Friday, August 18, 2017

Fancy yourself a copywriter? Here's a job opportunity

This post is a job ad of sorts as I'm currently looking to take on another copywriter for the Hedgehog Communications team. In the past, I've only gone on recommendations from friends but this time, I decided to open up to applications from the public.

About Hedgehog Communications

With 15 years in the business, Hedgehog Communications is one of the most established copywriting agencies in Singapore, especially for the public sector. There are currently 12 copywriters on the team (excluding me), with diverse backgrounds and experience. All my copywriters work on a freelance basis, although some of them write exclusively for Hedgehog Communications.

What the Job Entails

Depending on your background and experience, you might be asked to write for a specific collateral, typically an annual report, brochure or human interest article. However, what's more likely, especially for writers new to Hedgehog Communications, is that you will be asked to be part of a writing team, for a larger project such as a website.

Projects may be ad-hoc (in which case the work will be in intensive bursts) or regular (eg. monthly newsletters). This is an ideal gig for those who wish to engage in meaningful work with flexible hours that allow you to juggle other responsibilities. Read this post about the philosophy behind Hedgehog Communications. 

Requirements
  1. Experience in corporate or business writing, eg. annual reports, brochures, websites, newsletters, human interest stories.
  2. Writing flair and ability to write to the brief, and communicate clearly and simply. This sometimes involves helping the client organise their content in a way that makes sense for the reader.
  3. Confidence in meeting and working directly with clients.
  4. Reliability and trustworthiness. I can't stress this enough. We always deliver what we promise. 
  5. A strong sense of ownership and desire to be part of a collaborative and dedicated group of writers.
Things to note

Although I have writers who write full-time for Hedgehog Communications, I cannot guarantee work. In short, if you're looking to fill your rice bowl, this is probably not for you. Also, while my writers all work on a freelance arrangement, this doesn't mean the outfit is any less professional. Hedgehog Communications has been around for 15 years and the agency has earned a reputation of being one of the most established and reliable in the business.

In other words, I'm not interested in the following:
  1. Anyone who has done "some writing" or can string grammatical sentences together and think they can therefore be a copywriter. I'm looking for people with years of copywriting experience.
  2. Anyone who wants this gig just because they want flexi hours. The jobs require writing and more writing. You've gotta really love doing this. 
  3. Anyone who is in between jobs or not sure what they wanna do so is looking to fill the time before they move on to the next thing. We are not 7-Eleven. 
  4. A freelancer just looking for more kang tao to boost their own portfolio. Thanks but no thanks. When you write for Hedgehog Communications, you represent the brand and therefore have to be prepared to own it.
Another thing which I've in the past assumed was common sense but realise that it needs to be said: If you want to join us, I expect you to find out more what we do and what we stand for. Interview 101 lah, don't meet me then ask what we do. Waste my time only.

Why Join Us?

You might be thinking, after this stern and naggy read (so typical of an auntie), why would you want to join Hedgehog Communications? Mainly because I look after my writers. 
  • You will get the opportunity to write for major clients and be involved in national level projects that freelancers usually find difficult to win on their own. If you hate chasing down jobs and later chasing clients for payment, I take care of all business and admin aspects so you can just focus on the writing.
  • There's a lot of undercutting in the market and freelancers usually don't have much negotiating power. I compete on quality, not price, as I believe in paying my writers a fair fee. The rate you will get at Hedgehog Communications is generally better than what freelancers can command on their own.
  • If you love writing and want to improve, I (and other very senior writers) are always happy to mentor and guide you. 
  • It's as flexible an arrangement as it can get. You choose to take on as many or as few projects as you want, as long as you're committed to whatever you take on.
  • Finally, the Hedgehog team is simply marvellous to work with - all super friendly, fun and collaborative. No politicking or bitching. Most of my writers have stayed with me from the time they joined, I guess this speaks for itself.  
How Do I Apply?

If you are interested, please send your cv and writing samples to monica@hedgehog.sg by 31 August 2017. It's also important that I know more about you and your motivations, so tell me why you want to join the team and how you see yourself contributing.



Monday, August 7, 2017

Our favourite cafe

Like many Singaporean families, we like going to cafes, especially for Saturday brunch. We look up recommendations online and make our rounds to those that sound interesting. However, many of these cafes turn out to be unmemorable, for a few reasons:

1) The coffee served in some of these cafes is weak and insipid or has a nasty acidic aftertaste, like the beans have been over-roasted.

2) Many cafes have very limited food options. Seriously, there's only so many times you can eat poached eggs before it gets really jelak. Quality too, is questionable. More often than not, I attribute a cafe's popularity more to its ambience than its food.

3) Price is a huge factor. I know cafes have to pay rent lah but I balk at having to cough up $16++ for Eggs Benedict or $6 for a latte. By the time you add service charge and GST, you can end up with a bill close to $100 for a family of four. For nothing more than a fancy version of breakfast.

So this post is to share with you the Tan family's favourite cafe to date. This is NOT a paid post. I'm also not related to the owner in any way. I'm spreading the word simply because we love it and all good things should be shared. We started coming here a few years ago and over the years, we've discovered that amidst our cafe hopping, we somehow wind up back here, and the experience has been consistently great. We're like the fickle boyfriend who keeps checking out the new pretty young thing, and eventually realise that the best one is the one he had all along.


The cafe is Oberstrasse on French Road, right behind Lavender MRT station. It's opened by an enterprising young man and is named after the street in Switzerland where he stayed when he was studying there.


The interior is simply decorated but welcoming. You order and pay at the counter, and they serve your food. The menu is typed on A4 paper and the food selection itself takes up 4 sheets. Drinks take up another page and there's one for dessert pies. It's a crazily wide variety of food and we're always amazed at how just two cooks in the kitchen can whip up so many different dishes.

We've met the owner and he told us he's constantly looking at ways to improve the menu and add new items (as if there's not enough choice!) What an enterprising spirit.

You would think that with such a long list of food items, there would be hits and misses, but honestly, we've tried loads of stuff and we haven't found anything we dislike yet. Most of the dishes are seriously delish. We even brought my mother-in-law a couple of times (she's a notoriously fussy eater) and she said the taste reminded her so much of the great English breakfasts she used to have in London.

Here are some of the items we've tried over the past few years:

Norwegian rosti (with smoked salmon) $14.50
Do you know how difficult it is to find good rosti in Singapore? I only know of Marche and the rosti here is better. Crisp on the top, perfectly cooked in the centre and without any oily residue. There are four types of rosti on the menu, just choose your topping.

Mushroom baked rice $9.50
They don't stinge on the cheese so it's a plate full of cheesy, gooey goodness. Again, there are four types of baked rice. Personally, we like the chicken baked rice best.

Grilled cajun chicken with baked potatoes $9.50
According to the owner, this is one of their best sellers. A very tasty option for chicken lovers.

Crabmeat Arrabiata $15
Yes, they serve pasta too! 12 different types, in fact. Their cream sauce pastas are pretty good. This one is loaded with crab meat.

Classic French Toast with berry compote $10.50
I only tried this on my recent visit and I was completely blown away. It is honestly the best French toast I've tried. The combination of berry compote and mascarpone cheese with granola bits elevates this usually boring dish to a whole new level. The portion is huge though - three thick slices, so unless you have a very sweet tooth, I recommend sharing this with someone.

Smoked salmon avocado sandwich $10.50
This is one of Lesley-Anne's favourites - the sandwich is generously filled with chunks of smoked salmon and a hefty spread of avocado. It normally comes with chips and a small salad but she always asks to replace the chips with more salad. They're very flexible that way. Note: you should order this only if you like chewy bread, which is typical of German bread. If you prefer soft pillowy bread, you probably wouldn't like this.

Chicken mushroom pastry pie $10.50
One of the newer additions to the menu. There are two types of pie: chicken and beef. We prefer the chicken as it comes in a creamy white sauce. The beef pie sauce is a tangy tomato base.

BBQ Babyback ribs $18
This is possibly the most expensive item on the menu but you get a long slab of fall-off-the-bone ribs in an addictive BBQ sauce.

Buttermilk waffles with berries $10.50
Comes with butter and maple syrup (the waffle, not the kids). The waffle is light and crisp, not soggy like in some places.

Flat white $4.50
And finally, the coffee! A very decent cup of joe at a very decent price.

We've sampled more food than the above, but I only posted the ones I had pictures of. The poached eggs and big breakfast here are superb, so are the duck confit and molten lava cake. The full menu is available ALL DAY, so you can eat breakfast food for dinner, or dinner food for breakfast, however you wish to define them.

The prices here are truly reasonable, considering the portions and quality, and have I mentioned, all prices are NETT? That's right - no service charge or GST.

Some other plus points:

1) Free wifi (so you can post food pics without using data).
2) Free water (help yourself at a counter).
3) Accessible - it's located a #01-50 Kitchener Complex, which is just behind Lavender MRT station. If you drive, there's coupon parking along the road.

They open every day from 9am to 9pm, except Saturdays when they close slightly earlier at 5pm. I recommend making reservations for lunch as it can get quite crowded. You can book a table online via Facebook.

So support small local businesses and make your way to Oberstrasse! Your tastebuds will thank you.

Monday, July 24, 2017

A question of integrity

Yesterday, there was an article on Channel News Asia about how you can easily pay someone to write your essays for you. One service provider claimed to have a “team of Rafflesians ready to help”, while another said their writers were graduates of “elite junior colleges with placements in top universities.” Essentially, you pay a few hundred dollars for someone else to write your assignment, some even with a guaranteed pass grade.

I found it extremely depressing. Not so much regarding the practice - I know this has existed for years. What I found discouraging was the angle of the article. You see, even though the article painted the practice negatively, it was only because the journalist found one of the bought essays to earn a failing grade. A seller interviewed boasted about the quality of his essays while a buyer talked only about the risk of getting caught. University spokespersons warned about both. 

In fact, a long section was dedicated to the marker slamming the quality of the essay. Yet another long section was devoted to the harsh penalties meted out to students who were caught outsourcing their essays. NOWHERE in the article does the journalist or any of the interviewees mention that this practice should be condemned simply because it is wrong.

This is one of those cases where there is no grey area. To me, it's not about how good the bought essay was, or whether it passed any plagiarism checker. The point is that getting someone else to write your essay and then passing it as your own is cheating. Plain and simple. It's the same as going into an exam and copying from your neighbour. It makes a mockery of the education system where one is supposed to learn and be evaluated on that learning.

I find that people have become increasingly creative when it comes to justifying their own actions. Everything is acceptable as long as you can argue it so. But I believe that when you strip down all the justifications and rationalisations, you'll find that the intent of the individual is often wrapped around one main value - integrity or the lack of it. Integrity is something you have or you don't, and is the value that drives your very core. For example "I can pay my maid late since I give her food" or "It's ok to under-declare my taxes since the government doesn't need it anyway" or "I will pretend I didn't know my son stole his classmate's toy since that classmate is very rich".


Unfortunately, integrity is not a value that can be concretised or assessed in a neat package so it's often undervalued and under-measured, whether in school or at the workplace. People of integrity are seldom recognised simply for being upright. In fact, they're usually scoffed at for being "old-fashioned" or "naive". In many instances, people adopt honesty only when it suits them or when something hurts them personally. Often, people with questionable integrity are the quickest to point a finger at others' honesty (cough*Trump*cough). In other words, society has evolved such that even the boundaries of honesty have been redrawn. That in itself, ironically, is a lack of integrity.

Coming back to the practice of buying essays, the fundamental problem is a lack of integrity, both on the part of the buyers AND the sellers. The sellers are equivalent to scalpers who buy concert tickets and resell them at exorbitant prices. Sure, they're not committing a crime but they're engaging in ethically abhorrent behaviour). And the fact that the article didn't call them out on this, reflects pretty much the values of society today - one that values only results. How the results are achieved is secondary. If you have to get someone to do the work for you, so be it. Just don't get caught. (And if you do get caught, find some creative excuse to justify it).

In case you're wondering, I don't have a solution to offer. Penalties will only go so far and rewards can have a backlash where people do something only for its returns. Encouraging people to adopt a value for its own sake is an enormously difficult task. All I can say is that people with no moral compass are the ones who potentially cost the system and society a lot, especially when they are revealed in cheating or fraud cases.

Perhaps what we can do to uphold the value of integrity, is to speak up against immoral practices, while supporting and encouraging the upright among us, so that they might not weary in doing good. And as parents, we have an enormous influence on our kids, by setting good examples and living lives of integrity. In a world where everything seems to be negotiable for a price, may we have the conviction to say that our values are not for sale.




Friday, July 14, 2017

Win a Danger Dan book!

The good folks at Epigram Books have initiated a contest for Danger Dan fans - draw your favourite character and stand a chance to win a book!

The contest is on Facebook, the link is here. For the benefit of readers here though, I'm reproducing the details here.



Calling out to all Danger Dan and Gadget Girl fans! We want to know who your favourite character from the series is through your own hand-drawn version of him/her/it.

The best 3 entries will win any book of choice from the Danger Dan or Danger Dan and Gadget Girl series!

Your favourite character can be from any book from the 2 series. It need not be a main character; if your favourite character happens to be a snail that appears in one of the books, so be it!

Here is what you have to do:

1. Draw your favourite character and write 1 or 2 sentences
a) about the character and
b) why this character is your favourite.

Psst!: Colouring your character will definitely increase your chances of winning!

2. Sign off with your Name and Age.
Eg: Nicole, 10

3. Post on your FB page (if you don't have one, you can use your parents')
a) a picture of you holding the book your favourite character is from
b) a close-up picture of your drawing with the sentences

4. Tag “Epigram Books” and “Danger Dan” in your post.

You can post your pictures anytime from now till the deadline.
Deadline: 24 July 2017



And here's added incentive: the latest Danger Dan and Gadget Girl adventure, #4 The Zany Zombie-fest has just hit bookstores. If you win the contest, you can request for this book as your winning prize! So get your kids to put pen/crayon/marker/coloured pencil to paper and send in their entries ๐Ÿ˜ƒ





Friday, June 30, 2017

Danger Dan gets a dose of culture

On Sunday, Lesley-Anne and I held the launch of our book, Secrets of Singapore: National Museum at...where else but the museum, and it was wonderful.

Frankly, we didn't expect such a great turnout. There were about 40 kids plus their accompanying parents - the place was packed. The museum told us some of them turned up specifically for the event, while others recognised the Danger Dan standee and registered for the event on the spot. How very heartening to know that Danger Dan has gained traction among kids!

We explained how we got to writing the book and cited examples of artefacts that were featured. There were at least a couple of kids in the audience who had already read the book cover to cover because they could tell us about the artefacts and even spouted back Danger Dan jokes to us!

Photo: Epigram Books
A treasure hunt was conducted where kids were given clues and had to run wildly wander around the museum and locate artefacts. The kids made us laugh a lot. "Can we take home the artefacts?" was one of the questions, which immediately made me imagine them doing a Mission Impossible-type heist.
Photo: Epigram Books
Elvin Ching, the illustrator of the book, did a live demo of the teams that won the treasure hunt. He is amazing.

Photo: Epigram Books
Winners got to take home a personalised drawing:

After that was the autograph session and again, I was astonished - there was a line! I feel almost...famous.


We signed lots of books and took many, many pictures.

Posting this one because Elvin is hilarious. He makes everything that much more fun.

At the end of the day, that's what writing the Danger Dan books mean to me - it's about making kids happy, and we met lots of happy kids that day. For all of those who came down, thank you for the support!

And here's something from a serious hardcore fan:


This is Sophie. 
Sophie is 7 and she loves spaghetti. 
But not as much as she loves Secrets of Singapore. 
Sophie has read Secrets of Singapore about a million times (she has lost count). 
She is an expert on facts about Singapore. 
She knows all the jokes by heart. 
She is Danger Dan’s number one fan. 
Be like Sophie.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

National Museum Children's Season: Meet us and see illustrator in action!

It's the school holidays and I'm sure all your parents have given your kids one month off to play and relax! No? Okay lah, I understand. Singaporeans parents mah, must include something educational during the school hols.

Well, here's an activity that will be both fun AND educational for your kids these holidays. And the best part is...it's FREE!

On Sunday, 25 June 2.30pm, make a date with Lesley-Anne and me at the National Museum for a launch of our latest book - Secrets of Singapore: National Museum.



Here are five reasons why you should attend the event with your kids:
  1. Lesley-Anne and I will share interesting stories about some artefacts in the museum and why we wrote them the way we did.
  2. Elvin Ching, illustrator of the book, will make a rare appearance and do live demonstrations of his drawings (trust me, you don't want to miss this - he's amazing!) 
  3. There will be mini games with prizes - winners will get a drawing from Elvin...wah!
  4. If you have a copy of the book or buy a book at the event, all three of us will autograph your copy (yes, we will sign your other Danger Dan books as well!)
  5. After the event, you can do a tour of the museum using the book as a guide.

The event is held in conjunction with the National Museum's Children's Season. Here are the details:

Secrets of Singapore: National Museum – Uncover the Secrets behind the Pages
Reading and Illustration Session by Authors and Illustrator
Sun, 25 Jun | 2.30pm (45 min)
Singapore History Gallery, Level 1
Free (but you must register on-site at 2pm)

Hope to see you there!


Friday, May 26, 2017

Should SOTA churn out graduates for the arts?

Recently, a news article in Strait Times sparked debate when it was revealed that more than 80% of School of the Arts (SOTA)'s 2015 graduating cohort ended up pursuing non-arts degrees. This has triggered some people to complain that these brats are squandering taxpayers' money by going to SOTA when they have no intent of an arts career, or that SOTA is therefore a flop.

When I was in secondary school, I dreamed about playing in an orchestra. I played the piano and I was quite good at it too, so I thought it would be the coolest thing ever, to become a musician. One day, the Singapore Youth Orchestra (SYO) paid a visit to my school and after giving what I thought was a totally awesome performance, they mentioned that they would be holding auditions for members. I don't remember how I found out about the audition date, I must have scoured the newspapers daily for the notice, but I did manage to find out and went for it. It was quite out of character for me, really. I was so shy and retiring back then, it must have been a stomach-churning experience.

I went for the audition, played a few pieces on the piano and sat for some sight-reading and aural tests. The auditioner, a bubbly lady, told me very kindly that she thought I was an accomplished pianist but since I was already 16, there would not be enough time to train me in a new instrument for the SYO.

On my way out, I met another young hopeful in the waiting room, gripping her violin case. She was with her mother and they were both visibly kancheong about the audition. The girl asked me what happened in the room and when I told her I was auditioned by Vivien Goh (she had introduced herself), both mother and daughter gasped "Vivien Goh!" in hushed tones. That's when I had an inkling that Vivien Goh must be somebody of repute in that circle. I had no clue myself, an outsider in this mysterious world of musicians and orchestras. 

Anyway, after finding out that just knowing how to play the piano was not going to get me into any orchestras, I decided to try and pick up a new instrument at JC. I joined the chamber ensemble CCA which opened up a violin class for beginners. There were only five of us, if I recall, and we paid a small fee for a violin teacher to teach us the fundamentals every week. We could only afford cheap $100 violins which made the most horrendous squawks. If you entered the music room when we were having our lessons, you would hear these blood-curdling screeches fit for any horror movie scene.

I think I lasted for about a year. Even when I had improved and the sounds from my instrument bore the semblance of a tune, I came to the realisation that a violinist I would never be. I could never tune my instrument properly and holding it under my chin for a long period gave me a stiff neck. The violin always felt like a foreign object to me, and I was never as excited to learn a new piece on it, the way I was with the piano.

If not a string instrument, then what? Later on, a friend gave me a few lessons on the clarinet. This wasn't for me either. I figured that as a musician, you probably should be able to play for more than half an hour without feeling like you're going to pass out from the lack of oxygen. So that ruled out all wind instruments.

Why am I relating this long, grandmother story? My point is that as kids, many of us have dreams of pursuing a certain career, but being kids, we have very little idea what it takes or whether we're even suited for it. It is also not surprising that many kids' dreams are in the arts and sports, partly because in kids' minds, these areas appear more "fun" and tend to be more visible. For instance, if they enjoy playing soccer, they might think that being a professional soccer player is the best job in world. Or they might look at Taylor Swift and think, "I want to be a singer!" Whereas no young kid will dream of becoming an IT analyst or logistics manager because they won't even know such jobs exist, let alone know what these people do.

It took me most of my youth to figure out that not only did I not have the aptitude to be a musician, that career (which demands exacting standards and passion in a very specialised area) would have made me utterly miserable. Note that I was already into my teenage years when I was harbouring those dreams. Yet, we expect 12-year-olds to have decided on their careers when they enter SOTA?

The point is that for most kids who enter SOTA, they have an interest in the arts, that's for sure. But at 12, it is really premature to say that they will pursue a career in the arts. The value of SOTA is not in grooming careers, otherwise we fall back on the age-old fallacy that education should be purely vocation-driven. Certainly not at the secondary school level. The value of SOTA is providing a place that is conducive to grooming ability and nurturing interest in the arts. In fact, sometimes in the course of studying something, you discover what you DON'T want to do.

One student was quoted as saying "SOTA gave me a safe space to experiment", and that, I feel, is more valuable than people understand. It's a delicate balancing act when it comes to the arts because for some art forms which have a short shelf life, you definitely do need to cultivate talent early. Think ballerinas who traditionally retire at around 40. However, the discovery of passion can take time so we need to groom talent without forcing it into a mould.

Side track: The only people I have an issue with are the parents who encourage their kids to enter SOTA simply to bypass the dreaded PSLE and have a through train education to IB. They know full well there is little chance their kids will pursue the arts, yet will put their kids through special DSA coaching classes in theatre, singing, dancing, music, etc. I know this practice is prevalent in certain schools, especially  a particular girls' school in the east. I'm quite certain if you do a check on which primary schools SOTA kids come from, a few schools will be over-represented. In these cases, the parents are doing their kids more harm than good and it's baffling that they're too myopic to see that.

Back to the criticism that SOTA has failed in its purpose or that these kids are brats. My question is: why then don't we go after people who go to law school and don't become lawyers? Or go to medical school and eventually change their minds mid-career? Many, many students sign up for law and medicine not because they have the elusive "passion" but simply out of prestige and the illusion that you can do anything with these degrees. After getting their degrees, they promptly pursue careers in other areas (law more than medicine, partly because of the long bond attached to medicine). Why don't we take them to task for wasting taxpayers' money? By the way, these are undergraduate degrees, so the students are much older than the ones in SOTA when they made their choice. Shouldn't they know better?

My suspicion in this: the arts is traditionally perceived as the poorer cousin in our society. Whether in school or in careers, it's always considered the second (or last) choice. Because of this, there is a prevalent mentality that the arts is undeserving of help and therefore arts folks should be eternally grateful for any form of support. In fact, it's a given that people should suffer for their art, so to have the chance to attend a fancy school like SOTA and not do arts after? What ungrateful brats!

I wouldn't be surprised if the people who expect a direct return on the support they perceive to have provided ("taxpayer dollars!") are the ones most unsupportive of the local arts scene. I bet they are unable to tell you when they last went to a local concert, play or read a book by a local author. These are also the people like to pigeon-hole others - you belong to the arts! You sports! You stay in those lanes. As if individuals are digitally programmed to have only singular interests and pathways in life.

Of course I hope that the SOTA graduates who decide not to pursue arts-related degrees are doing so for genuine reasons and not because they think they won't earn enough moolah as an artist. That would just be tragic and contrary to the spirit of the arts.  Anyway, what the ST article says is that SOTA graduates go on to pursue non-arts degrees (how many arts degrees are there anyway, especially locally?), not that they won't still end up being involved in the arts later on. The optimistic part of me keeps hoping. Look at me - I ditched my dreams of becoming a musician but I embraced another - to be an author. (I also worked at the SSO, not as a musician but in marketing, which was fulfilling in a different way).

People who love the arts usually find their way back to it somehow. And if SOTA's purpose is to nurture more people who can create and appreciate all forms of art, then regardless of whether the graduates pursue the arts as a career, the role of SOTA remains an important one.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Mothers' Day feature and special offer for new Secrets of Singapore book

Happy Mothers' Day to all readers who are mums! Whether your kids are little ones or not-so-little-ones, being a mum is a privilege — to be able to raise and nurture another human being.

The Straits Times arts beat had a feature last Tuesday on "Mothers pass their artistic passions on to their children", and Lesley-Anne and I were interviewed as one of the mother-child pairs. Click on the link above to read the article (we're the third story).

Photo: SPH
My favourite quote in the article is Lesley-Anne's description of how we envisioned Gadget Girl in our Danger Dan series:
"I was always annoyed at kids' books with stereotypical girl characters who were ditzy or boy-crazy or always shopping and painting their nails," says Tan. "I couldn't identify with them at all."
Which brings me to a Danger Dan update. Those of you whose kids follow the Danger Dan and Gadget Girl series may have been wondering why we've been so quiet ever since the release of The Gruesome Garden last October. The reason is this we've been working hard on this book: Secrets of Singapore: National Museum.


This book is very close to my heart and is possibly one of my favourites. Like the original Secrets of Singapore, this book similarly tells the story of the history of Singapore, but this time, the narrative is woven around the artefacts at the National Museum. We wrote it with the view that kids would take the book with them on their visit to the museum and use it as a guide to reference the artefacts. The artefacts described in the book are numbered and you can find the gallery where each is located in a list at the back of the book.


As with the original Secrets of Singapore, we use very simple language and we try to explain everything, even the word "artefact":


The point is to make the museum (and history) easily understandable and even interesting, by breaking down the facts and artefacts into digestible, bite-sized chunks. Then we throw in loads of humour and Danger Dan-style puns. The National Museum was very helpful in providing info, especially where we thought we would need to bring in trivia that appealed to kids. Such as this one on the very first NS uniform.

Of course, Elvin Ching's fantastic illustrations also helped bring the artefacts to life. We ♥ his drawings. Here's an early review of the book:
"What a wonderful book to teach children (and adults) about the history of Singapore!  Danger Dan and Gadget Girl deliver so much information in a fun, humorous and interesting way with lively images and information about many of the artefacts in the National Museum. Parents, teachers and students will all want to have their own copy because it brings so much life into the fascinating history of Singapore. A visit to Singapore, and the National Museum, would be incomplete without this book!" - Sarah Mounsey, teacher librarian, Dulwich College, and children's book author
I hope you're as excited as I am about this book! It will be available in bookstores by end May/early June, but you can be one of the first to get your hands on it with this special pre-order offer of $14 by Closetful of Books. (There's free delivery with a minimum order of $25, so get another for a friend!) Order now and you will receive an autographed copy of the book by 29 May 2017.

Do support our efforts to keep writing for kids - appreciate this lots!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Pain, my foot

Ever since Andre started playing badminton in school at p2, he's complained of pain in his heels. His coach said the muscles and tendons in his feet were probably very tight and set him some stretching exercises.

Then as he grew older, he would often complain of pain in his soles after running, walking or standing, even for a short period of time. When he went on his secondary school badminton camp night walk (which was around 20km), he would start limping after 2km or so, even while wearing two pairs of socks. We thought he might have flat feet but his feet looked normal to our laymen eyes, so we dismissed it and told him to keep stretching.

Before he started poly, we finally decided to send him to a podiatrist to check out his feet. We took the polyclinic route and received a referral to Geylang Polyclinic which has a podiatrist clinic. Well, there's a reason we parents are not doctors because the podiatrist took one look at Andre's feet and declared that he was "extremely flat-footed".

Flat feet (or fallen arches) is a condition where the feet don't have a natural arch. Because of this, pain is often experienced with prolonged standing, walking or running. In fact, high impact sports like badminton, with constant jumping. can trigger severe pain.

I'll tell you what else it triggers - it triggers severe feelings of guilt in parents. Because we have dismissed the problem and let him do sports in pain all these years. ๐Ÿ˜ฑ๐Ÿ˜ฑ

Of course, I glibly told him, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger!" And "better late than never!" (When in doubt, spout idioms.)

The podiatrist recommended a few ways to remedy the problem. One of them was stretches but the most impactful method was making special insoles to correct the fallen arches. According to him,  some flat-footers can get away with buying off-the-shelf shoes with arch support, but Andre's condition was pretty severe and would function best with insoles customised specially for his feet.

Geylang Polyclinic takes the dimension for the insoles on the spot, using special equipment that scans the feet.


The scans are then sent to Australia where the insoles are custom-made. They're not cheap - $260 per pair. Ouch! However, I later found out that this price is much lower than what you'd have to pay at private specialist clinics. Anyway, the insoles can last three years even with daily wear, and can be removed to fit other pairs of shoes, so I guess you get your money's worth.

Funny aside: The morning of the appointment before we left home, Andre asked me if he needed to "dress up". Of course I said no. Why would one need to dress up to go to the podiatrist? It was only when we were sitting in the waiting room that I noticed his t-shirt had two big holes at the shoulder. Alamak!

On the plus side, as someone told me, maybe the podiatrist took pity on him and gave him a discount on the insoles.

Andre has been wearing shoes with his new insoles for the past few months and they work like magic. He no longer experiences pain when standing for prolonged periods, which was a life-saver when he was working as a waiter. I guess you could say the insoles got him back on his feet...literally.


Monday, April 17, 2017

When boredom turns to creativity

As mentioned, Andre is on a long break and even with his part-time job and lounging around, he was bound to get bored at some point. Some kids like Lesley-Anne, would have no problem filling their time in productive ways, like reading, but we all know this has never been Andre's favourite activity and he wasn't about to start now.

"Play a game with me!" he would pester but to this mum, a two-hour Monopoly game is as mind-numbing as reading maths equations. "Play mini table tennis with me!" asked the hopeful boy, lugging the table into my office. Sometimes, out of sheer guilt, I obliged but after a while, every sedentary bone in my body would whine in chorus, so I fell back on the age-old excuse: "I have to work!"

Left to his own devices, Andre figured he had to find ways to entertain himself. So here: let Andre show you how mini table tennis can be a solo sport. Not just one, but three different ways!

video

At the start of the holidays, I told Andre he should use the time to do something worthwhile. One of the activities he told me he would do during the break is to restart his piano playing. Those of you who have followed my blog those many years back might remember how I decided to stop his piano lessons when I grew tired of fighting with him about practising. That was back in 2011 and I was mentally prepared that it would be the last time I would hear Andre on the piano. 

So when he told me he wanted to start playing the piano again, I was skeptical, to say the least. (I think my exact words were, "Yeah, riiight! I'll believe it when I see it.") True to form, when he asked me for help, I realised that he had completely returned his few years of music training. I mean, COMPLETELY. This is a boy who had actually passed Grade 5 theory and Grade 4 practical piano exams, but he asked questions typical of a new student, including: "What's a rest?" "What's a bass clef?" "What's this black note with a stick??" DOH!

But then, he started searching and printing out sheet music of pop songs. With just cursory help from me, he diligently plodded through them, note by note. And quite to my astonishment, he stuck with it. Not only did he learn song after song, he even played them from memory. These past few weeks, my piano has sung more than it has over the last few years. I can scarcely believe it.

As a friend said, it's amazing what kids can conjure up when they have enough free time to dream. I whole-heartedly agree. Forget about classes or curriculum to nurture creativity. Just give them time to be bored.

So Andre's no Lang Lang but it's a mini miracle to me that he actually returned to the piano on his own. That makes my heart sing. ๐Ÿ’–

video

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Hymn for the weekend

We had a celebratory weekend. First, we had an early birthday celebration for Lesley-Anne because she wouldn't be able to come home the coming weekend. As a surprise for her, we decided to go vegetarian! I say surprise because except for her, we're pretty much carnivores in our household. Even our helper, knowing our preferences, once served macaroni salad as the "salad", much to Lesley-Anne's chagrin.

But hey, it's Lesley-Anne's birthday so we eat what she likes! After some surfing, we decided to go to Original Sin at Holland Village, which many consider THE place for vegetarian food. Here are our orders:

Feta cheese balls
Broccoli pesto pasta
Absolut - penne in pink sauce
Fried corn fritters for grandma
Spanakopita
Cannelloni verde
I say this unreservedly: everything was delicious. And I mean, everything. Even the cannelloni verde, which doesn't look like much in the picture, was super tasty. After the meal, Kenneth said, "if all vegetarian food tasted like this, I can easily go vegetarian!"

Ok, so it's quite pricey, which would be the only reason stopping us from making this a regular haunt, but if you're looking for a nice vegetarian treat with lots of options, I highly recommend this place.

Dessert was, of course, birthday cake at home - Over the Moon cheesecake from cheesecake specialist, Cat & the Fiddle.    


This is the year she enters her 20s and I shall refrain from going into the usual lament of "where did my baby go?" as I do every year. But seriously, WHERE DID MY BABY GO??? ๐Ÿ˜†๐Ÿ˜†

The second "celebratory" event of the weekend was the Coldplay concert I attended with Andre. I just HAD to write about this because it was one of those incredible experiences that you don't just remember but bask in for a long time.

Perhaps it's no secret that I consider Coldplay the most, musically brilliant band of our time. In my book, The Good, the Bad and the PSLE, I named some of the chapter titles after their songs. When they burst into the scene in 2000 with Parachutes, they caught the world's attention with their very different and intriguing sound. Then A Rush of Blood to the Head propelled them to fame and there was no looking back. 17 years later, they are still mesmerising the world with their iconic musical style, meditative (and sometimes trippy) lyrics reminiscent of the Beatles, and often earworm-inducing melodies. With the exception of Ghost Stories, which I personally feel was an insipid letdown, each of their other 6 albums is exceptional.

I attended the last Coldplay concert in Singapore in 2009 with Kenneth at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, and it made such an impression that I promised myself I would bring the kids if they ever played again in Singapore. Unfortunately, Lesley-Anne was uninterested in being at a venue with loud music and 50,000 other people, but Andre was game. Purchasing tickets was a nightmare, as you probably know, with tickets being snapped up within minutes. Fortunately, thanks to a friend, we managed to secure terrific seats.


How can I describe the experience? It was like being in a dream bubble for two hours. The choreography was superb. Psychedelic, kaleidoscope backdrops synchronised perfectly with wristbands (given to the audience) that flooded the stadium with colour. There were pyrotechnics, lasers, balloons - perfectly paced to keep the momentum going.

Chris Martin is the consummate showman. His infectious energy (running and jumping around on stage) kept the audience enthralled. It's no easy feat to engage a 50,000-strong audience for two hours but he did it. Up tempo songs were interspersed with ballads, where his hauntingly plaintive vocals soared. Every time the distinctive opening to a song started, the audience cheered. Viva La Vida, Fix You, The Scientist, Yellow, Hymn for the Weekend, Every Teardrop is a Waterfall, Something Just Like This - we lapped it all up.

A very rapt boy

Two hours of unadulterated bliss, according to this Fan Girl. Who says you need drugs to get high ๐Ÿ˜. After that, Andre and I lived in a happy glow, even till the very next day. Andre has had Coldplay on loop in his playlist ever since that evening.

I am a firm believer in paying for experiences rather than things...and what an experience that was. A sky full of stars, a head full of dreams. Call it magic. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Waiter! Waiter!

When Andre finished his 'O' levels last year, we knew he was in for a long holiday, since the poly academic year only begins in late April. One of the things he's been doing during his free time is volunteering at a nearby community centre, giving tuition to needy kids.

Once, he arrived there only to find that the week's sessions had been cancelled and the coordinator had forgotten to inform him. Some of the kids must not have known too because about 6 kids turned up. Instead of telling them to go home, Andre took the keys from the cc office, opened up the room and helped all 6 kids with their homework. Sometimes, this boy really surprises me.

However, since this tuition gig is only once a week, Andre has been enjoying himself, lounging around and basically doing whatever he wants (which is often nothing). By January, I got tired of seeing him either playing on his phone or watching TV, to the point that I was sure his brain was going to rot to nothing.

So I bugged him to find a job. He resisted at first, protesting that he deserved a break, but reluctantly caved after a bit (I can be very persistent, doncha know it). Taking the easiest way out, he walked to a row of restaurants situated right behind our home, found one with a 'Help Wanted' sign, talked to the manager, and ta-dah! Got a job as a waiter.

Even though I know he got the job primarily to get me off his case (I know this as a fact because right after getting the job, he told me, "Ok, I've a job! Can you stop bugging me now??"), I couldn't be more pleased. It gave him something useful to do and some hands on experience while earning some pocket money. 


The restaurant turned out to be a great environment for him. He learned some useful skills, such as packing food for takeaways, and serving customers. Having done this job, he's now very sympathetic to waiters. When we eat out and sometimes a waiter gets our order wrong or forgets something, he would insist that we not make a fuss. "It's very difficult to remember everything, ok!" he would say.

The funny thing is the chef only speaks Mandarin and I'm sure you all know by now how brilliant Andre's Chinese standard is. The first few days, instead of telling the chef "ๅ…ฉไปฝๆนฏ" (2 portions of soup), Andre would yell, "ๅ…ฉๅˆ†ๆนฏ!" (2 cents of soup). Luckily, the chef finds this terribly amusing so he would just laugh and nod his head.

As a bonus, the staff seem to like him and are very patient in guiding him. The chef, knowing that Andre loves fried chicken wings, sometimes fries a few extras just for him to take home!

On his part, he ended up enjoying working more he thought he would. It makes him feel useful and it gave his confidence a boost when he realised he could do a good job. See? Mummy does know best ๐Ÿ˜

Upon receiving his first pay check, Andre surprised us with a couple of slices of cake from a nearby bakery.  Pretty sweet and I'm not talking about the cake  ๐Ÿ˜‰

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...