I can only walk…

It’s been a long long while since I last walked. As I started off this morning, the steps dragged a little. Nevertheless, I made it to the park.

As I started on the long loop round the park, I see familiar faces. Those who usually ran were running. Those who usually walked were walking. Some walked and ran alternatively. Some stayed put in one spot and did various activities.

It struck me then that this was really how it was in real life. We often manage life like how we manage a physical long distance. The young, the old, the able, the disabled, the active, the passive… everyone needed to do the loop of life.

Sometimes, one would have started out dragging one’s feet as I did. As the tempo went on, one became regulated and went with the flow. Only as one pressed on, then it became a doable task. Before that, it can seem daunting.

Others would have started out with a blast! Zoom and off you go… well and good, some with the stamina to sustain the speed and tempo; others may slow down and realize the journey was actually longer than what they thought it was. Some would speed up and slow down as and when their energy allowed it.

Some would not even ever think of walking. Instead, they got onto whatever apparatus that could help them make travelling easier. Like a bike. When it works, things would be fine. When it breaks down, they can find themselves stranded. Not that there’s anything wrong with being on a bike if one can ride and has access to one. For the same distance though, less energy is used.

What impressed me and always does, were those who clearly had been struck down, with a stroke, with some impairment. Yet they walked. Some with aids and some without. Spoke of the resilience in them. Nothing seemed to deter them. Every time I walk, I would see these same people. There were even a couple on wheelchairs.

Some would still pause and sit

Some would pause for a breather as often we do in life. We take vacations. We take a gap year. We take leave to simply chill. All needed so that we are renewed for the next leg. Yet, these breaks are self-enforced. We need to be active to take that break. Work never ends. The journey will continue unless we make a point to pause.

Then there are those who pause with the purpose to simply watch the world go by. These are the ones with the luxury of simply stopping as and when they like, for as long as they like… often to the envy of those of us who slog on.

It’s also how they walk or run that draws my attention everytime. Some run at ferocious speeds and make it look like a breeze. These I salute. Some run and look like they are in agony. Yet they run. Kudoes to them. Some walk. Some stroll and already look like they are almost ready to collapse. That too is how we move through life isn’t it?

dancing in groups

And then there’s the company, isn’t it? Many of us choose to go the journey alone. Some choose a companion. Some choose a group to dance through life with. There is most certainly more camaraderie when there is a group. To do this, one needs to ensure that there are same interests and those in the group move at the same pace as what you are comfortable with.

Beauty in coordination

Certainly, when the group is coordinated, with moves that match each other, be it on the spot or in motion, there is beauty in that image. There is beauty too in how groups support each other. Words cannot describe how meaningful that can be. To go through life together.

Just 2 players

Some though would prefer to only engage with one or two others. To hit the ball to and fro. To rally together. The pace can go up or down but the ball stays in play as long as both adjust together. At times, we drop the ball. It just has to be picked up again. Sometimes that is much easier than managing in a group where differences may surface unexpectedly and cannot be resolved. And that is ok too.

Me, I can only walk. I can’t run. I pretty much can’t cycle. I can walk, occasionally I pause to breathe life. To stand and admire a tree, a flower, a bird , a butterfly in passing. To walk takes effort, to continue to walk takes determination. Sometimes, I am tempted to give up. To just pause permanently. Both on the walk or in life. At such times, I pause to think of those who may walk with me… not just walk perhaps… but who need me to walk with them. I am weary at times, but press on I will. For these souls who walk with me and need me there.

At a time when my journey is done, may I be able to say I’ve journeyed to the best of my ability. And that I’ve not let the glory of things pass me by. That I still wonder at a tree with interesting hanging coloured leaves, a flower that catches my eye or a song that I hear in the air.

Pause to smell the flowers

May I be able to lend a hand to those whom I happen to pass by, show empathy to those who cross my path… till the last breath passes through my lips.

Pandemic stress

So, it has been disheartening recently. The COVID pandemic has taken a serious toll on people all round.

On the one hand, people have lost jobs and businesses are collapsing. The economy is weak. On the other hand, those who stuck it out and worked on have been challenged daily, by the demands on their time and energy, by the extra amount of work that needed to be done in lieu of escalating demands by authorities and the powers that be, made without any care on those impacted. So much extra work has been created by all the nice sounding apps – Trace Together, Safe Entry, Patient Risk Profile Portal… amongst others. Extras that do not make life any easier for those who try to strictly adhere to it, resulting in considerable stress, physically and emotionally. So that those with jobs are also dying from all that stress.

Work from home… a beautiful pseudonym for 24/7/365 work … because not only does one bring home work as would previously happen, now one simply converts home into work environment. There is no longer any boundary, which blurs the line between work and rest for many. Weekdays merge into weekends. Zoom meetings occur round the clock.

It used to be that, for example, we might fly overseas for a conference. It is a chance to break away from the humdrum of work, take a few days off, no doubt we grumble about the flying and jetlag. Well, now we don’t fly, we continue to work through, we attend webinars of those conferences in the night hours because of time difference and somehow have to keep our sanity and alertness through the day. Not one but as many as 3 webinars can be happening all at the same time as every organizer tries to find the best fit time. Lunch hours get absorbed into webinars. Dinner hours get absorbed into webinars. Sleep hours become also wake hours. Where is the line??

How do we not get exhausted? There also seems no end in sight. The ‘new norm’ people say… this is to be the norm? Sigh

Careless fluff

My jaw dropped as I watched my daughter, in the midst of baking her bread, dust off excess flour right onto the mat and floor, stray dust floating left, right and centre in her absent mindedness. I exclaimed and she looked up, then a sheepish grin spread as she registered what she had just done … ooops, she says, then sorry! My brain struggling to understand the ridiculous idea of doing that so carelessly, simply could not comprehend, made worse by me put Deathstar (the automatic rumba) to work and planning to mop the floor.

Avery the sourdough starter

How could that even be a behaviour that could happen at home… simply dusting the excess flour off into the air and onto the floor and all else around? It transpired that her brain was mulling over the natural yeast she had been trying to cultivate and worrying about whether it was growing. There was simply a disconnect between her bodily actions and her brain activity.

How much flour do we work with in our life? How much fluff do we dust off in our life?

Pause…. how often do we do that in our lives? With our minds ever constantly engaged in one thing or another, how often do our ongoing body actions disconnect from our brain processing such that they go on auto pilot mode? In the process of automation, how often then we do end up carelessly distributing fluff into the air? Flour, or fluff, that once dispersed, will not longer be able to to be recollected back with ease. Where it joins the dust and collects everywhere that the tiny grains can access and land on. Where without much careful and painful efforts, it would not be cleaned up. Where even with precise cleaning, some flour or fluff would be stuck forever, such as in that unreachable corner and that mat.

In life, that’s so ever true, often in more significant ways than just some flour or some fluff. We carelessly do things without pausing to process consequences and implications.

‘I didn’t intend’…. ‘I didn’t mean to’. Sounds familiar? ‘I didn’t realize’…. ‘I wasn’t thinking’… ‘it didn’t occur to me’…. said it before? ‘I hadn’t thought of that’….

Be that as it may, once the flour has been cast into the air, it’s a done deed. No amount of cleaning will retrieve every speck. And whilst flour doesn’t cause so much harm generally, except for the obsessive compulsive person, to whom dust is woe and disaster, daily behavioural fluff can cause much grief. Words spoken flippantly, promises made unthinkingly, friends or family set aside impatiently, all do real harm and carve wounds. Wounds that may not heal even with the best of care sometimes. Especially when these incidents occur repeatedly over time.

To the one who cleans the home, when one incident occurs, she will try to clean up the mess. Better still, I got my daughter to do the mopping. I washed the mat. Once, twice, even thrice…. and then if it continues to happen repeatedly, the cleaner gives up cleaning. The simple task becomes impossible because it is deemed that others don’t care. Then why bother. If it’s repeated, without the accompanying apologies, or worse, with apologies and yet repeated, then there comes a time when I will not believe the sincerity of the person who carries out the same deed again and again.

I will anticipate that it will happen again every time the person holds a bread basket or has dough on her hands. I will first warn that I would not be cleaning up after her again. If she says sorry, but takes precautions to avoid doing it again, making sure she keeps a cloth nearby, dusting only close to the dustpan, working over the table only …. then I will be there to help her. Obviously I do know, some flour will still go astray sometimes but I see the efforts and note the precautions taken. If I see that no precautions are taken, or worse, have her tell me, surely you know it’s possible, I may dust off again, then woe betide her! I will say no more baking! I won’t stay there to help her. I won’t share my baking equipment with her.

Proofing basket loaded with loose flour

Such is life. Flour that is dusted off carelessly into the air becomes dust that takes a long time to settle and a longer time to clear, many specks left in some corner to collect and to reappear when things are shifted around sometimes. Likewise, a careless thoughtless action will create consequences that need to be dealt with, often with repercussions down the line.

The importance of watching our actions, more so than watching that bread basket in our hands. The implication of the carelessness behind an action is greater than the actual action itself. Taking care not to repeat such events and taking steps towards ensuring they do not occur augur well for relationships. Things fare better when apologies are real when they do happen (whoever does not have fluff thrown into the air) and when backed by specific actions taken to ensure they don’t happen again.

Parenting without exasperation

Matthew 19:14

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

So for many earlier years, as a parent, parenting one child after another and all being drastically different in character, temperament and disposition, it was challenging and yes, often exasperating (to me). As a traditional Chinese parent, raised with an iron hand in an environment of ‘children should be seen and not heard’ and sometimes, not seen either, the mindset of parents having the authority and final say is somewhat deeply ingrained.

As I went into the specialty of Developmental Paediatrics, I have met parents of all sorts, many with similar mindsets, and I also meet many with the adoption of a mindset of ‘learnt helplessness’. Listening and hearing their voices over the years, it’s become important to emphasize that parents need to recognize when to adopt what mindset and take what approach with what kind of children they have. Structure and firm guidelines are critical for good parenting. Flexibility and a good listening ear are also important attributes in parenting. Being able to provide guidance without imposing oneself is also one of the greatest skills that needs to be acquired.

When Pastor Wei Kang shared his sermon at the Seremban Church on the Family relationship on our mission trip to the church in 2019, on the interaction between parent and child, it touched my heart. It struck a deep chord. Right there in the Bible are guidelines already laid down by God, the perfect parent. How much weight have we put on those words? How often have we applied them in life?

Children, obey your parents… honour your parents (Ephesians 6:1-2). These, as parents, we embrace easily. We use these as gospel truth and apply them freely. We also say… and look, it’s the first commandment that comes with a promise (Ephesians 6:3)! We admonish our kids for not following these laws. Let me first say I have often held that as true too. That echoes what our parents taught us, even non-Christian ones.

However, I would like to focus on the verse following those verses for this sharing.

Ephesians 6:4

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

This is reflected also in other parts of the Bible.

Colossians 3:21

“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”

The words ‘exasperate’ and ‘provoke’ are key words. ‘Fathers’ here refer to all parents.

In parenting, we must not exasperate – annoy extremely; incense; vex; anger – do you, as a parent, do that? Purposefully, unwittingly? Rarely, occasionally, sometimes, often, all the time? Reflect on that. That we are parents, does not automatically give us the right to do that. The words we use, the way we say words, our actions, our mannerisms, these can be avenues of exasperation. We may not mean to, that doesn’t excuse us. I know I do and I’m learning to apologize for it more often. Not perfect but trying.

Provoke – me? Provoke my child? He provokes me! That may be the response for some of us. The dictionary says to provoke is:

1. To incite to anger or resentment

2. To stir to action or feeling

3. To give rise to; bring about

4. To bring about deliberately; induce

Generally, this would be in the negative sense where the Bible warning is concerned.

How often do we say or do things that put down our child? That make them angry. That make them think their opinions don’t count. That induce resentment, raise bad feelings in them about themselves. That cause them to lose confidence. That crash their self worth.

⁃ oh, no la, he’s not actually clever, not so good. He was lucky.

⁃ heng ah, he managed to pass… almost failed man. Fail then serves him right. Never study!

⁃ oh, he’s lazy… always doing last minute work…

⁃ Aiyo, why did you not think? Brainless ah…

⁃ Why so careless all the time?!

How about

⁃ oh yes, he scored well this time. I’m so glad. I’m thankful.

⁃ oh yes, he passed! I’m happy.

⁃ wa, he just managed to finish in time, fortunately!

⁃ oops, wasn’t such a good choice this time. Maybe can explore.

Same message given. Different feelings evoked. Downtrodden or a boost of confidence.

In no way though, does this mean we do not set guidelines. It does not mean we do not discipline. It does not mean we let them loose to do whatever they want. When they are wrong, they are wrong. Yet, we must learn to see the effort, even if it’s minimal. We endorse even that minimal effort. We hope that exhorting that minimal effort will in turn, beget more effort the next time round. We learn to see their fear. We acknowledge the fear. We boost wellbeing. We use their strengths to boost their weaknesses. Help them realize a strength can be strengthened (efforts can be doubled), weaknesses can be diminished (carelessness can be lessened) – praise the little effort, don’t ridicule for the missing effort; encourage more effort, highlight the fewer mistakes made when there is more effort. Help to enhance a positive cycle.

Parenting is a balance. It is a skill in itself. It involves acquiring many skill sets. It involves learning and growing together with your child.

A good read:

Fathers (and Mothers), Do Not Provoke Your Children!

Look, Reflect, Be Humbled

I’m so irked , the more I read this.

I’ve written about this before on subtle self absorption.

https://personalthotsblog.wordpress.com/2019/05/29/subtle-self-absorption/

This smacks of hypocrisy … in the same sentence, asking that God reminds oneself of one’s place (to be humble presumably – which is the usual assumption since the words ‘my place’ is used … Or perhaps, I’m presuming wrong, and instead actually asking to be reminded that one is still placed high up in spite of the circumstances?)

And in the same breath, simultaneously pointing a finger subtly by the use of words, that hey, someone else is at fault and deserves to be reminded that people (‘us’ aka writer included) are different. So… don’t judge you?

Perhaps yes, if God is showing that one needs to be humble, and yes, even at times to realize that He does give the circumstances that are intended to point us to make changes, giving you hint after hint after hint, to let you actually know to ‘give up’, then don’t find excuses to justify and ‘persevere’. Perhaps He IS trying to teach you to listen, follow His lead and have the courage to MAKE that change. It does take more courage to make changes than to persevere sometimes.

Learn to hear God? Look inwards and don’t simply focus on how it might be that others are the cause of where one is. Acknowledge where God leads.

Perhaps also don’t be so quick to point at others… it’s not ‘someone else’ who needs to be reminded but oneself, that indeed God did not use a ‘single mould’, even though we are made in His image, to make all 7.6 billion of us … and yes, all are different, some better in some ways, and some not as good in some other ways, so don’t compare. Understand what you are strong and weak in and acknowledge that. Don’t always place yourself on a pedestal.

Just because one is a child of God does not mean one is always right (as implied in an earlier similar piece) and that all will be right. A discerning spirit is important. Be truly humble.

My mother, my teacher and my model

My mother is a tough woman. And I miss her. For the person she used to be. Before dementia hit her.

I am the youngest of 4. I am told by my brother that I was an accident. I’m some 12 years, a whole zodiac cycle, after my eldest sis. That I exist was amazing – as a 4th child, at a time of ‘two is enough’, because they thought I was another boy, after my brother, in an era when boys were treasured more than girls. Alas, for my parents, it wasn’t meant to be. I grew up with the strong indoctrination that boys are important in the Chinese family, more than girls would ever be. Yet, for all that, my mother never made me feel shortchanged in any way for being a girl. But then this story is not about me.

My mother grew up in the Japanese occupation period. She stopped school at 16 so that her younger siblings could continue school. She went to work and stayed at her one and only job for the rest of her life (barring some temporary jobs I think), as a compositor or a type-setter in the Chinese new press company 南洋商报 (and one wonders why my Chinese is so poor!). She’s the one who picked the letters (I imagined with the pincers… but I’m now told it’s with her own fingers) and set them in the correct order in tiny rows for the print to appear in the newspapers you see, in an era when there was no electronic technology. Manual literate labour. She did this year in year out, on her feet the whole day barring lunch and short tea breaks, till she turned 60 (when they first extended retirement age, her company extended it for her though the official retirement age was 55). It was a strenuous job but I’ve never heard her complain. Except see her pinch her tired eyes at night.

She would wake at 4.30 am every morning without fail. Strange, I don’t actually remember her having a standard off day, but I suppose she might have had some off days because I remember her taking me shopping. Then again, those might have been days of leave. I don’t know and never asked as I was in my childhood years. How ignorant I was then, not like the street-wise kids these days. So she would wake and then she would start to prepare breakfast and lunch for those of us who would be at home for lunch. She would also prepare soup and some doable dishes for dinner. She would then leave instructions on how to keep the food warm or heat it up later as she left for work before 6. She would pack food to bring to the office. It did not seem like she ever bought lunch. From her, I learnt the art of packing food to school and work in later years. From her, I learnt the concept of food preparation in the morning for my kids before I left for work. From her, I learnt dinner preparation for the family early in the morning, except that life is a lot better these days with thermal pots and slow cookers. Oh, but she had the luxury of the slow cooker in her later working years, which was a good thing.

My mother is my first teacher in the art of cooking. By default, I was an accidental chef. When she was admitted once whilst I was in school, I had to cook dinner as my sisters were already working and my brother was, I can’t remember where. That first meal was somewhat burnt… but no one complained. Burnt food was better than no food, I guess. From then, I learnt to cook. Home economics in school did not actually count. As such, till Google came along and even then, many years after it became easy to search for recipes and such, after having travelled far and wide, after the rich experiences of different cuisines, my mother was the one who shaped my cooking patterns. My cooking modus operandi was and still often is, largely Chinese Asian. I can manage 4 stoves plus an oven (this was a self acquired skill as my mother never had the privilege of an oven) at the same time. One soup, one meat, one vegetable, one fish and one other, as I often chant, is the mantra my mother has, since time immemorial, implanted into my head. Then only will one cover the full nutritional needs, especially of the growing child.

One soup, one fish, one meat, one vegetable and one other category of food

There are some memories that stay with me with regards to cooking. I used to have to separate the polished and unpolished rice grains for her when it was time to make dumplings for 端午节, otherwise known as the Dumpling Festival on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. A tedious task even if the dumplings are lovely to eat. I confess I have never picked up that skill of making them after that. She stopped making them when they could be bought at the stores.

The dumplings … two types were usually made: one with the meat (nonya zhang) and one with just glutinous rice (gnee zhang)

There were also the gingko nuts I had to crack and peel, using a small hammer!! Ewwww, I hated to do that. In the same domain, the chestnuts went too, this time with a black hairpin. So no, I don’t do ginkgo nuts till they became available peeled at the supermarket (haha). Ditto for the chestnuts.

Store-bought ginkgo nuts!

Some recipes I did not learn immediately though I’ve eaten the products for years from my mum, till recently when my son insisted I need to learn to make Grandma’s Pumpkin Kueh because he simply could not get enough of it! So, alright, I started to make them. It is a good thing I had already recorded the recipe from when she was good and able to recite the ingredients and process to me!

My son’s favourite Grandma’s Pumpkin Kueh
Another favourite: Yam Kueh

Some of her special recipes include the cabbage rice, yam rice, her pork leg beehoon and some common dishes… oh and of cos her popiah recipe involving 6 different types of vegetables – the Hokkien style.

Cabbage rice
Minced pork balls with picked lettuce
Grandma Yeo’s Special Meat
My daughter’s favourite Yam Rice
The Hokkien richly flavored popiah vegetables
All the condiments for the popiah
Grandma Yeo’s famed Pork Leg BeeHoon
(pork leg must be narcissus brand, beehoon must be swallow brand)

Talking about cooking, it also brings to mind the instructions related to Chinese or the Lunar New Year. Gosh, there are thousands of things I need to remember and execute. Putting aside superstition, there are still many traditions to follow. No sweeping the floor (all cleaning must be completed by midnight of the Eve), no use of scissors and knives (for the younger people especially to avoid cutting away any joy and fortune for the year – when she used them, I asked her why she could do so; her response was that she was old already, so it’s alright!), ensuring everyone had new clothes and pajamas (and yes, undies too!), new shoes and socks – the whole attire – not for just one day but as many days as possible. Yes, she would bring me to buy my new shiny shoes for the year! I remember my bright red patent pumps, akin to the ones Dorothy wore in the Wizard of Oz.

The kuehs (there seems to be no English translation) and kos (Chinese steamed cakes)

So, there were must-have kuehs – kueh ning ko (of eggs and sugar), huat ko (so you can Huat – or prosper) and tnee kueh (sweet caramelized sweet steamed kueh). There must be leeks (known as ‘sng’, which translates into ‘count’ in Hokkien), prawns (so you can ‘哈哈笑’ – laugh your way through the year), meat (to build muscle), fish (年年有鱼 – 鱼 being the same phonetic sound as ‘excess’, so you’ll have plenty leftovers for the year), all to be stuffed into the fridge over the new year. There must be bananas (‘jio’ in hokkien, implying to ‘invite’ fortune and prosperity, pineapples (旺, same meaning as ‘jio’) and mandarin oranges (a symbol for prosperity). On the morning itself, I am instructed to prepare the red-date longan tea. When we were kids, my mother made sure we all got to drink a cup of this tea first thing in the morning of Day 1 of the Lunar New Year, for good fortune. We would also have been given our wishes and red packets known as Ang Pows (with money) for good luck, to be placed under our pillows when we sleep. When I had my kids, she instructed that the kids need to present a cup to their father as well as be given a glass themselves. I would make them that before they get to collect their ang pows. Goodies need to be displayed and served when visitors come. So, the entire lunar new year period is always a madhouse, rushing to cover the thousand and one things I need to do.

Must-have fruits of the Lunar New Year
Must-have Goodies for the New Year
The red date-longan tea on day one of the Lunar New Year.
Red packers containing money and good wishes

Yet, with all that money spent to better our lives each new year (she firmly believed if you started out well in the year, the rest of the year would be good), my mother is really a thrifty woman. At the end of every week, I would see her squat at her bedside whilst I propped myself on her bed to read. I am not sure why she squatted and not sat at a table to do that. Perchance it was because no such thing as a study table existed in her room. Nonetheless, she would write out all the spendings she had done for the week and totalled things up so she could account to herself and my father how she spent the money managing the household. She would know the prices of everything she bought. Before the time of electronic payment, scanning and credit cards and yes, easier cash flow, I confess I did too. Since then, I’ve lost the art of noting the exact cost of every item I paid for. But yes, it was a skill I learnt from her. I learnt where it was better to buy different things, even if the difference was 5 cents. Then, 5 cents was a lot of money.

That brings me to remember how she bargained for things. So she would bring me shopping. I accompanied her to many places, to the market, roadside stalls, pasar malams and especially during the pre new year period, when she would go to the old Katong Shopping Centre and the Jalan Sultan Centre (Textile building) to buy cloth to make clothes. She would purchase cloth to make our pyjamas herself and because I was there myself, I got to pick what print I liked. She would buy cloth to bring to the tailor for pants and seamstress for dresses and blouses. There in, the art of bargaining was perfected by her and learnt by me!

Katong Shopping Centre, since 1973

She would walk into a shop and scan through all the bales of cloth, and be out in a jiffy if she saw nothing suitable or deemed it all too expensive. Never show extreme interest, she would teach me. Otherwise, you would lose your advantage. However, if something caught her eye, she would pause, touch it and show some interest and lure the salesperson to volunteer a price. She would actually ask for the price herself only if it was something she already decided she really liked and wanted. No matter what price was named, she would however, then shake her head and proclaim it too expensive. She would proceed to leave the shop, with the person calling after her, the price having already dropped by a dollar a metre (or yard as it went then). She would walk down a little and then pause and look back, and asked me whether I thought it was nice. This would always make the shopkeeper holler after her again and drop the price a little more. She might walk back and show some contemplation with the new price and then proceed to pick the colour (usually, there would be several colour variations of that print or texture). Having picked what she wanted, she would then actually ask the chap what his best price was (note that she might not sometimes have asked directly till then). Then, the shopkeeper would say something like ‘oh, it was $13/yard but I have already offered to you at $10/yard’. To which, she would exclaim, ‘gosh, that’s surely too much for this cloth!’ She might then proceed to leave if she was not dead set on that piece. Invariably, the price would go further down. If she was asked as she almost always would be, how much she wanted it for, her response would be something phenomenal, like ‘oh this is probably worth only $6/yard’. By the time she was done, she would have secured it for no more than $8/yard. This might have entailed another round of leaving the shop and ‘reluctantly’ returning. Before she gleefully secured it at the price she wanted. Satisfaction of victory and purchase.

This skill persisted, becoming honed over time, as she grew older and entered the generation of fixed pricing in her elderly years. As she travelled more with greater affluence after many years, this habit of leaving and returning to the shop before she bought what she wanted became a source of much amusement and eventually frustration for us as she would want to go back after we had already left the place for another destination. It would be much exhortation for her to quickly purchase the item before she would no longer have the chance to do so after we leave ‘because we would not come back ever again’. It took her a long time to acquire the new habit of ‘just buy it then if you really like it’!

Shopping everywhere we travel!
Bargaining in Turkey
Markets in Japan – language does not faze her

Therein comes where I learn my buying and shopping skills. My friends say I’m a ‘terrible shopper’, where I can get the best bargains and drive the price down. This is nonetheless an evolving trait. I used to be better. With affluence, I do less of it as I see that in some poorer communities, there is no need to push it down so hard for those who earn so little. However, yes, in general, I do press for the shoppers’ benefit. I pick out the best bargains and make sure that I get freebies, even from big shopping outlets and malls.

More shopping in Japan – her favourite activity

My mother is neither Buddhist nor Taoist in the practice of religion. However, she had been raised to engage in ancestral respect and observance of the usual Chinese traditions. When I took a decision to become a Christian in junior college, she was strongly opposed to it. She was angry and told me that I would be thrown out of the house should the day come that I would be baptized. Well, on the day that I became baptized about some 10 years later, she was seated in the pews of my church watching me get dunked in the water. Amazing.

The selfless woman that she was, she remembered what was important for others even at times in great distress. Some years later, my grandmother, her mother, fell ill. Eventually, she passed away. At the Chinese wake and funeral, which necessitated the immediate family and close relatives marching round and paying our respect with bows and burning of incense and joss-sticks, it shocked me when from the head of the queue, she being the oldest of the remaining children my grandmother had, she turned back to single me out. In her distress and wailing, she remembered me, the only Christian in the family. ‘Ah Bin ah!” she called out – ‘don’t hold the joss-sticks! It’s ok!’. I was touched.

She was indeed an interesting woman. On a visit to the Vatican Musuem and Uffizi Gallery in Italy in 2014, when she was semi-wheelchair bound, as she was pushed around and viewed the paintings of Christ and His crucifixion, she commented, ‘So poor thing! It must have been very painful!” Oh, she believes! I thought to myself. Yet to the question of ‘so, if you believe, then, why do you not want to become a Christian?’, her response was that she was too old to change her ways (and her beliefs) after 80 years of life by then. Her grandson told her that it was important, so that she could go to Heaven. She responded to tell him not to worry, that she would be alright. Sigh.

At the Vatican Musuem
Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

My mother retired at a time when my sisters and I started to have our kids. The timing was such that I had the best advantage. That was a bonus for me. She was essentially my confinement lady. I never needed one. She was there everyday to help me instruct the new helper (first time I had one then) what to cook and how to cook. Ginger and sesame oil flood my memory. She was there to help and show me how to bathe my first baby and took so much joy in doing so despite her aching knees by then. She taught me to organise the first month, the meaning of ordering the pointed ang-ku-kueh for the son and the flat round ang-ku-kueh for the daughter. She was there to teach the tradition of the ‘opening of the mouth’ (开嘴) ceremony at 4 months for the baby – with the swiping of the lips with the various foods (I remember the chicken drumstick and the tou fu – what else was there? Hmmm) in a symbolic gesture to ensure good eating habits forwards.

She was truly my first medical tutor. Haha. She taught me that I must not carry my daughter with legs spread and planted on my hip /waist, ‘because she is a girl and must not grow up walking with legs apart’. Orthopaedics lessons 101! She taught me that infants sat by 7 months and crawled at 8 months. Paediatrics 101. She taught me weaning diet and how to prepare infant food. Infant Care 101. She was there through each of my three kids’ first years. Without her, I would not have made it. Those years of medical and speciality training, caring for the kids and managing the home.

She went with me for several months when I had go to Boston, MA, USA for my Fellowship posting. For the first time in her life, she lived in a Western community. It was amazing. How she adapted. A traditional woman who’s never lived anywhere else. She was scared of new things truly. She stepped out of her comfort zone to help me tide over the first 3 months there. Bringing the normality of the Asian home to America. Her love for travel sustained her for 3 whole months away from home. She brought the kids to the playground. She prepared the food for the kids. I was bereft when she left back for home after those 3 months but by then, things had settled.

She truly loved travelling. She went with me to Malaysia, Bali, US, Australia, London, Italy and Japan. Oh yes, Japan… that was certainly memorable. So, my mother, as mentioned, is a lady of traditions. A very Asian woman. One of her primary axioms is ‘eat hot cooked food’. I am always the one to challenge her. I made her eat spaghetti, pizza, sushi… and a whole lot of other things outside of her comfort zone of noodles and rice cooked the Chinese way!

Pizza in Italy
Harvesting spring onions in Taiwan

In Japan, that was when she was most challenged… at the Japanese onsen! Never before in her life had she ever stepped into a swimming pool, or put on a bath suit. Never had she experienced bathing ‘in public’. She stepped into the shallow onsen bath and…. screamed …that she was dying, because she slipped one step and sat down in the water! Oops! ‘I lived till 80 years old to come to Japan and die!!’ It was scary for her but hilarious for us. A heart attack moment for her! All’s well that ends well.

However, the time came when she actually fell disastrously and broke many bones that took a year and more to heal. She recovered to walk again. Travelled again immediately. Then, again she fell. This time, it was not so good because she lost the confidence to walk again. She was also older by another 3 years. Age is unkind to man. It really saps one of energy and vitality. From the strong woman she was, she became unsure and frightened. Truly, as she stopped walking, that was when I think dementia took its hold.

When one’s mind and body become not active consistently, dementia, lurking in the shadows, jump forward and claim its victim!

My mother continues to recognise us. We are thankful for that. Yet, she has lost many of the natural strengths she had. She ruminates these days and sometimes keels, making sounds that frighten my sisters. She eats little and that is sad, for eating was also one of her joys. She goes nowhere unless we take her. She is happy when we do. The television is on but she no longer follows the story well, as she used and loved to. She sits most of the time. She does not stand, or walk. She rejects the idea of going for a wheel around in the garden. She refuses to venture into the pool that is now available at home. She does not read, not a habit of hers, though she used to read the newspapers.

Yet, I am happy that when I challenge her from time to time, and easier when I am physically there in person to do it myseld, she will rise to the occasion and accomplish the task. For many months, she had relied on diapers. One nigth when I was there, I made her stand and use the water closet, en route to her bedroom on the wheelchair, at night. Voila! She did and continued to do so.

For now, it is good to just spend moments with her, to continue to ply her with some of her favourite foods (which she will sometimes eat though mostly less than half of what she used to), to try to chat with her (though there is not much meaningful conversation) and most satisfying, when on the occasional moments, her face lights up, especially when she sees her grandchildren, and she suddenly can string a short conversation, that shows us that she is still very much with us!

My mother, for whom we recently celebrated her 90th birthday..I am glad we did. On this past Mother’s Day, I miss her. I miss her for who she used to be. I miss her for what she used to be. Yet, as I reflected, I am much blessed and grateful, for my mother lives on always in me. I am what my mother is and more, for she strived to make me better than what she was.

We are all a reflection of our mothers. I see this even more in what I do. The kids that come to see me at my paediatric practice with their developmental issues … they often reflect how their parents are. Our mothers (and fathers) will always be with us, in us, part of us, in more ways than just the genetic materials. We can only strive to be better, because that will always be their wish for us.

Thank you Ah Ma, for all you have done for me, for us.

Happy Mother’s Day to you.

When the road forks

Once again, the end of another year heralds. Often, it is now that we take stock. Of the year, of what we’ve done, of how far we’ve come… in this year, perhaps even beyond that, more perhaps in this phase.

In life, there are many pit stops. Sometimes, we sweep right past them, avoiding all the signs and flags that wave frantically. Sometimes, we take a decision not to pause. Either because we allow ourselves to be too caught up in the current happenings, or we choose to ignore warning signs, or we make ourselves believe that our engine is running well and don’t need servicing or reviewing. At times, we even skip it because we are out to make ourselves burn out.

Every phase of our life, we are faced with challenges. Often, such are the end result of decisions we’ve made along the way, or forks in roads we chose to take. At times, phases descend upon us not of our own choosing. Or it could also simply be because we didn’t let ourselves stop to smell the flowers.

And every single phase that passes by is gone. There is no catching it back. There are more frequently than not, no further chances. Everything has a consequence. One can only look forward, with no use looking backwards except for reflection and learning. Such is life.

Every small incident has a time point. Some are not important. Yet, every single of these incidents shape us. Every action has a reaction and a consequence. Often that which we deem inconsequential in passing leaves imprints. Sometimes, the impact can be deep.

Gentle water that flows seeks a path and over time forms an indentation even in the hardest of stone. Over time, a stream becomes a river. Eventually, it joins the sea. And water gives life along the way. Yet, if the flow of water is not harnessed or directed, it does take the path of least resistance. And that path may or may not be ideal even if it’s beautiful.

When one comes to a fork of the road, there is only one way or the other way. There is indeed no certainty where the road leads if it has not been previously mapped by you. Others might have mapped it but your experience may not be the same as the previous traveler either. Ultimately, the choice is still yours as to which fork you choose. Perhaps, much further down, the forks might merge back into one. Tis true. Yet, there is no certainty and more likely than not, there may never be. Or sometimes that merging may not happen in your lifetime.

Or the fork you choose may be fraught with brambles, dangers and life threatening occurrences way before that merging may happen. Never then take a fork with the hope that it will merge later on. Take it with the option of the forks being separate forever. Only then can you give it your best shot. Because forks happen for a reason. To split your choices apart.

Forks give a chance for us to take stock. To look behind us and see what has been done. To assess how far we’ve come. To contemplate the last fork. To know another chance is there for things to change.

There is never an easy answer in the choice of forks. People can report percentages of success with each fork yet it is you who has to travel that journey. It will be your experience and no one can live it for you. People can journey with you of cos and that can make a huge difference. Yet, your choice of fork then decides who your travelling companions might be. And yes, that too influences the outcomes. Taking a chosen fork cannot be done with the hope of having the chance to travel down the other fork. That would mean you need to abandon that journey, leave the traveling companions, back track and go down the other path. The time would have been gone, spent, unretrievable. There would also be no answers on what would be further ahead of the road you abandoned. Forks are mutually exclusive. Such is life.

So as the end of the year approaches, may each examine where and how far they have come. Take stock and acknowledge one’s successes and one’s failures. Look ahead to see what the next fork might hold. Make conscious decisions and not flow by the path of least resistance. For experiences await. And the current fork one faces will lead to the next fork. There will be no return. Not without impact. Not without sacrifice of time, effort and opportunities. Will the fork you pick bring richness of life and joys abundant? Pause for a while and ponder then.

Blessed Christmas and Happy New Year. Christmas is a fork in the road too. To me, it is Christmas and not Xmas. Which fork did you pick for this season?

The issue of regret…

I guess sometimes there’s really regret.

Not regret so much for the wrong we have done but regret for the things that could have been. For how and what it could have been.

One does live life with the best of intentions. The best of hopes. To fulfill dreams. To seize the day.

Ernest. Passionate. Doing my best. Surely no one can ask more of me. And yet, life is such. The more you give, the more is expected of you. The more you do, the more is asked of you.

And you give and give… and one day, you reach the edge of the cliff… knowing that you have run dry.

The call of Palembang – a Developmental mission field

Why I went

So it was Lin Eng who suddenly asked that I make a trip to this place, to which he had been 5 other times before. For some reason, this also coincides with more recent thoughts on how, as a developmental Paediatrician, one can contribute on the missions field. I mean, many doctors go, for big time things, on mission trips. They provide acute care, correct cleft palates, do major surgeries, treat illnesses, do rescue missions… the list goes on. I’ve left acute medical paediatric care for several years now.

So the confidence in providing rapid life saving care is not as it used to be. I mean, yes of cos I can treat asthma and various acute illnesses still, but the last acute care job I had was basically neonatal intensive care, for a good 17 years. I mean, I know neonatal resus, giving survanta, managing pulmonary bleeds etc but the neonate is very different from the older child. So whilst more and more, recently, the burden has been looking at missions, I have always been worried about going and not being able to to up to mark with the latest management in acute care. (And the adult … that must have been 20 years ago when I last routinely managed adults other than the usual cough and cold and rashes)

So, when God calls, He always finds the most appropriate place to send you too. After some hesitation, as an outgoing chair of the children ministry after serving for 19 years, I agreed to go and look see what can be done in Palembang because the children ministry was asking for input. So I went.

A mind boggling experience. The passion of the teachers, the thirst for knowledge, the love they have for the children. The children themselves, loveable, trusting, seeking love. The parents, bewildered, perplexed, seeking help. It’s a developmental Paediatrics missions field indeed!

The people, so generous, hospitable, grateful, gracious, polite. They fed and fed us, way more than expected or needed. They transported us to and fro.

It’s been a fantastic experience. In 4 days I’ve seen the need, heard their cry to be fed – the children, the parents, the teachers. It’s been really tiring, exhausting. I came back sick. But rewarding? Yes. Challenged? Yes. Fruitful? Yes.

One discovers in oneself a capacity to love, the lost child, the seeking teacher, the helpless parent. And in that, is where I can serve. As God leads.

The first touch

The moment we arrived, we were whisked off to a sumptuous lunch. Then, a short rest at the hotel before the first touch hit.

The first session was with the Sunday School teachers and some church leaders. A session on Behaviour Management.

Boy! Were they keen to learn! Burning on fire, engaged, participative, full of insight and ideas. Ready to make changes.

A simple set of old slides refurbished somewhat, transformed into a 2.5 hours of active engagement, never ending examples, ernest note taking, stimulating interaction, searching questions… culminating in asking for more. My slides have never felt so well used. There just wasn’t enough time.

In all that camaraderie, it was as if, we had met before. There was no feel of strangerhood, no sense of you-don’t-know-how-we-feel. There was just a thank-you-for-being-with-us, for being-part-of-us. Amazing.

And then we rounded up with supper, always hosted generously by them. A taste of the local mie. Delicious.

The community outreach through Hosanna Palembang School

Day 2 dawned early. A quick breakfast and off we went to Hosanna school by 8 am. They gave us a rousing welcome. The kids performed beautifully.

The talk for parents was on Optimising Your Child’s Potential. It focused on helping parents to understand how their child develops and what things to do with their kids as they grew so that they can be their best.

Again, a set of old slides slightly refurbished transformed magically into 2.5 hours of sharing. Parents who did not share the same culture as we do in Singapore could still relate. They asked questions, raised their concerns, shared about their kids, and covered the whole developmental scope in terms of issues, general development, parenting and actual developmental disorders. They were simply amazing. The language difference did not deter them. I can only hope they will be able to practice what I shared.

I also got to meet a lovely child. Who promptly wanted to abandon his mother and leave with me for Singapore. A child described by his teachers as being of his own mind, hard to teach, hyperactive, difficult to manage by his mother, but lovely to me, gelled instantly and fell in love with. Totally directable if handled in the right way as he showed me. His mother said he would not carry his bag. I requested and he promptly did. Full of potential.

Lunch was a home-cooked affair, prepared by the teachers and it was awesome. Loads of local Palembang food. All unique. They stuffed us up!

And then a my-teachers-would-like-to-talk-to-you became a 3 hour session. During which teachers spilled out their concerns about their students. I’m impressed by how well every teacher knew every child that was raised. It was a school of about 100 children. Yet, every teacher seemed to be familiar with whichever child was raised by another teacher! How marvelous and close knit the community!

We talked about children with autism, hyperactivity, single parents, broken homes, dyslexia, developmental trauma… the whole developmental scope. Again, I’m struck by their enthusiasm, their heart and love for the kids. They really wanted to know how to help these kids. I was exhausted at the end of the session because they were so intense, so passionate. How I wish our Singaporean teachers could take a leaf out of their books. There is much to learn from their attitudes. It spanned across all ages. Old or young, the teachers were exuding love and enthusiasm.

After a short rest and more food, we headed to church, this time for the adult ministry. I had no chance though to listen to Lin Eng and Rong Zhong share. Again, I was asked to meet parents for consultation. Two interesting families. Two different profiles. Two separate issues.

I talked to them at length. Perplexed as to how to help them where they are. The lack of resources was deeply felt. I gave them tips and guidelines as best as I could but I knew it wasn’t enough. I can only pray some of the tips would be useful and help the kids to improve.

And the evening rounded off once again with more food. Generously sponsored by them.

Yet another amazing day.

The Youth Ministry

Day 3 was a relatively shorter day. It dawned with a breakfast discussion and forward sermon planning between pastors and elders of Jubilee Church and Palembang Church for 2020. Ideas flowed as they shared.

We found time for some light shopping and a lunch fellowship with the Session Chairman and his family and friends. We tasted the local Pempek of all shapes and sizes. The afternoon was free for some though Elders Lin Eng and Rong Zhong joined the Palembang session meeting for more planning for 2020.

The evening came alive with the Youth Ministry as Faith shared on Servant Leadership. It was a good meaningful message. As always, it’s good to see familiar faces serving both in the youth and children ministry. The youth were also enthusiastic, many working hard to support the families or studying and serving fervently.

We then were brought for another sumptuous dinner (supper), again, by the Zhang family with some youth leaders, before the day ended.

10 years anniversary of the Palembang church children ministry

Our trip culminated in the final day when we spent time with the congregation, as well as celebrated with the children ministry on their 10th anniversary. Through that, service was provided through a series of free consults on my part for the families that worried about their children’s developmental status.

It was an early start on Sunday, arriving at church at 7 am as Pastor Wei Kang, who was actually unwell the whole night, prepared for his sermons. In spite of his illness, he delivered a powerful message on how we should serve and evangelize. How we need to be vigilant in all ways, to serve with all we’ve got and to overcome all difficulties. Altar call for recommitment was met with many coming forward.

The children ministry celebrated their 10th year in a special programme that saw the Sunday school teachers leading worship and putting up a skit for the children. The children were enthralled and excited. It was at the children’s worship also that once again, I saw the needs of the children. A quick observation saw several that needed attention.

True enough, in an impromptu set up, where I usually take an hour to see one new case, here I breezed (but not skimmed) through 7-8 ‘new’ cases over 2 hours! Quick history taking with the help of my translator Mousa, additional screening in addition to my earlier observations, preliminary diagnoses were made. Advice was given to the best of my abilities with the limited resources in their culture and context. I provided visuals and hands on help as well as guidelines on behaviour management strategies.

My heart was heavy for several of them, especially for the single parent families trying their best to manage. The time was limited and consults had to come to an end. I hope that whatever was shared would prove to be helpful, practical and applicable for all who sought help from me. I keep each one in prayer.

Then it was a wheeze off to a quick lunch before we headed for the airport. Finally, it was time to say goodbye and till we meet again.

A quick 4 days that felt long by the number of things that was done and yet short by the number of things we could not do. Nonetheless, I thank God for the opportunity to minister in my true capacity. It has been a blessing to be able to bring something to them. Having met them and taught them, I know too that they will remember and be better able to teach others. God bless them.

Thoughts of a baker

My mixer and oven have seen happiness and sorrow… high spirits and low dumps.

I bake when I’m happy. I bake when I’m sad.

Today I find myself reaching for butter and flour, my loyal Kenwood mixer and worn out oven. The week has been a challenging week, filled with unexpected events, bad news, hope and a touch of question on my values.

There was a write up that I recently read. About how baking provides some sanity and respite. And that is true.

Yet, as I added the ingredients, as per my insta post, I did register yet again, that as we do that, we can recheck our recipe many times or repeat a well known recipe that we’ve used many times, and each time, we can never be certain that our product will turn out as we expected and wish it to be. Yes, it is indeed important to start out with the right ingredients. Yet, as my friends sometimes ask me what special brand of butter or flour I use when the product meets their palate, I find that really, unless you are at that stage of baking excellence, the brand may not matter that much as long as you don’t add the lousy brands. There is a minimum grade of materials that should warrant a good outcome. Then again, even with the best brands, it is still never 100% certain that each time, it will be the same. The same recipe in different hands also churns out the cake differently.

Such too is life. We can add all that we deem necessary, into a relationship, into a love, into our kids, into a student… and still we would never be sure that we will achieve what we expect or want. On top of that, there is always that X factor that makes the difference, even with all things being equal, including prayer and trusting in God.

We can however, only do our part, which is only that much. I thank God for my mixer and my oven, probably the most consistent factors when I bake. It is after all me, who is inconsistent. I will continue to bake. To the best of my abilities. No one can ask more than that, I hope. For when I stop baking, will be the day when I can bake no more. Till then, I hope I can bring pleasure and joy to those around me, who choose and dare to taste of what comes out of my heart and my hands.