Father’s Day

First, let’s get it out: “Happy Father’s Day!” to all fathers out there!

I’m sure there are a lot of adjectives to describe our dads. And since we all know those by heart, I don’t really need to lay it all out for everybody else. No matter what we think about our own dad, the fact cannot be changed and regardless of the circumstances, to me at least, a dad is a dad.

Officially, my fatherhood title began sometime in June of 2005. That was when my wife told me that she was pregnant. For those who don’t know, my son was given the month of February 2006 to come out. But for some reason, he couldn’t be bothered with dates and he decided to come out in November 2005. He spent about a month in the ICU when he was born a preemie and he will be going into his teen years soon. Every now and then I get that knock on the head about how time has gone by and I have to entertain a thought…

“What the heck have I gotten myself into?”

Of course being a dad is great and all. In fact, I had been looking forward to it even before I got married. Now that I am one, everything has become one big adventure after another. And it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. It’s like living a reality TV show. Sometimes there’s comedy, other times there’s drama, there’s even suspense and mystery lurking about in a season or two. Make no mistake, I am having the time of my life. But all that depends on your perspective. In recent years, it has become increasingly challenging tackling school work with my son. Everything else is good. The only rough patches are when it comes to almost anything that has to do with school.

Putting that into perspective, I sat down and tried to look back at everything that I was aware of that had happened. I could probably paint a picture, but I can’t help but wonder if there are bits and pieces that I don’t have because I was not able to see them. So the picture isn’t complete. But it is clear that there is something that I need to work on in order to see better days. The next chapters may see a change in the tone of how our stories are written, but I will do my best to keep it light. After all, happiness is a choice. And I will choose happiness for my family every chance that we get. And that is how perspective works.

—–

My dad is a great dad. I learned practically all my life skills from him. We don’t always see eye to eye and we used to argue about things that didn’t really matter (after thinking about it for a long time). I love my dad. I wouldn’t be half the man I am today if not for him. But his generation is different from mine and is going to be different from Matthew’s generation. While there are the basics of fatherhood, it is clear that time is moving faster than ever and fathers need to evolve. I swore to myself that I would be as great a dad as my dad. But deep inside I also have a desire to be even better. I don’t want to have any regrets of looking back at the things I was not able to do with my son while there is time. I generally still have the same outlook as I had when I began this journey. That there will be changes, that there will be emotional outbursts, that there will be misunderstandings, but there will always be love. So we continue moving forward. One step at a time.

Jakjak
Image copyright: Pixar.
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Make the Future with Shell

Team Philippines
Team Philippines

Fossil fuels are finite. In fact, we are running out. We have been racing to find alternative sources of energy for the better part of the last two decades, and this is where we are now.

 

Advances in technology and the human drive towards evolution has paved the way for more efficient machines, better production of power and the ability to harness energy from the sun, natural gases and food waste. When I was in secondary school, the future that I was looking at was a DeLorean time machine that flies powered by organic waste. Well, we haven’t gone that far yet, but we have gone far enough to see that it’s close. And that kind of technology is showcased at Shell’s Make the Future event.

 

Changi Exhibition Center was the venue for 2018 and we have been here before. While the venue is good for this kind of exhibition, the place has one major drawback. It is hot and it is in the middle of nowhere. Okay, that makes it two drawbacks.

Building a salt water powered car
Building a salt water powered car

The venue was divided into three zones. The Main Stage where the music is coming from along with science shows and event announcements about the Eco-Marathon and basically everything else. We didn’t really spend much time here except when we needed to refuel for lunch. Although you are allowed to bring your own food and drinks, we were not really going to lug a picnic basket and then some for lunch. We just made sure we had enough cash to gas up at the venue. The food isn’t really what the event is about so it is nothing to be worked up over. You can even buy most of the food from Shell’s Deli at their service stations.

Learning about Hydrogen power through VR
Learning about Hydrogen power through VR

The Energy Future zone was where we spent most of our time though. This is where people are asked to explore how energy is generated and the alternate sources of energy that can be used. The Bright Ideas challenge showcases the ideas from secondary school students for a cleaner energy future. Imagine harnessing electricity to power your classroom just by sitting down, yep, that was a bright idea (and in theory it works). And imagine harnessing electricity from vibrations, yep, that was also a bright idea. I guess with the proper guidance and technical know-how, young minds can really think up what works in the future. Also in the zone are some of Shell’s energy partners showing off their stuff. The Linde Group in particular showed us the future of Hydrogen power. Matthew had his first VR experience here and from the spectator’s point of view, it looked like he had fun. And yes, while the previous concerns with Hydrogen was its, ehem, explosive nature, it seems that we have once again jumped that hurdle and the future is looking good. The final piece in this zone for us was our salt water powered car. Yep. We were able to build a small toy car that can run on salt water. I can only guess that the two metal plates are responsible for creating electricity to power the small motor on the car. What they are and how they do it is still not being disclosed. But once again, it works. And that is what made the trip worth it.

Eco-marathoner
Eco-marathoner

The final zone was the Eco-Marathon. Students from across the Asia Pacific brought in their eco-marathon cars to see which is the most energy-efficient. A mix of solar powered, full electric, hybrid and internal combustion engine powered vehicles were in the field. This is not a race to see who the fastest is, this is a race to see who has the most efficient car setup. And it is not just about the type of power plant, but the whole design of the vehicles. You will see different ideas on different cars all designed to make the most out of their power. Aerodynamics plays a big part, and then there’s weight, there’s the strength of materials, the power delivery method, the motor, the wheels. Everything comes together behind those fiber-glass shells and I can only imagine how dedicated the drivers are to be racing under the sweltering heat of Singapore.

 

All the best to the competitors. Because for us, the real winners are the newest generation of folks who will benefit from the ideas of today. Because really, the future is being made for them.

Good Dad, Bad Dad.

Most of the time, we see the fault in the people around us but not our own. You can say that this is even more true when dealing with children. It may be because we are under the impression that because we are adults, we are always on the right. That can never be more wrong. We, as adults need to guide our children to be the best that they can be. But when we put ourselves in the position of being always right just because we are the parents, then we put up a wall. I only realised this when I was reflecting on a few things that have been happening in the past few weeks.

As parents, we expect our children to act like children in ideal worlds. We expect them to be cute, funny, obedient and disciplined among others. And in an ideal world, that may just be appropriate and expected. Unfortunately, the world we live in is not ideal (yet). There are so many real world problems that we have to manage and it can sometimes become a burden. And if we aren’t careful, we sometimes inadvertently pass some of these on to our kids. Whether we are aware of it or not is a question best left to ask ourselves when we are meditating.

Everyone is different. I can’t remember how many times I have been told of this. We need to remember that this is also true for kids (actually, especially for kids). We have to stop giving ourselves and our kids that image of what we are expecting our families to be. We should instead look at the future as a canvas that is blank. And our contribution to that canvas will be the colors of our lives. Be it light or dark or bright or gloomy. It is a canvas that can be painted as time goes by. It is not one of those “paint by numbers” kind of canvas but one that is free form. In our chase for the ideal world, we get lost in our own dreams and our own wishes. At one point we may even have gotten obsessed. But at what cost?

On my personal reflection, it has been a mixture of uncertainty. On one hand, I have always believed that I am raising Matthew into a strong-willed, brave and kind-hearted boy. An ideal boy who will not look out of place on a billboard showing off the best kid in the world. However, on that journey, I may have used fear instead respect, I may have used anger instead of care. I may have been seeing what I wanted to see but I may not have heard what my son was saying to me. It is this kind of paradoxical thinking that has led me to this uncertain train of thought. It is not a cry of madness. It is a deeper understanding of the world that is revolving around me. And I think that it has done me good. Hopefully, I now see and hear what the future of the canvas will bring.

Dad-borg
Dad-borg

Of course, the only way to find out is to go right out and ask Matthew how I am doing. And now should be as a time as any.

A Coming of Age

Life is good!
Life is good!

Time has definitely passed me by.

It took some time before I realized that Matthew is now in secondary school. Or did it take some time before I accepted the fact that Matthew is now in secondary school? It just doesn’t feel like it at home. I’m not complaining though. Because at home, he still gives us hugs and kisses. He still asks us to open jars, wrap his books and find his spectacles. His room is still always a mess and his hair is still mostly unkempt. He still forgets everything and he still does not have a care in the world. He did grow up a bit in some way. It is no longer milestones but you could still say that the changes are mild improvements. He no longer wants us to give him baths for one thing (although I still need to drag him out of bed in the morning). He has his own choices when it comes to clothing him (preferring -ehem- to be comfortable at the expense of looking like a rag doll). He eats most of his food now if he likes it (it still takes him an hour to do so). And other little changes here and there.

I keep having to remind myself that he is twelve now. A pre-teen. And probably the start of even more headaches and heartaches. Sometimes I think about asking my parents how I was like when I was twelve, but they will probably only say that “I had been a handful but a good kid nonetheless”. It’s like those random psychology tests that you get asked on Facebook. The results are always answers so vague that you think that you already knew them all along. To be honest, Matthew does not really like being compared to anyone, including me. From time to time he would point out things that he has been doing that is similar to what we have done before (based on stories that we have already shared). But directly comparing what he is doing to others is a big no-no. What I’m afraid of though, is if he becomes more of a handful than I had been when I was his age.

 

I don’t want to think about the negatives because there will always be bad stuff with the good stuff. After all, balance is the key. It is a bit difficult writing about life only when there is absolute good in it. Because honestly, everybody has their good days and their bad days. There may come a change in the way this blog moves forward from here on in. I will still try and balance writing about things that can be discussed and of course keep things that are private, well, private. We’ll see how things go along this year and the coming years. Fingers crossed.

Grumpy Old Man

Patience is overrated.

As a father, I’m expected to be patient and nurturing to my son. Well, that was the plan. I have been patient and nurturing from the day my son was born as far as I remember. But days go by, the years pile on and some things don’t go as planned. That’s not to say that I am no longer patient nor nurturing to my son. It’s just more difficult to be patient nowadays than a few years ago.

Parents should know what it’s like. One minute you are talking leisurely with your kid and the next you are wrangling each other by the neck. Okay, we have not gone that extreme yet. But I think we’re close. What I don’t get is why we have to go through the same menial argument over and over again. Seriously, how many times do you have to ask someone to clean their mess up or to finish their dinner?

Grumpy Old Man
Grumpy Old Man

I know I would sound like I’m ranting (and maybe I am), but just imagine the following situations:

You prepare warm oatmeal in the morning and tidy up the kitchen before calling your kid in to eat his breakfast. And he first thing he does is scoop powdered milk to spread on top of his oatmeal only the milk spreads on the table top instead.

You wake your son up early in the morning to take a bath (and get ready for school). He asks for five minutes at every interval that you try and wake him up from and ends up going out late for school. And he blames you for being late.

You ask your son if he has any homework from school and he says no. So you fool around with him and stay up late. The next morning, he panics saying that he actually has homework. And it’s mathematics.

Your son asks you to buy this really cool (but relatively expensive) new toy that you are actually also interested in. So you buy it telling him to promise to take good care of it (so that you can play with it when he’s not looking). The next day, the toy is missing a leg, or a wheel or whatever important part that he “accidentally” lost.

You give your son that new book that he has been asking for since the last time you went to a bookstore. He happily reads the book throughout the night. The next morning, you find that precious book neglected in the bathroom face down on a page that he wanted to bookmark.

Bang!
Bang!

We all love our children and deep inside we know that our children love us as well. We would probably think to ourselves that children are just being children. Heck, we might even have a recollection or two of how we were back when we were their age. But in my ageing years, patience has taken a back seat and I grow tired really quickly. It’s difficult to see where “kids are being kids” and “kids being downright obnoxiously irritating” is at times. I really admire parents who have more patience than me because I know how difficult it can be. Maybe they have a better coping mechanism than I do, or maybe they have better skills in teaching their kids how to follow them or maybe they just have less hyper kids than my son. Whatever it is, I salute you.

I may end up becoming a grumpy old man by the time I have grandkids. But that doesn’t mean the memories that I have of my son isn’t anything less to treasure. Every day is a day to cherish. Good days give us happy memories, bad days give us lessons to learn. Let us not let a day go by without taking something away from it and being thankful.

Yayoi Kusama in Singapore

It was packed and you need to queue up in order to see some (actually, most) of the exhibition. Seriously, this is not how you are supposed to appreciate the art of Yayoi Kusama.

Tulip Obliterated
Tulip Obliterated

Apart from the annoying bit that everybody just seems to want to take a selfie (or wefie), there is a lot to appreciate in the Life is the Heart of a Rainbow exhibit recently concluded at the National Gallery Singapore.

For the longest time since I have read about it, I wanted to go and see this exhibition. However, due to commitments both at work and at school (for Matthew), we found it difficult to set a date that was not a weekend. And so we braved the National Gallery one Saturday afternoon to visit the Yayoi Kusama exhibition.

—–

But who is Yayoi Kusama?

If you were one of the few who came to the exhibition to actually experience the art and not just to take your Instagram feed to the next level, then you would have taken a bit of time to actually read up on her. It would have been told then that Yayoi’s childhood experiences had been the primary force in her art. Having lived through WWII despite the hallucinations she had been having in her head, it was easy to understand why her art is, well, classified as avant-garde. She would describe her hallucinations as “flashes of light, auras and dense field of dots”. At some point in my personal life, I’ve had those visions. I have not thought of them as hallucinations but rather, I thought it was normal happenings in my head since I wanted to be alone most of the time. She even managed to give it a name, “infinity nets” and “self-obliteration”. Big and apt words (and quite frankly, I wish I had thought of them).

She also had hallucinations of flowers that spoke to her and patterns that came to life. I didn’t have flowers speaking to me, although my dog often did. And I often spoke to my dog. Again, I thought that was normal. But Yayoi did something amazing with her hallucinations. She conquered them and used them as a means to an end. As such, you have these various art mediums that can only be described as distinctly Yayoi Kusama. I may never understand some lumps of it, but of those that I did, it made me see dots in my head again.

—–

Stay behind the line.
Stay behind the line.

 

We squeezed our way through the crowd and queued up however which way to get into the galleries. Each of which were suffocating due to the number of people. Whether or not they were there for the art or for whatever personal reason, it made the whole experience somewhat less personal. Admittedly, I tried getting photos of my family and myself to have a reminder that I had been to the exhibition. The rest of the photos were to remind me of the art that I enjoyed and had good conversations with my son while we were there. Surely, Yayoi Kusama would have flinched at the discussion my wife and I were having with our son regarding her work. Sure, it’s been viewed and appreciated by legends and critiques the world over, but I don’t think she’s ever been critiqued by an eleven-year old boy who saw tadpoles in her art.

"Tadpoles on purple water" - Matthew
“Tadpoles on purple water” – Matthew

 

"Circular Zebra" - Matthew
“Circular Zebra” – Matthew

 

We would love to see her work again, but not like it was in the National Gallery. Perhaps a trip to her own museum in Japan would be a better way (and more complete) to live and appreciate the art of Yayoi Kusama.

"How many parking lot mirrors did she steal for this?" - Matthew
“How many parking lot mirrors did she steal for this?” – Matthew

Interestingly, I read piece in the Straits Times with whom I share the same sentiment with. The link to the article is here, and as of this writing, is still a live link.

http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/yayoi-kusama-in-the-age-of-selfies-and-instagram

Saturday. At the STGCC.

This year’s STGCC is Matthew’s first proper “convention”.

So, what is the STGCC? It stands for the Singapore Toy Game and Comic Convention and 2017 is their tenth year running. So obviously, we were expecting toys, games and comics to be at the convention. And they pretty much were. Now, the world is filled with all sorts of toys, games and comics and it can be quite a daunting task figuring out what it is that you want to see. The variety at the STGCC was quite big, and although it tried to cater to pretty much everyone, there was still quite a big hole to fill. As for being Matthew’s first convention, it did its job.

First up, the toys. Toys R Us being what most kids have come to picture what a toy store look like, this convention will throw that notion out the window. We are not going to be looking at Barbie and G.I. Joes here (not the mass market versions anyway). We are looking at Tamashii Nation, Hot Toys, Robot Spirit, S.H.Figuarts, Nendoroids and the occasional Funko Pops. Hobby shops like Action City, Simply Toys, Mighty Jaxx and The Falcon’s Hangar were there selling STGCC exclusives. I was never really into buying expensive stuff but I was familiar with them and so was Matthew. Seeing them in their actual sculpted glory was something entirely different though. Even though they caught our attention, we never really dug deep into our pockets for every eye candy that we saw. Yes, we liked the Pacific Rim action figures and the Star Wars light sabers but they weren’t really our kinds of toys (yet). So we dug deep enough to satisfy our current hobbies. Gunpla and X-Wings miniatures.

They actually already belonged to another section of the convention which was the space for games. In this case, games meant collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering, Vanguard, Yu-Gi-Oh and the like. It was also the space for table-top games like X-Wing Miniatures and Warhammer to name a few. In fact, a tournament was happening during the convention. It was when we were walking around that we were asked to sit down for a demo of The Walking Dead: All Out War. It was a game literally straight out of the TV show and comic books with the characters and scenarios that you can play out. The rules though, were a bit too complicated for novices such as Matthew and myself. When we moved on to the next table however, the Tanks game was pretty much spot on. It played similarly to the X-Wings Miniatures game and so we were able to get the hang of it pretty quickly. Not to mention the guys at Blitz and Peaces were very accommodating. We even had a German officer (in full military drab) building his tank with us at the booth. The conversation, to say the least, was lively and very informative. I wouldn’t have thought of getting a WW II history lesson while helping Matthew build a plastic tank!

The E-sports section was just nearby but we didn’t pay much attention to it. It is still not in the range of what interests Matthew at the moment. And thankfully so, as building a gaming rig (fun as it was during the time that I was into it) can be quite an expensive hobby. And that was just the rig without the games. I’m already obsessed with gaming keyboards and mice, not because I’m a gamer, but because I like the feel of these gaming peripherals. We did catch glimpses of some of the games, but they really didn’t pique Matthew’s curiosity at that moment.

I thought that the Akiba Zone was where we would actually see more anime related stuff, but it was for people that are more of an otaku than we were. Sadly, Matthew and I are just hobbyists in the anime world and not full blown geeks (yet). That may change depending on how the anime and manga industry grows around Matthew. And perhaps that will depend on his friends as well, but that remains to be seen.

Backtracking to the Star Wars world, we get reminded of this year’s STGCC theme. There were lots of Star Wars stuff. Including Rey’s speeder and the deck of the Millenium Falcon built to scale. Matthew being Matthew though, we didn’t have the heart to queue up for any souvenir photos for that Instagram post. Those duel-ready light sabres were very interesting though. As much as we would have liked to whack each other with those sabres though, we opted to forego them as well.

We walked around the convention hall a bit more to look at the weird and wonderful stuff that were on sale. Products that we have never heard of were there, Indie artists selling their ware, and weird things that you would never find in retail shops (ball sack pistols anyone?). There were handmade sculptures, handmade posters, handmade toys and comic books by independent artists. The place was nearly free-for-all and we had a good time.

By the end of the day, we had to pick something up to make the trip even more worth it than the experience we already had. So we picked out some toys to put in our toy box and we left the place happy. We didn’t get to make new friends yet, but the acquaintances that we managed to experience was a good step forward in the right direction. Maybe in the next convention, we wouldn’t be too shy.

That Question About Getting A Phone (Redux)

I warned myself before I decided on getting a mobile phone for Matthew two or so years ago (link to the previous post here: That Question… ). It wasn’t so much as not allowing him to have one or giving him strict restrictions on the use of such a device. It was more about him being responsible with his own things. Something that he has been taking a lot of time to master.

The main purpose of letting Matthew have a phone on his person was so that he always had a way to contact us. It was meant to be both ways but since the phone was always on silent mode when he was in school, he almost always never answers our calls or replies to our messages. I never really understood his reasoning on why he doesn’t go through the messages that had notifications flashing on his phone. He just doesn’t reply to them and if he did, it would normally make little sense.

Matthew and his Nokia
Matthew and his Nokia

The first phone that he really recognized as his own phone was the blue Nokia 105 that he had picked out from the local neighbourhood shop. He picked it because he wanted it and probably because of nostalgia. The nostalgia would have been from us talking to him about the mobile phones that we (me and mum) had when we were younger, and both of us had a few Nokias when they were all the rage.

In recent times (calendar check, the year is 2017), children younger than 11 can be seen toting their own mobile devices. Some of them even as new and as expensive as the latest Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxies. I was relieved that Matthew did not have such an attraction to those kind of things and preferred a basic (and nostalgic) device such as the Nokia 105 instead. Alas, my fears about his being responsible with his things (or lack thereof) came into view a few weeks after he got the phone. He lost it. At a bus stop. After that incident we handed him our old Blackberry but it was not as child friendly and he soon asked for a replacement Nokia. By chance, we managed to get another Nokia 110 (in the exact same colour) which made him the happiest kid on Earth. I don’t even remember where he lost the second Nokia. It took a long time before he asked for a phone since then. And we never offered until he needed to stay back for after-school work.

Mum and I decided on finally getting him a smartphone this time around. Well, we were really running out of options since the local telco announced that 2G connectivity would soon cease and the old Nokias that Matthew wanted wouldn’t work anymore. Luckily, I was up for a mobile re-contract at the time so there was a chance for getting a good deal on a new mobile phone. Asking him about his choice of smartphone probably wasn’t such a good idea since he decided to end up with a huge 6-inch phone (or in modern tech-speak, a phablet). But it worked out fine. He would give it up once he got home and we would hand it back to him in the morning to bring to school. (Of course, he would sneak it away every now and then when he gets the chance to snatch it in the house)

An Xperia XA Ultra
An Xperia XA Ultra

But that’s not going to be the end of it. Now, we are in the situation where security would become an issue. We have been very open with discussing things about social media, Internet use and cyber security with Matthew. But then, Matthew is still a bit too careless and carefree to really worry about the reality of the dangers of living in this digital age. So it’s up to us to manage it as best as we can as parents. Luckily, parental control apps are now widely available for both Android and iOS. And while majority of these are paid apps, some of them are actually worth the subscription costs. We are currently reviewing our options here, and with some free trials here and there, I think it is safe to assume that we would be arriving at a sound decision soon.

I would like to hear from those of you who have or are also considering getting a parental control app for your kid’s devices. I have narrowed down my options to the following parental control apps: Norton Family, SecureTeen and Kaspersky. They all have their pros and cons and I would be happy to share my choice when I have decided on it, but in the meantime, please feel free to share yours.

Making a fuss out of a mess

I consider myself a neat and organized person. My note pads are color coordinated. My closet is stacked up and color coordinated as well. My CDs and DVDs are arranged by genre. Even the folders on my desktop are named in such a way that anyone who looks at it will know how my music is segregated from my movies from my anime series. My wife thinks I have OCD. I just want to see symmetry and order. But that’s just me.

My wife and my son on the other hand, are busy bodies. My wife is disorganzed but she doesn’t make too much of a mess. I find her things on her dressing table (which we used to share) and on the computer desk (which used to be mine). She loses her phone from time to time and she needs to call them (both her mobile and our landline) to find them. But she finds them nonetheless. Yes, she occupies half of everything and I keep on moving out of my space every now and then. My boxes of toys don’t know where to stay put anymore.

Pikachu and his messy desk
Pikachu and his messy desk

My son on the other hand, is a walking mess. He leaves his books everywhere. I find his books in the toilet, on the dining table, on the floor (anywhere in the whole house), on his bed, on my bed, and everywhere else that he walks into. I find his toys in the same places but includes even in the shower and in the refrigerator and sometimes in my underwear drawer. He leaves all the doors that he opens, open and all the drawers that he pulled, pulled. Anything that he drops stays there and he will never pick them up on his own. When you ask him to pick it up, he will only pick up that one thing even though there are others just beside it. I once asked him to pick up his toy cars and put them back in his toy box. He did. But the toy cars were beside a toy plane which should have gone in the box as well. So I had to ask him to pick up the toy plane too. It’s the same for his books and his underwear and his shirt and his phone and the coins that he scatters around the house.

Some people just don’t know what it’s like to constantly be on the edge of wanting to clean every scrap of mess around the house. But I can’t. I can’t because as organized as I want myself to believe, I’m just as forgetful as a goldfish. So if I clean up someone else’s mess apart from my own, I would never remember where I had put them away. And this becomes a problem when that somebody starts looking for something. Technically, it already is a problem in the first place because it was piled up in a mess. But because that person knew where that mess was, they at least had an idea where to look.

Of course, this could just be a mild case of over thinking. Then again, what isn’t a case of over thinking nowadays?