Coping, with Success

I think we all live through this phase in our lives believing that we are invincible, that we can do anything we set our minds to, that we can get anywhere we want. And up until I was 35, I wanted to be successful, too. Or at least, I was taught to want it.

I’ve talked about how my mother wanted me to become a doctor to complete the set of children with noble professions that she always wished for, and how my dad, when he had lost hope in me doing well for my O-Levels, sat me down to plan my future career cooking Indonesian cuisine.

Somewhere in the middle of that, though, I wanted to be a musician. I picked up the electric guitar at 13, managed to work myself up to a level where I could impress girls, and then when I turned 20, I took night classes for a music technology diploma at some obscure, now-defunct private school. Then

I wanted to become a lawyer. I never graduated from that diploma course. When I was younger I was told by my mum that I could bloody argue my way out of anything, so since I can’t become a doctor, why not do law? I took up a position in the Supreme Court as a transcriber, then nine months into the job, I got hired by a dotcom run by lawyers (one of whom was my eldest sister), writing and editing content for their legal portal for two years, then

I wanted to become a marketer. At the peak of the company’s most intense internal conflicts, I quit to enrol into Polytechnic and did a full-time mass communications course as a mature candidate using the CPF money I amassed from work. I managed to graduate almost respectably (in my second year I managed to cause some administrative trouble by petitioning for the removal of a lecturer). I joined my second sister’s furniture company as a marketing executive, and as I got comfortable,

I wanted to try everything. For the next five years, I jumped from department to department doing just that… and I burned out. At 32, I quit, partly because spending 3 weeks out of every month in India while my son pass all his developmental milestones at home really really sucked, and our try because I was quite at a loss as to what I wanted.

I wanted to go back to school, to try and earn a psychology degree. But I needed money for that, so I went back to work with my eldest sister at her boutique law firm (litigation and divorce specialists), and lasted all of two years, gobsmacked at how people can still call their lawsuits “civil” after seeing how they conduct themselves in court, and drained by watching seemingly successful people completely and utterly fail to love their spouses and children. Then

I wanted to be a writer—any kind of writer. I tried to pursue writing and failed catastrophically, then went into copywriting and just couldn’t fit in, and then tried PR and became even more miserable.

These days, I’m not sure if the job I’m in now (I’ve still got my writer hang-ups; I’m working for a publishing house) is the job. For that matter, I’m not even sure my boss at my current workplace even likes me.

Then there’s this website, this persona, these stories you’ve been reading that I wrote. Now don’t get me wrong; as far as I know, everything I write here is genuine experience, genuine opinion, genuine me. That said, people think I’m this stand-up family man that takes no bullshit, that no one dares cross because I’m a parent blogger that talks back. They don’t see the breakdowns I have when an argument with the Wife goes too far, the unbridled outbursts when I found two-week-old untouched worksheets my Primary Two boy “forgot” to do, the chair I broke one time during a particularly bad fight at home that nearly injured my 2-year-old daughter. People don’t talk about their failures here. And people don’t hear these stories enough when we really need to.

I’m not a success story. Nor do I want to be deemed one.

Success is such a subjective, short-term notion. People will define success in their own terms: whether it be successfully establishing their own businesses, successfully acquiring their dream jobs, successfully living a sedentary beach bum lifestyle, successfully getting out of bed in the morning to live another day, or successfully learning that success doesn’t matter. Heck, I can fail everything and say I successfully learned from my experience.

So instead of the 1% trying to tell the 99% that “I was just like you, and you can be like us!”, can we have the average Johan teach us how he manages instead? Because these days, we seem to have a serious problem knowing how to manage our own live and our children’s. And then when we think we’ve got more than the hang of it (success!), we try and help others, we somehow manage to miss the point entirely.

I’ve said before that when my son was born, I decided my life was no longer mine to live; my driving force as a father, and what I believe is the driving force behind every parent who cares, is for our children to cope, and hopefully to cope well, too. Successful parenting is coping well, day by day.

We get to an age where we realise life isn’t all about us, and then we worry about the generation that we’re bringing up to take over us, where they are heading, whether they’ll get there because of us, or in spite of us, and whether they’ll be doing the same with their kids when it’s their turn to realise life isn’t about them either.

When shit happens, we cope. We have to cope, or we die. I’d much rather people successfully live to see another day without buckling under all this damn self-inflicted pressure than cry in a corner of a swanky office they can’t afford because Adam Khoo once told their mother they could be somebody.

Please Stop Teaching Us How to Raise Successful Children

This is an appeal to any person, group or organisation that plans parenting talks, seminars, workshops, forums and conferences.

Since I’ve started blogging as a parent, I’ve received invitations to attend (and a couple of times, sit in the panel of) quite a few of these parenting events. It wasn’t until recently that the messages some of these events organisers are using to market their events started to concern me.

Back in 2012, I attended a half-day seminar called “Raising a Successful Child”. The content served isn’t nearly as overbearing as their promotional copy makes them out to be. In fact, one talk I attended actually used case studies of so-called “successful children”—medal-winning athletes and academic geniuses suffering from anxiety and depression—as a warning to parents not to push their children too hard.

I was glad when I came out of that talk, because I was expecting a lecture on how to over-parent. That same talk I attended, I saw parents walking out in disappointment that the seminar didn’t actually provide a concrete method for raising a successful child—well, not one that they thought would work, anyway.

I’m a  copywriter, too, so I understand the core function of such promotional copy is to generate sales. But seeing copy like this makes me wonder if such organisers are misrepresenting the content that their speakers are aiming to serve, or are they really trying to sell us something we really could do with a lot less of right now.

Case in point:

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I write this in the hope that people who write these things can exercise some responsibility and think through their messaging not just for your paying customers, but for the benefit of our society-at-large that incidentally take in your messages without the intention or means to obtain tickets to your show.

As important as we think ensuring our children are able to strive for themselves is, we already live in a climate of fear, thinking that our children have to excel in our pressure-cooker academic environment in order to survive in life. I want to ask these parenting/education coaches and family-targeted MICE organisers, particularly the ones who tout such phrases as “raising a successful child”, “bring up a champion”, “your child can be better than everyone else”, to please not perpetuate that fear in us any more, because we really don’t know any better.

What we really need you to tell us are these:

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Don’t teach us how to change our kids, teach us how to change ourselves. Don’t try and tell us what our kids need to excel. Tell us how to be present for our children, how to love them properly, how to raise our expectations of ourselves as parents instead managing our expectations of our children.

Don’t teach us how to parent; teach us how to be parents.

Life After Suicide: How to Live with a Permanently Broken Heart

He wore a sadness in his eyes throughout the forum, despite his candid smile, his laid back posture, and the punches of light humour when he exchanged banter with co-panelist Irene Ang (who was present as a survivor of three attempted suicides, something she has not shied away from talking about as a celebrity). I knew beforehand that the forum panel would also consist of the parent of a suicide victim, and while I knew that would make for one of the most interesting episodes of Talking Point I ever watched or participated in, I was not quite sure what to expect.

And when Steve Chia mentioned that the founder of youth outreach foundation Over the Rainbow had lost his only son to suicide seven years ago, Chow Yen-Lu corrected him, “Seven years and 3 days, actually. We’ve been observing his passing the last few days.” One could feel the weight of that knowledge bear down on the audience the rest of the night. While the ever-entertaining Irene Ang kept us light-hearted, and IMH’s Principal Clinical Psychologist Dr Ong Lue Ping’s offering of facts and figures would be greeted with nods and murmurs, each time Mr Chow spoke, the room would fall still and silent to listen intently to his slow, measured responses.

As the moderator opened the discussion to the floor, I raised my hand. Referring to the news report last Friday that mentioned what the mother of the P5 boy who committed suicide cried as she found him, I asked Mr Chow, “That statement resonated quite deeply among parents, but beyond the context of what was said, speaking from your own experience, how did you pick yourselves up from there?”

“We get asked that question a lot,” he said, leaning back and looking thoughtful. “It was difficult. But one of the first things that we did was not to blame ourselves or blame each other, number one. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here today, we would have gone down the other path.”

His calm demeanor belied a quiet pain as he replied me, and I started tearing as I listened.

He continued, “Number two, to accept what’s happened. Third, to find meaning in what’s happened, and to do something about it. So through this experience, we found first of all it’s a wake-up call for us. So we took this up as a cause. Our motto is we want to transform youth mental wellness for the 21st century. Actually, when we do this, we are also helping ourselves; We help ourselves to heal.”

From left: Andy Lee (Sengkang Babies), Chow Yen-Lu (Over the Rainbow), me (you know where) anad Meiling Wong-Chainani (Universal Scribbles) | Photo credit: Andy Lee

Since the above-mentioned news report came out last Friday, and word even spread around the world; there was even news commentary on the BBC World Service saying how common such suicides are in developed Asian countries such s Japan, South Korea, China and Singapore. And of course, there followed a flurry of discussion online: who is really to blame? What are the authorities doing about it? How can parents prevent this? There are even posters crafted by the Ministry of Education with multi-step-step processes outlining how to encourage our children and be present for them were spread around on Facebook, in the hopes that they be used as a guide on how to prevent suicide, even though they weren’t explicitly created for that purpose.

Over and beyond these, there are also the people who survive their loved ones’ deaths. We tend to treat this category of what I consider suicide survivors as well as mere side plots, used to help the story along from a human interest angle, and, as mentioned, sometimes as a potential target to blame. But these are the people with the experiences we really need to hear of, with the lessons that we really need to learn from.

It must have been difficult for Mr Chow and his wife the last seven years, and it will continue to be difficult. But they managed to break through the barriers of their own grief and despair, to reach out and help others as a means for themselves to heal, and to give us that much-needed insight from their own experience.

As the discussion was thrown to the floor for questions, the audience seemed to betray the mindset of our pressure-cooker society: that failure is not an option. But as progressive a nation as we have become in the last 50 years, our failure to accept failure also happens to be our biggest failure. And no, I’m not just talking about parents.

When I read what the mother said next to her son, my heart broke for her, I saw a woman trying to and failing to grapple with the last memory she has of being with her son, because whatever little reason she had left in the moment told her that was why her son took his life; she was crying out the words in overwhelming, debilitating regret. And she is now facing the rest of her life in self-persecution, having to try and hold together a permanently broken heart.

Yet here we are lambasting her for saying what she said, using her words to condemn an imperfect education system that we, too, had a hand in creating, and using her dead son as an example of “a tofu generation”. And we call ourselves a civilised society. I believe we were once better than this, and that we should have been better than this. But this week, we failed.

Now, how do we accept this failure, learn from it and move on with it instead of away from it? Therein lies the lesson that these suicide survivors teach us, and if we learn it well, it’s a lesson that we don’t just teach to our children in multi-step processes, we show them how we do it.

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.

***

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.

[Sponsored and IRAS-Approved] If Your Mother Was Trained at Kai Garden

The Wife and I were invited to Kai Garden for a food tasting, the same day I was called up to provide a soundbite for a New Paper/AsiaOne article on the IRAS-social media influencer debacle. Amidst an flurry of reactions from the blogging community that I was also embroiled in, that ranged from confusion to anxiety to frustration to why-should-anyone-care and this-is-what-the-70%-voted-for-you-happy-now, I was determined to both get my opinions aired in the hopes of someone in the IRAS actually noticing the can of worms they’ve just opened, and going to a sponsored food review at a high-brow Chinese restaurant. Kind of ironic, but let’s see how this works.

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So I left the office and arrived early (I drove 9.7km, which, for an estimated 15km/litre fuel consumption calculated on $2.10 per litre after discount, plus $3 at the Bugis ERP gantry cost me -$4.36). Mother of Xander took the train to meet me there with kids in tow (-$2.38) It was a quiet Wednesday evening at the restaurant, but we were to find out later that their dim sum lunch hour was popular among the working crowd in the surrounding offices, and of course, dinner business does pick up from Thursdays onwards through the entire weekend.

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Of course, we were joined with some other friends; the Sims from Life’s Tiny Miracles, who brought their daughter and toddler son along, as well as Ah Soh, her husband and three kids. Together with the Mother of Xander and our own two chipmunks, we took up a table of 10 adults and 3 toddlers. These numbers come into play at the end of the dinner, so bear with me.

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We start the dinner off with Braised Home-made Dace with Black Bean Sauce, which brought back memories of my teen years of cooking my instant noodles with canned dace of the supermarket variety. But to be fair, this one was most definitely made from scratch and had a very delicate sweetness and far less salty compared to its mass market brethren. In an establishment such as this, it’s actually really good stuff for $11.80.

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Braised Chicken with Flower Crab (we were served the full $88 portion, but they also have a $48 half version), thick sauce infused with the rich flavour of the crab, though the kampong chicken was a little tough on my 38-year-old teeth.

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It starts getting a little more interesting with the Sautéed Prawn with Dried Fish Maw ($35). It may look unassuming (and we were starting to notice a theme here), but the dish bears a thick, rich gravy reminiscent to the previous dish, which contributes well to meld the fragrance of the tiger prawn together with the beautifully light spring when you bite into the savoury maw.

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There was also the conventional but Baked Whole Eggplant with Special Sauce ($18) which melts in your mouth like a savoury cream, the Wok-fried Garoupa Fillet with Spring Onions in Stone Pot ($38) which I wish I had more of (and very likely will at some point in the future), and the Grilled Pork Rib in Special Honey Pepper Sauce ($22)–big on honey, not so much pepper, covered in sliced almond for an added crunch.

No, that's not the waitress.
No, that’s not the waitress.

Dinner was as advertised; family favourites with a homecooked feel, unassumingly presented, much like how your mother might do it… if she were an established Hong Kong chef. The service, though, was certainly well worth the 10% service charge ($31.40); the staff in attendance were certainly attentive amidst a quiet, half-filled night, though as we would sometimes experience, the patrons didn’t quite know what to make of us bloggers with our cameras and constant moving around taking pictures of everything, short of the food on the other guests’ tables.

kai-dessert

To top the night off, we ordered a round of dessert; chilled fresh coconut puree ($6.80 per serving), chilled fresh mango puree with sago ($6.80 per serving), aloe vera in lemongrass jelly ($6.80 per serving), and mango sticky rice (give me a minute, I need to check the price). The dessert chef is Thai, so understandably the dessert range had a very distinct Thai signature. Since these weren’t explicitly provided  as part of the tasting, I spoke to the restaurant manager to pay for the dessert, but she very politely smiled and generously told us it was on the house.

We drove home very full and very happy, but I thought of the restaurant manager’s friendly generosity during the 17km drive (-$2.38, same variables as the drive to Marina Square); she probably didn’t read the news about how we were now required to declare everything  we ate at food tastings for tax purposes (oh, which reminds me: 7% GST, $24.24).

And here it is:

Non-monetary Benefits
(calculated for 3 pax – my wife, my son and me, excluding the toddler who tried to eat a chopstick but failed)
Braised Dace: $3.54
Chicken and Crab: $26.40
Prawn and Fish Maw: $10.50
Eggplant: $5.40
Garoupa fillet: $11.40
Pork rib: $6.60
Dessert: $27.20
10% Service charge: $9.10
7% GST: $7.01

Monetary Benefits
$0.50 (my daughter found it in the shopping trolley she was sitting in during a grocery run just before the food tasting)

Total income from this food tasting: $107.66
Expenses
Drive from office to restaurant: -$4.36 (Note: I was told S-plate car expenses don’t count)
Train fare from home to restaurant: -$2.38 (Nope, can’t declare this)
Parking: -$2.20 (Nope)
Transport from restaurant: -$2.38 (Nuh-uh)
Electricity used to write this post (4 hours at night, with the TV on to break the quiet and the air-con as well because hot): $1.40 (Nada; “considerable amount of private use tied to this period”)
Internet usage (4 hours): $0.40 (Crap, also cannot)

Total expenses from this food tasting: $13.12 $0.00 (What the hell.)

This being my first post of the year (sorry, I was busy), including the annual expenses incurred by maintaining this blog: domain name renewal ($216 per year for 4 domains), webhosting ($76.80 per year), and software for image editing and website coding ($66 per year), I have $263.46 $250.70 to go in order to break even. Actually, I’m doing pretty okay, if I don’t need to take leave in order to attend any blogger events (a half-day of leave will set me back $80). Some of us also periodically plonk down money for Facebook post boosting and Instagram ads, and others will buy their own giveaway premiums during the course of the year, too.

I could probably also claim my laptop, camera, phone and time spent coming up with all of these words and images in the first place, but it’s 2.30am now, I’m tired, I still have to go to work in the morning and I really don’t do food, product and service reviews any more.

***

Contrary to popular belief, we actually aren’t too bothered about declaring income from blogging (and if we are, we really shouldn’t). It’s just that for a state authority to suddenly tell us in the middle of tax season that we have a month to declare “non-monetary benefits” most of us never even thought of tracking, is just plain insensitive. (Congratulations to IRAS, by the way, for pulling off the most successful influencer campaign Singapore has ever seen, and all it took was a handful of letters.) But I’ve said what I wanted to say to IRAS in the papers, in the hopes of opening a dialogue with our community to sort things out; I hear it’s already happening, so thank you.

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Troll of the day.

Posted by Winston Tay on Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The public seems to have a skewed opinion of us; I can have my name and occupation clearly stated in the damn article, and I can still be referred to as “a very stupid woman… who always writes about fashion or plastic surgery or gossip”, simply because the article is about bloggers (also, the photo slapped in the middle of the newspaper article doesn’t help). I wish I could correct that perception in a single blog post, but oh well. Another day, then.

I really wrote this post for my fellow bloggers and social media influencers. Maybe this is a good thing. I initially planned for the income/expense breakdown above to prove there’s really not much non-monetary benefit worth the effort in declaring. Granted this is just one food tasting and there’s a whole spectrum of other food, products, services and experiences of varying value that we similarly have to track, but I started to look at the whole thing a little differently after doing the numbers. Besides such an exercise being able to help us sieve out what’s worth writing and what’s lipstick, it isn’t until we’re forced to show the value of our work, that we actually see the value in our work. Maybe it is time we took our blogging–and ourselves–a lot more seriously. Like, IRAS serious.

On the other hand, we’re at least being recognised by a state agency as a legitimate professional body. Now we just have to convince the rest of the country.

kai-empty

We’ve Got Work-Life Balance All Wrong

You may have caught me on TV fumbling for the first half hour of the panel discussion on work-life balance on Talking Point a couple weeks ago. If you did, I apologise for fumbling for the first half hour.

If you haven’t, it’s here:

Again, sorry.

But the Blogfather had his reprieve when a caller decided to complain about her colleague’s misuse of childcare leave (and I took on the latter half of the show rather swimmingly). I was told the disdain showed in my reaction, and my point was also made clear: childcare leave isn’t just for when your child falls sick and no one else is there to take care of the little fella.

But as the discussion wore on, the panel also started realising that (a) workplace discrimination is shockingly prolific, and (b) the discussion on work-life balance in Singapore seems to overwhelmingly revolve around working mothers, and very little, if any, of anyone else – working dads, stay-at-home parents, single parents, non-parent guardians, children taking care of their elderly parents, spouses taking care of debilitated spouses, long-term live-in partners… I think we need to recognise that “family” is a much bigger word than our state currently understands it to be?

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“The younger set of dads who want to be family men, we get discriminated against at work.” says father of 2, Winston…

Posted by Talking Point on Thursday, 9 July 2015

That said, I think we’ve been excessively over-reliant on the government (and probably even hiring organizations) to dictate the path forward on the work-life balance issue. The Marriage and Parenthood Package was never meant to promote procreation and push Total Fertility Rate like we all thought (I said as much to The New Paper 2 years ago as well). What it does set out to do is to provide a better support structure for existing families and soften the ground for couples already looking to settle down. And we mumble under our breaths that our companies are not doing enough, out of earshot of our supervisors, while we’re still working in these companies. Seriously, how does that work for you?

Joe Augustin said at the 2013 Dads for Life Conference that bears repeating, “I hear people putting the blame on or giving the power to somebody else – you know, time doesn’t allow, this doesn’t allow, the pressures of this and that… No, it’s you. I mean, really, it’s up to you. You decide.” It’s only been 3 short years since I decided to follow that advice with aplomb, and take matters into my own hands career-wise, and those that follow me also know it hasn’t been all smooth-sailing. But I can tell you a few things that worked for me:

1. It starts from the moment you draft your cover letter.

work-life-cover-letter

In addition to committing to doing my job during working hours, I’ve taken to stating my position as a family man in my cover letters. If you think that’s going to turn prospective employers right off, you’re absolutely right. If a prospective employer decides he won’t consider you because he can’t work with the priorities you’ve set, it’s not a company you want to work for anyway.

work-life-cover-letter-inset

2. Treat your working life like your love life.

Think about it. The job interview is like a first date; both prospective employer and candidate should looking for points of compatibility. In fact, job interviews shouldn’t be treated like a one-way assessment. Then comes the second interview (second date), letter of offer (“Want to go stead?”), confirmation (getting serious), promotions (third base, moving in together, joint accounts, etc.), when a job becomes a career (marriage), and when you decide it’s not working out (if you haven’t established your career foothold yet, it’s a break up; if you have, it’s a divorce). And if you don’t like who you’re working with, that old dating adage also applies here: there are always other fish in the sea.

Now, if you were to make the same kinds of considerations with your job as you would your eventual life partner, wouldn’t you then take extra care to ensure you have the necessary compatible traits to build a cooperative, symbiotic relationship with your company (spouse) before settling down and settling in, and not end up enslaved in your circumstance?

Oh, wait…

3. If you need something addressed with your employer, just ask.

This works a lot more than people think. When you open up discussions with your boss about something you need, be it needing time off to fly kite with your kid (yes, I was serious when I said that on the show), flexi-work arrangements, or even a salary review based on the home finances you need to take care of, a lot of times something can be worked out.

work-life-fly-kite

That said, if “just asking” doesn’t work out, it also serves as a useful gauge as to how much you’re really valued as an individual in the eyes of your employer, and you can (and should) decide where to go from there.

4. Prioritise before compromise – then be ready to compromise.

“Jobs can change, and careers are never set in stone, but family sticks with you for the rest of your life whether you like it or not — or whether your workplace likes it or not.”

That’s my justification, but circumstances will differ from individual to individual. However one decides to live, as long as you have your priorities well-considered, no one can or should judge. But remember that ultimately the company you work for still has a bottom line to maintain, and that is the primary reason why you were hired in the first place – to maintain the company’s bottom line. And when you knock on your boss’s door to “just ask”, expect one of two things: to be rejected, or to negotiate a compromise.

Learning the art of compromise can be quite rewarding; it’s the reason why aunties love the thrill of the bargain, and salespeople can achieve such satisfaction from coming away from a tightfisted auntie with alternative offers that don’t involve a price reduction (ah, see? That’s skill, bols).

5. Accept that change is needed when it’s needed.

I was going to say “don’t fear change”, but if there’s one thing I learnt the last 3 years, it’s that fear is useful for prudently evaluating possible paths ahead, though it should still never be a factor for not moving ahead with decisions.

If you’re already in a place you’re not happy with, and you know you can do better, then really, grow some balls and go do better, fopr the sake of yourself, the ones you love and the ones who love you (and I’m talking beyond spouse and kids here). You are the only one who knows what’s best for you, and no one else.

And you are the only one capable enough to be the master of your own fate.

Dear Friends of Media Friends

Dear Friends of Media Friends,

How are you? (Yes, I know you won’t answer that question, because I never did when you asked me.) Hope you are also well. (I just wanted to “hope” you back after all the times you hoped the same for me.)

The Blogfather would like to thank you for contacting me with your exciting product/service/event/offer/idea. I’m really, sincerely appreciative of having you think of me/include me/mass-mail me the invitation for your campaign. Unfortunately, The Blogfather will no longer be taking on any marketing/PR engagements for the foreseeable future.

Don’t be sad; I’m not dead, dying, nor am I going to stop blogging (although these days, I find that to be very dependent on my mood). I’m just going to be blogging for my 138 loyal readers, my 7-8 family members, and myself.

Those are real estimates of my blog traffic numbers; because everyone keeps re-reading my posts multiple times every week on various computing devices, my monthly readership clocks in at about 2,000 on average (1,500 since my father passed away, so I think he may have been giving me about 500 clicks every month while he was still around). And seeing as I’ve been in the marketing and PR industry myself for a while now, I know full well having studied my blog statistics and comparing it with any of my parent blogging peers that there is really no real PR value in engaging me (or for that matter, using monthly unique visitor statistics).

So again, thank you; you’ve been a dear, really. I have loved everything that you’ve sent me, shown me, fed me, and paid me, but I’m going to try and put my very successful Internet celebrity status of being worshipped by my 146 or so curious parents behind me and get back to just blogging like a normal person.

You may remove me from your media list now.


Regards,

Winston Tay
https://wordsofwinston.sg
http://dear.xander.sg
http://ohmyword.sg

[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.

lsw-banner

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:

//

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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lsw-roof

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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lsw-swmini

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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lsw-dino-island

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.

The Significance of Not Dreaming

We have a WhatsApp chat group in the family that we share stories and photos of my late father in, to help us cope with our grieving in the last 5 months since my dad has passed. Quite often, my sisters would write about how they dreamed of my father while they were sleeping, and relate to the rest of us the scene, the other people in the dream, what was said, and try and determine through his demeanour and appearance whether he was doing okay or if he needed anything.

After quite a number of these dream-sharing sessions in the group chat, someone suddenly asked a few days ago (I assume without considering that it might hit a nerve):

Y winston is rarely in anyone’s dream ah? *ponder*

It bears noting that of the entire family, I have thus far showed the least emotion for my father’s passing. There is no question I loved my father, but I would like to believe that my father and I have enough of a mutual understanding (especially in the last year or so of his life) such that we could part with little regret. Besides, I figure my mother and sisters have their hands full enough with their own personal grieving, so I’m not inclined to add to their burden unnecessarily.

Perhaps this explains why I do not feature in my family’s thoughts all that much, much less dreams. As I trust that my father loved me, I am also confident my mother and sisters have me in their hearts as well, not to mention they’re also confident I can take care of myself. Besides, the quality of their dream-time with my father is thus much better without me in there providing the usual snarky distraction I do when we have family gatherings.

goodfather

On the flipside, my father has all but appeared in my dreams just once since he passed. Although this bothered me for a while, I figured out why pretty quickly.

The past few months, the Mother of Xander has noticed I’ve taken to driving like the old man, right down to the car accessories I use, inspired by my dad’s own habits; we’ve got headrest attachments for bags and shopping, and I have free-rotating knob on my steering wheel so I can steer like a bus driver.

My entire family has been laughing at and actively using the same corny sense of humour my father had every time we talk, with each other and with others. It’s kept our spirits up during this trying time, and reminded us that this was what our father would do with us when he was around, too; make us laugh.

During my father’s funeral wake, my father’s friends and former colleagues have all remarked how much I look and talk like the old man; in fact, they noted various nuances of our resemblances to him, and various character traits and habits like distinct facial features (apparently he gave us different parts of his face), loud, aggressive demeanour, no-nonsense attitude, strong sense of justice and empathy for others.

I believe this to be the reason why he doesn’t come visit me in my dreams. He probably doesn’t feel the need to, considering I still see him every day, as I’ve seen him every day ever since I’ve learned to make sense of the world.

dad-yvieI see him in the homes we’ve each made for ourselves, in my sisters whom he’s inspired, when I’m driving my car, in myself when I look in the mirror. I see him in my own children, when Xander remembers him and talks to his portrait hanging in our living room, and when I stroke Yvie’s head while she looks at me curiously; her hair is as soft as I remember my dad’s was, in his final days when I reached out to comfort him in his hospital bed.

***

Despite appearances, I have been grieving; it shows most obviously in the infrequency and dearth of good mood in the posts here on The Blogfather since my father’s passing. I’ve had a couple of private moments at home where I’d break down for seemingly no reason, and I’m glad I have the Mother of Xander with me during those occasions.

I first decided to write this thinking it would help answer the question about the dreams with my dad and my apparent lack of participation in them (like I can bloody control these things, pffft). But as I finish this second last sentence, I realise I needed to write this for myself and my siblings more than anyone else. Knowing what I know now, I guess now is as a good time as any for me – for us – to move on.

And this is what I know: my father is still with us; he is survived by us, his children, and his grandchildren. He is us, and we are him, and he lives for as long as we do, and as long as we will remember him. And believe me, the old man made sure it would be damn hard to forget him.

fam-white

So we keep laughing. We keep loving. We keep going, for him and for each other, so he’ll keep living in us, with us.

Bringing bloggers to hell – and everyone else, too

This post is written in response to Bertha Henson’s “Bringing Bloggers to Heel Part 2“. I also have qualms with her Part 1, but I’ll likely be taking that up in another post. Bertha: don’t take this personally, k?

I’m also publishing this now (apologies to the old man) because of the Advertising Standards Authority has voiced its interest in stepping in to formulate a social media advertising code, and The Blogfather feels it urgent enough to butt in on this discussion and put some things in perspective before we all run amok with these great ideas we have right now.

What the hell happened (well, for Singapore bloggers, anyway)

When news first broke that Xiaxue decided to give Gushcloud a Christmas present wrapped in stale scandal, many bloggers in my community said it was just another overly melodramatic, orchestrated show to possibly revive the blogging career of a waning Internet starlet.

Source: The Online Citizen
Source: The Online Citizen

But while it may have been fun for most to watch those involved waving verbal attacks and legal actions like spell incantations and wands in the episode of “Fairy Blogger and the Order of the Personal Protection“, the exchange was raising genuine industry malpractices that media practitioners have been all too familiar with, and I verily believed this was the beginning of a paradigm shift for the blogging community at large.

Who is qualified enough to define our sins?

While it is true that no one has thought of publicly discussing ethical guidelines for paid blogging (although in the private blogger circles I hang out in, ethics have been actively raised for years now), some of us will remember that the then Ministry of Information and the Arts did moot the possibility of an Internet code of conduct, going as far as to set up a Council to moot the idea. But it ultimately fell flat, mainly due to opposition from the alt news community.

yaacobsuggestion

Now, this may not be an apple-to-apple example of what is happening now, seeing as the context to that discussion arose from a dismal lack of manners and etiquette in the local online sphere, rather than a need for regulation in blogging as a commercial undertaking. But it just goes to show that the online community has been acutely conscious of its own shortcomings (over various perspectives at that) for a while now.

Then again, on the point of “paid blogging” — it goes by  other names as well, like “sponsored blogging”, “blogger advertising”, “social media marketing”, “influencer marketing”, and this latest which quite a few of us seriously don’t think is going to catch on, “digital tastemaking” — call it what you want, but the vast majority of Singaporean bloggers, be they lifestyle, parenting, food, recipe, sociopolitical, or any other field of interest you can think of, don’t see ourselves as commercial entities (actually, nobody considers us commercial entities). Sure, some of us may be represented by blogger management agencies such as Gushcloud, Nuffnang, and you can maybe even count Singapore Press Holdings’ own blogger club Omy, but by and large, we’ve all still got day jobs – if we’re not students, retired or stay-at-home parents. And we’re just doing all this for fun (yes, I actually find write serious responses to ex-SPH editors fun), with the reassurance to ourselves that we can stop any time without much consequence (kind of like smoking).

That said, we do understand that the longer we do it, the more reputation we build, and the more opportunities we open ourselves to as a result, so those of us that have been doing it for more than a couple of years now do take our online activities rather seriously. A number of us are even  aware of (and actively adopting) a set of digital advertising disclosure guidelines by the US Federal Trade Commission, based on basic advertising laws, not unlike our own Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP) for media practitioners (which also explains why the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore is now looking to step in with new interactive advertising guidelines).

SCAP-Cover

Except that where the US government sees fit to regulate the advertising industry by law, Singapore’s SCAP is a mere self-regulatory initiative that has to depend on the industry’s endorsement in order to work, and one that continues to see limited success. Bertha Henson has remarked that advertisers try to push their luck with buying editorial mentions, “to lull readers/viewers into thinking that independent judgement has been exercised and there was no lure of the lucre.” And that is the reality; offline and online commercial publications alike still offer advertising term packages with editorial tie-ups, media still accept and keep product samples and working units, food, drink and complimentary services in return for reviews and write-ups, and company press releases are accepted and published with little or no edits, all without any form of advertising disclosure. Though I understand that during her time with the national daily, Bertha worked hard to implement strict house rules to avoid these very activities, at best she could only have enforced these rules in her house. And as respected a veteran journalist and newspaper editor as she is/was, she now no longer lives in that house.

Everyone, welcome to hell

You probably get the idea now that trying to come up with a set of “ethical guidelines for paid bloggers” is a rather myopic, narrow-minded, and quite honestly, stifling approach to a much larger problem (which is why I am very glad that we can all still blog about it for public scrutiny and discourse). This is a dirty game we’re all playing, where the words we print in black and white are coloured with 50 shades of media advertising tactics, and no one wants to take anyone seriously, not the government, not the professionals, not the non-professionals, and not any of our readers and followers. So bloggers, media practitioners, marketing and PR agencies, advertisers, and authorities alike: there’s going to be a place in hell for every single one of us (with Fairy Blogger sitting in the throne), unless we all clean up our act.

And for that to happen, we’re all going to need to have a serious talk together.