Growing The Roots Of Tradition And Custom

It’s the 7th day of Chinese New Year (CNY). The Chinese called it Renri and it is said to be everyone’s birthday. It is the day for Yusheng (Prosperity Toss) and Tang Yuan (Dumplings).

I used to chide at my mom for kicking up a big fuss over Chinese New Year, only to find myself just as anal as her when it comes to preparing for this occasion. Why? So that it feels like Chinese New Year.

There probably isn’t any logical or scientific explanation for the many things we do during CNY such as the incessant cleaning and obsession of having new things. New clothes, new shoes, new bedsheets etc.

Reading through my old CNY posts reminded me that I struggled with some sort of identity crisis every year during this time. Yes, I believe that a troubled and confused mind is the reason behind these posts, much like troubled times create poets.

By now, I should have written everything I wanted to say about Chinese New Year.

Or maybe not.

This year, I relearned some of these old lessons, which reminded me that I should just make it a point to read through some of these posts every year!

It struck me again that there isn’t such thing as advance spring cleaning. An earlier start just leads to a longer torment. Things start to get dusty again after 1 week. There is always more things to clean! The grout in your kitchen tiles and the metal parts around the house that were screaming out for Brasso!

Each year, apart from all the incessant cleaning, I couldn’t resist making something.

It wasn’t due to a lack of choice when it comes to pineapple tarts or Kueh Lapis, unlike when we were living overseas. I learned that rational and logical thinking can’t win the deep roots of customs and traditions our mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers growed.

I am lucky to have 2 great chefs in my life, my mother and my mother-in-law. Both of them have very different styles of cooking. I shall call them the Agaration Chef and the Precision Chef.

The Agaration Chef will steam her yam cake every year but can’t tell you exactly how much of each ingredient she used. The Precision Chef knows the exact amount, right down to how many grams of Bee Hoon she needs to feed each person. She keeps an old industrial size weighing machine in her kitchen and she weighs everything.

After many years of nagging, the Agaration Chef finally sees the light, that precise measurement has its place when it comes to cooking certain food. And through the years, the Precision Chef has lost some of her ability to remember precise measurement due to an aging brain.

This year, I made something that were Chinese New Year Signature food from each chef. They were signature because these are the food that make us think of them.

I made Agaration Chef’s Yam Cake and Precision Chef’s Ah Zhar through a mix of agaration, precise measurement and some trial and errors. My boys thought they were the best yam cake and Ah Zhar.

The fact is, every household will probably have their best yam cake, Ah Zhar, pineapple tarts or Kueh Lapis. It is like my boys may think that I am the BEST cook but my nephews may cringe at the food I cooked.

The truth is, I am far from being the best. My boys are biased. They grew up eating what I cooked and have grown accustomed to my cooking. Any other ways of preparing the same food can only come second best.

So even if I can’t make the best Kueh Lapis, it’s ok. My boys will probably grow up thinking that Kueh Lapis should taste a little charred and a little chewy just like Mom’s. That is to them, the Best Kueh Lapis, the kind that they will miss because in the midst of feeding them these food, I have grown the roots, of tradition and custom, things that they will remember and hopefully carry on even long after I am gone.

 
 

3

The Season For Giving

December month, my favourite month of the year, there is so much to love about this month. The cooler weather, the annual family vacation and the beautiful Christmas light up everywhere you go. It’s a month for shopping, feasting and merry making.

I have to admit, it’s hard not to be sucked in by the commercialization of Christmas where gift buying and fancy Christmas decorations has become the focus of the holiday and it’s even harder to teach our kids that Christmas is not all about ticking items off their wish list.

But we try.

Our home decoration has been kept simple for the last couple of years. Our Christmas ‘tree’ is made from some fallen branches collected from the park or a dead tree we found in the backyard

Apart from our very simple tree, we also re-use most of the Christmas craft ornaments we’ve made over the last couple of years. We love the simplicity of it all and are pleased that we have helped to save another young fir from being decapitated.

This year, apart from recycling our ‘tree’ from last year, the boys did a very last minute fund raising project by selling their handcrafted Harry Potter wands.

They learned in school that some of their classmates have to rely on financial aid for their daily meals during recess and that led us to Straits Time School Money Pocket Fund.

From their website,

Straits Time School Money Pocket Fund provides pocket money to children from low-income families to help them through school. The children can use this money for school-related expenses, such as buying a meal during recess, paying for transport or using it to meet other schooling needs. The financial help also eases the burden of the many parents who are already struggling to feed their families on their meagre incomes.

The boys made some of these wands to sell at their school’s charity flea market and found out that they were a hit with the kids. They decided to make more wands during the school holiday. The initial plan was to make 100 wands for our charity project and sell them at $5 each.

Unfortunately, we ran out of time as we had to fly off for our vacation. We only managed to make 64 wands and raise SGD 400.

However our friends at SimplyLampchops continued the project while we were away and together, we managed to raise a total of SGD 605, exceeding the initial target of SGD 500 that we have set!

Here’s a heartfelt thanks to friends and readers who helped spread the words and bought the wands. With your help, this holiday is a little more meaningful for our children. They have learned that with enough effort, even the wee little ones can help make a difference and experience the joy of giving. Hopefully they will continue to do so not just this Christmas but throughout the year!

Have a very Merry Christmas!

xoxo

 

 

 

 

4

From A First Time PSLE Mom

img_8897

PSLE, a national examination that every Singaporean kid needs to take at 12 years old. Whether you are formally schooled or homeschooled, it’s almost certain that you can’t run away from it. 

So my husband and I have agreed to take a more hands off approach when it comes to our kids’ school work. The elder one is pretty much on his own when it comes to his school work. The younger one who is in Primary 1 still needs nagging before he settles down to do his work everyday. These days, he knows that it is his job to ask if he doesn’t understand and if he doesn’t finish his work, he will have to answer to his teachers.

We want them to be accountable for their own schooling and we want them to understand that knowing their school work is their responsibility. There isn’t really any special arrangement to prepare them for tests or examinations, the only work they do on a daily basis is homework brought back from school.  The teachers have put in a lot of effort to prepare them for PSLE. They started supplementary classes since P4 and now in P6, worksheets and past years papers are regular drills. Because of  that, life at home could remain pretty much the same even during this period. The boys spend most of their time doing their own things, mostly school unrelated.

It’s my first time being a PSLE mum and even though we try to keep things at home as usual, I have to admit that the stress is real.  It’s coming from parents, teachers, friends, colleagues and even the social media. I have found that the best way to deal with the stress is, shut them out. But if you can’t, the next best way is, go get a good workout! And yes, I think it is the adults who need to destress because when the adults feel stressed, it would most likely cascade down to the kids!

So why is PSLE so stressful? Why do kids kill themselves over PSLE? 

Our general belief is that PSLE is an important milestone in life and this is reinforced by what we see around us. It gets you into the elite schools. A disproportionate number of scholarship winners and top achievers come from these schools. Anybody who seem to be somebody in Singapore come from these elite schools – ministers, top civil servants, etc. Many of us having not been able to get into these top schools, would want the best opportunities for our children. That, we believe, is probably one of the best and most important things that we can do for our children. We do not want to compete against the law of statistics. Getting to one of the elite schools will probably give your children the best chance to succeed in life.

So the question is whether our children can succeed in life without making it to one of these elite schools? Are they condemned to a life of mediocrity if they don’t? What is the positive correlation between success in life and good PSLE results? Does PSLE results have a positive correlation with success in life?

And we can’t answer these questions without first understanding our underlying assumptions about success in life. What is succeeding in life? Should we define it against a list of material possessions and the monthly pay check? 

We should also re-examine our underlying assumption that what has worked over the last two generations will continue to work in the future. My generation grew up in a rapidly developing Singapore. We were told to study hard, do well in school, go to university, and get a good job. If you landed a job in a MNC, you have got it made. Yet, many of these dreams were shattered when the MNCs relocated to lower cost countries. What do we know about the future of our country? Of our economy, of our children? Should we continue to shape our children into the moulds that worked generations ago?

Empirical evidence also casts doubts about the importance of going to an elite school. There are people who are top in their fields who do not come from these elite schools. There are also many that go to these elite schools that do not do well in life. 

In the larger scheme of things, the PSLE is an exam for getting our children into the secondary school. That’s about it. It does not guarantee happiness or success in life. It may even be totally irrelevant. It is ridiculous to think that our children’s fates are sealed over this 4 day event. Having a child who thinks that life is not worth living over PSLE result is the saddest things in life. Our children deserve more than that and we should let them find their own way in this ever changing world.

 
 

8