Archives for category: children

glittery horse

Yes it’s the Chinese Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival and it is celebrated across this region with bells on starting on January 31st for fifteen days. The date changes each year depending on when the second moon after the winter solstice occurs. There is something very poetic sounding about that although I’m sure any astro-physicists reading (unlikely) are putting their heads in their hands in quiet despair.

Welcome to the Year of the Horse.

Some of the decorations outside the flash department stores are all a bit bling but we decided to go into Chinatown and see the celebrations up close and personal. Aside from the crowds (oh my word!) it was a huge dose of tradition slamming into modern culture. It does take your breath away. The horses in Chinatown are cleverly wired in the air and although they look striking in the daylight…

daylight horses

…as the sun went down they are lit so cleverly and sway in the breeze and they look like they are galloping down the street.

at night

Then it was less about the poetry and more about the celebration in Chinatown and it was good fun.

chinese lanterns

everything red

new year barrels

I was also told that I was born in the unluckiest year of the century so far. When a friend of mine – also born in the same year – married, his future wife’s family had to make more offerings at the temple to try and counterbalance the bad luck his birth year would bring. So there you go. The jury is out whether that explains a lot or proves it is nonsense.

There’s a lot of red in these photos and the condo here is covered with red banners and lanterns and when the kids asked, it was time to find out. Here, as always, is my version of the myth.

This time it is written for Jacob, because he likes stories.

Once upon a time there was a fishing village in China that was surrounded on one side by a fierce sea and on the other, by a huge mountain. Every year, on the second moon of the winter solstice a terrifying monster, Nian, would come to the village and destroy their crops, take their hard earned fish and steal their children. Every year, without exception he would come and he was too strong to fight; too terrifying to even look at. He had the head of a lion and the body of a bull and he was so big that even the strongest of the villagers cowered in fear. On the eve of Spring, the villager would hurriedly pack their belongings and try to find a safe place to hide. They were never sure if he would come from the mountains or appear suddenly from the sea.

One year, as people hurriedly packed and panicked, an old monk called Hongjun Laozu came to the village. But no one had the time to offer him food to eat or a place to rest. “We must hurry!” they said as they pushed past him. Eventually an old woman took pity on the monk and stopped her packing and helped the monk to rest. As he sat there he chuckled to himself and said to the old woman “Why are they running from old Nian?” They should be celebrating the New Year”. And so he told the old woman how to fight Nian. The old woman sat next to the monk and they both enjoyed their meal with all the villagers shaking their heads in disbelief.

That night, the villagers watched Nian come down the mountain and approach the house of the old woman. Suddenly, red lanterns lighted up the house until it looked like it was on fire and the loud crack of firecrackers could be heard across the sea. Nian reared up in fear. As the lanterns burnt the sky red Nian fled to the mountains. As the villagers came back, the monk told them that Nian feared three things – the colour red, fire and noise. Every year since, to keep Nian away, each family lights red lanterns and sets off firecrackers.

There is so much more to say about the Spring Festival – about the ritual spring cleaning that is embraced across much of this part of Asia, about the traditions for each of the fifteen days and about how in another version of the myth it was actually the fact that Honjun Laozu was wearing red underpants – that he flashed at Nian – that scared him away. But it is late and I still have to do my own spring cleaning before all the mops and brooms must be put aside on New Year’s Day. You must not sweep away your good luck as the New Year dawns.

(Three days left, I’d better get a wriggle on).

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Well here we are in 2014. Hello to you and goodbye to 2013; it was quite a year.

For us 2013 started on a plane on our first trip to Singapore as a family. Ned was a complete monster on our maiden flight and I can remember thinking we would have to stay in Singapore because I’m not doing this again. By the time we moved out here in the early summer the kids and I had racked up 5 of those long haul flights and were all still speaking to each other.

2013 was a year of change; and change is good isn’t it?

This is not going to be a post about how wonderful it is to get out of your comfort zone.

We have had time on our hands to think about what makes us happy and what makes us tick and every conversation we have about where we want to be always takes us back to the same place; and that place is home.

What I’ve learnt in 2013 is that home for me is a much wider space than the four walls that keep the four of us safe at night. For me home is a much bigger deal, in fact it’s a HUGE deal. My dad often says we have two homes as I extend my sense of home to their house as well. We are always there. I’m also lucky that many of my oldest friends live so close to my parents giving me the very best of two worlds. My parents have a welcoming home like no other. I want more than anything to create my version for our children.

My favourite thing in the world is wandering around our garden with a cup of coffee on my own making plans – things to see, friends to invite over, jobs to do. It’s a family joke that no plant stays in the same place in the garden as over time you see how the light filters and the shadows fall, and the first place is never quite the right place. When we moved into our house in Kent it was rundown beyond belief. It was filthy and unloved. The garden was as diseased as the house and it took me the four years we lived there to coax it back to life. Once I’d managed it we spent so many happy times sitting outside with our family and friends. The home I miss is full to busting. Home here in comparison is a lonely place.

set table for dinner

garden

What we have embraced instead as ex-pats is a culture that I don’t like (or understand) very much. An ex-pat life makes people very brittle and surprisingly fragile, although this is often masked by generally quite appalling lapses in social niceties. My experiences with ex-pat women will be a separate blog post – worth waiting for! Suffice to say here that we are all different and what makes me tick does not make the ex-pat lady tick. I don’t have much spare cash so am neither groomed nor glossy. I don’t want to eat out all the time, I don’t want to shop. I would like to do yoga, go running, hang out with my friends drinking coffee but for me these things are accessories to a busy life; they are not ‘life’.

Without this wider sense of home you end up on a constant promenade. The ex-pat life is constantly moving and shifting as everyone tries to fill the void. Much like those plants in my garden at home everyone is trying to find their right spot in the world. We have just realised that we were in our right spot all along.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made some friends for life on the Little Red Dot of Singapore and these friends make me laugh a lot but I am ready to go home now, we all are. It’s been an incredible adventure. The best gift this Christmas we have given Millie and Ned is their lack of fear of the world, and the world can seem a scary place. We have no doubts at all that Ned will travel when he’s older. He is wild; a chameleon that can fit in wherever he goes and with whoever he is with. Millie is a home body. She is adored by everyone on the condo for her chatterbox ways (never letting a language barrier deter her) but she never likes to stray like Ned. She, like me, wants to put down her roots and not be moved again. Dom has rediscovered his love of running while we have been in Singapore. He spends his quiet time looking at trail runs that he can do at home in Kent where it will be him and the odd early morning dog walker unlike in Singapore where each path is already crowded. He fuels our idea of home even further with his deep love of countryside and coast. Dom reminds us about how beautiful and blessed we are with what surrounds our home – these are the fields through the gate in our garden.

fields behind the house

And I am glad he took us on this asian road trip; he is our true adventurer. Millie summed it up in her own way ‘Singapore has been a really great long holiday, and we’re really lucky aren’t we, but I’d like to go home now and see granny and grandad’. And that’s what we are going to do.

For all my friends at home that read my blog, we will see you very soon. Much love to all of you in my virtual space and a very Happy New Year.

Xmas tree

Yes, it’s THAT season so it’s ‘happy holidays’ to you all – you see, I’m very transatlantic, even global with my greetings these days.

So, as is customary for a 44 year old mother of two, here is my letter to Saint Nick. Saint Nick, not Old Nick… though when I’m preparing for Christmas with often murderous thoughts, a letter to Old Nick may be more appropriate.

Dear Father Christmas,

However bad I’ve been, please please don’t let me have to go again this year to:

VivoCity
ToysRus in Tampines, the basement of Takashimaya or Daiso.
Malls with scented gingerbread candles
Supermarkets (actually that one is a year round wish)

Please can you also stop the children from re-writing their Christmas lists because they aren’t getting half the stuff from the first edition, let alone the 65th version?

These lists are not helped by the fact the best fun Ned has had all year was wearing a bucket on his head while his friends shot Nerf gun bullets at it and pelted his armoured head with lego. I’m not sure how we move on from that present wise.

ned with bucket on his head

Also, if one more pink toy enters Millie’s bedroom, we will all need therapy. Her online course in ‘breaking gender codes’ will start in January.

Although I don’t blame you entirely, it does seem that the majority of presents may well tip Dom over the edge as they need:

Knife/scissors/screwdrivers to get into the box
Knife/scissors/screwdrivers to remove toy from the box
Knife/scissors/screwdrivers to then get it to work

I am delighted that you have a sense of humour too as there is also stuff that needs:

Parental interaction

This list is not exhaustive but appears to include:

Board games *shudder*
Skateboards – I understand that they will not master this until at least next Christmas
Lego. Bloody lego. This year I will be firm and vacuum up pieces left on the floor. Unlike last year when I spent an hour rescuing Anakin Skywalker’s head from the Dyson.

I realise that our Christmas tradition of consuming enough prosecco by 10am to bring down a rhino may not help any of the above.

I also need to point out to you that being British at 3pm on Christmas Day we listen to the Queen’s speech. This is a time when all good parents put a napkin over their head for a quick and deserving snooze. In Singapore, am I expected to power through?

If I am, there will need to be an extra sleigh delivering more prosecco. With thanks

Love Sarah x

ps Any chance of it not raining and being damp and unbelievably humid while I cook a roast dinner with all the trimmings? I would be very grateful.

pps I secretly love it, but don’t tell the elves.

Apologies, apologies, I’ve been tied up. Actually I’m struggling to remember what I’ve been doing that has kept me so busy but there you go. Life as an expat wife summed up in a sentence for you.

We’re still ploughing through the Halloween haul of sugar and e-numbers. It is very different doing it on a condo. We are one of a handful of expat families here, unlike the condos in the posh areas that are full to the brim of UK, US and Aus families. It made for an interesting halloween. It would seem that parents are happy for their kids to dress up (kind of) and come out to knock on a few doors, as long as it isn’t their own. Weird isn’t it? Luckily, the families out and about on the condo had enough sweets to keep Willie Wonka happy and the kids were young enough to fill their bags and then run around manically for no apparent reason and were quite happy with their lot. I drank Prosecco.

Here is a photo…. Oops no, I can’t seem to upload it, shame. Will do when I’ve worked out what WordPress is doing. It’s a good one – it’s a taxi queue with everyone holding and plugged into a smartphone. So it should be a Halloween photo don’t you think? Everyone plugged in to their phones like zombies.

drones

Spending as much time as I do on the bus here I’ve been AMAZED at how addicted everyone is to their phones. All – the – time. One thing though that does make me laugh out loud (or drive me crackers), is noise pollution. If you like the weird man’s voice saying ‘divine’ on Candy Crush, well just turn up the volume – you don’t need headphones… . Fancy watching that clip on YouTube? No headphones, hell watch it anyway! But my absolute favourite, was when an old man sat next to me with a very large bag. Out of it he pulled, like a magician and a white rabbit, an old fashioned transistor radio. He then turned it on (at full volume), tuned it in and sat with it on his lap. He was tapping his feet and humming along and I’m thrilled he was enjoying it. Alas I most definitely didn’t feel the same way.

In the UK, there was a sudden spike in the number of kids getting knocked over by cars and the blame was put squarely on using their phones on the street and ignoring the world around them. I wonder what that statistic is in Singapore? I hate to think.

moon_festival2

It’s another Chinese lunar festival here in Singapore. On Saturday I asked a taxi driver why there were lanterns strung up everywhere and he simply said ‘It’s the mid-autumn festival’. ‘And the tradition of giving mooncakes?’ I asked. ‘Because….’ he said with a little shrug. ‘It’s like the festival of the hungry ghost’. Can’t be, I thought, last I heard the ghosts had checked back in to the underworld.

Ned and Millie have both been tasting mooncakes at school and yet neither of them seemed to have touched on the stories behind it. The cakes are incredibly calorific – sweet and dense and traditionally made with lard and full of red lotus paste – that would explain it.

With Millie at home poorly she was in need of a new story and I wanted to know – why a mooncake?

I think my love of stories has come down from my father. His bedtime stories were legendary. His version of Beowulf was not for kids of a delicate disposition. It’s not a cheery tale. He always gave a spin on a story which is what made them so fantastic to me – Rumpelstiltskin was done over by the princess. They had a binding contract and she broke it. Jack used his beanstalk for greed and serial burglary on an unsuspecting ogre. By the time I was old enough to still want him to weave a tale but had grown too old for fairy stories, he would tell us about battles and rebellions over the dinner table and so I give you two versions of the Moon Festival – one for my father and one for me. If my parents weren’t 16,000 miles away they would have a mooncake too.*

chang e<

For my dad

In the 14th Century the Mongolians had invaded China and set up a ruling force – the tyrannical Yuan dynasty. The Han Chinese set about planning their revolt but were crushed from every side. But there was one man who had enough cunning and dared to mastermind the rebellion. Liu Fu Tong was the secret rebel leader who sold a story to the puppet Emperor that the people would make small, intricately designed golden cakes full of lotus paste in honour of their Mongolian rulers. These would be given out by the people on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month – the moon festival; the night that the moon is at its brightest; the autumn equinox. The Mongolians had no desire to join the people and eat these crude peasant cakes but as a token of patronising generosity they allowed the people to pass them to each other. Stamped on the bottom of each cake were the details of the rebellion and they were passed freely amongst the masses. As one, on a night where the moon shone down like daylight, the Han Chinese rose up, defeated their invaders and threw the Mongols out of China. Every year since, mooncakes are given to family and friends in gratitude to the moon and Liu Fu Tong.

For me

Once upon a time there were ten suns that spun around the earth. One fateful day they aligned over China and their heat scorched the earth and killed the crops. The Emperor summoned his best archer Hou Yi to shoot down the nine extra suns. Hou Yi obeyed and his arrows saved the people and the cooling rains came from behind the suns. The gentle Goddess of the Western Heavens went to Hou Yi from where she was hiding from the heat and gave him a gift of thanks – an elixir of eternal life. But Hou Yi had a beautiful wife whom he wanted to stay with on earth. He had no desire to live forever alone. They made a pact that they would share the potion at the end of their mortal life and go to the heavens together for eternity. Now Hou Yi’s fame spread far and wide and soon apprentice archers came to him. One of them was a man called Feng Meng. Feng Meng knew the rumour about this elixir and desired it with all his heart. On the longest night, Hou Yi took his apprentices hunting. Sneaking away from the pack Feng Meng made his way to Hou Yi’s home. His wife – Chang-e – had spied him as he came out of the shadows and into the bright light of the moon. She took the elixir from its hiding place. Confronted by Feng Meng, Chang-e drank the potion. Hou Yi didn’t trust Feng Meng and when he discovered he was missing, he rushed back to his home. As he rode into his courtyard he was in time to witness Chang-e begin to float to the heavens. She didn’t want to leave Hou Yi so she prayed to the Goddess to allow her to stay with him. The Goddess answered and allowed Chang-e to float only to the moon. There she can still be seen on the 15th day of the 8th month – on the longest night – dancing intricate patterns on the surface of the moon. The patterns she makes are put on the mooncakes in her honour.

archer

*As with all good myths and legends, there are an abundance of versions. These two are my interpretations and written here for Millie and Ned. All inaccuracies, historical fudging and mis-myth quotations are all my own.

The summer holidays are rolling on here as the deadly duo start school at the beginning of August. They are like animals that have come out of hibernation a little bit too soon and have struggled going from the freezing UK to hot, hot Singapore. (As have I). Finding your way around a new place on the hunt for things to do can be a challenge… here are my top four places for lazy mothers of the summer (so far).

Our Pool. Lucky that we are to live in a condo with two pools I can officially record that it takes an eight year old and a six year old exactly one month to utter the words ‘nah, I don’t feel like swimming today’ after swimming twice a day for the past four weeks.

Singapore Art Museum. Free for them (always a bonus) and the kids summer art program was a surprise hit. I think it was the room where you sit on a bed and it spins through the wall taking you into a 3D nightmare that did it.

climbing the beanstalk

Botanic Gardens. Another freebie, wahey! I’m not going to lie I am heading back here the day they start school by myself. I enjoyed it more than they did, but you know, give and take and all that….

black swan1

The Beach. Hhmmm, jury is out. We live near the East Coast – it’s man-made; it shows. The kids ask if they can swim in the sea, ‘not if you have all the vaccinations in the world’ is my reply. The horizon is full of tankers queueing to get in to the harbour and the water is a grungy brown. Singapore, so famous for its draconian approach to gum, does not have the same policy towards dog poop. Kids love it, so there you go.

millie on the beachNed at the beach

;homemade chess

In the UK. When Ned was five and starting school a bossy girl in his class asked him what he wanted to be when he grows up. ‘A Knight’ he said. ‘You can’t be a Knight, my dad said they don’t exist’. Ned came home deflated that night and asked if he could be a knight with a sword. I replied as I always do – be whoever you want to be. ‘But I’m talking about when I’m a grown-up’. You can be a fencing champion, you can be a stunt specialist for sword fighting, be noble and go on an adventure, look for truth and stand up for honour, find yourself a princess, join the Welsh Guards, join a re-enactment society – the list is endless – if you want to be a knight, be a knight. That weekend we went to our local 12th century castle to a medieval weekend. It had a jester, a hog roast, music and knights demonstrating hand-to-hand single combat – a real life knightly sword fight. Ned was transfixed. There were knights in this real world. Afterwards you could visit the tournament tents and see the knights preparing. Spotting a kindred spirit one of the knights waved Ned under the rope and let him hold a sword and talked to him about what it is like to be a knight.
So, imagination repaired, his toy sword collection has grown – we have medieval broadswords, roman swords, pirate cutlasses, Eastern scimitars and oriental samurai swords. We have read King Arthur, Perseus, Jason and the Argonauts, the adventures of Sinbad, Peter Pan and Aladdin.

In Singapore. Making friends is scary when you’re six. Ned takes a few swords and a bow and arrow down to the pool and starts laying siege to the jacuzzi and slowly I watch a few other boys circling him. It takes minutes and they play for hours.

We have a Knight in the family.

swordfighting<

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