Category Archives: Family Time

What a crazy, crazy 2015.

I’m clearing whatever few days of leave I have for the year and I have a few moments to spare. The long drives to send Xuheng to the infant care and back these few days have been very pensive for me.

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Credit: andrewandbonnie.wordpress.com

The roads are empty, the streets are dark (yes, we send him that early), and it all makes for a very reflective mood for me.

What a crazy, crazy year. In my mind, there is only one phrase to describe it: an emotional roller-coaster.

I have been through so many emotional ups and downs this year that it frequently drains me out.

I started this year on 2nd January beginning a new job. I had one 6 month old kid. I was staying in a small room rented from a kind friend.

365 days later.

I have a different job. I have two kids, a son and a daughter. I now have my own flat in Punggol.

My savings are dwindling every month. My CPF is wiped out.

I am poorer, yet I am richer.

I am happier, yet in some ways more stressed out than ever.

It gets better, but more complicated.

I’m thankful for the many blessings that have come our way. My wife’s strength and support. My parents’ help in the caregiving for the children. Fantastic infant care for Xuheng and a place at the childcare in the new workplace. Our wonderful domestic helper, Aye Mu. My own space in this house.

If you ask me whether I had foreseen myself going through all this at the beginning of the year, I would have said ‘no’. If you had asked me if I ever knew I could juggle this many transitions at one go, honestly I wouldn’t have known. It’s damn tough, but I grind it out living just day by day and saving up my childcare leave.

Perhaps one thing I need to learn is: responsibilities in life never get easier; we just become stronger.

Life’s Missed Moments – A Christmas Reflection

There’s steak lying in the freezer; frozen, cold and stiff. Only a week ago, they were bought from honestbee with the wish that they would go with some roasted potatoes to make a simple but slightly more luxurious Christmas eve dinner.

How quickly things change at times. Xuheng was diagnosed with the feared HFMD (Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease) on Monday and we decided to ward him in the hospital to keep him away from his baby sister. It would be too dangerous for her to also contract the disease. I ended up shuttling between the office in the day and the hospital at night and spent 2 nights there.

Christmas dinner plans were swiftly shelved as Xuheng was quarantined away at my mum’s place till next Monday.

It’s Christmas eve, and I have to admit I am a little sad that Xuheng isn’t with us to celebrate our first Christmas together as a family of four. I miss the little guy. Dinner was a simple fried bittergourd with eggs (which was delicious) and pan-fried saba. Certainly not steak, but at least it was tasty. I’m glad I refused to give in to the temptation to come home straight for an afternoon nap, but insisted on bringing Weili out for a nice lunch and some shopping today. It mediates the sadness somewhat.

The Christmas jazz on Spotify is playing which adds to the mood but accentuates how I miss my son and his cheeky smiles.

In between imagining myself as the jazzy drummer on the track ‘Do you hear what I hear?’, my mind drifts to life’s missed moments – some of our own doing, others because we did not have the presence of spirit and others, like mine today, through no fault of ours.

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king,
do you know what I know
In your palace warm, mighty king,
do you know what I know
A Child, a Child shivers in the cold
Let us bring Him silver and gold
Let us bring Him silver and gold

I think of the inn-keeper who had no room for little baby born this night centuries ago. I wonder if he would have responded differently if he had known what the stars knew when they pointed the way for the wise men. I wonder if there would have been room in his inn if he had known that the woman would soon birth one worthy of silver, gold and worship. A missed moment this was – to bear witness to the miracles in the ordinary.

I think of Pontius Pilate who posed the question “What is truth?” to this manger-born baby who was now 33; and proceeded to wash his hands of responsibility. It was a question asked cynicism; without any anticipation of an answer. I wonder about the course of history should Pilate had taken two moments to hear what the One who was Truth embodied had to say. A missed moment this was – to hear Truth pull apart the deception within.

I once read a quote that went something like this:

“Do not seek Christ. Seek truth; and you shall find Christ.

For before He was Christ, He was Truth.” 

The modern world likes to talk about ‘defining moments’ – those split seconds which come to shape our self-identities and our worldviews in seminal ways. In truth, I believe, we are shaped as much by those moments we were directly participating as those moments we missed. The difference is that the missed moments shape us in ways we may never know. For every moment we are present with, there are countless other experiences we could have been a part of, but were not.

So, the steak continues to lie in the freezer. They will be grilled, medium-rare, on some other day – but no longer for Christmas eve. They too, missed the moment.

But at least there’s dessert.

5 reasons to really respect Confinement Nannies

Some of you might have seen my Facebook posts on this topic. To be honest, I’m not fully a believer in all the confinement practices; particularly the ones that are somehow only apply to Chinese humans.

However, having experienced the presence of a confinement aunty in our house over the past month; there is a part of me that begins to realise why Chinese place so much emphasis on confinement month. The reason is simple really: so that Mummy can rest. Weili is so much more relaxed and rested this time round that I really regret we didn’t hire one when Xuheng was born.

And I’ve got a new-found respect for these nannies too.

1. They are basically superhuman.

Imagine this: They cook all 3 meals, clean up the kitchen afterwards, prepare the herbs for Mummy to bathe and basically take care of baby 24/7 for the first month including nights. To be honest, I’m not sure if all confinement nannies practice the same way, but I seriously think ours is superhuman. Basically she’s a live-in SAHM who somehow manages to cook 2 dishes and 1 soup for lunch and dinner in between everything else. Not to mention lack of sleep. Amazing.

2. They spend long periods of time away from their family.

Most of the confinement nannies nowadays come from Malaysia; thankfully so – given their proximity geographically and culturally from us. And not to mention Malaysian food is like epic tasty. But this also means that when they come over to work, they spend long periods of time away from their own families in order to earn their income. Most of them have children and grandchildren of their own, who they miss terribly when they travel here to work.

3. They practically live out of their suitcases.

And because they are here only for 28 days, they usually try to travel light. Life in those 28 days is simple. She completes the tasks she needs to and spends the bulk of the time catching up on her 40 winks. Ask any expat or those who travel frequently for work – living out of a suitcase is fun for a start but it’s incredibly draining emotionally after a while. The lack of a psychological sense of ‘belonging’ or ‘rootedness’ – always being a nomad – can literally make one go mad. These confinement nannies are emotionally really strong.

4. They have to put up with a lotta shit.

Of course, when the confinement nannies first come into a family, there is very little knowledge of each other. Trust takes time to develop and so of course many families will try to ensure there is more than 1 pair of eyes watching her at any time. Our auntie tells us of how one family made crazy arrangements just to make sure there was always someone at home; and that someone made her presence so obvious by walking past the room she was in every few minutes. From my perspective, it’s completely understandable; yet as anyone who has worked in a shitty office knows: the feeling of being watched every minute and every second really shreds away at your psyche. No wonder there’s been some families she’s quit after a few days.

5. They would make awesome family therapists.

Because they live in such close proximity with so many families for such extended periods, they have literally seen all kinds of families up close. Knowing they are there just to do their job of ensuring baby is cared for and mother recuperates well, they are highly sensitive to family dynamics and are good at making themselves less conspicuous. They learn to adjust to the spoken and unspoken family rules and hierarchies of every family they meet in order to make their own jobs easier.

I just want to say to husbands out there: getting a confinement nanny – though expensive – is completely worth it. I don’t really care for the herbs or the bathing practices; but just the fact that mums can get good rest, good food and relaxation for this month after 9 months of exertion over the course of the pregnancy is good enough reason for me. And trust me, getting mothers or mother-in-laws to do it is just not the same.

Remembering 2014

I’ve often found NYE parties somewhat contrived: with fireworks, music and what-nots ushering in what is essentially another minute in the endless line of time. All in the hopes of waking up with new energies for a new year, but all I woke up with is a terrible hangover. The passing of calendar years to me are pointless if not for the construction of meaning: the examining of a life lived – its intents, influences, dreams and regrets all becoming the basis for another year to come. Some years go by with barely a whimper: leaving nary a mark on the one living, catalysing barely a ripple. Some years are more seminal than others: they have more impact on the years to come than the years that have gone before.

The unexamined life is not worth living. – Socrates

This was one of the seminal ones. Perhaps I can outline the changes I have seen in myself by outlining some things I find myself thankful for as the year draws to a close.

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1. For Relationship

Honestly, it’s been a tough year. Possibly one of the toughest ones yet because of the new responsibilities of fatherhood. Oftentimes, my fuse has been short and I’ve found myself punching walls in frustration when I never had this habit before. Through it all, I’m thankful for relationships. For my relationship with my wife – sure there are days we get frustrated at things – but I am truly thankful we have a relationship we can come back to when we compose ourselves and find ways to talk and work things through. This year, we have had to make so many complex and important decisions, some at very short notice, that we are glad we can be transparent and share our thoughts openly to come to a clear decision.

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For our parents too: who are ever ready to adjust their schedules, wake up earlier or move things around to help us out when we need caregiving help. Even as I write this: we have left baby at my mom’s place and are sitting in a cafe while Weili is working on her powerpoint slides for the beginning of the school year.

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I think these experiences with relationships have balanced and rounded out my perspectives of family as an adult. Whereas previously as a young man I often focused on individuating myself away from the family: now as a father I find myself seeing relationships more as inter-dependent – we don’t just need ourselves, we need each other.

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Mama and Wai Po feeding Xuheng some solids!

2. For Redemption

One thing I’m supremely thankful for is not really a thing per se; but an idea. It is the idea that the Grand Story, the Larger Purpose behind the entire Christian narrative is not about sin; nor forgiveness, nor grace. It is about Redemption. I’m thankful because I have never heard my faith framed in such terms and I found myself greatly changed as a result. I find myself less judgmental about wrongs, less surprised about evil, but perhaps most tellingly of all: more rested and restful in my struggles with the Christian faith.

With Redemption as the backdrop: everything makes sense. All the seeming incongruities find connections and peace with one another. I think it’s helped me to find peace with God and within myself.

3. For Rejuvenation

For various reasons, some of you know I have been on the lookout for a new employer for some time now, but I held it off for the sake of adjusting to our new task of parenthood. One of the reasons for this was that I found increasingly the work limiting to my development as a professional counsellor. I found myself falling back more into familiar ways of counselling, not challenging myself enough in my development as a clinician. My passion slowly began to die; and it terrified me. I needed a new kind of work, to be energised by new environments, new people, new ideas.

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Packing for a new journey.

I am returning to the social work field at a time when the field is growing and changing, at a time when my own life circumstances are constantly evolving from week to week and month to month; and our larger economic and national environment seeing dramatic changes all the time. I am excited to challenge myself to grow as a clinician with different kinds of cases, to help out in programmes that serve the community and sharpen my mind in my understanding of societal and social issues. I look forward to being energised by my fellow professionals at a time in our history that needs us social workers more than ever.

And so, it’s been a year of ups and downs, of growth through the stress and challenges of parenthood. In many ways, my wife and I agree that we’ve grown so much stronger as people, more knowledgable about life, families and the world, and become more firm and assertive on that which we need to protect for our child. While we’ve had less exclusive time for each other, our relationship has become stronger and our understanding of each other deeper.

And it’s only just begun.

Becoming Home for Christmas

“Home is an arresting idea. It is not coincidental that displacement from and longing for home is an oft-explored and well-developed theme in all manner of transcendental literature.. The longing for belonging is a mighty powerful thing.” – David Crowder (on FB)

Truly, “Becoming Home” has been the theme for life this year. It will probably continue to be a question on my mind for many years to come. “What does it mean to build a home?” I find myself asking frequently this year.

Some of you know, my wife and I are waiting for our BTO flat to be done probably sometime in 2015. We decided when we got married that we would prefer our own space to build our own identity and functioning as a couple; and so we moved out. We currently rent a room and live with flatmates who have been incredibly welcoming and generous with us. Make no mistake about it, we are deeply thankful for this welcoming place where we feel entirely comfortable in. But yet, as the year wears on, there is a palpable sense that this is not our home. However comfortable we are here, we are still guests and we have to be aware that we are intruding in more ways than one. There is the insatiable longing for our own place and our own space – a place where we truly belong.

Yet, there is always a quiet thought in my mind: Home is more than a place. It is a reminder I say to myself and my son every night as we step through the house door. I recite a little ritual to him: “Xuheng, make a guess! Where are we? Where are where are where are we? We are we are we are where? Where are we? We are where?” and just as I switch on the room lights and place him on the bed, I round off with the last rousing line: “WE ARE……. HOOOOOOOME!!” 

He never fails to smile at the last word: HOME.

Not because he knows what ‘home’ means. But because at that moment he looks around and recognises the familiarity of the room and the smile on Daddy and Mummy’s face.

Home. It is more than a place. It is where we have built a network of relationships in which we feel absolutely safe and totally belonged.

On some days when I actually have access to a physical newspaper, I like to open up to take a quick look at the orbituary page after I read the football news. There often lie written the legacies of those who have gone before us. A common phrase found there “xxx was called home to the Lord.”

Home. In Christian theology, it is interesting that heaven is referred to as home. Perhaps, heaven is the place where we find all that we truly long for: justice, peace, love, mercy. It is the place we, created in the Imago Dei, truly belong. It is the place we are finally safe from the tribulations of this restless existence.

It is the place the Lord Jesus forsook as he entered into time and space; into longing and wilderness – on Christmas Day many years ago. The Uncreated One, who eternally existed, born not to a home, but to a manger. For even the most makeshift of accommodations – an inn – did not have room. And going on to live a life so nomadic that he, the Alpha and the Omega, from the beginning to the end did not have a place to lay his head. He once reflected on his own longings – that the foxes have holes and the birds have nests, but not him – not a place to lay his head. A longing that would find its culmination on a cross as he could no longer bear the unfulfilled yearning for home any longer: “Father, why have You forsaken me?”

We are all on this journey of Becoming Home. We are all learning day by day, to be better fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. We are all trying our best to build relationships with our families into a wall of safety for our children they can run to – to truly become their home.

I am also reminded this Christmas that we are also on the journey Becoming Home to Christ. He would had no home wants to be born into our hearts. The Prince of Peace wants to make us his royal abode.

The inn had no room for him. I pray, our hearts will.

“Christmas isn’t Christmas, till it happens in your heart.”

4 Suggestions for a better Tingkat experience

There is more to Tingkat than just having food served to your doorstep every night. 

So the Tays just recently completed a round of 10 days Tingkat trial with Hong Choo Catering.  The 10 days passed without a hitch, except one day when I wanted to cancel dinner for that night as we decided to bring baby to see the doctor but wasn’t allowed too as it was too late. Food was delivered fresh every day, and the soup was often still warm when I opened the package at about 6:30pm.

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For variety’s sake, I decided to give another company a chance to impress me next week. That’s not to say I didn’t like Hong Choo’s service and food though, I was quite decently impressed.

I realised from my posts on Facebook that many people have either considered Tingkat (but are too afraid to try because of the multitude of bad reviews on the Internet), or have themselves tried it with varying degrees of satisfaction.

Many have asked me why don’t I just dabao from a coffeeshop on the way home? First of all, I suppose it’s partly because I drive, and so it’s really troublesome to find parking, alight the car and buy food. Especially when there are parking charges and wardens everywhere. Secondly, Bukit Panjang, where we live, is a food desert. Thirdly, I honestly can’t see how Tingkat food is any less nutritious than Chup Chye Png. In fact, I think it probably is healthier and more hygienic. Fourthly, honestly, with a newborn in tow from infant care every evening, even dabaoing is a challenge. I had gotten really tired of thinking of what to eat and where to buy food every night.

For me, I think there are some points to consider when ordering Tingkat:

1. Manage Your Expectations (Like seriously, big-time.)

I mean, all the Tingkat companies will blow their own trumpets with amazing photos of food (not necessarily theirs) and make all sorts of claims. But honestly, this is Tingkat. It will NOT taste like your mother’s cooking, and most likely it will not taste like your cooking (that depends on how decent a cook you are). I think a reasonable level of expectation is that it should at least taste similar to a decent, cooked-by-Malaysian chup chye png at the coffee shop. I’m not even asking you to compare with those old school mom-and-pop shops which tend to taste better and use better ingredients.

Any higher level of expectation and I think you are just setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment.

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2. Hot Food always tastes better than cold food. 

Make it a point to warm up the food properly. If you are too lazy to even pop it in the microwave, then I have nothing to say. If you have no microwave, I have even more nothing to say. Or at least steam the food. Not just to kill bacteria, but because hot food always tastes better. Really, don’t complain the food is not fresh and tastes bad if you eat it cold la. This is not salad.

3. Read Blog Reviews

Many mummies and daddies write about their tingkat experiences on their blogs. Go take a look at the photos they post and decide for yourself how the food looks.

I’d say, forget about the Forums though. They are too often just a place for ranting and it’s very hard to judge from the reviews there as people just have very different standards and expectations (just like Tripadvisor). Blogs are better because you can see the pictures and then make your own judgment call which company is worth a shot.

4. The Paradox of Choice

Strangely, having eaten Tingkat dinner for the past 2 weeks, I found myself experiencing The Paradox of Choice.

Basically, Barry Schwartz’s thesis is that while we think choice makes us happier, it in fact makes us more unhappy because of factors like ‘missed opportunities’. Studies have shown that the huge array of choice presented to us often make us more unmotivated and even depressed.

It’s true. When I buy a dinner and it doesn’t taste as good as I hoped, I am often frustrated and spend the night thinking about my frustration and how I could have tried this other food or that other stall.

With Tingkat, in some ways, I just learn to give thanks for the food that is on the table, whatever it is. It fills my tummy, and off I go with the rest of the night. It’s surprising for a foodie like me, but I actually feel more satisfied even when objectively the food is less satisfying.

Could thankfulness really make food taste better? Can gratitude really satisfy? Try it for yourself and let me know.

Maybe Tingkat is moulding my heart’s attitude towards life.

Putting Food on The Table: Soya Sauce Minced Pork 酱油肉碎

Minimalist Food before Minimalism was Cool

“This and rice; nothing more needed.” – Lide (my bro)
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酱油肉碎

You see, the need for minimalism is a #firstworldproblem. Before the glut of wealth and the swelling of our girths, I suppose many families were minimalist; not because it was oh-so-hipster, but out of need. We all grew up hearing our parents’ stories of how noodles used to cost 20cents, or that eggs were only eaten on birthdays and *gasp* Fanta Orange was only drunk during Chinese New Year as ‘pok zui’ -‘pok’ being the sound heard when the glass bottle of fizzy delight was opened.

Lives have since evolved; and we seem to have much more now. I am careful to use the word ‘seem’ because having ‘more’ or having ‘less’ is often a matter of perspective depending on where your vantage point is.

I am sure that 40 years into the future, my son would probably be telling my grandson: “Look, you just need to wink and you can speak to your friend overseas. In our time, we had to take out a 4.5inch device called a phone from our pockets and key in a string of 8 numbers before we can do so.” “Omg. That’s crazy.” I can almost hear my grandson say.

And so I hesitate to say this generation is less thankful for what they have than previous generations. I’m sure my grandparents told my parents when they were kids: “Be thankful for your noodles! In our time during the war, we only had sweet potatoes!” What I do think is that we are losing our sense of wonder. In an age when anything seems possible, we often look outward to be entertained; yet rarely look inward and upward for moments of contentedness.

Is it any wonder then that ‘minimalism’ is often such a strongly felt need? The world of advertising, media and entertainment relentlessly bombards us with messages that we need another new service, another new product.

My experience as a new father awakened me to this reality in a way I had never felt before. Just visit any baby fair: you will be bewildered at the range of every conceivable (and inconceivable) product; appealing to your every parental anxiety that this new invention and that new gadget will buy you a better nights’ sleep or a less fussy baby or remove every danger or discomfort (real or imagined) your child will feel. Whoever invented the idea that the purpose this life here on earth was to be ‘comfortable’, anyway?

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I’ve always wondered at the many heritage dishes we enjoy in Singapore and their seeming similarities. Think chwee kueh, chai tow kway, Teochew kway teow (the type with only kway teow and chai poh), chee cheong fun. One thing stands out for me: they are essentially carbs with a very salty condiment to give it taste. Bear in mind that truly old school chai tow kway did not have egg. These were poor man’s food: a lot of salt for taste and a lot of carbs for energy. Minimalist food, maximum satisfaction.

And so too is my Mum’s Soya Sauce Minced Pork recipe. It’s so simple, just

– soya sauce

– minced pork.

Cooked over a stove in a pot. Guests in our home are often surprised at how tasty it is when eaten with piping hot rice. It is one of the dishes I want my son to learn to appreciate and I hope it becomes a staple in my own home.

This is one of the thoughts I have whenever I shovel mouthfuls of rice and this dish invented by my mum when famished: that I really don’t need very much more. I often suspect it is not the objective ‘tastiness’ of the dish, but its sheer simplicity that opens up our senses to a fuller experience of the food, and life, itself.

I guess, simplicity connects us not with our insatiable wants, but subtly turns our hearts towards thankfulness. It reminds us that life does go on when we have plenty and when we have nought; it turns our eyes on what we do have rather than what we don’t. Thankfulness really does make food taste better.

This was the way my mum put food on the table. And it’s the way I want to put food on mine.


What about you? If you are a daddy (or a mummy), what are your thoughts about putting food on the table?
This post is part of a series of posts by Daddy Bloggers from the Daddy Matters group.

Click on the picture below to see the rest of the posts by other daddies!

Stranger in Bangkok
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