The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

Lucozade and Grapes

As can often be the case with young children in the household, there’s a minor ailment going through the family. The Common Cold has come to stay and usually takes up abode for two to three weeks before taking its leave after personally getting acquainted with each family member.

Tempers are short and snot trails are long. Smeared right up to the eyebrows in the case of #3 where it stays crusted over. Or hovers tantalisingly just above the upper lip like a string of elastic. Try and wipe it off and screams reverberate around the room and head thrashing worthy of a mosh pit ensues. They cling to your knees, beseeching you to pick them up and no sooner than you do, they grapple to get down. Then they fling their heads back and cry. Seemingly nothing you do for them is good enough. More crying. More clinging.

You have on your hands a very angry, challenging baby/toddler/boy/girl – delete as appropriate. Then you secretly fear, is this them? Forever?

It isn’t often apparent until a few days later that the Common Cold has come to stay. Relief follows that this sudden personality malfunction is thankfully just temporary. These few days of restlessness and grumpiness before the fanfare of Snot and Cough announce the arrival of Common Cold. Before realisation dawns that it is illness and not just the children testing how much you love them by throwing a few Acts of Unreasonable Behaviour into the daily mix and showing you just what Rage is all about causing headaches for all. Then Guilt wags a finger at you rather accusingly that you did not foresee this illness lurking on the horizon instead of thinking thoughts about wine before 7pm, make that 5pm even.

I miss the days where you could call into place of gainful employment and declare it a Sick Day. Then crawl back under the duvet and go back to sleep. Then wake up later, remain firmly in pyjamas all day long, drag duvet to meet sofa and go visit Daytime Television. Jeremy Kyle. This Morning. Loose Women. It’s enough to make you go back to gainful employment really. Perhaps that’s the whole point of crap Daytime Television, to reduce the incentive to shirk off work.

With children, there is no such thing as Sick Leave, whether you are in gainful employment or otherwise. I rather think that Husband has a better chance of feeling better sooner by going to gainful employment rather than remain at home with #1, 2 and 3 creating an environment less than conducive for wallowing in minor ailments like we once could.

Common Cold is playing the drums inside my head but unlike #1, 2 and 3, I don’t feel like clinging to the knees of Husband or flinging myself on the floor apoplectic with indecisiveness. I want to go to bed, sleep and be left alone in the quiet and dark until the drums stop playing.

Once, there was my Mum making something strange but apparently nourishing to get over minor ailments. All sorts of family members giving advice on how to get rid of all sorts of befuddlements before a GP was called upon.

A few years ago my Dad, Mr Li slipped on ice and ‘sprained’ his wrist. Off he went to see a non fully qualified, non practising medical practitioner in the art of the ‘Iron Palm’ who applied ‘Iron Hitting Wine’ (Iron Hitting Oil also available), onto said injury. For a sprain it works, I’ve had it applied to me but not for a fractured wrist which was eventually seen to by his GP.

A good GP is hard to forget, like a good teacher. I haven’t had the consistency of one family GP since I lived in Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham. You were more than likely able to see the same GP whenever you needed an appointment, it builds trust and confidence. With a small dose of mortification too.

In my teens when we moved back to Chester-le-Street for a second time, we registered with the same practice we went to ten years earlier. Our family GP remembered me when I was four years old and he had to make a house call in the middle of the night to attend to a particularly rageful, indecisive, grumpy patient who would not stay still to be examined. Oh so that’s where you get it from #1, 2 and 3. I had measles in my defence.

My Dad, Mr Li is a firm believer in the healing powers of Lucozade (the original stuff wrapped in orange cellophane, not the fancy new stuff with lemon barley flavour) and grapes. He hasn’t had to buy me either for many years now but I like to for myself when I’m ill because it’s quite comforting when you need a bit of something to cheer you up. Except you can’t buy Lucozade in Singapore.

There’s nothing quite like the comfort of your parents when you need a dose of sympathy and I guess that’s what the knee hugging, moshing, wailing in despair is all about but hopefully some day soon, a hug, some Lucozade, grapes, a dark, quiet room with a duvet will do the trick.

Photograph courtesy of Uncle Monkey who actually did something I asked of him in the required time frame. Wonders never cease.

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Peer pressure

It took me awhile to take any notice of what NekNominate was all about. I’d seen a few tags on Facebook about it and then I saw a few news headlines that this so called ‘game’ had led to some very serious consequences. It was then that I paid more attention to it.

For the few who are behind the times like myself, it’s an on line drinking game that started off in Australia, where you ‘neck’ a drink, do a dare and then nominate someone else to complete the same challenge in 24 hours and post a video on Facebook about it all.

Before there’s any blame on Australia, if you remember Happy Slapping, where groups of young people video the random slapping or punching of total strangers and posting it on line, that was originated in the UK. Tragic consequences have also resulted from that too.

The basic rules of NekNomination laid bare are not in the least extreme. But it appears the interpretation of the rules can be. Of course you can say that it is the idiocy of a few who are taking things too far. The need not to just complete the basic challenge but to go better and further than videos you’ve seen before. For the videos to go ‘viral’ which would reflect what? Popularity? Originality? Fame?

Drinking games are nothing new and generally experienced socially rather than on social media. I can think of many times in the Union bar where drinking games of downing pints and alcopops was the rite of passage by some Club or other. It wasn’t responsible behaviour but then how many teenagers and young people stop at the recommended alcohol consumption level? How many adults?

There must be thousands of NekNominate videos on line that are ‘ordinary’. There must be thousands more that are ‘wacky’. There must be thousands more than that, that are now seen as ‘regretful’ by the stars in them.

When I was at Sixth Form College, a boy I can barely recall the face or name of did something that can only be described as unhygienic. It was after the end of year exams and we all trekked to the pub with a beer garden. There must have been 30 or more people there. I don’t know how it started but all of a sudden a boy had a pint glass filled with his own urine in it. A whip round had been collected with the coins, COINS I say, just scattered on the bench in front of him. Buoyed on by end of exam relief, stupidity and most important of all peer pressure, the other boys dare him to drink his own piss for the collection of coins. COINS!

Did he do it? Of course he did. Why? Peer pressure. Some boys were goading him on and the rest of us were witness to it all. Then what happened? We all felt quite disgusted and looked away and the boy collected his coins looking rather shameful. That was the end of that. You may be thinking why didn’t someone stop him? At that time in our development, we hadn’t evolved properly.

He was lucky though because I can tell you this story and no one will ever know who it is. The same can’t be said of any person (of any age as we shouldn’t just assume only the young are foolish), attempting the same today with multiple camera devices at the disposal of any one person at any time to be broadcast to the world as soon as the deed is done.

Peer pressure has a lot to answer for. It’s always been there. You may say just walk away from it all, who have you to prove anything to? It’s easy to say that now. Now that we really have nothing to prove to anyone. Yet I bet we will still do something on occasion because of peer pressure.

As a parent, this question of peer pressure and the circle of adolescent minds it moves in, is something that concerns me a lot. Within the next ten years, my children will be in that stage of their lives where teenage angst, insecurities, the need to be liked and to fit in will rear it’s emotional head. We may safely be on the other side now but how do we help the next generation navigate their own safe way?

Last Tuesday, 11 February 2014 was Safer Internet Day. It is organised by Insafe to promote safer and more responsible use of online technology and mobile phones by children and young people across the world. You can find out more at http://www.saferinternetday.org.

Not only do we have to help our children cope with the base issues of alcohol, sex and drugs that have existed generations before our time, we now have that added thing of multiple camera devices and online technology to contend with.

Where do you start? Thankfully there are measures beginning to take shape to educate young people on the longevity of one moment of ‘high jinks’. That it can go far beyond your control and never return. There’s impressing upon young people that one day, they will not be a young person anymore and will need to conform to paying taxes and rent that require a position of gainful employment and what kind of technological footprint have they left already? There’s also the importance of educating young people that consent in sexual activity also extends to pressure into ‘sexting’.

Life is cyclical. Just when you think you would never do anything so stupid as down a pint of your own piss because you just wouldn’t and anyone with any sense just wouldn’t. You need to remember there is an up and coming group of people who may well would and we are the ones responsible for ensuring they don’t.

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Love is……..a heart shaped potato wedge

So it’s Saint Valentine’s Day. That one day of the year where red roses, chocolates and love hearts reign supreme and at a premium.

Yesterday I asked Husband what big, romantic plan did he have in store for me on Valentine’s Day. He replied with ‘I’m going out to get drunk’.

Valentine’s Day has come to mean different things to me over the years. As a young child and adolescent, there was the frisson of hope and anticipation over whether the school ‘postman’ would deliver a Valentine’s Day card to your desk from a Secret Admirer with the cryptic inscription of ‘Will you be my Valentine, love from ?’ Maybe your Secret Admirer wooed you with romantic poems. Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet and so are you. Perhaps the envelope was S.W.A.L.K.

How easy it can be to forget those days of innocence. Where Valentine’s Day was simple and not some expected grand gesture.

At what point did I become slightly jaded about the day. Perhaps when you become slightly jaded about many things like paying taxes and extortionate rent. When you feel coerced into something rather than acting on free will.

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I remember quite clearly being sixteen and a rather large gooseberry I now realise, with Big Brother Li and my now sister in law walking along Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, Hong Kong which looks across the harbour to Hong Kong island’s beautiful skyline. This is a prime spot for courting couples and naturally there are flower sellers peddling their wares. On spotting a young couple and gooseberry in tow, one such flower seller tried to persuade Big Brother Li to give his belle a single stem rose but he was having none of it. I was so mortified at what a tightwad he was and so embarrassed for my now sister in law and quite convinced that was to be the end of that budding romance. Big Brother Li is rather a stubborn one and quite forthright in his convictions and his refusal was because he quite simply didn’t want to be told when to be romantic. To mitigate his tightwadness, he did go to an actual florist the day after to buy a proper bouquet which is a huge deal for him and obviously worked.

I guess that’s what it comes down to. Love, spontaneous romance, acts of kindness to each other should happen at any time and it should have meaning to you and not to symbolise to the wider world that we are very much in love. Although I fully advocate effort to be made on Valentine’s Day in any new budding romance because it would be quite tragic not to have that before you stop finding each other’s farts endearing. But as relationships develop into years you need to count on more than one hand, there is something else you want to know. That you are both able to remind each other of that fresh excitement and rush of endorphins you once had when your relationship was new and unhindered by the hum drum daily grind of work, children, money and just stuff.

Yes, it is easy to mock the whole of Valentine’s Day being some commercial crap and therefore not to buy into it out of principle. Roses are so overrated and overpriced on this day when tomorrow you could buy double the quantity for the same price. Why stress out over booking Valentine’s Day dinner at the perfect restaurant when next weekend would still be ok. Why should romance be limited to one day out of 365 (or 366)?

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Mrs Calamari posted this photo of a heart shaped potato on Facebook a little while back and it reminded me of a painful Valentine’s Day incident some 10 or 11 years ago with a work colleague. I happened to walk past her desk and noticed one of those Sainsbury’s recipe cards. In my defence I can only claim to be possessed by the Anti-Cupid to have said out loud, ‘How sad.’ I’m not sure what exactly I was feeling sad about but I’m quite convinced it was the idea that there could be a recipe card explaining how to make Heart Shaped Potato Wedges and not that I thought she was sad for wanting to make Heart Shaped Potato Wedges.

Which obviously is how she took my meaning. Oh it was awful. The office was open plan, it was after lunch and everyone was back at their desks and I was left trying to dig myself out of a bottomless hole. The conversation that I hadn’t been privy to, just a mere five minutes earlier, was how this work colleague had excitedly been telling everyone that her and her boyfriend were not to be taken in by the commercial pressure of a fine meal out in some romantic restaurant so they were going to cook their first romantic Valentine’s Day meal at home together. Valentine’s Day principles I fully support! She was going to do the starter and pudding and her boyfriend the main course and she was very excited at having found some recipe cards in Sainsbury’s to give her just the ideas she needed. Until I came along with my ‘How sad’ which sent everything crashing down. Colleagues around us went silent. She screeched at me in a very vexed high pitch to explain exactly what did I mean by that. Oh, it’s still awful thinking about it now. She was very gracious when I did explain it was the idea of needing a recipe to make Heart Shaped Potato Wedges and not that to make them would be sad. But then that was rubbishing her culinary skills too. I should stop.

Romance and expressing your love and appreciation of someone is, of course, not limited to one day. But sometimes it can be a timely reminder that love and romance is very much alive and well in your relationship and even if you choose to do nothing special today, you may at least think of some romantic plan for another day. I may eschew any public display of Valentine’s Day affection but it is still a good reason to have a glass of red wine and steak and chips on a weekday. Husband has not gone out to get drunk as he declared but neither have we enjoyed a candlelit meal pour deux, lingering over wine and the warm glow of coupledom. Instead, we had #1 and 2 at the table stealing our chips and yabbering on about anything they can think of at high volume.

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Today, I was reminded that Valentine’s Day is still a simple affair. It’s just a day to let someone know you love them. #1 and 2 came back from school proffering homemade Valentine’s Day gifts for Husband and myself. Far be it for me to foist any ‘it’s a day of commercial crap’ onto them so young. I want them to grow up feeling free to express their feelings and I want them for as long as possible to enjoy the thrill that someone finds them interesting and will today pluck up the courage to let them know.

I hope someone broke off from the hum drum daily grind to let you know they love you. Better yet, I hope someone is still making Heart Shaped Potato Wedges for their someone special because it’s so easy to let go of these small acts of romantic gesture that can remind you of so much.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Take time to reflect a little

When I was thinking about writing this blog last year, I wasn’t sure how to start it or how it would all pan out. I thought it would be quite a lighthearted way to recount some memories from my past. I thought writing this blog was in sole response to paving the way to turning forty. I thought it was in reaction to the notion of life beginning at forty but what about all the years that got you to forty.

The truth I now realise, six months into this journey, is that I felt I was losing track of the things that I held dear to me. The people, the places, the ideas and feelings I once had. I felt that after five years away from my family and friends in the UK; living a life that has been a whirlwind of change and activity; meeting some amazing new people, many of whom have since moved on from Singapore that what I really wanted to do was take time to recount and take stock of all that is now and all that has been.

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I think what I needed to do was remind myself of the life that I had and bridge it with the life I have now so that I can wrap it altogether for the next step. I think what I also wanted to do, needed to do, is remind you that I’m still very much here and that whilst I have new family members to take care of and there are miles and time between us, I haven’t forgotten about you. You may think this all sounds a bit twee but five years of living abroad as an Expat at a time when most people I know have laid down roots can feel quite discombobulating. I can’t believe I’ve used the word discombobulating, when is that ever going to happen again?

I am a sentimental soul at heart and I don’t mind admitting that. Although we assume we know we are valued and loved by those closest to us, I think it’s good to let them know at least once a lifetime that they are and why they are. Writing it in my blog allows me to express these feelings without having to have a few pints and declare ‘I love you’ in the way that a few pints allows you to do. It also spares the stoical amongst you the embarrassment of this occurrence in person and having been away so long, it has been important to me that I do let you know.

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Taking care of a young family also takes up more time and energy than I imagined possible which leaves very little time to nurture friendships and relationships like they need to be taken care. Of course social media helps a lot but it doesn’t give any depth and is very much surface level communication. As it should be.

It’s not been as weird as I thought writing a blog, even though it’s very much a one sided conversation about me which is quite a weird and slightly egotistical thing to talk about. I’ve definitely enjoyed the writing and thinking about what to write about and how to word things because you have to be mindful of the people you want to talk about.

Naively, I thought rummaging through my memory archives would be all about the fun stuff, the happy times but anyone who has reflected upon the years will know that it doesn’t work like that. Of course it can’t. All of us have experience of some Big Life Event that has shaped and changed us in some way. I know it’s necessary, otherwise how else can we be of support and comfort to others without empathy. I don’t wish to take on everyone’s problems by the way but I do believe in a certain degree of openess when all is not right with the world.

I’m really glad I started this blog. I would have been annoyed with myself had I let it go without even trying. Someone once said that it must also feel like therapy, I guess it does in a way. Especially when I’ve spoken about the loss of someone special. It gave me comfort to be able to affectionately talk out loud about them. I’ve felt better talking about how I feel about not being in gainful employment which made me feel like I wasn’t pulling my weight for a long time. Even though I’m grateful for having this time with #1. 2 and 3 which wouldn’t have happened in the same way had we stayed in the UK.

Sharing some of what our life in Singapore is all about has also helped me appreciate it a lot more too. It may seem quite exotic and in many ways it is privileged but it’s not going to last forever. I already know that one day soon, I’ll be in the middle of a cold, wet British summer and wonder why I never made more use of the pool we have downstairs lying in the sun with a big, fat gin.

I guess overall, I feel much more appreciative of many things now that I’ve spent six months reflecting on the past. You can be so busy filling your calendar with events, with doing things, with time passing you by so quickly that you can feel like you’ve achieved hardly anything. But you have. You so have.

So as I pass the halfway mark, I’m going to be continuing with my blog and I’ve been thinking of things to write about. I’ve been listening to a lot of old Desert Island Discs podcasts which has got me thinking about the eight songs I’d choose. It’s a tough one and requires a lot of thought. Have a think about yours too. I think I’ll do Room 101 as well and Mrs Cake Pops suggested ‘Things I’d tell my younger self’.

That’s all for now. Goodnight. xx

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Happy 10th Birthday Nephew #2

I remember the excitement of meeting Nephew #2 for the very first time. He’d just arrived at London Gatwick airport (not that near to London actually) after a 13 hour flight from Hong Kong and this slightly overly enthusiastic stranger comes bounding over to him expecting this three and a half year old bewildered little boy to be just as pleased to see them in return.

The inevitable happened of course. He cried and hid behind his Dad in fear and I think his exact words were, ‘I’m scared! I’m scared! I’m scared! I need to lock her behind a door with ten locks on it!’. Oh dear. It wasn’t quite the first impression I was hoping for after waiting such a long time to finally meet Nephew #2.

I didn’t appreciate that although to me, he already had a place in my heart, to him I was a stranger. I had seen plenty of photographs of him from being a wrinkled newborn that his face was very familiar to me. Before their big trip, my brother had told him they were visiting England because his Aunt was getting married and that I was his only sister which meant there was only one Aunt like me but really, what does that mean to a three year old?

I see it now with my own children, the people important to them and who they hold in their affections are the people they see on a regular basis. It’s no use expecting them to feel the same depth of affection, love even, for someone they don’t know just because you do.

But such is the affable nature of a three year old that by the time we were comfortably seated on the Gatwick Express back to London, he was happily sat on my knee looking out of the window and talking non stop. So comfortable was he that he farted on my knee which earned him the name of Smelly Tofu, a Hong Kong street food delicacy of fried fermented tofu.

I could barely believe it considering the brouhaha of just half an hour earlier. Now I understand how it works, if children see grown ups happy together, it swiftly follows that they agree you can’t be half bad and warm to you too.

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Getting to know Nephew #2 as a three year old boy holds a very special place for me. He was and still is, incredibly articulate for his age. Just speaking to him on the telephone tonight to wish him Happy Birthday and Happy Chinese New Year, he reels off a dozen blessings and good wishes to my two or three. He laughs and jokes and is generally a very happy character.

When my brother told me he was bringing over Nephew #2 to attend our wedding, it was one of the highlights of the occasion. Nephew #1 was already at school in the UK and to have them both be there is one of the best gifts I could have asked for. But being only three, he slept through the whole ceremony which was the only reason why he was so quiet. I remember turning round to look for him and seeing him fast asleep.

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One of the privileges of being an Aunt is that you can publicly wax lyrical about nephews and nieces in a way that you probably wouldn’t with your own children for fear of sounding like a show off. When my six year old nephew performed his first solo piano recital it was such an immensely proud moment and I felt no reserve in telling others and showing them the video clip of his performance.

I have an interest in all his achievements and wish him to succeed and be happy just as much as his parents do. For him it means that there is one more extra person who will be just as delighted to hear about what he’s been up to. Who is happy for him and who is made happy by him. As a parent myself now, I can appreciate just how special this simple relationship can be where you can share all the good things with rarely having to exchange a disciplinary word.

But the bittersweet nature of our relationship is that in ten years we’ve met on just four occasions. It would have been far less if we weren’t living in Singapore right now, just a four and a half hour flight away from Hong Kong. Chunks of time pass, they grow up and have moved on to other interests without you knowing. Sometimes you can feel left behind or that you ought to know far more about this boy you are an Aunt to. Yet a telephone call, a message can make all the difference because now they know you are that special person to them.

My nephew is ten years old today. Double figures. A momentous milestone for anyone. He is a bright, funny, chirpy young lad that I am so proud of and glad to have. These last ten years have flown by, as my brother also agrees. They’ve celebrated with a fun day out topped off with a double scoop of ice cream.

I’m looking forward to this next stage of his growing up but I’ll always love thinking about that very first time we met. I just wish very much so, that we could have more of them. Even though #1 and #2 have met Nephew #2 before, they were so young it’s not something they can remember but he remembers them and I am hoping there’ll be a meeting again very soon with #3 in the mix too.

Happy Birthday Nephew #2. With much love.

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Walk not run

Sometimes you do something and then wonder why you never did it more often. In our London life, weekends could be booked up months in advance filled with Birthdays, weddings, family visits, catching up with friends you haven’t seen for far longer than you would like. How does it happen that you can live in the same city and realise you haven’t seen a good friend for a very long time.

I love London, even more so now that I probably may never live there again and look back with a rose tinted haze. But with living in any confined city, you often wonder what’s out there. Where exactly are the rolling green fields of England. They’re always closer than you think.

So for no particular occasion a group of us rented a holiday home and shared a long weekend together with wine, beer, food and a plan to do a long walk along the Dorset coast.

The weather six years ago this week couldn’t be more different to the reports I’ve been reading about today. Storm battered Britain. Floods. Thousands left without power. Coastlines falling into the sea.

This is Golden Cap, Dorset in early February 2008. We were staying in a farmhouse in nearby Charmouth.

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Look at the clear blue skies and winter sunshine. Just going back through these photos makes me smile. Look at the beautiful views and rolling green fields and how can you not feel happy. We were fully expecting grey, wintry weather with it being early February and the fact that this wasn’t going to put off our friends from joining us is always a good sign.

The Dorset to East Devon World Heritage site is also know as the ‘Jurassic Coast’. It stretches across 95 miles of stunning coastline. Not only is it gloriously beautiful but it provides an education into the science of the earth. Which we didn’t learn much about except look for a few fossils along the beach and we barely covered much of the 95 mile available to us.

What I did learn that weekend is how to take an almost authentic ‘face punch’ photo. Yep. Courtesy of Ms Beefy who bestowed this new skill upon us. She does it scarily well. It’s a three person stunt. One person has arm outstretched locked in ‘punch’ mode, the second vigorously shakes their head from side to side with jowls loose. Only with jowls loose can you achieve the desired effect. Then the third person takes the photo. This is not an activity for ‘selfies’. Hours of fun. Though I haven’t tried it since. It gives me a headache all that head shaking.

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I love long country walks. I’m sure many of us do. I have romantic notions of dragging #1, 2 and 3 on many of them in years to come. Will they love it or will they complain about it and say it’s pointless? Either way, I think they’ll look back and appreciate it. Hopefully they’ll have an idea of what a ‘long walk’ is because it is quite possible to reach your mid thirties and not know.

Who could not know? Well, for some of us, enjoying the amble and taking in the view all around us is part of the whole enjoyment. For others, point them in the direction of the summit and that’s their goal. So off they zoom. Without pacing themselves. Without even the correct footwear. Like one of those wind up toys that go off and then wear themselves out. Expleting the F word quite liberally along the way and yet proclaiming to be having a really good time but F word where’s the pub and pint coming along? I suppose I shouldn’t say who that could be…

You can go away with a group of friends for the weekend and relive the good parts of when you shared a house together. The laughs without the quirky habits they have that you remember from ten years ago. It’s good to get together away from the usual places we always go to and all the things we usually do. So why on earth didn’t we do it more often?

It may be a while before we’ll be planning a long weekend away with just friends again and I wonder what new skills we’ll be picking up then?

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Gung Hey Fat Choi!

Gung Hey Fat Choi! May this new Chinese New Year of the Horse bring you good health, happiness and prosperity. May your table be abundant, your hearts be light and your dreams fulfilled.

One of the things I appreciate most about living in Singapore is the celebration of the Chinese festivals. Once Christmas is over, the lunar New Year decorations are put up in earnest. A beautiful array of pink blossoms and auspicious red and gold festoon Chinatown, shopping malls and people’s homes. Previously, I had never really experienced just what a big celebratory event it was until these past six years.

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It’s a festival embraced by huge crowds flocking to Chinatown in cities all over the world. It fills me with pride that other cultures and nationalities enjoy themselves just as much on this happy occasion.

As a child, Chinese New Year meant wishing my family Gung Hey Fat Choi in exchange for lucky red packets and eating my Mum’s homemade New Year pudding and a special family dinner with roast duck, slow cooked marinated pork belly with sliced yam, steamed sea bass, sweet and sour pork (Cantonese style not your pork balls in batter), king prawns in their shells with tomato sauce and sometimes lobster with ginger and spring onion. A sumptuous feast indeed.

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In the centre of Newcastle Upon Tyne on the outskirts of Chinatown, there was once a nightclub called The Mayfair which hosted the Chinese New Year celebrations every year from when I was around 9 or so. The Newcastle Upon Tyne Chinese Association would organise a Sunday afternoon programme of lion dancing, traditional Chinese dance and operatic singing (an acquired taste) where we would gather to meet up with family and friends to exchange Chinese New Year good will and greetings. It brought together a real sense of community that also gave me a sense of my cultural background. Plus the opportunity to collect a lot of lucky red packets! My Dad Mr Li would ask me how did I do each year and I would show him my good fortune.

Sometimes I feel that living between two cultures it can be difficult to submerge yourself fully in either one or have true knowledge of why we celebrate traditions the way we do or even understand why such traditions are so important. As the generations pass by, we find that tradition can lose it’s meaning and what is practised now is just a loose version of what once was.

More than fifteen years ago now the Mayfair nightclub and it’s surrounding buildings were torn down in a major urban redevelopment scheme. It’s now the location of The Gate, a thriving entertainment hub. Initially there was concern over where would Chinese New Year celebrations be held but what has come out of it is a much bigger, buzzing, inclusive Chinese New Year street event that the whole north east community can engage with. Every year my Dad Mr Li takes a wander up the road to Chinatown to watch the lion dancing and I know he feels great pride in seeing the crowds of people of all nationalities gathering together for the festivities. He tells me just how busy it has been and how enthusiastically the lions were dancing.

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As Chinese New Year celebrations are underway in Singapore, I have a newfound appreciation for the culture I am from. I think it’s because of having children now who are of mixed race heritage that I feel it is important that neither culture has sole domination in their upbringing. They should be proud and celebrate both sides of their heritage but not just pick and choose the good stuff.

Quite often there’s the misconception that just because you’re Chinese then you automatically ‘know’ the Chinese stuff. I will openly admit to having a very poor knowledge of all things Chinese. But living in Singapore has afforded me an education in many things Chinese that I’ve enjoyed embracing. I feel better equipped to honour the beliefs of my parents and more importantly, I have a deeper understanding of what they sacrificed when they left Hong Kong for a new life in England. I know my Dad Mr Li is glad I’ve had this opportunity to be part of something he could never fully describe.

Chinese New Year is a celebration of family togetherness. For all the hardships of the year gone by, this is a time to rejuvenate in a little luxury, enjoyment and happiness. From the family reunion dinner on Chinese New Year’s Eve to visiting family on Chinese New Year’s Day to wishing family and friends good blessings for the year ahead. In the days of my Dad Mr Li’s youth, this time would be one of the few occasions in the year where you would get new clothes, new shoes and special food. Even Big Brother Li will remember the importance of Chinese New Year in this respect from his early days of living in the Li clan village. Also steeped in tradition is remembering our ancestors with the offerings of food, new clothing and luxuries to make the Afterlife a better place. For who will look after the future generations if not the past ones.

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I have come to realise that Chinese New Year is a lot more than collecting lucky red packets and eating delicious food. It’s a time to reflect and be thankful for family and friends to share the festivities with. So we have enjoyed a family reunion dinner, we’ve watched dragon and lion dance performances with friends, we’ve had a celebratory dim sum lunch and now it’s my turn to hand out lucky red packets to all the children I know.

The lion dance performances have been truly spectacular. A real show of strength, skill and acrobatics. It’s not just a load of banging of drums and having two men shaking their bum and waving a lion head around. It’s a symbol of protection, a story of warding off evil spirits, of bringing prosperity.

It is not to be confused with line dancing. I invited Mrs Cake Pops to come and join in our condo’s Chinese New Year celebrations next weekend. There’ll be lion dancing I said. Line dancing she replied. LION dancing I said. Line dancing? That age old auspicious Chinese tradition of dancing in a line in our cowboy boots, Stetson and chaps to ward of evil spirits? I suppose it could work. If only we hadn’t cleared up the misunderstanding though. Mrs Cake Pops does things properly and I so would have loved seeing her and the family rock up ready for a Houston rodeo show.

Even when we no longer live in Asia, I’m quite sure there will be customs that I will enjoy observing no matter where we are. For that, I have another good reason to be thankful for our time in Singapore, it’s taught me to remember and be proud of my Chinese heritage. It’s reaffirmed my belief in doing certain things because I feel they are important and meaningful and not just because my family have done it before me.

Happy Chinese New Year and may you enjoy the festivities wherever you are.

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