Chinese New Year – An Ancient Conspiracy

CNY-angpowThe Population White Paper, the whole Marriage and Parenthood package revisions and Chinese New Year (CNY); to the Blogfather, there is no better time to kvetch about what I feel has to be the most well-devised conspiracy theory in the history of Chinese tradition and family values.

I always believed that the principles behind the Chinese New Year red packet tradition to be a cunning scheme to boost the TFR (total fertility rate, for those who haven’t been reading the papers the last few months) of Chinese families. The rules are as follows:

  1. No matter how young or how old, if you’re single, you get a red packet from any couple who’s married (in true tradition, it goes as far as one red packet per married person, but in our current economic state, we have to cut costs and treat couples as a single unit now).
  2. As long as you’re married, you give a red packet to any single person you come across (certain communities will allow a one-year grace for newlyweds, so if you’re celebrating your first CNY as a married couple, you’re excused, but the jury’s still out on whether you can still collect).
  3. There’s an ang pow index to take note of too, (Susan of A Juggling Mom has the rate card on her blog), so you know people take this whole ang pow thing damn seriously, okay?

By permutating rules 1 and 2, most of us will have figured out how the whole “make-more-babies” strategy works. It’s all fine and good if you’re single, but your parents have to fork out in your stead. Then you fall in love, decide he or she is THE ONE, and announce to the whole world you’re getting hitched. As a Chinese couple, your traditional wedding ritual (mainly the big-ass 8-course Chinese wedding dinner involving your 500 friends, families and a handful of people who might have just invited themselves) is your last chance at collecting red packets for profit, so you know you got to make it count. Because the moment you pass the traditional wedding threshold, that’s when the whole trouble starts.

Childless couples stand to lose the most. With no kids to make back what you’re giving out, Chinese New Year becomes a choice of whether you will give away money to build and maintain your various familial and social circles, or spend that money on a trip to anywhere but here for the next 15 days just to avoid the confrontation.

Couples with one child also perspire, particularly if you follow the AIA rate card standards encounter friends or extended family who have more children than you (and I think the parents-of-one among us are beginning to feel the diseconomies of scale here as our friends start multiplying themselves with increasing efficiency).

But regardless of whether that AIA ang pow rate card exists, every red packet you receive is a gamble. I’ve personally received limited edition $2 phone cards back in my day, and while those were useful for my National Service “call girlfriend” nights, it’s really not as far-reaching as money, is it? Other times I’ve gotten big tippers that like blue (or even yellow), and their contribution can last me maybe a couple of months of school recesses. (And interestingly, I don’t remember my own parents ever asking me to cough up my annual CNY earnings).

So people, have more kids. If not for the government incentives, it makes your annual CNY celebrations a little less painful.

To everyone reading this, ?????and more importantly, ????! You’ll seriously need them.

Parents vs the Singapore Education System

1st day of school

As Mr Brown put it, Facebook on 2nd January 2013 was “Kids-Going-To-School-Photos-Book”. Beyond the fact that our local chapter of Facebook users are very much dominated by young parents in their 30’s, those pictures of little smiling schoolchildren also betray their parents’s anxiety towards their children’s new year in school, and the rest of their academic lives that follow.

“Better take photo while my kid is still smiling. Otherwise come March they won’t be smiling any more.”

3 months later

Blogfather Nick Pan already feels the tension, and he makes no qualms about his fears in his blog. Despite his determination not to delegate any of the pressure he feels to his children, he wrote his eldest daughter a sentiment that no doubt carries over to his two other daughters: “We worry. We worry a lot for your studies.”

From as early as preschool, that tension begins to manifest for parents ?all over the nation. My wife and I are no exception, as evidenced here. And it slowly builds from year to year, plateauing at such milestones as primary school registration, PSLE, O-levels, A-levels, and just about every semester of polytechnic/university. For decades, we’ve lived — and flourished –under?a meritocratic education system that saw its golden years in the 80’s and 90’s, but has unfortunately started to turn toxic over the last 20 years.

Today’s schoolchildren literally bend over backwards for their schoolbags, cry over schoolwork that requires their parents to attend classes in order to understand, and then when they finally graduate, they find out that much of what they’ve learned in school doesn’t actually apply in real life. NUS Law Faculty dean Simon Chesterman summed it up best in his article, “Hurdles in childhood give good training”, reproduced in the Ministry of Education website, no less:

“Until now, much of their education was built around being posed questions to which there was a single answer, taught by teachers who knew what that answer was. Extra tuition and parental support ensured that they could provide that answer in exam conditions. These skills are of limited value in law school?or in life?where there is normally more than one possible answer.”

Problems in Life ?Don’t Have?Just One Answer

Chesterman points out 3 failings of the Singapore education system. First, that it drives our children to focus on and excel in specific fields (streaming), but forgets to teach them that there are so many other ways to look at a problem, and even penalises them if they try. So if John has 7 apples in one hand and 8 oranges in the other, easily a Singaporean schoolchild will answer that he’s got 15 fruit, but no one will hazard to point out that John either has really enormous hands, or in just a few seconds he needs to explain to his mother why there are apples and oranges scattered all over the floor.

Failure Is Not an Option, But It Really Should Be

Second, our current system has effectively churned out a good few generations of citizens that are scared stiff of failure. If you ask me, I look at the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Jabez Tan (the ex-convict turned entrepreneur that serves up some seriously mind blowing bak kut teh at Jalan Kayu), and I almost want my son to flunk his studies.

(Almost.)

Incentives & Disincentives

Third, we are rewarded for what we do right, but we are penalized for what we do wrong (I need go no further than?the fine example our Singapore Sports Council makes of its bottom two S-League teams beginning this year); it’s a de-facto trait of a meritocratic system, and while it puts any individual achievements clearly in black and white and trophies and medals, it robs us of the creative thinking and risk-taking spirit so apparent in our own fathers and mothers who grew up in a time before it all started.

Change: Whose Responsibility?

It has been said, time and again, that things need to change. We’ve been looking to our government as the potential instigators of that change for a while now, but funnily enough, in between trying to instill creativity, risk-taking and innovation into us and?extolling the virtues of the very system that keeps us from being creative, risk-taking innovators, it seems our political leaders haven’t realised they just plonked themselves rather uncomfortably in between a rock and a hard place.

But wait a minute. Can’t we initiate that change ourselves? For?the?same inadequacies raised by Chesterman?– the need to broaden horizons, to learn failure, to breed creativity, innovation and risk-taking — who better to fill the void that our schools can’t fill but us, the parents?

As parents, just having children alone puts us through the very processes that increase our experience in fields not previously taught to us (think identifying poop colours to determine the health of our infants’ digestion). Who among us hasn’t seen failure on multiple occasions (just count how many ex-boyfriends/ex-girlfriends you have)? And creativity? Pffft. I know enough mothers (my wife included) who have attended scrapbooking, jewellery-making and craft-making classes to make up their own “creative” industry. And the biggest, most important risk all of us have embarked on? Deciding to have children in the first place!

We have, on our hands, the very skills that turn the tables on our education predicament. Instead of making our children compatible with the local school system, it is entirely possible for us parents to bring up the same broad thinkers, creative craftsmen, innovators and risk-takers that we already are, a generation that the system needs to be compatible with instead.

Obviously what I’m suggesting isn’t a top-down initiative. Heck, I don’t even consider it bottom-up. It’s very much lateral, because we’re really in as good a position as our parliamentary cabinet to influence our children’s academic future. Really. And it’s so simple; we just teach your kids what you know, about the things that aren’t in their ?textbooks, about picking themselves up after a fall, about thinking out of the box, taking risks and being true to themselves, whoever they may be.

We teach them how to live.

That Little Racist in All of Us

Things happen fast in this country.

Someone posts a really badly thought-out Facebook post on Sunday, then loses her job on Monday (with an ad placed for her position immediately after too), then gets a police report filed against her the same evening, and now we’re told she’s fled the country.

The scriptwriters for 24 couldn’t think of a more fast-paced story if they tried.

Then again, was there even any thinking involved throughout the entire fiasco?

Amy Cheong obviously wasn’t thinking when her post went up that Sunday; apparently thinking wasn’t a habit she cultivated because as it turns out, there were a whole series of posts depicting her very ugly personality. NTUC’s swift action to dismiss her, though warranted and appreciated, couldn’t have been much more than a reflex action given the time span it took to inquire and fire and process the rehire. And that police report. Aiyoh.

Now there’s even word going around that another hapless female did the same thing, barely a day after the previous incident reached its climax. Whether this is substantiated information or not, we can only sit back and watch the show.

But for everyone who’s got their popcorn out: it isn’t the first time such a thing has happened (let’s see, there’s one, two, three, four, geez, the list seems endless), and it’s not going to be the last. But there is one vital difference each and every one of us can and should make before succumbing to pride and prejudice: if no one else is thinking, we need to do the thinking.

So do let’s put things in perspective here.

Sit Down, Order a Teh Peng, and Think

If you think about it, Amy Cheong’s post(s) targeted a Malay wedding, a cultural phenomenon stemming from a racial tradition, and not the race itself. So was this a racial slur or cultural boneheadedness? Bertha Henson hits that point home for us in her take.

In the same vein, if you think about it, p_n_s can spell pants as easily as it can spell penis, just as v_g_n_ can spell vegans instead of… yeah, you get it now. So from blind reaction, do we see things in terms of genitalia instead of wardrobe and eating habits, just like we draw the conclusion that Amy Cheong is being racist instead of ignorant? If that’s the first thing that comes to mind, doesn’t that make all of us racist, however much or little our racist sentiments may be? I’m not even the first Singaporean to ask this out in public; Today published an opinion piece way back in 2003 (reproduced by by Think Centre) talking about this exact same notion in eloquent detail.

It’s even backed by science. The Scientific American published an article in April 2008 condemning pretty much the entire planet for its discriminatory ways. Racial, religious, sexual, age, weight and even habitual discrimination is hard wired into each and every individual that thrives in societal living. It’s a survival instinct, one that is as complex as it is natural, and hence a reaction rather than a thought process.

Admit it; we all discriminate. Amy Cheong has discriminated against a Malay cultural practice, and those who have reacted in shock, awe, shame and hate have in turn discriminated against her — lynch mob style. The incident has even spurred a handful of people to discriminate against themselves! We’re all guilty here.

The good news is, admission is the first step towards learning proper tolerance.

Are We Missing Anyone?

Be that as it may, one segment of our human race is nearly completely unaware of this concept we call discrimination: very, very young children. Our very, very young children. They’ll learn about it sooner rather than later though, one way or another. And who best to teach them but us adults? More specifically, us parents.

Image via schoolbag.sg

You know as well as I do that primary and secondary schools aren’t going to formally touch on the ugly side of humanity for more than a few minutes at a time; they would prefer to leave the school of life teachings to mums and dads while they handle the tough things like calculus, algebra and PE.

And we don’t do our children any favours if we shield them from what’s already in front of us. They’ve got to learn how to handle themselves, and we have to trust they will know how to, we need only point them in the right direction. So as a responsible parent, you teach your kids everything in your power and knowledge about everything they need to know about everything that’s out there. White, black, yellow, brown, blue and red, Christians Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, gay and straight, fat and thin, good and evil, right and wrong, Luke and Leia, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and everything in between, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

The important thing to note here is that because we’re already admittedly racist (right?), we know (well, most of us anyway) when to draw the line between when to joke and when to call someone out for going too far. In other words, we understand tolerance. And really, that alone will qualify you to teach that which our nation proudly proclaims as “racial harmony”. Hopefully if the entire country reads this post and agrees, the next generation won’t produce another Amy Cheong. I’m not getting my hopes up though.

But if you’ve gotten this far down The Blogfather’s ramblings, here’s something to start you off. You can teach your kids that Malay-Muslim void deck weddings cost as much as $25-50,000 (my restaurant wedding dinner only cost about $21,000), can stretch up to 2 days, and they do throw one hell of a party.

Also, I once played Hotel California at one Malay wedding when I was a teenager and the guests gave me a hearty round of applause for my guitar solo. We played Metallica as well; that didn’t go down so well, but talk about tolerance! True story.

Your Job – The Ultimate Contraceptive

I sat on the “National Conversation” for quite a while without commenting, particularly when it came to our terrible fertility rate. I know a number of fellow blogfathers who have jumped in on the discussion already (namely, Sengkang Babies, J Babies’ Dad and Daddy Nivlek); I was also knee-deep in covering the opinion of various organisations (the Lien Foundation’s survey and NTUC’s not-so-well-thought-out recommendations, as well as dissecting the PAP Women’s Wing recommendations in light of the PM’s National Day Rally Speech). For us parents-at-large, vibrant discussions such as this is indeed a very welcome thing.

But I kept largely quiet about the whole issue here because something was missing from all the debate. Something I wanted to get to the root of, not only for the purpose of including my opinion to the already opinionated fracas, but for myself and my family as well.

My wife and I have been trying for No. 2 for almost a year. Evidently it hasn’t been easy to schedule some alone time, what with the kid and the recent changes in my life, but as I settled into my new job, something else unsettling grew in its stead, something I never realized until now.

I seem to have lost my mojo.

For a while, I thought it may just be temporary; I got my dream job, my wife and I are having the most wonderful time of our marriage together, and my son was growing up to be a beautiful chirpy little man. I should be in the mood for multiplying like rabbits every other night, but no. Then one night (the same night I’m writing this, in fact), I went on a cycling trip to ask myself why this was so, and this is what I came up with.

It was work. It always has been. This has nothing to do with parental leave of any sort, nothing really to do with money or paying the bills, nor of my son’s future in the Singapore education system. I mean, strictly to the very points mentioned (taking time off for family, money and preschool fees), do any of these really keep a guy from wanting to do the do? (Ladies, shush. This is a blog for dads, you know, that half of the species that’s supposed to be perpetually horny.)

But as I come to this realization for myself, I realise work stress does keep guys from getting frisky. Male executives will worry about keeping their deliverables delivered on schedule, male managers will worry about keeping their projects on track, male directors will worry about keeping their KPIs on target, so much so we don’t have the time nor mood for an erection. And if you were to compare genders, the men really can’t deal with juggling work and our sex life as well as our female counterparts can. We suck multi-tasking.

And really, isn’t that what is really wrong with our fertility rate? I know back in my parents’ day, my dad worked non-stop, never earned much, put his children through university with god-knows-what money, and still found time to have 5 children. So what’s changed over the last 40-50 years in our country that is making us argue that longer paternity leave, lower school fees and more work-life balance is required?

I might have an answer to that, and it points squarely at a legendary Singaporean 80’s icon: Teamy the Productivity Bee. Back in 1982, Teamy was conceived as part of the government’s effort to instill and drive the population into a high-achieving workforce, and the economy that would turn this nation into a first-world country. Teamy did his job too well; KPIs are now part of our culture. Singapore is ranked the 3rd most competitive country in the world, top easiest country to do business in and 186th in fertility rate out of a list of 195 countries by the United Nations.

Feel free to facepalm right about now.

You know what’s the worst thing about all this? Just about everyone is looking to the government for answers, but what’s really confounding to me is, why isn’t anyone asking the businesses, companies and enterprises to just stop bugging us with their bloody productivity standards and just let us procreate already?

I know this whole fertility rate issue isn’t just about one problem, and I may well be oversimplifying the whole issue, but I do acknowledge this is a viable talking point for dads especially, and it has become a very major point of contention for me. If this blog post has got you thinking a little deeper about what’s really up with our collective mojo, let me know if you’re facing similar issues with doing your so-called “National Service”.

Image via coolpicturegallery.us

Driving into Cultures: Bangkok vs. Singapore

The past week, I’ve had the good fortune to finally experience driving in Bangkok traffic. To many fellow Singaporeans, judging by the face value of the mayhem that is Bangkok traffic, the phrase “good fortune” might be somewhat displaced, and in some parts of Bangkok (the Victory Monument being one dastardly good example, they may be right. But in the study of a country’s culture, much can be learnt through a foreigner’s observations behind the wheel of a car, or even just as a passenger. And this shall be my testament of why I will always love Bangkok more than my own country.

For starters, bumper-to-bumper traffic is not uncommon in either Singaporean and Bangkok roads, but the typical driver in either state would react very differently.

The typical Singaporean (driver or not) simply does not have the patience to deal with expressway stoppages of more than 10 minutes at a go, nor are they able to graciously deal with jammed stretches of road more than 25 minutes in waiting time. Note whenever you hit the CTE before the PIE exits, that 1 in 8 cars will make concerted efforts to cut into and out of lanes in the vain hopes of just being 1-2 car lengths faster than the lane they were originally on.

In Bangkok, jams are a way of life, infused to such a level that it has become a component of the phenomenon that the locals and expatriates have termed “Thai time”, where tardiness is expected, and schedules elasticised by 1/2 to 3 hours depending on traffic conditions, among other, less explainable holdups. This being the case, drivers in Bangkok tend to be a lot calmer when dealing with traffic jams, which explains why garland sellers seem to think walking down the middle of a jammed road knocking on windscreens can be such a lucrative business. (I personally love buying their steamed peanuts while in the car; it’s got a sort of rustic, drive-in theatre kind of feel to bite into nuts while going nowhere fast.)

Another notable note; tailgating and driving within inches of the cars next to you. In Singapore, this is strictly frowned upon, and often seen as an act of aggression. While on a Singapore expressway and some larger main roads, me and my wife will sometimes (but not often) encounter testosterone-driven tailgaters in heavily modded Japanese Frankensteins, indicating we should either go faster (and flout the given speed limit, not to mention our poor Nissan Sunny engine) or get the hell out of the way. My wife loves dealing with these speedsters by doing the exact opposite; slowing down to 80kph and making sure they don’t have an opportunity to overtake us for at least a 2km stretch and thoroughly annoying the young punks.

In Bangkok however, tailgating and the disregard of personal space is a way of life, but not as an act of aggression, but as an act of consideration. For the most part, Thais do maintain lane discipline as a rule, but as the road gets more crowded, space becomes a commodity, but unlike Singaporeans who generally drie closer to prevent others from cutting in front of them, the Thai approach is exactly the opposite. The reason for the squeeze is, surprisingly, for the road users to be able to maximize their advances further on into the traffic, and the creation of new lanes where lanes should not exist propagates that advancement. How would one know this is an act of courtesy and not a maneuver of patience? In Thailand, you can switch lanes even in the tightest squeezes, simply because most of the time, the other cars will give way to you.

The third thing I can say about the comparison of driving cultures is probably the only good thing I can give the state of Singapore traffic (and probably the one thing that makes the most difference in deciding whether to make that leap of faith and deciding to drive in Bangkok). Our transport infrastructure is extremely well defined and well maintained; the LTA has made every effort to make our roads safe, our traffic lights work near 100% of the time, and enforcing road regulations to such a degree that to flout it would be near inconceivable. Hence, expressways will only move at a maximum of 30kph above limit, and most of the daytime, no one will even overstep that boundary. Drunks don’t drive, and if they do, you can almost be sure they won’t drive again. And most accidents are cleared in record time, no matter how severe (save that one time with the overturned private bus on the speed lane of the PIE a few weeks ago). The roads are always clean, the road markings always clear, and most of all, the drivers always obeying the law.

In Bangkok, I wouldn’t go so far as to say traffic infrastructure is sub-standard, but more often than not, traffic signs, lights and road clarity are not something you can take for granted. At times, one does feel the planning of roads to be self-serving (why have the busiest junction run around a monument, and plant all the major bus routes there instead of allowing alternative diversions which can quicken the pace of traffic by leaps and bounds?), or leaving something to be desired (Bangkok City is filled with unmarked, unnamed lanes, certain lanes in te CBD area change direction at certain times of the day, and traffic lights can go on red for up to 5 minutes at a stretch, and then it turns green for 15 seconds before starting it’s 300-second clock again).

For all my studies into the cultures of our neighbours vs. our own, my experience in driving within these 2 states has really impacted my views of each, and am also able to simply define each culture with a formula of inverse relationships; in Singapore, a 1st world government to service 3rd world citizenship, and in Bangkok, a people, attitude and culture deserving of 1st world status, but marred by 3rd world infrastructure.

Such simplification would invariably lead to this all-important question: is a nation’s success to be judged by the efficiency and effectiveness of its government, or by the attitudes and culture of its people, or if both, which should be lent more weight?

The Dating Game (Singapore Edition)

It is mankind’s perpetual quest, and the animal kingdom’s basest and yet most important of instincts; finding a mate. And in our 65,000 years of existence, you’d think we’d have gotten this basic instinct down pat. But how is it that such a large part of us find ourselves so adept at being unintentionally single?

Singaporean men in particular are at an acute disadvantage. I am sure some of my international readers might start saying no, it’s Hong Kongers, or Thais, or whatever other exotic romantically challenged Asian male population of dicks would top that bill, but bear with me. I’ve only ever dated one guy (unintentionally), and he was Singaporean (and also gay, which makes him unqualified for mention here), so I seriously wouldn’t know how the others rate.

But I digress.

The problem with being a guy in Singapore is that girls in Singapore will realize upon maturity that in essence, we turn out to be as interesting and as riveting in conversation as my secondary school Physics teacher who had to tote around a boombox and mic to be heard in the back row of a 20-student class, and once cried in class when no one was paying attention (true story). The really eligible women in Singapore just aren’t looking inland, because who wants locally farmed chickens when you can have Angus steak, you know?

I’m not saying our women are the problem, though. On the contrary, WE are all the problem. Singapore culture dictates a strict set of rules, both spoken and unspoken, one of the biggest and most adhered to being that “Rules are to be adhered”. Singaporean men are so straightlaced and obedient that no one takes risks with anything or anyone (including themselves) for fear of trouble, rejection, failure and embarrassment. The biggest problem with this mindset in the scope of the dating arena is that dating encompasses all of these traits, and in force. Every time a man approaches a woman for a date, whether it be a stranger or someone he knows, there is potential for trouble. Every time a woman replies, rejection is almost always a possibility. Every time a guy goes on a date, risk of failure far outweighs success. And every time a guy opens his mouth, he opens himself to embarrassment.

The point is, dating is a very delicate 2-way process, much like making babies (which dating, if the process succeeds, should lead to). Who’s to say the woman isn’t feeling the exact same sentiments when embarking on a date with a man, and if that truly is the case, why are Singaporean women’s success rate of getting laid so much higher than their male counterparts (besides the obvious fact that they are much much better looking and have boobs)?

Another thing: Singapore has conditioned her men to have such exacting standards in life (salaries have to be so much, cars have to have such engine power and so much boot space, things MUST be done only in a certain way so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation) that inevitably that same perfectionist attitude gets reflected into the way we choose our friends and potential life partners.

Before the Singaporean man has even stepped into the game, he’s already jotted down his preferences and expectations into a Powerpoint presentation, created flowcharts of his perfect woman and organisational structure of his future family plans. As it is, the global male population is falling behind the female headcount; it’s not like you’re bloody spoilt for choice as it is, and worse still, the own women in your country have stopped buying local brands and are shopping for imports. You STILL want to be choosy?

I know, some of you will have watched enough Animal Planet and National Geographic to say, “Hey, pandas are picky about who they mate with, why shouldn’t we? And spiders eat their lovers.” To that I say, hey. Pandas have nitpicked their way into the endangered species list, and female spiders are bitches, so stop comparing yourself to eight legged freaks, get your ass off the cable TV and please go get some sunlight and meet some people.

Of course, I’m not saying go pick any permed-hair auntie with black calf-length leggings and a Northeast CDC Walk ‘N’ Jog t-shirt off the street and make wild passionate love to her, but how do you really know what is right for you if you’ve never taken the time (and the risk) to find out?

The average Singaporean woman is the stuff of dreams for so many people outside this sunny island set in the sea. They’re smart, family-oriented souls that are not unattractive and not afraid to try stuff out. And they almost always get their man. So what is it they can do that Singaporean men can’t? And with such wonderful pickings for a fulfilling lifelong partnership, what can possibly be holding you back?

Time Flies

It’s June, 2010. Seems like only yesterday when we celebrated the New Year; I still have Chinese New Year goodies sitting on our buffet counter in the dining room.

I really need to throw those goodies out.

My kid’s been going to daycare for 2 days now. We keep referring to it as school, which really throws people off, but really, it actually is a school, and we’re gonna keep saying he’s going to school until either he graduates from university or we can’t afford the school fees any more.

So a lot of people have been asking me and my wife, school? At 18 months old? Are you sadists? To this, my official reply would be that this is one of those decisions we took quite a bit of time to make. In Singapore, this is a situation that invariably crosses the life of any parent in our current generation. Almost the entire population is working in one way or another (elderly included), and dual-income families are not just a norm, but compulsory in an economy where government housing costs about 20-30 years’ of an executive’s salary, and a decent car costs 5 years’ worth (and has to be paid for all over again every decade; COE is a four-letter word).

My wife has been lucky to be offered a very flexible work schedule since my son was born, but at some point we both realized the time we have both as working individuals as well as together as a family needed to be better managed. We’ve pored through every available option society has to offer, from our own grandparents (emotional blackmail is a craft best honed when your mother and you can both use your kid as leverage), to a full-time maid (those maid-from-hell stories should be compiled together and made into a episodic Hallmark Channel horror-thriller series), to playgroups (rare, and no guarantees), to our present daycare/preschool option (more expensive than a university education).

Amidst all the questions and seeking all the answers (…can we afford it? …is the curriculum suitable? …are the teachers of sound mind and body? …is he going to raise a coup with his classmates against his teachers?), we finally decided to bite the bullet (and my?leather wallet, because after paying the initial fees, it was the only meat-based product I have left to eat).

By the advice of the school teacher-in-charge, we were told to expect a rough ride for the first month. Separation issues, changes in habits, misbehaviour,… and that’s just the parents.

The first day was a little rough. We managed to be late (school starts at an insane 7am; We usually wake up at 9.30am on a good day), and dropped him off 1 1/2 hours behind time. We dangled around him for a little while to see how school mornings would typically go (washing hands, setting down school bags in the classroom, washing hands, breakfast, washing hands), took a few pictures (if you got my wife in your Facebook list, they’re online now), and sneaked out. We had it easy?already; we saw a bunch of parents drop their kids off at the door and have to literally run away before their kid realized they’re leaving him/her there and started screaming for waffles (you know, “WAAAAAAH! Fuh, fuh, fuh, WAAAAAAH!”).

The remainder of the morning and half the afternoon we were both wondering what to do with ourselves, what with the sudden freedom of time. But we were wondering much more, how our son was doing. Was he playing with the other kids? Was he hitting the teachers? Did he miss us? Is he napping properly? Eating well?

After a round of roaming around 313 Orchard and visiting Uniqlo for the first time, and failing to find an iPad in EpiCentre to ogle at, we headed back to the school at 3.30pm to find our kid greeting us at the door in his teacher’s arms, pouting and red-eyed from
just waking up and realising everything that happened that morning wasn’t just a bad dream.

An hour later, he was back to his old cheery self and we heaved a sigh of relief from the fact that the transition wasn’t as bad as we imagined it to be.

Day 2 was when we found out our kid was as much a morning person as his parents were, which, very frankly, was not at all.

We were determined to make it to school at a much more respectable time, and woke up at 6 in the morning (the only other times we woke up that early was when I had a flight to catch, one of us smelled something burning or Glenn and the Flying Dutchman were too loud when they start their shift on the radio).

I dug our son out of his cot at 6.30am and dressed him in his school, and instead of running around the house after that as per his usual after bed routine, he just lay there on the sofa, eyes half closed with his milk bottle hanging limply from his mouth, occasionally complaining with a short teary cry about how 6.30am was really a ridiculous time to be alive and being generally as grumpy as the void deck uncle with 2 beers and unloving middle aged children.

But he fared much better in school on his second day. At one point, he even managed to entertain the entire school (about 9 kids total and 4 adults; it’s a very new school) with his signature twirl-till-you’re-dizzy dance, and we would like to believe he managed to Casanova his way into the hearts of the pretty preschool girls there, and will soon be bringing his girlfriend home to see his parents.

Time flies. He was only just born not long before, and now he’s in school. I always dreaded the day he would start primary school; never would I have imagined that at 18 months old, I would already have to start waking up at an ungodly hour to bring him to school. I now know the problem I have understanding the grammatically awkward phrase “suffer the children”; it is missing a “with”.

Bangkok Dangerous

I’ve had the opportunity to work in Bangkok for an extended period of time since 2007, and have been making frequent trips up both on business visits and on covert vacations (when you have a regional office in the place you want to holiday in, leave applications must always be treated with high level confidentiality). Through the years, both my wife and I have taken an emotional interest in Thai culture and lifestyle, and have even considered migrating there.

These days, the question of migration to Thailand is a tougher call for us.

Photo: Reuters

My Singapore office called up our Thai director a couple of days ago, and asked him how things are going. Having been based in Singapore for 8 years himself, he is prone to communicating in Singlish with us as well.

Us: “How’s things in Bangkok?”
Him: “Like that lor. I’m ok.”
Us: “Were you out for Songkran?”
Him: “Ya, but now the tradition changed already. We dun throw water any more; now we throw blood.”

That same day, a Thai acquaintance was detailing in her Facebook status about how the riot had gotten dangerously close to our Bangkok office.

That, and the conversation with our Thai director took place before Central World Mall got barbequed.

I also read a tweet from Young Upstarts blogger Daniel Goh after the deed saying, “Dear Bangkok, stop burning my wife’s favourite shopping areas please”, reflecting my own wife’s exact sentiments.

But why am I writing about Bangkok when I’m supposed to be thinking Singlish? How does the Bangkok situation affect Singapore life?

You must understand, we are, after all, a country of mostly migrants, or descendants of migrants (4-5 generations and counting). Singaporeans are highly adaptable, constantly moving, and, most annoyingly, easily bored. Thailand has, in the past decade and a half, developed into a shopping haven for a people who earn livings developing shopping havens, and Bangkok is now our Orchard Road, whilst our Orchard Road is getting too expensive to drive and park our cars in.

Imagine, we would rather pay for an air ticket via Jetstar Asia to Bangkok than drive through the ERP gates all over the CBD area and park in Ion Orchard.

Imagine, for once we have discovered – and enjoyed – a travel destination true to the marketing tagline coined for it by its resident tourism board – a land of a thousand smiles. A country of earnest, respectable, humble and modest folk who greet you with nothing but the most gracious of courtesies, even as they struggle to make ends meet. That, in contrast to our own fast-paced lifestyle and “I-will-only-look-at-you-if-you’ve-had-an-accident, and-even-then-it’s-only-to-take-down-your-car-plate-number-and-buy-4D” attitude that has become so signature and expected of our kind here.

Imagine our respite from life in Singapore burned down in a moment of uneducated, uncontrolled vanity. The lives lost, the livelihoods ruined, the economy near completely disheveled, the confidence in a once potentially progressive country dashed like the torn, perforated lines of a crushed box of Pocky (made in Thailand, no less). See Channel NewsAsia – Thailand picks up the pieces after deadly conflict

I’d still go back to Bangkok in a heartbeat. My family is looking at October to head up for our annual Thailand pilgrimage. We just hope there’s still something there left to pilgrimage to.

Introductions

The first post is always the hardest. I do so hate starting in the middle of nowhere, but it always seems that’s the only way to go right now; I am in the throes of beginning middle age, and heading back to a younger, more appropriate time to document my experiences, opinions and observations will take too long anyway.

Right, anyway. Let’s start afresh.

I’m a Singaporean, in my early 30s. Married to a beautiful Singaporean woman, with a happy son. Based on my immediate social circle, this is not necessarily the workings of a typical Singaporean life, but we will get to typecasting Singaporeans later.

I’m writing to express my views as a relatively independent entity with opinions and views on a seemingly bland culture and lifestyle that is Singapore. I say seemingly because for a place whose citizens constantly remark as boring and no-life, there seems to be a flurry of views and feedback on everything that is right – and wrong – about this sunny island set in the sea.

But wait. Where’s the Singlish?

Don’t get me wrong; I am not trying to mislead my dear readers with an ultimately localised blog title in an overhyped marketing ploy, only to serve up the mediocre ramblings of a man stricken? in mid-life crisis. It is merely that Singlish is effectively English in words, but the true essence of this beautiful local tongue is in its tonations, as has been wonderfully portrayed in full effect by one Bolo Santosi from Just Cause 2, made famous by Singaporeans and justly causing much confusion to the rest of the world (video courtesy of Mr Brown).

Bolo Santosi

There’ll be plenty of opportunities for the bengness in me to manifest, and we do know it’s going to take some time for any new blog to garner readership, and I’m not too bothered to do any promotion for it right now either. So please, be patient while I figure out what it is I want to say.

7 Signs That You Are Too Old for a Nine Inch Nails Concert

Signs that you are too old for a Nine Inch Nails concert:

1. You get 2 pre-sale tickets, but when you ask around, no one in your social circle wants to go because Nine Inch Nails is too hardcore.

2. You go to the concert, take your place in the moshpit and observe that everybody is at least 5 years younger than you (I actually took a census).

3. When Trent Reznor jumps off the stage and into WHERE YOU ARE STANDING, your first thought upon reaching out to him is to push him back out so he can finish his concert and you can still get your money’s worth.

4. You do not jump around after the concert boasting that you touched Trent Reznor’s armpit.

5. 3 songs into the concert, you come to the realization that your place in the moshpit is not worth risking your life over.

6. You naively think that in a moshpit at a rock concert where the frontman routinely sings such things as “God is dead and no one cares” or “I’d rather die than give you control”, people will be considerate enough to not push you. (I must interject that I was on the receiving end of an angry “Oi, don’t push!” while I was making my way out of the pit, so I I think my integrity as a rock fan can still be salvaged.)

7. You go to a concert without any bags to hold your belongings in, buy $80 worth of tour merchandise and tie your purchases around your body while you’re in the moshpit, in the vain hope that your purchases will follow you out when you leave.

8. (Bonus sign, thanks to Joe Augustin) You go to a Nine Inch Nails concert and tweet about how “the band’s use of minor chords, suspended 4ths and atonal instrumentation applied to a strong backbeat is hypnotically nice.”

I was, and still am, a huge fan of Nine Inch Nails. I have all their albums, singles, and more recently, downloads. I have kept track of Trent Reznor’s career as a musician and producer and have heard all his work, side projects and guest production work included. I know the band is running their final tour, and their Singapore gig is a once-in-a-lifetime event and wouldn’t have missed it for the world. And of course, I didn’t.

But I think I’m at a physical age now where the moshpit should be avoided, and the intensity of the crowd at a very heavy metal band can be hazardous to your physical an mental wellbeing. It doesn’t help when you’re mostly surrounded by people who feel the same way, and even less when you come home to a family that indirectly implies that you have no business acting like a 20-year-old.

Nine Inch Nails has Waved Goodbye tonight after 20 years of touring. Maybe I should too.

Right after the Mr Big concert. (This time, I’m sitting in Terence’s van).