Kidzania: Understanding the Mania

The week before, I took a day off to bring everyone to Kidzania Singapore to see if we could get tickets, but we arrived at Beach Station at 2pm, and seasoned parents of Kidzanians will point at us and mock us in utter noobery of not knowing that we can’t just get walk-in tickets into Kidzania Singapore in the middle of the afternoon during the school hols. So early this week, I took another day off, and The Wife, Xan and I verbally committed ourselves night before to wake up at 7am and get to Sentosa by 9am (Yvie just wakes up whenever the hell she wants, so we didn’t seek her approval on the idea).

We woke up late. But we did manage to get to Kidzania a little after 10am, which isn’t as bad. And we already had tickets which The Wife managed to pre-purchase online just a day before they all sold out.

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Not that it’s cheap, either. When The Wife quipped that the Singapore edition was probably the most expensive Kidzania in the world, I believed her. But for the purposes of fact-checking (because bloggers are sooooooo reliable with facts, aren’t we), I later went and compiled a table of global Kidzania ticket prices for comparison (because bloggers are also soooooooo free, aren’t we).

Kidzania Global Pricelist
Click to view larger image

Singapore’s S$58 kid’s ticket is the 5th most expensive Kidzania ticket in the world, behind Tokyo and Koshien in Japan (between $68.42 to $71), Seoul and Busan in South Korea (S$68), and London (S$61.24). Our $35 adult ticket, however, is the second most expensive, second only to Kuwait’s $35.88 price tag. Put the children’s and adult’s prices together (because almost every Kidzania outlet requires each child to be accompanied by an adult) and Kidzania Singapore actually ranks a very close 3rd most expensive after the 2 Japanese outlets.

That’s a lot to pay for, especially when the adults don’t get to do anything other than pay for their own meals and buy merchandise (great, more spending). But as we spent our day there, I managed to find something about the place that made it worth my wife’s money: other parents, because I just love observing how these intrepid caregivers of their own offspring try–and fail–to operate in a place where kids are trying to be adults and in helping them do so, the adults unwittingly behave like kids.

1. The I-am-my-children’s-representative parent

At Kidzania, the kids are required to do adult things, like delve into different occupations, make their own food, and manage their own money. They also have to queue for everything they want to do. It’s even stated in the signs plastered on stations where queues form. But of course, who has time to read signs?

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This one dad decided to help his kids book a spot (and a good one, too) in the queue for the Qatar Airlines First Officer training course, the most popular station in the place.

The guy stood there for a good 10 minutes arguing his case and getting increasingly agitated while 1 crew member, then 2, then 2 crew members and 3 security people tried to get him to leave the queue. As he argued the rest of the parents and maids either made their kids replace them or silently skulked away. The resistance he put up earned him a firm hand around his arm at the end of it as he was escorted out of the queue and away from the group of children and onlookers wondering if he knew how foolish he looked.

2. The over-indulgent parent

On a number of queues that Xan joined, the kids surrounding him had their heads bowed down playing on tablets or phones in stoic silence. In one particular instance, he caved and asked if he could have my phone to play with. I said no. The boy in front of him, completely oblivious to the conversation, carried on with his mother’s phone.

10 minutes later, the queue moved. The kid with his mum’s phone didn’t. Trainer came out of the station to manage the queue and saw him, then went up to him to try and get him to rejoin the queue. He didn’t budge. Mother then came back as the next session was about to start and saw her boy, about 5 metres away from the end of the queue, still playing with his phone.

3. The over-reaching parent

No, the woman in the foreground is not the Mother of Xander.
No, the woman in the foreground is not the Mother of Xander.

One mum whose son was in the job session the KZ Express courier station managed to ask the trainer for a small uniform that she can let her under-3 daughter try on. She subsequently didn’t give it back until the end of the session, and let her kid run amok with her brother, while the trainer somewhat freaked out at the subtle daylight robbery of her equipment. “She’ll be back, I promise. She’s just going to the toilet,” she said, before running away with her kids (and us, because her son was paired up with Xan) to take photos and videos of that proud moment all her children went on a mock delivery run as fake despatch runners.

4. Overbearing parents

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They run around with their kids at the stations where running around outside the station is required (e.g. City Parade Performer, Maybank Vault Cash Officer, KZ Express Courier).

Okay, I did that too, but we’re bloggers, and it was for this blog post, so stop being so judgmental.

And then if the kids are in a vehicle (e.g. WTS Travel Tour Guide or Tourist, SCDF Firefighter, SPF Police Officer, Mount Elizabeth Hospital Paramedic) they don’t just follow the vehicles their kids are in; they reach in and hold their child’s hand, while the vehicle is moving. And they’re not just taking photos and videos of that proud moment all their children go on a mock delivery run as fake despatch runners. They’re telling them what to do, encouraging them and telling them no, they’re doing it wrong it should be that way, because this really is what happens in real life when kids become adults and still need their parents to tell them how to work in their jobs every step of the way.

If you thought I was being sarcastic, I really do know some adults with parents like that… still.

5. Over-inquisitive parents

So the adults can’t partake just about all the activities the kids take on in Kidzania (unless you brought a toddler, in which case you get to hang out with your child at the Kindergarten and RightzKeepers Residence). The policy is especially felt when our kids enter enclosed stations like the Paddle Pop Ice Cream Factory, the Lim Chee Guan Traditional BBQ Meat Store, and the Qatar Airlines Aviation Academy,  and some of us adults just can’t handle it. So at the very first opportunity we get, we grab the first trainer coming out of the station our kids are about to get into and ask 374 questions about everything inside that we can and can’t see from the glass panels outside and their grandmother, and we ask really fast because we don’t want to take up their time from doing their jobs.

Guess what? We take up their time from doing their jobs, sessions get delayed, and by 6pm, the session count runs short of the number scheduled and less kids get to play.

6. Over-excited parents

You know those parents who bring their kids to their first day at primary school, and then stay there, hanging out at the classrooms peering in, continuously waving at the kids and knocking on the windows trying to get their attention just so they can wave at them and smile and take photos, or tell them to pay attention to the teacher, and take photos, or pass them some inane item like tissue paper to wipe their sweat, spittle and snot, and take photos?

They’re at Kidzania Singapore, too.

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As far as theme parks are concerned, I will say put aside your skepticism if you can afford it and try Kidzania Singapore at least once (and if you really only want to do it once, don’t get a B-Kidzanian Pazzport for your kid; you get more benefits, but it’s your kid’s passport to an addiction on a global scale), if anything for the very valuable life lessons the place offers your child to learn and for you to teach (such as money management, time management, trying everything before you settle on what you want to do in your life, or don’t wave around your Kidzos in front of others like an obnoxious rich kid).

More importantly, leave your kid alone. Yes, Kidzania requires adult accompaniment, but the only reasons we are there is so the kids don’t leave with strangers (children’s RFID wrist tags are paired with their families’ or guardian’s tags so they can’t leave the premises with other people) and that immediate response can be had when a child gets hurt, gets lost or gets in trouble.

The entire premise of Kidzania is to be a foundational space for teaching your child how to navigate the world we adults experience as independently as we do. To that end, the Kidzania staff really actively try to to maintain that sense of independence in as joyful manner as they can muster for our kids, and as much as they try to also maintain high service standards as politely as they can with us adults, our incessant interference isn’t helping them or our kids.

So let your child run free in a mock economy to work in mock jobs fronted by familiar commercial brands, so they can spend their mock money climbing up and down mock buildings (very imaginatively called Climbing Building) and making mock ATM deposits, while you find a seat somewhere within the sprawling 2-storey space mocking other parents and hoping you don’t do anything that will invite mocking from mock celebrities such as parent bloggers.

Dont live a life of regret. Let your child queue for himself at Kidzania Singapore.

A photo posted by Winston "The Blogfather" Tay (@blgfthr) on Jun 14, 2016 at 3:35am PDT

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If you didn’t get the hint already, this post was sponsored by Mother of Xander (a.k.a. The Wife), who paid for the tickets because I gawked at the ticket prices the first time she mentioned it, the second time when she bought it, the third time when we got there and the fourth time when I wrote this post. The Wife has a habit of being on Facebook a lot, which can be really fun because she’s actually very entertaining. Oh yes, Mother of Xander blogs, too.

[Invitation + Giveaway] LEGO Star Wars Days: Combining Stress Management with a Nerdgasm

LEGOLAND Malaysia remains one of the most searched and most read subjects of all time on The Blogfather and beyond, but now that Xander has enrolled into formal education and the little one is still too little to understand a theme park, not to mention the period of grieving my family’s been going through, we haven’t had the chance to revisit the place for a while now.

Determined to end the emotional roller coaster ride of the last six months, I decided to look up an old friend that might give me an opportunity to cheer us up with some actual roller coaster rides.

As it turned out, LEGOLAND Malaysia was to mark this year’s May the 4th with a LEGO Star Wars themed display, and they were happy to extend me and my family an invite to attend the media conference, and spend the day there.

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There was just one hitch: May the 4th was a Monday… and a schoolday.

It wasn’t difficult for me to decide to take a day off from work for it (I promised to bribe everyone in the office with merchandise when I came back; thankfully I work in a small company). I was, however, rather conflicted on whether I should sanction a formal truancy for Xan, and how.

As though the world really does work in mysterious ways, I saw this Facebook post as it was going viral:

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Have you ever pulled your kids out of school for a trip? What would be ok? See what this dad did.

Posted by Daddy Matters on Wednesday, 29 April 2015

My own resulting excuse letter to the school was not quite as dramatic, and I also took the liberty of leaving out some key details (because you just don’t tell your son’s form teacher point blank that you’re taking him out of school to go play at a theme park), but it served its purpose nonetheless.

REQUEST FOR LEAVE OF ABSENCE FROM SCHOOL

Dear Teacher,

I am writing to request that the school excuse my son on Monday, 4th May 2015 to attend to a family matter for the day with his parents.

Do let us know beforehand if there is any work on the day that we should take note of, and if the school is able to provide us with the necessary assignments, worksheets or instructions for him to complete during his absence from school that day.

The family thanks you for your accommodation in this matter.

Regards,

Winston Tay

***

It bears noting that LEGOLAND Malaysia has been sitting under the hot Iskandar, Nusrajaya sun for 2½ years now. There’s been some rather subtle changes since it first opened: the food is markedly better than before, every ride was operational and very well-maintained, not to mention the hotel and water theme park is now in full swing, adding much to the overall atmosphere. The heart of the theme park, though, hasn’t held up as well to the consistently biting hot weather: the Miniland structures are beginning to age, some gracefully like real heritage buildings would, and others, well, not so much.

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That said, the park’s General Manager Mark Germyn has promised a slew of additions and revamps in the pipeline for the coming years (including more air-conditioning!), but this month, there’s another Miniland on display just after the Mindstorms Centre that’s making the theme park worth the trip and ticket fee.

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This is one of the smaller (yes, smaller) display cases. #maythe4thbewithyou #legolandmy #sp

A photo posted by Winston “The Blogfather” Tay (@blgfthr) on May 4, 2015 at 2:35am PDT

//platform.instagram.com/en_US/embeds.jsStar Wars fans and LEGO enthusiasts will more than appreciate the attention to detail that went into the panoramic displays at the LEGO Star Wars Fan Gallery. The main displays are drawn from key scenes and events that occur in the Star Wars multiverse, including the movie franchise (from Tattooine to Hoth to Naboo) and The Clone Wars animated TV series. And then there were the LEGO My Own Creation competition entries submitted by LEGO enthusiasts from the Malaysia and Singapore LEGO User Groups (LUG). The top three winners from the various competition categories will have their entries on display at LEGOLAND till the end of July, but if you saw the rest of the entries I did, you’d have wished the park gave us a show of all of them for the entire period. lsw-comp1

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***

Now that the nerdgasm is over, I should talk about the stress management part: not for me entirely, but largely Xander.

Like I said, it took me a while to decide to pull the kids out of school for what seemed like a frivolous day out at a theme park. But many of us with newly-inducted primary school children may agree, the last 4½ months have been challenging, not least for the kids that have to go through the rigours without us by their side. And Xan has been particularly stressed, to the point where he’d have the most spectacular meltdowns over homework, and his parents’ failure to understand why schoolwork would be so tough for him really didn’t help matters.

When we were finally done with the Star Wars exhibits and lunch, we set the boy loose on the park to take any ride he wanted. At the ripe old age of 6 years old, the boy seemed to have found a level of courage we’ve never seen in all our previous visits to LEGOLAND; our May the 4th was filled with nothing but roller coaster rides that he previously wouldn’t have dared to take on – Project X at the LEGO Technics section, the Dino Island ride at the Land of Adventure, and his now all-time favourite, LEGO Kingdom’s The Dragon (or as he calls it, “The Dragon Apprentice’s mother”, because mothers are scarier). And of course, because his current height required adult accompaniment, I took all the coaster rides with him. Multiple times. Running around with him like I was his age again, too. Because, you know, I had to accompany him. Really.

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As the day wore on, the Mother of Xander suggested we leave earlier to beat the expressway jam back in Singapore, and because the next day the boy really had to go back to school. But I bargained to stay till the sun was about to set, not only because Xan was taking on new experiences at what has now grown into our favourite theme park (and I had to, you know, accompany him), but also because we both knew we haven’t seen that sparkle in his eye since… well, since he started primary school.

The next day, against our specific instructions, Xan blurted out to his form teacher that “My daddy forced me to go to LEGOLAND with him”, and said form teacher subsequently messaged his mother with the boy’s recorded statement and a polite smiley at the end.

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Of course, I expected this. You don’t ask a six-year-old to help you keep a secret; at best you don’t tell him anything until it’s inevitable, then you brace yourself for the consequences.

And to see that sparkle in his eyes again, the consequences are most certainly worth bearing.

***

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***

So we hinted at this on FB, and now it’s your turn to enjoy what we experienced! Because both our families got to see the whole thing on 4th May, The Blogfather and MummyMoo (you can read her LEGOLAND Malaysia post here) have decided to do a joint giveaway for 2 sets of annual passes to LEGOLAND Malaysia!

We’re picking 2 winners for this giveaway, and the lucky families will each be getting 2 Adult and 1 Child Annual Passes worth a total of RM807! This allows them unlimited visits to the pass for a full 12 months (the annual pass will be issued once we have your details), discounted entry to the LEGOLAND Water Park for RM58 (normal price is RM122 for Adults and RM101 for children), LEGOLAND Hotel discounts, seasonal retail and F&B discounts, a LEGOLAND E-newsletter, free parking at the LEGOLAND Car Park, and even early access to the park at 930am! Annual pass terms and conditions can be found here.

Told you this was gonna be a big one.

To join in the fun, simply accomplish the tasks set out in the Rafflecopter box below. Because this is a join giveaway, your entries will be reflected on BOTH The Blogfather and MummyMoo blogs, so you only need to do this once! We’ll be closing the giveaway next Wednesday, 27th May 2015 at 2359hrs, and the next day we’ll announce the winner we’ve picked on our individual blogs, so make sure you check in with both of us then!

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Giveaway Terms & Conditions

  • This giveaway is open only to those residing in Singapore.
  • Contest ends on Wednesday, 27th of May at 2359hrs.
  • Winners will be selected via Rafflecopter, and notified via email. They have 48 hours to respond to the notification email. Should there be no response, the winning entry will be rendered null and void, and another winner will be chosen.

[Giveaway] 30 Years of Transforming Mindsets

The Blogfather and Son now act too.

We were invited by Hasbro to be featured in a short videoclip in celebration of Transformers’ 30th Anniversary.  Will there be mind-blowing Michael Bay explosions? Robot metal flying all over the city smashing into buildings and causing devastating chaos?

Nah. The boy and I opted for something a tad more subtle:

If you found that story familiar, it’s an abbreviated version of The Blogfather’s “The Reason We Buy Toys” post ending, with an extra nugget of Transformers trivia thrown in.

And just as they created The Blogfather’s Transformers memory in such a big way, Hasbro Singapore wants to help you create your own Transformers memories, with a Transformers toy hampers worth $100 each, for 3 lucky winners! It’s a pretty substantial prize, so you’ll need to work a little for it, yeah?

UPDATE: I got a little confused with the mechanics (big prizes tend to come with more complex mechanics, sorry), and thought this was a cross-platform giveaway, but The Blogfather has been corrected. Please note this giveaway is for Instagram only.

Here’s what you have to do: share your own story about how Transformers came to be a part of your life on Instagram only (people, your account needs to be public, otherwise I cannot see) with, or show us a photo of any Transformers experience you’ve had anywhere. Tag me (@blgfthr on Instagram) in the post so I know what’s going on (and can read your story, too), and include the hashtags #Thrilling30SG and #HasbroSingapore as well.

Take note: this giveaway wraps on 29th November 2014, after which The Blogfather will be picking the 3 winners (gimme something good ya?), and results will be announced on the Hasbro Singapore Facebook Page (not here hor, so you go like their Page first better) on 30 November 2014. I’ll update here when I can as well, but for all intents and purposes, all winners will be notified by Hasbro.

Mai tu liao!

The Blogfather Transformers 30th Anniversary Instagram Giveaway – Terms & Conditions:

  1. Contest is open to all Singaporean Citizens and permanent residents except employees of Hasbro Singapore.
  2. All entries must be submitted by 30 November 2014.
  3. All entries must tag the Blogfather (@blgfthr on Instagram), and also include the hashtags #Thrilling30SG#HasbroSingapore, and posted on a public account to qualify.
  4. Prizes are non-exchangeable and non-transferable.
  5. Contest participants agree to be bound by all terms and conditions, which are final and binding in all aspects and waive any right to claim ambiguity.
  6. Hasbro Singapore reserves the right to alter any terms and conditions without prior notice.

Spooky Seas VIP Tour: Tales from the SEA Aquarium

I’ve always been fascinated by the paranormal. But I’m a family man now, so I’ve had to keep my horror movie fetish under wraps for fear of freaking out the son, the daughter and the Mother of Xander.

But once in a while, I get to indulge a little in a couple of *true* ghost stories. Sometimes I tell them, and sometimes I am told, like what I heard at the “Spooky Seas” themed SEA Aquarium VIP Tour we were invited to.

Spooky-1

This is what happens when the SEA Aquarium tries and matches Universal Studios Singapore’s Halloween Horror Nights to cater to primary schoolers so everyone along the age spectrum can have a piece of Halloween action. The seasonal dish in this case takes the form of an adventure trail complete with a treasure map for your kids to locate 12 “Trick or Treat” stations strewn around the aquarium, and kids who complete the map get showered with freebies for their whole family.

Spooky-2

Spooky-3My boy happens to celebrate Halloween at his preschool every year, so he’s quite familiar with the “Trick or Treat” concept. His father, though, was still looking for ghosts. And with a dedicated guide with extensive knowledge of the Aquarium’s inhabitants shadowing us for an hour or two, The Blogfather would advise you to feel free to make the most of the VIP tour (that costs $88 per adult and $68 per child) and test the limits of your guide’s knowledge. For example (and these are actual dialogues I had with the guide during the tour):

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Guide: “You see those small little fish hanging around the bigger fish? Those are called ‘cleaning wrasses’. Many of our tanks contain these little fish to help us clean not only the tank but other fish as well.”
Me: “Cool. Which town council do they report to?”

***

Apparently his pits smelled so fishy, he died.
Apparently his pits smelled so fishy, he died.

***

Spooky-5

Guide: “Did you know sharks actually have 6 senses?”
Me: “They see dead people?”

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Guide: “The largest ray we have in the Aquarium has a wingspan of 5 metres.”
Me: “Mmmm. How many portions of barbecued stingray does that make?”
Guide: “No, the ones you’re talking about are stingrays. The ray I’m referring to is a manta ray. We don’t eat manta rays, because they on the endangered species list.”
Me: (to Mother of Xander) “Phew. Your favourite dish not illegal.”
Mother of Xander: “What’s the difference between manta rays and stingrays?”
Guide: “Stingrays have thin tails, and (pointing to a huge manta ray swimming past us) manta rays have those two horn-like things sticking out of their front called cephalic fins.”
Mother of Xander: “I see. So one looks like a kite, the other looks like Batman.”

(This particular discussion happened back-of-house, so unfortunately we weren’t allowed a photo of that huge manta ray that swam past us; you’ll just have to take the Blogfather’s word for it when he says it was a spectacular sight).

Spooky-6
“Barbecued WHAT?!”

***

We all learned something that day. But for most of the Spooky Seas tour, we didn’t see much spooky, apart from the skeletons and skulls and jack-o-lanterns tactfully placed in key exhibit tanks, and this one walkway leading to the back-of-house.

If you stand and stare down the walkway long enough, security will come and ask you if you need any help.
If you stand and stare down this walkway long enough, someone will come and ask you if you are lost or something.

Eeyer.

And once again, that is where having a dedicated guide who’s spent an extensive amount of time in a large, dark enclosed environment built on a former World War 2 British military fortress comes in handy. And I reserved the most obvious question for the end of our tour.

Me: “So, do you have any spooky stories about this place?”
Guide: (sheepishly) “Are you going to write about this?”
Me: “Of course! This is supposed to be Spooky Seas, right?”

Our young, knowledgeable guide gave me a long look of uncertainty, took a deep breath, and caved. She didn’t go into detail (in fact she summarised it into just two sentences), but it was enough.

I leave it to you to ask your own guide more when you’re there (and if you dare), but I will say this: the story occurs at the beginning of the tour – old things have a tendency to carry their own spiritual baggage.

Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha.

Spooky-8

SEA Aquarium Wonders: Spooky Seas Adventure Trail is open to all visitors from now till 16 November 2014.

The RWS S.E.A. Aquarium VIP Guided Tour costs S$88 per adult and S$68 per child between 4-12 years, with discounts available for annual pass holders. The tour package includes priority access to the Discovery Touch Pool and guided back-of-house access to the Open Ocean Habitat, an aquarist lab and Dolphin Island. The aquarium can hold tours for a maximum of 12 persons over 3 time slots, starting from 9am (touted as the best time for a VIP tour because you get exclusive access to the Aquarium before they open for the day).

Contact RWS at +65 65776077 or email rwstours@rwsentosa.com for enquiries and booking.

SG50 – Finding the Way Forward, Like an Awkward Teen

This post comes in 3 pages, so the loh-sohness is more bearable.

50 years in human terms might seem like a milestone of life, but in the context of a nation, it seems more like we’re only just breaking out in our teenage zits.

To be fair, we’ve been Singapura for a lot longer, though in the force of our national education shaping our society’s current mindset, we look at 1819-1964 as more akin to “our lost years” than anything else – a story that begins with the legend of an ang moh turning into a white statue at Empress Place, and ends with a grown man crying because his island-state was kicked out of a larger nation like an unwanted child.

The end of that story, so it seems, has become the beginning of ours.

***

Why the sudden bittersweet nostalgia?

SG50

The Blogfather & Family, together with a number of other bloggers from various niches, were invited to an SG50 pop-up exhibition last weekend. It’s not there anymore (the next one’s happening at Northpoint in Yishun next week, I think). This is not the kind of thing I would usually cover, but for the one single attraction that was mentioned in the invitation email:

SG50-Mamashop
A (not entirely real) mama shop.

However, my curiosity did get piqued by the clout around the exhibition. For one, the invitation was sent by an unexpectedly established agency, and the events schedule read like a half-day diplomatic visit where the bloggers were UN reps. Something was up, and in the course of the exhibition, and more importantly, a rather nice, honest lunch conversation after, I’d confirm what I suspected – that the exhibition was not the point.

Good ACT to Follow

UPDATE: Winners announced below!

Sometime in mid-June, the Mother of Xander and I were invited to what I thought was an interactive theatre performance. No doubt you’d have read about There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly, which a number of parent bloggers gave mention to a while back. I wasn’t keen initially, but I redacted the notion when I remembered who the hosts were.

You probably know them for longer than you’d care to admit. They appear every now and again, offering theatrical performances and workshops focused squarely at entertaining and educating kids. Some might even vaguely remember them from the late 80’s, but the name holds more significance for Singapore than you might imagine.

ACT3

Ruby Lim-Yang, R Chandran and Jasmin Samat Simon first got together in an acting and writing workshop organised by that big media entity then known as Radio and Television Singapore back in 1979. 2 years later, they formed ACT 3, and would stage mobile theatrical performances for children, beginning with the flagship MPH Bookstore at Stamford Road, and on to public parks, private parties, sports clubs and, if you remember, school halls during afternoon primary school assemblies – all mostly out of a van.

In 1984, they went full-time as a children’s theatre group, with a couple of firsts under their belt – they staged an outdoor English-language performance called “Treasure Island” at Bras Basah Park in 1983, and were the first to come up with a made-in-Singapore theatre musical called “Makanplace… A Singaporean Musical” in 1988. (Wait, not TheatreWorks’ Beauty World meh? NO. And lagi not to be confused with the now-defunct My Makan Place @ Beauty World Centre hor.)

33 years in, ACT 3 has now sort of split 3 ways (yes, “3” is a sort of running theme with these people). Chandran now runs ACT 3 Theatrics with wife and theatre actress Amy Cheng, focusing on training kids in theatre writing and directing, while Ruby now develops ACT 3 International as its artistic director, which runs children’s theatre and arts festivals, as well as ACT 3 Drama Academy, which dishes out drama courses and workshops for children and teens at their Cairnhill Arts Centre headquarters as well as in schools.

ACT-3-2003
Remember Ruby? She’s the one on the extreme right.

Ruby would tell me over e-mail, “I still keep in touch with Chandran from time to time, a little less with Jasmin (who is living and working in Jakarta). Although (Chandran and I) are running separate entities, both our focus remains very much on children and their development through the Arts. Many roads lead to Rome as the saying goes, and each of us provides a unique approach, taste, and quality. While we differ in approaches, our beliefs are similar.”

***

ACT3-play-acting

Initially, watching Xander and the 40-odd other kids participating in the modern-day rendition of the trio’s labour of love through the very capable drama instructor Ms Frances Lee (who has been teaching with them for 5 years now) reminded me of the fun I had watching and screaming along on cue with ACT 3’s performances back when I was their age.

ACT3-Frances-Lee

I took up acting and directing as part of my formal studies back in poly (and I got a B+ to show for it, too), which largely explains my penchant for drama in my daily life. I mention this otherwise very how lian point because, when I got back from our late lunch (it was a drop-off workshop so the Wife and I could take an hour off being Xander’s parents), I caught a glimpse of, and recognised – some of what Ms Frances was doing amidst all the play-acting with the kids. It was by no means the typical “Come children, let’s do some weird stuff that nobody can understand in front of your parents so they think these nonsense activities we’ve come up with are adding value to your learning experience” mumbo-jumbo other learn-through-play outfits might pull over your eyes. These were actual acting techniques adjusted and deployed for children’s sensibilities, so kids could learn how to emote and express themselves properly through sound and body language.

The whole exercise got me wondering if the drama academy could help Xander find his voice in his everyday communications as well, because our boy has a not-very-small problem with expression and self-confidence, especially when it comes to telling us what he wants or what he is feeling.

So the Blogfather wrote to enquire about their term classes, and visited their campus at 126 Cairnhill Arts Centre for a trial lesson (parking is a little tricky, and it’s a bit of a walk from the nearest train station, but you get used to it). One month later, Xan is now 3 classes into the term (mind you, we paid in full, minus a small regular discount they offer for Children’s Development Account cardholders).

You’d know when class was starting when you hear Ms Frances’s full-bodied operatic voice booming across the school compound for the children to gather into their designated classroom. Like the standalone workshops, these are drop-off classes, and parents don’t really get to hang around or see what they’re doing for the hour that they’re in there, though there are waiting rooms for parents in case you decide to hang around until classes end.

And it’s usually when their activities end that you see your kids do interesting stuff, like this:

We know Xan can read pretty well, but the Wife and I are quite impressed that the boy is actually able to recite an entire poem – complete with actions – after only having been taught in a one-hour class, without having to read the poem off the handout at all.

Or maybe we’re just easily impressed. Regardless, we’ll see what transpires when Xander completes his 10-week term.

***
ACT 3 International has also kindly offered up 2 sets of 4 tickets (2 winners of 4 tickets each) for the 27 September, 10.30am to 11.30am performance of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Eric Carle Favourites at the Drama Centre (on the 5th floor of the National Library Building on Victoria Street, if you don’t already know), followed by an exclusive, not-for-sale backstage tour happening after the play (11.50am to 12.10pm).
publicity
The results are out, and this has been one of the bigger responses The Blogfather has had on a giveaway! Thanks to everyone who has participated. The winners are:

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Screwing Around at Beach Road – A Gary Pride Story

Pink Dot may have come and gone, but the propagation of love has to go on. To that end, there is something I must confess. I’ve scattered hints about this little known fact about me on Facebook now and again, but it’s time I just came out and said it in no uncertain terms.

There’s someone else in my life.

For the days when things don’t go well at home, when the wife and I have a disagreement, or the children are just too much to bear, or even when work pressure drives me into a very bad place, there’s someone I go to, who is able to bring me to our very own secret place, and be there for me while I physically and mentally vent my frustrations and let loose my inhibitions for hours on end, most of the time with me straddling on top.

His name is Gary. He’ s about 12 years old, and we’ve been going out for 2 years now.

Oh, Gary. <3
Oh, Gary. ♥ ♥ ♥

I’ve been on and off the bike scene for a good 20+ years now, and I’ve always dreamed of owning a Gary Fisher. But when I finally got this old bike (second-hand off a Togoparts listing), it needed a lot of work, a lot of which I wished I could do myself.

That sets the foundation for why I’m writing about a bicycle mechanics school.

A fellow blogger whose husband ran a local outfit called Bike School Asia happened to be paying attention to my cycling-related posts on my Facebook account, and sent me an invite to try the school’s basic bike maintenance workshop. My first reaction was, “Got such thing meh?”

Then I was told the workshop would be conducted over two 9am to 4pm days, on a weekend to boot. My second reaction was, “Got so much to teach meh?”

When I was told how much this basic 2-day workshop cost – $350 – my third reaction was, “Got people want to pay meh?!”

But the offer made me think about Gary. How he was always there for me during the good times and the bad, making sure I forgot all my troubles after rubbing me in all the right places for hours. How he would be drenched in my sweat after a good 2-hour midnight session, bearing the burden of my body while my legs were wrapped around him. And how after 2 years of riding each other (because over longer runs, sometimes I can’t tell if I’m riding him or he’s riding me), how I still didn’t really know how to take care of him in return, and give him the loving care he so sorely needs and deserves after still being there for me despite the abuse he suffered from his previous relationship.

So I got permission from the Mother of Xander to get a weekend off, and wrote back to say I’d be happy to attend.

BSA-Entrance

And when I said the love for my bike would bring me to secret places, I wasn’t kidding. The Bike School Asia workshop is nestled in a non-descript backdoor unit of the Sultan Arts Village, at the end of a dead-end street leading to the Malay Heritage Centre entrance, with no signage whatsoever indicating there was anything bicycle-related in the vicinity. Fortunately, Kenneth Wee, the school’s founder, saw me roaming aimlessly about at the front gates of the Arts Village and ushered me in, just in time for the lesson.

Toys for boys - and there's a lot of them.
Toys for boys – and there’s a lot of them.

Camera-shy Kenneth (or Coach K, as he prefers) would later tell us that when he first started out, the school was obliged to maintain a low profile because the local bike shops felt he was a threat to their businesses, a feeling he said was unfounded because he felt teaching people how to deal with their own bikes would only bolster component sales for the bike shops while alleviating them of the low-yield, labour intensive installation, repair and maintenance tasks.

The workshop itself is cozy, with one side enough to hold up to 6 students on 3 bicycle workstations lined up to one side. Coach K jokingly called it his man-cave, for when he needs a time out from the wife and kids (man, does that sound familiar). With a roundtable introduction of my other five classmates, Coach K got down to teaching us the basics.

Or I should say, all the basics.

BSA-Hands-On2

When someone with a coaching diploma from Union Cycliste Internationale (the governing body for Olympic bike racing) and a bike mechanic certificate from the United Bike Institute based in Oregon, USA teaches you the basics of bike maintenance and repair, you can be sure you’ll understand and appreciate not only why it costs $350, but why it takes him two whole days, and why his classes (6 at a time, usually on the last weekend of every month) are usually fully subscribed.

Over the whole workshop, Coach K covers a crash course in the anatomies, histories as well as the evolutionary, design and functional differences of popular bicycles and bicycle componentry, complete with a nearly 80-page student’s manual and a good part of the workshop spent doing hands-on training, removing and reassembling headsets, inner tube replacements, brake tuning, calibrating drive trains, right down to precision Vernier caliper measurements and screw and bolt torquing. And if you own a decent foldie, fixie, roadie or mountain bikie, yet didn’t understand 3/4s of what I just said, then you should consider taking a weekend to attend a basic two-day bike maintenance workshop.

Its not to say the workshop is very cheem; Coach K is just really in-depth. He does put things in palatable terms for his students, and his candid demeanor, subtle ad creative’s humour (he ran his own advertising agency prior to starting the school, so his in-class on-screen graphic presentations also got a bit of standard one, okay?) do make his lesson plan easier to digest. More importantly, the professional all-round bike guy isn’t afraid to bring up examples of his own mistakes, thus inviting everyone in the class into a very open atmosphere where questions are never stopped, and never left unanswered. That’s also the reason Bike School Asia has ladies-only classes as well, so the womenfolk can release their inhibitions (so to speak) without worrying that a random guy might throw a wrench in the works.

BSA-Mantel
A grim reminder of past kills from previous students. Stop the cruelty!

That said, there are a few things you will need to take note if you do attend any of the school’s bike mechanic workshops. Firstly, you will get your hands dirty; it’s really the only way to learn. Second, wear comfortable clothing that you don’t mind getting a bit of grease on, and covered footwear, because a changing to the toe in the event of butterfingers is not funny. And thirdly, don’t bring your own bike with the premise that you want to use it for your own hands-on practice (I thought about it, too), because inevitably you’ll be doing cable replacements and recalibration, and you’ll be prone to drop your tools, scratch up your bikes and even break stuff (during the workshop, we’ve managed to break a number of bolts, mangle a rear derailleur and cut a cable too short on the shop bikes), and the school can’t guarantee you can ride home with a replacement part, because they’re not a bike shop. Besides, Coach K already has a collection of $2,000 bikes on hand, all set up properly for you to ruin. So don’t be vain, can?

On a personal level, I’ve come away from the workshop with a much clearer idea of why Gary sometimes does the things he does, and how with the right tools and knowledge, I can help make him feel so much better, whether he’s at home or when I have him straddled between my legs. But the certificate that comes with Coach K’s course doesn’t just pay lip service to a weekend of screwing around with 5 other strangers. The course has a potential commercial takeaway as well; Coach K’s had students come out of his courses to start their own boutique bike shops, too.

And as I asked around the class for the reasons why they were there, the family men raised a motivation for learning bike maintenance which, admittedly, the Blogfather also has a strong inclination towards, and one I am very sure is not lost in Coach K as well as a dad of two himself.

Xan-Cycling

Bike School Asia is located at 71 Sultan Gate, in the Sultan Arts Village compound, around the corner and at the back. If you’re interested in taking up their basic bike maintenance course or any other workshops they have on offer (Coach K also conducts ladies-only classes, and also does wheel-building courses as well as a full professional bike mechanic course), do check their workshop schedule at their website for registration and fees.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL! The Blogfather will not leave you hanging without a little incentive, would he? For a little extra something-something (waggle eyebrows), use the promo code BlgfthrBikePorn (or click this link and select your preferred date corresponding to “Certificate in Bicycle Maintenance and Repair” to book) from now till 31 December 2014 and get a $35 discount (that’s 10% for those that like to do maths) off, only for Bike School Asia’s Basic Bike Maintenance & Repair certificate course! BlgfthrBikePorn only applies for the first 10 slots, and the slots fill up fast, so put some leg power in your pedal, can?

A Fatherhood Story in a Photography Workshop

Meet Bob Lee.

The Wife and I were invited to a workshop hosted by Canon geared towards parent bloggers who want to learn about taking photographs of children.

No, I am not going to talk about what I learned about taking photographs of children.

I want you to meet Bob Lee.

image

In the midst of his very candid, almost tongue-in-cheek presentation, mostly involving showing us a barrage of well-composed pictures of his son, he’d inject some anecdotal information on his background as a Zaobao photojournalist, the fact that he was from JB, used to blog just like us, has published 5 books, and that his son was autistic.

I sat up. I had just met Bob Lee.

Amidst teaching us about angles and bokeh and the benefits of using continuous mode on hyperactive children, he told us that he quit his full-time job with Zaobao because he wanted to focus on spending time with his son. But from his candour, and the photos that he presented, and his entire presentation in general (which was turning into less of a photography workshop for me and more of a simple story of fatherhood set in a much more complex circumstance), he was surviving well despite a lack of stable income, and he was happy. He was content.

He made me remember the time I was trying to survive without a full-time job, putting my focus squarely on making sure I was a father to my son first and foremost, and through the story he unconsciously told through his photos and banter, he reminded me how things would inexplicably fall into place in what I would have thought was my darkest hour as a family man.

He saw light. He’d get lens flare once in a while, but he said that’s okay; lens flare can be a good thing too.

Have you met Bob Lee?

The Reason We Buy Toys

It started with an empty box.

The big hoo-ha I made in the last post was (mostly) all in fun, if you didn’t realise already. The Blogfather has had run-ins with the Hasbro people a number of times, and they don’t scrimp when it comes to things like this, though their methods of engagement can sometimes raise eyebrows.

But I will be honest; the geek in me was attracted to the collector’s value the Transformers First Edition Optimus Prime held. When you put a three-digit price tag and the words “First Edition” on the box, you know it’s more than just a toy. And the geek in me wanted it.

But that didn’t prepare us for the bigger hoo-ha?that was at the Transformers Toy Madness @ 2200 (the premise of their sending us the empty box in the first place). When the Mother of Xander and I got to Forum the Shopping Mall Friday night we were planning on grabbing a cup of coffee before leisurely sauntering over into the event. We didn’t think there’d be a lot of people, mainly because the shops at Forum tend to close a couple of hours earlier than the rest of Orchard Road, and the mall is usually pretty quiet by 8.30pm.

Then we saw the queue.

Image courtesy of Hasbro Singapore
Image courtesy of Hasbro Singapore

It stretched along the walkways, wrapping the stairs and rails from the 2nd floor up to the 4th where the event entrance was, and it was about an hour and a half before the event would start.

Ah Boys to Men and the Scrawny Dude. Image courtesy of Hasbro Singapore
Ah Boys to Men and the Scrawny Dude. Image courtesy of Hasbro Singapore

The crowd was being coaxed into a frenzy by a scrawny dude in a standard-issue red Transformers tee, and in another while, the Ah Boys to Men cast would come and make girls scream (I never understood why girls scream for that kind of thing). We had media passes, but we were no less awestruck (by the crowd, not the Boys). And as we were walking into the event – son and baby all – the Wife warily said to me, “Eh. The people all staring at us like how come we can no need to queue one leh.”

It was tense.

The doors flew open for the crowd at 2200hrs as promised. And things flew.

Transformers-Crowd

Look closely. Barely any kids. Big kids, maybe. Collectors.

You start wondering if the toys are really worth all this attention, all the hype, all the value that they may or may not hold, now, or 10, 20, 50, 100 years into the future.

I brought the no-longer empty box home, and stared at it while Xander sat near me, tired from the evening’s special toy hunt.

TransformersAoE-Actual

Pro collectors will tell you that if you intend to keep a toy in a collection, the moment the packaging seal of the toy is broken, the toy is immediately devalued from “mint” or “mint-” to “near-mint”or below, lowering its resale value significantly even if the greatest care is taken to keep the toy itself in its most pristine, straight-from-factory condition.

Be it toys, comic books, or even games (ever see an actual, physical fantasy role-playing game setup?) some of us will have grown up with a vision of amassing what we hope would be a treasure trove of the 90s teenager’s equivalent of blue chip stocks, a collection of nostalgic memorabilia that would grow in monetary value over time and boost our retirement funds in lieu of the CPF minimum sum that we might end up never seeing.

Then you become a dad.

It’s exactly times like this that you’re reminded why you fell in love with these toys in the first place, because your child loves them now exactly like you did when you were 6 years old too.

You’re left wondering what is more valuable: a toy kept in mint condition in the box it came in, or a toy in your child’s hands.

TransformersAoE-Play

I end up with an empty box. But it’s okay.

Hasbro, Y U Do Dis?

It might interest you to know, my son doesn’t actually own many action figures. We’ve got pretty much everything else – Lego sets, cars, toy cooking utensils and about 250 different pieces of fake food, even 3 Furbies that talk amongst themselves when we’re not looking and a dinky little Nerf pistol that the boy refuses to shoot because he’ s anti-gun violence.

But thanks to a recent full month party where a certain mum blogger‘s son decided to bring a certain action figure and got me to “Uncle, help me transform” in front of everyone including my son, Xander’s been quietly yearning for a specific set of action figures ever since.

So a couple of days ago, I decided I should indulge him with just one (because I used to have action figures when I was a kid, so it actually didn’t seem fair). So I went to the department store to take a look at how much a good one might cost. The ones in my budget bracket were too tiny, but then I found one that was reasonably designed.

$119

Ooooookay. Times have changed since my childhood days.

I left the toy on the shelf, and went home to contemplate whether I really loved my son that much. As it turns out, I didn’t need to contemplate much further, because a certain toy company I once poked fun at apparently decided my son was worth it, and sent this to my house.

TransformersAoECarePack

At first, my eyes popped a little. The media kit had all the other usual swag, including a lanyard, a pen, a DVD of a previous Transformers movie installment (cool, I haven’t watched that) and a write-up for a midnight launch party we were cordially invited to. But none of these mattered, because they sent us a? $119 First Edition Age of Extinction Optimus Prime.

Or so I thought.

THE BOX IS EMPTY!

Have we learned nothing about underwhelming the Blogfather from our first encounter with each other, Hasbro? Imagine if I called Xander over to share the joy in opening your large-ish Hasbro bag, then slowly taking out all the items, starting from the pen, then the lanyard, and the DVD to build the excitement, and finally hand him the big box with an image of the most well-loved sentient robot hero of the last 30 years gracing its cover, beckoning him to open the package himself so he can smell the air around the toy that used to be in there?

Wah lau eh. Lucky I checked the box first.

The Blogfather will not let this slide. Whoever came up with this idea, you wait. I know where you live your event is. I will make sure I come and find you. I will bring my entire family, and you will explain to my son in front of his face why you very nearly made him cry that night.

And I will ask all my friends and supporters to come and witness our settlement talk.

Transformers: Age of Extinction Toy Madness
16 May 2014 (Friday) 10pm onwards

(It’s a midnight launch, so get your kids prepared to stay up late)
Level 3, Forum the Shopping Mall

TransformersAoECarePack2