The Year of the Rooster

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.

One December in Singapore

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.

It is Christmas
It is Christmas

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.

Pokemon Christmas at Changi Airport
Pokemon Christmas at Changi Airport

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.

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A Christmas Wonderland

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.

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Bringing the cousins home

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.

S.T.A.T.I.O.N.

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.

The Tesseract
The Tesseract

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.

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The red, white and blue

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.

The Hulk Buster
The Hulk Buster

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.

A Bouncy Birthday Party

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.

Bounce off!
Bounce off!

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.

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More bounce, more fun!

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.

Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday to you!

A Junior Spartan

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.
Sizing up the competition.
Sizing up the competition.
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.
Run, Matthew, Run!
Run, Matthew, Run!
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.
Up, Down, Left, Right
Up, Down, Left, Right
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.
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Finished. Tired. Rewarded.
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.

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming

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.

Hi mum! Bye mum!
Hi mum! Bye mum!

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.

What is it really like to ask for donations?

Volunteer work is fun. Really.

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.

Volunteer work is fun. Really.
Volunteer work is fun. Really.

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.

http://www.causesforanimals.com/

A Trip to Playeum and Gillman Barracks

Gillman Barracks

I am a guy. And it is a guy thing to not ask for directions even if we are completely lost. It just so happened that we weren’t very lost. Just a little bit lost because we were still just at the MRT station. While we had planned on going to Labrador Nature Reserve that day, it seems that fate had other plans. We never did find our way to Labrador Nature Reserve and actually headed in the opposite direction where the signage pointed to Gillman Barracks. I had no idea what Gillman Barracks was but it sounded cool and we didn’t really have a plan B for that outing. So we trotted along, Matthew and I, and found our way to a rather long covered walkway with the words Gillman Barracks tacked on the ceiling (of sorts).

Gillman Barracks
Gillman Barracks

Luckily we are now in the Internet age and information is easy enough to get as long as you are connected. A little bit of Googling told us that apart from food, we might find ourselves a little place called Playeum over at Gillman Barracks. Again, that sounded cool. So we went.

We didn’t really know what to expect since it was our first time at Playeum, so we asked. The theme for the month was Hideaways; Creating with Nature. The lady (and practically everyone) gave us a quick tour of the facilities and the exhibit which piqued Matthew’s curiosity and interest immediately. It was a no-brainer then that we were going in. It wasn’t such a bad idea since I couldn’t see much more that we could do in the area. They charged a reasonable amount for entry that included access to the exhibit for parent and child plus a discount on food and drinks at the nearby café. Not a bad deal at all.

Through the Looking Glass
Through the Looking Glass

At Playeum, play is encouraged and parent-child bonding is enforced. So if you do pay them a visit, please play-it-forward.

We had a go at the Creature Cave which turned out to be too kiddy for Matthew (who is ten by the way). Reading about its description, it was designed with younger kids in mind. So is the Dark Space which was right beside the cave. We had a good time inside a pitch black room that were littered with motion sensors that activated sounds and lights to show young ones the different animals that they might encounter in the dark. Matthew had me crawl across the floor just so I don’t trigger any of the sensors and keep things quiet. With my bulk and girth, it isn’t a wonder that I failed. Miserably. Not that he did much better.

The next exhibit featured a micro-projector. Okay, I made that one up, but it’s a cross between a microscope and a projector so I do make some sense. The exhibit was called “Knock, Knock; Who Lives There?”. It showcases some of the insects and their habitat that can be seen in and around Gillman Barracks if you were adventurous enough to wander through the foliage surrounding the area. We recognised most of the fossilised insects (Yey!) but not so much the flats that they lived in. So it was cool to learn about these. And you can even make your own habitat using recycled materials over at the crafting section of Playeum.

The other exhibits are more for expressing one’s creativity using natural materials and being inspired by natural habitats. The Welcome to My World exhibit gives kids a variety of materials that they can use to build their own habitats as if they were one of the insects that were presented cleverly in Knock Knock. There were bamboo shoots, bamboo sticks, string, egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, flower petals, dried leaves and then some. While our tent-like contraption did not quite become habitable, it was a decent creation nonetheless. Our moth habitat was better decorated with flowers and leaves. There were better examples, but hey, we all have our good building days. This was Matthew’s first encounter with a glue gun by the way, and they bonded with each other like … err … glue. Which brings us to his masterpiece, a spiderweb. It was just cool to play around with the glue although you have to remember that melting glue from a glue gun is quite hot.

Hot Glue! Yipee!
Hot Glue! Yipee!

On the other side of the crafting area is Sounds of the Earth. Again prompting the use of natural recycled materials, one is expected to make a musical instrument of some sort. While not exactly orchestra material, Matthew and I managed to build up a few things that make music. Okay, maybe not so much music but they do make sound. Matthew made one he called The Snapper. It was basically a frame made of popsicle sticks with rubber bands that made a snapping sound when you flicked them. I made something similar that was made with cardboard instead. Then there’s the Tie-Fighter-esque seed shaker that was made out of egg cartons and bamboo sticks. The creme de la crop I would say was the bamboo pole that I filled with seeds and more bamboo and the ends were then covered with cloth. It was a decent instrument if I do say so myself.

On to the clay moulding area then. Make-Believe Hideaway they called it. One was meant to create a creature hideout with the clay. It would then be attached to the already growing nest of hideouts on the nearby table. It was like build-your-own apartment that would then be stuck onto a bigger apartment building. Matthew being free to create, he made an Onyx instead (yes, the rock Pokemon). Naturally, he made me create a matching creation which yielded a Geodude (yes, the other rock Pokemon). We then looked for suitable apartments in the habitat area to put our creations to be immortalised in clay.

It's Geodude!
It’s Geodude!

Through all the artsy fartsy stuff that we were doing, friendly staff were around helping, cleaning, creating and just being friendly. At the end of the day (quite a long day in fact) we left the place happy and stamped our own creations into the exhibit. We even found someone who watches One Punch Man and this made Matthew really happy. We took home his Saitama and Genos action figures that he made from toilet paper rolls. And we’re hoping to go back before the exhibit ends this October. You can still make it before it ends.

Go Poke a Monster

Pokemon GO.

If you haven’t heard of it, you have been living under a rock that has been buried under another rock. Seriously, it has been in the news and it has been spreading like the plague faster than a zombie apocalypse. It has been getting publicity that it doesn’t even need to pay for ads (although not all that publicity is good)!
So, Pokemon GO launched in Singapore last weekend and drones of zombies immediately popped out from everywhere. Despite the warnings and bad rep that it had been getting (mostly thanks to stupid people), it was a hit the moment it showed up in their respective app stores in Singapore. And yes, we have downloaded it.

Matthew had been doing his Pokemon research a few weeks back and he knows (more or less) what Pokemon GO is about. Unfortunately, even though I wanted to get Pikachu as our first Pokemon, Matthew wanted a Charmander instead. So we got Charmander. Now what?

I took to jogging to do some exercise and lose some weight. Pokemon GO became a motivator of sorts allowing me to reach stops and gyms while jogging. That can only be good right? Maybe if I had infinite data bundled into my mobile plan and a phone battery that recharges while moving it would. But I don’t, on both counts. The game is a crazy drain in battery life and mobile data (maybe not so much as I initially thought), there is no way around it if you want to play. Free Wi-Fi only helps ever so slightly but it isn’t a solution and lugging around a power bank isn’t really my cup of tea.
On top of this, the game actually requires you to have it “on” and running in order to track you. If you wanted to hatch that egg, you’d have to walk. You have to be moving slow enough for the app’s GPS tracking to locate you. So travelling by car isn’t really a hot idea (unless you drive at a snail’s pace). You do get Pokemons at bus stops and train stations but the GPS tracking isn’t the best nor the most accurate. If your expecting those rare monsters to just pop out of the woodwork, then you are terribly mistaken. You may get lucky, but more often than not, you have got to travel many many miles for that rare one to appear. Appearing is one thing and capturing it is another thing though. So good luck.

Is Pokemon GO the ultimate social game? Maybe it is. But it is a self proclaimed one. We are currently playing it but not to the point where we stay up all night and walk from east to west just to catch a Pokemon. You could say we’re casual players of the game. So don’t expect us to bag that Snorlax or Gyarados anytime soon. As long as it is done in good fun, there’s nothing wrong with Pokemon GO. Always remember that safety comes first and Pokemon GO is just a game. Don’t let it play you.