Panoramic view of the cemetery

清明節-Qingming Festival

Dear boys,

We went for our annual 清明 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qingming_Festival)  on Friday and this time, we squeezed into your uncle’s Honda Civic and made our way to the first stop, which was ChoaChu Kang cemetery. It was a messy place for the uninitiated, but there is a level of organized chaos. The place is quite massive, with rows upon rows of tombstones and graves, all tightly packed together. Your uncle U-Wei is an excellent navigator, and in no time we found our way there, last year, was a different matter, we have to circle a few rounds as your Ah Gong got the location wrong, no thanks to the confusion and crowds which descend upon that place annually for 清明.

P_20150403_082635 P_20150403_082113Choa Chu Kang Chinese CemeteryAlong the way, we listen to your Ah Ma tells us her 清明 experience, where she went with her dad on a pick up truck to a cemetery in Changi, the place has long been exhumed to make way for the living. She told us that Changi cemetery was even messier, and they have to walk over other people’s tomb. As Ah Ma’s dad will always do their 清明 in the evening, Ah Ma will always stay in the pick up to take care of her youngest brother, while her dad, with her eldest sis and 3rd sis will go and do theit 清明 ritual. You Ah Ma’s eldest sis, will always repaint the Chinese engravings on the tombstone as it will always fade off, due to being exposed to the elements. Her mum’s tombstone, was a lot larger and ‘spacious’ compared to the current one.

The one in Choa Chu Kang lies your Ah Gong’s mother, which is your mum’s Ah Ma, from what I know, she has always been nice to your mum. I didn’t have a chance to see her as she died in 1995, which would made this her 20th anniversary.

Our offerings to your Great Grand Mother

Our offerings to your Great Grand Mother

The 'block' number

The ‘block’ number

This time, your mum made Huat Kueh (发糕) for your great grandma, and the other offerings was as laid. fruits, flowers, coffee. The air was still quite crisp that morning as the burning hand’t really commence. we stood around for a while, while the candles and joss sticks burned, and when the time was ‘right’ we packed up and head off to another spot, Mandai Columbarium

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandai_Crematorium_and_Columbarium)

Long Traffic Jam!

Oh my, this year, the traffic jam was bad, up to almost 2 hours long, you both had a good long sleep in the car, me included! When we finally reach there, we were quite lucky to find a lot, all thanks to Ah Gong’s sharp eye for a good car park lot. we parked the care without much hassle and headed to our descendants’ duties.

Mandai Columbarium

Mandai Columbarium

 

Another block from Mandai Colambarium

Another block from Mandai Colambarium

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was quite a massive place, where all the urns are place in niches. Your Great granddad’s urn is placed in ‘Camelia’, row 315. which means it is on the third floor, which mean 3 flights of stairs, for your Ah Gong, who recently had a knee operations.

By the time we reach there it was past noon and 清明 festivities are already in full swing, it was hot, crowded, noisy, messy and a little dirty. The rows are tight and everyone was trying to make their offerings to their respective niches. Some brought chairs, little tables so that they can put their joss sticks and candles, we didn’t and choose to place them on the floor. Your mum made another Huat Kueh for your great granddad as well

The Niches

The Niches

P_20150403_121900

good folks burning their offerings to their ancestors, all the heat, smoke and ashes, were all trapped on the third, topmost floor!

The Urn

The Urn

The columbarium was more unbearable, the ashes got into every part of our hair, cloths and nostrils, the smoke irritated our eyes and throat, the trapped heat was unbearable, despite of all that we still have to make it, pay our respects, for without our ancestors, we will not have today. They may be long dead, but as far as we can help it, we have to go and do our due diligence.

This is what 清明節 is all about, while we continue to build our new, and look into our future, we still have to remember our past, we have to remember those people who are dead, who made choices in their lives then, so that we can have what we have today. This annual ritual of cleaning the tombstone, and making our rather arduous trips to far fetched lands to see the tombstone, and the niches, right now, the both of you are too young to understand. By the time you both are old enough, I hope you can see the value of 清明節 and continue acknowledging our forefathers while you surge ahead into the future.

 

 

Meeting my MATADOR (Army Story)

300px-MATADOR_Stand

Dear Boys,

Let me tell you an Army story.

During your father’s Reservist, he has fired a MATADOR (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MATADOR). This is an Light Anti-Tank Weapon (LAW), that is in used with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Our unit was given some organic weapons training, the NSmen were given a few choices: M-16/SAR21, Ultimax 100/SAW, GPMG, or the MATADOR. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I chose MATADOR.

I mean, who in this world actually get a chance to fire a real anti-tank rocket? It was a chance too good to pass up!

Of course there was a familiarization lessons to go through. We handled the dummy version, understand the immediate action (IA) drill in case the weapon malfunction. This mainly have to do with the weapon not firing and we have to leave the weapon, more gently than you put a sleeping baby down! Any jerk could set off the malfunction weapon and blow everybody up with the most unintended consequences! The reality is that it can be nerve wrecking to know if that high explosive thing you put on your shoulder failed to go off.

Anyway, we went through some technical handling and we made it to the MATADOR range, which was actually an open area where we get to shoot at some metal targets simulating vehicles. Since a single live MATADOR cost more than S$10,000, the army has to make sure we are familiar with it. So we were given to sub-munition rounds to get ourselves familiar with whole drill of handling the MATADOR. There were 2 rounds of sub-munitions for us to shoot at the targets. So when we squeeze the trigger, a small projectile will be sent flying towards the target. Piece of cake.

When it came to the real thing, all of us got somber and serious. We were told that the MATADOR packed a nasty back blast, and true enough the amount of back blast was phenomenal. Anyone standing 5 meters behind it will be severely injured by the back blast. No joke, it threw a blast a good 10 meters or more.

Matador

Because it was an expensive round to fire, everyone only have one chance. and due to some military mess up, I was the last shooter for the entire cohort.

It was an exciting moment as I hefted the real thing onto my right shoulder and as I peered through the simple sights, I took aim at the big vehicle shaped metal sheet, about 250m ahead, well within the MATADOR’s maximum 500m range.

So I repeated the commands and grasp the pistol grip and flicked the safety off. The moment of truth.

Nothing prepared me for what was going to happen.

I squeezed the trigger and was totally taken by surprise the amount of recoil of the weapon packed. And the amount of smoke! I totally lost sight of the target momentarily.

When the smoke cleared, I couldn’t hear what the trainer was trying to tell me, I pulled my earplugs off while I exited the little mold of earth making up the firing point, everyone at the training shed was on their feet cheering!

I thought they were cheering since I was the last firing, so I lifted the empty, and light MATADOR casing in bravado. It was later when I reached the training shed that I realise what my buddies were cheering about.

As I didn’t prepare for the recoil, the warhead was jerked upwards when it left the MATADOR. Hence with an upward trajectory, the warhead totally missed the target and instead flew for its maximum 500 meters and landed beyond the range parameters!

It probably blew up some tree and killed some ants. What a way to waste a $10,000 weapon!

Leftovers

bento

Dear Ian,

This evening, we ordered a salmon/ chicken bento set for your dinner. You ate your fill and you wanted me to finish off the rest. There was a piece of chicken left and you wanted to eat that up first before passing your rice to me.

And I asked you, ‘You want your father to eat plain rice?’

To which you rationalized, ‘No’, you are going to leave the soup for me as well. In fact you are going to put some soup into the rice so that I can have the soup and the rice.

I was a little sad and disappointed.

Technically you are going to leave me with a porridge, while you eat up all the salmon and chicken, albeit the last piece, after you said that you are too full to finish everything. So you finished the best of everything and leave your dad soup and rice. Have we ever only given you soup and rice?

I raised to you the issues of morals. We do not want to raise kids that has the best of everything and leave the least of everything for other people. More importantly, I do not want you and your brother to pick this habit up and do it to your grandparents. They will eat everything you boys cannot finish and they will not say a word about it, this is because they both love you in their own special way.

So I have to put a foot to it. While I certainly do not mind eating only rice and soup, but I need you to understand, you cannot treat people like this, this is plain selfish, me, me, me, mentality. You cannot take the best and give others the least. We do not do that to you, please don’t do it to us, please don;t do this to others.

You are going to get the best the world can ever provide, but what are you going to give back in return? You will always get the best resources. we will never give you leftovers, if we can help it. We will always think in your best interests, any decent parents would do that for their children, we just need you to understand that you have to, give back, a decent level of respect to your elders. to your grandparents, to those around you. you cannot take all that is good for yourself and leave whatever is left for others. This is not how we want to bring you up.

Loss and love on the journey to parenthood

Mum and dad were a long time waiting before this baby girl finally arrived last week

PUBLISHED ON MAR 15, 2015 3:45 PM
— ST ILLUSTRATION: MANNY FRANSCISCO
As a young reporter 11 years ago, I wrote about an alarming trend: The number of miscarriages in Singapore was going up, up and up.

I got the statistics, spoke to a woman who had experienced a miscarriage, interviewed five doctors and probed a politician on possible ways to address the problem.

It was an assignment to me, a story to be done before I moved on to the next.

A decade on, the issue became personal. Within six months, I had not one, but two miscarriages.

In May 2013, I found out that I was pregnant. It was unplanned but my husband and I, after some initial adjustment, were thrilled.

After all, we had been married for four years but somehow life had got in the way of making space for children: I went overseas to do a master’s degree, then waited for a posting as a foreign correspondent. I was then 34, just a year from being defined as a geriatric mother – or what doctors call a woman of advanced maternal age.

We saw a doctor in Hong Kong where we were now based. He did a scan.

Congratulations, he said. There was a gestational sac – the first sign of pregnancy but no yolk or heartbeat. But that’s normal, he declared. It’s early days yet.

We returned to Singapore for a break and as a surprise to our best friends who had just had a baby. We popped champagne and I had an illicit sip, a toast to the new addition to our group as well as the embryo growing – I thought – inside me.

Back in Hong Kong, we went back to the clinic. The news was not good this time. The sac had not expanded, which meant the pregnancy was not progressing as it should. I’m sorry, said the doctor.

We were upset, of course.

But I sought comfort in research and statistics, including the ones I had cited in my own article from years before. One in five known pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Some of us, I told my husband and myself philosophically, just have to make up the numbers.

We decided I would have the procedure “to clean up” at the public hospital. Like many others who had miscarriages, we told few people. I explained to my office that I had to take a few days off work for a “medical procedure” and left it at that. In hospital, I finished Salman Rushdie’s new memoir Joseph Anton and kept tabs on the Edward Snowden saga then unfolding in Hong Kong.

But my husband and I had changed. Within just two short weeks of being pregnant, our world had shifted. We had begun to plan and dream, to think of what it would be like to be parents, from how we would dress the child to what values we would impart.

Two months later, I conceived again. This time, we were not so innocent in our joy. We waited till we saw the heartbeat on the ultrasound screen twice – a red dot pulsating amid a mass of variegated greys and blacks – before we told our parents.

On our third visit, when I was about 11 weeks along, I complained of slight abdominal cramps. Probably just ligament pains as the uterus stretches, the doctor – a different one – reassured me as she moved a transducer over my belly.

My husband, reaching out for his camera to take a photo of the screen, stilled. It was all darkness. The heartbeat had stopped.

This time, there was little bravado left in us. We opted for a private hospital where I would have a dilation and curettage operation that night.

We shared a room with a Hong Kong couple in their early 20s, who we gathered were there for an abortion and were placed in the awkward situation of having to listen to me tearfully break the news to my mum over the phone.

They went first. As they left, the young man whispered: “We’re sorry.”

Our turn came. In the operating room, my doctor, her pearl necklace shimmering from her surgical scrubs, loomed over me. Later, as I emerged from the haze of general anaesthesia, I blearily asked her: “Did you see if it was a boy or a girl?” She shook her head gently at me.

Silly me. It was all scraped up and sucked out.

Medically, recurrent pregnancy loss is defined as more than two miscarriages in a row. We were two strikes down, one more to go. But as anyone who has gone through miscarriage will know – and without meaning to diminish the pain for those who suffered even more loss – one is one too many.

So we went through test after test searching for causes. Nothing stood out. The only certainty, said the doctor, was my age. Fact is, old eggs are old, which means a higher risk that embryos with genetic abnormalities are incubated.

That there was all this uncertainty made it harder.

It was an invisible grief. We returned to work, looking the same on the outside but bereft within.

There had been no wake, no funeral, no body to be buried. We did not even know what to call our losses – technically they were not babies; the first was “just” an embryo while the second was “old enough” to be a foetus.

I grappled with my feelings. Somehow, society speaks of miscarriages in hushed tones – the word itself seems to suggest some kind of responsibility on the part of women who “mis-carry” their children. See how we use the word when we describe legal travesties as a “miscarriage of justice”.

The fact is, why miscarriages happen is often shrouded in mystery, and most times, say doctors, they are beyond one’s control. Yet, the secrecy surrounding it leaves much ignorance about the issue.

For many, what we know of miscarriages is what we have seen on television – a woman falling down and ending up with blood on her thighs.

Is it any wonder that many who have gone through it choose to keep silent?

I was fortunate to have family and close friends who gave us enormous support.

My husband and I certainly were not ashamed of what had happened. But we were in pain and we were not sure talking incessantly about it would help.

Furthermore, what could we expect people to say except an awkward “I’m sorry”? Unlike for other bereavement, there is no social ritual for coping with this particular kind of death.

Yet, I did feel an irrational resentment that not more people knew of our losses. It was not exactly sympathy I wanted. It was recognition, I think, that a loss from a miscarriage was felt as keenly as any other.

And, I wonder, if more speak more openly of their experiences, would those who have experienced the same pain feel less alone?

It is a personal issue, and different people will feel differently.

In all honesty, I began writing this only as my husband and I were waiting to welcome our daughter.

Kei An, weighing 3.25kg, measuring 49cm and boasting a nose like her father’s, finally arrived last Tuesday, six days past her due date.

Without the hope she represents, I am not sure I could write about our past losses.

But what I do know is that as my husband and I get to know this little one, we will also remember our other babies gone before her.

xueying@sph.com.sg

– See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/opinion/more-opinion-stories/story/loss-and-love-the-journey-parenthood-20150315#xtor=CS1-10
(Published with kind permission from Xue Ying; Thank you!)

National Service

Dear Boys.

I’ve completed my national service!

In case you do not have National Service in the not-so-distant future, it is basically a mandatory service all young men have to perform, in one of the few uniformed service, such as the Police Force, Civil Defence, or the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) branch like, Navy, Air Force or the Army.

I was in the Army, and since I was enlisted at the age of 18, more than 21 years ago, my vocation has always been a Regimental Policeman (RP), and right now, the SAF called it ‘Security Trooper’ just another name for military security guard.

In total, looking back, I spent more than 2 decades on this, 2 years as a full time NSF, and 7 years in hiatus, before being called up at the age of 27 to serve in this battalion for the next 12 years.

Since then a couple of things has changed.

The camouflaged uniform as went from ‘patches’ to ‘pixels

image.img P_20150315_230054

 

The weapons went from M-16 to SAR-21

M-16 SAR 21

 

The Trucks went from a 3 tonner to a 5 tonner

3 tonner5 tonner

My Camp went from Portsdown Camp to the modern Kranji Camp 3

There is a lot more military ranks other than the usual Officers, specialists, and Warrant Officers. The SAF introduced something call ‘ME’- better known as ‘Military Experts’ rank.

The food at the cookhouse was also different. In my NSF time, there were actually cooks as a military vocations, now, the eating part of it has been totally outsourced, first to Singapore Food Industries (SFI) and now the later part SATS Food, the food used to be nutritionally bland, now at least there are occasional Ice-Creams and other yummy desserts.

But one thing didn’t change.

The attitude towards National Service, since it is a kind of mandatory duty, many people, including myself, sees it as a waste of time. It does not really add value to our civilian life, and more often than not, it is more of an inconvenience. Well to me, being some kind of a military bluff, I don’t mind it, but more importantly, I went with the flow and was discharging my duties in the least best way. well, I did the minimum, there are others, who did less than the minimum, bordering malingering.

After  21 years dabbling in civilian soldiering, one thing finally changed in me.

I begin to realise that you can still do good in a very bad situation. I can either choose to see it as a waste of time, and waste time, hence fulfilling a prophecy, or begin to do something good. Since this was my last ICT, I decide to do something different.

Network

I’ve been in the battalion for the past 12 years, I literally grew up with it. There are people I know that the newer Nsmen wouldn’t know, processes and screw ups I’ve seen that gives me the confidence and maturity to handle a complicated situation. I also have a well established network of strangers turned friends. I know storemen, officers, Regimental Sergeant Majors (RSM), trainers, specialists and other kew players to may my ICT experience better than those who just joined the battalion. Since I am leaving, I told my chums to take care of the new batches of RPs.

Doing more

Nobody, I mean absolutely nobody would want to ‘volunteer’ in the military, more often than not you get ‘volunteered’ to do something. This time, when my RSM tasked me to delegate a duty to one of my fellow RPs, I took on the task myself, and called upon a few other friends. I didn’t have a habit of volunteering people, so I volunteered myself, and it was a good experience, I learned a couple of more things through my willingness to take on a little more duties.

Can do attitude in a can’t do place

Admittedly, I do not have that. I wasn’t can do, but I just want things to be done, and been in there for so long, I know how things should be done, and I did it, my way, how it should be done. I realised that given all the rigidity in the military, as long as you prove that you can do it, you’d be left to do it on your own, with resources at your disposal. Of course, if you choose to cannot do it, then it cannot be done, with certainty!

On a high note

I’m quite thankful that I ended my last ICT on a high note, There was a Change of Command (CoC) for my battalion RSM, and the good got better, the outgoing Master Warrant Officer Chia was replaced by an Afghan-deployed 1st Warrant Officer Ang, he is a solid, albeit funny professional soldier, very approachable, very people-soldier. I left the unit with Major Sim at the helm, a fantastic Commanding Officer, the best out of the three that commanded the unit. I got a best soldier award on my last in camp, what else can I ask for?

(Pictures are sourced from Google. Picture of pixelised uniform belongs to me)

 

Things we talked about walking to school: CSI

CSI CSI

Dear Ian,

A couple of weeks ago, you asked me about CSI, and if it really existed.

I told you that ‘CSI’ is actually a film show based on the the real thing; Forensic Science.

And you proceeded to ask me what that was. And I gave you a brief explanation of that.

Which has something to do with using science to understand what has happened, and investigate crime. This is to produce evidence and track down the criminals and bring them to justice.

Which makes me wonder, what will you be asking me next???

The Toy Train

P_20150223_223011

“And if this misunderstanding sinks in, it will become a bitter reality for you two when you become adults.”

Dear Boys,

Wayne got a toy train set for his 6th birthday, compliments of your uncle Philbert. You two have been bugging me to open it ever since you got it and I only relented until the weekend.

It is a nice little train set, with the train engine, and a little coal carriage (which hides the 4 ‘AA’ batteries), 2 passenger compartments and a cargo carriage. The track itself, is where the story begins.

It was an ease to fix, but a pain to get the train to run smoothly on it. it was either very precise or very imprecise, we ran the train a couple of times and it gets derailed again and again. My experience tells me that we have to run it a couple of times for it to get run in.

Until then the little train continue to get derailed, and I stood back to see how the 2 of you troubleshoot the situation. Looking back, the efforts you both put in can be best described as ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions.’20150223(3)

弟弟 was doing what he thought would be helpful, by turning the train on and off, but it only frustrates the 哥哥 while the 哥哥 tries to align the wheels on the track. It didn’t take long for the both of you to get caught in the cycle of perceived mischief.

The 哥哥 will be thinking that 弟弟 is into mischief when he tried to turn on the little train, when all the 弟弟 was trying to do was to solve the problem. And 弟弟 didn’t know that 哥哥 was beginning to accuse him of disrupting the problem solving process (something which 弟弟 has done in the past, as he does have a strong history of mischief) So I witness a slippery slope down, where both of you are trying to solve the problem in your own way, not knowing that in doing so, you both are sabotaging each other’s effort.

It was interesting to see this and I became conscious that if no one intervene, it will eventually be a little nasty seed planted between the both of you, as you both grows up, both of you will see each other’s effort to help as a sabotage. And if this misunderstanding sinks in, it will become a bitter reality for you two when you become adults.

20150223I stepped in and explained what has happened, more importantly, turn the whole perception around. and make the both of you see that the whole problem solving approach together, and as a fun thing. Working together to try and align the train on the tracks, and monitor it while it moves, and when it gets derailed, one alerts the other and we all stop the little train so that we can fix it. 弟弟 becomes the assistant and helped 哥哥 who is the ‘engineer’.

Truth to be told, once the little train runs in, the derailment becomes a lot less and both of you boys began to enjoy playing with the little train set. More importantly, I’ve change the way you boys see that the train derailment, as part of the fun, and not just a problem.