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

Home is where that post holiday cuppa tea is

If there’s one thing to savour and look forward to after a holiday away, it’s that first cuppa tea at home.

It’s wonderful being away on holiday. All the delicious new foods to try out. Beer and wine any time of day without feeling guilty. Ice cream and cake too, though that’s not strictly reserved for holiday time.

But the one thing that kick starts my day every day is that first cuppa tea to wet your whistle as Husband says.

Tea with milk in a mug. Brewed to a caramel colour. Not too strong so that it leaves a bitter stewed aftertaste and not weak like dish water in appearance either.

Real semi skimmed fresh milk as well. Not your UHT crap milk, or even worse, evaporated milk. Or even worse than that, condensed milk! Why would you even do that south east Asia?

Sometimes I imagine owning a mish mash of vintage tea cups and saucers and several tea pots too with all the trimmings. But only because I’m taken by the whole vintage tea party look.

Several sips of tea from a delicate porcelain cup and saucer doesn’t cut it. You spend more time refilling your cup and there’s not much satisfaction gained from sipping tea.

Comfort comes in a mug of tea. One that is filled slightly less than a centimetre from the rim. Three quarter full mugs of tea make me feel uncomfortable.

I’m partial to a herbal tea but not a fruit one. I don’t see the point in an orange and coconut tea, they may smell fragrant but they taste like socks boiled in water and leave a funny feeling on your teeth.

Green tea is delicious and a roasted green tea is even tastier but always choose organic. Same goes for white tea. White tea comes from the same plant as green tea but is picked at a much younger stage and only during a small window of time in spring making it quite rare and more expensive. Fact from tour around tea plantation, Sri Lanka October 2007.

But that first cuppa tea to kick start my day is just a regular Tetley’s, sometimes a Yorkshire tea. So to go without this for two weeks has me longing for one when we’re packing up to come home. By this stage of the holiday, out of desperation anything resembling tea will do.

Until you get home, shower the journey away and sit down with a nice cuppa tea. It feels good to be home.

Biscuits to the side even better. Or toast.

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Konnichiwa from Tokyo!

I can’t believe I’m almost 40 and this is the first time I’ve been to Japan! The country of kitsch, kitchen gadgets, Banzai and life size Tomica vehicles for #1.

It feels good to be in Japan. A much welcome change from Singapore to be in a country with more open space, buildings that have character and traditions that haven’t fallen away.

Before we had even booked flights for our trip, I have to admit to feeling slightly apprehensive at the thought of travelling to such a reputedly busy city as Tokyo with #1, 2 and 3.

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Would it actually be much of a holiday with three children aged five and under? The last time we took a city break to Hong Kong was over three years ago with one less child and two pairs of extra hands in the form of Grandma and Gramps. That felt challenging enough finding baby change facilities, places to eat that had high chairs and clambering up and down stairs with the buggy and I speak the language too.

You can read the guide books cover to cover before you get somewhere new but you can’t really tell what it’s going to be like until you’re actually there. When it takes a few days to get your bearings and just as you do it’s time to leave but not before you notice just another street along there was a bigger supermarket and better looking places to eat at. Ah well, there’s always next time.

The first hotel we stayed in was located in Shinjinku, Tokyo. The photos on their website looked fine and was one of few hotels that had a lobby which we thought #1, 2 and 3 could loiter around in to get away from the room at times. More on the loitering later.

Husband and I had to take a room each and divide up the children by favourites. #3 started off the holiday very unwell with all the sides that go with it, so she and I bunked together in a room that a few people I know (such as Big D and Mrs Cake Pops) could stretch out horizontally and be able to touch one side with their fingers and the other with their toes.

We’re definitely in Tokyo I thought. In conjunction with a first foray into the washrooms at the airport after getting off the plane to find the toilet has all sorts of bideting functions that I had only previously seen on Tarrant on TV. Marvellous. #1 and 2 find these facilities absolutely hilarious I can tell you.

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On this holiday with no three course buffet breakfast to hand, it’s become a real concern for #1, 2 and 3 where food is going to come from, having grown accustomed to meals just appearing at certain times of the day. On occasion by the time we’ve got them all up and out and located a place to eat, they may as well have lunch at the same time.

As I mentioned in my previous post, we are in Japan to attend a wedding. Shinjinku is very near to the wedding venue of Meiji Shrine which was a good choice of location in order to ensure we would be at the venue in time for the ceremony. We later learnt from others who are more familiar with Japan that Shinjinku is by far one of the busier suburbs of Tokyo, there’s a lot more local feel to it.

If Shinjinku is one of the busier places to be then the rest of Tokyo should be easier to navigate surely? Tokyo definitely thrives with people but unlike the throngs of London and Hong Kong, it feels manageable rather than overwhelming. There is no elbow barging. There is no harassed commuter dodging around you. There is an effortless flow of movement that seems to work on mutual respect.

A well known example of this is the Shibuya crossing right outside Shibuya station. We got there around 8pm and just watched as crowds gathered at the different crossings. Then the lights turn to green, vehicles stop and people walk in seemingly all directions without anyone bumping into each other or getting rageful. Then the lights turn red, the vehicles move on and crowds start to gather again and the process is repeated.

This flow of movement works so much better when you know where you’re going, can read Japanese and don’t take up half the walkway with five of you, a buggy and two bags of stuff.

The subway network at first looks hugely complicated with its series of complex routes and a myriad of stations all on a very small scale map but once you work it out, it’s quite simple. It makes a refreshing change from the very modern feel of the MRT system in Singapore and better than the hot overcrowded platforms of the London tube.

What I have found amazing is how well things work here. The disability access to public transport is one that ought to be emulated in all places. Of the stations we used there wasn’t one we came across that didn’t have a disabled access route into the station and in and around it. This made it a whole lot easier for us to travel around on the trains and underground with a buggy, especially when taxi fares really are a luxury.

Whilst good disability access to transport may not seem that surprising, it was just as easy to get to temples hundreds of years old. We went to Senso-ji shrine which was packed with visitors even on a Monday. After meandering along the stalls selling fans, food, wind chimes and lucky charms we arrive at the grand wooden entrance. As is custom, we washed our hands and mouths before entering the shrine, took in the smoke that made us more intelligent, shook the sticks for our fortune and burnt incense for our forefathers.

From this ancient shrine a short walk and train ride took us to the new Sky Tree Tower, the tallest building in all of Japan. A tower that stretches 634 metres into the sky with magnificent 360 degrees view of all of Tokyo. The lift took seconds to reach the first observation level at 350 metres and you could feel your ears pop on the way up. There was also a glass floor you could see all the way down to the ground if you dared.

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Ginza right by Tokyo station, is perhaps the equivalent of Park Lane in London and Orchard Road in Singapore with its luxury shopping malls and hotels. It is glitzy and full of glamour but down a side road you can spot lots of cool little bars and places to eat. One bar could possibly even be the smallest bar in Tokyo but with their ability to do compact so well, it probably isn’t. The bar could stand maybe eight people across and one person deep. It looked like you were walking into a space enough for one person and take a step back and you’d be on the street.

Ginza is very different to Shinjinku besides the high end shopping, it’s less frantic, polished and more spacious and not far from the Imperial Palace, Tokyo. Disappointingly there wasn’t much to see as the Imperial Palace was under restoration and covered in scaffolding.

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We also went to Roppongi Hills which wasn’t a hill at all but where you can find Mori Tower, another really tall building with an observation deck and art gallery. We gave that a miss considering we’d done the Sky Tree Tower already but what we did find was a free ‘rest’ play area downstairs that #1, 2 and 3 whiled away an hour at whilst Husband and I took it in turns to have a peaceful coffee.

Tokyo is a beautiful, sprawling city. There is an understanding of how things works. Perhaps because the population is still predominantly a home crowd. We met up with friends we had made in Singapore who had recently returned to Japan.

She mentioned a few good manners to us that was expected in Japan. Like keeping things tidy after a meal in a restaurant. Even in McDonalds you are expected to separate your recyclable rubbish into paper and plastic. Children on the whole are still expected to be seen not heard. No public tantrums or unruly behaviour. We were doomed really.

It was quite impossible we found to keep #1, 2 and 3 respectfully quiet. Especially when they were tired from late nights and excited at all the new sights they saw. They operate on a say what you see basis. On the subway, #3 inadvertently kicked a man’s manbag with her shoe and the man gave several disapproving tuts. Of course it made me feel bad and that the children were out of control. They probably were at times. But then the next day I saw two women tutting at each other as one interrupted the other’s flow of walking. It was then I thought, if tutting is as bad as it gets when you’re annoyed then that’s not such a bad thing really.

Meal times were by far the most challenging in restaurants that often were too small to accommodate all of us. Thankfully living in Singapore, #1, 2 and 3 are quite familiar with Japanese food which meant they could always be fed a bowl of udon noodles and gyoza some place. But we found that we had to forgo many places that looked interesting because it was standing room only or only one type of food like sashimi.

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We’ve barely scratched the surface on this visit to Japan. I’m already thinking about when can we come back. Without #1, 2 and 3 in tow we perhaps could have done twice as much as we have. We could have explored the night life beyond 9pm and sought out the kookier side to Tokyo. But I know #1, 2 and 3 have enjoyed what they’ve seen too. They’ve spent a lot of time outdoors and walking. We’ve asked a lot of them really. It’s been especially funny the amount of times #1 has pointed out vehicles he has the small Tomica models of.

So that was Tokyo for us. Busy at times but mostly because the children are so young. Worth it though. It always is when you go somewhere you’ve never been before.

Next will be about our stay in Kyoto and that was truly spectacular.

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For my Dad and yours and for Husband too

We missed Father’s Day this year! No long lie in or leisurely breakfast in bed for Husband. No big presentation of cards. No big day out just for Dad. I only really remembered when at the very end of a long day Husband says to me, ‘Do you know what day it is?’.

This seemingly innocuous question is a powerhouse of hidden meaning. It’s a question that tells you you’ve already committed a crime. This is just to prompt you to figure out what it is and then voice your shame out loud.

It’s not that I forgot. I never do. It’s just that we had such a busy day in Tokyo that Father’s Day wasn’t the main focus. Neither was Husband the main man as we celebrated the wedding of two friends in a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony.

Our concerns for the day were to get ourselves and #1, 2 and 3 ready for a wedding and get to the wedding venue, Meiji Shrine, and somehow hope #1, 2 and 3 will sit obediently silent and therefore totally out of character for the whole proceedings. What I always promise myself before events requiring #1, 2 and 3 to be out on public display is to read this book, French Children Don’t Throw Food by Pamela Druckerman.

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But I haven’t yet and it’s joined that pile of unread books now used to measure how tall #1, 2 and 3 are. However, never mind the French, what I want to know is how the Japanese do it? Their children can sit quietly and appropriately and their children don’t feel the need to whoop and yell at the sight of every train, police car, ambulance, motorbike that looks a bigger version of the Tomica models we have at home. They walk in linear lines and not like they’re being chased by invisible wasps. How indeed do Japanese parents do it? Maybe the next week or so will transform #1, 2 and 3 by osmosis.

I think most of the fear comes from ourselves as parents and our expectations of what is appropriate behaviour. #1 and 2 did marvellously well at their first major formal event with #1 taking part in all the respectful bowing and clapping and even having his first taste of sake following what everyone else was doing. #3 is just #3, there’s no telling any 20 month old what to do. It’s far easier to let her go rogue quietly in a corner.

It was hard on #3 though because a couple of hours into our seven hour flight, she started a burning fever of nearly 40 degrees. Good job I packed up that mini medicine cabinet and changes of clothing as she then vomited for the last hour of the flight and after landing. The staff at Tokyo Haneda Airport were excellent in fast tracking us through passport control. She’s still unwell but is doing a great job of trooping on and so I can’t blame her at all for getting annoyed when all she wants is her comfy bed.

So that’s how we missed Father’s Day today. Though he has enjoyed a great day out with us and we’re in Japan where he has always wanted to go.

Although I may have needed some prompting on what day it was. Husband said that he was most impressed with #1 remembering all by himself that it was Father’s Day. He wished him ‘Happy Father’s Day Daddy. I made you something but I left it in Singapore.’

Actually you haven’t #1, because I didn’t forget completely and packed up the gifts for Husband they made at school last week. So both children and Husband were able to celebrate Father’s Day after all.

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As for my Dad, Mr Li, he long ago said he had enough socks to measure himself by but that’s not as many socks as you might think as my Dad, Mr Li is quite wee. But every year he likes his card and a phone call and this year all the more with us being away on holiday and he wasn’t expecting it.

So I hope you all enjoyed remembering the Dad’s in your life this Father’s Day.

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We’re all going on a summer holiday

We’re at Changi International Airport. Slightly sweaty, at risk of smelling before we arrive in Tokyo, frazzled but ready for boarding at the gate ahead of time.

Some small miracle considering the circus of transporting all five of us and two large suitcases plus miscellaneous items of hand luggage that I think we may need for a seven hour flight. There is no way we’re ever going to get a free upgrade ever as we arrive as a rabble at check in.

There’s something about travelling with small people that induces a mild sense of panic in not being able to bring with you everything that you have at home.

I have more changes of clothing for them than number of days we’re away. With garments spanning the four seasons because a check of the weather says the temperature in Tokyo ranges from 17 to 29 degrees. I have a small medicine bag for them and us. I’ve packed snacks and toys but it just doesn’t feel quite enough to stem the flow of ‘boredom’ that can erupt at any time.

Long gone are the days of leisurely strolls through Duty Free or even a pre flight drink. These days I just want to get to wherever we’re going by teleportation.

To avoid lugging the buggy with us we decided to let #3 run free which is exactly what she did. As we tried to grapple rucksacks, cabin case and #1 and 2 by the hand with #3 fighting to get down onto the travellator. Husband and I looked at each other and wondered when the holiday relaxation is going to start.

You can tell #1 and 2 are not used to cold weather. The mere act of wearing long sleeves and long trousers for the flight is causing excitement enough and they are bellowing through the airport that they are cold and need to wear all their jackets at once.

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As Mrs 192 aptly puts it, travelling is a ball for #1, 2 and 3 but for us it’s to be expected that it will be a bloody nightmare!

Here’s hoping not. We’re about to board now. They’re cruelly leading us through Business Class first to rub it in. I can see many a look of relief as we don’t stop to sit down.

I’ve a few more minutes before we take off as there’s a delay. #1 has the window seat, the space I once would occupy by choice. Both are settled ready for their meal, choosing the films they want to watch and shouting out loudly to no one in particular that ‘We are ready to go!’. ‘Why aren’t we moving?’ ‘When are we going to be up in the air?’ #3 is desperate for a nap and rotating in circles in the galley.

It’s only a seven hour flight. It’s only a seven hour flight.

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Soon. Soon everyone will be comfortably occupied and I can sit back and relax…Yes indeed. So how many films will I get to watch do you think?

Despite the mayhem it takes to get started, we’re really excited about our first two week holiday and to be going to Japan!

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One’s a parrot, the other’s a tree

This morning Husband and I along with #3 were at the annual school performance cheering on #1 and 2.

It’s a proper stage production in an auditorium with comfy seats and everything. Three years ago it seemed quite a big thing to pay S$50 (£23.77 at current exchange rates) each for a school show especially when one was never sure that either child would actually join in the performance.

But after a couple of years experience enduring an hour in the outdoor heat for the Christmas and Chinese New Year shows, I’m more than happy to pay this price for aircon luxury and a padded chair. I half wonder whether this is a cunning ploy of the school to make us more appreciative of the indoor theatre option when it’s offered.

This year’s theme was The Enchanted Jungle and neither child had given much of a hint as to what their part in the show would be. Such is their loyalty to their teachers. How come when I tell them not to do something it’s not met with the same compliance? But catch them unawares and you’d hear them singing the odd song and shaking a move or two.

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When Husband and I start to join in we are met with such surprise that we should be aware of any popular tunes. ‘How do you know this song Mummy?’ I’m almost offended by the tone of incredulity. Except we really are not that with it. Who doesn’t know ‘We will rock you’ and ‘Can you feel it’ (actually my Dad, Mr Li wouldn’t) but we were slightly thrown a bit when we thought #1 was going around shouting out expletives. I thought my rare outburst of colourful language in the car was to blame when #1 was seemingly shouting ‘For f@c# sake’ rather loudly but turns out what he was really singing ‘What does the fox say?’ Phew! Off the hook. What indeed does the fox say. I have watched the video on YouTube and still am none the wiser.

#1 was a tree and #2 a parrot. Now like any proud parent, as soon as I spot them enter stage left I’m doing the waving thing. Really big waving in case they can’t see me. #1 then sees me but pretends not to. #2 being a year younger and less aware of the concept of embarrassing parents, happily waves back. #3 is my ally as she shouts out both their names and does double hand waving. Good work #3.

The children involved are aged between two to six years old. It’s quite amazing that they remember their lines and the dance moves whilst on this big massive stage looking down at all these people gazing rapturously back. I bet we, the grinning, teary eyed parents, are more of a bemusing show for them to behold.

Knowing how difficult it is to get just three children to stop still and all look at the same time for a photo, I can only commend and express appreciation for the hard work that the teachers put in to making our children show stoppers for the day. From the singing and dancing to set design and presenting some of the work they’ve done this school year to make us parents feel like our children are actually listening to someone. That there’s hope after all.

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As I watched them both up on stage I could feel the pride. I could feel the lump in my throat. I could feel the relief for them that they’re actually enjoying themselves. Last year, #2 had a tough time during the rehearsal show feeling quite overwhelmed by the scale of things. But on the day, she got up there, looked out for us, did her bit and didn’t cry until the very end when we were all applauding. To see her two year old face crumple into tears was hard to see and I quickly whisked her off the stage so we could tell her just how proud we were.

I’ve been in school shows too, as has every one of us, though parental spectating was rare because the performances tended to be in the evening when everyone was at work. Plus my Mum has always said it’s very difficult following what’s going on when you don’t understand the language. It doesn’t matter! All you need to do is wave and smile.

Anyways, I have sung songs as a big group and as a duet (Any old iron, any old iron, any any any old iron) and been a shepherd and the Scroll of King Herod. So I was rather puzzled to find as an adult that I couldn’t sing. I really can’t sing. I sound awful. I wish I could sing though but not in a I-want-to-be-on-X-Factor kind of way. Just enough to sing Christmas carols and a spot of karaoke. I wish I could play the piano too.

So a while ago I was musing out loud to Husband upon this fact that how could I have once been in the school choir if I can’t sing. He tells me ‘You definitely can’t sing and everyone gets to be in the school choir. Fact.’ Oh. Break it to me gently.

Well done #1 and 2. I’m still so proud, as is Husband. We’ll remember to get the DVD this year too.

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Whose Birthday is it anyway?

Yesterday was Husband’s birthday. Though you wouldn’t have thought as much with the occasion hijacked by #1, 2 and 3.

Unlike the Birthdays of #1, 2 and 3 and everyone else, there can be very little lead time in planning and preparing for Husband’s Birthday. It has to be left until the very last week because children, as you most likely know, are not very good at the whole patience thing or ‘It’s supposed to be a secret’ thing.

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So I thought #1 and 2 are of that age where they may like to take some responsibility for the gifts they choose for others. #1 was sure that Daddy would like a tin of chocolate chip cookies. Really? Now is that for you or for Daddy? #2 said Daddy would like a blue spotted tie and a brown t shirt. Last year she got him a purple spotted tie. There’s a bit of a theme going on there.

Anyway, in this great age of democracy, I sort of steered them towards slightly different choices. How about a CD for Daddy, #1? You know how he likes to listen to loud, thumpy music reminiscent of his mid twenties. Ok then. And #2, Daddy has a lot of t shirts and ties, how about we get him a jacket instead? What’s a jacket? says she. Indeed, you can tell a child who has been brought up in the tropics. So that were the gifts all decided. #3 was to give Daddy a book on animals that #1 fancied for himself.

Shall we make cards for Daddy’s Birthday kids? The handmade gift is always better received than anything shop bought. (Can I really live by this rule? I’ve seen some pretty cool stuff now on an imaginary wish list when I was out window shopping with Lil Sis last weekend) As I’ve mentioned before, Arts and Crafts activities with my three hasn’t progressed beyond five minutes of chaos yet but I have to say there have been some small steps of improvements lately. It starts off well, drawing identifiable objects, colouring neatly within the lines until one gets bored and decides to demonstrate a bit of gothic artistic flair and decides covering over everything they’ve done thus far in black crayon and a desire to colour in every patch of white card available. It’s surprise to be a happy, sunshiney Birthday card! Ah well. Husband is impressed all the same.

#1 insists on Husband having Birthday Breakfast in bed and then he takes charge of handing out their gifts for him. He pushes the presents in a shopping trolley into the bedroom with a flourish and looks at the tags and combines a bit of guesswork in with it too. #2 this feels like the jacket you got Daddy, #3 here’s your book and Daddy this is my CD. Surprise! No sooner have the presents been handed over then they’re making requests to have them back and to open them themselves. So what always gets me is that knowing full well what’s inside the wrapping, they still like to declare with some element of surprise, ‘Oh look Daddy….it’s a CD/jacket/book!’

For all the family, we’ve been doing Birthday outings to mark the occasion as a way of making the day extra memorable and to get round to doing some of the fabulous tourist attractions there are in Singapore. We’ve so far been on an open top bus tour, Singapore Flyer twice, Mount Faber cable cars twice.

Universal Studios Singapore, sits just 20 minutes away from our front door on Sentosa Island. Husband has been wanting to go for some time but it makes sense that we waited until some of the children were at least tall enough to go on some rides. #1 is not the most daring of children (refer to cautious genes inherited from my Dad, Mr Li) and expressed a great degree of wariness at the idea. So we brought along his best friend from school Master Lucky (son of Mrs Cake Pops), for courage. Well, it’s goes without saying that similar personalities attract likewise. Not only were we convincing one small child this ride is FUN and not scary at all, we had two.

The first ride we went on was fine, the King Julien’s Beach Party-Go-Round, quite a sedate affair. The second one, Shrek 4D Adventure, was a little bit different. It’s set inside the lovely big castle where they all expected Princesses to emerge from but instead they find the Three Little Pigs padlocked in boxes of straw, sticks and bricks and suspended in air alongside Pinocchio unceremoniously dumped upside down with his legs waving in the air. The narration in the anteroom before the ride is carried out by a white talking mask and the 4D animation involves the ‘ghost’ of Lord Farquhar intent on bringing Princess Fiona to her doom to join him. Can you picture the scene I’m setting? We’re sat in our seemingly comfy theatre seats when suddenly I’m being lunged forwards and backwards for the 4D experience of careering along a rocky pathway on Donkey and then suddenly this massive spider looms in front of our faces. At this point the two boys are screaming and curling up into the foetal position in their chairs.

I’m not sure they’ll ever look at castles in the same way again.

So after traumatising them for life, it was a joy to see them relish the experience of meeting a real life baby Triceratops. You can see in their faces the awe of such an encounter and that’s all down to the Dinosaur trainer who obviously took great care of the baby dinosaurs at the Studios.

Like the time we went to Legoland Malaysia, it seems a shame not to go on one of the For Grown Ups only rides so Husband and I went on the Revenge of the Mummy, an indoor rollercoaster in the dark sort of ride with lots of evil laughter and scary things popping up suddenly on all sides. I KNOW it’s all pretend. I really do. So why do I spend the whole time screaming and screwing my eyes tight shut. I didn’t even know there was the obligatory photo opportunity going on and when we went to view it, all the other 14 Grown Ups were posing happily with their thumbs up and Hong Kong fingers and I’m ducked to one side looking like I’m going to pee myself.

As Master Lucky says, #3 was the bravest of us all on all the rides we went on and she’s only 20 months old.

No Birthday is complete without Birthday Cake and a Birthday sing song in both English and Mandarin. Master Lucky was certainly not going home without cake after putting up with us all day long.

Here is another area that I feel Husband never gets the best of anymore. The Birthday cake. There’s always a cake. Haphazardly put together and usually decorated by #1, 2 and 3. None of this agonising over the theme, getting the exact colours right and messing around with fondant for days beforehand. But there’s always a cake. With candles that get blown out by everyone else.

So that’s how Husband celebrated his birthday this year.

How different to the years gone by when it was just us two. When you could book a weekend away to the Cotswolds or Rome. Take the Eurostar to Paris for the day (when there’s a crucial England game going on whilst you’re travelling! I forgot!) When you can sit in a pub and get hammered with your friends which was the most usual way to celebrate a birthday. Those were the days when it was just us two. So whilst we had had a full day out, it was good to go out for dinner, just us two. When we got home I’d saved Husband a couple of presents he could actually open himself.

I’m all for celebrating Birthdays. It’s a day to celebrate a special day. The day you arrived into the world and not to celebrate that would be a shame. It’s great to get birthday cards and presents but what’s even better is when lots of people get to have a good time too. I had a great time and I enjoyed it all the more because #1, 2, 3 and Master Lucky were all part of it too.

Happy Birthday Husband! He tells me that turning 41 is far less traumatic than turning 40 had been. So I’m looking forward to next year’s birthday already.

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My Mum

I’ve had a few people comment that I talk about my Dad, Mr Li a lot but rarely about my Mum.

You’ve probably gathered that my Mum is not my Dad, Mr Li’s wife. My definition of Mum embodies the woman who raised me. The woman who gave birth to me is often referred to as my ‘real Mum’ but I prefer to simply call her Mother.

It’s not a complicated situation thinking about it now. In those days, it wasn’t unusual for the children of migrant parents to be looked after by other family members whilst both parents worked long unsociable hours every day of the week. I don’t recall a time before living with my Mum because I was that young and to me it’s very natural to call her Mum and I don’t even remember when I started that either.

My Mum’s got rosy cheeks and a smile for everyone in lieu of being able to speak English. The conversations she has with Husband usually starts with his name in English followed by the rest in Chinese and gesturing to whatever it’s about which is usually food or having a cuppa tea.

When in the company of #1 and 2, she’s very content to be sat next to them. Holding a small chubby hand whilst they sit and watch television. Unlike my Dad, Mr Li, she offers rather more practical advice. What do I mean by this? Well, my Dad, Mr Li is rather a cautious man and terribly fearful of children hurting themselves. When I told him #3 had just started crawling, he said ‘Make sure her arms don’t get too tired and she headbutts the floor.’ Good point really when we have marble floors here and the same advice he doled out for #1 and 2. My Mum would never say that though. She would say much more helpful things like if they were crying then do they need a nap, feeding, nappy change or just to be taken somewhere quiet.

I like to cook Chinese food exactly the same way my Mum has taught me. She is the best cook I know and when I was little there was hardly anything I didn’t like that she made. All Chinese cooking should be simple with few ingredients and fanfare. From steamed fish to fresh lobster with ginger and onion. To sweet and sour pork (not your battered variety) to chips and gravy. My beginnings in being able to cook and how the food should look stems from an education in our takeaway. After all, if she was rubbish, how would the business thrive?

My Mum’s mellowed out a lot in her retirement age. She once had a fearsome reputation I’ve heard my cousins say. But I see it as drive and ambition born out of necessity and having lived through a war that brought poverty and hunger. My Mum was obviously aware of this reputation herself as she referred to it a few times when I was growing up. Not in great detail because that’s not the style of her generation really. But enough times for me to realise the great strength of character that was needed during those times.

My Mum was widowed at a young age, a few years older than I am now. It was just before I arrived up North in the late 70s. She owned a restaurant at that time. Nothing exceptional about that in today’s age. But at the time it was. Not only was she on her own but she was a woman (and one who didn’t speak English at that) and it wasn’t expected or conceived of that she would choose to keep a business going by herself. She told me that it was her intention to prove everyone wrong. I can only imagine what she could have achieved in a different era, different circumstances.

Faced with the times (refer to the television shows Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes for a refresher) and running her own business, it wouldn’t have worked if she didn’t have a steely backbone would it? The life I lived as a child was built on what she achieved then.

It’s a shame I never thought more about my Mum’s achievements when I was younger and only really appreciating how extraordinary it was for her to be running her own business when I was older. After the restaurant, she opened a takeaway. She retired early when I was ten years old, putting family first and supported my cousin in her business ventures instead. I think if she had carried on some more years for herself then that certainly would have changed many other things too.

But in the event of her early retirement, it meant that she and I were home together a lot more. It was at this time that I no longer lived with my Dad, Mr Li and I’m glad there was my Mum there. We were never a family where decisions, even ones as big as who would you like to live with were ever openly discussed. Things happened, decisions made almost subliminally. Or perhaps discussions did take place and I just wasn’t privy to them. Who knows. I suppose that makes me much more conscious of being more open as a family now.

I love my Mum and I know my Mum loves me. But when you feel like you’re borrowing someone else’s Mum, it’s very different to knowing you have your Mum in your own right. It’s very difficult being corrected that you should call your Mum, your Aunt (which she is) and never quite feel you have been given full rights to her. I understand why I was corrected, the implication to others that I seemingly didn’t know who my ‘Mother’ was and the embarrassment of pairing my Dad, Mr Li and my Mum together when clearly they are not.

To me, my Mum and Dad are the people who have taken on these roles for the long haul. Like yours have with you. How awful to make a small child feel ashamed of this, whether intentional or not. My Mum never corrected me at all, ever. That says enough.

Quite often we’d be out and about and meet some random person she knew in the community who would ask if I was her youngest and she would say yes and answer questions accordingly about what was I up to and what were my prospects and whether it looked likely I would marry one day. All the while whilst I was stood there (and being perfectly capable of speaking Chinese at that). And then there are the people who were kind enough to refer to her as my Mum when they were speaking to me and that made a lot of difference too.

In the midst of the love I have for my Mum, there is also gratitude. Stripping aside the parts that weren’t always easy, I’m thankful that I was taken up North by my cousins for a short holiday to see my Dad, Mr Li and that I got to stay, because who knows what alternative life I would have had.

When I was younger, when my world was much smaller, for a while I didn’t know many people who didn’t live with conventional family setups. But as your world expands and as times change and you meet many other people with far more diverse backgrounds than yourself and you talk about things more then you realise that actually what you have is not as different as you first thought.

When I got married I was quite adamant that my Mum would sit on the top table with us and that she also signed the marriage certificate too as one of my witnesses. Of course, it caused a hoo ha but this was more important to me than anything else that a wedding brings and made me all the more happier for it. (Yes, it was Big Brother Li and Our Jenn who smoothed things over like older siblings do). It was the best way I could say to my Mum that this is who she is to me, the importance of her place in my heart and in my life and it was never going to be any other way.

You may be curious to know about my relationship with my Mother. I’m happy to say that she’s still with my Dad, Mr Li. #1, 2 and 3 have two Por Pors which makes them very lucky. She and I are the same as we always have been.

I’m of the strongest belief that you don’t have to have given birth to someone to love them as your own. If you open your heart, you can take someone in. Thank goodness, my Mum had that belief too.

It’s my Mum’s birthday today. Please wish her a very Happy Birthday with me. I’m sure the many grandchildren and great grandchildren she is blessed with will make it a very happy day. I miss her and I can’t wait, I really can’t wait to see her later this year and introduce #3 and have #1 and 2 get reacquainted with her again.

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