Tag Archives: singapore

a perfect 17 hours

My granddad is the person I sometimes try to model myself after.  He’s 96 and has many decades of practice on me but still, I find it hard to believe he conducted himself much differently when he was my age.  He’s the one who taught me to be self reliant, considerate and generous.  Always be generous, no matter how much you are financially worth.  There’s always something you can offer someone.  If not money, there’s always something you can do for them.  Give your time, your thoughts, your warm wishes, your care, your food, your wine….I hope I get there someday.

I’ve just had one of the most satisfying 17 hours of my life. And it didn’t even involve all that much.  Like most of the things that I’ve noticed that I cherish, the past 17 hours consisted of life’s simplest…

Yesterday while at work, I had the intention of stopping by granddad’s house, also known as ‘121’.  I try to stop by 121 once or twice a week to spend time with granddad.  Even if it’s just for a quick dinner, it reminds me of my childhood dinners which were usually at 121 since my brother and I spent the better part of a decade living there.

By the time evening came, I was running around too much to make it in time for dinner but promised to stop by after to take him out for drinks or whatever he was in the mood for.  I got there later than expected, around 9p, and he was in the mood for takeout instead.  So health food aunt and I drove to get take out xo fish head noodles from dover rise (famous in some way, of course).   By the time we got back to 121, it was close to 10p but as luck would have it, granddad was in a talkative mood and we sat around talking, drinking and eating till just past midnight.  Sometimes, I get in melancholy moods like now when I’m overwhelmed with appreciation.  Appreciative that I’m able to recognize just how awesome it is to be able to spend time with granddad and truly enjoy it.  I think back to when I was living at 121, before going off to college; how I treated 121 as just a living space; a place to be taken for granted because it had always been there, unearned.  Ungrateful is a strong word to describe my mental state then.  But I was definitely far from being grateful.  I was an unaware teenager and young adult.  Someone who needed to go out and see the world, experience things on my own and finally return perhaps a little more enlightened.

Granddad, health food aunt and I sat around the same dining table that I had grown up around – the one that I loved to use for studying because it was large enough that I could spread all my notes and books out and was often left undisturbed at night except for the occasional lizard that would scurry below the lazy Susan (and leave me silently cursing in surprise).  Granddad loves company.  He’ll eat more, drink more and more importantly, talk more when people are  around.  Sometimes, he needs prodding to talk and tell stories and it’s not always that he’s in the mood for talking.  I found him in a jolly mood last night.  We spoke about menial things like how my work day was, how much I enjoyed work, how he was feeling (his head has been hurting for the past few weeks) and about the conversation I had with the taxi driver on the way over…which is of note actually.

Cabbie: if you don’t mind me being a busybody, can I ask why you’re not out (partying) at this time on a Saturday?

Me: I’m actually on my way home then I’m heading out again.  I have a date with a 96 year old man (I’m that cool kid).

Cabbie: wow, really?  A 96 year old?

Me: yup!  I have a date with my granddad.  I’m taking him out for beers.

Cabbie: wow.  Instead of lecturing you about the perils of drinking, he’s actually drinking with you?

Me: yup.  And I’m looking forward to it.

I share conversations like that with granddad because he finds them amusing and it gives him something about me to laugh about.

Another conversation that is one of my all time favorites…

Granddad: am I the best father or what?

Health food aunt: um, actually, I think I could do better if I looked.

Granddad: pfft (with accompanying dismissive hand gesture).  I knew I should never have saved you from the trashcan (which is a joke, of course).

And that inevitably sparks off the discussion about how good his kids are.  Like Goldilocks, his kids are good, but not good enough; bad, but not too bad.  Which in his cryptic language means they’re somewhere in the middle, balanced.  And even though he never says it, the kids know that he’s proud of them and loves them all equally.  The same goes for his grandkids.

My favorite part about hanging out with granddad is hearing him tell stories.  It doesn’t matter if I’ve heard the same story dozens of times.  That’s not the point.  My enjoyment comes from everything else that accompanies our conversations.  Watching him tell a story with pleasure and working in moral lessons at the same time is his special trait, I think.  I’d like to think that I have a somewhat decent moral compass; the ability to at least identify the right decision (or feeling guilty knowing that there is a right decision to be made but making the opposite one instead).  And I believe I learned this from granddad.

He leads by example.  For me at least, he’s always been that way.  Always attentive to minute details, he never lets anything slip by unnoticed.  People always make the mistake of assuming he’s missed something until he tells them to clean the table again because they’ve missed a tiny sauce spot.  He’s also extremely generous – when he was younger and less financially stable, he used to loan needy friends his last dollars and not think twice about whether they would even be able to return the favor (much to the dismay of my grandmother, I imagine).  But he’s never lectured anyone about not being giving enough.

He secretly likes to call himself the poor rich man (coined by one of my cousins) because he’s not cash rich but yet he often doesn’t have to pay for anything when he goes places.  I’m not religious (and neither is granddad), but I believe in karma, to a certain extent.  And I believe that karma is paying him back for all the positive energy he’s invested previously.

I digress.  Back to my perfect 17 hours.  By the time I went to bed, it was close to 2am.  But I thought, ‘granddad’s a late sleeper.  I’ll get to sleep for at least 8 hours before I even need to worry about getting up.’  Wrong.  Just after 8am, health food aunt came into the room I was sleeping in, turned on the lights and said, ‘let’s go, granddad’s ready.’  WTF?  Since when does he rise before noon?  Today was my lucky day, apparently.  And truthfully, I was quite ecstatic.  I (sometimes) enjoy the part of the morning just before the majority of people are even thinking of going out yet.  It’s peaceful and quiet and one feels special being in a place that isn’t overrun by crowds.  Fast forward an hour and we’re at some coffee shop along Zion road with a spread of coffee, kaya + butter toast, half boiled eggs and wanton noodles before us.  Honestly, it’s been a while since I’ve felt so disproportionately content.  I can’t remember the last time we were out with granddad at that hour – he had even voluntarily come along.  He usually has to be coaxed into going out and his appetite has spiked recently which has made everyone happy.  Then we went to Cedele across the street for more sitting and coffee where I read the newspaper, granddad people watched and health food aunt got her hair done.  There was some shopping in between coffee and lunch but it was basically a whole morning of granddad time.  And it was awesome.  I felt so lucky to have been there.

To other people, granddad might come across as being just an ordinary 96 year old man.  And maybe he is.  But to me, he’s far from that; too special and amazing to be taken for granted.  I’ve written before that I’ve never looked forward to my trips home.  But time with granddad has always been the ‘right thing to do’ and it’s one of the primary reasons I visit.  For the first time ever, it’s become not only the right thing to do but what I want to do and I’m completely content with being home.  Because it means getting to spend precious time with someone I’ve realized has helped shape the person that I’ve become.  And for now, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.


interesting home

i’ve been home for almost 2 months and i think this is the first time i’m actually (gasp) enjoying myself here.  to say that it’s taken me by surprise is surely an understatement.  don’t get me wrong, i don’t hate it here (or maybe i do, but don’t make me say it).  but i’ve never felt completely comfortable living here.  and with every year that i spent overseas, i think i grew a little less local.  it’s hard to explain.

so imagine what i was feeling when after vancouver, i found myself back home, having to re-hash my life’s plan; plotting an escape to somewhere.  anywhere.  i wanted to shoot myself in the face. not in the literal kind of way, of course.  but it’s true.  i felt a little lost and a little sore that i hadn’t planned better.

i was moping around the house the first week when i forced myself to get out of the house to do something ‘fun’.  i found myself visiting iBrew to figure out if i could homebrew in singapore.  being very cynical, i thought the climate was totally ill-suited for brewing.  and to a certain extent, it is.  but a more optimistic person would be able to get around it without too much hassle.  mr boss of iBrew was knowledgeable, friendly and gave off good vibes so after talking to him about what he had to offer, i went home (less cynical), thought about what i wanted and sent out an e-mail requesting prices.

what i wasn’t expecting was a job offer.  but that’s what i got out of our interaction.  a month and a half into working with him and it’s been great.  i get to brew beer, discover home in ways i’ve never had to before, engage in other nerdy things and work with a superb mr boss (we now play tennis together and he calls it an ’employee benefit’).  and i get to tell people that i get paid to make beer.  rock star.  of course, my life would be complete if i said i was brewing in north america.  but i’m taking this one step at a time.  and this is step 1.

have i mentioned that i really love counter culture?  as it turns out, singapore does have a decent counter culture scene.  i guess i just needed locals to show me the way.  oops.  why wasn’t i ever that kind of local?

other things that i’m enjoying about being home:

– spending time with granddad.  and by that i mean he declares happy hour when i arrive at his house.  it’s unclear whether this is a good or bad thing.  am i only a drinking buddy to him?  well, i do help him change the batteries to his solar powered outdoor lights.  so i guess i’m a little more…

– getting to cook during my weekly friend dates with ms han

– being able to appreciate home for the first time in probably ever

happy birthday, mom!

and grandma!

my mother turns 61 today.  my grandmother would’ve been 80-ish.  it also happens to be all souls’ day and the fam is headed to church to pray for my grandmother.  i’m trying to weasel out of that situation to happy hour with my granddad.  i don’t think my grandma would mind…

last night, we had birthday dinner at the imperial herbal restaurant at vivocity. i’m happy to report that the food was superior to that of peach garden (where we went for dad’s birthday).  the spicy stir fried venison and the furong (egg whites in a bird nest looking thing) were pretty delicious and worth a try.  the rest of the meal was pretty typical chinese but of better quality, presentation and taste.  success!  after the peach garden and other chinese restaurant experiences, i was starting to think that maybe multi-course chinese dinners of this sort were all about quantity and their quality, like that of my regular dentist, had gone downhill.

everyone needs a little billy chen in their lives

billy chen = my mother

yesterday, we were riding the train home (we’re into being green these days) and it was a relatively empty train.  two people got up to leave and then…

mom: omg!  that man looks like a lady.  and also like jesus.

me: that’s funny.  mostly because i think they might be malay.

mom: oh!  is it?

and then we chuckled.  a lot.

updates from home

in the past 4 weeks, things have happened!

we celebrated mooncake festival at my granddad’s house and it was good family fun. we grilled out, set some paper lanterns on fire (not a traditional practice), sampled different flavored mooncakes and appreciated the moon.

my dad turned 60 which seems to be the official senior citizen age according to the government. he decided to retire and is now proudly trying to dabble in ‘manly’ things like gardening and made-up DIY tasks at home. i say made-up because i think his idea of DIY is a little unconventional and hilarious. an example: in our house, we have sliding glass doors that separate the dining room from the kitchen from the living room….you get the idea. anyways, the other day, he had me help him to first remove one of the glass door panels (they’re not light) and then we hung it horizontally from the roof outside (with green nylon string) to act as a sort of rain screen. i meant to attach a photo, sorry. but just use your imagination. it ain’t stylish or zen at all. but at 20 cents a meter for the nylon string and free for the existing glass panel, it was cheaper than oh, let’s say, bamboo screens made for this purpose? it’s been about a week and there it still hangs. and i guess it must blend in with the surroundings well because it took my mom a full 4 days to notice the new installation. she wasn’t impressed.

i think my dad is enjoying seniorhood. i think he mostly enjoys the store discounts, free museum days, the cheap movie tickets and the inevitable respect from younger folks that comes with the territory (he’s offered seats on public transportation pretty often). he excitedly sent off his application for the senior version of the public transportation card and couldn’t wait to use it when it arrived a few days after his birthday. i think he even loves the special sound people with concession cards get when they tap their cards on the card readers. it’s quite adorable.

i went to the dentist. a norm for me when i’m home because i haven’t found a dentist in the US that i love. this time, instead of visiting my regular private clinic, my mom made an appointment for me at a government outfit. she stated that through the grapevine, she had heard that my regular dentist was ‘not as good as before’. can a dentist’s skill really go downhill? i didn’t argue. probably she was right. the country isn’t that big. rumors (and true facts) spread like wildfire.  however, i had my reservations. not because it was a public clinic but because it was a new dentist. lo and behold! i couldn’t have been more pleased with my visit. most favorite dentist visit ever! not painful, super nice staff, i was able to ask any question i wanted (a rarity with healthcare providers these days)….i was so excited, i even obliged and filled out a comment card when asked later. who gushes about a dentist visit? i know. it was that awesome.

because it’s food-obsessed singapore, i’ve been having food adventures – of both the restaurant and home cooked variety. we keep returning for the snow ice at traditional desserts (mei heong yuen) on temple street because it never lets us down. other worthy mentions are:

– the laksa pesto pasta at ps cafe

– inle myanmar restaurant

– desserts at mof

home cooking wise, i’ve been experimenting with new recipes from jamie oliver cookbooks and my thai cooking class recipe book. in addition to pasta with grilled vegetables, i now have more staples to add to my repertoire! thank goodness…no one needs to be as predictable as grilled veggies with pasta…

i couldn’t wait to be reunited with my crafting supplies in the US so i reshopped for more here. i’m hoping to start earlier this year with the christmas gift making process and make decent ones since i missed out on the gift giving situation last year. i’m excited! i’m officially in love with all things stationery…