May 26, 2017

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Motherhood

by Gillian Lim

BIRTHING is bound to leave a mark on you. Be it a physical scar from a c-section or in the form of a little toddler scampering around your home, it goes without saying that motherhood is one of those things that you remember for life.

There are already some conventional ways to remember the initial few moments of motherhood, pregnancy or birthing, including countless baby photos, scrapbook albums and baby footprint impressions. There’s also saving that first locket of hair from the first haircut and now with technology, you can even buy Christmas ornaments from local baby stores online – be it glittering balls with DIY paint so you can stamp on your baby’s handprint or soft clay rings on which you can make an imprint of your baby’s foot.

We took a look at some of the most interesting ways of commemorating your child’s birth and your journey of motherhood:

 

Breast milk jewellery

Breastmilk glass bead earrings, adjustable breastmilk ring, and breastmilk lace bangle. Photo taken from Tokens of Eternity's Facebook page.
Breastmilk glass bead earrings, adjustable breastmilk ring and breastmilk lace bangle. Photo was taken from Tokens of Eternity‘s Facebook page.

Breastfeeding is a highly personal and emotional experience for many mothers – breastmilk jewellery (say what?) helps to record it. Only two to three tablespoons of breastmilk are needed to make your personalised filigree locket, pendant or ring, said Singapore-based business Milk Bunny Singapore.

Run by a local mother, the business said on its website that breastmilk jewellery “is an item that every breastfeeding mum would want to keep for themselves” and as hardly a trace of “gold” (breastmilk has also been described as liquid gold) is left once the baby is weaned off.

So how exactly does it work?

A small amount of breastmilk – about 10ml to 20ml, depending on the design – is sent to the jeweller, who then processes the milk. This goes through the process of dehydration, which hardens the milk. Then, it is shaped before being coated with resin for protection. Finally, it is worked into necklaces, beads and pendants.

Milk Bunny Singapore’s breastmilk jewellery range from sterling silver filigree lockets with an enclosed lump of breastmilk to 12mm round charms with a moulded heart-shaped design. The silver filigree lockets cost $88. Most of the jewellery take one to two months to make.

The owner of Milk Bunny Singapore said that since the hardened breastmilk is protected by a layer of resin, there are no safety or hygiene risks. “I’m a breastfeeding mum myself for the last four years,” she said. “There’s no worries on breastmilk handling.”

Another Singapore-based online store, Tokens of Eternity, sells pearl breastmilk earrings (which cost $68) and breastmilk lace bangles (which cost $159). It also offers breastmilk bar soaps with lavender essential oil (which cost $35 to $55 per set, depending on size).

First-time mother Genevieve Zhang bought her silver locket breastmilk keepsake from Tokens of Eternity in February this year. “Breastmilk jewellery is much more personal than other conventional keepsakes, like footprint moulds. I wanted to commemorate that intimate process between me and my daughter,” said the 33-year-old teacher.

She added: “I think I’d do it again, even with my second or third child. Breastfeeding is a very personal and intimate process. If I do foot moulds, it’s not as personal – you have to hang up on the wall. For this, I get to wear the jewellery if I want to.” But Ms Zhang doesn’t wear the locket as often – she wants to keep it in pristine shape, for her daughter to wear when she’s older.

 

Belly casts

Photo taken from ProudBody's Facebook page
Photo taken from ProudBody‘s Facebook page.

Hand casts, foot casts – you think you might have heard it all. But some pregnant women also do casts of one more thing – their pregnant bellies.

Essentially, a pregnancy belly cast is created by applying several layers of wet plaster strips, or clay, to the front of a pregnant mum’s body, which has to be generously oiled with lubricant beforehand. After the strips have set, the dried plaster or clay will hold her belly’s shape. It can be removed and left to dry fully.

Singapore-based pottery company Amooo’s does belly bowls that can be used as actual dinnerware. Having run this service for more than a year now, owner Amutha Saravanan operates entirely from her own home studio in Ang Mo Kio. “Clients make individual appointments with me,” she told TMG, adding that they would come over to her home studio, and that’s when the bowls are being shaped and made.

“Literally, we just put the clay on your belly,” she said. Once it dries (takes about an hour), the decorations begin, and the bowl is left to dry completely for a week. Thereafter, it goes into the kiln. When it’s done, I deliver it to you,” she said. The bowls take an average of three weeks to be made.

The finished bowls are entirely safe to be used as dinnerware as it’s free from lead and toxins, said Ms Saravanan, adding that her clay comes from Australia, and her dinnerware glazes from US and Canada. A single bowl costs $180, while a three-pot series over a four-week interval (so you can chart the growth of your belly) costs $500. All these prices include delivery, unless you stay at Sentosa, Ms Saravanan added.

Said Ms Saravanan: “People who come to me tell me it’s an experience they never expected, and wonderful, especially for prenatal bonding. Some haven’t experienced clay like that. People usually use plaster, which is mainly decorative.”

If you’d like to DIY – most kits come with plaster gauze strips, which means you cannot actually use your belly cast as dinnerware – you can choose to do it in the comfort of your own home. While physical stores in Singapore don’t stock DIY kits, you can easily buy them online, from Amazon or Qoo10.

 

Handmade calligraphy brushes made with baby’s hair

Photo taken from Huaxia Taimaobi Centre's Facebook page.
Photo taken from Huaxia Taimaobi Centre‘s Facebook page.

According to Huaxia Taimaobi Centre, a Singapore-based company that produces brushes called the hua xin tai mao bi (華新胎毛笔), the “foetal hair is entirely different from any other hair that grows at a later stage because it is very soft with a hair tip on one end”. It added that it is considered auspicious to keep the foetal hair, be it in the form of a locket or a calligraphy brush. Of course, you can keep it for purely sentimental reasons too.

On top of incorporating your baby’s hair into a calligraphy brush, which can actually be used to write calligraphy if you can bear to use it, Huaxia also engraves your baby’s name, birthdate and auspicious phrases onto the calligraphy brush itself. There is a total of eight possible calligraphy brush designs, ranging from red, black and brown sandalwood to blue cloisonne brushes. The brush takes approximately three to five weeks to make.

How much do these tai mao bis cost? From $38 to $428, depending on the pattern of the brush.

 

Baby butt moulds

 

Photo taken from 3D Portrait Singapore Facebook page.
Photo taken from 3D Portrait Singapore‘s Facebook page.

Making moulds of your infant’s hands and feet might seem common to you, so some local companies have extended their services to include butt and ear moulds.

Singapore-based company 3D Portrait Singapore said that its “replicas are real-sized, detailed and printed from your own baby’s hands feet using safe and natural products even for babies sensitive’s skin”, adding that replicas can even be made for the whole family. The casting process takes one to two minutes per hand, and the company also casts baby boy genitals and baby belly buttons at your request.

The 3D baby portraits range from $355 to $500, depending on the package, and home visits can be arranged.

 

Umbilical cord art

Photo taken from Little Cord Art's Facebook page.
Photo taken from Little Cord Art‘s Facebook page.

Now, we’ve all looked at leaves or cheek scrapings under the scrutiny of a microscope. But one company has started looking into umbilical cords a little more closely – literally.

The only company to offer such services so far, US-based Little Cord Art sells both physical and digital copies of art pieces that are essentially a close-up look at the cross-section of your baby’s umbilical cord.

How is it done? Well, first you purchase a collection kit well in advance of your stipulated due date – preferably at least two weeks before, the company said. Inside, there’s everything you need – instructions, a sealed blade, a specimen jar with preservative solution, an information card and a fully pre-paid return DHL envelope to send the cord sample back to Little Cord Art. You then hand over everything to your doctor or midwife, who will collect the cord sample. But because you’re shipping over human tissue to the US, the company has arranged for special DHL process and packing – this would cost around $200 to $275, just for shipping the collection kit from Singapore alone.

After which, it will place the cord sample in paraffin wax, slice individual specimens and place them on microscope slides. Various stains are applied to the slides to make the cellular details visible to the naked eye. Three to five slides are produced – all with different colour schemes – and placed under a microscope that magnifies the tissue up to 400 times. The images are then photographed, printed and mounted on a frame.

If you choose to purchase a canvass, prices range from US$305 to US$605 ($421 to $835). A digital purchase – you can then print it at your preferred printer and get it mounted or framed yourself – costs $345.

Featured image taken from Tokens of Eternity‘s Facebook page.

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By Felix Cheong

THE man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.

So proclaims American writer Mark Twain. But what did he know? He was a dead white male who lived in a time when the Web was what spiders made and being gay meant you were happy. There was nothing else to do when you had time to kill, save dive into books cover to cover, or dive under the covers with your spouse.

Fast forward 100 years and reading is now a sunset hobby, very much like beyblade and planking. That’s according to the National Arts Council (NAC). Its first National Literary Reading and Writing Survey last year found that only 44 per cent of the 1,015 Singaporeans and PRs surveyed said they read at least one literary book a year. (“Literary” here refers to fiction, poetry, drama, graphic novels, creative non-fiction and probably all our articles on The Middle Ground).

The survey, conducted with the best of intentions and via street interviews, also dredged up what I’ve already known all along – only 11 per cent read books by Singaporean writers. And by Singapore writers, they’re talking about ghost writer Russell Lee and teen romance hack Low Kay Hwa.

Unsurprisingly, this squares with my experience; only two members of my immediate family have read any of my 10 books. Not even my wife has read them all, even when I offered to record my own reading and turned them into audio books she could listen to on the bus. No go.

The NAC’s survey seems to fly in the face of other happy-go-lucky stats. For instance, last year, Singapore boasted one of the highest literacy rates in the world (among residents 15 years and above), at 96.8 per cent. This was higher than the global average of 86.3 per cent. This means, to paraphrase Twain, that Singaporeans can read but choose not to. Well, at least not literary stuff anyway.

And why should you? After all, you can save time by watching the film or TV adaptation. For instance, the BBC has compressed Tolstoy’s hernia-inducing tome, War and Peace, into a high-class, stiff-upper-lip TV series, complete with an eye-candy cast in Lily James and Jessie Buckley. Here is Tolstoy’s epic story as he had never meant it to be, a Cliff’s Notes in splendid sound and colourful vision, corsets and all.

Moreover, we have to live up to our reputation as a pragmatic people who give no quarter and ask for $10 in change. Why read anything literary when, as English poet W.H. Auden says, “poetry makes nothing happen”? Mr Lee Kuan Yew must have taken this to heart, for he once declared that “poetry [and by extension, anything literary] is a luxury we cannot afford”.

This explains the anomaly that while Singapore students are driven to drop literature in droves, we still claim the Angus Ross Prize (awarded to the best performing non-British candidate in the ‘A’ Level English Literature exam) year after year. In fact, Singapore has monopolised the prize since its inception in 1987 (with the exception of 2000). It was awarded last year to Hwa Chong Institution student Raymond Scott Lee.

This is because prizes make people sit up and take notice. Rankings bring in investors and expats who believe we’re a cultured society (until they see our Third World manners upclose at the food court), that we’re closer to an island paradise than the Singapore Tourism Board brochures depict. That’s the pragmatic trade-off. It’s a gambit to say we’ve arrived as a First World nation, a way to assert our insecurity.

As a writer, I am, of course, resigned to this state of affairs. It hasn’t changed since I published my first book in 1998. And it won’t be changing anytime soon. Just don’t read too much into it. Literally.

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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Can Dun (SinGweesh)

by Gwee Li Sui

THOSE atas kay angmos are always trying to correct the England of us Singlish speakers – for fiak?! It’s like an exercise in racism for them. They think they know and can comment on what they’re hearing, but they really dun and can’t. Every time they comment, it’s like kena sai man. Singlish isn’t broken England, and it has its own rules like how England has its own rules. This is true even when a sentence construction uses only England words.

A steady poon pee pee example is a construction with “Can dun”. Maybe you’ve heard it used before or you ownself use it in ways like these: “Can you dun” – or just “can dun” – “put your feet on the seat?” “Can dun stand so close to the yellow line?” “Can dun Majulah this and Majulah that?” “Can dun commit adultery?” All these questions aren’t asking “Can you not” or “Can’t you” – and to anyhowly assume is your first step down the road to bigots’ hell. It may look England, but it isn’t. It’s not poor England!

The proof of this lies in how Singaporeans dun say “Must you dun” or “Must dun”, “Should dun”, “Will dun”, and so on. We say “Mustn’t you” or “Shouldn’t you” or “Will you not” or “Won’t you” – we can one! We only say “Can dun” – which, if you’re at least an air-level jiak kentang fella, should ring some bell that something else is going on liao. Tio bo? “Can dun” is a meta-sentence construction, meaning that there are actually two sentences, two points, being made. The first is a “Dun” sentence while the second is a “Can you” sentence.

What cock am I talking about here? Let me gostan a bit and explain. In England, when you say “Can you not look at me?”, you’re asking another to do just that, not to look at you. It’s a request, a polite one, and your addressee can choose to oblige or not to – depending on whether he or she is a creep or not. But, when you say “Dun look at me!”, that’s no longer a request: it’s a command! You’re ordering the bugger not to do something, and your tone is fierce. You’re hardly subtle about seeing the other as a creep.

“Can dun” means to say “Dun”, “Stop it” – but, being such nice people, we Singaporeans double back to rephrase a command as a request. Yet, despite the politeness, the irritation remains intact. In fact, the politeness is a last signal to the addressee that a line of tolerance has been crossed. Yes, we the Majulah people are passive-aggressive one; it’s a mode of social interaction that permeates our Gahmen, workplaces, schools, and homes. Singaporeans can’t just speak our minds. We go the distance to make others learn for themselves how we’re really feeling.

“Can dun” is such a mark of a folk stuck between the custom of face-saving and the assertion of self. We want to be brutally honest, but then hor we also dun wish to deal with any backfiring impact. As a result, we talk liddat one lor. So let’s state it plainly here in case you’re still blur. Whenever you hear “Can dun”, just treat it as “Dun”: you’re not invited to consider. There’s no choice involved, you gila babi. To disregard my advice and persist means that you’re either a creep or one bodoh kay angmo.

 

Featured Image by Sean Chong.

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Watch, Timepiece Investment
Illustration by Sean Chong

by Ryan Ong

WHEN I received my first expensive watch, I was deeply moved. No one else had thought to commemorate my 30th birthday with a device that, when strapped to my wrist, ticks a constant reminder of how much closer I’m getting to death. I think if you give a terminally-ill patient a watch, they should legally be allowed to punch you. Nonetheless, it’s a mark of value to some; even enough to be called an investment:

Black clock showing 8.30.

IT’S finally here, after about two years in the making: A new insurance policy that lets you be just a bit more comfortable if you’re packing an overnight bag for the hospital.

Called the Standard Integrated Shield Plan (IP), the policy which starts on May 1 builds on the national MediShield Life (MSHL) by letting patients choose to stay in Class B1 wards rather than B2 or C wards. Class B1 wards have air-conditioning, B2/C wards do not.

Concerns over rising premiums with the new and compulsory MSHL have led to calls for a more “budget” IP targeted at consumers who don’t really care for private facilities. In 2014, the MediShield Life Review Committee recommended that the G work with private insurers to offer such an option. Most IPs currently on the market cover costs up to Class A wards and stays in private hospitals.

If you’re thinking of making a switch, be sure to talk to all five insurers (AIA, Aviva, Great Eastern Life, Prudential and NTUC Income) who offer the plan. Although the benefits are the same, the premiums may vary. Premiums for the Standard IP will be more expensive than the basic MSHL plan, but cheaper than those covering Class A and private hospital stays.

To see a comparison chart of premium fees across other types of IPs, click here.

Not sure if you’re on an Integrated Shield Plan? Follow these steps.

Making a switch to a cheaper plan may be a bit of a hassle, but the savings could make a difference for you – especially if you’re still looking for a job.

Last year, more than 15,000 workers were laid off – more than in 2014 and the highest number since the financial crisis in 2009.

Among the hardest hit were higher-skilled workers, degree holders, and middle-aged workers.

Speaking of not having a job, guess who has resigned from the Women’s Wing of the People’s Action Party?

 

Featured Image by Kong Chong Yew

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ISIS Recruit Form (Cheongster)
Illustration by Sean Chong

by Felix Cheong

BEFORE you blow yourself up for ISIS, we want to know who you are. This is to facilitate our background checks against the CIA and MI6 databases, to which we have paid access.

Your cooperation in filling out this form truthfully is much appreciated. Remember, Allah is watching you.

 

Section A: Personal Particulars

Name: ____________________

(Given names with Mohamed or variations thereof will be considered more favourably.)

Latest IQ test score: ______

Latest EQ test score: ______

Date of birth: _____________

Date of rebirth as a fundamentalist: _______________

How did you come to know about ISIS?

  1. Newspapers
  2. Jihad T-shirts
  3. YouTube
  4. Social media
  5. Others: ____________________

Number of websites visited before self-radicalisation: _____

How is a self-radical different from a free radical? ____________________

Security deposit (refundable upon successful martyrdom; choose only one):

  1. US$50,000
  2. House
  3. Wife
  4. Younger sister
  5. Others: ______________________

 

Section B: Past Experience

Have you beheaded any living thing before?  (Yes / No)

If yes, what was it (you may choose more than one option)?

  1. Rat
  2. Chicken
  3. Snake
  4. Mother-in-law
  5. Others: __________________

 If no, briefly describe how and when you plan to start:

__________________________________________________________

Have you played with matches, lighters, firecrackers or set anything on fire as a child?  (Yes / No)

If no, briefly describe how and when you plan to start:

___________________________________________________________

Are you a spy for CIA, MI6 or any other intelligence agency?  (Yes / No)

If yes, please state your mission objectives: _________________________

 

Section C: Working for ISIS

What role do you plan to play before your mission (you may choose more than one)?

  1. Errant boy
  2. Driver
  3. Cook
  4. Spare parts provider (kidney, cornea, etc.)
  5. Others: _________________________

Rate your level of obedience to the cause (choose only one):

Will self-mutilate regardless

Will self-mutilate if required

Will self-mutilate if forced

Need help to self-mutilate

Would rather die than self-mutilate

Rate your ability to lure naive Western girls to the cause (choose only one):

Party animal

Social media whore

Exotic Muslim boyfriend

Brainy intellectual

Religious Fanatic

 

Expected reward after successful suicide mission (choose only one):

  1. 0-20 casualties: 0-20 virgins
  2. 21-40 casualties: 21-30 virgins
  3. 41-60 casualties: 31-40 virgins
  4. 61-80 casualties: 41-50 virgins
  5. Above 81 casualties: 51-72 virgins

 

(Note: Entitlements are calculated based on official death toll as reported by Al Jazeera. While stocks last. Male virgins will be offered as substitute without prior notice. ISIS will not notify recruits of any changes in terms and conditions.)

 

Featured illustration by Sean Chong

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REMEMBER that odd sign put up by Marine Parade Town Council prohibiting the playing of chess at common areas? The Town Council has apologised and replaced them with new ones that say “please be considerate”. The cause? Older folks playing and watching games of checkers (not chess) crowding up the walkway and playing into the wee hours. The games have been going on since 2009 and MP Fatimah Lateef said that they’ve been invited to play at the CC or RC but declined, although she didn’t say why. Other attempts to put a halt to the activity have also failed to deter the group, which consists mostly of retirees. Perhaps the Town Council can expand the walkway, like the chess corner in Chinatown… at least it doesn’t seem like these oldies have any intention of getting in trouble with the law – they just get carried away sometimes.

It’s checkmate for cigarettes on retail display as a ban is set to come into force in early 2017. MPs spoke in parliament to back the ban and push for even harsher legislation like raising the minimum age from 18 to 21. Read our report on the Parliamentary session here.

Singapore is checking out two sites for a Founders’ Memorial: Gardens by the Bay and Fort Canning Park. With more than 80 per cent of Singaporeans in favour of a Founders’ Memorial to commemorate the values of Singapore’s founders, the 15-member Founders’ Memorial Committee has delivered its recommendations to the Government, which will make the final decision. The Fort Canning option has a richer history but will have limitations because it is already congested, while the Gardens by the Bay option (actually, the site is on the opposite side of the Marina Reservoir) is more flexible and spacious but is a little way away from popular areas like Marina Barrage. Which do you prefer?

The Malaysian Insider checks out of the news landscape after eight years of publishing. It cited “commercial reasons” for its closure, and owner The Edge Media Group says the site lost RM10 million (S$3.3 million) since it was acquired in June 2014. The site has been critical of the Malaysian Government was blocked by Malaysian authorities after it ran a story where an unnamed source said that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission had enough evidence to prosecute PM Najib. Mr Ho Kay Tat, publisher and chief executive of The Edge Media Group, said that “the closure of TMI should serve as a reminder to those of us in the media industry as well as the public at large that good journalism cannot be sustained without commercial support. And when good journalism stops, society is the loser.”

 

Featured Image by Kong Chong Yew

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by Wan Ting Koh

HEARD of a “tobacco-free generation“?

This was one of the suggestions raised in Parliament today (March 14), before the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Bill was passed.

MP for Jurong GRC Dr Tan Wu Meng and MP for Marine Parade GRC Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef were the chief supporters for a “tobacco-free generation”, where people born after a certain year would be banned from buying cigarettes altogether. Dr Tan said that this was to ensure youths would never start smoking in the first place. He added that he believed such a “long term plan” would not “disadvantage current smokers”. Together with MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Dr Chia Shi-Lu, he also called for the minimum legal age to be raised on the premise that studies have shown that those who do not smoke by the age of 21 are less likely to pick up smoking later in their lives. The current legal age for smoking is 18.

In response, Ms Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health, said one of the main hurdles of imposing a “tobacco-free generation” was the practical difficulty of both monitoring and imposing the penalties. Plus, the flat ban may not yield intended results, especially if youths resort to having their elders purchase cigarettes for them. The ban would be “resource intensive” because the G will then have to penalise the person providing the cigarettes. Anyway, as young people grow up, it won’t be easy distinguishing them from legal consumers, as their physical differences won’t be as obvious, she said. Hence, the ministry would not pursue the idea “for now”.

As to the idea of raising the minimum legal age, Dr Khor said that the ministry was still in the midst of studying the process and its possible effects. A public consultation round concerning this issue will be due by the end of this month.

According to the new rules, tobacco retailers can no longer display tobacco-related products such as cigarettes in their shops. The rationale according to Dr Khor: to “de-normalise” the use of tobacco and reduce exposure among non-smokers by keeping them from the advertising effects of the displays.

Speaking in Parliament, MP for Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng, a former smoker himself, recounted the difficulties he faced while attempting to go “cold turkey” – which is to wean himself off cigarettes completely – after 17 years of smoking. Mr Ng, who started smoking when he was 18 years old, said it was especially hard having to avoid retailers such as 7-Eleven as the cigarette displays were tempting. “I was a grumpy Smurf,” Mr Ng said, adding that he even tried segregating himself in Disneyland, a tobacco-free zone, for a week.

So, gone will be the days when you see racks of the various cigarette packets lined at the drinks stalls in hawker centres or at your convenience store counters. Instead, retailers will have to provide a list of the brands and their prices in text form. Under the new rules, general tobacco retailers will be required to keep tobacco products out of the direct line of sight of customers.

Even tobacco specialist retailers – such as shops that sell beedies and cigars are not exempted from the rules. However these retailers are allowed to keep their advertising within store premises and these cannot be visible from the outside the store. There are currently 17 such specialists in Singapore.

A grace period of 12 months will be given in order for tobacco retailers to implement the changes. The new laws will take effect in 2017.

Featured image by Flickr user Eric Lewis. CC BY 2.0

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by Brenda Tan

LOOKING back at my reaction last month to my doctor’s diagnosis of my stomach cancer, I realise that my reaction to the news was probably not the norm. Even though every cancer diagnosis is unique, and reactions to cancer diagnosis depend greatly on a patient’s age, personality, family situation and presentation of cancer, I suspect that when a doctor breaks the news of cancer to his patient, the usual reaction is not a cheerful curiosity about what’s to come next.

I had a lot of time this month while healing from my gastrectomy to think about why I’m wired so weirdly.

Off the top of my head are three reasons for my reaction:
1. My faith
2. My work in organisational change
3. My philosophy about life in general

My faith
I am a Christian and I wholeheartedly believe that my God has a purpose for my life. The plan that He has for me is good, and that suffering and hardship is also a part of that plan for my spiritual growth in faith and faithfulness. Furthermore, I believe that while this plan is in action, my God does not abandon me to undertake the hardship on my own. In fact, He undergoes this journey with me, as well as sends people in my path to encourage and sojourn with me.

Nevertheless, I am not naive about how painful and tough going through cancer would be – if not for myself, but also for my family and loved ones.

Fifteen years ago, my Pa passed away from Stage 4 lung cancer when I was in my late-20s. The helplessness I felt when I saw Pa going into decline as his strength slowly failed, and as he relied more and more on his painkillers to ease his suffering, remains an indelible memory for me.

Yet, Pa showed me that God is good, and in His time, Pa gained the peace he sought. Pa was blessed with a happy and colourful life of love and friendship; he not only raised his daughter and son to adulthood, he was even a proud Ah Kong to my toddler son!

My work in organisational change
Apart from contributing articles to The Middle Ground, I work together with my husband Noel to help organisations and communities understand, navigate and adapt to change.

Some changes can be anticipated – we are able to see what’s coming on the horizon and plan for it. For organisations and communities, this may mean having to cope with new technologies on the horizon that may disrupt the way things work or consider what “new normals” would affect the way people in the organisation relate to one another.

On a more personal level, these may be the changes we can anticipate as a family: our children going to primary school next year, our ageing parents’ needs or even changes that we might face at work due to restructuring. Being aware of what’s on the horizon helps us prepare – whether this may mean moving closer to our parents or to the kids’ school, having to be more circumspect about our family expenditure to plan for the family’s growing needs, or having to prioritise our time for family and work.

While most people understand change as inevitable, perhaps the toughest changes are the ones no one can plan for. These are the sudden disruptions to the careful plans we make, simply because the environment we live in is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.

So how do we help our clients with such disruptions?

We help our clients reframe these changes from a negative perspective to a positive one; from seeing the disruption as a “crisis” to one of “opportunities”.

We ask: How might this change be a good thing?

Once we use a positive frame, we are able to see possibilities. Following that, anticipation and enthusiasm usually help move the dialogue from a paralysing fear of the crisis to ways to surmount the challenge.

A cancer diagnosis is certainly a huge disruption. And depending on how the cancer presents itself, it may very well be challenging just to frame cancer as a positive change.

When my doctor told me I had stomach cancer, my habit of having a positive frame naturally led me to see this disruption as an adventure – to undergo a journey of new experience. Like all new experiences, I knew that it would mean new learning and a new area of growth for myself.

During this month of healing from my operation, I began to better understand the amazing possibilities this disruption has afforded me.

Since the operation, I’ve had a steady stream of visitors who brought much joy and laughter whenever they came to see me. I’ve repeated my cancer story to to them to the point my 8-year-old could end off my sentences. After sharing my story, we would spend the rest of the time playing catch-up about what’s been going on in each others’ lives. Sometimes, our conversation would turn sober – how a friend/parent/sibling was also undergoing medical treatments. During these times, we both take comfort in the fact that whether as a caregiver or a patient, we each have difficult journeys to undertake – one step at a time – and that we can support one another by just listening to each other’s stories.

Another area that opened up was the many messages, emails and visits from cancer survivors and cancer patients. They shared with me their cancer stories to encourage me on my journey.

Invariably, these are stories of how they are now more aware of the people around them, and how they were sustained through the cancer treatments by the support from loved ones and their faith. They share a story of appreciating time: time to live, love and be generous with the people around them. Their stories also offer a fascinating glimpse of how their cancer led them on a different path and purpose when they became cancer-free.

In an interesting way, cancer transforms and awakens those it touches.

Frankly, I have my cancer to thank for allowing me this time to sit at a pitstop, in order to appreciate the love of people surrounding me.

My philosophy about life in general
I hold my personal successes in life lightly.

That is not to say that I don’t give my best in everything I do – I do! After all, I am a born and bred Singaporean!

But unlike many Singaporeans, I don’t define myself by my successes or accolades that people give me.

When I became a mother, my willingness to relinquish my success as a school teacher allowed me the space to learn and grow to enjoy my new identity as a mother. Being unemployed gave me the opportunity to further my studies and gain a degree. I also had space to stumble into being an entrepreneur with my husband. We later stepped out of our success in the local school-enrichment space to explore different frontiers, which led us to work globally in the facilitation field. I relinquished my role as trainer/facilitator to pick up the markers and become a graphic recorder when my husband facilitated, and then I found myself working successfully in a wholly new element. Opportunities later arose for me to give back to the community by encouraging and mentoring other practitioners in my field.

It is not that I don’t struggle in relinquishing my successes. I am human too, so it is really hard to say goodbye to what you know you’re really good at, and to start from scratch at a new endeavour. It requires stepping out from an area of expertise to become the newbie, and it is extremely humbling to have to learn afresh – not to mention having to take time to tackle the learning curve.

However, I believe that when we hold tightly to our successes, it can be limiting to personal growth.

We become limited to what we are successful in, and become defined by what we are seen as good as. We are so good at what we do that we grow afraid of letting it all go, and spend a lifetime pursuing accolades to affirm our success in whatever fields we are in – sometimes, even to the detriment of our health and family. And when we do get those accolades we seek, it never seems enough, nor does it satisfy us the way we believe it ought to.

Success breeds an “expert” mentality where we believe there’s little left for us to learn. We dismiss possibilities and other ways of thinking, simply because our success and the way we got successful are the only lens we’ve worn. We wonder, “Why can’t other people be like us?” and discount that others walk in very different shoes from us, even if they hold similar hopes and values.

Joseph Campbell, the originator of the notion of the hero’s journey puts it best: “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

Perhaps because I have meandered much, I have learnt that whenever I allow myself to let go these hard-earned successes, I create space for something new to come into my free hands.

Thus, despite finding myself at an unexpected roadblock when things are going well, I can be cheerfully curious about where the path would lead. My interest is heightened, I itch to learn more, I want to see if I have solutions yet to be tried. I want to get better, and I want to share what I’ve learnt with all my family and friends, so that they can benefit from it.

Perhaps my weird wiring is what keeps me buoyant even as I am now awaiting for my chemotherapy treatment at the end of the month. I am immensely grateful that my faith, work and philosophy have come together to enable me to see my cancer as a opportunity for a different positive outcome – one that’s not just about getting well, but more importantly, one that will expand my horizon and allow me to make a positive impact on the people around me.

Brenda is a columnist, and a friend, of The Middle Ground. Read her first piece, in a series of occasional columns on her journey with stomach cancer, here.

 

Featured illustration by Natassya Diana

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Photo from Pie Face Singapore's Facebook page.

by Gillian Lim

TODAY marks International Pi Day – the day we celebrate the mathematical constant, pi. Also known as the weird squiggly character, π – the one you spent days trying to figure out how to write, and also known as approximately 3.14159.

Why today of all days, you might ask. Well, March 14 is 3/14, if you look at it another way.

International Pi Day can be celebrated in a number of ways. You can go on a maths fest and hold quizzes, binge watch some Big Bang Theory, discuss the significance of the mathematical constant over lunch, or, well, you could just have lots of pie.

Here are five cool pies to check out:

 

1. Banana almond brittle cognac pie, Windowsill Pies

Photo from Windowsill Pies' Facebook page.
Photo from Windowsill Pies‘ Facebook page.

This pie consists of four things: banana caramel, sweet parfait, almond brittle and cognac cream.

What makes this pie so unique is the play of flavours and texture: the sweetness from the banana and the caramel, the creaminess of the parfait cream, the crunchiness of the almond brittle, and of course, the tangy alcohol and slight kick you get from the cognac cream.

According to reviews, the pie isn’t as creamy as it sounds. Food blogger Daniel Ang said in his review of the place that the pies at the outlet were “three-dimensional”, adding that “every bite you take gives you a play of taste and (especially) texture, part creamy fluffy, part almond-nougat-like crunchy”. Windowsill Pies said to not let the cream fool you. It added: “It’s the fluffiest and lightest pie we have!”

If you’re not much of a nutty person, you can check out its other pies. Its selection ranges from the coconut vodka lime pie to the strawberry lemon pie.

Location: 95 Soo Chow Walk, Singapore 575382, along Upper Thomson Road

Price: $7 per slice, $63 per whole cake

 

2. Thai green curry chicken pie, Pie Face Singapore

Photo from Pie Face Singapore's Facebook page.
Photo from Pie Face Singapore‘s Facebook page.

Apart from its unique Thai green curry chicken flavour, the first thing that’ll strike you about the pies here is the emoji faces on them. Yes, that’s why the bakery is called Pie Face.

“We make pies with funny faces on it,” its website said. So if you head to one of it two outlets (at NEX or 313 Somerset), be prepared to see pies with squiggly, curved mouths, or big yawning mouths, or even smiley faces.

And you’d be surprised at the range of flavours that the place has: besides the Thai green curry chicken, it has a chunky savoury steak pie, creamy vegetable pie, and if you’re craving something sweet, you can go for its apple crumble pie or the mini butterscotch pie.

Location: The first outlet is at 313@Somerset, #B3-10, Singapore 238895 and the second outlet is at NEX, #B2-49A, 23 Serangoon Central, Singapore 556083.

Price: The Thai green curry chicken pie costs $4.90, while its other pies range from $3 to $5.20

 

3. Charcoal crust curry chicken pie, Pies & Coffee

Photo from Pies & Coffee's Facebook page.
Photo from Pies & Coffee‘s Facebook page.

Imagine: A blackened pie crust with luscious chunky curry chicken on the inside.

This is one of Pies & Coffee’s signature pies – because of its charred exterior, no doubt. But what’s on the inside? Chicken thigh stewed in an onion and curry-based sauce, with mashed potato and mixed salad on the side.

If you’re worried about how burnt it looks, here’s what The Halal Food Blog said when it dropped by the cafe earlier this year: “We’re guessing that some of you might be put off by the whole ‘charcoal thing’, but it’s really quite okay. It gives the pie crust a little bit of a more distinctive taste but you’ll still enjoy the buttery goodness of a pie crust that you’d expect, so don’t be afraid to give it a go!”

They also said that the filling was “the traditional kind of curry flavour that isn’t too spicy and you’ll get to enjoy the curry flavour with every bite”.

But if charcoal pie isn’t your kind of thing, you can check out the rest of its savoury pies – some of which include beef rendang pie, chicken cheddar pie and mushroom ragout pie. Pies & Coffee is Halal-certified.

Location: It has four outlets – the first outlet is at Rochester Mall, 35 Rochester Drive, #01-02, Singapore 138639. The second outlet is at Robertson Walk, 11 Unity Street, #01-25, and the third outlet at The Grandstand, 200 Turf Club Road, #01-10, Singapore 288794. The last outlet is at Alexandra Retail Centre (ARC), 460 Alexandra Road, #01-18, Singapore 119963.

Price: $11.20 per pie

 

4. Cherry clafouti pie, Dean & DeLuca

Photo from
Photo from Dean & DeLuca’s website..

Clafouti is a French pie, made by baking fruit arranged in a buttered dish and covered with a thick batter. This fruit is traditionally black cherries, but in Dean & DeLuca’s case, it uses French Griotte cherries – dark, wine-red cherries – and pours a rich custard over the entire pie.

The result? A soft, flan-like texture and a rich, creamy flavour with a hint of vanilla. So when you cut into the pie, it’s a soft, cheesecake-like pie, with little bits of cherries in-between.

So if you’re up for something less traditional – and more French, you can give this a go. An alternative pie – sort of – to try is the hazelnut pear frangipane tart.

Location: Far East Square, 47 Pekin Street, #01-01 and HillV2, 4 Hillview Rise, #01-01

Price: $40 per pie

 

5. Candy bar pie, Drury Lane

Photo from Drury Lane's Burrple page.
Photo from Drury Lane‘s Burpple page.

One of the unique flavours at Drury Lane, you can check this sweet candy pie out. It has a crunchy Oreo cookie base, layered with gooey salted caramel, squidgy peanut butter nougat and decadent chocolate ganache. This is topped off with a crispy pretzel. So if you’ve had your fill of savoury poached eggs and grilled steak sandwiches at Drury Lane, you can check this sweet treat out.

Also, as part of a collaboration with dessert place In the brickyard, Drury Lane has four new unique cake flavours you can check out: strawberry lychee martini, earl grey with lavender chocolate and matcha crunch, ondeh ondeh, and lime vanilla.

Location: 94 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore 088515

Price: $5 per slice, $35 per cake

 

 

Feature image taken from Windowsill Pies’ Facebook page

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