If


Barely six months after she was discharged from her almost three month-stay at the hospital, my 93 year old grandmother is back there with a broken hip again, this time on her right side. The fall which she sustained this time, right in front of my eyes, other than the fractured hip, also resulted in a dislocated shoulder and a fractured wrist.

Although I was present, I didn’t see her fall. All I heard was a slight shout and there she was on her side on the floor, her light-framed aluminium walking support lay on one side. We rushed towards her. She was trembling, either from fright or from muscle fatigue. She is literally skin and bones, very frail from lack of muscles. After checking for broken bones, we carried her to a wheelchair. She complained that she couldn’t raise her right arm. My husband, Mike, a medic during his NS, felt she dislocated a shoulder. Grandma insisted we telephone a sinseh to set her arm back, but after a discussion, we decided to call for an ambulance and send her to A&E. But not before she ate her dinner. We were relieved at her hearty appetite and was assured by the paramedics that they too thought she only suffered a dislocated shoulder as any movement in a fractured limp would be extremely painful. The X-ray proved us all wrong.

That night, the image of her on the ground, swirled in my mind as I tried to sleep. There were many ifs. If we’ve not visited… If I’d not asked her to dress for a photo with my sister’s family visiting from Germany… If the floor mat was not there… If someone had been beside her then…

Guilt and helplessness clinch and tighten my heart, causing it to skip a few beats every time I recall her shout and the image, even now as I’m typing this.

In 2015, the Straits Times reported that ‘Every 32 minutes, an elderly person turns up at a public hospital emergency department because of an injury from a fall. Each month, about 100 seniors find themselves in hospital, staying a week or more because of such injuries.

And already the number of hip fractures among people aged 50 and older treated at public hospitals has gone up from 1,900 in 2004 to 2,500 last year – with half of them involving seniors aged 80 and up.’

Falls can be prevented. Elderly women often suffer from severe osteoporosis which is all the more critical to prevent falls.

I visited Grandma a day after she was warded and before her hips op. I tried to put on a cheerful smile despite only having 4 hours sleep the night before, my emotion weary. She took one look at me and asked, why is your hair such a mess?

And I know, she is much stronger than me and will recover well.

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The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy


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The Daily Telegraph calls this book ‘A delicate complex moving novel’ but when Ivan, my son, recommended me, he said it was simple to read. He finished all 208 pages in three days. So what’s my take? This book is simple to read as the author uses short sentences, crisp and precise. There’s no bombastic words, rare vocabulary or long descriptive sentences. In fact, I enjoy many of the metaphors he sprinkled in his description. (…the Spitfire pilot dived upon them and they scattered like a flock of clumsy, wingless pigeons…)Yet, it’s complex because the book is divided into chapters narrated by many characters who are linked somewhat in a wispy relationship with each other, with the chapters toggling between now and flashbacks. There are so many characters that I have difficulty keeping track of them, except for the main ones who appears a few times. Which makes me wonder, are the other sub-characters really necessary? Perhaps the sub characters, Sebastian and Danny highlighted the main gist of the connection, with the exception of Martin who reappeared in Hugo’s life three times in his lifetime.

There is really no plot in the book, but a rumination of reflection and narratives by each character, as they recount and recall their lives and relationship. Some chapters are written as streams of consciousness with timeline shifting abruptly from flashback to now without warning. The two main characters are John and Mr Hugo, who both survived WWII rather tragically. John’s family thought him dead until he came home. Mr Hugo lost half of his head and his identity, and yet both lived until a ripe old age, and in the process changing the lives of the people they come into contact with in a positive way.

At the end of the book, we connect Mr Hugo to John, both who were enemies but who shared a meal during the war before separating, never to reconnect again. Yet, they are somehow linked by people in their lives (which I have trouble connecting the dots until I drew out the map.)

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I love the author’s prose. For example, as John recounted how he was filled with remorse after he accidentally killed a bird when he was seven, and while walking with his father to look for the dead bird to bury it, he noted the how other people went on with their lives while he suffered – ‘The ease of their lives stung sharply.’ Or, ‘The sky was very open. Unlimited breathing.’

If you think you like such novel, go ahead to read it with an open mind. Like I did.

 

 

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A Platinum Yogic experience


For the past 15 months, I have been a member of Platinum Yoga studio in Singapore. It took me almost a year to decide to commit to subscribing to a yoga studio, as I was afraid that I would under-utilize my membership and not get my money of $130+/month worth. Imagine my sister only paying EU30/month for her unlimited fitness classes in Germany. I was already taking two termed classes a week at ActiveSg but I wanted to practise more, as and when I wanted and not be subjected to a fixed time slot. I briefly considered giving up my term classes but I’m too attached to my teacher, Denjz, at ActiveSg, who have taught me for three years. I develop attachment too easily, which is the cause of suffering, according to Buddhism.

I decided to take the plunge after I stopped work and signed a fifteen-month membership last March. I really enjoyed my initial time with Platinum. I attended many classes to sample the different teachers and the wide variety of classes offered, every hour from 7.30 in the morning to 9pm at night daily (except weekend when there are no night classes). There are aerial classes, which was what I had always wanted to try and the deciding factor to commit.  There are also wheel classes, detox, yin, vinyasa, Ashtanga, all of which I tried. I struck off the teachers and classes which I felt did not help or that I somehow did not like, and organized my timetable around the teachers and classes which I enjoyed. I was going so often that each class cost only $5. Not only that, I became familiar with almost everybody there.

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Stretch Aerial classes

Being in Platinum was fun. The staff and students were friendly to me, a newcomer and made me feel like one of them. I comfortably settled into my routine and saw a future of a long-term membership with Platinum. There was such a great camaraderie amongst the students that I was added into the various group chats almost immediately. During classes, we took photos of each other and laughed at ourselves as we discussed how we could improve. We shared yoga knowledge, helped each other in class with poses.

The great thing about joining a studio is that the studio organizes workshops (extra payment) which focus on special workouts like inversions, or arm balancing.  They also have yoga retreats which I’ve not participate. I attended a few workshops and although I can’t say I benefitted much from them, I like the opportunity to experience these special classes and poses which we rarely get to practise in normal classes.

 

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Rope Yoga Workshop

 

 

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Valentines’ Partner Yoga Workshop with Teacher Mani

But then the classes changed early this year and I found my favourite teachers disappearing, replaced by newer teachers, whom the other students convinced me are just as good but I was not as certain after a few trials. I’ve become attached to my usual teachers’ vocabulary and instructions and just could not adapt. My classes decreased until I find myself attending only two classes a week now, one on Monday night and another on Wednesday night. Despite my feedback to the studio, there was no change. In the meantime, I decided to try other studios but some are just too far to entice me to go, while those others nearby are also not as attractive.

My Platinum membership ends in two weeks. Soon, my Monday and Wednesday nights which I have always look forward to, the two nights which I would cancel all other appointments for, would be free and this fills me with dread. Would I lose the flexible twist I’ve been practicing every Monday in detox class with Arya, having only just managed to bind my hands in a twisted warrior two weeks ago? Would my backbends which I go through every Wednesday during Lunar Flow be lost too?

Of course, you may say, practise these yourself at home. Yet I know I need a class environment to push me further. I could never hold as long, bend as deep, or repeat a vinyasa as many times without a class environment. I just do not have the discipline.

What am I going to do, I wailed to my fellow Platinum partner, Jenney. She very calmly analysed that it’s true the membership is not worth the renewal if I only attend two classes a week. With the sharpness of a financial consultant, she went through my various memberships to different studios. To fill my week of yoga, she suggested doing two PT a week instead of one – on Monday and Thursday (in that far away studio), two termed ActiveSg classes on Tues and Saturday. Then there’s my handstand class on Friday nights which means I can’t attend any more yoga classes that day to preserve energy. Practise yourself on Wednesday and rest on Sunday, she advised further.  That sounded perfect to me, until I was offered an attractive package to renew and I start to waver. I look through the weekly Platinum calendar every now and again to see what I’ll miss if I don’t renew, just in case, and it’s still only the Monday and Wednesday night classes.

I’ve become so attached to Platinum that I hate to let it go but I must for economic sake. Farewell and thanks for providing me with a wonderful yoga experience while I was there. I shall miss everyone, especially my very charismatically cool Bollywood idol teacher Arya.

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with Teacher Arya

What about my aerial classes? Sigh…I’ll look for a Sunday aerial class soon, I think. I can’t see myself lazing away my Sunday. Or perhaps I can.

 

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Micromastery by Robert Twigger and micromastering handstand


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I rarely read self-improvement book but I’ve signed on a Masterclass for CNF by this writer and I thought I should perhaps find out more about this author by reading his book.

This 241 page book is easy to read, and quick too (I finished in a record of 3 days) if you skip some chapters in the section of Micromastery Central, where he tries to illustrate some examples of Micromastery (MM) you can try your hands on, like sketching; doing an Eskimo roll (on a canoe) -not for me; Talk for 15 minutes about any subject (yes); write dialogue (yes); sing solo (done that); make sushi that looks and tastes like sushi (done that)… from these examples, you get an idea what MM is. But let’s be clear.

He defines MM as a self-contained unit of doing, complete in itself but connected to a greater field. It should be repeatable and has a successful payoff. Basically, MM is how we learned as kids.

To be a master, one needs at least 10,000 hours of learning and practise, according to some experts, but MM is bite-sized. He gives the example of a (master) chef, versus perfecting a great yummy omelette (MM).  In the book, he extols the many benefits of MM, including how MM, being a polymathic (meaning: expertise in a number of different subject areas) skill, brings happiness.

By identifying small, enjoyable and self-contained instances of improvement, we move towards a more real form of happiness. He gives many examples of famous people in their field of experts who also dabble in areas outside their fields. Hans von Euler-chelpin focused on fine arts at college before an interest in colour led him to the sciences, and he would eventually win 1929 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. I cite this because I studied Chemistry in college but is now doing creative writing. As a child, Alexis Carrel, Nobel prize winner in Medicine in 1912, was taught lace making by his mother (a MM skill) which he later used in surgery.

What is Micromastery? Every MM has a precise structure, which I will try to connect to my handstand learning journey.

1.The entry trick – I’m currently learning handstand, and I deem it a micromastery connected to the larger field of yoga. Twigger says ‘some entry tricks have to do with confidence and familiarity, and some have to do with giving the right amount of emphasis to each part of the process.’ I feel I have the entry trick to a handstand -confidence and arm balancing skills in yoga.

2.The rub-pat, countervailing skill, barrier – The countervailing skill barrier is the point where you will find two skills needed for the task to work against each other (eg, in driving, changing gears interferes with steering.) ‘Performing countervailing skills means using two parts of your brain at once.’ In my handstand journey at the moment, my countervailing barrier is tucking my tailbone and balancing while being inverted. But with my limited range of tailbone movement, this is proving to be a barrier in my journey. The author says ‘just knowing that this barrier exists will make it easier to conquer the micromastery. It will focus your effort.’ My teacher, emphasizes that I need to work on my tailbone tucks, so that’s where I shall put my effort in.

3. Background support – ‘Before making any attempts at learning a micromaster you need to give yourself the best chance to succeed. You need good equipment or tools, time, and an open mind. You should not be in a hurry… This background support includes the environment and people around you.’ I read this just as I was contemplating giving up my handstand lessons and now shall pursue my journey because I have the right background support to ensure my success.

4. The payoff – ‘All MM are structured with some kind of success payoff – it’s what makes you want to repeat them. The fact that the MM looks hard gives you an incentive and whether your motivation is to look good (Handstand. ahem!!) or meet the inner challenge (or both), there needs to be a clear and unequivocal state of achievable success in a micromastery. A MM leaves you feeling that you’ve achieved something – however tiny. (My record-breaking 4 secs handstand says it all.)

5. Repeatability – ‘You have to be able to repeat a MM endlessly, and you have to be able to get better at doing it. You repeat and repeat and watch yourself improve. It’s really quite astonishing.’

6. Experimental possibilities – Through experimentation you can give added zest to repeatability. I’ll revisit this when I MM my handstand.

The author ends the book by saying: ‘An important reason for learning different micromasteries and becoming more polymathic, happier and more successful, is the growth of the individual. To do this you need to be a better person – more integrated, less trivial, more perceptive, more empathetic, more resilient, more energetic. A single-self obsessed by stock prices, beauty products can’t run your real life. You know you are a whole gamut of selves and these need integrating to reach the next level of connection to the deeper realities of life.’

I know I’m a gamut of selves – a mother, a writer, a yogi, who had over the years dabbled in folk art painting, baking, restoring old furniture, and sewing. I now know these hobbies are considered MM now because of the MM structure these projects entail.

I can’t wait to meet the author and learn some tips from him.

 

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Monstress (Stories) by Lysley Tenorio


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Lysley is the first Filipino author I’ve read and I love this book of short stories, which I would not have purchased if not for his reading session at NUS-Yale where he was visiting. His reading of ‘The Brothers’ captivated me and the other listeners there that the books sold out within minutes. His stories are all about American Filipino migrants and how they adapt to their new country.

The author Lysley Tenorio and me.

Despite listening to him read the story, I read ‘The Brothers’ again and felt a pull at my heart, the same feeling when I get when I watch a particularly touching Korean drama (which I have weaned off for two years now.) The story tells the sad tale of the struggle a family goes through to arrange the funeral of a transgender son which they want to hide.

I would like to use the same quote I received from my thesis supervisor regarding the characters in the stories – engaging and definite diversity. He writes in the voice of a woman actress, an old man and even a child. I admit I was so inspired I went on to write a short story in the voice of a child as well.

In the ‘Save the I-hotel’, we learn the story of a man in love with another man for decades. The story flips between current, when they are evicted from the hotel they have been living in since they arrived,  and flashback seamlessly to one’s unrequited love for the other.

In ‘L’Amour’, a young boy narrates their family’s move to US and how he innocently helps his teenage older sister run away from home with her boyfriend, only to have her returned, pregnant.

In ‘Help’, three teenage cousins are recruited by their uncle, an airport security, to beat up The Beatles when they are visiting the Philippines because the singing group insulted Imelda Marcos, his idol. The cousins go along with the plan because they all want to meet the most popular singing group in that era.

I’m beginning to enjoy short stories, in part because I am also currently writing my collection of short stories, but also because the single episode dramas are easier to absorb now that my attention span is so short.

This is one book I highly recommend.

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Goodbye My Kampong! – Book Review


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I should state that Josephine Chia is my mentor in a writing program so my review of her book may not be perceived as objective.

This book is a sequel to Kampong Spirit (review here: https://vickychong.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/kampong-spirit-gotong-royong/), which had readers requesting for more.

I’ve never lived in a kampong, growing up in urban Cuppage Road and atas Dyson Road. I only first visited my friend’s kampong when my secondary schoolmate invited me to visit, and remember walking 45 minutes to her house from the main road. The second visit to a kampong was during my university years when I took part in an orienteering competition.

Each chapter in this book is based on a year, from 1966, just after Singapore’s independence, to 1975, when the Kampong was demolished and the residents resettled into HDB flats.

Although I’ve heard Josephine tell her kampong stories on numerous public reading occasions, the book still manages to capture my attention, with its vivid narratives and intimate stories about friendship, hope and growing up. If there is a coming-of-age story for me, this is it. In the book, she intertwines personal stories about kampong lives of herself and her neighbours with bigger news happening in Singapore and the world between 1966 to 1975. There is the flood, Robinson fire, moon landing etc. Nostalgia aside, there is a deep affection resonating in the book. The language is simple like its characters, who are genuine and non-demanding, unlike the people now.

At the recent book club meeting last week where we discussed this book, the writer pointed out that because of Singapore’s rapid development, many do not appreciate the world class living that Singapore has now, which they take for granted. Another person points out that there are many such kampongs still around in Asia, with poor sanitation and no water supply. Yes, life was simple in the kampong and neighbours forged a close relationship, but Josephine would not want to go back to that type of living. To her credit, Josephine has tried to bring back the kampong spirit to HDB estate, organizing monthly potluck with her neighbours. She urges us to smile at our neighbours, join the RC and bring back the kampong spirit.

Go buy the book, support Singlit and get an informal history lesson on Singapore’s lost heritage.

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Kueh Lapis Story


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My sister used to travel to Medan for work and brought home Kuah Lapis – gifts from her clients-which I love. I like the spices and the generous amount of prunes, so different from the ones we get locally during Chinese New Year. It’s been ages since I had one and I looked forward to buying one during this recent trip to Indonesia. I thought we were traveling via Medan to Lake Toba but I was wrong. Couldn’t we get any Kueh Lapis from Siantar? My friend’s hometown which we were visiting? Apparently not.

Not wanting to disappoint me, my friend’s brother, Siong, summoned his supplier in Medan – a good friend- to help us buy and to change his delivery schedule just to deliver these cakes to us on Vesak Day, a public holiday. I was ecstatic and was not even shameful about inconveniencing someone. (Horrors, I’m turning into my mother!)

The four boxes of cakes, each weighing 3.5kg, were delivered at 11pm on Tuesday, the night before our departure for the airport the next morning. It was thoughtfully packed into two cartons, with strings handers for easy handling.

At the airport Jetstar check-in counter, the manager demanded that we checked in the two cartons, even though we had no carry-on, just a backpack on our backs. We argued, these are cakes, and we were not overweight. We let her feel the weight of our backpacks. She demanded we opened the cartons. I think, like us, she couldn’t believe that Kueh Lapis could weigh so much. We tore open the cartons and showed her the cakes. She had no choice but to let us through, but not without a warning – if I see you carrying more stuff at the gate, I will charge you. ‘Go ahead,’ we said.

We were holding up the long queue, behind us stood veteran singer Frankie Wong and his family, whom Mike, my husband, recognised. I have no idea who he is but since he is a celebrity, I smiled at him and apologised for holding up the queue. (Yeah, I’m so shallow like this. :))

He asked, ‘What’s happening? Why doesn’t she allow you to bring your cakes up the plane?’

I replied, ‘She wanted us to check them in.’

He said, ‘Then tell her to close down all the kueh shops at the airport lah.’

‘Are you Teacher Wong?’ (Mike said we must address veteran singers as Teacher.)

‘Yes.’

‘Still sing?’

He nods.

‘On TV? ‘

‘My concert at RWS is in Oct.’

He handed us his name card and told us that he’s into dong cong cao business and invited us to join him.

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We met again on board the plane as he walked past my row of seats.

‘I had no problem with my kuehs,’ he said.

‘Aiya, that’s because you’re a celebrity.’

He laughed and waved away my suggestion.

My Kueh Lapis, which I so craved, was not oily nor sweet and filled with prunes I like, which unfortunately may have masked the spices in the cake. But beggars cannot be choosers.

 

 

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