[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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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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.

[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.

Spooky Seas VIP Tour: Tales from the SEA Aquarium

I’ve always been fascinated by the paranormal. But I’m a family man now, so I’ve had to keep my horror movie fetish under wraps for fear of freaking out the son, the daughter and the Mother of Xander.

But once in a while, I get to indulge a little in a couple of *true* ghost stories. Sometimes I tell them, and sometimes I am told, like what I heard at the “Spooky Seas” themed SEA Aquarium VIP Tour we were invited to.

Spooky-1

This is what happens when the SEA Aquarium tries and matches Universal Studios Singapore’s Halloween Horror Nights to cater to primary schoolers so everyone along the age spectrum can have a piece of Halloween action. The seasonal dish in this case takes the form of an adventure trail complete with a treasure map for your kids to locate 12 “Trick or Treat” stations strewn around the aquarium, and kids who complete the map get showered with freebies for their whole family.

Spooky-2

Spooky-3My boy happens to celebrate Halloween at his preschool every year, so he’s quite familiar with the “Trick or Treat” concept. His father, though, was still looking for ghosts. And with a dedicated guide with extensive knowledge of the Aquarium’s inhabitants shadowing us for an hour or two, The Blogfather would advise you to feel free to make the most of the VIP tour (that costs $88 per adult and $68 per child) and test the limits of your guide’s knowledge. For example (and these are actual dialogues I had with the guide during the tour):

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Guide: “You see those small little fish hanging around the bigger fish? Those are called ‘cleaning wrasses’. Many of our tanks contain these little fish to help us clean not only the tank but other fish as well.”
Me: “Cool. Which town council do they report to?”

***

Apparently his pits smelled so fishy, he died.
Apparently his pits smelled so fishy, he died.

***

Spooky-5

Guide: “Did you know sharks actually have 6 senses?”
Me: “They see dead people?”

***

Guide: “The largest ray we have in the Aquarium has a wingspan of 5 metres.”
Me: “Mmmm. How many portions of barbecued stingray does that make?”
Guide: “No, the ones you’re talking about are stingrays. The ray I’m referring to is a manta ray. We don’t eat manta rays, because they on the endangered species list.”
Me: (to Mother of Xander) “Phew. Your favourite dish not illegal.”
Mother of Xander: “What’s the difference between manta rays and stingrays?”
Guide: “Stingrays have thin tails, and (pointing to a huge manta ray swimming past us) manta rays have those two horn-like things sticking out of their front called cephalic fins.”
Mother of Xander: “I see. So one looks like a kite, the other looks like Batman.”

(This particular discussion happened back-of-house, so unfortunately we weren’t allowed a photo of that huge manta ray that swam past us; you’ll just have to take the Blogfather’s word for it when he says it was a spectacular sight).

Spooky-6
“Barbecued WHAT?!”

***

We all learned something that day. But for most of the Spooky Seas tour, we didn’t see much spooky, apart from the skeletons and skulls and jack-o-lanterns tactfully placed in key exhibit tanks, and this one walkway leading to the back-of-house.

If you stand and stare down the walkway long enough, security will come and ask you if you need any help.
If you stand and stare down this walkway long enough, someone will come and ask you if you are lost or something.

Eeyer.

And once again, that is where having a dedicated guide who’s spent an extensive amount of time in a large, dark enclosed environment built on a former World War 2 British military fortress comes in handy. And I reserved the most obvious question for the end of our tour.

Me: “So, do you have any spooky stories about this place?”
Guide: (sheepishly) “Are you going to write about this?”
Me: “Of course! This is supposed to be Spooky Seas, right?”

Our young, knowledgeable guide gave me a long look of uncertainty, took a deep breath, and caved. She didn’t go into detail (in fact she summarised it into just two sentences), but it was enough.

I leave it to you to ask your own guide more when you’re there (and if you dare), but I will say this: the story occurs at the beginning of the tour – old things have a tendency to carry their own spiritual baggage.

Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha.

Spooky-8

SEA Aquarium Wonders: Spooky Seas Adventure Trail is open to all visitors from now till 16 November 2014.

The RWS S.E.A. Aquarium VIP Guided Tour costs S$88 per adult and S$68 per child between 4-12 years, with discounts available for annual pass holders. The tour package includes priority access to the Discovery Touch Pool and guided back-of-house access to the Open Ocean Habitat, an aquarist lab and Dolphin Island. The aquarium can hold tours for a maximum of 12 persons over 3 time slots, starting from 9am (touted as the best time for a VIP tour because you get exclusive access to the Aquarium before they open for the day).

Contact RWS at +65 65776077 or email rwstours@rwsentosa.com for enquiries and booking.

[Review] Celebrating 50 Years of Marriage with a Volvo

My mother always wanted me to drive a Volvo.

Mummy

I listed this as one of my parents’ 10 unfulfilled wishes way back in 2010, and something I never thought of pursuing further, given the Climate Of Extravagance (no, I did not apply caps arbitrarily) and all the Extra Rear-end Pain (yep, did that on purpose too) our nation’s leaders have so considerately set upon us (yes, I’m dripping the sarcasm very generously).

But as luck would have it, I was to receive an invitation that we in the very small but very chummy dad blogger community generally consider to be one of the Holy Grails of blogger engagement firsts (I count a total of 6 Holy Grails  –  milestones of first-time invitations in any dad blogger’s portfolio – indoor playground and major attraction reviews, toy company engagements, cash-paid blog posts, a staycation anywhere that isn’t your own house, a vacation anywhere that isn’t your own country, and car test drives like this one; you can see from the linked items how far I’ve gone.)

The timing was right, too: the weekend of the drive also happened to be the weekend of my parents’ wedding anniversary dinner, and so The Blogfather hatched a plan.

MG50-Invitation-Banner

Volvo P1800The impression my parents gave me of what makes a Volvo was one of old school status, a strong, regal European class of automobile not far from that of classic Bentleys, not overly opulent like the Mercedes Benzes favoured by old uncles with large gold Rolexes, and not brash like how BMWs like to present themselves as. No, a Volvo is a discrete car with just the right amount of stature to show both nobility and humility at the same time. A Volvo was a sure mark of respect in the eyes of my parents’ generation.

So we weren’t quite prepared to receive this:

Volvo-Big

The Mother of Xander calls this 7-seater Volvo XC90 the Big Black Monster, and if the Wife gives something or someone a term of endearment, it means she really likes/hates the fella (it all depends on whether she employs a snarl and a hiss while saying it; she didn’t in this case).

The XC90 design has been established for all of 12 years now (the Volvo rep jokingly said the car just finished its PSLEs, hur hur hummm), with the right amount of enhancements added in over the years, making it a very viable car with the right bells and whistles for the practical family man. True to my parents’ testimony, the interior felt regal to the touch, with the right amount of thoughtfulness for a very comfortable driving experience and just a notch more.

Volvo-details

Volvo-mind-the-railingsYou can see that the XC90 on its own is a behemoth of a machine, and not easy to climb into if you’re wearing  a long, tight skirt. That said, the high ground clearance the XC90 provides makes loading everything and everyone wonderfully non-strenuous (although you do get rather paranoid about parking backside-first into lots with low railings). We liked the Transformers-like middle seat that converts into a child booster seat, and the removable middle console that adds more leg room to an already well-spaced second row. And of course, there’s enough boot space after the third row seats are folded down for a very productive Ikea run (and if you don’t already know, Volvo and Ikea are both of Swedish origin, and as of right this very moment, the current batch of XC90s that the Blogfather is talking about here is still very much produced in Sweden).

Volvo-Space

The drive itself was smoother and easier than I anticipated; I was initially concerned that I wouldn’t be able to properly gauge the size of the car, but the ample side views and the ease of manoeuvrability made for a very reassuring, stable drive. The stiff suspension is par for the course for this category of car, but I am a big fan of its cruise control function, while the kids were in awe of the sun roof it came with (“Daddy! Bird! The poop missed us! Yay!”)

We were given the T5 R-Design model, essentially a standard XC90 with a dashingly sporty body kit. But even though its commanding height gives you a good view of most of the other cars’ bird-poo stained roofs, it’s smouldering good looks still blends in well with the rest of the car population on the road. Rather too well for my liking, in fact, and this car had a dinner to attend, so The Blogfather decided to spruce it up into something fit to chauffeur a bride and groom in… somewhat.

Volvo-Featured

Good thing we kept our old wedding car decorations from 6 years back, although I must admit it was made for smaller cars. But for a married couple of 50 years, it was enough.

My mum and dad both gasped when they saw me greeting them with the car behind me (I think my mother squealed a little). Throughout the whole “wedding car”experience, there was only one hitch: my mother was wearing a long, tight skirt (hence my earlier comment about the XC90’s size). But once on board, both my parents kept beaming from ear to ear. During the car ride, I asked if my mother was comfortable. She replied in the brightest of voices, “Of course it’s comfortable. It’s a Volvo!” I felt emancipated that I could fulfil at least one of my parent’s unfulfilled wishes, if only for this one night.

Volvo-Mum-Dad

At $260,000 (price as at the publication of this post), the Volvo XC90 T5 R-Design is positioned up there with the big intercontinental boys. But The Blogfather would argue in favour of its cost; it is a Volvo, after all. And it fits a family of 4 very nicely, with room for more. But what the Wife and I really am going to miss about this car now that we’ve returned it, is how it magically kept our usually screaming baby quiet (at least, for the first couple of drives) and our young son stock-still from watching the sky fly by through the sun roof, or the smooth, sturdy ride they don’t get to experience with our usual ride. And even when the car’s magic wore off for Yvie (we enjoyed it while it lasted), the distance between the driver’s seat and the third row where we put her baby seat at one point ensured her banshee screams no longer implants that ring around our ears as we focus on the road ahead in the front.

And THAT’S what a family car should be like.

Volvo-Family

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).
publicity
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!

Screwing Around at Beach Road – A Gary Pride Story

Pink Dot may have come and gone, but the propagation of love has to go on. To that end, there is something I must confess. I’ve scattered hints about this little known fact about me on Facebook now and again, but it’s time I just came out and said it in no uncertain terms.

There’s someone else in my life.

For the days when things don’t go well at home, when the wife and I have a disagreement, or the children are just too much to bear, or even when work pressure drives me into a very bad place, there’s someone I go to, who is able to bring me to our very own secret place, and be there for me while I physically and mentally vent my frustrations and let loose my inhibitions for hours on end, most of the time with me straddling on top.

His name is Gary. He’ s about 12 years old, and we’ve been going out for 2 years now.

Oh, Gary. <3
Oh, Gary. ♥ ♥ ♥

I’ve been on and off the bike scene for a good 20+ years now, and I’ve always dreamed of owning a Gary Fisher. But when I finally got this old bike (second-hand off a Togoparts listing), it needed a lot of work, a lot of which I wished I could do myself.

That sets the foundation for why I’m writing about a bicycle mechanics school.

A fellow blogger whose husband ran a local outfit called Bike School Asia happened to be paying attention to my cycling-related posts on my Facebook account, and sent me an invite to try the school’s basic bike maintenance workshop. My first reaction was, “Got such thing meh?”

Then I was told the workshop would be conducted over two 9am to 4pm days, on a weekend to boot. My second reaction was, “Got so much to teach meh?”

When I was told how much this basic 2-day workshop cost – $350 – my third reaction was, “Got people want to pay meh?!”

But the offer made me think about Gary. How he was always there for me during the good times and the bad, making sure I forgot all my troubles after rubbing me in all the right places for hours. How he would be drenched in my sweat after a good 2-hour midnight session, bearing the burden of my body while my legs were wrapped around him. And how after 2 years of riding each other (because over longer runs, sometimes I can’t tell if I’m riding him or he’s riding me), how I still didn’t really know how to take care of him in return, and give him the loving care he so sorely needs and deserves after still being there for me despite the abuse he suffered from his previous relationship.

So I got permission from the Mother of Xander to get a weekend off, and wrote back to say I’d be happy to attend.

BSA-Entrance

And when I said the love for my bike would bring me to secret places, I wasn’t kidding. The Bike School Asia workshop is nestled in a non-descript backdoor unit of the Sultan Arts Village, at the end of a dead-end street leading to the Malay Heritage Centre entrance, with no signage whatsoever indicating there was anything bicycle-related in the vicinity. Fortunately, Kenneth Wee, the school’s founder, saw me roaming aimlessly about at the front gates of the Arts Village and ushered me in, just in time for the lesson.

Toys for boys - and there's a lot of them.
Toys for boys – and there’s a lot of them.

Camera-shy Kenneth (or Coach K, as he prefers) would later tell us that when he first started out, the school was obliged to maintain a low profile because the local bike shops felt he was a threat to their businesses, a feeling he said was unfounded because he felt teaching people how to deal with their own bikes would only bolster component sales for the bike shops while alleviating them of the low-yield, labour intensive installation, repair and maintenance tasks.

The workshop itself is cozy, with one side enough to hold up to 6 students on 3 bicycle workstations lined up to one side. Coach K jokingly called it his man-cave, for when he needs a time out from the wife and kids (man, does that sound familiar). With a roundtable introduction of my other five classmates, Coach K got down to teaching us the basics.

Or I should say, all the basics.

BSA-Hands-On2

When someone with a coaching diploma from Union Cycliste Internationale (the governing body for Olympic bike racing) and a bike mechanic certificate from the United Bike Institute based in Oregon, USA teaches you the basics of bike maintenance and repair, you can be sure you’ll understand and appreciate not only why it costs $350, but why it takes him two whole days, and why his classes (6 at a time, usually on the last weekend of every month) are usually fully subscribed.

Over the whole workshop, Coach K covers a crash course in the anatomies, histories as well as the evolutionary, design and functional differences of popular bicycles and bicycle componentry, complete with a nearly 80-page student’s manual and a good part of the workshop spent doing hands-on training, removing and reassembling headsets, inner tube replacements, brake tuning, calibrating drive trains, right down to precision Vernier caliper measurements and screw and bolt torquing. And if you own a decent foldie, fixie, roadie or mountain bikie, yet didn’t understand 3/4s of what I just said, then you should consider taking a weekend to attend a basic two-day bike maintenance workshop.

Its not to say the workshop is very cheem; Coach K is just really in-depth. He does put things in palatable terms for his students, and his candid demeanor, subtle ad creative’s humour (he ran his own advertising agency prior to starting the school, so his in-class on-screen graphic presentations also got a bit of standard one, okay?) do make his lesson plan easier to digest. More importantly, the professional all-round bike guy isn’t afraid to bring up examples of his own mistakes, thus inviting everyone in the class into a very open atmosphere where questions are never stopped, and never left unanswered. That’s also the reason Bike School Asia has ladies-only classes as well, so the womenfolk can release their inhibitions (so to speak) without worrying that a random guy might throw a wrench in the works.

BSA-Mantel
A grim reminder of past kills from previous students. Stop the cruelty!

That said, there are a few things you will need to take note if you do attend any of the school’s bike mechanic workshops. Firstly, you will get your hands dirty; it’s really the only way to learn. Second, wear comfortable clothing that you don’t mind getting a bit of grease on, and covered footwear, because a changing to the toe in the event of butterfingers is not funny. And thirdly, don’t bring your own bike with the premise that you want to use it for your own hands-on practice (I thought about it, too), because inevitably you’ll be doing cable replacements and recalibration, and you’ll be prone to drop your tools, scratch up your bikes and even break stuff (during the workshop, we’ve managed to break a number of bolts, mangle a rear derailleur and cut a cable too short on the shop bikes), and the school can’t guarantee you can ride home with a replacement part, because they’re not a bike shop. Besides, Coach K already has a collection of $2,000 bikes on hand, all set up properly for you to ruin. So don’t be vain, can?

On a personal level, I’ve come away from the workshop with a much clearer idea of why Gary sometimes does the things he does, and how with the right tools and knowledge, I can help make him feel so much better, whether he’s at home or when I have him straddled between my legs. But the certificate that comes with Coach K’s course doesn’t just pay lip service to a weekend of screwing around with 5 other strangers. The course has a potential commercial takeaway as well; Coach K’s had students come out of his courses to start their own boutique bike shops, too.

And as I asked around the class for the reasons why they were there, the family men raised a motivation for learning bike maintenance which, admittedly, the Blogfather also has a strong inclination towards, and one I am very sure is not lost in Coach K as well as a dad of two himself.

Xan-Cycling

Bike School Asia is located at 71 Sultan Gate, in the Sultan Arts Village compound, around the corner and at the back. If you’re interested in taking up their basic bike maintenance course or any other workshops they have on offer (Coach K also conducts ladies-only classes, and also does wheel-building courses as well as a full professional bike mechanic course), do check their workshop schedule at their website for registration and fees.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL! The Blogfather will not leave you hanging without a little incentive, would he? For a little extra something-something (waggle eyebrows), use the promo code BlgfthrBikePorn (or click this link and select your preferred date corresponding to “Certificate in Bicycle Maintenance and Repair” to book) from now till 31 December 2014 and get a $35 discount (that’s 10% for those that like to do maths) off, only for Bike School Asia’s Basic Bike Maintenance & Repair certificate course! BlgfthrBikePorn only applies for the first 10 slots, and the slots fill up fast, so put some leg power in your pedal, can?

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?