 4

I’m now producing enough nose wontons to supply all the Chinese restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney combined. Coolly regarding me from a distance, HRH says, “You might need antibiotics.”

“Oh, you noticed? I think I can hold out until we get to Perth.”

I spend much of the day in bed with a box of tissues by my side. Amanda and HRH have cup noodles for lunch while watching the Australian Open.

“I want to put money on Li Na but am too lazy to walk out to TAB,” he says to a sleep-walking me who has tinned tuna for lunch, followed by two black plums.

When we leave for dinner, the sun is so strong you can feel it bite into your flesh. It is 7 pm but I have to wear sunglasses to protect my eyes. After dinner we come across a street thermometer. Get this: the temperature at 9 pm is 34 degrees C.

Here’s the proof:

A picture of a street thermometer in Port Augusta, South Australia.

34 degrees Celcius at 9 pm? You betcha if this is Port Augusta!




Old people living on their own.

In the past, it was almost unheard of for old Chinese to be living by themselves. Today, with many of my generation living abroad, those of our parents’ generation have to contend with the reality of growing old alone. We’d like to be there for them in their old age, it’s just that our own lives lie hundreds, if not thousands of kilometres away. The availability of cheap call plans and the advent of new technology enabling virtual face-to-face meetings may make it easier to stay in touch, but when it comes to communicating about difficulty or disease, nothing takes the place of being there in person to provide the necessary reassurance that everything will be all right.

Do we young ‘uns, thousands of miles away, definitely know everything will be all right? How can we be sure when we aren’t there to ask all the questions? To probe to our hearts’ delight? This matter was brought home over the weekend when my mother called to ask for my husband’s opinion on a serious health issue. Because I don’t want to compromise my mother’s privacy any further, all I can say is that it is a potentially life-threatening health issue. Because His Royal Highness was on-call, I was their go-between, relaying the health concerns of one to the other, the answers from those questions, as accurately as I remembered them, back to their asker.

All the while I was wondering, “Is what I’m doing enough? Should I take the next flight back to Malaysia to see her?”

Flights to Malaysia aren’t all that cheap from Brisbane. For the 3 of us to go home this school holidays, we’ve had to fork out $1200 each, flying a hodge podge of budget airlines to and from the Gold Coast, an hour away from where we live. In Melbourne, you can occasionally get flights to Malaysia or Singapore for $500+. If you’re prepared to pay $1200, you’d be flying a major carrier direct to Malaysia during the high season. That’s my only gripe about living in Queensland; the airfares to see my increasingly aged parents are prohibitive. Of course, if I really had to, there is no question that I would go.

Fortunately, unlike my father-in-law whose wish it was to die in his sleep at 70 (he’s now 74), who takes scant interest in his own health,  both my parents are positively health nuts. Before I hear of any new health-giving product over here, they’ve not only researched and sampled it, but if good, have probably stocked up on it and are promoting it to anyone who will listen. Take for example Kinotakara.

You say, “Kino taka what?”

It’s a Japanese invention in the form of a pad you apply to clean feet, composed of “tree vinegar” and other active substances, to draw out toxins from the body. My parents were enthusing about it 8 years ago. This morning, trying to get a replacement for my sinus-cleansing Neti Pot, which mysteriously lost its cover, I saw a half-size version of it at my local health food store. That’s today – over 8 years later!

In that time, my parents have bought themselves several of Dr. Lamar’s Actimo Water Energizing Units. What does it do? It makes hexagonal water by use of a high-powered magnetic field. And you thought Sheldon from Big Bang Theory was weird. They even presented one to me on the birth of Amanda, which I’ll be hauling along to Perth.

Along the way, they’ve been alkalising their bodies, exploring the Pritikin diet, swallowing vitamins by the handful and having full blood tests done yearly. If they weren’t so proactive about their health, I’d have more concerns about them growing old by themselves.

My mother routinely chides me, not just about being fat (my BMI is 19, hello?), but on eating out all the time. She likes to say, “People (as in my husband) come out with money, you come out with life.” Meaning: he pays with his wallet, I pay with my lifespan. Truth be told, up until last weekend, they probably had more worries about my health than I do of theirs.

Their latest life-improving gadget of interest is this machine that passes electric currents through the body. According to my mother, it’s given my father back tonnes of black hair. Well, I’ll have to see this for myself.  All the same, I wish they’d eat more and pad their frames out a bit. Every time I see them, they just look so skeletal.

“We have to take care of our joints,” said my mother, who lost a lot of weight recently, adding to my worry.

Why does she think being skinny is such a good thing when you need some fat reserves in case you get sick? 

Due to the seriousness of my mother’s health issue, I called my brother in Melbourne for a pow-wow. It’s as much as we can do with him having his end-of-year MBA exams and me waiting for Amanda to finish up her school term. He agrees with me that our mother losing weight is not good, but said, “Your ideas of weight are extreme too.”

Extreme? Need I remind anyone that my BMI is in the healthy range? What’s unhealthy is someone getting sunburned from the sun filtering through your chest, standing behind you. As the only son, my brother is lucky that I take an above average interest in our parents’ well-being. If not, he’d be left to cater to what few needs they currently have, all by himself.

“It’s a good thing you’re moving to Perth, unrelated to this,” he said.

He too knows of the cheap flights to Asia from Perth. I saw an advertised fare for Tiger at $350 return just weeks ago.

“I plan to go home a few more times next year. They are always advertising cheap fares anyway.”

“It’s ok if you’re a housewife. Everybody else has things to do.”

Things to do or not, we will all have to find the means and time to go back if need be. After all, we only have the one set of parents. When they don’t ask you for any upkeep and are as determined to be as healthy as mine, the least you can do is be there when they really need you.




Not Just Coffee: a place for good friends and great food.

I’ve a little confession to make: I was in Sydney over the weekend and due to the sheer brevity of my visit (1 day) saw no one (I’ve got quite a few friends and family there), apart from one former classmate, Yuens. Beside the fact that she and her partner, Kit, run this awesome, fabulous, superlatives-can’t possibly do justice cafe called Not Just Coffee at the rear of 264 Oxford St in Paddington, it was high time we met up since we hadn’t seen each other in all of 17 years!!! Hence the exception to my sightseeing schedule.

Plus, some three to four odd years ago, Yuens wrote to me, asking me about Australia. At the time she was living in the US of A, working as a professional.

“What do you want to know?” I said.

“Oh, you know. What’s it like to live there?”

“The people are nice, the weather is good and the animals are delicious.” I was joking about the last. Anyone who’s ever had Kangaroo, will know how gamey it can taste.

Soon, she confided that she was looking to relocate here. At the time, she probably had no idea how expansive a continent Australia is. I was in Townsville, about to move to Brisbane, where I have been for the past three years. My idea of Australia was based on that and the other places I’ve lived in or visited. It goes without saying that living in Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, is vastly different to living in the country.

Then, just over a year ago, Yuens wrote to ask me for some help with the menu to a cafe she was about to open. She wanted me to jazz up the description of items. Since I have patronised more than my fair share of cafes and have an affinity for the written word, I was happy to do this for an old friend.

Anyhow, after sleeping in like a pig, since I was officially on holiday, Amanda and I made it to Not Just Coffee in Paddington just as Yuens and Kit were welcoming the lunch crowd. I immediately fell in love with the vibe there; tucked at the rear of 264 Oxford Street, accessible through a small lane, the place has this laid-back, secret hide-away in the city atmosphere about it. It’s the sort of joint you might rendezvous at with girlfriends to catch-up on gossip or exchange notes from the week, while enjoying a cuppa and a bite.

A picture of Amanda inside Not Just Coffee in Sydney.

The black boards by the door list the day’s specials. A picture of Amanda inside Not Just Coffee in Sydney.

A picture of some of the seating at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

A picture of some of the seating at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

A picture of a section of Not Just Coffee in Sydney.

A picture of the kitchen at Not Just Coffee. Seating is spread across 3 levels with the upstairs balcony offering sun, the lower levels offering shade and privacy.

Which is just what Yuens and I did, between her tending to customers, after she brought me and Amanda our sandwiches. At Yuens recommendation, I had the weekend special of poached eggs laced with Dukkah, served on a bed of toasted sourdough topped with fresh tomato salsa and avocado. The eggs were still runny in the middle when I cut into them with my fork, the toasted sourdough oven-fresh and crunchy on the outside but still slightly soft in the middle, the salsa an unparalleled symphony of sun-ripened tomatoes and capsicum. An avocado fiend, I was rapt to find a whole Avo, instead of half.

Me and Yuens at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

Old school chums meeting up after 17 long years!!!

A picture of my weekend-special open sandwich at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney

A picture of my weekend-special open sandwich at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

A picture of Amanda's toasted cheese sandwich at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

A picture of Amanda’s toasted cheese sandwich at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

Amanda had a toasted cheese sandwich, which she suggested, none too subtly, I make for her to take to school! She even offered me up a bite, so that I’d improve on my current, slightly stale, fridge-dehydrated offering.

“We’ve got to come back for another sandwich,” I told her.

A picture of Amanda colouring at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

A picture of Amanda colouring at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

A picture of Amanda and I at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

Having a great time at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

Yuens brought Amanda one of Kit’s cupcakes with pink frosting and a sprinkle of M & Ms on top. Watching her tuck in, I was slightly envious and in need of a little after-meal treat myself, so I ordered Not Just Coffee’s signature 69% Dark Chocolate drink. It was simply divine. Much better than similar offerings from some of the renown chocolatiers out there.

A picture of Amanda marvelling at one of Kit's cupcakes at Not Just Coffee in Sydney

A picture of Amanda marvelling at one of Kit’s cupcakes at Not Just Coffee in Sydney

A picture of my 69% dark chocolate and Amanda's babycino at Not Just Coffee, Sydney

A picture of my 69% dark chocolate and Amanda’s babycino at Not Just Coffee, Sydney.

I rounded off my visit to Not Just Coffee with a survey of their cakes and tarts. As you can see from the pic, I was highly temped to indulge further. Damn the diet.

“You’ll see me again when my husband starts printing money,” I promised the baked goods.

A picture of me salivating over Kit's baked goods at Not Just Coffee, Sydney.

A picture of me salivating over Kit’s baked goods at Not Just Coffee, Sydney.

A picture of butter croissants at Not Just Coffee, Sydney.

A picture of butter croissants at Not Just Coffee, Sydney.

A selection of Kit's baked goods at Not Just Coffee in Sydney.

A selection of Kit’s baked goods at Not Just Coffee in Sydney.

A selection of ready-made sandwiches at Not Just Coffee in Sydney.

A selection of ready-made sandwiches at Not Just Coffee in Sydney.

Great food aside, I was thrilled to see Yuens and Kit living their dream of running a cafe. Many professionals fantasise about ditching their day job for something different, but these two have actually taken the plunge. It is with this last thought, that I bade farewell to the duo. Until my next visit to Sydney that is …

A picture of Kit, Yuens, Amanda and I outside Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

One for the road! A picture of Kit, Yuens, Amanda and I outside Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.



Cairns, an old friend with a new haircut.

Last Tuesday, I flew the red-eye to Cairns to visit some friends of mine who call this touristy country town home. Back when I was living there in 2007, there seemed to be more Japanese tourists than locals. Official records say they numbered in the thousands. This time around, a casual stroll through Cairns’ famed Esplanade revealed next to none.

There were tourists all right, but they were mostly Chinese. I could tell because as you might recall, I do speak Mandarin as well as Cantonese. I overheard them speaking to each other in the shade of the overgrown palms lining the periphery of the water attractions. I was there with my friends trying to get some respite from the midday sun.

Even without hearing their  chatter I could tell they were mainland Chinese because of the way they dressed: long black pants, black sports shoes, loose T shirts. This is what my mother and the other ladies in our neighbourhood in Ipoh wear for their morning walks.

Over the next few days, I discovered that the well-known Japanese shop “Kazaa” selling Japanese knick knacks had since shut its doors to business. When I visited Cairns in 2009, it had shrunk from a double shop with 2 entrances to a single shop with only 1. Now it was missing altogether, another victim of the GFC along with the strong Aussie dollar. It’s become much cheaper for Aussies to holiday in Japan than it is for Japanese to come holiday here.  

The year we lived there, His Royal Highness and I made it our goal to sample every single Japanese restaurant in Cairns since, due to restrictions on His Royal Highness’ time, we were not able to take advantage of the direct flights to the land of the rising sun from there. At the time, Cairns had roughly 25. That number has shrunk to slightly less than half.

Happily, I noticed that our favourite Ramen shop “Ganbaranba” is still there. Prices are still what they were in 2009; it is $8.90 for a tonkutsu ramen or $11.90 for my favourite Ikemen. If you go during lunch time, you can get 5 FREE Gyoza as part of the B lunch set.

A picture of Amanda and I at Ganbaranba in Cairns, Queensland.

I cropped the photo out of respect for my friend who wishes to preserve the privacy of her child. A picture of Amanda and I at Ganbaranba in Cairns, Queensland.

A picture of my Ikemen noodles at Ganbaranba in Cairns, Queensland.

My garlic infused Ikemen noodles with half an egg, slivers of Char Siew, half and egg and black fungus.

Having been away for 5 years, Amanda and I were no longer recognised by the owner of the joint. That’s a pity really, because we used to frequent the place at least thrice a week. It was in Ganbaranba that as a 2 year old, Amanda fell in love with noodles and learnt to use chopsticks. His Royal Highness and I were so enamoured by the mustard pickles served in covered containers on each table that we’d empty the container every time.

Around the corner from Ganbaranba was Orchid Plaza. It’s still there, with its many food-court style eateries, jewellery stores, language school and probably the only Japanese grocery store in town, Maruyu, which has a branch down on the Gold Coast. There are other Asian grocers in the city, but they are Korean, reflecting perhaps a change in tourists.

Cairns Central was devoid of Japanese too. There weren’t too many locals there either. Strolling around the mall, I wondered how businesses in there survive. Perhaps a sign of the times, I caught sight of large posters advertising direct flights to Shanghai. I picked up another Oroton bag in Cairns, my highlight of the trip, other than seeing friends of course. It costed much less than what it would in any of the major capital cities or online.

 A picture of an advert for flights from Cairns to Shanghai.

A sign of the times: A picture of an advert for flights from Cairns to Shanghai.

A picture of an advert for flights direct to Shanghai, China from Cairns, Queensland

A picture of an advert for flights direct to Shanghai, China from Cairns, Queensland

Feeling particularly nostalgic, we went past my old house on Minnie Street, four blocks back from the Esplanade. It’s still there in all its white and green glory, along with the next door neighbour who accosted me for allowing my child to cry in the middle of the night. Townhouses should have concrete between units, I tell you. Don’t ever live in one with plaster-board dividers if you have young children.

We also rounded the Sebel hotel which used to be known by another name. With my parents baby-sitting Amanda, His Royal Highness and I frequented a Japanese restaurant there for my 29th birthday. Not used to it being just the two of us, we sat there wondering what Amanda was up to. From memory, His Royal Highness seemed as relieved as I was when dinner was over.

Cairns suburbs were much the same: quiet, sleepy, almost like any other country town. The weather was beautiful most days, a balmy 20-something degrees. Plenty of sunshine, perhaps 1 shower all week.

Is love a game where the one who loves more loses?

I have a girlfriend who has had more loves than I have shoes. Each time she meets a guy, she tells me, “Estella, he’s the one.” She wants to introduce me to him, to show me what a wonderful upstanding fellow he is and each time, I think I’m seeing the exact same man.

To be sure, they’re all physically different. But the ending of each of my girlfriend’s romantic encounters is such that they might as well be the same person. Whilst watching this scene from the 2006 Korean movie “Seducing Mr Perfect”, it occurred to me that my girlfriend and many other single women – save for the sweet young things out to nab a sugar daddy – are not aware of how the game of love is played. Most are not even aware it’s a game, believing their earnestness, kindness and gentle, loving nature will win them the guy. According to Robin, played by the fabulously handsome Daniel Henney, giving advice to his recently dumped colleague, June, played by Uhm Jung Hwa, South Korea’s doyenne of Pop, they’re all wrong. Here’s that scene:

“Why have I been dumped 3 times now?”asks the doe-eyed June.

“Because you don’t know the rules,” says Robin.


“The rules of the game.”

“Love isn’t like playing Starcraft you know.”

“Yes it is. It’s actually a game that requires even greater precision and planning. A game of power. Manipulations of emotions to control the mind…that’s the game.”

She looks at him incredulously.

“Well it is a game,” he insists. “It’s a game where the one who display’s affection first, gives up total control and goes around like a dog on a collar.”

She exhales and looks to her wine glass for comfort.

“In relationships, you’re the one to call first and he was the one to hang up first, right?”

“Right.” She nods.

“And when you’re together, you’d always run to him and you always give him gifts on anniversaries, only you, right?”

“Right. How did you know that?” she asks, her mood visibly brightening.

“I know these because these are the consequences of dating without any self respect, Ms June. That’s how I know.” He has a sip of his brandy, then says, “So take my advice, and this is sincere so listen to me: If you continue acting like this, being so…” He searches for a word. “Pathetic. You will always be treated like trash by men. And you’ll grow old…all by yourself.”

At this, His Royal Highness who has been watching with me, points an accusing finger and says, “Now I know why I am wearing a dog collar!”

“Hey, it’s only a movie,” say I, even so realising that this Robin character may be on to something.

Not that I’ve ever played these sorts of games with my husband.  We’ve always been honest and open with our emotions, where the other stands a known fact from the word go. My abiding belief is that game players deprive others of knowing the real them; as such, they may have control or a relationship or situation, but that control is based on illusion. Be that as it may, if my girlfriend’s romantic woes are indicative of the strife faced by single women in general, it appears more and more men are into these games.

Now, is hiding one’s emotions and following a set of rules the right way to go in romance? Men have tried playing me before and got a rude awakening when they found themselves on the curb, next to yesterday’s newspapers and take-out. I know all their tricks: talking themselves up, not talking at all, calling me like my number is the only one in the phonebook, not calling at all, calling me on certain days of the week then hanging up…

You see fellas…that’s the reason why I just celebrated my 11th wedding anniversary while you’re undoubtedly still trying to con women. I suggest women be aware of these games and if men try them on you, then you just use your sidekick and send them flying. I’d leave a message for these sorts of men too, but not enough of ’em players read my blog. The word “parenting” in my banner usually puts them all off.