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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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.

A Day Out With Lola (Grandma)

Lola came to visit us in Singapore. While we are shuffling around the days that we are free from school and work, we managed to stroll all the way down to Gardens By The Bay and see the pretty flowers.

Tulipmania is the main attraction at the Flower Dome and this runs from the 12th of April through the 20th of May 2019. We did not get to see it last year, so we brought Lola along to see the Flower Dome play host to the Netherlands. The Flower Dome itself had been home to different varieties of flora from the start. With Tulipmania, it was obvious which flora was at center stage. This year’s Tulipmania brings us to the Dutch countryside with rows upon rows of tulips. We were told that there were about 35 varieties of tulips across the display including the new “Singapura”, a red and white variant to commemorate Singapore’s founding some 200 years ago. The look was definitely ideal with Dutch cottages, a watermill, a windmill and dozens of wooden clogs scattered across the tulip zone. The tulips, of course, are amazing to look at spread far and wide like they were. Having the different varieties under one roof makes you appreciate it’s beauty even more. And if you get hungry, there’s a European Fair happening in the Flower Dome as well. This is where you get stuffed with sausages and pastries from a variety of local European food stalls. It would also be just in time for you to rest your feet by the time you get to the hall so it’s all well and good that the food is good.

After having a snack in the Flower Dome, we decided to use all our available time wisely and headed for the Cloud Dome next. Luckily, we were with a senior citizen and managed to get priority at the lift taking us up to the top of the Cloud Dome. As usual, we went about enjoying the colorful greenery. It also helped that the mist had just started and the Cloud Dome has transformed into this foggy, misty, wonderland. We took our time getting from place to place and reached the foot of the dome just as night time is taking over. It had been a fun and slightly wet day at the Gardens, but we’re glad that Lola enjoyed it. Because we did too.

Not Just A Dad

I wanted to write a blog about Fatherhood and I thought that was what I was doing. But I came to a realization that you cannot be a good father if you are not a good husband. Yes, there are technicalities in relationships in this day and age, but I would like to keep it simple.

Often times I find myself between a rock and a hard place whenever there is an argument at home between my wife and my son. These don’t happen often, but when they do, I am usually left to decide if I am going to take sides. And yes, there are times that it becomes a difficult choice (though you’d think it shouldn’t even be a choice).

We all have our thoughts about what’s right and wrong. It shouldn’t really be about who is and who isn’t but deciding on that is more difficult than it seems. During one of these tough tugs-of-war was when I realized that we, as parents, shouldn’t be biased. I had been biased towards my son most of the time because of my thinking that he was “still a child” and that he was “still learning” and all those other alibis that fathers can think of just to put an argument to rest. And that’s wrong.

I understand that it is going to take a while to fix that. But it needs to start with a thought. And that thought is my wife. I wouldn’t have been a father if Matthew didn’t have a mother. And to raise Matthew into a beautiful person, I need to do it together with Judy. I had been blinded by my need to become important as a “father” because the world has changed. It has now accepted and is even preaching that fathers play an equally important role as a child’s mother. I made that my goal without realizing that being a father is not a competition. Rather, it is a joint venture called proper parenting. And having two parents is definitely an advantage over having just one.

Then we come to the point of being a good husband, partner, and friend. It is very important to take care of your partner (and you should know that my wife is standing behind me as I type this). As a child grows up, he would be growing with the values and behavior of the people he spends his time with the most. And from the beginning of his life, his parents would be the primary source of his love and inspiration. Matthew grew up as a very caring person. He would attend to you when you are feeling sick. He would give you hugs and kisses for no reason at all. He would often hold your hand when you had to poop in the toilet. Some of those traits were slowly lost to us as he grew older. He is now thirteen years old and he has been exposed to a lot of people with different views in life and different ways of dealing with their emotions. Inevitably, this has affected him. And like all kids that are growing up, the people around him play a part in his development – mostly these are his peers.

Luckily for us, his foundations had been strong enough to allow him to keep his identity. He would still hug and kiss you out of the blue, though not as often as before. He would still take good care of you when you are sick and he would still make sure that you are comfortable, though he would always take care of himself first. But he would no longer hold your hand when you poop in the toilet. Some of the traits that he developed are understandable but there are still some that we have been having difficulty trying to understand. I guess that’s part of parenting. And like what we have always been telling ourselves, this is a journey that the three of us are taking together and that there would always be surprises along the way.

Right now Matthew needs to see more of our love and understanding. It would be wrong to give him all of ourselves. So, while trying to figure out how best to move forward, I think that I also need to rekindle love in our youth. I believe that setting a good example is always the best way to teach someone. And I know that I have been lacking in that department lately. So this is the year for a comeback. Matthew’s world is growing and I would prefer to be in a bigger part of that world as his life becomes fuller. At the same time, we would need to find ourselves again and live our own couple-lives as our son continues to grow. The future has just become more exciting.

Looking Forward

We welcome the new year with open arms today. As we poured our sparkling grape juice between the three of us, we talked about the year that was. And as we were talking, it occurred to me that this may have been the first time that we really talked about it.

Our New Year welcome dinner
Our New Year welcome dinner

2018 had been good to us. It had its ups and downs for sure, but it treated us more kindly throughout.

Matthew had been able to go to his chosen secondary school after the grueling assessment exam courtesy of the PSLE. And during his time in this new school, we realized that this was the school that we were looking for. Over the course of the year, we attended school events and gatherings. We made sure that we were able to attend parent-teacher sessions and we got to know the teachers well. We attended parent-child bonding activities to help us understand each other better. Through those interactions, the teachers were able to talk about their concerns and we were also able to voice out our own. As time passed, we felt that the way the school managed the way they teach is the right way for Matthew. Although all schools need to comply with the strict academic benchmarks by the Ministry of Education, they are given enough freedom to use different teaching methods. We are thankful that this school gives importance to a child’s potential rather than expecting them to perform at an unbelievable performance standard right off the bat.

Mister Matthew
Mister Matthew

We had good times just roaming around Singapore all throughout the year. We went to the Tampines Eco Green and tried grounding. We also frequently cycled to Pasir Ris Park. This served as our exercise and our bonding time as well. There was no fixed schedule and we went as often as we could. It could be to catch the sunset or to catch the sunrise. Sometimes, it is just to catch good food at the nearby hawker center. We went to a fair and rode the crazy swinging ship. We ate hipster food and drank hipster drinks. We visited the Turtle and Tortoise Museum for the last time before they closed the gates at the Chinese Garden. It was sad that they had to leave that place and we do hope they manage to find a new home soon. We rented a car from time to time just for the heck of it. And we finally got around to go to the places that we had only previously talked about.

Catching the sunrise at Pasir Ris Park
Catching the sunrise at Pasir Ris Park

We managed to go on a trip to Tokyo. And during our stay, we managed to go to places that we didn’t even think we could reach. Often times we got lost or got to a place that was not on our plan at all. We even got to take home souvenirs from nearly all the towns that we visited. A short visit to an aunt and our cousins made the trip a little easier during the first few days. And then a visit to a friend in Osaka also made it into our itinerary. But the best places that we managed to go to this time around were in Tokyo. Akihabara, Tokorozawa, Diver City and Yokohama to name a few. Okunoshima and Kyoto were also memorable places for us. Japan is definitely one of the highlights of 2018.

Welcome to Akihabara
Welcome to Akihabara

I also started teaching Matthew about photography. It’s time he advanced from just pointing the camera and shooting. It’s time for him to understand the concepts behind photography and make a hobby out of it. I can’t stand to just see him sitting on one corner and reading a book over and over. He really needs a more active hobby. And so do I. We do attend anime and gaming conventions now, but I don’t think that counts as an active hobby.

At Paradores Del Castillo
At Paradores Del Castillo

We visited our families in the Philippines at the end of the year. We tried to spend as much time as we could with them. We took them out to eat and to travel around the nearby provinces. We enjoyed our stay there and we had fun. While we also had a lot to eat, Matthew seemed to be the only one to not gain weight.

We had our downs too. But we’d rather not recall those. I think we already learned our lessons from those times. And its better to let those experiences go.

Yes. 2018 had been a good year. And here’s hoping that 2019 brings us more blessings and happiness that we can share.

Silent Nights

We have been celebrating Christmas in different ways for a while now. This is our tenth year living in Singapore, and that means spending Christmas away from our extended families. Not all of our Christmases were spent in Singapore, but we don’t necessarily fly home to the Philippines every year to celebrate. It would be nice to. But it wouldn’t be practical. So we call it as we see it.

Say Cheese!

We were out and about on the weekend before Christmas with Matthew’s cousins. If it wasn’t the Christmas season, it would just be a normal day out in Orchard. But it is the season, and Orchard road is lit up once again for everyone’s viewing pleasure. To be honest, we (me, mum and Matthew) stopped bothering with it after three years. To us, it just wasn’t worth the hassle squeezing yourself through a thick mob of sweaty people to get a blurry photo to share on social media. Nope. We grew wiser and decided to just stay home or go out only if we needed to. So we go out when we have family and friends visiting and want to see the sights. With kids in tow, we spent the afternoon in Bounce to tire them out, I mean, for them to have fun. Impromptu photo taking sessions followed and we ended the night with a quiet dinner at Din Tai Fung (yes, not very festive, I know). The highlight of the evening was the trip home, where our XL Grab vehicle turned out to be a mini-bus! We had a good laugh all the way home.

On Christmas Eve, the extended family had gone back to Batam and we were left on our own again. Being the working man of the house and the 24th being a Monday, I spent the day in the office doing office-y stuff and met up with the family for dinner. A short stroll down Haji Lane to look for a bag for mum got us chatting with the shop owner who happily offered us seats and warm tea. I think that friendly chat was one the best Christmas presents we received this year. Our Christmas dinner came after tea. It was made up of Truffle Fries, Turkey Ham Pasta and Guava BBQ Beef Ribs. The Turkey Ham Pasta we ordered with Aglio Olio … which turns out to be a very, very spicy version in I am …’s menu. The Guava BBQ Beef Ribs though were awesome. It was definitely not Christmas ham.

Guava BBQ Beef Ribs

On Christmas day, we attended mass at our new favourite church, the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd on Queen Street. It’s quite a long way to travel to from Tampines, but we really like the service here. So even if we have to wake up much earlier, we travel anyway as it is worth it. Christmas day mass was no different, except that there are much more people around. But it remained a calm and serene celebration. After the mass, there was still time for Christmas lunch. The queue at PS Café was not what we expected (1 hour waiting time), but we’re glad we stuck around. This time, lunch was made up of Chicken Rossa Penne and Honey Glazed Iberico Pork Chop with a side of garlic bread. It seems that we were meant to put on pounds this Christmas as we were once again stuffed after lunch. That Iberico Pork Chop is not on the regular menu so I would suggest that you grab it while you can.

Glazed Iberico Pork Chop

We are thankful for the presents that we received and the greetings of joy and cheer from family and friends. This Christmas was a calm and easy celebration. Our family is small, but I believe that we had a better year this year than the last. We hope that everyone else had a good holiday cheer this 2018. Merry Christmas!

After Christmas Lunch …

Here we are looking forward to the new year and wishing everyone a blessed holiday season.

Let’s Go to Totoro’s Forest

We already went to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. So we thought we would go the extra mile and get lost in Totoro Forest as well.

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Totoro Forest is actually a nature reserve under the care of the Foundation of Totoro no Furusato. As far as the name goes, it has been used by Hayao Miyazaki used this forest as the model of the forest used for the animated film My Neighbour Totoro. The thing is, this forest is situated in Sayama Hills in Saitama.

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It was a long walk getting up to Totoro’s Forest. And that was just getting to the forest itself. You wouldn’t even know that you were actually inside Totoro Forest until you see some of the signs. Navigating the forest also proved difficult for us since the signs are in Japanese. Needless to say, when we say we got lost in Totoro Forest, we literally got lost inside Totoro Forest. It would have been fine though as inside the forest was cool and actually quite pleasant. It was nice to stay there, but we weren’t actually geared up for camping, so getting lost and not being able to come out of the forest would mean big trouble for us. We also wanted to reach Kurosaki’s house, which is a recreation of the Kurosaki house from Totoro as well. What we didn’t know was that the house was not actually inside Totoro Forest. And following the directions from Google Maps and the one blog with decent directions proved to be futile as we ended up getting even more lost.

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We got to Kurosaki’s house, eventually. And it was closed. Yes, for the life of me, I did not bother looking at the details of the house. I only knew that it would be the house would be perfect for any Totoro fan worth his salt. And because I had been too excited and frustrated getting to the house, I didn’t get to check that the house actually had days that it was closed. For a house that was in the middle of nowhere, I think that made sense. It didn’t make sense that I did not see that though. By the time we reached the house, we were already tired. Our only consolation was the maccha house that sat beside Kurosaki’s house.

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The lady who owns the café was very nice and friendly. And the mochi and maccha is just superb. It is a very tasty treat and almost made us forget that we got lost and found out that the Kurosaki house was closed. Almost. Still, the maccha was refreshing and the mochi was really, really good. Probably the best maccha mochi that I have ever tried. And it turns out that they grow their own tea. In fact, they have their own school all about making tea. It was really a blessing that we made it there. The old lady even called up a taxi for us (because the place is, quite frankly, in the middle of nowhere). We weren’t able to see the Kurosaki house but we enjoyed our time in the forest and we really enjoyed the maccha. Not a bad day at all.

Let’s Go to The Ghibli Museum, Mitaka

The Ghibli Museum is one of our bucket list travel destinations and we managed to tick this one off on this trip to Japan. What is the Ghibli Museum (aside from being a museum)? Seriously, if you don’t know Ghibli, then you need to pick up the pace and read on.

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The Ghibli Museum is where Studio Ghibli showcases the work, no, the love and passion that this house has for animation. Studio Ghibli (for anyone still not familiar with it) is responsible for giving us Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Laputa Castle in the Sky and a slew of others that were not as internationally acclaimed as the former. The museum itself is a place where there is no right or wrong way to see the exhibitions. In fact, it was noted that Hayao Miyazaki wanted people to feel like children in the museum discovering things as they move along. And even with the number of visitors to the museum, it does feel like a labyrinth of sorts that you can quite easily immerse yourself in and be lost in it. You have static displays showing the work area of Hayao Miyazaki himself as well as some of the other animators. You have drawings, models, books and other sources of inspiration used by the teams. You can actually imagine yourself in the studio with the desks of the animators scattered about around you. Samples and drafts of animations, story boards, photo albums and more. If only they allowed photography inside the museum walls, but unfortunately it wasn’t so.

Oh No! The Soot Sprites are trapped!
Oh No! The Soot Sprites are trapped!

There are also interactive displays where you can see how animations were done before the age of CGI. There is a machine that you can move the lens as you see fit over a single cel of animation to get the effect that you want. I can only imagine how many man-hours it would take to complete a proper animated movie using these ancient tools. And then there are elaborate displays that bring to life the mind, or indeed the world of Hayao Miyazaki. And it is a wonderful animated world. At one point it got so emotional for me that I nearly teared up for no reason at all, I was just standing there watching this world come alive.

The Robot Soldier from Laputa
The Robot Soldier from Laputa

You are only allowed to take photos and videos for personal use outside the main museum. That means the open areas like the gardens and the café and the rooftop. Even with as little time as we had, the trip was worth it. We managed to get some nice photos at the museum and I was particularly happy that we at least managed to get a photo with the Guardian of the Ghibli Museum, the Robot Soldier from Laputa Castle in the Sky. You find this guy after going up a spiral staircase off from the Cat Bus room which is on the other side of the house from Mamma Aiuto, the museum shop. Up on the rooftop, if you walk around, you will also find the keystone cube from the Castle in the Sky among the lush gardens on the rooftop.

The Keystone
The Keystone

At the basement, you are encouraged to queue up for the screening of a Ghibli short film. It is a great time to experience a raw Ghibli movie, and one that will only ever be shown at the Saturn Theater from inside the museum. Our short film was Kemushi no Boro (Boro the Caterpillar). It is unmistakably Ghibli. And when you think about the details that went into this short film, you can’t help but smile. In this miniscule world projected on the big screen, you enjoy the rich audio that seems to have been just grown-ups making up sounds with their mouths. It was so simple but it was so engaging at the same time as your brain tries to break down the different sounds that you hear as you are watching the film. I won’t spoil the film and in case you manage to view a different one when you go there, just know that it is a Ghibli. We went around as much as we could during our time there looking through the different niceties. We climbed stairs, laughed at the art, realised that we were sitting on caterpillar dung, got hysterical every time we recognise something from the movies and had a great time overall.

Supper

We ended the day with a light meal at the Straw Hat Café. The only café at the museum grounds. Every minute was worth it. But it should be said that getting tickets to the Ghibli Museum, can be a frustrating experience. You can only get your tickets online and only on a certain date and by the time the online buying opens, you realise that there are hundreds of other hungry souls waiting for that opportunity to get tickets. If you do manage to score some tickets online, you will still be queuing up at the gate long before your entry time. But again, if you manage to get through all this frustration, it will all go away the moment you set foot inside.