June, 2008

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Oh the horror

The following video is a short segment from the Dr. Phil show, an American talk-show that features the titular fellow, a clinical psychologist, talking to troubled families, kids and marriages through their difficulties.

This segment is about an especially, well, troubled child. Be warned: not for the faint-hearted.:)


Here's a little nugget… :D

Guess what, Yang agreed to go for a head, shoulder & back massage with me on the Phuket trip!! Ha ha, didn’t he and Matt say that massages and spa are just not their thing?

Well, our suite at Ayara Hilltops came with a complimentary massage for the couple and all I had to do was to book a time slot to enjoy the free service. It was Yang’s first ever massage by a pleasant-looking female Thai masseur. Of course, I was there to keep an eye on him. *wink* With nice soothing music playing in the background, we laid face down (fully clothed) all the time for our massuers to do their kneading and pounding. I was constantly checking on Yang to make sure that he was still breathing and whether he could take the ‘exertion’ upon his body. And my darling was thinking to himself that he’d probably have to crawl out after the massage. Hee hee. No worries, he survived.

I’d endeavour to get him do some milk bath or facial in time to come. After all, don’t wives need to pamper their husbands?

My man does make adjustment for me :p

There are many horror stories told about how marriage is so very different from courtship. To many women, romance is one thing which often fades off when one enters into marriage. Money is another thing. For example, there are loans to service in a marriage and hence it is prudent to thrifty.

“Darling, can we go to Japan for the next vacation break?” I asked.

“Nope. That’s a few thousand dollars, dear. Unless I strike lottery, we should clear the loans first.” Yang replied.

“But we do have savings right?” I reasoned.

“We should also save for rainy days.” Yang continued, unwavering and looking at me very seriously.

“Really cannot ah.” Whining inside. “Poor me.”

So, when he booked an expensive holiday package to Phuket for the two of us recently, I was really caught by surprise. “But darling, you said that we shouldn’t spend in an extravagant manner. Why this change?” I asked. He replied saying that he did this to cheer me up since I was feeling burnt out and discouraged by work. That was so loving of him, wasn’t it?

Our recent getaway at Phuket was really luxurious – my definition, of course. The hotel is the best I’ve stayed in so far – it is a seaview suite! It is also quiet and private – suits my personality well. It had been a good break of 4 days with darling to simply relax, try out some outdoor activities together and sample some great Thai food. I’ve gone to a nearby place (Krabi and Phi Phi island) before in Thailand but that trip didn’t leave much of an impression. Perhaps, company matters. :)

Besides good company, I enjoyed the brief moment swimming in Andaman sea the most. I guess I have a great affinity to water. All kinds of water bodies have a certain attraction for me. Be it oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, streams and even mangrove swamps! Yeah, I enjoy taking baths too. Coming into contact with water is highly therapeutic for me.

Okies, have to pause here for now. I shall continue my sharing in the next blog :)

She's a what?!

We’re all so familiar with the term ‘relief teacher’. Relief teacher = Someone who is hired by a school to temporarily baby-sit the classes taught by a teacher who’s on course, NS reservice, sick leave, maternal/paternal leave, study leave, childcare leave, etc, the list goes on. In Singapore, this relief teacher doesn’t need to undergo any sort of training to apply for the post. He/She can be an O / A level graduate waiting to further his/her education. But normally, a relief teacher is previously a trained teacher or has retired from the service.

My surprise came when the receptionist at my usual clinic told me that Dr so-and-so who had attended to me was a relief doctor! Initially, I had thought the clinic had a new doctor. So my usual doctor was on holidays. I was rather upset over the standard of patient care given by this relief doctor. She had hearing problems (I had to repeat myself all the time) and didn’t seemed to be interested to ask me questions to confirm her diagnosis. No eye contact whatsoever too. She took a quick glance at the swollen insect bites on my legs and went on to write down whatever descriptions I gave. And that was it.

I just hope that this relief doctor didn’t prescribe the wrong medicine to anybody.

It is interesting to think that there’s a pool of relief doctors out there waiting to be hired when full-time doctors aren’t available. I supposed that many of these are old and retired from their practice just like the one I encountered. I mean, how many doctors out there actually do quit from their practice in mid-life? As high as the turnover rate of teachers here in Singapore? I don’t think so.

I really hope that there are decent relief doctors out there. Life is at stake if such doctors don’t perform their duties properly. It is still possible to repair the damage done by relief teachers once the full-time teachers take over but don’t play play when treating diseases ok.

Venturing into the Andaman sea

As beautiful as Ayara Hilltops was, we didn’t spend the four days cooped up in our rooms. I’d handled the travel, flight and resort arrangements with Tradewinds, while Ling was going to plan the itinerary for our stay.

We’d already spent the last vacation stoning on Rawa beach (stunning as it also was), so I privately wasn’t so keen this time to do the same. Fortunately, Ling had done her usual Google and Tripadvisor searches, and with the aid of Ayara Hilltops found two separate day trips for the second and third day of our stay.

The first of the two trips took spanned an afternoon, and involved several items: an Elephant trek through the forest, a visit to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (a small site dedicated to rehabilitate gibbons back to their natural habitat), Bang Pae waterfall, and a buffalo-cart ride.

The first trip was a mixed bag of sorts. Despite that the visit to the Project and waterfall was in the mid-afternoon, the thick canopy of trees in the rainforest where both places were sited in made the entire place shrouded in low light. The waterfall was really smack in the rainforest, and while there was a stone pathway, the area didn’t look like it was terrifically tourist friendly, what with the absence of vantage viewpoints to see the waterfall clearly.

Edited Dec 2017: we visited the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary on our return trip to Phuket in Dec 2017, and learned about the awful nature of animal tourism in Thailand. We do not recommend elephant riding.

The second trip was with the apparently number one-rated day Phuket day trip organizer on Tripadvisors, Simba Sea Trips. The company is family run and the trip hosted by its two owners, Geoff and Jenny Smith. Their site proudly states that they do not run “Cattle Market Tours”. We traveled on a fast speedboat with just 12 guests onboard, made our way through the islands, limestone rocks, and fishing communities around the Andaman sea.

This day trip, for want of a better descriptor, was simply fantastic. Both hosts were knowledgable, very personable, and hospitable with an excess of specially prepared sandwiches, fruits, cakes, drinks, refreshment towels. Both clearly knew the areas very well, and whether by luck or through sheer skill in timing, several of the island and limestone rock spots we visited had no other visitors except for us.

E.g. the last photo below is a 160 degree panoramic shot of the island we stopped at (larger picture here), and it’s incredible we were all alone there for the good part of a few hours before a substantially larger boat stopped by to offload several dozen other visitors to enjoy the beach too.

The day was perfect in other words, though towards the end Ling felt a little unwell, and we decided to find a hospital for her to do a check-up. Both Geoff and Jenny helped us make arrangements for our limousine driver to not only bring us to Phuket International Hospital, but also instruct the driver to wait there until Ling had seen the doctor. I think Ling will mention more of her hospital visit in her eventual post to come, but clearly the great hospitality we received is not limited merely to Thais.

In all, it was a great stay, and I imagine we’ll be back again in Phuket to check out the other areas we skipped this time, for instance Phi Phi. Ling took about 55 minutes of video, and myself about 16 GB of photographs. Fortunately, I’d carted along my NEC notebook for the trip – which outside bringing along several memory cards would have made it hard to take that many pictures.:)

Ayara Hilltops

The both of us returned to Singapore pretty close to midnight on the 17th from Phuket, pretty exhausted and deadbeat, but strangely still exhilarated from the incredible 4 day stay at the Ayara Hilltops.

The boutique resort is located at a relatively secluded part of Phuket; specifically the western side of the island along Surin Beach. Heck, the place was so quiet that during our stay we didn’t see any swimmers and just a small handful of beach goers and surfers on the last day, though I think the strong waves forbade any sort of actual swimming to begin with. Moreover, June is the low season for Phuket, so there weren’t many tourists on the island altogether and even fewer in the resort. I’m guessing that the resort was perhaps less than a quarter full.

The resort itself is fairly new at just 4 years old. Apparently, it was built shortly before the tsunami hit in December 2004, though from what the front desk manager told us the resort was fortunately spared of devastation. I couldn’t help but detect the tinge of sadness in her when she mentioned the tsunami. While no sign of the disaster remains on the island (aside from numerous signposts of tsuanmi evacuation routes), it was an incident that still strickens the locals there.

The suite we stayed in has quite a mouthful for a name; Jamboree Super Deluxe Sea View suite, and it had a balcony with a magnificent view of the Andaman sea and Surin beach, and the more popular Bang Tao beach some distance away. Better still, we had our own jacuzzi, which we soaked in a few times after spending the day out in the sun.

The resort itself is built on a steep hill with the concierge and dining areas at the hill base, and suites and rooms at the top. The journeys both ways are facilitated by a permanently on-call buggy service that ferries passengers up and down the hill. The walk down was really pleasant and made easy through landscaped and prettily manicured gardens and stoned pathways, so we usually did that instead of calling for the buggy.

We had our daily breakfasts at the terrace restaurant. The spread was a mix of international and Thai cuisine, including smoked salmon, various pastries and salads, juices, cereals, fruits and fare that’s more common on main courses. Breakfasts were really quiet affairs since we typically woke up early each morning. But on one or two mornings (obviously) Singaporean families came in with their entire broods, and the place started sounding more like a foodcourt. Sort of spoilt the quiet romantic atmosphere, but typically by then we would already been done by then.

There was a really nice surprise for us too on the last day of our stay. The front desk called to inform that we had a complimentary dinner at the poolside restaurant. Till now we still can’t figure out how come we got that, as that wasn’t an item included in our Tradewinds package. We’re guessing it’s bonafide complimentary given the low season and exemplary of Thai hospitality, or it came with the suite we stayed in.

Either way, it was an exquisitely prepared meal where we had the whole restaurant to ourselves and were served by the floor captain. We were treated like royalty. Neither of us could finish dinner though; there was just too much food!

The last photo here in this entry is a panoramic shot of the poolside and terrace restaurants, taken at around 7 pm. The rest of the photos are at the usual photo page here.:)

Floating in the sea

We’re writing this still at the Ayara Hilltops at Phuket – Surin beach. Day 3 was spent quite out of the island where we were on a day long chartered boat trip around the islands in the Phang Nga bay.

This picture was taken at a stop over at a stunningly beautiful enclosure of limestone formations.

I would have loved to take a dip too, but someone had to remain on the boat to take this picture of Ling.:)

A few more photos are at our photo site right here, with the rest of the nearly 940 pictures taken so far to follow when we’re back in Singapore proper.:)

He walks, he eats, he cracks

There was a poem on people we meet and sometimes you only get to meet them once in your lifetime. I didn’t think much of it until Matt left us this morning. He has very much become a part of our lives during his 25 days stay here. Besides considering his needs in our daily plans, we got my best friend (‘cookie pie’) to show him around here a bit, involved him in our church’s small group outing, got my dad to buy him durian and yang’s mom made him curries twice. His leaving us once more this round left me with a tinge of sadness. But darling said he was certain he’d be back soon. I hope that Banquet’s prata would still be holding out till he returns.

Sob story aside, so what was this ang mo like during his stay in Singapore – the gateway to Asia? He walked his calories away! He would walk to anywhere if he could! He travelled on foot from Rivervale to Hougang / Buangkok / Seng Kang MRT stations even when he could have taken a shuttle bus service. He walked from Ang Mo Kio to Upper Thomson Road’s Casuarina Curries to have his prata fix after eating A-star duck rice. On evenings, he would hop over to Punggol Park for a few rounds of brisk walking to dissolve the fats of dinner. He even contemplated to walk from Tampines Mall back to Rivervale (Seng Kang) after a super-heavy Din Tai Fung’s dinner. So if you felt as if there were lightning flashes out of nowhere, it was probably this white ang mo zipping through the streets of Singapore.

Now our ang mo friend is a devout foodie and a true adventurer. He stopped at nothing. Like a cyclone, he devoured everything in his path. Although nothing was spared, he brought smiles to all cooks/chefs at foodcourts, hawker centres and restuarants. His camera would go ‘click cluck…click cluck…’ before he reverently consumed the delicious dishes set before him. If you see him shooting at the name of the stall/restaurant, you knew that he approved of the cook. Sometimes, he would also compose a cheer for the stall!

Matt is a funny guy and sees the humour in the hum dum of life at large. He cracks at almost everything and paints people with a comical streak. Funny people often endear themselves to those around them. I admit that I’m one of ‘those’. :D And strangely enough, comical events tend to revolve around such funny characters too. For example, on his arrival at Changi Airport, his luggage has been mis-routed to Timbuktu and he was given S$120 to tide over his temporal inconvenience…incredible as the whole thing was (given that this is Singapore Airlines we were talking about) we had fun poking at the whole incident. Another funny incident happened recently too. He almost couldn’t clear the Malaysian border as he swam at Tioman with his passport in his pocket. A few customs stamps were totally washouts!

So Matt, the pleasure has been all ours to have you over at Rivervale-aka-a smaller dot in the red dot. We adore you, Matt. Till we meet again, take care and send our love to all your loved ones.

P.S. You know, I believe you missed your home at a subconscious level. The starry night skies? The plentiful trees and lush greenery? And where your loved ones are, that’s where your home is. :)

Day 25 – and he won

Honestly, we just didn’t know where we went wrong. After spending 25 days with us, our Ang mo friend Matt left Singapore weighing slightly less than he’d first arrived! Mind you, this is after stuffing him with the below items (and he had 30 roti pratas alone):

  1. Paranakan Cuisine: laksa (Katong of course!), nonya curry, rojak, popiah, otah, mee siam, kueh kueh etc
  2. Chinese cuisine: dim sum (e.g. xiao long bao from Din Tai Fung), clear soups, Hainanese chicken rice, duck rice (A* coffee shop), shrimp dumpling noodles (Rivervale Mall’s Foodcourt), Old Chang Kee Curry Puff, fried carrot cake , fried rice (Din Tai Fung’s), mee swa, three layer belly pork, chwee kway, fried oyster omelette, Chinese rice dumplings, coconut pancakes, curry yong tau fu, fried Hokkien mee (Punggol Plaza foodcourt), chinese pancakes, beef hor fun (Casaurina Rd), fried kway teow, dim sum & congee (Crystal Jade’s), steamboat, Jumbo seafood chilli crabs (revisit)
  3. Malay cuisine: mutton / beef rendang (my mother in-law’s one is good), nasi lemak, nasi briyani, satay, lontong, mee rebus, mee soto, mee goreng etc
  4. Indian cuisine: Roti prata (Compass Point Banquet the best!), teh tarik, teh halia, mutton curry, fishhead curry, naan, etc
  5. Thai cuisine: green curry, mango and glutinous rice dessert, red rubies, sweet tapioca, etc
  6. Local fruits: durian, mangosteen, malay apples
  7. Misc: Mcdonald’s breakfast in Singapore, Yang’s Carbonara
  8. Bak kwa, Jasmine Green Tea, chrysanthemum tea.

So we did miss a few items here and there. For instance, a follow-up visit to Jumbo seafood (we brought him there the first time he came in 2006), Casuarina Road’s beef hor fun (the place was closed for the afternoon), and a few popular Malay cuisine.

We’ve pretty much determined that the huge amount of food we force-fed him—including half a kilo of bak kwa we bought him to bring backjust still wasn’t enough to offset the incredible amount of walking he did while here in Singapore, Malaysia and Bangkok. We’re gonna have to wait for him to tell us how much did he walk up and down here, but we conservatively judge it to be at least 3-4 hours of it every single day.

Ling was thinking mournfully as we sent him off this morning at Changi airport when he’d be back. Personally, I don’t think it’d be too long. Matt’s already said he’ll be back for Singapore’s 50th birthday at least, but I think the beckoning of Compass Point’s roti prata is going to be too much for him. I’d give it 2 years.:)

The World at Sydney

Since I was writing recollections of my extra-curricular activities the week before last, here’s another entry on debating at NTU. The Australasians tournament in Melbourne ’95 was an eye-opener, and from that point till 2000 I got involved training polytechnic, secondary school, and JC debating teams, and also adjudicated in several other local and regional tournaments.

The highlight was in 2000 when we headed to Sydney for the World Universities competition. This competition is the largest of its kind, and unlike the World Schools, the participants at World Universities span the age range. In Singapore at least, undergraduates tend to be those compacted around either the post-diploma/’A’ levels/NS age group. Elsewhere from the world, and certainly so for Australia, there were a number of adult debaters who were also post-graduate students. And with that age came a more mature understanding of content matters and tenacity to boot when delivering their speeches.

The host university this time was the University of Sydney, and this institution isn’t merely regarded as one of the top institutions in Australia. Their debating team has on more than a few occasions won the competition. The tournament saw participation from more than 100 Universities around the world, and NTU as I recall it sent three teams, with three motherhens, whoops adjudicators; two staff and myself. No, at that point I was no longer a student of NTU (I was legitimately a student of Curtin University at that juncture), so I registered as NTU-Alumni.

We were housed on campus, and the building I stayed in was St. Andrews’ College, and there was an incredible feeling of history and heritage as walked through its corridors. I wish I’d taken more pictures of the place. The NTU teams fared well too in the tournament, though they were eliminated from the competition during the advanced knock-out rounds. The championship was eventually taken by Monash University.

The thing about these tournaments ultimately isn’t about debating, but about meeting people doing the same thing as you are but in other parts of the world. I certainly enjoyed all the social functions, and this picture here never fails to make Ling a little green-eyed. The lovely ladies are from the Tokyo Woman’s Christian University. No, that’s not me getting drunk during our Championship Dinner event (I’m teetotaler!), but me blushing furiously.:)

I’ve got a longer writeup at this link here, which I remember I was writing and updating on the fly on a daily basis at Sydney’s Internet cafes. And you have to keep in mind that this was pre-Internet blogging days.:)