“When love beckons to you follow him, though his ways are hard and steep.” – Kahlil Gibran
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It would probably be quite an under-statement to say that my wife’s favourite breakfast is French Toast. While my favourite is unequivocally a good ol’ Bak Chor Mee, I also subscribe to the timeless philosophy of #happywifehappylife. You see, that hypothesis is even proven in this new research study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family. And so, naturally, one can not ever make too much French Toast on Saturday mornings in the Tay household.
After so many rounds of experimenting and tweaking, I believe I’ve chanced upon the right balance of deliciousness and accessibility here in this recipe. You see, there are dozens of recipes online for French Toast, but many contain ingredients or techniques that are just impossible to do on a lazy Saturday morning.
This recipe, I assure you, will get you daddies more nocturnal satisfaction (geddit?) on Saturday nights if you serve them to your wife in bed on Saturday mornings. More tips along the way!
Ingredients (makes 8 slices of toast)
- Bread – any bread will do really, but not all breads are born equal. Many angmoh recipes online call for Brioche or Challakh, but I’ve discovered the best bread for French toast thus far is called “Danish Bread” which you can get for $3.10 per loaf at the common neighbourhood bakery Four Leaves.
- Eggs – 4 large
- Milk – about 100ml. Add more if you want your toast more ‘custardy’, less if you want it more ‘eggy’.
- Vanilla essence – 1 tsp
- Butter – for frying the bread
- Dry ingredients:
- Sugar – 2 tsp
- Salt – a pinch
- Cinnamon/ Allspice – a small sprinkle, or to taste
- MIX: In a mixing bowl (make sure this bowl is big enough for you to dip your bread in later), mix together the dry ingredients and ensure they are evenly mixed. Add the milk, eggs, and vanilla essence and whisk it all together with a fork until well combined.
- HEAT: In a hot pan, melt a bit of butter over a low heat. It’s very easy to burn French toast, so I go with the philosophy ‘low and slow‘: low heat also means you have much more time to ensure you get the right colour on your toast. When the butter begins to foam, it’s the right time to fry the bread.
- DIP: Dip the bread in the egg mixture and let it sit for about 15 seconds on each side to soak up the egg custard.
- FRY: Place slowly into the pan and fry for about 2 minutes on each side or until it achieves your desired colour.
- SERVE: Drizzle some syrup and serve!
Tips for extra luxury for that special Saturday:
- Make stuffed French toast by spreading anything you like in between two slices of bread before dipping and frying. Chocolate chips, nutella, bananas, peanut butter, jams, cream cheese. The sky’s the limit!
- Spike your egg mixture with some booze! Rum or tequila, anyone?
- Serve your French toast with a small knob of salted butter and syrup, or even some gula melaka sauce!
Dear Xu Heng 恤恒,
It’s Fathers’ Day and we decided against heading to church as we both didn’t get much sleep last night. Many thoughts have been brimming, some more distracting than others, but the theme has been a kind of a sense of urgency as we lead up to the big day when Xu Heng is born on 2nd July. It feels like we are taking every opportunity to spend time together, to enjoy the last and final bits of life as it is now. Life will never be the same from this point onwards, yet we truly don’t know what the future holds.
I must admit, sometimes the costs of living in Singapore – a HDB mortgage, my Japanese sedan, my coming baby – they scare me. Some of my closer friends know that each time I go through a major transition, the feelings of anxiety surface. Now, part of this is my existential anxiety. With each transition, I become more and more aware of my limitations and the limited time I have to make good of my life. When I’ve faced my existential anxiety, that part feels a bit more settled but there is still the part where I constantly think about how I can bring in alternative streams of income to supplement the needs of the family. Actively, I’ve been trying to increase my range of professional skills and visibility in part because I hope to move into jobs in the future which can provide more comfortably for my family. And each time the anxiety comes, so do new ideas.
You see, with these anxieties, I sometimes see those who have much higher earning power than I do and I ask myself: why? Yes, a gynaecologist may be much more brilliant than me intellectually and work longer hours than I do. But does the differential between my intelligence and his, and the fact that he works perhaps 1.5times the number of hours I do justify him earning about 100 times more than me? I don’t think so. Sometimes, I feel frustrated, I feel unfair. But life goes on.
It seems that in a few conversations I had with different ones recently, ‘counting the cost’ was a theme that emerged. My brother James said: “My family is important. My marriage is important. Yes, I could spend so much more hours at work, but at what cost? One needs to count the cost.” Just last night, my cousin Yiyi and a few of us were sitting around the dinner table and she related how hard her boss works and the income it brings in. That kind of money blows my mind. And Yiyi said earnestly to us: “But everything comes at a price. Would you want a lot of money, but a broken marriage? What about the moments when your child is growing up? When they utter their first words or take their first steps? Those moments, once gone, are gone forever.”
“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” – Luke 14:28-30
It’s true. Everything comes at a price. Including my HDB. With my wife considering taking some no-pay leave to care for the child while we transition to our house in Punggol, purse-strings will be tight. So how? I suppose it will be a combination of both looking to increase the income but also learning to live simply.
They say fatherhood, or impending fatherhood, has a way of making one re-look at priorities. They certainly are for me.
It’s gonna be one hell of a ride. #bringiton