Great Expectations

I always remember my second grade teacher. Plump and stocky with short legs, she comes to class every school day wearing a custom-tailored dress and a pair of black pump shoes. She was known as Mrs Fredericks. During English classes on some days we would have storytelling sessions where I eagerly look forward to them because it meant the school day was nearing its end. My classmates and I would gather around her at the front of the class, sitting cross-legged on the chalk-dusted floor. I have fond memories of the storytelling sessions where Mrs Fredericks introduced us to classical novels like “The Man in the Iron Mask” by Alexander Dumas, “Oliver Twist” and “David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens. One of the stories which I really loved listening to was her narrative of Charles Dickens “Great Expectations” which was about the orphan boy Philip Pirrip nicknamed Pip, the love of his life Estella and the jilted, wealthy and eccentric woman Miss Havisham. I have read this Charles Dickens classic many times during many phases of my life.

On the contrary I disliked our English dialogue sessions because she becomes a total different person full of beguiled expressions on her face and crude sarcasm. There was always a 10 minute Q&A session somewhere in between. There was one dialogue session where I dreaded her from that day onwards. I asked her why my father often forgets to pick me up from school. Her reply was “That’s because your father does not love you.” I was stunned.

I cannot recall if I was the last to be picked up from school that evening. Second grade that year was held during the afternoon session. Although my brother and I were at the same primary school, the 3rd grade was held in the mornings. When afternoon school session dismissed, it would be about 6.45 pm. The skies start to get dark. Sometimes I hear the sound of leaves rustling eerily in the wind. There was no one there except the school guard. There was a coin-operated telephone near the office but I was afraid when I walked away my dad would come in his car and not see me (would he had driven away?…Guess I never know). I feared my dad would never come to get me. In my heart I wished my brother was not just a year older but two so that I wasn’t alone waiting, waiting and waiting. My dad would always appear by 7.20pm and would apologize for being late.

The following day before being picked up for school, I approached my mom in the kitchen who was busy chopping away on her round 3-inch thick timber chopping board. I told her that, “sometimes I am the last one to be picked up after school, and when I asked Dad the reason he was late, he said he forgot about me.” My mom responded with a grunt and carried on chopping away. I continued to tell her, “I told my teacher about this and she said that if your father forgets about you, it means he does not love you! Is this true?” Immediately my mom slammed down her chopper on her chopping board, exclaimed who this teacher was who could say this horrible thing to me. She said there is no such thing and told me angrily that my Dad loves me very much.

“You are intelligent, independent and a good reader. Your father expects a lot from you,” was what my mom said to me. I asked her how could I be intelligent. I barely pass my arithmetic quizzes everyday, to the point of failing them sometimes. My written English is so bad. My mom assured me everything will be alright and I must learn to understand others before being understood, especially my father.

My mom acted on what I told her by hiring tutors for me. We read together a lot. She taught me to write better. My wardrobe became my library as I drove my dad crazy buying books particularly written by author Enid Blyton every week. I learnt various musical instruments. I swam till I have “swimmer’s shoulder symptoms” and freckles all over my face. When the year ended, I was ready for Grade 3 arithmetics and aced every unannounced Arithmetic quiz the dreaded Mrs Fredericks gave the class.

My dad on the other hand, is a man of few words who seldom expresses his affections. He does not splurge on things like shoes, clothes and holidays abroad. An avid reader himself, he understood the importance of reading and encouraged me on my passion for music. Nevertheless I found him being strict with me but less so with my siblings. I couldn’t understand the reasons why then. The love-hate relationship and sibling rivalry between my brother and I somehow added to my confusion if it is true that the second child is always the “black sheep” in the family.

I realised recently that what my mom told me about my dad when I was 8 was very true. He is a man of few words but of many dreams and hopes for his children. He did not love me any lesser than my siblings. Instead he expected more from me for reasons best known to him. My dad being an average blue collar worker with 5 dependants worked to give my siblings and I everything he could to the best he can for he aims to empower us with knowledge and skills to be more than we are so that we can do more than we can. Besides his (and probably for most people as well) wish for immortality, his greatest expectation is to have his children persevere, united and respecting each other’s personality differences, career choices and lifestyles.

I know this because I expect and hope to see my children to be there for each other, to be role models to each other. I expect each of them to be fearless and formidable in challenging times. I expect them to put a smile on each other’s faces at school. No matter where one is, the other is always nearer than he/she thinks. How can these great expectations be conveyed from a parent to his/her child(ren)?

I never spoke to Mrs Fredericks again after I progressed to third grade. But her words remain in my mind like cement to a pavement.

Brown is the New White

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I love Sundays. Waking up later than usual, the aroma of hot coffee brewing and my mobile phone on “Do Not Disturb” mode, Sundays are meant to be more peaceful and easy-going than other days in the week.

My Sundays are regularly a day for breakfast at home. Breakfast menu choices would be eggs and sausages with toast and jam, scones and cream, nasi lemak, pancakes or waffles.  Lately, I had taken my Cuisinart waffle iron out of hibernation as pancakes and waffles were the preferred choice for several weeks. This valuable piece of equipment comes with seven heat settings and serves 4 portions of American Waffles at a time – a keeper.  Fluffy, indulgent hot pancakes and waffles are high-calorie wake-up calls filled with carbs and sugar with all the toppings we can get our hands on….maple syrup, chocolate sauce, chocolate chips, creme fraiche, melted peanut butter, fruit and nuts like raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, bananas, walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts to name a few.

Do you know that the mixture used for your pancakes or waffles can be made healthier with just a switch of one single ingredient? By the word “healthier” I mean lower calorie, higher dietary fibre and a lower GI, enough to fuel almost the rest of your afternoon.

For several months now, I had begun to bake my own bread as my lovely other-half presented me with an impressive Breville bread maker. Baking bread is new to me for I did not get to master the art of bread making like my chef mom.  Consequently, baking with a bread maker requires TEE….Trial and Error and more Error. On one particular (trial) day, the loaf of wholegrain bread came out perfect. All I did was replacing the entire amount of all-purpose flour (white flour) required in the recipe to a certain ratio with healthier options of flour available like wholewheat, buckwheat and rye. The thought came to mind that if I can bake a healthier loaf of bread, I can do so too with my Sunday indulgence of waffles and pancakes.

I searched for a recipe online for wholewheat waffles and tweaked it a little by adding 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract for added flavour. I noticed that as I cooked them on double time on my waffle iron, they turned out crunchier, to the delight of my other half. Perhaps you could do the same. I also separated the eggs, whipped the egg white separately in a separately bowl and then folded the whipped egg white into the mixture. This step is optional however, it is imperative that you do not skip this step if you want fluffier-than-normal almost willowy texture in your waffles and pancakes. Here they are on my plate pictured below:

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Wholewheat American Waffles

Not limiting to waffles only, it is a healthier lifestyle choice if we can incorporate more wholegrain products to our daily diet. Grains forms the foundation of our daily food pyramid and in our Asian diet, white rice is the staple food. What is white rice?

White rice is a refined grain, just like white flour and white bread. Refined means these grains have been milled, removed of its bran and germ. These refined grains have a finer texture and a longer shelf life, less nutrients and less dietary fibre. So what makes the wholegrain wholesome? A grain is considered whole where it has all its three parts, the bran, germ and endosperm. White flour and white rice are refined grains because they have the bran and germ removed leaving only the endosperm.

Regular consumption of whole grains as part of a healthy diet reduces the risk of some chronic diseases as they are important sources of many nutrients which include dietary fibre, B vitamins and minerals. Dietary fibre from whole grains helps reduces blood cholesterol and may lower the risk of coronary heart disease.

Food made of whole grains help provide the feeling of fullness with less calories. Incorporating whole grains in your daily eating plan may help maintain your weight.  There are a wide variety of whole grains available in the supermarket aisle today. Among them are buckwheat, barley, brown rice, oats, rye and polenta. To ensure these are whole grain products, ensure the package is labelled “whole grain” .

I have been incorporating some of the whole grain products in my daily eating plan for the longest of time. Anything white like white rice and white flour, including cauliflower (I know that does not count but I don’t have a liking to cauliflower anyway) in my diet is often replaced with a wholegrain product. I will have brown or multigrain rice instead of white rice, buckwheat noodles or brown rice pasta instead of white rice noodles and regular pasta. The all-purpose flour in my bread recipes is replaced with a combination of rye, buckwheat and wholewheat flour.

Making a change to a healthier lifestyle is not difficult. By replacing one or two ingredients in our meals does make difference. Our food will taste different for a short time as a result of this change. Similar to training our bodies to fitness, we have to train our taste-buds too. So why wait? Don’t procrastinate. Make a change to what you eat today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defy Time And Gravity

Prince. Whitney Houston. Michael Jackson.  George Michael. David Bowie. Dusty Springfield. Laura Branigan. As a member of Generation-X, I grew up listening to them over Sunday Radio “Top of the Pops” and Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40”. Today, they are all dead including Casey Kasem.

Think about Madonna, Mariah Carey, Cher, and Tina Turner. Tina Turner is nearing eighty years old and still rocking the world (fantastically, of course). Mariah, whom I am a fan of, turns 48 this year. I recall she was only twenty during the release of her debut album. These numbers tell me how time had gone by. Nearly three decades.

Of course that makes me almost three decades older since Mariah’s debut album. Madonna, Cher and Tina Turner, they all look different then and now. So do I.  Time has adverse effects on the youthfulness of our skin. As we age, our skin, the largest organ in the body has a magnetic affinity to gravity.  Several years ago, dark circles had begun to appear under my eyes.  Drier skin made the fine lines on my face more apparent. Not to mention, aging has led to the loss of fat pads under my skin. When that happens, the skin deflates, therefore the lines appear along with sagging skin and loss of volume.

I procrastinated on doing something for my aging skin for quite some time. However, upon a recommendation from a friend, I made an appointment for a skin consultation at Alainn Clinic where I met with the lovely and charismatic Dr. Ain. In an engaging session with Dr. Ain where I brought to her attention that the areas of concern are my freckles (pigmentation), wrinkles and dark circles, she provided me a few solutions to address these concerns, primarily using dermal fillers.

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I proceeded to the treatment room where Dr. Ain, with her sharp eyes and assuring manner assessed the condition of my skin. She used a pencil to mark the areas of interests. Next, my face was cleansed and topical numbing cream was applied to manage the pain.

A while later, Dr Ain began to work on my mid-cheek and then tear trough a.k.a. panda eyes with dermal fillers. Following that, she proceeded to the laugh lines. My lips were given some tender, loving care with lips rejuvenation treatment, greatly enhancing them with volume and definition. When the treatment was over for my static wrinkles and lips, she then worked on my dynamic wrinkles with Botox at the crows feet.

The whole procedure took almost 1.5 hours and the pain was minimal. I emerged from the treatment room looking 10 years younger without any swelling at the face, without the panda eyes. The results were immediate. Most importantly, there was not a bruise in sight the next morning.

Although I have not been to another aesthetic clinic, in my opinion Alainn Clinic is the best aesthetic clinic in KL (Kuala Lumpur) and PJ (Petaling Jaya) where I regularly look out for their monthly featured treatments and promotions.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding forefathers of the USA quoted, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. Where death is inevitable, we surely can decide and choose to age gracefully, looking as elegantly as we can. Now, isn’t that fantastic?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Footprints with my Father

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Hello there. Thank you for landing on my fantastic blog and reading my first post where it is a tribute to my father. If it were not for him, I would not have ventured out of the cosmopolitan cities in the land of the All Blacks, New Zealand. The youngest country on earth. He pestered me for years to accompany him on a scenic and out-of-this-world journey. This explains my association with him and New Zealand and why New Zealand holds a special place in my heart.

When we think about New Zealand, most of us would think about sheep and more sheep. There is vast amount of land in New Zealand. She is a sheep country but much more than that. New Zealand is a beautiful and serene country (despite lying on two tectonic plate and very prone to earthquakes). Manuka honey is produced here. Gisborne, a city which is located in the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand is the first city to see the sun each day.  To discover more about New Zealand, please visit their official tourism site here.

It was almost two years later that I decided to bring my dad to New Zealand on this much awaited journey. We flew into Sydney for a few days in the early Australian winter month. From there we flew 3 hours and 5 minutes by Emirates Airline to Christchurch. New Zealand is best ventured by hiring a caravan and staying at caravan parks. For this time a caravan was not necessary as we plan to travel by rail to be on one of the World’s Most Scenic Train Rides.

The much anticipated journey my dad was raving about was the TranzAlpine scenic train journey between Christchurch and Greymouth. In 4.5 hours the TranzAlpine goes from the East Coast of South Island taking in Canterbury Plains to the magnificent Southern Alps and Wild West Coast.

TranzAlpine travels across the Staircase Viaduct for elevated views.

From our carriages and through huge clear windows, we saw spectacular gorges and valleys of Waimakariri River below us.

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Otira Railway Station

The train climbs the Southern Alps via dramatic viaducts leading to Arthur’s Pass and onto Otira Rail Tunnel which is a tunnel created from blasting through 5.3 miles of solid rock. Otira is a town located 1239 feet above sea level.

 

 

Upon reaching Greymouth, we rented a car to get around the town. It rained very heavily that night. The next day, we drove to Franz Josef Glacier. Driving along the coast, we saw cotton white waves of the Tasman sea rolling high onto the beach a few metres away from us. A few cars and caravans past by us however, it seemed the entire stretch of the highway to Franz Josef belonged to us.

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Franz Josef Glacier

Due to global warming, glaciers all over the world are disappearing. The Franz Josef glacier has entered a rapid phase of retreat since 2008. When we went on our hike to Franz Josef Glacier, we were told we could not venture any nearer to walk on the glacier as the glacier had broken off the day before. Today, Franz Glacier including Fox Glacier is only accessible by air.

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Franz Josef Glacier Upclose

We drove back to Greymouth the following day to board our return train ride to Christchurch. As we showed our tickets for the train, we were told that a snow storm that night had covered Arthur’s Pass and it was inaccessible. We had to stay at Greymouth another day for maintenance workers to clear the snow that had fallen on the rail tracks leading to Arthur’s Pass . (Tip: always ensure you have travel insurance before you leave for a holiday abroad). 

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Snow-capped mountains along the Southern Alps

My dad and I had a day free to explore Greymouth. We arrived Christchurch safely the next evening for an overnight stay before getting on to our morning flight back to Sydney.

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The snow, mountains and the sky viewed from the Tranz Alpine

If you have had one too many shopping holidays or have had enough of Disney-themed holidays and wondering where to go on your next holiday destination, you could consider getting on the TranzAlpine during winter months in New Zealand. The breathtaking experience will be etched in your memory for a long, long time.

Fast forward 5 years today, my dad is now bed-ridden. However, the memories of our trip together have made his golden years happier and a life more enriched than it already was.

P.S: Thank you for reading my first post on my fantastic blog. Follow me for more fantastic posts and tips!