The organised chaos

SG50: The lady turns 50

After much fanfare for the past year or so, we are FINALLY here: August 9, the day that our forefathers declared our independence from our noisy neighbour up north.

While many Singaporeans chose to make use of the long weekend to travel, we opted to stay home. Strangely enough, it never occurred to us to go for an opportune holiday, we simply decided that we wanted to remain in Singapore to celebrate the golden jubilee of our nation.

Maybe we are patriotic, I don’t know. I never thought of us as that. We are just Singaporeans who love our nation deeply. At the same time, we are not entirely blind to the faults of our leaders and our government. But we know that it would be a massive injustice to equate our home with our government.

Like most Singaporeans, I love many things about this country. The food, for instance. The well-connected public transport system. The cleanliness. The greenery. The crisp air. The Singlish. The malls. The parks and playgrounds. The convenience. The relative safety. The education system. And like most Singaporeans, I dislike many things about this country. The education (yes, it’s a love-hate thing). The kiasu parents. The one-track way of evaluating and assessing our young. The crazy car prices. The ridiculous property prices. Policy makers who live in ivory towers and have no clue of the struggles the rest of us face. Social media lynch mobs whose mouths are larger than their brains.

But as I stood at the bridge connecting Gardens by the Bay, Bay East to Marina Barrage while watching the Black Knights take to the skies, I was moved. By the stunning and thrilling performance, of course, but also by the infectious joy and happiness that connected my fellow countrymen and me.

Despite what many critics and naysayers proclaim, Singaporeans are not a bunch of emotion-less, joy-less people. As a nation, we may not be adept at showing our emotions but this does not mean that we do not feel. I only have to look back at the past seven months to find great examples that show just how good and kind and compassionate we can be: the kindness rendered to us when we paid our last respects to Mr Lee, when Singaporeans rushed to pull up a truck that was pinning a man down, those who helped out frustrated commuters stuck during the massive MRT breakdown.

As we take a step towards the next 50 years of our short but fulfilling history, I think it’s time that we aspire towards Singapore 2.0. While the past 50 years was all about economic viability and progress, now that we have achieved that, it’s time we look at the heartware and build a better Singapore.

A home that is more compassionate to those who may not be measured by the same yardsticks as everybody else. A home that allows for responsible, open conversation without the fear or threat of being incarcerated. A home that accepts, encourages and allows for divergence. A home that respects all individuals, regardless of who they love, where they studied, what they look like.

Happy birthday, my beloved Singapore. It has always been you, and it always will be. Let’s make the next 50 years a beautiful one together, shall we?

NDP 2005
NDP 2007

Love letters to my nation:
2008
2007
2006
2004

The organised chaos

Life’s many faults

One of the best things about being an educator is that I get to interact, communicate with and observe teenagers.

(Well, sometimes it can be the worst thing ever. Like when I am plastered against the wall and stuck in the lift with what smells like 20 dead and rotting teenage male elephants.)

Every day, as I try to impart some knowledge and skills to them, I have come to realise that they teach me a great deal about life, about people and about myself too.

One of the greatest lessons that I have learnt from them is to STOP BLAMING OTHERS. We see it on a regular basis. Kid is late, blames the bus/MRT/traffic/lift. Kid forgets to hand in homework, blames the tutor/computer/dog. Kid is falling asleep in class, blames the aircon/assignments/tests/tutor. Basically, it’s NEVER their fault. It’s always something.

In more serious cases, we often see kids who are straying from the path, who are clearly on the road to self-destruction. And when we investigate, we see that the reasons are staring in our faces: broken family, spoilt by overly-indulgent parents etc. The latter is beyond our control (and all hope, most of the time) but when I counsel kids who are acting out because their family SUCKS, I always tell them that it’s not about the kind of cards that life hands you, it’s how you deal with the cards that matters most.

It is a reason for your unhappiness, yes, but it sure ain’t an EXCUSE to whine and do stupid things.

And then I tell them about my life. How my father died when I was six and how different I have felt since then. How we were poor and we often walked home because my mother wanted to save on the bus fares. How I started working at 16 and that by the time I entered university, I was all but financially independent.

I had a terrible childhood, a lonely and isolating experience.

And then I tell them, look at where I am now.

There were moments in my life when I really wanted to disappear from this miserable existence. But I had no choice but to suck it up and move on, work hard so that I could get me out of that hole in the ground. Could I have blamed it on my dead father? Or my mother who had to slog it out to bring us up? I just did the best I could, did what I had to, and MOVE ON.

And later on in life, who could I have blamed my infertility on? God? Because He clearly didn’t love me enough to give me babies? My genes? My husband’s genes? My confused uterus?

I don’t know if things happen for a reason, I don’t really buy that theory now. Because, how do you explain starving children, dead children, abused animals and Donald Trump? But I do know that it’s how we emerge from what’s given to us that changes our present and forges our future.

And so I tell them, yeah, life sucks sometimes. But you just got to move on. Quit whining and playing the blame game and just DO.

At the end of the day, be thankful for what you have and not bitter for what you do not have. And there, really, are plenty of things to be grateful for, if you would just open your eyes and see.

Health Goddess, The organised chaos

Life in the heartlands

This morning, I decided to go for a run instead of lazing around at home in the morning. Of course, my littles refused to let me out of their sights but I could only take one of them so poor bubba had to stay at home with papa while Aidan came with me. I strapped him into our trusty stroller, packed a bottle of cold water and snacks for him, put Spotify on my phone and off we went.

It was such a hard run. The weather was starting to burn up at 815am and the sun was blazing. It was my first time running with our stroller AND Aidan but thankfully, our amazing stroller was so easy to manoeuvre and it was gliding along the pavement smoothly.

I lasted, hmm, all of 10 minutes. And then I had to alternate between running and brisk walking. It was okay though. I knew I hadn’t been running for a while and the body needs to adapt to having to push the stroller. And when I was walking, the little man and I were having conversations about what we were seeing – rubbish trucks, MRT, construction, (cranky) cranes etc. We were admiring the butterflies flapping among the greenery and shouting out the numbers of the buses that zoomed past us.

On our way back, a young Malay couple, who were devouring cold drinks after their run, hastily made way for me as I rounded the corner with the stroller.

“Thank you!” I called out.

The man smiled. “Most welcome!”

As we neared home, an elderly Sikh was walking his dog with a cup of coffee in hand. Our eyes met and we smiled.

I decided to break the ice and be neighbourly. “Good morning,” I said.

“Lovely morning to you too,” he replied, tipping his cup in our direction.

Behind him was a Chinese woman walking hand in hand with a little girl.

“Look at didi on the stroller,” she said to the girl. I smiled at her and she smiled back, before urging the girl to wave to us.

Even though it wasn’t much of a run, I went home with a happy heart. This is the Singapore that I love, the country I call home. There are many imperfections, no doubt about it, but there is also much to be proud of.

There are many cynics out there who feel that we are overdoing this SG50 celebration, that every company and every ministry is trying to milk it. True it may be but then again, when I turn 50 and I am still Fabulously Gorgeous, you can bet that I will want to celebrate gloriously too.

So let’s pack away the cynicism for just a month more, let the lady turn 50 in a blaze of fireworks, song and dance, and then we can go back to being the practical Singaporeans that we are.

The organised chaos

Love wins

I’ve been meaning to pen my thoughts on my little one’s first birthday but a horrible, horrible illness on three out of the four of us (me and my littles) took away my strength and energy for the better part of two weeks.

No matter, we are all well now and I’ll just put it down as extremely bad luck (and bad hygiene on the caregiver’s part, urghs). I still have the photos to sort out and all so that’s not going to be posted anytime soon. Hopefully before he turns 13 months old, heh.

Something’s been brewing in my mind for the past couple of days though and I really need to get it out of my system. I’m not particularly eloquent or articulate, especially with the lack of uninterrupted sleep, so forgive my ramblings here (you may scoot off, of course, and just ignore me completely haha). Unless you have been living under a rock, you would have known that the Supreme Court in the US recently ruled in favour of marriage equality, ensuring that same-sex marriages are legal in the country. Theoretically, it should not concern me because the chances of such a ruling being put in place in Singapore in my lifetime is as good as zilch. But it does matter to me – I am beyond thrilled. I think it’s criminal that we deny gays and lesbians the same right that heterosexual couples have enjoyed all this while.

Someone once said to me, that it’s odd that I should be so supportive of same-sex unions, being a mother and all in a Confucian society. Ironically, though, it’s precisely because I am a mother that I am even more supportive of equal marital rights to all, regardless of sexual orientation. I always think, what if one day my child were to tell me that he is gay? How would/should I react? The way I see it, my love for him is unconditional. And I should accept him for who he loves (unless he marries some crazy ass bitch, in which case Tiger Mum emerges, hah!). I would very much rather welcome a third son into my family than to lose my son.

Beyond personal ideals, however, I simply believe that everyone should have the right to marry whom he or she loves. Period. Religion should not matter here, this is a question of equality among humans. And frankly speaking, I don’t give a rat’s ass what your God thinks. If this is not a God who advocates love above all things, then it’s not a God that matters to me. Also, I do not see why society sees a need to condone the actions of the gay community. Who are we to sit in glass houses and cast stones?

While I accept that there will always be others who do not share the same views as I do, it makes me sad to see them post articles, words that “justify” their rejection of the ruling. I cannot fathom why they do not see that at the heart of it all, it’s about love, and inclusivity and equality. That it’s about redefining the traditional concept of family and enlarging it to include the different permutations.

Maybe I am dense but I just don’t get it: why would people think that this ruling destabilises families and society? Why is it a sad thing?

Never mind. Like I said, I just needed to get it off my chest, incoherence and all. Anyway, there’s too much hatred and negativity in this world already. Let’s celebrate love, people. Love and Pride. (And I dare you to watch the following video with dry eyes. Okay, I couldn’t. I was bawling.)

The organised chaos

Enjoying home

I am currently typing this while sitting with my ass half out of my chair. Because my fat cat is occupying my chair and I decided not to move her out lest she starts her caterwauling outside the bedrooms again. She does this yowling thing almost every night, it drives us bonkers because, hello, SLEEPING BABIES.

Anyway, life is pretty much tiring these days. I am doing a lot at work and coupled with the lack of sleep, my brains are pretty much fried. Seriously. I wrote “Newspapers is not dead” in my lecture slides the other day and my kids laughed at me.

AND THEN I REPEATED IT ON ANOTHER SLIDE.

In a bid to prevent my brains from atrophying further, I am going to force myself to write. Write, write, write.

Well. Just the other day, we spent pretty much most of the weekend doing nothing much. We probably hit the supermarket and a park, and that was it. The rest of the day was spent at home. We had breakfast out and then I cooked lunch and it felt pretty good.

The thing is, when Aidan was a bubs, he hardly napped. Story of my life then. The only way to get him to nap was to baby wear him. And so, we went out. Every single weekend. We went out so that we could take turns to wear him and put him to sleep. And when he woke up, he was usually a delight and we would do stuff together. It was exhausting but that was our solution.

It has become our way of life. Come weekends, we’d pack our baby bag and hit the road. Sometimes, we go to the gardens, sometimes to the museums. Or a park. Or a mall to get my eyebrows done (do you really think I’d go to a mall to shop? C’mon!). Or a playground with a sandpit. I think we have forgotten how to stay at home.

But now that Aidan doesn’t really need a nap – although he does crash in the late afternoon for a short while – and Zac is pretty good at taking naps at home, I think we need to shift our way of living a little. Stay in, enjoy our lovely home and just be. There are recipes I want to try out and my three-year-old has his imagination to tide him through the day. The littlest is perfectly happy exploring the house and the man, well, he can survive happily on a deserted island as long as it has power and wifi for his gadgets.

Funny thing is, I actually love staying home. Don’t tell my kids but sometimes, I would take half day leave just to come back to an empty home while they are at daycare/grandma’s. I enjoy the quietness, the solitude, and the comfort of being, well, home.

Home is really where the heart is.

The organised chaos

The dining table

We finally sold our dining table today.

For a few reasons – space being one of them – we decided that our current table was not right for our needs and we decided that it had to go. And silly me, I sat on it for the longest time because I felt, well, sentimental.

It’s a good table. It’s a beautifully made one. We fell in love with it once we saw it and decided it was worth all that money to buy it. It’s seen us through several Christmas dinners, and New Year’s Eve dinners and birthday celebrations. We thought it was going to last us forever for it didn’t look like the sort of table that would be ruined that easily or quickly – it was sturdy, reliable and hardy.

But it had to go. And so I finally put it up for sale.

A lovely couple came by today, said they liked it and paid for it immediately. And when they left, I felt odd. Like, hey, my table was finally sold. Amid the sadness though, was also a tinge of relief. It was sold. No matter how hard it was for me to part with it, it had become dead weight, something that was dragging us down. We could not move on with our plans without it being sold, everything else was centered around it.

So yes, goodbye to my dining table. I feel a little silly writing about it but I told you I am a sentimental fool.

The organised chaos

Farewell, Mr Lee Kuan Yew

When I was six, my father died.

I remember every single detail of his funeral.

Most adults would be surprised that my memories of his wake are so vivid and real. I remember not wanting to see my papa’s body because I was scared. Scared of what, I cannot tell you now, for it was something I could not articulate then as well. I remember fooling around with my cousins, jumping around like there was an invisible hop scotch engraved on the ground. I remember bursting into tears and bawling non-stop, and being passed around by the adults as there was no one who could console me. I remember the white tee shirt and little piece of straw token pinned to my sleeve.

And the most lasting memory of his funeral, that stayed with me all these years, was the tune that the awful marching band played during the procession: Auld Lang Syne.

**********

This morning, as I woke up to the news that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had passed away, it was Auld Lang Syne that surfaced in my mind immediately.

Funny how some things never leave your subconscious.

**********

When I was a kid, watching the NDP on TV at home was a must. My mother and I would seat ourselves in front of the telly after dinner and watch the entire programme in its entirety, year after year. The only times I missed doing this was when the man and I were camping out at some field somewhere, hoping to shoot the fireworks.

“Every year also the same thing,” my mother would tsk as the contingents marched across the screen. But it never stopped her from watching anyway.

But the moment that we were both waiting for was not the fireworks, but when Mr Lee appeared. We would clap and cheer loudly, as if he could hear us.

“My hero!” my mother would exclaim.

And year after year, it started to become apparent that he was getting on in years, especially after the death of his beloved wife. He looked frail and papery thin, almost as if even cracking a smile was costing him some effort.

The man and I would murmur something along the lines of “look at him, he’s getting so fragile now” and we knew he would die one day.

But we never thought that the day would come. Ever.

**********

You know how we think that some people will never die and they will always be around by the sheer power of their strength and determination?

That’s how I thought of him.

**********

I must confess that as I became a young adult, I stopped idolising Mr Lee and took a harder, more critical view of my government’s policies. The truth is, I do not agree to many of them. But this does not mean that I lost my respect of the man.

His methods may not work for this generation, this era, but the turbulent times probably needed someone as decisive, unapologetic, combative and single-minded as him. I will never understand fully what it was like to live in those uncertain times but seeing how I am a product of his legacy, his methods must have worked.

I am an educated woman with a family of my own. We have a roof over our heads and decent jobs. My children receive subsidised childcare, which allow me to go to work. Our transportation system – say what you will – is stable, reliable, clean and efficient. I never had to worry about the colour of my skin or my gender hindering my progress in school and at work. I have access to delicious, cheap and hygienic food. When I take my boys out for walks, we can duck under the trees for shade. My estate is clean and safe for my kids. I speak two languages fluently. My passport allows me to travel freely and it is highly sought after.

Coming from a single-parent family of a low-income earner, I reckon I have done pretty good, thanks to Mr Lee and his master plan.

**********

This morning, as we watched PM Lee deliver his speech in three languages, I choked back tears. Here is a man who had to put aside his grief as a son to address the nation as an office holder.

“So, so sad,” I muttered to myself repeatedly.

Aidan, the sensitive child that he is, caught on that mama was feeling low. “What’s wrong, mummy?” he asked. How do you explain a death to a three-year-old?

So I said, “Mr Lee Kuan Yew is the founding father of Singapore, he created Singapore. He has died. He was somebody’s papa and somebody’s gong gong, just like how you have your yeye and nai nai and por por. His grandchildren have lost a gong gong and his children have lost a papa. And it’s very sad. He is gone and no longer with us anymore.”

Bless my child, he probably did not understand most of what I had said, but he repeated solemnly after me, “Oh, he is not here anymore.”

**********

Today, I realised that my boys will never know a Singapore that is so infused with the life of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. To them, he will be but a character in the history books, someone they read about during history or social studies lessons. They will never have the privilege of seeing him walk up the stairs of the National Stadium, clad in his party white and waving to the crowd.

And so I write this, in the hopes that they will one day read my words and see that he was not just a man in the story books, but someone who had meant a lot to their mama.

**********

Dear sir, I am sure you did not go gently into the good night, and you probably fought a good fight. Your work here is done and your beloved wife is waiting for you on the other side. Farewell, be at peace, and know that your presence will be sorely missed. Thank you for all that you have done.

sm lee press conference

Photo shamelessly taken from iheartapple.

The organised chaos

The young and the restless

Today, I went for a course at work, one that was mandatory and which I wasn’t looking forward to because, hello, I had a crapload of work to clear. I had brought along my iPad, thinking I would be bored out of my wits and would require some form of online consolation.

But it turned out to be completely different from what I had expected. I ended up NOT falling asleep and I left feeling more empowered and inspired than before.

Let me backtrack.

Ever since I went back to work after my maternity leave, I have felt like I no longer exist as a whole but in pieces. As the responsibilities and making piled up at work, I started feeling as if I was in a constant juggling act. I rush to work in the mornings after dropping off Aidan at daycare (and Zac at my in-laws’ on certain days of the week), and then I work, work, work. Come evening time, I rush to pick Aidan up before zipping home. Then comes dinner, bath and bedtime. Before you know it, it’s late and I am so exhausted, I fall asleep in my son’s bed or on the sofa.

Then, there’s the boys’ constant battle with the bugs, which is so, so, so draining. If you think it’s hard to see your child falling sick, try having two kids taking turns to be ill for eight months in a row. Also, try leaving your sick child with a caregiver so that you can go tend to other people’s children. It is a rotten feeling.

I’m in pieces, barely whole.

And of course, something’s gotta give. I made a mistake at work, which was picked up by a senior member of my team. She chose to escalate it upwards to the directors, even though the mistake was not even close to being grave. Thankfully, my boss stood up for me and told me I was doing great and that there was nothing to worry about. (I love that woman and I will forever be grateful to her for believing in me.)

I don’t care for politics. I don’t care for climbing that ladder. I really don’t give a fuck when it comes to things like that. I just want to work, earn my keep and then go home to my boys. And yet I find myself being embroiled in such petty power play again.

That incident planted a seed of something in me.

Over the course of the next few months, I worked my ass off but there was a sense that I no longer knew what I was working for. Call it an itch that could not be scratched, put it that way.

And then, at today’s training, we were asked to think about the different roles that we play in life – mother, wife, daughter, teacher, employee etc. Then we were asked to think about what we would want the important people in our lives to say to us when we are celebrating our 80th birthday.

I thought hard about that one. What would I want my loved ones to say? What would I want to say to myself, when I am wizened and wrinkled and (hopefully) wise?

Suddenly a light went off in my mind.

I know what I want to do with my life, I just never had the guts to try because, gawd, I have a mother to support financially and my kids and the house and insurance and things like that. I have obligations and people with obligations work so that they can fulfil these obligations.

But what if I never tried to combine everything that I want and need? What if I never tried to have my cake and eat it too? What would I say to myself when I am 80?

“Happy birthday, Me. I wished you had done more yoga, shot more pictures and used your words to earn your keep. I wished you had spent more time with your children. I wished you had been a wife, mother, daughter, friend who connected.”

No.

So, I am trying. I have found a co-conspirator, we are having fun hatching ideas and plans. Maybe this won’t work, maybe it will. Maybe I will continue being a rat in that wheel for another 10, 20 years.

But damn, I will try.

The organised chaos

The unbearable anxiety of living

Today, my very sweet husband drove me from my office in the east to a tiny showroom all the way in Alexandra, just so I can check out a sample sale. As I browsed through the racks, he stood outside and waited patiently as I stood in line to try out the clothes and then to pay. And then after that, we went for lunch together.

Just us, hand in hand, in conversation and with much mirth.

Now, this is not a post bragging about my amazing and wonderful partner. Oh, he is amazing but seriously, he has his flaws (as do I) and sometimes he is quite the arsehole. But oh well, for better and for worse and all that jazz, right.

What I am trying to say is that I had a lovely time and I loved connecting with him. And it was a good break.

Truth is, we are in the midst of a transition around here. It’s not something that I want to talk about publicly but let’s just say that it kind of rocks the stability that I am used to. And I am someone who needs stability in my life.

There’s a fair bit of uncertainty hovering around us now and I am not used to that. I am not someone who can jump off a cliff without knowing that there is firm ground beneath me – I have not been brought up to take risks. I couldn’t, not when I had to be accountable for my mother.

So this is making me feel unnerved. I’m frankly a little worried and anxious but it’s also something that is beyond my control. I can only go with the flow and try not to be in the way.

But yes, I worry. I worry about living life in Singapore, where the sandwiched middle class such as us is constantly struggling and fretting. I worry about my kitchen, which is slowly falling apart after six years (the developer clearly did not use good quality materials). I worry about my kids’ education. I worry about our retirement.

I worry, worry, worry.

The organised chaos

On turning 34

So I turned 34 a week ago. It was completely uneventful, except for the fact that I was ghastly ill.

I was hit by a pretty nasty case of mastitis. I know, I know, seven months on and I still can be down with mastitis. And it was bad because I was felt really, really awful. It was like all the energy had been sapped out of me and I could not walk for more than 10 steps without seeing stars. I almost fainted outside the clinic, and the doctor told me to head straight to the hospital if I did not feel better soon.

But it’s okay. I got better, thankfully, and I am pretty much back to normal now.

And so yes, 34.

It isn’t much different from being 33, really.

Probably what’s changed is that I am slowly turning into the snail with the itchy foot. I long to see the world beyond the rock.

We shall see how the next year fares. There are still many things I hope to achieve on the work front and I am very happy where I am. Sometimes I feel doubtful of my abilities, I don’t know if I am doing well, but I also realise that this is symptomatic of the life that I have always had – being someone who is both suffering from low self-esteem and yet nonchalant at the same time. As in, I don’t think too highly of myself and I don’t really give a damn. Makes sense?

Hopefully this is the year I grow up and see me for what I can do.

And may this year be the year I learn to harness patience in dealing with my boys, gentleness with my husband and kindness to the rest of the world.

Just the other day, I gasped in horror to husband, “Oh my gosh I am turning 34!” And he replied coolly, without missing a beat, “Only 34?!”

Love this chap. He’s kind of funny, I think.

So happy birthday, me. May you learn to love yourself.