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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Lessons from Bangkok

6 months in Bangkok and i'm loving it. 

I wait a thousand years to cross the busy street with no traffic rules, it has taught me patience. 

My hairstylist is a Japanese female who came to Thailand to be a male. He taught me there is no shame in telling a stranger your secrets. 

A Thai's name is long and complicated. They have nicknames like Meta, Jedi and the most creative must go to Name. Remembering Thai names and their nicknames trains my memory. 

My favourite (illegal) street food stall is at the same spot everyday but one day. The Police works on Monday. 

The Thai straight men love taking selfies and checking themselves out in their reflective mobile case. It taught me not to stereotype gender. 

Taxi drivers who roll down their windows and ask where i'm going is most likely not to take me anywhere. It taught me perserverance. 

The many old farang ( Westerner) and young Thai couples don't disgust me but told me everyone's searching for love in ways they define it to be.  

I went for a massage and they asked if i minded a male masseuse. I hesitated until they added, "don't worry, not a real man." I learned to adapt and not mind to have things my way. 

I meet people all walks of life, most recently a conspiracy preacher who proved to be more interesting than an inflight movie. The French man has a bag filled with gold and silver, ready to run (to the mountains) the next economy crisis or nuclear war. I learned that to live, is to not fear. 

I saw a creepy voodoo spider doll hanging in a taxi, i learned to respect anothers' beliefs. 

The friendliest taxi driver i met was a ladyboy who wouldn't stop giggling and keeps an English dictionary in her glove compartment. She taught me happiness is from within. 

I walk the same route everyday and i see the same beggars everyday. I tell myself not to turn numb any day. 

I volunteer at a shelter for trafficked victims and it taught me i can make a change. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Cardinal Sins Couples Commit

They say love is blind, but surely we can fall out of love if love is taken for granted. 

Some friends tell me they end relationships because feelings were gone. What makes feelings last a lifetime and what is the recipe to long lasting marriages that takes little effort to maintain? 


1. Invading Bathroom Privacy
When you live together, it is inevitable that there'll be times you're in a rush or impatient to use the bathroom. In some way, you've achieved the highest level of comfortability in coupledom if you're able to take his/her shit. I had an ex who told me his then-girlfriend wouldn't stop talking even while he's on his golden throne. Lavatory time is sacred time, most people meditate in there. Or, check illicit messages from mistresses. Unless both of you are into the golden shower fetish where its actually a turn-on, i'll say stay out of each other's bowel-time. There'll be chances later on in life, in old age, where either of you have to help each other move bowels. Until then, if you must invade bathroom privacy, make sure its to surprise him/ her in a steamy hot shower. 

2. Criticism Overload
While you are your partner's greatest fan, you will also be his/ her biggest critic. I've seen couples who in their "harmless teasing" hide invisible knives that cut. A friend's husband is always teasing how unfit his wife is. I pointed out that while she isn't as fit as he is, he should be glad he found a partner who joins him in every outdoor activity with much gusto. A relationship still needs tact. 

3. Forgetting "Please" and "Thank You"
The more comfortable we are with someone, the less formal we become. The Japanese have a very sweet tradition where a couple greet each other when one or the other steps through the door with this phrase; "its been hard on you". Its a show of appreciation for the other, hard at work. It could be not entirely sincere because of habit but remember that successful people cultivate good habits. 

4. Disapproval in Public
In relation of #2, it is easy to lose your temper quicker with someone close. Especially when you know you're being loved unconditionally (assuming that's why you're both together). My parents are married for more than 25 years. I dislike the manner they frown, chide and demonstrate their disapproval of each other publicly. My longest relationship was 3 years, everytime there's a behaviour i disapprove, i consciously bite my tongue and keep a pokerface. My mistake though, is not revisiting and talking about it when we get home. It isn't healthy letting the unspoken or forgotten eat you up. 

5. Not Sharing Common Interests
In my opinion, common interests is a pre-requisite before committing to a relationship. However, i've seen couples who are total opposites who remain attached. I can't fathom a partner who doesn't love travelling, trying new things and doing sport like i do. My partners often have opposite thoughts and beliefs which offers friendly (sometimes challenging) debate, but we will always share common interests. Couples who share common interests have a better chance at growing old together. Don't lose the partner who can match your pace in said interest. My parents both like being outdoors but my dad is alot fitter and faster than my mum. This often leaves mum biting dad's dust, which then makes them both feel very alone. 

6. Forgetting Self
When we are comfortable with each other, we stop being vain. There's no need to put on nice lingerie when its more comfortable to hang lose. There's no need to put make-up on because he's seen me without. There's no need to put any clothes on because its coming off. Ok, maybe the last example isn't a bad thing. 

A woman ought to continue putting on matching (and sexy) lingerie. A man ought to continue keeping trim without a belly. When a woman becomes a mother, take time out to love herself. If a woman becomes a housewife, find activities that makes her interesting. Find friends to use the 10,000 word quota than offload it on the husband the moment he steps in. A woman tends to forget herself the moment she becomes a mother. Don't, because you'll grow old resentful as i watch my mother become. When children have grown out of their nest, when your husband will never be able to be as sacrificial as you are (its a different sort), you become resentful at old age. 

7. De-prioritizing Each Other
I'm guilty of lying on a partner's lap and texting while he's also texting above my head. We occassionally share text stories and joke about our friends. This is a special moment, as its only what couples do. 

We've passed the formality stage where a person on his/ her mobile all the time is a deal breaker. However, this couple activity is breeding the habit of seeing your partner less important. When the mobile phone becomes more interesting, when the children demands more attention, when your job/ deadline seemed more important. Today, we see ever more couples on their mobiles at dinner in a restaurant.

Since their children were born, my friend haven't been out with his wife alone since he-can't-remember. His daughter is 16 now, so i asked him what's stopping him from taking his wife out on a date? He gave excuses like, "Naaah. We're too old for that", "I'm not in the mood today." But he did take her out that night, and he messaged me a word of "thanks" after. 

Know that your partner IS human, and unconditional love is something only God or Mum can give. 
I'm not sure about you but I was taught to have only one boyfriend before marriage. It could be religion, or our culture but I definitely wasn't encouraged to go experience love. 
To the Chinese, if we have more than one boyfriend, its condemned as "she's loose/ easy/ slut". My Spanish girl-friend once enlightened me with a different perspective, "doesn't it make you a lot more interesting, having different experiences?" She is currently in a relationship of 8 yrs. 
If we were born as babies with zero knowledge and skill except to suckle or swim, how likely are we to know love and to love without experience? 
I've never used "i love you" frivolously in relationships because "best friends 4eva" written in graduation books were not true. 
When my first boyfriend (age 20) said "i love you" within 3 months of relations, i wasn't sure how to react. He surely didn't know what he was saying, as love was meant to be accepting but he frowned at my dressing, speech and behaviour. 
My second boyfriend (age 30) was abit more like me, we don't use the word love in vain. There were no "i love you" until we broke up. The first time he used the word love, it was with a marriage proposal. But surely he didn't know what he's saying, because of the inconsistencies in actions. If he loved, he wouldn't leave me behind when we were snorkelling. If he loved, he wouldn't mind my bag spoiling his style (by carrying it). 
For all the men who taught me what love is not, there was one who taught me what love is. Love is giving up pre-planned and paid trips to spend more time with you. Love is not minding how uncomfortable, ugly and tiring it makes him so you can be not. Love is asking you for your opinion on everything not because he can't decide but to make decisions with you. Love is making plans with you in it, love is wanting to know and understand everything of you. 
Have i then loved? I thought i haven't, but my friend who've observed me in my times with relations said i have. Love might be a universal language but the ways of expressing love is very different between cultures. The Chinese are alot more reserved in demonstrating love, "have you eaten?" is more commonly said than "i love you." The Chinese's demonstration of love is, protecting you at all costs, ensuring you're well-fed without lack and caring for the finest details of daily life. Love to the Chinese is not words of affirmation and touch. 
Love is not as simple as we wish it to be. There is parental love which is sacrificial, Godly love which is all-accepting and romantic love, filled with lust & more. Love fills this Earth and in this journey of finding love, i learned to love myself & i found i had passion within. 
Born a Gen Y Singaporean, I never had to fight to live. I was groomed to excel in academics, I was not nurtured to think out of the box. I never had a strong passion about a topic, subject or person. We were like carbon copies.  
In the last 6 months, preserverance brought me to Bangkok and passion gave me reason to fight for someone. 
Women wished their romantic life would be like the movies. Mine is like a drama that doesn't end and i'm relishing every twist of the plot. 
They say a son looks for a wife like his mother and a daughter looks for a husband like her father. 
I used to be attracted to chauvunistic men, a total opposite of my father. It turns out they are the worst lovers and i grew wiser. 
As i come of age, i recognise traits of my father in my boyfriends in later years. My father thinks my mum is still beautiful even when she doesn't shave. He massages her legs as they run thick with varicose veins. He calls her perfect when her belly hangs loose with skin after 3 children. 
She yell words of hate and shame, he loves her the same. He goes to work where there are other women, but nothing changed. 
Gen Y's love is nothing like before. We give up too easily when the tough gets going. So i'll wait. Wait Christine. Wait for that "him" who'll wait for me. Protect my heart as its the most valuable thing.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Braces Vs Invisalign

Its been 3 months since i received my aligners. From my visit to Dr Cheng at iDental to collect them, i felt he sincerely cares about making me more beautiful.

The nurses pre-empted me on the discomfort i'll feel in the beginning and advised how to mitigate it. Key rule to slipping on your new aligners without much discomfort is to wear it before bed. In your sleep, your teeth and gum gets accustomed to it. 
I'm not foreign to these plastic things, having worn braces 13 years ago, but in the beginning, i felt the discomfort and i was slurring in my speech. I wasn't drunk, but due to something unusual in the mouth, it takes a week to adapt. There were times i felt like removing them, throwing it to the ground and stomping on them but the Invisalign case taunted me with these text imprinted "Optimal wear 22 hours a day".

I found out that Invisalign wearers were more than i knew. These buggers were keeping secret what's making them more beautiful because its invisible! 

I also found out that many of them were ex-braces patients in our teens! Why did our braces dentists not tell us retainers are for life? This made us our teeth shift over the years and will continue to do so, undoing years of metal teeth pain. 

Having been through both braces and Invisalign, here're my comparisions

1. Time Spent Reduced Drastically
I spent 3 years with metal teeth and it meant 1 visit a month to the dentist to clean, tighten and change the rubber band colours to my fancy. Halloween was purple and black, Christmas was red and green. Retainers have to be worn for a year 24/7 (other than eating), thereafter nightly wear after removing the metal wires. That's 4 years in total having something metal then plastic in my mouth. 

My Invisalign treatment is estimated to be less than a year, visits to the dentist drastically reduced because i could self-serve.

Now that i've relocated overseas, i could take with my all 33 sets of aligners and continue my treatment from a distance.
2. Don't look like an awkward teenager
I remember how self conscious i was when i was wearing braces. Conscious of food stuck in between the wires, it didn't help the wires sometimes cut my gums or the corners of my mouth too. I felt like Ugly Betty. Here in Thailand, i noticed many adults wear braces. I felt so proud i'm one step ahead of them with Invisalign. I don't have to look like an awkward teenager. I can make business presentations and command the room with confidence.
Mr Bean knows my Invisalign secret. 
3. Intimacy with no blood lost
I'm exaggerating here. I didn't make out back when i had braces, but i always had the impression that it wouldn't be comfortable kissing someone with metal teeth. I would know, because it wasn't comfortable feeling the metal against the insides of my lips! Then, there are the risks of cutting your lover. Again, this is me dramatizing braces and i didn't have a personal experience but i have a phobia of that happening!

With Invisalign, you can take it off before making out. Optimal wear for Invisalign is 22 hours though, so keep your make out session short and sweet!
Interested to find out more how you can have this transformation?

Idental is having organizing a free talk to field Q&A. You can get a smile assessment after. 

Date: 27 January 2015 / 26 February 2015
Time: 7pm (Registration starts at 6.45pm)
Venue: Capital Tower, Level 9, FTSE Room

Thursday, January 1, 2015

On New Year's eve, i cycled 54km through Chiangmai's farmer fields, rehabilitation centers and simple lives. 

My year-end post isn't going to summarize 2014's glorifying moments but rather, something i hope that sets the tone for how i want to live for 2015. 

Santhi, my Thai bike guide, struck up a conversation with me while we manuveur around the paddy fields at 10km/hr. 

"What is your life goal?"
"See the world, make a difference?" 

I had to communicate with him in very simple English, a language he self-taught with Youtube over 6 years. 

What i actually meant was my life purpose is to make a difference in the lives around me. Instead of aiming for a Nobel prize, "charity" begins at home and with small actions that makes impact i wouldn't have fathom. Accompanying this life purpose, is the goal to see and feel the world. 

"And you?"
"I want to be ordained (as a monk) when i'm 50."

I am confused. Earlier, he mentioned he wanted to get married at 30 (he's 26). However, with his limited vocabularly, i couldn't clarify. Later, i found out from local colleagues that it is a rite of adulthood to spend days, weeks or months for temporary monkhood, earning merits for parents. 

Meeting all walks of life, random stranger conversations have been most rewarding. It shapes me. 

My greatest achievement before 30 is to have lived in 4 different countries independently. 

Being Singaporean by birth, it has been ingrained in me to study hard, work hard, find a man and marry to get a house. I'm not ashamed to say that was my very naive life goal before i gained enlightened. The more i lived abroad, the more i liked being an international wildchild. Adopting the attitude of an European but retaining an Asian's virtue (and cuisine). 

It takes courage to leave Singapore, an indefinite stay away from family, away from friends. Remove myself from familarity, remove myself from convenience. 

Poverty at my doorstep, cycling past farmers toiling, stepping out of Singapore has been a humbling start. It reminds me constantly how we don't get to choose whom we're born as but we do get to choose how to live life. 

I love Singapore for Singapore, but staying on made me self-centered, impatient and focused on life goals that deep down i doubted. Last year living in Europe gave me a new perspective. Going back to Singapore, i felt the old self creeping back. If i wasn't careful, i would lose that wildchild i prefer to be. 

That wildchild who lives for herself, not for society.  

Stepping out of Singapore, i want to be a better person than yesterday. I want to be myself, as everyone else is taken.

The number 5 has always been my favourite as its representative of my family unit. I found out that its also the number for grace. 2015 will be a year of abundant grace. 

Leaving to find me. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

11 Exotic Food Safe to Eat

They say the Chinese eat everything.
I'm the type of Chinese who tries everything. 

There are times when for a split second, i think about food poisoning and tummy runs, but i've eaten exotic food both at fancy restaurants and street stalls. 

Lived to tell the story, here's my list of exotic food that is safe to eat. 

1) Witchetty Grub
Fish and chips in Western Australia was so boring that i had to look for something that makes my stomach churn. If you manage to hold back the bile rising up your throat on the thought of eating a maggot, you'll be pleasantly surprised that it tastes like buttery mushy crab. I like crabs, so this was tasty. Best eaten hot. 
Find it at
The Coolgardie Safe
101 Edward St, East Perth WA

2) Fish Sperm
Have you seen the very graphic frog sashimi Youtube video where the frog is still blinking and wadding on the plate? I've not reached that level yet, but i've tried the sperm sac of a cod fish that looks like brain. Served cold, like sashimi, it is without any dipping sauce. The sac remains intact, thus its really one bite and its gone. As you bite the sac in your mouth, it bursts, filling your mouth with sperm. Then you get this super creamy bean curd texture with a strong fishy after-taste and smell. 
I was surprised to learn that sperm don't look all the same amongst fish. This is a pufferfish's sperm sac.
A skilled Japanese chef will boil it to optimal before serving you drizzled with ponzu sauce and chives. 
A meatier bite compared to the cod fish sperm, the taste is masked by the sauce. If i didn't know what it is, i would have mistook it for boiled chicken. 

Find it at 
Akashi Japanese Restaurant
290 Orchard Road, Paragon Shopping Centre, Singapore 

3) Newborn Eels
Also at Akashi, newborn eels look like this (chef's finger pointing to its head, do you see the eye?)
It looks like flat rice noodles, which i can't quite chew because it was too slimy. It slides around my tongue before i swallowed. As i bite into its tiny head, it bursts and a tiny bit of tasteless liquid filled my mouth. 

4) Giant Tuna Eye
The Chinese believe that sucking on fish eyes will make one's eyes brighter and more intelligent. I've never sucked on a fish eye, but instead upgraded immediately to a giant fish eye. The eye is grilled (picture is raw) with a lot of meat to pick! Tastes like the regular fish, except that it's staring right back at you. Find it also at Akashi. 

5) Whale Burger
Whale meat is overrated. It is 10 times more pungent than mutton, tough and not delectable like say, wagyu beef. When cooked, it looked almost black. 
Don't Find it at 
Lucky Pierrot Hamburger
Hokkaido, Japan

6) Rabbit Head
While certain part of Europe fancy rabbit leg, the Chinese in Sze Chuan go rabid over rabbit heads.
Delightfully 麻辣 spiced, you have to gnaw at it and train that tongue to get juicy bits of meat from the nook and cranny of that skeleton. There isn't much meat, like fish eye and chicken feet, which is consistent with the Chinese's habit of gnawing at bone. The tongue and the brain of the rabbit head is considered the essence of the entire snack. The tongue tastes foul, and the brain tastes like egg yolk. The little meat i can get out of the rabbit's cheek, tasted like very tender chicken. Instagram video here.
Find it at
双流老妈兔头 (Shuang Liu Lao Ma Tu Tou)
ChengLong Avenue HuaHui Market

7) Snake
When I had enough of dim sum in Hong Kong, and asked my guide for something new, he took me to this famous snake restaurant that even had Gordon Ramsey's picture on the wall. We had snake soup and fried snake chunks. 
Despite the snake meat tasting like chicken, I somehow couldn't finish an entire bowl of soup even though it was just a small one! It felt too heavy on the stomach. I preferred the fried snake chunks as they were spiced. I didn't think i would find bones!
Locals (not everyone) eat snake during winter to keep warm! Not sure if its a self fulfilling prophecy, but i did feel warm and alitttle heady after consuming these snakes. 
The restaurant keeps live snakes (for killing) in wooden drawers and keeps a phyton as a pet.
Find it at
170 Apliu Street,Shamshuipo, Kowloon (HKR Station, Exit A2, turn left)

8) Starfish, Seahorse and Baby Scorpions
Expecting the starfish and seahorse to taste like sand in my mouth, it wasn't. Anything fried always tastes good. The scorpion is my favourite, tasting like salt pepper chicken. Its crisp little body squirt juice in my mouth. The seahorse and starfish surprisingly (or not) smell and taste very fishy. The seahorse tastes like very crispy ikan bilis while the tasteless starfish needs a harder bite. Instagram video here. This night market also have many other hair rising options, but they weren't on display for sale when i visited. Tarantulas and lizards were probably not in season?

Find it at
王府井夜市 (Wang Fu Jing Night Market)
Beijing, China

9) Duck Got My Tongue

I missed out the opportunity to try out monitor lizards in salted egg yolk and shit (not kidding, shit was on the menu) in Saigon

And i hunted high and low for the penis restaurant in Beijing to no success.

For any virgin hoping to pop their exotic-food cherry, i would recommend sampling it in Singapore first. After all, my mother nation is stringent in food safety and hygiene. Every food stall is licensed and has to display the government certificates that grades stalls from A to D. With penalties and pressure, i hardly see any food stalls graded C and D. Most are Bs. 

I love taking visiting friends to the Geylang food trail. Where i introduce them to crocodile soup (cures asthma), black chicken (nourishing), turtle soup (build stamina) and more. 
My favourite is stewed frog legs, otherwise garlic butter escargots (snails) at Jack's Place.
Just the other night, we saw eggs (with shell) pierced on a stick on a BBQ grill on the street. I excitedly bought them (3 for $1) thinking they must be baluk (Philippine street snack of a half grown embryo still in egg shell). I got my camera out, heart pounding, palms sweating, unsure what's going to reveal as my friend un-peeled it. It was very anti-climax when we realized it was nothing what we thought, just egg custard 0_0

Monday, December 8, 2014

Straight Talking with iDental

I was in denial up till 3 months ago. I insisted that my teeth was straight despite having this front tooth sticking out like Nanny McPhee. 
It's probably negligible, until i had an x-ray done during my consultation with iDental and the picture showed an obvious protrusion! 
On closer look at glamour shots like the below, i look like i'm missing a tooth!
After further examinations, Dr Cheng Eng Wah also announced that my bite was not perfect. He asked if i could bite noodles with my front teeth. "Of course i can!" I said a little too loud. He raised his eyebrow at me and said, "Your front teeth can only bite udon, but not ramen."

Dr Cheng is full of funny quotes.

I learned that Invisalign can correct all sorts of teeth situations like fangs, overbite, underbite and overcrowding in a shorter time and with less self-consciousness (no metal wires to make me look like an over-due teenager). iDental recently opened a dedicated Invisalign clinic at Robinson Road and i'm blown away by the jovial service, Dr Cheng's quotes and the astounding technology that Invisalign promises to deliver.

What to Expect with Invisalign
On my 3rd visit to iDental, i was assigned my aligners. The first 2 visits were consultation, X-rays, mould impressions and 3D imaging. My treatment comprises of 33 aligners and i am to change them every week with regular visits to Dr Cheng for monitoring. I was very excited and paid attention to wearing and caring for my aligners. I was given 2 cases, one blue and one red. The blue is for me to place my invisible braces during meal times while the red is meant to keep the previous aligner (just in case). I diligently brought the blue case with me everywhere as i once wrapped my plastic retainers in tissue paper during meal time and accidentally threw it away! It was such an expensive mistake.
The green thing is called a 'chewy', something that I also have to diligently chew at every insertion of the aligners to ensure a tight fit. Not adhering to any of these clear instructions would impact the Invisalign results. Dr Cheng gave me a sneak preview of my transformation! I love seeing him replay them over and over again above my dentist's chair when i make a routine visit to iDental.
There will be attachments made to the teeth, which had people ask me what're those when they are close enough. 
However, the best part of Invisalign is that the treatment doesn't impact the way i look, no ugly metal teeth! I have heard of horror stories of friends who went to random clinics for wisdom tooth surgery and had a bad experience. In respect, i think it is important to go to a reputable clinic who knows what they're doing with Invisalign. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

My First Week

The Thais warmly welcomed me, nothing short of what they were known for, a land of smiles. 

I learned that to get a taxi driver to see you as a human being, i have to fake it like a Thai w a nasal tone and drag my speech. "Singapore embassy" should be pronounced as "Sinkapooore aaairbassii".

I learned that i can be James Bond, balancing precariously in a tuk tuk with my newly bought bowls and plates. My driver darts in and out of the Bangkok jam, sometimes going against traffic and turning 360. 

I learned patience. Their sing-song "just a moment please" and their constant glance, smile and nod when its more than a moment calms the impatient Singaporean in me. What impresses me is their resilence in making sure they meet your requests despite not understanding English. The street fashion stalls can be rude though, perhaps harden by the incessant haggling by tourists. 

I learned that tailors can come and measure you up in the office's toilet. 

I learned that you can use your staff pass but not tissue packs to reserve seats in the food court. Tissue packs will be mistakenly discarded or used by another patron. 

I learned that girls on the streets who wear surgeon masks is to mask face work, not germs or pollution (broad assumption). 

I learned to look in the eye of my receptionist, service staff and colleagues who are she-males with respect and dignity. 

I learned to give, in appreciation for help. 

I learned that there's nowhere like Singapore. Last night on my way home, i saw a homeless man masturbating while lying down under the bridge. I hasten my steps, but from the corners of my eyes, i learned that Asian men's size are not what the jokes say. 

I learned to not bat an eyelid, passing the streets lined up with stalls proudly proclaiming they've the latest porn DVD, displaying the wide range of sexual performance pills and dildos that makes me blush. I learned to operate a pepper spray ($6), an electric taser ($12) and retractable baton but pray i'll never need to use it. 

I learned that Singapore is not real and i needed to see the world. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My Girl Crush

I find myself irrisistably attracted to HER. 

She's always dressed immaculately with her jet black ironed hair, fitted dresses and branded heels. When she wears bright yellow or fiery red instead of her usual sombre monotones, my heart skip a beat. 

Her physical appearance isn't next top model, but she exudes confidence that needs no powder, lipstick or fake eyelashes (but she must need her eyebrows drawn). 

There is a definite candid enamour about her. 

At work, i hold her with high regard for her deft and courageous business decisions and her quick wit in conversations. Her precise but tactful feedback makes meetings constructive. I can't help but eavsdrop on her phone calls many times and i silently chuckle at how adorable she sounds. A softspoken, nursery-rhyme singing woman lies underneath that loud, blunt, agressive exterior. 

Our stars aligned and we went on a business trip overseas together. Through it, i got to know her better. 

She is a married woman with twins, and as she shares her new journey as a mum, i'm furiously taking mental notes of how i'd want to keep my future household in harmony like her. 

She treats her maids (renamed "helpers" these days) with dignity and generousity. When she goes outlet shopping overseas, she gives them each a token allowance so they could get something nice. She doesn't expect the house to be spick and span, doesn't expect the helpers to cook daily, because she knows two newborn babies are double the trouble. 

If her maids are happy, her babies are happy. If her babies are happy, she and her husband are happy. 

Isn't two helpers a tad too much? She isn't living in a sprawling mansion afterall. She refutes, "instead of my parents being frazzled caring for the babies, they can focus on playing with them. I want them to enjoy their grandchildren 100%." An exemplary of not penny wise pound foolish. Also the sacrifice of a mother as she gives up her 3 branded handbags a year to none. 

Then, there is the "child proofing" she ISN'T DOING. She believes curbing a child's misadventure is with education. Even if she can protect her child from falling out of the window, knocking the edge of the table, she will not be able to child-proof all restaurants and friends' homes. 

This post is going to end very abruptly, pardon me, i need to go find the "like" button.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Journey to Shaolin

The love for putting Ip Man, Wong Fei Hong and almost every kind of martial art flick on repeat summoned me to the mysterious island of Shaolin. I'm a martial arts zealot, but i'm not very good at it. Kungfu films were my primary inspiration for learning Judo and Takewando (a far cry, i know).
Backpacking to Shaolin.
Getting There
It took quite abit of research to determine an authentic school at the right place. Almost every school had "Shaolin" on their website, even if their school wasn't located in Shaolin zone. Shaolin, being popular, is used as a marketing keyword. I had to countercheck where the original Shaolin temple is on Maps but even so, i wasn't too sure. Even tour sites that offer packages to the Shaolin temple didn't mention the location of Shaolin. 

The location was very mysterious, but i later confirmed it to be in the Henan province. 
The first statue i saw got me very excited.
I took a chance with Song Shan Kungfu Academy with a non-refundable registration fee of USD 100. It could be a scam as anything fake imaginable can be found in Motherland (like buying fake "legit" medical certificates during the World Cup from but i was willing to take a bet. 
Go Somewhere You've Never Been before
I boarded the 8 hours overnight train (SGD 200, first class, 2 way) from Shanghai to Zheng Zhou with trepedition. Our sleeping cabin for 4 is overcrowded with 6 but we survived with no collasping beds. 

Upon arrival, a school rep greeted us at the station and its another 90 min drive to Defeng, the town where every restaurant has "Kungfu" in its name. 

The Realm of Order

The Shaolin zone is a gated community. Tourists pay an entrance fee to enter the area where they can pay additional fees to visit 

A) Shaolin Temple
B) Kungfu performance theatre
C) Cable car ride to Mountain A with Four Flavours of Water Temple 
D) Cable car ride to Mountain B with dangerous looking bridge
E) Dalai Lama Cave where he spent meditating 9 years in
There's a temple up the mountains in the Shaolin zone that has 4 natural wells with 4 different tastes!
Sweet, sour, bitter and spicy.
Co-existing with these tourist attractions are dozens of kungfu academies. Song Shan Kungfu Academy is at the foot of Mount Song and is near the original Shaolin Temple. I'm relieved to find it for real. 
In the Shaolin temple, you'll find this ancient tree where the holes in the tree were supposedly created by warrior monks practicing! In some temple halls, you will find depression in the floor, also created by training monks.
This huge pot was what the head monk used to stir-fry vegetables UPSIDE DOWN.

Enroute to my kungfu school, i passed the training grounds of some 30,000 local children. Small to large groups of children were seen training in various pockets of land. The teenagers training for military service were either topless or dressed in exercise sweats. The children in independant schools wore the robes of warrior monks. 
Check out the boys' stretching warm-up.
See a back flip? Kungfu training against a picturesque backdrop of the Song mountains.
Children were seen somersaulting through the air and bending backwards. Their shaven heads bobbing up and down as they train relentlessly under the sun,  practicing stunts off wooden structures and running day to night. Its like walking into a kungfu film set

No wonder Westerners think all Chinese know kungfu. Damn, 30, 000 people practising kungfu at one time? That's pretty representative of all Chinese.

Even in a Shanghai park, we saw unsuspecting old men practicing "defensive" Taiji. Slow defensive strokes turned offensive. 

The Chinese martial arts is representative of highly varied martial systems that are somewhat difficult to trace. This is something that sets the Chinese arts apart from the majority of martial arts systemswhere a clearer lineage is often known.

Living Spartan
We arrived at kungfu school and were shown to our room. A time schedule written with calligraphy on aged paper was plastered on the wall. I felt like i've transported back in time. 

Maroon sheets on twin beds, a small but clean room, this is going to be our resting place for the week. We later found ourselves hardly wanting to stay in the room at all because the bathroom emits a smell. Thankfully, the smell is bearable. 
In a Chinese village in the countryside, we wouldn't have any better options. The accomodation draws water from a nearby pump, thus resource is limited. 

One evening, i was bathing with a trickle of water before it spluttered and died. There i was, shampoo in my eye and body slippery, i had to call for help to deliver mineral water from the bottle. Mindful of water conservation, as it means going down the hill and lugging back 5 gallons of drinking water, i wiped soap off myself with a wet towel.  Its the first time i slept with shampoo reminants in my hair. 

There is also no hot water but it was summer so cold showers were welcomed. However, it rained 2 days while i was there and i swear i wasn't aroused despite my body parts looking like it. 

I didn't dare take a dump in my unreliable room toilet. Sometimes it flushes, sometimes it doesn't. I wasn't going to take that risk. 

Most of the time, we were dirty and constipated. 

Meal times were what i looked forward the most. Although the variety is not extensive, i was enjoying every meal. Can't say for those students who stay more than a month (imagine eating the same hotel buffet every day) but they said its the best they've tasted compared to other kungfu schools around China. 
Students checking out the offer.
You learn to be very "Chinese" during meal times. Don't be the last to the table or there'll be scraps or worse, nothing left. The chefs are afterall feeding famished students who trained kungfu-ly hard. After my first meal, i wisen up to be at the canteen 3 mins before meal hour. 
Don't the chefs look out of the movie God of Cookery?
Everyday, breakfast is freshly-made Chinese pancakes with a sprinkling of carrots and chives that tasted pretty plain like pita. Some students hold their own bottle of honey as a spread and share it around. I bet a jar of Nutella could get in return some serious favours...
Raw cucumbers and carrots with hard boiled eggs were also supplied. What's unique is the school concocts their own protein shakes (made of beans) for students! Every morning, we get a different mixture and we drink them from a bowl like ancient kungfu pugilists do in teahouses. 
Lunch and dinner is purple-grained bean rice with 3 hot vegetarian dishes (1 has chicken) and a cold vegetarian dish. Other than the occassional treat of thinly sliced potato fried like chips, there is no other junk food. 

An indulgence would be walking down the hill in the evening to the little shops for an ice-cream. There was even a makeshift stall selling bubble-tea by kids! I was tempted, but remembered toilets were not condusive. I even bought "FEIYUE kungfu shoes" from the shops for only USD 2!!

In the evenings, its nice to take a stroll outside the school as we watch the local children being whipped into perfect pugilists. "They run the hell out of them", our school secretary said. These children as young as 3 are placed here by their parents either to toughen them up, or hoping they become a star like Jet Li or make a future living as a performer. I saw only 2 little girls out of the hundreds of boys. I was mesmerized by the little children, what discipline and perfect form they had. 
Teenagers were slapping sacks furiously with their hand like a karate chop, we joked they should open a Shaolin bakery where sacks are dough. That'll kill two birds with one stone! 

We had wanted to pay for tickets to watch a kungfu performance at the Shaolin performing theatre but was told peeping into local schools is better. Indeed its better as its raw, real and awesome but on hindsight, watching an inexpensive performance would have been breath-taking too!

The Characters
I never would have thought but enrolling into a Shaolin kungfu academy could be rehab for some. I look up with admiration by these individuals who could 
1) openly acknowledge their alcohol, smoking, drugs and abusive relationship issues
2) seek to save themselves as no one else can
3) commit to a totally different culture and lifestyle semi-permanently

Most came with martial arts background, one was a gymnastic performer onboard a cruise, one a dance cheographer and a 14 year old who is a descendent of the Spartans! The Maniot started Karate at 7 and initially wanted to experience Karate at its birthplace, Japan, but later changed his mind to learn something different. He got his parent's blessing (and money) and flew in from Dubai. 
Most students are relatively youthful, with the youngest ever being a Western girl aged 9 and the oldest in their late 40s. The 9 year old girl hopes to take a year off school to return for a year long training! It reinforced my thought to inculcate my children in martial arts. 

There were 4 Russian children, aged 12 and below, in my kungfu cohort. They were mischievous as kids are. Their parents sent them to China for "summer Shaolin camp", hoping to instill discipline and appreciation by stripping them from tablets, mobiles and the luxuries of city life. The boys remained naughty still in their first two weeks, vandalising furniture and disturbing lessons but hopefully over time it'll change. They led a simple life and strict regime like the adults do, no excuses. 

Heads of students don't need to be shaved, but many do because of the heat and/or as a symbol of removing vanity from life. As i left the school, i overheard a potential punishment to the mischievous boys was to shave their heads. 

People from all corners of the world, come together, to train, to laugh, to learn. 

Sweat, Sand and Poop
The school has a schedule and discipline is metted out to those who disobey. Punishments start from 100 push-ups for not being punctual. We start the day at 5.30am with non-religious meditation to prepare mentally for what comes physically. We collect a cushion, close our eyes and sit cross legged. Some sneaky students like me, will use this 30 mins to continue their dreams sitting upright. As long as you don't start snoring, you'll go undetected. 

At 6am, we start cultivating our Qi with Qigong and Taiji. 
At 7, we break bread, or rather, chinese pancakes. 

We resume training from 8.30 to 11.30. This time would be used for power stretching, practicing kungfu forms and weapons. We rest for lunch at noon before resuming afternoon training at 4.30 till the evening. 
Horsing around.
Training can be customised to each individual's objective. Longer stay students can pick a form to perfect (drunken fist, praying mantis, tiger, crane and more) 

There's alot of fun in body conditioning training too! Like acrobatics and more. 
Its not all about kungfu as each afternoon has informal cultural lessons like calligraphy, mandarin, tea appreciation and the likes. 
The schedule for Mon to Fri is different but it repeats weekly. Every Friday, we climb a thousand steps to Dalai Lama's cave X 4 times. 

Famous Last Words
I've never been healthier; in bed by 9.30pm for an early rise. Simple food never tasted better; despite it being vegetarian. Body never more leaner; a total cleanse and detox without skinnymint, teatox, nakedjuice and other cheesy names. 

Inspired by the people who came, all with one purpose, to be introduced to the world of Shaolin. The whole experience was not a walk in a film park, my body ached and it took alot of perserverance but it was living a life tailored for a Hollywood film. 

Unassuming characters from all walks of life and martial arts discipline came to the mountains around the Shaolin Temple to study kungfu from a “real kungfu master”. Shi Yan Jun is the disciple of the 34th abbot, who could teach us the pure, unadulterated Shaolin martial art.

We snuck into the Shaolin Temple in our warrior monk robes and learned history of how the temple was destroyed in a heist ordered by the Emperor, witnessed evidence of the existence of kungfu monks. 

Master Shi shared that Shaolin never wanted to pass on the knowledge of art to the Western world but he hopes to make the art live longer. He and the Taiji master resembled those from an ancient Kungfu movie. Shaven heads, cherubic faces and a really long white beard invites confessions. Their demeanor non-judgmental, soft and tolerant. They personify Chinese martial values. 
ok, slippers not part of the kungfu outfit

We left in excellent shape. Shifting from horse stance to bow stance in a flash, our punches and kicks carry the sound of wind on robe. 

As Dalai Lama said, "Go somewhere you've never been before". 
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