Showing Some Respect

For as long as I can remember, my immediate family (me, my sisters and my parents) would begin Chinese New Year with a tradition of the children making my parents laugh their asses off before we commerce to a big steamboat reunion dinner. The skits we created were often renditions of classic Chinese folklore or loosely incorporating Chinese customs and performances like Journey to the West or lion and dragon dances, and they were always over-the-counter and have never failed to make both my parents laugh so hard they would tear. As the family grew bigger, the skits got bigger, and the annual tradition become one that was handed down from one generation (me and my sisters) to another (Xan and his cousins), not to mention a rather embarrassing initiation rite for new spouses.

Then my father died.

In the back of our minds we were all wondering if we would be able to continue that tradition. My father was the one that gave all of us our sense of humour, and for all the quarrels that my parents had throughout their time together, my father was the light of my mother’s life – we hardly see her laughing hard without my father by her side.

This year, the siblings decided to make my mother’s happiness a priority and decided to do things a little differently. A branch of my extended family, a large but very close-knit unit from my mother’s foster side of about 25 or so members spanning four generations, invited us to have our reunion dinner with them at a chalet (their tradition, because the after-dinner cleanup is easier when it’s not someone’s home). We thought it was a good idea to do things a little differently so my mother (and us, for that matter) could cope with our father’s absence, so we immediately agreed.

This year, we met up at my mother’s place early to carry out our annual skit (we made a newly-inducted brother-in-law wear my sister’s custom wedding dress – sound familiar?), and made our way to the chalet. When we arrived, we knew we would be in for a good time when we saw this:

Everything on the table was done from scratch by one of my cousins, a seasoned kitchen goddess who has been cooking for the army known as my mother’s foster family for decades. We were each given a pair of really large chopsticks befitting of the largest homemade yu sheng I’ve ever had the privilege of tossing. We were then loosely told the only rule to observe during the event.

“Chopsticks only, k?”

Huat ah!!!! The most awesome lo hei ever!

A video posted by Mother Of Xander (@motherofxander) on

We replayed this over and over again to see the various reactions to the monumental toss, but one particular member made the whole endeavour worth the mess for me. If you look to the right of the video, that’s my mom. She’s in black because, as she said, it wasn’t appropriate for a widow in moruning to wear bright colours. But up until yesterday afternoon, she hasn’t laughed like that since my father died 3 months ago – the completely carefree, wholehearted mirth she would only display when my father was with her.

Seeing her like this, we can safely say we’re doing okay.

***

I may not have written this account since the festivities are far from over and I would have preferred to have experienced the celebrations in full first. But I wrote this in reaction to a comment the Mother of Xander received when she shared this video on her Facebook wall:

IMG_20150219_095626

“Totally no respect for food. Idatakimasu.”

I will be nice. It is CNY after all.

I wrote this to provide Ms Tan Moi here some context she may have missed, that there’s multiple aspects of respect that she may not have been aware of when she posted her comment during a festive season where food may play a key role in the festivities, but it isn’t the only key player.

She may have missed, for example, respect for families and their traditions. Respect for parents, here and gone. Respect for those who are making every effort to find joy again after losing a loved one. Respect for people who reach beyond their own lives to ensure we can find that joy. And respect for people who decide there’s more than enough joy to share with the world, like the Mother of Xander did unabashedly, without expecting unthinking insensitivity like this during a happy holiday.

Happy New Year, Ms Tan Moi. May your online spur of the moment be a lesson for us all to show some respect.IMG_20150219_095626

The Value of Eating Rubbish

My father’s best friend once told me a story about his formative years. He grew up in a neighbourhood with a bunch of kids from two distinct families; one was rich, and the other poor. The rich kids never got to go out and play, and they were extremely picky with their food (silver spoons, golden mouths). The poor ones though, they ran everywhere, played every time, and ate everything… most usually scraps from trash and leftovers from other people’s plates.

That was the first time I heard of the Hokkien term 垃圾吃, 垃圾大, or “rubbish eat, rubbish grow” (the saying that sparked the food blog of the same name) .

He told me the rich boys were frail and thin, and constantly fell sick. The poor kids, though, managed to live through eating their scraps, rotten fruit and vegetables from the market and basically lived like kampung chickens; all muscle, no fat, and seriously strong immune systems.

One of the rich kids died young. His brothers and sisters were never happy, and grew up bickering and estranged from their own families. The poor guys stayed loyal friends, eking out businesses for themselves and never hesitated to pool together for each other during hard times.

While there are important life lessons to learn no matter what walk of life one hails from, my dad’s best friend learnt about roughing it out no matter what the circumstances, loyalty and adaptability from the kids who lived off scrap. And he inspired my dad to do the same. People always ask how my father would manage to bring up 4 kids and put 3 of them through uni (he wanted me to go too, but my brain had other plans). Within our family, we all knew it was because my dad’s best friend pumped in money to supplement my sisters’ educations, which he had from his HDB shophouse furniture business. And because of the story he told me, I knew the friendship they built was learned from the 垃圾吃,垃圾大 kids.

Recently a friend of mine took offense to the phrase being used on her child, and I took the opportunity to tell this story, in part because my father’s best friend, who died years ago, has been on my mind quite a bit since my own father passed away. Many of us may have heard of – or even used – the phrase being used as a rude remark, but thanks to him and my father, the phrase holds a very different meaning for me.

We know what we want our own children to grow up to become. We care in the ways we know best, and only we know best. People will judge and that’s up to them. We really have only our own children to answer to, and as far as I’m concerned, whoever says that to be mean, doesn’t even know what it means. In fact, I’ve shut a few aunties up before when they use this line of talk with us, by explaining what I understand of the term.

So next time someone says this to you about your kid, maybe take it as a compliment. There’s a very high likelihood that your child is going to grow up blessed with good health and a great personality.

Blogging Under the Influence

I’m out of hiatus now. But this may not be business as usual for The Blogfather any more.

Since the nation is currently throwing a ridiculous hissy fit about “social influencers” – or let’s just refer to them in the original context they were raised in: bloggers – not explicitly declaring that they do sponsored posts when they do them, I’m going to put in a disclaimer of my own to The Blogfather right here.

DISCLAIMER: I am a public relations executive. And no, this is not a sponsored post.

Why is this significant? Because now that I’ve announced this, PR agencies will think twice about engaging me because I am a rival, and bloggers will be more wary of me because PR executives have a reputation in the media and marketing industry of being, um, agenda-drivers.

Now, the agencies shunning me, I can deal with. Honestly, my day job pays much better than my online superhero alter-ego. It’s what the declaration of my job title does to this online alter-ego of mine that concerns me.

Over the last decade or so, the modern media marketing mix has inducted social media as a de facto marketing tool, thanks to their ability to reach and command the attention of wide audiences through peer-to-peer interactions in ways traditional media was never able to. Blogs became media vehicles, bloggers became media owners and content creators and media owners, and Facebook, Twitter, Instagram as well as major various search engines, became channels for both content distribution and audience engagement. Amongst the use of other social networks, blogging held the  greatest potential for side income, whether in cash or in kind; some of us were so good at it that it even turned into viable full-time work.

I, too, do sponsored posts.

Admittedly, I quite enjoyed the attention The Blogfather was showered with by PR agencies, in-house marketing executives and even business owners who would offer me and my family free products, complimentary services and experiences, and even cold hard cash to write them into my daily conversations. I would be selective who I accept offers from in order to suit what this blog is known for: no-nonsense, at times funny, at times surprising, always insightful family blogging.

Watching first-hand how marketers try to build rapport with bloggers, I started getting curious about how the social media marketing ecosystem really worked – curious enough to explore practically the entire relationship web through a string of full-time endeavours, first in content creation (as a writer), then subsequently advertising and marketing (as a copywriter and sometimes campaign strategist), and now as a public relations practitioner.

My job now consists of thinking up story angles that journalists, writers and bloggers can use to create content on their newspaper/magazine/TV programme/radio talkshow/website/Facebook/Twitter/table they use a packet of issue to chope seat with. In other words, consider me the influencer that influences the influencers to write the posts and articles that will influence the public to think of and talk about my clients.

This entire journey through the media/marketing industry started more than 2 years ago, and it hasn’t stopped since. It may not be that long, but it’s long enough for me to now take issue with the term “social influencer” being used on the lifestyle bloggers that have inadvertently been in the spotlight the last few weeks.

In the world of social media marketing, the bloggers, Facebook users, Tweetizens, Instagrammers, anyone online with a following, a drawer full of agency name cards, and an inbox littered with Dear Media Friends emails, bloggers hardly qualify as influencers.

Through my own time as a magazine feature writer and blogger, I had to be very conscious of the expectations of those that read me, and balance the knowledge against the marketing assignments I accepted; The Blogfather has previously rejected requests to talk about cheese slices, and once, cosmetics imported from Korea – and it all started with a post about cakes.

Delifrance_Blossom

So it goes, to maintain our popularity as online personalities over the various platforms we utilise, we have to submit to the influence of our followers to give them the stories, opinions and positions we take in our postings. And then we submit to the influence of marketers looking to get us to talk about their brand, product or service with our followers.

We are the influenced.

When I first joined the PR industry, a blogger friend messaged me saying I should declare my occupation, since there is a conflict of interest between the job and the (up until recently, very chatty) family blogger community. I found the notion slightly disturbing, since the whole point of public relations is to build relations, not conflict, especially with media, including bloggers. Nonetheless, I complied, so that disclaimer at the beginning of this post isn’t news to the blogger community.

But I’ve learnt that what seems sound in theory, sometimes doesn’t play out in reality.

I was invited to a small gathering of bloggers recently, during which the topic of blogger engagements came up. As the conversation went into specific examples, one blogger looked at me and said in jest, “Woop, better be careful what I say. Someone from the other side is in the same room.”

I laughed along, because it was the polite thing to do. As a blogger, I agreed, because I’ve had to deal with countless PR execs throughout my years as The Blogfather. With my current job as a PR practitioner, I now feel like a pariah in a community I have been so actively involved with over the last 3 years. I imagine this same feeling is coursing through everyone in Gushcloud, and perhaps many in our local lifestyle blogging community, with all this public scrutiny the last few weeks.

And as someone who’s now sitting on both sides of this influencer-influenced see-saw, I find myself pondering over a moral dilemma. This “social influencer” issue has affected the integrity of even those unaffiliated with the parties involved, and a number of us find ourselves addressing the allegations in our own terms, whether to ride on the wave of social commentary, or to maintain our integrity despite what has been said.

But I’m also conscious of a larger part of our audience, including a subset of bloggers that don’t actively participate in the marketing mix who are wondering why anyone should even take issue. And the PR exec in me agrees. What is wrong with influencing and being influenced in a fledgling media industry the way advertising and PR has done with the entire modern civilised world for more than a century? Why are there “other sides”?

Why am I torn?

[Invitation + Giveaway] LEGO Star Wars Days: Combining Stress Management with a Nerdgasm

LEGOLAND Malaysia remains one of the most searched and most read subjects of all time on The Blogfather and beyond, but now that Xander has enrolled into formal education and the little one is still too little to understand a theme park, not to mention the period of grieving my family’s been going through, we haven’t had the chance to revisit the place for a while now.

Determined to end the emotional roller coaster ride of the last six months, I decided to look up an old friend that might give me an opportunity to cheer us up with some actual roller coaster rides.

As it turned out, LEGOLAND Malaysia was to mark this year’s May the 4th with a LEGO Star Wars themed display, and they were happy to extend me and my family an invite to attend the media conference, and spend the day there.

lsw-banner

There was just one hitch: May the 4th was a Monday… and a schoolday.

It wasn’t difficult for me to decide to take a day off from work for it (I promised to bribe everyone in the office with merchandise when I came back; thankfully I work in a small company). I was, however, rather conflicted on whether I should sanction a formal truancy for Xan, and how.

As though the world really does work in mysterious ways, I saw this Facebook post as it was going viral:

Have you ever pulled your kids out of school for a trip? What would be ok? See what this dad did.

Posted by Daddy Matters on Wednesday, 29 April 2015

My own resulting excuse letter to the school was not quite as dramatic, and I also took the liberty of leaving out some key details (because you just don’t tell your son’s form teacher point blank that you’re taking him out of school to go play at a theme park), but it served its purpose nonetheless.

REQUEST FOR LEAVE OF ABSENCE FROM SCHOOL

Dear Teacher,

I am writing to request that the school excuse my son on Monday, 4th May 2015 to attend to a family matter for the day with his parents.

Do let us know beforehand if there is any work on the day that we should take note of, and if the school is able to provide us with the necessary assignments, worksheets or instructions for him to complete during his absence from school that day.

The family thanks you for your accommodation in this matter.

Regards,

Winston Tay

***

It bears noting that LEGOLAND Malaysia has been sitting under the hot Iskandar, Nusrajaya sun for 2½ years now. There’s been some rather subtle changes since it first opened: the food is markedly better than before, every ride was operational and very well-maintained, not to mention the hotel and water theme park is now in full swing, adding much to the overall atmosphere. The heart of the theme park, though, hasn’t held up as well to the consistently biting hot weather: the Miniland structures are beginning to age, some gracefully like real heritage buildings would, and others, well, not so much.

lsw-klia

lsw-roof

That said, the park’s General Manager Mark Germyn has promised a slew of additions and revamps in the pipeline for the coming years (including more air-conditioning!), but this month, there’s another Miniland on display just after the Mindstorms Centre that’s making the theme park worth the trip and ticket fee.

lsw-naboo
lsw-swmini

This is one of the smaller (yes, smaller) display cases. #maythe4thbewithyou #legolandmy #sp

A photo posted by Winston “The Blogfather” Tay (@blgfthr) on

Star Wars fans and LEGO enthusiasts will more than appreciate the attention to detail that went into the panoramic displays at the LEGO Star Wars Fan Gallery. The main displays are drawn from key scenes and events that occur in the Star Wars multiverse, including the movie franchise (from Tattooine to Hoth to Naboo) and The Clone Wars animated TV series. And then there were the LEGO My Own Creation competition entries submitted by LEGO enthusiasts from the Malaysia and Singapore LEGO User Groups (LUG). The top three winners from the various competition categories will have their entries on display at LEGOLAND till the end of July, but if you saw the rest of the entries I did, you’d have wished the park gave us a show of all of them for the entire period. lsw-comp1

***

Now that the nerdgasm is over, I should talk about the stress management part: not for me entirely, but largely Xander.

Like I said, it took me a while to decide to pull the kids out of school for what seemed like a frivolous day out at a theme park. But many of us with newly-inducted primary school children may agree, the last 4½ months have been challenging, not least for the kids that have to go through the rigours without us by their side. And Xan has been particularly stressed, to the point where he’d have the most spectacular meltdowns over homework, and his parents’ failure to understand why schoolwork would be so tough for him really didn’t help matters.

When we were finally done with the Star Wars exhibits and lunch, we set the boy loose on the park to take any ride he wanted. At the ripe old age of 6 years old, the boy seemed to have found a level of courage we’ve never seen in all our previous visits to LEGOLAND; our May the 4th was filled with nothing but roller coaster rides that he previously wouldn’t have dared to take on – Project X at the LEGO Technics section, the Dino Island ride at the Land of Adventure, and his now all-time favourite, LEGO Kingdom’s The Dragon (or as he calls it, “The Dragon Apprentice’s mother”, because mothers are scarier). And of course, because his current height required adult accompaniment, I took all the coaster rides with him. Multiple times. Running around with him like I was his age again, too. Because, you know, I had to accompany him. Really.

lsw-rides
lsw-dino-island

As the day wore on, the Mother of Xander suggested we leave earlier to beat the expressway jam back in Singapore, and because the next day the boy really had to go back to school. But I bargained to stay till the sun was about to set, not only because Xan was taking on new experiences at what has now grown into our favourite theme park (and I had to, you know, accompany him), but also because we both knew we haven’t seen that sparkle in his eye since… well, since he started primary school.

The next day, against our specific instructions, Xan blurted out to his form teacher that “My daddy forced me to go to LEGOLAND with him”, and said form teacher subsequently messaged his mother with the boy’s recorded statement and a polite smiley at the end.

lsw-xansay

Of course, I expected this. You don’t ask a six-year-old to help you keep a secret; at best you don’t tell him anything until it’s inevitable, then you brace yourself for the consequences.

And to see that sparkle in his eyes again, the consequences are most certainly worth bearing.

***

 

***

So we hinted at this on FB, and now it’s your turn to enjoy what we experienced! Because both our families got to see the whole thing on 4th May, The Blogfather and MummyMoo (you can read her LEGOLAND Malaysia post here) have decided to do a joint giveaway for 2 sets of annual passes to LEGOLAND Malaysia!

We’re picking 2 winners for this giveaway, and the lucky families will each be getting 2 Adult and 1 Child Annual Passes worth a total of RM807! This allows them unlimited visits to the pass for a full 12 months (the annual pass will be issued once we have your details), discounted entry to the LEGOLAND Water Park for RM58 (normal price is RM122 for Adults and RM101 for children), LEGOLAND Hotel discounts, seasonal retail and F&B discounts, a LEGOLAND E-newsletter, free parking at the LEGOLAND Car Park, and even early access to the park at 930am! Annual pass terms and conditions can be found here.

Told you this was gonna be a big one.

To join in the fun, simply accomplish the tasks set out in the Rafflecopter box below. Because this is a join giveaway, your entries will be reflected on BOTH The Blogfather and MummyMoo blogs, so you only need to do this once! We’ll be closing the giveaway next Wednesday, 27th May 2015 at 2359hrs, and the next day we’ll announce the winner we’ve picked on our individual blogs, so make sure you check in with both of us then!

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway Terms & Conditions

  • This giveaway is open only to those residing in Singapore.
  • Contest ends on Wednesday, 27th of May at 2359hrs.
  • Winners will be selected via Rafflecopter, and notified via email. They have 48 hours to respond to the notification email. Should there be no response, the winning entry will be rendered null and void, and another winner will be chosen.

Much Ado About St Patrick’s Day

Disclaimer: I work for the appointed PR agency for the St Patrick’s Day Parade and Street Festival, but I wasn’t involved in the handling of this account. As such, much of this information was sourced through my own communications with the people involved and my own experience of the event.

Its history goes back centuries, yet its evolution not so clearly documented; when you want to talk about how St Patrick’s Day found its way into Singapore, Wikipedia simply will not cut it. The death anniversary of the British-born, Ireland-based bishop, which should actually have been observed today, has transitioned from being a religious affair, to a cultural celebration, to just a really good excuse to eat, drink and be merry, while literally going green all along the Singapore River.

St-Pats-Greened

But therein lies the confusion, the misinformation, and a problem that grows larger, more dire, and more ridiculous as well, threatening to cast a shadow over any and all celebratory events in Singapore.

***

The Singapore chapter of St Patrick’s Day is actually pretty young still; Peter Ryan, the then First Secretary of the Irish Embassy, had only just begun work in Singapore and was looking for a way to get to know the locals, particularly through the strong and tight-knit alumni at St Patrick’s School. Through the combined efforts of the Embassy, the band of Singaporean Patricians – and as the years progressed, SJI’s Josephian alumni as well – and the local Irish community, Singapore saw its first of many St Patrick’s Day Parade turn the Singapore River into a jolly stream of green (and usually sponsored by Guinness) every year for the last 10 years.

St-Pats-Stage

Now, despite its namesake, the St Patrick’s Day we see here isn’t really premised on religion at all, and if you delve deeper into the crowd that happily participates in its festivities, not that Irish, either. As St Patrick’s Day got installed over various global (and interstellar?) locations like New York, Japan and the International Space Station, the celebration adopts a cultural inclusiveness that doesn’t take anything away from its cultural identity. And in Singapore this year, the Parade went all out, at one point giving a band of urumi drummers led by M Ravi a place in the middle of the Parade (and they were actually pretty damn good).

St-Pats-Ravi

I mean, for crying out loud, they even got Down Syndrome Association (Singapore) to close the Parade with a Thai traditional dance.

St-Pats-DSA

And in case you were wondering what the road closure was for…

St-Pats-Zoomoov

So at the heart of Saint Patrick’s Day in Singapore are three main tenets: family, friends and feasting. Of course, it helps even more if you happen to be a fan of Green Lantern and the Incredible Hulk (both of whom aren’t Irish, either).

But let’s be completely honest here, life in Singapore hasn’t exactly been a bed of fresh green roses, has it? Particularly when one of our own local festivals, one the Blogfather had a special place in his heart for, was marred by an unfortunate incident that was just as unfortunately managed in the public eye on many fronts since.

Thaipusam-media

Even more unfortunate is that the failings of one incident can have such a far reaching effect that it has managed to permeate into every festival, parade and procession that has followed. Such is the power of the red that we see; such is the recklessness of the anger that blinds us.

TOC-Comments-ed

We have to stop doing this; we do no one any favours by being this ugly towards our world, least of all ourselves as a nation. Seriously, how far would we get in trying to create a more open society, when we then turn around to shut out other parts of our society that would otherwise help us prove we are capable of being an open society in the first place? It makes absolutely no sense.

***

Ironically, the most valuable lesson that was dealt last weekend didn’t come from the online voices of disgruntled Singaporeans, trying to speak up for the mistreatment of our minority groups. We were, instead, schooled by another, otherwise unrelated minority group, mostly adorned in green, who really doesn’t care what colour anyone wore, only that everyone feels welcomed and loved, in the spirit of family and friendship.

“The St Patrick’s Day parade is and always has been organised by a joint Singaporean and Irish organizing committee. We welcome everybody to join; next year, please come down and bring your drums. Bring everything! We welcome you!” – Colin McDonald, St Patrick’s Day Parade chairman and vice chairman of the Singapore Ireland Fund

50 years on, Singapore still has a lot to learn about being one united people, regardless of race, language or religion.

Eulogy

Thank you all for being with us during this difficult time. Over the last few days, we are amazed to see so many people come to pay their last respects, from a side of him that we rarely hear or see. He had so many friends that we ran out of peanuts on our first day.

My dad also liked peanuts. A lot.

感谢大家和我们度过这艰难的时刻。这几天,我们遇到了我爸爸这么多朋友,不只是感到很感动,也感到有点惊讶。丧事的第一天,没有想到会有这么多人,还没到晚上,花生都吃完了。

我爸爸很喜欢吃花生。

We are proud of him for having lived his life so well, as a father, as a lover, as a brother, friend, colleague and mentor.

我们为我们爸爸很骄傲。他真的是活了70年的好命,一生做了一个好爸爸,好爱人,好兄弟,好朋友,好同事,好导师。

He was surrounded by love through his last days, and indeed, all his life. And we are assured through all of his friends, all of his family, all of you, that he remains alive in our hearts for a good long time to come.

他度过的最后几天,他的一生,都充满爱。我爸爸在我们脑海里的存在,心中的怀念,我们也有了他多数亲戚朋友的肯定。

A few years ago, I wrote a story about a Lao Hee Low that has helped me well through many hard times, and has also helped me through this one. For those of us grieving his passing, I want to share that lesson I learned from watching my dad live.

几年前,我写了一个老英雄的故事。这故事帮了我读过很多艰苦的时刻,也帮了我度过这个时刻。我要和当中为我爸爸悲悼的人,分享看我爸爸过生活所学到的一样东西。

Strength is measured in many forms, not least in physical attributes, and more intangibly, character. But while strength can be taken from the body in many ways, it is not easily diminished in a person’s character, so long as he has held on to that strength his entire life.

力量有很多方法测量,不只是用体状,更重要的是用心态。身体的力量虽然会很容易遗失,不过强壮的心态只要有一生的培养,那种力量是永恒的。

Time Out

I thought I should explain this before I go for a while.

It’s been a tough year. 2 job changes, a health scare that required a drastic change in diet and lifestyle (a change I’m still struggling with), my first gout attack (one that lasted right through a car review, too) and of course, every parent can empathise with the technical aspects of welcoming a new addition to the family.

The past month, in particular, felt like a lifetime. Four weeks ago, my father started experiencing breathing problems, but resisted going to the hospital to check himself until a week later. When he finally did, doctors found his difficulty in breathing was caused by a “sizeable” heart attack. And because my father also had weak kidneys, an angiography (balloon stent) was risky because the iodine that would be injected into his system for the operation would wreak havoc with his kidneys and possibly tie him to dialysis for the rest of his life.

The family got together to deliberate. I initially, my father was resistant; he’d seen many of his peers suffer through failed kidneys, and he felt it better to protect his kidneys rather than his heart. Besides, he said, “I consider myself very lucky already. My father died at 62, my eldest brother at 68. I survived cancer and bargained myself another 24 years of life, and I’m 70 now. I’m ready to go.”

I respected his position, but my sisters doubted it. My dad is a fighter, an aggressive man that wouldn’t take any bulls hit from anyone or anything, even from cancer. A few one-on-ones and a family get-together at his ward later, he decided to do the angiography.

A day or two after the decision was made, 2 hours after he went in to do the procedure, I received a phone call while I was in the office. An angiogram was done, and the clogged arteries were too severe for ballooning to be done. He would need to do a triple bypass.

When I next see my father, he was in a sombre mood. It was a tedious process: the hospital he was currently in didn’t have the facilities to perform bypass surgeries, so he would have to be transferred. And the islandwide hospital bed crunch that the nation had by now grown quite accustomed to meant we had to wait more than a couple of days for it to happen.

He finally had his bypass last Wednesday. It was reduced to a double bypass because the surgeon determined that one of his arteries was open enough not to require one, and it was done in about 5 hours.

My father began the recovery process well. He was eating, moving, and his usual surly self, except he had constant high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat. At one point the doctors thought he was well enough to be shifted from the high dependency ward to a general ward, but he only spent a few hours up in C-class before they had to shift him back to ICU in the middle of the night due to a dangerously low heart rate.

Then yesterday, he suffered a stroke – a blood clot on the left side of his brain.

It happened at 8.30am, when he suddenly passed out just after breakfast. Since then, he hasn’t gotten worse. That’s the only good news they can give us.

As of now, we aren’t even sure if he can understand what is going on. I think he knows we’re around him, but he can’t talk and he can’t move his right side. He’s also moving around involuntarily.

Doctors can’t say for certain how this will pan out. He can either get better or he can get worse fast, but they will only know after 3-4 days. Initially they were contemplating experimental procedures because he just came out of the bypass and his recovery process doesn’t allow for standard procedures to apply, but in his current state the best they can do for him now is to continue with current treatment and see if he gets better.

My sisters are taking turns keeping vigil at the hospital. My mother is bracing herself for the worst. I tried to remain strong, but my limit was breached when my mother quietly said to me in a shaking voice, “He doesn’t have a suit.”

I now find myself juggling a new job that I started not one month ago (which thankfully I now realise I fit very comfortably in), keeping track of my own father’s progress and grappling with all the possible outcomes being presented to us right now as a family, and my commitment as a husband to the Mother of Xander and father to the two kids, because as I try to remain a pillar to my wife and children, right now my wife and kids are my strongest pillar of emotional support.

I write this now because writing has always helped me process my thoughts and emotions in my times of need, and also I committed to keeping The Blogfather true in words to the person I am in real life. But now, the blogs have to take a hiatus, to be dusted off and revisited at a better time.

I’ll see you soon. Hopefully.

[Giveaway] 30 Years of Transforming Mindsets

The Blogfather and Son now act too.

We were invited by Hasbro to be featured in a short videoclip in celebration of Transformers’ 30th Anniversary.  Will there be mind-blowing Michael Bay explosions? Robot metal flying all over the city smashing into buildings and causing devastating chaos?

Nah. The boy and I opted for something a tad more subtle:

If you found that story familiar, it’s an abbreviated version of The Blogfather’s “The Reason We Buy Toys” post ending, with an extra nugget of Transformers trivia thrown in.

And just as they created The Blogfather’s Transformers memory in such a big way, Hasbro Singapore wants to help you create your own Transformers memories, with a Transformers toy hampers worth $100 each, for 3 lucky winners! It’s a pretty substantial prize, so you’ll need to work a little for it, yeah?

UPDATE: I got a little confused with the mechanics (big prizes tend to come with more complex mechanics, sorry), and thought this was a cross-platform giveaway, but The Blogfather has been corrected. Please note this giveaway is for Instagram only.

Here’s what you have to do: share your own story about how Transformers came to be a part of your life on Instagram only (people, your account needs to be public, otherwise I cannot see) with, or show us a photo of any Transformers experience you’ve had anywhere. Tag me (@blgfthr on Instagram) in the post so I know what’s going on (and can read your story, too), and include the hashtags #Thrilling30SG and #HasbroSingapore as well.

Take note: this giveaway wraps on 29th November 2014, after which The Blogfather will be picking the 3 winners (gimme something good ya?), and results will be announced on the Hasbro Singapore Facebook Page (not here hor, so you go like their Page first better) on 30 November 2014. I’ll update here when I can as well, but for all intents and purposes, all winners will be notified by Hasbro.

Mai tu liao!

The Blogfather Transformers 30th Anniversary Instagram Giveaway – Terms & Conditions:

  1. Contest is open to all Singaporean Citizens and permanent residents except employees of Hasbro Singapore.
  2. All entries must be submitted by 30 November 2014.
  3. All entries must tag the Blogfather (@blgfthr on Instagram), and also include the hashtags #Thrilling30SG#HasbroSingapore, and posted on a public account to qualify.
  4. Prizes are non-exchangeable and non-transferable.
  5. Contest participants agree to be bound by all terms and conditions, which are final and binding in all aspects and waive any right to claim ambiguity.
  6. Hasbro Singapore reserves the right to alter any terms and conditions without prior notice.

Wah, So Big Already Ah? – A Primary 1 Orientation Walkthrough

They grow up too fast.

We had Xander’s primary school orientation earlier this week. It was a bittersweet moment for the Mother of Xander; it is the passing of a milestone for our firstborn. I said to her, “That’s why we have a second child, so we can relive it all over again.”

It was a bittersweet moment for me as well; the notion that the textbooks and uniforms take a big chunk off my livelihood was taking a toll on my heart. And we have a second child, so we have to relive this all over again.

After arriving at the school, we got down to business at some makeshift tables lined along the corridor before the school hall entrance, each table serving as a registration counter for the Primary 1 classes. We were given a plastic folio containing brochures, pamphlets and a few forms we had to fill out and submit after the orientation talk was over. Different schools may have different set-ups and facilities, but ours came with:

  • a Pupil Data Form;
  • a GIRO form for school fees;
  • a consent form for in-school dental treatment;
  • a student daycare registration form; and
  • a National Library membership registration form.

As we made our way towards the school hall, we were instructed to leave our children in the care of the school, who filtered them off into a separate staircase to the gallery area.

P1-Orientation-Stairs

That was when the Mother of Xander felt her first pang of  primary school separation anxiety, but we next saw him in the school hall seated in the gallery stalls, so she calmed down somewhat (honestly, we both did) when she saw how well he was doing with his peers around him.

P1-Orientation-Hall

The talk proper started off with a brief introductory video of the Family Matters @ School programme, followed by a number of not-unwarranted chest-beating cultural performances, including a killer wushu performance and a contemporary dance number done with a Daft Punk/Lady Gaga remix mashup (yes, I was sold on the school’s nod to Daft Punk).

P1-Orientation-Performance

Midway through the programme, the emcee announced that the kids were to be moved off to their respective classes. Once again, pangs of separation anxiety. You could tell just about all the parents began tensing up as they momentarily drew their eyes to the back of the hall to see their children being whisked away class by class while the speaker of the moment tried to pry their attention back onto the stage.

P1-Orientation-Speaker

A little later, the vice-principal would take to the stage, outlining the school history, special projects and introducing the faculty heads, as well as alumni and parent support group chairpeople. The various heads would take to the mic to explain next year’s syllabus changes (the Chinese curriculum seemed to be in the most state of flux right now; the Chinese textbooks are still being finalised and printed at the time of the orientation, and couldn’t be pushed out on time for release before December).

Meanwhile, the not-yet Primary 1s were being shown where all the toilets were.

P1-Orientation-Toilet

For any of you thinking of skipping the dry, administrative part of the presentation at any school, don’t. Unless you already know the school start and end times, what the procedure is to fetch your kid for early departure, how much allowance you need to give your kid on any given day, what the drill is for fetching your children after work regardless of whether you walk, drive or put your kid on the school bus, or where to install the name tags for your kids’ uniforms, you’ll need to stick around and possibly take notes because most schools are not known for their stellar website FAQs.

And The Blogfather couldn’t tell you even if he wanted to because we skipped the dry, administrative part of the presentation, and decided to go take photos of kids cramming into toilets, then join the sneaky ha-ha-I-got-here-before-the-other-600-parents queue for the textbooks and uniforms instead.

I would expect the bookstore and uniform supplier to be pretty organised as well, in anticipation of the horde that would be greeting them once the school hall presentation was over. And they were. The bookstore had the primary school enrolment list on hand for 2015, and they had all the textbooks sorted out in Ta-Q-Bin boxes according to ethnicity (CL for students taking Chinese, ML for Malay and TL for Tamil Language). Once you got there, you checked off your kid’s name, run through the checklist and mark out the items that you need to come back for (remember the Chinese textbooks aren’t out yet), pay the woman handing you the box, cry a little at why textbooks are so expensive (we blew a little over $200 in a flash), and then move out of the little room.

P1-Orientation-Bookstore

The uniform supplier isn’t quite as straightforward. You’ll need your kid there to ensure you get the right sized garments, and once the crowd builds, they will pre-measure your child before you collect his or her uniforms. Pre-measuring is a bit risky, because you might end up getting a size too large or too small, but you are assured by the supplier that you can always go back for an exchange if you find the size too small when you try them on at home. But if you have the time to spare, just bring the uniforms and your kid to get a fitting away from the crowd and head back in if you need a size change. The uniform segment set us back a little under $90.

As I carted our son’s new academic life home over my shoulder, the Mother of Xander held her son’s hand a little tighter than usual. Our son was getting bigger now, and in another couple of months, he will be officially inducted into the first of his many years in the cold, hard, rigorous Singapore education system.

With all his books and stationery weighing heavily on my left, still good shoulder, I clutched my wallet with my free hand a little more tightly as usual, because in another couple of months, he will be a lot more expensive to maintain.

They grow up too fast.

Dyson – Making Life Suck Better

When the Mother of Xander and I first moved into our apartment as a newly married couple, we had one of those couple fights one night that left me absolutely livid. I can’t remember the context of the argument now, but I do remember I had to find a way to expel all that pent-up angst at the stroke of midnight, in our freshly-renovated family home.

So I got a bucket, and a rag, got down on all fours, and began mopping the floor, Oshin-style.

Oshin-mops-floor
After a while of this, you really forget what the argument was about.

I took 4 hours. And the floor of our home has never seen that level of cleanliness and shine ever since.

In the course of our 8 years’ stay at our humble apartment, we have gone through a total of 5 different vacuum cleaners, 2 of them handheld, and all of them sucked one way or another, and all not perfectly.

And each time we got a new vacuum cleaner from the appliances store, there would be a handful of models I would always look lingeringly at before my wife would whisk me away to the sub-$100 island counter. You might know the specific type of vacuum cleaners I’m referring to; they have a very specific look, kind of like this:

dyson-digital-motor

Then last week, I received an invitation to dodge work for an hour or so to attend a lunchtime launch event featuring a new Dyson product near my workplace.

I thought, “Cool, free lunch.” So I said yes.

It must be said that Dyson really do go above and beyond into just about everything they do – rigorous R&D processes, forward-thinking technology, aggressive aesthetics, sleek marketing … I mean, look at their machines and tell me they don’t look like they’d be right at home at the Avengers headquarters in between Captain America’s La-Z-Boy and Thor’s Asgardian Marble Throne of Lounging. The launch event no less impresses, as we get introduced to Dyson’s latest cordless handheld star…

Fluffy.

dyson-fluffy

I get it. It’s got a fluffy roller that, when coupled with its highly compact yet powerful digital motor, is capable of wiping clean and sucking up large grains to fine particles in floor crevices and tile grout. That’s what reminded me of my little episode with the rag and the floor all those years ago, but this is Dyson doing the Oshin thing with finesse. There was even a side table where they pitted the Fluffy against a competitor to such up talcum powder (used to simulate dust mites) on a mattress surface, through a bedsheet.

dyson-mattress-demo

But… Fluffy?

dyson-engineer
Will Postle stroking Fluffy lovingly.

I can more than buy into the idea that Dyson developed the fella through a whopping 406 prototypes before finally pairing their state-of-the-art digital vacuum motor with this adorably efficient wiping vacuum cleaner head that does feel like a nice, fluffy puppy dog when you stroke it lovingly. It also helped that their design manager not only knew what he was talking about when he ran through the entire unit from hand to floor, he was also pretty easy on the eyes, too. His name is Will, by the way. If you want his number, I will see what I can do.

But model number DC74, the standing version of the DC62 with the head that can otherwise clear a floor of dry gunk far better than any of the 4 other competing vacuums the Dyson team brought in to pit themselves against, surely deserves a better, stronger name. Like the Dyson Excalibur, or Dyson Oshin, or, uh, Dyson DC74.

dyson-race
The demo setup had pet food on carpet, oat spill on marble, fine dust in tile grout, and what I believe to be unicorn dandruff on wooden flooring.

But nooOOoo. They had to call it Fluffy.

At any rate, a launch event is still very much a controlled environment, despite all the objectivity the organiser will try to bring in. The Blogfather would like to see Fluffy pit itself against some real competition. That’s why I requested a review unit to take home to see how it would fare against the $3000 monster vacuum cleaner we have sitting at home.

Besides, the Mother of Xander likes puppy dogs.

To be continued (pending arrival of review unit).

Because your father says so!