Wednesday, 21 February 2018

#MeToo and Mayim Bialik

In October of 2017, Alyssa Milano tweeted a suggestion to all women ‘if all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem’. Hundreds of thousands of women have since shown the world the magnitude of this problem in the hashtag #metoo, trending up to this day. During that time, this hashtag has taken down some of the most powerful men in industries such as film, the arts, politics, academia and more recently the writing world.

This is powerful stuff. I agonized over picking this as a topic for my blog but felt after months of deliberating that I needed to speak up and say my piece. I wanted to encourage and tell women, that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that finally, we, as women, are being listened to. Enduring in silence, shaking our heads in resignation at yet another wolf whistle, or lurid comment about breasts at work or the pat on the bum would be a thing of the past.

Some women would speak out, accusations against their own kind about dressing inappropriately, or speaking out of turn, incurring the ire of men, cast in the role of gods that were benevolent when in a good mood, but turning nasty when caught in the wrong moment. Mayim Bialik, child actress, was one. (see her op-ed in the New York Times here) She wrote in an article soon after Milano’s call-to-arms, that she had never been harassed because she took self-protecting steps to prevent this - always dressing appropriately, ensuring that she was never in a position to be harassed. It took some detailing and constructing to manage that, but she did it.. It’s the reality of the situation, she opines. In a perfect world, women should be able to act however they want. But, it’s not a perfect world.

Anger surged against her for blaming women rather than men for the sexual harassment. Would it have been different if we took care not to entice the men? I don’t agree with what she says. Studies have shown that the sexual assault has little or nothing to do with sex, but everything to do with power. But I understand where she is coming from.

For years I did the same. I dressed ‘decently’, wasn’t too overt in my behaviors, I played the Chinese card well - shy, retiring, obedient. When I did speak up and stood my ground, I was treated with disdain by the powers that be (always men) because I had dared step out of line. The rules were drawn by men, and the rules stated that you shut up and put up with it. I was not being rewarded for calling them out. I learned quickly enough that in order to progress in the world, standing up and fighting your ground was not rewarded. I was protecting myself every day, intentionally or not.

Could I have searched for a better environment? Get out of the one that I was in? It seems not, from the #metoo trend. It pervades every facet of our lives, every industry, every job prospect.

Now, what, you ask? Great that this is all coming to light but now what? Now, the healing can begin. Not just for women, but for men. We have to re-write an entire order of how things are done, how behaviors are accepted. Men are asking, is it ok to ask a woman out? What constitutes sexual harassment? How do I approach a woman without being called out in a #metoo twitter post?

It’s time for women to take the mantle and LEAD in this call-to-arms, to show them what we are made of and what we want. It is time to teach our children the right way to behave, to grow feminist boys and strong women.

We don’t want a world like this one, but with roles reversed. I hope we as a gender aren’t like that. I certainly don’t. What I want is an equal role between men and women, that we regard each other as human beings, not gender specific traits we presume to know and to take advantage of. A friend once said, “I just want to be selected because I am the best person for the job, not the best woman for the job, the best person.” Once upon a time, I thought that was not possible to be gender blind. And given that men are almost always the one determining this, how do we put on the blinkers and make it fair?

There is still more to be done. The cultural changes in certain institutions will not come immediately. But what a great start! The world is sitting up and listening, and we need to stand in solidarity and speak. Where do we begin? Right at the beginning. Ask yourself, what do you want? And what could you do? We need to keep the momentum going, not let it fizzle out. I’ve recently started a local women’s group, where we can get together once a month to talk about the issues faced by women. A kind of a bookclub without the books! We talk about everything from gender roles at home and at work, to raising children, to recipes, career options, to best resources for work, play, family life. Maybe it is long overdue, but the sisterhood is perhaps a group we as women all need. To get it going takes effort, but if we keep on at it, we build each other up, and not tear each other down. In time, we also talked about including the men in the conversations we have, so that they don’t feel alienated, resentful and unheard. We too felt all those things when we weren’t included, and we certainly don’t want history repeating itself. I see it as building a different world, to better our lives now, but also for our future generations – boys and girls.

I hope this helps a little for those who are struggling to make sense of all of this.

Friday, 29 September 2017

5 Things I have learnt since moving here

Hey guys,

We are almost reaching our 1 year anniversary since landing here on the hallowed shores of California. We landed on October 20th, 2016. Now being October in a few days, 2017, I thought it would be time to take stock of how the year has gone.

Here are 5 things I have learned since moving here. 

  1. Driving on the wrong side of the road Or indeed driving at all. I am not a big driver. I tend to walk everywhere, tube it everywhere but when I arrived on these shores, many people said "Good luck with that plan!" and promptly left me to it. I tried. I walked D to school even if it was like 25 minutes away and I made it. A couple of times. Then inappropriate footwear kicked in and I drove. Everywhere. To town (which is a 10 min walk), to the shops, to the cinema ... did I mention to town? But what I have learned is, I can drive! (Hence anyone can drive. No seriously. Anyone.) Now, it might be simpler because all cars are automatic here, and lanes are wider here but hey. I'm taking credit where credit is due. Whatever the circumstance. Not only do I drive, I drive on the wrong side of the road! Take that driving instructor! I even go on the highway!
  2. Spelling messes me up. Grammarly helps. Zs and Ss. Mum or Mom? Acclimatised or Acclimatized? Who knows? I am in America now but my head hurts with spelling and then I start worrying about my readers judging me and I'm paralytic with spelling hell. Can I spell? No. Grammarly helps. My head still screams "It's ZED not ZEEEEEE- EEEEE." 
  3. Hot HOT weather. Years of being in the cold have taught me that no matter how hot the weather is, I'll still go out in it. Mad dogs and Englishwoman style. 40C (104F)? No problem! Let's walk! (see No.1) On the contrary, I'm freezing my butt off at 17C (62F) when in England that would be summer for most of us, grateful that the sun is out. I'm amazed how quickly I've acclimatized to hot weather. But I was born in Singapore where it feels like an oven most of the time. When it doesn't, it feels like soggy bread. And you wonder why I like it here.
  4. Friendliness. Now, this I take over ole' Blighty. You go into the shop or anywhere really (on a walk, in the park, in the CAR PARK) and everyone says hi, how are you, how are you doing. Then they move on. To the uninitiated, they would think that the Americans are genuinely interested and want their life story, but no. They are just being polite. They want to greet you, make small chit-chat and then leave. Don't make the mistake of telling them your life story. But equally, don't ignore them. Recently, H made a trip back to good old Britain (and Europe) and he sighed with relief when he wasn't being greeted (hounded was his word for it) with chirpy salutations upon entering a room, any room. "Oh," he said, "it was so good to be left in peace! I forgot how that felt!" Sourpuss I say. Some say the Americans are fake and really their greetings just roll off the tongue. They don't mean it. I'll take that over a glum face any day. Genuine or otherwise. I like that about the Americans.
  5. British friends keep me right. Recently, a British friend pulled me on the walking thing. She lives slightly further away from town than I do, and when I started to talk about driving into town and picking her up, I got the evil look and the obligatory nod of the head like she knew what I was talking about but didn't approve. And so I said, " We should walk huh?" and she simply nodded and that was that. That and it is still a biscuit, folks.
So here are the 5 things I've learned so far in my day-to-day. Maybe not terribly profound or insightful, but for the day-to-day, it works. I find being myself is the best thing and if 40C makes me feel like going out, I should drive rather than walk. Otherwise, walk where possible because it makes me feel like I am back in England. Unless wearing inappropriate footwear. Spelling is what it is, and I'll spell how I feel that day. Mum is becoming a lot more like Mom simply because the pronunciation lends itself to that spelling. But Ss will always win over Zs. Saying Hi to everyone, from America or otherwise, simply because it is a nice thing to do. There you have it, my 5 things.

(Still) Going strong in sunny California,

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Nobody is cuter than you

So time runs away when you are having fun ... or solo parenting.

2 weeks solo parenting can drive anybody nuts. The constant questions, the mundane run-of-the-mill routine made worse by the child forgetting on a daily basis the routine, my love crumbling into a puddle of resentment and passive-aggressive frustration. But I digress.

So, I would be glad to say that my life was punctuated by one of those life-changing events during the time I was solo parenting. (I had another blog planned but this was too good to pass up - stay tuned for the planned one in the next post). A good friend I hadn't seen since I was 16 contacted me about 3 years ago. I was in London at that time and she, as I found out, was in Chicago. The last time I saw her, it was a tearful, frantic farewell after which she left for Australia. What was she doing in Chicago? We had known each other since we were 6 but had 1 year as friends when we were 16. 1 year was enough and then she was gone. We wrote, but without the ease of emails and facebook, we lost touch. We found each other on What's App and we texted sporadically during gymnastics classes and judo lessons. She had always talked about coming to London to visit but we have children and a visit was always slim to none.

Fast forward to October 2016 . We moved to California as you know. And suddenly, meeting up was a possibility. As I unpacked and tried to get my life back on track as my husband's and my son's lives grew stronger and stronger, suddenly I get a text asking if she could come stay for a few days. Just her, no husband, no children. Karma, fate, God's will, whatever you want to call it, the perfect timing was when I was going to be solo parenting (love that phrase! She introduced me to it!)

I have to admit that even though we had been texting, and got on really, really well, I was nervous. I had not seen her in 28 years. Texting the last 3 years was a boon and I thought that was all we would have. I was reduced to be 16 again when we didn't have the money or the means to come see each other. But of course, we weren't 16 anymore. But seeing each other was a whole different story. It was a bit like online dating. Would we get along (again) in person after all that digital to-ing and fro-ing?

I'll never forget the time I saw her at the airport.

If I didn't believe in God then, I do now. Coincidences? Nah. Karma, Fate, God's Will, Yes. There are some people in this world that you are meant to be friends with. Family even. She was one of them.

We had 4 days of laughter, great conversations, and heartwarming tears. We slept too little, laughed a lot and certainly ate too much. Waaaay too much. We confided secrets that we hadn't talked about for years. We shared hopes, dreams, fears, and frustrations. We bonded over Liam and Chris, over Asian food and produce at the Chinese supermarket. Where else better to bond over? It was like we were 16 again. In California. From Singapore to California. Via Australia. Via London.

There are few people in my life like this. I love going back to Singapore to see my few friends from school whom I have kept in touch with. The four of us eat our way through Singapore and we love it. Now, I have one in the US. I know that no matter where I am in the world, I have that bond, that friendship that is unbreakable.

Call me soppy, call me sentimental. But girlfriends we definitely need. We might have our husbands, God, great colleagues, but girlfriends? Girlfriends are for saying all those things we can't say out loud to the husbands, colleagues, neighbours. (To be fair, what we want to say ain't for their ears! Only for girlfriends!)

I am truly blessed. From Singapore to London to California and who do I meet up with? A long lost girlfriend from 28 years ago. Who would have guessed it? Not I. Certainly not I.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

An unrequited love affair (It's not what you think)

Who shall I fly with next?
As a wise person once said, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. For summer this year, I flew back to Singapore to see family. We had just moved to California and I had never flown from the West Coast to South East Asia direct before. I prayed for a good flight. It could, as we all know, go all so badly wrong.

But the flight going out was uneventful (which is all we could want) and I was beginning to think this route wasn't too bad. I even began looking forward to the return flight simply because 1) I hate flying but 2) the flight out was actually enjoyable. It could be fun for once (I have been flying consistently for 20 odd years; it has never been fun). However, during the return flight, Singapore Airlines (SIA), whom we flew with, lost our luggage. When I finally got my luggage returned to me 4 days later, I discovered that a couple of items had been stolen from my luggage - a handbag and a fidgit spinner (of all things!).

Things go missing all the time. What's so special about this time?
This way to long haul flights

When I brought it up with SIA about the missing items in my luggage, I was really surprised and more than a little disappointed with their reaction - which was basically "not my problem". Well, first they took 4 weeks to investigate only to come back to say they had the bags in their sights the whole time (yeah right) and no, it couldn't have been stolen on their watch. (Question: when did they not have my bags? I was under the impression that before the bags were returned to me, it was under their duty of care!)

Well, I am disappointed, to say the least. I understand that mistakes get made and luggages go missing. I even understand that items get stolen. But to be shrugged off just like that made me feel undervalued by an airline which I had been loyal to all these years. Why was I so unnerved? Airlines have a bad rep for this sort of thing. Was there more to it than just lost items?

I don't know about you, but if you travel as much as I do, especially constantly flying home to see family, the airline is your partner. And in a partner, you want understanding, leeway, a bit of give and take (ok, a lot!), sympathy and empathy. It's a personal journey in more ways than one, each and every time. I have been flying consistently for about 20 odd years now, since I went to school in the UK, where I stayed for university, stayed for work and finally stayed for marriage. Previous to that, my parents had always chosen SIA, because they believed in them, found them safe and reliable. I have been a loyal partner and customer through and through. I stayed true when they were just starting up, I stayed true when the chips were down. I even stayed true when I felt they were lacking.

What's different now?

Will I fly away? Will they care?

So much has happened in the last year. We moved to California, to a place literally halfway around the world from my family in Singapore. When they would visit us often in London, California is just that bit too far and that bit too unfamiliar. My return journey to Singapore seemed all that more important or else I was going to lose touch with them.

This year's journey back to Singapore was joyful and painful - a close cousin's 1 year death anniversary, my best friend's son about to start school, a grandmother so old she can hardly recognise me as she sinks into dementia, hanging out with cousins who are like sisters, spending time with my nieces and talking to my brother again, hanging out with a special aunt who is 85 (!), and of course spending days on end at the market and doctors' appointments with parents. I get once a year to experience all these, a kind of fast forward if you will. I feel the passage of time acutely as it takes its toll on family and friends, simply because I am not there on a daily basis to experience each milestone. How many more of these do I have? To top it all off, the item that was taken was a gift from my parents. I loved the bag they gave me - not because it was a bag but because of what it represented, the memory that came with it. It wasn't about the value. It was about the kind words they could have said instead of "we advise our customers not to pack anything valuable in checked in luggage". It was about a gesture of kindness they could have extended. I believed in them so much, I never thought they would lose my luggage, nor did I believe that I would have anything stolen from it while on their watch. And even after all of that, I still believed in them so much that I thought that in my moment of need, they would be sympathetic and kind. And those cost nothing.

Silly me.

So when I needed them most, SIA could not deliver. There wasn't a helping hand or a kind word to acknowledge my pain and frustration. Even BA and Virgin did better in that respect (and if you know me, I am not a fan of BA: think no help with wedding dress!) The lack of sympathy was stark. SIA was professional, they conveyed their apologies, but there was no feeling, no love, no acknowledgement of my loyalty for them. I was but a number in their huge count of customers. I was essentially a nobody.

So there you have it. My unrequited love affair. 30 years to be exact. I felt used and betrayed. I have to once again search for a new partner in this journey of mine. There was a time when I would wax lyrical about them, sing their praises from the highest mountain ("They were different, not like the other airlines" I would say) but now I can no longer, hand on heart, recommend them to anyone. Is it because they lost my bags? No. Things happen. I get it. Rather, it's because they don't seem to care. They don't love me like how I loved them.

Am I too old to start again? Do I have too much vested in this relationship? Were my expectations too high? All these thoughts race through my mind. And the final thought? Silly me. It is, after all, a corporation. A money making one. I am only a customer, a nobody. I thought they were different, but actually, they are all the same. Even my beloved airline. I should expect no less.

Maybe it is time to move on, harden my heart, expect that difficult things will come. Family will get older, people move on. The journey will be uphill no matter who I fly with or where I live. I have to learn to expect that. And relationships do fall apart.

Lots of love
from sunny California xoxo

PS: Just in case you are wondering if a corporation should care, I highly recommend a book called "What would Google do?" by Jeff Jarvis (on sale at Books Inc now). It is exactly on point and the answer is YES, corporations should care, for their customers and bottom line. If they think these are mutually exclusive, well, Dell will say otherwise. Ironically, the crew on board was the best I have ever experienced. The head steward and his team were brilliant, making us feel as comfortable as we could. Kudos to them for taking the initiative and being really, really responsible and great!

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Running on full

Here is a post that I meant to have publish when I was in Singapore. But it never seemed like the right time. I thought I'd post it now anyway because it is well ... relevant. Thanks to my friend Lia Choi who reminds me that I still have an audience! I hope you enjoy it.

Credit: Tatinis; Wong Hoy Cheong, ‘Re:Looking’, 2002-2003 (with a simplified installation in collaboration with NGS, 2016), 2003-2004. Video in collection of Singapore Art Museum. Installation commissioned by National Gallery Singapore in 2016.
I step out this morning for a run. It is 7.30am and the temperature is already in its 80s (29 degrees Celsius) even though the sun is barely up. I dread to think what later on in the morning will be like, let alone the afternoon. I live on an estate that used to belong to British expats as far back as the 1950s.The street names are distinctly British, you would be forgiven to think that we lived in Britain. I run past Bloxhome Drive, Brockhampton Drive, Kensington Park Road, Muswell Hill, Clifton Drive, Stokesay Drive, Penhurst Drive, Cardiff Grove, Mountbatten Road, Portchester Drive and St Helier's Avenue. The houses are bungalow style, built in the 1950s. In London, I would turn my nose up at houses built in the 1930s. too new, we would say. Too modern. Here, we find them too old. Modern is good. It is comforting yet disturbing at the same time.

Serangoon Gardens is lovely; almost like a little British village. It was built for British officers in Singapore in the 1950s. I can walk to the village, restaurants and bars, cafes and spas dot the area, every possible bank we need is available. A British style village in north Singapore. The food is amazing, the atmosphere congenial.

Later on, I visit the newly opened National Gallery of Singapore, formerly the Supreme Court. British architecture at its finest, it conveys the majesty and power that is the British. Spanning the length of the Padang (Malay word for field, a tad bit bigger in this case), a field about the size of 3 football fields for parades and national celebrations in the middle of town, it is an imposing figure. I remember it as the Supreme Court. I attended my first court case here as a young lawyer, and appeared before a judge in his chambers with my pupil master as well as a high court case. I remember the high vault ceilings and the twists and turns of the darkened corridors. I remember the pomp and ceremony that went with it. Now, they are strategically lit, best face forward; no darkened hallways, no ghosts lurking in the closets. An installation with an ancient sign that says  "Judges Chambers" grace the quadrangle together with the judge's throne and an old TV. I stifle a laugh at the indignity of it all. Now, anyone can sit in that seat.

A new supreme court was built, next to the old, designed and built by none other than a British firm. An ultra modern, flying saucer top behemoth, it cuts an imposing presence in the middle of town. The old and the new, both British, next to one another. I cannot resist the urge to go in for a walk around but I don't. I leave it for the next time.

A British friend working in Singapore asks why we don't change the names? It is ridiculous to still salute to a higher authority, especially when that higher authority no longer governs. But I don't see the need to; it is part of our history, our heritage. So much around belonged/belongs to the British. We can't deny it. And I don't think we should. It is part of us now. We can't deny that. And it has shaped us, whether we like it or not. In a way, the Empire is our history too. That we were once part of this dubious legacy, shameful though it may be. It has given us a lot as well, a rich legal system, robust and mature, architecture that I marvel at, tea time that my aunt still adheres up to today, not to mention Bank Holidays (still don't get that). Maybe we would have survived without them, but I
think it has given us a jump start. Otherwise we would remain a small fishing village. Who knows?

We have survived against all odds (and I mean all odds). We come up to National Day, the eve of that auspicious day when we declared independence and had to hope for the best because, frankly, the future looked bleak. And yet, here we are today. Says a lot I think.

Love lots from (still) sunny Singapore xoxo

Friday, 21 July 2017

Jetlag: the downside to travel

Yin Yang of Desserts. Toufu Fa and Chin Chow from Kim Keat Hawker Center. Yum. 

I have been back a week now and I am still jetlagged. I have never done this route before - Singapore to San Francisco - and the jetlag hits me hard. I find myself falling asleep in the middle of the morning, after raring to go at 4am, collapsed on the sofa as if under sedation or a coma. I can see myself asleep but I cannot wake. My child is left gleeful, watching TV till I can finally rouse myself to make lunch.

I find this weird. I am in a dream world and I am walking as if on a cloud. My feet don't feel like it touches the ground.

It is at this time, weird dreams come to me. Human sized crabs hold me in a vice like grip, Chinese speaking aliens and oh, not to mention my old bossand my old job in the old law firm I used to work in. I got a promotion though. What does that mean? What brought that?

Malay Food at Kampong Glam. Haji Maimunah on Jalan Pisang
I am at least glad to escape the heavy hawker food in Singapore but just over a week after returning, H says, 'Shall we go to Indo?' an Indonesian restaurant serving Roti Prata, Tauhu Teloh, Popiah and Duck Capitan and I capitulate, neh, CAVE and say yes. I guess you can take the girl out of Asia, but you can't take Asia out of the girl. Onwards ho! And damn this jetlag!

lots of love from
Sunny California xoxo

PS: Won't complain about the outdoors here though. Ironically I am relishing being outdoors here. Singapore was WAAAAAY too hot and sticky for that.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Food Obsession - Asian Style

Tauhu Teloh from Haji Maimunah on Jalan Pisang (literally Banana Road)

As I write this, I am rolling around on a (very) full belly, having eaten yet another amazing meal. This time, with my cousins who are sweethearts and a source of comfort for me. I decide that I am unable to eat anymore, but always find space for more delicious food that, of course, I haven't yet tried. This time we feast at Haji Maimunah on Jalan Pisang (which means banana road by the way, a former one Michelin star food court with unbelievably lemak (meaning coconutty but also meaning tasty) curries, saucy fried chicken and spicy beef.

In Asia, the way to catch up with someone is to makan - eat. It is the breaking of the bread, a sharing of space with a brethren, a loved one, that shows that you care and want to be with them. Eating has always been the favourite past time of South East Asians as a way to be sociable and feel loved.

And today, that is what I felt. Lots of love and lots of care. It is fabulous catching up with family, and I feel very blessed to be a part of a big one. Once, I hated the idea of having a big family, of interference, of loud comments on issues that I felt weren't their business. But with age, I realise that they are a source of comfort, a source of strength and support. When I am at a loss of what to do, I go to them for advice, they provide me with a point of view that no others will have because they are family. They will understand how the family will respond. They are practical and kind.

I return to the States the day after tomorrow. It is a hard journey to make. I am not sure why this journey is more poignant, more difficult to make than others. The lure of adventure, of pastures new is less attractive. Perhaps it is a reminder of our mortality as we grow older. We mourn the death of a cousin, their sister, who died last year at 53. Young and all too soon. The original makan queen, we are 4 even now - always reminded of her wherever we go. My parents are frailer, slower and less steady. I could give it all up for the comfort of the home.

Still. Needs must and the means to return has not presented itself. I still love my life and lifestyle in California. The road ahead will present itself, I believe if I really want it. And if it doesn't, there is a reason. Forcing the issue doesn't help. In the meantime, life is a journey and I am going along for the ride.

For the moment, I am rubbing my full, full belly praying for a salad.

Lots of love from
Sunny Singapore xoxo