Friday, 13 January 2017

Garbage from a mansion

I think of FB as a necessary evil these days. It's good to connect with friends and family. Recently I checked in frequently for updates from a friend regarding her husband who was undergoing an operation. Requests for prayers are usually responded to immediately.

FB has also been reminding me of my 'memories' from years ago. Today, as a I write, with real snowflakes falling, I was reminded of this, from six years ago:

Crisis management last night. Son distraught that Art teacher told him his (most unusual) perspective for an assignment was not acceptable. Took a long time for him to come to a point to say, "Yes, I am garbage, but I am garbage from a mansion," which became "garbage from a palace" before he went to bed. He's been bottling up about this new Art teacher for some time, clearly.
What were you doing this day six years ago?

I now know that I had to try to defuse what was a very exasperating situation for my then ten-year-old. He was probably in a flood of tears as he tried to come to terms with the demands that his Art teacher had of him.

I have recently seen a young girl, fours years of age, colour so beautifully 'within the line'. My son was not able to do that till he was much older. Maybe he still does not bother to do that.

For a ten-year-old to conclude that he was 'garbage' as a result of what a teacher said is not a great experience. Eventually I was able to salvage the situation by convincing him that at least he was good-quality garbage.

Not because we live in a mansion, or a palace, but that God loves him for what he is, garbage or no garbage.

Then he realized if he was a son of God the King, then he was a prince. And if he was a prince, then he is garbage from a palace.

As for the Art teacher, she knew how intellectually advanced my son was. I think she wished that son would put in more effort into her class.

What she did not realize was that son was not very good with two-dimensional art. Give him a piece of paper, however, and he could turn it into origami if he so wished. He is that type of person who could look at a 3-D object and then comes up with an origami version of it. IF he so wished.

Some years ago the youth pastor at church challenged him to come up with something for the mums on Mothering Sunday. He gave it some thought and then set about making origami flowers which he had designed. When he realized that he could not do large quantities of this all by himself, he taught us (mum and dad) to do the basic folds. We then let him do the complicated bits.

Over the long Christmas break he came up with the idea of turning origami into jewellery. (Something to do with the 'enterprise' group he is involved with at school.) And so he experimented, miniaturising his origami as much as possible. Sadly he was not the first person to think of that. But the fact that he did gave me great satisfaction.

Not all children would turn out to be the way parents and teachers wish them to be. I would love mine to be a rugby player, to play for England (or Singapore, or even China, as his grandfather was born in China), but I have long since given up this dream. No, he is not ever going to be my Jonny Wilkinson.

Something he said last year took me by surprise. It is a sign of his coming to terms with himself. He had finally become more 'self-aware'. And praise God for that!

He lives with other boarders who are all intellectually very advanced. He observed that all his fellow scholars have one quirk or another. They are all 'odd' in some way. All had major shortcomings or fixations of some sort.

"Yes, mum. To some extent, we are all autistic."

Autistic. Not Artistic.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Snowflakes and tattoos: a correlation?

It was a facepalm moment for me when I learned that several young people in my previous church were getting tattoos as soon as they turned 18.

As an anthropologist, I am familiar with scarification – and circumcision – as being a mark of adulthood in a ‘rite of passage’. Pain and the ability to endure pain is integral to the demonstration that one is grown-up.

In researching older Chinese people who had immigrated to Britain, I often asked them for stories on their ‘eating bitter’. Almost always, my respondents simply raised both their hands.

“Look,” they said, “what hard work has done to my hands,” as they showed me their calloused fingers and gnarled hands, riddled with painful rheumatoid arthritis. They looked just like the hands of my late parents (neither of whom had a tattoo).

My generation faced hardships of a different kind: leaving school because there was not enough money to educate the girls; if at school, walking long distances to school to save on bus fares; if we got on a crowded bus, being molested as old men and young men alike pressed themselves against us and we did not know how to respond.

Turning 16 meant finding part-time jobs and/or giving private tuition to children in the neighbourhood. I started writing for Fanfare at 16 (while working on my ‘A’ Levels) to earn pocket money. (Thank you, Sylvia Toh and Pauline Loh, wherever you are.)

We did not have ‘rites of passage’. ‘Prom Nights’ were a rarity. We were simply expected to work to contribute to keeping the family housed and fed.

Boys went through National Service where even getting to and from camp every weekend was a hardship. Precisely because these men understood, their sons were chauffeured to and from camps, or given taxi money.

So you see, we did not need tattoos to show we have endured pain and therefore ‘grown-up’.

Pain was written in our hearts, our failures, our indignity, our sleepless nights, our worries about money, our memories ... by the time we were in our late teens.

Pain was in our empty stomachs and in our envy of wealthier university friends who went off on Europe tours while we worked during the long university breaks to afford university fees and textbooks.

Of course, I may be wrong. Tattoos may not be about pain. What then are they about? Vanity? The mindless worship of celebrity cultures? Pray, tell.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

What if democracy fails?

Last Wednesday was so déjà vu. Woke up in the morning to learn of a Trump triumph, reminding me of how I felt when on June 24th I learned Britain had voted for Brexit.

Truth be told, I had not really been following the US elections. They tend to be very long drawn out and frankly, I did not have the time, or I was bored, or both.

Social media of course provided the drip-drip-drip of news as friends and some friends of friends 'liked' various links and pages. I continued to be misinformed/underinformed. I did not think I could change the outcome in any way.

Brexit is not the same as Trump. Why he managed to win had been discussed to death. What I am interested in is the aftermath.

Protesters on the streets.



Had Clinton won, would there be similar protests, riots and vandalism?

Someone had gone to court to challenge if Britain can now actually Brexit without the parliamentarians approving of what the majority of Britons who bothered to vote decided in a once-in-a-lifetime decision.

When the Brits first voted in a referendum to join the EU, did this require approval by parliamentarians?

If a referendum could get us into the EU, why can't a referendum get us out of EU?

I digress.

Obama was elected because he promised people that he could 'be the change'. Were there protesters on the streets when Obama won? Trump -- as would be the case of any incoming presidential candidate -- was also that he could make much-needed change in government.

So it's OK for a Democrat to be elected to 'be the change', but not a Republican?

So it is OK for the Democrats to win by a specific democratic process, but not the Republicans?

Are these protesters saying that democracy is bad, or only good - and acceptable - when it goes the way of the Democrat?

Otherwise, change the democratic process! Yes, as we have seen it done in Singapore.

The US have their electoral college. We have our GRCs. Apparently there is now a petition for the candidate who gets the most number of votes to be declared the winner. So, just one vote more than your opponent would make you a winner (really?). Forget about the electoral college!

The words 'baby' and 'bath water' come to mind.

One of my favourite courses at university was social and political philosophy. (Thank you, Mr Pang.) We looked at every other option and decided that despite the shortcomings of democracy (as in the 'majority rules', or even the 'tyranny of the majority'), the other available options are worse.

A dictator perhaps? So there is corruption and factions. A dictator will sort it.

Look at dictators around the world, past and present. How do you get rid of a dictator once they are in power? They keep changing the rules to keep themselves in power. That is Dictatorship 101.

Democracy sucks if your side loses. Of course. I've had to live with it for the past 20+ years in Britain. In local government, the mayoral post in London, the House of Commons, the EU parliament ... I seemed always to have backed the wrong horse. My favoured candidate somehow always lost. But life goes on. I wait for the next chance to vote these people out.

Trump might be the demon personified. What do I do? I can do nowt, except pray and believe that my sovereign God will overrule whatever unsavoury decisions that politicians and presidents might make.


Meanwhile I help my neighbours, encourage friends, minister to the downtrodden, etc. I cannot change the world. But I can make a difference in the people I come into contact with every day, one person at a time.


I don't always agree with Piers Morgan. His observations here are pretty accurate:
Memo to millennials, that awful feeling you've got is called losing. It happens. If you want to know how to win, stop whinging for a bit and learn some lessons from Trump

Thursday, 27 October 2016

What is a frozen shoulder?

It was soon after Christmas 2015 when I noticed that the intermittent pain in my right arm was getting more frequent. I am right-handed. Went to the GP in January 2016 and for the best part of this year I had been suffering a lot of pain, loss of muscle strength and spent many hours in hospital and clinic waiting rooms.

Not nice.

I had to give up some voluntary work which required a lot of note-taking. My right hand was so weak that I could barely sign my name, let alone write. Even working at a computer took a great deal of effort and I had to stop after every hour or so to recuperate.

I recently found this post (below) and thought it describes very well the pain, anxiety and embarrassment that I had gone through.

Embarrassment, yes. For a long while I had no strength in my hand to cut up food. Husband had to cut up food for me, at home, at restaurants, etc, so that I could pick the pieces up with my left hand. I could not raise my right hand to my mouth without pain. Instead I bent down to it! Looked like an idiot, I did.

Thankfully I am recovering. I am no more in constant, constant pain. The stiffness is still there, but I can do a lot more after going to a new physiotherapist. I can now cook, without having to wait for husband to get stuff out of the oven for me.

Praise God!

If you are in HR, or have friends and colleagues (usually menopausal women) who are suffering a frozen shoulder, this blog would put things in perspective. Be kind! Be very kind. :)

My frozen shoulder experience

I quote the first paragraph from her blog here which says much of what I went through:


Your life is 100 times harder, you struggle to dress yourself, can’t wash your face or hair or brush your teeth (with the arm involved), can’t get your hand to your face, can’t put a shirt over your head, you struggle to tuck yourself in if wearing jeans or skirts (I stopped trying), you can’t lift things, can’t move your arm more than a few inches in any direction, you can’t put your bra on, can’t even shrug your shoulders (the most basic thing of all!).  You can’t go through any kind of drive through (for food or the bank) – or if you do you have to park away from it, get out of the car and walk to the ATM – you can’t feed yourself properly, you can’t sleep, using a hairdryer in one hand and a brush in the other is out of the question – it’s hard to even wash your hair unless you do it one-handed. You start walking funny because you ache all over, your neck aches, your shoulders ache because your body is “out of whack” and distended – it starts affecting every aspect of your life, both waking and sleeping – it is just a horrible, horrible predicament.   It is still somewhat of an enigma, nobody REALLY knows what it is, what causes it or how to cure it, there are lots of opinions, and myriad medical doctors who will offer expensive surgery.  There are multiple options out there for other types of treatment, most of them (I believe) are detrimental to the healing process.  Sure, some of them may help, but some of them may hinder, but the most important thing is that you are not bullied into having surgery or doing anything that doesn’t feel right for you.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Financial abuse of the elderly +

My letter to Straits Times published on 4th October and response.

Note also AGE UK Factsheet #78: Safeguarding older people from abuse and neglect

Protecting the elderly from financial abuse an urgent matter

The Yang Yin saga illustrates the issue of financial abuse of elders that few Singaporeans talk about ("Six years' jail for taking $1.1m from widow"; last Saturday, and "Study flags financial exploitation of elderly"; yesterday).

Sometimes, this is due to a potential loss of face. Mainly, it is because we do not know where to start.

Given our rapidly ageing population, safeguarding our elders from financial abuse should be an urgent matter on our national agenda. Both individuals and organisations can take proactive steps to prevent elder abuse.

Alarm bells must ring when an individual unrelated to a customer shows up at a bank to ask for his name to be added as a joint account holder, and even more so when large amounts of money are subsequently transferred into his personal account.

When I applied for a business bank account, a bank manager insisted on visiting my home to get a better picture of my situation.

Perhaps banks could implement similar anti-fraud protocols for customers of a certain age.

At least two bank staff should interview the account holders in private (in their own homes), to ascertain that the account holders have thought through the consequences of adding a stranger to their joint bank accounts.

Likewise, the additional account holders should be interviewed separately. Checks should be made to establish that they are what and who they say they are.

If there is any doubt, family, friends and other professionals approved by the account holder (such as doctors) should be consulted.

When unusual activities are noticed on the elderly person's bank accounts, a safeguarding protocol should be triggered, just as credit card companies sound the alert when they think a transaction is suspicious.

Despite these precautions, a determined fraudster who has taken time to "groom" his victim might still succeed.

As individuals, we must ensure that there is a network of people we can trust.

Lasting Power of Attorney should not be signed away without consultation with this network.

Anyone asked to be a witness to the drawing up of a will should be reminded of the responsibility that this entails. Perhaps they, too, need to sign a declaration - with information on how to report potential financial abuse - testifying to this, for "do-it-yourself" wills.

In addition, we should have a well-publicised helpline for people with concerns for their elderly family, friends and neighbours.


Response from Mr Lee Teck Chuan

Boost legal, social safeguards to protect the elderly

In recent times, we have read of sham marriages, nominated beneficiaries of Central Provident Fund (CPF) monies unrelated to a dead person and feuds over estates.

The perpetrators certainly came prepared, with tactics that seemed premeditated and well researched.

Lonely aged citizens are especially vulnerable to feigned affection ("Elderly people less able to process cues of social threat" by Ms Huang Yi; Sept 23).

We need to boost legal safeguards to protect our aged men and women ("Protecting the elderly from financial abuse an urgent matter" by Dr Lee Siew Peng; yesterday, "More types of elder abuse should be considered criminal offences" by Mr Jeffrey Law Lee Beng; Forum Online, Monday, "Govt unit saw over 100 cases of vulnerable adult abuse" and "Study flags financial exploitation of elderly"; both published on Monday).

Any person of a certain age should be accompanied by at least two relatives before he drafts his will, assigns Lasting Power of Attorney, opens a bank account, transfers funds beyond a threshold, or makes arrangements to dispose of his assets, including nominating beneficiaries to his CPF monies.

Utmost care must be exercised, and perhaps a certification of an aged person's mental state procured, before carrying out instructions given by such a person.

The law should afford watertight protection to the vulnerable aged, who may not have the capacity to act or are under the influence of unscrupulous people.

The authorities should be stringent in checking that visitors who stay here for an extended duration have legitimate reasons for doing so, and that their sponsors are genuine. They should also ensure that registered businesses carry out genuine activities.

Let us have comprehensive legal and social safeguards in place so that we can all grow old with dignity.


Comments, ideas, etc to build on these??

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.)

Update: 1/11/16 Son missed his star grade by 0.75% after a re-mark. Ah well, we did try. Could have appealed. But as he was not continuing with this subject, we let it go.

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