June 25, 2017

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by Joshua Ip

IN THE wake of all the controversy of the United States ban on immigration from seven Muslim countries, here is a human interest poem on the struggle of four immigrant ladies who traveled across the oceans and fought against the odds to make America great again.

An immigrant aged seventeen,
Mary MacLeod, sailed serene
From Glasgow to New York upon the SS Transylvania.
Her listed job: “domestic maid”
The fisherman’s kid scrubbed and stayed
Till she was naturalised with citizenship twelve years later.

Ms Knavs, from former Yugoslavia
Entered on a visit visa,
Found illegal jobs before she got her work credentials.
Twenty-six, she modelled
Five long years before she got her
Green card on her “extraordinary“ glamorous potential.

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Elisabeth Christ of Bavaria
Daughter of Anna Maria
Was a tinker’s child who wed eleven years her senior,
Friedrich, who promptly dodged
The draft and was compelled to lodge
A claim for US citizenship by unclear procedure.

Ivana Zelnickova
Born to Czech Marie Francova
In the tiny town of Zlin, showed talent as a downhill skier.
She traveled to New York to tout
The Montreal Olympics out
Found love, marriage and a new passport in eleven years.

What these girls have in common
Besides struggling from the bottom
Is that the USA is not their first nation of residence.
Immigrants of various
Legalities, they came to us
The mother, last wife, grandmother and first wife of the President.

 

Joshua Ip is a poet and founder of Sing Lit Station, a literary non-profit that organises Singapore Poetry Writing Month, Manuscript Bootcamp, poetry.sg and other activities to promote writing in Singapore.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Ryan Ong

ON SEPT 21 this year, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing said at a Singapore Business Federation (SBF) event that: “Like a dynasty, they (owners of family-run companies) believe they will hand the business to their sons or daughters and they take a long-term perspective. Paradoxically…many companies that are on the stock markets increasingly take a short-term perspective“.

With regard to family businesses that are Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs), there’s a lot of proof behind what the minister says. In fact, SMEs often form the “base” of a young economy like Singapore. Many of Singapore’s success stories, like Mohamed Mustafa and Samsudin Co Pte Ltd (owners of Mustafa Centre), and B.P. de Silva (owners of Risis), remain family run.

But a “dynastically” run company poses a range of hazards once it becomes a giant, multi-national corporation. At that point, things often become morally hazardous and questionable; almost as bad as allowing a family to run a country. The recent shake-up at Samsung is a prime example.

 

Samsung and the Chaebol model

Samsung is one of the “big four” chaebols (family-run conglomerates) in South Korea. The other four are Hyundai Motors, SK Group, and LG. In 2014, Samsung and Hyundai Motors accounted for more than one-third of South Korea’s entire GDP. The running joke that South Korea should be called the Republic of Samsung still makes the rounds in business board rooms, despite being over two decades old now.

Chaebols are family-run to an extreme, and keep the trappings of a family-run mama shop despite being multi-national entities. They are, in other words, corporate governance nightmares. In 1997, during the Asian Financial Crisis, chaebols were a major contributor to Korea’s problems: a combination of opaque business practices, along with incompetent management, led to large government bailouts.

Later in 2001, there were investor group protests when Samsung’s Chairman Lee Kun Hee appointed his son, Mr Lee Jae Yong, as a successor.

Investors pointed out that the younger Mr Lee had barely worked in Samsung, even if he had been on the payroll for 10 years. Samsung denied it was nepotism: it wasn’t Mr Lee’s fault, because he had to study abroad shortly after joining the company. Also, Samsung’s vice chairman at the time, Mr Yoon Jong Yong, said that Mr Lee had been “dropping by the office from time to time“.

Because Samsung’s employees apparently live in a Dilbert comic, things went the only way they possibly could. Under the leadership of Mr Lee Jae Yong, who wanted to get the jump on Apple’s iPhone 7, engineers were rushed to release the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 on time. It was an explosive new development, although not the in the way Samsung intended.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 was part of its flagship line of smartphone, and was Apple’s largest competitor worldwide. Even before its release in August this year, the phone had a record-breaking 200,000 pre-orders in South Korea. But just a month later, Samsung launched a voluntary recall based on reports that the phone was catching fire. Samsung recalled 2.5 million phones, which cost the company to lose an estimated $19.4 billion in market value. Despite the recall, the replacement phones continued to catch fire. This led to Samsung to suspend further sales, and eventually to stop production altogether.

This isn’t a situation where people were just “picking on the leader”. A Wall Street Journal reports that, unlike his father, Mr Lee was distant from daily decisions regarding the phone. Samsung’s senior management had decided to rush production of the phone to compete with Apple. While it’s uncertain if Mr Lee agreed with the decision, his lack of intervention stands out.

(Although you probably shouldn’t think Mr Lee is horrible as a person, given that he’s pushed the company to give two years’ paid maternity leave to employees).

 

Even if the heirs are competent, are they interested?

Even if a family-run business can lead to the occasional poor leader, it should have sustainability. A long held argument is that, because family members are invested in ways a traditional employee won’t be, family businesses are more survivable. But that’s proving to be untrue in some situations, one of which is directly relevant to Singapore.

In 2014, a report by Forbes stated that family-run businesses in China were starting to face challenges. The report mentions that less than 30 per cent of family-run businesses are successfully passed to the second generation, and less than 14 per cent successfully make it to the third. What the report neglects to mention is that this isn’t rooted in money issues, but the willingness of heirs.

Chinese businesses are facing succession problems, with children uninterested in the businesses of their parents. In the linked report, it’s noted that 65 per cent of heirs of manufacturing businesses don’t want to carry it on. Their parents probably worked their way up sewing dresses or making pipes or some such goods, and industries like those aren’t terribly exciting.

Small family businesses in Singapore face a similar issue: if you make a living selling duck rice, and your son is educated in an ivy league business school, odds are his career dreams won’t involve helping you hack up poultry.

 

The “longevity” of family run businesses is culturally dependent

According to new research, most firms don’t survive after their owners die. More importantly, the research shows that family firms do not fare significantly better than non-family counterparts, when the owner dies. A common factor is that sales will drop by around 60 per cent, and headcount will fall by around 17 per cent.

This is at odds with the notion that a family-run business has more longevity. But it might make sense if we consider that the oldest family run businesses are all strangely concentrated in Japan. Kongo Gumi, the world’s oldest construction business which closed down in 2007, was 1,400 years old. That’s not a typo – they were doing business when Lord of the Rings would have been considered science-fiction.

Certainly, family-run businesses last longer in the east than in the west. But before we jump to the conclusion that Singapore’s family-run businesses are “eastern” and hence long lived, we should recognise that we’re a very globalised city-state. The notion of following entirely in a parent’s footsteps have become alien to many of us. How many Singaporeans still join a profession just because that’s what their parents did?

Given our succession issues, it’s likely Singapore will see family-owned businesses, rather than family-run businesses. While families may keep the name of a company, and retain majority control, it’s probable that later generations will outsource control to professional managers.

Perhaps that still counts as “surviving”.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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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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skillsfuture_300x250

Pokemon Go Saves The World

by Ryan Ong 

NOW that computer simulated animal abuse has taken off in a big way, Pokemon Go is officially set to change everything. As one of the first games to beat even pornography in popularity, we can be sure it now has sufficient reach to make sociopolitical impact. So remember where you were, remember what you were doing, and remember what you felt: 300 years from now (I’m assuming medical science will extend your lifespan, probably after CPF extends its payout to match), your grandchildren will ask you about the moment Pokemon Go was released. And the day THE WORLD CHANGED.

Here’s why Pokemon Go will save the world:

 

1. No more violent crime – forever

At least three dead bodies have been found by Pokemon Go players, who were inspired to walk, climb, and stumble their way onto obscure places. One murder suspect has been caught by them. On July 9 this year, Ms Shayla Wiggins, 19, stumbled upon a corpse in a river while looking for a water Pokemon (that probably wasn’t a murder victim though. It was death by accident. Hopefully he wasn’t looking for a water Pokemon either).

Another body was found in Nashua, New Hampshire, within the same week. It was found by a Pokemon Go player investigating a brook. The Los Angeles Times also reported that three women playing Pokemon Go found the third dead body. It was in Marian Bear National Park, and whoever it was had died quite some time ago.

On July 13 this year, two former United States Marines, Mr Javier Soch and Mr Seth Ortega, were led to a murder suspect while chasing Pokemon.

Of course, there are downsides here as well. Four people in Missouri, aged 16 to 18, used Pokemon Go as a way to find robbery victims. They were able to determine the location of isolated areas, in which players would congregate to form teams. I think that should really count as gang warfare.

Overall though, Pokemon Go does lead to a lot more snooping around. Can you imagine this happening in already cramped Singapore? If you ever get mugged you can just yell “Pikachu’s here,” and basically call in an army of 30.

 

2. No more obesity – everyone will be thin and healthy

Now I’ve tried every reasonable diet plan, from only eating two large pizzas for breakfast to having only three Milo dinosaurs before bed. It’s apparent that the only other way is some motivation for me to get up and walk around. And that’s exactly what this game does.

Sore legs are already a reported problem, because players are walking around so much. Many players report chasing Pokemon for upwards of two to three hours, while more casual players commit to an average of at least 33 minutes a day (the recommended minimum to stay fit).

And Pokemon Go is helping tourism while its doing that. Vogue magazine reports that walking tours are now often coupled with the app. It’s a lot easier to convince people to walk through, say, the Botanical Gardens in the 30 degree heat when there are Pokemon to catch.

With Pokemon Go already proving to be the latest craze, and if other games were to follow suit and require players to walk around, then we can count on a much more lithe society.

 

3. No more depressed retail owners

Pokemon Go is already touted as a possible saviour for dying retail malls. In fact, tie-ins with retail are probably one of the revenue streams Nintendo and Niantic are counting on. Can you imagine the foot traffic that comes from having a unique Pokemon in your store?

It doesn’t just work for retail either. Imagine a cafe that also gives 20 per cent off drinks for anyone who goes in to catch the Pokemon – with a fan base that’s in the millions, it’s one of the surest ways to draw people in. I expect that, given time, plenty of businesses will be paying Nintendo large sums to have a rare Pokemon in their vicinity.

Any REIT manager with half a brain should be freaking out over this by now, and working on some form of tie-in.

(And before you ask, yes, saving retail will save the world. It keeps a significant portion of the property market healthy).

 

4. No more declining birth rate in S’pore

Pokemon may be the only thing that promotes romantic dates faster than getting rid of Stomp. Wired reports that Pokemon Go users already outnumber Tinder users, and that people are going on dates with other Pokemon trainers.

I don’t want to resort to crude stereotypes, but let’s be frank: hardcore gamers are not usually known for their romantic prowess, or willingness to be more than five metres from a console. Yes I know that’s not all of you, but let’s not pretend it’s a subculture of outgoing Don Juans alright?

This is good all around. The ones who aren’t inclined to go out and meet people will now do so.

The good thing about Pokemon Go is that it doesn’t just get people in the same spot. It gives them a common topic of conversation, so shy people don’t use their favourite pick-up line of “Mmmblxgrmmpf”. The game provides an excuse to talk, and some sort of common ground.

 

5. No more divorces, more happy couples

This one is pure speculation on my part, but I think Pokemon Go will save families and marriages. Think about it. What’s the main trouble with Singapore, apart from income inequality wider than the Grand Canyon? That’s right: we work our asses off, and barely have family time. We have one of the worst work-life balance situations ever.

Pokemon Go is the perfect excuse to hang out with the family. You can’t let a 9-year-old run across roads or into houses, to catch his Charmander or Mewtwo or whatever. The children have to be accompanied. And parents have to help navigate and spot the Pokemon – that makes it a game that involves family interaction.

In too many households, the problem is that each individual now enjoys isolated activities. We watch movies on our tablet while our spouse watches the TV, the children play with the Xbox and look up every three hours, and we only talk to announce dinner.

Now we can go back to the days when children played outdoors, parents could enjoy seeing that together, and there was a real sense of communication.

Pokemon Go, despite its occasional drawbacks (e.g. people wandering off a ledge or visiting your house at midnight) is a positive contribution. And hopefully, it will set off a wave of games that tap the same technology, and prompt the same level of activity and social interaction.

 

What is Pokemon Go?

Pokemon Go is a game by Nintendo and Niantic, which involves walking to real locations, to capture imaginary monsters. This was previously a past time known only to heroin addicts. Pokemon Go is the latest installment in a long series of Pokemon games, the first of which was released in 1996.

It’s also spawned comics, a cartoon series, several toy lines, and a movie that produced an M2M song (which was widely recognised as the full-stop at the end of humanity’s musical history).

Pokemon Go is the most successful of the franchise, generating about $18.9 million in its first week alone. It also rose Nintendo’s share prices by 10 per cent, placing the company’s current value at roughly $31 billion. Prior to this, Nintendo was suffering from poor sales of the Nintendo Wii U; a console that, if you were to try and sell on Ebay, would cause everyone to yell “scam” because nobody owns a damn Wii U.

Pokemon Go requires players to visit designated stops to flick a virtual Pokeball at virtual monsters. After said monsters are caught, players can force them to battle other players’ monsters. This is okay because the monsters only faint when they lose, they don’t die.

So they can be revived and forced to do it again, and again, and again. All for the pleasure of their owners.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong. 

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by Wan Ting Koh

COULD you forgive a family member who takes the life of another loved one? A son who rapes his own mother? Parents who torture their own children?

With the recent spate of family crimes in the news, we spoke to psychiatrists on how individuals might cope when faced with the traumatic situation of a loved one harming another. They said that there’s a whole web of emotions involved: Guilt, shame and self-blame for failing to protect a loved one or for not sounding the alarm earlier. The road to recovery is long, and talking about it is the first step to feeling better.

The most recent report of such crimes – a three-month-old baby was allegedly smothered by her father during her feeding time in October last year. Mr Mohamed Shiddiq Sazali, 27, was feeding baby Reyhana Qailah with one hand while playing a mobile phone game with another.

He was reportedly so absorbed in the game that he failed to notice Reyhana thrashing about for some two minutes, apparently choking on the milk.

He was reportedly so absorbed in the game that he failed to notice Reyhana thrashing about for some two minutes, apparently choking on the milk.

He only realised that Reyhana’s body was pale and motionless after his father-in-law entered the room and noticed something was wrong. Reyhana’s mother, Madam Nurraishah Mahzan, 31, rushed home after receiving a text from her husband, but she too failed to resuscitate her child. The final cause of death report mentioned smothering or suffocation and choking on milk as possible causes of Reyhana’s death.

When such horrific things happen, how does the family deal with it?

To say that grief would be “normal”, or even the sole emotion would be inaccurate, said Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital, who added that a family member who is related to both the victim and the perpetrator would feel a more “exaggerated” form of grief.

This may cause an extended period of depression, as compared to when a family member dies of natural causes.

Then, there are the other emotions: Anger, disappointment, and disbelief at the involvement of another loved one. This may make it hard for the individual to reconcile him or her to the incident.

Dr Brian Yeo, a consultant psychiatrist in a private practice at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, said that family members of the victim and the perpetrator will feel guilt and self-blame primarily, especially if they see themselves as the supposed protector of the individual.

“[They will ask themselves] ‘How come I didn’t see this coming, and how come I didn’t take action to protect the people I love?'” said Dr Yeo.

“[They will ask themselves] ‘How come I didn’t see this coming, and how come I didn’t take action to protect the people I love?'”

Dr Yeo noted that such an incident in the family would also call into question the parents’ parenting capabilities if they had other children: “Parents would question whether they are competent and able to take on the responsibility of looking after the surviving children.” In Reyhana’s case, it wasn’t reported whether she had siblings.

The fact that the identities of Reyhana’s parents were disclosed to the public may well worsen situation at home. According to Dr Yeo, family members would have to deal with the stigma on several levels. “All your relatives will be talking about it. It affects how society sees you, your colleagues, your extended family and how you see yourself,” said Mr Yeo.

Not to mention the legal intervention, such as police investigations and social workers who are involved. However, it is the exposure to the public that is “more devastating”, said Dr Yeo. It is this disclosure that allows “the public, neighbours, family members to effectively know and pass judgement”, he added.

 

Other factors to consider

Age was another factor when assessing the extent of the impact on other children in the family.

Children, said Dr Lim, tend to be “more egocentric”, so they blame themselves more. Adults on the other hand, have a “better understanding of the attribution of guilt”, he said.

And then there are the children who grow up in an abusive environment, such as in the case of two-year-old Mohamad Daniel Mohamad Nasser, who was repeatedly kicked, slapped and pinched by his biological mother and her boyfriend for 25 days over a 35-day period.

That wasn’t the only thing that his mother, Zaidah, 41, who goes by one name, and her boyfriend, Zaini Jamari, 46, did. They also made Daniel stand with his hands on his head while wearing only a nappy and forced him to eat spoonfuls of dried chilli.

Their abuse finally culminated in little Daniel’s death, on Nov 23, last year. The morning after a horrific day of torture inflicted by Zaidah and Zaini, Daniel remained motionless. He never woke up.

An autopsy later found a total of 41 external injuries on Daniel’s small body. The duo responsible for the act were charged earlier this month, with Zaidah given 11 years’ jail, and Zaini ten years’ jail and 12 strokes of the cane on July 5.

But Daniel wasn’t Zaidah’s only child. The cleaner, who was pregnant at the time of her abuse, has five other children. All of whom might potentially be more vulnerable to anxiety, depression or feelings of trauma if they grew up in the same environment Daniel, or if they witness the incident, said Dr Lim.

Daniel’s biological father, Mr Mohamad Nasser Abdul Gani, 42, had lost contact with his son and his ex-wife, Zaidah, after a prison stint for drug offences. The heartbroken father said in an interview with The New Paper that he blamed himself for not protecting his son. Said Mr Nasser, who works as a cleaner: “If I could turn back time, I would stay away from drugs, then maybe Daniel would still be here.”

“Instead, I was not there when he was born. I could not be the father he needed to protect him.”

Another case involving a young victim at the hands of her parents made the papers at the end of last month. The perpetrator was a 43-year-old security guard, and the victim? His 12-year-old daughter, whom he molested over a period of ten months in 2014.

The father would wait till his family was asleep or the house was empty before sending text messages to his daughter to go to his room, where he would grope her. After her mother, who was living apart from the family, found out, she confronted her estranged husband. On June 30 this year, the guilty father was sentenced to four years and three months in jail and five strokes of the cane.

Dr Yeo pointed out that for such cases in general, the question is whether the mother believes the child or the husband’s version of events. Either choice would have its own set of consequences. If the mother chose to believe her child, she would have to file a police report which would not only destroy the family, but affect the family finances, especially if the father is the main or sole breadwinner, said Dr Yeo. “Once you start it is not easy to turn back.”

 

No one saw it coming

As to how other family members can cope with the incident, Dr Yeo said that one of the factors is the “intent” of the perpetrator. The main thing would be to subject the perpetrator to a psychiatric evaluation to find a possible motive behind the crime. For the case of a son, who went on trial earlier this month for allegedly raping his mother for example, assessing the son will be a priority.

The 33-year-old man was accused of raping and molesting his biological mother, 56, at their home, where he allegedly restrained her while kissing her breast and forced her to touch him sexually. The incident occurred at the victim’s one-room flat in October 2013, while she was sleeping. Her son returned in the wee hours of the morning and, according to the prosecution, “molested and raped his own mother despite her pleas for him to stop” while her husband, the man’s stepfather, was out.

Said Dr Yeo of the possible impact on the father: “If it is due to a mental disorder, it’s easier for the father to see that… there is an explanation and there is some sort of redress physically and psychologically.”

He added: “If on the other hand the son has always harbored such lustful intent towards the mother, then the father may suffer a bigger portion of the guilt because it’s something that he had some sort of inkling may happen, and he did nothing to prevent it.” If his son had been “plotting or planning” the act for a while, then the father would have a “higher moral duty to act”, said Dr Yeo.

“If on the other hand the son has always harbored such lustful intent towards the mother, then the father may suffer a bigger portion of the guilt because it’s something that he had some sort of inkling may happen, and he did nothing to prevent it.”

Same goes to the son who allegedly caused the death of his father after putting him in a fatal headlock and causing him to suffer a cardiac arrest in February last year. Mark Tan Peng Liat, originally charged with murder, is currently on trial for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The victim’s elder sister, Madam Tan Hoon Choo, 72, took the stand on the first day of the trial (July 7) to testify that she was at home when her brother’s maid, Ms Sumarti Dwi Ambarwati, came to her house in tears, saying that the Mark and his father, Mr Tan Kok Keng, 67, were fighting.

By the time she reached the semi-detached house at West Coast Rise, which was two minutes away from her own, it was too late. Her nephew, a 30-year-old businessman, was standing outside, looking unlike his usual self. Madam Tan said: “His face was pale. He looked very bewildered and lost. I gave him a hug… I had a grim feeling.” She entered the house and found her brother lying on the floor of the second-storey master bedroom. The elder Tan was later taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

No one saw the incident coming. Not the aunt, who described father and son as having “a very good relationship”. Not Mark’s mother, who reportedly broke down in court after her son was charged and said: “What do you expect me to do? Kill my son?”

“It is a confusing and frustrating event, generally you don’t think such things will happen. It is not as if this is a drug user and you fear he will go back to drugs again. These things are much rarer, you wont expect it to happen unless he has prior knowledge that it has happened before,” said Dr Yeo.

“It is a confusing and frustrating event, generally you don’t think such things will happen… These things are much rarer, you wont expect it to happen unless he has prior knowledge that it has happened before.”

The fact that it happened within a close-knit family also makes it difficult to talk about. Said Dr Yeo: “You cannot really talk to other family members because this is going to be so shameful.”

 

The road to recovery

But talking also happens to be the first step towards recovery.

When asked how family members may cope with traumatising events, Dr Lim said that one of the best ways best ways to get over it is “really to talk about it”.

“A lot of people will try to deny this has happened…sometimes in their grief their first stage is denial, so the best thing is to keep talking about it so that the brain can process the whole event,” said Dr Lim. He added that the afflicted individual needs to talk to someone who can not only assess the grief but guide him along on the process.

“A lot of people will try to deny this has happened…sometimes in their grief their first stage is denial, so the best thing is to keep talking about it so that the brain can process the whole event.”

This was how Ms Leela Jesudason coped after the death of her sister at the hands of her nephew in a 2012 case which made the papers last July. Her nephew, Sujay Solomon Sutherson, who was diagnosed with paranoia schizophrenia, had brutally attacked his mother, Ms Jesudason’s sister, with knives, then hid her body under his bed.

“For me the way I cope is to be active. And to do something positive. I started a charity called PSALT Care, with the intention of giving support to families of those who have mentally ill at home, and also support groups for the mentally ill as well. For me, coping is to go round doing these kinds of things,” said Ms Jesudason.

Her first reaction, when she got the phone call in London from her sister-in-law about the incident, was incredulity. Then came the uncontrollable crying. Learning that her nephew was the one who did the deed only intensified her grief. However Ms Jesudason, 50, said that she felt no anger or resentment at her nephew. Only pity.

“I was sad not just for her but for him too because I knew that this is not going to go well for him either. His life is also over in that sense,” said Ms Jesudason. The first thing she did upon returning to Singapore was to engage a lawyer for her 35-year-old nephew, who was later sentenced to life imprisonment.

Said Ms Jesudason: “I don’t blame him. I blame a system that doesn’t enforce medication, because we had spoken to several doctors about him being off his meds, but there didn’t seem to be much concern on their part…he was throwing the tablets away.”

However Ms Jesudason cannot come to terms with her sister’s sudden departure. Nor did knowing that her nephew suffered from a mental disorder make the incident any more acceptable. “I think the sudden departure of somebody that you are close to, it’s very hard to say this could have lessened it, I don’t think so,” said the director of a public relations firm.

When asked whether she blamed herself in any way for the incident, Ms Jesudason said that she felt she “should have pushed a bit harder.”

“My sister was not the sort who would pick up the battle cry. She was a much more placid person than me, I feel like I should have taken up the mantle and gone to see the doctors,” said Ms Jesudason.

“I feel like I should have done more. I don’t know what more is, or could have been. But I should have done more.”

“I feel like I should have done more. I don’t know what more is, or could have been. But I should have done more.”

 

Featured Image by Natassya Diana Siregar

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By Brenda Tan

WHEN I read the news report recently about the national family council Families For Life‘s (FFL) survey on family, I wasn’t really expecting any jaw-dropping new facts about the Singapore family situation.

After all, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that long working hours are an obstacle to family time. Furthermore, while one in 10 respondents said that they spent six hours or less with their immediate families each week, this figure isn’t alarming if one considers that young people do have a greater need for socialising with friends, rather than with immediate family members during the week.  How else would we expect our young people to find a life partner, especially if they were to only focus on work and then go straight home to hang out with their parents?

However, what was interesting to me was what the council members had to say about what else affected family time.

FFL council chairman Ching Wei Hong believed that there were many factors affecting family time, including the intrusion of technology and gadgets, and the ubiquity of social media.

Another council member, Claire Nazar, suggested that Singaporeans need to “make conscious efforts to sacrifice their usual ‘screen time’ on their smartphones, laptops, TVs”,  to spend quality “face time” with their families. “If they can make the conscious decision to do this on a regular basis, they may find that they do have the time to bond with their families on a meaningful basis after all,” she said.

Frankly, while I acknowledge that there is increasing “screen time”, I’m not convinced that screens are as much of a hindrance to “meaningful” family bonding time as the council members make it out to be.

When I was in primary school, the television in my home would be turned on from “Mari-kita” to “Mari-kita”. In the early 80s, television didn’t have 24-hour programming. It would start its transmission with the national anthem at about 3pm, and end with the national anthem at night, past my bedtime. Even in the mid-90s, when we had 24-hour programming, watching TV was the main activity that my family engaged in – together as well as separately. Certainly, not all shows appealed to everyone in the family the way Under One Roof or Puah Chu Kang Pte Ltd did; I fed mainly on the English channels in the smaller TV in dad’s room when I got home from school, while granny would park herself in front of the larger living room TV for her Channel 8 melodrama fix.

Of course, in those days, the newspapers also carried similar warnings that spending too much time in front of the television set affected “family bonding time”, and that watching violent TV programmes would make you violent as well.

The irony now though, is that my large-screen HDTV is hardly turned on. My kids prefer watching their individual small screens, consuming personalised media tailored to their preferences via YouTube and other such media channels. Is their consumption of screen time more than when I was their age? I think it is probably less than mine, considering the greater number of school activities and homework my kids have, compared to my days in primary school.

As for the concern about “meaningful bonding time”, I looked at the survey and was highly impressed at the A* grades for “state of relationship and communication between family members”. With results that are 91 per cent and above, respondents feel that they have a good relationship with their children, with families readily lending support to each other. They feel a strong emotional connection to their family, and are satisfied with their family life. Those surveyed also feel their family members communicate openly and honestly, and despite the concerns of the FFL council members, the respondents feel they spend sufficient quality time with their family.

Families exist on a spectrum: there are nuclear families, some with both parents working, others are single income households; there are single parent families, multigenerational families, even extended families living within one compound. There isn’t really a single snapshot of a “typical” Singaporean family.

Growing up, my dad was a single parent, and the sole breadwinner of our household. I doubt I saw him more than six hours a week in my teenage years – I certainly watched more TV than spent time with him each week! Pa was a self-employed electrician/odd-job man who kept highly irregular hours. His weekends were usually spent with his friends on overnight sea fishing trips. Pa kept us fed on plenty of fresh fish and seafood, and my fondest memory of him is our time spent watching Japan Hour (his favourite TV show) on Sunday evenings in my late teens.

We didn’t do much of the stuff I do with my kids now, like regular cycling trips as a family on our PCNs or go for a family movie night (Oh no! Not another “screen”!). Unlike my kids who get to fly to Taiwan and Vietnam for our family holidays, I remember my single trip abroad with my dad, his girlfriend and my brother to Kota Tinggi waterfalls, which ended in a minor disaster when the car’s fan-belt snapped and we had to drive back to Singapore in a hurry to get it fixed. Needless to say, it was memorable for the stress, worry and missed “bonding” opportunity, but it was a family memory that I look back with fondness at Pa’s attempt to create a family outing for my brother and me.

Don’t get me wrong – I do think we need to be mindful to connect with our family beyond just sharing a living space together. And I do think that we could create plenty of good family memories via the many activities that Family for Life has planned via their #IChooseFamilyTime campaign, listed on their website. My kids certainly look forward to cycling with their dad to the upcoming Car-free Sunday on 29 May 2016, during which FFL will kick off their year-long series of picnics for the family.

In fact, I see our technology and screens as a means to connect with family members who live overseas or who travel a lot for work. Certainly, my kids always look forward to seeing what the view outside Daddy’s hotel room looks like on FaceTime. Even for myself, I get to see the hijinks my baby nephews are up to via my brother’s Facebook page, and it gives my brother and I something to touch base over, at our occasional family dinners.

Besides, the Internet also provides families with lots of ideas about how to engage with our children or our aged parents. After all, even FFL hopes to engage Singaporeans via social media and its website. It has even planned for “Facebook Live” chat sessions, with the first one to be held on 27 May 2016, with our Minister of Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, and a panel of parents who will share their personal experiences on the topic of family time.

I doubt the council expects parents to sacrifice their “screen time” for “meaningful family bonding time” during that time.

 

Featured Image byNatassya Diana.

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by Daniel Yap

IT COSTS a million dollars to raise a child? That would make me the Six Million Dollar Man. No robotic parts, although my sleep deprivation sometimes makes me feel like a cyborg. Today, when my toddler (whom I’m potty training) started to poop in her diaper, I picked her up and made a dash for the toilet so fast it would make Steve Austin proud.

TODAY published an article that claimed the cost of raising a child in Singapore is between $200,000 and a million bucks. It then says that $360,000 is the “average”, and at $1,500 a month this seems “more reasonable”. It was so reasonable that my left bionic eye nearly popped out of my skull.

But pop culture references aside, what the heck is the writer talking about? Where does this figure come from? I can quote you $10 million to raise a child from conception to 21, and I’m sure I can find some millionaire who has done just that. The Ferrari for her 18th birthday will account for half a mil. Another half a mil for when she becomes bored with the Ferrari at age 20 and wants a Lambo. When I say it’s all about lifestyle and standards, you’re going to say “duh”, but yet we all fret that it’s actually going to cost us a million bucks to raise each child.

Come, I pull figures for you. Completely anecdotal of course, but since I can change a baby’s diaper one-handed, you have no choice but to believe me.

Pre-natal doctor visits for my kids usually ring in at under $100 a pop, including basic supplements. Delivery and a stay at a four-bedder ward (not bad standard already) sets me back $3,000 without complications. Complications are uncommon, which is why they’re called complications. All in maybe $5,000. Please don’t take a taxi to all your doctors’ visits or it will be $6,000. C-section is $8,000. We all want the best for baby, but the “best” is a $12,000 suite in a private hospital with top-notch doctors who charge $250 a visit (including ultrasound and a top-up of supplements). Then your baby is jaundiced and it costs another $6,000 for follow-up private hospital phototherapy. Let’s be realistic, ok? $5,000 all in.

Baby stuff? Just make friends. If you can accept hand-me-downs (just ask), you will get your hands on tons of clothes and toys and a used stroller (probably three). You’ll probably only need to spring for a cot and mattress ($180 from Ikea) which will last you for five years, and a set of bottles and breast pump, which costs at most $300 in all. Never buy small milk bottles because 40ml of milk fits just fine in a 260ml bottle, but not the other way around.

Baby’s first food, a literal shitload of diapers, and all sorts of odds and ends and entertainments in the first year amount to maybe a thousand bucks if you’re extravagant. Diapers cost $30 a month tops. Breastfeed, man. If you don’t it will cost $100 a month for milk powder. Do not send your baby to swim in those giant tubs where they put a floaty ring around their necks – that’s just weird.

Childcare? Vaccinations? Baby gets sick? I hope you took that $8,000 or $10,000 baby bonus and chucked as much of it as you could into the Child Development Account. That’s $9,000 in the bank plus $5,000 in cold hard cash (in contrast to the warm, soft child you’re now holding) or up to $33,000 in the CDA if it’s your fifth child or more (yay for me!) Do you know how many months of childcare $33,000 pays for? Even if you’re a rich man earning more than $7,500 a month (and then why would you be worrying about this?), you still pay like $600 for infant care and $300 for childcare at an anchor operator. If you’re poorer you probably end up paying less than $100 a month. Your child can go to childcare until he is 27 years old before that CDA runs dry. The point is – you won’t be paying a cent.

It’s tempting to want to send your kid to that private childcare centre with no government subsidies and fees that weigh in at $2,500 a month, but seriously there are no studies that can reliably correlate extortionate childcare with future success in life. The Breguet twin tourbillon is a magnificent and valuable timepiece but it will not make you early for your appointment.

Outings and clothes and entertainment – budget $200 a month and stick to it. Seven years and $21,000 later…

Congratulations, your kid is now ready for primary school! School fees are negligible, but it costs about $50 a month to send them to and from school and keep them fed with canteen food. You DID register them in the nearest school, and not some mythical “elite” primary school on the other side of the island that you have to spend $100 on transport for, right?  After school care is $300 a month. You don’t have a maid. Well, I don’t have a maid. In any case we are only counting the cost of a child, not your laundry.

Please resist the temptation to manufacture overachievement by cramming enrichment activities and coaching and tuition. If you play sports or music or something, share your passion with your children by spending quality activity time with them. Find cost-effective solutions: my three boys attend a well-organised no-brand-name football academy that charges $60 a month for two training sessions a week. That’s under $8 a session compared to the $30+ a session that you’d pay at a brand name academy. We’re more than a match for them at competitions.

Lived this way, this phase of your child’s life will cost you $35,000 with after-school care for three years AND tuition in two subjects from P4-6 (seems excessive). Secondary school is pretty much the same – another $20,000 for four years because ahboy/girl can’t manage on $1.50/day allowance any more and you’ve upped it. JC is like extended secondary school. If they go to poly, it’s $3,000 a year in fees, but remember that $9,000-$33,000 in the CDA? That rolls over to the PSEA and can be used to pay for polytechnic, local university or ITE fees. Paying for a local university out of your pocket might be as low as $10,000. If it’s a boy, he goes off to NS and everything suddenly becomes cheaper for you.

There you have it, a relatively normal childhood (if you consider age 21 part of childhood) for just between $100,000 and $150,000. Less if you’re thrifty. More if you want to spend.

Think of it this way. Poor people have kids too, and some of them go to university without a scholarship. An income of $1,500 a month means that at the end of 20 years you would have earned only $360,000 and I don’t believe for one second that $200,000 of it was spent on raising a child, especially when some of these families have more than one child (the G does help them out more, though). A family with two kids and a household income of $2,500 will earn $600,000 over 20 years. Housing probably will account for a third of this amount. Daily expenses account for another third. Between savings and raising kids, a budget of $100,000 per child is already too much.

Don’t let unrealistic cost estimations scare you out of having more kids. Life can be simpler. Life can be tougher. But a good family is something a million bucks can never buy.

 

Want to discuss the cost of raising a child? Leave your comments in our FB post and Daniel will try his best to respond!

This article is part of TMG’s family package. Read also: Baby Talk, Bilingually Yours

Featured image Family by Flickr user mrhayata. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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skillsfuture_300x250

by Jean Angus

IT’S nearly 9pm on a school night and I’ve just arrived home from a long day in the office. I hastily bolt my dinner and go in search of the kids. Fourteen-year-old A is lying on her bed, eyes glued to her phone. She puts it down and tells me about her Chinese composition exam. “I don’t think I’ll do well. I never do when the paper seems easy,” she frets. I assure her that she will do just fine if she’s put in the effort, and encourage her to focus on preparing for the next paper.

Then I look around for 10-year-old Z, who has a penchant for hiding in wardrobes or under beds when she knows she’s wanted. No shenanigans tonight – she emerges from the bathroom, freshly showered. I ask her about her day. “It was terrible!” she says with a grin, so I know she’s just joking. At least I hope she is, because today was Chinese oral exam day.

A few minutes later, it’s lights out.

Since I started a new and demanding job two months ago, weekday time with my daughters has been greatly reduced to quick catch-ups like these. Although both girls are at ages where they prefer not to be associated with their boring, embarrassing parents, they still need help with things like an emergency pick-up from school, or how to solve a particularly difficult math problem. They turn to my husband for these things instead of me, because he runs his own business and has the flexibility to make time for parental duties while I am stuck in the office.

I constantly waver between two extremes: Feeling grateful that my husband is an involved parent and that I have an opportunity to build a future for our family, and feeling guilty and resentful for not having the luxury of owning my time. I’m most torn when I have to miss important occasions such as student council investiture ceremonies and parent-teacher conferences, because I can’t take leave from work. But being 38 years old, I’m not getting any younger, and will soon peak in my career. I should make hay while the sun shines. So I toil from 8am till after 7pm nearly every weekday, trying to finish as much as I can so that whatever family time I have is uninterrupted.

The good thing is that I had plenty of time and energy to build strong bonds with the girls in their formative years, when my jobs were more laidback. The foundation built then is the basis for their trust in me now as they navigate the minefields of school and adolescence. There are times when they instinctively know that they need me instead of their dad. When this happens, it’s like I’ve won the lottery. I can’t do everything for my kids, but I can do enough. And that is all I and every other mother can ask for.

 

Jean Angus works in public relations. On weekends, she takes her two daughters to afternoon tea and allows them to shock her with how much cake they can eat in one sitting.

This piece is a part of our Mother’s Day series of columns, showcasing the views and experiences of real mums in Singapore. Read Pam’s, Brenda’s, Esther’s piece, and check out our video too. 

 

Featured image The love of a mother by Flickr user rarye. (CC BY 2.0). 

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by Pamelia Tng

SO, WHAT do you do every day?

When I gave up my job seven years ago, I never thought that this would be the question that I would deal with frequently. When people find out that I’m a full-time mum, this is likely the question that would come up. It is very amusing, to say the least.

My husband and I are parents to three kids – two boys who are 11 and 10 respectively and a not-so-little girl who will turn seven this year.

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Pamelia and her three children on holiday in Santorini, Greece. (Image provided by Pamelia.)

I remember the days when we had our two sons in Melbourne. I was working as an account manager and juggling home life with the boys. The husband and I were young then and still so fresh in our careers. We would wake up very early to get the boys ready for daycare before rushing off to work. Thankfully, at that stage of life, we had the luxury of finishing work on time to rush home to be with our boys.

And then we decided it was time to move home. The husband started his business and soon it became apparent that one parent had to be around to look after the kids. (We had baby girl by then.) Life evolved.

Growing up, I never thought I’ll be a stay-at-home mum. On hindsight, yes, it seemed like an incredulous thought but I grew to love it. I’ve always wanted to be a really hands-on parent. It took a while for me to find my “worth” when I stopped drawing an income but then, it slowly became insignificant.

I relished the part where I can be there for them whenever they need me and I can plan their activities on weekdays so that we can have proper family time on the weekends. I love that I have time to cook for them and spend time watching over their homework. I actually have time to watch them grow.

The days are long, sometimes, especially when the kids have separate activities at the same time and I have to split myself into two (or three!). I also can’t have any appointments in the afternoon as I spend my time driving them around.

But, I digress. So, what do I do every day? Well, the husband and I share the school run. Then, we hit the gym or yoga before he heads off to work and I go run my errands before the school pick-ups. Our kids are older now, so they have different schedules. They are busy – as little people are these days.

Thankfully, we always have time to catch up. The children love to regale me with tales of what happened in school, share silly jokes, and just discuss the latest movies that they would like to watch. I watch by the sidelines as they play sports and when my daughter dances. It is a luxury to be able to spend time watching them grow up – one that I am very thankful for.

But there’s more to me than being a mum. There’s also a weekly date night with the husband. Sometimes, we manage to squeeze in a movie. I do floral arrangements for a shop or two. And then, there’s time spent catching up with my friends and volunteering at the kids’ schools.

All these add up to what I do and I really love how multi-faceted it is. It keeps me busy, but it’s also how I enjoy spending different parts of my life.

Full-time mummy-hood is a commitment. It is putting the needs of your kids as a main focus of your life. But, at the same time, it’s important to keep some time for yourself – nothing is more important than a happy mum. Spend time catching up with friends over coffee or just taking time out to exercise. Always have a sense of humour, no matter how bad the day is (because we all know that kids act up!). And remember, you are a team with your husband or partner, so get him to babysit sometimes so you can have some me-time.

If you plan it properly, full-time mummy-hood is very fulfilling.

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Pam is a busy mum of three. She loves a good cup of coffee and time spent with her husband.

This piece is a part of our Mother’s Day series of columns, showcasing the views and experiences of real mums in Singapore. Read Jean’s, Brenda’s and Esther’s piece, and check out our video too.

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Featured image DSC08352 by Flickr user Wunna PhyoeCC BY 2.0. 

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Bertha in coffee shop

by Bertha Henson

I HAVE always thought that the heartland hawker centre is what Singapore is about. Until I went to the food court at the Singapore General Hospital. I have had to go to the Kopitiam at Block 5 several times over the past month, elbowing uniformed nurses and stethoscope-wearing doctors for a seat. Of course, there was also much tip-toeing around patients, in their beige or blue colours depending on gender, and navigating around the wheelchair-bound. Then there is the mass of human beings who are not staff nor patients, for whom the food court is simply a place to assuage hunger pangs, because there isn’t much of a choice of places to eat.

There are few teenagers here. No students in uniform. But there was a fair sprinkling of toddlers or at least those of nursery age. There to see grandpa or grandma, I suppose.

I see well-dressed people who would be more comfortable in a cafe. The people in flip-flops, the people in designer shoes, the people in suits, the people in T-shirts which have seen better days.

I wonder who they came to see, which close friend or relative, what illness or whether they were recovering. But truth to tell, I have never overheard any conversation about patients. Lunch is always a hurried affair for most, probably because they have an eye on visiting hours or have to get back to their workplace. Or maybe just the act of visiting someone in hospital isn’t something that encourages loquacity.

You can tell the foreigner and the unfamiliar for whom this activity of buying food was a novelty. You can tell because they take too long ordering and are always fumbling for change. Members of the hoi polloi, on the other hand, are always decisive about what to eat, with wallet at the ready. Orders are crisp. Transaction-efficient. There is no fumbling to fill little saucers with chilli or forgetting to take the utensils.

So there I was one day sitting at a table with two elderly women who looked like they had just stepped out of the beauty salon and nail spa. They were tucking into chendol while I was having my braised duck rice. They told me their chendol, at $2.80 a bowl, was delicious. All I could say was “so expensive’’! They marveled that my duck rice cost $4 and I agreed that it was worthwhile given that there was half an egg and some tau kwa as well. They blinked, wondering what I was about.

I overheard them talking about getting a coffee but it seemed the queue was putting them off. I helpfully said that the queue moved quite fast and that it would cost them less than a buck. So cheap, they said, until I told them my neighbourhood coffeeshop sold coffee for just 80 cents.

I wondered why I kept talking about price when it was clear that they could afford it. In fact, they would have appreciated paying someone to bring the coffee to them! I wondered which ‘A’ class patient they were visiting.

It always makes me feel warm inside to see family members with the patient eating together. It is like dinner at home, but in a hospital. There is no television to distract anyone and the handphone is left to one side. I saw a grandpa lovingly feeding his grand-daughter, while his daughter (or daughter-in-law) was lovingly feeding him. I heard a patient telling her helper to eat, and the helper saying the same to her madam. I caught sight of a young patient in crutches whose mother brought his tray to him and immediately whipped out a packet of tissue from her bag to place on his tray.

Oh, and the other day, I saw an ang moh with a female patient. He was totally at a loss about what to do, probably overwhelmed by the mass of humans. The woman, lithe and with long hair in the peach patient uniform, decided to do the ordering and queuing herself. What a useless man, I thought to myself. And she, the patient!

But there are patients who eat alone, like an elderly man in a wheelchair I spied spooning red bean soup. I wondered how he queued for his desert. Did people make way for him to get to the front?

I look around the foodcourt and I realise that we are there because we have someone whom we care about. Our minds are concentrated on the visit, what to say or what comfort to bring to our loved ones. We come from all over Singapore with one motive. And it’s not the food.

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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