31. January 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Baby Blues

Sometimes it is hard to believe my eyes when our little girl hit another milestone. It seemed forever that Hannah would hold onto her favourite milk bottle – she was such an adorable sight whenever she walked about clutching her milk bottle with her tiny hands and saying “milk milk, milk milk”. Just 2 nights ago, Hannah seemed to forget how to drink milk from her bottle. She just lost it. She was trying to drink her milk using the straw sucking method instead.

The transition process from bottle to cup has not been a smooth one though. To date, 4 types of cups were put to trial before she accepted the idea of drinking milk from a cup. The first cup we used was Pigeon’s Mag Mag spout cup and then followed by Pigeon’s Tall straw cup. No significant success, i.e. she wouldn’t drink all her milk in one seating. Cup no. 3 was Bfree’s spout cup – total rejection! The winner was Combi’s straw cup. She didn’t take to it immediately but gradually got trained into the habit of finishing her milk without getting distracted.

Combi Straw Cup

As far as baby weaning straw cups are concerned, I find that the Japanese brands are a notch better. Take Combi for example. The straw used in their straw cup is narrower than the standard straw width. If you are a baby learning to drink from a straw, it is easier to suck with a thinner straw (capillary action) and easier to manage a smaller volume of liquid flowing into the mouth. Another thoughtful feature is that the straw extends almost to the base of the cup; the baby can suck up liquid to the last drop and nothing goes to waste. Too many cups come in smaller capacity of 150 ml but this Combi cup can fill up to 200 ml. Hannah usually drink 190 ml and this capacity is just nice. Finally, all parts of the straw cup can withstand boiling water temperature – this is an important feature as the mother could sterilise the parts with boiling water / steam if the baby is still young. The only down side to the Combi’s straw cup is leakage from the straw if the baby decides to swing the cup for fun.

I’m really glad that I could now retire from washing her 3 Bfree milk bottles. It has been a tedious daily chore since day 1; each bottle has 6 parts. However, they proved to be worthwhile investment. Costly but easy suction for Hannah and durable (lasted for 1.5 years).

(Note: I started introducing drinking from a straw cup with water first. It was a few months later that another straw cup was purchased for milk.)

Registering one’s child at any reputable primary school in Singapore has been a much talked about topic year after year. The Ministry of Education (MOE) has come up with a system of phases (http://www.moe.gov.sg/education/admissions/primary-one-registration/phases/) to allocate children with places in primary schools. And this system has caused much anxiety to kiasu parents who are not in the ‘privileged’ group (phase 1 and 2A) where successful admission is guaranteed.

I believe that many parents would choose to enroll their children into a good primary school for the following reasons:

1) The school has a proven track record of outstanding PSLE results;

2) The school is deemed to have caring, hardworking teachers and a driven principal;

3) The school has done well in non-academic areas;

4) The school has a good learning environment;

5) Good school image as reflected in pupils’ attire, behavior and success stories

Seeing the stress that many parents went through in order to enroll their kids into a premier primary school, I thought that we better start finding out more and plan early. I don’t mind being labelled as a kiasu parent. It is our prerogative as parents to give Hannah the best where possible. And we take Hannah’s education seriously. It is one significant aspect in life which would mould the person she would become one day. She would be spending more and more time at school than at home and so yes, the kind of school she would enroll in matters.

Our selection criteria for Hannah’s primary school are 1) it has to be a Christian mission school, and 2) it should be ideally an all girls’ school. Having taught in both co-ed and all girls’ schools, I see the benefits of learning in an all girls’ environment. There are only a handful of such schools in Singapore and the one nearest our home is beyond the dreaded 2-km radius! *big sigh*

After short listing the preferred primary schools, we visited their websites to analyze their past records for primary one registration to get a sense of how intense the competition might be when it’s our turn. If a school is over-subscribed, as in the case of all popular schools, balloting would be conducted. Now, this is where the stress begins.

Priority for balloting will be given to those who are staying within the blessed 1-km radius to the school, then the risky 1-2km radius, and lastly (if there are still vacancies left) to the quite hopeless applicants beyond 2-km radius. To increase a child’s chances of successful enrollment, some parents did the exodus exercise, i.e. to relocate their homes to be near the school. And to further increase the probability of getting enrolled, parents ‘volunteer’ to do time, i.e. to sign up as parent volunteers to offer their services to the school for a minimum of 40 hours.

There has been much unhappiness aired by unsuccessful applicants through the local media. Their gripe is mainly about the privilege given to PRs to ballot for a place in those popular primary schools. No matter that a Singaporean gets 2 ballot slips while a PR gets 1. Whenever a PR’s kid got through in a ballot, the sentiment has been that the Singaporean father gave his 2 years of National Service to his country in return for losing a primary school placing to a PR who migrated here to enjoy our economic success without having to make any sacrifices.

In time to come, we’d be in the shoes of those parents who went through the dreaded balloting process. Hannah does not qualify for phase 1, 2A1 or 2A2 because she 1) does not have sibling(s) already in the school of choice, 2) her mother is not an old girl of the school of choice, 3) her parents are not in the school management committee, and 4) her parents are not staff of the school. These phases are 100% guaranteed enrollment for those who qualify.

To date, we are exploring available options to increase the probability of enrolling our girl in one particular school. One major consideration is whether we should relocate. One big advantage is minimal travelling time for Hannah for 6 years. The primary school is also affiliated to a secondary school – in case our girl didn’t do well at PSLE, she might be enrolled into the affiliated secondary school. Another long-term plan. Just the other day, Yang asked me whether I have thought of a backup plan. The truth is, I don’t. Sigh, I should start cracking my head for that one too.

After all this drama, I realized that in all my kanchong-ness I forgot that we have God to turn to. What a relief that we have God to lean on and not fret or be afraid. :)

27. January 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

blog-stardust-01Stardust (2007) – on Blu-ray. There were two overtly ‘lomantik’ films we caught on the big screen in our pre-Hannah 2007 days. One was Enchanted, and the other Stardust. I remembered having no preconceptions of what the latter was about prior to my watching it at the theatre as the film itself didn’t seem to be prominently featured through preview trailers, but a 2 hours viewing later, Stardust has at least become one of Ling’s most favorite films, like ever. =)

Stardust is an unabashed fantasy adventure, coming of age and love-story all rolled into one. The film is based on famed comic book writer Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, and tells the story of the magical Kingdom of Stormhold, which shares a border with with a quiet and quaint English village in our real world. Tristan (Charlie Cox), a mild mannered young man, from our world one night upon seeing a star that falls across the border into Stormhold, vows to retrieve it for Victoria (Sienna Miller), the love of his life.

Tristan is unaware though that the falling star has taken human form, Yvaine (Claire Danes), and is in turn sought by a trio of evil witches led by witch-queen Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) who intends to steal Yvaine’s heart to attain immortality, and also by Septimus (Mark Strong), a prince of Stormhold, who needs a gem that fell with Yvaine to become king. Robert De Niro also stars as the tough-talking pirate Captain Shakespeare (no relation to the bard) who in reality is a cross-dressing softie at heart.

At its core, Stardust is a fairy tale for adults, and film falls squarely into a neglected film genre that has long seen only a few occupants; specifically The Princess Bride from the ‘80s for those of us old enough to remember, and somewhat more recently, Ever After from the ‘90s. The new film has somehow achieve a great balance between a straight forward yet clever story that doesn’t insult your intelligence, larger than life characters, humor (lots of it!) and stunning cinematography, courtesy of the lush and dramatic landscapes of the United Kingdom.

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Stardust is safe for children. Really.

The actor performances are almost uniformly excellent. Mark Strong is fast becoming Hollywood’s definitive villain-actor. Coincidentally, I watched three films on Blu-ray this week’s evenings all with him playing a villainous character – Sherlock Holmes, Kick-Ass (will blog about this soon too!), and Stardust. De Niro, widely regarded as one of Hollywood’s greatest actors, continues his turn to comedic roles – most of which have been forgettable, but with well-written characters like Shakespeare here, proves that he has equal chops for both dramatic and comedic roles. Him and his band of lovable and rowdy pirates steal every scene they are in.

And Michelle Pfeiffer – the national service pin-up girl of the 80s – returns to a familiar witch role that she’d done before in The Witches of Eastwick, though she plays a wicked character this time, and in an appropriate over-the-top fashion. And Charlie Cox’s Tristan is instantly likable in his earnestness, and it’s satisfying to see his transition from an ordinary nobody to hero of Stormhold.

The one performance that I thought really crashed though was Claire Danes’ Yvaine. Danes is a natural beauty, and she’s been in a lot of roles with several great performances. But her turn as Yvaine is not going to go down as one of her best. Her pretend-British accent is inconsistent. She whines (though in part because that’s the way her character’s written) and overacts, and her wig is distracting.

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Evil Witch about to permanently seal someone's mouth shut.

I have to say a word about the visual effects too, and specifically the computer-generated effects when spells and magic are cast. It’s marvelously done, with a kind of kinetic energy demonstrating sure awesomeness of the power that’s thrown around by those evil witches.

And the film’s music soundtrack by Ilan Eshkeri… just stunning! Catchy, bold, romantic and majestic at the right moments. Very hum-worthy.

Ling liked Stardust so much that the evening after we watched it on blu-ray, she wanted to see it again. She even wants to read the book too. And that night, just before turning in, she was still cooing about the show and musing at how wonderfully romantic it was.

For me though; definitely a recommendation though not quite perfect. When Danes comes on in each scene, just look at Cox instead.:)

SIGH. Five mozzie bites on her cutsie, chubby face!! And just a week away from CNY – she would not be fit to meet people! I know I know, nobody would mind except for mommy.

Well, I felt like donning the white flag after trying out various preventive measures against mosquito bites while Hannah sleeps during the night time. Our apartment is situated near the ground level where there are plenty of bushes and trees. The tendency of getting buzzed by some unwelcomed guests is much higher. As adults, we had our blankets and fans to ward off the mozzies but it is not advisable to always point the fan directly at a baby / toddler especially on a cold night.

So far, we have tried the following:

Plan A. Mosquito netting over Hannah’s cot. It was the best solution until our girl was strong enough to yank off the net together with its metallic support.

Plan B. Anti-mosquito patches on Hannah’s pajamas. She peeled them off and thought it was some sort of a toy. :(

Plan C. Apply army’s insect-repellent on the wooden panels of her cot. Stopped after one attempt as she licked at these panels sometimes.

Plan D. Stuck the anti-mosquito patches at inconspicuous spots of her cot but she found them out later. Kena peeled off by ‘you-know-who’.

Plan E. Hung packs of citronella beads at her window and her cot. No prize for guessing the fate of those packs at her cot.

Plan F: Sprayed insect repellent on her pajamas. Mozzies still bite the exposed hands, face and neck.

After the recent mozzie attack, we were all prepared to invest on mosquito screens for the windows in her room (i.e. plan G). Thing is, this is no 100% guarantee against being bitten by the blood suckers. All it takes is just one hungry female on the loose which has managed to sneak pass into the house…

In one last ditch effort before embarking on plan G, I dug out her old mosquito netting and tried to use it on her cot. To our amazement, Hannah allowed the netting to serve its purpose of creating a no-fly zone. We’ll watch and see then. One night at a time.

24. January 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

The costumes and sets are another two high points of the series. For lack of a better descriptor, they look very real. While the city of Rome at this point of history was the beacon of modernity in their part of the world, it was not without its seedy districts, squalor and dirt, and representative of the widely differing social classes that inhabited the city then. The clothes worn by each main character, and even the extras in the background, look worn, hand-made, and according to production information, were made from fabrics sourced throughout Asia that were very close to the actual materials worn back then.

I’m reminded of The Tudors in contrast, where each character’s costumes look like they were tailored using modern sensibilities and King Henry’s court and the London of its time look like they are swept and sanitized by the same efficient team of cleaners that scrub clean our HDB flat void decks every morning. I never quite got the suspension of disbelief that the sets in The Tudors looked actually lived-in and was anything other than a stage for 20th century actors to sashay in a fancy dress parade, unlike in Rome when every frame oozes visual authenticity.

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No expense sparred to potray Caesar's triumphant march in Rome.

A good part of the series is shot in what eventually became one of the largest production backlots recreating Rome before Christ, and you get a good sense of the ancient city like from Gladiator, the other recent big-budget sword and sandals epic set in very roughly the same age. In the series’ largest scenes too, there is no sparing of expense in portraying the kind of pomp and circumstance – as in Caesar’s Triumph march through the city – or scale, as in the massive Battle of Philippi of 42 B.C. where the armies of Mark Anthony/Octavian Caesar clash against Marcus Brutus and Cassius Longinus.

On the other hand, other things worked less well for me. On the top most is the unfortunate fact that the decision to cancel the very expensive series was made in the middle of the second season. Rome was initially envisioned as a four season series, and with its length cut by half, the production had to squeeze two more years worth of historical plot outlines into a quarter of time. It’s hard not to notice in the second half of the season many historical events removed for brevity, especially if you’re familiar with the events following Caesar’s assassination and the rise of the Second Triumvirate from around 43 B.C. onwards.

Related to the issue regarding the long span of history the series covers is the fact that you never quite get a good sense of the passing of time and age from the second season onwards. Historically, a span of 11 years passes between Caesar’s assassination to the death of Mark Anthony and the rise of Octavian, but apart from a change of a younger to older actor portraying Octavian, none of the other actors seem to ‘age’. So, while the entire series spans 18 years in all, Vorenus and Pullo, like most of everyone else, look quite exactly at the end of Rome as they did at the start of the series. It’s a small point, but will be noticeable enough for any discerning viewer.

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The senators applaud, as I do for the series!

Despite the series’ premature conclusion, to its credit, Rome is able to tidily wrap up every major character’s story arc. Quite unlike other great TV series that has got canned midway, e.g. Firefly, leaving audiences with unresolved stories and key plot developments.

In all; of the several historical drama television series I’ve seen in the last year, I’ll rank Rome just slightly below Spartacus: Blood and Sand, slightly ahead of The Pacific, and far superior to The Tudors. It’s flawed, given the fact that the series was canned midway. But if you have even the slightest interest in ancient history or enjoy a good yarn of political intrigue and drama, Rome is one of the best offerings around.

24. January 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

blog-rome-01Rome (2005). The first time I caught this HBO/BBC series was in Perth in 2005 and on broadcast television, and back then while I had a rough idea to what the story was about and where it was going – on account that I’d devoured Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome historical-fiction novels – lots of the little nuances and subtleties of Rome remained lost on me. A second viewing on DVD rental when I returned to Singapore didn’t improve matters much, and that was from the absence of subtitles. Laugh if you must, but I need subtitles to fully appreciate everything I watch on the screen.

So this is the third time I’ve returned to the series, with subtitling finally, and I can finally see why where the huge budget of the series went to, why it picked up all those awards for directing, acting and story-telling and yet why it was still in some ways flawed. As described in earlier here in our blog, the series centers on two ex-soldiers, Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson), as they find themselves participating in historically significant events that span 18 years from 49 to 31 B.C. Some of these events include the falling out between Pompey Magnus and Julius Caesar, the latter’s ascension to Dictator of Rome, his assassination, the political turmoil and civil war that followed, and finally to his nephew Octavian Caesar becoming the first emperor of Rome in 31 B.C.

At some level, the way the series tries to intertwined our two ordinary ex-military characters into history works like Forrest Gump. The decisions in the historical events they make occasionally look routine or ordinary to themselves, but with our knowledge of history 2000 years after the fact of course, we know that those events are anything but trivial. It’s all fictitious of course. While the two characters of Vorenus and Pullo do exist historically – both are mentioned in Caesar’s memoirs of the Gallic Wars – I’m quite sure their influence on history is anything but rooted in reality.

Still, it makes for an interesting story device once you can get over the extreme coincidences (i.e. person the right spot and at the right time in history) involved. One of the best things in the series are the two lead characters themselves; Vorenus and Pullo. Vorenus, as the story starts, is a junior officer. He’s serious minded, extremely loyal and morally-grounded, but also deeply pessimistic and sardonic. Here’s a man who has loads of moral scruples about all the debauchery and sin that goes on around him, and he isn’t afraid to say so when the occasion calls for it even to Caesar and Mark Anthony. Yet, for all his virtues, he’s awkward around women and finds it difficult to express his real sentiments for his wife, Niobe (Indira Varma). Pullo, on the other hand, is vulgar, bad-tempered, too familiar with women, a bit of a thuggish brute, kills without thought, but yet possessing a tenderness for those he cares for.

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Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) early on in the series.

The two are supported by a cast of historical characters that include the famous Julius Caesar (Ciarán Hinds), Mark Anthony (James Purefoy), Marcus Junius Brutus (Tobias Menzies), Octavian Caesar (Max Pirkis/Simon Woods), Atia of the Julii (Polly Walker), and many others. It’s a mostly UK cast, with the odd European actor here and there included.

The performances are incredibly consistent and great across the board, and I don’t say that lightly. While most of the actor awards were eventually heaped on Polly Walker for her role as the scheming Atia (mother of Octavian Caesar), there is no ‘weak link’ in the cast. Once you can get past hearing ancient Roman characters speaking with British accents, you’re rewarded with a great sense of world immersion you receive from watching the cast. They look the part already – more on the costumes and sets later – and play their roles with little mannerisms that are consistent with the kind of social and political system of that day. In fact, one of the themes that come across very strongly is the divide that existed between the different social classes of Ancient Rome. You have slaves, the working class, and the nobility, and the stories are tightly woven involving characters from all three.

Continued in the next post.

22. January 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Baby Blues, Dining

Apologies for the relative absence of posts in the last fortnight – I’ve been away on my annual in-camp training stint! I’m certainly looking forward to when I turn 40 at the end of this year, whereupon I’d be finally discharged from the national service obligations and leave that sort of thing to younger Singapore males.

The last couple of evenings – when I get to go home at least – have been spent re-watching the critically acclaimed Rome TV series, a joint production between HBO and BBC from a few years ago. I blogged about this series here more than 3 years ago (has it been that long?!), but it’s only been the revisit of the entire series of two seasons when it’s left me with a deeper impression. I’ve just finished watching the last of its 22 episodes, and will write out a longer post of the series later.

Our most recent family picture, taken this morning at Sweet Spring @ AMK Hub, our dim sum hang out of late:

The menu’s improved, but prices have also gone north. Also, poor Hannah got badly bitten by mosquitoes last night, so she doesn’t look so good now – I had to photo-shop the picture a little here to represent what she normally looks like at all of 1 Year 7 Months 2 weeks!

I like to make things with my hands. :) Be it from cooking, baking, needlework, art ‘n’ craft or gardening, I derive much pleasure and satisfaction.

It has been ages since I last make any craft items. I had a sudden desire to decorate our house for this Chinese New Year and this got me surfing the Internet for ideas and inspiration.

I’ll call it Project CNY Paper Lantern.

Purple Flowery Paper Lantern

Materials

glossy (optional), coloured papers (A4)

artificial flowers (bought 2 packs of $2 each from Cold Storage)

double-sided tape

long scissors

ruler

pencil

thin ribbon

Method

1) Fold an A4 sized glossy, coloured paper into half (lengthwise) and press the crease line well.

2) Make one-inch makings along the crease line with a pencil.

3) Cut away the smallest strip (lesser than one-inch) – this will serve as the handle of the lantern later.

4) Cut the paper (still folded) breath-wise at every one-inch marking. Leave about an inch at the opposite edge. Do not cut all the way!

5) Unfold the paper with the crease line pointing upwards.

6) Arrange flowers & leaves (optional) throughout the strips except for one at the end (leftmost or rightmost strip). Paste a few pieces of double-sided tape along this blank strip.

7) Use double sided tape to secure the flowers and leaves to the strips.

8) Carefully lift the paper and turn it into a cylinder by pressing the double-sided tape on the blank strip behind the strip on the other extreme end.

9) Use double-sided tape to secure the handle strip (cut out initially) to the top of the paper lantern. Voila, your very own DIY paper lantern! :D

I made three paper lanterns and two ‘ang bao’ fish and hung them all on a rod which used to hold a curtain. :)

I hope that Hannah and I would enjoy doing art ‘n’ craft together in the near future. :P

CNY decoration with colourful, flowery, paper lanterns!

16. January 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, News & Letters

I was reading a news article on The Straits Times the other day about a so-called ‘elite’ secondary school in Singapore acquiring a few hundred iPads and using it in their learning.

Now, what got my attention wasn’t so much the acquisition and use of those tablets, though in my line of work, interactive digital media-based learning is an area that I pay close attention to. Rather, it was the fact that a teacher of that school was interviewed, and her title as the newspaper reported was ‘Dean of Admissions’. For a secondary school where students are admitted at 12 years old!

Maybe it’s just me, because I thought the word ‘Dean’ is used only for very senior education leaders in institutions of higher learning.

It’s been something that I’ve been observing for a while now, and it’s this: a Singapore penchant for fancy, bombastic sounding titles for everything and sundry, and apparently sometimes with little consideration of how inappropriate it might sound.

Like how our Lentor family home belongs to a housing project called ‘President Gardens’ (shudder). Or how a certain JC here in Singapore once as I recall it had the audacity to call its students taking ‘A’ level Biology ‘Medicine’ students. Or even the new condominium just further down the road calling itself ‘Austville Residences’. Even our apartment project, ‘The Rivervale‘ sounds a little too pompous and would had really sounded ridiculous were it not for the fact that our entire area is known as Rivervale something (e.g. Rivervale Link, Rivervale Crescent, Rivervale Drive).

I’m assuming that in most cases, these names are intended to catch people’s attention, and possibly impress them.

Not that the grandstanding titles personally affects me. Though I wonder whether in our part of the world, we’ve become so caught up with physical appearances that these days that’s the only way it’ll catch our attention or – more worryingly – get us to think the thing the fancy sounding name represents has any stock or value.

I was about to blog on Hannah’s latest vocabulary development when I discovered that our friend Ann just did one on her nieces :D

Not all animals get to be called by their names. Apart from cat, dog dog, bear bear and bird bird, the rest are better known as ‘fii’, ‘whal’, ‘seep’, ‘mu mu’ and ‘ji ji’. (fish, whale, sheep, cow and mouse)

Although she could utter 2 different words now (e.g. ‘sit here’, ‘no more’, ‘all done’), some other words had undergone reinventing. The results are ‘ki-ki’, ‘carre’, ‘na-na-na-nA-NA-Na’, ‘aahm’, ‘wa’ and ‘blar’. These were formerly ‘kiwi’, ‘carry’, ‘banana’, ‘amen’, ‘watch’ and ‘brush’.

Her most impressive 2-syllable words are: ‘hannah’, ‘daddy’, ‘mommy’, ‘apple’ and ‘bubble’.

When it comes to the Chinese department, our girl only has a humble collection of words: ‘hua’, ‘ye-ye’, ‘nai-nai, ‘po-po’, ‘jie-jie’, ‘kor-kor’, ‘xie xie’ and ‘Xin-xin’.

And guess what  is my favourite word of all? :P