Thursday, May 29, 2014

Top of the morning to you, Guv'nor!

Next week, we will be going on our family vacation - to London and Paris! I'm especially excited about this trip because it was something we had talked about doing for years. We've always felt that our kids' first trip to Europe should be London and Paris (our kids agreed!) and since travelling to Europe is not exactly cheap, we wanted to make sure that they were old enough to appreciate the cultural and historical significance of the places we visited.

We saw the window of opportunity this year as there are no major school events. Well, barring the fact that Lesley-Anne has block tests the week after the June hols, bah. (Next year, Lesley-Anne will be sitting for her A levels and the following year, Andre his O levels, so there might be all kinds of revisions and exams scheduled. Bleaaah. Sounds dreary just thinking about it.)

Both Kenneth and I have been to London and Paris and both cities were definitely memorable for us. We've been busy planning the itinerary and doing all the bookings for airlines, hotels, Eurostar, etc. A very fun sort of busy. Lesley-Anne has been too caught up with school to be excited yet but Andre has been as restless as an English terrier. All ready for fish and chips and croissants, he is!

Our bags are packed (well, almost) and even Danger Dan is making the trip with us!

During our holiday, I'll be posting on my Travel Blog whenever I can find the time (and wifi!) So if you'd like to read about our adventures, do check in there occasionally.

Meanwhile, lay off those assessment books for a bit and have a great mid-year break!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Danger Dan #3 and one questionable video!

Book 3 of  Danger Dan is out! Isn't it such a glorious shade of purple?

Titled Danger Dan Spooks the Peculiar Peranakan Pirate, it sees Danger Dan hurtling back in time to 1819 - yes, the historic date when Singapore embarked on its destiny to become a British colony. Will Danger Dan get to meet Sir Stamford Raffles in the flesh? Perhaps... but first, he has to battle ferocious pirates to save Sultan Hussein from a watery grave!

We received a very complimentary review of the series from journalist Clara Chow: "If Doctor Who were 11 years old and born in Singapore, he'd be a lot like Danger Dan. This time-travelling boy wonder romps through Temasek with a feisty female partner, offering a fun alternative to boring textbook versions of local history."

We've also been getting fantastic reviews from kids and what we find most heartening is that they all say Danger Dan is funny. It's great to know that the stories strike a funny bone. Nothing like a little chuckle to whisk away the cares of homework and exams!  

Our publisher, Epigram Books, will be holding a sales conference in June and we were invited to introduce Danger Dan to the participants. However, since we will be away on our family vacation, we were asked to produce a video clip instead. Initially, I thought of just doing a simple clip where Lesley-Anne and I would talk briefly about Danger Dan.

But Lesley-Anne, being the ambitious teen, had other ideas. She came up with a storyboard of 10 things about Danger Dan and us, the authors. We filmed it and even roped Andre in! Lesley-Anne pieced it all together using Windows Movie Maker. It was pretty hilarious. She turned out to be surprisingly talented at hamming it up and alarmingly for me, I think my reputation is ruined forever.

Anyway, if you're curious or wanna laugh at how silly I look, you can watch the video clip here. It will also give you a quick summary of the series.

Danger Dan Spooks the Peculiar Peranakan Pirate will be available at all major bookstores soon (give them a week or two to bring in the stocks). $10.90 each (before GST).

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Danger Dan makes it to Zaobao!

Did you have a good Vesak Day break? Not sure how many of my readers read Zaobao but we were featured in the paper yesterday! 

This is the back page of ZB Now, the lifestyle section of Zaobao. The reporter wrote about my relationship with my kids and how I encourage them to love reading and writing. The article also talks about me writing Danger Dan with Lesley-Anne.

I must confess, with my limited Chinese, I struggled through the article and relied mostly on Kenneth to read it out to me. I thought the reporter was very complimentary - she made me sound much more fantastic than I actually am in real life! Helps that the Chinese language is so poetic - one or two words can hold so much meaning. You can read the article here.

The photographer was also super friendly and she experimented with different compositions until she came up with the brainwave of making Andre do a star jump.

Did you notice the large Danger Dan poster on our wall? That was a gift from Epigram Books - signed by all the staff. They're a truly supportive and fun bunch. We love working with them.

Meanwhile, Danger Dan book 3 will be out 26 May! Titled Danger Dan Spooks the Peculiar Peranakan Pirate, it will see Danger Dan hurtling back to 1819 Singapore. Watch this blog or go to the Danger Dan Facebook page for updates!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Nostalgia vs reality

Early this year, I was very excited when I discovered a new channel on Starhub cable - Hits. It's a channel dedicated to all the oldies. I was thrilled that I would get to relive my childhood with shows like The Golden Girls, Seinfeld, Diff'rent Strokes and so on. These are the tv shows I grew up with and have very fond memories of.

I should have known I was setting myself up because many of the shows simply didn't live up to what I remembered. I told Andre to watch The A Team, telling him it was action-packed and very entertaining. We watched the first episode together, sitting through a whole lot of lame jokes and a very simplistic plot. When it ended, Andre said diplomatically, "it's ok" but I'm sure in his mind, he must have been thinking, "My parents are weird". Kenneth admitted to me later, "It was quite boring. I can't believe I used to wait eagerly for this show on tv!" I also watched a rerun of Star Trek: The Next Generation and oh my goodness, some of the scenes and costumes were so cheesy that they were almost painful to watch. Part of me hopes Starhub never shows reruns of Happy Days because I don't think I can take another discordant fissure in my memory bank.

Oh, remember ET? It was my absolute favourite movie growing up. I had watched it on a bad videocassette tape (remember those??) seven times and thought it was brilliant. Then decades later, I watched it again and despite willing myself to love it, I almost fell asleep - it was sooooo slow-moving. Nothing like a dose of reality to shatter all your rose-coloured dreams.

It's a reminder of how much more we've come to expect of entertainment. Everything must be super fast-paced, with complex twists and turns. Dialogue should be snappy, comedy over-the-top funny and characters with more dimension than the Twilight Zone.

It's the same with food. In my teenage and university years, coffeehouses were the luxury places we could go to for a meal. My father worked at Sea View Hotel and I looked forward to the times when I could eat at the coffeehouse and enjoy the absolutely marvelous oxtail stew made by Hainanese chefs. I measured all other oxtail stews by that one (and of course all others fell short).

Couldn't resist the temptation to dig up old photos! Unfortunately, I don't seem to have a single one of Sea View Hotel, but I found this one in front of Yaohan, which was next to Sea View. That's me on the left with my sister.

Right up to my working days, two of the coffeehouses I went to quite regularly was Jack's Place and Han's. The value of their set meals couldn't be beat and those were the popular eateries for people of my generation (still are, I believe).

Our last time at Jack's Place was last year, when we brought the kids there for lunch. It was then that we all realised the food wasn't very appetising. The soup, supposedly cream of chicken, was so thickened with starch it was almost blobby and tasted exactly the way it looked (we called it Cream of Starch). The dessert was a few pieces of fruit cocktail suspended in a synthetic jelly. The steak was rubbery. Does anyone else find it odd that a western-style steak can come with a side of cabbage? One of us had the chicken that came in a strange lychee-flavoured sauce. Only the coffee was still good (I have a special place in my heart for thick, local kopi).

Han's was even worse. The fish and chips were soggy and sad. My kids hated it and we only went once. Cheap...but not good. (PS This is our opinion only. If you're a Jack's Place or Han's fan, no need to send me protest notes explaining why I'm wrong, haha.)

And I kept thinking: gosh, I used to like the food here!?

The reason is simple: It's not that the food at these places has gotten worse. It's that we've come to expect more. In the past, we had fewer choices. These days, food variety in Singapore has expanded so much that we've grown accustomed to better quality and sophistication. And it's not like we have to pay more either, compared to Jack's Place and the likes. If you bother to explore and do some research, you can get good eats at great prices, especially for lunch.

Many restaurants now offer value-for-money lunch sets, like Astons or New Zealand Bar and Grill, one of our favourite hangouts. You can get a set meal starting from as low as $10. Very hearty portions and all very well done. My kids and even my mother-in-law, who's picky about food, love it there.

The truth is, whether we like it or not, we evolve over time. We change and our yardsticks change. We practically demand better food as customers, even without realising it. As a result, some things that we liked in the past, sadly remain good only in our memories, which can be fickle and unreliable when tempered with emotion. In other words, the good old days are not necessarily all that golden. We just choose to remember them that way.

Nostalgia is comforting and helps us embrace our past (funny how just looking at a photo with a sepia tone automatically injects an "aaah" feel-good factor). But nostalgia can also be an insidious tool, choosing to filter memories through soft focus lens to suit our frame of mind - whether it is to mourn a time lost or people who have passed us by. In fact, this perception can be so entrenched that having it dislodged may cause discomfort, even distress. In a way, I'm glad the Sea View Hotel oxtail stew is no longer around. It can stay on the pedestal in my mind forever.

What's my point, if any? Well, it's nice to reminisce every now and then. But dwelling on the past and thinking that nothing will ever be as good as it was, is simply our memory playing tricks on us. Some people like to lament, "Things are not like they used to be!" True. But they were not necessarily better.

Some things have stood the test of time. Like The Cosby Show and Little House on the Prairie. Still terrific after all these years. And Jack's Place's coffee. Others haven't fared so well. I don't think we'll really enjoy living in the past as much as we think we will, knowing what we know now. Some things in the present are actually improvements from the past. So putting nostalgia aside, enjoying the present is still the most productive way to live, afterall. 

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