Singapore is a melting pot of culture and heritage and we start off the new year with 2017’s River Hongbao (RHB) as a celebration of the Lunar New Year. According to Chinese horoscope, this year is the year of the Rooster under the fire sign. In the spirit of the River Hongbao which has been around since 1987, this year’s event is lined up with lights, sounds, smell and taste. Larger than life lanterns light up the night. Fireworks make noise in the quiet skies. Delicious food abound usher in the new year. And nightly performances ensure that every one is entertained.
We didn’t have enough time to watch the show, not that the earlier rain helped to dampen our spirit. But we did enjoy the food. Actually, to be honest, that is really what we always come down for the RHB. We brought a couple of relatives down to get a feel of the RHB and while the rain played its part in lessening the fun, it did not keep us from coming around. The Nitro-Pop became the highlight of our visit, for sure. The lanterns seem to be getting smaller and less extravagant, but it still serves its purpose of giving the people a shimmer of light that their horoscopes tell. We aren’t really people who believe these outright, but it is fun reading up and thinking how true (or false) the predictions are.
We shouldn’t forget the carnival that came to visit as well. Surprisingly, Uncle Ringo wasn’t the default choice this year but it isn’t bad at all. While we didn’t go through everything that the night had to offer, it was enough for us to enjoy the display and watch the fireworks from afar. Hopefully, the RHB had blessed us with a good year ahead together with the people in our community.
Late last year, we decided on becoming foster parents. After eleven years with Matthew, we thought that maybe it was time. We started to foster a dog from the shelter in December of 2016.
At the shelter, the dogs were (most of them anyway) trying to get the attention of practically anybody that is a potential adopter. In our case, we were already contacted by SOSD (Save Our Street Dogs) before we went to the shelter. So our re-homer already knew what type of puppy we were looking for and proceeded to show us a litter of pups. The siblings were quite big for puppies, but it didn’t take long for two of them to catch our eye. One was a feisty little girl but was really keen on being with people. The other one was a bit shy and timid but looked to be okay around people as well. Of the three of us, Matthew was the one with the least experience with dogs so my wife and I decided on the puppy based on what we thought would be good in our first meeting with the puppies. We took home a timid little girl named Kuching. Yes, we know. It was odd to name a dog a cat, but we didn’t really have a choice in the matter.
In the first few days, we had to get comfortable with having a canine in the house. She had to get comfortable living with us instead of her siblings and she had to start learning a few things. We were either lucky or I was a very good trainer because we managed to teach her to poo and pee outside in the grass. She had only had one accident peeing in the house and that was only because we were out for too long and we didn’t get her cue that she needed to go out urgently. We also managed to stop her from chewing on everything in sight in the house. It hasn’t been smooth nor perfect in that regard. She still chews on new things that she sees from time to time. And these are only items that we leave (accidentally, or not) on the living room table. So far she stays away from shoes and slippers which is good. We also managed to stop her from sleeping in the couch (that was a pain and it took as a while to do). The only real problem we have right now is that she tries to nibble on our living room carpet and turn it into spaghetti.
Coming to terms that we now have a puppy, our lifestyle did change quite a bit. The biggest change was that we could no longer stay out late or be out of the house for too long because there was a puppy waiting for us to let her out. And she needs to be let out to relieve herself. She has also been added to our budget as we no longer share our leftovers with her like we did with our dogs in the Philippines. She now has her own budget for food. Matthew also had us buy toys for her (and she now has a lot). And a bed too. At the moment, we seem to have covered the basic necessities in keeping the whole family satisfied. The puppy is happy, Matthew is happy and we don’t really have any major problems with the puppy. She has been an ideal companion for us and Matthew had repeatedly spoken out how good it was for us to have a dog in the house.
Which now begs the question. How long should we be fostering this girl before we decide on fully adopting her. It goes without saying, adopting a dog here in Singapore is no short feat. The cost alone is not something that you can consider in a whim (unless you have money sprouting from a tree). And taking care of one requires patience and dedication to make it work. We are in a happy relationship right now, and we are leaning more and more towards fully adopting her. We’ll probably decide on it soon. But right now, I’m satisfied with how both Matthew and Kuching have grown to be great friends.
In 2005, Matthew was born. That would be 12 years ago (if we don’t count the months and days, but bear with me). When he learned that 2017 would be the year of the rooster, his face lit up and he said, “Mum, I think its going to be a good year because its my year”. We couldn’t help but smile and agree with him that it will be a good year. All the better since this is the year that he would take on Singapore’s notoriously infamous PSLE (Primary School Leaving Exam).
PSLE has been getting attention all to itself year after year, but this will be the only time that we will actually be going through it. All the best to everyone taking it this year then.
PSLE aside, I do feel that it is going to be a good year. It will be what we make it for sure, so having a positive outlook from the get go would probably be a good idea. And we believe that we should nurture Matthew all the way through with positive vibes starting with day one of 2017. As we look forward to the best of the days to come, we wish everyone the same.
December has almost always been associated with Christmas. In fact, for the most part, the whole of December is Christmas. Or at least it feels like it. We had quite a good adventure this December. We may not have left the country for a big holiday escapade, but we did try and make the most of what was here in Singapore.
There was the customary stroll to get re-acquainted with Orchard Road and its Christmas lit streets. You know it has not been the best year when there are hardly any lights on Orchard Road, and this year seems to be that year. It had only been as bright as any normal night. The only real Christmas display was at the Centrepoint mall with it’s sweet Gingerbread theme. The bakery and the sweets shop at Centrepoint was very nicely done. It was a picture perfect little corner that occupied quite a bit of sidewalk. And, of course, Matthew being Matthew, he didn’t want any photos taken (at first). Which meant that quite a few grumpy moments were there.
We went to Changi airport to experience a Pokemon Christmas at one point. And since the Pokemon GO fever has not completely died down just yet, the Pokemon theme was still a welcome attraction in Changi airport. We didn’t get to meet any of the Pokemon mascots, nor did we chance upon the fleet of Pikachus. We did get some pretty postcard pictures with the Pokemon that were around the airport public areas though. Yes, Matthew was still being all moody like someone being chased around by a paparazzi, but maybe I did get a shot or two that made the trip worth it.
Gardens by the Bay brought about its own Christmas Wonderland to town as well. Meeting up with Matthew’s cousins, we took in the lights and sounds of the Gardens. There was a carnival that featured kiddie rides and some games. The games were pretty generous, considering you do win. The so-called Luminarie was all over the Super Trees and so was the Festive Market. It was at the Luminarie gazebo that people flocked at the scheduled “snow” times. Yes, they made it snow in Singapore. Okay, no, they didn’t. It was just suds. But heck, if you lived in the moment, you can pretty much imagine sweating as snow fell. Our night was practically filled with food from the Festive Market, which wasn’t such a bad thing. It did leave a hole in my wallet, but the grub was definitely worth it.
Out of curiosity, we decided on having a Cheese Board Christmas dinner. Since I can’t drink alcoholic beverages anymore, we got non-alcoholic sparkling whites to go with our cheeses. We had water crackers and some ham to liven up the table as well. Matthew and mummy exerted some effort in fixing up the dining table with a white Christmas theme which worked rather well with our dinner.
When the clock struck twelve, the three of took our places at the table. We poured our sparkling white wine and set the cheeses with the ham and crackers. We sat down and prayed. We sent out thank yous and our wishes and wished Jesus Christ a happy birthday. We had a good time exploring the possibilities of cheese and wine and how the combination made us all fart. And we had a good time. A simple, quiet dinner surrounded by family sharing our love with one another. We couldn’t have asked for more.
We have been celebrating our Christmases in Singapore since eight years ago. Most of the time, it was Matthew, mummy and me. That is unless we have visitors or we went back to the Philippines to spend Christmas there. It would be fair to say that we are already used to spending small family Christmas dinners. It didn’t look like this year was going to be any different, yet somehow it felt different. And we had a good family Christmas, just like always.
STATION stands for Scientific Training and Tactical Intelligence Operative Network.
We were granted access to one of the Avengers’ high-tech headquarters in south-east Asia, right here in Singapore. Okay, that may be overdoing a bit. Marvel’s Avengers’ STATION is an immersive experience into one of the Marvel cinematic universe’s most recognisable heroes, (you guessed it) the Avengers.
What is STATION exactly? If you want the full experience then you had better get yourself hyped up, otherwise you will probably just think of it as a glorified Marvel exhibit. You come into the STATION as a recruit for the final battle with Ultron. You need to download the STATION app by the way for either iOS or Android to complete your training (and exit the facility). It is mostly a question and answer type of app and all the answers will be inside the STATION itself so you really shouldn’t fail at being a recruit.
So, you get ushered in to STATION by a SHIELD agent and is greeted by Maria in the briefing room who will explain what STATION is all about as well as hand out your mission to help save the planet from hostile threats. Inside, you get the chance to get an in-depth look at the history, technology, genetics and personal profiles of the Avengers. Well, those files that are not classified at least.
The overall experience is quite good. in fact, it was a great experience overall. They made a pretty good impression that you are in a high-tech, top-secret facility hidden somewhere from the public view (in reality, it is at the Annex of the Singapore Science Centre). The wall-to-wall digital screens are there working in conjunction with touch screen panels and motion sensors making you feel like you were a SHIELD operative. Captain America’s shield was there of course and the motorbike that he used as well. An anatomy of the Hulk’s enormous hands were there as well as Black Widow’s batons and Hawkeye’s curve bow. Various information were available on the panels lining up the gear so you know what they were. Other points of interest are Vision’s creation casket and Falcon’s Wings. Thor’s Mjolnir was there for you to try and see if you are worthy of wielding its power (I already kind of guessed that I wasn’t worthy). And the coup de grace, Iron Man’s Hall of Armor. Which, was kind of a disappointment for me. With the numerous movies that Iron Man was in, you would have expected that at least one Armor was actually there. But nope. All that was there were statues of Iron Man’s armors. And they aren’t even the best of the best (the one’s displayed at hobby shops are better in my opinion). At least they are there, including the humongous Hulk Buster Armor. Let’s not overlook the bad guys either where samples of these nasties are lying around in cryo containment chambers along with some of their weapons.
In terms of being interactive, you can’t get any less interactive by swiping your hands and tapping over the touch screen panels to get all the nifty information on the Avengers. You can get a digitized Hulk to perform action moves on a similar touch screen control pad and you can test your grip strength against Captain America. Over at Thor’s Observatory, you can explore the galaxy and perhaps find a school bus floating in space. You can chase ants around while trying to understand Ant Man’s suit and tech too. Around the Iron Man wing of the exhibition was a testing facility where you can experience the Hulk Buster armor in action by remotely controlling it with a motion sensor. They probably use a proprietary application to run the simulation, but the sensor was definitely Xbox One grade. It has been used by other exhibits before so its no surprise that it works rather well.
A movie is also included in the entrance price and you cannot opt out of it. Being a superhero fan, we have already watched these films (some more than once to be honest). So it was a bit of a waste going in without watching the movie. The schedule of the movies can be checked from the Science Center’s website just for reference. After getting our fill of techno mumbo jumbo (which was presented in one of the coolest ways possible), it was time to leave the premises.
This was where it got tricky as we couldn’t find the exit. It turns out that you have to participate in the final battle with Ultron before being certified as a STATION recruit and getting around to the exit. So after playing a short game where you fight as one of the Avnegers, you get to defeat Ultron and save the day. And that was the STATION. If you really get into it, the experience will be worthwhile. It does have some quirky downsides if you’re picky, but like I said, the overall experience is beyond good. Have a go at it while it’s still at the Science Center until January 2017.
Matthew has just passed the decade mark by a year. Yes, he is now eleven and things have been awesome so far. Awesomeness aside, one birthday wish that was granted was for a party to be held with select friends. Once that was decided, it was off to Bounce.
It turns out that birthday parties at Bounce were quite easy to pull off. We chose the date, we chose how many were going to be involved and we paid our dues. When we arrived at Bounce, all we had to do was wait for the guests to arrive. When everyone was there, the people from Bounce handled the rest. Which was pretty cool and we were quite happy with how they handled everything. From keeping up with the kids to bringing them around and giving them ample time to enjoy the venue. Not surprising, the kids had a good time.
After bouncing around for a good hour or so, we gathered the kids (and their parents) to the birthday room for refreshments. Food and drinks for the party were served and it was pretty good. The portions were generous enough that there were even leftovers. The cake at the end of the party was good as well. It looked simple enough but tasted rich and creamy. With the happy faces of the kids after bouncing and eating, we were happy to rate the birthday party a success. We thank everyone who came and celebrated Matthew’s birthday with us. Hopefully you went home with fond and fun memories just like we did.
While I was browsing the Internet, there was this ad that caught my eye. it was loud and orange and it was Reebok’s Spartan Race. Well, it wasn’t really the Spartan Race but rather the Junior Spartan Race that caught my attention. The Cold Storage Kid’s Run seem to have grown out of Matthew and he needed something new. This was going to be it.
After getting Matthew’s consent, it was a go. And that was nearly a month before the actual race.
Race day. We were ready. Well, mostly. Matthew had been throwing fits of rage every now and then, probably because we all had to wake up early on a Saturday. Apart from being difficult to talk to, everything seemed to look like it was going to be a good race. Until the skies opened up and a bit of rain came down. Our heat was delayed for a few minutes for something that resembled a drizzle. but kudos to the organizers because precautions were in place for such things to keep the kids safe.
And then it was time. Matthew lined up at the start line and I looked for a place where I can watch and hopefully take good photos. I was probably about 500 meters up front along with a hundred other spectators (who are obstructing my view). But that was the best seat in the house at that time. I mean, we were in a sports complex where the seats are too far out from the field and there are no bleachers to speak of. I was going after Matthew with my eyes and then it hit me.
Matthew was running with all his might, being serious about the fight. He wasn’t in the competitive race because we didn’t know what we would be expecting on race day. But boy, did he run. I was happy. I was proud. There was a Junior Spartan attacking the course on his own. Not alone, but fighting the good fight all on his own. There was an air of independence in him that I rarely see (because he has always been clingy). And that was enough for a father.
One other thing that I have noticed was how big Matthew had already grown. From the days that we were running the Cold Storage Kid’s Run, to this Junior Spartan race. In his first ever race, I was running beside him from the start line to the finish line. Now, he is his own man. Running like real pro. And while this isn’t really our passion, taking part in it broadens our perspective. We are not just spectators or critics after all. We are participants in a game called life.
Swimming has always been a good activity. The problem is when Matthew decides that he wants to go swimming, he wants to go swimming at that moment. For some reason, he seems to be the only one in the family who is allowed to make up a plan on a whim. It becomes a small problem when either one of us would be unable to go with the plan because he tends to go on a tantrum (lasts for about two minutes). He also tends to go on a tantrum when we change a plan that he had been made aware of (lasts another two minutes) but that should be for another time.
So he planned to go swimming one Saturday. One hot, scorching, burning, Saturday. I naturally declined the offer and told him that it was scorching hot and that we should make plans for another activity. That was the day we went to Bounce.
Soon enough, another Saturday came. I had a doctor’s appointment very early that Saturday and I left the house with both Matthew and his mum still asleep. I did finish early at the doctor so I decided to lay out a plan to walk around and do some photography. It turns out that Matthew had other plans. As I was on my way to nowhere-in-particular, my phone rang. It was Matthew asking me where I was and what time I would be coming home. At the time he called, I really didn’t have a place in mind that I wanted to go to. I just wanted to go on a stroll. So he went on saying that the weather was good for swimming. I was already outside and I couldn’t argue with that, the weather was perfect for swimming. So I scrapped my plan and headed on back.
I got home, got packed, got dressed and we were off to Wild, Wild, Wet. The thing with ad hoc plans is that you learn not to expect anything and be prepared for anything. You also make the most of everything. You don’t have as much time as you think you would (although you will be surprised how much time you actually used up) so you do as much as you can. You also spend as much as you reasonably can because you normally don’t have a plan B in case your plan goes awry. You eat what you can because you don’t know if you’ll actually find another place (whether good or bad) to eat at. But through those unplanned and unmanaged events, you have as much fun as you can too. And that’s what it was always about for me. Having as much fun as I can with Matthew. I don’t know what it is for him, but he seems to just have as much fun as I do when we’re out. What happens after the fun is a different matter (depends whether its homework or something utterly mundane such as making a mess). Hope that its the fun that matters is always what I think about. And I often wish that Matthew would think the same way.
We finished the day soaked and tired but thankfully not sunburned. And since we just went on with the flow that day of unplanned events and decided on just having fun, we didn’t even bother taking photos like we used to. We swam and had fun at the attractions. That was our day. Our only take away from this day was a photo on the bus telling mum that we were almost at Wild, Wild, Wet.
That’s what we found out when we signed up as volunteers for Causes for Animals, a non-profit, non-government organization that is helping with the management and care of homeless animals. If you have ever wondered why there aren’t so many stray dogs or why stray cats are all so fat, then one way or another, CAS may have been involved.
Of course there are regulations followed with respect on handling stray animals. The best place to look these up is actually through their (or other partners) websites. The links would be at the end of this post.
There were several types of volunteer work. The one that we got ourselves into is getting monetary donations for the care of fostered animals. You see, while stray animals are caught and housed in a safe shelter, the running costs of these shelters aren’t free. Add on veterinary care and the roof will cave in on you. Those who have their own pets know just how expensive it is to care for our furry friends.
So we came. We got our cans. And we already knew where we were going to go. It was a Sunday, and church lets out a whole lot of people every hour. Luckily for us, the church is merely a few meters away from the mall, the MRT and the bus interchange. So we bravely stood alongside the brick road that connects the two areas and ask strangers if they would like to donate for a good cause.
It turns out, people are quite willing to help. Especially if they see younger people volunteer for these types of activities. Matthew probably collected three times more than what I did. In fact, he didn’t even have to say anything, people who saw him holding out the can just came by and dropped their donations in his can.
It may have been easy getting people to donate for the cause, but it wasn’t all that easy. Standing there under the heat (even if you were in the shade) is no joke. We finished our bottled water halfway through our shift. And then the people started winding down. And it became more difficult to ask people. The fatigue from the heat hit us. We couldn’t even stay in our place for very long. Other volunteers have stepped around the area we were at and it became saturated very fast. And then we got hungry. And thirsty. On a personal note, the volunteer guide clearly states that the volunteers’ well being is a priority. So keeping your hunger and thirst quenched is not only recommended but encouraged.
We had lunch when the time hit 12 noon. We had ice cream too in order to cool off. That was it though. After lunch, we both felt very tired and decided together that we need to turn in our cans. We did so, happily. Not because it was over, but because we managed to do our work and helped out in a way that we have not done so before.
Volunteer work is not easy. You need to have dedication and the will to see it through. It was a great experience for both of us, and we definitely would think about it again when the opportunity comes.
If you would like to help Causes for Animals, please visit their website for information on volunteer work. Believe me, there’s actually a lot to do.