The O level year. Only 1 thing matters.

Below is what a 15-year old girl tweeted to her friends overseas.

You know that the education system is a mess when you spend half your time convincing classmates who are really sick not to come to school but they insist anyway because the teachers will get mad if they miss tests, hand in assignments late or miss parts of the syllabus.

Honestly, the number of people around me in class who have been coughing and sneezing and looking like they are about to throw up resembles an endemic, yet they won’t go home because they are afraid they will get behind.

It has only been 2 months yet three-quarters of our class has already fallen ill.

The O level year

We have been brainwashed that the national exams are all that matter.

Does anyone realise that our health is just as important?

Why does it seem like I’m the only one who feels this way?

Some of our teachers are concerned, but all they can say is “Drink more water and try to rest more.” Rest? Why are they seemingly unaware of our cumulative workload?

And why do teachers still yell at students who already get less than 5 hours of sleep a night trying to complete homework and rushing to study for tests as though they are lazy? How can we fit everything the teachers dole out into 24 hours, with our CCAs, extra classes and student responsibilities?

Yet all these physical demands are nothing compared to the mental ones many are enduring.

Please, we are kids!

When did the typical day of a 15-year old become downing coffee at 2am while scribbling down the last answers to an assignment long overdue, and holding back tears when you get test papers back?

Because whenever we get test papers back, there are tears.

Grades are made out to be so important that if your best cannot achieve a good grade, you are nothing.

Who allowed that “F” on a test paper to define someone?

Who let algebra and the reactivity series become exceedingly more important than our health and happiness?

Where is the balance in our lives?

At the end of this gruelling year, what might be the outcome?

Success after pushing ourselves so hard, at the sacrifice of health and family life?

Or disappointment to our parents, that our best is not good enough.

This, we call education in Singapore.


Some of you may have already guessed. The 15-year old is my child.

She spent the weekend methodically demolishing her pile of homework, feeling slightly overwhelmed and trying to make sense of the stressful environment around her.

To put things in perspective, she’s in one of the better classes in an average secondary school. I hear from parents with kids in top secondary schools that the situation is very similar and peer pressure is great.

One mum even remarked, “Once the term starts, I rarely see her smile anymore. That is the life of our kids these days.” 

I remember sitting in a parents’ information session in an elite primary school, and the Principal was touching on what to do in the event that the child was sick on the day of a test or exam.

I was so heartened to hear her remind the parents that if the child is sick, they should take the child to see the doctor and get a medical certificate instead of sending the child to school only for the duration of the test, because we want our children to know that we care about them and their health more than anything else.

Looks like the O level kids don’t have the luxury of adequate sleep and a healthy lifestyle, do they?

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 – Tuition – First line of attack?
#14 – Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 – First day mix up!

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Lesson #18: Will you teach your girls to find a rich husband?

Over Chinese New Year, the prying aunts were at it again, asking the single women when they were going to get married.

We may be so used to these obnoxious questions that none of us batted an eyelid, but to the listening children, they are forming their own views of societal norms of marriage via the discussions of trusted adults around them.

As parents, are we conscious about what messages we are conveying to our children?

Are we aware of the remarks we may have carelessly said without realising the impact they are having on our children?

Have we sat down and thought long and hard about what we want to teach our children about this very important matter?

I remember having a discussion with some mummy friends. I was griping about how miffed I was at my parents for buying #1 a pair of designer spectacles costing $500.

Here I was trying to teach them the value of  money, and there they were, spoiling them rotten. When I chastised my mum, she quickly pointed to my dad, “It’s your dad, not me.”

My dad looked baffled and said “The salesman said this is a special lens and the frame is very light. Since it helps her see properly in school, I don’t mind buying it for her.”

I expected the other mums to feel the same way as I did, but was surprised that we were split into 3 camps.

Some agreed that we shouldn’t let our kids get used to such luxuries and expensive items when they are young, especially since they are not earning their own keep. Others felt that if it were the grandparents spoiling them, that’s ok, as kids seem to understand that grandparents love and dote on them boundlessly.

I was surprised that the rest felt that there was nothing wrong bringing our girls up to enjoy luxuries as they will be used to that level of comfort and will expect no less from their future husbands. One friend mentioned that her mum taught her to marry a rich man so that she would not have to struggle like her mum did.

I was even more taken aback when a majority of the mums agreed that it is wise to teach our girls to find well-to-do husbands as that is being pragmatic, living in an expensive city like Singapore. They gave examples where after divorce, it is easier to bring the kids up when you have a higher alimony.

I left the discussion with a million thoughts swirling in my head. Have I been making comments too flippantly which are not aligned with the values I want to inculcate in them? Sometimes I joke with #1 that given her very expensive taste, she has to either earn a lot of money or marry a rich man.

I had never considered what all the listening kids might be extracting from statements such as these. Marriage = source of funds?

I pondered these questions and discussed them with close friends. I asked them what advice did their own mothers give them about marriage and we discovered that many of us in my generation did not have proper discussions with our parents and were not given sound advice about marriage and finding a life partner.

Instead, these were the more common refrains heard:

“Marry someone who loves you more than you love him”

“Marry wealthy man” (translated)

“Don’t marry xxx (race)”

For some, the closest advice they got regarding dating/marriage was, “Don’t get pregnant! or to the guys, “Don’t get any girl pregnant!”

And this one, “Don’t marry someone like your father!” we all laughed about, but isn’t it sad that many of our mothers felt this way? Possibly because that generation did not ‘wash their dirty laundry in public’, all that was seen was the false appearances of blissful marriages.

This topic became quite intriguing and I was curious about how couples ended up tying the knot. The more I asked around, the more I realised that in the void of good advice from our parents, many of us actually married for the wrong reasons.

Some were swept off their feet because the man was very handsome and owned a house and a nice car.

Some married caucasians because the romance of migrating to a foreign land was exciting while others “wanted a cute ang moh-looking baby”.

Some got married because they couldn’t wait to get out of their parents’ home and some did it because they have been together for many years and their friends were getting married one by one, so it was a natural progression to the “Which HDB should we get” discussion.

Some were pressured by parents or grandparents to tie the knot and start a family.

Now that we are married and wiser, we all agree that it is important to teach our children to seriously consider their choice of life partner and not just the circumstances surrounding the relationship before making such a huge commitment.

It is choosing someone you will want to spend the next 50 or more years with, raise a family with, and grow old together with. Isn’t that the most important decision they will ever make in their lives?

As parents, we know that a broken marriage is never easy for the children. It is important to guide them towards building strong and fruitful marriages and the first step is in providing them sound advice in finding the right spouse and teaching them that marriage is much more than the champagne and flowers on the wedding day or the ring, for that matter.

Being in a good marriage will bring them (and us!) much happiness, while being stuck in a miserable marriage becomes emotionally draining.

Neither do we want them to grow up thinking that something is wrong with them if they are not married by a certain age, nor feel the pressure to ‘just settle down’ because it is expected.

We all have diverse opinions of marriage and suitable life-partners, but as parents, it is good to start discussing with our children what are the ingredients of a healthy marriage before we let slip comments which have been ingrained in us by our own parents.

Although as life would have it, no matter how you try to guide your children, they will probably follow their hearts and give us sleepless nights with their choice of partners we might not approve of.

And we thought the ‘terrible twos’ or the defiant teenage phase would be the last we had to worry about.

What would you teach your child about marriage and finding the right partner? I would love to hear your views.

Other lessons (which I’ve learnt the hard way):

Lesson #15: What are we worth, mums?
Lesson #16: What do you do when you get sick of parenting?
Lesson #17: The tragedy of our society

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Kate’s 1st Show & Tell

Last week, Kate’s Chinese teacher was briefing them about their Show & Tell and asked who was ready to present on Friday.

A few of the older kids raised their hands and the teacher noted down their names and instructed them to go home and practice their lines.

Kate also raised her hand to indicate her interest although I am quite certain she did not fully understand the requirements of presenting a Show & Tell.

In fact, she might have raised her hand just because the other kids were doing so, not knowing what was going on.

As she is new to the class, her lao shi told her that she will have her turn the following week to allow for ample time to prepare.

Kate nodded her head even though she probably only understood half of what her lao shi was saying.

Friday came, and the kids who were allocated to do their Show & Tell deposited their items in the basket at the front of the class.

Kate followed suit.

As the kids were called one by one to go up, Kate kept bobbing up to look at her lao shi and at the basket.

After all the kids on the list were done, there was still 1 item sitting in the basket.

As the lao shi turned to scan the students, Kate looked straight at her and raised her hand.

She asked Kate if the toy was hers and Kate said yes and went up to the front.

Of course she had no idea what to say as her command of Mandarin is limited to songs and simple words, but she gamely stood there holding her toy.

I am glad her lao shi did not turn her down because of a lack of time but allowed her to have a go.

She asked Kate to repeat after her in Mandarin, “My name is Kate. Today I have brought a toy, etc etc.”

Kate repeated sentence after sentence loudly and confidently.

I could still see the lao shi’s amusement while recounting the story.

She said Kate has courage and a willingness to learn which should be encouraged.

For some children, the greatest hurdle is to get them to stand in front of the class while for others, it is to speak up audibly so that everyone can hear.

Kate doesn’t seem to have any problem with both!

At home, I told the older kids what had happened and we were all tickled by the story.

I simply had to find out what was going on in her mind.

Me: Did you do Show & Tell today?

Kate: Yes!

Me: How do you do it?

Kate: You raise your hand to tell lao shi, bring your toy, put it in the basket and wait for your turn.

Me: That’s it?

Kate: Uh-huh. Very easy.

We all burst out laughing.

Kate’s idea of Show & Tell is “Bring your toy to show your friends” and lao shi will do the rest.

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Stand-Up Paddling – Fun for the entire family

We had the opportunity to try a new water sport, Stand-Up Paddle (SUP), at Constant Wind Sea Sports Centre which is located off Changi Coast Road.

The kids said it was one of the best family activities we’ve ever tried.

While I was arranging this sponsored session (thank you Constant Wind!) I showed them pictures and the 4 older girls were excited to give it a go.

#5 is fearful of water sports and asked if he could stay at home. I told him he has to come along, but could sit at the side and watch until he felt comfortable enough to join in.

Kate, being the gung ho little kid who wants to do everything the older jie jies do, quickly changed into her swim gear and waited at the door lest we left her behind.

I was a little apprehensive of how it would pan out with 1 reluctant kid and 1 young kid who can’t swim, but was thrilled that it turned out wonderfully.

The good thing about this sport is that you can take it as easy or as competitive as you desire.

Preparing to race

On the long drive there, the deserted road leading to the seasports centre set the mood that we were about to go someplace out of the ordinary. The kids were feeling high anticipation coupled with slight apprehension.

Upon arrival, we headed to the Pro-shop to register and sign the indemnity forms.

Our instructor for the day was a nice young man, Raymond, and he pointed out the changing rooms and got us togged out in life vests.

We slathered on sunblock before making our way to the edge of the facility where Raymond taught us how to paddle, turn, and most importantly how to fall off properly.

We attached the velcro band to our ankle so that our board will not float away if we fall in.

Our instructor held the board for us while we sat down, and we pushed off quite easily.

It is similar to kayaking but instead of a boat, we sit on a flat board.

Setting off

Kate and #5 refused to go on the board and agreed to follow the boatman gor gor.

His job was to ensure the safety of the group as he could speed to anyone who needed assistance. He was also the designated photographer and all these photos were taken by him. Thank you Bryon!

Kate’s first time in a power boat

As Kate watched us drift further and further away, she started to get worried and told the boatman gor gor that she wanted mummy. He sped to me but she started crying because she was afraid of the loud engine sound.

He was so accommodating that he turned off the engine to pacify her and paddled the 2 kids towards me.

When they reached me, Kate said she was afraid that “Mummy will disappear” and was agreeable to come onto my board.

I’m getting the hang of it

As you can see, she was really stiff and apprehensive of the whole deal. Gradually, she warmed up to what was happening as we reassured her that none of us was going to vanish into the distance and she was happy being paddled around by #3.

Acccording to Raymond, Kate is the youngest child they have ever had on SUP (previously they had a 4-year old), and he just had to add that he has never had so many kids in a family too 🙂

#5 is by nature very cautious with new experiences, but after watching from the boat for about half an hour, he was ready for some action.

Steadying her little brother

He hopped over from the boat and it was easy for him to stand up as #1 was providing the balance. After he got the hang of it, he progressed to doing it on his own, nicked my board and paddled all the way back!

So proud of him for overcoming his fear.

Once we got the hang of balancing and paddling, all of us managed to do it standing up and none fell into the water!

The older girls even raced each other far out and had a good workout.

What I really like is that with this flat board, we could lie flat and relax. (Yes, we all had different agendas). It feels wonderful to gaze up at the sky in the silence and stillness of the waters.

Before we knew it, the 2 hours was up and we paddled back to shore.
Spaghetti Bolognese $16

We were ravenous after the session and had an early dinner at Stella, which serves western and local cuisine. The charming ambience more than made up for the average food, although we really liked their Fried Chicken Wings ($11.50).

With planes flying overhead, the kids commented that it feels like we were on holiday, and it was such a bummer they had tests the next day and we couldn’t hang around longer.

Kate finished her meal before us and went to play at the little house and made new friends.

Simply idyllic

They are having a promotion from now until March 2016. Call 64455108 or email them at to book your slot.

We loved the whole experience so much that we will definitely be back during the school holidays!

Constant Wind Sea Sports and Sailing School
(National Service Resort & Country Club Seasports Centre)
11 Changi Coast Walk
Singapore 499740
Tel: 64455108

Disclaimer: We were sponsored a session of Stand-Up Paddle. All opinions are my own.

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Irvins Salted Egg Potato Chips

After the hype and high expectations of Antoinette’s salted egg croissant which wasn’t quite satisfying, I was craving for some really good salted egg dishes.

Being still in the thick of the lo hei lunches and dinners, my dearest friend told me about the next best thing – a popular salted egg snack.

Salted egg snacks from a bottle? How far are people going to take this salted egg craze?

Anyway, it looked rather promising and we still had more visiting to do, so bringing along unique snacks seemed like a good idea. Ok ok, good excuse (to get someone else) to get my salted egg fix.

My obliging brother was in the area, so I asked him to pick some up.

Yes, that’s my household
This cafe sells 3 snack items. Salted Egg Potato chips, Salted Egg Fish Skin and Salted Egg sauce in a jar.

We bought the lot to try. Might as well, since he made the effort to go there. My brother never had such a rousing welcome stepping into our house.

As you can imagine with the number of people around, we opened one bottle and it vanished before we could say salted-egg-potato-chips.
Irvins’ Salted Egg Potato Chips

So unhealthy but seriously addictive. It is best consumed within 2 weeks, but ours was gone within a day!

The adults prefer the deep fried fish skin, and they make good snacks for a party. My dad was enjoying it with his cold beer.

Personally, I prefer this dish freshly served at a restaurant, with a stronger salted egg taste.

#2 was munching on the chips saying, “This is so good. I’ll be much happier receiving a bottle of this for Christmas instead of items we don’t need.”

I laughed that she is so easily contented.

“Mum, happiness is in the moment. A moment like this.”

Wow. Profound words from a 15-year old.

Thanks my dear, for making me feel better, after being slightly guilty watching my kids gorge on such unhealthy snacks.

Gong Xi Fa Cai again! One more weekend to enjoy the CNY festivities. Huat ah!

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

{Interview #10}: Christine Teo – Social Worker

Christine Teo, 37, is a Mental Health Social Worker and Founder of Generation 414. She achieved the Golden Key Award for academic excellence, won first prize in RMIT University’s Business Plan Competition 2015 and attained the Litmus Group Productivity Award.

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

Masters in Social Work
Masters in Counselling
Graduate Diploma in Theology
Bachelor of Business Management
Diploma in Human Resource Management

Christine Teo

Describe your job

I support people living with severe and chronic mental illness with complex issues by providing a more coordinated system response to their mental health needs. I work closely with the client, carers and family by getting multiple sectors, services and support they may come into contact with to work in a more collaborative, coordinated and integrated way, ensuring the best possible outcome for their recovery.

In my work at Generation 414, we provide dignified employment and personal development opportunities for women affected by human trafficking. We offer skills training, educational support, and a long-term sustainable income channel through the online sale of bags and clothes handmade by the survivors of the sex industry.

Tell us about your career path

I started out in the corporate world as a consultant in one of the Big Fours. I loved the challenges the job offered and the money was great and I enjoyed my time there. However, after a while I started to question that there must be more meaning in life than this.

I regularly volunteered in mission trips and enjoyed the interactions I had with the communities that I worked with, so I made the decision to change my career and applied for a post-graduate course in the helping profession.

I was privileged to be granted a full scholarship so I quit my job, packed my bags and moved to Australia. It’s been 10 years now and I’ve never looked back.

How did you find your passion?

I have always enjoyed helping people. My parents, being traditional Chinese Singaporeans, are not very supportive of my career move. It’s been 10 years and they are still trying to convince me to go back to the corporate sector so that I can “make more money”, and to “give up my ideals”. I am very blessed that I had a grandmother (who has since passed on) who was the kindest, most selfless role model.

I had the value instilled in me that there is so much more to life than making lots of money which you cannot bring into your grave anyway. I am glad I listened to that advice instead and have never been happier. The satisfaction and fulfilment I get out of being able to be a positive impact on the lives of others is priceless!

Which aspect of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

I find it a huge honour and privilege that I have been given the most broken and fragile of people (mental health clients or survivors of trafficking) to journey life with, to walk alongside them, to care for and support them in their journey of recovery to make a better life for themselves.

What does success mean to you?

Success to me is when I work myself out of a job! When the person I have journeyed life with comes and tells me, “Thank you for all that you have done for me. I don’t need your help anymore because I can do life on my own now.” That is the  best thing a social worker can ever hear.

Does this job enable good work/life balance?

You learn to set healthy boundaries and with experience you know that if you don’t set yourself good work/life balance, you will burn out quickly. We are in this profession for the long haul. It is a marathon not a sprint, and if you don’t take care of yourself first, you will not be able to take care of others.

When I am at work I give my 100% and am fully engaged with my clients. When I am away from work, I shut that out of my personal life and give my loved ones my 100% attention and also make time for myself to love and care for myself by doing things that I absolutely enjoy.

You must be incredibly busy. How do you avoid being burnt out?

I am very organised and I plan. I plan time to work, to play and to rest. Most people burn out because they fill their diaries with so much work and do not allocate specific time to rest. “No” is a very important word to learn how to say. I also make sure I eat healthy, exercise regularly by doing bikum yoga and going for long runs or swims to help me relax and decompress the day’s stresses. I balance work with a good social life and I get enough sleep.

Are you involved in any charity work?

Yes. I am an advisor and consultant for Atlanta Alliance Against Trafficking, resource manager for Hillsong Church, and I volunteer at the Human Trafficking Resource & Assistance Centre, NightLight International, The A21 Campaign, and in Passion City Church.

One piece of advice to parents

Allow your children to dream and to follow their hearts. Do not be too quick to shut them down just because they may not conform to society’s template. Everyone is unique, with a different set of talents and gifts.

Your actions, even more than your words, are critical in helping children adopt good moral and ethical standards. If you are a good role model from early on, that is the best thing you can do for your children. The provision of material possessions, although good, is not the crux of it all. If you raise them well, your children will be resourceful enough to be able to provide for themselves and take care of you in your old age.

One piece of advice to teens

Be the change you wish to see in your world. Not all of us can do great things but we ALL can do small things with great love. Dare to dream. The only person who can truly prevent your dream from becoming your reality is yourself.

To be a good social worker, it takes someone… who will not give up on doing small things with great love. If you work from a framework of unconditional, unjudgemental love, the people you are working with will appreciate the efforts. Their lives may not become perfect overnight but to know that someone out there cares enough to want to help and support them changes their world for them.

{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
#6 – Ruth Wan Children’s Book Author Timmy and Tammy series
#7 – Andrea Decruz Media Personality Owner of CINQ Salon & Belmont Flora
#8 – Ebelle Chong Dance Practitioner / Choreographer SSLD:7 in R.e.P 2015
#9 – Dr Phillip A. Towndrow Research Scientist Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Antoinette (Salted Egg Yolk Croissant)

The last time I’ve been to Antoinette was a long time ago, but they are in the limelight again with their newly launched salted egg yolk croissant, following trends in Hongkong and K.L.

Whenever someone mentions anything to do with salted egg, my ears are pricked. The kids and I love most salted egg dishes, but I have my doubts about it in a croissant.

Some friends heard that it gets sold out within the hour, and being typical Singaporeans (haha) they decided our next brunch venue would have to be here.

At 5 minutes to 11am, a small crowd started forming outside the cafe, all ready to try their new creation.

Dainty display of sweets

We decided to order 2 croissants to share amongst the 4 of us and add some main meals as it was almost lunch time.

They served us the croissant straightaway as it was fresh out of the oven.

Yes, they make good croissants. Yes, the salted egg yoke filling had good texture and was not too sweet, but it was a good thing we shared. The combination is interesting but not something I would crave for again.

Salted Yolk Lava Croissant $7.50

We are all crab lovers, and tried the Crab Pomodoro – homemade pasta with white wine tomato sauce, fine herbs, chilli, crab meat and clam broth. This was pretty satisfying although the pasta could have been more al dente.

Crab Pomodoro $26

Their savoury crepes sounded yummy and we went for the Nordic – smoked salmon, red onions, capers and dill cream cheese. Nice.

Nordic $19
As expected of their French classic desserts, the cakes looked exquisite and delectable.
Selection of petite cakes
Antoinette at Penhas Road

Since I was already there, I couldn’t leave without buying some croissants for the kids, could I?

When they returned from school, they were pleasantly surprised by a dessert treat, and after discovering what the bag held, their response was “Huh? Salted egg yolk croissant?”

Takeaway $6.50 each

Their verdict? “Not bad. By the way, the bag is very nice. Can we have it?”

Antoinette (Lavender)
30 Penhas Road
Singapore 208188
Tel: 62933121

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

2 Reunion dinners in a night

Every year, we do both sides of our family’s reunion dinner on the same night. We go over to my mum’s place for an early dinner at 5pm and head back home to join the hub’s side of the family thereafter.

#2 and #4 went over after lunch to help my mum with the preparations for steamboat. They did a great job slicing the salmon and abalone really thinly, and even had a go at chopping the chicken.

They also helped to wash the car porch and back yard and set the table for dinner.

Reunion dinner at my mum’s place this year was a cosy affair with only our immediate family members.

Reunion at my mum’s

Meanwhile, the other 2 girls were at home, being on hand to be summoned by their other grandpa to run to the provision store to pick up missed out items as he cooked up a storm.

Reunion on the hubs side of the family is a more rowdy affair, including relatives who drove down from KL to celebrate Chinese New Year together.

Lo Hei

The highlight of our annual celebrations is not only the tossing of Yu Sheng, but also having our family photo taken. Everyone took their places as the hubs set the camera up.

Wee Family scene

With so much going on, Kate did not want to go to bed. After her shower, she begged to go down again to see what was happening. “Please mummy, just a little while..”

Even though it was almost 11pm, I relented.

Thank you mummy!”

She scuttled down and had another round of fun.

Kate with her grandaunt

And with that, we close one chapter while we usher in a brand new lunar new year.

Wishing all my readers peace, success and good health in this Year of the Monkey!

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~