Thursday, July 28, 2011

Drumming up the Singapore spirit

Every year, the p5 cohort around the island get to attend National Day Parade rehearsals and this year was Andre's turn. Having attended NDP when I was very young, I know it's vastly different from watching it on tv.

However, we hate crowds so have never attempted to bring the kids. So it's great they have a chance to experience this with the school. True enough, Andre wasn't too enthusiastic about the trip at first but he returned from the Marina Barrage all smiles and thrilled by the experience.

Here are some of the photos he took using his handphone.

The goodie bag is a perennial draw - this year, the bag is not bad at all. Made of canvas, pretty handy and tastefully done.

There are four designs - HDB/MRT, the Merlion, Changi Airport and Orchard Road.

Have you displayed your Singapore flag yet? Majulah Singapura!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Comedy Club takes on the Japanese Occupation

In Andre's Social Studies class, the kids were told to break up into groups, write and enact a scene from the Japanese Occupation. I'm not sure if the teacher mentioned that the skit had to be historically correct but I cracked up when I read the script that Andre's group came up with.

I don't have the full script but the following was a short segment from the skit. Andre was cast as General Percival.

General Yamashita (banging on the door): 'Openupu!'

General Percival (fiddling with the doorknob): 'Hold on, this door is stuck!'

General Yamashita tries to kick the door open. "Ow! Hurry up!'

General Percival (opens the door): "Yes?" (notices Yamashita) "Good heavens!"

After a monologue, General Yamashita drags General Percival to the surrender room. "Do you wish to surrender unconditionally?"

General Percival (mutters): "Yes."

General Yamashita (thrusting a piece of paper into General Percival's hands): "Here, sign this."

General Percival (reads letter): "'Dear Emperor, we are running out of weapons and food. Please give us machine guns, rockets, green tea..' What is...?"

General Yamashita (hastily snatches letter back) "Sorry! Here, this is the one."

General Percival signs the treaty. He then crumples treaty and tosses it at Yamashita.

Apparently, the two boys really hammed it up. Andre put on a dead-pan face and spoke in what he thought was a British accent. I have to commend the teacher for not berating the group for turning the event into a Laurel and Hardy farce.

In fact, after all the groups had presented, the teacher allowed each student to vote for the following awards in a secret ballot: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Group Performance and Best Script.

Andre's group was voted the Best Group Performance! His best friend aka General Yamashita won Best Actor. Clearly, the kids voted not on historical accuracy but entertainment value.

The teacher gave out 'Oscars' to all the winners which I thought was highly sporting of him.

Some may say this isn't the way to teach Singapore's history but I'm certain the kids will remember this lesson much more clearly (and fondly). And maybe Andre can explore an alternative career in stand-up comedy.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hey there, Mr Cloud

Lesley-Anne has been learning about weather and climate in geography. Recently, in an effort to make lessons more interesting, the teacher asked the kids to write a short poem about clouds.

It was to be a four-line poem: The first line had to contain the name of the cloud, the second line should compliment the cloud, the third line should be a question to the cloud and the last line, advice to the cloud. There should also be an accompanying photograph of the cloud.

I truly feel for the teacher. She was attempting to break away from the normal routine of dishing out boring facts and do something more engaging. However, this class comprises mainly math and science geeks, and poetry probably ranks somewhere between "housework" and "memorising the phone book" on the kids' 'likes'. So her effects went unappreciated.

When the teacher realised that no one had done the assignment, she gave them five minutes in class to complete it on the spot.

According to Lesley-Anne, this was one of the impromptu creations by her friend:

Dear Mr Puffy
You are very huffy
Why are you so fluffy?
I think you should be happy

Lesley-Anne's contribution wasn't much better:

Dear Cumulonimbus Cloud
You make the sky look fine
Do you know your name is very hard to spell?
Please choose a shorter name next time.

If I were the teacher, I'd just make them go back to memorising the 1001 facts about clouds.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Moving to His tune

This is Lim Tong Hai, ex-captain of the Singapore national football team and current team manager of Geylang United.

You may wonder what he's doing in our living room. No, we don't know him personally and no, Andre didn't win some "Meet A Local Sports Celebrity" contest.

You see, we recently put our place up for sale and have been receiving potential buyers. Lo and behold, one afternoon, Lim Tong Hai turned up to view our home! Kenneth recognised him, being an avid soccer fan. We asked if he would mind having a photo taken with Andre, who was slightly star-struck. If LTH was put off by being in the spotlight while doing a regular activity like house-hunting, he didn't show it. He was super friendly and obliging.

Anyway, I sidetrack - that's not the focus of this post. I wanted to share the circumstances that led to us putting our home for sale because it's a terrific testimony to how God works in our lives.

A couple of months ago, a sudden death in the family threw everything out of whack. Without going into too much detail, we basically needed to find alternative living arrangements for Kenneth's mum.

We felt that moving in to a larger place with her would be too costly and disruptive for everyone, so we decided to find a two-bedroom apartment for her in our condominium estate. This way, she can be close to us and we can walk over to check on her everyday.

Thus began a one-month rigmarole. What we thought would be a straight-forward process (there are more than 1,000 units in our estate, how hard can it be to find an apartment?) became a nightmare. Every night, I would pray with the kids, "Please help us find a nice place for nai nai".

We made 4 offers, put down the 1% cheque twice, even had agents shake our hands to seal the deal, only to have the deal broken at the very last minute for various reasons - outbid twice, 1 suddenly decided not to sell, 1 went into a price war. The situation became so crazy that 2-bedroom apartments in our estate were snapped up at record prices and in record time, often within one weekend of listing.

Kenneth and I started questioning why God wasn't answering our prayers and instead, seemed to be blocking our way. We began wondering if it's because we'd been heading down the wrong path. One Saturday, Kenneth saw that a brand new 4-storey semi-detached house opposite his mum's apartment was holding an open house. We went to take a look just for fun, as we'd seen it being built over the past few months. Turns out, it's a terribly impractical house with a scary price tag, definitely not for us.

An agent approached us and asked for our requirements. Just for the heck of it, we gave our wishlist - 4+1 bedrooms, condo facilities, move-in condition, close to amenities, blah blah blah AND below $x. It sounded ridiculous even in my mind. I half expected the agent to say, "Do you think we're in Disneyland?", but to our surprise, he asked, "oh, have you considered Y? It's a couple of streets away and it meets your requirements."

Our curiosity piqued, of course we had to take a look and the agent arranged for us to view a couple of units in estate Y (I'm not disclosing the name for privacy reasons). It turns out that the layout of the units suits us to a T. There's space for everyone of us, even a bedroom with ensuite for Kenneth's mum. Both Kenneth and I could have our own offices, such luxury! There was a very nice pool and the ambience inside the estate was lovely. It was even walking distance to the MRT, which is such a great bonus since we use the trains extensively. The best part was, the price was within our budget.

We were quite taken with the place but as perpetual skeptics, we were still not entirely convinced that moving to Y was the right thing to do. We continued praying, asking God to show us what to do since we're obviously quite clueless.

That very week on Friday, Kenneth was driving me to a meeting and we decided to stop for lunch first. He turned off to this area which was unusual in itself because it's not one of our regular haunts. As he parked the car along the side of the road, I looked across the road and there, staring me in the face was the large signboard of a shop with exactly the same name and spelling as estate Y! It's uncanny because it's not a name I've seen used anywhere else and it has a very odd spelling. And then I saw that a few outlets down, there was a shop with the name "Ken Home".

The feeling was surreal. I turned to Kenneth and said, "God must think we're pretty stupid, He has to spell it out for us like that." Kenneth added, "well, I did pray for a sign..." Talk about being literal. We took photos of the two signs, to prove they're not figments of our imagination.

As if that's not enough, when Lesley-Anne came home from school that evening, she excitedly recounted a dream she had the night before. She dreamt that she was with a friend and they came to this house she'd never seen before. Her friend asked, "isn't this your home?" to which she replied, "no, I've never been here." Her friend then questioned, "if it isn't your home, why is your Benjamin Bunny sticker on the window?" True enough, it was.

To give a little backgrounder, Lesley-Anne has been the most resistant to moving. She loves our current home and has often declared that she wants to live here forever. The Benjamin Bunny sticker has been on her bedroom window since the day we moved in some 11 years ago (which explains its weathered condition). To her, the dream was a clear message from God that she could make a home elsewhere and be happy there.

After that, we were 100% sold on the idea. I mean, if the Big Guy says this is the way, who are we to argue? We contacted a few agents to view more units at estate Y that very weekend. The last unit we saw was practically perfect for us. One of the few issues we had with this estate was with the maid's room and this unit actually redid the maid's room so that it met our requirements. It had also been recently renovated so that we could move in without doing any heavy work.

We made an offer, the owner accepted it and signed the paperwork within a day. No hiccups, no last minute hitches, everything was smooth sailing.

This whole episode was such a blessing for my family and there were two main things I gained from it:

1) Gratitude: actually overwhelming gratitude. You know, as Christians, our family is probably not the best role model. We sometimes forget to pray, skip church and display ungodly behaviour like yelling at each other more often than we should. Yet, God cares enough about us to painstakingly point us in the right direction, step by step. Amazing love. We sometimes joke, wouldn't it be nice if God could plant neon signs telling us what to do each time. This came pretty close to that.

2) Reassurance: in life, we frequently have doubt, whether we're doing the right thing or making the right choices. In this situation, when we're clear that this is God's will, all doubt or fear is removed. We don't have to second guess whether we should have bought this place or whether we paid the right price for it. Obeying God can never be wrong.

I've found that God doesn't relate to everyone the same way. He speaks to each one of us in the style that best suits us individually. For example, we don't like to take ourselves too seriously and we're uncomfortable with overly pious displays of devotion so we find that God often connects with us with a generous dose of humour. The challenge is adjusting our antennae so we can receive the signal more clearly. Perhaps the solution, like in many other areas in life, is just to listen more attentively.

So, that's the story of why our apartment is for sale. Incidentally, Lim Tong Hai didn't buy it. That would have been another interesting story!

"Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it." - Luke 11:28

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