[Sponsored and IRAS-Approved] If Your Mother Was Trained at Kai Garden

The Wife and I were invited to Kai Garden for a food tasting, the same day I was called up to provide a soundbite for a New Paper/AsiaOne article on the IRAS-social media influencer debacle. Amidst an flurry of reactions from the blogging community that I was also embroiled in, that ranged from confusion to anxiety to frustration to why-should-anyone-care and this-is-what-the-70%-voted-for-you-happy-now, I was determined to both get my opinions aired in the hopes of someone in the IRAS actually noticing the can of worms they’ve just opened, and going to a sponsored food review at a high-brow Chinese restaurant. Kind of ironic, but let’s see how this works.

kai-env

So I left the office and arrived early (I drove 9.7km, which, for an estimated 15km/litre fuel consumption calculated on $2.10 per litre after discount, plus $3 at the Bugis ERP gantry cost me -$4.36). Mother of Xander took the train to meet me there with kids in tow (-$2.38) It was a quiet Wednesday evening at the restaurant, but we were to find out later that their dim sum lunch hour was popular among the working crowd in the surrounding offices, and of course, dinner business does pick up from Thursdays onwards through the entire weekend.

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Of course, we were joined with some other friends; the Sims from Life’s Tiny Miracles, who brought their daughter and toddler son along, as well as Ah Soh, her husband and three kids. Together with the Mother of Xander and our own two chipmunks, we took up a table of 10 adults and 3 toddlers. These numbers come into play at the end of the dinner, so bear with me.

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We start the dinner off with Braised Home-made Dace with Black Bean Sauce, which brought back memories of my teen years of cooking my instant noodles with canned dace of the supermarket variety. But to be fair, this one was most definitely made from scratch and had a very delicate sweetness and far less salty compared to its mass market brethren. In an establishment such as this, it’s actually really good stuff for $11.80.

kai-chix

Braised Chicken with Flower Crab (we were served the full $88 portion, but they also have a $48 half version), thick sauce infused with the rich flavour of the crab, though the kampong chicken was a little tough on my 38-year-old teeth.

kai-prawn

It starts getting a little more interesting with the Sautéed Prawn with Dried Fish Maw ($35). It may look unassuming (and we were starting to notice a theme here), but the dish bears a thick, rich gravy reminiscent to the previous dish, which contributes well to meld the fragrance of the tiger prawn together with the beautifully light spring when you bite into the savoury maw.

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There was also the conventional but Baked Whole Eggplant with Special Sauce ($18) which melts in your mouth like a savoury cream, the Wok-fried Garoupa Fillet with Spring Onions in Stone Pot ($38) which I wish I had more of (and very likely will at some point in the future), and the Grilled Pork Rib in Special Honey Pepper Sauce ($22)–big on honey, not so much pepper, covered in sliced almond for an added crunch.

No, that's not the waitress.
No, that’s not the waitress.

Dinner was as advertised; family favourites with a homecooked feel, unassumingly presented, much like how your mother might do it… if she were an established Hong Kong chef. The service, though, was certainly well worth the 10% service charge ($31.40); the staff in attendance were certainly attentive amidst a quiet, half-filled night, though as we would sometimes experience, the patrons didn’t quite know what to make of us bloggers with our cameras and constant moving around taking pictures of everything, short of the food on the other guests’ tables.

kai-dessert

To top the night off, we ordered a round of dessert; chilled fresh coconut puree ($6.80 per serving), chilled fresh mango puree with sago ($6.80 per serving), aloe vera in lemongrass jelly ($6.80 per serving), and mango sticky rice (give me a minute, I need to check the price). The dessert chef is Thai, so understandably the dessert range had a very distinct Thai signature. Since these weren’t explicitly provided  as part of the tasting, I spoke to the restaurant manager to pay for the dessert, but she very politely smiled and generously told us it was on the house.

We drove home very full and very happy, but I thought of the restaurant manager’s friendly generosity during the 17km drive (-$2.38, same variables as the drive to Marina Square); she probably didn’t read the news about how we were now required to declare everything  we ate at food tastings for tax purposes (oh, which reminds me: 7% GST, $24.24).

And here it is:

Non-monetary Benefits
(calculated for 3 pax – my wife, my son and me, excluding the toddler who tried to eat a chopstick but failed)
Braised Dace: $3.54
Chicken and Crab: $26.40
Prawn and Fish Maw: $10.50
Eggplant: $5.40
Garoupa fillet: $11.40
Pork rib: $6.60
Dessert: $27.20
10% Service charge: $9.10
7% GST: $7.01

Monetary Benefits
$0.50 (my daughter found it in the shopping trolley she was sitting in during a grocery run just before the food tasting)

Total income from this food tasting: $107.66
Expenses
Drive from office to restaurant: -$4.36 (Note: I was told S-plate car expenses don’t count)
Train fare from home to restaurant: -$2.38 (Nope, can’t declare this)
Parking: -$2.20 (Nope)
Transport from restaurant: -$2.38 (Nuh-uh)
Electricity used to write this post (4 hours at night, with the TV on to break the quiet and the air-con as well because hot): $1.40 (Nada; “considerable amount of private use tied to this period”)
Internet usage (4 hours): $0.40 (Crap, also cannot)

Total expenses from this food tasting: $13.12 $0.00 (What the hell.)

This being my first post of the year (sorry, I was busy), including the annual expenses incurred by maintaining this blog: domain name renewal ($216 per year for 4 domains), webhosting ($76.80 per year), and software for image editing and website coding ($66 per year), I have $263.46 $250.70 to go in order to break even. Actually, I’m doing pretty okay, if I don’t need to take leave in order to attend any blogger events (a half-day of leave will set me back $80). Some of us also periodically plonk down money for Facebook post boosting and Instagram ads, and others will buy their own giveaway premiums during the course of the year, too.

I could probably also claim my laptop, camera, phone and time spent coming up with all of these words and images in the first place, but it’s 2.30am now, I’m tired, I still have to go to work in the morning and I really don’t do food, product and service reviews any more.

***

Contrary to popular belief, we actually aren’t too bothered about declaring income from blogging (and if we are, we really shouldn’t). It’s just that for a state authority to suddenly tell us in the middle of tax season that we have a month to declare “non-monetary benefits” most of us never even thought of tracking, is just plain insensitive. (Congratulations to IRAS, by the way, for pulling off the most successful influencer campaign Singapore has ever seen, and all it took was a handful of letters.) But I’ve said what I wanted to say to IRAS in the papers, in the hopes of opening a dialogue with our community to sort things out; I hear it’s already happening, so thank you.

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Troll of the day.

Posted by Winston Tay on Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The public seems to have a skewed opinion of us; I can have my name and occupation clearly stated in the damn article, and I can still be referred to as “a very stupid woman… who always writes about fashion or plastic surgery or gossip”, simply because the article is about bloggers (also, the photo slapped in the middle of the newspaper article doesn’t help). I wish I could correct that perception in a single blog post, but oh well. Another day, then.

I really wrote this post for my fellow bloggers and social media influencers. Maybe this is a good thing. I initially planned for the income/expense breakdown above to prove there’s really not much non-monetary benefit worth the effort in declaring. Granted this is just one food tasting and there’s a whole spectrum of other food, products, services and experiences of varying value that we similarly have to track, but I started to look at the whole thing a little differently after doing the numbers. Besides such an exercise being able to help us sieve out what’s worth writing and what’s lipstick, it isn’t until we’re forced to show the value of our work, that we actually see the value in our work. Maybe it is time we took our blogging–and ourselves–a lot more seriously. Like, IRAS serious.

On the other hand, we’re at least being recognised by a state agency as a legitimate professional body. Now we just have to convince the rest of the country.

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[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:

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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

//platform.instagram.com/en_US/embeds.jsStar 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

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***

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.

***

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***

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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).

SG50 – Finding the Way Forward, Like an Awkward Teen

This post comes in 3 pages, so the loh-sohness is more bearable.

50 years in human terms might seem like a milestone of life, but in the context of a nation, it seems more like we’re only just breaking out in our teenage zits.

To be fair, we’ve been Singapura for a lot longer, though in the force of our national education shaping our society’s current mindset, we look at 1819-1964 as more akin to “our lost years” than anything else – a story that begins with the legend of an ang moh turning into a white statue at Empress Place, and ends with a grown man crying because his island-state was kicked out of a larger nation like an unwanted child.

The end of that story, so it seems, has become the beginning of ours.

***

Why the sudden bittersweet nostalgia?

SG50

The Blogfather & Family, together with a number of other bloggers from various niches, were invited to an SG50 pop-up exhibition last weekend. It’s not there anymore (the next one’s happening at Northpoint in Yishun next week, I think). This is not the kind of thing I would usually cover, but for the one single attraction that was mentioned in the invitation email:

SG50-Mamashop
A (not entirely real) mama shop.

However, my curiosity did get piqued by the clout around the exhibition. For one, the invitation was sent by an unexpectedly established agency, and the events schedule read like a half-day diplomatic visit where the bloggers were UN reps. Something was up, and in the course of the exhibition, and more importantly, a rather nice, honest lunch conversation after, I’d confirm what I suspected – that the exhibition was not the point.

Good ACT to Follow

UPDATE: Winners announced below!

Sometime in mid-June, the Mother of Xander and I were invited to what I thought was an interactive theatre performance. No doubt you’d have read about There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly, which a number of parent bloggers gave mention to a while back. I wasn’t keen initially, but I redacted the notion when I remembered who the hosts were.

You probably know them for longer than you’d care to admit. They appear every now and again, offering theatrical performances and workshops focused squarely at entertaining and educating kids. Some might even vaguely remember them from the late 80’s, but the name holds more significance for Singapore than you might imagine.

ACT3

Ruby Lim-Yang, R Chandran and Jasmin Samat Simon first got together in an acting and writing workshop organised by that big media entity then known as Radio and Television Singapore back in 1979. 2 years later, they formed ACT 3, and would stage mobile theatrical performances for children, beginning with the flagship MPH Bookstore at Stamford Road, and on to public parks, private parties, sports clubs and, if you remember, school halls during afternoon primary school assemblies – all mostly out of a van.

In 1984, they went full-time as a children’s theatre group, with a couple of firsts under their belt – they staged an outdoor English-language performance called “Treasure Island” at Bras Basah Park in 1983, and were the first to come up with a made-in-Singapore theatre musical called “Makanplace… A Singaporean Musical” in 1988. (Wait, not TheatreWorks’ Beauty World meh? NO. And lagi not to be confused with the now-defunct My Makan Place @ Beauty World Centre hor.)

33 years in, ACT 3 has now sort of split 3 ways (yes, “3” is a sort of running theme with these people). Chandran now runs ACT 3 Theatrics with wife and theatre actress Amy Cheng, focusing on training kids in theatre writing and directing, while Ruby now develops ACT 3 International as its artistic director, which runs children’s theatre and arts festivals, as well as ACT 3 Drama Academy, which dishes out drama courses and workshops for children and teens at their Cairnhill Arts Centre headquarters as well as in schools.

ACT-3-2003
Remember Ruby? She’s the one on the extreme right.

Ruby would tell me over e-mail, “I still keep in touch with Chandran from time to time, a little less with Jasmin (who is living and working in Jakarta). Although (Chandran and I) are running separate entities, both our focus remains very much on children and their development through the Arts. Many roads lead to Rome as the saying goes, and each of us provides a unique approach, taste, and quality. While we differ in approaches, our beliefs are similar.”

***

ACT3-play-acting

Initially, watching Xander and the 40-odd other kids participating in the modern-day rendition of the trio’s labour of love through the very capable drama instructor Ms Frances Lee (who has been teaching with them for 5 years now) reminded me of the fun I had watching and screaming along on cue with ACT 3’s performances back when I was their age.

ACT3-Frances-Lee

I took up acting and directing as part of my formal studies back in poly (and I got a B+ to show for it, too), which largely explains my penchant for drama in my daily life. I mention this otherwise very how lian point because, when I got back from our late lunch (it was a drop-off workshop so the Wife and I could take an hour off being Xander’s parents), I caught a glimpse of, and recognised – some of what Ms Frances was doing amidst all the play-acting with the kids. It was by no means the typical “Come children, let’s do some weird stuff that nobody can understand in front of your parents so they think these nonsense activities we’ve come up with are adding value to your learning experience” mumbo-jumbo other learn-through-play outfits might pull over your eyes. These were actual acting techniques adjusted and deployed for children’s sensibilities, so kids could learn how to emote and express themselves properly through sound and body language.

The whole exercise got me wondering if the drama academy could help Xander find his voice in his everyday communications as well, because our boy has a not-very-small problem with expression and self-confidence, especially when it comes to telling us what he wants or what he is feeling.

So the Blogfather wrote to enquire about their term classes, and visited their campus at 126 Cairnhill Arts Centre for a trial lesson (parking is a little tricky, and it’s a bit of a walk from the nearest train station, but you get used to it). One month later, Xan is now 3 classes into the term (mind you, we paid in full, minus a small regular discount they offer for Children’s Development Account cardholders).

You’d know when class was starting when you hear Ms Frances’s full-bodied operatic voice booming across the school compound for the children to gather into their designated classroom. Like the standalone workshops, these are drop-off classes, and parents don’t really get to hang around or see what they’re doing for the hour that they’re in there, though there are waiting rooms for parents in case you decide to hang around until classes end.

And it’s usually when their activities end that you see your kids do interesting stuff, like this:

We know Xan can read pretty well, but the Wife and I are quite impressed that the boy is actually able to recite an entire poem – complete with actions – after only having been taught in a one-hour class, without having to read the poem off the handout at all.

Or maybe we’re just easily impressed. Regardless, we’ll see what transpires when Xander completes his 10-week term.

***
ACT 3 International has also kindly offered up 2 sets of 4 tickets (2 winners of 4 tickets each) for the 27 September, 10.30am to 11.30am performance of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Eric Carle Favourites at the Drama Centre (on the 5th floor of the National Library Building on Victoria Street, if you don’t already know), followed by an exclusive, not-for-sale backstage tour happening after the play (11.50am to 12.10pm).
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The results are out, and this has been one of the bigger responses The Blogfather has had on a giveaway! Thanks to everyone who has participated. The winners are:

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We’ll be contacting you shortly via PM for your contact details!

No Staycation, Crowne Plaza Changi? – A Breakfast Buffet Love Story (Sort of)

It’s the June school holidays. For most of us, it means family time, activity-hunting and possibly a vacation, now that the kids are out of school for a month.

For parent bloggers, it’s peak season. Especially for dads, since Father’s Day happens in the same month.

And so it is that The Blogfather has been receiving his fair share of event invitations all the past 2-3 weeks. But one particular email had my undivided attention for a good two days, for the fact that it wasn’t addressed to me. The email started with “Dear Xander,…” (you can read the excerpt now published there).

A little while after receiving the message, I responded to graciously accept the sender’s invitation, on condition that the sender also be present, because this was someone I really didn’t mind meeting.

Azur-Entrance

But that’s not the story.

A day after I replied to RSVP, I received a Twitter notification.

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I don’t know about you, but it felt a little like flirting to me. So I responded.

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I took things a bit further and posted it on Facebook, too.

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Then a friend of mine caught wind of the conversation (you might know him from his blog, too), and decided to play wingman.

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It then escalated into a love triangle.

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Given that I knew what Crowne Plaza had in store for the Cheekiemonkies (word gets around; there are only so many Singaporean dad bloggers, you know), I was understandably not too pleased.

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Crowne Plaza Changi decided a threesome wasn’t quite enough.

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And The Blogfather welcomed the idea.

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But Changi Airport left us all hanging.

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***

Seriously, given what’s been happening the past few months (since I published what I now endearingly called The 6pm Post, I had to sit with my boss to re-evaluate my work situation; long story short, I’m now in the midst of transitioning to a new company), a breakfast at Crowne Plaza is nice, but a staycation would make a really, really nice Father’s Day gift, don’t you think, Crown Plaza Changi / Changi Airport?

Staycations notwithstanding, breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Changi’s award-winning restaurant Azur is nice. I give you The Blogfather’s word, and food porn taken of Azur’s breakfast buffet spread, in case you need more than The Blogfather’s word (which is not surprising, seeing as I’m no food blogger):

Azur's Intercontinental selection
Azur’s Intercontinental selection

Azur_Panorama

The Asian breakfast section
The Asian breakfast section

And from now till 30 June, up to four children (below the age of 12) can dine free with every two paying adults (at S$33++ per adult).

I was told this breakfast buffet is a perfect start of the day for families planning a full day of activities in Changi Airport itself. As for exactly what fun family activities the Airport has in store for the month of June,… go ask Cheekiemonkies later. They got the staycation.

All I had was breakfast. 🙁

Azur-Waffles

Disclaimer: Aside from the breakfast buffet, this post is not sponsored. At least, not yet.

A Fatherhood Story in a Photography Workshop

Meet Bob Lee.

The Wife and I were invited to a workshop hosted by Canon geared towards parent bloggers who want to learn about taking photographs of children.

No, I am not going to talk about what I learned about taking photographs of children.

I want you to meet Bob Lee.

image

In the midst of his very candid, almost tongue-in-cheek presentation, mostly involving showing us a barrage of well-composed pictures of his son, he’d inject some anecdotal information on his background as a Zaobao photojournalist, the fact that he was from JB, used to blog just like us, has published 5 books, and that his son was autistic.

I sat up. I had just met Bob Lee.

Amidst teaching us about angles and bokeh and the benefits of using continuous mode on hyperactive children, he told us that he quit his full-time job with Zaobao because he wanted to focus on spending time with his son. But from his candour, and the photos that he presented, and his entire presentation in general (which was turning into less of a photography workshop for me and more of a simple story of fatherhood set in a much more complex circumstance), he was surviving well despite a lack of stable income, and he was happy. He was content.

He made me remember the time I was trying to survive without a full-time job, putting my focus squarely on making sure I was a father to my son first and foremost, and through the story he unconsciously told through his photos and banter, he reminded me how things would inexplicably fall into place in what I would have thought was my darkest hour as a family man.

He saw light. He’d get lens flare once in a while, but he said that’s okay; lens flare can be a good thing too.

Have you met Bob Lee?

The Reason We Buy Toys

It started with an empty box.

The big hoo-ha I made in the last post was (mostly) all in fun, if you didn’t realise already. The Blogfather has had run-ins with the Hasbro people a number of times, and they don’t scrimp when it comes to things like this, though their methods of engagement can sometimes raise eyebrows.

But I will be honest; the geek in me was attracted to the collector’s value the Transformers First Edition Optimus Prime held. When you put a three-digit price tag and the words “First Edition” on the box, you know it’s more than just a toy. And the geek in me wanted it.

But that didn’t prepare us for the bigger hoo-ha?that was at the Transformers Toy Madness @ 2200 (the premise of their sending us the empty box in the first place). When the Mother of Xander and I got to Forum the Shopping Mall Friday night we were planning on grabbing a cup of coffee before leisurely sauntering over into the event. We didn’t think there’d be a lot of people, mainly because the shops at Forum tend to close a couple of hours earlier than the rest of Orchard Road, and the mall is usually pretty quiet by 8.30pm.

Then we saw the queue.

Image courtesy of Hasbro Singapore
Image courtesy of Hasbro Singapore

It stretched along the walkways, wrapping the stairs and rails from the 2nd floor up to the 4th where the event entrance was, and it was about an hour and a half before the event would start.

Ah Boys to Men and the Scrawny Dude. Image courtesy of Hasbro Singapore
Ah Boys to Men and the Scrawny Dude. Image courtesy of Hasbro Singapore

The crowd was being coaxed into a frenzy by a scrawny dude in a standard-issue red Transformers tee, and in another while, the Ah Boys to Men cast would come and make girls scream (I never understood why girls scream for that kind of thing). We had media passes, but we were no less awestruck (by the crowd, not the Boys). And as we were walking into the event – son and baby all – the Wife warily said to me, “Eh. The people all staring at us like how come we can no need to queue one leh.”

It was tense.

The doors flew open for the crowd at 2200hrs as promised. And things flew.

Transformers-Crowd

Look closely. Barely any kids. Big kids, maybe. Collectors.

You start wondering if the toys are really worth all this attention, all the hype, all the value that they may or may not hold, now, or 10, 20, 50, 100 years into the future.

I brought the no-longer empty box home, and stared at it while Xander sat near me, tired from the evening’s special toy hunt.

TransformersAoE-Actual

Pro collectors will tell you that if you intend to keep a toy in a collection, the moment the packaging seal of the toy is broken, the toy is immediately devalued from “mint” or “mint-” to “near-mint”or below, lowering its resale value significantly even if the greatest care is taken to keep the toy itself in its most pristine, straight-from-factory condition.

Be it toys, comic books, or even games (ever see an actual, physical fantasy role-playing game setup?) some of us will have grown up with a vision of amassing what we hope would be a treasure trove of the 90s teenager’s equivalent of blue chip stocks, a collection of nostalgic memorabilia that would grow in monetary value over time and boost our retirement funds in lieu of the CPF minimum sum that we might end up never seeing.

Then you become a dad.

It’s exactly times like this that you’re reminded why you fell in love with these toys in the first place, because your child loves them now exactly like you did when you were 6 years old too.

You’re left wondering what is more valuable: a toy kept in mint condition in the box it came in, or a toy in your child’s hands.

TransformersAoE-Play

I end up with an empty box. But it’s okay.

Hasbro, Y U Do Dis?

It might interest you to know, my son doesn’t actually own many action figures. We’ve got pretty much everything else – Lego sets, cars, toy cooking utensils and about 250 different pieces of fake food, even 3 Furbies that talk amongst themselves when we’re not looking and a dinky little Nerf pistol that the boy refuses to shoot because he’ s anti-gun violence.

But thanks to a recent full month party where a certain mum blogger‘s son decided to bring a certain action figure and got me to “Uncle, help me transform” in front of everyone including my son, Xander’s been quietly yearning for a specific set of action figures ever since.

So a couple of days ago, I decided I should indulge him with just one (because I used to have action figures when I was a kid, so it actually didn’t seem fair). So I went to the department store to take a look at how much a good one might cost. The ones in my budget bracket were too tiny, but then I found one that was reasonably designed.

$119

Ooooookay. Times have changed since my childhood days.

I left the toy on the shelf, and went home to contemplate whether I really loved my son that much. As it turns out, I didn’t need to contemplate much further, because a certain toy company I once poked fun at apparently decided my son was worth it, and sent this to my house.

TransformersAoECarePack

At first, my eyes popped a little. The media kit had all the other usual swag, including a lanyard, a pen, a DVD of a previous Transformers movie installment (cool, I haven’t watched that) and a write-up for a midnight launch party we were cordially invited to. But none of these mattered, because they sent us a? $119 First Edition Age of Extinction Optimus Prime.

Or so I thought.

THE BOX IS EMPTY!

Have we learned nothing about underwhelming the Blogfather from our first encounter with each other, Hasbro? Imagine if I called Xander over to share the joy in opening your large-ish Hasbro bag, then slowly taking out all the items, starting from the pen, then the lanyard, and the DVD to build the excitement, and finally hand him the big box with an image of the most well-loved sentient robot hero of the last 30 years gracing its cover, beckoning him to open the package himself so he can smell the air around the toy that used to be in there?

Wah lau eh. Lucky I checked the box first.

The Blogfather will not let this slide. Whoever came up with this idea, you wait. I know where you live your event is. I will make sure I come and find you. I will bring my entire family, and you will explain to my son in front of his face why you very nearly made him cry that night.

And I will ask all my friends and supporters to come and witness our settlement talk.

Transformers: Age of Extinction Toy Madness
16 May 2014 (Friday) 10pm onwards

(It’s a midnight launch, so get your kids prepared to stay up late)
Level 3, Forum the Shopping Mall

TransformersAoECarePack2