Garden inspiration

When I met Shermaine for lunch at Concetto in The Cathay a couple of months back, we spotted an indoor herb garden in the restaurant. I’ve always wanted a herb garden by my kitchen window but hubby was convinced it would not succeed because we don’t get direct sunlight there. Encouraged by the indoor garden I saw, I naively attempted to create one in my kitchen. Oh we had so much fun preparing for it, using an old fish tank my husband got for free because it leaked.

First, we laid a layer of pebbles to allow for drainage.


Then, a layer of soil on top.


The pretty it up, I found an old broken plate from one of the potted plants outside, and decided to use it to make a sign.


I thought I would use chalkboard paint so that I could change the sign down the road, so I got Jason to paint it.


Unfortunately, I didn’t like how it turned out. Too black.


So I decided to clean off the paint, and when I did, the edges were left looking black. I thought it look quite rustic this way and left it as it is. Using a stencil, I traced out the words: “My Herb Garden”.


And coloured the letters with Sharpies.


Here it is, before I added the herbs. Driftwood was from another fish tank.


And I present my herb garden, in its full glory, with Jason’s cactus to add some colour.


Not wanting to be too ambitious, I used two ready herb plants from the supermarket and just repotted them.

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Alas, that glory lasted for all of 2 weeks. It was not for my lack of trying. We moved it wherever the sunlight shifted to. The tank was set on a table with casters making it a breeze to move around. But it just wasn’t getting enough direct sunlight. The lack of sunlight proved too much for the herbs. This is what it looks like today! SAD.


The herbs didn’t die on me, and they didn’t go to waste either. I started cooking them when they started looking droopy! So for two weeks, we had delicious roasted rosemary chicken, rosemary chicken stew, Thai basil minced pork etc for dinner.

Then, last week, I went down to Macpherson Primary as part of a Compass visit, and saw a beautiful garden the school parent volunteers, staff and students had created. And I got inspired all over again! Not that I’m doing anything to my garden at home, but am keeping it for the future if and when I get a plot of land with direct sunlight.

A vertical garden using recycled drink bottles, which reminds me of the one we saw in Malacca.


A (horizontal?) garden using wood planks.


A compost pile.


A flower bed tended to by a grandmother volunteer.


All under a “treehouse” where outdoor lessons are conducted!

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Visitors entering the treehouse.


Another view of the treehouse.


The pupils at Macpherson Primary have many outdoor learning spaces, and hopefully they grow up to enjoy having greenery around them, and have better luck tending to herb gardens than I!


Shannon and Ballet (Part 1)

I have a little dancer at home. She twirls, she preens, she bows and curtsies. She has been dancing at home from young.


She loves wearing tutus of all forms, especially if they come in her favourite colour – pink.


She also loves twirly dresses and skirts.



She admires little ballerinas whenever we are out, their bunned-up hair, white stockings and pink leotards. She is thrilled when I do her hair into a pseudo bun (because I don’t know how to do a real bun).


She loves dancers’ costumes and princess dresses.




There’s just a little problem. I’ve asked if she would like to take ballet or dance lessons. But her reply? “No.” A firm and unwavering no. Why, I ask? “I’m scared, mummy.”

Well, I didn’t think it was a problem initially. She doesn’t want to go for class, so be it, just continue dancing at home. So while I haven’t pressed the issue about sending her for dance classes, I have occasionally brought the question up to her. She doesn’t attend any classes outside of school. It is partly because I don’t think it’s necessary to be going for the various academic enrichment, but also partly because she is averse to going to any class. “I only want to go to school. I don’t want to for go for other lessons or learn anything else, I just want to play with Mummy/stay at home,” is her stock reply.

Then I got feedback from her teachers at the parent-teacher meetings in her school. They said Shannon is well-behaved, but timid and shy. It’s more like the opposite at home. But that’s that’s her public persona. She still cries on and off when I send her to school, but I don’t worry too much about it. I leave her in her teacher’s care and leave quickly. I’m told she is perfectly fine once I’ve left. But her teachers’ recommendation is that she be exposed to and encouraged to try new things, so as to be more confident and independent.

In an attempt to get her out of her shell, I signed her up for a free trial class for ballet. I prepped her beforehand, even though she vehemently said no. On the day of the class, I gave her a newish tutu I found on sale, and made her wear it to class. She was the only one in the class in tears. The other kids are the same age or younger than her. She was not crying all the time, but maybe 30-40% of the time. The rest of the time? She was intently watching the other girls, and even following the steps! She hung back most of the time and refused to join the other girls, but could do the various exercises with little problems.


I got tired of encouraging her to join the rest and just let her be towards the end of the class. She followed the class from 5 steps behind them. All the while I wondered if I should bother pressing on with this.

Then the ballet teacher spoke to us after the trial. It turned out, the decision whether to have her attend ballet class was not up to me. Two of the girls passed with flying colours and could join a class once it had enough girls to start. Shannon? “She needs a re-trial. We offer more than one trial class for children who need it,” said the ballet teacher. “She has no problems doing the exercises but we need her to be independent in class.”

The dilemma: Is it necessary to get her out of her shell? Should I continue to push her to attend a class when she is perfectly happy dancing on her own at home?





Malacca, revisited

IMG_0415Malacca has always been our choice destination to break up the journey to or from Port Dickson. This time, we hit on a gem of a place to stay and that made all the difference in our two-night stopover. Calanthe Artisan Loft is a two-storey shophouse in the Jonker Street area.

Highlight 1:

Unlike the other hotels in the area, the original shophouse has not been converted into dozens of rooms. Instead, we got the whole place, lock, stock and barrel to ourselves!

Hubby and Shannon at the main door. The place is run by the multi-talented Joe, who is also a jewellery-maker, cafe owner and history buff rolled into one. He doesn’t live there. He hands us the key and goes back to his shop, popping by once a day to water the plants outside.


The living room of the shophouse, which reminds us of our grandma’s furniture… in a good way!



The kids exploring the place. Jason is opening the doors to an air-conditioned TV room with huge beanbags.


The TV room where they spent many happy hours!


The hallway leading to the kitchen straight ahead and stairs to the loft room on the left.


Up a steep flight of steps and there are two double beds. Perfect for the four of us. The drapes are a must because of the mosquitoes. That might be my only gripe about the place.


The kitchen with a garden! Love, love, love.


Filled with everything we needed, but hardly had time to use.


Outside, drainage pipes are transformed into an ingenious work of art and a herb garden.



Highlight 2:

One of the best things about the place – our own private parking. No need to fight with the rest of the Jonker guests or residents for parking or risk getting fined by a parking attendant. It is only one of two shophouses in the area with a car porch – because a bomb was dropped right about where our car is, during WW2…! The bomb took off the original front room and roof of the shophouse and the space was left as it is. In fact, under the floor rug outside the main door, is the sealed cover of a former well.



Highlight 3:

Shopping was literally steps away from our door. After a lazy few days in Port Dickson, I was ready to go out and look around. It was so convenient to run out for a quick bout of shopping, or send the kids back if they were tired.

Hubby’s favourite activity, while I took the kids out for walks!


We girls got ourselves matching floppy hats!


Gazing longingly at one of the lovelies displayed to attract little girls like her!


A surprise find was the weekend night market. We were about to go somewhere else for dinner when we heard there was a night market just round the corner.



We ended up having dinner there and Shannon loved the assam laksa in between big gulps of water.



Highlight 4:

Joe, the history buff, is also a licensed tour guide. He does mainly small group tours for his guests. So he took the four of us out on our last morning in Malacca, for a three hour walking tour that was one of the best tours I’ve had in a long while. We told him we doubted our city-bred kids would be able to take the three-hour walk. But he reassured us we could stop any time they were tired. Amazingly, they walked the whole journey with just a quick Mcdonald’s break in between.

Reason? He’s an animated story teller. Instead of regurgitating facts or numbers, he told the kids stories about the Dutch, the Portuguese, the British, that had Jason riveted. Historical facts were mentioned in passing if salient to the story.


He quizzed them from time to time and that was how I realised Jason was in fact listening because he called out the correct year for one of the questions Joe asked. Don’t ask me which year…


He fielded all our questions knowledgeably. He shared interesting nuggets of information that only kids would be interested in…


Shannon made it all the way up A Famosa counting the steps along the way.


Entertaining herself while waiting for the boys to finish their tour.


We had a good time in Malacca, and recorded our favourite parts in a postcard we sent to ourselves!

Taking an obligatory touristy shot in front of the Christ Church before we left Malacca.


Why we love Port Dickson

There is something about this sleepy beach town between Malacca and Kuala Lumpur that has kept us going back every year for the last three years. Some head there for the beaches, others for the water villas. We’re not big on beaches, neither have we splurged on the water villas (yet!).

For us, it’s a combination of the beach, food, small town charm and laid back vibe. Luxurious days of doing nothing, planning nothing, and deciding on a whim what we want to do. We spent four nights there this time, slightly shorter than our last trip, but it was enough because we now know exactly where to go for our favourite food, what we want to do and where to go for what we want to buy.

So, why we like it:

1) The sea view


For slightly over SG$100 a night, we got a room with a splendid sea view where we could watch the sun set each evening.


We stayed at Avillion Admiral Cove, (not to be confused with the more up-market Avillion Port Dickson which has water villas). We enjoyed our stay last year and decided to go back there again this time even though it’s slightly further from the main town. I loved the brand new rooms when we stayed in the newly renovated vista wing last year. This time we tried the unrenovated view wing because it had a bedroom partition (World Cup for the hubby…). Rooms are bigger but older.

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2) Yummy food

Jason, the foodie, has been wanting to return to Partner Food Center since we discovered it on our last trip. We headed there on our first night, thinking we would try other places for the subsequent days, but we ended up going back there every night.

The Yong Tau Fu is a must try. Apart from the usual fare of ladies finger, brinjal, bitter gourd (all my favourite veggies) stuffed with fish paste, they have a bunch of long beans in fish paste as well (it’s at the top of the picture). That was Jason’s favourite. 

The bowl of savoury soup is served with our choice of noodles, topped with minced meat and bean sprouts. The tasty noodles coated in dark sauce and sesame oil could be a meal on its own. IMG_0208

The nasi lemak there is excellent as well, especially the chilli which has chunky sliced onions.


Other food we enjoyed there – ban mian (handmade noodles), popiah, and the mixed vegetable rice stall which had the best braised meat and ladies fingers we’ve ever eaten. Both my kids are now fans of ladies fingers. :)

If Partner Food Centre was our favourite dinner place, Chuan Huat Coffeeshop would be our favourite lunch place.


The reason I declare it a close second to Partner Food Centre – the dried tossed handmade noodles. I order it without the lard – it’s just as yummy.



Here’s the aunty cutting the dough on the spot.


It is most satisfying to see picky-eater Shannon devour the bowl of noodles like there’s no tomorrow.


To escape the sweltering heat, especially when we end up having a late lunch, we also look for anywhere with air-conditioning. No food courts and such there. We tried Kenny Rogers (picture below) located at the newish PD Waterfront this time. There is also a Starbucks, Secret Recipe, and McDonald’s.


3) Small town shops

There are no big time malls. So we spend our afternoons driving around Port Dickson looking for small, interesting shops while Shannon naps in the car. Our favourite are the old bookshops and the interesting stationery they have. Jason and I hop out to check it out, while their Papa waits in the car with sleeping Shannon. Then we swop places. There are also household goods stores where we’ve unearthed some good bargains. Port Dickson was also the place I bought Shannon’s birthday party pack stuff last year. Not this year though… Frozen hasn’t made it’s way there! We also make a mandatory coffee stop for their Papa’s mid-afternoon caffeine kick. We drive around various coffeeshops in search of the local thick, fragrant coffee, some even with a slightly chocolatey taste for some reason.


Giant opened an outlet there a couple of years ago, it’s probably the biggest supermarket they have. I don’t know about the locals but we cheered when we saw it there on one of our recent trips!


4)  Evening swims, beach walks

We were at the beach almost every day during last year’s trip, and we adults came back with sand fly bites. The kids were fine though. This time, we spent most of our evenings in the hotel pool, and went to the beach just once. We picked shells, found lots of baby crabs, and even wanted to kayak but could not find the guy in charge. Maybe next time!







Pool time!



5) Chillin’ good time

TV, more TV. We don’t have cable TV at home, so they got their fill of the Disney channel there. They watched movies, cartoons in between the football matches.


It meant that I had plenty of time to read. I should have brought more than one novel. Jason finished several of his Diary of the Wimpy Kid books, while their Papa and I finished one book each. Good days!


Another shot of the sunset before we left Port Dickson for Malacca. And just in time too, we got a whiff of the haze the morning we were due to leave.


Til the next time!

Interviewing Amber Tan

One of the best things about being a journalist is how I get to meet people from all walks of life. Apart from getting the information I need for writing the story, I get to listen to their views, hear about issues, places or their life experiences. Beyond producing the article, I get to distill the information gathered, extract what might be useful, and store it for the future. Some of it may go on to shape my world view, my thoughts and values.

I did an article for NTU’s Hey magazine which has just been published recently. In it, I interviewed engineering student Amber Tan, the 20-year-old daughter of Dr Tan Lai Yong, a missionary doctor who spent more than 10 years serving the poor in China. Much has been written about Dr Tan, both online and in the mainstream media. His contributions go beyond that to the society both in China and here. He is still continuing the good work here, helping foreign workers and other communities, even as he returned to work in NUS.


His influence on Amber came through clearly during the interview. During the hour or so I spent chatting with her, I found myself humbled by her strong desire to help disadvantaged communities. She is all of 20 years old, spent 10 years studying in schools in China and is now in one of the most prestigious courses in NTU. But the reason she chose the course? It is a means for her to get to where she wants to go – which is to help disadvantaged communities like her dad. It is a reminder to me about the amount of influence parents have on kids, a reminder that whatever I think, say, and do, impacts my kids.

When I left the interview, I kept thinking about something Amber shared. She said that in the schools she studied in in China, there were no school cleaners. Instead, toilets were washed by the students, supervised by the teachers, likewise for the classrooms. It gave students a sense of ownership over the school. They were taught from young to clean up after themselves. There would be no one to clean up their messes. It was a reminder to me about how kids in Singapore have it good, maybe too good. And yes, I made sure to tell Jason about it. ;)


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