Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Two Brothers and Their Dog, Goldy


Zhi Wei, the younger of the two brothers, with Goldy. In the background is Leah, their loyal and capable maid.

I was amused when my colleague, Vincent, smsed me with the message, "Wish you a merry Vesak Day and a Happy Half Year." Mm....Today is the 31st of May, end of the first half of the year. I have heard of Merry Christmas.... but merry Vesak Day?

I decided to take the day off from work as I have been working hard the past few days. A merry day it will be! I will try to be a merry old soul.... do all the fun things like going to the gym and visiting my ex-students, Zhi Wei, Zhi Yi and their pet dog, Goldy. I remembered Zhi Wei's birthday and decided to get a cheese cake for him from the club.

I miss Goldy! Zhi Wei told me that after the tuition class ended, Goldy was often looking out for my arrival at the gate. Goldy loves to eat and I often brought her some food whenever I went to the house. Hence, whenever Goldy sees me she must be thinking, "Here comes my yummy food!" It is lovely to see a dog who not only likes human food but also enjoys her usual doggy food! Goldy reminds me of some parents who proudly proclaim, "It's very easy to feed my child.... he eats well - anything and everything!" It is so nice to hug Goldy... she reminds me of a big bolster!

Zhi Wei's parents were also at home. They treated me to tea and dinner.... sumptuous claypot dinner cooked by their loyal and capable maid, Leah. I always love home cooked food... it always tastes great because it is cooked with love. The father also concocted an interesting and healthy drink... sparkling mineral water with wild nettles. Zhi Yi, the older boy, is the quieter one of the two. He is sporty and tanned and his parents told me that now he is working harder than before, as there are more challenges in the junior colleges.

Of course, the bulk of the conversation was on property and Zhi Wei's parents shared how they came to buy their current lovely home. It is very well designed and comfortable with just the right built-in areas and lovely garden. They were very gracious and wanted to give me a ride home. I insisted on taking the bus as public transport is very convenient in Singapore. I was feeling very happy.... happy for Zhi Wei and his lovely family. It always warms my heart when I see children interacting well wih their parents. The father and sons went cyling together around the neighbourhood. Although Zhi Wei's mum is a high flyer, I noticed she managed to give time to her sons. Sometimes she would just work from home when the children have examinations or take a half day off to spend more time with the boys.

Being the last day of the first half year, I like to take stock of all that had happened. I am grateful to God for giving me good sales, and also the opportunity to learn so many things.... from my clever and more experienced colleagues, from toastmasters' activities, etc. Earlier, I had spoken to another top producer of our company, Nicole, and realised she was so highly stressed and highly strung. Gosh! If I had to be so stressed like this, then I would rather not be a top producer. I cannot work from morning to midnight every day. If I have been working very hard for a few days, I would just give myself a break to do the fun things I enjoy eg. cyling around the East Coast, eating out with friends, spending more hours on the violin, piano and computer or just visiting my friends and clients and their pet dogs. It is also therapeutic for me to cook and bake. It is important to work smart as well as hard. Property work is tough and competitive.... I can only do my best; God has to do the rest.

Gan Chau

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Happiness is Always Within Us

I am amused each time I see the look of surprise on the faces of some people when they find out that I am moving to Little India. I guess it must be the scenes of throngs of Indians around Little India on weekends. It is the favourite hangout for our foreign nationals from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh on Sundays. During their off days, these people love to visit their favourite grocers and restaurants for some home-cooked meals.

In fact, I look at it from the positive side. It will be a good time of outreach for me for my church. I am attending a Tamil church now and it is conducive for me to bring people to church. I hope I can impove my Tamil and Hindhi and hopefully to pick up some words in Pakistani and Bangladeshi as well.

I often tell my friends I am quite comfortable with races other than my own. I grew up with Indian and Malay neighbours. I remember, once, when I was in Secondary Two, ma ma sent me to the store to buy some groceries at night. Just as I was walking back, I sensed someone following me, and just as I turned around, someone tried to snatch my wallet. Although taken aback, I screamed, "Pencuri! Pencuri! (Robber! Robber!)" Blessed with a thunderous voice, my piercing scream scared the robber and he fled! Now I want to laugh. I think I was more scared of ma ma than the robber, for just as the robber was trying to grab my bag, ma ma's face zoomed before my eyes and it gave me courage to fight and to defend my wallet! Ma ma was a strict lady who would not tolerate the news that the $$ she gave me had been robbed! She would think that the onus was on me to protect the money I had been given.

I remember once I was careless and dropped an ice cube too hard into the thermos flask and it exploded. One of my fingers was cut quite badly and there was a lot of bleeding. Eldest sister came to help me while ma ma chided me for being clumsy and spoiling her thermos flask! That was typical of ma ma - if we wanted any sympathy and compassion, we would have to get them from pa pa. Though we were quite fearful of ma ma, we still loved her and respected her. This was why all the neighbours always congratulated ma ma for being a blessed lady, to have a doting husband and filial children! It is interesting how God always put together a man and a woman as husband and wife.... yet these two could have very different characteristics. Yet, they often complement one another.!

As I grew older, I learnt more and more what made ma ma tick. Whenever she got angry with me, I would try to make her smile and her anger would wane. I would sing tunes from Theresa Teng in Hokkien or Mandarin, "You are my beloved". If I forgot the lines, I would compose my own according to the situation and ma ma would smile. Just a simple illustration of Theresa's song:-

Lu si wah eh sim ai eh lang (You are my beloved),
Wah si lu eh ko ai eh lang (I am your beloved)

Bang ah bang, ah bang li jit lang (Dream, if dream, dream of you only),
Siu ah siu, ah siu li jit lang (Think, if think, think of you only)

Perhaps it was due to this habit that I soon developed a gift of singing a tune, and spontaneously putting words into the tune to suit a situation. I was told that the famous singer, Chang Ti, has this peculiar gift too. Of course, he is a talented and famous singer; for me I just want to make my family and friends smile by being an entertainer.! Now I can also sing some songs in Japanese, Nepali, Tamil and Hindhi.

Happiness is always within is not so much from external circumstances! Have you seen grumpy and bored looking individuals in luxury cars? Have you see tais tais (rich wives) pouting when shopping or playing in casinos? Have you not seen cheerful, Philippino maids on Orchard Road during their day off? Have you not noticed the cheerful foreign workers as their pick-ups speed along the highway to bring them to construction sites?

Happiness is indeed always within us. If we decide to be always happy and count our blessings and name them one by one.... we will always be happy.

To Malaysia with Love

As a teenager in Convent Green Lane, I remember I loved to take out my rocking chair into the compound of our kampong house. Under the moonlight, I would dream and wonder. I wondered how Malaysia could be like a sister to her closest neighbours, Singapore and Thailand.

I came from a closely knit family, where papa taught us to love and care for one another. Hence, in the same light, I thought, Malaysia, being so close to Singapore and Thailand, could also be like a loving sibling. Just like my family, we learn from one another, I thought the three countries could also do the same.... learn from each other's strengths and weaknesses.

Alas that was just a teenager's dream. In reality, things are not as easy. I love the huge plantations that could be found in Malaysia because of the massive acres upon acres of lands that we have. I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world to be born in the beautiful isle of Penang. I love the gorgeous beaches and hills of Penang. Penang is such a food paradise, and it would appear as if it is second nature for most ladies in Penang to be able to cook.

I remember how I was just so contented to work as a legal secrety in Lim Kean Siew and Co. My dream was just to work and look after my beloved pa pa and ma ma since all my siblings were staying in other parts of the world. If not for the demise of my parents, I would not have left Penang for my tertiary education in Canada, and to subsequently end up in Singapore.

Though it has been almost 30 years since I left Penang, there is always a special place in my heart for my hometown. Almost every year without fail, I would make a trip to Penang to visit my beloved brother and relatives. And each year, I would find new improvements to the beautiful island. Well.... I guess things have to improve.... all the time.

May God bless all the nations in Asia and the world. May peace and joy prevail!

Gan Chau

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Mitre Hotel





I used to rent an apartment at St. Thomas Walk so that I could walk to Killiney Road when I was running Rialto Italian Restaurant.

One evening, as I was walking home, I saw two of my staff walking towards the same direction. Puzzled, I asked where they were heading to. "For a drink at Mitre Hotel".
"You mean there's a hotel on this road?" I was not aware at all. "Then...can I come along?"

"Sure" the staff replied.

"Am I well dressed enough?" I asked, wondering if my outfit was too casual.

"Defintely!" replied the staff. I caught a faint suggestion of a smile in the staff.

When I arrived at Mitre, I was taken aback. The hotel reminded me of scenes in the movie "Psychopath". We had to walk along a long narrow road which lead to the hotel. The building was tumbling down! I looked up at the ceilings and wondered if any centipede or lizard would drop on my head. The sofas and chairs looked like they should be given away to the junk collector.

We had three bottles of Tiger beer. I was determined that should I go back again, I would bring my own glass. We went to the back of the hotel and suddenly a huge mouse scurried across. At first I thought it was a small cat! I was told that some guests were staying at the hotel. Sophia, the kind lady who was helping out in the evenings told me that these guests had been regulars for many years and were used to the condition. I asked, Uncle Chiam, the man who was runing the hotel, why nothing was done to restore the once majestic building. He mentioned something about family disputes, etc. which I finally understood after reading the recent news in the papers. What a small world. My ex-colleague from River Valley High, Miss Chiam, is also part of the family. Apart from Mitre Hotel, the Chiam family also run Sloane Court Hotel.

Mitre Hotel will soon be taken down, and in its place, a huge condomium will be built. Uncle Chiam's determination to hang on to the Hotel had actually produced something good at the end..... he helped to rope in an extra thirty to fifty million dollars, given the current robust property market.

The above reminds me that sometimes things work out for good at the end of the day. However, I only wish that people would treat each other more kindly and with more reverence. How many families have been broken up and relationships destroyed.... all because of $$$? If only we could make more $en$e of what we want out of life.! The late Nina Wang spent almost a decade to fight her father-in-law, yet did not live long enough to enjoy her additional fortune. Worse, it looks like now the bulk of her fortune is going to fall into the hands of a non family member - the mysterious feng shui master. It really reminds me of the Biblical verse that challenges us, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?".
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Courting Danger!



We had just finished our early dinner of Hakka Yong Tou Fu at Sembawang area and Aveline kindly took Vincent and me to the Raffles Town Club for our gym exercise. Along the way, I spotted a man sleeping soundly in a truck. Gosh, why would anyone court danger in such a careless manner.? The truck only had to brake hard, or if there were an accident, the man would be thrown off from his slumber, and might be run over by an oncoming vehicle.

I decided to take some shots of the moving truck in front of us. I am not sure whether the driver knew I was snapping photos, for he was driving faster than the normal speed.

I had often seen foreign workers packed in open air pick-up trucks. Again they are courting danger, for should there be an accident, these poor workers could endanger themsleves. I really hope the Ministry of Transport would do something to forbid people from travelling in such a precarious manner. It is ironical that while the authorities are so strict about belting up for drivers and passengers in a car, why are they so lax on passengers travelling in trucks.?

Everyone in this little nation is precious, whether he is a citizen, permanent resident or foreign worker. Life is precious, and we must not expose ourselves to unnecessary danger. I guess it is quite alright at the end of the day to leave this world; but it is excruciatingly difficult to survive as a vegetable, or live in this world minus one leg or any of our vital organs.

Gan Chau
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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My 400th Article


Finally I am writing my 400th article in the Oriental Express since I started the blog on 15th November, 2005.

I want to dedicate this article to the two street artistes that I saw at Toa Payoh Central. I admire them for standing so still for a few minutes so much so that they had some people fooled! They were taken to be statues! I believe I had seen them before last Christmas at Orchard Road.

The children were mesmerised by the flapping of the wings of the birds. There are a gracious couple. I noticed that whenever people put in some money into the box, they would bend their bodies to show their appreciation.

Writing is not an easy task, but like the job of the street artistes, it is done with passion. I can identify with the effort of the artistes. It is not easy to perform and wear clothes that must have added on to the warmth in this sultry weather. I could not ask them for their names because they were not supposed to talk, and I could not really tell their race as their faces were painted with gold and silver. Nevertheless, to me, this couple represent the general mass of the public - the hardworking, creative, committed people of Singapore.

Let us peservere in all that we do. As papa has always said, "Anything worth doing, is worth doing well.
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Monday, May 28, 2007

Man's Best Friends





After an open house at my client's semi-detached house at Springleaf Grove, I decided to go with my colleague, Aveline, to her home. I wanted very much to see her neighbour's dog, Spike, a white Chow Chow. I also heard from Aveline that Xioa Ku, Spike's owner, has also recently bought another puppy, a Shi Tzu.

What a beauty the Shi Tzu is. I asked the maid for the dog's name and she said something that sounded like "Mati". I knew the name was not quite correct because "mati" is the Malay word for die. A little later, Xiao Ku, came back and I learnt the name of the new four legged addition is "Machi".

Machi is such a lively bundle of fur. I laughed when I saw him scurrying around on his short little legs, with his bountiful fur touching the ground. He obviously hero-worshipped the Chow Chow. Machi followed Spike everywhere around the house. It is amazing how Spike welcomed Machi and was not jealous of the new addition at all. Chows Chows are wonderfully friendly and quiet dogs.

God is such a wonderful creator! Probably, He knows that a man will always need a best friend who is absolutely faithful and loyal. He has created dogs for us to enjoy. I am not a theologian, but I would like to think that God must love dogs very much because a d-o-g is G-O-D spelt backwards. Interestingly a dog has most of these beautiful traits -
absolute faithfulness, forgiving nature, and unconditional love. A dog loves his master no matter how rich or poor he is; how handsome or less good looking, etc. In one of the SPCA posters, there is one with the wordings, "To you, he is a dog; to him you are everything!"

There are many things we can learn from dogs, don't you agree? If dogs are faithful, I want to be faithful to my Creator and to my commitments. If dogs are forgiving, I want to be always forgiving towards those who need my forgiveness, just as I hope others will forgive me. If dogs love unconditionally, I too want to love without condition.

Indeed, dogs make my world go round!
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What Number is your Car?

The Braddel MRT Station is about 9 minutes walk from my present abode. Every morning, I would pass by the Shell Petrol Station situated just at the junction of Toa Payoh North and Lorong 1. I would stop by to buy copies of the Straits Times and New Paper.

Once, the sales attendant asked me, "What number is your Car, and Pump No?"

"BMW, No. 11", I smiled. My car needs no petrol, insurance and road tax. Best of all, it can never ever get a fine from the traffic police". (BMW stands for bus, mrt and walking).

Of course, the sales attendants by now recognise me. They would always attempt to sell me the stuff on offer right infront of the cash machine. Usually these would be $2/- for some cookies, chocolates, candies, etc. I would tell them that it would be a waste of my walking exercse if I were to consume any of the sweet stuff.

Many people are surprised that I managed to be one of the top agents in my company even though I do not drive. I do not know why many have the notion that unless you drive, you cannot be a real estate agent. I used to drive until about 5 years ago, when my ear specialist advised me not to drive, when I complained of dizziness and imbalance when I had to turn my head round when reversing the car, etc.
I have chronic ear problems since young and have learnt to live with them. Once, Chloe, the bright daughter of one of my university buddies, visited Singapore and asked me what is the meaning of ringing in the ears. I explained, "It's like perpetually listening to music, free of charge". Thank God, the ringing has stopped now, but I never know when it will start again.

Once one of my clients kind of complained that his neighbour told him that her agent drove her around to look for a property. I reminded my client that it is my knowledge and expertise that he should be more concerned with because the onus is on me to find him an excellent property. It is more important that the property I recommend him must turn out to be a good investment. Though I may not drive, I give my clients other value-added service.

Interestingly, most if not all of my clients drive, and they often end up giving me rides! Hence, I have enjoyed being a passenger in many makes of cars! You name it; I have sat in it! Sometimes I pick up my clients by taxis; everything in life is a give and take. We must always know what is important - in my case, it is vital that I keep up to date with the market and that whatever I recommend to my clients must be properties that I would buy myself. I always remind myself that I am not selling real estate... I am handling people's sweat and blood money. Hence it is imperative that I exercise great caution in my work and give right advice.

Strangely, I have actually become more productive with my time. I plan my activities and because I do not have to worry about parking problems, I can zip from one end of Singapore to another by MRT, bus and taxis. Sometimes I end up doing my work in the food court, restaurants, Raffles Town Club, Botanic Gardens, poolside of condominiums, etc., depending on how I want to connect my schedules. As a result I even find time to read, prepare my speeches, play the piano and violin, and write daily on my blog! Above all, to even find time to cook for my guests and for my toastmasters' club meetings! Mm ....I love my BMW vey much. :-)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Yours Truly, Uniquely Singapore (7)

SINGAPORE: The current high occupancy rate at some public hospital is stressing doctors to discharge their patients, admitted Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday.

Occupancy has hit highs of more than 90 per cent for some hospitals recently, above Mr Khaw’s ideal of 85 per cent. “When you run at over 90 per cent, it’s very stressful,” said the Health Minister, who was the chief executive of several hospitals from 1985 to 1992.

“Stressful in the sense that, every day, our doctors have to go down to beg the patients (to be discharged).” Occupying a hospital bed for acute illness costs the Government an average of $1,000 a day, compared to “a few hundred dollars” for a community hospital bed.

I read the above in "My Singapore News" by Redbean. I have noticed that of late, the mrt trains and public buses are usually very crowded. Especially it is so jam packed during peak hours that it is quite warm.

Rooms and apartments are also in shortage. What Redbean has said is correct - there is no need for us to wait for the population to be 6.5 million! Talk is always cheap. In wanting the population to grow to 6.5 million, the government must also ensure that there are sufficient hospitals, doctors, housing and public transport to cope with the rise in population. Due to the shortage in housing, rentals have escalated some 30 to 50%. I am glad that I have bought a small HDB apartment in time, and I purposely chose one just 45 seconds walk to the Little India MRT so that I can sometimes walk instead of taking the train to my office which is one stop away. Moreover, on weekends, I can even get free bus rides to Dhoby Ghaut MRT station!

Recently, we read how Kelvin Lee was punched by a stranger for no rhyme and reason. He lost 4 of his teeth and yet the policemen who came did not arrest the man because the offence was not a seizable one! Now all the residents are worried that the man would hit one of them. It could be serious if it had been an elderly person! Are people getting more stressed? Or is it just the tip of the surface?
Mental hospitals also have to be built and more and more psychiatrists have to be employed. My friend who has been working here has told me he might go back to Melbourne to work as life is getting more and more stressful. Isn't this going to be a vicious cycle.? We keep wanting people to work and live in Singapore, but these foreign talents will want to leave Singapore at the slightest onset of stress, greener pastures, etc.

Gan Chau

Please Call Me "Daughter, Anak Perempuan or Nu Er"

When I started learning to read in Primary Two, I was already very sensitive to words. I always cringed when papa called me his "chow wa" (Hokkien for the word, daughter). I had interpreted "chow wa" to sound like "run away from me". I told papa that if he had to introduce me to others, he must always say that I am his daughter, anak perempuan or nu er (Mandarin for daughter). I loved him so
much that I would never, ever run away from him. Papa laughed, as he understood the logic of my reasoning even though the interpretation of "chow wa" was not quite accurate. In fact, the word "chow wa" is unique only to Penangnites. Here in Singapore, people do not use this word. They say, "Char bor kia" in Hokkien.

I had asked someone, Mrs. Chong En Shin, an elderly member of the church which my brother-in-law was then pastoring in Kuching about the word, "chow wa". Mrs. Chong explained that it could have come from the Malay word "chawan" which means stove. Hence, in the olden days, it was usually the daughter who learnt how to cook. Hence, the word "chow wa". In Penang, we have many Straits Settlements Chinese or nonyas and babas. Hence, many words in our Hokkien dialect have been coined with influence from Bahasa Malaysia.

Language is like music to my ears. This is why I cringe when someone makes jarring grammatical errors in his speech. It is like listening to wrong notes in a melody. At the recent National Achievers' Congress, I heard the Master of Cermonies, Richard, telling the audience a story about Vincent Van Gogh and Picasso.
Not only was his story half accurate, but his sentences were punctuated with so many jarring grammatical errors! Public speaking is not an easy task and I admire Richard's courage to stand on stage, but I really wish he could have taken the trouble to polish up his English grammar and do his research as well.

One of my ex students was surprised when I told the class that language is like music. Since he liked music very much, he decided to listen to the sound of language, and after that he made a marked improvement in both his English and Chinese.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Unsung heroes and heroines


The "Fruit Aunty" of Raffles Girls' School

The "Drinks Uncle" of Holland Drive Coffee Shop

The interesting young lady who helped when few wanted to.

One day I went to Raffles Girls' School to collect something from my client who was teaching at the well known school. After our meeting, I decided to have some food and drinks at the school canteen. This was my first visit to the school, and I kind of missed eating at school canteens since I left teaching some one and a half decades ago.

I was happy to find everything so reasonably priced. The fruit juice was superb. A glass of fresh water melon cost only $1.00 I talked to the lady running the stall, and
liked her warmth and friendliness. She told me that she had been running her little stall for the past 40 years in the same school. Though her children are now quite successful, she carried on with her little business so as to pass time, and to keep fit and healthy. She has also grown to love the students and staff in the school. An unsung heroine.

After our toastmasters' meeting at the Buona Vista Community Centre, we decided to go for a drink and to have some lo hei as it was around Chinese New Year. There were 15 of us. I was amazed when the coffee shop staff ordered drinks and there was no necessity for him to write down the orders! Wow! Such excellent memory! He proudly told us that he was used to it as he had been working for the past 20 years! An unsung hero.

I first met Sophia when I was running Rialto Restaurant. Sophia helped in her relative's food outlet at the Far East Plaza during the day, and in the evenings she helped the boss of Mitre Hotel as she felt compassion for him. "If I don't help him, how? So pitiful..." she would say. By now most readers in Singapore would have read about the Mitre Hotel saga, and would know it is not easy to work in a place where mice and insects would scurry around. Yet Sophia played her part... a kind heart; a kind deed. An unsung heroine.

Indeed our little island of Singapore has many unsung heroes and heroines.... people who played a part to help make Singapore what she is today. Together we stand! Let us all press on with our part to help bring more glory and success to our little nation.

Gan Chau
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Friday, May 25, 2007

Yours Truly, Uniquely Singapore (6)

The Work Holiday Pass scheme of Singapore is aimed at young students and graduates from overseas, according to the Channelnews Asia report. It is open to those aged 17 to 30. There will be 2000 places available a year. "A positive experience of living and working in Singapore under the Programme would encourage some of them to work here when they graduate, or at a later stage in their careers", said Ng Eng Hean.

I read the above in "Illusio" by Akikonomu. As I have said, I do not understand politics. Neither do I have a natural understanding of economics. However, I will write from the little that I understand and have observed.

Our government seems to swing from one extreme to another. They have been so stringent on study mamas, many of whom have worked secretly in order to help bring in some income to help with the high expenses of living and studying in Singapore. Mind you, some of these peidu mama (study mamas) are very highly qualified. I have met a few who are graduates and some who are qualified doctors and engineers! My favourite foot reflexologist had closed down her clinic when the government started to clamp down on beauty and health saloons. I could only conclude that with her inability to hire the study mamas, she could not carry on her business.

Now, we suddenly hear of the government's plan to bring in young students and graduates between 17 to 30 to let them have a positive experience of living and working in Singapore under the programme. I am one of the most positive ladies around, yet I am not so positive about the government's plan. Does this imply that those students who are currently studying in Singapore are also allowed to work? I was asked to help teach English for one month in a commercial school. The school only paid me $25/- an hour to teach English as a Second Language to a class of 35 students. Although the pay was paltry, I accepted the temporary teaching job out of passion and a desire to help the Chinese students. I was horrified to find that everyday, only 4 to 10 students would turn up for class. The rest could not wake up as many of them worked secretly as waitresses or hostesses in pubs and lounges.

The school seemed to be more interested in collecting fees from the students. It was nonchalant about the poor attendance so long as the students paid their fees!

Now with so many properties being enblocked and with the sudden increase in prices and rents of properties, many are finding it difficult to adjust to the 40 to 60 per cent increase in rents. Now with the above plan, accommodation is getting more difficult. Although I do not specialise in room rentals, I still have clients and agents calling me up to ask whether I need a tenant even though I do not advertise.

As Akikonomu has asked, "Just what is the definition of foreign talent?" Or are we merely importing foreign labour. It is sad that ever so often, our viewpoints are not taken seriously. Just to illustrate an example or two.

New stainless steel back rests or benches or whatever you call them, have been installed at MRT stations. I was amused when I tried to sit on them, only to find my bumps sliding off the slippery surface! Worse, they are a tad too high for my 1.53 metre height. I wonder why the MRT authorities have not noticed the less than positive design of the benches!

In December I had written to Stomp about the confusing traffic lights between Dhoby Ghaut MRT station and Parkmall. Seeing that nothing has been done to improve the situation, and witnessing more near miss accidents and narrow escapes, I wrote to the Land Transport Authority. (LTA). The LTA replied very promptly that they were looking into the matter, but until today, nothing has been done to rectify or improve the situation.

As a teacher, I always tell my students to give me feedback and criticisms so that I can constantly improve myself. Likewise, I hope that the government will also ponder over our humble feedback and criticisms. We contribute our feedback because we love Singapore enough to stick out our necks. Wise is the person who accepts the view points of others, because others can see our reflction in the mirror better than we can see ourselves.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Yours Truly, Uniquely Singapore (5)

I was walking to the City Hall MRT Station and I cut through the mall on my way back from Raffles Hotel. I happened to pass by a Guess Boutique and thought the handbags on display were quite attractive. I hardly bought branded goods and thought the Guess bags might run into a few hundred dollars. Hence I was surprised when the sales assistant told me it cost $179/- and after 20% discount, it would be about $143/-.

Later, I spotted a black bag with white polka dots and a lovely little scarf and some accessories, and to my surprise it was even cheaper at $120/-. After discount it would be about $96/-. I asked if the bag could be cheaper and the assistant told me that if I had an UOB Visa Card I would be entitled to another 10% discount. I told her I do not have credit cards, and in fact they should give shoppers another 10% discount if the goods are paid by cash. After all, they would have immediate cash and would not have to pay any fee to the Visa Card company.

The supervisor of the boutique heard my comments and smiled. "You're right! Shoppers who paid by cash should be given more discount."

I told the shop assistant that I would probably look for a friend with an UOB Visa card so that I could get a total of 30% instead of 20%. I shared the incident with a friend, and told her that it would have been wiser for the boutique to accede to my request since I asked. In other words, it is better to strike when the iron is hot. After walking out of the shop, it is very unlikely that I would bother to bring a friend with a Visa Card. When I was running Rialto Italian Restaurant, I always tried to accommodate my customers' request. It does not cost me much to make a customer happy especially if his request is reasonable. I would try to adjust somewhat and whenever possible, relent a little for it is easier to retain a customer than to try to attract a new one. Customer loyalty is priceless.

Perhaps more retail shops could emulate Taka Jewellery. The shop assistants are trained very well to observe their customers and to adjust whenever possible. Whenever a sales staff is unsure about a customer's request for cheaper or for some unusual terms, he/she will call up the manager in charge. This probably explains why Taka Jewellery is doing so well.

It is interesting that people just do what is being promoted or given. Retail shops should be promoting their goods; not promoting the credit card companies, which just want consumers to spend and spend, even when consumers should sometimes curtail their spending. This is why I prefer to purchase by cash so that it is more
"painful" to fork out cash than to pay by plastic. Let us not let "consumerisation" consume us. Let us be determined not to end up with white elephants that later eat into our pockets and end up collecting dust.

Gan Chau

More reflection on May 13th incidents

Thanks to Malaysiakini, I am now even more curious to read the blogs of some prominent and outstanding Malaysian bloggers. Amongst them is Dr. Darren Hsu. In his blog, "Dr. Hsu's Forum", he mentioned, "My interest and curiosity were aroused by the seizure of the May 13 books from MPH. The little Napoleans, if their intention is just to read the book to see whether it should be banned, should have paid for the books instead of using their authority.

Remember what Raja Nasrin, Raja Muda of Perak advises: Might isn't equal to right".

On reflecting, I am afraid that whoever had seized the books obviously have very little understanding of human psychology. I am sure all of us must have experienced how the more we want to hide, the more others are curious to find out the truth from us. The more a pretty lady wants to "tarik harga" (act coy and difficult to get), the more her admirer wants to court her and win her heart.

The above also brings to mind of an incident. Second sister Ean Ean was somewhat pampered by mom and amongst the three daughters, she was more inclined to be vain even as a teenager. She would spend more time dolling herself up and this irked papa somewhat as he felt that sister should be spending more time with her books.
Sister did not do well in her Form Four exams and would be sitting for her "O" levels in a year's time. Papa challenged her and used reverse psychology. Papa said it would be almost impossible for her to pass her exam. Sister initially felt discouraged, but goaded by her other siblings who urged her to prove papa wrong, she studied very hard and passed her "O" levels with flying colours!

On the same note. the more the authorities want to ban the book, the more people want to buy it and read. When the May 13 riots took place, many people knew who were responsible.... only that they did not have concrete evidence. People do not have to have tertiary education to piece together everything. It is good that we now have a learned man in Dr. Kua who has taken the trouble to do intensive research on the May 13 riots so that everything could be more transaparent and easily understood. With understanding comes knowledge, with knowledge comes security and with security comes confidence, peace and acceptance. In fact, Malaysians are wonderful and forgiving people. They have been very forgiving for the past 27 years and are still very forgiving.

Gan Chau

Monday, May 21, 2007

If Only Papa Had Written.....

Papa was one of the greatest jokers and natural comedians in his time. His jokes and mimicries would send everyone rolling with laughter. This is why our home was often a gathering area for my sibling's friends and visitors. Although we lived in the notorious village of Jelutong in Penang, people just loved to visit papa and listen to his stories which were humorous yet inspiring. Even though papa was a humble school teacher, and we were not at all rich, my parents were always very hospitable. Guests would be treated to coffee and hot, piping beh teh sor or tau sar piah (famous Penang biscuits). Sometimes, papa would get his children together to give a sponatenous little concert. It was easy for everyone to love him, because papa was always full of ideas, fun, laughter and joy.

Despite his busy schedules, he still found time to help others. Sometimes, parents would send their trying children to papa for a dose of counselling. His gentleness and love touched even the hardened hearts of some hardcore gangsters. Hence, you can understand why at papa's wake, so many people from all walks of life turned up to pay their respects! Papa always advised us not to look down or look up to people. The only One we can look up to is God for He is the Creator of the universe.

My siblings are all much older than me. Being the youngest, I usually followed papa around on his motorbike. Hence, I listened to conversations between papa and his friends. I enjoyed learning from the wisdom of the elderly. This probably explained why I matured so fast, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Papa was a gifted musician who could play more than 20 instruments, self taught. It was a pity he did not have formal music education. If he had, he would have become as famous as his son, Kee Yong or his grand-daugher, Kam Ning. He taught himself music composition and arrangement, and often arranged music for his band. Papa was also an avid reader and a talented writer. At one time, he used to contribute and publish some of his articles in magazines.

Papa often taught me a lot of things. He would explain things to me as we went on our daily morning walks. It was papa who taught me about the intrinsic value of morning dew. When we reached Bukit Dumbar for our morning walks, we would gather some dew from the grass and applied it on our face. It was refreshingly cool and as papa had said, it promoted healthy and smooth complexion. Gosh! It beats having to spend hundreds of dollars on expensive cosmetics! Whenever people ask me about the secret of my excellent complexion, I would narrate the above.!

Of course, the fact that I grew up with Malay and Indian neighbours has helped me to relate easily with everyone I meet. When I was studying in Canada, it was easy for me to connect with the cosmopolitan crowd. This is probably why I am enjoying my life here in Singapore, as I meet people from all over the world.

It is a pity that papa was too busy to write and publish his stories. He had touched many lives with his pearls of wisdom. I thank God that I have an elephant memory
and can still remember most, if not all, of what papa had taught me. My nieces and nephews had vague memory of papa as he passed away when they were very young. Some of my younger relatives had never even met papa. Hence, I often wrote about papa in my articles so that my relatives could learn from his wisdom and relate to papa.

As I had said earlier, I would not be able to leave billions of dollars behind like Nina Wang. However, I am sure I could leave billions of characters behind as my little legacy to Singapore and Malaysia, the two countries that I love the most.
Malaysia because I was born and raised in lovely Penang Island; and Singapore because I spent most of my wonderful working life here.

I am so glad that with the availability of computers, I can access to Malaysiakini and be updated about news in Malaysia. No doubt, we can still read in the Straits Times and Berita Harian, but nothing beats the click of the computer. I am also glad that is also in Chinese. Some of my Malaysian friends in Singapore and other parts of the world are still not aware of Malaysikini. I hope to pass the word around, so that they too can be connected to Malaysia. After all, one's place of birth is always one's first love.

Gan Chau

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Thanks, Malaysiakini!

If not for my article being featured in Malaysiakini, I would not have known about its wonderful existence! Now, I can click on Malaysiakini and be updated with news from Malaysia.! Ironically, I read about the publication of the May 13 book by Dr. Kua in! Harro is a blog featuring influential bloggers, and I am honoured to be one of those featured in Harro's blog.

It has been 30 years since I left Penang for my tertiary education in Canada, and subsequently on my return, to work in Singapore because my degree was not recognised by the Ministry of Education. (I had mentioned that in my article, "I am drained Singapore).

I love Penang and I am extremely fond of my second brother and relatives who are still living in Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Kuching. Hence, I visit them as much as time can permit. Although it is a joy to see my loved ones, I miss my classmates and my best friend, Koh Gim Hong, whom I have lost contact with. I hope that with my articles featured in Malaysiakini, my classmates from Green Lane Convent Primary and Secondary would remember me and we can keep in touch again! I am one of those insiginificant and quiet students, but my unique name of Choo Choo will definitely ring a bell in people's memory! I remember how I was smart enough to realise that I had to pay great attention whenever we started a new term in a new class. For the first month, teachers would always call upon me to answer questions because my name was the easiest to remember! I still remember a few names of my classmates. There was Lean Heng, the head prefect and the smartest girl in the whole school. Then there was fat Cecelia who resembles Lydia Sum and I now apologise for joining everyone to call her "Fatty Bom Bom". If there is any consolation to Cecelia, I am now a Fatty Bom Bom myself! Then there was our beloved Malay comedienne, Siti Jauwah who often sent the class rolling with laughter! What joy when I think of the past! What greater joy I will have, if only I can meet some of my classmates again!

I guess most of my teachers would have passed away. How nice if I could meet any of my form teachers and say to her, "Madam, I am now quite successful. I was such an utter failure as a floor speaker in the school debate, but now I have won champion prizes for humorous and table topics contests in toastmasters' activities. I was too shy to hold a monitor's or prefect's position in school, but now I am a leader!"
I still remember my favourite teacher, Miss Lee, who was my form teacher for Prmary 5 and 6. She used to live very near the school.

Although we were raised in Jelutong Village, papa brought us up well. Due to our great love for him, we tried to please him and make him happy. I still remember all the things he had taught us. Papa always reminded us to be transparent and truthful. He said, "Don't hide especially when you have made mistakes. Because the more you hide, the more I want to find out. You will have caused me to be distrustful and paranoid. "Sesiapa yang makan cabai, tahu pedas nya." (Whoever eats chilli knows how hot and spicy it is) is papa's favourite idiom whenever he suspected any of his children hiding something from him. I remember once I had red marks for all my subjects except English and Art. I delayed showing my report book to papa. Towards nightfall, I summoned all my courage and brought my book for papa to sign. To my surprise he said, "My child, papa knows you're more capable than this. Find out for yourself why you failed so badly this term. I'm sure you will give me good results next term". Papa's understanding and gentleness made me burst into tears. After that incident I became one of the top ten students in class.!

On this same note, I hope the Malaysian government will not ban the book by Dr. Kua,
because the more the government wants to hide, the more people will want to find out.
People generally become more forgiving when we openly admit our mistakes.

As I have always said, I do not understand politics. I only understand how people generally function because of the way papa has brought us up. Having lived on this earth for 53 years, 5 months and 20 days, I have found out that we all react the same way towards lies and honesty; cruelty and compassion; failure and success, etc.
This is because we are all humans, regardless of the colour of our skin.

Gan Chau

Friday, May 18, 2007

My Article Featured in Malaysiakini!

Gosh! When I saw my sitemeter I was surprised to find all the hits from!

I clicked and there was my article, "A Young Girl's Memories of the May 13th Riots". I had written a kind of historical essay on my experiences. Amongst my siblings, I am the one blessed with an elephant memory. Though I did know who Harun was at age of 12, I remembered his name being mentioned by my relative. I remember his name because it sounded something like the name of my best classmate, Har Loon.

At first I thought one of my articles was featured in I am surprised that my article would generate interest. When I shared this with my colleague, Aveline, she laughed, "Choo, you said you don''t understand politics, but now your articles have been featured in Online Citizen and Malaysiakini.

On reflecting, I am grateful that none of my family members or relatives were hurt during the riots. I hope that those whose family members were hurt or killed during the riots would forgive and not dwell on the past. To err is human, to forgive divine. If we were to dwell on the past, it is for the purpose of analysing and reflecting over what had taken place, so that we could be objective and learn from our mistakes. I believe this is what Dr. Kua has done by his research, and I hope the Malaysian government would not impede his book from being shared with the public and the world at large.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Young Girl's Memories of the May 13 Riots

I came across a blog article "Unveiling the 'May 13' riots. Immediately the unforgettable riots flashed through my mind. I remember I was in Primary Six at Green Lane Convent, Penang. Suddenly, the school principal announced that we could all go home at around 11a.m. just after school recess. I was overjoyed. It meant I could take my own sweet time to walk home. I enjoyed walking past the padi fields where I could find some ponds teeming with little colorful fish. It meant I could take some time to catch those fish. What childish innocence.! At 12 years of age, I was more concerned with the fish in the pond than I was of the impending danger. They say that ignorance is bliss! Unknown to my parents, I had saved my bus fares and always prefered to walk to school. To me, it was more fun walking than taking a bus.

When I reached home, I was surprised to find papa, mama and my second brother at home. However, second sister was not in sight. My usually calm papa was somewhat agitated and I heard him saying to mama, "I had told Ean Ean not to go for her sewing class this morning. She's really stubborn.!" "Go and pick Ean up," mama urged. Though papa was acting stern and tough outside, deep inside him, he was one of the most soft-hearted and kindest men on earth. Grudgingly he took his bike and sped off.

About an hour later, I was delighted to hear the motor roaring, which meant papa was back. He related to us what a narrow escape he had with my sister on the pillion. Just as he was reaching Perak Road, all of a sudden, a group of Malays sprang from the kampong and came charging at motorists. Papa thought that would be the end of him and my sister, but God sent a bus to shelter him, and he found himself riding between a bus and a lorry.! Once out of the danger zone, papa increased his speed.

Curfews were immediately imposed. I remember I was extremely happy because it meant I could see papa and everyone at home. There I was contentedly reading my story books and not quite understanding what was happening. However, I realised that the situation was quite tense when I saw papa and second brother, arming themselves with steel rods and wooden sticks as weapons to defend the family should we be attacked.

I remember brother going out of the house and he came back, with his face somewhat off-colour. "Just now a policeman scolded me. He asked me to go home and that I was lucky he did not shoot me for they had been given orders to shoot anyone seen during the curfew hours."

My sister-in-law's brother was then living in Kuala Lumpur and he was also the private photographer of the then Yang Di Pertuan Agong. Hence, he knew many Malaysian ministers and politicians. He later shared with our family how he was driving on the road when he heard of racial riots breaking out in Kuala Lumpur and Penang. He was near Harun's house, and thought he might just go to Harun's house to seek temporary shelter and protection. Just as he was about to turn into Harun's house, a group of Malays suddenly appeared from the house and came a-charging.
My relative had the presence of mind to just drive speedily on, instead of turning into Harun's house.

I remember the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, weeping on our little black and white television, appealing to the people to be calm. I did not understand politics, but seeing the Tunku crying also moved me to tears. I did not understand the full impact of the situation, but I was happy and contented just to have all my family members at home with me. I did not feel bored staying at home during the curfews because I was devouring my story books like a hungry little worm.

Later, we knew many people had died from friends who lived in England and Australia. We thank God for protecting our family during this time of unrest. We lived in an attap house in one of the most notorious villages in Penang, and somehow it would have been easy for someone to just throw a torch to set the house ablaze. However, having grown up with our Malay and Indian neighbours' children, I found that they are delightful, simple folks at heart. Once, they consider you a friend, they are loyal with a tenacity that warms your heart.

It has been 4 decades since the riot took place. The Malaysian government wanted us to believe that the May 13 riots were a spontanous outburst of racial violence. I am glad that sociologist, Dr. Kua Kia Soong, is now making an intense study to reveal the truth. People say that the truth always prevail.

The past is over. My beloved parents, and many of the older folks who witnessed the May 13 Riots have passed away. We learn from our mistakes. However, we can only learn from our mistakes if we have that sincere desire to admit our failings and to improve. I hope the Malaysian government will not suppress or hinder Dr. Kua's research and findings. I believe Dr. Kua only wants to put the facts right so that Malaysians can move on with better understanding so as to promote greater love and acceptance of one another. As I have said many times, I do not understand politics. Papa brought us up to love and respect one another. Papa taught us that to be truly happy and successful in life, regardless of whatever job we hold, we must be moved by the wheel of love and compassion for others. Faith, hope and love, and the greatest of all these is love.

Gan Chau

A Senior Citizen at 53?

When I sent a copy of my advertisement, calling myself an ex-teacher and senior citizen, my Canadian buddy, James Dunlap, who is now practising law in Hong Kong was appalled. "You call yourself a senior citizen?!!! "Why, in Canada, nobody is a senior citizen until he is aged 65", argued James. Of course, this topic started a furore of excitement and a string of debates amongst my 3 buddies from the University of Alberta. They are Mo Shin from Taiwan, currently working in the States, (Lau Ta), Richard from Hongkong, currently working in the States (Lau Erh) and James Dunlap from Canada (Lau San.) I am the youngest of the three and the only lady. We call ourselves "The Gang of Four". Although we are all living in different parts of the world, we still email one another. Since young, I have always been a tomboy and get better along with guys. Sorry, ladies, but I find guys are more easy going and less petty lah. That could probably be because they have thicker skin.

"Yes, James, Dr. Chiang was asked to set up a centre for seniors and he is targeting at people above 50!" At 53, I fall into the category of people Dr. Chiang is eyeing. Guess, if I ever join the centre, I will want to start a toastmasters' club for the senior citizens!" I explained.

I thought that the government is expecting people to retire at age 65, and hence logically speaking, banks should grant housing loans till the maximum of 65 years old. However, I was surprised, when a banker from UOB, Jason Chong, told me that UOB only gives loans for up to the age of 50 for HDB applicants.! Some banks don't even grant loans for HDB purchases. I wonder if they deem it not worth their while as HDB flats are cheaper than private properties. Fortunately I have enough in my CPF and some cash to settle the purchase of the 3 room HDB flat in full. It is best to do so before the age of 55. People say that age is only a number, but in Singapore the number is very crucial to determine what you can or can not do!

I guess with the recent announcement by the government that senior citizens will get some kind of financial benefit from the GST offset, I can imagine people are now more eager to fall under this category of senior citizenship.! Alas! I miss it by 1 year, 7 months and 25 days!

Of course in sharp contrast, there is nothing that great to be a senior citizen in Singapore as compared to the senior citizens in countries like Canada, Australia and America just to name a few. There they enjoy benefits that would be too long for me to enumerate here.

As I have said in my earlier blog, I enjoy growing older, for it implies I can see Jesus faster! I once heard a preacher, Pastor Ang, while I was attending the Evangelical Chinese Church in Melbourne. He said, "Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die." If heaven truly is such a beautiful place where the roads are paved with gold, why be afraid to go there.?

Seriously, let us all make the best use of our precious little time on earth. Do not waste our time over unimportant things. Do not let our hearts burn and seeth with anger even for a few minutes. Let us always forgive and forget and move on with life. Let us maximise our life to the fullest and live each day as if it were our last. If we have to tell someone, "I love you", just say it or it may be too late. If we have to forgive someone, just do it or it may be too late.

Someone said when a child is born, he cries and everyone around him rejoices. When a person is dead, he rejoices while everyone around him weeps. For me, I would prefer relatives and friends to rejoice and celebrate when I am gone, for as a Christian, death has no sting.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

You're Quite Political, After All!

When I reached my office, my colleague, Cathy said excitedly, "Choo, you're funny. You always say you don't understand politics, but you got quoted in "On Line Citizen...what you say...something like a good politician is one who loves the people in his nation! You're quite political, after all!"

I smiled! I am quite pleased with the growing popularity of my blog.

Cathy continued, "Why don't you write more poems, especially on politics?"

"Got... You didn't read meh? Wrote something about Chiam See Tong during the last election." Sometimes I like to relac and speak Singlish with people I'm familiar with.

Some of my friends and nieces complain that I write faster than they can catch up with my blog. Bo pian mah (Can't be helped.) I'm already 53 years 5 months and 16 days old - don't write now, later konk out (die) how? Don't quickly complete all my 40 projects in toastmasters' club, later konk out how? Time and tide wait for no man lah. I don't have billions of dollars like Nina Wang to leave behind. Hence I can only leave behind billions of characters for my relatives and Singaporeans to read mah.

So for the sake of those who have missed my political poem on Chiam See Tong, I am republishing here. This is about the most political I can get!

Thursday, May 11, 2006
Chiam See Tong (Temporarily Persevere)

After writing about the lang ding dang man, (the travelling singer) I am now inspired to write about my favourite opposition leader, Chiam See Tong.

Coincidentally, his name in Hokkien means "Chiam see - temporarily, tong - persevere)! Since I am a Singaporean, I have included words in English, Hokkien, Mandarin, Cantonese, Teochew, Malay and Tamil to make it a poem with a truly local flavor. For the understanding of my overseas readers, Chiam See Tong is the longest serving opposition leader. He is now 71 years old and has 5 more years to serve.


Chiam See Tong,
Tak pai teh gong, (Always pretend)
Pun lai si kiang lang, (Actually a clever person)
ker shi ai cho humble lang, (But wants to be a humble person)
PAP $80 million ang chai tau, (PAP $80 million carrot)
Peh seh sui kah kau. (The people calculate carefully)
Lui bo chai tiao chim (But money cannot kiss)
Ah Chiam gau take lang eh sim. (Ah Chiam wins the heart of the people)
Chiam See Tong kah oon, (Chiam See Tong is more stable)
Koh ee beh si pun. (Depend on him, won't lose out)
Upgrading jit lui pun mian chut, (Upgrading, one cent no need to come out)
PAP, ingin, xiu xiu tiok ai chut! (PAP, definitely, a little, must come out)
Lang kong kiang lang chiak gong lang, (People say clever people eat up stupid people)
Gong lang chiak Ti Kong, (Stupid people eat up God)
Nandrei, Chiam See Tong, (Thank you, Chiam See Tong)
Lu si ko ai tua leng gong. (You are a lovable big fool)
Ah Chiam jin zhi tong (Ah Chiam is understanding and tactful)
PAP pak beh toh, (PAP cannot knock you off)
Ah Chiam chin chia ho, (Ah chiam is very good)
Ah Chiam jin tai hong, (Ah Chiam is very generous)
Gong gong chiak Ti Kong! (Stupid, stupid, but eat up God)*

Gan Chau

* In Hokkien , we say stupid people eat up God (in Mandarin it is sha ren yiu sha fu)
it means foolish or less clever people seem to get all the blessings at the end, maybe
because of their purity and faith, or God has a particularly soft spot for the weak and helpless.)

posted by The Oriental Express at 9:12 PM | 1 comments links to this post

Work, Live and Play in the City!

I had a pleasant surprise when I found our President, Mr. Chris Koh, doing the presentation instead of Mr. Ben Low at our office. I had turned up for the seminar as I was accompanying my new recruit, Lilian. Chris is an excellent speaker, a knowledgeable and capable right hand man of our CEO, Dr. Dennis Wee.

The audience was enthralled and affected by Chris' enthusiasm and passion. Chris explained how our government had planned a new and exciting phase.. "Work, Live and Play in the City". This is why buildings such as Shenton One, Marina Bay Residences, The Sail, Icon and Orchard Turn have come up. In the past the Central Business District and Orchard Road were mainly set aside for retail and offices. Now apartments are being built so that people can just live near their work place and have recreation ... all within the city areas!

I smiled with contentment as I heard Chris. Mm... I can't afford those multi million dollar apartments. I could only afford a small 3 room HDB apartment in Little India. When I bought the flat, I was only thinking of the convenience of walking to my office. Play? I am sure I would enjoy walking back and seeing the crowd of students around the SMU areas; watching free band performances outside restaurants at Paradiz Centre and if I am too lazy or tired to cook, I can have my meals at the various food centres and restaurants teeming around Little India. Hopefully, I can pick up more Tamil and Hindhi as I interact with the Indians I meet.
Since the Tekka Market and Mall is just a stone's throw from my apartment, I will most likely cook more to entertain my friends, clients and colleagues with healthy, delicious home-cooked meals. Mmm.... maybe I should call my little "restaurant of love" ......Kamalachoosamy Restaurant! My idea of relaxation and therapy? Cooking and singing at the same time!

We have Orchard Turn. Now, how about Little India Turn?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I am venerable, not old!

It is interesting to note that when one speaks of the word "old", one immediately thinks of wrinkled faces, gnarled barks of trees, degeneration of health and when everything falls apart.!

Probably this is the reason why people, especially the Westerners fight shy of revealing their age. Now, more and more Asians are doing likewise! I remember meeting a charming elderly lady when I was a hostelite at the YWCA Hostel some 24 years ago. She was immaculately groomed with a white skirt and a chilli red blouse and almost perfect make up. I noticed lots of wrinkles too but she was agile and energetic. Curious, I asked her how old she was and she replied, "You must never ask a lady her age, my child." Later as we became engaged in a more animated conversation and I made her laugh with my jokes, she relaxed and relented and said, "Ok, you can guess how old I am".


"No, I am 92".

I opened my eyes wide with admiration. "Wow! You look almost 30 years younger!" The lady smiled and shared with me that she always kept fit and healthy by constantly exercising, eating healthy food and keeping her mind busy. "I have just choreographed a Chinese dance", she proudly proclaimed and proceeded to demonstrate the dance for me, right in the dining room.! I love her spontaneity!

"Gosh! If I have to live that old, I would like to be like you," I told my new heroine.

Mom and Dad were always proud about growing older. In fact, mom was anxiously waiting for the offspring of my brother and his wife so that she could carry her first grandchild. The word for "old" in Chinese is "lau" which actually means "venerable - wise, sagely". I remember papa and his friends addressing each other by their surnames eg. Lau Wang, Lau Tan, Lau Lim and Lau Kam.

Hence, it is understandable that since young I have never been afraid to reveal my age. Today I am 53 years, 5 months and 15 days old. People always smile when I openly tell them exactly my age. Frankly, I enjoy growing older for with age, comes mellowness, wisdom and a calm acceptance of things when they happen as they have happened. I dare say I am a lot happier now because I can look back and see why things happened as they had happened - it is all part of God's divine purpose.

If any of my ex-students from ACS and River Valley High are reading this article, they will recall that I have often encouraged them to discover their potential. Life is so full of interesting things to do and we must not be dead-pan and set in our ways. We have to explore and to experiment for only then can we discover our potential. Hence, now past half a century years old, I have grown more valuable with age like good, old wine. I am saddled with so many job offers! The Ministry of Education often calls me up to do relief teaching in the schools; an acquaintance keeps coaxing me to lead in outbound tours since I am a seasoned traveller; parents keep persuading me to tutor their children and a church keeps asking me to help set up an Italian restaurant for their outreach organisation. Now, someone in the States wants me to write online for his company.

Now, I am enjoying my work tremendously as a real estate agent. During my free time, I love to write and entertain my guests with my signature creation of Penang fried koay teow, Hokkien mee, curry, steamed yam cakes, pasta seafood with white wine, tiramisu, panacotta and mango pudding. I enjoy making speeches at toastmasters' clubs. Above all, I enjoy reflecting over the past and am constantly thinking of how I can improve and try new things, so that I do not stagnate and become stale curry. My life is like a bubbling steamboat where I can still throw in some new items which I have not tried before. The latest item I have discovered is my musical talent! Now I am taking violin and voice lessons! I have just bought a second hand Kawai piano, so that I can play and sing at the same time. Hence, I am not old lah.... only venerable. Kindly call me Lau Kam.

When trouble comes, when danger lurks,
Know that Someone up there is still in control,
For He is the One who created this universe,
He lovingly created you and me,
to be as unique and as special as can be.

You'll discover that roses come with thorns,
The dangerous oceans come with whales and dolphins,
The mountains teem with wild life and lovely flowers,
When lightning strikes, God is taking your photograph!

Life is a song, if only you will sing it,
Life is a dish, if only you will cook it,
Life is a piece of cake, if only you will bake it,
Life is a journey, if only you will walk it.!

Gan Chau

Monday, May 14, 2007

L - O - V - E makes the world go round.

Since young, I have never understood politics and I still don't today. All I know about successful living has been taught by papa. The fundamental word is spelt as
L - O - V - E. Papa has taught us that if we do things motivated by love, we will be truly successful. The most successful hawker is one who loves his customers enough to give his best when cooking for them. The most successful teacher is the one who loves her charges and the most successful property agent is the one who loves his work and who is passionate and sincere about helping his clients to the best of his ability. Hence, it is logical to conclude that the most successful politican is one who truly loves the people in his nation. I guess the reason why many politicians fail because outwardly it is, "I love my country" but inwardly it is, "I love myself."

Of late there has been a lot of unhappiness and discontent over the huge increase in ministerial pay. Also there has been a lot of wariness over the government's need for foreign talent.

I guess Singaporeans would not have reacted otherwise if the government has taken more pains to reach out to the poor and needy. I am not saying that nothing has been done. However, it would appear that what has been done is quite superficial.
The progress package had not reached every segment of the population.... of course the ones missing them would be the illiterate and lonely. I would prefer to see more homes for the aged and destitute being built by the government to keep the homeless and lonely. There are still people sleeping in void decks and these people should be rounded up and put in these homes. We do not want investors to come to world class Singapore and say, "Aiyoyo! (Gosh!) What is this? Look at all the lovely world class buildings! But there are still some people sleeping on the streets!"

It is futile and ironical that more incentives are given to mothers to have three and four and five children. What is the point of increasing the population when so little protection and security is given to our sons of the earth when they go for national service? I must admit I was horrified when I read of Lawrence Leow's plight. $500/- a month compensation is given! Lawrence could have earned a few thousand dollars a month, dating a beautiful lady and enjoying the fruits of his parents' labour! But now he is perpetually wheel chair bound unless a miracle takes place. Now he can only say, "Wah leow liah! (I am finished!) Why aren't our NS boys well insured? Is it because of the risk and danger of training that few insurance companies will take up the policies? Or is it because it will cost a lot more especially for those involved in more risky activities? The least Mindef can do is to give proper compensation to ensure that those wheel chair bound like Lawrence are adequately taken care of. These are our own sons who are ready to die for the nation. What compensation is given to the parents who sons died during national service either through accidents, heat stroke, dunking, etc.? Just a grand funeral service and after that, the families are left to suffer in pain and silence.?

If not for the recent mothers' day contests, we would never have known of the mothers who sacrificed so much for the family. We heard of the mother who pawned her jewellery in order to pay for medical fees for her son who was dangerously ill. To digress a litle, incidents like these make me appreciate papa's wisdom. He fought with mom to give his three daughters the best education he could afford, for he believed that it is imperative for women to be well educated so that should they end up marrying husbands who turn out to be rotten apples, they could still end up with good careers and provide for the family.

Sometimes I wonder how the NKF saga could have taken place. It pained me that a lot of the donations came from simple folks like taxi and bus drivers who gave faithfully from the little they earned and their money had gone to first class tickets and gold taps in the toilet! Only 10 cents out of every dollar had been spent on the needy kidney patients. It takes an incident like this for the government to tighten its reins on other charities. I sometimes wonder if unfavourable things must happen first before something is being done? I had written to Stomp about the confusing traffic lights between Dhoby Ghaut MRT and Parkmall 5 months ago. Must we wait for a pedestrian to be killed before something is being done to recitify and improve the timing of the two traffic lights.?

So much emphasis is given to attract foreign talents. "Work, live and play!" After work, walk home and come down to play.... all within the same location! While we appreciate that our government is doing its level best to attract foreign talents and investors, I hope it will never lose sight of the fundamentals... ie. be a filial son to take care of the aged, destitute, sick and helpless. These are the very people who had given their life to Singapore when it was still an island kampong.

I really cannot understand why our government officers must be paid so much. How does anyone spend so many millions a year? I appreciate now why Paul had emphasised on the importance of contentment. If a person does not know how to be contented, he will only want more and more! Just consider the late Nina Wang. With all the billions she had, she could not take a cent with her.

As I have said, I do not understand politics. I only wish PAP(A) could emulate my papa's examples.... papa was a humble man who left a legacy of love behind. He had touched the lives of countless people - from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich and the most powerful of the powerful.

If Mahatma Gandhi were alive today, he might include in his maxim, "A great nation is measured by the way the people treat the animals, as well as how the rulers treat
the people and how people treat one another." Love begets love and it is love, that makes the world go round.

Gan Chau

Piano Master International



Cissy Lim playing the piano, and Cissy with Jason Tan, her colleague.

The little advertisement in the Classified caught my attention. A second hand piano at $100/-. Yamaha and Kawai brands? Wow! It's too good to be true. "Perhaps it's a sales gimmick. When you go there they will tell you that all the $100 pianos have been sold out, and then they will coax you to buy some other expensive models", I thought to myself.

Nevertheless, I still rang the number, as I always believe in giving others the benefit of a doubt.

"The $100/- Yamaha models are all sold out", replied the voice on the other end.

Just as I thought! Caught you!

"However, we still have two more of the Kawai models". Mm.... this company is not so bad after all.

I took the MRT to Paya Lebar, and just as I was wondering where Block 1016 was, I saw a red banner with the word "PIANO" displayed at Piano Master - The Piano specialists. Even the visually impaired could not miss the banner!

I was greeted by a friendly lady, Cissy Lim. I tried all the pianos and was surprised that the baby grand pianos, Wendl & Lung, are priced quite reasonably at $7,500/-. It was very tempting to buy a baby grand, but if I were to do so, half my living room would disappear! I should settle for a simple upright piano.

I noticed one upright with beautiful grains of wood. The brand name - Schulze Pollman.It costs $1,800/-. I did not like the sound at all. Cissy explained that the owner traded in his piano because he too did not like the sound. A new Schulze Pollman costs $10,000/-! Cissy explained to me that it is the company's policy to buy trade in pianos so that their customers could take up the new pianos. Since the company already makes some profit from the new piano, they often do not make from the used pianos. They often sell at cost, and sometimes, even below cost. For example, the $100/- models were actually traded in at higher prices of three to four hundred dollars.

To my surprise, the $100/- Kawai model produces fantastic sound. The touch was also just right for me. I told Cissy I would take the $100/- Kawai model. Cissy did not even try to coax me to buy the other more expensive models. To my surprise, she complimented me on my sharp hearing! Cissy told me that she was amazed at my ability to detect the various sound quality in her pianos. I was over the moon! For the first time, I realised that I am actually quite musical after all. I always consider myself to be the least musical in the family. I don't have very sharp hearing and only play the piano and violin. Whereas my other siblings all play more than five instruments. I guess I have to be musical since papa himself was very musical, being a self taught musician who could play over 20 instruments! Papa's genes must have rubbed a little on me after all!

Cissy also played some jazz and popular pieces for me. I asked her if she is allowed to play the piano if there were no customers, and she replied in the affirmative. Wow! When my legs are too wobbly for me to run around as an agent, I will apply for work in a piano shop. This way, I would have the chance to play the piano and at the same time, try out many different models!

Cissy owns an antique piano. She showed me a book featuring antique pianos found in Europe. Wow, they are really beautiful with lots of intricate carvings.

Hence, you can imagine how light hearted I was when I took the MRT back to my office. I sms to my colleagues about my $100/- piano and they too, found it incredible! "Just like you, Choo, you are such a bargain hunter. We'll look forward to good food and great music when we go for your housewarming!" Aveline replied.

Music makes my world go round! Thank you God for restoring my hearing! My world is all the more colorful because of M - U - S - I - C!

Gan Chau
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A Lady of Grit and Grace


Jerlyn at work

Sometime in December, I wanted to help Jerlyn achieve her target quota. Since there was some cash in my ordinary account, I decided to ask her to buy some investment units with the $6,000/-.

I had just purchased a small HDB flat and hence would like to maximise my CPF. When I informed my AXA Life agent, he took a while to sell off my unit trusts, and hence there was a delay in the funds going back to my CPF. I had to ask the HDB officer for a postponement of the first appointment, which luckily was agreed by the vendor. When I told Jerlyn that I would like to sell off the unit trusts she had bought for me, she immediately sprang into action. Since I was going to the Central Business District, I told her I would meet her at Citibank where she is doing her project. I was pleased that my investment had earned some profits although it had only been about 5 months.

I was impressed with Jerlyn's speed at acceding to my request and understanding my need to maximise the full sum for the flat. I told Jerlyn that some CPF would be going into my account again, and I would pick up some investment with her at the later part of this year.

Definitely, I would recommend clients to Jerlyn. She is not pushy as an agent, but would go to great lengths to explain to clients. Jerlyn believes that knowledge brings understanding; understanding creats confidence and confidence will give security to a client.

I am glad that though Jerlyn struggled with her quota last year, she is shining again in her sales. She shared with me that by now, she has already achieved more than this year's quota. I like her tenacity to persevere and improve herself all the time. Even as a toastmaster, she contributes a lot of her time and energy to help other toastmasters by being a mentor and an evaluator for speech projects. Jerlyn also has her own blog -

As you can see from her photo, Jerlyn is immaculately groomed. As she has an interest in make up, she does part time bridal and stage make up. It is amazing how she organises her time. I always feel happy when I see young people, making full use of their precious youth to develop and improve themselves.

I wish Jerlyn all the best in everything she undertakes. She is a classic example of someone who believes that if anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Cheers to more blogging, Jerlyn!
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Sunday, May 13, 2007

It's More on Upbringing

Today, I read about a top JC student who punched a poor bus driver, Wong Kok Leong, because he was angry that his girlfriend's bus card was retained by Mr. Wong. The 20 passengers who witnessed the beating were horrified by the violence displayed by the student. It was only when he realised that the police had been called that he broke into tears when he phoned his father. It was reported that he was remorseful. I doubt so. While admitting his mistakes and atrocious temper, he kept insisting it was an accident! How accidental could it be when the student kept hitting the driver, and in the process even the driver's pocket was torn off from his uniform? Worse, to give the less than intelligent reason that he recalled a newspaper article warning readers against giving their identification without reasons. What an unintelligent application of knowledge! The bus driver is no stranger demanding for identification. He is a legitimate staff and has every right to retain cards that appear to be invalid.

The bus driver was overwhelmed when the boy's father knelt down to ask him for forgiveness for his son. Tears welled in Mr. Wong's eyes as he could feel the pain and humiliation the student's father was going through. Only a father could understand another father's heart. From this, I can conclude the father loves his son who must have been overpampered. The son is the one who should have knelt down for forgiveness; not the father.

In my earlier blog, I had written about Maya's wonderful children. Credit should go to Maya for having brought up the children to be disciplined, caring and thoughtful of others. In reality, it is not so much whether one comes from a rich or poor family; it is the upbringing. Some parents over pamper their children - spare the rod and spoil the child. I remember once witnessing the temper of a little five year old girl in the MRT. She was screaming and throwing her tantrums throughout the 15 minutes train ride. Her mother was coaxing her and to my shock, she spanked her mother on the face. All this time, the parents were trying their hardest to cool her down. I was quite annoyed with the little girl, and being the teacher at heart, I glared and her and told her to behave. Suddenly she stopped her tantrums and stared back at me.

Parents, if you love your children, you sometimes have to be harsh and firm with them. I remember Dr. Low Guat Tin, my lecturer at the Institute of Education, had once taught us that sometimes we have to be cruel in order to be kind. By that she meant sometimes we have to administer painful punishment to a child so that he/she can learn.

What is the point of scoring so many distinctions when a top student does not even know how to control his temper.? Everybody wants to be great... but truly, a great man is measured by the way he controls his temper.

A Great Mothers' Day Celebration




Abigail, dressed in pink blouse, leading in prayer to bless all the
relatives and all the mothers throughout the world.


The four lovely kids of Maya, from left to right - Abigail, Silas,Amos and Claudia.
The eldest son, Titus is not in the photo - throughout the evening he was busy running around organising and giving directions! A future leader in the making!

Amu called me to say that I must join them for mothers' day celebration organised by her nephews and nieces. Amu does not have any children of her own and she dotes on her sister's five children, Abigail, Titus, Silas, Claudia and the youngest, Amos. They too love Amu and are like the children she never had. "Choo, you must come ah. You always pamper the children; now it's their turn to pamper you," Amu coaxed.

And what a celebration! The children had booked 2 tables at a nearby coffee shop and had ordered ten dishes. We had sotong wrapped in yew char koay, stir fried beef, deep fried chicken with Thai chilli sauce, braised tofu in claypot, kangkong with sambal chilli, Tom Yam soup, stir fried baby kailan, prawns with special Thai sauce, fried soon hock fish with special Thai vegetables and chilli crabs. The food is excellent. No wonder, the zhi zhar restaurant, "Singfood and BBQ" is doing such a roaring business. The children also took the opportunity to celebrate Amu's birthday. I was amazed at their prepration. They gave every one of their aunties and me lovely flowers and heart shaped little cushion key chains with the words, "Mom, I love you".

Maya, the mother of the children told me how her kids had started saving for the whole month of March and April. They put in all their pocket money into a saving box labelled, "Mothers' Day Funds". For two months, they brought bread from home to school, so that all their pocket money could go into the funds.

Maya had just sold her 4 room flat at Kim Tian Road to downgrade to a 3 room flat at Jurong East as her little business was not doing well. Now she is working as an administrative assistant and her husand is working as a delivery man. The 3 room flat is somewhat cramped for a family of seven. It is heartwarming to see the children still as happy and as caring as ever. What touches me most is their generous hearts of love and warmth. How many kids from rich homes ever think of blessing others.? Even though some rich kids may live in luxurious homes, they sulk and they pout, always demanding things for themselves. I hope that if some rich kids read this article, it will encourage them to ponder and improve. Truly, in life, it is not so much what we have; rather it is how much we make the most of what we have.

Gan Chau
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Friday, May 11, 2007

Happy Mother's Day... A Thought Provoking Story!

Daughter-In-Law: When I cooked food which is blend, you will grumble that
they are tasteless. Now that I have cooked saltier, you complained that you
can't swallow this at all! What exactly do you want?

When the son came back, the mother immediately ate the food without a word.
She stared at him.

The son took a taste on his mother's food and spitted out immediately.

He ranted at his wife,"Didn't I tell you that my mother cannot take too
salty food!?"

The wife shouted, "OK! She's your mum! You cook for her in future!" After
saying that, she stormed into their room angrily.

Feeling helpless, the son told the mother, "Mum, don't eat this anymore. I
will cook you a bowl of noodles."

The mother said, "Son, you have something to tell me? Don't keep everything
to yourself."

Son said, "Mum, I am going to get promoted soon and my upcoming working
schedule will be very, very tight...and as for my wife...she said she will
be going out to work...."

The mother understood what he meant and said in a begging manner, "Son,
please don't send me to the Old Folks' Home...."

The son remained silent and tried to think of a good reason to persuade her

Then he said, "There is nothing wrong with the Old Folks' Home. Once my
wife went out to work, no one will serve you as well as the Home which
provides you meals and care. It would definitely be much
better than being at home."

The son went for a bath after that and went into the study room. He looked
out from the windows and thought back and hesitated a while....

His mother has remained a widow since she was young and brought him up
painstakingly, solely.

She tried all means to earn as much as she could, in order to support his
oversea studies. Yet she expected nothing nor used her past painful
experience to threaten his son to be filial.

Now, his wife is threatening him with the stake of their marriage.

"Should I send my Mum to the Home?" He asked himself.

"The only person who will accompany you till the end of your life would be
your wife." said a friend before.

"Your mother is old now and if she's lucky, she might be able to live for a
few more years longer. Why not be filial to her for this period of time?"
reminded some relatives.

He was stuck in a dilemma. He did not want to think anymore.

The son found a Home with high standards, built on a beautiful and
transquil mountain top. He told himself that he would feel much better the
more he spent.

When the son helped his mother into the lobby of the Home, the 42" TV was
turned on. The programme shown on screen was a comedy. But no one was

A few old folks, dressed similarly in clothing, were sitting there, in a
daze. There was one who was sitting improperly on a sofa, another was
bending down to pick up a piece of biscuit from the floor
and another was talking to himself.

The son knew that his mother liked sunlight, so he chose a room with ample
sun rays shining into the room. From the window, he could see space and
greenery. A few nurses were wheeling some old
folks out for some fresh air.

It was a pathetic silence in the background. The sun was setting down.Soon
it will be dusk.

The son told the mother, "Mum, I am leaving."
The mother waved to him to say good-bye, opening her toothless mouth.

He turned back to look at his mother. She was full of grey hair and
wrinkled skin with deep set eyes.He found that she was really old.

He remembered when he was six, due to some circumstances, his mother wanted
to temporarily place him at a relative's home for few days. He recalled
hugging his mother's thigh and begged her not to leave him. In the end, his
mother never left him.

He stopped thinking and left.

When he returned home, his wife and his mother-in-law were busy discarding
things from his mother's room, happily.

One of the discarded items was his tall trophy which he won as first prize
when he was young. He wrote an essay on "MY MOTHER".

The second item was a dictionary. That was the first gift from his mother,
who scrimped and saved for a month in order to buy it for him.

He shouted, "Enough! Stop discarding anymore!"

His mother-in-law cried, "There is so much rubbish. If I don't discard
them, there would not be any place for my stuff!"

His wife continued, "Yeah! Need to dump away that old stinky bed too. We
will buy a new bed for my mum later."

He saw some pictures from the stack......they were taken at a zoo and
amusement park.

"These are precious belongings of my Mum! You can't discard them!" he said.

"What sort of attitude is this? I demand you to apologise to my Mum NOW!"
ranted the wife.

The husband said, "When I got married to you, I promised that I will love
your Mum too. Why can't you do the same?"

He went back to the Home and saw his mother weeping in between her frail
legs. She was missing the moments when her son would apply ointment for her
every night.

The son kneeled before her and said, "Mum, here I am. I brought the
ointment too."

The mother said, "I will apply it myself. Son, you need to work tomorrow.
Go home."

Son said, "Mum, please forgive me. Let's go home."

The above story was sent to me by my colleague, Vanessa Yong. I sincerely
hope this is inspirational and touching enough for everyone to treat
our parents well. Without our parents, we won't be here. No parents will
harm their own children. They only want the best for them. Someone said, "A
father can raise up 5 children singlehandedly; but sometimes 5 children cannot
even support a father!

For Daughters & Sons: Please remember to return gratitude to your dads and

For Daughter-In-Laws & Sons-In-Laws: Please love your in-laws as you do
your parents, coz without them, you will not find your partners...they are
parents too. Just think... if you love your in-laws, your spouse will grow to
love you even more because he/she can see you as a beautiful peson. Love begets love; peace begets peace. What goes around comes around. It is also easier to love someone than hate someome, because when we harbour grudges or anger, it does not promote good health. Above all, it also prevents blessings from being rained down from above.

Wishing all my dear friends who are mothers a Happy and Blessed Mother's Day.

Gan Chau