Category Archives: Education

Back in action – DIY pain relief

In early July I was bothered by an ache in the back and arm as if I had slept awkwardly. A well-meaning friend took me for tuina (Traditional Chinese Medicine style) massage.

The pain worsened. It got so bad that I had to spend most of the day lying down. I suspect the tuina pummelling exacerbated the problem. Besides excruciating achiness, there was tingling in my forearm all the way down to the fingers. It felt like backache coupled with repetitive stress injury (RSI) as I knew the signs – pain, numbness and weakness.

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But it wasn’t bad enough to alarm the doctor at the polyclinic. An x ray showed bone spurs in the neck but for a look at nerves and muscles I would need an MRI. I left with a bag of painkillers which, by the way, didn’t provide much relief.

Well, here I was unable to sit, stand, or sleep properly and feeling for the most part like a wretched invalid. When I was cheerfully told over the phone that my orthopaedic appointment was in October, I quietly freaked out. Sorry, the voice nonchalantly said. No earlier slot is available. Obviously, Singaporeans are falling apart, so deal with it.


back neck x ray

If something like this befalls you, doing as I did might help. Certainly, it’s better than enduring the agony while contemplating a lifetime of disability.

I immediately looked for a Chinese physician because the next best thing was acupuncture. Friends said I could have a slipped disc and/or a pinched nerve, and many had had spinal troubles. I never realised that back problems were as common as women in heels.

It took three acupuncture + cupping sessions before I felt better. Pain relief was maybe 50 per cent but the tingling remained. If you’ve not tried acupuncture, don’t underrate it. Placing needles in the right spots open the meridians and hasten self-healing. With each needle she tapped in, the physician would ask, “Can you feel it?”

The feeling is a satisfying sharp discomfort translated as various degrees of “ouch!”. “No pain, no gain,” the physician gleefully declared as she twiddled the needles after 10 minutes for more ouch. I like acupuncture but cupping is horrid.


back acupuncture

After the fifth acupuncture session in three weeks, I knew I had hit a plateau. Plus, it was costing too much, so I decided to find ways to help myself.

The internet to the rescue. I have Gary Crowley – to thank for self-massage so easy I was initially sceptical it would work.

Image: Gary Crowley

back gary crowley

He has techniques for relieving all joint and muscle pains, so there’ll surely be something you can use. He helps you track the source of your pain. If you can fix the trouble spot, it’s likely the downstream pain will disappear.



For the out-of-reach parts, he suggests using a tennis ball in a sock against a wall. What I found even better was a dog’s ball-on-a-rope. It’s better than the sock which tends to stretch. I even tried the common Asian massage ball on a stick. It provides temporary relief when pounding stiff muscles but for pressure, the rubber ball is too small.

back aids 1

As October approaches, I am in two minds whether to cancel my orthopaedic appointment. I am mostly better except for the occasional twinge when I overstretch myself. It seems a waste of time to be examined and advised to improve my posture (the real cause of my woes). However, a kiasu friend says I should go in case I have other undiscovered problems (aargh! What a terrifyiing thought).

back Doctor Joback chair-yoga-main

In the meantime, I shall start practising yoga in a chair – and continuing Doctor Jo’s stretches –

Singapore’s wild side

With the new alcohol law there might be less wildness, but of course, I’m not talking about inebriated homo sapiens. As a developed country, it’s our biodiversity (plant and animal life) we should be showing an interest in.

Isn’t it funny that while our island is named after the majestic lion (singa) supposedly spotted by Sang Nila Utama, it’s more likely the Javanese prince saw a tiger?  Hence, if he had identified the animal correctly, Singapore would be Harimaupura, maybe anglicised to Harrypore in honour of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, or even Tiggerpore. How would you like to be a Harryporean or Harimauean?

If you visit the recently opened Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at NUS (National University of Singapore), you won’t see any stuffed lions because lions are not native to our part of the world. So, while our football team and various clubs are named in honour of the king of beasts, and the barfing Merlion is our icon, we’re lyin’ about our lion links. The truth is, the nearest natural lion habitat is in India (Gujarat).

While Singapore was part of tiger territory, sadly, our last tiger was killed in the 1930s, leaving us with just beer and an airline as reminders. But as you’ll discover, there are many more wild critters in the limited natural spaces we have, eg graceful gliders like flying dragons, birds and small mammals.

See for yourself at the museum most famous for its three Jurassic Age diplodocid sauropod dinosaur skeletons. The longest dinosaurs of all have tiny heads on necks that snake on and on. To get a decent photo, take a shot from the upper floor. Imagine one of these running towards you, chased by a T-rex!

As more of a museum- than a mall-fan, visiting the newish museum was my Mother’s Day outing. My son couldn’t be prised away from the insect section – he’s into insect taxidermy and happily provided a running commentary. He was disappointed there wasn’t enough on ants, his favourite anthropod.

As pictures speak better than words, here’re visuals for the ones who have yet to see the natural side of Singapore.

At the entrance is a mandala. Get up close to see the birds.

museum mural 3

Dinosaurs with the unlikely pet names of Prince, Appollonia and Twinky.

museum top 2

This prehistoric fish, the coelacanth (pronounced SEEL-uh-kanth) was believed to have gone extinct along with dinosaurs 65 million years ago. But one was caught in 1938 and since then, more of these endangered dinosaur fish have been sighted.

museum coelacanth

Birds are lovely and should be flying free. They weren’t given wings to be caged.

museum stuffed birds

The colours, the wings … Butterflies are Mother Nature’s delicate works of art, as are some insects. Cockroaches I can do without.

museum butterflies

Frog, sea mouse (a marine worm) with gold quills, turtle, coral and all kinds of close-ups we’ll only see in a museum.

museum frog 2museum sea mousemuseum turtl

We are family. All humans belong to the same species. There used to be other species but they went extinct, and at the rate we fight each other, we might soon disappear too.

museum skulls

Before Darwin, there was Alfred Russel Wallace. Although his theory of evolution by natural selection predated the findings of Charles Darwin’s, he was trumped on the basis of qualifications. However, Wallace is coming into his own now, and we have a section at the museum devoted to him alongside Sir Stamford Raffles and his contributions as an amateur naturalist. Here’s the American monyet (monkey) discovered by Raffles.

museum Raffles monyetmuseum Raffles

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is open Tues-Suns, 10am-7pm (last admission at 5.30pm). Book through SISTIC, tel. 6348 5555.

BOOKS – Anthony books ‘em

My friend Anthony Koh whose roving bookstore I blogged about a couple of months ago, is on track to achieving his dream – a physical bookstore for writers. It may take a while but he’s getting there as his business gains traction and more lovers of the written word are aware there’s someone passionate about promoting reading and writing in an age when many only have enough attention for short messages and videos.


Last Sunday, he held his fourth book fair at the Armenian Church. ‘We had our first at Caffe Pralet, a cafe cum culinary school in Tiong Bahru area. The second book fair was in their old kitchen. The third was held at The Arts House in conjunction with a writing workshop that I conducted.’

As the Church is the oldest Christian church in Singapore, opened in 1835 and gazetted as a national monument in 1973, Anthony had tourists as well as locals of all ages wandering in. ‘I don’t know if they came in for the books or they just looked at them after a tour of the church compound.  Possibly, the former because I hung two book fair posters outside the gate.’


The response has been encouraging as Anthony gathers new customers. ‘Our very first customer in the morning was a bibliophile from the Philippines. Like me, she can’t stop buying books. She wasn’t aware of our book fair but she saw the posters, walked in, and bought a bag of books from us! The other early customer was a school librarian who was strolling in the garden with her husband and overheard my conversation with the Filipina. She was so inspired by what I do that she invited me to go to her all-boys school to fire up the students’ interest in reading.’


After a few fairs, Anthony has a better idea of what people like. ‘I would say books on writing and award-winning novels sell equally well, followed by quirky books. I observed that people who bought books on writing also asked for books on grammar. We had several books on grammar but they flew off the shelves in the first two book fairs. Sales of books on writers and literary criticism has been slow.’

Anthony tells me the website I mentioned is wrong, so here we go again – visit or  to find the next Booktique location.
For all book lovers, what could be a nicer gift ?

LIFE – The autistic artist


In a case of a double whammy, Choo Kah Ying who had suffered manic depression since her teens, had a son, Sebastien – diagnosed as autistic at 18 months. Instead of drowning in despair, love of her son pushed her to pull herself together sans medication. Hence, her autobiographical book, Five Little White Pills… And Then There Were None (Armour Publishing).


Author’s talk: 12 October 2013, 2-4pm at The Loft, 268A South Bridge Road (off Smith Street). The $10 admission fee includes refreshments. RSVP: There will also be a mini-exhibition of paintings by Sebastien.  


Like many others of my generation, autism is synonymous with Rain Man, the 1988 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise that swept the 1989/90 film awards all over the world. While haunting and poignant, it was only years later that the disorder became real to me as more friends and acquaintances identified their children’s problems as autism.


Today, you’d have to be living on a tree not to know a little about autism. Although there’s more awareness and support, what more can a first-world country do for the marginalized? There is something not right about putting our money only where we can see more money. Apportioning some revenue to projects that bring out the best in us (including animal and wildlife causes) will invite criticism and debate, but so what? Surely in a supposedly civilized nation, every life, even the ones some consider beneath us, is worth caring about.


I ask Kah Ying:


What would mums of autistic children appreciate from the state and the public? 


“Fundamentally, we parents of autistic children wish that our darlings were given the same support, resources, and opportunities to enable them to realize their potential, whatever that may be.


Sadly, in Singapore, the government has chosen to focus primarily on typical children whose families benefit from hefty subsidies when they attend school; yet families with autistic children are paying out-of-pocket for education and basic support services. This state of inequality essentially turns our children into second-class citizens in this society, which is sanctioned and promoted by the government’s actions.


As for the public, we ask for understanding and compassion, in acknowledgement of the fact that individuals with special needs and their families have a harder life than most, which is not caused by their own doing. Instead of frowning or glaring at our children (and us), just give us a smile as a show of support; this can help us to go about our stressful lives, especially when we are out and about in the public space.


For the past few years, since Sebastien has shot up during puberty, I had been stressed out about how Sebastien’s behavior could offend or be misunderstood by the people in Singapore. When I went to France recently with Sebastien, I was surprised by how kind and considerate people could be. Apart from the warm smiles I received from strangers in public, there were waiters who treated Sebastien respectfully and one did not even charge us for the food he ate. Others showed sensitivity and care when they could not understand what he wanted, simply turning to me for clarification, with the respectful attitude of not wanting to distress him. Then there were my boyfriend’s extended family and friends who said “hi” to him, brought him food and drinks, at a huge garden party.


On the flight back to Singapore, I wept because I had been so touched by the many wonderful experiences we had with the French people. They showed me how an enlightened society would treat a person with special needs and supported me in claiming a place for Sebastien in mainstream society.


Ultimately, it should not just be a matter of autistic people doing their best to behave adequately in public, but also that people in mainstream society recognize that people with intellectual disabilities could exhibit behaviors that are hard to understand. If Sebastien’s behavior were to conform to society’s standards at all times, he wouldn’t be autistic. This interaction has to be a two-way street, driven by courage, openness, compassion, and acceptance.”   


There is always the worry about what would happen to autistic people in adulthood, after their parents are gone. Well, it’s the same worry for all with special children. How can society help to allay fears of such parents?


“You have raised an issue that is uppermost in the minds of most caregivers. In fact, this year, I started a campaign called “A Mother’s Wish” (learn more about it on in my endeavour to provide affordable quality programmes for individuals with intellectual disabilities requiring lifelong supervision, such as those with autism. My vision is to create a community made up of the aforementioned beneficiaries, caregivers, caregiver and professional service providers, assistants, and volunteers, which will support families and continue the raising of these individuals even after the caregivers have passed on.


The vision is modeled upon my homeschooling programme that I am constantly evolving, which strives to encompass diverse activities: academic learning, creative arts, fitness, life-skills, and vocational training. By forging a network that encompasses service providers providing small group programmes and offering substantial manpower support, as well provide a subsidy to families, this campaign aims to make quality programming affordable for families.


I have sought to engage the government to support me with this project, because it is my belief that the government should be responsible for catering to the needs of special needs individuals in this country and ensure the sustainability of the programme in the long term. However, it has decided not to support this campaign in any shape or form.


Independently of my dialogue with the government, I have also been promoting awareness of this campaign through talks at schools and interactions with the mass media (including our appearance on “Joy Truck” Episode 8 on Channel 8), as well as via the exhibitions and sales of Sebastien’s art. We have been raising money for the campaign fund, principally thanks to Sebastien’s donations of 30% of the sales of his art to the fund. To date, Sebastien has sold 60 paintings and raised over $5,500 for the campaign fund.


Sebastien’s contribution to this campaign through his colourful and dynamic paintings is significant for two reasons:


  1. Despite significant delays in communication and learning, as well as the mainstream society’s neglect of people like him in Singapore, Sebastien pursues his life with enthusiasm, courage, and passion; thus, he is a powerful inspiration to all of us. The sad truth is that, until we appeared on TV, most people who met him on the street would not know that he was an outstanding painter and skater, or that he has been trained to care for himself in the home. He cooks, cleans, and follows a schedule independently of my supervision. There is much more to special needs people with intellectual disabilities, which meets the eye. We as a society need to re-examine our perspectives of such individuals.


  1. In addition, in having Sebastien contributing to the campaign, I wanted to send a message to others — what we strive to do with our vision is to empower people like Sebastien to contribute to society to the best of their ability, not for them to be helpless, dependent individuals who are cared for. Many of us parents have worked hard on our children to empower them to realise their potential. Through the campaign, I hope to leave behind a community — an alternative family who would continue to guide Sebastien and others like him for them to be contributors to society.


Expecting families to raise their children with special needs without any assistance imposes a crushing burden on them. Instead, when a society steps up to the plate and shares in the responsibility of guiding these special individuals, it not only eases the load of these families, but it also creates a genuinely caring, compassionate, and inclusive community that challenges us all to be better people.