A letter from a 16-year old who has never had tuition

I wrote a post “Is Tuition your first line of attack” about how children should try their very best before even asking for tuition. I received an email written by a 16-year old student, and she impressed me so much that I have to share it with you.

Hi Michelle,

I thought your latest article on tuition was thought provoking – and the conversation you had highly amusing. As someone who has not had tuition in her life nor felt the need for it, and whose parents strongly oppose tuition, I suppose I’m a sort of rare breed in Singapore.

Most of my peers are enrolled in tuition. It is easy also to find students who really enjoy tuition, up to the point where they don’t quit even when they excel in that particular field. While parents definitely remain a driving force in this tuition mentality, I wholeheartedly agree with your point on how some students themselves seem to view it as the “norm”.

Your viewpoint on how students should not be over reliant on tuition is, I feel, very relevant in our current society, for we are cultivating a generation of learners that require spoon-feeding. However, perhaps I can offer alternative viewpoints to some of the other points you made.

You mentioned that our education system is not able to prepare our children for national examinations without any external help. Perhaps that may be true for children sitting for their PSLE at 12, but I feel it becomes less so for teens aged 16 or 18. At that age, the main driving force should be themselves, and not the system they are in.

In addition, while Singapore’s syllabus is definitely challenging compared to say, Britain’s, that doesn’t mean the system is unable to prepare children for national examinations either. I believe that both the student and the system are equally important.

Lastly, you mentioned that you see tuition as a means of catching up when one is lagging behind. While I do not dispute that tuition may be an effective method, I believe that work should have a continuous standard of consistency – and tuition should not be used as a desperate measure. If used that way, the risks of the student expecting tuition, not putting in sufficient effort, and not being able to face adversity will increase.

Being able to produce work at a consistent and commendable standard is definitely no easy feat, but I believe that that is the true key to excelling academically. If one starts early and builds up the foundations from lower secondary, the chances of floundering months away from major examinations drops. Furthermore, persisting and learning how to overcome challenges in their academic life will never do a student any harm – especially when the real world is so much harsher, and when there isn’t “tuition” that can salvage damages they incur when they grow up.

Thank you for reading this email ; I like the viewpoints you offer about various academic processes!

Best wishes,

Hear, hear.

Straight from the mouth of a 16-year old.

Her parents have done such a remarkable job bringing her up – instilling independence, self-motivation, and perseverance in their child. I should get my kids to hang out with her šŸ˜‰

Here’s an excerpt of my reply:

A few things impressed me. The fact that you have no tuition at all, you embody the learning style of what every parent hopes their child would achieve (independent and consistent learning), and that you are able to put forth your differing opinions in such a pleasant and straightforward way without sounding antagonistic. Very rare for this generation of students.

Let me elaborate on the point of our education system not being able to prepare the majority of students for the exams.

When my eldest took her Os, she discovered that friends in other schools had very detailed notes which helped tremendously in their revision, which her teachers did not provide. Furthermore, some of her teachers were not able to impart skills in tackling the papers, which she only picked up in the last few weeks from her older cousins. There are many more examples, which led us to the conclusion that the standards of getting the students prepared for the Os differ drastically depending on the teachers and the school.

I totally agree with you that the right way is not to give our kids tuition as a desperate measure and they should study the way you do. However, the reality is different for many students, and as a parent, when you see your child still not making the mark months before the Os, you become desperate!

Could you elaborate on why your parents are opposed to tuition? Nice to hear from parents who hold this view.

Claudia’s reply:

Reading your elaboration of the education system, I totally agree with the points you made. Certainly, there will be effective teachers as there will be ineffective ones. When I encounter such teachers, I try to source my own notes from other platforms, rather than sit around waiting for good teaching that I know will never happen.

From young, I never possessed the mentality that all my unsolved problems could wait till tuition – I attempted it myself, and asked my parents as a last resort. This possibly bred a more independent and self-responsible style of learning, which my parents hoped to cultivate. They absolutely hated it when I wanted answers for something I had not yet attempted.

Secondly, there was also time, or lack thereof. My parents thought I should be spending time on other enrichments and lessons, or things that I actually liked, rather than go to tuition and get overloaded with yet more homework. They thought I already had enough of that in school!

Another reason is also, as you mentioned, finances. When I was younger, I was shuttled to a variety of lessons, none of which I regret taking, I must add. All those lessons must have snipped away a huge chunk of income – but those were what my parents consciously chose to enroll me in, rather than tuition.

The broad reasoning, however, is definitely difference in mentality, and what skills or passions they hoped I would cultivate in the long run.

I must really meet her parents. Not easy to find like-minded parents in today’s world, and they sound like they have succeeded in what I am still attempting to achieve with my kids! And for Claudia to assimilate the ideals, live it, and expound it at the age of 16, I really take my hats off to her parents.

Finally, I asked if she could share how she sources for better notes or help when the teaching is not adequate, as it would be insightful for all of us, especially those with children in secondary school.

And here are her tips:

I’m not clear how the situation is in other schools, but in mine, a plethora of platforms with different notes by different teachers are usually available. These notes are not printed by our teachers, but sometimes turn out to be more helpful in revision. Downloading such notes can be useful compared with your own – especially if the language used to explain concepts differs between both.

Getting hand-me-down notes from seniors is a good option as well. Between different years, there is likely to be certain variations made between the notes, like different graphics used, different explanation formats etc. These can really supplement conceptual knowledge and ensure no part of the notes is left uncovered, especially since there is the possibility of unspecific or unclear notes.

In terms of actively asking for help, I find that approaching a subject teacher individually might be more helpful. With 30 or more students in class, the teacher might adjust the teaching pace to suit the general needs of the class and not the individual. Going for a short one-to-one consultation, or group consultations might allow the student better clarification time. That being said, I feel these consultations will only be effective if the student has put in effort and hard work but still has unanswered questions.

I was surprised that notes from different teachers are available on her school’s website as that is not the case for my girls in their secondary schools. Sounds like a cheap and viable solution for inadequate notes, which would make revision for the Os more comprehensive.

Such an enlightening and motivating exchange I had with this very intelligent student. Many parents dream of moulding this kind of child, but few succeed and thus succumb to tuition, at one stage or another.

Thank you dear Claudia, you are indeed a beacon of light not only to us parents, but to fellow students, as testament that it can be done, and that we should not waver in our quest to develop resourceful, self-motivated children, but allow them the opportunity to find their own independent feet and taste the sweetness of achievement by their own efforts.

Related post:

6 tips to choose the secondary school for your child

6 things to do in the PSLE year

School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 – Is tuition your first line of defence

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

{Interview #6} Ruth Wan – Writer and Editor

Ruth Wan is a Children’s Book Author and Managing Editor of Armour Publishing. She created the popular Timmy and Tammy series which was presented by President Tony Tan to Princess Charlotte as part of Singapore’s gift to the royal baby in 2015. Five Timmy and Tammy books were also selected for the SG50 Baby Jubilee Gift Pack which was given to all Singaporean babies born in 2015. She is in her late-30s and is married to a policeman. They have 3 children.

This initiative is part of our 101 Paths to Success series of interviews to gain insight into how successful people came to do what they are doing, and enlighten parents that there is a vast array of occupations for our children to discover. Hopefully it might spark an interest in our children and youths to start their journey of discerning their life’s path.

Your qualifications

Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and International Studies

Ruth Wan
Describe your job

In the morning, I go to the office and work with authors, illustrators, designers and other editors to produce books for the local market. These could be books on marriage, family and parenting. Or, they could be christian books or children’s books.

As managing editor, I plan the publication schedule for Armour Publishing – I do this six months to a year in advance. This involves meeting up with potential authors to discuss book ideas, dealing with contracts and conceptualising book series.
Tell us about your career path

I worked in government for 7 years until I gave birth. Then, I sat around on maternity leave and decided to extend my leave. I ended up extending my leave for two-and-a-half years before returning, but insisting on a part-time basis only.

I found it difficult to work part-time in a largely full-time environment. So I left the Civil Service to work for an award-winning graphic design firm that had a small publishing arm, called Epigram.

When the publishing arm started growing, it eventually became its own entity, Epigram Books. I started as Editor in Epigram Books and became Managing Editor. Subsequently, I left to join Armour Publishing as Managing Editor and as I have the autonomy to decide what to write and publish, that’s where I started my own children’s series, Timmy and Tammy.

How did you find your passion?

I’ve always loved to read and write. I write better than I speak. I also need to read something in order to fully understand it. I have always had editorial instincts. I spend a lot of time correcting my own speech, and the speech of others, to make the words more grammatical. It drives my husband crazy. I used to think I was weird, but then I found editorial soul mates in my other editor friends. There are more of us in this world!

When I started having kids, I found myself very passionate about teaching them how to read. I realised that my mum had taught me early on how to read, and I wanted to do that for my kids too. I taught all my kids how to read fluently by the time they were four.

I did not use any formula, curriculum or method. I just read to them and used my own make-up-on-the-spot method. When I was teaching my youngest daughter to read, I looked around and realised there were no readers in the market with local icons or landscapes.

I started writing a series that would address this gap – and I’m amazed how well the series is doing. I guess there are a lot of parents out there who want localised preschool books.

This makes sense because if children see landscapes and items they are familiar with, like the MRT, the Singapore Flyer and Changi airport, they are more likely to be engaged with the text and enjoy what they’re reading. This makes teaching them how to read enjoyable and fun.

Which aspect of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

I really love designing book covers! And I love that moment when you double click on what an illustrator has just sent in and your screen is suddenly covered with a beautiful full-colour illustration that is just so adorable!

How do you find time to balance work and family?
I chose to work part-time only, and go home in the afternoon. I spend time with my kids, hug them, and make sure they keep up with schoolwork. We try to go to the playground every other day, but only in the evenings when it’s cooler. There’s also piano practice.

I try not to bring work home and have this rule that if I do bring work home, it should be in hard-copy and should be mainly something I need to read.

What does success mean to you?

Success means pleasing God in everything that I do. The Bible spells out God’s plan for our life – since He’s our Maker, He knows what’s best for us and I have found that when I follow Him, His priorities, His values, His ways, I am blessed.

Are you involved in any volunteer work?

I sing in Church.

One advice to parents

Let your children know that you love them, you support them, you are there to encourage and root for them. They are going to face all sorts of things with their friends, with their grades, with the world. They need to have your love to have the courage and strength to persevere, to stand up for what is right, to choose to be different and to study for their Chinese exams!

To be a good writer, it takes someone… who has a reason to write and who believes in what he/she is doing.

{Interviews} 101 Paths to Success

#1 – Dr Karen Crasta Scientist Associate Prof at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine

#2 – Jeremiah Choy Creative Director Sing50 Mega concert at the National Stadium

#3 – Elaine Yeo Musician Singapore Symphony Orchestra

#4 – Chong Ee Jay Cyber Wellness Educator TOUCH Cyber Wellness

#5 – Professor Tan Huay Cheem Cardiologist Director of National University Heart Centre

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Kate’s antics: Unbridled enthusiasm

I haven’t been posting Kate’s antics for quite awhile because now that she’s past two and a half, her cute behaviours have diminished drastically, and been replaced by funny things she says which crack us up.

Her character is also starting to show and she is still a bundle of joy to have around the house (so far!)

My masterpieces!

This morning, she found 2 little buttons and laboriously stuck them onto a piece of paper (took many tries with the glue stick before they attached properly).

She scribbled something on it and presented it to me with such aplomb.

Look MUM!

I have a PRESENT for YOU!

And I drew your NAME!

WOWWWW… isn’t it nice, mum?

Well, the gift was nothing to rave about, but it sure lifted my spirits and put a big smile on my face.

Now I absolutely understand the meaning of ‘the gift of a smile’.

Anything we do for another with utmost sincerity in an attempt to make them happy is nothing short of a wonderful gift.

Happy Friday everyone! Hope you are enjoying you long weekend with your primary school kids!

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

School Stories #13:Tuition – First line of attack?

I had the most amusing conversation with #2’s classmate, C. She has been asking #2 to enrol in her Math tuition but #2 told her that I’m not allowing it at the moment, but will consider it next year when they are in Secondary 4.

C called me to try and convince me herself. She spoke with such urgency and couldn’t believe how a parent would not immediately sign their child up for tuition if they could afford it.

These were her arguments:

  • CA2 is coming up very soon. She is only scoring around 50-60 marks. What are we waiting for?
  • Another classmate who just joined managed to pull up her grade from C to B. The tutor is very good and we will definitely see improvement.
  • She needs to get her foundation strong if not it will be very difficult next year to catch up and get an A.
  • They have 8 subjects to concentrate on next year, and it would be too stressful if many subjects are weak.

I found the conversation highly amusing because the roles were reversed! A child was trying to convince a classmate’s mother of the necessity of tuition.

Beyond that, I was struck by C’s genuine concern for my daughter. What a good friend she was! I told #2 that it is hard to find such caring friends these days as kids seem to have a ‘better for you, worse for me’ mentality.

However, I was somewhat perturbed that tuition was seen by most children in Singapore as a norm, an expected part of school life, the right of a student.

I replied that I whole-heartedly agreed with all her points. However, I explained that tuition should not be seen as an easy way out.

Not doing well? Tuition!

Tuition is a privilege, not a given.

The given is that the child puts in her best effort to listen in class, finish all the requisite homework, approach the teacher for help if she doesn’t understand, and keep practicing.

And if after all these, she is still not performing, then, and only then, should tuition be considered.

Knowing her, #2 must have been either daydreaming, or was not motivated to put in enough effort for her Math. If she was able to score A* for Math in PSLE without any tuition, I am sure she is capable of achieving better results, and should not be allowed to be spoon-fed by tuition at this stage.

I also explained to C that there are sacrifices and priorities that go behind a decision to allow for tuition, especially in a big family like ours.

As the location is rather inconvenient, I have to send her, wait around for 2 hours, and pick her back. That means I will not be able to spend the time doing something more productive with Kate or the other kids, not to mention the stress of driving in peak hour traffic.

I quipped that since the tutor was so amazing, I’m sure #2 would be able to score an A if I signed her up 6 months prior to the O levels. They felt I was pushing it, but I recounted the story of how I went from an F9 to an A1 for my O level Math with 5 days of tuition. Yes, I had a pretty astounding tutor. Who happened to be my best friend’s mum. Who offered me the tuition free because she felt sorry for me.

Besides time and effort, there is also the financial consideration. Could the money spent be put to better use? #2 really wants to go to Canada to visit her good friend and I told her that if she achieves the goal I set for her, I would take her there.

I would much rather use the money for a nice trip together than spend it on tuition, as I want the children to learn that money is finite and the way we spend it should reflect our beliefs and priorities.

There was a pause on the other end. C was dumbfounded. It never occurred to her what went behind parents providing tuition for their children.

In secondary school, before throwing them the life-line of tutors, I encourage them to study with their classmates and help one another to revise, so that those strong in certain subjects can teach the others and vice versa.

Our home is always open to them, and they have learnt that cooperation is better and way more fun than competition. Besides, by teaching their peers, it helps to reinforce what they have learnt. It really is a win-win situation. The kids also learn that everyone is gifted differently and no one should feel inferior or superior to others.

Besides, I don’t want them to be reliant on tuition because when they enter polytechnic or university, no one is going to sit by their side and spoon feed them.

The big question remains: Is 1 year enough to chase up? Well, maybe not. But I have to draw the line somewhere.

If I was wiling to pump money, time and effort to send her all over the place for tuition from the time she was in Sec 1, I would definitely expect her to churn out the As. The expectations would escalate, and so would the stress.

It’s just unfortunate that even though we have a world class education, it is still not able to prepare the majority of our children adequately for the national exams without external help.

I have accepted that reality and factored it into my overall strategy.

I am not willing to let tuition run amok in our lives because it is all too easy to be sucked in to this whole ‘better not lose out’ mentality and be blinded to the opportunity cost and toil it will take on the children and our family.

School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Our er, jubilee weekend…

I’ve been looking at the amazing photos and reading about how spectacular the SG50 celebrations had been.

Yup, that’s how close we got to enjoying everything. Mostly through our phones and the newspaper.

To those who managed to be in the thick of the action, thanks for keeping us updated via your videos and live updates. Felt like we were there! Well, not quite. Who are we kidding, right?

We so wanted to be part of this magnificent milestone, but being such chillax and unstrategic people, the weekend didn’t quite go as desired…

So many fun events, so many free admissions! I decided to narrow it down to just a handful so we wouldn’t be frazzled by the end of it.

I had it all planned. We’ll kickstart the long weekend with breakfast at the legendary prata stall at Sin Ming which I had been dying to try after reading the review by a friend.

Checking out the Art Science Museum for the afternoon sounded fabulous, with an early dinner at Satay by the Bay, followed by the dazzling display at the Super Trees seemed like the perfect way to enjoy the first day of the jubilee weekend.

All set. Or so I assumed.

We seriously underestimated the crowd and queues. Everywhere.

It took us more than an hour to get our breakfast.

I must say the coin prata was good. This photo doesn’t do it justice at all. It had a nice chewy bite to it.

Faizal & Aziz Curry Muslim Food

That took up the whole morning and it was almost time for Kate’s nap. The museum would have to wait.

#2 broke her guitar strings so since we were waiting for Kate, we went to get it fixed.

Another bad move. The queue to enter the carpark at our heartland mall was unbelievable. Seems like everyone was enjoying the long weekend and was out and about.

I had enough of queuing and was easily persuaded by the kids to skip the Art Science Museum and head to our club for a round of bowling (glad we did, as I read that the queue closed early due to the overwhelming crowd).

Brilliant idea, kids! People were busy queueing all over the island that we had the whole bowling alley to ourselves.

The kids were hungry so we had tea at the alfresco cafe and it was just what I needed to recharge.

Onward to Gardens by the Bay!

Well. You can guess what happened. The queue to enter the carpark was even longer than the one at the mall. It was hardly moving as people wouldn’t be leaving until at least the first show had ended.

This was one time I wished the hubs was with us so that he could have dropped us off while he figured something out.

I decided to hang around in the car, and hopefully when it started, we could catch some action. Light and sound travel, right?

Argh. Not even a whiff came our way.

Defeated. Tomorrow will be better! We are going to Marina Barrage to celebrate a birthday with friends I have known since I was a child. So looking forwards to watching the Black Knights do their stunts. Fingers crossed that the weather would hold out.

Picnic baskets packed, spirits running high, kids all up bright and early.

But… It was pouring! Never mind, we’ll squeeze with the crowd at the sheltered lower level and wait it out.

In the end, we decided it might not be wise to battle the rain and crowd as the event organisers informed us the place was already packed. We had a lovely party indoors, and on hindsight, it was a good move as we heard that there was a massive jam around the Marina Barrage area, and even if we had managed to get in, we might not have been able to find a spot to plonk the whole group of us down on our mats.

Spagetti Carbonara

Back from the party, the kids had friends over and this time, I had wised up. Better stay home and cook. I googled some recipes for dinner and am so proud to announce that I made successful spaghetti carbonara! The kids loved it and polished everything up. We had a swell time playing Pictionary and it was a fun way to end the night.


On National Day, the hubs was back and as we didn’t manage to get tickets to the NDP, we decided to join the crowds, soak in the atmosphere and catch the aerial displays and fireworks.

This is the first time we have ever done this, and didn’t know just how early we had to go to chope a good spot.

We waited for Kate to wake from her nap, got everyone ready, and drove towards town. Traffic signs warned that all carparks were full in the Marina Bay area.

The hubs suggested we try boat quay as the whole Padang, esplanade area would have been cordoned off. We’ll grab some snack or quick dinner before settling down to wait for the fireworks.

Wrong again. No way to grab anything that night! Everywhere was packed. Dinner can wait. Time to search for a good spot.

Wow. We have never seen so many people converging on boat quay before. There must have been tens of thousands of people around.

Wherever we looked, it was a sea of people in red. Sitting on the bricks by the waters, standing on the entire length of the bridge, filling every patch of grass.

Kate was perched on the hub’s shoulder and the whole trail of kids plus the gramps were valiantly trying to follow in single-file. Every so often, the hubs would stop and wait for everyone to be accounted for before moving along.

After reaching his intended spot, we waited, and when the flares were shot, he realized that the view was blocked by the trees. Off we would move again to find a better spot. We must have looked like lost chicken.

Finally, as it was nearing 8.15pm, we decided that the middle of the bridge provided the most unobstructed view and stayed put.

As the fireworks started to burst forth, we saw people dashing past us. #2 got so worried. “What’s happening mum?! Why is everyone running away?”

It looked like Armageddon. The noise from the fireworks, the smoke, and people running for their lives.

Then it dawned on us. These smart people had figured out what was happening.

The Fullerton was blocking the entire view! The fireworks was not going any higher.

For the next few seconds, everybody started sprinting!

To this spot where the building ended. To catch the last few seconds of the fireworks.

It was such an epic fail that it was simply hilarious. Everybody burst out clapping!

Kate had no clue what was happening and was happily soaking in everything.

We asked if she liked the fireworks and she replied, “Yes! Can we go again?”
Chilli crab

By the time we had dinner, it was 9pm. The kids were hungry, tired, and bewildered. Talk about an anti-climax.

Of course, we had to order chilli crab and fried man tou.

Ah well. We can always find comfort in our local cuisine.

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

More than just a Market – Bukit Batok East Market

Most of our grocery shopping is done at the supermarket with the kids, but on weekends, the hubs goes to the market early in the morning to buy fresh meat and seafood. He does the marketing as he’s the one who cooks up a storm at home so he knows exactly what to get. He is comfortable with the wet market because he grew up accompanying his dad on their weekly market runs.

For me, my mum used to go to the wet market every single day without fail, but us kids had to stand at the side and wait because “the floor is very dirty and slippery”. So we never had any firsthand experience in learning to choose the freshest fish nor managed to pick up tips on using which pork/chicken parts for what dishes. Pity.

This may sound strange, but I view going to the market as a mini excursion, and take Kate to different markets during the school holidays to while away the morning while the older ones are still asleep. Markets are the most happening places to be at 7.30am!

I like visiting markets which have more than just the wet market/food centre and have discovered a lovely market in Bukit Batok where we like to stroll around and soak in the sights and sounds, while picking up one or two small bags of fresh produce. Nothing too serious.

Love the riot of colours
BUKIT BATOK EAST MARKET (Blk 278 Bukit Batok East Ave 3)

This market is not your usual layout, and is basically one long stretch of stalls under the block. The pathway is relatively clean and dry, but with the morning crowd, it does get rather crammed.

Bukit Batok Market

Let’s start our tour at this corner vegetable stall. You can spot it easily on the weekends by the long queue. The price of the vegetables are the lowest around, so the aunties are happy to stand in line to weigh and pay. They would ‘chope’ their spot in the queue with their basket while they grab a few more items. I have great respect for these aunties who can easily prepare the ‘3-dishes-1-soup’ type of meal daily, while keeping it all within their budget.

Queuing to pay
There are the requisite stalls selling chicken, pork, seafood and beef, but to be honest, I have no clue which stall is ‘better’. If I need to buy some meat, I would look for a stall with people waiting, as it is usually a good indication of their popularity!

As you walk along, you will see this stall selling just bananas and papayas! Kate loves to stop and buy a small bunch of bananas, and we will sit on a bench and enjoy it together. After she is done, she will run around and chase the birds. I love the atmosphere of this whole area, as it has a charming ‘neighbourhood’ relaxed vibe about it.
As with any market, there is a shop selling dried goods, sauces, and spices. Occasionally I will buy ikan bilis from here to fry as toppings for their porridge.
Dried provisions
The only stall I patronise more frequently is this yong tau fu stall. I love yong tau fu, and the wide variety means that I can get each of the kids’ favourites. Not only that, the auntie doesn’t mind me buying just a $1 portion of noodles as only #5 loves to eat the fat yellow noodles (some atas markets have a minimum of $2). And I can’t go far wrong with yong tau fu. For the younger kids, I just throw them in some soup with the noodles, while I cook them in laksa broth for the older ones. Quick and yummy!

If I need to get some fresh cod or promfret for the kids, I’ll buy it from this stall right opposite the yong tau fu stall.
We have reached the end of the wet market stalls. Now let’s backtrack to the opening where you will notice the egg stall. On this perpendicular street, there are more going-ons. You will hear aunties demonstrating the latest ‘cleaning cloth’ or some multi-functional kitchen gadget, and surprisingly, there will be a crowd standing around rapt with attention!

I get our fruits from this stall which carries a wide variety of fruits. I have learnt that the price of fruits defer quite significantly depending on which market you buy from. So don’t forget to compare prices, my dear auntie wannabes!
Also on the same stretch is this kueh kueh stall. I love these traditional snacks. Sadly, my kids don’t know how to appreciate these and the only thing they would eat is the colourful ‘9 layer kueh’.

As #1 was taking photos of this stall (yes, I dragged her along bright and early to help me with the photos as the stalls are too dim for my phone camera) she spied the colourful baskets with the piggy biscuits and exclaimed, “Mum! We used to eat those during lantern festival.”

Here’s a fun fact I discovered about the cute little biscuits. The story goes that in order not to waste food in the old days, people would use the leftover dough from making mooncakes to make these little piglets without filling. They are literally translated as “Pig cage biscuit” because the plastic cage resembles the traditional bamboo cages used to transport pigs.

As we were leaving the market, #1 spotted this uncle sitting on a little stool with the cardboard boxes he has collected and neatly folded to sell. This photo brilliantly captures the spirit of our pioneer generation. Of self-reliance, resilience, and being unashamed to do an honest day’s work.

I really hope our young people will not slide down the slippery path of thumping their noses to jobs they deem below themselves. I am also glad that the government is taking care of our pioneer generation, who not only gave their all to build our country, but who now face the brunt of the rising cost of living. 

And I hope that 50 years later, the ubiquitous but diminishing neighbourhood markets will still be around, rich with the sights, sounds, and smells which are so much a part of our home.

Singapore’s ‘Uncles’

This post is part of a blog train hosted by Life’s Tiny Miracles, to celebrate this unique aspect of our Singaporean way of life – our markets. 

Next up on To Market, To Market is Pamelia, who is a busy mum of three. She’s always planning the next adventure or activity with her three kids! In her free time, she’s either playing with flowers or just sitting down to enjoy a cup of coffee.

Hop aboard our blog train and read about other local markets in Singapore.

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

{Interview #5} Professor Tan Huay Cheem – Cardiologist

Professor Tan Huay Cheem, 52, is Senior Consultant at the department of Cardiology at National University Hospital (NUH). He is also Director of National University Heart Centre, Singapore (NUHCS), and Professor of Medicine at Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, NUS. He is a visiting professor to several hospitals in China and is an invited speaker to many international cardiology meetings. He is married to a locum G.P., who spends much of her time looking after their 11 year old daughter.
This initiative is part of our 101 Paths to Success series of interviews to gain insight into how successful people came to do what they are doing, and enlighten parents that there is a vast array of occupations for our children to discover. Hopefully it might spark an interest in our children and youths to start their journey of discerning their life’s path.

Your qualifications

Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery MBBS (Singapore)
Master of Medicine (Internal Medicine)
Membership of Royal College of Physician (MRCP) United Kingdom
Fellowship of American College of Cardiology (FACC)
Describe your job

I am a cardiologist, a heart specialist. Specifically, I am an interventional cardiologist who specialises in ā€˜unblockingā€™ patientsā€™ ā€˜blocked heart arteriesā€™ (coronary artery disease) from excessive cholesterol and fat deposits.

I do so by inserting a balloon through the wrist or groin artery to access the heart (coronary) arteries. I would first dilate the arteries (which fractures and pushes the deposits against the side of the wall) with a balloon catheter and then implant a stent (which is either a metallic or ā€˜plasticā€™ scaffold) to prop the artery open. That way, it allows for restoration of blood flow to the heart which can relieve patientā€™s symptom (called angina pectoris) and prevent heart attack. The whole procedure is called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI).

PCI is a generally safe procedure with procedural complication rates of less than 2%. It can be really life-saving in patients with acute heart attacks. In these patients, their arteries are completely ā€˜choked offā€™ with no blood flow to the heart muscles by blood clot and fat deposuts; and by performing this procedure, the whole process of heart attack can be aborted.

This job requires me to be on duty some days where I have to be on standby for a whole 24 hours to be activated whenever a patient is admitted with heart attack. This can be very tiring especially when there are many heart attack patients who are admitted on the same day; or when they come in the middle of the night which deprives you of your sleep. In choosing this profession, I have acknowledged that this will have to be my lifestyle. My wife and family accepts it.
How did you find your passion/ area of interest?

I have always wanted to be a doctor since young. I still remember writing about being one as a young primary school student. I must have been inspired by the doctors who cured me of my illnesses when I was young. These doctors had left an indelible impression on me. To me, the medical profession is a noble and respectable one. Having become a doctor, I realise that respect from our patients has to be earned and not demanded. It is my wish that all doctors will continue to place the interest of their patients before their own, and not be influenced by extraneous factors such as financial gains or others.  

I have always thought that I would be an Obstetrician & Gynaecologist. This is because I topped the subject in my class. However something happened in my life that changed my initial plan. My mother, who was very close to me, had sudden death from a heart attack when I was serving my National Service as a medical officer. I found her collapsed in the bathroom on my return one day and started performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on her till the ambulance arrived. She did not make it and died shortly after.

It was a shocking experience for me and it changed my life completely. My mother was only 55 when she passed away. She was simply too young to have died! I then decided that I would take up Cardiology, and specifically interventional cardiology, so that I can make a difference to heart attack patients in future. Although I could not save my own mother, I hope to be able to save someone elseā€™s parent or spouse. I found myself to have a knack for the field and made sure that I was well-trained in it to serve my calling. Having performed nearly 10,000 cardiac  procedures both locally and overseas over the last 20 years, I believe I have made an impact to many peopleā€™s lives.

I have been working in NUH since my graduation 28 years ago. I still have many long term patients whom I had previously operated on, under my care. While I am definitely not the richest doctor around, I am very wealthy with the showers of gratitude and thanks which many of my patients bestow on me. That, to me, is the best gift.

Professor Tan Huay Cheem
Which aspect of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

My job as an academic cardiologist encompasses 4 main areas of work, namely clinical service, teaching, research and administration. I derive tremendous satisfaction in all these areas.

To be able to save someoneā€™s life at the time when he or she needed you most gives me the most gratification. To be able to teach and train someone so well that he can treat his own patients competently is another satisfaction. To create new knowledge and to come out with new therapies to treat patients better is what I try to do in my research. And finally as a leader in the public institution, I help develop clinical programmes, manpower planning and participate in formulating public health policies, all of which are meaningful to me. What keeps me in the public sector, instead of going into private practice, is that I can be a member of Singapore’s public healthcare system which provides quality, accessible and cost effective care to the people of my country, regardless of their background.    
What does success mean to you?

I like the definition of success by American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson:

ā€œTo find the best in others; to give of oneself; to leave the world a bit better; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived- this is to have succeededā€

I wish to be a blessing to someone every day, be it big or small. That is my definition of success. My work gives me the privilege to literally do that every day!

I owe all that I have to God. I hope to be an Ambassador for Christ, to testify of His wondrous works through my work and life.
Are you involved in any charity work?

I volunteer my time with Singapore Heart Foundation, a voluntary welfare organization (VWO) that aims to promote heart health, prevent and reduce disability and death due to cardiovascular diseases and stroke among the public. I am the Secretary General for the organization and am actively involved in promoting health in schools and the community through programmes such as obesity management, exercise for life, Go Red For Women, and cardiac rehabilitation. We also raise funds to support needy patients for their expensive treatment in hospitals.
One advice to parents

Be a good role model to your child for much of what he/she becomes later in life is shaped by you.
One advice to teens

As you pursue your dreams in life, do not forget that much of what you have is owed to your parents and the society. Learn to count your blessings and be grateful.
To be a cardiologist, it takes someone who isā€¦.. fully committed to the job with passion. Life-long continual learning is a prerequisite. You must also have three core values: empathy, compassion and effective communication skills. Take care of your patient like you would take care of your loved ones and do not allow financial gains to influence your judgement and management.

{Interviews} 101 Paths to Success

#1 – Dr Karen Crasta Scientist Associate Prof at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine

#2 – Jeremiah Choy Creative Director Sing50 Mega concert at the National Stadium

#3 – Elaine Yeo Musician Singapore Symphony Orchestra

#4 – Chong Ee Jay Cyber Wellness Educator TOUCH Cyber Wellness

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~