Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dialogue in the Dark

Each time I pass the visually handicapped busker who plays the keyboard at the Orchard Road underpass, I feel a little uneasy. Almost guilty, even. Because here we are as equal human beings, living unequal lives.

I'm able to see the sunlight bring out the bronze glow from my 2-year old's curly hair. I'm able to see my 6-year old's face light up as I start a story without her asking. I'm able to watch my kids play, run, cry, grow. I have the gift of sight. And he doesn't.

I had the opportunity to visit the Dialogue in the Dark exhibition recently, and it was mind-blowing. I would have said it was an eye opener but that would have been distasteful, given the circumstances.

Before my visit to Dialogue in the Dark, I read up a little about it to try to have a feel of what I was to expect. Nothing I read prepared me for what I experienced.

Our group of 3 made small talk with polite smiles but when we were handed our white canes, the atmosphere changed drastically. The cane wasn't a prop. It wasn't something given to us just to make the experience seem more real. Unlike 3D glasses that help you see better in a 3D movie, the cane was something that we grasped tightly for our own survival.

The Dialogue in the Dark website explains the concept very gently to readers, about how a tour will allow visitors to experience things that they are used to, without using their sight. Easy peasy, I'll just close my eyes and experience it now by moving around my house, right? Wrong. Very wrong. Could not be more wrong.

First of all, it's dark. It's pitch dark. It's so dark you can't see your shoes. It's so dark you can't see your white cane. It's so dark, you can't see anything. You know how when you close your eyes in the sun and you can still see bits of red beneath your eyelids? Not even that. It's black. Entirely black.

And scary. Oh my, it is scary indeed. Fear grips you the moment you walk in. Fear of the unknown. Fear of falling. Fear of not making it through. But you're not left to bump into things on your own, no, it's not a maze, nor a challenge.

You're met at the entrance of darkness by your guide. By the way, all the guides within Dialogue in the Dark are blind. And in the room (we're told it's about the size of 3 lecture theatres), they are completely comfortable, and we are entirely dependant on them. We were told that the tour was to last an hour but within my first 2 minutes I was already panicking - was I really able to last an hour? An hour is an extremely long time to be in a position of fear. I truly contemplated screaming and asking to be let out, pronto.

But our guide was chirpy and very approachable, and the 3 of us trusted her immediately and literally clung on to every word she said as she gently guided us through. With our cane in one hand, and our other hand on the walls, we inched our way through by following her reassuring voice.

The aim of the tour is not to make you climb, crawl, jump, hula hoop or run through an obstacle course while blindfolded. It's to make you experience everyday situations without being able to see. Our guide brought us to a park, and we knew it was a park because we could feel the grass, the gravel, the plants. Our first milestone? We made it to a bench to sit with our guide. Something that would have taken me 3 minutes to do on a regular day in the sun, took me 10 minutes without the use of my sight. And as I sat there in complete darkness, I started to cry.

I cried for those who were able to hear the birds chirping in the park, but not able to see them. For those who are able to feel the cool grass, but not able to see it. For mums who give birth to their babies but are not able to see them. I cried because I was there in a safe, pretend environment, knowing that in an hour, I would be able to see again and live normally, but there were people to whom living in the dark was normal. The good thing about crying in there is that nobody can see you, and you also don't have to worry about your tears obstructing your vision, because remember, it's complete darkness.

We ventured around the park a little, and then from there, we set off to the Singapore River and boarded a boat. One of those river cruise like kind of things. And I sat there, I couldn't help but think how alone I would feel in a world of complete darkness. I began to question how I would motivate myself to go through each day because sitting there on that boat and feeling it move and hearing the engine vibrate but not being able to see the sights was very very depressing.

Next we went to town and went shopping at a supermarket, and tried to make out the fruits and vegetables on display. And we crossed a traffic light at a busy road. Despite knowing that it wasn't a real one, we all quickened our pace when the escalated traffic light warning chrip came on.

Our tour ended at a cafe. A real cafe. With real food. And real drinks. And a real person manning it. A blind person. Our guide led us to the sofa were we struggled to push our straws into the little aluminium barrier of our packet drinks, and open our cookie packs, and throw our trash into the bins. Such simple things that we do without a second thought, right?

There we were, 3 sighted people in a completely dark world, chatting with our visually handicapped guide. In there, we were the same. In there, she got us from point A to point B. In there, she held our hand and told us to follow her voice. In there, we knew that we could always trust her to tell us what to do next, and that she would save us if we bumped into walls or couldn't get off a boat on a river. In there, we were completely reliant on her. But in the real world, who's out there looking out for her? Who tells her, and all like her, when their buses arrive? Or how to choose their clothes? Or where it's safe to sit? Or to guide them away from the edge of pavements with no barriers?

Our guide was not born blind. She shared that she was born premature though, and as a newborn, she was placed under the light and that the nurses did not cover her eyes. It was that that caused her to lose her sight. And this was when I bawled. How often do we take our gifts for granted? And how easily it can be taken away from someone just by a mistake, and by a mistake made by another?

It was probably the most honest chat I've had with a complete stranger ever. Outside, the same 15 minutes with a stranger would probably have been more superficial. But in there, where I knew that no one could see me, and I couldn't see anyone, I felt strangely safe to bear myself with raw honesty.

She told us that she was lucky because she was given an education, and that there were others who weren't as fortunate, so she counted her lucky stars. She told us that she was grateful for people who helped her at bus stops. She told us that it's very easy for a blind person to be disoriented and they often can't walk in a straight line. She told us all these things matter-of-factly without any bitterness or anger. I felt like I was talking to an everyday hero.

The chat at the cafe marked the end of our tour, and I was surprisingly upset that it had ended. At the start, I couldn't wait for it to end. I just wanted to get out and be back in the world I was familiar with.

At the end of the tour, I just had to hug our guide and thank her profusely. She had helped me see things in a different light. But my heart felt heavy for this kind, funny woman with the good heart, as she went back to work in that big dark room and I headed back to my world of colours. Now, above everything else, I am grateful, eternally grateful, for my sight.

I strongly recommend this for those of us who want to encourage empathy, not just for the blind, but for anyone who might be a little different for it is when we ourselves are thrown into an unfamiliar setting, that we learn to be kinder to others.

Dialogue in the Dark is located at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Block 5, #01-03, Singapore 599489, and completely run by Ngee Ann students as part of their internship programme. Booking for visits can be made here. It costs $20 for adults and $12 for students. The minimum age is 9 though they allow children in from the age of 7 if they are accompanied by adults. Bear in mind though that it can be scary, even for adults, and that your instinct of being able to protect your kids will be taken from you because you too will not be able to see.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fun for Free Fridays #5: Chinese Garden and Japanese Garden

One of my favourite things to do is to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life and search for calm places to re-energize myself. I love the convenience of Singapore, but sometimes feel the need to face some greenery and go for long walks to balance my inner self, and the best place to head to in search for a zen-like feel is non other than the Japanese Garden.

Bring: Hats, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, the mood to walk
Time required: Anything from 90 minutes


Located in the West of Singapore, the Japanese Garden is accessible via the Chinese Garden. It's beautiful, no doubt, but don't be in too much of a hurry to get there. Take your time to enjoy the beautiful pagodas within Chinese Garden.

Aww this was taken at the beginning of the year!

Take your time to admire the gorgeous bridges.

Take your time and stroll through the stone statues and look for your zodiac sign.

Take your time to admire the scenery. Really, take your time and enjoy the views because that's what Zen-ness is all about. That's right, s-l-o-w down.

Rest wherever you like, be it on the cool grass or on the stone benches, for this is a place where you will almost feel cut off from the noise, removed from the stress, and alienated from the rush that comes with your daily life. Just... relax.

Does it matter than you don't climb every pagoda? Does it matter if you don't touch every statue? That you don't photograph every bridge? No, my friend, of all the places in Singapore, no.

So. Like I was saying. Japanese Garden is accessible through Chinese Garden by means of the Bridge of Happiness.

Apart from the Torii gates, cute little bridge, amazing landscaping, beautifully manicured gardens, picturesque views, breathtaking scenary and tranquility, the Japanese Garden pretty much offers... nothing else. WHAT? Nothing else?

Precisely. Nothing else. Isn't that wonderful? Nothing to distract you from beauty, peace and serenity. 

I wouldn't blame you if you feel the sudden urge to pratice a little Taichi or some deep cleansing breathing because this is really what a place like this does to you. Zen, my friends, think Zen.

Happy Zen weekend, everyone!

Chinese and Japanese Garden are accessible from Chinese Garden MRT station on the EW line. There are no food options available within, but there's a small drinks stall (and it's very reasonably priced too) at the entrance of Chinese Garden. There's also the live tortoise and turtle museum within at a small fee. Please note that no scooters or bicycles are allowed within the premises.

More fun for free ideas here! Till next week on Fun for Free Friday! Got a fun for free place to share? Link up with me here!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Fun for Free Fridays #4 - Land Transport Gallery

Tucked away within the Land Transport Authority compounds at Little India is a little gallery that showcases the beginnings in land transport in Singapore from the 1960s. The Land Transport Authority is housed within the old Kadang Kerbau Hospital so just being in the compound was like taking a step back in time somewhat.

The entrance to the gallery was done to resemble an MRT platform - we all thought that was quite cool! For those of you who do not bring the kids on the MRT often, this is the perfect opportunity to teach them about safety on the platform. The doors open into the gallery proper and if you're not with a guide, look out for a white button to press to activate the doors. All aboard!

I've always found history interesting, and one of the perks of being such a young country is that it's likely that we can sometimes hear about things from the past on a first hand basis from our older relatives. My father for instance, has told me about old pirated taxis that he used to take to go to school, squeezed with a few other kids. It was nice to see examples of that at the Land Transport Gallery.

"Not KPE, I said MCE!"

I don't know about you but my kids? If anything has a steering wheel, they just have to drive it. And there will opportunities for that at the Land Transport Gallery. There are even old seats of rickety buses (or mosquito buses! - They were nicknamed such because they could move really fast and weave in and out of heavy traffic) and even an old trishaw you can hop on. 

Perhaps one of the most interesting things we saw was that of the 'traffic light'. The first traffic light was human powered - as in a ratan man would literally stand in the middle of the road with coloured wings behind him to direct traffic! They were made of wood initially but replaced with ratan which was more durable, thus the name the ratan man. Gosh, it sounds like a very dangerous job!

There are two options when you want to visit this place - the guided tour and the free and easy way. We usually opt for the latter because we think it's simply easier to move around at our own pace. I hear 'guided tour' and I immediately think of how one parent is running after the kids while the other is giving polite smiles to the guide with her eyes on the kids.

But for this particular place, it turned out that a guided tour would have been a better option. It's easy enough to navigate by on your own, but with a guide, you'll be able to access more exhibits and try your hand at more things. Like the Challenge Theatre for instance. It's an interactive theatre where visitors are given the task to tackle transport challenges like whether or not to increase bus fares, where and how to increase train routes, and whether dedicated bus lanes are necessry. Sounds like we would have had fun with it, but nevertheless, the kids were very entertained.

Plenty of blasts from the past as well. I remember having these and refering to them, looking at the routes of all the buses and planning trips around the island. I suppose that even as a teenager, I was already looking out for fun and free places around Singapore, how about that!

The old bus tickets are very faintly imprinted in my memory. I must have taken such buses only as a very small child. There'd be a conductor on the bus with a little hole puncher and he'd go around punching passengers' tickets. I think he was also in charge of distributing them (which explains the little pouch bag shown below), but where did passengers pay for their fare? Directly to him, or when they boarded the bus? Does anyone remember?

There's no better way to see how our country has grown than by looking at its landscape. And just look at how Singapore's landscape has changed! And with that, we move from the past to the present, and the future.

Public transport grew more efficient, as the economy grew, but as people grew more affluent, there was also the rise of private cars in Singapore, which brought about the need to enforce different measurements of keeping the roads safe and uncongested. Like the restricted zone - remember that? And the different licence plates! I only know the regular ones and the red ones! Join the tour and find out eh?

As parents, part of our job is to plan transport routes, right? So this 10-metre interactive wall was really fun for our 6-year old. Visitors are told they have to get to East Coast Beach (hey, last week's edition of Fun for Free Fridays was about a special part of East Coast Beach - Castle Beach! Read about it here!) from Ang Mo Kio, and are asked to choose between taking the bus or the MRT. Each decision they make will bring them to more questions, and finally leading them to their destination. Can you believe it - it takes 45 minutes to get from Ang Mo Kio to East Coast Beach! That's unbelievable!

It's not a very big place, but if you're going with little children, remember that they're not very big either! We were there with 4 kids below 7 for an hour and throughout that time, none of them was bored. Well, simply because there's plenty of space for kids to run around, and because it's enclosed, it's practically a hide-and-seek paradise.

The Land Transport Gallery is located at 1 Hampshire Road, Block 1, Singapore 219428. Email to make your bookings. It's free but bookings are necessary, even if you want a free and easy session. Open Tuesdays to Sundays, 9 to 5pm. Closest MRT station: Little India on the North East line

More fun for free ideas here! Till next week on Fun for Free Friday! Got a fun for free place to share? Link up with me here!

Monday, October 6, 2014

LET'S PLAY! - Rainy Day Activities for Kids

If you missed the first part of the LET'S PLAY! series, here it is!

Guess what? "What?" We're in for some rain! The end of the year traditionally brings dark clouds, and to many, that means being couped indoors. When it's raining, there's nothing more I'd love to do than to pull the quilt up to my chin and close my eyes. On the other hand, all my kids want to do is tear the house apart.

Here are some things we have been doing at home. I hope they will help with your sanity too. Happy rainy season, everyone!

1. Balloon monsters! 
Balloon monsters are, by far, the funnest thing we've done in a while! I simply set out balloons for the kids to choose from (of course, they both needed to have the same colour), and bits and pieces of stuff for them to stick on their monsters - circles, triangles, crepe paper. Just make sure your balloon monsters don't go too close to the ceiling fans eh?

2. Paper chains
This is something that I've been wanting to make with the kids but keep forgetting. Well, today, I remembered. Simply cut paper into equal strips, then join them up by hooking them together, and fastening each circle with the help of a stapler.

3. Ice cream cones! 
I made these relatively quickly one day, and while the 2.5 year old didn't quite play with them the way I envisioned (slotting coloured ice cream sticks into the corresponding ice cream pockets), both the kids enjoyed adding these to their play kitchen. Let's just say we 'ate' a lot of ice cream that day.

4. Local cafe
I love incorporating daily life into play time. I asked Poppy what her favourite foods were and then we opened our own cafe. I love how she wrote "People who are poor (eat) free". Then she told me "Mama, you look like you're a little poor, so you can eat for free". I won't say no to free food, especially if it's cooked by my daughter!

5. Sensory bins 
Are we getting tired of sensory bins yet? Um, not quite yet :) They're sometimes quite hit and miss but when the kids decide they like a particular combination, it could mean hours of play. Jackpot! Sometimes the fun migrates from the sensory bin to the play kitchen or the sofa. Either way, the kids are entertained.

See more posts on our sensory bins here

6. Stress balls
Both kids helped me out with this (Calla really enjoyed throwing flour around and Poppy, after a while, asked "So when does it start to get fun, Mama?") but took a while to get into it. But once I got everything tied up and pretty, they realised that the different materials in the balloons were quite fun to explore indeed. Here's how we made ours.

7. Twister
Remember the game Twister? All you need is a couple of pieces of paper stuck onto the floor and to repeat the instruction "No jumping!". With the 6 year old, I can call out instructions like "Right hand on yellow! Feet on blue!", but the 2 year old and I simply play 'follow the leader' by stepping on the same colours.

9. Uno
I recently found a pack of Uno cards at a pushcart for only $2.50! Apart from the fact that the cards like "Draw Two", "Reverse" and "Skip" don't say "Draw Two", "Reverse" and "Skip", everything else is the same. We've been having Uno tournaments and the 6 year old is quite the worthy opponent!

10. Counting
This is for the little one - sometimes she likes it, sometimes she ignores it after putting 2 seeds. Oh well, hit and miss!

I hope to keep this list updated as we grow! Feel free to link up if you've got ideas on how to keep kids happy at home without electronics!

Stress Balls for Mama

Little one won't eat her peas? Big one needs reminder after reminder to pick her socks off the ground?

What you need, sista, is a stress ball! 

Don't have the time to buy one? No problem; you can simply make your own with a few simple ingredients.
You'll need :
- balloons
- fillers (we used lentils, green beans, flour, water and salt)
- a funnel
- little helpers

1. Pull balloon's opening over the tube part of the funnel. 

2. Pour filler ingredient slowly into the funnel. Use a chopstick to gently push ingredients through if they get stuck. Fill as much as you want

3. Squeeze out the air and tie a firm knot

4. Squeeze your stress away!

Ps this could have simply be called "sensory play for kids", if not for my 6-year old asked "So when does it start being fun, Mama?"  The 2.5 year old enjoyed it though. And by enjoy I really mean creating flour showers on herself.

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Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Baby of the Family


She was on my lap earlier today, the little one. Just snuggling and saying goo-goo, you know, pretending to be a little baby. And then it suddenly hit me that this is the closest I'm going to be with a little baby, and regardless of age, Calla will always be the little baby to me.

I mean, yes, my kids will always be my babies even when they are old and grey, but Calla will always be the baby of the family.

She's the one who still comes to me for snuggles. She's the one who still pouts and sulks in a corner - or in the middle of the pavement - when she doesn't get what she wants. And when she grows out of not being able to pronounce her "S"s, that's it for me. No more babyhood.

No more picking food up from the floor. No more seeing little ones running around the house instead of walking. No more being woken up in the night by a naked baby saying "Mama I no yike pajamas". Once that all passes, there won't be any more. Not that I think I would miss waking up at 5am every day for a pajama fashion show, but it's a little bittersweet.

When she stops raising her arms to me, asking me to 抱抱 her because she's tired, when she stops lifting my clothes and asking to be breastfed, when she stops putting her sandals on the wrong feet. Once that all passes, there will not be anymore.  

That look of adoration that she reserves only for her 姐姐!

Next year she'll go to school. And I will have 3 whole hours to myself every day. Funny that I'm feeling a little sad rather than jumping with joy at my newfound freedom. 'Tis bittersweet, 'tis. And maybe I just need to reach for a tissue right now.

Until school starts, there will be many more impromptu trips out to the park, to the beach, random bus rides, sensory bins, laughing on the bed, chalking on pavements and tickling sessions. Just cos.


Thank you Frolik for sending us these gorgeous swim suits and giving us a wonderful reason to spend a lovely afternoon at the beach!

On Calla | Starfish rash vest and Starfish bikini bottom
On Poppy | Shell rash vest and Shell bikini bottom

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