Thursday, 8 September 2016

Parenting: on bragging rights and wrongs

Three Thursdays ago, son found it difficult to sleep. I woke up in the early hours of the morning and he was still sitting up. I persuaded him to lie down and try to sleep.

A few hours later, he was up again, 'seeing stars', as he logged onto his school account to check his I/GCSE results.

"Hmm! Well, alright then," and he soon went back to bed.

He didn't just do well. He has done extremely well.

There was only one tiny blot on that horizon and we are going to query how a candidate who scored 90+% and 100% in three papers could only manage a 73% in a fourth paper for the same subject. (Every other paper in the other subjects were 90+ or 100%, bar one at 88%.) The result meant he missed an A-star by just five marks in a subject for which he was predicted an A-star after his mocks.

It took some persuading for him to come round to our way of thinking. He was happy enough with his overall results and so were we. But if he had put in A-star effort and was then subsequently deprived of the correct grade, should we not at least query that?

(This is only the second time we had to query an exam result. The previous time was when his marks did not add up. It turned out that a Maths teacher (!) had fed the wrong formula into his Excel spreadsheet and everyone in the class lost a few percentage points. A very apologetic letter came from the headmaster, no less. After that, the teacher decided that he did not like me very much.)

We were so chuffed about these public exam results that it was a good few days after that that I found myself thinking: this is official proof, vindication at last!, that I had done the right thing in giving up my career for this young man.

Recalling those years when every day was 'the WORST day of my life' and he was in tears even as we walked home from school, the steps we took to keep him on an even keel, the pleas with his piano teacher* not to push him so hard, etc. The boy, well, young man now, has done well. "Boy done good!"

*The piano teacher bit is really strange. Contrary to what most people think, we are not tiger parents. So we cannot understand why the piano teacher was pushing our son to pass grade after grade of exam. Son was literally learning three exam pieces and sitting exams every few months. I kept going to the teacher to say, "Hey! Let him play anything other than exam pieces. Learn some jazz, for example." The teacher would let him play some jazz for a few weeks and then it was back to exam pieces.

I was the odd parent telling him that my son was moving up the grades too quickly. In hindsight I think the teacher just wanted to showcase him, so that he could brag about getting a 12-year-old to pass the Grade Seven ABRSM exam.

Then three months before his Grade Seven exam, the teacher walked out on us. Just like that!

I scrambled about to find him a teacher because he had learned exam pieces that were going to be out-of-date if he did not sit the next exam. The new teacher then asked, "How did he manage to get to Grade Six on 20 minutes of lesson every week during term time?"

What this teacher did not know was son was not even practising at home! The only piano he played was at these lessons! He passed his Grade Seven just before or after turning 13, I don't remember, but there was no joy. There was no celebration.

Because he was quite ahead of his peers at music, we were expected to enter him for a music scholarship at his current school. We did not. Son was bent on getting an academic scholarship to this school and we could not have stopped him if we tried. We supported him.

It was clear to us that he did not have a passion for music despite being technically good at it. When playing his clarinet for his academic scholarship (to demonstrate other interests) the head of music (himself a clarinettist) asked whether he had considered a music scholarship. Had we pushed him into trying for one, he would have gone completely mental.

Thankfully the new piano teacher at his new school could also see how, much to my relief, he needed to be challenged into playing a wider range of music and not just pass exams. So, he might well be sitting his Grade Eight finally, at age 16. Even if he does not, so what?

The lesson for me as a parent today: we need to know when to push and when to refrain from pushing. Just like childbirth, isn't it? :)

Or as the Preacher said in Ecclesiastes: there's a time and place for everything under heaven.

(Tonight, husband returned from the office to say his colleague also queried his son's A level grades. A paper marked 'E' has been revised to 'B' (!!). They are now challenging another paper of the same subject so that the overall grade would be good enough for him to get to his first-choice university.)

Sunday, 4 September 2016

When I'm sixty-four, and more

Any 51-year-old should really think about how well he wishes to age.

So should Singapore, as it turns 51 this year.

The problem is that young people who think their bodies are infallible are often the policymakers. When they realise something more must be done, it may often be too late ("When I'm 64...what kind of Singapore can I grow old in?"; Aug 7).

I have had a head start, having studied ageing since 1984. My conclusions are:

  • We need holistic thinking.
  • Housing Board flats, transport, town planning and so on need to be redesigned to help seniors "age in place".
  • Employers need to plan for an ageing work force and/or one that has to care for our elders.
  • Young people need a career progression/training structure so that we have the best to look after our elders.
  • We must invest in technology, including robotics, to help the elderly age with dignity.
  • It may be that we will need to sell our homes to pay for care.
  • We need to discuss dying and "end-of-life" options with our loved ones while we are still lucid enough to do so.

The Lien Foundation proposal for home-like settings for our elders sounds very much like the Green House Project in the United States pioneered by Dr Bill Thomas. It may sound expensive to develop and sustain, but these homes have reduced hospital admissions and bed-blocking (thereby saving money), enhanced the quality of care (happier residents, more assured family members) and raised the self-esteem of carers (happier employees, lower staff turnover).

I recently found myself with a medical problem that left me in such debilitating pain that I could not even sign my name or raise my hand to my mouth. My husband had to cut up food for me. This was a reminder. My soul does not inhabit an infallible body, despite going to the gym twice a week.

The sooner we recognise this, the sooner we will find the impetus to do something.

We thank Dr Chey Chor Khoon ("VWOs have a role in eldercare") and Dr Lee Siew Peng ("Get moving on helping people age well"; both published last Sunday) for their views on ageing well in Singapore, and we agree that we need to take a holistic view on this issue.

The Ministerial Committee on Ageing has launched a $3 billion Action Plan for Successful Ageing that covers more than 70 initiatives across 12 areas - spanning from employment and learning to transport and housing - as a coordinated whole-of-society approach to prepare for a rapidly ageing Singapore.

With initiatives at the individual, community and city levels, the action plan has clear programmes and specific targets to help the elderly lead healthy and active lives.

Under the action plan, we are promoting community befriending programmes, as mentioned by Dr Chey.

More information can be found on

At the same time, we have continued to improve and evolve aged care services.

For instance, we are co-locating and integrating residential, day care and home care services, so as to serve our seniors holistically.

In particular, we are focusing on enhancing home and day care, as well as building Active Ageing Hubs in new HDB developments, to enable seniors to age with dignity in their own homes.

We are forming partnerships with agencies and voluntary welfare organisations to promote active ageing and enhance aged care in many communities.

We encourage more Singaporeans to partner us to make Singapore a nation for all ages.

Lim Bee Khim (Ms)
Corporate Communications
Ministry of Health

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

NUS Orientation

This link from Straits Times 1st August refers.

Teach kids to walk away from uncomfortable activities

(Hey! I don't write the headlines)

Having just returned from a conference at an Italian university where I spent much time "getting lost", I recall my own university orientation as I mull over reports on "sexualised" orientation events at the National University of Singapore.

I had opted to join a group of "seniors" from the Varsity Christian Fellowship who were taking us around the then-new Kent Ridge campus.

Although this batch of seniors had themselves only just moved from the Bukit Timah campus, they did their homework and pointed out to us the yellow ceiling that connected the whole campus, where to find the toilets, how to use the library, where the departments for our intended majors were located, how to sign up for tutorials, and even the shuttle bus system.

For this, I am eternally grateful.

The "sexualised" orientation activities I read about are more about rituals - of rebellion - although some call these "rites of passage". The organisers have the mistaken idea that such activities would help in team-building, "spiritual bonding" or the making of fictive kin.

Those who succumb to peer pressure to "perform", no matter how humiliating the rituals, become an "insider". The "outsider" tribe is deemed squeamish and uncool.

Parents should tell their children to walk away from activities that make them feel uncomfortable for whatever reason.

Someone, somewhere (perhaps even a potential spouse) will notice that the individual is not prepared to compromise personal principles for a few minutes of "easy passage" into a community that they may not actually wish to belong to.

University is an exciting time of life to explore ideas.

The objectification of a woman's body (or man's**, for that matter), however, is never acceptable. Rape, even if only simulated and thus "institutionalised", must never be condoned.

Lee Siew Peng (Dr)

Even the beggars beg in Italian

Why should this be surprising?

Only in the context of how Italian was spoken by all (except tourists) in Milan where I had the privilege to attend a conference at a new university built on the former Pirelli factory.

On the morning before my conference started, several others and I were taken around the city on a free walking tour (google Frog Walking Tour) by a graduate of the Milan State University. He impressed on us how Italians love their language.

Everywhere I went Italian was being spoken by people who might appear to be foreigners in Milan.

At the restaurant where my new Italian professor friend took me, the owner is Italian but all his staff are ethnic Chinese. But they spoke impeccable Italian.

Around the Duomo I found several beggars: an old lady with twisted ankles and walking stick, several younger people just sleeping with signs in Italian, people selling knick-knacks for pocket money, etc. Incidentally these older ladies with twisted ankles and walking stick (and begging cup) seem to be at every Duomo I came across. (They also look remarkably alike. Clones?)

Even the beggars spoke Italian.

This is a very strange experience to me. The only time I visited a place where I understood everything that was being said was in Guangzhou where everyone spoke either Cantonese (my mother tongue) or Mandarin (which of course I learned in school). I cannot tell you how exhilarating it felt to know exactly what people around me were talking about.

I have never got that feeling in Singapore, Jakarta, Amsterdam or London, all those cities where I've worked. And the many more cities I had visited for work or pleasure.

In north-west London where I now live, I could walk past 10 people between house and station and chances are they would be speaking Gujarati, Arabic, Polish, Romanian or some other East/European language rather than English. I can feel very 'lost' linguistically in any English city.

In Singapore, due to our language policy there will almost certainly be someone speaking a different language or dialect which I won't understand.

So my recent Italian sojourn had been very interesting that way. And I suspect that should I decide to take up residence any where in Italy I will soon be speaking the language too.

In comparison:

The ridiculous situation in London re: Uber drivers and English


Sunday, 17 July 2016

JC: I will give you rest

As I write, information is emerging that the driver of the truck that mowed down and killed 84 (current death toll) in Nice was, allegedly, "not a Muslim ... was a s*** .... beat his wife ... a nasty piece of work." (Source) Maybe they are trying to distance this act from any religious motivation.

Was he 'radicalized'?

Or did some people just made him feel guilty and ashamed that he had not done according to a religion that he was supposed to adhere to?

The remedy? Do something to prove that he was worthy.

This is pure speculation on my part but again and again I read of purposeless wayward men -- not those middle-of-the-road ones who stick more or less to religious convention -- who somehow were made to feel that they have somehow 'missed the mark' and must make amends ... by becoming more religious and evangelistic.

I mourn with these, their families, those they have hurt and killed, the families of those they have maimed and killed and I can only contrast this with what Jesus said while he walked on earth:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
(Matt 11:28-30)
Jesus offers first of all REST.

There is a yoke and there is a burden. Jesus did not offer trouble-free and pain-less futures. Let us be clear. (Or x number of virgins, for that matter.)

But first, Jesus offers REST for our world-weary souls, souls that might have been defeated by racism, inequality, poverty and every kind of personal, social and political injustice.

After our salvation (being rescued or 'salvaged', and therefore set free, from sin) which comes about only by faith (belief) and not by any amount of 'doing good' (accumulating merit, etc because this God is gracious, not vengeful) comes the 'sanctification' (being made holy).

Nowhere in the Christian Bible does it teach those who have been thus salvaged to go massacre others of other or dubious beliefs.

So if you are afraid that people around you might become 'radicalized' (whatever that means), do yourself a favour: look out for those in despair and point them to the rest that Christ offered.

It does not matter whether you are a Christian or not. Offer them the rest that Christ offers.

Would you rather the 'weary and heavy-laden' person working next to you be given rest in Christ than be radicalized by some other set of beliefs?

It is one way of securing the peace that you need.

This morning at church I was alerted to this story of a young man who was one of the most dangerous young prisoners in the country. You can view a short version here: Shane Taylor. Or a longer version here.

He could have been radicalized in a different way. Instead he was radically changed when he found REST in Christ.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

I'm a 'qualified disabled'

I have a new physiotherapist. Long story. (See previous post on possible corruption in the NHS.)

He tells me that he used to be a case manager handling claims for ESA (Employment and Support Allowance = sickness benefit) and PIP (Personal Independence Payment = until recently disability benefit. Name changed to 'independence' to encourage people to get better).

Said he used to ask what the prospective claimant did for a living. Some of them tell them they are 'qualified disabled'.

He explained, "Some are qualified doctors. Some are qualified lawyers. These are the qualified disableds."

He explained why my physio treatment was rationed. If it is a problem with my joints, it means I could do something to make it better – through exercise – so treatment is rationed. 

Being an alcoholic, however, is a result of a "disease" that the patient cannot do anything about(!). So he/she gets all the treatment they need – as well as a tranche of  disability benefits – to get better.

In reality, those who works on ‘qualifying’ to be disabled – like those who work to qualify as doctors and lawyers – are not going to try to get better. Their goal has been to be certified ('qualified') as disabled so that they can forever draw on public resources.

He felt frustration. As a physiotherapist, he is trained to get people better. Instead, he kept meeting people who just wanted him to certify them as being ill and unable to work. He left that job to work privately.

He's an immigrant from an ex-colony and voted 'Leave'.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Why I 'sacked' my physiotherapist

I had suffered intermittent pain for several months. When the pain became more frequent and I was finding it increasingly difficult to do the things I used to be able to do, I went to see my GP.

The GP knows I don't usually kachow him unless I really needed to. I was referred immediately to physiotherapy, as I hoped.

It was several weeks later before I was called by a private physiotherapy service (APS) to make an appointment. I assumed that the NHS physiotherapy service was overwhelmed and they had to farm out services to the private sector.

Fine, so long as I am not paying for this privately. Saw the physio a month after I saw the GP.

The GP had given me the impression that I was 'entitled' to six sessions. The physio (VS) told me I had five. OK. I was not going to argue.

What was my problem? After lots of questions and testing for range of movement and muscle strength VS told me I was suffering from 'inflammation of muscle/s'. This has restricted the movement of the joint thereby causing the pain. Or maybe it's the other way around.

He demonstrated the exercises that I should do (pendulum swings, wall presses, etc) and gave me printouts on exercises to do.

I said, "Is this is?"

"O yes, physio appointments are usually 15-20 minutes."

(It takes me half an hour to get to the clinic and another half an hour to get back.)

Why then did the GP tell me to take co-codamol before appointment in anticipation of pain, I wondered, but did not say anything.

So many friends and colleagues seem to have had, or known someone who has had, frozen shoulder. I was asked repeatedly, "Is it a frozen shoulder?"

The next session I asked VS, directly, "Is it a frozen shoulder?"

He said it was not a frozen shoulder. What is it then? He refused to tell me in simple English. To paraphrase: It could be this. It could be that.

By this time I was in a lot of pain, much more than when I first started physio! Pain was constant. Sleep was difficult. My movement was getting even more restricted. Writing by hand was too painful. I could not even sign my name! I had to stop some of my voluntary work as a result. I was suffering spasms in my right hand making me fearful about driving. I was dropping and breaking stuff because I had lost so much muscle strength in my right arm.

I had three other sessions. Each time he would start by asking how I thought I was doing, was I any better followed by "Any questions?". Then he would 'test' to see how well I was doing my exercises, pointing out if I did those wrong. Each time he gave me new exercises and more printouts. I had to do Set A three times a day, Set B two times a day, and Set C once a day. You get the picture.

The last session was a bit weird.

Earlier that day, I was teaching a class of old people how to use the laptop. One student was late. I helped her to remove her polyester coat. I felt static and I jumped. That sudden jerky movement caused me to double over in pain. The rest of the class looked on in horror as I took minutes to recover. (One was a retired nurse, so I would have been OK.)

VS applied ultra-sound which was supposed to relieve me of the pain. It did not. This was the only time he performed any 'therapy' on me.

He spent much of the time at the beginning of the session talking about being 'signed off' because I had finished my fifth and last session. I could continue as a private patient paying £42 a session. I could go back to the GP to ask him to refer again. Or VS could 'change the numbers' and I could have three more sessions.

Surely 'changing the numbers' = 'creative accounting'? The taxpayer is supposed to have paid for five sessions of physio treatment. Why would this private company provide three more 'for free'?

It suggests to me that this company (APS) was mis/representing itself as providing 'five sessions' and hoped to get away with 'five sessions of 15-20 minutes' when the taxpayer is paying for 5x30 minutes (150 minutes). Unfortunately I am a stubborn patient and they have to do a little bit more. Having been seen for 5 x 18-minute sessions (on an average), I am still 'being owed' 60 minutes, equivalent to about 20 minutes each.

I opted to have another three sessions.

But I also returned to the GP as there was no real improvement. By this time I was feeling quite anxious as to what could be the cause. VS said my spasms had nothing to do with the shoulder as 'nothing' connects my shoulder to my fingers (!!). I was mystified by this statement.  He also hinted that surgery might be an option, in which case I needed an orthopaedic who specializes in upper limbs.

To cut a long story short:
(1) GP requested X-ray and referred me to a specialist (this was at the end of April).
(2) X-ray showed minimal wear-and-tear.
(3) VS gave me three additional sessions during which he actually manipulated my arm and shoulder causing some pain. The irony was I felt better for it. I was signed off again.
(4) Finally, in mid-June, saw a specialist (JK) who quickly diagnosed frozen shoulder. He would refer for more physio (hopefully not with VS's company, but he could not actually designate), ultra-sound scan and steroid jab.
(5) Returned to GP to tell him I had lost all faith in VS. Please refer to a different one, which he did.

After seeing the specialist (4, above) I was relieved but very angry. I have lived in distress and anxiety for more than four months thinking that something sinister was happening to me and that I might require complex surgery under general anaesthetic. It was merely a frozen shoulder, which would eventually unfreeze.

So I sacked VS. The specialist JK's referral for further physiotherapy resulted in my being sent back to VS's company (APS). I refused to go back. I am now paying for private physiotherapy at another private provider recommended to me by a fellow gym member.

Incidentally I could have been assigned to this new provider (PL) in the first place on the NHS under the 'choose and book scheme'. For some reason I was not given this choice. Instead I was simply told to attend APS. It caused me to wonder if there is a bit of corruption going on in that someone was sending NHS patients to a certain private practice despite it not being the one closest to where the patient lives. That 'someone' is also depriving patients the chance to 'choose and book'.

It is possible that my husband's private medical insurance might cover this new physio. Even then, there is an excess to pay. Speaking to the receptionist at the PL practice, I have confirmation that the GP practice has referred (the second time) to this same private physiotherapy service as requested. But there are -- wait for this -- 300 people on the waiting list. It would take eight to ten weeks for me to get to the top of the list if I did not have the resources to pay.

Such is the beauty of an 'all-free' NHS which our taxes have, ostensibly, already paid for.

My new physio RP is great. He causes me a lot of pain but I can see almost immediate improvement in my range of movement and for that, I can only be thankful.

Still it is going to be a long time before I can get rid of the bingo wings that have developed as a result of my not being able to exercise those muscles.