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

 

 

 

 

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The Finale Run that We Shouldn’t Have

My husband and I took part in The North Face run over the weekend.  It was a 25 km trail run where runners have to carry at least 1 litre of water. It was my first time doing a run on gravel trails, navigating over tree roots, climbing up slopes and charging down hills while carrying a water bag. And boy, was it tough! I am still suffering from severe muscle soreness 3 days after the run and I just found out that there may be a name to this, DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.

It took me 4 hours to finish the 25 km run! That was 1.5 hour more than what I took to complete a 21 km run on pavement. The maths just didn’t add up! I swear I wouldn’t have put myself through this if I knew it would take me this long to complete the run!

So my husband had ranked this as the most enjoyable finale run of the year. It was a run that he looked forward to the past few years and having completed my 3rd half marathon, he thought I was ready for this. It was just 4km more than a half marathon, surely I could do that extra few kilometers. But he forgot to mention that he took an hour more to do that extra 4km!

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Since I got my all singing all dancing trail shoes 2 months ago, I have been running regularly in them every week. On average, I clocked about 20-30km per week. My plan to drive to the nearest nature reserve to test out those shoes never happened. I guess I never felt comfortable running alone in jungle routes that were totally unfamiliar to me.

Then my husband did a trial run about a month ago and came back with a swollen ankle. He had slipped, fell, twisted and bruised his ankle. That accident put him out of action for the whole month. A week before the event and he still couldn’t run. I was quite sure we were going to sit out the race day. I made plans for our charity project and the kids and I decided to sell our wands at our estate’s flea market on that morning instead.

Unfortunately, my husband didn’t quite give up. Two days before race day, he decided that he should still run and run we did.

It was bad. Apart from feeling under trained (I had yet to run with a water bag! Sheesh!), I wasn’t mentally prepared. With both of us away, the kids had to do the flea market themselves. I had spent the night packing the things they needed for the stall and going through with them what needed to be done. They assured me that everything will be A-ok.

I couldn’t sleep well and in the morning woke up feeling nauseous. I was edgy, tired and felt like giving up even before running. Alas, we met up with our running kakis, the horn was blown and the race began.

It was hard to complete something when you have half given up even before you started.

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I wasn’t familiar with the route, much less the terrain. The run took us into the forest of MacRitchie Reservoir passed Tree Top Walk, nestled our way to Rifle Range Road, onto the Green Corridor down to Rail Mall and back into the forest.

I couldn’t find a comfortable pace and my eyelids felt like closing less than an hour into the run. I started feeding myself energy gels in a bid to regain some energy. It was my first time taking this horrible tasting ‘food’ during a run. I was so close to giving up at the half way point.

We were running along the old railway track along Upper Bukit Timah when I finally saw the road! I told my husband that maybe I should hail a cab and meet him at the finishing point. He told me he would follow me. We could either take the cab back together or finish the race together. Knowing how badly he wanted to do this race, I let out a sigh of resignation, bit the bullet and stayed on the trail.

The rest of the run was a mixed bag of emotions. At times, I felt that I could continue and complete at a slow and easy pace. But every time we hit an uphill, my mind wandered back to wanting to just give up. In fact, I have never walked so much on a race before. I walked on almost every upslope. The ground was slippery from the rain the night before and there was loose gravel everywhere. It was too easy to lose your footing or trip over a rock. Miraculously, none of that happened.

It was almost 3 hours into the race when I finally found my pace. Maybe the energy gels helped. Or maybe I was just too fatigued to feel any more pain. All this while, my husband was keeping pace with me, bearing a mild pain at his ankle area. The injury from his fall a month ago had yet to fully recovered.

The pain got worse at the last 2.5 km and I was ready to walk with him to the finishing line but this man couldn’t give up. He kept moving even though his leg was hurting badly. He was running yet limping at the same time. I have never seen him exert that hard when running with me. It has always been a walk in the park for him! For the first time, I had to slow down for him. I was amazed by his unfathomable will to complete the race.

We couldn’t have been happier when we exited the final forested segment and the usher ahead shouted ,”JUST 1 km MORE!”. I actually felt that I could accelerate and complete the last kilometre until I reached the last 400m. Drats! Uphill! I felt like crying. Trudging my feet up the final hill, I finally crossed the finishing point and the clock showed 4 hr 1 min.

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My legs still hurt and I am still limping down steps and staircases. But I did feel like I achieved something. Half the time my husband was cheering me on. Never thought that I would be the one cheering him at the later part instead.

Never ran anything more than a half before. Never thought I could complete this distance on the trail, not while carrying my own water bag. I guess this is a good grand finale race for 2016.

 

 

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This entry was posted in Fitness.

Countryside Of Hoi An

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Apart from walking the streets of Hoi An old town, we did a bike tour to explore the countryside. It was rainy season during this time of the year and we weren’t optimistic about having good weather. We didn’t book the tour until the night before and we were told that there would be no refund if it rains but poncho would be provided. I have read good reviews of Heaven and Earth Bike Tour on TripAdvisor and trusted them even if it meant cycling in the rain!

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The bike tour company was located in old town which was about a 20 minute walk from our hotel and the people were nice enough to agree to pick us up early in the morning. I was relieved that we didn’t have to rush through breakfast and at 8.15 am sharp the transport came in the form of 2 motorbikes! We were supposed to ride as pillion passengers! Now that wasn’t quite what I was expecting and so the adventure began.

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If you have been to Vietnam, or any of the countries in our region, you will know that getting around in your own transport requires a different skill set. For someone who is used to Singapore roads and following rules, driving or cycling on the road in a small town like Hoi An can make one hyperventilates.

The tour guide who came to pick us up in the motorbike DID NOT have a driving license! Gawk! You hardly see any traffic lights on the roads but there were motorbikes and cars everywhere and everyone was honking! People just made their own traffic rules along the way!

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So the tour agency probably figured out that first world cyclists aren’t made to ride in their streets. We collected our bikes and the jetty was just a short ride away. The ferry took us to another island, away from the crazy traffic, away from the bustling crowd, to a place where a ‘first world cyclist’ could handle!

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We peddled our bikes down winding countryside roads, zig-zaged through the endless greenery of rice paddies and farmland. We had the best weather for days. There was no rain and we didn’t have to use the poncho! I probably shouldn’t but half the time I was thinking to myself that I should have brought the kids along. There is so much to see and so much to learn.

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Along the way, we were introduced to some plants which were used for making mats. We were showed how the plants were dried and dyed and this lady who was 92 years old showed us how the mats were weaved. It takes her about half a day to weave a 2 m long mat and like many of the local crafts, this is a dying trade because the younger generation is not interested to continue the trade.

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We learned that every fishing boat in Hoi An has ‘eyes’. According to local folklore, the boats have ‘eyes’ to scare away the water demons and keep the boats safe. Painting eyes on a boat is an important ritual where the fishing boats are brought to life by ‘opening the eyes’.

We were showed how wood bended from heat of an open fire can be used to form the curved structure of a boat. Everything used for making the boats comes from mother nature. From the teak planks to the wooden screws and bamboo fiber used for sealing the gaps between the wooden planks.

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Then there is the other kind of fishing boats which the locals prefer. They cost about one tenth of the price of the wooden fishing boats and they are called the thung chai, or “basket boat”. These basket boats are woven from bamboo and coated with cow dung, no less, and sealed in a waterproof resin milked from tree sap of certain trees. The recipe remains a trade secret. We were all given a chance to row the boat. The old lady did a demonstration effortlessly. When it came to our turn, none of us in the group could get it right. The boat just didn’t go the direction we wanted it to go!

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We were brought to a shop where ornaments were made from oyster shells. We were showed how the oyster shells were cut, carved and polished to make these ornaments. It’s an intricate art that requires immense patience and skill. I was surprised by all the Chinese characters that were carved out. Apparently, most of the older generation could read Chinese characters, even though they pronounced them in Vietnamese language. The younger generation however can’t read Chinese as it is not being taught in schools. It dawned on me that that we are so similar yet so different. It is times like this that makes me appreciate our government making Chinese a compulsory subjects in schools. It is how we connect to our roots even when we call ourselves Singaporeans.

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We visited a family who makes rice wine. We were shown the process from cooking the rice to fermenting it and distilling to get the alcohol. We were even treated to some freshly made rice wine which the locals called ‘happy water’. The residue from making these ‘happy water’ is used to feed the pigs which makes them drunk and sleepy all day.

It is interesting to learn that this whole rice wine making process is an ecological cycle where the pigs’ manure is eventually used to start the fire that is used to cook the rice wine. The people have cleverly extracted the methane gas from the fermented manure to fuel this process. And we also learned that they have an ingenious ways to keep away the pesky houseflies from the cooked rice with clear plastic bags and water!

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We ended the tour with a home cooked meal at a local home. We had chicken cooked in some sweet curry sauce and stir fried kang kong (or what they called morning glory). The home was an old house built for ancestral worshipping with the family still living in it. These old houses were built with 3 doors. The central door is reserved for the dead and only opened on Lunar New Year Day and the death anniversary of the main ancestor. Traditionally, women entered from the left and men from the right, although these distinctions are no longer observed today.

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The people who live in the house sleeps on beds that are simply wooden frames lay with locally woven mats. We were told that it will be too warm to sleep on mattresses during the hotter months.

There is frequent flooding during the rainy season and the last serious flood they had was in 2014 where water level rose to more than a meter high! We were showed how the people living in that house prepared themselves for the next flood. Using some wooden planks, they built some kind of a 2nd level so that food and drinking water can be stored when it floods.

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The lives in the countryside reminds me of Singapore in the 50s or 60s. It was interesting to see how people still lives like this today. I was glad we did the bike tour. Given our tight schedule, it was one of the best ways to get a taste of Vietnamese countryside.

The tour has brought us away from the usual touristy routes to discover the real countryside where we meet the locals and learn about their way of life, customs and beliefs. To me, that’s the best part about this trip, apart from moving out of my comfort zone and scaring myself once a while.

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Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.
~ Gustave Flaubert

 

Read more on this trip – Streets of Hoi An

Read our Sapa posts from last June holiday.

A Trip to the Tokinese Alps Part 1
A Trip to the Tokinese Alps Part 2
A Trip to the Tokinese Alps Part 3
A Trip to the Tokinese Alps Part 4

 

 

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This entry was posted in Travel.
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