The Star

Dear Xander,

Last Saturday, at a birthday party hosted by Mummymoo for her 2-year-old son, you managed to score a big bunch of helium balloons, 5 normal coloured balloons topped with a gold star-shaped balloon.

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You always had a love for balloons of any sort, but that evening you were particularly infatuated with the gold star balloon in that bunch. But after the party, as we were driving, I noticed the star balloon was losing its volume slightly faster than what one would usually expect from such balloons, so I said to you, “Your balloon’s losing gas. You know what would e a good idea? If we let it go while it’s still floaty.”

“Why?” you asked, not quite understanding the concept of a helium balloon losing gas and hence its ability to float. So I changed tactic.

“Because stars belong in the sky.”

“Okay,” you said. “I want to let go of the balloon.” Your mother, who was sitting next to you in the car, was surprised when you said that; you have never ever volunteered to give up a balloon before.

We decided to stop over at Raffles City for some coffee before making our way home, an it was there that we found a suitable clearing where your star balloon was able to float up into the sky without obstruction.

As you prepared to let go, I said to you, “Now, you got to make a wish on the star before you let it go. Tell the star what you want and after it reaches the sky, it will get you what you want and make your wish come true.”

“Okay,” you said. You brought the star balloon right down to your face level, and said right into it, “Star, star. I want you to float up into the sky and make the Earth happy, so it won’t be sick any more.”

Your mother and I both paused in bewilderment upon hearing what you wished for. Then you turned to me and asked, “Can I let it go now?”

I nodded. And you let go.

Letting Go

About 30 seconds later, you were bawling your eyes out, saying you wanted it back.

Regretfully,

Dad

***

Dear Star,

You better bloody do what you’re told.

Xander’s Father

Chopsticks as a Way of Life

Dear Xander,

For 34 years, I never learnt how to use chopsticks properly. At the time of this letter, I am 35. Your mother, though able to use chopsticks, also never really got the hang of it, and would default to the metal spoon and fork whenever possible (where not possible, it would usually be in opulent Chinese restaurants where she needs to look presentable in front of relatives).

You started asking to use chopsticks since you turned 3. Nearly a year later, you’ve made more progress with using chopsticks than your fishball-stabbing mother and I would have at your age. Needless to say, we are impressed, and proud.

But there’s much more to the way of the chopstick than just making things difficult for people in Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese/Korean/Japanese restaurants. It’s something I learned a 2 years ago that spurred me to refine my hand in wielding the sticks at the dinner table. And it began with something Jerry Seinfeld said.
Many a Western diner cannot understand why Asians continue to maintain such a convoluted, centuries-old method of eating. Of course, we would agree with them, particularly when it comes to their food, which we also happily tuck into with fork, spoon and knife as customarily prescribed. But you will also learn through your own experience that with some Asian food, there is simply no compromise.

You see, there are certain dishes in Asian cuisine that require a very delicate touch; tofu, sashimi, dim sum, and particularly xiao long bao come to mind. Such delicacies require a gentle, yet experienced and masterful hand to cut, create, process, prepare and present to dinner guests, with the intention that once it is laid on its receptacle, be it a porcelain dish, a bamboo basket, or a leaf of green, it must maintain its form as its maker intended right up to the point where it enters the mouth of a patron. For many of these dishes, once its aesthetic is broken, so will its soul be lost, not only in taste, but in the eyes and mind of the diner and the chef.

So where forks are merely tools for the efficient transportation of food into our mouths, chopsticks are utensils of respect. Respect the food enough to handle it with care, and it will return that respect with all the meaning and character that its creator intended.

And if ever anyone tells you chopsticks are too difficult to use, just say, yes. Of course they are. Respect, after all, is not easily earned.

Respectfully,

Dad

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