Wednesday, September 24, 2008 ;
9:30 AM
Kids art in school

Went to school one day and saw their art pieces on the notice board. Of course, I have to take a pic.

The one in the top row, middle one is ds2's. These are all from his class of 3yr olds.

Below shows ds1's Pacific Giant Octopus (as labelled). It's the red paint on yellow piece of paper.

Sweets from Turkey

H's hubby went on a business trip to Turkey and Italy. He came back with this for us. Yummy. I love it. So does ds1. ds2 and Dh do not appreciate it. haha.

Weekend trip to Beijing (5-7 Sep)

Last minute decision. Asked Dh what he would like to do for his birthday, and he said go away from this place. Where can we go that's nearby and where he would enjoy it?

He decided, Beijing.

So we went off to try the high speed bullet train for the 1st time.

This is the Tianjin Rail Station. Dh and ds2 in foreground.
This is the CRH bullet train. Spanking new. Opened in time for the Olympics. We like the train stations at both TJ and Beijing. Very spacious, clean. The toilets in the stations and on the train are very clean too, which is a pleasant surprise to me. It is very unlike all the other toilets in the city. Dh said that's cos it is just 2 months old. He said, if they don't maintain it, it's going down the same path as all the other facilities in town.

The journey was very enjoyable. Just 30min travelling time. Normal bus journey takes abut 3hrs, car trip abt 2-2.5hrs. There was an LED display showing the train speed and the highest speed maintained was 333km/h. It's supposed to be able to go up to 350km/h.

Very smooth and enjoyable trip. We bought 2nd class cabin tickets, each adult 58 yuan (or S$11.50), kids ride free if they don't occupy a seat. Very affordable, and seats were comfortable, just like a coach's one.

Pic below is of the Beijing South Train Station. Once we got off, there were so many people, forming a huge crowd, but it was orderly, everyone moved properly and we came out easily. The taxi queue was a long snaking queue but moved so quickly because there were officials directing cabs and people, and cabs kept coming continuously.

This was one of our best experiences wrt to services, cleanliness and travelling ease since we arrived here.

Our hotel was in the Wangfujing area (王府井)where the prime shopping area and tourist attractions are. Tiananmen Square, and so on, were within walking distance from our hotel. Prices were reasonable, but not very cheap, since the Paralympics was still going on then. Below is a pic of a beautiful hotel near ours. It looks very European in the day and so prettily lighted up at night.

We checked in at about 7pm then headed out at once for dinner. We wanted to eat some nice Chinese food near the hotel and saw Lei Garden. It's been a long long time since we last ate at Lei Garden.

Indeed, the food was very good. We had sea salt chicken (I'm translating the names myself, so it might not sound that appetizing but it was really delicious), and some other dishes. Yummy.

Then we went to Starbucks to have a choc frapp with lotsa whipped cream, and bought a tea-flavored mooncake there. The kids loved it so much.

Next morning, we set off just to walk around the area. We just wanted to walk around the shopping district and food streets. No sightseeing for us this time. We just wanted some family time, for Dh to relax and for us to visit the church that meets in Beijing on Sunday.

So no Tiananmen Square, no Forbidden City, no Imperial Palace or the famous parks and so on.

Teapot suspended in mid-air (illusion) with water flowing out of spout. Caught hold of kids' attention for quite sometime, and we kept asking them why the teapot can "float" in the air. haha.
We strolled around Wangfujing area and Food Street.

Lots of stalls selling food. This pic below shows one of many stalls selling deep fried scorpions, cicadas, and all kinds of creepy-crawlies and insects you'd never think of eating. We tried some fried grub in Thailand long ago, but those were small. Some of these were very big, it just looked so scary to me.

But naturally, kids love such gross things, and they were so fascinated. Dh ordered some scorpions, because all 3 of them wanted to try. I was not that interested, but I wouldn't stop them from satisfying their curiosity.

This below shows the deep fried sticks of various stages in the cicada life cycle.

Dh ordering and pointing to the stick of scorpions he wanted.

They roast it there and then for you. Dh seen tucking into it.

Then ds1's turn. Yummy.
Then ds2's turn. Notice the stick was cleared already, he had only the last one to himself.
Was that really so yummy, I asked them. Apparently yes~!

Everywhere in Beijing, and Tianjin, there are lots of murals, signs, billboards on the Olympics. Here is a floral arrangement at WangFuJing.

We strolled through a whole plaza dedicated to selling toys, and then stores and stores selling Li Ning athletic apparel and Olympic paraphernalia.
There were so many tourists and big crowds everywhere.

I bought a polo tee from one of the ubiquitous Li Ning stores. Really, they are present along the same street, within 50m of each other. Why? I don't know!

I already marvel at Jurong Point having so many food courts and eateries. Every level seems to have at least 5 on average. But at least they sell different kinds of food. Here? The stores sell the same things, but there are so many of them. MacDonalds too.

With stiff competition, hopefully it means prices are knocked lower. We bought a ball for the kids, at 10yuan (S$2). It was a steal, cos earlier at the Toys Plaza, they were asking if they could buy this and that, and we rejected just about everything.

But when we were walking along this flea market, we saw this multi-coloured ball that can expand and open, then close up as well. It provided for many different types of play, so we got it. And it did occupy both of them for a long time after that, which allowed Dh and me to take in the sights in peace.

After walking for more than half a day, ds2 was going to take a nap, so we walked to the Oriental Plaza's reception. Since in Singapore, there would be free stroller rentals, I figured this large mall would have them too. True enough, I was able to happily walk away with a brand-new stroller. However, since they don't keep ICs like in Singapore, they required a 500yuan deposit.

Fortunately I had enough cash on hand. Normally I don't carry so much around.

And the stroller was large enough for both!
So they are happy, and we are happy.
Otherwise, if we made them walk just half an hour more, they'd be draggin their feet and ds2 would be dozing off already.

When ds2 took his nap, we could continue browsing all the shops. We even pushed the stroller out onto the streets and wandered around before finally returning the stroller at night. They have no time limit. Very good.

Something we noticed was that many restaurants and souvenir shops will have their staff dress up in either period costumes or some character costume to attract shoppers or kids. Below are some dressed in full gear. A lot of tourists like to take pics with them.

We ate a lot that day. We had 5 meals, including 2 tea breaks, in WangFuJing, so we kind of tried a lot of the eateries around there. At night, for dinner, we let Dh pick a restaurant he liked and he got to order all the dishes. Because it's his birthday!

Below shows them greedily shoving tons of food into their mouths. Can't remember everything we ordered, but we had plenty of variety and yet the total cost was pretty cheap, I remember. And this was not a roadside stall, it was a Hong Kong style restaurant in Oriental Plaza Mall.

We bought some cakes as dessert and went back to the hotel after that. We used the cake slice as a birthday cake and sang 3 birthday songs for Dh. Everyone was in a great mood, so the kids and us just went crazy and messed up the whole room by jumping, running, having pillow fights and roughhousing in general.

I think the bedding was dusty, cos we were sneezing after that, and I had to place everything in order again before we all turned in for the night.

We checked out of our hotel, and cabbed over to another hotel where the church service will be.
We kind of doubled the church attendance with our presence, cos there were only 3 other people there when we arrived, and there were 4 of us.

Worship went smoothly and it was great to get to know these people. Instantly, we became close friends and we had lunch together. Dh wanted to eat Peking Duck so they recommended a restaurant to us. It was near one of the brethren's apartment, so we even adjourned to his house after lunch for an extended chat.

Below shows the huge fish Dh ordered.
Everything was again super delicios. There was kangkong, french beans, small sweet dessert dumplings with chesnut, and Peking duck. Some other dishes that I forgot already.

There were 7 of us eating, plus one local CHinese guy who helps Kenneth get around, because he is not that mobile and needs a walking stick.

So that makes 8 of us. This meal was on Dh, and it was way cheaper than the Ah Yat Abalone dinner he treated his business partners to, in Tianjin. Yet there was so much more food, and the food was so much more yummier.

Everyone was very very contented and happy indeed.
There were tons of containers to "dabao" (takeaway/ to-go) even, and Kenneth took them all. He also has an ayi to feed.

That's the preacher and his wife standing. From left, the Chinese helper, Kenneth, and us. Both Kenneth and the preacher David are Americans. They're here cos they married Chinese wives. :-)

We then walked to Kenneth's house. He has a 2 year old son. This is his 2nd marriage because his first wife had passed away a long time ago. Hence, in his house, he has so many toys. Although the toys are all meant for toddlers, both the kids enjoyed themselves so much, playing with them. Kenneth's wife is on a business trip overseas and so the ayi is a live-in one, who takes care of his son full time.
Dh chatting with Kenneth. His house is very big and beautiful, typical of American homes.
From the fireplace to the chandeliers, we could tell at once that it has the American style. I have not seen fireplaces in local Chinese homes yet! :-)

And of course, everything is so much bigger, the way Americans like it. Huge dining table, large couch... He's already retired, used to be a Math lecturer in college in Texas. Now Beijing is his home.

We took a cab from his place after that, to the Beijing South train station and caught our train back to Tianjin.

Short but fun trip.

There will be more to come, I am sure.

rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow

Monday, September 22, 2008 ;
9:12 PM
Tainted milk and dairy products

The whole world is talking about this now, so I need not elaborate on the details of this piece of news. I shall just talk about how MUCH it has affected me!

Initially, I was horrified when I heard about the Sanlu formula milk and how many babies have been poisoned by it. But I was personally affected because ds2 was totally breastfed, never did drink a drop of formula milk.

But then now, more and more products have been found tainted, and it is just too much. The numbers who are affected will come up to millions!

This excerpt is from a news article:
"China's three biggest dairy producers by market value -- Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group Co., China Mengniu Dairy Co. and Bright Dairy & Food Co. -- are among companies whose products contain melamine, according to the government. At least 19 other Chinese producers have been found to have used melamine. "

1. Fresh milk and UHT milk
When I first got here, and needed to buy fresh milk as well as packet UHT milk for the kids as a breakfast drink and school packed drink respectively, I checked all the brands very carefully. I read all the fine print on the packages. And you know how slowly I read the Chinese characters and how little of the scientific names and ingredients I understand, since they are in the Chinese form. Yet I spent the time to read everything.

I had narrowed down my choices (there were countless local brands) to 3: Yili, Mengniu and SanYuan. Why? They are large reputable companies, with farms in Inner Mongolia where the air is supposed to be very fresh, non-polluted and the grass greener, literally. Yili is also the official Olympics sponsor.

Then I compared the prices, and I decided to play safe and go for the expensive ones. I figured, over here, to cut costs, they will substitute ingredients with those of lesser quality. So I buy fresh milk of the SanYuan brand and packet milk of the Mengniu brand.

To tell the truth, both brands of milk taste good too. Especially the UHT milk from Mengniu. (Starbucks chains here use Mengniu milk, and now they're pulling all the Mengniu milk off their shelves too).

I bought the premium full cream milk version, which is the most expensive of its range, and it tastes very rich and creamy. Both my kids and I love the taste. And I'll drink cold packets of it when I feel like it too!

After having gone through maybe at least 36 packets of the milk, now you tell me that Mengniu is one of the companies having melamine in the milk??!?!?! All at once, I feel a pain in my kidneys! Maybe I have a few stones growing in there now!! What to do, am I dying soon??

I still have maybe 20 packets in my pantry and each costs S$1. Throw them all away? Man, this is causing me physical pain and financial loss! Mental stress! Emotional strain!

2. White rabbit milk sweets
And then Singapore also found traces of melamine in White Rabbit Milk Sweet. Argh! I have an opened packet of the milk sweets in my pantry right now, and my kids have already gone through almost the whole packet!

Please, let me know how much melamine is in there, and how it is affecting my kids!!

3. M&Ms, Magnum, Cornetto, Dutch Lady
Now they say a whole host of other products are found tainted too. Of those many, I have consumed the above.

Our family, including the kids, have eaten M&Ms in rather large amounts, at birthday parties, and gatherings and in my pantry, there are 4 packets right now, for special occasions. Have to throw again.

Magnum ice cream. Our family, especially Dh and I, have a soft spot for the Magnum ice cream. Since we came here, we have been indulging in the Magnum almond ice cream, Magnum cappucino and Magnum chocolate ice cream. We have eaten so many, I don't know how many to count even. Right now in my freezer, there are 3x6 Magnum ice cream sticks too. Throw!

Cornetto. We have all eaten that too. Not as much as the Magnum but also several times. The kids love the choc cones, and we have bought them regularly because the summer weather had been very hot.

Dutch Lady was more in Singapore. I usually buy Dutch Lady or Magnolia UHT milk. For fresh milk, I always buy Meiji.

Sigh. I have lost faith and trust in almost every thing produced here now. I doubt even the water I drink each day, fearing my kids are having some bioaccumulation of toxins and heavy metals with each sip.

What are we going to do from now on, since we are here and will have no choice but to still eat and survive?

1. Only buy from e-mart and Isetan. No choice, have to spend a bit more and get from reputable supermarkets.
2. Only buy imported goods. No choice, have to spend more and at least have faith when we eat the stuff. Peace of mind is very important.
3. Do not eat too much of the same thing. At least, if there is poison, we don't consume too much of it.
4. Pray really fervently before eating anything.

rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow

Sunday, September 21, 2008 ;
3:26 PM
29 Aug

I got this pic off the school website. The classes and teachers were named first, then the kids belonging to that class were called out and the kids would go to their teachers. That was at the start of the Orientation, after the Director of School's Welcome Speech.

That's Matt's mom on the left of the pic and the teacher holding ds1's hand.

Sep 1
First Day of School for ds1

The Nursery class had too many new students this year. I heard it was 35 kids for Nursery and Pre-K, so for Mon, they wanted just the returning students (pre-K) in school. The teachers wanted to get them used to routine and school before inducting the new ones (Nursery kids) in on Tues and Wed.

ds2's nursery Orientation was on Mon afternoon, which meant he would start school only on Tues. There were other kids whose Orientation was on Tues afternoon, then they start on Wed.

So on Mon, it was ds1's 1st day.

Initially, I did not think I would go to school with him as I wanted to sign them up for the school bus. I registered on Fri during the Kindy orientation but they told me the bus routes are complicated and if I didn't receive a call before Mon, it meant I still had to bring the kids to school myself, till they get the new additions all sorted out.

Since N was taking a day off from work and going with Matt, she offered to give me a lift to school. She was going to stay in school with Matt and asked why shouldn't I, since parents are allowed on the first day.

She even packed a coffee cake, tea and coffee for us. Since ds2's orientation was in the afternoon, also in school, I said ok then.

So early in the morn, both ds and I made our way to N's house and sat in the nice comfy beemer with a chauffeur. They are called "shifu" (master) over here. Matt was in the back seat with me and both ds. N sat in front.

My kids, as usual, started chattering, singing, humming along the way. In the car, with so many of us squeezed behind, I think the sound of their voices were magnified. Although I am used to it I noticed Matt covering his ears. I realised that, being an only child, he is probably not used to so much noise. So I shut both kids up the rest of the journey.

Our place is just 10-15min away from the school. We are considered the nearest place to school, so for the school bus route, we are the last to hop on, and from school-home, we are the first to get off. I was happy for that, cos it meant my kids had no waiting time and could sleep longer.

A lot of kids attend this school, even if they live far away. I don't live in the city center. A lot of kids do. So they take about 40min to an hour to get to school.

Lessons start!

ds1 was pretty independent. He didn't cry and just followed the teacher when they assembled in the gym. A lot of the other kindy kids held their mummies' hands. I had no free hands for ds1 because I was busy with ds2. Many of the other kids were only kids, so they mummies had full attention for them.

I was glad ds1 had not noticed, mentioned or asked me, why he had to share me with his brother and why I cannot have more time for him just like his friends' moms.

Below shows them all crowded at the dino/ animals table as they wait for lessons to start.

This is when the teachers lead their classes from the gym to the classroom.

Mummy gathering
After he went to class, I was afraid to follow, in case after some time, he wanted me to take him home. So I went to the parents' lounge. They had a coffee maker there, magazines, sofas/ couches and a lot of Fisher-Price/ Little Tikes toys for the toddlers to play with. Hence ds2 played happily while I chatted with other moms. Made a lot of new friends in one morning.

The pic below was not from my cam. I got it off the school website. Somehow we got caught in action, having the coffee cake N brought, and sipping our hot beverages. From the left, Pete's mom, me, Z (Sof's mom), N and P. P happens to be a Malaysian, who has lived in Spore for many years. Spore was her hubby's last posting. They lived very close to my in laws in Bt Timah, in fact. haha. What a coincidence. She has 3 sons, and her youngest is the one in Kindy with ds1.

Now her son, YK, and ds1 are in the same clique. haha. ds2 is travelling in his Little Tikes coupe ard the room, and going down the slide for the nth time.

Got the pic below from school's site too. Shows the class having storytime. That's ds1's teacher, from Australia. Nice lady, but very firm and strict with the kids. Can tell, certainly. ds1's right in the front row, hidden from view. He's one of the smallest-sized in the class!

His classmates are truly international. And it is tough for the teacher to teach. There are kids from Japan, Korea, China, Spore, Malaysia, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, France, Italy, USA, Taiwan, India, Australia, New Zealand... School-wide, there are even more nationalities represented, because I saw Muslim families with tudungs, who look like they are more from either Msia or Indonesia, and many other European countries because they speak in their own languages.

(Of course, from countries like Spore and Msia, there's just 1 representative in ds1's class. Majority are still from Korea.)

It is very interesting to learn from all these cultures, yet on the other hand, it is difficult for the teacher to teach English as most of the kids learn English as a second language. They split the class up for some language periods, to ESL and non-ESL classes. Other periods, they are grouped together to do cooperative reading and writing.

When I read the syllabi and curriculum, as well as the teachers' lesson plans, (provided to all parents on the 1st day) they look so familiar. Then I recall all those Curriculum Studies classes we had to take in NIE. And all the language arts lectures. ahhh. Remember doing Big Book lessons as a group and the teacher filming us (micro-teaching). So funny.

After 5 yrs of teaching Bio, I had forgotten a lot of those strategies to teach the younger kids literacy and writing skills. Now I am revisiting them with my own kids.

Group management
(Sub-note: when I see these, I get reminded of how we can get the attention of larger groups of students:
1. Clapping in a rhythm and getting the kids to clap back the same rhythm once they hear you clap. It effectively makes all the kids stop their own work/ talking and listen to you. Some teachers make the kids raise their hands once they hear a tune or clap rhythm or whistle blow.

This is practised in ds2's class now. I hear him clapping "ta-tata-ta-ta" and saying "tidy up!" after that, at home. So funny, he is imitating his teacher. He says teachers says must clap after her when she claps like that. Then everyone must tidy up and gather in front.

2. In the whole school assemblies, the head of school or teacher sings "Are we listening?" (to the tune of "Where is Johnny, where is johnny, is he here, is he here?"). Just once. And just that one phrase.
All the kids will sing back "We are listening".

3. ds1 also told me, when the teacher sings "C G G G# G .." the kids must all sing back "... B C". They sing it using "la la la la la..." or "deng deng deng deng deng..." then the kids echo the last 2 notes in the melody: "la la" or "..deng deng!"

i.e. all kids stop talking and have to listen up.

Ahh, my fellow NIE mates, sounds familiar ya?)

In the lounge, I heard a lot of gossip, a lot of suggestions as to where SAHMs should go during the day when kids are in school, and so on. N would once in a while go to the classroom to peek and report back to us. So far, ds1 was doing fine and did not cry.

Then they had a welcome back to school speech by the director of the school at the hall. Pic below (also from sch's web). It was after this that trouble began.

Crying episode
ds1 must've gotten tired or bored and missed home? After the speeches came the snack time, and I didn't go peek too. But after snack time, they were allowed to play in the playground. He got bitten by some bugs and cos one of the bites was on the eyelid, it swelled up considerably. They feared he was allergic and brought him to the school nurse.

Actually it would've been ok. He's not allergic. It's just that as he scratches, it swells, and on the eyelid, it tends to look bigger than on the arm. The swelling covered his eyes a bit.

However, at the same time, Matt was asking for his mom, so the teacher decided to bring both ds1 and Matt to the lounge. To let Matt see his mom and be reassured and to inform me about ds1's bites and ask if he was allergic.

Guess what? The moment ds1 saw me and his brother, feelings of homesickness overcame him. He burst into tears! He cries very loudly, so I was pretty embarrassed.

The teacher thought it was the bites, but I told her it probably wasn't. Ds1 has been bitten by bugs countless times and he doesn't cry this type of cry when he gets bitten.

The teacher then told him it was fine, I'd be in the room, and he can follow her back to class. She said he had been doing marvellously this whole morning.

When she pulled his hand and he refused to follow, I asked to have a talk with him first. She told me to bring him to the library when he is done crying. Cos it was Library period then.

I asked him what was the matter, and he said he missed us, and wanted to go home. Actually, he probably was tired too, because he had not been subjected to a structured and scheduled routine like this in his 5 years. In preschool in Utah, it was more flexible and very hands-on kind of fun.

He also said it was boring, but I reminded him of storytime. Then he said, ok, everything except storytime was boring. Then I asked, what about snack time? He said ok, everything except storytime and snacktime was boring.

I said, what about everything being interesting, except the speech? I knew it was the speech that did him in. All the first day regulations, rules, procedures and then the lengthy speech in the hall... I know it is a little monotonous for a normally active 5 yr old like him.

So I told him, the long part of the day is over already. This welcome speech is done only once in a blue moon. He stopped crying by then.

He saw ds2 playing with the cash register and pretending he was shopping in a supermarket. So of course he felt some imbalance/ unfairness. haha. He asked to play for 5 min. I said ok, just 5min.

After that, he did quietly and willingly give up the toys and followed me to the library. Once there, the teacher took over and let him choose a book. Then she turned around and gave me the "ok" sign, and "please run away and hide now" signal. Ha. so I left quickly.

The rest of the day went very well. Phew.

Then it was lunchtime at 12pm. Before 12pm, I had brought ds2 to the cafeteria and camped out at the side already. On one hand, I needed to eat my lunch too. On the other hand, I needed to check out the cafeteria and see if it was hygienic, and if the food was healthy, balanced and if the procedures in getting food were easy for kindy kids to handle.

School lunch verdict
Plus points:
1. Clean and hygienic.
2. Balanced meals: having always carboh/ protein/ veg/ fruit/ soup/ dessert.
3. Buffet style, can have as much as you want. Yes, incl the ice cream and drinks.
4. Some things are rather yummy. Like the stew and roasted potatoes.
5. Food is fresh and warm. Unlike if I pack from home for him.

Minus points:
1. The tray holder level is high. Just nice for adults, but for ds1 to handle a tray and get food, with the tray holder at his face level, it is just a little unstable.
2. The queues are so long. The whole elementary school is out at 12pm for lunch. There are soooo many kids, up to 11-12 yrs old. All so much bigger and taller than ds1.
3. The food is laid out like in a buffet, widely spread out. How is ds1 going to point out what he wants. He isn't going to know the names furthermore. He wouldn't know that soupy thing is french onion soup. Neither will he know that's a chicken stew. He can only point. But he is shorter than the furthest dish, how to point?
4. Some items, like the ice cream, and the soup, are not displayed, because they have to be kept at a certain temperature. The menu is displayed prominently, and all parents have a copy before the week starts. We have a menu for the whole week, and they serve different things every day.
However, ds1 will not know they have ice cream a certain day, and will most certainly miss asking for it. Not very worth it then, isn't it?
5. A little costly. It is S$4 for each student, regardless of age, which I think is not very fair for the younger kids. Ds1 eats very little and he eats much slower than a 12 yr old boy. So for him, it is costly. For me, I enjoyed the meal very much and of course took a big portion. Yet for me, it is also $4.

So I decided to let ds1 have school lunch only when I can't cook for him. For now, he will have packed lunch from home. There are microwave ovens at the side for students to heat up their meals. I showed them to ds1 and taught him how to use it. But later on, the teacher said, he can get teaching assistants (TAs) to do it for him too.

Observations about lunch
Also, I later found out that kindy kids who have school lunch will have their food in a covered tray set out for them. They need not queue up. However, that means they don't get to choose their food. And I observed a lot of wastage. A lot of kindy kids just eat what they like on the tray. What they like, they don't get enough of, and what they don't like gets all thrown away.

I let ds1 try out school lunch already. I observed him once (without him knowing), when I happened to be in school for an event. He loved the potatoes but didn't know he can go ask for more. And he thought that when the whistle blew, he had to go to class. The whistle blew just 15 min after he sat down to eat. So he threw a lot of food away, and I think of my $4 with some heartache, but I didn't approach him at all that day.

I did feel proud of him when he carried his tray all the way to place it at the tray collection area, and came back to remind a girl classmate to put hers back too, since she was getting ready to run away from his tray.

There are problems with home-packed lunch too. I realised the queues for the microwave ovens are long, and ds1 got to eat his fried rice or noodles rather late. He again can't finish when the whistle blew. I observed some kids still eating after the whistle blew (actually it was for the kids who have finished to raise their hands and get permission to leave). So I have since informed him to finish his food first before running off. So he had only like 5 min to eat his rice those few times.

Then I experimented with stuff that did not need reheating, like sushi. He did much better with that, so I did let him have such lunches most of the days. However, I still think hot meals with a large variety are good for him. With the sushi, he doesn't like many types of filling, so often, it is just the egg, rice, seaweed combi.

I have tried bento type too. Finger food mostly.

Conclusion about lunch
So now, I let him have packed lunches on some days and school lunch on days that he likes most of the items on the menu. I read the items on the menu to him the night before and ask if he would like to have school or packed lunch the next day, and he gets to choose. That way, he also remembers what he can have in school and will ask for the ice cream when there is ice cream that day too.

The school goes by a card system. Older kids handle their own cards but kindy kids have the TAs hold the cards for them. So ds1 reported to me that when he went to ask for extra items after he finished his on his tray, there was confusion amongst the staff. The staff are all local Chinese, so it was very funny, the way ds1 mimicked their chinese accent and recounted the episode.

He said they all asked each other why he didn't have the card. Some said kindy kids need not have cards and said to give ds1 the food he wanted, but some said, he might not have paid for it and didn't want to give him the food. ds1 told me it wasted a lot of his time, time that he could've been playing in the playground (!!@$%#), so he said he rather not ask for extra food next time. I told him he can ask the TA to get for him next time, since they hold his card.

I may be very concerned about his food consumption, but if he were big for his age, I wouldn't worry. It is precisely because he is picky about food, and so thin, that's why I must ensure that he eats well in school.

Fortunately, by now, everything has settled into a routine, and ds1 knows exactly what to do during lunchtime.

This below shows the cafeteria. I was sitting far behind the Kindy area with ds2 that first day. ds1 did not see me at all. The mom there is Z. She's sitting right behind Sof, telling her to eat more greens. :-)

This below is the bigger playground where ds1 always rushes to, right after lunch. Look at all the sand. No wonder he AND ds2 always come home with sand in the underpants, shoes, socks, pockets, hair... I really wonder what they do, lie in the sand and bury themselves! The amount from their shoes lie in a mountainous heap in my front porch now. It'll be a beach soon.

Below shows ds1 being the last lone ranger, heading back into school, after the whistle was blown, signifying the end of lunch break. (When he was playing at the playground, I was hidden from view too. Because I didn't want him to stick to me and ds2, which is what he'll do if he sees us.)

For the first few days of school, ds1 reported to me that he often cannot find his classroom after lunch break. He'll walk around and around the school (which scares me) before he finds it.

I asked him what did teacher say. And he replied, "Where have you been all day, T?"

I asked him why didn't he ask someone for directions. He said, "I thought I can find it. I will ask for directions when I think I can't find it."

He is becoming like his dad so early on??!?

I wrote in the Home-School communication book that ds1 still doesn't know his way around schoo, pardon his tardiness. The TA replied the next day that she has since walked the route with him several times till he was familiar with it. She took action at once, after she saw my note. Now he really knows the way well already. Nice job.

The teacher is very quick in responding to whatever we write too.

Finally, end of 1st school day!

N.B. In the USA, Kindergarten level is part of Elementary School, unlike Kindys in Spore. In the UK, Reception year is also part of Primary school. Correct me if I am wrong, but Reception kids are 4 years old right?

So Kindergarteners usually follow the same school day as the rest of Elementary school, which is normally from around 8.30am to 3.30pm. Ds1's school day is from 8.10am to 3.10pm.
On Wed, they have early dismissal for staff meeting. Similar to contact time in Spore schools.

Initially, I was very apprehensive about the long school hours for a 5 yr old, especially since ds1 had not been to full time school before. But the timetable includes a lot of play in between, so ds1 doesn't feel bored. Now he has settled in very well.

So we proceeded to ds2's orientation which is slated for 3.30pm.

Nursery Orientation
His classrooms look so fun. There are 3 rooms for the NPK class. Very colorful, full of art work and hands-on materials. Makes me want to be a Nursery kid. In contrast, ds1's classrooms (also 3 rooms) look so much more serious. hehe.

The teachers talked to us parents and gave us an orientation while the kids played around the classroom, read books, fiddled with playdoh.. Below shows one of his teachers. There are 3 teachers and 2 TAs for his class. Still, the teacher-student ratio is low, because there are 35 kids. Is 1:7 good enough? I don't know. But ds2 is having a lot of fun indeed.

Dh joined us for this orientation after his work day.

Journey home
After the orientation, guess what, our very kind neighbor N, sent her driver in the BMW to pick us up! She'd already returned home with Matt at 3.30pm. She is too nice!

However, Dh had the feeling we were giving others the impression that we're wealthy and that that's our car. Cos the Nursery class teachers as well as others saw the driver drive us out of the school compound in the car. The driver will open the doors for us too.

I must be a suaku (frog in the well) cos I had a problem closing the doors. Actually they close and lock by themselves, no need to slam the doors close. Aiyah, I didn't know, cos I've not had that kind of car before. The driver showed me, then I understood. Oh ok.

Back home, both kids acted like they haven't played freely for ages. And as if they hadn't seen each other for ages. They ran around, climbed up and down, shrieked wildly, hugged each other a lot, and played their grizzly bear and bear den game with my clothes rack, again.

2 Sept
2nd day of school for ds1
1st day of school for ds2
1st day on school bus for both

School said school bus was ready to take us, and Matt also. N decided that, if ds2 can take the bus on his own, then her Matt can too. For the past 2 years, Matt was sent to school in the car by the driver. Now, because my kids are on the bus, she is putting him on it too, so he can fit in with the rest. When Z heard that, her jaw dropped. She was so shocked, and exclaimed that she never thought N would ever put Matt on the bus.

We woke at 6.30am, Dh and I. Both ds woke about 7am. By 7.30am, everyone has had breakfast and are changed. Oops, a little late, after getting the bags and shoes ready.

So Dh put ds2 on his shoulders and I carried ds1's heavy bag, and we all ran towards the bus stop.

We saw Matt there with his ayi too. That's not all. The driver was there too, in the beemer, behind the school bus. After Matt got on, the ayi hopped into the car, and together with the driver, followed the bus to school. Wow. Still must ensure he is safe and happy!

Both ds got on the school bus (more like a van, because our route does not have full capacity yet) excitedly. They've always liked sitting on school buses.

Below shows the bus ayi buckling up for ds2. ds1 could buckle up himself. All the school buses and vans have seats with seat belts. The ayi will ensure everyone is seated and buckled up before the driver moves off. That was a strong reason why I chose to let them sit on the bus. The cabs are very dangerous, and traffic on the road is dangerous too. Everyday will be a risk if I were to send the kids to school in a cab myself.

The cost turn out to be the same or even less (for the bus), because I need not pay for the trips when I am in the cab alone (i.e. return from school when I drop them off, and going to school to pick them up). Furthermore, the boys are dismissed at different times. ds2's on a half-day nursery program that lasts till 12pm.

This pic below was taken after they switched our van to a huge bus. Those coach type bus. Very comfy and spacious. Now our route had more kids. It had much more space too, so whenever us parents want to go to school or come back from school, we can ride free too.

Sometimes the kids sit together. But recently, ds1 has gotten very popular. An Indian boy, V, same age, keeps saying he must sit with ds1. His mom also tells me how her son talks about ds1 all the time at home, repeating what ds1 tells him. She says he teaches her son all about knights, crossbow infantry and so on. I was like, huh??? I just hope it is not bad influence.

Another boy who gets on the bus at the same venue is M. He's got a Japanese mom and Italian dad. Very cute. Because he has golden hair but speaks fluent Japanese, and it is so enthralling to hear him go on and on in Japanese. I just find it so interesting. He and ds1 have a love-hate r'ship too. Sometimes they HAVE to sit together, sometimes they fight.

ds1 gets along with some of the older girls too, and he'll actually share his snacks with them!

So now, I notice that ds2 always sits by himself. And he likes it. Sometimes we are early, and they get on the bus first. I will wait at the side till the bus leaves. So I'll stand there and see ds1 talking to his friends while ds2 sits by himself. I think he looks so lonely, but he is happily in his own world, smiling, singing and talking to himself. Quite amusing.

The bus will always wait till 7.46am for all kids. It has left before, without all the kids having got onboard, cos time was up. So I am always stressed and make sure I get the kids there before 7.45am.

Somehow, with the help of the school bus, and friends on the bus, both kids have not cried when going to school yet. Always happy and cheerful. The only problem for me lies with waking them up in the morning. They are really sulky when I drag them out of bed. But usually after breakfast they are all ready to get going.

I am so glad for the bus service. Even if I have to walk to the bus stop 6x a day. :-)

rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow

Wednesday, September 17, 2008 ;
12:06 PM
Saturday 30 Aug
11am - 2pm

Back to School Party

Those who turned up:
1. us
2. Pete, a Korean, and his mom
3. Sof, and her Chinese mom(Beijinger). Her dad is a Swede, so she doesn't look Chinese.
4. Gab, and his Columbian mom. His American dad teaches at the school.

And then there was Matt, his 2 ayis and his mom.

So Dh at first made a face at me, which meant, "why am I the only dad here?".

Anyway, I don't know what most BTS parties are about cos I haven't been to any, although I've heard of them in the States. And definitely seen many party supplies catering to BTS parties.

The kids were supposed to bring a backpack each. Matt's mom asked me to bring ds2 as well, cos she had plenty of goody bags.

They were handed school supplies and Matt's mom said to pretend she's the teacher. Then she drilled them with facts about school, and the 1st day of school. She told them about toilet routines, about what to do at lunch, whether parents are allowed at school, what class they are in, what the teachers names are, and so on.

When it was quiz time, ds1 was asked what school he is attending. Oh no. We had never told him. haha. How's he supposed to know. We just told him, hey, you're a big guy now, you're going to school. And I never once mentioned the name of the school. Neither did Dh. We didn't tell him his teacher's name nor his class name either.

So anyway, he failed the quiz. But we're not bothered.
He was not bothered too, cos when he got a Q wrong, the "teacher" will coach him till he got it right, and he still got the prize.

By the end of this first "game", the kids had many stickers and prizes already. Then they had to write their names on the board. J had mostly been just collecting stickers so far, without answering much. When he saw the rest queuing to write their names on the chalkboard, he too wanted some fun. So he went.

I had done writing with him before. He knows the whole alphabet. And I have also written his name many times, but have not really sat down and made him write his name properly before.
But he went up and wrote his name on the board, together with the rest.

The other moms were very surprised, especially Gab's mom. Her jaw dropped, and said, huh?

We can tell that most Westerners don't bother if their kids can write early on or not. Actually, I don't care either, as long as they can do so by Pri 1. But it just so happens that ds2 likes letters and numbers.

So in the group, all could write their names except for Gab. Anyway, I didn't think it was important. And even felt a little embarrassed over the attention J got.

After this, we had lunch of pizza and spaghetti. (pic below)

We had more games, and the kids got prizes for every single thing they did, be it a ball toss, or a good guess.

This pic below shows a ball toss game.

A throw the bean bag game? I forgot some of the games! See Dh snacking on the grapes and dates behind? haha. I recognised her fruit platter. It's from Ikea. :-)

Then, in a bid to make Dh more useful (Matt's mom's idea, not mine), she asked Dh to host the next game. Man, she handed Dh a boring game. Fortunately he had teacher-training before, so he did make it quite fun. He divided the kids into 2 groups. It was a flashcard "game".

I'm not even sure it's a game, probably just another drill for the kids. I had tried flashcards long ago (i printed them myself and Angeling gave me some Chinese ones too). That was when ds1 was 2 or 3? Ds1 never liked it. So I didn't ever use them again. Ds2 had never even seen flashcards.

But anyway, each card had an English word and Matt's mom said to just get the kids to read the words, and if they get it right, they get a prize.

ds1 has no problem with that, the words happen to be easy ones for him. I asked for ds2 not to play cos he's younger and I didn't want him to lose his self-esteem as he can't read yet.
But Matt's mom insisted he not be left out, so he can get more "prizes".

So ok. When his turn came, his word turned out to be "on". He took a look and said "no".
haha. They decided to give it to him. So he got a prize after all!

Can't remember the exact sequence, but the freeze when music stops game (the video in prev post) was one of the most fun for the kids. Both ds danced liked crazy. or rather, jumped around and shouted.

At one point, the kids adjourned upstairs for a Diego DVD, so we parents all sat around the dining table downstairs, talked, and had coffee.

Matt's mom said she sent her ayi to train in Starbucks for 2 weeks, which is why she can serve Starbucks coffee. It came complete with the coffee cups. Authentic experience.

Dh later suggested to me that I can work for her, since her ayis get such nice training stints. I also hope she sends me to train in a high class Japanese restaurant. haha.

During the chat, we found out that Matt's mom, N, is an ABC, born in LA, but her parents and in laws are Taiwanese in origin. Matt spent his early yrs in Taiwan with his in laws while his mom worked here and his dad in Shanghai. That also explains why Matt is fluent in both Chinese and English. And his Chinese is actually more the Taiwanese accent than the Beijing one.

He'll also say things like "好棒!” (great!), which Taiwanese use frequently, but not the Chinese here.

So Matt's American. His dad is still based in Shanghai now, dealing in kid's apparel. We got some free shoes from N the other day. N's is a family business. She deals with beauty and health products. She is the CEO for Tianjin's operations. They have branches in USA, Taiwan and Indonesia too. I also received some face masks from her another day too. Nice. Haven't had time to use them yet.

She also sent me various other gifts on different days too. Her ayi will send them over. Like I got 2 boxes of cookie mix and then a Lock&Lock tumbler of Taiwanese mee hoon soup. Delicious.

She also sent her driver to pick us up from school, more on than in another post.

Sof's mom, Z, is a very funny person. She speaks in a dramatic way and can make all of us laugh a lot. She always dresses very well. Later she told us her hubby's business is in ladies' branded fashion. She helps her hubby out in the business. No wonder she always dresses very nicely.

Apparently Sof, Pete and Matt all knew each other for sometime already. They all attended another more expensive International school here before. They just switched to this one this year. Sof is also fluent in both Mandarin and English, since her mom is a Beijing native. Pete speaks both English and Korean. Both moms speak English too, but not as good as their kids! :-)

Gab had already been at Nursery and PreK for 2 yrs at this school, so he's not new. His mom, T, was even the Parent-Faculty-Org's president last year. Wow. She said for Gab's 1st yr at Nursery, she just arrived in Tianjin and had nothing to do. She was forever in school with him, so the teachers asked her to do fundraising and organise other activities, so she wouldn't be stuck in the classroom everyday. That's how she ended up being president the next yr, when he was in Pre-K.

All of them are only kids though. It's pretty common here. Even the expats who come here for a while tend to only have one. Like what T (the Columbian) says, she doesn't want to have a baby here. She really beautiful, by the way. Like all those Columbian and Venezuelan ladies, who always win the Ms Universe titles. Their features are so pretty.

I was glad that ds1 had the chance to get to know these friends better before school even started. That was precisely what N wanted for Matt too. To have more friends and be comfortable in the new school.

The kids went home will a very full backpack. They spent the rest of the day playing with their new toys, all from the party.

rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow

9:42 AM
This pic is of the hole in the wall of the bathroom.
This is what I mean when there are holes all over in the house, and I don't know for what reason. They're usually covered up with a piece of cardboard or wood and taped over. Some, like those in the pantry/ storeroom, would not be covered.

However, like what many of you have said, we are still happy now. The place has become like home. And there are some nice things about the apt, which we will try to think of more often. :-)

I've posted this pic here because I just found it. The recovered pics are all over the place, not in their usual running order anymore, after being recovered.

Below is a recovered video, of the kids playing with my basins. Watch how the younger one imitates the older one in almost anything he tries. Funny.

And this next video shows the "freeze when music stops" game, at the Back-To-School party that ds1's classmate, Matt, held.

At the Orientation in school on Friday (29th Aug), we met many other parents and their kids.

Matt's mom was giving out the party invites. Then she found that we lived in the same estate! She too lives in the same estate, but I later found out that her place is totally different from ours.

This estate has many different kinds of apartment types, studio, 2-bedroom, 3-bedroom and various floor plans. Then there are villas too, and villas of different sizes and types. Hers has to be the biggest. Hers is 2 villas combined into 1, Dh says. And it is equipped with close-circuit cameras all ard the perimeter, and the surrounding walls have glass pieces on top. Serious.

I don't know how many cars she owns, but I have seen her turn up in many types so far. The ones the kids and I have sat in include this BMW. I have no idea what model but I just found it very spacious and comfortable. However, the moment Dh sat in it, he said it's the most expensive of the beemers, the 7 series or whatever.

Anyway, if I were to continue on all the things Matt has that's atypical of most local kids, this post would be super long.

His mom is really friendly and nice, that's what's important and she is always asking me to bring my kids over and let them play with Matt.

rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow

9:06 AM
Misc Updates:

1. We've so far been worshipping on Sunday mornings with our home congregation back in Singapore. We use skype (with image) to do that. I make my own unleavened bread and we buy grape juice.

We basically just do everything together with the congregation (sing, pray...), only we are here, hundreds of miles apart. But, after the service, we get to chat with our old friends too, and see their kids, as they go to the church's laptop to interact with us.

In the evenings, we use skype to have Bible study with other Christians in Shanghai and Tianjin and Hubei (i think). This one is using the conference call function, with no image, but allows us to talk to many at the same time. So thankful for skype and modern technology.

This pic below shows a typical Sunday morning with all of us huddled at the computer. Dh has since linked up the laptop with the huge speakers our landlady left us, so we have loud and clear sound quality. It allows Dh to sing very loudly too, which he enjoys.

Previously we had to sing softly, in order to still hear the song leader and follow him.

We also get the kids to dress up in pants and shirt, even though we are at home, so they observe a certain level of behaviour required of them. You know how we act as we dress right? If they're still in PJs then they'll tend to still act silly and be hyperactive.

This will change soon though. We've gathered enough people around here to physically meet for worship services in the morning. So the morning session will be replaced with meeting with the people here. Excited to finally be able to meet some of them whom we've only been hearing on skype so far.

2. Ds1 is really thin. He is not really very tall but he is longer than he is wide. So, his waist remains like that of a 1 year old. Seriously. How can I substantiate that?

See this Winnie the Pooh black cotton sleep pants?

The tag says 12 months. I.e. for a 12 month old baby.
Both ds can still fit into it. It is a little tight for ds2 cos his waist is bigger than his ELDER brother's. But yes, they wear it as shorts now.

Everytime ds1 wears it, I don't know whether to laugh or to cry.
He is 5.5 yrs old and still in a 12mth sized pants.
But he looks so funny also. Because I remember him wearing that as a toddler, with the pants up to the toes, and now it is mid-thigh.

Went grocery shopping with H and her kids, and my kids.
This cake supplies shop was tiny and crowded, and had no space for the kids. So they played outside.

Thanks to H's kids (who attend local schools and now speak like local kids), both ds have a vocab consisting of chinese terms for Dyna Ultraman and the various fighter jets and what not used in the Japanese series. Ultraman is very much more popular in China than in Singapore. It is not even heard of in the USA. When the kids play with Ultraman figurines in Utah, people always ask them if those were Power Rangers.

Over here, everywhere you go, you see Ultraman. Dvds, books, comic books, toys, school bags, pens, pencil boxes, cups, watches, you name it. I don't like the kids to watch the DVDs so I don't buy any. But I do let them look at all the toys when we go to the supermarket. And I have caved in and bought 3 Chinese Ultraman books for them.

Because of the books, they are reading words like "轰隆” (explosion noise),“戴拿奥特曼” (Chinese for Dyna Ultraman),“登场” (appear),“飞鸟信” (Chinese name for the guy who transforms into Ultraman) and so on. Even the younger one. So maybe it has some use. Although I told them these 3 will be it, for a long time to come. Because I don't want their conversation to be peppered with just these words.

I do buy Chinese story books from and from lelong sales at the supermarket. But they learn to read the Chinese words much more quickly from the Ultraman book than any other.


This initial stage, we buy a lot of stuff for the home, and the boys help me to carry stuff. They enjoy being great helpers.

rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow

about us ;
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