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

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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You did a great job

What else is there to say? Many familiar faces and old favourites have left us this year. 2016 seemed to start off badly with the loss of David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Terry Wogan. I wrote a post about it back in January, whether this feeling of sadness and loss for someone on one hand familiar but by no means someone I knew, was ok. And it seems as 2016 comes to a close, we are ending the year as it started. 

In a year that feels bleak following the occurence of many negative world events, the loss of public figures whose talent in film, music and entertainment took us away from such feelings, has only added to the gloom. 

I realise why I feel so sad at the news that celebrities such as Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, Gene Wilder, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and so many more who have passed away this year. Their work, be it the music, the films, the tv shows, their appearance on tv shows has been ever present in the background of my growing up, growing older. They have provided many a great night out and evening in. They helped us to bond with family and friends. They enabled relationships to grow and flourish because you discovered someone shared the same taste in music and humour. They made us happy, outraged, disappointed at times even. 

Mostly though, they made us happy. And who can bear the loss of someone who made us happy. Whilst it may have been their job to do so, the world needs people who have this talent to share it with us and take us away from the daily grind and all the other rubbish stuff that goes on in the world. 

Earlier today, I took #1 to watch Rogue One. It’s the second time I’ve seen it and I have to admit, I shed a tear several times during the film (in secret) because the film makes you and because this time around it was more poignant. The same way it felt watching Alan Rickman’s final film ‘Eye in the Sky’. You are so good and mesmerising, why can’t you go on entertaining me forever?

And that’s the sad reality. 

Thankfully though, there’ll come a day when I can rewatch that film, listen to the CD or watch that tv show and remember fondly and gratefully, just how much joy these people gave us. 

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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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What happened to Birthday Eve? 

As Mrs Cake Pops pointed out eight days ago, I demonstrated little fanfare on Birthday Eve this year. 

How out of character you may think. Unless you saw my Facebook post at the start of August declaring that it was Birthday month. Indeed.

Truth is, I was just too busy to dedicate much time to Birthday Eve having just come back from a week away in Thailand. You sort of think that a two hour flight with #1, 2 and 3 should be a breeze these days and on the whole it is but the whole travelling thing is still quite exhausting. Especially as I’ve mentioned before that as the years roll by my exuberance for air travel wavers somewhat. The mere mention of turbulence has me in a silent panic. As the plane jolted around for a few minutes I could hear #1 and 2 whooping like we’re on a roller coaster as I grip the arm rests.

Birthday Eve is significant in that it marks the end of your own personal year. The last day of an age you’ll never be again. As far as being 41 goes, on the whole I can definitely leave that one behind as a year that ranked lower than some other years but also contained some good stuff too.
It was a year of huge change with the return to Gainful Employment and #1 and 2 starting Big School. There has been sadness as well but also joy with new family members to meet. World events also played a part. All these things combined is tiring. Exhausting even. 
As Birthday Eve and even Birthday passed, I looked over my shoulder and acknowledged some of the challenges that 41 came with and realised that whilst some of them were rather rubbish, they wouldn’t define the whole year. There were learnings definitely and to take something away from such experiences can only add to yourself and not detract. 

After all in a few more years what happened at 41 will become distant memory. Think back to all the years where it hasn’t felt so amazing and then suddenly it is amazing. Nothing truly lasts forever and in the great scheme of things, can you really expect every year to be amazing. You would never learn anything new. About yourself and others.

But already 42 (42!!) has started off pleasingly. I realised what needs to happen more often is quite simple. I need to spend more time with friends and family. I really do. Get back to doing things that I enjoy. Be it running, cooking, crafting, pottering around, laughing. 

It is as simple as that. 

So Birthday was spent trying out a bar I’d heard plenty about. It’s one of those ‘hidden bar, secret password’ places with drinks menus in font size not designed with the elderly in mind. Followed by dinner at a place that has a six week waiting list. But for once I ‘know’ people who can get you in within three weeks. I am what they call connected.

Birthday Plus One was spent with Twin 1 and Twin 2 who generously hosted belated birthday celebrations for anyone who happened to have had a birthday in the past 12 months. If you greet most people with a ‘it’s been too long since…’ then it’s time to change that. 

Good conversation and company makes for an enjoyable evening but lob in a good party game with highly covetable prizes to be had leaves you going home decidedly satisfied. 

On it’s own a solar powered inflatable light may not seem like much but if you know you’re taking it off someone who highly desires it, well then it becomes much more enjoyable to drink a jumbo tumbler of whiskey with your newly acquired jumbo ice cubes by solar powered inflatable light. 

The reflection of Birthday Eve this year is that I didn’t spend the time doing anywhere near as much as I should have done of things that make you say that was a good Birthday year.
And so for this year of 42 I’m going to tip the balance the other way. 
Do more of what you love the most too. 

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I don’t know you and yet……..

I always find the feeling quite bizarre. That feeling of sadness at the news of someone passing. Famous people I mean. Not the people who surround you everyday.

The people whose face seems so familiar. Instantly recognisable if they were in the picture round of a pub quiz. So much so that if you happen to celebrity spot them in the street, your first thought may be to call out in greeting to someone you know but can’t quite place. Maybe a friend of a friend, someone you met at a party perhaps or through Gainful Employment. Then you realise actually you don’t know them at all and hurriedly retract that outstretched hand about to wave and break off making eye contact. Well you do sort of know them. You know their name at least, what songs they’ve sungs, films they’ve been in, their favourite colour even but still you’re strangers. 

That is what I find quite bizarre. No matter how famous they are with their highs and lows splashed across the media pages on line and in print, you don’t really know them at all. Yet news of their passing can bring a sense of loss. I often wondered whether it was weird to feel that way. With it being someone famous and all. Are you really allowed to feel a sense of grief over their death? I thought grief was reserved for family and friends only. 

The news of people passing having enjoyed a long life or tragically an all too short life is sad without question whether celebrity or not. But when it is a celebrity who has influenced your musical choices, picked you up when you were feeling down, called to you through their lyrics and bonded you with like minded people. I think it’s perfectly natural to feel a sense of loss. An acknowledgement of how their contribution through film, song, political beliefs or something else has impacted on you. Your youth, your student years, your carefree years and now your parenting years whereby you want to share your cultural preferences with your children. 

Mostly I feel so sad because the work of these people made me happy. Still makes me happy. Probably always will. Isn’t that a great achievement for anyone. That album you listen to because it was the soundtrack to a particular time of your life. The film that always gets watched to kickstart the festive season. The book you read that transports you to a different time and place. You can listen to the music, watch the film and re-read the book so many times and it never gets old. I’m a big fan of a number of celebrities for various reasons. Mostly because they make me feel good and happy which is their job after all. I like those that work hard with their talent and also did great things with their fame and celebrity status to bring about change.       
   
I guess it shouldn’t feel so bizarre at all. Someone that makes you happy has passed away. Unexpectedly so. I was just looking at the promotional posters of David Bowie’s new album in the shops at the weekend. Then all of a sudden, on a Monday afternoon whilst sat at my desk, a BBC news flash pops announcing the breaking news that David Bowie has died. I was almost filled with disbelief. But how? How can he be? He’s just released a new album that should mean he’s alive and well. What do you mean he’s passed away? 

A man who has been in the background of my cultural choices. The tv shows named after his title tracks and the vivid images of the different personas he took over the years. The rock and roll lifestyle I’ve only read about and not seen pasted across the internet. I can just focus on the simple fact that I liked what he did and I am sad to know that they are no more. I’ve read many an article and obituary about David Bowie these last two days. The fact that he kept his illness quiet for so long and essentially kept the general public at bay to spend his days with those that matter. A far cry to the actions of many a lesser celebrity who like to keep you informed every step of the way. 

For the rest of us, we can seek comfort in the work they left behind. Listening to old albums in a new context, Appreciating true genius star quality. Celebrity and fame means such different things these days. Some people are so called celebrities and yet I couldn’t tell you what they are famous for. I imagine they can’t either. 

So I’ve concluded with myself that it’s not so bizarre after all, feeling a sense of loss over the death of someone famous that I don’t really know but sort of do. I’m appreciative that what we still have is years and years of timeless enjoyment that can be shared with our own children. Already #1, 2 and 3 are familiar with the Best of Bowie album and Space Oddity is a favourite. No doubt they will soon be familiar with this lastest album, his parting gift as it’s called and I shall listen to it with poignancy but also positivity as I share his music with a new generation.

  

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Year End Review 2015

It is yet again the end of another year. New Year’s Eve is upon us and it is time to think back over what 2015 has brought us.

It has passed by so quickly. Filled to the brim with things to do and not quite finished. Big things at that. A lot of change and plenty of adapting for the whole family. Perhaps that’s why I’ve enjoyed the lull after Christmas before the new year begins and we start it all over again.

In September we passed the seven year mark in Singapore. SEVEN YEARS! It’s quite frightening to think how long it has been when we first arrived and were so blasé about how long we thought we would stay. On one hand I want #1, 2 and 3 to have memories of the country where they were born and to enjoy all that Singapore has to offer. On the other, there’s a piece of me that wants to be someplace else with family and friends. Leaving a country can be a lot harder than you imagine, it’s all about timing and having a plan. 
In saying that, this year has been a pivotal year in Singapore’s history and m I feel like I am beginning to understand the city state that we have made our home for now.

Perhaps it’s the same for a lot of people who are living an Expat life for the first time. The way you move to another culture and still expect things to be the same as where you just moved from and complain when you find that things are not. How rude! As with anything, it takes time to adapt and eventually you get used to the changes or learn to accommodate them. However it’s only been this year that I feel like I finally live in Singapore. Taking the time to understand the significance of SG50 and the huge outpouring of grief after the passing of its founding father, Lee Kuan Yew. The growth and success Singapore has achieved in the last 50 years has been amazing and we are lucky to enjoy many of the outcomes. 
I still feel like I’m just passing through and I guess after seven years of a kind of detachment, you do start to feel like you want something permanent. Like a forever home that is yours to enjoy and look after.

As we found ourselves still in Singapore, we realised it was probably a good idea to find #1 and 2 an education. There was a point where it was looking unlikely that #1 was ever going to Big School! Luckily the school we chose had openings for the start of the academic year in August. As I’ve mentioned before, the transition from pre-school to Big School has been the hardest not for #1 and 2 but for us as parents! The amount of reading that needs to be done and the checking up on the school website on activities, home work, school events is phenomenal and I must admit to missing a whole section on class activity to do at home for the whole first term. A huge dose of parental guilt has resulted from that. The new year presents a new start on keeping on top of your child’s education for a start! 
 

#3 also started school this year too. Only having a few months crossover with #1 and 2 before they went off to Big School but not before we had all three starring in the same school concert! That was quite an emotional event for us to see all three performing and feeling so proud of them! When your youngest child starts school it can be a rather bittersweet moment. You long for that little bit of freedom and yet you have to let go too.#3 now has a life outside of the family and finally some friends all of her very own.

As for myself, this year has been full of great change. I guess last year I was preparing myself for new challenges for 2015. Be it leaving Singapore or otherwise.

The return of Running Wolf has been great fun and I really missed how running can focus the mind as well as open up a new group of people to hang out with. For years the incubation and nurturing of #1, 2 and 3, the heat and humidity have all been reasons I haven’t ran so much here but chancing upon Twin 1 changed all that and it was a good step towards rediscovering the things I used to. The year started off really well but by mid May, other distractions occurred that put running and other sporting participation to one side.

One of those new distractions is a return to Gainful Employment this year too. I was hoping to write a post about it before now but I find I just haven’t had the time to think about it properly!

It had been on my mind for a while. After the luxury of seven weeks in the UK last year, I knew it wasn’t going to be something I could repeat this year. With #1,2 and 3 at school and the gaping six year hole in my CV, it was about time to address how to fill it. In this respect, I have found myself lucky in how quickly I have been able to find myself Gainful Employment. It began by chance with a parent of #2’s schoolfriend who happened to ask if I wanted to do some part time temporary work for her organisation. It seemed a great starting point and came at the right time for me in a field that wasn’t too dissimilar to what I was interested in beforehand. Soon after I came across the position of Gainful Employment that I now occupy.

Whilst I was open minded about the challenge of returning to Gainful Employment, the reality of transitioning was hard. Both the guilt of being away from #1, 2 and 3 and ensuring I was putting in all that I could into my new role. I imagine this is a postion that you will never get away from once you have children to consider. After seven months I think we are all a little bit more adapted and financially it is good to have a small sum of income that is your own. For the first time in years I was able to buy Husband a Christmas gift that was truly from me.

A return to Gainful Employment in Singapore has brought a whole new dimension to living here. I think you truly feel embedded in the lifestyle and culture once you have to pay your taxes. It’s been the first time in almost seven years that I have spent a good amount of time with Singaporeans. With that has brought some interesting new friendships and opportunities to go to places to eat and drink that I would never have known otherwise. 
I am definitely glad that I made a return to Gainful Employment but I do miss time spent with #1, 2 and 3. Equally if I was spending all my time with #1, 2 and 3, I know I would be thinking of doing things that would enable me to get back into Gainful Employment. 

This year my Mum turned 80. It’s an occasion that has made me think a lot about someplace else I would rather be. I miss my Mum and my Dad, Mr Li. Though he didn’t get to see #1, 2 and 3 this year like I’m sure he hoped he would, my Dad, Mr Li has been quite savvy on the what’sapp front. Mind you it’s all been rather one way. I’m not sure he knows how to send photos himself but in the absence of being able to be with them, it’s a big step that I can now send him photos and videos of them doing their everyday stuff every day. I know he looks at the photos and videos a lot too and somehow that makes me feel both happy and sad at the same time. Happy that there’s this connection but sad that we are so far away still.

More and more, I’m finding that #1 and 2 have been asking about their cousins. They are beginning to understand the wider concept of family members and after spending time with their cousins and other relatives and close friends in the UK, it’s a an idea that fascinates them endlessly and it would be good for them to experience more of this.
Same for me too. I’ve been lucky that this year I’ve had the company of Nana Moon and Big D over to stay. As it’s not their first trip over and we have done a lot of the first time tourist must see activities, it’s good to share with them a bit of the everyday stuff that we do. Except it’s not really everyday that we go to Legoland of the F1 and see Bon Jovi live! 

All things considered, I would say 2015 has been a real mixed bag. 

It has been a year filled with excitement, challenges, achievements, new friendships and discovering old things again. It has been so busy and tough at times. 

There are people we will remember and there are new people we look forward to meeting. Events, both personal and global, that put the year into perspective. 

In a few short hours it will be the end of 2015.  Tomorrow will bring new beginnings and a fresh start with unseen opportunities and memories to be gained.

May you enjoy a wonderful end to the year. Thank you for sticking with me and my blog again. 

With much love.

Karen xx
  

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When we say nothing at all

I don’t know what to say. I really don’t. 

Yet does it mean I shouldn’t say anything at all? Let it all blow over until some other world news item comes along to take its place like it surely will.  

I know a reaction will have been stirred deep within everyone who has seen the image of the lone boy washed to shore on a Turkish beach. It is impossible to look at it without feeling an overwhelming surge of emotion that is hard to put into words.

Such is the power of the media both traditional and new. One day it wants to influence you this way and the next a different way. 

As the world looks on at a situation that has been unfolding for some time. How many of us know all the facts that has led to so many families taking this risk to try and escape a life of atrocity that they know of. In the hopes of finding a better life eventually in some unknown place who knows where. 
All too often when you watch the news and see events happening some place else it can feel so distant. Like the images depicting the destruction of the ancient temples preserved for centuries in Palmyra, Syria. 

Then suddenly this week we see images of people who once lived in Syria washed up on the shores of Turkey in an attempt to reach the island of Kos, Greece. Names of places that sound less distant. Familiar. Places you may have even been to. 

I don’t know the political facts that have led to this point in history. Whether it is down to the removal of one tyrant that has only led to the uprising of another more powerful and deadly version to take its place. Whether it is because this government or that who has not acted fast enough in giving help to those who desperately need it. 

I know I often feel weary just thinking about the level of conflict that exists all over the world. Sometimes you can read about it and move on.

Sometimes you can’t. The boy in the image was three years old and died along with his five year old brother and his 35 year old mother. We know their names and we’ve seen the grief etched in their father’s face who survived. I can’t even think about his guilt or loss because it makes my eyes well with tears. Just like it did when I saw the image of his face in this morning’s news sites when I was at work.

I truly don’t know what to say. Nothing feels adequate enough. How can anything I say resonate with this situation when nothing in my life bears any comparison to the lives lived by people who have now lost them. 

I often wonder how people who have all lived on this planet for the same length of time can have such vastly differing lives. Even from one neighbouring country to another. I realise just how fortunate I am by chance to have the life I have. 

I’m pretty sure if I had not moved to Singapore, my world would have been further sheltered from the discrepancies of wealth, opportunity and equality that exists. When a person moves from one country to live in another, there are many words you can use to describe them. Expatriate. Migrant. Refugee. Asylum seeker. Displaced. Illegal. 

I don’t know what to say about what I think should be done. But this hasn’t stopped people voicing their opinions on forums all over social media. It’s in turn interesting, heartwarming and incredible the views that people have. 

Even though I don’t know what to say, I don’t want to let it go unacknowledged either. The tragedy is not just the loss of such young life or the depiction of this one event. It is the accumulation of a sequence of events that has been affecting people’s lives for a long long time with no end in sight. It may not stop there either. The despair I feel is what will stop everything else related to this event. 

In some small insignificant way, I need to express appreciation for the life and opportunities I have. I don’t feel like making inconsequential comments on social media right now as it just doesn’t seem appropriate. 

So I don’t know what to say. Except I hope some good will come of this to redesign the way we look at each other. Without prejudice and with understanding and compassion. To be that bit kinder to each other and ourselves. To provide hope and support to people who need it. 

  

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Singapore mourns its founding Prime Minister

It has been a unique week in Singapore. Today marks the end of a week long period of mourning at the passing of Lee Kuan Yew. 

You may have heard about it in the world news and not realised the impact this will have had. Same as I would have done had I not spent the last six and half years living in Singapore.

But even after this amount of time, what do I truly know about the history of Singapore. Not much.

I have several books about Asia, of Singapore and of Lee Kuan Yew himself. They are yet to be read and sit in a pile of unopened books taller than me. 

But in this past week just reading up on the constant feed of news articles about his political achievements, his love for his wife and about the man he was has shed some light on the more recent history of Singapore.

I’m not an experienced Expat, I don’t know how it works if you move on from one country to another after a couple of years or so. How much you could or would immerse yourself in local culture and governance. I have a hard enough time keeping up with what’s happening back in the UK. There is also that notion that whilst I am absent from the UK, just how much does current politics affect me. 

When the next UK General Election comes by in May, I again won’t be there to cast my vote even though I strongly want to urge all those who have the right to vote to exercise this right to vote. I haven’t experienced life in the UK under the coalition that was formed five years ago. What exactly do I know about how well they’ve done, or not.

And so, this week, I came to realise that the privileges I have enjoyed with living in Singapore have not come about by chance, even if my being here has. But has been carefully orchestrated by one man’s vision. A vision that has been realised in less than 50 years of independence away from British rule and a failed attempt at unification with Malaysia. 

Every 9 August, Singapore’s National Day, celebrates the formation of an independent sovereign state. There’s patriotism abound, a parade, jets flying overhead and fireworks. I especially enjoy this day for the fireworks which are rehearsed every Saturday six weeks in advance. I’ve viewed this public holiday as exactly that, a public holiday that has fireworks to round it off.

It was only when Scotland was voting for independence did I learn that 50 years ago, Singapore had independence forced upon it. Independence was not what Lee Kuan Yew asked for. He campaigned for Singapore to no longer be under British colonial rule which ended in 1963 and had hoped for a successful merger with Malaysia. It was short lived and break downs in relations were attributed to racial tension. The day Lee Kuan Yew had to inform the people of Singapore about the separation from Malaysia was an incredibly sad one for him.

Perhaps this is what drove Lee Kuan Yew forward to make Singapore all that it is. From a barely noticed island with a few fishing boats, kampong housing and no clean drinking water system. Many an article describes his passion for Singapore and a better life for its people. Taking patriotism to a whole new level that he lived and breathed Singapore. That in fact he was Singapore.

His achievements are plentiful and criticised in equal measure. What works well can also be cause for frustration in another sense. How he achieved his goals along the way is sometimes up for debate. 

Granted, Singapore is a small nation with a population of five million people. Some may say it’s an easier task to govern a nation smaller than Greater London. The political party in power has been the same one since Lee Kuan Yew became Prime Minister with the People’s Action Party which he co-founded. That in itself is a rarity for such a modern developed democracy. 

On the day I was celebrating turning 30, Lee Hsien Loong, the son of Lee Kuan Yew took over as Prime Minister from Goh Chok Tong, and Lee Kuan Yew became Minister Mentor. He has always had some influence over the governing of Singapore. A steady presence a bit like the Queen but with a more active role in how things are done.

So it’s little wonder that Singapore is grieving the loss of its founding Prime Minister, its founding father. As his body lay in state at Parliament House earlier this week, people queued for eight or more hours to file past in seconds to pay their respects. It can be joked that Singaporeans like nothing more than to queue, and I have seen long queues of people for the most ridiculous things hardly worth the effort. But on the whole, not many are keen on spending much time in the outdoors heat and humidity. I was impressed with their dedication. It was a particularly scorching few days. The government responded quickly by changing the viewing of Lee Kuan Yew lying in state to a 24 hour operation and people still queued all through the night.

It’s funny for me to have known this man’s name all my life. I never knew it before and only realised about four years ago that the Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore is the fabled Lee Kuan Yew of my youth, revered for his intelligence and capability across Asia. I never made the connection because of the difference in English translation of Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese.

I remember a few years ago waiting for a friend for coffee when the staff around me were getting rather animated at someone’s impending arrival. It happened to be Lee Kuan Yew arriving for his book launch, he passed right by me with an entourage of about 20 people. He also lived around the corner from us at our previous condo in his modest house guarded 24 hours by two officers and always with a police escort when he went anywhere.

Today, the day of his funeral, you could say there was some significance in the fact that it rained heavily all morning and throughout the funeral procession. I know the Chinese interpretation of this would be to say even the heavens are crying at the passing of this great man. 

As chance would have it, we were driving by near to part of the funeral procession route. We were locked in by other vehicles and so I got out of the car to join so many others in paying their last respects to Lee Kuan Yew as his glass hearse passed by. 

  

People were calling out his name and applauding their appreciation. Afterwards at home I listened to the eulogies that were read out on the live televised broadcast. All extolling his commitment to making Singapore the best it can be.

Of course, I could never feel the depth of loss the Singaporeans are feeling. But I do feel the sombre atmosphere all the same. 

And I do feel a greater appreciation of Singapore after hearing a quote from Lee Hsien Loong as he addressed the nation last Monday, that was taken directly from his father and highlighted many times through the week.

  

 

He has no regrets but I find it sad to think he has dedicated his life to building Singapore with all the sacrifices that must have entailed. In modern politics, that kind of commitment and belief feels hard to come by. In years to come, I hope complacency doesn’t unravel the foundations already laid down. 

And so it’s only right that I look upon this city state afresh and remember that someone’s dedication gives me a place to live that is safe for me and my children, beautiful to look at with both natural and modern architecture and a lifestyle beyond what I would have known in the UK. We are only passing through for a short while so we should consider all that is good rather than focus on the quirks of this nation. I’m sure they equally would find lots of things hugely disconcerting in the UK without even watching Jeremy Kyle reruns. 

So No, you can’t buy chewing gum unless you can prove to the pharmacist you have terrible halitosis. Yes, you would get thrown into prison and caned for vandalising a train. No, you can’t always have a really good random discussion with a Singaporean. Yes, there is a lot of character to Singapore if you look beyond the glossy high rise new buildings. 

I do like living in Singapore. Not all the time. But then again I would have those days no matter where I was in the world. That’s just life. You wouldn’t go on holiday otherwise. 

This August marks SG50. Singapore’s 50th National Day. It was always going to be a huge deal. And even more so now with the passing of such an important man. 

I think Singapore is entitled to one very big celebration, albeit a poignant one too.

  

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The kindness of others

There are times I read something in the news that overwhelms me so much I have to say out loud to Husband, ‘What’s the point?’.

By which I mean the trivialities of the mundane aspects of daily life that can sometimes annoy us so much and not what’s the point in living.

It can’t have escaped your attention recent world events depicting the extreme acts of violence that people are capable of. I’m not wishing to talk about the politics of it all or make a blanket statement of just how barbaric human nature can be.

I was momentarily at a loss thinking about just how vastly different we live our lives across the world. The women who have no voice and the girls who have no right to an education. The abject poverty and the hardships of day to day living experienced by many. The existence of human trafficking, sexual, physical and psychological abuse and the thousands who live in a permanent war zone.

Imagine making a list of all the ills in the world.

Why am I even talking about this when it makes for depressing reading? I don’t wish to bring you down and neither do I want to say think how lucky we really are and stop your complaining about this, that and the other. We shouldn’t feel guilty about the lives we do lead but we can be mindful of leading it well.

All around Singapore I have come across billboard posters highlighting how we, the general public, can show random acts of kindness. Do one kind act a day. The Singapore Kindness Movement was set up in 1997 after the then Prime Minister made a New Year address that expressed the need for considerate social behaviour coupled with a strong economy and good government that will make Singapore a good home for all.

Well, from my own experience I can say there’s still some way to go, especially on the roads and in queues but I don’t fear any retaliation on the occasions when I have made a point of plain, rude behaviour. Three years ago Husband and I passed by a late night lion dancing competition after having been out for dinner. Two youths were taking the piss out of some bloke who was enthusiastically applauding the event whilst onlookers around us just looked on. It incensed me when I realised what was going on. In no uncertain terms I told the two youths exactly how deplorable their actions were and what I should have said is how shameful it was that the people around us didn’t say anything either. Of course I was lucky not to get my own face smashed in for interfering and the fear of that is what is stopping us from making a stand against such behaviour.

But that aside, I initially thought it was twee having to be reminded to give up your seat for someone who may need it more instead of pretending they’re invisible or that you’re asleep. Do you really need to be told to move down the carriage to let more people on and is it such a hardship that you have to take your own food tray back to the designated cleaning areas in the hawker centres.

To me that seems like common sense. Why wouldn’t you offer your seat to someone who needs it more. Help someone who is struggling or just be kind and smile and ask someone how they are if they look down but not in that vacant ‘Have a nice day’ sort of way. If you’re going to show kindness then you also need to commit to what may follow. Sometimes you may wish you hadn’t asked as a whole barrage of woes that aren’t really woes come tumbling out. Other times, it can make a real big difference when someone notices that you need a listening ear.

And it’s quite true that an act of kindness does make you feel good. Not that this is wholly what people show kindness for.

When people you know show you kindness, it’s a lovely warm feeling and it helps to make you feel loved, supported and cared for. You also know that somewhere along the line there will be opportunities for you to reciprocate.

But what of the times when random strangers show you acts of kindness when really they don’t need to. Not just helping you out of a tricky spot whilst clambering onto a bus with buggy and multiple children in tow or holding the door open instead of letting it slam in your face and again with buggy and multiple children in tow.

A couple of things happened to me in the last few weeks that made me very happy and very appreciative. They weren’t the huge save my life events but they were just things that they didn’t need to do. I’ve been running at the weekends and some distance too so that by the time I’ve finished, I really want to have a coffee and something to eat whilst I sit and regroup before heading home. One weekend run I unknowingly lost my snack money whilst I pulled my ipod out of my pocket. I ordered a much needed coffee and bagel before realising I had no means of paying for it. The person behind the counter with only a moment’s hesitation, decided to waiver the $11.20. I really did think that was very nice and I did go back to pay for it later.

The other time was a few days later when I decided at the last minute to go and watch the latest The Hunger Games film. The problem with having a multitude of bags is that you sometimes forget which one of them is hiding your wallet. So again I arrive at the cinema, buy a ticket and find I have no means of paying for it. It’s the last day the film is being shown as well. As I scrabble in the bottom of that particular bag for enough coins to pay for the $7 ticket, the person behind the counter goes off somewhere. I finally come up triumphant with my $7 in coinage when she returns, only for her to tell me that I should put my $7 away as she was going to let me use her staff privilege pass. I thought that was very nice too and I felt a warm, fuzzy feeling instead of the disappointment I would have felt otherwise.

I guess what I’m trying to say today is that we can’t change the really terrible big things that happen in the world around us. But as the Singapore Kindness Movement says, we can show small acts of kindness everyday that cost us nothing to make the world closer around us that bit better and a bit more gracious.

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There’s nowt as strong as family

There’s nowt as strong as family.

Superglue is pretty strong actually. I can vouch for it too when once I stuck thumb and forefinger together. I can’t remember what needed such attention but I just remember showing Husband my hand that looked like it was going to remain in an ‘OK’ sign for the rest of my life. Perhaps I wasn’t dramatic enough about the incident as he thought I was kidding and also that no one would be careless enough to do such a thing.

What is quite remarkable about the whole experience is just how painful it can be even when you’re not trying to prise your fingers apart. I don’t quite understand it myself but it’s like there’s a little force field at play. I also wouldn’t advise you to try it either. Thankfully over some time, both thumb and forefinger did manage to detach themselves from each other, as you’ve probably noticed.

It’s my last night in Newcastle tonight. I wish it wasn’t. So I think it’s best I talk about it now rather than tomorrow when emotions will be running even higher.

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Years before I moved to Singapore, every return trip to Durham or Newcastle from Manchester or London always brought with it a real feeling of familiarity, of warmth and of returning Home. Odd really, considering it’s been 18 years since I was back for any length of time. These nine days have perhaps been the longest stretch since then.

But every single time, the further north I travel on the A1 or as the train pulls across the viaduct and I see Durham Cathedral and some 15 minutes later the beautiful Tyne Bridge, the heart never fails to quicken and a smile forms because it’s good to be back Way Up North.

We’ve been staying right on the Quayside. Another fabulous welcome back with views of the river Tyne to wake up to every morning and strolls alongside it towards the many bridges that cross over it. To me, this is one of the best views ever.

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I couldn’t possibly tell you where the coolest bars are or the best places to eat. All I know is that this is where my family can be found and after three years away from them, it’s been just amazing to be back right amongst them. Especially with #1, 2 and 3. They have been showered with love and attention and have once again met so many people but now have wised up to the notion that perhaps we’re not complete strangers after all and are asking me how many times have they met this or that person before, even if they can’t remember.

The beauty about this return trip is that it’s likely #1 and 2 will remember you and we won’t be starting from the beginning again the next time we meet. And yet, I have been surprised by these three small people time and again at how easily they have slotted right in. They have greeted family warmly with hugs and Hello you’s. They have ran about homes like they are regulars. They have, most importantly and above all else, liked being with you. They have loved being with their Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and cousins. Though the younger you are, the better.

It’s been really good fun watching the next generation of our family get to know each other and enjoy playing together. They are a mischievous bunch I can tell you!

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So how have I found it all being back after three years?

Well, I wouldn’t recommend such a long gap before seeing your family again. Particularly your parents. I was concerned I might burst into tears at first seeing them but I didn’t because it’s not the sort of thing you can do in front of small children and be able to explain yourself properly. Though I instantly saw how #1, 2 and 3 made all the difference to them.

You should have seen the way my Dad, Mr Li’s face lit up upon seeing #1, 2 and 3. There is nothing in this world that gives him more joy than all his grandchildren. It’s a shame all five of them haven’t had the chance to get together yet. It was a relief that they all took to him instantly because even though we don’t see him as often as we would like, you can still build up a sense of how important someone is to you by the way you talk about them and how frequently you talk about them too. Children can be wary creatures and just because you want them to have the same close relationship you have with someone, it doesn’t always work that way as true relationships are built over time and by being together. Children though, are also very accommodating and if you make the effort with them, they’re willing to give you a chance.

My Mum affectionately thinks #3 is a little rascal who doesn’t stop investigating every single thing she sees and like a true magpie, is drawn to all things shiny. She finds it amusing just watching all three potter around and playing. For although you can see lots of photographs on social media, you can never get a good sense of their true personality. Which is what this trip has given my parents, family and friends. The chance to meet #1, 2 and 3 and get a feel for who they are. And for #1, 2 and 3 to know that there are a lot of people out there who think the world of them too.

There’s also been people I’ve really needed to see because I wasn’t there at the time. My longest standing friend of 33 years, Working Mammy and her young lad got on like a house on fire with #1, 2 and 3. I can see they are also going to be a mischievous bunch together. It had been a while but as I’ve already told you all about Working Mammy then it’s no surprise that she and I got together like we just saw each other last week. Shame we only could indulge in a shandy.

In these three years, the young people in my family have turned into fine young adults. Where once I would look after them, they are now in turn looking after #1, 2 and 3. I think I’ve successfully roped all of them into doing at least one shift of childminding this past week. Quite often they’ve ended up exhausted after a couple of hours. I’m not surprised. My nearly niece, Loves Buffy was swinging them high in the air, playing tag and I Spy With My Little Eye Something Beginning With Tree. As we all know, once you start such things with children, they all want a turn and they never tell you when to stop. I’m very touched that she and her boyfriend made a very special effort to travel all the way from Aberdeen for six hours on a coach to spend time with us for a few days and spoiling the kids no end

Everyone has been spoiling the kids actually and I’m not sure how they are going to haul their stash back to Singapore.

Nephew #1, often overshadowed by the loud younger ones, is maturing into a fine young man. Completely disregards instructions not to feed his cousins unlimited chocolate but then neither do I heed what his parents say either. He’s a little bit cheeky you know, benchmarking his own drunken activities against what he thinks I have done. How rude!

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I’ve also had my fill of chips and gravy and all foods northern that my prediction of needing the back up expandable dress for the Sister in Law’s wedding has become Fact! Ah well. But no one cooks better than my Mum.

And I’ve also worked my way through the major supermarkets Jumbo Eclairs, they all do them now you know. My conclusion is still a preference for a Sainsbury’s Jumbo Eclair and I was rather disappointed with the M&S ones. You normally can’t go wrong with anything M&S from underpants to the tubs of mini flapjacks but I have to say they haven’t quite got the chocolate to cream to choux pastry ratio right.

We haven’t really done much in and around Newcastle but there are many, many fabulous things to do. The few places we have been to though, like Seven Stories which is a visually stimulating way to get children to love reading and story telling and Adventure Valley which is an amazing outdoor and indoor centre guaranteed to tire out children for the rest of the day. It’s also located right next to HM Prison Frankland and the thought did cross my mind that I hoped there wouldn’t be a prison breakout that day and we would be taken hostage.

To be honest, if there are stairs or a garden, a melon balanced on top of a vase, or even an emergency call button – these things have entertained #1, 2 and 3 enough.

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You know what I really miss?Just catching up on the everyday stuff with my parents. Not just the big things we talk about on the telephone. Mostly about their health to be honest. But you know when you’re just around each other and feeding in and out of conversations. Stuff like that.

Recently, I was asked out of all innocence how could I stand being so far away from family for so many years. I couldn’t find an answer to that.

Another thing I miss is the laughter.

And there has been so much laughter! Like proper tears rolling down your face laughter. When you can laugh with friends is pretty special but laughing with family is even better. Strawberry Mousse and her sister, who I could rename Gorilla Legs but I won’t, have had me in stitches. I don’t think they realise just how brilliantly hilarious they are. Though usually we’re laughing at each other. Because within each family, we all have our quirks. At one time some members used to make us cringe with embarrassment and perhaps made us venture far from home to avoid them. But now, I can see that this is who we are and by embracing it, I actually find we are quite funny.

And I’ve missed the language and the warm Geordie tones. I’ve missed words I used to use quite naturally like canny, mint, hoy, gannin’. Don’t be surprised if some of it has come back to stay when I speak to you next.

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By the time you read this, I’ll have already said my Farewells for now to Newcastle and all who live there. I don’t think you need to know all the details about how that goes. Suffice to say that for those who know me well, you can imagine how I will feel about that.

Even just seeing my Mum wave us off from the window tonight got me going. I miss being in the same room as my Mum. I miss catching up on chit chat. I miss telling her how Our Jenn is rubbish at not dragging me into things. That’s how things get back to the ears of my Dad, Mr Li! His source already has enough ammunition without Our Jenn freely giving out more. And for goodness sake I’m Forty! Why do I still get scared at the idea of receiving one of THOSE telephone calls.

It seems living this Expat life hasn’t really made me more independent. If anything, it’s made me realise just how much I thrive on having a big, blustery family. They are loud, rude and nosy but they are open, caring and funny. I bet none of you have a cousin who has started her own tradition of a solo Welcome Home karaoke performance. Luckily she has a willing audience in #3.

There’s a part of my heart that permanently resides Way Up North. I don’t think about missing it too often otherwise I couldn’t live in the present. However, if there’s a silver lining to all things, then I know that it definitely won’t be three years until I see you again.

It may be a whole lot sooner than you think. Lucky you!

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