Category Archives: Life

LIFE – No Medicine Cures What Happiness Cannot

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month in case anyone’s not aware. Hwee Hwee Laurence just went for her annual gynae check last week because she’s been on tamoxifen for 5 years after chemo.

Gleefully, she writes, ‘Found uterus not normal, so now have been scheduled to go for D&C and hysterocopy – hah hah whoopie!  I feel like just taking the whole bloody thing out and get it over with.’

Atta girl ! That’s the spirit ! Cancer is not something to trivialise but it does force us to pull up and look at our life as Hwee Hwee did. I feel very blessed having friends like her, and I wish my friend mentioned in my earlier post could meet her but with the latter in Singapore and Hwee Hwee in France, we’ll have to wait for the twain to meet.

Hwee Hwee recalls :

What did I do when I discovered that I had breast cancer?  I cried.  Then I cried some more.  People will tell you – Don’t cry; it’ll do you no good.  But it will do you good.  It is only after a long crying that you will be able to blow your nose, look around you appraisingly, then ask – Now what?!  And that’s when you’ll get up and go deal with cancer in whatever way it has to be dealt with.

In a way, if cancer was to happen to anyone, I was glad it was me and not others in my family.  I help my husband in our own business and therefore have a flexible work schedule; the social security that my husband contributes to (something like the Singapore CPF except that it goes into a common pool) covers me even though I am not a French citizen.  It makes a world of a difference to be able to concentrate on getting treatment without worrying about bankrupting my family.  Each time I went for my chemotherapy session, I reminded myself that it cost a lot of money and I psyched myself up positively so that it would be half the battle won.  I am thankful for this adopted country of mine and I pray that the French people will be united and not abuse such medical privileges that they are lucky enough to have.  And I hope that, in any small way, I may be able to bring a little kindness and happiness to the people I am now living amongst.

One thing I learnt early during this period was that cancer does not exempt you from other problems of life.  After the initial diagnosis and shock, I was determined to concentrate on going through chemotherapy and getting well.  But it is naïve to think that the world waits for you while you get well.  Around you, life goes on – your husband, children or even yourself might get ill, have problems at work, school or in relationships;  there will be family members or things around the home that need your attention.  Once, in the midst of such ‘additional’ problems, I complained – this is so unfair, isn’t it enough that I have cancer? – before understanding that all this is simply life carrying on its normal way.  The opposite is true, too, that having cancer and undergoing treatment do not mean you should exempt yourself from enjoying life’s little pleasures – my children and I read and laughed together, I seduced my husband whenever I felt well enough, I went out with friends or invited them over.  Life, in its normal way, was a great reassurance during this time, not just to me, but also those close to me.

If you were to ask me what is one thing that has made this illness all worth it, I would answer without hesitation – my mother.  My mother used to worry a lot.  She had an unhappy marriage, and in a way, it made her always worry about her children’s marriages. Any small (or big) quarrel she got to know about was enough to make her worry.  She used to lament that life was better when we were kids, that even though her friends consider her lucky that her children are all grown up, married and settled down, she now has to worry for us, our husbands and our children.  It used to drive me crazy to hear such lamentations, and to wonder when she would ever learn to live life as it is and be joyful about it.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, one of the biggest stresses I had was how to tell my mother without facing another flood of lamentations which I neither have the energy nor patience to listen to.  In the end, it was my younger sister who told her and to our surprise, she took the news in good stride.  Throughout this time, my mother slowly learnt to give up her burdens and worries.  She learnt not to worry when there is nothing she can do, and what she can do, she does dedicatedly and cheerfully.  During her visit here when I was undergoing chemotherapy, she cooked up a storm, enjoyed being with the grandsons and we all had a great reunion.  There was not a single lamentation of Why so unlucky? or Why did this happen?  The only thing she said to me concerning my illness was, “Mummy is praying for you and a mother’s prayer is very powerful.”  I keep that always in my heart and it is a lesson for me to do the same for my own children.

Some months after I finished chemo and radiation therapies and having started on long-term medication, I suffered from depression, something that I had never experienced (or had much patience for, in others) before.  I saw everything in a negative light, I thought the worst of everyone and almost everything that my husband said or did irritated me.  During one brief ‘good’ moment, I thought how ironical it was that I went through so much trouble to get well only to arrive at this point where I did not care whether I live or die.  But even in the terrible depths of such feelings, I was blessed with two things.  First, my husband, despite being at the receiving end of my misplaced anger, never once retaliated but instead continued to show me kindness.  And it was this kindness that finally broke through and brought me back to normality.  And second, having been there and experienced it, I now understand better and have compassion for others who suffer from depression.

I do not know whether I will live past the next 5 or 10 years, but I do know that these last few years, strange as it might sound, have been one of the happiest periods of my life.

Dear readers, in a book by Nobel Prize Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, there is a phrase that says, “No medicine cures what happiness cannot.”  I have that, and that is what I wish for you, too – happiness, and an abundance of it.

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LIFE – Breast friends forever

We’ve been friends since we were 8 years old. We celebrated our birthdays and took our sons to the zoo for elephant rides to give ourselves a bit of time-out. I watched her battle depression when her husband died, and just as the cloud seemed to lift, she found a lump in her breast a few months ago. The diagnosis – metaplastic sarcomatoid carcinoma (combination of metaplastic carcinoma and spindle cell carcinoma) – a particularly aggressive cancer that went from Stage 1 to Stage 3 in four months.

The lump has been removed but the cancer has not been eradicated, and while her doctors say that neither chemo nor radiation will do much good, they are still starting her on radiation in a week’s time.

Her two older children, sisters and friends are too distraught to think straight. She wants to go ahead with a party she’s planned, but they insist she should “rest”. It annoys her no end. She is already experiencing fatigue but with some planning, and the food and cleaning taken care of by a helper and her sisters, she thinks the party should go on because it might be her last.

She says she is not afraid to die. What she fears is pain and the high cost of treatment.

How do we show we care without suffocating the person? How can we help at a time like this?  Despite many friends and acquaintances being struck by various ailments from the dreaded cancer to rheumatoid arthritis, I am still a klutz at showing support. I have kicked myself black-and-blue for being insensitive eg for sounding breezy as if they will surely recover. But at the time, I thought being positive was the right attitude. Now, I’m not so sure.

At the other extreme, I just listen with no idea what to say. It might appear I don’t care when I am actually afraid I might cry.

So, I checked http://www.cancer.net/ and picked up pointers that I’m comfortable with. My own take –

  • One of the first things to hold back on is sharing well-meaning advice. It seems everyone knows some therapy or healer or fantastic supplement we can’t wait to foist on our sick friend. The intention is good, but might be unwelcome. You can mention it but take the cue from your friend. No interest? Move on.
  • Also, ring and enquire after their health, chat about general things and let them know you are thinking of them, but don’t insist on visiting if your friend doesn’t sound keen to see you. And don’t be offended.
  • Offer to run errands and rally friends around to share chores if your friend needs help. Practical assistance is more useful than just talking.

More useful advice:

Avoid saying

  • I know just how you feel.
  • You need to talk.
  • I know just what you should do.
  • I feel helpless.
  • I don’t know how you manage.
  • I’m sure you’ll be fine.
  • Don’t worry.
  • How much time do the doctors give you?
  • How long do you have?
  • Let me know what I can do. (Instead, offer specific ways you can help or other things you can provide if they need it.)

Show support with something simple like cooking and bringing over a meal for your friend (after checking dietary preferences) or accompanying him/her on a walk. It’s really the little things that make a difference.

MOMENTS – Mud Turtles and Other Fabulous Creatures

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Schoolchildren in Singapore get a holiday on the first Friday of October – it’s Children’s Day, and over in France, Hwee Hwee Laurence reminds herself to let her boys be boys because all too soon in just a few years, they will leave idyllic village life for boarding school and the path to adulthood.

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“Looking out of the window while at the kitchen sink, I see Yves, my younger son furtively pouring water onto a mound of clay earth in the backyard.  Furtively, because he knows I am a stickler for cleanliness, and muddied clothes and dirty fingernails will surely get a holler from me.  He looks up at the kitchen window and I duck, and now it is my turn to peep furtively to see what he will do next.  He sets a big flat stone on the ground and starts patting the wet clay onto the stone, obviously making a sculpture of some sort.  Soon, he is too engrossed to remember to watch out for me.  His elder brother, Rémi comes along and of course, anything so deliciously dirty is most attractive.  And soon, both of them are squatting between ferrying and pouring more water and patting wet earth into mud turtles and other fabulous creatures.

Their father walks past and they show him what they have done.  I see the three of them glance towards the kitchen window and I duck again.  I hear their father tell them it is very nice, but be sure to clean their hands real well when they enter the house or they know what mummy will say.

Or do they?

I have made up my mind that I will not say anything about muddy clothes and dirty hands.  I will kiss their mud-spattered faces and say that I am proud of my little artists.  I will look at their mud turtles and remind myself that the time for childhood and its fantastically fabulous creatures is much more transient than most parents realize.  And I will enjoy it with them.”

Cornflakes Marshmallow Crispies

(This is something kids can make easily.  My boys make it whenever their basketball club has a match on home-ground and the home-team has to provide snacks after the game.)

375g cornflakes (or rice crispies)

200g marshmallows (colour or flavour does not matter)

25g butter

 

Lightly grease a (approx. 33 X 25 cm) deep-sided baking dish or glass dish and the bottom of a flat ladle (eg. rice cooker ladle).  Set aside.

 

In a large pot over medium fire, melt the butter, then add marshmallows and stir well until marshmallows have melted.  Do not let marshmallows burn.

 

Lower the heat and add cornflakes.

 

Toss cornflakes in butter and marshmallows until well-coated and starting to stick together.

 

Pour mixture into baking dish. Use the ladle to press the mixture down firmly until it is well-compacted.  Leave to cool.

 

Using a sharp knife, cut the cornflakes crispies into squares.  Store in airtight container if there are leftovers (not likely!).

LIFE – The autistic artist

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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: ruth@armourpublishing.com 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 www.awakeningminds.sg) 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.

 

LIFE – The Old Man and the Fig Tree

Yes, we do give a fig about keeping the posts rolling out. But to my embarrassment, my friend Hwee Hwee Laurence is proving more ‘fruitful’ than me. Her fig story brings to mind that rollicking good read, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared. The young think of the old as fossils just because they’re not up to tech or twerk, ignoring the wealth of wisdom and experience; follies and wonderments waiting to be coaxed out of them.

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Over to Hwee Hwee in the commune of Duravel, south-west France:

“This morning, on my way to the bakery, I met an old man who asked me about a fig tree growing at the edge of our land.  He said that the figs from this tree are the biggest that he has ever seen and that they taste good too!

I told him that the fig tree is officially outside our land, and being at the side of the village path, we do not know who it really belongs to, but that we have often harvested the figs and nobody has ever complained.

He then asked if he could take a cutting, a side-shoot growing at the base, of the tree.

I looked at him.  This old man is more than 80 years old.  I know he is very independent and that he lives alone.  But he is old enough to have this device strapped to his wrist – something to help him call for medical emergency assistance should he feel unwell.  Now, does he think he will live long enough to enjoy the fruit of his labour?

So I asked him if it were not easier if he just picks as many figs as he wants to.  Certainly I or nobody else would mind.

He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said – But it is not just for me to pick the figs.  Good things such as this are worth spreading around.  I might not live to see my tree giving figs, but whoever living in my house then will get to enjoy what I have planted and what my garden is producing.

I do not need to preach about the moral of this simple story.  We just need to remember – that whatever we sow or do now will be the Future of our children.  Let us make sure that they have a bright and healthy one to look forward to.”

Chocolate Mint Figs

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

4 tbs fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

(Possible to use mint-flavoured chocolate if you cannot get fresh mint leaves)

Handful of almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

24 fresh figs, cut in halves lengthwise

Preheat oven to 200C.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the chocolate chips, mint and almonds, stirring well.

Press a little of this mixture into each fig half.

Lightly spray or wipe a baking tray with vegetable oil.

Place figs on baking tray and bake for 15 min.

Serve warm or at room temp.

LIFE – Leave those kids alone

Thankfully in Singapore, children go to school, get swamped with homework and assessment books, are pushed to excel, and sometimes crack up … but they don’t get married.

There are limits to our madness.

I am not against arranged marriage. If both parties are willing, it’s really a convenient way to narrow your mate search, and possibly save your tears, money and time dining with sociopaths, two–or more-timers, or people you have nothing in common with. Dating strangers can be so stressful and when you think you’ve hit it off, they turn lukewarm on you. Or say they’ve been posted to another country.

One of my closest friends was betrothed to the son of her parents’ friends when she was of illegal age. They married after she got her O levels (back then known as the Senior Cambridge School Cert). She was 17 and he had just graduated from law school.

Her friends thought, “How sad to be a stay-at-home wife at 17, never having a career or choices”. A few years ago, they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, still in love and then he died of an aneurysm. Now, that was truly sad.

If we had known then what we know now, we would have recognized that she was the lucky one to have found her soul mate so early in life while so many flounder in a swamp of heartbreak and loneliness. If only, he had lived to enjoy their senior years together.

But of course, there’s no guarantee that an arranged marriage will work any better than an unarranged one, or that your uncle’s friend’s nephew will not be as much of a weirdo as your online date. Maybe it’s easier when someone else does the background check on expectations, family skeletons and fiscal worthiness. And when you accept that you must work at the relationship because this is it. I imagine many will prefer the freedom of finding The One on their own. Who’s to say which is better…

However, forcing a child to marry an adult is cruel and wrong! Detractors come up with all kinds of reasons to rationalize marrying off girls who should be nurturing their minds and not babies. There is no reasoning with them as I notice in the responses to this National Geographic clip sent to me by my friend, Sarah. What do you think?

http://youtu.be/qYleXcpbzKY

“Every year, throughout the world, millions of young girls are forced into marriage. Child marriage is outlawed in many countries and international agreements forbid the practice yet this tradition still spans continents, language, religion and caste.

Over an eight-year period, photographer Stephanie Sinclair has investigated the phenomenon of child marriage in India, Yemen, Afghanistan, Nepal and Ethiopia. Her multimedia presentation, produced in association with National Geographic, synthesizes this body of work into a call to action.”

LIFE – The Net Effect

Just about everybody seems to be meeting potential partners online. Even middle-aged friends are trawling the net because their social circles are shrinking faster than cheap tights, and they don’t want to hang out with geriatrics in the park.

In fact, I haven’t met anyone lately who’s not made a connection through the ether.

The cyber world of social networking websites is a wonderland for the time- and opportunity-challenged seeking to widen their social circles, but as my former colleague, Audrina Gan says after chatting with acquaintances, if you’re new to i-dating, enjoy the wandering while being aware of the pitfalls.

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Finding love online

Of course, many have found their soulmates through the Internet. Forty year old entrepreneur Siti Osman met her husband of six years through a dating website. After chatting online for about two months, the two decided to meet for dinner.

“When he came to pick me up, I wanted to hit the lift button and head for the exit. He looked so old and was very different from what I had imagined even though he had told me he was in his 50s.”

It was a good thing she decided to look beyond appearances because soon, she was charmed by his intellect and wit. “I knew he was keeping his options open and dating another woman when we first met. But he contacted the girl and cancelled his date with her for a musical when he decided to go steady with me,” says Siti. “I think one of the main reasons why our relationship worked was that we were very candid with each other about our past relationships and our concerns about the future.”

Clinic assistant Joyce Teo, 34, also met her husband through an Internet chat room.

“He was sincere and different from the guys whom I met through the Internet. The others were either only interested in casual sex or wanted to meet me in pubs and discos.”

They tied the knot after one year but things were difficult. “We hardly had time to communicate as both of us worked irregular hours. Also, being in our early 20s, I guess we were too self-centred to accommodate each other.” Fortunately, things eventually worked out and they have now been blissfully married for 12 years.

Looking for someone special

Like many professionals, account manager Laureen Tan, 29, found herself hanging out with the same people and settling into a routine. “Making new friends can be tiring – you need to look, feel and be your best. At the end of a long frenzied workday, you just want to vegetate and hang out with familiar faces,” she says. So,she signed up with OkCupid.com, an online dating website last year after coming out of a long relationship. “I thought it would be good to explore my options and see what is out there.”

Although Laureen’s social life is far from lacking – she has many friends and parties to attend as well as work events and networking functions, she prefers to keep business and pleasure separate. “Online websites like these provide a neat platform, which can be accessed at your own convenience. If you find someone interesting, just drop a message and say hi! Everything starts off from friendship.”

“I am looking for a special connection that I’ve not quite found yet. The idealist in me says it’s out there, while the perfectionist in me refuses to settle for second best. I dated a lot in my younger days, and now I’m ready for something truly special and meaningful.”

Laureen is selective about whom she messages. “I try to reply to all the personalised messages. Even if the person isn’t your type, sincerity still counts. Usually I’m more inclined towards someone who has a photo and a profile written in good English. A person’s profile is usually telling of his world view, attitude, mindset, character and personality.”

Sifting the predators from the weirdos

Getting acquainted through the Internet is a bit of a gamble. Siti recalls a divorced man who suggested a hawker centre for their first date. “I was outraged as I expected him to pick a decent restaurant,” she says. After several dates, the man brought her to his house to meet his teenage daughter but she did not feel comfortable as she felt the man was hiding things from her and dating other women.

Some time back, Laureen received a message asking if she was keen to appear in a new talk-show featuring eligible single females in Asia. She also had a “talent scout” enquiring if she was keen to provide “lady companion” services to his foreign clients when they are in Singapore on business. “He noted I played golf and seemed like a well-travelled lady who could be a good host. He asked for my vital stats and how proficient I was in Mandarin,” says Laureen with a laugh.

There are men who openly declare they are married but are looking for sex partners. There are also married men from overseas who want a lady friend for a no-strings attached relationship when they are in town. Laureen recently received just such a proposal from an American businessman.

Nice people too

Don’t look to the Internet to for romance, and you might very well find new friends. Laureen has met interesting people eg an American music professor who relocated to Asia to teach, a former banker turned social entrepreneur and some talented people in the photography and art circles.

Just be wary, and the Internet can be a wonderful tool for reaching far beyond your circle.

Necessary Precautions

It’s commonsense to be on your guard when interacting with strangers.

  • If you respond to someone’s ‘friend’ request, he or she can bother you in the future.
  • Adding a stranger as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site allows the person access to all your details, which can be misused.
  • Avoid disclosing everything about yourself when emailing, chatting online or meeting in person. Instead, listen and chat about general topics rather than share information about your family, income or assets.
  • Meet new friends at a public place familiar to you. Do not allow the person to pick you up from your home or office. Drive your own vehicle, take public transport or have a friend or family member drop you off at the meeting place. When dropped off, ask the person to come in for a minute and meet your Internet date. Make sure family or friends know where you are.

Property management officer Ginny Yu, 30, recalls with hindsight that she may have placed herself in great danger when she adjourned with a guy that she met online from a bus interchange to a condominium that she manages for a site inspection at night.

“The place was very secluded and nobody would have known if anything were to happen to me,” she says. She called off the friendship after a colleague commented that she seemed tired and haggard, which was a result of chatting with the guy on the telephone through the wee hours every night on his relationship and work problems.”

Also, a person’s online personality and photos may be very different from real life. “People can put photos they took 10 years ago when they had muscle and hair. Similarly, a man who describes his body type as athletic or fit can be delusional,” says Laureen.

 Photo: bigfoto.com

FOOD – Melon sorbet with a dash of vodka

I’m turning into a parrot because I started another blogsite by mistake, so I’ll be repeating myself in the blog I share with my friends – http://thenextbigthinksg.wordpress.com/

I love my friend Hwee Hwee Laurence’s contributions to my blog. It takes me from tropical heat and humidity to open spaces and produce from tree (or bush, or ground) to kitchen table. The closest I have to homegrown edibles are my papaya and banana trees, and the occasional mango we filch from the little park behind our house. And now, a message from Hwee Hwee in the south-west of France –

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When my husband plants, he plants enough to feed the whole village.  When he harvests, he does not leave a single fruit on the tree.

 

I used to get very stressed about this.  Wouldn’t you be – when after you have cooked, preserved, conserved and given away what you could to the neighbours, yet the fourth (and certainly not the last) pail of cherries or plums still arrives at your kitchen table for you to ‘do something with it’?  I used to consider all this a chore, something I do grudgingly and try to get it over with as quickly as possible.

 

The turning point came when, during my second visit to Singapore, I realized that I miss my little village.  When my friends came over here and said how blessed I am and I saw, through their eyes, that indeed I have a very simple but blessed life.  When one day, I decided to make crepes and deliberately used the hand- instead of electric whisk and spent a pleasurable time watching the flour and milk turning slowly into a smooth batter.

 

This change in attitude is not a resenting resignation to my life as a country bumpkin.  It is a realization that life – my life – at this point, is what it is.  It might change or I might want to change it in the future.  But for now, in making the best of what I am and what I have, I have become a much happier person indeed. 

 

So, today, when my husband sheepishly puts a crate of melons he has just harvested from the garden, I look at him squarely in the eye and said – Bring it on!

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MELON SORBET

(There is really no hard and fast rule to the amount of each ingredient.  Make it up to your own taste, and use different fruit if desired.)

1 ripe melon, peeled, seeds scooped out and cut into chunks

250 ml fresh lime or lemon juice

150 g sugar

1 tablespoon vodka or Grand Marnier (optional, but this prevents sorbet from freezing solid)

1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger (optional)

Place all ingredients except ginger in a food processor and process until smooth.

Stir in ginger, pour into a freeze-proof dish and refrigerate until very cold.

Place dish in freezer, and once every hour or so, use fork to stir and break up mixture while it freezes.

(Do not worry if you forget and your sorbet freezes solid.  Just use a fork to scrape and break it into coarser granules before serving – a bit of hard work here – then change its name to Melon Granita!)

FOOD – Apple Crumble, anyone?

My friend Hwee Hwee Laurence lives with her husband and two sons in the French countryside with mountains, lakes, fields of sunflowers, grapes and various other fruits that she dries or pickles. In her village, houses are unnumbered because the postman knows everyone by name, and time is measured by the feel and yield of passing seasons. Over here in one-season Singapore, I note the growth of her boys as their photos show them changing from baby- to boyish-cute.

Hwee Hwee shares some of the simple joys of country life with city slickers whose apples come from supermarts  –

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It’s apple-harvest time in the southwest of France!  In our garden, we have many apple trees of different varieties – some for eating, some for cooking.  Apples, when stored carefully, can keep through the winter.  But there are still many which are bruised or slightly bitten by birds or wasps, and these have to be used quickly.  Every year, I make jars and jars of savoury apple sauce (good with pork chops), apple-tomato chutney (for roast meats), apple butter (yummy on toasts) etc.  And during this time, there is always an apple tart or strudel on the table when hungry kids come home from school.

 

Since apples are relatively cheap and easily available in Singapore, I thought I’d share with you this recipe for apple crumble.  It’s an easy no-fail recipe and something fun to do with your kids.

And most delicious with a dollop of vanilla ice cream!

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APPLE CRUMBLE

For the apple base:

5 or 6 (or as many as you like!) apples, peeled, cored and cubed

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

10g butter

For the topping:

80g plain flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

40g butter

40g castor sugar

Pinch of salt

  1. Preheat oven to 180C.
  2. Put all ingredients for the apple base in a glass bowl and microwave on high for about 4 min until butter is melted and apples and hot and starting to soften.  Mix well.
  3. Spread evenly over a glass or pudding baking dish.
  4. To make the topping, place flour and cinnamon in a bowl.  Cut the butter into small pieces and rub into the flour using your fingers until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in sugar and salt.
  5. Sprinkle topping evenly onto the apples.
  6. Bake for about 45 min until apples are softened and crumble is golden and crisp.