Monday, June 18, 2018

The buggy generation

Read to the end to find out what this post is REALLY about.

A couple of weeks ago, my church organised its once-in-two-years church camp. Traditionally, the June hols are when churches hold their church camps and mine is no different. Since Andre's poly holidays didn't coincide with that week, he had to stay home and Kenneth decided to stay with him.

So it was an all-girl trip for us - me, Lesley-Anne and my sister. We had such an enriching and blessed time together. Our speaker was Pastor Edmund Chan who started the annual IDMC Conference. He's such a spirit-led and charismatic speaker. Apparently, our church booked him four years in advance, that's how popular a speaker he is!

Our church camp was held at AVANI Sepang Goldcoast Resort, an hour drive from KL. The resort is gorgeous - it's like something out of the Maldives (but closer to home and cheaper!). It's really an ideal place for a retreat. It's quiet with a fabulous beach. For a small fee, you can take part in unlimited sea sports, like jet-skiing.

Infinity pool
For families, there are luxurious family villas that sleep four with two separate rooms and two bathrooms! Lesley-Anne and I were booked in a superior villa (sleeps two). All the villas have a balcony that looks out to the sea.

The only drawback is that due to the size of the resort (the villas are very spread out), depending on where your villa is, you can be quite far from the lobby/main entrance area, which was where we had to go for all our speaker sessions.

If you see the photo below, the resort is laid out like a palm tree, with the lobby area at the base of the trunk. The superior villas are mostly along the trunk, while the family villas are along the "branches". Just the trunk itself is around 500m, and each of the "branches" is another 500m or so. Which means that if your villa is situated at the end of one of the branches, it's about a 1km hike to the main lobby.  

Photo: Avani Sepang
To facilitate movement, the resort provides free bikes that can be found parked all along the villas. 

They also provide a buggy service. However, since our church contingent comprised more than 600 campers, our church organisers told us to leave the buggies for the older folks who really needed it.

Our villa was located at the 350m mark from the main lobby, so it really didn't seem like a problem. Lesley-Anne is a terrible cyclist and she said she would most likely cycle into the sea, so walking was going to be our mode of transport. However, by the second day, my knees were killing me (though it was probably the prolonged standing during the sessions more than the walking that caused the problem).

One afternoon, Lesley-Anne was walking ahead and I was lagging behind under the scorching sun when I passed by a couple of bikes. Suddenly, biking seemed like a really good idea. I picked one, placed my bag in the front basket and hopped on. I gripped the handlebars confidently, and off I went!...for about 10 metres before nearly crashing into a flower bed. So much for not ever forgetting how to ride a bike. Anyway, the bike went back to the side of the path and I went back to shuffling the rest of the way.

So by the end of the second day with aching knees, I gave in and took the buggy.

I was a little abashed that I was taking up a spot that should have gone to the old aunties...and then I noticed something curious. Nobody shot me dirty looks as the buggy whizzed past them on the path. In fact, nobody even looked twice in my direction. Then it dawned on me. OMG. I AM THE OLD AUNTIE.

It's amazing how quickly your feelings can evolve. I went from shame to wonder to indignation to resignation all within a split second. (I'm efficient. Even my feelings are efficient). If ever I was in denial about my auntie status, that jiggly ride on the buggy snapped me out of my delusions once and for all.

It's official - I am part of the buggy generation. It's quite funny, when you think about it, that I had more than one sort of awakening at church camp. Ah well. The least I can do is accept it with grace and humour. And at least it's a comfortable ride.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Let's talk books - from fun ones to assessment books

The school hols are upon us again!

If you missed Lesley-Anne and me at our book launch at the Botanic Gardens, here's another chance to catch us:

Date: Saturday, 9 June 2018, 2.30-3pm 
Venue: Neo Kinokuniya Singapore Main Branch (Ngee Ann City)

We will be sharing stories behind our latest book, Secrets of Singapore: Botanic Gardens, answering any questions you might have, and of course, signing books. Meanwhile, I share some secrets of the book with Epigram Books!

And if it's the PSLE that's bugging you, here's a second date to jot down on your calendar: Thursday 7 June 9.30pm. Tune in to Channel NewsAsia's Talking Point, where they will be discussing the hot topic of assessment books. I spoke to the host Steven Chia about my views (and no, I won't be telling you which ones to buy!)

I was interviewed in my capacity as a mum, education blogger and author of The Good, the Bad and the PSLE, which Steven is reading here.

Remember to tune in!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Skincare more than Ordinary

Today's post is quite uncharacteristic - it's on skincare. If you're like me, facing the onset of ageing skin, read on.

My skin is generally unproblematic but when the kids came along, I started getting breakouts. I tried different products, from the drugstore brands to high end ones. Some were ok, many of them broke me out even more, but none were really very spectacular, even the ones that came highly recommended.

Then a few years ago, I discovered Paula's Choice and that was a game changer. Paula's Choice is founded by Paula Begoun. who has been lambasting beauty companies for years, for selling skincare with unproven claims and at ridiculously doped up prices. In the best case scenario, some of these dubious ingredients do nothing for your skin, and in the worst case, are actually harmful. Or in some cases, the ingredients in the product actually do work, but exist in such small quantities or are inappropriately packaged, so that their effectiveness is negligible.

For example, did you know many ingredients, like Vitamin C, when exposed to air, quickly oxidise and lose their effectiveness? Worse, instead of being antioxidants, they become pro-oxidants, meaning they're harmful for your skin. You can tell this has happened when your Vitamin C serum turns orange. In other words, if your cream is packaged in a jar, once you open it, it instantly starts to be less effective. Your $100 jar of face cream might as well be a decorative ornament on your dresser. Pretty but useless.

Know that beauty products are not strictly regulated so companies can make any claims they want. "75% of users showed a reduction in wrinkles in 2 weeks!" Well, that could very well be 3 out of 4 of the company's friends. Nobody checks or sets rules for these claims.

Paula's Choice products use ingredients that have been scientifically proven to work. In her products, she lists what each ingredient is used for. Her packaging does not allow for oxidisation and she doesn't add loads of unnecessary preservatives and fragrance, which are potentially irritating to the skin.

For instance, when I first started breaking out in adult acne, I tried a cream by L'oreal that contained BHA (salicylic acid), because I read that BHAs are great for acne. Horrors! It gave me little bumps like eczema. So I thought I was allergic to BHA and stopped using it. Many year later, I decided to try the Paula's Choice 2% BHA gel and guess what, it is a fantastic cure for acne. Turns out it was probably poor formulation on the L'oreal product or additives that didn't agree with my skin. Paula's Choice BHA worked so well so me that I bought a bottle for Andre when he was suffering from bad acne on his back. It completely healed. From then, this is the go-to zit cream for the whole family.

Anyway, for many years, I stuck to a Paula's Choice regime of BHA, retinol and moisturiser. It has kept my skin pretty problem-free.

Then in the last year or so, my skin started morphing again. It got drier and yet, I would regularly get painful cystic acne - you know, those big angry zits that even when they dry up, leave inflamed bumps under your skin that take forever to go away. BHA didn't seem to work as well. My skin was "maturing". GAH. I had to change my makeup because it would cake badly under my eyes and settle into the gazillion lines I never knew I had. Things became worse when I started swimming regularly. All that chlorine and thick sunscreen turned my skin into a confused mess.

Enter The Ordinary from UK. It caught my eye when I chanced upon many bloggers raving about this new brand and its focus on skincare research and science. What's unusual about this brand is that most of their products are formulated with only one main ingredient each, to target a specific problem, with no additives, fragrance, etc. You might be thinking, one ingredient? How many would I need then to tackle multiple issues?

Well, that's the beauty of the brand. You can customise your regime based on what you need and layer them as you wish because their prices are DIRT CHEAP. Less than S$10 for a 30ml bottle of high concentration Vitamin C or retinol serum. The founder, Brandon Truaxe, is pretty extraordinary. He ditches fancy marketing and packaging to reduce costs, and every time he manages to negotiate better prices for raw ingredients, he passes the savings back to customers. The Ordinary's tagline is "clinical formulations with integrity" and you only have to do a Google search to read all the rave reviews by users. Their rivals are selling equivalent concentrations for up to 10 times the price. No wonder The Ordinary can't produce the items fast enough to keep them in stock.

I bought two items to try out: Alpha Lipoic Acid 5% and Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%. Now, both are very strong and people have reported stinging sensations when using them. But me, being overly optimistic, figured that since I've been a long-time user of BHA, Vitamin C and Retinol, I would be ok. More is best, right?

Alpha Lipoic Acid is both an exfoliant and an antioxidant. They tell you you can't use it more than 2-3 times a week. I will attest to its strength. The first time, I only used 3 drops for whole face and neck. Holy cow. The burn. I quickly put a soothing moisturiser on top but even then, the sting took a while to subside. Oh and it has a funky smell, like sulphur.

Same with the Vitamin C 23%. They warn you on the website that application is not pleasant because of the gritty bits and it might sting because of its high potency. Yes to both. Plus it goes on with an oily feel that doesn't quite go away, so some people may not like that.

So at first, I half regretted my decision, especially for the Vitamin C cream, because the application was so unpleasant. It's almost like suffering for beauty. Was it worth it? I was thinking that maybe I shouldn't have been quite so gung-ho and gone for lower, more tolerant formulas.

But I found out that if I mixed the serums with my usual moisturiser (as advised on the website) before applying, it didn't sting so much any more or feel sandy. Then after about a week and a half of using the two products, I woke up one day and suddenly noticed the row of remnant cystic acne bumps along my chin that had stubbornly plagued me for more than a month was imperceptible. Like magic. I peered into the mirror and realised that my skin was brighter and smoother than it had been for a long time.

WOWZERS. At that moment, I had to quell an overwhelming urge to run out (virtually) and buy every single product from The Ordinary. I mean, I still love Paula's Choice but some of their products are really expensive, and the price point of The Ordinary is just so darn attractive.

Of course I didn't lah. I just bought a few. And then a few more. Don't judge me.

If you're confused by the many options in skincare and don't know where to start, I've tried to simplify it for you. (I'm not addressing things like cleansing and toning, just the stuff you put on your skin).

If you really are the can't-be-bothered type and want to do the minimum, I'd say just use a moisturiser with sunscreen in the morning and one with retinol at night. 

But if you are like me, above 40, facing the unpleasant realities of ageing skin, and want to do something about it before you end up looking like a wrinkled prune, here's a mini skincare lesson. There are many good skincare ingredients, but an essential anti-ageing regime should incorporate these main "types" (for lack of a better word) of skin thingies.


Retinol, to date, is the only ingredient has been scientifically proven to lessen fine lines and reduce acne. It is the gold standard in wrinkle reduction. NOTHING ELSE. Forget whatever new snake oil companies are trying to market. This is what dermatologists prescribe for acne and wrinkles.

The problem is that retinol, especially in high concentrations, is highly irritating. Many people have been known to purge and peel for days, even weeks before they see that baby soft skin. This article explains retinol pretty comprehensively.

The Ordinary sells 6 different retinoid products, 3 of which are with Granactive Retinoid - an advanced form of retinol with all the goodness of retinol but without the irritation. I suggest you try these instead. Do note that retinoids make your skin sensitive to the sun, so use them only at night.


Exfoliants are AHAs or BHAs that get rid of dead skin cells, unclog pores and reduce acne and blackheads, thus improving the texture of your skin. It's good to use this a few times a week. As mentioned, my family uses Paula's Choice 2% BHA for acne with much success.

However, like with retinol, if you're not used to exfoliants, you can also end up peeling before your skin heals. Technology has since uncovered new types of exfoliants that are even gentler on the skin. The Ordinary now offers Azelaic Acid and Mandelic Acid, both of which work like exfoliants but without the typical side effects.

Vitamin C

Once you hit a certain age, you realise with horror that the age spots you used to see on little old ladies now appear on you (ie you have become that little old lady). You curse all the times you were garang and refused to carry an umbrella while walking in the sun (because very "auntie") or the times you forgot to wear sunscreen.

If retinol is the gold standard for reducing wrinkles, then Vitamin C is the counterpart for reducing dark spots. Believe it or not, The Ordinary has 8 different products with Vitamin C, with different strengths and formulations. Talk about an over-achiever. Similarly, Vitamin C makes your skin sensitive to the sun so either wear sunscreen on top or use it only at night.

To reduce the confusion as to which one might be suitable for you, read their Vitamin C guide.


Personally, I find this category really boring, so I try to use serums that multi-task in this area. Sometimes, I just skip this altogether if my serums have hydrating ingredients. If you need a moisturiser, The Ordinary has some very affordable ones with natural moisturising ingredients that you might like.

And that ends my very long post on skincare. I will try out the other items from The Ordinary and may review them on this blog if enough people are interested.

If you're not used to acids or retinol, don't be greedy and start with the lower concentrations. Otherwise you might end up peeling like an orange and having to hibernate at home for a few weeks.

I bought my earlier batch from Beauty Bay - you get free delivery to Singapore if you spend just S$28. Or you can also buy from Cult Beauty or LookFantastic (smallest range but no minimum for free shipping). They're always out of stock, so be patient. 

If you want to try Paula's Choice instead, use this referral code to get a $10 coupon: The online store is offering free shipping on any purchase for the month of May.

You know I'm not a beauty blogger so none of my products were sponsored. I'm blogging about it because all good things should be shared. Let me know if you've enjoyed reading this, ok?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Job opportunity - Content Creator/Copywriter

Update 6 May 2018: I have changed the job specs slightly and extended the deadline to 17 May.

Last year, I listed job vacancies for copywriters with my agency, Hedgehog Communications. I took on two candidates and thought that would shore up capacity for at least a year or two. As it turned out, we were so blessed that business grew faster than I expected and here I am, looking for people again, six months later.

Here are the details of the job. If you fit the bill, or you know anyone who does, please feel free to write in.

Content Creator/Copywriter

We are looking for content creators and copywriters able to write original and engaging copy. Priority will be given to those who have written for online channels, including websites and social media. However, we are also seeking copywriters for print media, such as annual reports, brochures, newsletters and advertising campaigns.

Job requirements

• You should have at least five years of professional writing experience.
• You should have written for online and print media, with a portfolio of published articles (letters to ST Forum page do NOT count).
• Ideally, you should be comfortable with the digital environment, and familiar with SEO practices. If you are not, you should be prepared to undergo on a course on SEO writing.
• Since this is a writing position, you should be able to use words as a tool to communicate clearly and simply. You will sometimes need to help clients organise their content in a way that makes sense for the reader.
• Needless to say, you should be a stickler for grammar.
• You should be able to adapt your writing style to suit different types of clients/industries.

Do you fit the profile of a Hedgie?

• Reliable, reliable, reliable – we always deliver quality work on time. This is non-negotiable.
• Flexible – this is essentially a freelance arrangement and the work may come in bursts and spurts, so you’ll need to be prepared to toggle between chiongster and chill modes.
• Take pride in our work – we believe that the work we do is meaningful both to us and to our clients.
• Responsive and professional – we work directly with clients and need to assure them that they are in good hands.
• Eager to improve and learn – our team of very senior writers is always ready to mentor and guide other hedgies in industries/collaterals that they may be less familiar with.
• Genuine, loyal and honest – this has nothing to do with work and everything to do with being a great human being.
• Team player – we regularly work in teams on projects, so it’s important that we look out for one another and enjoy each other’s company.
• Good sense of humour – we take our work very seriously, but ourselves, not so much.

How to apply

Let us know why you would like to join Hedgehog Communications. Along with your reasons, please submit your cv and a portfolio or links to your published work. Send your application to by Thursday, 17 May 2018.

About Hedgehog Communications
With 16 years in the business, Hedgehog Communications is one of the most established copywriting agencies in Singapore, especially for the public sector. We have helped clarify and simplify written communications for more than 100 organisations, both in Singapore and internationally. We currently have a team of 13 copywriters from diverse backgrounds and experience, most of whom have at least 10 years of communication or corporate experience. All our copywriters work on a freelance basis.

We have built a reputation based on quality, reliability and timely delivery.

Why join Hedgehog Communications

• Get the opportunity to write for major clients and be involved in national level projects.
• Enjoy the flexibility of a freelance arrangement without having to report to a physical office or adhere to fixed hours (SAHMs are welcome to apply).
• Focus on writing without having to worry about business and administrative aspects.
• Be paid competitive fees typically higher than the average freelance rate.
• Be part of a very dedicated and collaborative team (with a supportive boss).

Find out more about the philosophy and background of Hedgehog Communications.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Birthday wishes for the newly minted adult

Lesley-Anne celebrated her birthday last week. This wasn't just any other birthday - it was her 21st. She didn't want a big fuss, so she just planned a small birthday party at home with a dozen of her closest friends from Yale-NUS. For the sake of their privacy, I'm not showing the pics of her friends here.

There's something very surreal about your child turning 21. I know every birthday is a reminder that your kid is growing up fast, but 21...what this means is that your baby is now legally an adult. You will still worry about her, nag at her like she's 12, but the fact is that she no longer needs your permission to do anything and in the eyes of the law, is now fully responsible for her own actions.

I was reflecting on this and it came to me that while this is a major milestone, the journey towards adulthood is not a sudden occurrence the day one turns 21. I sometimes hear parents scold their kids, "You have to listen to me now! When you're an adult, you can do what you want." And I've also observed that the more controlling the parent, the higher the chance the child is going to choose to do the exact opposite of what the parents want the minute he or she can.

The truth is that 21 is just a number. Your child doesn't automatically become mature or responsible on this magical day. The kind of person you child has become on this day is an accumulation of all the years, experiences and events leading up to it.

Too often, parents are so caught up in the academic rat race that we lose sight of the fact that we  have a hold on our kids for only a very short time. I take the view that our kids are not ours to possess, but entrusted to us. How do we fulfill our duties as parents? Do we strive to bring up trophies to glorify our own needs? Or do we raise good human beings able and willing to bless others and make the world a better place? Do they give more to society than take from it? Do people around them give thanks for their existence? In short, are they valued as human beings? I can safely say that in life, few people give a damn about your grades or your achievements. What matters more is whether you're a good friend and person.

I know that many consider Lesley-Anne to be very accomplished for her age. However, her family and friends who love her appreciate her not because of her accomplishments, but because she is a simple, compassionate, sensible and intelligent girl with an admirable work ethic. I don't want to take all the credit for it - as I've always maintained, there's such a thing as free will. People are not robots and two people raised the same way can turn out every differently. But if we have in any way, been an influence in the kind of values she embodies today, that makes us glad that we have played our part as parents.

Happy 21st birthday, dear Lesley-Anne and may your light continue to shine for all to see. 😘😘

"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." - Proverbs 22:6

Monday, April 2, 2018

Wheels in motion

Lately, our family conversations have revolved around cars quite a lot, because our family car has been giving us trouble. So even though we had previously thought we would be driving this car until the end of its Singaporean life (aka scrap), it now looked like it would be more practical to replace it instead.

Kenneth, while visiting a showroom to "look-see look-see", as he called it, got talked into plonking down a deposit for a car from a brand that shall not be named but is highly desired by unkers. Since he recently turned the Big 5-0, I chalk it down to him going through a half century crisis.

Andre will turn 18 end of this year, and he'll be signing up for driving lessons, something he's been looking forward to from the time he could scoot around our living room in a mini racer (he was two years old in this picture).

Lesley-Anne, on the other hand, has zero interest in getting behind the wheel.

Kenneth: "But it's a life skill! It's good to know how to drive."

Lesley-Anne: "Why? There's the train and there's Grab. There's really no need to drive."

Me: "Actually, I agree. It's expensive to own a car as well."

Kenneth: "What if there is a zombie apocalypse and you need to escape?"

Lesley-Anne (frowning): "You want me to learn how to drive in case of a zombie apocalypse?"

Kenneth: "You must be prepared for all situations."

Me: "Well, technically in a zombie apocalypse, nobody will care if you have a license. Just put the gear in Drive and go."

Goodbye, trusty VW. You've been a most enjoyable ride.

Monday, March 19, 2018

New book launch, and speaking about women and writing

Last Saturday morning, we launched Secrets of Singapore: Botanic Gardens at where else, but the Botanic Gardens. Truly glad and grateful that many kids and parents took the time to attend the event.

In case you missed the event, here's a short clip of Lesley-Anne sharing some snippets from the book.

Here we are with Dr Nigel Taylor, Director of the Botanic Gardens, who has been wonderfully supportive of the book throughout the whole process.

The best part - meeting the fans!

If you missed our launch, I will be speaking at another event this coming Sunday, 25 March 2018. It's From Now On (Women Taking Charge) held at SMU from 1-4pm. The event will feature discussions about the issues facing women in our world.

I will be speaking about my journey as a writer (both book and corporate writing) under Write Your Life which is 2-3pm. RSVP in the link above. I have previously blogged about my stories as a female writer and entrepreneur. If you'd like to hear from me in person, I would love to meet you - come join in if you can!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Launch of Secrets of Singapore: Botanic Gardens!

This book seemed to be in the works forever (at least it did for me), but I'm happy to announce that it's finally here! Presenting Secrets of Singapore: Botanic Gardens 😍

I love, love, love this book. I feel that we got everything right with this one for these reasons:

1) A great mix of really fun facts, not just about the Botanic Gardens but also about plants in general. Primary school kids will be able to relate because we cover a lot of information about plants that's in the Science syllabus - from plant reproduction to photosynthesis and plant adaptations, just to name a few. And all told in a conversational, fun way, of course.

2) So many punny jokes. I think Pun Princess Lesley-Anne outdid herself this time.

3) If you love the Botanic Gardens, this book serves as a very handy guide. All the plants and places of interest that we mention in the book are numbered ad marked on a comprehensive map at the back of the book, so you can follow it like going on a treasure hunt.

We've already received some very positive feedback on the book:

The book should hit bookstores in a couple of weeks. If you can't wait, you can get it online from the Epigram Books store.

The book will be officially launched on Saturday 17 March, 10.30am at the Botany Centre's Green Pavilion, Botanic Gardens. We'll be sharing some snippets from the book and there will be games and prizes. Bring the whole family! The book will be on sale at the event and we will autograph all purchases.

Meanwhile, Epigram Books is running a weekly contest on their Facebook page (every Friday), where you answer a question and stand a chance to win a set of Secrets of Singapore.

Do support us and hope to see you next Saturday!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Forever 36 and 5 observations about ageing

Last weekend, I celebrated my birthday. Not gonna reveal how old I am except that I'm forever 36.

When you're a kid, birthdays are milestones to look forward to. You wish for stuff like, grow a little taller perhaps. Able to take public bus by yourself. Done with PSLE year. And for the less forward-looking, more presents! Once you're an adult and have kids of your own, the milestones tend to centre around your kids. First tooth! First steps! First word! Done with that dang PSLE!

Then when you reach a certain *ahem* age, you become less ambitious ("Let my wrinkles not show in my birthday photos"). You suddenly wish for birthdays to be less eventful and have fewer milestones. Cos the milestones tend to be more alarming and catch you totally by surprise. Like you step on a scale and realise with a shock that's the first time you've gone over a certain number. Or the first time you discover that white hair isn't limited to the hair on your head.

But hey, that's the universe's way of saying, "Surprise! Happy birthday, my old pal!" So in the spirit of graceful ageing, here are five observations I've made about growing older:

1) Eyesight 

One of the first signs of ageing is deteriorating eyesight. Suddenly, words on a page can't come into focus, even after you've blinked furiously. When you're trying to take a photo, you think your phone automatically engaged a soft filter with blurring effect. Oh wait, it's just your eyes.

I've given up reading the fine print on menus. Not sure if I'll be getting avocados or asparagus. When I play Farm Heroes Saga on my phone, I sometimes have to ask Andre to tell me many strawberries I'm missing. I tell my writers to submit drafts to me in Point Size 12. Any smaller than that and they're asking for it.

You know what really annoys me? These measuring cups for medicine:

The markings are etched without colour on the cup. How the heck do they expect optically-challenged seniors to pour out our meds in the right amount? Do we need to paint a black backdrop on the kitchen wall just so we can contrast the dang cup against it? Idiots.

The solution is simple but troublesome. Lao hua glasses. I buy them from Daiso - they're cheap and you can change the degree according to how quickly your eyesight degenerates. I buy multiple pairs and put them in almost every room at home, partly because I often can't remember where I last left them. There have been instances when I'm holding a pair in my hands, yelling, "Where are those glasses?!" But that's a different problem with ageing.

2) White hair

When your hair decides that it's lost its will to pigmentise and will go au naturale. I've actually had white sprouts before I was 30 but those were the rogue ones. Once I hit 40, it became a mass contingent. So much so that I gave up going to the salon to colour my hair - it was too frequent and took up too much time. I just diy with store-bought hair dye every month or so.

My friend recently recounted to me how she was asked twice within a week by supermarket cashiers whether she had the senior citizen card. She's the same age as I am. Which probably explains the extreme indignation I expressed towards the impertinence of these supermarket aunties. How dare they! I've known this friend since we were best friends in primary 1, so we still think of each other as spring chickens prancing around in our pinafores.

"It's probably cos of all my white hair," my friend shrugged. She has no issues with ageing. Apparently I do, because I then made a quiet resolve to be more diligent in my hair colouring.

3) Exercise

When you're in your 20s and 30s, exercise involves hitting the courts for a sweaty game of tennis or jumping in tune to an hour of aerobics. I used to stare unabashedly at elderly folks wearing bright orange caps and shorts, swinging their arms vigorously while walking, like they're trying to karate chop flies. Now I get it. The neon orange is cos they can't see anyone - they need people to see them. And you become a little limited in the type of exercise you can do when anything can potentially injure a joint, a bone, a muscle.

Talking about injuries, when you're younger, you ache after a marathon session of badminton. Or an ultra challenging workout at the gym. Now, I can get a neck ache from simply turning too quickly when checking my blind spot in the car. And I have to whip out that Salonpas for my aching shoulder after sleeping in one position all night. I have a permanent crick in my knees, an ache in my right hip, and the soles of my feet hurt when I walk too much. Talk about less ambitious physical goals.

4) Wet and dry

One of the (many) annoying things about ageing is that parts of you that are supposed to be moist become dry and parts that are supposed to be dry become moist. My skin, for instance. It has always been reasonably cooperative - a little oily in parts but nothing that some blotting paper can't fix. Now, makeup that has looked good on me for years settle into fine likes and cake up like bad fondant. I've succumbed to the Curse of Mature Skin. Gah.

Meanwhile, my eyes and nose have gone the opposite route - tearing and dripping for no apparent reason other than to irritate the hell out of me. The only bright side I can see to this is that when you enter the train blinking and sniffling, people move away from you faster than a speeding bullet.

5) Body shape

When I was a kid, people probably thought I was anorexic. Stick-thin and I could eat whatever I wanted. My body type was pretty kind to calories. A few decades later, I'm paying for the wanton dietary disregard. My metabolic rate has slowed to a crawl. I merely have to look at a curry puff and I can feel my midriff expanding.

Last year, I decided that swimming would be my sport of choice, since it's kinder on the joints. I went to Decathlon to look for a swim shirt. The women's selection was all shaped something like this:

Concave in the middle cos presumably that's the female shape. Female shape, my foot. I tried one on and OMG, I looked like a bak chang. My middle section is where I'm BIGGEST, not smallest. In the end, I bought a swim shirt from the men's selection.

I have become a lot more realistic in my goal-setting. No more "get thinner" or "get back my waistline" nonsense. At my age, it's about maintaining (if you think it couldn't get any worse, yes it can).

If I can still fit into the same clothes a birthday from now, that's a worthy achievement. Then maybe I can celebrate with a curry puff.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Minding my own business

I recently read this post on how Ellen Pompeo fought to be paid what she deserved in tv show Grey's Anatomy and I went, you go girl! It's always uplifting to read about women who hold their own, especially in industries which are typically male-dominated at the top.

As most of you know by now, I've been running my own copywriting agency since 2002. That's coming up to 16 years. Do you know how many women run their own agencies in Singapore? Ok, I don't either, because 1) I don't know where to get the figures and 2) I'm too lazy to find out. But I work with other creative agencies on a regular basis - design agencies, advertising agencies, web agencies, PR agencies - and while a few are helmed by women, the vast majority are run by men. If there are female owners, more often that not, they have male partners.

I think this is true of businesses in general but it's something that struck me only recently. It was when I started thinking about grooming a second-in-command that I realised how difficult it was to find a right-hand woman. From talking to other women, these reasons keeping coming up as to why they don't want to run a business: Dunno how. Too risk-averse. No business mind. Can't commit to the time needed. Can't manage clients. Can't deal with the stress.

It's not that these reasons are invalid. It's just that underlying all these reasons, I feel that a major stumbling block is the lack of confidence. Women constantly doubt and underestimate their abilities, including their ability to learn and adapt. Men, on the other hand, tend to be more gung-ho. Even if they don't have all the information or knowledge, they are more assured of their abilities to be willing to give it a go. Read this BBC post on the confidence gap between genders.

So why did I, a woman, decide to go into business? The entrepreneurial streak doesn't run in my family. Neither my parents nor theirs ever went into business. While I told everyone it was because I wanted to spend more time with my kids, truth be told, a huge push factor was that I was thoroughly sick of the warring factions and politics happening in my last workplace. Sometimes, decisions are simply made out of reaching the limit of your patience (plus I probably didn't know what I was getting myself into).

So I launched myself into the big, scary world of business. For the most part, my gender didn't come into play, but the few times that it did, it left an indelible mark on my memory. People in Singapore don't think much about gender inequality because unequal pay or outright discrimination is not condoned. But gender stereotyping and coloured perceptions of people simply based on their gender still exist and are therefore insidious, because there's less awareness of their impact.

Most of my clients are very decent in this respect. They usually accord me with respect and don't treat me any differently because of my gender. In some particular industries however (I won't say which ones), male chauvinism is alive and well. On a few occasions, within five minutes of meeting the client (always a middle-aged or elderly man), I'd know that I was being judged at first sight and not in a positive way. Despite my long-standing track record and portfolio, the client would dismiss me as too ditzy or dumb to understand his very complicated business. Full of technical stuff, you know, beyond the comprehension of a young female. He would adopt a patronising tone and proceed to treat me with great condescension.

I once walked out on an interview because the client decided to deride me even before the interview started. I was furious and called the PR agency contact who had appointed me to tell him he could find himself another writer. He was very sympathetic and said with all the concern in the world, "I hope he didn't make you cry. I think it's so ungentlemanly when men make women cry." OMG. THAT made me feel like weeping. His statement encapsulated all the stereotypes about women being weak and emotional.

I guess it doesn't help that I'm small in stature and hence, look younger than I really am. While I appreciate this now, it was a handicap when I was in my 20s and early 30s. It was a handicap when I was heading departments in the workplace and a handicap when I was meeting clients (some people are both sexist and ageist). To make my presence felt, I found myself projecting an extroverted personality when meeting clients, to sound as chirpy, charming and authoritative as possible. It has become a habit and I still do this today (when I'm actually very much an introvert).

Because I was fortunate enough to have had two fantastically empowering female bosses, and my own conviction that women need to be empowered, I deliberately scouted out mums as potential writers. I won't go into it since that has been covered in detail in this post. Out of my 13 writers, 9 are mums and one is a mum-to-be. (In case you're wondering, I have male writers too. I don't discriminate. I take on whoever can do the job well).

When it comes to managing my writers, I consciously never wanted to be one of THOSE female bosses - you know, the temperamental and irrational ones who make decisions based on their mood-of-the-moment. The ones who give female bosses a bad reputation. I was going to go the rational route, much like how I approach all other business matters. Problems are to be solved one at a time, using logic and reason.

And yet, despite my awareness and intention not to let emotions run the field...

I let personal feelings get in the way of decisions sometimes. I feel bad making tough decisions even though they're right. And then I berate myself for it because it's illogical. Too often, I use "I think..." when I really mean "I know...", just to soften the blow. I still care too much what people think of me and I constantly need emotional support, especially when going through rough patches. In other words, almost unwittingly, my "female" side still reveals itself, in spite of everything.

However, I've long accepted that's who I am, and it's not necessarily a bad thing to have a softer side in business, as long as it doesn't get in the way of things getting done, and done ethically. 

Sidenote: On the homefront, I raised Lesley-Anne to be a strong woman. I wanted her to see that women can run a business, write books, blog, raise kids. Or not. It's not about being a superwoman or trying to grab everything in sight, like at a buffet spread. It's recognising what your strengths are, what you want in life, and then going for it purposefully. It's about choice and about empowerment - two things that shouldn't be dictated by societal expectations about gender. 

And guess what, Lesley-Anne is even more petite than I am but boy, she has perfected her death glare. It can shrivel you down to the size of an ant. She has no qualms about voicing her opinions, especially when boys with big egos and little substance try to talk over her (that really sets her off). Don't get me wrong - I didn't teach her to be rude. You don't have to shout or put others down. (Being kind should be a universal trait, regardless of gender). It's about being confident.

Mothers sometimes forget that we're role models not just for our daughters but also our sons. I love that having grown up in this family, Andre values women for their brains and heart. In fact, he is annoyed by girls in his school who "act cute", are bitchy, or focus only on their looks or material things. "Why can't they be more like you two?" he laments. (I'm glad because it means I'm less likely to get a bimbotic daughter-in-law 😆). And of course, kudos to the hubs for being secure enough to appreciate the strong women in his household.

Back to running a business: I didn't set out to be a flag bearer for women at the workplace. The women-friendly initiatives I took in my business journey were truly in response to each need that came along, that had to be resolved. But maybe that's how it is - the little incremental steps that are done to offer women a work outlet, flexible hours, even just a supportive community - maybe it all matters in the bigger scheme of things. I'd like to think so anyway. 

To end this very long and rambly post, I know many mums follow this blog. If you (and especially my female writers) are reading this, I just want to say: claim your confidence. You're stronger than you think. You're also capable of so much more than you know. You go, girl.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Mind the gap

I've always prided myself on being a reasonably hip mum. By this, I mean my kids talk to me about almost anything under the sun, from friends and relationships to books and music. But every now and then, the generation gap hits me in the face like a pancake hitting the griddle.

One such instance was last year when we were at a mall and I walked into a Desigual shop.

Photo: Desigual, Orchard

I love the designs of Desigual clothes and held up a dress with a gorgeous print. "So nice, right?" I gushed. Silence. "RIGHT?" Then Lesley-Anne said, "Mummy, Desigual is so AUNTIE."

I was startled. "What? Who said so?? It's very hip what!"

L-A: "Hip to aunties, not hip to young people."

Me (protesting): "That's not true! Right, Andre?"

Andre: "Leave me out of this. Can we go eat now?"

Me (ignores son): "I know many people who like Desigual!"

L-A: "Like who?"

Me: "Like Ah Ee, Auntie Ada, Auntie Pei Yee, Auntie Maureen...oh." I looked around the store and quickly realised that all the shoppers in the store were women above 40 years old. OMG! Desigual is an upscale auntie shop.

"Can't be that bad, right?" I almost pleaded. "Isn't there anything here that you would wear?"

After looking around with a frown, Lesley-Anne pointed to an item. "Ok, that one." It was a completely black dress with the most miniscule Desigual pattern at the hemline. Gah. In other words, the Desigual ads featuring hip youngsters are all lies - they aren't luring teenagers, they are luring middle-aged aunties who think they are still teenagers.

If you're in the same antiquated boat as I am, never fear! There are ways to bridge the generation gap and one of them is through music. I let Andre introduce me to new artists by watching MTV with him and listening to his Spotify playlist. I don't necessarily like everything, of course, but if you keep an open mind, you'll see that there are many gems in the current music scene. He got me hooked on Imagine Dragons and we went to their concert together last night.

Thunder, feel the thunder. It was positively radioactive. Call me a believer.

However, music education is not a one-way street - it goes both ways. Sometimes, what's hip can be shaped and taught. Even as Andre schools me on current artists, I also share with him the songs I grew up with. As a result, he has secret playlists that consist of oldies from the 1960s to 1980s. Some of them are not so secret - it's quite hip to be retro, so there's no shame to admitting that you like the Beatles or Queen, for example.

Sidenote: This was the Christmas gift we got him one year - the lego Beatles' Yellow Submarine, complete with minifigures. It is absolutely fantastic - it even opens up so the Fab Four can sit in the submarine.

If you play YouTube videos that compile greatest hits from my generation, my kids know an incredible number of them. Andre thinks some of the best songs ever written include A-ha's Take on Me, Starship's Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now and Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire. And he would never, never admit this to his friends but he thoroughly enjoys Abba, the helium-inspired Bee Gees and even the very ancient Earth Wind and Fire.

Once, our family was in the car, mocking and laughing at the absurdity of One FM's "Top 800 hits of the '80s" (I mean, 800 hits? That's just an excuse to play every single hit of the 80s!). Then Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up came on and all four of us spontaneously sang along.

So there you go. If you want to bridge the generation gap, music can be the common denominator. When you're singing along with your kids, they won't even care that you're wearing Desigual.

At Imagine Dragons concert

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