Birds In Our Brains

We decided to visit Jurong Bird Park.

I have absolutely no idea why but it had been a very long time since we last visited the Bird Park. While the Singapore Zoo has been more accessible than Jurong Bird Park, we had always preferred the bird park over the zoo. And that was even before we had our own bird for a pet. Now that we have been living with a green-cheeked conure for the past few months, birds have grown on us more than we ever expected.

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The bird park has not really changed much as far as we can tell. The only real big change is the addition of two Philippine Eagles. Two of the now critically endangered Philippine Monkey-Eating Eagles. Technically, they don’t solely eat monkeys and hence have been renamed to simply the Philippine Eagle. A fun fact is that these are one of the largest eagles in the world. A not-so-fun fact is that there are only about 800 left in the wild. This is also the first time that the Philippines has loaned the beasts to be cared for outside of the country in a bid to protect the species from extinction should their population fall from their home country. Honestly, this was the first time that we have seen these birds up close. And even though they were perched high up in their large enclosures, they were still a marvel to look at.

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We took in the rest of the bird park with a healthy banter. We re-lived the days that we were here more often (usually when we bring visitors around). And it was fun thinking back and remembering those days. It was becoming fewer and fewer, but we still try and make the most of the days that we are given. We even watched the High Flyers Show at the Pools Amphitheatre which featured semi-domesticated birds. As the trainers themselves said, the birds are trained but they are not tame.

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Being new bird-people, we spent more time at Parrot Paradise than anywhere else at the park. We probably went around the area twice just to see all the parrots. Our turquoise green-cheeked conure is of the parrot family and you can tell the resemblance with nearly all of the species at the park. Except maybe for the size. After a while having the conure, we are inclined to believe that we have received a midget of a bird. It just seemed smaller than other conures that we have seen.

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The trip to the bird park was fun. Apart from getting re-acquainted with the park and its avian company, it felt good remembering the good old days. We are only getting older and only the memories we bring back will trigger the thoughts and feelings that we had back in the days. I think perhaps a trip to other places that we frequented would be a good idea too.

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Getting Back Up By Letting Them Work

I was planning on going on a sabbatical. But I didn’t really know what that meant, so I decided to just wing it. I’d like to think that I’m better now at what I do, but I don’t really want to think about it anymore. So, I’m just going to move forward.

I’ve changed. Not a lot. But I think I have changed enough after moping about for what felt like an eternity. I think I’m doing good. Or at least, better.

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The June holidays left us with a math project that involves shapes. Lots of shapes. And it has something to do with surface areas and volumes of cuboids and cylinders. And then some. It would have been an easy project to do since I’ve had experience building things out of scrap before. Cuboids and cylinders from recycled cardboard would be a cinch. But there was a catch. The math project required group work. Group work where Matthew had been chosen as the leader. And the members aren’t the most eager bunch to do any work. Obviously, being group work means that they would have to do the work. And that’s difficult for me because I don’t know their style of work, unlike how I know how Matthew works. This proved to be true as work wasn’t done until the 11th hour of the project.

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We managed to finish it somehow. There were definitely setbacks. There were lots of arguing. There were lots of pushing and finger-pointing. And that was to be expected I guess. This bunch are not the most reliable when given a task. They are more than capable of doing the task, there is no doubt about that. But doing the task on time is not one of their strong points. These are still kids. All they want to do is have fun. I believe that is what they should be doing, having fun. But the school system says otherwise. And unfortunately, they are governed by the school system. And that means they have to do what the system says until they are confident enough to walk away and live a life all their own.

The Singapore Bicentennial Experience

Singapore is 54 years old this 2019. 54 years as a country of independence.

The Bicentennial hopes to cover more than 700 years of Singapore’s history. While Sir Stamford Raffles arrived and paved the way for modern Singapore in 1819, Singapore had already been on a journey more than 500 years before that. Those 500 years shaped some of the founding traits that Singapore is proud of such as openness, multiculturalism, and self-determination. As such, getting the chance to experience the Singapore Bicentennial at Fort Canning Park was a big thing. Seeing as how frustrated some people had gotten due to the rather hit-or-miss when booking for tickets online.

The Bicentennial Experience at Fort Canning Park was a great way to have a glimpse at Singapore’s more than 700 years of history. The Experience itself is divided into two main parts, the Time Traveler and The Pathfinder.

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The Time Traveler takes you on a journey through Beginnings where Singapura was under the rule of Sang Nila Utama and his successors. Singapore continued to evolve and despite the challenges that she faced lived through until the Arrival of the British. This occupation became a turning point in Singapore’s history and helped pave the way to what we know of Singapore now. Connectivity shows us around the development of Singapore through 19th-century inventions, the evolution of physical infrastructure, as well as the advent of new ideas of identity and belonging. With the Occupation of Japan during World War II, Singapore came to a standstill and a time of reflection as to their state of dependence. This gave rise to the story of how Singapore came to gain independence through the efforts of the late Lee Kuan Yew in Destiny.

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The visual and aural journey of the Time Traveler can only be described as amazing. It’s no surprise though, Singapore is no stranger to modern visual effects and art. But you really need to experience it to even get an idea of how it feels. The 5 acts differ in both presentation and experience and you will never feel that you are just experiencing the same thing over and over again.

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The Pathfinder, on the other hand, is a free-range of activities that are presented in pavilions just outside the centre (but still within Fort Canning). You are free to take in as little or as much as you want by giving yourself time to wander about. Unlike the Time Traveler where all the acts are timed, The Pathfinder allows you to immerse yourself in whichever pavilion you would like to spend time in. Our favourites had been the Lookout, Reflections of our Past, the Seed Conservatory, and the Observatory. There is also a Food Pavilion just outside of the event space where you can enjoy some local food. But it’s not really that great. You’d honestly be better off making your way to an actual Hawker Center for your grub. Of course, you would still be doing yourself a favour by getting a bite to eat as it can get pretty warm outside.

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Overall, it is great if you can get your hands on tickets to the show. Otherwise, the free exhibition such as the Pathfinder is also a good place to experience a bit of Singapore’s history. Plus, the Fort Canning grounds are just there for you to enjoy as well. There are other Bicentennial events happening around the island. More information can be taken here: https://www.bicentennial.sg.

Enjoy!

Decide on Acceptance

Acceptance. We all need it. And yet we still take it for granted.

Most have probably heard or read this prayer before:

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
Courage to change the things I can,
And Wisdom to know the difference.

It is a prayer that is both familiar and distant at the same time. Maybe because I have heard it so many times but have not actually looked deep enough to use it in my life. Sure, maybe once or twice I decided to take up this prayer and have lived with that decision for a time. But I doubt that I have ever really gone to lengths to embrace it.

Why now?
After the rude awakening on Father’s Day, I decided to look at myself in the mirror and figure a few things out.

Matthew had always been a good person. We raised him to be nice to people, to be respectful, to be kind, to be generous, to be humble. And he had been, for the most part of his life. And deep inside, he still is.

But why isn’t all that good coming out? Why is it being suppressed at a subconscious level? What happened?

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More and more questions actually pop up than I find answers to. But I think it is for the best. In order to make sense of my world as it is now, I need to understand more of what is happening around me, rather than just what is happening with me. And this is where the serenity prayer comes in. By looking and learning, I hope to see the things that when changed, will make me a better person. I hope to find out what it is that will bring Matthew back to his natural, kind, fun-loving, positive-thinking, generous, and all-loving self again. And for better or worse, I would need to accept the reality that will come out of this.

I guess have my work cut out for me.

What A Day

My Sad Keanu interpretation

My Father’s Day gift this year was being slapped in the face that I have not been a good father (or just not good enough).

Ouch. Reflection follows.

When I started the journey into fatherhood more than 13 years ago, I promised myself that I would be the best father that I could be. I had ideologies, I had dreams, I had plans, I had quite a lot in mind, to be honest. That was thirteen years in the making. And then a brick wall hit me. When you hit a wall, you become dazed and confused. You stop for a while and get your head back on straight. Or at least you try to. Looking back at those thirteen years I have to admit that it hadn’t really been smooth as the journey in my dreams. There were things that I know I should have done differently. There are things that I should have said differently. There are decisions that I should have made differently. Not going into the mumbo-jumbo of time-travel and alternate universes, it could have made a difference in how I am now. I can’t say how much of a difference, but it would have made one.

Breaking things down, one of the things that I regret the most is showing Matthew how I lose my temper. I am very bad at this. Unfortunately, this is one thing that I can no longer undo. This is also one thing that he seems to have gotten from me and it is utterly frustrating being stuck between calming down and flaming up when both of us are doing the same thing. It’s like a Dragon Ball Z fight.

The next thing is actually one that may have been a by-product of my temper outburst. I thought that I would not come to the point that I would need to shout at Matthew. But it did. It was becoming harder and harder to get him to stop and listen. It had gotten to the point that I would be shouting because of frustration and even though I know that I shouldn’t, I could not get myself to stop.

I also told myself that I would do my best not to curse in front of Matthew because I get really disappointed when I hear young kids shouting expletives that they may not even understand. There are places and people that they hear these, and parents should not be one of them. Again, this is where I have failed when I have been taken over by my temper.

Spare the rod and spoil the child is a term that has been thrown around from generations ago. I did not want to ever reach this point in my fatherhood. But I crossed that line. At the boiling point, I have gotten to slap Matthew on his bums. Not a lot of times, but I didn’t think I would need to do it. Another case of an unfortunate event.

Whenever I realised that I had done any of the things that I wish I didn’t do, I would try and go into a calmer state (believe me, this is easier said than done) and try to douse the fires that have been set. I would do my best to explain what had happened and why I had done some of the things that I had done. I would break down what he had done that had gotten me to act the way that I did. I would explain why I shouldn’t have done what I had done and especially why he shouldn’t do what I did.

And I apologize.

It wasn’t like this when we were younger. In fact, it wasn’t like this until he had gone to school. It started probably somewhere between primary four and primary five. It had become a journey that went in and out of bad experiences which had affected us in a way we didn’t expect. There are things that Matthew does that has already become an instant trigger to my frustrations. And no matter how many times I have talked to him about it, he would still go on and do them, seemingly without a care in the world. I try to avoid it as best as I can because I am really tired of telling him off again and again. It’s fair enough when he does these things to me, but they become hairline triggers when he does it to his mum when I am around. And I just explode.

So I guess I have not been the good father that I thought I would be. It’s harder than I thought. This is definitely not turning out to be the happy, ever-laughing, and ideal parenting blog that I initially thought it would be. And that’s fine with me now. I realised that life isn’t all about the fun and the laughter. It comes drizzled with sadness and frustration as well that should not be ignored. This is a realisation. A reflection. No, I have not been the ideal father. And you can’t create a new account and start all over. You can only learn from your mistakes and pick up the pieces and hope that you can turn things around while there is still time.

Matthew is a good person. I don’t doubt that one bit. He just needs to realise that he has the potential to change the world. I guess that means me too. This is not a reboot, but a sequel. Welcome to fatherhood season 13.

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Technology Rules

There is no denying that this generation is living on tech. As parents with teenagers, we are responsible for keeping the balance of usage and abuse of these devices. Our children are exposed to a world that is cunning and ruthless. If we do not teach our children how to take care of themselves using devices such as mobile smartphones and computers, we are exposing them to different types of dangers. I now have a teenager. I can no longer play watchdog and neither would I want to be just one. Instead, I would like to teach my teenager how to take care of himself when out and about. Believe me, this is easier said than done when it comes to Matthew. But we have to start somewhere and we have to start as early as possible.

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Thankfully, working in IT has not deprived me of the information needed to keep my knowledge up to date. It is not simply knowing which computer or which smartphone to buy. It is not simply about which operating system or which antivirus software to choose. As parents, we need to let our children know about the things that could happen out there if they aren’t careful. Sure, Matthew is not trading real money online on apps nor is he doing any online betting or gambling but that doesn’t mean he isn’t exposed to them.

Don’t be surprised if your young adults know more about things like these than you do. In fact, you should expect that at some point. Right now, I am still in a position to keep an eye out for my family. I do my best to secure our home computers with basic cyber-security. I do not hold any super secret data from government organizations so I don’t think I would be on the radar of cyber-attacks. But you can never go wrong with being prepared. In fact, being paranoid may be a better term but I will leave that for another discussion.

That is security at home. But what about when they are not at home. Matthew spends an average of 6 hours in school. Those are 6 hours that he is vulnerable to cyber-attacks while he is on his own. He is currently aware that his smartphone is being monitored by a parenting app. I made it a point to let him know this because trust and privacy go both ways. I always talk to him about being safe online. During my youth, my mum would tell me never to talk to strangers or go with strangers or take anything from strangers. It is as true today as it did back then. Except now, there is an added advice of being wary of online strangers. This is a sad but real truth. Matthew plays games on his phone, on the computer and on a game console. All of these are connected to the Internet because manufacturers and game developers require most of their products to be connected in order to work. I have always seen this as a threat and as an invasion of privacy but you can’t really contain this for long unless you become a hermit. So education and stern warnings are normal between myself and Matthew. I am allowing him to play online games like Roblox. And yes, I am aware of these stern warnings from a parent that played the game and having encountered a less than ideal experience. I won’t deny that it is possible. But I have been playing games online and have never encountered any such activity. And as far as I am aware, neither has Matthew. Again, I’m not saying that it didn’t happen. I’m just saying, it hasn’t happened to us. As a parent, you are allowed to protect your child. Rather, it is your responsibility to protect your child from abuse. But do it in a way that works for both you and your child. Don’t take away something just because of a viral post that you read on social media. Do your own research and then make your own decision.

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The parenting app that I use is only secondary. It is still the rules that we have set and agreed on as a family that takes precedence over things. We talk about the consequences of action and inaction on Matthew’s part and agree on the appropriate responses. In fact, he would sometimes offer that he gets grounded when he knows that he has done something that we would not be happy with. One of the rules that we have is that there should be no mobile phones/tablets in the bedroom. If you want to use your mobile, you are free to do so in the living room. This rule also applies when we are seated at the dining table and that is regardless if it is in the house or if we are eating out. No electronic devices at the table, period. Of course, it is not as smooth as everyone would like it to be. He would have excuses every now and then, but that is usually followed up with talk about the consequences. It goes full circle. Hopefully, he gets to keep it stuck in his head more. I have also warned him of using his mobile phone while walking which is something I frown on especially when grown-ups are up and about doing it. Look where you are going first. It’s very likely that whatever it is these people are staring at on their devices can actually wait until they are stationary.

It has never been foolproof. And there will always be loopholes here and there. But with ground rules, it at least becomes easier to manage. Prevention is always better than cure. And yes, maybe a little paranoia helps once in a while.

When Pets Leave Us

We are no stranger to pets passing away. And it’s not because they are neglected, but more because of our choice of pet. Living in Singapore is proving to be difficult for us to live with a dog. It comes with additional responsibilities that we didn’t have to worry about back in the Philippines. We don’t have a backyard to keep a dog in and living in shared apartment buildings means you are limited in the size and number of dogs you can own. Add the fact that we can’t leave a dog behind for extended periods of time when we decide to go on vacation and you have yourself a member of the family being housed in their own “pet hotel”. So we stuck with a hamster.

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Hamsters are small and easily managed. They don’t take up a lot of space and when we go on a vacation, we can just carry them over to our friend’s house for sitting. Sure, you have overheads like food, bedding, treats, and the occasional trip to the vet, but that is no different than having a dog. In the years that we have been here, we have had six hamsters in the family. All of them have become small and fluffy companions to all of us in the home. Alas, our last hamster passed away in May. During the last few days of his life, we were already expecting him to leave us due to his age. As such, Matthew had prepared a casket for him and we were sure that we wouldn’t be caught by surprise like the others. And when he passed, we buried him properly and sent him off with a prayer.

What I didn’t know, or maybe I didn’t want to believe during those times was how the death of a pet affected children. My wife and I are already grown up, we feel sad when a pet passes. But we cope and we move on. I thought that was just, you know, normal. As my wife pointed out to me though, it had a profound effect on Matthew.

I have to admit, I had not been very good at helping my son deal with the loss of our pets. Because of the reason I mentioned above, I was coping. And I thought that he would cope with it as well. Apparently, at age 7, he does not cope so well. He went through some difficult times more than once and I thought I was there for him. But it was not enough and it was already too far back to rectify. So when our last hamster passed away, I made sure that I was more sensitive to his needs. It may not be enough to heal him from his past experiences, but I’m hoping that he does manage to cope better as long as I become more aware of their needs.

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My Last Day

I was looking through tons of archives on my computer and I found a blog entry that I did not get to publish. And it struck a chord in me once again. Here is a blog entry from 2017.


It was not one of those nights. Somehow, something was amiss. And it wasn’t something as simple as forgetting to brush your teeth or drinking a glass of milk. It was the fear of dying.

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Even before Steve Jobs delivered his Harvard speech, I have already asked myself the question he asked himself. “If today was my last day, would I do what I would be doing now?”. It wasn’t his metaphor, it was a reality. The fact that one realizes that is the catalyst for change. But sometimes, some people just don’t care.

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That night, I prayed that I am given one more day to give to Matthew, to Judy and anybody else who might need me. And this morning, I gave Him thanks for giving me this one more day. Tonight, and every night hereafter, this would be my prayer. Until such time that nobody needs me anymore.

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For some reason though, Matthew was holding my hand as he fell asleep. He had his hand wrapped around mine. He’s never done that in a long while. I used to hold his hand when he was younger and he couldn’t fall asleep. But this time he held mine. He is special (we have always believed that he is), I may never know to what extent, but he is special. And I will be forever grateful for being blessed with very special people (there are too many to mention, but I promise, I will make a list).

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Until my last day then. Express your love to the people you care about. Make amends to the people you’ve hurt and those who have hurt you. Seize the day, make it yours, make it worth the time.

Down the Rabbit Hole

The Singapore ArtScience Museum has recently launched a new exhibition involving a rabbit, a mad hatter, and a girl named Alice. Wonderland is an interactive exhibition running from 13 April through to 22 September 2019. And it has been a while since an interactive exhibition has gotten us interested and excited. Thankfully, Wonderland does not disappoint. Well, maybe it’s a bit too short, but that’s it.

Our journey began with a very long queue. Ys, this is what happens when you go to an anticipated exhibition near the dates that it has just started. On the other hand, you would probably see most of the exhibition in prime condition before wear and tear has a chance to wear it all down. But, I digress. We were given the Lost Map of Wonderland while we were on the queue and these maps were registered on the system before you follow Alice. Each map follows a character from Wonderland, the Queen, the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, and the Cheshire Cat and they each have their own unique artwork to find.

Right off the bat, you are given a choice to use the normal door, or a shrunken door just like in the book/film. Of course, we took the small door. It’s perfect for small kids but a bit of a squeeze for bigger kids (like, adults). And from there, your adventure begins as you follow Alice through her adventures in Wonderland. Actually, you would be following several adventures seeing as there have been over 40 films, over 30 television programs, pop-culture references in books, music, video games, and even fashion. So, if you venture forth, follow your map and learn more about the world of Alice and the various interpretations of her adventures.

The Hallway of Doors is where we began our journey. Quite a few doors were around and each one holding bits and pieces of the tale of Alice. Behind the doors are concept art, manuscripts, drawings, and more inspiring works that have led to the pop-culture icon which is Alice. There is one particularly interesting corner here which is the glass table with the key that Alice works so hard to reach since she had been shrunken down after drinking the potion in the bottle that was labeled, “Drink Me”. Soon after though, we find ourselves in The Pool of Tears. Of course, in the book, this pool was actually created by Alice when she cried so much during the time that she had grown nine feet tall. This room houses early image projectors that were called magic lanterns. Think of it as early animation techniques. And through those technologies, Alice made her appearances in film with better special effects as the years moved forward. The Looking Glass House takes us deeper into the special effects that were used on the olden day films of Alice and eventually, the sequel to Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass. As the name implies, most of the effects are done with trickery using mirrors. A very old, but very ingenious way of basically superimposing images on top of each other to create an effect.

Over at The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill, Alice’s adventure takes a detour from the normal stories that we may have heard. This is in part due to the interpretation of the story by a Czech filmmaker named Jan Svankmajer. In these bits of Wonderland, the world becomes surreal and everything becomes eerily interesting that you would do a double-take on the things that you see. You would then seek Advice from A Caterpillar. The Caterpillar is one more character that makes up the Wonderland crew and is represented in all sorts of ways by different characters and interpretations. But it is the question that is significant here, “Who are you?” asked the caterpillar to Alice. The Queen’s Croquet Ground is a small activity area where you turn yourself into one of the Queen’s guards. Yes, you will become a playing card. After croquet, it’s time to sit down to have tea with the Mad Hatter. You are invited to attend A Mad Tea Party which is an animated 3D tea party made especially for visitors of Wonderland. An amazing concept, but nothing really new if you have been coming to Singapore’s Art Festivals for the past few years. Who Stole The Tarts? This place showcases the Queen in all her mean and nasty glory. It is one of the smaller, but nicer places to visit before heading over to see Alice’s Evidence. This last room is where you realize how much Alice and her Adventures in Wonderland has influenced our culture. It has been one of the many stories that many know and remember, but some have only just vaguely heard of. But the influence of the many films show just how much Alice has been a part of our lives.