Friday, January 30, 2009

Favourite Patient: Dad

Today is Dad's visit to the oncologist at NCC or National Cancer Centre.

He has completed his second chemo cycle - two weeks of taking the medication and a week of rest before coming over for the progress report.

Dr. Lo had a slight cough today as checked her computer for Dad's blood test.

Dad's cancer marker has reduced further to 47.0, though slightly by 0.2 but a marked indication that it had not jumped like it did last year August when it increased from 3 to 22 then to 47.5 in September.

"47.... it has stabilized, so that's good." Said Dr. Lo.

I breathed a sigh of relief that it did not increase. An anxious feeling I always felt anticipating what the doctor had to tell, even though I felt confident that things will be alright after checking Dad's condition with him.

Then again, cancer has been known to be a silent killer disease. It was a totally good week for me once I heard the result from Dr. Lo.

After she examined Dad, making her way to her desk, Dr. Lo commented "Your Dad is my favorite patient... he's such a sweet man." I smiled and told Dad of what she said.

Dad smiled and nodded to her "Thank you, thank you."

Dad was given another cycle of Chemo with the same dosage as the previous two. The next consultation will involve a CT Scan become seeing her again apart from taking the blood test.

So we'll make another trip back to NCC 3 weeks later on Friday, 20th February 2009... hoping for the best outcome each time. Little miracle at at time. Thank you God.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Propping For Fun

Against all that is me, I spent the whole 4 out of 6 days holiday indoors!

I had 6 wonderful days off work - starting with the weekend and then the 2 public holidays for Chinese New Year and another 2 due to plant shutdown.

The 2 days on weekends were spent outside, shopping for the Sonny's school's upcoming Care and Share Day fun-fair event. The whole day event will be held on 21 February 2009.

The rest of the 4 days were spent indoors at home creating and making our props we proposed for the games booths that we will be tending too during the event.

This is our second year at Dunman Secondary School as DSP or Dedicated & Supportive Parents group in tasked to create, make and tend to the games booths with the other parents in our Games group.

Though I was missing out on biking and nature walks and getting some sun, yet it was time well spent and fun, especially when our creative juices were flowing and so proud of ourselves when we managed to realize our proposals successfully.

We managed to complete all props for the 3 games booths we proposed and did it nice, I should say, out of discarded carton boxes we scavenged the neighborhood and Seven-Eleven shops dumpsters.

It was quite an embarrassing time when we were out collecting the carton boxes, with stares from passers-by... maybe thinking this couple had lost their jobs and now collecting carton boxes for money with recyclers. The fact that we went out in the dark of the night just for that did not lessen that feeling.

Nevertheless, we braved ourselves and collected them around the neighborhood and got to make our props nicely for the charity event; for the needy students and families in Sonny's school.

Like always when there is that element of fun, time moved super-fast on us. From the first prop completed to the last one done, the 4 days at home seemed just like yesterday.

Last year we created "Stick 'Em Up" - a Spiderman-inspired game with rousing success.

The same reception by the students and visitors was with our other games booth we called "MARBLEous P!cks" tended to by Wifey.

This year, we were requested to set the two booths up again, but letting the other parents to tend these booths while tend to the new ones we conceived and proposed during the last DSP meeting.

Our "master-pieces" are for the 2 new games we thought of and created the props for them. One is called "Hooked-On Fishing" and the other "Ancient Puzzlers."

These are really old concepts, but should be fun to play and we are sure the visitors, especially the children and students will love to play.

To make the games booths more attractive, we have created some props to decorate each booth to complete the theme and have that carnival appeal to each booth.

Without a proper drawing tool on my iMac, I resorted to using MS Excel to make a concept drawing for each games booth for the DSP and teachers to better visualize our proposals.

These drawings will also give the school the stuff we need like the number tables and benches each boot will need to set up, while we bring the poles and accessories, and of course our props we made.

Sonny has volunteered his time to tend to the "Stick 'Em Up" booth this time too. Wifey wants to tend to the "Hooked-On Fishing" while I tend to the "Ancient Puzzlers."

We are bringing some props to the next meeting to show the DSP the realized concepts and the amount of spaces each booth will need. Hopefully the teachers and principle will like it and be as excited are Wifey and I are.

The bonus is when we get to see the visitors happy to play at our games booths. Should be another wonderful time.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Lunar New Year

Though it will be a tough year
For the superstitious souls out there
The Year of the Ox
Should indicate something bullish on the way...

Wishing All Chinese Friends
A Healthy & Prosperous
Lunar New Year!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pool, Palms, Paradise

OK. I finally clicked the button and paid a vacation online for a 5 days 3 nights stay at the Imaj Private Villas Lombok on one of the 3000 islands of Indonesia.

Yes, it was with Wifeys' blessings of course.

For a USD40 a night's stay in a 2 bedroom villa, we have the whole place overlooking the ocean and sunset and a private pool all to ourselves. It is indeed a good bargain as far as the accommodation is concern. The airport taxes and airport transfers to and from the villa are already included.

It is from a promotional email newsletter from MIW that got me hooked on this paradise in the east. An island east of Bali, that is.

We will have to book our own 2 hours 45 minutes direct flight from Singapore's Changi International Airport to Lombok's Salapangan Airport on board Singapore Airlines' SilkAir Airbus 319.

We need to fork out the flight cost of about S$316.00 per person with a return flight. The actual flight is costing only S$188, but the cost become quite extravagant for a short distance with the inclusion of an airport tax of S$128 each.

Anyway, money aside... we are hoping to get away for our vacation this year either in March or June, during Sonny's school holidays. A week of sunshine and lazying around in paradise ought to get rid of the blues and stresses of everyday life away.

Sun, sand, sea... and lots of mountainous scenery, village to village visits, nature hikes and waterfalls... for a quiet vacation, just the three of us.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

We Have Loved!

It was a little over 4 years ago since we brought our first pet into our home.

Sonny came back one day with a hamster in a cage. It was his Primary school class project about caring and responsibility. Sonny had volunteered to care for the hamster during their one week school holiday.

Wifey was apprehensive when the hamster first arrived. She never had her own pet before, most probably because she had childhood asthma, so animal dander was a no-no. She warmed-up to and was taken by it because of its massive cuteness factor.

It turned out to be such an interesting and wonderful one week we had as a family with our "foster" pet.

By the time the week was up and Sonny had to return it back to his classroom, we felt sad parting with it... watched as the cute little creature left the house.

Until today, I am not sure whether that class project was ever successful at all in teaching the students as intended. Coming from Sonny, his classmates lost interest to care for it after a few weeks when the novelty wore off. One time, someone left the cage door open and the hamster escaped and was nowhere to be found until a day later.

By some unknown, cosmic reason, Sonny's teacher decided to give it away. Not many students wanted it, the ones who did, did not pass their parents' permission.

Sonny got to bring it home for good. We were thrilled to receive the hamster back into our home. From that day onwards, the internet and library were our prime sources of information of its breed and tips to care for it.

We named our first pet Russian Winter White Dwarf hamster, Puffy, assuming it was female from whatever new knowledge we picked up from the sources to identify its gender.

Somehow, Puffy seemed lonely. We collectively agreed that she should have a friend. With Puffy in her cage, we brought her along to a pet shop in Marine Parade.

After several matching sessions, one was an immediate choice by Puffy herself. She accepted her new friend without putting up a fight. It was the first time we saw how a cute hamster could become aggressive.

We learnt from the pet shop owner that Puffy was indeed female and she selected a male to be her new buddy while rejecting the rest. We named her new buddy... well, Buddy.

We had lots of fun loving our pets. The two were the centre of our attention putting the TV down to second spot. Our TV was turned off for many nights; an achievement of sorts. And instead, we watched our pets' antics and had fun playing with it. We loved it!

I noticed that Wifey was the happiest among us. She had the most time with Puffy and Buddy since she was a stay-home Mom. I also believe it was like she was given a chance to finally own a pet and enjoying the experience.

Many happy months passed and then came an unexpected surprise. It was nice to see Puffy well and happy, and even puffier than her normal self. We thought we overfed her, but only to realize that she was in fact pregnant when she gave birth to 8 liters.

We were even happier to receive the babies and were oblivious to a creeping nightmare. It was rather an interesting experience to witness the birth of each baby and saw them grew-up fast through the weeks under the mother's care.

All was well until the babies grew up to be young hammies themselves.

The parents started rejecting them and became aggressive towards them. So too were the young hammies with each other, especially during meal times. We soon learnt that they were territorial and needed their own space.

Before we could effectively separate them into the same gender, they procreated like wild fire. Inbreed was the prime concern then, but those we thought we separated into the same gender in one cage turned-out to be not so accurate after all.

More pets and bigger cages but soon the population exploded before we could figure out a way to contain it. It was totally out of control. At one point, we had a whole "village" of them we called HamsterVille.

At its peak, we had a population of 57 hammies segregated in 13 or more cages in our service balcony, separated between genders as far as we could correctly identify them as possible.

It took us 3 to 4 hours just cleaning all the cage every other weekend. It was hard work. Lots of money was spent too on their expensive food and bedding, but it was our labor of love. We also had to fork out bigger sums of money for veterinarian care of between S$20 and S$80 at at time when there were sick ones.

It all became too much to bear, to upkeep. Too many little cute ones to handle, so we posted the hammies for adoption in the local Pet Lovers website. We instantly received text responses from across the island. After filtering through the genuine pet lovers from novelty-craved youngsters to our best instinct, we gave most of the hammies away a few at a time over several weeks.

Each time a hamster left our home with its new owner, our heart sank. It was painful to see them go. It was like giving away our babies that we have been attached too for some time. Yet we knew the hammies would be better off and cared for by their new owners.

When the adoption period was over, we were left with 27. As much as the sadness we felt during the adoption period, it was even more painful to experience our first death. Puffy died. The night before she died, Puffy stayed really still in our palm looking at us with her bright eyes. She kept looking at us and remained at the cage door even after we placed her back in. It was a strange incident we thought until the next morning. She had passed.

Due to their short lifespan of about 2 to 3 years, we witnessed each of our hammies die. Each death was as painful as the last one. It was quite devastating to experience such moments too often, but death is part of life.

Yesterday, marked the end of many such sad moments when our last hammie we called May, died in the morning. It was a day after the other one called Annette died. Annette was probably the longest surviving hammie of all. She lived more than 3 years.

May's best friend. She had to follow her friend.

Sonny buried his last hammie last night. Under the same water-apple tree where her sisters and brothers, parents and grandparents were buried before... a place we called CemeTree, over-looking our bedroom window, May was laid down to rest.

Wifey had her last cleaning too. Instead of setting the fresh bedding, the last cage was flattened and put away.

"Feel something is missing whenever I'm at the Service balcony." Wifey quipped suddenly tonight. Standing at the doorway... talking to me, but her mind was somewhere else...

"We should have gotten a parrot!" Sonny exclaimed after appearing out from the kitchen, "Parrots live much longer."

Me, I understand that we deal with sudden loss in our own way, at our own pace. Time will heal and set things right again and we will go on with our lives.

We now have more weekend times to spend outdoors and with each other. Heck, we can now take longer vacations without worrying about our pets anymore.

Nonetheless, the experience was wonderful. We have loved all our hammies. Though lots of time and care were taken away from us, but it was worth the journey we had with them.

"I don't want anymore hamsters," Wifey said, "they live short lives and it hurts when they die."

I have to agree with her. It was painful every time that happened, many times. Yet, it was worth the pain when we compare it to the fun and funny times, the love we gave and felt with each one of them. We will love them forever.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Whiz-Through Weekend

Since school started, so has the parents like us with our DSP at Sonny's school.

Skipped a meeting the weekend before last to attend Sonny Edusave Award ceremony, but Wifey and I made it to the Dedicated and Supportive Parents group meeting last weekend.

Just like on our first year in DSP last year, we have somehow established ourselves to be in the games group when there is a fun fair to be held at the school.

Last year, we conceived a Spiderman-inspired game called "Stick 'Em Up" that was a hit with the students and visitors there. This year, the members requested that we brought back the game and was excited to hear what other new games we have in mind for this year's fund raising event.

Wifey and I have thought of two old games and given them a new twist...

One is called "Ancient Pluzzers" - jigsaw puzzles picture of ancient icons like the Stone Henge and Statues of Easter Island to name a few. Places of ancient times that still baffles scientists till today, hence the pun.

Blow-up the picture big enough and cut it into 9 to 12 equal squares. Stick each piece with a thick stereofoam backing to give it an easy grasping. Magnetic strips are pasted on the back of each piece to stick them up onto a white board. Sort the puzzle with a time limit.

Another one is called "Gone Fishing" - using a fishing rod with a hook at the tip of the fishing line to catch floating fishes made from disused water bottles filled with enough amount of starch at the bottom to make the bottle float upright in water at all times. The bottles are decorated with plastic fins and large eyes, and colored scales cut from straws to give it more appeal.

The bottle cap will be fitted with screw-hoops for catching it with the hook.

An inflatable plastic swimming pool will be used as a pond with a small aquarium pump to give some bubbles and push the water in the pool to move in one direction. The fishes will "swim" and bob round and round for extra difficulty to catch.

Both of these games are rather easy to make, but the time will be spent mostly on the deco of each of the fair's games stalls. I reckon we are going to use a lot of used carton boxes, shaped and painted with whatever motive we want for each stall.

It is going to be a lot of work for both of us, but we are more than happy to do it and do our best for the visitors' fun at the event.

So last weekend was spent on scouting for the right items and materials to make the props and handicraft stuff that we need to create the game from.

The usual spots for such items came from Art Friend in Bugis, Daiso at Plaza Singapore in Orchard Road, various party and costume shops at Bugis Village and Rochor Road.

We have all the items we think we need. The best part of it is that I will have a very, very long week off work next week, starting this coming Saturday.

Chinese New Year holiday will be on Monday and Tuesday, while my workplace will have another two days of plant shutdown to total to 6 carefree and creative days with Wifey.

The "fun" for the fair has already began far us both. It will be an exciting time creating and making the props as it will be as fun as on the actual day itself.

It is a wonderful way to be happy... helping out the school and the needy students too!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Rush Hour Weekend

I look forward to weekends because the pace of life slows down for at least two days before the whole mad cycle starts all over again at work... in life here.

Today was exceptional. It was a mad rush for the most part of the day but the weekend life as I know it slowly crepe in towards the evening. The day was nevertheless full of wonderful events all the way tonight...

It started with an early morning wake-up call for breakfast. Then all three of us made a rush to Sonny's new religious school for first year students' Parents & Students Orientation at YKI Changi Road.

The YKI or Young Khulafa's Institute is a weekend Madrasah of sorts under FMSA or Fellowship of Muslim Students Association umbrella.

This private institution to learning Islamic religion is regulated and registered under MUIS - a government's branch for Muslim Affairs in Singapore.

Since Sonny has now reached the age of young adulthood, Wifey and I felt that he has more than old enough to embrace the knowledge of Islamic teachings to be a whole, responsible human being who strives to be successful in life with God's blessings. A practicing Muslim.

Started at 10:30AM, there were lots of parents, mostly English speaking parents who, just like us were drawn by the lessons taught in English rather than the traditional Malay language.

There is a new generation of young Malay children in Singapore who mostly converse in English at home and in school replacing their mother tongue language. Sonny is no exception.

Coming from English educated parents, young children now come from English-speaking families. They loose the articulation of the Malay language and have nowadays regard it has one of the subjects in school to pass exams in, unfortunately.

All the religious classes that Sonny ever attended previously since he was small were stopped short when he kept complaining of not able to under each lessons as those were conducted in Malay.

So it is heartening that this institution conducts all lessons in English with contemporary approach in its lessons and curriculum, understanding the youth psyche while engaging them in modern times and settings.

So it is a impressive to know that all the religious teachers there are all qualified and registered under MUIS, licensed to teach the mainstream Islamic religion. These are the teachers who have excelled both in circular academics as well as religious universities from Egypt and Malaysia.

The orientation ended promptly two hours later. It left us rushing to grab some lunch before we zipped-off to our next appointment that was suppose to start at 1:30PM.

We even had to give the DSP event at Sonny school at 2:00PM, a miss. DSP group was meeting the new Secondary One parents and inviting them to join the group for the school.

Sonny changed into his Dunman Secondary School uniform once we reached home and we rushed to attend an MOE's Edusave Scholarship and Merit Award Ceremony for being top 10% in the east zone for good exam results for Secondary One level.

This year, the whole multipurpose hall at the community centre was packed with students with only standing room for parents at the sides and back of the hall. This year, the government was giving out more bursary awards for academic excellence as well as non-academic achievements like sports.

Fortunately, as each row of pupils queued to receive their awards from Minister for Tampines GRO Mr. Sin Boon Ann, respective parents were allowed to go right in front of the stage to take photos of their child's special moment.

The whole event was over in one hour. There was another session for another group of children at 4:00PM. The government is really helping the people in this challenging financial times.

Sonny was happy to receive S$300.00 for his hard work last year. He accumulated S$800.00 in total so far for his savings since the new year since getting some bonus money from me from my 13th month AWS.

Our day was then free for us to do whatever we wanted as a family.

Predictable as we are, we left for Changi Beach Park for dinner celebration out at the hawker centre and then just relaxing at the beach on a mat to enjoy the fresh air and the happy vibes there.

Wifey and I as always, could not help ourselves but be children for a few moments playing on the sea-saw and swings. Being children is so much fun... but the crackling of the bones reminded us that our hearts were willing, but not these old bodies.

We left the beach at 8:00PM. Not knowing there was a night market at the village near Changi Beach Hotel, we were already in the cab before we realized it. It would have been fun to be at the market than coming back home while the night was still young.

Young... it sure is good to be young, especially on a Saturday night.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Friday's Fine, Father.

Dad has completed his first cycle of Chemo since he started 3 weeks ago.

Today, Dr. Lo looked at the blood test Dad took about one and a half hour before we were called into her consultation room.

"All is good Uncle!" She announced brightly to Dad.

Dad replied with a bright smile as he nodded and said "Terima Kasih." which means thank you.

All that after she asked me about Dad's condition since he started taking the chemo pills and vitamins she prescribed him the last time we were there.

"Nope." I replied to her question, "No diarrhea, vomiting or dried... blackened palms." Dad has not experienced any of the side effects she cautioned us during the first consultation.

"He has stopped coughing into the second week of medication." I updated her further with gleam in my heart.

Dad has in fact stopped taking his cough syrup totally. His incessant coughing that triggered the check-up which led to the discovery of his lung cancer, has finally stopped. Even Dad was amazed and so happy about it.

He has even become alert and lively. No bouts of cough during the day, no irritating coughs at night to disturb his sleep.

Dad is himself again. Lots of jokes and those "flaring" nostrils he does every time he makes jokes and trying to contain his laughter.

Dr. Lo gave the second cycle of chemo pills at the same dosage. Like the first, it should last for two weeks, with another week of lull period. His cancer marker has lowered by 0.2. Though not significantly from 47.5 three weeks ago, it has not increased like before the chemo started.

It really is good news to take in... no extra injections or heavier dosages were necessary. Thank you Almighty...

"I want to go into JB with you all..." Dad requested, when we were talking about the new leisure activity Singaporeans are now able to conveniently do starting next week, "I have lots of Malaysian money I've accumulated over these past months."

Over the causeway, the Malaysian government has allowed its KTM trains to stop at its newly opened shopping mall in Danga Bay. The convenience is with both sides immigration checkpoints being under one roof at the old Tanjong Pagar Keretapi Tanah Melayu or KTM Station.

Once past the immigration, board the train for a 90 minute journey and alight directly at the mall. There, lots of shopping and eateries overlooking the Johore Straits and our island's northern shores.

It is set, Dad. Wifey is also all excited to go there together with Mom and Dad to check out the place one of these weekends... excitingly soon!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Nokia, Connecting Parents

Wifey and I just bought Dad a cell phone today.

"Since his phone broke, he doesn't want to go out alone." Mom confided in me over the phone at the office last week.

She told me that Dad was unwilling to venture out on his own without a cell phone to call back for help if needed. It made going to the market for daily necessities a problem for both of them.

It is understandable that Dad felt that way. I would feel uncomfortable to go out without my cell phone with me too... and I am in good health. Many of us feel this way too. It is a normal for be dependent on a convenience that can also be a life saver.

Dad was right. While undergoing chemotherapy, the least he should have with him is a cell phone especially when he goes about outside on his own.

"No complicated stuff..." Dad explained, "just for calls."

With a price of S$60 given by Dad, it was a tough hunt for a new set, but for a first-hand older model, we took up the challenge...

Seven-Eleven sells basic function Nokia and LG phones for under S$70 without a plan attached, but for a cheaper price than this, I would have to bring out the bargain-hunting expert with me.

Wifey was all fired-up to shop for one for Dad. She armed herself with good walking sneakers, we went to Sim Lim Square this afternoon.

To get an even cheaper price, there will be lots of leg-work and acute bargaining skills involved. She has a this wonderful gift.

So hopping from one shop to another on the group floor, to all the shops up till the fourth floor, we finally managed to find the Nokia 1208 at a good enough price.

Yes, it is an older model but with color screen and an especially large fonts, ideal for old folks like Dad at one shop for S$50.00... down from the initial S$68.00.

If it was me, I would have settled for S$65.00.

I love you Wifey!

Dad will be so happy when we surprise him with this phone as a simple gift from us for the New Year. A new lease of life outside the four walls again for Dad.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Back To School

The first day of school for year 2009 falls on Friday.

I just wonder... why?

Why not just let the first day of school be on Monday, 5th January 2009 instead?

It is such a fuss to have your child start schooling in the new year for just one day, after more than a month of school holiday. Sonny had 2 months of fun.

Many people I know have taken Friday off work to gain a super-long weekend as a bonus to usher in the new year. Instead, they have to take this day to send their child to school... especially those with young children starting a new class or a new school.

Then again, taking this day off work works well for the parents. They do not have to take another day off on Monday...

Well, I prefer the school starts on Monday anyhow!

I do not know why I am making such a big fuss out of this, when the student themselves, Sonny in particular is not.

This morning, a familiar alarm sounded and woke Wifey and I up. It was 6:00AM. It was Sonny's.

Along with it came the sounds of footsteps across the living room and the clacking of the sliding toilet door shut. Sonny was taking a bath and getting ready for his first day of school in 2009.

Sonny is now in Secondary 2A.

Wifey prepared breakfast for him... Milo and oats drinks with chocolate buns.

There, leaning against the living room wall, nearest to the door sat a brand new school bag. Packed heavy with new books and knowledge to unleash and behold.

Beside it was a pair on white Converse shoes, so new the rubber can still be smelt. It was indeed a large pair... even for me. Sonny has grown so much. He has surpassed my height and boy, what big feet!

The room door opened and out came Sonny all spiffy in his white school uniform smiling as he approached the table to eat his breakfast. It was about 6:30AM.

Out the door this grown young man stood and bid goodbye for the day. All brand new... uniform, bag and shoes; brand new year with brand new knowledge and goals to achieve.

Keeping cool, Sonny knew he had to be photographed by his old man before he left... a yearly routine since he started going to school.

Photos that he will inherit to show his own children, and grandchildren long after Wifey and I have gone. Something I do not own to show to him of my childhood years. Stories told, but would not be the same as looking at photographs.

Photographs fade, but not as fast as the mind, it seems.

The real reason I take lots of pictures no matter how insignificant one may think. Filling that void? Maybe.

Anyway, I am hoping and praying that he will once again excel consistently in his studies. Expand his mind to new things and approach life with zest and with inquisitive mind.

Healthy mind and body, and safe always while he traverses into the new year.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Blessed 2009 Everyone!

Wishing Everyone All Over The World
A Happy & Healthy,
Blessed & Joyous
New Year!