April 29, 2017

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Bertha in coffee shop

by Bertha Henson

WHEN my mother was in her 60s, she had both her knees replaced. Last year, when she was 71, she had surgery to her spine. She made a swift recovery but age is telling on her. She laments that she isn’t able to walk as quickly or as far as she could. She laments that she is unable to carry the bags of groceries and has to ask the Sheng Siong staffers to lug it for her to her car boot. Yes, she still drives and I’m thinking of taking away her keys because she has a greater tendency now to confuse her routes.

How does one come to terms with getting old(er)?

Everywhere you see material that caters to the younger set, whether on looking good or dressing well. If there is material on the old, it’s about how some elders are ageing gracefully, like doing the triathlon or something. Or it is the rather more depressing stuff, like end-of-life issues and hospital or hospice care. Or it’s about maintaining enough funds for retirement.

The truth is, ageing is not graceful.

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I see increasing signs of an ageing population everywhere everyday. Like hawkers and stallholders in my neighbourhood who are now wheelchair bound. Like having to make my way through sidewalks crowded with personal mobility devices – and I don’t mean skateboards and wheels for the young. Like seeing an increasing number of foreign helpers who go out marketing with their older charges.

There is a couple I’ve known half my life who walk bent and at a snail’s pace around the neighbourhood. They used to be perky and sprightly. At least, I thought, they have each other and they still hold hands. I tell my mother to straighten her posture when she’s walking or she’ll end up looking like them.

How does one come to terms with growing old(er)? My mother fights age with every ounce of her decreasing energy. She colours the tuft of grey on her head with hair mascara. She dons track shoes for her increasingly shorter walks. She maintains herself well, never neglecting the face powder, lip-stick and earrings when she gets out of the house, even if she’s bound for the wet market. She makes sure her spectacles are youngish – she just bought a red-framed one which she worries would be too flashy for her age.

She knows, however, that she is losing her battle with age. She complains about being “useless’’ because she can’t bake as many cookies as before or cook the big family spreads she used to.

Nothing really prepares you for the slow and steady drip of energy and strength. It doesn’t help when friends you’ve known half your life suddenly succumb to illness. A friend of my mother’s who is one of the most out-going and social beings in her set, collapsed at a mall a few weeks ago and died in hospital a few days later. It’s depressing when people your age suddenly pass on, as it was for my mother.

It’s one aspect of ageing that is seldom talked about: the psychological acceptance that you are not as young as you used to be. We can mend our body parts and even replace them, or slow down the ageing process. We can ensure we have enough funds to live until death, but what is the point when you can’t live life to the fullest in the meantime? You hear it, don’t you? Older folk saying they want to holiday overseas before they become incapable of walking. That they want to enjoy their life with their CPF savings while they are still healthy and sprightly. Yet we tell them to see the big picture: that without funds, society would end up caring for them. It’s a message for the young, who can yet envisage being old.

I feel age creeping on too. Creaky knees, reading glasses and a bad wrist that appears to be the result of too much time on the keyboard. Like my mother, who considers herself young, I look at older folk and wonder about the day I become one of them.

Singapore has to get used to the presence of older folk. I can declare that I have never heard any driver honk at an old person who is taking his time to cross the road. And I have never seen anyone not responding to an older person who asks for help. But I also know that statistics show that the elderly are vulnerable on the roads and die in accidents, and that they are susceptible to scams, especially if the trick involves their children’s well-being.

I read on Friday about an old lady who has kept herself in her own home because she is afraid of falling down when she ventures outside. I smile because my mother is afraid of falling too, not just because of broken bones, but that she would look like a foolish sight in public, sprawled on the ground in an unsightly manner.

Maybe that’s why she always dresses well when she ventures out of the house. You really want to look your best when you are at your worst.

May age be kind to all of us.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Melissa Tsang

I’M A 23-year-old Chinese Singaporean woman. After graduating culinary school in 2016, I started as a commis (also known as 马王, or minion) in a Chinese restaurant kitchen along Orchard Road. This is a description of my everyday work, in English, written for friends and family who are curious.

The structure of a Chinese restaurant kitchen

I drew a diagram of what our kitchen looks like, from where I stand (I only know how to hand draw and then upload a picture, please forgive incompetence):

pic 1

Dim Sum, 点心: They make the har gow, siew mai, XLB (little soup dumplings), carrot cake, cheong fun, and many other forms of dim sum and desserts. Because nearly everything there is made by hand, from scratch, they start work at 7am to finish their prep before service starts at 11am. Since we only serve dim sum in the afternoon, they get off work at 5pm, or whenever they finish their scheduled prep for the day. They are usually considered a separate kingdom from The Main Kitchen and the roasting department.

Roasting/BBQ, 烧腊:This is where the Peking duck, braised duck, roasted suckling pig, soy sauce chicken, char siew, roasted pork belly, braised pig’s intestines, etc. are made. They have two work areas — the back, and the front. The back is where all the heavy prep work is done. Every day they have to wash, marinate, dress, and hang carcasses; as well as roast them in their huge apollo oven (it looks like a tandoor). The front (a tiny work space beside the main kitchen) is where they carve and plate their finished products. They don’t just prepare their own items, like an a la carte order of a Peking duck; they also make products for the main kitchen. For example, they have to produce char siew for the rest of the kitchen — dim sum uses a lot of char siew for their pastries; the main kitchen uses char siew in a Yangzhou fried rice.

The Main Kitchen, 厨房: When industry people say “kitchen” they often refer to any of these sub-sections, and not dim sum or BBQ:

Steaming, 上什/蒸锅/蛋扣: They are located right beside dim sum, and are responsible for anything from the main kitchen that requires steaming — for example, Teochew steamed pomfret, Cantonese steamed marble goby, steamed bamboo clams with fried garlic and tung hoon. They make the daily double-boiled soups, and are also in charge of preparing the sharks’ fin and sea cucumber (very labour intensive, time-consuming products to prepare). Unlike the rest of the main kitchen sub-sections, they coexist very peacefully with dim sum.

Wok, 炉头/炒锅: Most people are more able to understand this sub-section of the kitchen. It’s basically where all the things are stir-fried or deep-fried. Within the wok line (our wok line can accommodate six, but most of the time we work with four) there is a hierarchy.

Wok 1 is head chef, 老大/大佬. He makes the big and final decisions for the main kitchen. He doesn’t do much prep work. If there are orders for abalone, sea cucumber, Alaskan crab, the expensive stuff, they go to him. But he is really more important as a political figure, not as a cook. Like a gang leader, or any head chef, he is supposed to enforce discipline and consistency in his kitchen. He is also supposed to protect the interests of the main kitchen, especially against Front-of-House and higher management, especially in disputes with HR. For this reason, people expect him to exhibit a lot of machismo and dominance, or else they consider him ineffective and weak.

Wok 2 is the sous chef. He is not as politically significant as the Laoda, but he is acting chief in Laoda’s absence. He schedules our duty roster. He may also cook the Very Expensive Things. Some corporations/restaurants that do Cantonese cuisine have a policy of hiring only Hong Kong nationals to occupy head chef and sous chef positions. Ours is one such company.

Wok 3 is expected to cook anything short of the Very Expensive Things. Although he is lower in rank than Wok 2, he is not necessarily less experienced.

Wok 4 is also known as the deep-frying wok, or the “tail wok”. It is usually occupied by a more junior person. If a whole fish needs to be deep fried, it goes to him. He also handles a lot of fried rice, ee fu noodles, fried bee hoon, stir-fried carrot cake. Since the larger and heavier woks are all kept at his end of the line, he cooks off most of our sauces (XO sauce, black pepper sauce, chilli crab sauce, sweet and sour sauce etc. ), deep fries peanuts, cashews, walnuts, whole chickens multiple times a week. He has an enormous role in prep. This person must work very quickly, and must multitask well. When service gets very busy, he should be able to deep fry two different items while stir frying ee fu noodles, without losing his shit.

Woks 5 and/or 6 are opened when we’re descending into chaos and desperately need another wok guy to help out. That’s when a qualified person, who otherwise performs another role, goes on the line for the night.

Butchery, 水台: The person working in butchery has one of the most strenuous jobs ever. Our butcher happens to be the largest dude in the kitchen. When deliveries come, they go straight to his room. He is the one who has to wash cartons and cartons of vegetables alone, break down entire carcasses of cod, hack entire legs of Jinhua ham, chop crates of ribs into smaller chunks, etc. He has to lug boxes and boxes of stuff to and from the walk in freezer. These are on top of the fish and seafood he has to kill and clean. He mostly works with the heaviest cleaver.

Knife work, 砧板: This station is a line of three cutting blocks (literal blocks, they are very thick and heavy, for stability). People doing knife work slice and chop almost everything the kitchen uses. They also have to marinate all the meat, sliced fish, diced chicken, etc. They have a never-ending list of things to do. They are also the first line to read and process order tickets. For example, an order comes for “Seafood fried rice, medium, +salted fish, on hold, no MSG, not too oily, VIP, split into 6 portions”. The relevant information to the dude at the cutting block is “seafood fried rice medium + salted fish” has to pass the ticket over with the correct amount of diced seafood, julienned lettuce, and a small handful of chopped salted fish. Then his job is done and he has nothing else to do with this order ticket.

The Center Line/Traffic control/Communications, 打荷: This is where I work, between the knives and the fire. This is the section most difficult to explain to outsiders. This is where the youngest, most junior people work. This is the section that is the least technically demanding (i.e. you can train a monkey to do this job), but it is the most physically mobile, and the most cognitively demanding position during peak hours.

I’ll first explain what happens when we get a single order, using the above example – “Seafood fried rice, medium, +salted fish, on hold, no MSG, not too oily, VIP, split into 6 portions”. The dude at the chopping board has already pushed the lettuce, diced seafood, and salted fish from his side to our side of the table. We take a quick glance at the order sheet. First, we grab a medium-sized portion of rice. Then we transfer everything from our side of the table to the table directly accessible to the wok guys. We tell him, “no MSG, not too oily”. We then fetch a serving tray, six small plates, a small rice bowl, and a metal dish. The wok guy makes the fried rice, dumps it in the metal dish, then we portion the fried rice using the small rice bowl (so that every portion is in a neat little mound). This fried rice example is a very simple example involving a bit of communication between our section and the wok line.

Here is another example, involving more inter-department teamwork: an appetiser plate named 特式三拼

pic 2

Let’s say there’s an order for this item for five people. The knife work dude will toss over five butterflied prawns and five mantou rings (the dim sum department makes these weekly, in huge quantities). I will have to dust the prawns in potato starch, garnish and decorate five plates on a serving tray, sear five pieces of foie gras, and have wasabi sauce and foie gras-mushroom sauce on standby. At the same time I have to talk to Wok 4 – “特式5位”. Sometimes he forgets what he has to do, so I will say “炸锅巴5件,wasabi 虾球5粒,打鹅肝汁”. He will do all that while I sear the foie gras. When the foie gras is almost ready, I will call BBQ. They will bring five individual portions of braised duck and tofu, and I will plate up and send the dishes out.

These are only individual examples. On their own, they are very easy to execute. But on a busy night, between 6:30 – 9pm, the ticket printer doesn’t stop running. It will feel like the orders are coming in faster than we can send out dishes. This is when our roles within the section become specialised, and the concept of “queue” and “time” becomes especially relevant:

pic 3

Incoming orders:

Highlighted in pink is the table where we process incoming orders. The shaded black box is the ticket machine, facing Knifework. Any order printed is first visible to them, although we have trained ourselves to read from the other side.

(As far as possible), according to the order in which they were printed, Knifework pushes ingredients with their order sheets over to our side, and they will all be received by the Korkor, who is the most senior person in the section. The first thing he will do is separate dishes “on hold” from “fire”. “On hold” means the order has been processed, but the customer doesn’t want it now. For dishes on hold, he groups them by table number. For dishes ready to fire, he sorts them according to

1. Time of order. But it’s not rigid, it’s no big deal if an order printed at 7:35pm goes out before an order printed at 7:32pm.

2. Whether it is a soup, appetiser plate, non-starch item, or starch item. Within the same time frame, items should be sorted to prioritise soups and starters first, and starch dishes last.

3. Front-of-House mistakes – sometimes FOH barges in saying “I FORGOT TO KEY THIS ORDER IN PLEASE SAVE ME AND MAKE IT NOW”. We could say “no, dis your problem”, or we could allow that item to jump the queue.

4. How angry the customer is. Some customers are able to wait, others are not. If it’s been 15 minutes and a table hasn’t gotten their fried rice and are upset, we understand and will help that item move up the queue. But if the order has literally just been printed and a server comes in saying “HE’S PISSED OFF”, we do not entertain this request. Because we honour the concept of the queue.

Outgoing dishes:

When we’re busy, I stand facing the table highlighted in green. On this table we cram at most three to four items in a wok guy’s immediate cue. Meaning he simply has to concern himself with clearing these few items as quickly as possible. The rest of the space is reserved for plating and garnishing. In a five minute time frame, I might have fish pan frying on the stove, tofu in the deep fryer, while plating lobster ee fu noodles for 10 people, while listening to wok sounds. We look down when we plate so we can’t see much else, but we are able to hear when a wok guy is done with a dish. If he’s done, we have to drop what we are doing and send out the dish. As soon as the immediate queue begins to clear, any one of us will fetch items from Korkor’s Organised Queue of Incoming Orders.

Stacking and efficiency:

Sometimes there’s a Yangzhou fried rice in Wok 4’s immediate queue, but he’s been busy and the fried rice hasn’t been started. Then Korkor receives another Yangzhou fried rice order, but if we go strictly by time, that Yangzhou fried rice would be quite further down the queue. Nevermind, we let it stack. The Korkor will call out “扬州炒饭有塔!” then he tosses it over to me. Stacking is inevitable because if we went item by item, according to time, we would literally die.

Prep work and miscellaneous duties:

There are many other small, routine, menial tasks that I do every day, that I don’t need to talk about here. Oil does not pour itself, I need to fill metal drums of oil for each wok guy about twice a day. Eggs don’t crack and separate themselves. Seasoning containers don’t refill themselves. And so on.

The more interesting prep work is in sauces. A great example would be XO sauce. We make roughly 10 litres of XO sauce every two weeks. When we realise we’re running low, we need to start dicing (very small dice) Jinhua ham and salted fish. This is very difficult. They are very tough ingredients. I do not like this part. Then we need to soak dried shrimp, steam and shred dried scallops, and grind chillies, shallots, garlic, and the soaked shrimp. We will weigh the required MSG and sugar. Then the XO sauce is ready to be cooked off.

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This article was first published at eightmileswide.svbtle.com/.

Featured image by Pixabay user takedahrs. (CC0 1.0)

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Cancer Journey

by Brenda Tan

DECEMBER is usually a perfect time of reflection to contemplate on our life’s journey taken for the year – the pitfalls and detours, the challenges overcame, and the support and love we encounter along the way. It’s a time we take stock of what we learned about ourselves and look forward to a new year, refreshed with the clarity of hindsight, to give us both insight in responding to the present and foresight to prepare for the future.

As a Christian and a mother of school-going children though, the December vacation is also an immensely busy time of church festivities, family outings and celebrations, and preparation for school reopening. You can see why this much-needed time for quiet personal reflection is hard to come by. Still, it’s a necessary pause, otherwise the overwhelming activities of the season may just cause us to miss taking stock of the year at this natural pitstop.

 

Hungry no more

“I’ve even had my mediport removed and had an X-ray done to confirm that that surgery was a success.”

My last update on The Middle Ground regarding my cancer journey was in July, about the midway point in my chemotherapy sessions. Since completing all 12 of my chemo sessions in November, I’ve undergone a CT scan, an MRI, and another endoscopy to confirm that I’m currently cancer-free. I’ve even had my mediport removed and had an X-ray done to confirm that that surgery was a success. On the horizon now are quarterly check-ups over the next few years, to make sure that nothing (to quote my new favourite word from my oncologist) “exciting” is seen in my health report.

Due to my no longer having a stomach, both my surgeon and oncologist had advised me post-surgery to “eat everything” in order to retain my body mass to undergo the chemo sessions more successfully. My surgeon even suggested dark chocolates as a component of my diet, something which I most happily complied. My only food restriction was taking TCM herbs, as my oncologist was concerned that my liver may be overtaxed, if it had to deal with both the chemo-meds and the TCM herbs.

Thus, I ate as much as I could, and as often as I could, regardless of whether I was hungry or not. Apparently, without a stomach, I could no longer feel hungry. Living in food-crazy Singapore, though, I had constant reminders of good eats on my Facebook news feed, and more importantly, I’m still blessed with taste-buds! Thus, I managed to refrain from losing too much weight during the chemotherapy sessions, although I did lose enough muscle mass that my clothes no longer fit.

Although I was able to eat everything, including my favourite chilli padi, the problem was knowing just how much is enough and how much is too much. The ideal quantity varies with different types of food, and I’d feel terrible if I accidentally overeat.

Like not feeling hungry, I’m no longer able to judge satiation, and by the time I know I’m “full”, it’s usually too late. While the sensation of severe heartburn usually passes within half an hour of lying down, it’s having to wait until I feel comfortable that adds to a tiredness and fear of eating.

To overcome this, I pace myself at mealtimes. I fix the quantity that I’m able to consume on my plate (giving priority to my favourite dishes) and eat much more slowly than my companions.

After all, there is a limit to how much I can consume at one sitting.

 

Back in the saddle again

Prior to my cancer diagnosis, I was an avid distance cyclist, clocking 50 to 60 km rides with my husband late in the night or in the early mornings, once or twice a week if work allowed. We had also taken part in a few bike rallies and cycling fundraisers on my foldable bike, riding the 80 km to 100 km distance challenges.

“…with encouragement from my husband, I finally got back on my bicycle for a short 4km ride with him”

We had planned to cycle the 633 km Four Rivers Bicycle Trail from Seoul to Busan in March with my eldest son, when it was disrupted by my diagnosis and surgery, and I haven’t ridden on a bicycle since. However, with encouragement from my husband, I finally got back on my bicycle for a short 4km ride with him on Dec 10.

My Seoul to Busan bike ride was supposed to be a pre-Poly admission trip with my son, to spend some quality time with him before he started his new phase of education. With my cancer, not only was the trip cancelled, I wasn’t able to be there for him on his first day at Poly.

Missing my son’s first day at Poly wasn’t the only thing the cancer derailed. Besides missing milestones on the homefront, my work plans for conducting regional workshops, attending conferences, and work for clients had to be cancelled or redirected to work associates to fulfill.

Nonetheless, even though I’m feeling stronger now that I’ve completed the chemotherapy sessions, my oncologist warned me that recovery from the sessions may take between six months to a year – or even longer.

So I face a tension – to reclaim my life before the cancer, yet to do it at a pace that allows for my body to recover well. Unfortunately, so far I’ve not been very good at pacing – it’s usually when I’m paralysed with exhaustion at the end of the day that I realise that my enthusiasm to get back on track and do everything may need to be readjusted.

Thus, like my eating habits, my judgment on how much I can do is impaired. I’ve got to learn to fix the quantity that I’m able to consume on my plate time-wise (giving priority to my favourite activities or more urgent needs) and allow myself to go slow and take time.

But it’s sometimes really hard to remember about my permanent gutless state, when life tastes so good!

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Much to be thankful for

“…when we keep our focus on the people around us and off ourselves, even the most arduous journey can be a meaningful one”

At the close of 2016, I’m actually grateful for this year’s cancer detour.

It has reminded me once more that life’s journey is lived through faith, people, and love: That even when I’m showered with support, I’m still able to comfort and bless – still able to listen, to hold, to seek the well-being for others by praying for their needs; that when we keep our focus on the people around us and off ourselves, even the most arduous journey can be a meaningful one of forging friendships and deepening relationships.

And that we are still blessed with an opportunity and ability to say a sincere “thank you” to everyone who has blessed us in their encouragement on our journey –

So, thank you, my family, friends, well-wishers, and prayer warriors! You’ve all made this journey of mine one that’s expanded my horizon and affirmed my belief in the goodwill of people.

It’s as the Christmas angels proclaim: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”

Have a blessed Christmas, and a fruitful 2017!

 

Brenda is a columnist, and a friend, of The Middle Ground. Read her other pieces, in a series of occasional columns on her journey with stomach cancer:

  1. No stomach for cancer
  2. Reframing cancer as an opportunity to grow
  3. Mummy musings: Mothering through cancer
  4. Midway checkpoint on my cancer journey 

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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Trying to understand depression? TMG offers a prelude to our upcoming content on mental illnesses with this primer by Winnie Lim..

by Winnie Lim

A FEW days ago, I told a roomful of people — both strangers and friends — that I am chronically depressed and suicidal.

Notice the present tense. I am still chronically depressed and suicidal. I am pretty certain people don’t really believe me. I look like I am the furthest away of being a person you would think is thinking of ending her life every other week, if not day.

That is the whole point though.

There is no telling how someone with chronic depression and suicidal tendencies should look.

Before I go on, I want to make it clear that what follows is entirely my personal telling of my story, I am not speaking on the behalf of all depressed and suicidal people, because they have complex conditions — they cannot be reduced to one person’s story.

I have had countless people tell me that I have so much light on my face, that I am full of life. I tell them paradoxically, I have so much light on my face, and I am full of life, precisely because I think about killing myself all the time.

Life becomes a choice. It is not something I am automatically wired for, just for mere survival. Every single day, it becomes a fight. Do I want to live?

When I was younger, that answer often came back with a flat “no”. I did not want to live. Life was meaningless, often tedious. I did not understand why I had to exist.

I consider myself lucky. I had a few years when it all went away, out of my thirty-plus years of living. I stopped questioning my existence and I had thought I was recovering from my chronic depression. I know of many others who are less fortunate. They had never seen a day of light.

I now know. My depression and suicidal tendencies will likely not go away, ever. They are always there, just waiting. It takes only a split second to feel that sinking feeling all over again.

Life has gotten a lot more complex and also simpler. I have stopped looking at life in binary terms: do I want to live or die? I started to understand I could want to live and die at the same time.

I have learned to see nuances between being neurologically depressed and psychologically depressed. They are intrinsically tied, some would say they are one of the same. Yet I have some days when I know I am experiencing shitty emotions not because I have an unbalanced psyche. I know that is just my neurological system malfunctioning because I was not careful about up-keeping it through sleep, diet, and movement. I exert an extraordinary amount of effort just to be relatively functional. I know I cannot fight the hormonal imbalance during my monthly menstrual cycles. Once a month, I just try to let myself be. If I am weepy, I just let myself weep. I keep myself away from people because I know I have magnified reactions to everything.

Some other times, I know it is my un-excavated emotions that are affecting my physical health. Unexpressed emotions, repressed grief, denial of some sort, overwhelming sadness or triggers of old wounds. If I don’t address them in some ways, I start to fall physically sick.

Once in a while, I cannot deal with myself. I have overwhelming melancholy and I let myself go. I start to binge eat. I hide from the world. It snowballs. I start losing all perspective. My hormones and neurons are all over the place. My emotions are out of whack. There seems to be nothing left in me. I cannot move. I feel like dying. All that pain, it can just go away.

Else, I could be experiencing one of the most balanced periods of my life, and yet I experience moments of existentialist suicidal tendencies. I think of dying not because I am sad or numb or empty. I think of dying because intellectually, I question all of this. Yes, my life could be amazing and it could have meaning, but so? It is a rabbit hole.

I can tell myself: it is the process, the journey, the love, the evolution. I can look at it spiritually. But what if I just don’t care — about spiritual growth, about human evolution, or anything?

Sometimes, it is not the pain that drives me closest to death. It is when I am at my most sane self, and I find tiny moments in between when I just simply don’t care.

Here is what keeps me alive. I cannot find it in myself to end my existence knowing that people would have to spend the rest of their lives dealing with it.

How can I be someone who knows what it is like to carry so much pain and be the same person who delivers exponential pain to people I love?

So I try. I try to live. Since I don’t see the point of survival, I try to be brilliantly alive. My life has to be extraordinary, on my own terms. It is not enough for me to merely exist.

And I am curious. I love to create. As much as part of me is borderline suicidal all the time, I am curious about what I can make out of this. When life itself is not an incentive, it can be incredibly freeing, because I have a lot less I am afraid of losing. For me, it is not about losing money, people, reputation, it is about losing my will to live, so I am unafraid of most losses just so I can feel truly alive. It is easy to quit that cushy job or make a seemingly insane decision when the other side of the equation is feeling like I want to end my existence.

In a parallel universe, if I didn’t know people love me, curiosity and the desire to create may not be enough to sustain my life. It is also not enough to live just knowing that people love me. Both are essential in keeping me alive.

I deeply empathise with those who end up taking their lives successfully. I am even envious. I know what it is like. To exist at that brink, to feel so much pain that even the mere thought of death is a relief.

Or to feel so numb that nothing is capable of being an incentive to live. Or to look at humanity sometimes and be like, “really?”.

I am not sure if I will always be capable of reasoning. To be reminded that people love me, so I just can’t. But I have also lived through moments when I am not capable of remembering. To be so overwhelmed that I don’t give a shit about my curiosity. I understand why some people make that choice.

Yet it breaks my heart each and every time I know of someone ending their lives. I understand, I empathise, I am envious, but I still get so heartbroken. Life is not binary. The world is less without them. We have lost permanently, what these lives could have brought to us.

People get all confused when I tell them I am chronically suicidal and depressed as though I am describing the weather. Maybe some of them think I am doing it for the attention.

It is important to reduce the stigma, the misconceptions. There are so many others out there who are less lucky than me. I have been blessed with people who love me. I never used to know, but I have lived long enough to know, to be capable of knowing what love feels like. There are some of us who do not experience that. Some of them are unable to express the weight they are carrying until the deed is completed. They are afraid to be judged, censored, dismissed.

We wouldn’t judge someone for telling us that they have diabetes or any other long-term chronic illness. Why do we not acknowledge the life-long suffering of people whose brains are attempting to eat away every single bit of them?

We tell them it is not real, to get over it. If they could, why would they choose to tell us about it, even though they know how they are going to be seen?

The chronically depressed/suicidal people I personally know are the most empathetic, generous, creative souls I have known. I shudder to think what I, individually would have lost if life had taken them away from this world. I would be so much less without them. I don’t know who I’ll become if I thought that I was alone.

It makes me really upset and angry when we lose people this way, especially young humans who haven’t had a chance to experience a fuller spectrum of life, or for reasons that can be mitigated — bullying or trauma. They experience all that pain and they think, that is it. Why live? They think they are their wounds. They think their wounds make them unworthy of life.

And there are some of us who because of unjust circumstances, never ever got to get a hold of this condition. They did not get to experience anything else other than pain. They have never gotten the breaks I have been given.

I am not sure if I would still be alive if I didn’t make the decision to visit San Francisco in July 2011. If I didn’t have that one single friend who told me it was okay to be me, when I was in my early 20s and numb. If I didn’t fall in love when I was 15. If I wasn’t afraid of heights when I was 10. If sleeping pills were accessible in Singapore. If I didn’t start to meet people who saw me beyond my pain and chaos.

I was an extremely pale shade of myself for two decades of my life. My life only truly turned when I hit 30. Even then, even now, it is still questionable.

I discovered agency — that I was capable of making choices. I can now choose to live. I felt back then I was forced to buy into a life I didn’t want, now I am capable of consciously choosing to live. I started to see myself and accept myself, only because people saw and accepted me first. I learned more about my condition. It started to feel more like a blessing and a curse, instead of just seeing it as a lifelong affliction.

I have accomplished a lot. For my work, for the people in my life. My accomplishments are not to be seen in my resume. They are to be felt. This is the life I consciously choose.

But if you, the reader, have in any way derived value from me — whether through this post, through something else I have written or made, through my love or friendship, through something I am not even aware of; think about all those times I chose not to die; think about the ones who are still trying to make that choice.

Think about the ones who have chosen the other way. Think about what we as a whole, may have lost, or are still potentially losing. Because we saw them as less. Because they are afraid to tell us. Because they didn’t know we love them.

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Winnie was a multi-disciplinary designer for 15 years. In 2015, she decided her life was not sustainable as it was, so she embarked on a journey to discover a new way of living. In her spare time, she works on interactive narrative experiments at http://lucent.space, and intends to spend her life on three areas: individual power, mental health and education. She has been publicly writing about her suicidal tendencies and chronic depression since 2011, in a deliberate effort to reduce stigma and challenge perceptions. You can read more of her writings on Medium, Twitter and her website.

This article was first published on Medium.

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by Bertha Henson

MY FATHER had to escape from the mainland and hide on Sentosa island during the Japanese Occupation.

Of course, the Sentosa then was not the Sentosa now with hotels and theme parks. It was known as Pulau Belakang Mati, which means Death from Behind in Malay. For my late father, however, the island inhabited by fishermen and their families was a safe haven. It was where he could escape the Japanese Kempeitai who was hunting for those related to two other Hensons who had been arrested as spies. They were his father and brother.

My father, who died in 1989, had spoken of his days in the Japanese Occupation running away from the Japanese military police and helping British Prisoner Of Wars (POWs). He kept a journal of those war days and recorded his experience for the National Archives.

I listened to the tapes last week. I knew my father was a brave man. His row of police medals kept in a display cabinet in my mother’s house testified to that.

But just how brave, I didn’t know.

I knew my father was a brave man. But just how brave, I didn’t know.

He was an orderly at Woodbridge Hospital when the war broke out. He used to be in the police force and had made the mistake of standing as a guarantor for a friend who owed someone $100. That friend later ran away. The blot on my father’s record meant dismissal from the force. That was how he became a dresser for mental patients, cleaning wounds and bandaging injuries plus other sundry duties.

When Singapore fell in February 1942, the Japanese cleared the Europeans out of hospital, renamed Miyako, and left the locals to tend to the patients. I have always thought that, that was a lucky thing. That they didn’t gun down everyone like they did in Alexandra Hospital. Instead, they cleared out a ward, Ward 26, which was known as the Kempeitai ward, for POWs whom they had tortured.

I wondered how the locals working in the hospital felt about working under the eyes of the military police. According to my father, it was “slap here, slap there” whenever the soldiers thought not enough respect was being accorded to them.

A local Indian volunteered for the job of looking after Ward 26. He left after two days. Just like that. Went AWOL. A job notice. No one volunteered.

After two weeks, my father got picked. He asked several times why he was picked but simply told that he was. He figured that it was because he was not Chinese, thousands of whom were being rounded up in an ethnic cleansing exercise.

The Japanese military policeman in charge of the ward told him that if he was caught speaking to prisoners, “I would lose my head”. That was when my father replied in Japanese, to the MP’s great surprise.

He had picked it up during his younger days as a seaman, working on Japanese freighters. The MP was delighted. He was even more delighted when my father followed his style of barking at the POWs there.

For my father though, it was an act. The Japanese made it clear that no one was allowed to talk to patients. The ward was locked and when my father did his rounds, he was accompanied by the MP.

The doctor, a local Chinese, wasn’t allowed in either and my father had to describe what the patients were suffering from and take instructions.

With instructions from the doctor, he learnt by trial and error how to insert IV tubes into patients, lance ulcers and other suppurations, including from a patient’s testicles, and became proficient at dispensing medicine.

But he was heartbroken.

In his journal, he wrote: “The prisoners had no proper beds. They were bare-bodied and in bad shape. All they had to lie on were hard wooden beds, no pillows or blankets.”

Meals were brought in buckets to be dished out onto enamel plates for each patient: two ounces of rice mixed with sweet potatoes and yam. Soup was vegetables boiled in water. And thin tea without sugar.

My father wondered how the patients, most of whom were passing blood mucus, suffering from dysentry or beriberi and septic wounds, would ever get better on such a diet.

“When I saw the food, oh my God, the food was fit for animals. Not humans. Hunger knows no laws. They ate it. Tears ran down my face when I saw them eating it. Still, they want to be alive. They ate it.”

Oh my God, the food was fit for animals. Not humans. Still, they want to be alive. They ate it.

Over time, the Japanese MP came to trust my father enough to leave the ward in his care while he hopped off to see his girlfriend in a nearby kampung.

That was when my father could unlock the ward and talk to the POWs. They were not ordinary soldiers. Among them were Brigadier Hugh Fraser, the Colonial Secretary, then Attorney-General Adrien Clark who had been caught ferrying messages to the POWs interred at Changi Prison and Mr Robert Burns, who later became the Commissioner for Southeast Asia.

They told him his father and brother had been captured and warned him to be careful. Mr Scott told him that the Kempeitai had set fire to his father’s beard.

“They were with us in the Kempeitai headquarters. Your brother’s face was used as an ashtray. Each time they wanted to put out a cigarette, they rubbed it on his cheek.”

My father was also told that two friends of the family who had also been rounded up were in the hospital as well. They were kept in isolation in private rooms under lock and key. They had been tortured badly. Both died later as did Sir Hugh Fraser and Mr Clark.

My father never recorded how he felt about the news. He was not close to the family and described himself as “the black sheep”. But he knew he and his pregnant wife who were living in hospital quarters were in danger for their lives.

He told the POWs he would try to smuggle them extra food and managed to persuade the hospital steward to procure some marmite for their rice and to add sugar to the tea.

When the MP’s superior came round, he made a case for the POWs to have proper mattresses, pillows, blankets and hospital garb, which the hospital had in abundance. It would, he said, demonstrate the magnanimity of the Japanese to their Axis partners, the Germans, if they came to visit.

He was taking a risk speaking to a Japanese officer on behalf of the POWs – “I think I have gone too far,” he wrote in his journal – but the officer agreed to his requests.

Then the Kempeitai came a-calling for him in the hospital.

 

Read more about Bertha’s journey into the past and other prisoners of war here:

My grandfather’s war story

Singapore, the former hub of war crimes courts?

 

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by Bertha Henson

MY GRANDFATHER and an uncle were executed by the Japanese during the Occupation of Singapore.

I’ve heard this story often from my late father, who said the public beheadings took place outside the Cathay building in Dhoby Ghaut. I have always thought it was a romantic tale, which also accounted for my father’s visceral hatred for the Japanese. People go “wow” when I tell them this – even though I didn’t know much else.

Until a TMG reporter was asked to report on a law academic, who recently launched a portal on hearings by a British war crimes tribunal in Singapore. Dr Cheah Wui Ling gave him an example of a father-and-son team, who were tortured by the Kempeitai for months because an acquaintance had accused them of being British spies.

It didn’t occur to him that the names, Sidney Henson and Joseph Henson could be connected with me.

My father, a decorated police officer who later ran his own security firm, had told bits and pieces of the story to my younger brother. The gist was that his family owned a restaurant in Changi, and an acquaintance who had a beef with his brother Joseph over some girl, told the Kempetai that the family had a short wave radio or wireless transmitter to relay information to the British.

There were many gaps in the story because my father, then married with two children, seemed to be estranged from the family. Then Dr Cheah directed me to transcripts of the tribunal in the British archives and I asked the National University of Singapore’s Central Library to get me access.

What I received: more than 300 pages of court transcripts, documents and hand-written notes on the trial of two Japanese military policemen and a Josef Kutron, a Hungarian national who worked as an informer.

It made for strange, horrific and disconcerting reading. Strange because the men were not on trial because they murdered two civilians, but because they had ill-treated them before their court martial which sentenced them to death.

It had to do with treason attracting capital punishment, although the Kempeitai never found the transmitter and had to rely on confessions forced out of the two men and a few others who were tortured.

Witnesses told the tribunal that my grandfather screamed at the court martial, presided by three Japanese officers, that their confessions were obtained under duress but it seems the panel was satisfied with what information they had been given.

The horrific part was about the torture they endured at the Kempetai office in Oxley Rise and later at Outram Gaol.

Cigarette butts were stubbed out on my grandfather’s face. Both he and my uncle endured beatings with a bamboo stick and were submitted to electric shock treatment.

Dimensions of the stick were detailed, as were how the electric wires connected to a box were stuck to thumbs making the victims jerk violently.

I half expected to read about the infamous water torture, where water was continually poured over victims making them choke or suffocate. They didn’t have to go through that.

But others who were hauled in, in what was known then as the Henson incident and who lived to tell the tale, said they had their wrists tied together and suspended by a rope slung over a beam.

I’ve read stories about the fall of Singapore and how thousands of Chinese males were marched out to the sea off Changi and shot in their backs. And the horrific tales of doctors, nurses and patients gunned down in Alexandra hospital. The stories (non-fiction) always made me wonder at the strength and resilience of that generation who lived through World War Two.

The heroes who lived and died. The traitors and collaborators. Those who survived on sweet potato meals and trading on the black market. They were just names and some didn’t even have names.

Until I saw my own surname.

A bit of history was brought home. One of the things my father let fall was his hunt for the informer right after the Japanese surrender, when the British reclaimed Singapore. It was a time of reprisals as people sought out collaborators to eke out extreme justice. He did the same too, armed with a pistol, except that his target was already somebody else’s victim.

I wondered often who this target was, who got my father’s blood up. At various times, my father described him as a Malay gardener who worked in the family home or someone who was in my grandfather’s business.

Was the family really spying for the British?

There was no proof that my grandfather ran a spy ring from his restaurant at Jalan Besar. It was called the Cafe Vien and it sort of doubled up as a boxer training area round the back of the premises.

Then comes the disconcerting part. The restaurant was opened in 1942 after he pulled strings to secure a licence from the Japanese administration. How? It seemed he had passed himself off as a German and was an informer for the Japanese.

Then he switched allegiances because, so the Japanese said, the Allied side looked to be winning the war.

Wow! A double agent? Or merely a family which was trying to survive under war circumstances? The island was a colony under the yoke of the British and then, the Japanese. Did it matter if mere natives worked for one or the other? My image of my hero granddad looked like it was about to be broken…

Then again, court records also showed that my grandfather, uncle Joseph and an aunt were hauled up once before, in 1942, for dealing in rice and sugar on the black market. So he couldn’t have been on such good terms with the Japanese right? Sheesh! Why does it matter?

It was around this time that Josef Kutron appeared in the family’s life.

Kutron, who listed his occupation as a magician and was actually booted out of the United Kingdom because he was an “undesirable alien”, was the archetype bad man and painted black. Court documents and witnesses said he had deep grudges against the family.

He claimed that he had arranged for the business licence in return for a share in the restaurant and that my grandfather reneged on his promise. Then there was his pursuit of a certain Rosita whom my uncle was also interested in.

Family members testified about how Kutron had flaunted his military police credentials to warn that he would “put in” members of the family, especially Joseph. He seemed to have thought he scored a coup with the Henson incident, going along with the police to raid the restaurant and the family homes in Bras Basah.

Joseph and two other friends were nabbed at Great World City where a boxing tournament was in progress. That was in February 1944.

What was interesting was that he was involved in the torture of Joseph, kicking and beating him bloody. It was a charge he and the Kempetai denied, stressing that by then, he was no longer on the informer payroll and it was not protocol to let civilians into interrogations.

Then again, the two Japanese soldiers also denied resorting to any torture beyond slapping them a few times with an open palm.

The interrogators said that they were under orders to produce results quickly in the aftermath of the destruction of six oil tankers in Keppel Harbour by saboteurs. The Hensons were accused of using its network of spies to relay information on the ships’ whereabouts. The two Japanese officers were interred for five years and two years.

My grandfather didn’t come off flatteringly in the court documents. He had fingered another Eurasian as head of the supposed spy ring. The man was brought in, interrogated and later released for lack of evidence.

The Eurasian, a lawyer, testified at the war crimes tribunal and had some rather scathing words for both my grandfather and Kutron, whom he described as “birds of a feather”.

He also recalled how after his release, Kutron kept pestering him for more information that would implicate the family further. Kutron was sentenced to two years in a case which actually made the news.

Where was my father when all this was happening?

According to a journal he kept of that period, he was a medical orderly in a mental hospital in Changi and was put in charge of a ward filled with British prisoners of war.

But my father’s war story is for another day.

Because I have just found the cassette tapes that my father recorded for the Oral Archives Department in 1988 before he died. He also left behind journals of his post-war stories as a policeman in colonial Singapore.

Time for me to read what he wrote and to listen to his voice again.

 

 

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Seeing myself thru journalist's notebook

by Glenn Ong

EVERY phase in life can, I think, be summed up in an object: One that encapsulates happy times, hardships endured, or the mundane lull of quiet, uneventful days.

It could be a country flag eraser (if you remember that craze back in primary school), a pair of Goretex boots (if you’re serving the nation), or it could even be something intangible, like a thought, dreadful or otherwise (sleepless nights before the release of A Level results, for one).

For me, the past three months was a notebook.

I’ve wondered (not with fascination, but with frustration) for the longest time the journalist’s obsession with the cumbersome notebook. When conducting interviews, we were told, we should always use a notebook. When writing an article, we must always verify quotes from our notebook. When an editor is conducting a briefing, God forbid you don’t have your notebook. Never die before is it?

“A phone is just as good,” I would think to myself.

Later, I would be humbled by the knowledge that handwritten notes would serve as more credible evidence should somebody decide to challenge your reporting in future. I stopped resisting – there is no greater motivation than knowing it could some day save you from trouble.

Picture my defiance eroding into capitulation: Me waving the plain, immaculate pages of a notebook in the air, resigned and helpless, like a defeated soldier with a white flag of truce.

Thankfully, I managed the past three months without any real trouble. I had joined just two days after the Bukit Batok by-election, and so avoided the ground reporting. The people who would later become my friends weren’t so lucky – the past three months to them can probably be summed up with a warning letter from the police.

I searched my notebook for a defining experience, one that could inspire an answer to the dreaded question we were usually asked as our contract expired: “So, what did you learn?”

The question never came. Heng ah.

But as I sat ruffling through the pages, each one marked by illegible scratches and hasty punctuation, it dawned on me that my notebook isn’t just a log of the interviews I conducted. Neither was it a mere record of editorial briefings.

Objects tell stories. That’s what historians claim.

Indeed, I think the journalist’s notebook is simultaneously a diary, a novel, and a relic of history. Mine told stories in different ways. It was much like a poem, in that it was often abstract and at times undecipherable. But it was also a bit like prose, in that you could make out a rough chronology from cover to cover: Old malls, Vesak Day, 50 Faces, old malls (again?!), train breakdowns, the AGO report.

The notebook reveals traits and eccentricities of its user without stating them explicitly: Mine says I have a fear of approaching and bothering strangers, and that I was afraid of being brushed off whenever I muttered the words “Hi, I am a journalist”.

I drafted brief scripts of how I would introduce myself and broach the topic of the interview; I would steal occasional glances at them in my first few weeks on the job. I would tide through conversations with strangers by writing more words than necessary so I had a reason to look down and minimise awkward eye contact.

Have I grown thicker skin since? I can’t be sure, but at least I grew confident enough to phase out the scripts.

The notebook tells a story of cooperation too, even without reading those belonging to other reporters. You could notice gaps in logic and information, even when assignments were ticked off as completed: How dare one claim to complete “50 Faces” with just ten names? He doesn’t, not on his own. The notebook is a piece of fabric in the patchwork of a newsroom’s publications.

Or perhaps it is better compared to yarn, in its raw and unsewn form. You can make what you will of it, but you don’t have to. The notebook is a treasure trove in and of itself; it bears witness to parts of Singapore you’d never know about if you don’t talk to people you’ve never met.

Above all, I think my notebook tells a story of growth – incomplete and partial – but sufficient for now. It has more than one protagonist; it is growth with and through others.

At least for now, I’ll be putting the notebook away, definitely not for good, but perhaps for the better. Taking its place is a familiar red plastic file, one that I’ve used for the past two years in university.

And so it is: A brand new phase, another object that would tell a different story, or resume an old one where it was left off. I wiped the dust off the file.

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by Brenda Tan

“MY FAMILY is crazy!” wailed my 17-year-old teenager. “I’m supposed to be the one wild about Pokemon, but my father’s got more Pokemon and rarer Pokemon than me! Even Di-di has more Pokemon than I do! Hey, I’m suppose to be the gamer in this family!”

When Pokemon Go was launched on Saturday (August 6), my eldest was out of the house (and not on the computer!) for about an hour that morning, hunting Pokemon in the estate. He came back all excited about the Pokemon he caught, and the people he met, and where all the PokeStops were nearby.

The younger ones were extremely envious because their phones don’t have data roaming, only wifi access. Furthermore, they weren’t able to set up a Pokemon account because they are below 13 years old.

So, while waiting for dinner to be delivered that evening, I decided to download the app and set up the two younger kids’ Pokemon accounts under my parent account. After dinner, with their phones’ wifi tethered to my phone’s personal hotspot, my husband and I took the younger ones out for a short walkabout the estate – to see if we would have any success catching Pokemon beyond the initial one that came with downloading the App.

 

Water bottle
Water bottles, insect repellent, walking shoes and hats. That’s why Pokemon Hunters have a backpack! Fans optional.

We encountered the initial frustrations of learning what to do at a PokeStop (swipe to get Pokeballs and eggs), and quickly learnt that a buzz from the phone indicated a Pokemon was nearby. The kids took great delight in interacting with their environment and catching Pokemon — and so did my husband!

We encountered a group of teenagers on the hunt, and one of the boys gave me a sheepish smile, which I returned — our “hunting tribes” differed only in age. I also encountered Pokemon Trainers (as they preferred to be called) who hunted alone.

Due to my health, my family managed to complete only a short walk, but even then I was able to catch four Pokemon! My more active tribe members caught a few more creatures than I did.

The excitement didn’t end when we got back though. The eldest who had to remain behind for a school project meeting, took a break to lecture the young ones on the creatures they’ve caught, their values, and how to evolve them.  Needless to say, the younger ones went to bed that night happy and satisfied with the time they spent hunting.

The next day, my husband brought the young ones to Nex to visit the library, and while they were having lunch at MOS Burger, my husband caught 20 Pokemon, and the younger ones caught about 60 each!

When they got back home, their Kor-kor who was with his youth group for lunch were amazed by their haul, and he went on his little tirade. After dinner that night, the two younger kids got their dad to go for another hunt as a post-dinner workout!

Although I do see a lot of “Pokemon NO” posts on my Facebook feed and lots of references to Pokemon “zombies”, I’m actually glad that there is a game that is able to get my entire family excited, actively engaged in conversations, and spending time together.

My kids get active outdoors and discover their neighbourhood in greater detail (and intrinsically learning to read maps via the App), delighting in capturing Pokemon. I’m just happy that they aren’t lazing in a corner watching YouTube on their mobiles. The trio share tips about how to care for the creatures they caught, and strategise how to capture more Pokemon.

As for my Pokemon-expert teenager, all my husband or I need to do is to ask him for help, and he’s more than happy to spend time with his parents to teach us how to work the game. Who says teenagers are a sullen lot, who never have anything to say to their parents?

While the hype lasts, it’s really a good game for families, even if the only thing parents of younger kids do is to watch out for their children’s safety, as they look for Pokemon all over Singapore.

Our children’s enthusiasm for this game is understandable, as my eight-year-old puts it best: “We’re on a quest! An epic journey! We want to catch ‘em all!”

Stand at a safe place to catch the Pokemon
Stand at a safe place to catch the Pokemon

How do we start playing?

  1. Download the App on your smartphone.
  2. Create your account.
  3. Add children’s account and set security level.
  4. If your kids have their own phones but don’t have mobile data, you can create a personal hotspot with your phone, and tether the kids’ phones to yours. Tell your kids they need to stick close to you for the tethering to work, and they’ll stick to you like glue.

 

Where do we go?

The Pokemon Go app will show you where the PokeStops are in your area. PokeStops are where you can collect Pokeballs, which you will use to catch the Pokemon that appear.

Sunblock is a must
Sunblock is a must

If you’re hunting with the kids, it’s best to look for an area that has a cluster of PokeStops near each other, so that the kids can explore the area and be able to collect enough Pokeballs for catching Pokemon. The best places are parks and the PCNs, so it’s good to get the kids to get their ‘park gear’ ready – Water bottles for hydration, insect repellent, sunblock, walking shoes, hat and raincoats. That’s why Pokemon Hunters have a backpack!

For shorter hunts, look for nearby PokeStops in your estate. These can be a quick 30 min to 45 min hunt pre-dinner or post-dinner.

There are indoor areas, such as malls, where you can also hunt for Pokemon. However, the more interesting Pokemon and landmarks are usually found outdoors.

 

Safety first!

Look for a rest stop
  1. Set ground rules and enforce it. If you say a violation of rules means going home, go home. If your kids know you mean business, they’d toe the line quickly.
  2. Know your kids. Do they have the maturity to hunt apart from you? How far apart? Also, alert the kids to lookout for joggers, cyclists, rollerbladers because the PCNs and parks are shared spaces. In fact, the younger your kids, the more physically connected you should be with them. Hold their hands… or onto their backpacks.
  3. Teach your kids to only look at the phone intermittently, to check if they are within the area of the Pokestop. They don’t really need to look at the screen while walking. The phone will buzz if there’s a Pokemon in the area.
  4. When the phone buzzes, teach the kids to stand at a safe place, out of cyclists and joggers’ path to catch the Pokemon.
  5. Take note of the time and try to arrange for rest-stops near a PokeStop.

 

Learning points

Captured real creatures on camera (see the spider!)
  1. Regardless of where you’re hunting, get the kids to note something interesting at each PokeStop. Some PokeStop might have interesting write-ups in the app, while others could be more mundane. What else can the children see in the area that’s interesting?
  2. Along the way the kids might find Pokemon, but they might also find real creatures like insects, spiders, birds, or squirrels. Get the kids to “catch” these creatures on their mobile cameras and see if they can find out more about them later at home.
  3. As the kids look at the screen, teach them simple navigation skills like taking note of the compass, observing how the road looks like, and estimating how far the distance to walk between PokeStops.
  4. After the hunt, when the kids return home, teach them to look at their Pokemon and strategise with them about which Pokemon to exchange for candies, and which Pokemon to groom. A lot of these strategies are available online, and it would be good to explore them together with your kids.

 

What if my child gets addicted to Pokemon Go?

It’s doubtful that kids can get addicted to Pokemon Go in the same way they would be to a computer game, as part of the Pokemon Go game-play requires the gamer to walk some distance to catch Pokemon. Nonetheless, if your child is enthusiastic about the game, use it to your advantage as an incentive to get their chores and homework done quickly.

 

Featured image and photos by Brenda Tan. 

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by Jerrell Seah

MAJULAH Singapura. A familiar yet foreign phrase. Having spent the last six months in Zurich on a student exchange programme, I have become more used to hearing German spoken. It’s great to be a Singaporean on an exchange programme in Europe.

First, our passport allows us to travel almost everywhere without a visa (Russia is one notable exception). Second, coming from a country that Europeans have heard of but do not know much about, makes for easy conversation. “How does it feel to fire a rifle?” was a common question many friends asked. My reply: “It feels awesome.”

National Service (NS) was a major conversation topic, given the rising number of security threats that Europe faces. Responses to my NS experience ranged from confusion –  “why would you need an Army? you are so small”  – to admiration for a country that prides itself on being self-reliant – “So everyone can fire a rifle?”.

It allowed me to brag about the equipment the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has, and to show them videos of The National Day Parade (NDP) 2015, with its flashy aerial flypast and mobile column. (Both were no shows this year, which is a pity).

The NDP has remained a bonding moment for me and my father, who is an Army regular. For as long as I can remember, watching the military parade section of NDP on TV has been a family tradition. My father, going into encik mode, would explain what each command meant, never mind that they are repeated every year. Unsurprisingly, our relationship improved during my NS stint. As for my mother and sister, the 30 minute blow-by-blow commentary has become as much a part of the NDP, as the screaming jets that were silent this year.

The NS documentary, “Every Singaporean Son“, resounded strongly with my family.  The disappointment many felt when the changes to the show were announced is proof. I posit that we have invested a part of our national identity in the SAF, and that NS, not only for men, has become our rallying cry. That we wish to see fighter jets thundering across our skies and armoured tanks rumbling past the spectator stands, points to a level of confidence and pride we have in the SAF and by extension, ourselves. That the SAF can protect us, my son can protect me.

Having said that, the pomp and circumstance that surrounded the march-in still impressed. Interestingly, this year there was commentary on the origins of aspects of the parade, such as the significance of the state and regimental colors. In ancient times, these colors mark the location of the commander and served as the rallying point for troops in war.

Today, they have become ceremonial and symbolise the loyalty of servicemen to the regiment, and to the nation. The Presidential gun salute also made its presence felt with resounding booms as the artillery guns went off. This year also saw a focus on the women in SAF, with a female officer in the colors party and a female battery sergeant major.

My upbringing has definitely influenced my thinking, but it feels good to know that your average Joe on the street can hit a target 100 metres away accurately, ain’t it? (Except if he becomes radicalised)

So can we bring the guns, tanks and planes back next year?

 

Featured image by Natassya Siregar.

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A small boy's survival technique

by Bertha Henson

AH SING was cornered. The bigger boy loomed over him, blowing cigarette smoke into his face. Ah Sing knew Indra wanted him to hand over his pocket money – willingly. Ah Sing waved the smoke from his face. He was asthmatic and had left his inhaler in the classroom. He made a mental note not to be so careless next time.

Indra bellowed: “So little boy, want to give me your money or not!’’ deliberately, he exhaled through his mouth. Ah Sing quietly cursed the wind direction. Why wouldn’t it just rain, he thought.

The expected shoving came. Ah Sing stood upright. Two years of training in the kids’ gym had made him slightly more muscled, even if still small-sized. He blamed his genes; his whole family was smallish. Ah Sing, as is in his nature, kept silent. He had learnt the art of walking softly while carrying a big stick, although he didn’t have a stick with him. Or was it a carrot or stick? But he had no carrots either.

Indra rifled through the small boy’s pockets and pulled out a $2 note. He couldn’t believe that the geeky kid in glasses who lived in a three-story bungalow had only $2 on him. “Where’s the rest?’’.

No response from Ah Sing, who pulled the note back.

Inwardly, Ah Sing cheered. What a brainwave to lock the other $8 in a secret compartment in his school bag. Indra would need the form teacher to open the lock. But it seemed that Indra had found his precious football cards.

Ah Sing shouted: “Give them back!’’

Indra replied coolly: “But you stole this from me. So it’s actually mine.’’

Ah Sing contemplated making a fuss but decided not to. Let him have them if it would buy a few days of trouble-free recess, he thought.

Indra wasn’t satisfied. He needed to cajole or shame Ah Sing.

So, at first, he said that Ah Sing should be more generous and be a better friend to a friend in need. After all, Ah Sing owned expensive designer track shoes.

Then, he made fun of Ah Sing’s small family, which only had Pa, Ma, Ah Girl, Ah Ma, Mary the maid and Timmy the dog.

Finally, he pointed out that he had siblings and cousins by the dozen who could drown him simply be peeing on him.

Ah Sing had heard this many times before. He had looked up the word “envy’’ on Wikipedia. He wished his father wouldn’t drive him to school in his Merc but Pa didn’t believe in going car-lite. Then Ma wouldn’t let him take the MRT because it might make him late for school. He suggested cycling to school, but Ah Ma got into a fit talking about how dangerous pedestrians on pavements could be.

Ah Sing sighed. He was the top boy in the class but it didn’t make him popular. He was especially good in mathematics and spent plenty of time in front of the computer without parental guidance, so that he could learn everything he could about the world. He realised what a dangerous place the world is, especially to the small-sized.

This was why he tried to make a lot of friends; you don’t know when you might need their help. This was why he liked rules. Rules are meant to be obeyed and to protect both big and small. But there was no teacher around to watch him being shaken down by Indra – or to catch Indra smoking.

Indra was getting tired of haranguing Ah Sing, whom he had described to his relatives as a smug, sneaky and self-righteous piece of s***. He disliked the small boy who always seemed to be one up on him. Those designer track shoes should have been his, Indra thought. Somehow Ah Sing had managed to get them by some sort of bomoh magic, he thought.

He was thinking of letting Ah Sing go when the other boys came up.

Indra sighed. He knew the lecture that was coming, about how as the biggest boy in the class, he was expected to be nice to everyone, especially little ones.

He saw Ah Sing looking hopefully at Amal. He knew that Ah Sing and Amal had decided to pool their pocket money to buy a really fancy toy train set. Doubtless, Ah Sing was expecting Amal’s support. But, Indra knew that Amal had his own troubles and was in danger of getting kicked out of his own home because of money problems.

Ah Sing knew this too. No help from that quarter, he thought.

He caught sight of Camby, standing outside the circle with arms akimbo. Camby can’t be relied on, Ah Sing thought. Camby only does what that even bigger boy in the upper class wants. That big fellow wasn’t afraid of anyone, not even the school principal.

The circle of boys, all 10 of them, usually played together at recess time. But increasingly, those times were getting more and more infrequent. Ah Sing wanted them all to be part of a community, even if it was impossible to be best friends forever. It was what he had learnt from Pa and the family. When you are rich, but small, you need to be part of something bigger or at least have friends who are also rich but big.

He thought of his family and how his Pa had rigged up a new security system for the house. Pa was even rearing carrier pigeons for emergency use in case the Internet broke down. That had led to a law suit from the neighbour who said his pigeons were a nuisance and an environmental hazard.

Ah Sing looked around him. He knew that it was best to depend on no one but himself.

He farted.

All the boys looked at him and laughed.

Tragedy averted for the day.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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