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

A UK Lunar New Year

It’s officially Spring and the end of celebrations marking the new Year of the Dog. But where are the delicate flowering peach blossoms. Oh I forget, they’re on the other side of the globe.

The times I will miss Singapore the most will be the gap between 2 January to the Lunar New Year. Perhaps I’m just attracted by pretty decorations. No sooner are the Christmas lights whipped down then up go all the reds, gold and pinks to usher in the new Lunar year. There’s no time to dwell on the lows of the holiday season being over with when there’s preparations for another underway.

In Singapore, it was easy to embrace the Asian and Western sides to our lives. For the children in particular, who have grown up in a visibly multicultural society, this is what they know. The streets are festooned with decorations to celebrate Christmas, Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Diwali. In between we have Easter, Halloween interspersed with friends talking about Thanksgiving and Sinterklass.

The children find it difficult to grasp that the UK is ‘home’ and why should they because it’s not been their home until now and especially when we are not living together as a full family. Perhaps over time they will when we are more settled and have a house of our own. At the same time, I want them to value the country they were born into and be proud of those roots with an understanding of life over there. I don’t think a boomerang back over to Singapore would ever be ruled out.

In the meantime though, how do you create some of over there, over here. Now that I’ve experienced living in an Asian country, I understand so much more of the cultural importance and traditions that go with certain festivals and it’s been one of the best things about living abroad. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my cultural roots and being able to pass that on to my children. It is too easy to focus on one dominant culture and getting a balance with a second culture requires effort and reminding.

This year may have been a subdued affair at home with less of the decorations but I was happily surprised that the children remembered we needed to spring clean the house before the start of the Lunar New Year. Traditionally, on the eve of the Lunar New Year it is a time for family reunions for dinner. In Singapore, with no family around, we would have Reunion Dinner with good friends. So this year with Husband still back in Singapore, we invited a bundle of friends over and I was particularly touched by new friends who really put some thought into what should they do to help join in our celebrations of Chinese New Year. They came laden with gifts and red envelopes with chocolate coins in and asking me, ‘what should we do to celebrate?’ and I hadn’t even thought about it because I had never been asked before. Then I remembered when I was much younger, how proud and excited I felt to invite friends to the Chinese New Year celebrations in Newcastle and how they came dressed in their best outfits. So perhaps we can create our own traditions of celebrating this important festival .

I’ve already been trying. In fact, even this time last year when I thought there was a chance I wouldn’t be in Singapore I started thinking about what would I try bringing back with me. One of the biggest associations we have with the Chinese New Year in Singapore is eating a lot of pineapple tarts and last year I made my first homemade batch of tarts and then I worried about where would I find pineapples in the winter of the UK? Well it turns out that these days, nothing is quite out of season. So we had our pineapple tarts and mini cornflake cookies. We had decorations and we even had friends from Singapore join us for the first day of the New Year.

As you may know, during this time there is a strong emphasis on family. Hence Reunion Dinner and spending time with your own family as well as visiting relatives. It has been a very long time since I celebrated this festival with my family in Newcastle. Even way before we moved from the UK. It has definitely changed and grown in stature within the region so that it doesn’t just involve the Chinese community but the whole community. You could say that it has grown so popular that many Chinese people shy away from the event because of the crowds which is quite ironic.

There were firecrackers, Lion and Dragon dancing, parades in traditional dress and street food stalls. Of course not on the grand scale that we’ve been used to but a colourful celebration all the same on a winter’s afternoon.

The best part though, was being with family. Pottering around Chinatown with my Mum and my Uncle, my cousins and their children. As quietly but deeply painful and bittersweet as it was for me. I remember as a child how much fun it was to bump into older family members and pocketing lucky red packets and playing with cousins and friends my own age. In just the same way that my children were out playing with their cousins and collecting many lucky red packets.

You can’t have it all. But you can make the very best of what you have.

May this Year of the Dog bring you happiness, good health, prosperity and peace.

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Progress is an on-going, collective responsibility

“You’re ugly because you’re from a different country.”

I want you to take a moment to absorb this statement.

How did it make you feel?

Shocked?

Horrified?

Outraged?

Sad?

I hope it made you feel something at least.

I am not about to continue this post detailing encounters of casual racism that I have experienced throughout my life. But if I may say a little about it then whilst much progress has been made on that front, a lot more still needs to be done. I view it as a life work in progress because if you think about it, every one of us can find ourselves in the minority in some part of the world. Which means it ought to be everyone’s life work. A collective responsibility to see each other as equals regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion, ability.

I know that many people will feel they know this already. That they live their lives actively promoting equality. And if not, then they certainly are not promoting the opposite. I feel I’m inclusive in what I do and generous with my time for those who should have it. I gravitate to like minded, inspiring, welcoming people with a certain sass about them. As such, I feel accepted and comfortable with who I am and the influences around me.

Or do I really?

Strip back the layers of tolerance, I feel like I have in the recent past ignored, accepted even, episodes of casual racism and gender bias directed against me. It can happen so discreetly under the guise of something else that you often don’t realise it’s happened at all so you don’t think to speak out about it.

And I fear that having not spoken up about things and having no one else to tell me to speak up about things, well, how can progress be made if we don’t articulate the fact that what has been said is just wrong and how do you know you’re wrong if no one challenges you about it. What will change?

As I said earlier, much progress has been made since I was a child in terms of racial harmony. To be clear, most of my childhood and my adult life bar one or two incidents from misguided older colleagues, has been free from being stereotyped due to ethnic background. However, I realised the other day that the memory of having grown up in times where you lived in fear of being racially name called in the street and the shame of how that feels when it does happen, never really goes away.

I thought that it was enough for my children to be surrounded by kind, caring, open minded people, living in a progressive, multi cultural society. Embracing all our differences and cultural celebrations which is what makes life interesting, colourful and fun.

Most importantly, be proud of who you are and be happy in yourself by not putting others down. So what if they say you were born in a different country. Ugly? People who say and think mean things are ugly and you are beautiful both inside and out. And even though that someone said something outrageously mean to you today, I still want you to be kind to them tomorrow. Show them strength through tolerance because they did not speak the truth and you know it.

The opening remark was not said to me. When I heard it, it knocked my own self confidence let alone that of who did hear it first. In that instant, I felt powerless. I thought, how can this still be a thing in this day and age. How many times will my children’s feelings be hurt by words like this. It brought back old memories that I have had to overcome with grace and not bitterness which is very important. I crumpled for a short while remembering back then. It leaves you feeling embarrassed, panicked and ashamed. Trying to be invisible walking past groups of people who looked like they may name call you and then feeling relief when they don’t. Look at that, I too was at fault for making prejudiced assumptions. See the kind of cycle it breeds.

I asked you to absorb those words and think about how it made you feel, not because I want you feeling angry or cast aspersions on anyone else involved. That’s not important to this. What is important to me is how do I react to it all. I felt really low and worried which is natural, until I realised that I was projecting my own old fears and we are not in those times anymore. Yet all the progress that has been made will slow down if we become complacent with our actions in shaping the kind of world we want for future generations. Consider the significance of today’s date being 100 years since some women were first allowed to vote and all the high profile movements that have escalated in the last few months highlighting the areas where progress seems to have faltered.

Keep up the conversations about kindness, take active involvement celebrating cultural differences, open up the world to children and their friends by talking about it. Let them see it as the Big, Bold Beautiful place that it is for them to want to explore, love and look after. That’s the kind of action I need you to take.

And remember. Never grow complacent in shaping this world for ourselves and the future generations.

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The Big Move is underway

Like with any momentous occasion, one minute you think you’ve got months until it’s happening and then suddenly…BUMPF. It’s happening in a matter of days. DAYS!

This time next week, our wordly possessions reflecting our time in Singapore, a family life built up over nine years, will be packed up nice and neat to make its way to the UK. 

I’ve often marvelled at how you can live out of a suitcase or three for seven weeks and be totally fine. And then I’ll think about all my stuff at home and wonder why I have it if I can live out of  suitcase or three for seven weeks and be totally fine. So then I get to thinking that one really doesn’t need such a lot of stuff and therefore wouldn’t it be more satisfying to declutter it all away. But then I get back home and you feel all warm amd fuzzy among all your own things and sort of forget about it all.

Which is all fine and well until you get to the point where I am today and really must be much more hardened to the art of decluttering. Quite simply, I am not good at it. I never will be. A big part of my make up is sentimentality and that is not good for decluttering. It will only work if I am in a rage. Rageful decluttering is what works for me.  By which I mean, if I am feeling particularly perturbed by something, I will go and clean. It’s therapeutic and then I will declutter to bring some form of order and control to compensate for the other area that I have no control over.

But this decluttering before an international move is not very therapeutic at all. In fact, it sets your mind and heart galloping.  Why can’t they just move everything from here to there exactly as everything is? Well, I did think about that but there’s stuff I probably won’t need over there. Like all the tupperware containers. Every food item that has been brought back from the shops has lived a second life in a Lock and Lock box. You can’t just put a bag of sugar in the cupboard. Not unless you want a trail of ants all over your kitchen. Ants. Ants everywhere. You know how there’s a national statistic about the number of spiders the average person swallows a year, well I reckon I’ve probably clocked up thousands of ants over the years. 

There’s also the matter of sentimentality to contend with as I mentioned earlier. Leftover from failed attempts at decluttering last time we moved, I came across not one but two boxes of clothing that #1, 2 and 3 outgrew before they’d even reached their first birthday. I have to admit, I was quite confused. I thought I’d cleared out all the baby gear years ago. Especially after categorically deciding there will not be a #4. But perhaps because of that I have found it hard to let go of some items. Little hats and favourite tops to remind myself of how wee they once were. But then as I peered into this box of important forgotten items, it looks like I’d started the clearing out process and then just gave up on it with the promise that I’d get around to it some day.

Clearly those books about decluttering  not just your wardrobe/home/life/friends know a thing or two about it. Even the bloke who came round to do the relocation quote said that people tend to have the same amount of stuff to ship at the end as they do at the start. That’s reassuring.

And once you start the process, which should never be done in two or three weeks  but taken on as a lifestyle change, you end up making your home look more like a flea market with no hidden gems for sale.

And never do this with any small people present. I am quite convinced the packing things  into small plastic bags is a genetic disposition. Because it’s definitely a character trait that #3 shares with my Dad, Mr Li. There is something about my Dad, Mr Li and a number of other relatives who will never help us rid this world of plastic with the way they accrue a plastic bag wrapped bundle of specialness. If the thing is so precious, you’ve just gone and made it less special embedding it in plastic bags ‘to keep it safe’ apparently. 

It is no one’s fault but my own that failed attempts to declutter have been set up and aborted. The hours of labour that have gone into secreting piles of toys that haven’t been touched in months are quickly undone because one simply did not continue the process with immediate expulsion from the home. Instead before long, you’ll find said secreted items back where they once were. Do this a few more times and #3 has your number. She will now ask to inspect the recycling before waving permission to proceed exiting the home.   

 To be honest, I feel like I’ve done ok with the decluttering, regifting and general acknowledgement that there are some projects/skills/hobbies I just  won’t get around to fulfilling and that one should shed these ambitions (but I will learn how to use my sewing machine in England!) and feel more free. However on the other hand, I like learning new skills as it keeps your mind fresh and your hands busy and isn’t it just so satisfying to create something from nothing. Well not exactly nothing judging from my crafting supplies. 

And there are some wonderful surprises to be found in the backs of cupboards and dusty boxes. Photos that I hadn’t seen in years. Handwritten notes that are so rare in a time of e-everything. I came across an old notebook and barely recognised my own handwriting which now resembles an uneven scrawl which made me think that I really ought to reintroduce writing with ink that is more substantial than the weekly grocery list. And then suddenly in #3s wardrobe I come across two bottles of champagne that need to be drunk the next two weeks. Bonus!  

Perhaps sorting through stuff is one way of keeping my mind occupied during this big transition. I am so busy sifting and organising that I can’t linger too long on the real changes  ahead. I find it’s when I’m driving along familiar roads that I get an overwhelming feeling of realisation that in two weeks, all that is familiar will be in the past. Including the home that we live in now, the routine we have, the school system, the food that we eat, the places that we’ll go to, the people we see and the cultural norms. Like the men just lying in the back of a pick up truck along the PIE with no care for road safety rules. Sights that used to shock us but no longer do. As I drive myself here and there, in control of that moment, I feel a prickle of tears behind my eyes as I consider the changes ahead and how I will miss Singapore. Until I suddenly have to switch lanes because of unexpected tree pruning causing lane closure which was indicated by the traffic cones about 10 metres ahead of time.

Change is ahead. It is exciting but scary too. I want it to be amazing but amazing takes time to get there. And even with amazing there is going to be the less than amazing to deal with. 

Today I figured we all needed a moment to get away from the Big Move. It’s happening soon enough and if I don’t get to clear out that box of secret hidden treasures then I’ll just have it as a surprise in our new place. 

I, alongside #1, 2 and 3 needed an afternoon off. Just to be with each other and have some fun and not have them watch me dismantle all that is familiar for them and get all shouty because they’re just as curious to  see what’s lurking behind those cupboard doors and adding to the chaos.

I can be honest with you and say that this moment in time is stressful as I try and juggle packing up with saying farewells and start moving towards our new life. For me, this is not just another country move. Singapore holds some very strong memories and associations of key life events. Even though I can picture new memories forming when we’re back in the UK,  I guess emotions are running high and they will pass but it’s hard to leave somewhere that holds a part of your heart and your children’s identity behind. 

But I also discovered there is very little that some Minions dancing to Happy cannot cure. 

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A pinch and a squeeze

It’s a bit ironic that in order to feel better, you often have to go through pain first. 

Like getting yourself into shape, you must first experience the pain of physical exertion. I mean way before even putting one foot in front of the other, you have to go through the pain of getting yourself ready and nagging that other voice in your head to just get out there. Same like getting your eyebrows done, get a good brow therapist and years can be taken off your face. But that too is not without pain as two lengths of dental floss are used and just seem to rub and ping away at your brows. Though comparatively less painful than getting a real actual face lift. 

Anyways, I’m driving along and I can feel a few squeaks and spasms going on in my lower back. I’m thinking, ‘I need a massage.’ Long hours hunched over a computer, running and naturally being quite a rigid person I often end up moving like the Tin Man. But the jet lag and sleeping on a couch for the most part of four weeks has really caught up with me. I could barely turn my neck to look over my left shoulder, a problem that weeks of physio is needed to sort out every now and then. 

So why not treat myself to a bit of ‘me time’ and go get myself a massage that will soothe all those aches and pains away. How often are we sold the idea of a nice and relaxing masssage to revive and rejuvenate the soul. Trickling water in some zen pond, aromatherapy oils and therapists who glide silently bringing you herbal teas. That’s the kind of massage I should have gone for.

Instead, I go for a 90 minute session of Traditional Chinese Massage. There is warm herbal tea and zen background music. There is also Le Le, my therapist for today. She is a force to be reckoned with. I don’t know how she does it. The way she can channel such strength in one thumb that delved deep into a knotted shoulder. She actually pinned one arm behind my back and dug her elbow into my shoulder blade and dragged it down the length of it. And she pinched me. She actually pinched me. 

Now I consider myself a person with a relatively high pain threshold. But as Le Le traces her knuckle over a particularly stubborn knot backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, I have no choice but to yelp out in pain! Does she care? Does she even care? No she doesn’t. She just sort of says in a tone she clearly doesn’t mean, ‘ok, ok’ and eases off a smidgen. At other times she doesn’t even do that. She just ploughs on, regardless of the fact that tears, real actual tears are stinging the backs of my eyes. Places I didn’t know were knotted were being unknotted, like my buttocks. I thought they were just firm! 

Le Le is not the first massage therapist to have had her work cut out when working on one’s canvas. Each time I go, I always get told that I should come back on a regular basis. But each time one does go, the pain of unknotting half the knots inside of me is just so painful, you need to give yourself time to get over the memory, like childbirth, before going in again. Le Le is obviously very good at what she does and I’m sure in a few days time I’ll be feeling completely fluid in movement but for now, it feels like I’ve been hammered all over like meat needing tenderising. 

Unlike the time, I helpfully tried the same elbow in shoulder blade technique on Husband when he was feeling a bit knotted. It didn’t seem to have the same effect.

 

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UN Day Celebrations 2017 – We are all just people

On the Friday just before the half term break, #1 and #2s Big School celebrated United Nations Day. It’s the second one we’ve been a part of. I think it’s one of the best events in the academic calendar. 

A colourful celebration of the 52 countries  represented by all the children who attend the same school. A day to be proud of your heritage and learn about different cultures around the world. For UN Day #1 and 2 were representing England. It’s pretty hard to find an outfit that defines English national dress. So #1 wore flat cap, shirt and tie and #2 wore a Beatles t shirt!

At the first UN Day celebration, I was surprised to learn the school had so many different nationalities together with the school teaching to the British curriculum. But I really oughn’t be. After all, in the not quite eight and half years I have been in Singapore I have had the joy of meeting so many different people from so many different countries I couldn’t possibly name them all.  The experience has been amazing and so many valuable and interesting lessons learnt from each one of them.

I like how we have shared the parts of our culture and heritage that are familar and this makes being away from home that bit more bearable. Like having Pancakes for Dinner instead of just for breakfast. Having noodles for breakfast instead of toast. 

Sometimes though, I also like the ease of someone who gets your humour and colloquialisms, the cultural references and the music and television shows you grew up on. This shared sense of identity can make the art of fitting in go a little more smoothly when you’re living far from home.

But for #1, 2 and 3 everyone is just the same. To them and their friends they are just who they are. 

Only when you share the world with small children, do you see how simple it can be to live alongside each other harmoniously. You just need to observe on a daily basis that children don’t really care what you look like. But they do care about the way you behave.

UN Day celebrates all that is wonderful about cultural diversity. Teaching the children to be proud of who they are. Many children come from a blend of cultures and it’s exciting for them to acknowledge all these different parts of themselves.

For #1 and 2, their world is already quite open having been born in Singapore with family in England and Hong Kong and friends all over the world. For their age they are fairly well travelled. Their palates are internationally influenced as well. They enjoy the benefits and learnings of a multicultural and tolerant society.

The world has definitely  changed since my day. 

Although I haven’t experienced open racism for many decades, I still remember that feeling of wanting to melt into the background. Not wanting to draw attention to myself for any unwanted comments because I looked different or just because we ate different food. Thankfully those were different times and distant memories.

Lately though, I have had a slight worry that the world is turning the other way. That it’s becoming more angry and that anger is being manipulated to take us back a few steps. I worry that #1, 2 and 3 could experience the same unpleasant hurt that I once did and I didn’t think I would have to. 

Please don’t let us regress. 

Racism, prejudice, intolerance all stems from fear. Of what you don’t know. Something that is different. But different is a good thing. Different brings excitement and fun. Different brings a wealth of experiences and learnings and acceptance. It keeps us fresh. 

It was at UN Day celebrations that I experienced a moment of poignancy. A will for #1 and 2 to remember these days of true multicultural living. Their friends who are French, German, Indian, Jordanian, Scottish, Irish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Dutch, Finnish, Swedish, Australian, New Zealander and Singaporean. 

Where everyone fits in. Where everyone is just allowed to be. We are all just people gathered here on one planet after all.

 

 

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Inbetween two New Years

I hope this new year has started well for you. Already we are nearly towards the end of January. 

Living in the tropics, it’s very hard to allow those old January blues to take hold. 

Is it because of the weather? Mmmm, it’s been quite a wet sort of week. (It does happen occasionally here too.) Quite frankly the rain bringing cooler weather is a welcome change because it’s not going to last long. 2016 was the hottest year on record and if things don’t change soon, these kind of statistics will feature more regularly.

There is no time for resting on your laurels in Singapore. No sooner has the countdown to New Year’s Day ended then the  Christmas decorations are whipped down and up go the spring blossom and red and gold hues for Chinese New Year. Mummy’s no longer kissing Santa Claus in the supermarkets as he’s been chased out by a lot of cymbal clashing and Gong Xi, Gong Xi, Gong Xi Ni.

This year, with the Lunar New Year following hot on the heels of the calendar New Year and #1’s Birthday inbetween, there feels like even less time to linger in January. 

And after some of the disappointing events of 2016, we perhaps wish to put some rapid distance between then and now. 

But it is precisely because of those disappointing events that 2017 should count even more. 

I’ve decided without really planning to, that 2017 will be a year of activity. I haven’t set any ambitious goals. I just want to do more. More running. More baking. More hanging out with family and friends. All the things that make me happy and widens my reach and world.

Last year felt confined. That’s the only word I can use to describe it. And realising this, I don’t want this year to continue in the same vein. It’s enough for me to know this. And like enforcing any path of change, you have to be ready to make the conscious decisions that create change yourself. As much as it was clear to others, I had to reach that conclusion myself. 

So today, I wish to thank those closest to me who allowed me to give voice to all those events that had me confined last year. Whilst it was clear to them what I should do, I just wasn’t ready to make a change and whilst I haven’t done anything yet regarding that area, I feel that I can should I need to.

And that’s the difference I see. Change comes from within. Your head, followed by your heart, followed by your head again. 
So I’m picking up the things that I loved doing the year before last and hopefully I’ll learn a few more new things this year to boot.

Tomorrow is the start of the new Lunar New Year. May it be a continuation of good things to come.

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The first Reality TV Celebrity US President

I cannot lie, I once enjoyed a reality television show. Big Brother. Wife Swap. The Apprentice. I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. But I’m now so over the idea of such shows that in my haste to condemn them, I almost forget I ever enjoyed watching them in the first place.

If I remember back to the early years of Big Brother, in the early days of reality tv shows in fact, everything seemed more innocuous. I quite enjoyed getting home on a Friday night for 9pm to watch Big Brother. It was actually nail biting tense to have your particular favourite up for eviction. We even had Big Brother Final Night dinner parties. Mostly heavy in attendance of one gender over the other. I can’t remember what was so fascinating or appealing about watching a group of everyday people in one place. Sometimes funny, sometimes cringeworthy, sometimes outrageous. Perhaps it was because they were just everyday people that made it seem intrigueing. And most of all seemingly harmless.

Like with all such tv shows, after a few series, it all begins to go horribly wrong. In a bid for more ratings. To up the ante on the previous year. In pursuit of fame the easy way. Who can be more outrageous. How can we humiliate the contestants. Make them cry, crying always gets the ratings up. And a romance. Will they or won’t they on live TV. 

Nowadays, I wish this genre of so called entertainment would just go away. Instead it has evolved into the docusoap. Following the lives of already famous people like The Osbournes to making people famous like the Kardashians because we have created a monster out of this. I can only be glad that by the time I left the UK shows like The Only Way Is Essex, Made in Chelsea and Real Housewives of Orange County do not feature on my radar. 

It makes me angry that the ‘stars’ of these shows are famous. For what? It’s bred a whole plethora of talentless ‘celebrities’ for no purpose whatsoever, except perhaps to fill column inches in the Daily Mail. What makes me despair some more is that people aspire to these ‘celebrities’. Aspire to being a reality tv star as a get there quick route to infamy. And then after your 15 minutes of fame is over, you still desperately cling onto it. But why were you famous to begin with? Many for all the wrong reasons.
You may say, if you don’t like such TV then don’t watch it. I no longer do. But it’s there and normalised. So normalised that there’s a whole generation of people who have grown up watching this tripe and think it’s acceptable to bully others, be racist, belittle, humiliate yourself and others for the viewing pleasure of millions of people. 
It worries me as a parent of a future generation. Am I being overly melodramatic you say? I don’t think so. There are no boundaries it seems. Do you remember the first time that Jools Holland uttered the F word on live tv? It was outrageous! As if none of us uses the F word if not daily then at least once a week. There has to be boundaries. And I don’t know where they are. Can Husband and I alone set these boundaries for #1, 2 and 3 to live by? Are we enough? It’s only enough if society also has these boundaries. How can we say don’t film someone so out of their minds on booze and upload it on YouTube when on the other hand you turn on the TV and you have it there? 
I need others to also find it enough. I don’t want to be pushed beyond limits of taste and decency. I don’t want to be told that you’re going to appear on a show and expect to do mind boggling things in next to nothing. I don’t want that on my TV anymore. And I certainly don’t want my children thinking this is reality. 
Reality TV is quite a dangerous thing I’ve realised. It’s so full of drama. I often watch the interactions of young people and wonder if these tendencies to overact every nuance is a by product of this tv era. I really worry. I worry for the impression it’s going to leave on my two girls should these shows still be on going in 10 years time. They’ve survived 16 years already and seem to show no signs of abating with the myriad of cable channels available for broadcasting. 
Perhaps this is why the Great British Bake Off became such an unexpected hit. As an antidote to the trash of other shows. I’ve only managed to watch two series but it was so reassuringly soothing. And I love the fact there was real talent involved. Not just about getting into a bikini or your kit off. Being rude and obnoxious. Real talent and something beautiful that you can eat at the end of it. Even then though, the media tried to make it something more sensational with the contestants being too bitchy or too pretty. 

Reality TV is also dangerous because it fooled me into thinking Donald Trump was harmless. I’ve never really watched The Apprentice US version but in recent months, I’ve become horrified that reality TV gave this man a platform to give him the exposure and following that he now has. Today as citizens of the  USA go to the polls and make a very important decision, I worry again at what the outcome may be tomorrow. 

Was it ever a career trajectory for Donald Trump to use The Apprentice US as a springboard to becoming the 45th President of the USA? I thought Donald Trump was a figure of buffoonery. A showman. In it just for effect. I never once imagined he would get this far to becoming one of the most influential global powers. And this is the power of television. For good and bad. Six hours a day. That’s the average number of hours a person watches tv. Unlikely it’s going to be filled with documentaries. It’s time to wisen up our viewing audience. 
If for some cosmic joke he is elected as President, I blame reality TV. I place the heavy burden of influencing such lack of judgement on a nation by the choice of TV programmes that have been brewing and feeding people’s minds for almost two decades. This should be a sign that we should get rid of all such programmes. 

It has given us nothing of substance, no people of character worthy of our attention and let’s certainly hope it doesn’t give us our first Reality TV Celebrity President.

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Laughs in unexpected places

Jimmy Carr played a gig in Singapore last Tuesday. Ticket prices were slightly on the inflated side, especially when the last time I saw him live was at the Hen and Chicken theatre, Islington for the princely sum of £10 with Ms Beefy back in 2007. 

But you know, sometimes it’s worth paying a premium for some home comfort laughs. Like the time John Cleese and Al Murray came to Singapore and I belly laughed the whole way through until I felt a bit dizzy. 

Who doesn’t love a pee your pants laughing session? Which one of us doesn’t need one from time to time either. Especially being the responsible Grown Ups that we are.

However, I never got the chance to belly laugh with Jimmy Carr as I had to take a work trip to Sumatra and drive through miles and miles of palm oil and pulp and paper plantations to get to a very small patch of natural forest where you may still find the odd wild elephant and tiger. If you’re lucky.

See what I mean about needing a good old belly laugh. 

But you know, when you book tickets for a comedy film or show then you sort of expect a laugh or two along the way. As I said earlier, humour is quite unique. I think of the people I hang out with the most and it’s the people whose humour I get. Or they get you. 

There’s nothing more painful in good company than not finding the same things funny. Or cringing at something totally unfunny or inappropriate from someone trying too hard.

Truly funny people love storytelling. They are natural entertainers. Sociable people who enjoy making others feel good. 

On a very humdrum Tuesday afternoon in the middle of working day, I book a cab to head to a meeting. Mind full of checklists and wondering where it is I’m heading to. I don’t often catch cabs in Singapore. Sometimes I try and make conversation. Other times I’m too concerned with the cab driver’s interpretion of road safety rules. 

On occasion you come across a real gem of a character. Inspiring accounts of personal struggle, patriotic pride or like today, pure comedy genius. 

It all started with one question. One that he probably hears all the time. “So Uncle, are you not ready to retire and enjoy yourself?”

Which results in him lamenting the need to work and work in Singapore. How he has worked and worked to raise five children. That he intends to work and work for a few more years and retire in Japan. 

But his is not a tale of hardship. He brushes over the difficult years when the five children were young and times were tough. Now, he says, they’re all grown up with the eldest being a year younger than me. 

I don’t know how much time he actually spends ferrying fee paying customers to support his retirement as he talked about fetching his children and grandchildren here and there. An act of kindness that must be a bone of contention with his wife who he says is always on his case about why he doesn’t charge his children and grandchildren a fare. 

He says she always going on about it and I say what to do it’s our son/daughter/grandchild. She says you ask them to pay like everyone else. Then I say to her ok the next time you ask me to collect you then you pay, she yells at me “what? I’m your wife and you’re asking me to pay?”

He continues in entertaining fashion for the remainder of the journey which sadly was all too short. As we pull up to my drop off point, I thank him for such a funny time. He rounds down the fare because he doesn’t want any coins. For that I round it back up to give him extra notes. 

Laughter is afterall priceless. 

As I head out to find where I’m going I feel so much lighter which puts me in a much clearer frame of mind ahead of my meeting.
If only that happened everyday, how much happier we would be. 

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Happy Star Wars Day

Who doesn’t love Star Wars.

 

Oh you. Well, we can still be friends. But how can you not love Star Wars. The original trilogy is still the very best, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away from Disney. Without the CGI effects of the remastered editions. Less polished than the much anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

 

But this is not a post about my love of Star Wars or the merits of each episode. It is more about a shared love of Star Wars. At some point I’m sure #1, 2 and 3 will instantly dislike anything that we do. Labelling it uncool to like something that your parents do because they are of course uncool.

 

Having young children is an opportunity to relive the best parts of your childhood. Like those student days when it was ok again to like all things retro. Books, films and characters may have moved on but there are ones that endure timelessly. The Magic Faraway Tree. Paddington. Beatrix Potter. I find that in this current world saturated with short lived fads it becomes more important to introduce them to simpler times.

  

 The long lasting appeal of Star Wars is that it’s about Dark vs Light. With hyper speed and light sabers. And the Force. And the Millenium Falcon. And X Wings. And just being oh so cool. I can’t even begin to imagine back in the day watching The Empire Strikes Back in the cinema and getting to that scene when you discover THAT revelation.

 

#1, 2 and 3 have all been to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The impact of the revelation that was revealed in that episode was slightly lost on them but I’m sure as time goes on they’ll value the significance. Right now it’s all about the light sabers and using the Force. I laughed so much when #2 tried her hardest to read our minds with her hand hovering over our heads. How I wish I had that power too.

   

I’m openly very pleased that #1 is such a big Star Wars fan. His Stars Wars trivia surpasses my own by a long shot. He is now the Master. Branching out into Star Wars Rebels. The Clone Wars. Educating me on characters like Ezra Bridger spawned from the animated series that I never really took to. Sometimes keeping it simple is best. Like trying to read the books as well. I love Star Wars but if I were to follow all the books that have been written, I probably wouldn’t have time to do anything else but that would probably be ok as I’d have no one to hang out with.

 

Star Wars: A New Hope is next on our reading together out loud list with #1. I’m looking forward to it just as much as being able to read the Harry Potter series. What is there not to love about a bit of magic and mystical powers.

  

 But what is equally important is having something fun to share with #1, 2 and 3. What is it that you have that is special. That makes them think of you. #1 has for the longest time associated Nana Moon with Star Wars and it helps to build rapport. Finding the things you have in common with others to build relationships on and share discussion and different scenarios and whether or not you want to have a blue, green or purple light saber.

 

I watch #1 keenly analysing all the characters in his Star Wars Visual Dictionary. Checking out the Lego Star Wars kits. Asking me which ones do I like best and whether he can ‘share’ my Snowspeeder.

  

 Just before Christmas, Singapore Changi Airport had a life size X Wing and Tie fighters. It was amazing! #1 was quietly impressed I’m sure. #2 and 3 were all about the Stormtroopers. Sometimes it can take some coaxing to get #1 to go places that he has dismissed as ‘not fun’ in his mind. Or will begrudgingly come along to and end up having a great time. But this weekend, he didn’t hesitate when I asked him if he could like to go to a Star Wars thing.

 

You could call it our very first Star Wars convention. There were all the characters, a Jedi Academy and all the merchandise. #1 loved it. As did #3 who declared she likes a Stormtrooper. Hmmm. #2 was all about the lightsabers.

  

 Next stop Comic Con 2016. I’ve still got my Leia buns from Embracing 40.

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Another place that’s home

I was eight years old the first time I went to Hong Kong. I remember the experience vividly for many reasons. 

In those days, and I am sounding like my Dad, Mr Li, people just didn’t go on holiday much in my family. They didn’t even take a day off and even now when they do take a day off, it’s considerately early on in the week when you can still be bothered to cook for yourselves. 

Yes they are a hard working lot but times have changed and they’re a little more restful and a lot more adventurous with their choice of holiday destinations these days. I can honestly say, that according to my Dad, Mr Li, if you have to go on holiday then there’s no point in going anywhere else but Hong Kong. Like you can’t be full if there’s no rice attached to every meal. ‘What’s the point?’, he says. ‘To see new things Mr. Li.’ ‘What is there to see?’, says my Dad, Mr Li and that is what makes him such a steadfast man.

 

As a child I can distinctly remember being asked ‘What’s China like?’ Not in any mean way I should add. It was a time way before the World Wide Web. The truth would be, I don’t know. I still don’t. Nana Moon can tell you more about China than I can. ‘But you’re Chinese!’, they would cry. I know. ‘And you’ve never been to China before?’, ‘No, my parents are from Hong Kong.’ ‘What’s Hong Kong like?’ ‘Erm, I also don’t know….’ ‘But you’re Chinese!’

  

I know I’m Chinese! I’ve always known it. Even when people have helpfully pointed it out on the street, I was aware. But finally, when I was eight years old, I went to Hong Kong where I had this whole other ‘home’.  My Dad, Mr Li and a long line of Li/Lee/Lei’s hail from our ancestral village Tai Po Mei in the New Territories on your way to the China border. 

  

When you think of Hong Kong, you may think of the beautiful skyline adorned with skyscrapers across the harbour with a few ferries or junk boats passing by. The bright lights, the haggling for cheap knock off replicas, the noise, the smell the frenetic pace. The Hong Kong that I’m more familiar with is one that moves slightly slower, more green, more rustic. The one where I remember my Grandma. My Por Por. Living in our village that bustled with so much activity. 

  

The first time I went back to Hong Kong there was so much family I was meeting for the first time. I think that’s what really struck me. To suddenly have so many Aunts, Uncles, Great Aunts and Uncles all in one place. They knew me as daughter of my Dad, Mr Li and sister of Big Brother Li. The reason for this visit was for a special occasion. To celebrate a new house. A house with indoor toilets. I mean, for you and me, we’ve always known that toilets are indoors, it had never occurred to me that they wouldn’t be! Or that toilets could be anything but the ones that you sit on. And flush. Then suddenly toilets were outdoors and around the corner. Or indoors but nothing to sit on. Or something to sit on that you then push under the bed. It has obviously left a lasting impression.

  

I’m eight years old and I’m in Hong Kong for the first time.  Hanging out for three long weeks with cousins I hadn’t even met before. What is there not to love. Is it time that makes me view that first holiday with such nostalgia or how times have changed since? I haven’t stayed in our village since I was 16. In fact I’ve lived in our village for a total of 16 weeks in all my years. It’s not long at all to feel such strong associations but never underestimate the power of association. All my life it was embedded in me that this was our village. And that sense of belonging, no matter where you choose to live in the world, is reassuring. The village belongs to many of us. My cousins, my Aunts and Uncles, my nephews. I think this is also what makes it special. To feel this connected. 

  

So every time I go back to Hong Kong, I feel I have to visit the village. And every time it changes. I’m walking down a path that leads down the mountain to the start of the village where you then wind your way past houses that have been modernised and family members of a certain generation pop their heads out to greet you. It’s a lot quieter these days. Most people migrated out to the suburbs or to other countries a long time ago. But at the other side of the village there’s a new road that has been built on reclaimed land that could change all that and bring back families to the villages. There was a time that you looked out straight to sea but now the sea is just a bit further away.  
The path that we’re following is at once familiar and then not so. Where once there was just jungle, there’s a lot more concrete and then we reach the start of the row of terraces that led to our old house. Somehow, it looks a lot smaller. As nearly everything does when you revisit places with Grown Up eyes. I’m hit with unexpected emotion. I think of my Grandma, my Por Por. I think of my Dad, Mr Li having left this home over 50 years ago. I think of Big Brother Li looking on and wonder what kind of memories he has, especially on that particular day being his 50th Birthday. I look at #1, 2 and 3 and wonder when they will understand just how important this place is and what it will mean to them. 

  

Since then I’ve been back to Hong Kong six times. Not that often to be honest. Before you could buy all things Asian at the click of a mouse, a trip to Hong Kong was an opportunity to eat amazing food, buy the latest gadgets and get yourself a Hello Kitty/Ding Dong now called Doreamon fix. I would still say it’s the best place for amazing food. But living in tropical Singapore, some of the other things that you once couldn’t get enough of, is now quite accessible. So what does Hong Kong hold for me now. Well, it’s still great for shopping but the shopping with #1, 2 and 3 renders that objective impossible as demonstrated on our visit last month. Brilliant New Adventure had high hopes of us hitting the shops together but we sadly only got a measley half an hour in. Pah.

  

Brilliant New Adventure. That’s what Hong Kong holds. And Big Brother Li. And Nephews #1 and 2. And all the Aunts and Uncles and cousins that is the other half to my family. Having lived in tropical Singapore for seven and a half years with it’s own fair share of high rises and beautiful skylines, you always will miss a good mountain. Hong Kong is so mountainous and I had never appreciated that before. You can even climb these mountains but we’ll leave that for another time. 

  

I always imagine ‘home’ as being the UK. The place where we will grativate towards in due course. It’s where I was born and grew up. Where all our family and friends are. We have amazing times each trip back to the UK and it’s hard having to leave it behind. To look at #1, 2 and 3 and wonder if it’s fair that they don’t get to hang out with grandparents, aunts and uncles, godparents, close family friends all the time. 

  

And yet, what about this other ‘home’ that I have? One that forms part of their identity too living a blended cultural upbringing. You know, it had never occured to #1 to question why he didn’t have a Chinese name before this visit to Hong Kong. So Big Brother Li is working on that for him right now and most likely that’s how #1, 2 and 3 will proudly introduce themselves on their next stay in Hong Kong.

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