Friday, January 30, 2009

Learning to tell time

Some mummies were talking about different ways of teaching kids how to tell time. I only managed to dig up this game I bought a couple of years ago when I did my CNY spring-cleaning recently.

These are 12-sided dice, the red die has the numbers 1 to 12 for the hour hand and the blue die the numbers 00 to 55 in intervals of 5 for the minute hand. So all you've gotta do is roll the dice and then you move the hour and minute hands to the correct places. I can't remember if there were written instructions with ways to make the game more interesting, but this was how we "played" with the clock.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pictures from Izmailova Market

Izmailova market is a huge craft/souvenir market and that's where Lynn, May and I headed for. It's a major tourist attraction, well, actually, this place attracts both tourists and locals. On Wednesdays, wholesalers gather here to hawk their ware and prices are said to be lower than on regular days. I wouldn't know, cos I didn't buy anything. I saw only one thing I really liked, a smallish (half A4 size) lacquer-box depicting St Basil's Cathedral, and it was US$400! Fegeddit-la.

Here are some pictures I took.

Ghzel Porcelain

Khokhloma Wood Handicraft

Lacquered Eggs

Porcelain Dolls and Wall Masks

Faberge Eggs

Matryoshka Dolls

It started snowing lightly after an hour and we quickly headed for lunch at Thai-Thai (No. 4 Pokrovka St) in Kitay Gorod (good Pad Thai, not so good Tomyamgoong), followed by 4 hours of $-less mahjong (training for Lynn) at May's place. Alexey picked the boys up from school and drove them over. We then arranged to meet the guys after work at Korston Hotel for a sumptious dinner at everyone's favourite Korean restaurant.

Monday, January 26, 2009



Woke up well-rested to face the Year of the Ox, also the year our family ox turns 12. The plan was to head for Eugene & May's (aka as the Laws) for lunch followed by mahjong till dinner when we'll head for Druzba, a Chinese restaurant in the city. Brian's shirt was a new one we bought the last time we were in KL, I still can't remember when; I was just glad I found something new for him. Sean's supercool superman tee we bought when we were in KK early this month. My lucky red top is new in that I've never worn it, cos I never liked the cut...but I bought this at least 2 years ago in London. Eddie's shirt is newly bought on our last trip back but he wore it once on flight.

Wearing red helped and I was the sole winner for mahjong today. Hehe, had 3 limits and won $56; it's not much but considering our stakes aren't high (limit of 6-tais pays $24 for self-pick), it was a good haul. The best was the last game we played just before leaving for dinner...Pulled the last white board (pek pan) for a limit game, wooo hoooo. Nothing beats that feeling. We have plans for more mahjong in the weeks to come as the Laws are leaving for their next posting in Paris come March, they are our only mahjong kakis here. So here's hoping my good run continues.

Roy, Lynn and Zoe joined us at Druzba for CNY dinner. The dishes aren't quite familiar to me, but it was really just too much food again. A lot of fun and a lot of laughter over too much food after a good mahjong win made this a pretty good CNY for me.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Reunion Dinner 2009

Backpost: Aaargghhh...woke up on CNY eve with a mild hangover. Was planning to cook lunch but it was past 10am when I dragged myself out of bed. Ended up having leftover beehoon from last night. I knew I still had to cook dinner although I really didn't feel up to it, don't ask my why I feel the need to, I'm very traditional that way.

Eugene and May decided to come over at about 3pm and that perked me up cos we got to play mahjong. Managed to prepare the food, soy sauce whole chicken, steamed fish, brocolli and steamed prawns while playing. In all, we played 2 rounds, before and after dinner. I thought the food tasted terrible, cos really, the heart just wasn't in it. But at least I got it done.

Was a pretty slow game today, and I ended up winning just $2.40 after subsidising Eddie's loss. May subsidised Eugene's losses so it was Ladies' Night. Was so pooped after mahjong but quickly mopped the floor and washed my hair before New Year arrived. Unlike last year though, I couldn't stay up past midnight to usher in the Ox, and was knocked out by 1130pm.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Reunion Dinner 2009 (Eve)


Went to Roy & Lynn's (Singaporeans working with Citibank here) for early reunion dinner today (Saturday). Reason for not having the do on Sunday night? Cos the jiu kuis (alcoholics) wanted to drink till they dropped and Monday was a workday for them.

Our fellow SQers Eugene and May had just flown in to Moscow this morning, so we were pampered with roast duck, ngor hiang (by May's mum), crab and enoki, specially flown in from Singapore. Lynn prepared scallops, beef, fishballs, dumplings for the steamboat while I contributed bee hoon and raw prawns. Also joining us were Alan (from Citibank) and Zoe (SQ).

And as usual when at Roy & Lynn's, we all overdid the eating AND the drinking. Had to stuff ourselves silly cos Roy wouldn't let anyone leave the table till all the food was gone. Fabulous food and crazy company, so everyone had a great time. I just wished it had been on the real Reunion night so I wouldn't have to cook tomorrow. The lazy Rat is winding down for the year, you see.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Am I a Key?

Monica asks in her latest post if you are a Key. She writes:

"Parents who are keys often appear to be loving parents because they dote on their kids, wait on them hand and foot, and meet their every need (and more). I have seen teenagers who've never taken the bus on their own, who recklessly squander their parents' money, who wouldn't be able to iron a handkerchief if their lives depended on it.

Beneath the veneer of what these parents call love, I believe is a deeper issue - one of insecurity. Whether conscious or sub-conscious, raising dependent children reflects on parents' more insidious fears that they will one day not be needed, so they strive to be indispensable in their kids' lives." I a Key? Well, no daughters so don't have to be a Key to lock them up :P

I am a Key in one area...worrying about PSLE and DSA, that's it. If there weren't these two guillotine blades hanging over my head, I wouldn't have anything to actually fret about. I would actually be...GASP!...dispensable. Thank God for PSLE?!!

But in all other areas, I don't think I am a Key at all. When I still had to feed Sean, you should see how impatient I was, scolding him at mealtimes for taking too long, and telling him how 3-year olds could already eat by themselves, AND with chopsticks too!

Brian has been doing stuff for himself and helping his brother for years now. But Sean has become very independent too. Since Sean started happily eating a big plate of food by himself every meal, my role has been reduced to being my kids' favourite chef. In the evenings, when he's tired, he says good night and tucks himself to bed while the rest of us continue doing whatever we're doing. He's the first to wake up every morning. This morning, he brushed his teeth, prepared his breakfast of jam and bread with milk, changed into layers of winter clothing, gloves and winter boots, and he's all set for school. This would never happen if my Mum, definitely a Key, were still taking care of them. I remember my maid was still helping to change Brian into his uniform when he was in Primary 1.

The boys still don't make their bed or tidy up their room daily, and I don't do that for them either. So it helps that I'm not fastidious about having a tip top home. But when my mood strikes, or when we're having guests, I will order, "Clean up in 5 minutes, anything not in its place gets thrown out." You should see how fast they scurry. I have to admit, they are much better at tidying up than I am.

I don't hang around in school to find out if they have friends or not, or if they're being bullied. If there's a problem, I presume they'll settle it themselves and only tell me if they can't. Rest assured though if there is a problem, the protective Mother Hen in me will be there to take care of it. My kids know I am on their side always and will be there for them when they need me, but they don't need me hovering and watching over them all the time.

When Brian was still a tot, we were at my friend's house one day, and he fell on their marble floor. Instantaneously, I see my friend and her husband rushing towards him, and I think that frightened him more than his fall did, so he started bawling, when he would normally just pick himself up without so much as an ouch. Aiyoh, I told them to just leave him be; I will know if he requires attention.

We can't be running after our kids for every little bump they encounter, and that applies to all other bumps in life when they're no longer tots. The hardest part of being a parent must be letting go and seeing our kids get hurt, but we've all gone through hurt and rejection, and we're still in one piece. So they'll be fine. Really. REALLY. You a Key? :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Start of ice-skating season

Ice-skating PE lessons started today after we returned from our winter break. Sean's still tumbling all over the place but he made progress towards the end of today's lesson.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Fatty Fatty Father

On Friday evening, Eddie comes home, immediately heads for Sean, and in mock anger, goes, "Where's Seanie boy? I'm gonna smack his backside! You know what he did this morning?"

Brian and I keeled over in laughter when we heard what happened.

Right after morning drop-off in class, Eddie hears Sean making conversation with a friend while hanging up his coat.

In a voice loud enough for everyone (incl teachers and other parents) to hear, he said, matter-of-factly, "Philip, you know, my father is verrrry fat. He's even fatter than Santa Claus."

Ed couldn't get away from school fast enough! Fat guys can be fast :)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Let's Discuss Outliers: On 10k hours to mastery

Am reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success and finding it extremely intriguing. Getting stuck 3/4 way through as he seems to be meandering. There are a few very interesting notions he put across though: The 10000-hour rule is one of them.

He says that 10000 hours is the magic number for greatness: a study "couldn't find any "naturals", musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practising a fraction of the time their peers did. Nor could they find any "grinds", people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn't have what it takes to break the top ranks."

"The people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder."

In another part of his book, Gladwell argues that you need a certain level of competency/IQ, but beyond that it is this 10000-hour rule that determines great achievements. This works out to daily practice of about 3 hours for 10 years.

My friend May whose son plays piano beautifully, tells me he has been practising daily for hours since he was about 3. He's now 12, and he wins competitions even when pitted against Russian children who attend music school every day. She doesn't think he is exceptionally gifted, she attributes his success to plain, hard work. Even on holidays, she brings along a keyboard for the boys to practise on. Daily, without fail, all year long, practise, practise, practise. They miss school pretty regularly to take part in competitions and to perform at concerts. The school isn't too happy about this, but May is focused! Piano comes first!

I also know that my friend's son, a math prodigy, works extremely hard at Math(and enjoys it) for hours each day. He wins competitions aimed at kids much older than he is. I think he would have gone further in Math had it not been for other distractions such as PSLE preparations. Thankfully, his mom is a great advocate for him and he has been able to thrive while working within the Singapore education system.

Some of us have been talking about why Singapore is able to produce "great" world-class results when it comes to test-taking amongst children, yet there are precious few "greats" when it comes to the real world. Could it be that Singapore kids are spending their 10000 hours working on scoring at tests? In the real world, there aren't tests to be taken. How many musical, chess, sport talents have chosen to practise that few hours less each day, just to focus on mock test-papers during exam period. Didn't one of last year's high PSLE scorers say she stopped piano practise/lessons for the few months before PSLE?

IF Gladwell's theory is right (and I'm not saying it is); IF it is, Singapore is training its kids to be great test-takers, assessment book writers, and exam paper setters. Discuss!