Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lunch's On Me!

A dear friend came to our HQ to meet us for lunch today.

She was our old breakfast and lunch group before being transferred to another plant in the western part of the island about five months ago.

Today was her last day of work after twelve years of service with this company. A rather sad day for us and especially for her to leave the working life and grasp the prospect of retirement. She is sixty-two.

What should have been a farewell lunch treat by the group for her turned out to be the other way around. She insisted that she wanted to treat us instead... after much persuasion, we gave in.

We dined at Sakura Chinese-Thai Restaurant at Compass Point mall in Sengkang.

We had a good lunch and a good, though short chat with her, catching up and took some nice but grainy pictures with my iPhone...

Before long, we parted when we got back to the company grounds.

We already missed her presence once she was transferred. Now, I will personally miss her lively personality, her talks on her passion for baking, but most of all our chats on the phone most mornings since she started working there.

My dear friend is into her next phase of her life. I wish her all the best in her endeavors. May bright and cheery mornings be hers to start her every day, befitting her bubbly self.

We will meet again... this then, take care.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Privileged Day

Today was totally unexpected and... awesome.

I am lacking of words to describe what today had in store for me. Though I know the plans for today but I was totally and pleasantly surprised at the outcome of each...

My attendance was requested at two major events that were to happen today.

One at work and another at my son's school.

There was an AGM at work, and as a very small shareholder of the company, I was invited to attend and second the motions that I felt I should support. All went well, after all, I did go to one once before but that was a decade ago.

Today, I got to witness this corporate proceedings and actually understood what was at stake and how things were done. That was a good experience personally.

What was even better, was the lunch that they served after the AGM and EGM were over. Like a privileged VIP, I was whisked away from the buffet spread where all the big shots, corporate proxies and shareholders alike were helping themselves to the food, to a small meeting room where the halal Bento meal was waiting for me.

I had a choice of either spaghetti or chicken rice. I dared the greenish spaghetti and it tasted wonderful.

While seated and savoring every mouthful with another Malay friend of mine, one or two big shots came to check out the halal meal sets for themselves.

They came and mingled as if we had chatted before. For that very first time, the mighty big shots... with all their high glory, dark suits and wise gray hair commanding presence, became human again in my eyes.

Like any other human, they spoke other than work, jibed little jokes and smiled and were most concerned with their health, picky about what they eat. They were baring their vulnerabilities and as fragile as the next person underneath that corporate shield of a suit.

Uncomfortably, like a fish out of water, I mingled with the big shots and the legal ladies in the room until I finished my meal. It was a nice experience and at the same time was uncomfortable with every swallow.

Part of me enjoyed the high-profile time with the "people upstairs" yet part of me wanted to dive back into the water and swim into the dark crevices among the corals... only to look out into the bright lights from the safety of my hide.

Went back to my cubicle and already was time to dash next, off to Sonny's school in the afternoon.

My boss had graciously granted me a couple of hours off work. So by 3:00PM, I was in a cab heading for home... Wifey was so excited about the event that she called to remind me not to be late.

I had time only to wash my face and refreshed myself with a splash of cologne. Packed my dSLR camera and videocam, gulped a glass of cold water and was out again, in another cab en route to Dunman Secondary School.

I had not known what was to come...

The event was grand!

Grander that I remembered when I first attended Sonny's first year there. The difference today was that Sonny was up on stage being emcee for the event!

Awesome pride for this father... no one can take that away from me and Wifey... if only Wifey was there with me.

I was elected Vice-Chairman for our PSG group this year after serving 2 years alongside Wifey. Only the Exco-DSP or Dedicated and Supportive Parents were invited this year so Wifey missed this proud moment of a chance, unfortunately.

I know Wifey was as proud of Sonny as was when I saw the the confidence Sonny exuded and how poised and mature he was throughout event... gracefully executed his lines; good annotation and clearly enunciated each word together with his lady emcee.

Surprise was an understatement... and there were two this afternoon.

I thought our DSP chairman was attending. Like always, he had never missed an event but a text reply from him left me at the VIP seat together with our lady DSP secretary.

Another of our lady DSP VC could not make it either because she just started in her new job the same week.

The shocker was when my name was labeled on a chair in the front row. I sat beside the school's principle and Guest of Honour, along with other VIPs.

I was one of the VIPs! Fancy that! Me?! Wow!

While seated before the event started, I felt other eyes on me, probably wondering who that new Malay man was. The people on the second and the rows behind were HODs, teachers and parents whose children were receiving the outstanding achievement awards... as if all were looking at this man who tried very hard to stay composed and "seasoned" as VIPs.

Yes, I have this inferiority complex issue I cannot shake off, so I ended up being very self conscious the whole time instead of relishing the moment... and that whole evening was a long moment!

Being "forced" to behave like a proper VIPs should, I was left to sneak snapping pictures of Sonny when he first appeared on stage for Wifey before the Guest of Honour arrived.

If my memory served me right, I had always seen VIPs keep their poise all the times. So there I was, keeping still and hopefully appeared as poised as a VIP would be expected to be. It was not as fun as I thought a VIP would feel and I missed lots of photo and video opportunities that would have otherwise be shared for posterity with Wifey.

Of course I do not disregard the utmost honour bestowed upon me. For that, I am eternally grateful.

And if that was not already an extreme honour, my name was mentioned in the principle's opening speech as DSP representation! The principle went on to mention our group's efforts to successfully raise about S$37,000 at the recent Care and Share Day. Double Wow!

I really am thankful to Ms Chong, for being so kind and showing her appreciation for our group's efforts and contributions.

When the prize presentation ended, Sonny announced for the VIPs to proceed down for dinner while the rest of stayed put. Immediately, I felt hundred pairs of eyes were on the VIPs as we stood up and made our way out of the hall.

At the school canteen was a sole round table with a maroon coloured table cloth, set beautifully, fit for VIPs among other tables. The awaiting students greeted us and started serving food that rivalled the 5-star restaurant... not that I have even been to but I had seen the likes on TV.

My heart was fluttering with the flattery that was shown to me... I kept my poise but I know my face was like an open book. Anyone could see the "leaked" joy and awkwardness expressions on my face. I felt so privileged, it was surreal.

The food tasted wonderful but after the hearty meal at lunch plus the 4th eclair I had prior to coming to this event, I was not so hungry. More so, within the company of VIPs.

I noticed that the event was carried out almost entirely by the students themselves, with very little involvement by the teachers or staff on the actual day. That showed tremendous faith and confidence they have, led by the principle herself, on their students.

It was indeed a fantastic effort by the school and finely executed by the students. The items at the event went like clockwork. It left a positive and pleasant impression when I finally left the school for home. Brilliant! Wished Wifey was part of this too.

My Sonny did great! The opportunity and responsibility given to him were huge and he delivered. He has made his father proud of him. He made his mother hugged him so tightly and long when he returned home. He is indeed a precious gift.

The whole day was such a privilege for me. I am thankful for the experiences given.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

3 Good Deeds

I was busy with lots of stuff at work this morning.

I was not swamped so much with work actually, I found myself suddenly an unofficial helpdesk as soon as I sip the first cup of my coffee at breakfast.

My iPhone beeped. It was from a friend who needed my urgent help to check for him on the dates and name of the consultants that we had our medical and automotive standards training from.

I had to quickly finish my breakfast and started pulling out files of our training materials. Texted him back and received a warm thank you from him. He was to have his job interview that morning. I wished him well.

Good deed number one... done!

As I was putting back my files, my Outlook prompted an email received from a friend who was formerly a coworker. She Skyped me the day before asking for my help. She needed to leave instructions to her newly employed Indonesian maid on the house chores and caring for her kindergarten daughter.

She is leaving for Germany next week for 2 weeks... early into her new job of one week. Her husband is stationed in China, so the poor daughter is left without both of her parents for the span of time.

Fortunately the little child is very close to both her grandparents who will care for her with the maid's help.

My job was to help translate her English instructions into Malay language for the maid to understand her daily tasks, care for child and the house.

Twenty minutes later, I replied her email with the translations in the Excel spreadsheet she attached before. Phew!

Second good deed done!

"Hi Imran." Came a colleague to my desk bearing a few letters for me to look at.

I promised to help him with writing an appeal letter for his claim from the building management. His parked car was hit by a fallen tree branch resulting in a broken tail light and a few scratches on the paint job on the driver's side.

It happened a few weeks ago and he has been corresponding with the building management for compensation until he came to a gridlock when they repudiated his claim.

He gave all the evidences with pictures, date and time it occurred and even papers from the meteorological report on the said date. All the efforts to prove that the pruning of the trees were not carried out properly that resulted in the dead branch falling onto his car.

I had to spend over an hour, looking through the pictures, reports and letters, and like and unofficial investigator found that the my colleague's claim cannot hold much ground.

I explained to him my findings from a neutral party and gave him CASE contacts for legal advice instead if he still thought otherwise and wished to pursue his claim.

He accepted my point of view and thanked me wholeheartedly. I was not able to help him more or the way he wanted, but at least he saw another point of view and legal contacts if he needed.

Third good deed of the day done.... and it was only 10:40AM. Wow!

Three is a charm... so back to work! I was feeling good that I was of some help for someone.

Now I hope my boss does not read this.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Night Of Songs

Never thought that a week night can be so enjoyable.

The safe and lazy side of me prefers to go straight home after work and be with my family, watch some TV and get some surfing and blogging done, all in the comfort of my home.

With the exception of a Friday night, where I would normally drag Wifey and Sonny for dinner out, simply because the next day is not a working or school Saturday. It always tricks my brain to think that my weekend seems longer when Sunday evening comes.

Last Wednesday opened the possibility that sometimes it is worth the hassle to be out on a weeknight spending time, still with my family but in a different setting.

Wifey and I received an invitation from Sonny's school principle to attend their choir performance at The Esplanade. We got complimentary tickets for two to watch the award winning neighbourhood school's choir at the sprawling concert hall.

Not like me to be out on a weekday. For be it like me to watch live choir performances. But I accepted out of obligation since the principle herself text Wifey to get us tickets.

I was glad I obliged because the night was fabulous!

I found myself seated beside a beautiful Wifey... all dressed in her black flowery dress looking elegant, and in the same row as the principle herself! I dressed up extra smart to work to complement Wifey as a couple and went straight to the concert right after.

I saw Sonny just before the concert started. He was dressed so smartly with his long-sleeved black shirt and a dark gray vest, and black slacks... becoming of a smart young gentleman. He was holding a flower to give his choir friend after the performance.

I truly enjoyed the choir especially two of their interpretations of a Swahili song and one of the renaissance composition... I have totally forgotten the song titles but I just love the way it done.

The concert hall was packed. I only realized that it was full house when the choir conductor mentioned it. A sold-out concert at a bigger venue! Amazing.

The mostly young crowd loved the choir's rendition of The Circle of Life song from the Lion King movie, with the comical acts thrown in, complete with sounds of jungle animals in the background. Truly entertaining.

Truly talented young people. Truly deserving of their gold awards at the international festival in Prague, Czech Republic, tops among the 55 choirs from 15 countries!

It really beat the stay-home weekday routine where our lives practically revolve around flat screens in our home... our LCD TVs, computer monitors and yes, the games on the iPhones too.

I have to be thankful to Sonny's school principle Ms Chong for the invite. The school exposes Sonny to so many experiences and options, and it gives the parents the same opportunities too!

Thank you Dunman Secondary School!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

100th Day Anniversary

This afternoon, the whole family gathered to pray for Dad.

Last Thursday was his 100th day death anniversary so we gathered at Mom's place in Woodlands this weekend to pray for Dad to be cared for by The Almighty; for Dad to find peace finally, after battling with lung cancer for over a year.

I broke into tears silently whenever his name was being called out during several of the prayer versus. I thought I had mourned for him enough to be over with being too emotional, yet I embarrassed myself in front of my whole family.

Sonny saw me at my weakest all over again and looked concerned. I put my head down all the time and tried hard to control my emotions as we said the long prayer versus but the tears kept coming and trickled down on my open palms and onto the pages of my Yasin booklet.

Every time Dad's name was called out, my mind pictured him healthy, smiling at me, ready for me to take him to his oncology appointment. Those smiling eyes, sad but peaceful and happy at the same time, unsuspecting of anything terminal about his sickness... or did he already know?

I felt so much of a liar for not letting him and Mom know the truth about his cancer when it was first diagnosed. I also did not tell him when it was in its final stages. I still wonder whether I had done the right thing.

All of my siblings decided not to tell our parents, and I know I am not to shoulder the blame all alone either, but I cannot help feel guilty for not telling Dad because I was with him for all his oncologist visits and eventual hospitalizations.

I am not sure how many people saw me weeping discreetly as I could but it was contagious enough for youngest Brother who sat beside me to get affected and broke into his silent tears too.

After the 1 hour prayer session, I noticed Mom had puffy eyes too apparently shedding tears for her late and beloved husband of almost 60 years. I saw a few of my sisters with red-puffy eyes too. I guess everyone's feelings are still very much like mine.

The gathering was never without good food but I was not as enthusiastic to eat as I would if it were a happy occasion. The food spread was astoundingly delicious-looking but I just did not feel hungry.

Not many were feeling hungry either, so the whole spread was more or less being sampled by everyone. It ended up being packed home by all the family members. We just sat around and chatted the night away... keeping up with everyone.

"We'll go through this journey of having our first of everything... without Dad." Youngest Brother said when he saw Dad's neatly folded plastic bags, as we were packing the food. Something that is so true being said out loud, so clearly.

It was a nice and moving prayer session.

It was also nice to be altogether again... for Dad, may peace be upon him. Amin.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

To Walk Again

I marked my iPhone Calendar with 2 dates... 3rd and followed my 7th May 2010.

Those are Mom's appointments for her MRI and followed by the Orthopaedic Surgeon's consultation respectively.

Referred to TTSH by Woodlands Polyclinic on 31st March 2010, I accompanied Mom last Friday, 9th April 2010 to the hospital for her first orthopaedic consultation.

Mom was diagnosed with spondylolithesis in 2006 after going through the whole course of investigation when she had painful attacks on her back that made her legs to cramp-up. She has been having these attacks now and then and are having then even frequently nowadays as she ages.

She settled for the physiotherapy route instead of the recommended surgery to fix the easily dislocated 4th and 5th lumbar vertebrae that pinch the nerves in her spine. She uses wheelchair since then to get around outside of her home.

The last attack she had was the most painful she said she ever had and it happened twice in one night. Dad is no longer at her side to comfort her, with whatever relief she got with the massages he gave every time it happened.

The attacks scare our niece every time when it happens. We cannot imagine when she is away at work and no one is at home to help Mom when the attacks do come.

These last attacks left both of Mom's legs and her left arm swollen. As suspected, it was not caused by her spondylitis but rather her marginally normal kidney functions.

I took urgent afternoon off work on Wednesday, 31 March 2010 after 4th Sis reported if the attacks Mom got the night before. I took her immediately to Woodlands Polyclinic.

Last Friday, I took an urgent leave the whole day and took Mom to TTSH's orthopaedic consultation. The polyclinic referral appointment was suppose to be on 23rd June 2010 but a sudden cancellation on Thursday afternoon freed a slot opened for Mom instead.

Mom is more receptive to surgery now but given her age and the many medical condition she has now, the surgeon will have to reassess her again before they can know if she is still fit for the operation.

If she goes for surgery, the specialist said that she has 80% chance of recovery. The downside of this is that she might suffer a heart attack or stroke due to the anesthesia. The chances of this may happen is about 2%.

If she refuses to go this time around, her legs will get weaker with every attack and very well loose all functions of one of both if the nerves get damaged from the pinching as a result. Her control of bowel and urine movement will get impaired and she will have to resort to using adult diapers for the rest of her life.

The choice is starkly clear but it still is up to her. There is still this 2% chance of induced complications during or after the surgery... slim, it may be but devastating if it does.

Wifey and 4th Sis will accompany her for her MRI on Monday while I will take whatever annual leave left to accompany her to hear what the orthopaedic surgeons have to say.

There will have to be a family discussion after that consultation, but Mom will have to decide for herself what she wants to do next.

For now, Mom is given pain killers to take if she feels the onset of an attack is coming. She is also given strong vitamin B1, B6 and B12 to maintain and repair her spinal nerves.

We are praying for an answer from The Almighty as to what the best route is for Mom. It is one of my late Dad's wishes he had entrusted it to me before his passing.

I am seeking for a sign, for a right decision... for Mom to walk again.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Good Times

All packed and ready to go.

Then Sonny reminded us that he had a school concert to go to... fine.

"But I have to wear something retro..." he quipped asking for help at the final hour, continued when he got our attention "something in the 70's."

Out came my old clothes in Wifey's hands. Am I stuck in the rut of the 70's? Yikes!

Sonny can now fit my clothes... clothes that Wifey stashed somewhere deep in my closet, a place I have not "been in" for the longest time. The clothes when my waist size was a shapely 29... 30 inches, complemented by my long-lost six-pack abs. Now, my abs are just... packed. Sigh!

Sonny tried the ensemble on and ended-up looking like a teenage version of me, with my "70s" clothes... all thin and lanky; all innocent looking. Innocent of the erroneous fashion statement of my yesteryear.

He had my expensive black baggy pants on, my black short-sleeved shirt and my beige-brown pin-stripe vest. Wifey accented his look with her large crystal brooch with a dangling chain, clipped-down to his chest. He was to leave home by 7:00PM for the concert that was to start on 7:30PM.

Finally, Wifey and I headed to our weekend sanctuary... Changi Beach Park.

Sunset view from Changi Beach

The sun was setting as we had our picnic dinner by the beach, on a large canvas, sprawled open on the white sandy beach under a flowering tree.

As we eat, we watched the sun setting, while the tree continually showered its bright yellow flowers onto us. Wifey ended-up play five-stone using the flowers. Cute.

The mat, the radio, the white sandy beach. Perfect day out

With the radio on, we chatted much about many things but predominantly about Sonny, how he was enjoying the concert... what his friend are saying about each others' 70's outfits.

While Wifey was busy playing her Popstar! Lite game on her iPhone, I was busy practicing my take on night photography... under very low light.

I could not resist being drawn to her iPhone games, not with her quirky antics while playing it. I ended up downloading the same game on my iPhone and getting expert tips from her. She even introduced me to a new game called Titanic... a very noisy game. An equally fun game.

Wifey playing Popstar! on her iPhone

So, for a while there, this couple was busy playing video games on the iPhone while soaking the sea breeze and at times watching large ships, with their colourful lights piercing the darkness and casting dancing shows on the water while it cruised pass us.

We headed home by cab and got a glimpse of Sonny's school, Dunman Secondary, when we passed along Tampines Avenue 9. The school hall was still brightly lit. I imagined Sonny having lots of fun with his friends...

Our Radio bombarded with cheery yellow flowers

"We don't have such thing during our time, right Ayah?" Wifey asked for confirmation. Nope! We did not have such thing then. Times were very different then than now. Everything is so convenient and safe now... from public transport to living infrastructure.

For the first time, Sonny was still out with his friends after 11:00PM, surpassing his folks!

Keeping really still for long exposure without flash photography

Sunset at Changi Beach

Fishing & frolicking with the wharf lit as the background

Changi Beach Park by night with campers

Changi Beach resident cat with granite-rock camouflaged

Changi Beach mystic of Ram & Chimp faces on a tree trunk

Friday, April 02, 2010

A Friday Revisited

Today is a good Friday.

I had the opportunity to revisit a place I have not stepped into for many years. A place from my childhood while I was still living in the village called Kampong Ladang or directly translated as Plantation Village.

Being a Good Friday public holiday here, I had the opportunity to visit my old mosque, Masjid Alkaff Kampung Melayu. This time with my son.

Being a public holiday, the mosques all over Singapore will be overflowed with worshipers. Many will find themselves praying under hot sun or worse still, wet if it rains.

Our usual and nearest mosque in Tampines is Masjid Darul-Ghufran. Though new and has a larger prayer space, it still is not immune to the overflow of worshipers on public holidays. The Muslim population has gotten larger in Tampines that over the years, the mosque is always filled to the brim during Friday prayers.

Not taking chances to get ourselves either fried in the midday sun or most likely, wet from the rainy weather we have been having for the past weeks, we decided to take a bus and travel a little farther away to Bedok Reservoir to have our prayers at Masjid Alkaff.

We had to walk a 5 minutes distance to the bus stop along Tampines Avenue 10 and catch bus Service 58 to reach the mosque.

Being our first time taking the bus to there, I kept in mind to look out for our stop to alight. The many Muslim Bangladeshis with their songkok haji or white prayer hats riding in the bus became our unofficial guide to our stop. We followed them alighting the bus.

As we walked towards the mosque, I told my son about my childhood days, when we needed to go for Friday prayers...

From our village, we had to walk about 45 minutes to reach the mosque. We had to go through many types of terrains from our village to this mosque. It was smaller then, with its trademark dark-green dome and tall minaret that could be seen from far distances.

From sandy grounds of our village, we would head out and uphill on earthen path, cutting across the rubber plantation, then further uphill across the grassy coconut plantation before we reach the rows of houses of the Chinese village.

We would have to walk a little distance further out from that village to finally reach the tarmac road where Kaki Bukit Bus Depot was. The depot only served one bus service, Service 51.

Though we had the option to take the bus Service 51 to the mosque, a 15 minute walk on the tarmac road was much more fun when we walked with a group of village friends.

Of course it was great doing so on sunny; it was a mess on rainy days... we would get soaked regardless if we had our umbrellas, our feet would be muddy and disgusting. Our backs would have splashes of mud from the flicks our slippers made while we walked. Totally not in a condition for prayers.

I remember the many beautiful "upper-class" village homes along that winding tarmac road. Synonymous with Malay homes in the Kaki Bukit or Foot Hill area, the wooden walls were painted in beautiful colours. Many houses had glass-louvered windows as oppose to wooden shutters. Every home had beautifully landscaped flower gardens and grass compound... all proudly and stately fenced-up.

Unlike the kampong life, with its open-concept compound homes that was our village. Wired fences were non-existent and the many houses were in close proximity between one another.

We did have our own front and back compounds, marked by little bushes lined-up as "fences." Where everyone respected everbody's private spaces, yet at the same time open enough to welcome fellow neighbours.

The bus depot was beside a fenced-up Kaki Bukit Water Reservoir. It served clean, drinking tap water to the residents there as well as serving, as far as our village. Most probably that was how the other Malay kampong beside it got its name from, Jalan Pagak or Fenced Road.

The rocket-like red-white checkered, high water tower doubled as a famous landmark by the residents around the area.

The structure was also used by visitors to our village - to know that they took the right bus when they got down at the depot. They would use it again to navigate their back way out to the depot. It was quite hard though, because they would only knew that they were heading the right direction out when they got sight of the tower, after coming out from the tall rubber trees.

The terrain would become near impossible for any visitor to get in to or out from our village because it was so dark at night under the shades of the tall trees, not to mention a little spooky too. There were no street lights so torch lights were essential items.

The red light on top of the water tower would turn on at night but would only be a good after one got out into the clearing. So villagers would normally escort their guests out of our village to the bus depot.

I remember I always had to be the one to get out of the village at darkness of the night, armed with only a torchlight and umbrellas when it rained, to fetch my sisters when they came back from their night-shift work.

Never were there reports of any villager being bitten by snakes while traversing the route to and from our village under darkness. I also do not remember being scared of spooks or snakes back then. I do not think I am that brave anymore now!

Wow! That was a long road down memory lane!

Anyway, the original Masjid Alkaff was torn down and a new multi-storey one was built in its place to accommodate more people residing in Bedok Reservoir area. It was a very different building then, back in my childhood days.

I prefer the deco here and its use of space than at Tampines' Masjid Darul-Ghufran; where the awkward spaces made for inefficient use.

The many diamond-shaped halls made for lesser worshipers to occupy and many parts lack proper ventilation when the halls are packed with people.

I still feel that Darul-Ghufran mosque was poorly designed especially on the upper floors. The way it was designed made movements from one hall or level very restrictive. The poor ventilation at the stairways and some parts of the classrooms-turned Friday prayer halls made worshiping a taxing affair.

I do not know why I did not think of going to Masjid Alkaff sooner!

The Friday prayer at Alkaff Mosque today was seen with a bearable number of worshipers. We did not have to do our prayers stretched all the way outside the building and being opened to the elements for an hour.

Sonny was happy of the place too because it was very airy and relaxed. There was no need to rush for a squeeze of a place when it was time for prayers to start.

We have settled for this serene mosque to be our place of worship on future public holidays, like Hari Raya Puasa and Haji. I felt happy there as I was when I was little.