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I finally met (or bumped) into my littlest and cutest reader ever! Declan is my dear, dear friend Jamie’s nephew and loves books. Jamie was there with him to buy an encyclopedia on ocean animals which he wanted. And that was just after she had read him my book Marky Polo in Tokyo at home.

“Which of Auntie Emily’s books do you like best?” Jamie asked her little nephew.

“Everything!” Declan declared.

Wah! First Prize answer. I asked for permission to take photos with him. 😊😄🤩

A coincidental meeting in matching dye tie clothing

This week, Mum would have turned 73 years old. We commemorated her birthday with a family dinner in remembrance of her.

I interviewed Dad on his and Mum’s story for his book My Life, My Stories, which I recently published for Dad’s birthday two weeks back. The interview on Mum was the hardest, yet most precious for him, as we recorded memories and gems of their dating life and marriage of 52 years.

This is an extract:

“My favourite memory of Joyce:

Joyce and I often went to Satay Club in our younger years. On one occasion, we were both seated on a stone bench at the Esplanade looking out towards the sea where Marina Bay is now. This was a few months into dating, and Joyce took my hand and suddenly popped a question to me. She asked if I would ever leave her. I said, “No, I will never leave you.”

I had two other favourite memories:

  • The first was when I took Joyce for a very formal police annual dinner at Hyatt Hotel. This was after we were married. Jack was already born but Emily was not. Joyce was dressed in a long gown and wore a wig. She looked so elegant and I felt very proud to show her off.

  • The second was an incident that happened during my dating days with Joyce. A former girlfriend Veronica turned up at a Victoria Memorial Hall party which we are at. I had stopped dating Veronica by then, but she showed up there to scold me anyway. Joyce out-shouted her and fended her off.

Other fond memories:

  • Joyce cared more for my health than her own. It was always that way. She did not take care of her own health.
  • Joyce always gave her best and bought the best things for our family (for our children and grandchildren) – medical treatment, milk powder etc. It never occurred to her that giving more to us meant spending less for herself.
  • Joyce was generous by nature. She supported my first brother’s eldest son through his university education and made me give my eldest sister’s son Ah Dan $1,000 to pay for his wedding, which was a lot back then (about 30 years ago). She also helped her brother James and paid for his maid to take care of their mother during the times that she stayed there.
  • Joyce was very hot-tempered by nature. But after each flare-up, she would make it up to me by buying things for me and I always had to hold her back from buying too much.
  • Joyce was very trusting, and she liked to help people. She never expected favours, rewards or anything back in return. I was always concerned that she would be taken advantage of. She was generous towards others and not extravagant in lifestyle. She was happiest when designing her own clothes. I followed her to many tailors through the years, from the first one in Jalan Bukit Ho Swee to the present tailor Mdm Leong at West Coast Road.”

Happy Birthday, Mum! As Caleb would say, Mama is having Heavenly laksa and Heavenly nasi lemak – which are all healthy in Heaven.

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At the end of Singapore’s Circuit Breaker in 2020 (Singapore’s version of a lockdown), I found my conversations with my dad had become everything Covid-related. I felt we needed to change the conversation. So, I decided to write his life story.

I interviewed my dad over a series of scheduled interviews (although we live in the same house…LOL).  I recorded and transcribed each interview (my wannabe journalist instincts). Then, I sat down to put it together into a manuscript.

The project came to a pause earlier this year when my dad was diagnosed with cancer. For the next few months, we were in and out of hospitals for consultations, tests and scans. He’s just completed his last cycle of chemotherapy, in time for his 77th birthday. So, it’s been timely that I was able to publish his legacy book in time to celebrate both his birthday and end of chemotherapy treatment.

I blogged last year about how my grandparents moved from China to Singapore in search of a better life around 1940. After World War 2, my grandfather wanted to heed China’s call for their people to return to rebuild the country. He felt a strong sense of duty to his home country.

When my grandmother did not allow him to do so, it led to a heated argument which led to him taking a chopper and chopping off the last finger on his left hand to show his resolve to go back to China. Grandma gave in when he threatened to cut off another finger.

This was what happened next in my dad’s words:

“Father took my two elder brothers and me back to China. Unfortunately, the ship that we were on sank shortly after leaving Hong Kong harbour. I learnt that there were two ships at Hong Kong harbour at that time. There was a storm brewing and that other ship stayed in the harbour. But the ship that I was on set sail and sank shortly after.

According to records, on 19 July 1947, U.S. destroyer ‘Myles C Fox and Hawkins with British escort ship HMS Hart saved the crew and passengers of SS Hong Kheng after the passenger ship had run aground on Chilang Point some eight miles north of Hong Kong. Six motorboats, two from each warship, and two skiffs from Hong Kong made 76 trips to save some 1,800 survivors.’

I was about three years old then and too young to remember. Both my older brothers remembered that when the ship started to sink, my father used a rope to tie all three of us to him to keep us together. My first brother Poh Chan said it was so that we would not get lost.  My second brother Poh Chiew said that the real reason was that if one could not survive, it would ensure that we would go down together.

My family was rescued and brought back to Hong Kong. We subsequently made our way to Xiamen, Fujian and back to our village.

According to an old newspaper clip Straits Echo & Times of Malaya, dated 22 July 1947, “the ship ‘Hong Kheng’ had 1,800 passengers. After the passengers were removed, the ship caught fire spontaneously and all luggage on board was destroyed.””

Grandmother eventually brought my dad back to Singapore and my two uncles remained in China with Grandfather.

This and many more stories of my dad’s and grandparents’ generation are what we’ll pass down to our next generation.

It took the pandemic for me to pause and produce this legacy book. I’m glad that I did as I am richer for it in experience and memories.

Okay, this is my corny attempt to pun on a well-known movie from a long time ago. But the past two weeks has truly seen several reasons for celebrations.

I thank God for:

  1. Celebration of a bestie’s birthday

Last Wednesday, I had a catch-up with besties Gail and Jing Siew from Uni when we celebrated Jing Siew’s birthday over breakfast. Can’t believe how time flies and that we have known each other for over 3 decades through every birth, passing and other highs and lows. Thank God for over 30 years of friendship and counting!

2. Celebration of bosom buddy’s birthday

Over the weekend, I celebrated another bosom buddy’s birthday. I’ve known these girls since Primary school (a few since Primary 1). I shan’t count how many years that is…gulp! I’m thankful for this year of #50 Wonderful Birthdays, even as we constantly pivot birthday plans back and forth with the changing Covid restrictions. This was a One-derful meal out.

3. Celebration of my dad’s 77th birthday

During 2020, I wanted to change the conversation away from everything Covid-related. So, I started interviewing my dad on his life stories, systematically from his childhood till my mum’s passing. After many rounds of drafts and editing, I was thrilled to wrap it up in time to publish My Life, My Stories in good time for my dad’s 77th birthday. He looked at the book and said that it is his best birthday present. (More on the stories in the next post.)

I thank God for publisher friends who kindly offered up help for the critical last mile of book design and layout, and the printing of this very small print run for family and family friends.

4. Celebrating Singapore’s 56th birthday

Our National Day Parade was postponed from 9th August to 21 August, in line with Singapore’s reopening to our ‘new normal’. Caleb and I watched the NDP hybrid show on TV. We sang our hearts out with the performers and cheered through the parade highlights. I felt uplifted watching the animated storytelling of true stories of overcomers from our pioneer generation. And I thank God for our collective unity through this crisis of our generation.

5. Sew Sow Good Start

This week, we had our kick-off (or should I say sew-off) for our new fundraising product line. Last year, when Covid happened, I found it hard to write-as-usual and formed a collaborative with a mum-and-daughter team of creatives. Together with more friends, we fundraised for Child at Street 11, a non-profit childcare centre for children from low-income families. With Covid still raging on this year, we decided to to do a round 2 of fundraising for Street 11.

I’m thankful for new friendships forged with these ladies whom I only got to know last year when we decided to proceed with our Sew Sow Good Stuff SG initiative! (The rest of them knew each other…haha).

And the numeral for me? Oneness.

“Make every effort to keep the oneness of the Spirit in the bond of peace” – Ephesians 4:3

When Kai Kai and Jia Jia first arrived in Singapore in 2012, Wildlife Reserves Singapore approached me to write the giant pandas’ story. As it was their wish that the giant pandas would produce a baby, could I bring baby panda into the story?

Fiction preceded reality.

Three Kai Kai & Jia Jia books were birthed between 2012 – 2015:

In the first book, A New Home for Kai Kai & Jia Jia, the giant pandas get to know Singapore and their friendly neighbours living at River Safari.

In the second book, The River Adventure of Kai Kai & Jia Jia, Kai Kai & Jia Jia go on a river cruise adventure to welcome their new neighbours – the giant river otters. Jia Jia doesn’t feel well through the cruise but later discovers that she isn’t ill, but pregnant.

In the third book, The New Face at River Safari, the giant pandas and their friends prepare for the arrival of baby panda.

What lovely news to see it happen for real, with Kai Kai and Jia Jia now new parents of baby panda!

Kai Kai & Jia Jia’s picture books are sold at Wildlife Reserves Singapore’s e-bookstore and physical stores at the Singapore Zoo and River Safari.

More of Kai Kai & Jia Jia’s story of how their baby came to be – at Mothership:

https://mothership.sg/2021/04/jiajia-kaikai-mate/

Today is Thank God Friday…on the other side of the world!

A day late but no less thankful for:

  1. Singapore’s 56th birthday

It was a quiet National Day on 9th August. Due to Covid19 restrictions, our annual big National Day parade has been postponed to 21st August, in step with the gradual loosening of measures.

Caleb and I did however have our little National Day songs sing-along, as we listened and sang National Day songs of past to present for over an hour. We agreed that this year’s National Day Parade 2021 song is definitely one of our favourites.

2. Poetic Friendship

Over a month back, I had scheduled brunch with my very dear friend Jamie for 10th August as she’s on leave this week. I was about to reschedule because dining-in was not then permitted as part of our Phase 2 Heightened Alert measures for a month or so. But as timing would have it, dining-in reopened on 10th August, the day after National Day.

I turned up in red and coincidentally and matchingly, my poetry-writing palliative doctor friend turned up in white. And our dining backdrop was red and white. So, we had our “We are Singapore” photo op. over our little National Day brunch.

I got to know Jamie two years ago, and only two weeks before my mum’s passing. She was the amazing palliative doctor who went over and beyond for our family. When she read me the poem that she wrote about her encounter with my parents in my mum’s last days, our faith-filled friendship was poetically sealed.

So yes, she read me new poetry over brunch and I shared my writing updates. And as with every conversation which we’ve had, we delved into issues of life and death. I’m thankful for this dearest, poetically spiritual sister.

3. Stepping out with my son

As it was a holiday for the primary school kids (except the P6 kids having exams), I spent half a day out yesterday out with Caleb, getting a few things done. It’s been a while since we have done that as mum and son. After a full week in school masked-up since the start of Covid19, he’s not been keen to follow me out on my errands-run. And I’ve also found it more practical to not bring him along as we flowed in and out of Heightened Alerts.

I’m thankful for our leisurely meal and conversation at Botanic Gardens, followed by a short walk around the park. It brought back memories of pre-Covid days. And a reminder that we need to be so much more deliberate, less hurried, and thankful about our daily living.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all those in authority—so that we may lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity.…1 Timothy 2:1-2

Today is Thank God Friday and I want to thank God for:

  1. Singapore

Singapore has tightened restrictions in our hospitals for this period. From today till the end of Phase 2 Heightened Alert on 18 August, visitors are not permitted in hospital wards, with exceptions for critically ill patients and those who need caregiver support. It’s a needed measure for the welfare of the patients and healthcare workers who are at the forefront of this prolonged Covid battle.

Today, Straits Times reported that our vaccination rate in Singapore has reached 74% (with 60% fully vaccinated with 2 shots). Most hearteningly, in Washington’s “fact-tank” Pew Research Centre’s survey of 17 advanced economies, Singapore ranked top, with 86% saying that our country is more united than before the Covid19 outbreak.

I thank God for the unity and community-mindedness that we share as a nation as we soldier through this pandemic.

2. Sew Sow Good Months

During Singapore’s Circuit Breaker (ie. semi-lockdown) last year, I found it hard to write as-usual and wanted to play a part for those in our midst who are having harder times in this climate.

Out of that came Sew Sow Good Stuff SG, a collaborative fundraising effort with a few creatives.

Yesterday, artisan and sewing pro Chiao Lin and I went to People’s Park to buy fabric for new stuff toys that we will be making for Round 2 of our fundraising this year. We will again support Child at Street 11, a non-profit childcare centre for children from low-income families.

I’m thankful for this opportunity and look forward to the weeks ahead of sewing and fellowshipping as we create new products for this year’s fundraiser sales. Chiao Lin’s daughter Daryl – our resident artist – will have to head back to UK to complete her university studies soon. But she’ll finish up our illustrations from there.

3. Walk in the Park

My routine has been largely split between childcare, supermarketing, writing and taking my dad for medical appointments. But I’ve also stepped up my morning walks to work off all this Covid carbo-overload.

I’m thankful that I can walk in the beautiful and uncrowded expanse of our Botanic Gardens. And I couldn’t help photographing these eye-catching signages that have recently popped up all over Botanics. Even our local animals have been roped in to extol Covid19 safety measures. It’s a sign of the times.

We have little control over as this Delta variant that is fast spreading virulently across our world. But I can find refuge in the One who has control over our very ill world.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.   Psalm 46:1

Today is Thank God Friday.

It’s been quite two weeks for Singapore, with the sad tragedy at River Valley High School and Singapore returning to Phase 2 Heightened Alert due to the big Jurong Fishery Port Covid cluster.

Amidst this Heightened Alert climate, there is still much to be thankful for:

  1. Thank God for our Teachers and Educators

I’m grateful for our teachers and educators who have been holding fort in our schools for our children through these uncertain times.

Caleb’s school was one of several schools which had a student tested positive with Covid-19 in the past two weeks. As a result, the school switched to home-based learning for one day so they could do deep cleaning.

I can only imagine the stress levels of teachers who have had to switch from teaching in-person to preparing materials for teaching online at a day’s notice. With the recent tragedy at River Valley High School, it adds even more stressors on educators who also now need to do more to look out for students’ mental health.

I really hope that additional counsellors will be provided not only for students, but for our teachers navigating through this stressful ‘new-normal’ in school.

L: With Pauline in Dec 2019 at a Creatives’ event, R: With Hwee & Arlene today

2. Thank God for Girlfriends

I’ve reduced my social circles to a very teeny bubble through this Heightened Alert period, given Singapore’s current no-dining-out rule and two visitors per household per day limit.

But every girl needs her girlfriends through these safe-distancing times, be it ranting on WhatsApp chat groups or face-to-face.

This past week, I’m thankful for precious conversations with girlfriends. From catching up with writing buddy Pauline over breakfast last Friday to Hwee and I celebrating Arlene’s birthday today.

These girlfriend doses are such good boosters which pump me up for the next week of parenting, supermarketing and writing through this Stay-Home period.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour. If either of them falls, one can help the other up.Eccelesiastes 4:9-10

This morning, I relied on this ‘Pause + Pray’ list in Thirst’s reflection piece for the words to pray for River Valley High school:

  1. Pray for peace and comfort to all who are hurt and grieving.
  2. Pray against every fear and trauma arising from this tragedy.
  3. Pray for protection on our schools and young people.
  4. Pray for wisdom for the decisions that need to be made by schools, the authorities etc.
  5. Pray for kindness, compassion and love among Singaporeans.
  6. Pray for humility and repentance as we seek God’s mercy and grace.
  7. Pray for God to move in a powerful way in our nation, for Him to redeem this for good.

Read Thirst’s full article ‘River Valley High School death: Making sense of a painful loss’.

Last week, I encountered several signs of a new season approaching, which came into sight after I met singer-songwriter Crystal Goh at our Read! Singapore panel session two weeks back.

We caught up for brunch today to fellowship as she also sensed that she was entering a new season.

Crystal and I had first connected in 2013 when she first contacted me to ask for permission for her Diamonds on the Street collective to stage a performance based on Prince Bear & Pauper Bear.  She and fellow volunteers were working with a group of children from the Prison Fellowship Care Corner to perform a music drama adapted from my book in a closed door performance to families and friends.

Crystal was afflicted with Spasmodic Dysphonia, the same voice disorder that I came down with – a condition as rare as mining diamonds.

Our meeting as fellow panelists at Read! Singapore this July is the first time that Crystal and I have met in 7 years 7 months.

I shared with Crystal how the bible verses Isaiah 55:12-13 came to mind (after she and I reconnected at our panel session):

12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the LORD’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.” – Isaiah 55:12-13

And how these verses came alive for me through three signs of nature that were around me during Phase 3 (Heightened Alert):

  • the plant in my veranda that flowered for the first time,
  • the barren tree trunks that sprouted new leaves for the first time in over 5 years and
  • the Munia bird family that left the nest in another potted plant once Phase 3 started. I last saw the birds on the last day of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert).

After hearing this, Crystal showed me the lyrics of A Beautiful Sight – a song which she had written for the Prince Bear & Pauper Bear musical performance 7 years ago. It read like a summary and confirmation of what I had just shared with her:

A Beautiful Sight

I am looking at my future

From the ending point I see

Trees have blossomed, there are grapes on the vine

And the fields have come alive

Everything that once was barren, all restored and now abundant

From the ending point I see

A beautiful, beautiful, beautiful sight

Look and see, look and see at the birds in the air

None of them will fall outside Your care

I believe, I believe I am worth much more

That You only have good things in store

I’ll be brave, I’ll be brave when the darkness surrounds

Yes I know that a new day will come

I am never alone, one day I’ll see

That all will be beautiful

Many times, my future seems to take

Such a long time to come

And my hope fades, oh my heart aches

Tomorrow when will you, when will you come?

Tomorrow when will you, when will you come?

I, I will wait patiently

It won’t be delayed, it won’t be delayed

I, I will wait hopefully

It’ll surely take place, it’ll surely take place

A new day awaits, a new day awaits

Yeah my future awakes

So I won’t give up on hope

I won’t give up

Everything that once was barren, all restored and now abundant

From the ending point I see

A beautiful, beautiful, beautiful sight 

(Lyrics by Crystal Goh)

This week, I also received a visit from a beautiful bird that I saw for the first time. A White-crested Laughingthrush came strolling along the ledge of my veranda, where my potted plant just flowered for the first time. Learning its name brought me joy and laughter. And this bird was a beautiful sight.

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