The Bird Bird and the Bees

The following is part of a telephone conversation overheard by my colleague and her husband during a family dinner, between their 7-year-old son and his classmate, while a Channel 8 drama was showing on TV.

Boy: “Eh, ask you something. When you see the kissing scene in the show, does your bird-bird stand up?”

Mother stops eating. Father nearly spits his rice out.

Boy: “… Ok. … Ok… Ok, I talk to you later, bye.”

There is silence at the dinner over the next 2 minutes. Father breaks the silence and asks:

“So what did your friend say?”

Boy asks, “About what?”

Father says, ” The, uh, bird-bird thing.”

Boy matter-of-factly replies, “He say no.” And he continues eating. Mother already has her hands cupping her forehead.

Dear Xander,

I’m going to have to get back to you on this one.

In the meantime, if you ever have the problem of your bird-bird standing up while watching a kissing scene, you don’t need to let us know. Seriously.



Everybody is Kung Fu Fightin’ (Update: Except My Son)

Update: Project “Donnie Yen” didn’t pan out for Xander.

To be fair, Sinowushu is a very disciplined school; their Tanjong Katong training centre is also very fittingly set in an assembly hall in the midst of the former TKGS buildings. They regularly churn out national champions in the competitive sport, and their students thoroughly impressed my wife and I. However, the biggest problem Xander had was his age; discipline requires a lot of instruction, and we felt Xander wouldn’t be able to handle such an environment this early in his mental development.


He also didn’t understand why everybody wasn’t smiling (though a few curious boys did come up close to him mid-kick exercises and wonder why he wasn’t all that enthusiastic about the whole thing). His first reaction was to say that this was a dangerous environment, and refused to join in for a trial class.


The quest will continue as he gets older; for now, my wife is looking to groom Xander into a K-pop star, so we’re switching tactics and hunting for a hip-hop dance class for 3-year-olds now.

Dear Xander,

Not too long ago, a friend of your dad’s was telling me about an overseas experience he had in a certain Western country. He was waiting outside a convenience store for a Caucasian friend of his who had walked in to get some snacks. As the friend came out, he was confronted by a small group of Caucasian roughnecks who started to harass him. Your dad’s friend, sensing something was wrong, walked up to see what was going on.

Here’s the twist: the Caucasian roughnecks saw my friend walking up to defend his friend, and suddenly stopped. Amidst the whispering, your dad’s friend could hear one of them say, “Yo dude, check it, he’s Chinese.” To which another roughneck suddenly raised his hands and said, “Yo, we don’t want no trouble. We’re sorry, man. We’re sorry.”

My friend later found out his friend heard another part of the conversation by one of the roughnecks which went, “Yo man. All them Chinese know
Kung Fu.”

Which is why we’re signing you up for wushu classes this week.




What Your Parents Want

Dear Xander,

The past few weeks have your parents a little distressed. Your English teacher in your nursery class has been dropping notes to us in your daily assignments, telling us you really need help in your writing. In nursery school terms, of course the teacher means writing the alphabet, not a research paper on understanding the reproductive behaviour of 3-month-old dwarf hamsters (a topic that your mother and I unfortunately have too much information on).

Over the weekend, the greatest accomplishment I have achieved with you was making you write the X in your name. Your mother is much better at this; her greatest accomplishment the same weekend was getting you to go to Settings and recognise the word General on an iPad. She’s still trying to figure out how to make you recognise Brightness and Wallpaper.

Let’s put this in perspective; you’re 3 years old, and born on the tail end of December too, for crying out loud. My worry is not so much that you may not be able to keep up with the Singapore education system, but that the Singapore education system is not structured to your benefit.

Being born in November myself, your father can understand your predicament. I was a late bloomer; I completed my tertiary education at the tender age of 27, when everyone else in my class got their diplomas at age 19-20. My primary/secondary/pre-university education was absolutely nothing to brag about, save for my ability to scale a 3-metre barb-wired school fence to avoid the discipline master when I was late for school. By the time I was 15 years old, your grandparents had given up hope on me, at one point sitting me down in a serious discussion about me just focusing on a career in cooking Indonesian food, since I was enjoying eating so much I was getting fat enough to wear a bra.

It would be hypocritical for your mother and I to say we don’t expect anything from you; if we held no expectations, we wouldn’t have bought the 5 canes strewn all over our house with 1 tucked under the sun visor of our family car for emergencies. What I have learnt from dealing with my own father, though, is to think back on my own history as a toddler/child/teenager/adult son, and quite frankly decide not to ask too much of my own children.

Admittedly at some point this year or next, you will need to learn and demonstrate writing out your name in full (English and Chinese). But for now, I’m just going to wait for the next parent-teacher conference at your school and ask what exactly your teacher is expecting out of a 3-year-old born in late December, because as far as your mother and I are concerned, you’ve been able to fulfill most of our expectations. You eat your vegetables, are polite to strangers, manage to pee standing into the toilet bowl most of the time (I have explained to your mother and she has understood that sometimes just after you wake up in the morning this is not physically possible), and above all that, you’ve given us your laughter, your funny quips and, well, you.

All we ever wanted from you, you’ve already given us. You’ve given your mother and I happiness; what more can we ask for?

Love, Dad

Fear and Courage

Around bedtime…

Me: Daddy will tell you a story. have you heard of the Three Little Pigs?

Xan: No.

Me: Okay, Once upon a time…

One pig later…

Me: … and the big bad wolf said, I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your…

Xan: Daddy, I don’t want this story. I scared.

Dear Xander,

In the course of spending time with you, one thing I had not anticipated was how you would deal with fear. As a child, your father built up quite a resilience to things that go bump in the night. Thanks to the television viewing habits of some of my sisters, I was very much exposed to horror movies, graphic documentaries that are banned in 42 countries and shimmery, scantily clad Solid Gold dancers.

That was not to say I had no fear; I can name 2 right off the bat for you – household lizards and cockroaches. With the lizards it was generally easy to get over; understand their function in the home as pestbusters, leave them alone to do their thing and in return, they generally don’t bother you. The cockroaches, however, are a whole different ball game.

It’s bad enough they run across your feet when you’re not looking. They even have a tendency to stare at you when you’re innocently clearing your bowels in the toilet. But when they fly – oh for the love of all that is holy, when they fly

It took me a good 30 years to overcome this fear, and what got me here was a 2-step process: first, your mother, and then, you.

Your mother also held the same opinion of cockroaches as I did. After we got married, I was knee deep in trying to assume the role of the man of the house, and had to psyche myself into believing I was relieving the fear of a more important person than myself, and that a cockroach in my hand is much better than a cockroach in my wife’s face.

After we had you, and a child seat was installed in our car, we found ourselves contending with a cockroach problem in our car. I started off freaking out every time I had to get rid of the six-legged freaks on a regular basis, but then I applied the same psychology to the endeavours; that I wasn’t doing it for me, I was doing it to keep them off of you. I didn’t just get used to it after that; I was getting very good at it (though I still jump when the damn things decide to fly).

I’m telling you this because you need to know: be it lizards, cockroaches or the Big Bad Wolf, we all have fears, and they will haunt us, whether we like it or not. The thing I took 30 years to learn is that avoidance is not the answer. To confront your fear, acceptance is your first step, because with any and all things, once you accept something, the inclination to avoid it disappears.

Next comes reasoning. If your fear is getting in the way of what you want to accomplish, focus on what you want to accomplish instead. If you want to protect your biscuits from the cockroach, just remember it’s your biscuits that you’re protecting; the cockroach will just be collateral damage. And if you want to hear the ending of the Three Little Pigs story, just remember, as with all stories, there is an ending; the Big Bad Wolf is probably gonna get it for eating the accomplished stonemason pig’s 2 brothers, and you need to find out if justice is going to be served.

Courage is not borne of a lack of fear; it manifests from an acknowledgment of that fear. If you live by that understanding, nothing will stand in your way.

Love, Dad

The Best Defence

One night, just before falling asleep…

Xander: Daddy, protect me.
Me: Protect you? How?
Xander: Like this (puts one arm around bolster) and like this (puts the other arm around bolster).

… And he snuggled in and fell asleep in my arms.

Dear Xander,

It is only natural for your parents to worry for you, fuss over you, or nag at you for running/climbing/jumping/flying around all over the place. You’re never out of our sight when you’re with us, and we’re never out of yours. We want you to be safe, and protect you from harm as much as we can.

At the same time, your mother and I also know there are some things we can’t protect you from. For example, we can’t protect you from loving someone, or the pain that comes with a broken heart. We can’t protect you from the stress of growing up and growing old. We can’t protect you from the harshness of the world you are to experience, its societies and the unspoken rules that govern them, the stress, pain and suffering, the multitudes of opinions and beliefs that will either beckon you or repel you. We can’t protect you from learning about the realities of life.

So just as much as we want you to be safe, and just as much as we want to protect you, your mother and I also know you need to learn to take care of yourself and protect yourself. Since you learned how to crawl, we never coddled you when you fell, and you’ve certainly fallen many times; on your hands, on your knees, on your head, on your face. And each time you fell, we wouldn’t suddenly exclaim in worried shock. We wouldn’t run to your side if you cried. We wouldn’t feel around your body looking to see if you injured yourself. We wouldn’t immediately pick you up.

It wasn’t easy for us. The first few times your mother would react on instinct, trying to catch you as you fell; she would even chide me for not taking good care of you. Over time though, she understood the lesson that had to be learned, and that the only way to administer that lesson is by having you experience it yourself. She would even instruct your aunties and your grandparents to stand their ground and not be too alarmed if you did suddenly fall down and they tried to pick you up. She had a mantra for just these occasions: “No blood? No problem.”

And learn you did.

You learned to pick yourself up. You learned to brush yourself off. You learned not to cry. And best of all, you learned to laugh it off and carry on.

We teach you values, like what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil, We even try to teach you as much about everything that falls in between, the grey areas, sometimes things other parents wouldn’t imagine to broach with their children. Your mother has a favourite quote from the movie The Changeling for if you ever get into trouble with others: “Never start a fight, but always finish it.” (That pretty much explains what kind of grey areas we might be talking about.)

You need to know we are always trying to protect you from harm. But the times we can’t shield you from the harsh realities of life, you need to know you’ve already learned to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and carry on. And we know you’ll have the strength of mind and body to do it.



Valentine’s Day

Dear Xander,

Still makes my hair stand.

It’s the eve of Valentine’s Day. In view of your current experience (5 girls and counting over the last 2 years), your age (3 years and counting) and the number of aunties that want to marry their daughters off to you (I count 1 so far; remember to say hi to Auntie Janice on Facebook whenever you have the time), I think it prudent to give you a couple of tips to get you on track.

  1. You’ve got to plan for these things. Good celebrations of love do not just arrive in your diapers. Make sure schedules are cleared for any activities you want to include for the day, gifts are promptly prepared and budgeted money is properly discussed with and claimed from the relevant department, i.e. your parents.
  2. Gifts are compulsory for women (I can’t speak for men, but if you’re gonna go that way, we’ll deal with it as it goes along). Doesn’t matter if they say “You don’t have to get me anything”, or “Don’t, it’s such a waste of money”, or “All I want for Valentine’s Day is to know you love me”. You buy her a gift. End of story.
  3. Flowers are out of the question until you get a job and pay for them yourself. I’m not going to sponsor something that frivolous for your puppy love shenanigans when opportunistic floral shops are jacking up prices during this time of year.
  4. Try your best to get her something that is as thoughtful as possible; if possible, get her a gift that will make her cry. Works on your mother.
  5. Avoid soft toys if possible. They’ll only end up being given to your girlfriend’s 3-year-old niece or nephew. Your wide collection of teddy bears is a prime example. In view of your age, however, you can always pick one of the bears in your collection to gift to your girlfriend in nursery school.
  6. Make sure to have dinner plans. Having dinner with your girlfriend is great way to bond. When you’re tall enough to reach the kitchen counter, your mum and I will gladly teach you to cook up a killer steak and pasta ensemble with mashed potato and broccoli served with sparkling grape juice.

Most importantly, enjoy yourself as much as your partner enjoys your effort and company, because if you’re not, something is wrong with your relationship, and you may need our help breaking the news to Auntie Janice that her daughter may not be the one for you (I’ll cover “Breaking Up With Your Girlfriend” in another letter).

Happy Valentine’s Day, son. Your mother and I love you very, very much.


The 2nd Greatest Mystery of the Universe

Dear Xander,

In this letter I shall attempt to explain to you an extremely difficult concept which you will find yourself trying to grasp through most of your life.

I’m going to talk to you about women.

In the most technical form of the relationship between genders, the human race must rely on the co-existence of both men and women in order to survive. That being said, such a co-existence is held together only with a thin, fragile bond which I would like to call the Y-factor. Similar to the X-factor you will hear people talk about when describing individuals of a certain inexplicable attraction and charisma, the Y-factor is refers to a mysterious logic and inexplicable reasoning that both ensures the superiority of the fairer sex and will forever elude the understanding of their male counterparts.

Let me use your grandmother, my mother, as an example. In the early 80’s, the Singapore entertainment industry produced a very popular Chinese singer named Eric Moo. He made women swoon, married the most beautiful Singaporean actress of the time, and generally had great fame and success as a singer/songwriter/producer for many years.

Your grandmother absolutely hated him.

When asked why, all she could offer was that she could not stand to even look at him or hear him sing. Even she couldn’t put a finger on why she would so thoroughly detest someone who, apart from appearing regularly on television, having put out numerous music albums and having an unfortunate last name, had nothing whatsoever to do with her.

Hence, the Y-factor: whenever you ask why, no answer will come out.

My family has come to acknowledge your grandmother’s bizarre affliction as the Eric Moo phenomenon. The term was coined out of necessity, for we have found Eric Moo wasn’t the only victim: the same inexplicable scorn has been applied to various other men (some of which your aunties have dated) and women (two of which I haves dated) over various points of time and over various situations (on TV, in the bus, at the wet market, etc.). And once your grandmother casts the Eric Moo phenomenon on someone, it lasts forever.

Your grandmother is but one example; the Y-factor manifests its illogical self on every woman in very different ways, each one phenomenon as comparably confounding as the last. The only constant which binds all these phenomena together in a cohesive gender-defining quality such as the Y-factor is that they always –always – leave men questioning why.

I am woman, hear me reason.

The Y-factor is exactly what makes the co-existence of men and women so frustrating, yet it is also the one thing that makes the pursuit of women of such interest, if not excitement, of many men. For you, I have just 3 pieces of advice if you are to get around the Y-factor in seeking the girl of your dreams.

  1. Learn as best as you can, observe as much as you can, understand as much as your sense of logic allows. Your father, being surrounded by 3 sisters and their countless experiments with makeup and dresses (on me, no less), had a treasure trove of women’s magazines to do my research with.
  2. Where understanding fails, acceptance is key. While it seems this point contradicts the first, bear in mind there will be situations where you will have no choice but to make the relationship between yourself and a woman work, i.e. your mother, if your boss is a woman, or the woman manning the passport booth while you go through immigration.
  3. If both understanding and acceptance is out of the question, and the other woman is not your mother, your boss or the woman manning the passport counter while you go through immigration, find another girl and repeat 1 and 2.

Good luck, son. You’re going to need it.



P.S. If you’re wondering what the 1st greatest mystery of the universe is, it’s time travel. Look it up.

Family Squabbles

My son’s first ever advice to me.
Daddy: “Mummy is angry with Daddy, you know.”
Xander: “Because Daddy never listen to Mummy.”

Later the next day, my son’s first ever advice to his mother.
Mummy: “Mummy is still angry with Daddy, you know.”
Xander: “Because Daddy is a naughty boy.”
Xander: “Mummy, don’t be the angry with Daddy okay?”
Mummy: “Why? Mummy wants to be angry with Daddy.”
Xander: “Because I want Mummy to be happy.”

Go on, cry. We did.

Dear Xander,

There will be times when people who love each other disagree on some things, and you might witness what people call “family squabbles”.

I’d like to say (as I have heard others say to me when i was a child) that these are adult issues and that children have no place in them, but I will tell you honestly,as true as you are our son and we are your parents, you will be involved whether we intend it or not, and whether we like it or not. Also, a big fat chunk of the time, such quarrels are quite childish. Your mum and I have had big arguments over things as serious as money, to things as small as why Daddy’s toys are still on the floor (yes, Daddy’s toys, not yours), to something as strange as pork belly stewed in soya sauce.

Like I said, it gets strange.

The only reason why I am telling you all this is because as part of the same household, it is inevitable that you may witness some of these quarrels between me and your mother, and as much as we try to avoid it, sometimes, emotion will get the better of us. Your parents are only human, after all.

You need to know that we never mean to argue in front of you; for that matter, we never mean to argue. I would also like to assure you that no matter what your mother and I are arguing about, it is not your fault. Your mother and I have very strong characters; it is a big part of why I married your mother in the first place, and it continues to be why I love her.

I also have no doubt that you will grow up to have strong traits of your own; you, too, conduct your own little scuffles with your cousins when you are playing with them, much to your aunties’ and grandparents’ shock, and my awe. We have no intention of bringing you up as a fighter or a bully, but lessons in patience and understanding are learned over a long process, and sometimes over very hard trials and tribulations. Your mother and I are still trying to learn these lessons to this day.

In the meantime, we do seek your patience and understanding whenever the loud stuff happens, and I assure you that your mother and I continue to love each other as we always do, both despite and because of our differences. As your mother would always say to me whenever I ask her why she married me, “There’s never a dull moment.”



The Economics of Chinese New Year

Dear Xander,

For the next 15-20 years, this will probably be your favourite holiday of the year; you get 2 days off school (or work) for the price of 1 holiday, the snacks and food are nothing short of a royal feast, you get to run from one place to another visiting everyone, and this time of year, people are giving out free money.

But as the Chinese New Years go by for your dear old dad, I have come to learn the values tied to these annual traditions and rituals, and I impart them to you for your reference for when you come of age and start wondering what is going on as well.

The value behind the obligatory visiting of friends and relatives is obvious enough; masked behind an auspicious superstition of “bringing good luck” to the homes of those you are acquainted with, the act itself ensures that ties with the people around you are maintained at least on an annual basis, and as such, the “good luck” you hear in all entrance greetings is really the support that you offer as a kith or kin.

Courtesy of your mother: her (very successful) 1st attempt!

The abundance of food and drink in every home, while representing an abode that is and will be well stocked for the rest of the year, arises more from 2 points of practicality: one, that you are well prepared to feed the sudden influx of visitors, and two, to keep the lesser acquainted occupied with food in their mouths in order to avoid awkward conversations.

Having the celebrations officially run over a 2-day period opens up visit-planning schedules for more flexibility. Can’t make it on the first day? Come onĀ  the second. And if you can’t do both, bear in mind Chinese New Year (“CNY”) traditionally runs over 15 days, not just 2 (the government can’t afford their economy coming to a standstill for more than 2 days by allowing their workforce to play mahjong for 2 weeks); this is for the more calculative to subliminally catch those who try to avoid the festivities altogether by going overseas for an opportunistic vacation.

The “free money” bit (a.k.a. your red packets) seems the most complex issue for parents to manage. This is where you come in for us, your parents. You see, the overarching rule for CNY red packet distribution is that parents and married couples are the ones to give and children and the unmarried are the ones to receive, during this time of year, we consider you to have been born for the sole reason of of taking back what we dish out. If you think about it on a deeper level, this also works out for the purposes of expanding our nation’s population: the more children a family unit has, the more they can collect back. As an only child, you probably can imagine how your mother and I are feeling about giving you more brothers and sisters during this time.

It’s also when all the other traditions mentioned come together in support of the economics of the red packet tradition (which incidentally also translates well into marketing terminology): we meticulously plan our visitation schedule (develop our campaign timeline), offer up food and drink in abundance when people visit us (building up positive brand reputation), visit as many friends and relatives as our social circle and influence will allow (engaging our market audience), spare no one in the process over the 15-day period (ensure as wide a reach as possible), and make sure you’re around everywhere we go, dressed in your holiday best, acting your cutest, and having the best time of your life (you’re the cash cow).

Work hard for us this holiday season, son. We’re counting on you.