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

Welcome back Brilliant New Adventure!

Well actually she’s gone again. But for two fabulous weeks we had the company of Brilliant New Adventure. It was so so good to see her as you can imagine.

Not only for me but for #1, 2 and even 3 who wasn’t yet one when they left just seven months ago. Gather all of them together and it was like no time had passed at all. The excitement of the children over our first reunion lunch together was hilarious. It was like someone had released the Pause button. But then that’s how children live isn’t it? In the immediate here and now. Something worth reminding our adult selves.

As I watched this little playgroup reunited and the pure joy they have for each other, I felt quite reassured that perhaps they will always have one another. With #3 on the vertical move and throwing her weight around it was quite funny to see the shock on the face of son of Brilliant New Adventure. ‘Whatever happened to the baby?’. Well she’s quite the grown up toddler now. I wondered whether she would be shy around her 教母 but actually she threw herself right in the middle of things as if she’d never been away.

Where once we would pop down the road to their house for play dates, it felt like we ought to be out doing more in Singapore now that they’re ‘visitors’. So we went to the River Safari, I still prefer the Singapore Zoo as I can’t really distinguish one fish from another but I do so love the red pandas and the giant pandas as does Brilliant New Adventure. However, trying to keep all four quiet whilst we went to see them was quite tricky but then I was told that I made the most noise with my shushing!

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The last time we visited the River Safari was with Nana Moon back in December 2013. #2 wasn’t quite tall enough to go on the boat ride then. She still wasn’t tall enough this time either by just 2cm and it was heartbreaking to see the sadness on her face as she watched the others go whilst we had to sit and wait. She lay herself dramatically across a bench and looked so dejected that I just don’t think we can go back until 2cm have gone by. Or I allow her to wear her Princess dress up shoes outdoors.

You may recall, though she may prefer you don’t, that Brilliant New Adventure embraced 40 last December and one of my regrets at the time is that we were not there to help her celebrate. However, I’ve come to realise that if you have the heart to do something, it can be done at any time and still be meaningful. So we were only four months late but it gives good meaning to ‘surprise’ party with #1, 2 and 3 bearing cupcakes, candles and their gift for someone very special in their lives to let her know that we remember she is 40. Ha ha!

And life has begun again at 40.

We know there are opportunities all around us. Some of them we should be open to and some we know we shouldn’t. Some we need to be brave to take up and some we need to go and find.

I’m not at all surprised that Brilliant New Adventure has very quickly put in place the makings of a new life in Hong Kong. She has always shown strength and resilience in the face of other challenges so why not this too. Especially when it comes down to looking after one’s own happiness. At the very beginning of this, my sadness was down to why it had to be so and not over whether I doubted she would flourish with this new life.

There are lessons to be learnt all the time. From our own experiences and that of others. I feel a little bit wiser today than I did before because of someone else’s good grace and dignity.

For some time I felt rageful and upset on behalf of Brilliant New Adventure and often thought of how many ways there could be to tell someone what a nob and fool they were. I came up with some rather inventive suggestions. Yet these will never be aired because as advised by Brilliant New Adventure, what exactly would it achieve? Indeed, what exactly could it achieve.

Sometimes when you can volley back an immediate riposte there is some satisfaction to be gained rather than kicking yourself five minutes after the moment has passed having just thought of a witty response. But clinging on to words for a long length of time serves no purpose, bears no meaning and takes up a part of your soul that could be filled with much better thoughts.

As #2 is a true super fan of Frozen, I often hear the words ‘Let it go, let it go’ every day. It’s worth heeding this advice. For if she can let go then so can I because there is so much more to think about.

So much more exciting stuff! So much more fun to be had! So many opportunities to explore that can really be explored. There are people to meet and places to go.

Where once we just talked about going out for drinks, we now must take the chances when they present themselves. How strange in five and a half years to go out together for the first time after dark. So strange in fact, we couldn’t locate the bar at first. How much longer it’s been since we’ve had a drink together.

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On the one hand I do miss Brilliant New Adventure just as much as ever. I thought I was doing so well not to shed a tear. Until I started writing this. I wish I was a much less sentimental sop.

But on the other hand, there is so much to look forward to. I apparently haven’t lived properly without going out after dark in Hong Kong to places my Dad, Mr Li will no doubt say I can’t go to. I have never sampled the night life of Hong Kong ever. Something Brilliant New Adventure can hardly believe. I imagine by the time I get to Hong Kong she’ll be quite in the know of the places I have to go.

So you see, out of all this, it’s not just one person that gets to go on a brilliant new adventure. There’s no looking back anymore. The past is in the past.

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Is the Easter Bunny for real?

#1 has been very dubious about the Easter Bunny this year.

It’s quite a tricky one when #1 declares the Easter Bunny can’t be real and it’s just someone in a costume when faced with an Easter Bunny like this. What could I possibly say to that? At least Father Christmas on the whole looks like how he’s imagined to look.

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How could he have figured that one out? Especially when out for lunch on Easter Sunday there’s a bright pink one hopping about. #2, who is not a natural with all things animal was quite simply petrified of a Bunny two and a half times her size. I would be too.

We’ve had a lot of fun over the Easter weekend, though in Singapore only Good Friday is a public holiday. The children have been on four Easter egg hunts. The fridge is full of chocolate, a situation that needs to be rectified by the grown ups. They’ve decorated eggs and made pictures.

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They’ve had a lovely, colourful time and I’m appreciative of the effort that friends have put into turning their gardens into egg hunting grounds and hosting Easter parties at their condo. Easter with all its spring colours is a pretty time of year.

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At home we do our own egg hunt in the living room. #1, 2 and 3 are banished to their bedroom as we scatter the eggs here and there. All egg hunts in the tropics have to be a quick affair before the chocolate melts or the ants get to them. Then we give them a countdown and out they come with their baskets and fill them to the brim. It’s one of the things we really enjoy watching them do. They get a lot of fun out of it and I particularly like watching #3 get involved even though she hasn’t a clue what’s going but she’s one of the first to get tucking into an egg wrapper and all.

There’s a part of me that struggles with celebrating only the fun side of Easter. The religious side is a lot more serious to explain than the arrival of sweet baby Jesus at Christmas. And it seems to come about so quickly that we need to talk about the departure of Jesus when he was just born a few months ago. It’s a very complicated concept for young children. Especially at an age where the question of death and dying seems to pop out a lot from their young minds.

So back to the Easter Bunny. #1 gets up on Easter Monday waving a chocolate egg in the air, happy to announce to #2 that he does exist because he came in the night and left them both an egg.

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My name is Running Wolf

650,000 spectators lined the streets of London on Sunday to cheer on the 36,000 runners taking part in the 2014 London Marathon.

If you have ever been one of those spectators, there’s probably a chance that the thought of giving it a go next year has crossed your mind. There are probably just as many who would never want to give it a go. But if you are one that has thought about it, then I urge you to.

When Husband and I moved to Singapore, I also packed up my three London Marathon medals too. All your worldly possessions and all. In five and a half years they’ve sat in a box in a cupboard and have gone a funny colour.

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Still, they give me no less pride than the days I got handed them.

I’m no sporting person and I don’t possess a natural ability for any one sport which is a shame. I can’t even follow a step aerobics class. After leaving school and to my mid twenties, I can honestly say I barely did any exercise apart from the odd swim.

It was Ms Beefy who sowed the idea of running into my mind. She and I and Nana Moon took part in the Women’s Light Flora Run back in 2001. It was a 5km distance, a warm up jog for people like Big Brother Li. It felt like a long way at the time having put all that kind of nonsense behind me at school.

Then 10km felt like a long way.

Then I decided to jump straight in for 26.2 miles because I was one of those spectators cheering on a team of people running the London Marathon to raise money for people with muscular dystrophy, a muscle wasting disease affecting over 30,000 people in the UK. Many young men with Duchenne muscular dystrophy that only affects boys, barely live beyond their mid twenties and lose mobility by the age of ten. It can be a very powerful emotion watching people take on such a physical challenge for a cause that you are committed to.

In one moment, I thought perhaps I could do this too. Of course it’s about personal achievement but I definitely wouldn’t go through such a gruelling training programme for almost four months if I didn’t feel like there was something else to achieve too. In fact £53 million was raised for charity through the London Marathon in 2013 alone. Often charities come under fire for stipulating a minimum sponsorship level of around £1,000 if you want to take one of their places when you don’t get through in the ballot. On one hand it’s much needed income and on the other it determines your commitment.

Running for a charity is the best support you will ever get to accompany you on what can be a rather lonely 16 weeks of training. There is always someone keen to hear how you are doing and understands the effort and energy that goes before the final 26.2miles. It’s also good to be reminded of who you’re actually doing it all for. Then there’s the extra support you get along the route.

I’ve heard people say that running is dull and boring and bad for you. Sometimes getting the motivation to get out is dull. Sometimes where you’re running it is boring. Sometimes it can be bad for you because you’ve not prepared yourself properly.

Who would have thought running isn’t as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. You need to wear the right shoes, eat the right food and strengthen other parts of your body that never crossed my mind were vital to running well. Then you need to have the right frame of mind.

I followed a basic 16 week training plan and by the end of week 5, the weekend run was already half marathon distance. Plus fitting in three or four runs during the week. In the days before an app existed for everything you could possibly need was available, I became obsessed with my London A-Z and a piece of string. Diligently working out a route that fitted in with the required distance of my training run.

Running isn’t dull but I certainly became it.

I became acquainted with carboloading, energy bars or energy gels, cold baths, the pain of deep tissue massages, PBs, micropore taping up body parts at risk of continuous chafing and constantly smelling of Deep Heat. I gave up alcohol the third time just as another challenge, good practice for being preggers I guess. I ate so many oat cakes and porridge, I never really yearn to eat them now.

But I’m so glad I did start this thing called running. As part of training and sometimes just because, I’ve ran along some beautiful country lanes in Buckinghamshire and a good bit of dual carriageway in Reading. I realised Clapham Common isn’t that far from Muswell Hill. I got to spend more time with friends like Ms Beefy who became my partner on many a run around Hampstead Heath and along the Thames.

I’m glad I discovered I have the focus to do something physically challenging being fearful of most other sporting activities.

Since having #1, 2 and 3, I haven’t the inclination or energy to want to run any great distance. Plus living in the tropics, it’s quite difficult to run, or I should correct myself, to plod in 30 degrees heat is like wading through treacle. I went out for a 30 minute run earlier and I barely covered 5km. I understand now why Big Brother Li gets so excited running in ‘cold weather’. When he came to stay with us in London in 2004, it coincided with the St Albans half marathon which he decides to run just for fun. For fun I tell you!

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In my heart, I would have liked to finish any of my marathon attempts in under 4 hours 30 minutes. Even 4 hours 45 minutes. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

The first time, you have no idea how it will go and just finishing is a bonus. I worried about the 5.30am start having a negative impact on my performance but the adrenaline coursing through you the days before and the morning itself more than compensates. It’s no doubt a thrill to be part of the crowd surging towards Blackheath. For one morning to be part of something with 36,000 other people.

It’s not so much of a thrill worrying about when that pre-run poo is going to come. Think Paula Radcliffe.

The second time did become more of a personal challenge with the intention of bettering the first attempt. Did it happen? Sadly not. I felt like I was doing ok the first half but then I hit the dreaded proverbial Wall. I knew all about it having read about in my Runner’s World magazine and on running forums. Oh gosh, I forgot about the forums. Forums are weird places. Good for lots of things and support and advice but when you start treating it like your best friends are there then that’s just weird. Running is solitary but not that solitary.

The Wall is when your muscles and liver become depleted of glycogen and you suddenly feel fatigued and weak with no energy. I took every step of training so seriously that I had never had it before. I was at mile 14 and unprepared for this sudden loss of interest, slight disorientation and feeling of nausea. Mile bloody 14.

There’s a stretch of the London Marathon where you’ve not yet reached halfway but you can see those passing mile 22 on the way out. On a good day, it could buoy you up with renewed determination or on a bad day like I was having, it just seemed impossible. I have no idea how I managed to get round to mile 20. A few episodes of throwing up by the roadside, a few stops in the St John’s Ambulance tents and bucket loads of goodwill from the spectators at the side. I mostly walked that latter half but made sure I could at least run across the finish line.

Did I feel disappointed? A little because I had started off so well. But at the same time not really. I finished it and therefore fulfilled the commitment to all the people who had sponsored me.

So I tried again a third time in 2007, the year we got married. I suppose it was to provide some distraction against the wedding planning. To make me appreciate lots of big events in one year. I injured my left knee nine weeks into training, it will never be fixed and apparently I now run lopsided. So starting that time was such a big unknown and to finish again became my only goal.

Long distance running on any level is about mind over matter. Once you lose the will, it can be so difficult to motivate yourself again. During the last stretch along Embankment, when you know it’s just not possible to stop and give up now but feeling like you’re barely clinging on, I bumped into Big D quite by accident. We were both pretty tired at that point, it was quite a hot day. Great for spectators, not so great for running. It was good to see a friend at that point, I can say.

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I will always remember feeling overwhelmed at the amount of good will there is along the whole way. Children high fiving, jelly babies in abundance, families setting up their own drinks stations outside their homes. Everyone is willing you to carry on. Even at mile 26 with just point two to go, there are calls of ‘keep running’.

Husband is my greatest support and whilst I got all the glory for doing the running. I am grateful for his support during the days of extreme tiredness (read grumpiness), for coming to out of town events and waiting hours for me to finish and for battling against all the other spectators along the way to wait patiently to cheer me on at various points as I pass by in seconds.

I think my marathon training days are over. I think they are. Right now, I haven’t the energy or commitment to even consider a half marathon, which is quite a good distance. Not far enough to make you cry but not short enough you have to sprint. But one day I’ll be ready for it and if there’s a running partner I would like to have, then it would be Big Brother Li. I would like to run a race with him because if there’s anyone who would have to carry me round should my knees give way then it’s my brother.

In the meantime I’ll take my half hour plods around Singapore in the 30 degrees heat. But when your route takes in views like this, then it does make it all worthwhile.

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If you’re wondering why my name is Running Wolf, well it’s because the night before I ran the London Marathon for the first time, I had this dream that I was raised in a tribe and my name was Running Wolf. Look what my friend Sprinty Otter got engraved for me.

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Happy 21st Birthday Nephew #1

As I said to Big Brother Li last week that he seems too young to have a 21 year old son, I realised it meant I have a 21 year old nephew. How exciting! All these years he’s been allowed a legal pint and I’ve been far away here in Singapore.

Though can you just imagine it? Having to take your Aunt out on the lash? Especially one that may not last beyond a second pint. Barely worth thinking about. I imagine he’s cringing at the thought. Should I even suggest we have a joint belated 21st and 40th Birthday party celebration when I’m back in the UK?

Nephew #1 is now well onto his way to being an independent grown up. I’ve been preparing myself for this transition for some years. I think it’s easier for an Aunt, perhaps even more so for Uncles, to see that the young child they once were is now a young adult. I think parents will always have a delayed reaction in this area, in some cases like my Dad Mr Li, I don’t think it ever happens.

My long overdue visit to Hong Kong in 2001 was a trip that brought together many family ties and opened up new ones. When a nephew or niece is born, you may not see straightaway that a new generation has arrived, just the expansion of your family in this tiny, cute baby. One that you can indulge with far fewer boundaries than with your own children. But soon enough, you realise that you want all the best things and all the greatest opportunities. To give them happy family experiences too and to be that Special Aunt who they see as another person cheering them on.

As an eight year old, he was already quite the independent child and articulate beyond his years. There’s something about my two nephews in their knowledge of current affairs that sometimes exceeds my own. I think it’s because their parents have been very matter of fact about the world around them. When they were very young and telling me about something that was happening in the news, they reminded of Stuey in Family Guy.

In addition, my Cantonese Chinese is not brilliant, much better than my Dad Mr Li’s but not as good as I would like. I’m out of practice these days too. In a Chinese language debate with my nephews I am going to fall flat every time. This requires a lot of patience on my nephew’s side waiting for me to find the words I want to say and explaining to me very slowly what he’s just said. All without getting exasperated like many adults would.

Of course I would have liked to have been around from when he was born and enjoy watching him grow from chubby baby to toddler to talking, walking small child. To have built that bond from the start like I have been able to with my Nearly Nieces and Nephews.

However, in many ways it was easier to connect with an eight year old him than say a three year old one that would have required a few days of settling in and then perhaps he may have been comfortable enough to spend an hour or so with me away from his parents. With an eight year old, you can start straightaway with forming a bond as you find out what they enjoy doing and enjoy their company. If you are relaxed with them, they are very willing to give you a chance. I guess it’s about not trying too hard to win their approval and just let things happen naturally.

I wonder whether he realises that he has one of the brightest smiles I know. From being a child, there’s hardly a photograph of him looking sullen and every one with a smile is one that is genuine and full of warmth. It’s a quality that not all people have.

In much the same vein as Strawberry Mousse at the age of six, declared her favourite food was lobster. When the class teacher asked this question, more than likely they were expecting answers like spaghetti, fish fingers or raw carrot sticks. Nephew #1 also has a liking for fine food when he said he would like to go and eat steak the first time we went out for dinner on our own. I very much doubt that #1 will have such a discerning palate in a mere two years time.

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To think that was 13 years ago.

Nana Moon and I took him to Legoland when he was 11 and I have one of those fridge magnet photos of us on the drop of the water ride. I can see the look on his face very similar to how I feel on any ride. Must run in the family.

When I was last in the UK, he was very helpful with his cousins and those relationships can only grow deeper. I think he’ll find them all highly amusing. It’s with his help that my Dad Mr Li has been able to see #1, 2 and 3 on Skype lately. It eases my guilt of living this far away a little and it’s good for the children to be able to see family. To connect a name to a face that they can see.

So now he’s 21.

A young adult about to embark on what life has to bring and I’m looking forward to seeing him develop his career, his interests and being a part of it too. I’m looking forward to hearing his opinions on things and see his adult character form. I’m sure he has a good idea of what he wants to do and who he wants to be but I think it’s also good to know there’s always someone besides your parents, who want you to be the best version of you that you can be.

I have some answers and experience to offer guidance to some questions and choices that stand before him and I hope I can contribute something useful in that way.

But the main difference between then and now is that he is on his way to being an independent grown up and as much as I have strong and vivid memories of the young boy he was, I’m very much looking forward to spending time with the young adult he is becoming.

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Catching up with the old in the new

In the five and a half years we’ve been in Singapore, we’ve had a steady stream of visitors pass through. Oddly enough, as there arrives more children, the visitors become less frequent. Any correlation?

With every visit back to the UK, we try our best to see as many people as we can. Travelling from London to Newcastle and branching out to Edinburgh, Guildford, Oxford and stretching from Pontefract to Manchester and Warrington, all in the space of three weeks. Sounds exhausting? It is.

But we want to do this because it’s important for us to see friends and family in these places. To remain connected with the life we had as best we can. With each visit, we seem to come back with one more child and the chance to catch up becomes a bit complicated as we juggle travel with the demands of the feeding and sleeping timetable of small children.

It means that whilst we do see people, it’s fleeting. But much rather fleeting than not at all.

(Hang on a moment, David Attenborough’s Africa is on television right now and I’m distracted by the bouncing Springboks, I guess that’s why they have the word ‘spring’ in their name. If you think my musical popular culture knowledge is so last year, so is my television viewing. I still haven’t seen Matt Smith as The Doctor because I haven’t watched the intervening David Tennant Specials between season four and five even though I have the season five box set but I can’t possibly watch them out of sequence. Now there’s season six and seven and another new Doctor again!)

I know that I’m not alone in this respect. That my living a 13 hour flight away and a 7 hour time difference can work out just the same for people who live north and south of the River Thames, let alone north and south of the Watford Gap. The responsibilities of work, family, living further apart is what changes our ability to be spontaneous and accept all invitations to any social event.

Even the last few years has brought change with the friends I have made in Singapore and opportunities to catch up have become irregular and we all live no more than a 15 minute drive away. There’s just so many things to juggle. Yet, when we do on an evening have a glass of wine in the outdoor balmy air, chatting a little about our children but more so of everything else in general, I’m reminded of that feeling of wellbeing that all is good with the world.

Of course that could be the effects of the beer. I’m kidding! It’s definitely the company.

When my old friend Big D from way back during our University days announced he’d be over in Singapore for a few days with work, it was met with a good deal of Hoorah.

And so it should. Big D is that friend who shakes a gathering up and the party guest that makes for a great night out. He’s proper fun, witty and I often forget he’s an Accountant. They say that you should surround yourself with people who make you feel good but equally of importance are those that make you really laugh. Like Mrs 192, he is one of the best storytellers I know. He has an easy knack for comedy and drama and he fuels the ridiculousness of my imagination but equally is calmly supportive during times of need and important stuff too.

I don’t know why, but every time I see him, I always have to remark on just how tall he is, like it still takes me by surprise after all this time. I introduced him to my Dad Mr Li when I got married and have a photo of the tallest and shortest men I know. In preparing #1, 2 and 3 for his arrival, I obviously had built him up to be so high, #1 and 2 were concerned he wouldn’t be able to fit under our front door. He is tall but I have discovered since living in Singapore that the Dutch are on average, collectively the tallest people that I know. The Irish too actually.

It’s always bizarre and quite a novelty to see familiar faces here in Singapore. Like we’ve all been teleported by accident to some tropical climate as sweaty, summery versions of ourselves. You grow use to seeing people in a certain environment. Same like it’s weird seeing photographs of people I’ve met in Singapore in winter clothing, like it’s a Clark Kent style disguise.

Whilst I’m beginning to grow too accustomed to Singapore and starting to take for granted the beauty and benefits of our home city for the past five years, it is good to have visitors to remind you to appreciate what’s all around.

So with just a few hours free each evening for a few days, what exactly must you prioritise to give visitors a glimpse of the life you’ve been leading out this way?

Big D had a list of ‘Must Do’s’ from people who have previously passed this way and one of them was a long list of rooftop bars. ‘Just exactly how different can one be from another?’ said he. Where once we hung out in pubs with sticky carpets and not much of a view of the amazing London skyline, we were now having pints facing the Singapore River and overlooking the equally amazing Singapore skyline. Which Big D kept saying was very much like Vegas. Really? I’ve never been to Vegas before and it’s quite ironic that a well organised, obedient nation like Singapore could resemble such a place like Las Vegas, home of Celine Dion in Caesar’s Palace and Showgirls. I look upon Singapore with new eyes now.

Then there’s of course the obligatory Hainanese chicken rice, chilli crab, hawker street food (but street food in Singapore is not quite the same as street food in any other Asian country). I like how he pointed out the oddness of pairing fork with spoon which now seems to be the most efficient way to shovel in food and I forget how vexing I once found it when an eating establishment possessed no knives. Shame there was no time for Sunday free flow Champagne brunch at any one of the many five star hotels. But there was time for a Singapore Sling in the soothing surrounds of colonial Raffles Hotel, which is always quite a surprise amongst all the modern buildings around it.

It was good to introduce #1, 2 and 3 to another familiar face and what’s great about children is that they are so willing to accept whoever is put in front of them. However, for #1 and 2 to declare they missed Uncle Big D after a brief half an hour meeting makes me question the depth of their true loyalty to anything. When Nana Moon left Singapore #1 cried at the airport.

It’s been six years since Big D and I were frequent Friday Night Beer buddies. A time when you would see who’s around after work for an unplanned pint in an underground drinking establishment with sticky carpets and flocked wallpaper or a low ceilinged cellar bar that makes Big D seem like Gandalf in Frodo’s dwelling.

A time of spontaneity and evenings free to talk nonsense and laugh uproariously before chivalrously being vaguely pointed in the direction of the night bus home.

It seems like a time far from the lives we have now. So it was good to be able to catch up on all the news that I know has happened but is far better to talk about in person. The arrival of small children, big life celebrations later this year, work, family – the many elements of our lives as it is now. We are grown ups after all and it’s reassuring to acknowledge and appreciate that.

I can’t do impromptu Friday Night Beers anymore but with a bit of planning I can probably do any night of the week beers instead because nowadays you can’t be fussy what day of the week it is, if there’s a window of opportunity to go out.

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