Thursday, July 29, 2010

Table tennis and a new S90

You may remember that I previously mentioned our weekly family badminton games. Well, as of a few weeks ago, these were stopped. Partly because the novelty has worn off somewhat (afterall it has been a couple of years) but mostly, it's because the standards between individual members are now so disparate that it's almost comical.

Andre has been receiving ongoing badminton training while Lesley-Anne and I possess the "no ball sense" gene, further handicapped by our uncoordinated limbs. As a result, our games have become completely lopsided. After 5 minutes of being unable to return Andre's shots, Lesley-Anne will declare that she's "taking a break". Meanwhile, I will impose rules for Andre as I go along - "not allowed to smash at me!", "cannot hit so far back!", "ok, half court only!" at which point, he'll usually grumble, "everything also cannot, how to play?"

Sometimes, Lesley-Anne and I both take on Andre together... and we still lose. So malu. Andre usually ends up sparring with Kenneth, unless Kenneth's bum knee acts up, then it's game over.

After a while, we came to the realisation that it was time to stop these weekly badminton comedy routines. However, unwilling to give up our attempt at family bonding over sports, we decided to try something else - table tennis. It turned out to be really fun, maybe because the learning curve is shorter. As expected though, Andre is picking up the game much faster than me or Lesley-Anne and already, I'm finding myself saying "not allowed to smash me!" Did I mention my uncoordinated limbs?

Well, for now, it's still fun so we're going to enjoy it while we can! I tried posting a video but I've been having problems with Blogger in video posting for a while now. Instead, here are some pictures - last week, I treated myself to a new Canon Powershot S90 as I wanted to capture better pictures of my kids. Quite happy with the test run but still trying to figure out the many features. At least my indoor, non-flash shots no longer come out looking like they were taken in an earthquake zone!

Monday, July 26, 2010

When 67 erasers aren't enough

Since the beginning of this year, Andre has been caught up with the game he calls "Country Erasers". It involves erasers with the flags of different countries and similar to the bottle cap game boys used to play in our generation, kids flip them in an attempt to top another eraser and win it.

I was so sua ku, I didn't realise that this is actually a very old game until Kenneth's cousin who's 29, told me that he had been playing it way back when he was in primary school!

I don't see the appeal, it must be another one of those boy things. However, I can understand why it's popular - it's cheap (one eraser from the school bookshop is merely 10cts) and you can play it anywhere (in class too it seems, teachers must have a life-time supply of erasers just from those they confiscate). Anyway, it sure beats the bottle cap game where the kids would down expensive and sugar-laden soft drinks just to collect the priced bottle caps.

Andre's collection is growing at an alarming rate, despite my warnings not to buy any more. Most of them, he won in matches with his friends. He keeps his precious collection in a cardboard box, he's up to 67. Some erasers are considered more valuable than others, eg during the World Cup, predictably it was those of soccer teams that came up tops.

I was wondering how to put a stop to this madness until the situation partly resolved itself. Apparently, because Andre had been taking a long time to choose his erasers and digging through the pile, the bookshop auntie has since banned him from the bookshop.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Toy Story

Last weekend, we caught Toy Story 3 at Iluma. I think the whole Toy Story franchise is just fantastic - the concept is so innovative and something all kids can relate to. I'm sure many kids at some point feel that their toys are like real companions, to see them actually come alive on the screen is really a kick to the imagination.

Toy Story has a very special place in our hearts because my kids watched it growing up. Toy Story 3 is especially poignant, it deals with issues of growing up and the emotions faced by all the different parties - Andy, his mum and the toys - in its characteristically heart-warming and touching way.

By the time Andre was 2 years old, he was already very taken by Toy Story 1 and watched it repeatedly on LD (yes, the now defunct format).

That Christmas, I ordered a Woody toy from ebay for him. When he opened the wrapper, his expression was priceless. He didn't whoop with joy, he just stood there staring silently at Woody in wonder, like he couldn't quite believe his eyes. This pic on the right pretty much captures it (sorry for bad photo, all the old photos are scanned from prints). At that age, Andre still wasn't talking much so his face said everything.

The rest of the day, I caught Andre carefully placing Woody in various positions and just staring at him. That night, he went to sleep with Woody lying next to him in the cot bed.

Seeing how enamoured Andre was with Woody, I eventually bought him a Buzz Lightyear too, but Woody remained his favourite, much like with Andy in Toy Story. In fact, after many rotations, Woody still sleeps in Andre's bed today.

Spoiler alert!! Towards the end of the movie, Andy parted with Woody and the rest of his toys because he realised that toys are meant to be played with. I understood this logically but I felt a pang in my heart because if it were me, I would never give up my long-time cherished toy. Of course it helps that I know my toys don't really come alive and have emotions to boot, LOL.

I probably have to explain that my kids, especially Lesley-Anne, are soft toy hoarders. Throughout their growing up years, they've grown attachments to lots of them. When Lesley-Anne was younger, she used to bring a soft toy with her everywhere she went. As a result, some of them have great sentimental value.

During the week, Lesley-Anne started digging up her old toys. Here were some of her favourites growing up. Right: the orange bear that she received for her first Christmas (which I thought was a hippo). In fact, this toy triggered the first word she ever uttered - not "mama" or "papa" but "bear".

This one on the left is not technically a stuffed toy - it's a bear haversack given to her by her grandpa. She brought it on every single holiday and it doubled up as a cuddly reminder of home at night.

On the left below is a giant sized Elmo which she had lots of fun with because it was larger than she was! On the right are Po and Lala, her beloved toys when she was going through the Teletubbies phase. Lala was a gift all the way from London, before it was available in Singapore.

And here are the toys again, not looking much worse from sitting in the toy box, reunited with their owner.

Monday, July 19, 2010

ABRSM piano exams

Lesley-Anne sat for her Grade 6 piano practical exam last March and she attained a Merit. I thought I'd attach the score sheet here for readers who might be interested to know what it looks like. For the ABRSM piano exams from Grade 1-8, candidates have to prepare three set exam pieces (four for Grades 6 & 7), a list of scales, a sight-reading piece (basically a piece the examiner produces on the spot) and a series of aural items.

In the score sheet below, the first three are the exam pieces. I had posted video clips of Lesley-Anne playing her pieces here, if you're interested.

Lesley-Anne has come to her own decision to work towards her Grade 8 exam when she's in sec 3. When she first started lessons years ago, I never dared dream that she would reach this level. I can scarcely believe that she's actually here!

Exams though are simply goalposts. More importantly, I've always believed that music should be about appreciation and enjoyment. Before she reached Grade 5, I've had the feeling that playing the piano was just an additional CCA for her, she often had to be nagged at to practise, something I know is common among kids.

In the past year or so, I've seen a difference in Lesley-Anne. She's more inclined to try out new pieces on her own and has even looked up scores online for her favourite songs and printed them out to try. For her birthday, we bought her the piano music for Les Miserables and she was delighted.

She still doesn't practise as much as she should but it's great to see her sitting at the piano, tinkling on the keys because she wants to and not because she's obliged to. I think I can finally say that she now enjoys music for its own sake and she realises that being able to play the piano is a valuable tool to this end. Nothing more I can ask for!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

NAPFA score chart for secondary schools

As requested by Lilian, here are the NAPFA test score charts for secondary school/pre-U levels. Five of the items are the same as those at the primary school level, the only item that's different is the run/walk. At the primary school level, it's 1.6km. This goes up to 2.4km at the secondary school level. This is the item that couch potato kids tend to dread the most. Lesley-Anne scored a gold for NAPFA every year in primary school but for sec 1, she only managed a bronze, due to the 2.4km run/walk.

Boys and girls charts below (click on them to see enlarged versions). The scoring for gold, silver and bronze remains the same, details here.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

NAPFA score chart for primary schools

Last week, Andre underwent his NAPFA tests (click on the link if you need more clarification on them). For most kids, this would just be another necessary evil of the school system but the way Andre poured his energy into it, you would have thought that a national medal was at stake.

"You know it's not counted in your report book, right?" I reminded him. He was undeterred. I think anything related to sports is a worthy challenge to him (another huge reminder of how different my kids are - Lesley-Anne dreads the 2.4km walk/run in NAPFA more than any academic test).

Andre wanted to know what the prerequisites were for getting a gold position in NAPFA. I went scouring the Internet for the score chart and believe it or not, it was nowhere to be found. Seriously - not even on the MOE or Singapore Sports Council website! I don't get it, we can't be the only ones interested in knowing what to aim for, what's the big secret?

Anyway, after a long search, Kenneth finally located it on a school website. For the benefit of other parents, I'm posting the NAPFA score charts (for primary school level) here - both boys and girls. If the chart is too small to be read, click on it and you should see an enlarged version.

These were Andre's scores:
  • Situps: 40
  • Standing broad jump: 165 cm
  • Sit & reach: 24 cm (he thinks, this is the one he can't quite recall)
  • Inclined pullups: 22
  • Shuttle run: 11.3 secs
  • 1.6km: about 9 mins
To score a gold, you need at least a C grade for every item and 21 points. Looks like he got his gold, so he's pleased about that. Now if only I can get him to apply the same determination in his studies...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A dash of salt and a dollop of love

During the June holidays, Lesley-Anne had a busy schedule, having to return to school for her band CCA about three times a week. Having seen how intensive a secondary school student's life is, I made a conscious effort to spend more time with Andre while I still could.

Inadvertently, most of our bonding sessions happened over food. After his badminton training, we would go for lunch at Subway where he would order his favourite turkey ham on honey oat bread, followed by a yummy double chocolate chip cookie.

While waiting for Lesley-Anne to finish her ballet lesson, we would sometimes hop over to a nearby cafe for coffee and cake. I'd make him bring a book so he could fit in some reading time.

It came as no surprise then that Andre started to show the physical aftereffects. In fact, after our short holiday at Resorts World, what with all the bingeing at Hard Rock Cafe, he was looking decidedly portly with a "prosperous" tummy. Even an intensive badminton training schedule wasn't enough to neutralise the outcome.

We teased him mercilessly over this, especially when even his piano teacher noticed and commented on the difference. In his own defence, he pointed to the portion under his diaphragm and protested, "my stomach is here! It's not fat!" And then patting his beer gut, he explained, "I just have fat intestines."

I probably should exert more control over his diet but I've so enjoyed our mother-son sessions and bonding without food is only half the fun. Ah well, the holidays are over so he can now work off all those extra calories... in time for the next vacation.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The perils of indifference

In my line of work, I have to write the occasional speech so I sometimes read famous speeches for inspiration. One of those which may not be the most remembered, but has been personally impactful to me, is by Elie Wiesel, a Jewish writer who suffered under the Nazis in World War II. In April 1999, he addressed President Clinton and the US Congress speaking on The Perils of Indifference.
"Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony. One does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it.

Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end."
Wiesel was making a point that apathy by others was what fueled the tragedy at Auschwitz. Closer to home, the speech struck a chord in me because indifference is destructive at the basic, everyday level as well.

Indifference is looking the other way, pretending not to hear or saying something non-committal out of convenience or to avoid conflict. As Wiesel said, "It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person's pain and despair... In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman."

Ironically, while indifference implies inaction, it can have very negative consequences. I consider a better friend the one who disagrees with me than the one who simply ignores me. Nothing shouts "I don't care" louder than indifference.

And this is what I hope we can teach our kids. Whether it's going out of our way to lend a helping hand or simply giving a word of encouragement, it's almost always better than doing nothing, saying nothing, feeling nothing. I've always felt that's why bullying continues to happen in schools - because kids and teachers do, say and feel nothing about the plight of the victims.

This year, one of Andre's school bus mates happens to be his form teacher's son. The boy periodically grumbles about his mother's strict rules at home. One day, Andre marched up to his teacher and asked her, "Are you proud of your son?" When she replied something to the effect of "aren't all parents proud of their children?", he queried, "then why don't you show it?"

I only found this out when she called me and I was stunned by his audacity. (A friend asked me if I fed Andre steroids). On further reflection, I was touched by his intentions - he perceived his friend as being aggrieved and he attempted to stand up for him. While his approach may be flawed, his intention was good. It showed that he cared and he wasn't indifferent, which warmed my heart.

During my break, I've had some time to ponder over the future fate of this blog. Occasionally, I worry that I come across too strong in my opinions - I acknowledge I'm extremely opinionated and I make no secret of these opinions, even sometimes unpopular ones. But I believe this is far preferable to apathy. And while it takes effort to keep turning out meaningful articles, I can't be indifferent to the fact that my blog has attracted almost 100,000 eyeballs. So for now, the blog remains a platform for me to air my views and if they resonate with some of you, my readers, then that would be a bonus.

Meanwhile, even as my kids grow older everyday, this blog will be an excellent way to let me chronicle their journey as a keepsake. I'm taking this one step at a time, without putting any pressure on myself to churn out articles every few days, as I've done in the past. But as long as this blog can make a difference, whether to my readers, to my family or even to myself, I will keep at it... for now.
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