Friday, August 29, 2008

Succumbing

I. took. my. third. serving. of. ice. cream. in. a. week. Today. A Meiji treat creamy chocolate a colleague bought for all of us.

I had Haagen Daazs on Monday.

And a Dairy Queen cone on Wednesday.

Bad mother, bad mother! STOP!!!

(If you aren't aware of why I shouldn't be taking so much ice creams, other than the fact that 3 treats of ice-cream a week is already in excess by normal standards, for normal people, much less for a preggie lady... you can read more here.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Yin Yang - cool, or not...

There are two Chinese medicine students who are in our office this week, with some cool gadgets that have attached tendrils/pods to be stuck onto various muscles on your body to alleviate shoulder/back/leg (etc etc) pain. They (the students, not the gadgets) can also take your pulse/blood pressure and advise you of any health conditions. Cool!

As I am not allowed to do massages of any sort during my pregnancy, I decided to let one of them take my pulse (another pregnant lady in the office told they can diagnose the sex of the child from the pulse) - he indicated I have cold/clammy hands (my hands/feet get cold easily, whilst the rest of my body remains very hot/heaty).

I was happy to hear that baby's healthy, and he confirmed it's a girl - hah! - but he said I should take less cooling stuff (e.g. watermelon, pears, ice cream, cold drinks), as it might make Rosabelle have cold hands/feet like me, and make her suffer from menstrual cramps in future. Hmmm... from now on, no more ice creams and cold drinks for me (might even need to cut away my daily cup of Manuka honey)! He said that baby girls are naturally 'yin', and I should then take note to cut down on such 'yin' types of food, so as to strike a balance. Well, according to these websites, I should eat less of the following foods then (classified as 'yin'):

Almonds. Apple. Asparagus. Bamboo. Banana. Barley. Bean curd. Bean sprouts. Beer. Broccoli. Cabbage. Carrots. Celery. Clams. Corn. Corn flour. Crab. Cucumber. Duck. Eels. Fish. Grapes. Honey. Ice creams. Lemons. Mushrooms. Mussels. Oranges. Oysters. Peppermint tea. Pineapple. Salt. Shrimps. Spinach. Strawberries. Soya beans. White sugar. Tomatoes. Water. Watercress.

I love deep-friend stuff, which is 'yang', so good news for me then? Haha! But hmmm... lesser water? Goes against all my anti-water retention measures, and the Chinese medicine student told me I should drink more water (albeit not cold water)... Lesser bananas? What about constipation problems faced by pregnant ladies? Lesser bean curd/broccoli/fish/oranges? But I thought they are great sources of nutrients!

Guess Wayne sums it all up very aptly when he said "Aiya! Baby's already 7 months, it's too late to change anything now - so long as you are happy, can eat what you want lah!"

True, true... but I had my dose of Haagen Daaz and Dairy Queen ice cream this week, and I don't think I will be touching ice cream/cold water for some time to come... just to play it safe, heh!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Newborns and Kodak moments

Before I go into the contents of this post, a random musing: is it by mere coincidence that the core Line 1 of the Beijing subway (the longest east-west subway in Beijing spanning some 31.04 km) broke down during evening peak hour (no less) last evening - the day right after the Beijing Olympics ended? Woe betide the Beijing organizers if there was any transportation breakdown of sorts during the sacred Olympics season, and it's funny to see the same chaos I've come to expect of Beijing at the subway station yesterday. (I wasn't going to take the train, but was going into the underpass that links my office building to the shopping complex across the street to meet Wayne for dinner - subway personnel were ready to padlock-grill up the entrances to prevent overcrowding of people...)

Anyway... Rosabelle has been kicking/twisting/turning more and more these days - she is very, very active, and these past few mornings, I could not sleep in late as she will kick me awake (maybe she's hungry and wants me to get my lazy bum up to eat breakfast). Whilst sitting down still, I can at times even see my tummy heave from her wriggling, or see pokes of her body out of my tummy, so much that it's all quite cute to me, haha! Mum was advising me to give her pats on my tummy when she moves too much, to reassure her and put her at ease - it's a fun way to "interact" with her as well.

As Rosabelle grows from day to day, I was looking through photos of my dear nephew and niece (Simon and Marianne) when they were born, to get an idea of what my newborn might look like (bloody/grimy/wet/big/small?)...

Judging from the photos of Simon and Marianne on the day they were born, newborns look alike, are very sleepy, have "blur" looks on their rosy and chubby faces, and in both their cases, have very thick hair (maybe cos my sis drank alot of bird's nest...). And both of them look oh-so-cute, but when I think of how big Rosabelle has to grow before she pops out (and what I have to go through to pop her out), I am just amazed at how much more she, and my tummy, is going to grow over the remaining 2.5 months...wowee... Goodbye waist, hello backache!

Looking back at the photos when Marianne was born, Simon was only a "baby" himself at about 16 months old - but see how he tenderly stroked and "sayang" his baby sister - I remember when I saw these photos some three years ago, I was thinking to myself "How sweet...".

I was never present for the births of either of them, which is really a pity, and am really glad that my family will be around to witness Rosabelle's, and that she will immediately have Kor Kor Simon and Jieh Jieh Marianne to learn from, and to play with.

On a more practical note, Wayne and I have also started thinking about the paperwork of bringing Rosabelle back to Beijing next March - we'd need to apply for a Singapore passport for her (a passport for an infant - how cute!). I am also in the midst of getting information from the China Embassy in Singapore on the visas for her passport for her to get into China for long-term stay - the last thing we want is for our infant to be retained at customs for lacking the proper papers to get into the country, or get deported! Shudder...

When anybody talks about passports, they will think about how good/bad they look in passport photos, and I'm thinking - Rosabelle is going to use this passport for travels until she's five years old - but we all know infants change their looks hour to hour - how is the immigration officer going to ever ascertain that Rosabelle at three years of age is the same infant in the photograph taken at say, three months of age??? That, I leave to the experts to make their own judgements... but I then started looking around for tips on how to take photos of infants for passports. Passport photos have very strict guidelines, and I found a site that gave some tips for how to get best passport photos of babies and kids.

According to Singapore Immigration rules as stated on their website, Rosabelle's photograph must, amongst many other things, be:

  • Taken full face with her looking directly at the camera with head straight and eyes open with no hair across and/or covering your eyes. Both edges of her face and the top of her shoulder must be clearly shown. She must not look over any shoulder and her head must not be tilted
  • Taken with the image of her face measuring between 25 mm and 35 mm from chin to crown of head
  • Taken with uniform lighting with no flash reflections, no shadows, no uneven bright spots on the face and no red eyes (her eyes have to be open in the first place, of course...)
  • Of white background, except that where if her hair, hat or head covering is white, the background must be light grey
  • The photograph must show her alone with no chair back, toys or other persons visible

So... my daughter has to prop her own neck up at 3 months of age, preferably without any clothing on that will risk blocking her face/shoulders, look straight ahead at the camera, open her eyes and close her mouth for the perfect shot.

It's probably going to be a nightmare for us to do it , as you can see from the below examples that are rejected (I think the final photo of this poor infant isn't exactly the cutest, but who needs cute when you are passing through customs, I guess):

Maybe we'll just have to hire a professional, like how Simon and Marianne took day-old photographs that look lovely, and meet all the requirements of a passport photo if they are close-ups. (Now, don't you think newborns all look quite alike? That's Marianne in pink, if you are trying to work out who's who...)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Shots at Fame

This guy on my left in the photo - familiar? No? If his face does not strike a chord, I can only assume (a) you are a non-China person (b) you did not follow the recent Olympics (c) even if you followed the Olympics, you do not follow badminton.

Because this person next to me is LIN Dan,
winner of recent Badminton Men's Singles gold medal at the Beijing Olympics leh! Well, this photo was taken some time back over dinner (nope, not a candlelight rendezvous) almost two years back, in November 2006, when he was already a world champion. He's a good, personal friend of my boss and when we brought an out-of-town Client out to dinner that night, he was also asked along. I did not go ga-ga over him, but thank goodness I was sane enough to still ask him for an autograph on my namecard (no less - to prove that he signed for me, and not for anybody else)... My personal "Shot at Fame"... a personal photograph/autograph with a gold medal Olympiard... how cool is that? Tee hee.

Still on the Olympics (though I almost had to stab myself to not get bored to tears watching last night's closing ceremony...), Beijing, and China, and has really done themselves proud this time round with such a great show of the Games, and topping the medal tally with a record-breaking 51 golds. You really have to be here to soak it all in - all I can say is that I wouldn't want to be facing the international pressure organizers of the London 2012 Games must be feeling! 38 world records were broken at the Games, Usain Bolt can put "Fastest man in the world" on his business card (and you can imagine the play on the surname "Bolt" by his sponsors in their future ad copy), but my highlight of "Shots of Fame" instead would focus on the dismal... for the following athletes in question, at least:
  • Team USA, on the very same day, got disqualified from the finals of both the 4x100 meters relay - for the exact, same novice slip-up - they dropped the batons whilst passing. You would think that the ladies, after witnessing their men go through such a traumatic mistake less than 30 minutes ago, would think to hold on tightly to, and pass, their batons more carefully?

  • Sydney Olympics 2000 Taekwondo gold medalist Cuban Angel Matos, was disqualified for taking longer than the one-minute injury time in his match against Kazakhstan. Angel decided not to live up to his name, and showed off his remaining skills with a Taekwondo kick to the poor referee. Both Angel and his coach have been banned for life from this game.

How about our very own sunny island, Singapura's, "Shot at Fame"? Well, issues of foreign talents in table-tennis matches for the Games set aside, I think Singapore has now made its mark as a pro-marriage/pro-pregnancy/pro-baby/pro-family country. Our Prime Minister announced in his National Day Rally Speech that amongst other benefits, maternity leave have now been extended to four months (instead of three months), and the baby bonus for first kids are now SGD$4,000 (up from the previous SGD$3,000), with an additional maximum matching government contribution of SGD$6,000 for Children Development Account activities. Woo hoo! Now, I only need to be around long/often enough to tap the use of the latter set of funds.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

3 of us @ Olympics 2008

View full set of pix here.

It was a very fulfilling day for Wayne and I on Tuesday as we caught some Olympic action (we did not want the tickets to go to waste even though Wayne's parents could not stay around to watch the events) - we both took half a day off work and headed off right after lunch to enjoy a leisurely trip to the event venue (even though our events started at 6pm). As we weren't sure whether the roads around the Olympic Green were open to public transport, we took the subway (my first time in many, many months), where we then had to walk about 200m to catch a connecting train (Line 8) right to the doorstep of the Olympic Green.

I was wondering prior whether Beijingers would be civic-conscious enough to offer their seats to a pregnant lady on the train. On my first ride, I stood in front of a couple in their late 30s/early 40s, who continued chatting on happily, oblivious to my tummy, until about 5 minutes into the ride. The woman gave up her seat, and (hopefully) the man was embarrassed enough and also gave up his own seat to his girlfriend/wife - shame on him, tsk tsk!

The new train stations in Beijing are very erm...new, almost like Singapore, and we even took shots at the Line 8 station which had special porcelein-like paintings on the walls/boulders/notice boards. The train rides weren't as scary as I thought, and on the Line 8 trip, a man nicely gave up his seat immediately for me (his wife even joked that his tummy's as big as mine)! However, I'd heard alot beforehand about the strict security measures/checks, and true enough, there were alot of security posts set-up before we entered the Line 8 station, where they checked on your tickets (only those with tickets to Olympic Green venue on that day were eligible), and that you do not bring any food/drinks in (Wayne and I had to finish off the packet of milk and apple I brought, right after a filling lunch - BURP!). However, the volunteers all have to be commended as they were all very friendly, knowledgeable, and efficient - kudos! And I've long heard about the various scalpers who positioned themselves strategically at the entrance to Line 8 - in spite of signages all over the place stating that scalping is punishable by law - haha!

After coming out from the train, we arrived at the door step of Olympic Green, where if yesterday's reports are anything to go by, we experienced Beijing enjoying its cleanest air for 10 years (and the blue skies are set to continue long after the Olympics), according to a top environment official. It wasn't sweltering hot, but luckily I had my shades and cap on, as I'd read before that there aren't too many sheltered areas in between the various sporting venues, and the walks can be quite long.

We were lucky to be minutes from the start of a float parade of the various Olympic mascots, where they displayed the 'Fuwas', and had dancers dressed according to the themes of the five dollies. The poor dancers were all so 'chao tah' (blackened), presumably from being under the hot sun for so many days. My photos/photo-taking was not helped by alot of brollies poking into my view, and of overly-excited aunties wanting to get a good view (had to tell an aunty to stop pushing me).

The reason we'd gone earlier than needed (other than the fact that we didn't want to have to rush during peak hours on public transportation) was that we'd heard of the various hospitality tents of the sponsors, and were eager to get into them and have a look-around. (Note: tents here do not refer to the canvas stuff you put up for sports days/company BBQs, but are actual, nice buildings put up to hold sponsors' exhibits/showcase.) Just a few days ago, I was reading in reports that the sponsors were piqued that there was not enough traffic, but from the massive crowds Wayne and I witnessed on Tuesday, looks like the organizers took the complaints seriously and there were throngs of people around, with snaking queues outside each tent!

In the end, we only ended up viewing the Omega tent, since that was the only one that did not have a queue. My guess is that the "higher powers" have instructed for the crowds to organize visits to the tents, as when we were queuing up at security checks, there were old aunties/uncles with "visit passes" (not for events) that they said were handed out by their companies - state-owned companies, I presume; and we saw volunteers/army boys milling around. Not exactly target audiences of a sponsor like Omega, but still it added loads of people to the place - guess the sponsors have nothing to complain about anymore!

So after a twirl of the various sponsors' tents (I just took photos of the exteriors of them, for memory's sake, haha), we proceeded around the various venues like the famous Bird's Nest with the lighted Olympic Torch (or perhaps infamous, depending on if you are somebody like Liu Xiang and have bad memories of the place, poor thing), the Water Cube, the International Broadcast Centre, the Beijing Olympics Broadcasting Tower ('玲珑塔')... I was quite impressed with the layout, massive space, upkeeping, and the grandeur of the various architecture - am sure this place will remain a huge tourist draw and source of national pride long after the Olympics is over.

Only grouse is there weren't many areas for proper food - they only sold snacks like Chinese hot dogs, ice cream, cakes, instant noodles (at an exhorbitant SGD6 a bowl!). Well, they had two McDonald's restaurant in the whole area, and I was hoping to hitch a ride on the trolley bus to get to the restaurant in time to grab a burger before the event (such rides are only for the pregnant, elderly, and kids - but these "golf carts" have limited seating space and we gave up waiting). In the end, Wayne walked over to the nearest McDonald's and also similarly gave up...there was a long queue to get into the restaurant, and ANOTHER queue to place your order...

Well, we then decided to head on in to the National Indoor Stadium where our events were held - see me gloating with my tickets in hand! There were more snacks sold inside so Wayne bought us bread and a Snickers bar, heh - have to prepare for my hungry tummy as we were going to be in there from 6 pm till 9 pm!

Upon entering to get to our seats, it was quite awe-inspiring to see such a huge stadium, and with all the flags of the participating countries hung up. We were 37 rows from the top gallery, so you can imagine how small the athletes looked below. Luckily there were large screens around, and we had a small pair of binoculars (that made me have a headache from straining to focus...).

The seats were mostly filled (since it was the finals), and the next three hours can only be described as shiok!, as China went on to sweep golds in three of the four events we watched (men's parallel bars, men's horizontal bar, and men's trampoline - got a bronze in last event too, and China also managed a bronze in women's beam). This meant that we stood up to sing the Chinese national anthem three times (I only knew how to sing the last line '前进、前进、前进进!' - 'forward, forward, forward!'). But still, it was a very overwhelming experience to see and hear Chinese supporters cheering loudly for Team China, and seeing the Chinese flag in top place for three of the events. Speaking of supporters, the family sitting next to me was particularly loud/vocal, with the Daddy decked in red and cheering China on, and his daughter was dressed up in Chinese costume and dancing enthusiastically (also caught photo of German fans with their mohawks)...

There was a five-minute interval between the gymnastics and trampoline events as a group of 16 helpers matched out to set up the trampolines... in military precision - was an interesting watch. Also, I tried to take photos of the Chinese athletes doing their sequences, but most were blurred or too small.... I was particularly irked by the many people who used flash photography despite being reminded countless times by the volunteers that it will affect the atheletes. So irritating and inconsiderate...

After the events, we headed out to eat McDonald's (situated near the subway station), and since there were so little seats indoors, we packed the food outside to eat on the benches - yummy as I was practically starving by then, haha! The McDonald's here seems to have a slightly different menu from the usual outlets - seems more Americanized and healthy (e.g. has chicken salad). We were lucky to capture some nice night shots of the place and various sporting venues - looks nice and different at night!

In total, we'd spent about 7 hours at the Olympic Green, including catching a wonderful series of gold-studded events, and capturing day and night scenes. By the time we headed home, I was frankly quite tired from a packed day (with alot of walking and sun), but I think it was all worth it. Before coming here, I was not keen on attending any of the events for fear of the crowds and noise, the hassle, as well as wondering if Beijing's security levels at such an important event/venue were safe enough for a pregnant woman like me (I saw no more than 10 pregnant woman at the grounds, heh!).

I guess all my misperceptions have been corrected, and my fears put at ease, heh! The Chinese have really done their country proud... I'm glad I took the trouble and brought Rosabelle (no doubt still in my tummy) and enjoyed a day with Wayne - his first time there was brief since poor Dad was feeling unwell, so he at least spent time touring the place and soaking in the atmosphere on Tuesday.

I'm proud to have been a part of the Olympics in my own, small way, and to enjoy the experience with my loved ones - absolutely priceless.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Becoming parents



Name: Carina He Hui Xuan
Popped out on: August 12, 2008
Mom & Pop: Tang Bei and Jeff He

Jeff was my ex-colleague in Weber Shandwick Beijing and is now studying at Wharton University in the US for his MBA. He was with the Agency as well when Wayne was around, and they were both even room mates before. His wife also joined him in the US, as did her parents, when they found out she was expecting. They never managed to find out the exact sex of the child during the scans, and it turns out they have a healthy and beautiful baby girl as well, Carina He.

I particularly like this photo of Jeff cradling his newborn - the shadowy, peaceful lighting; his hidden expression; his careful and tender cradling of the baby... it just speaks volumes.

Congratulations to a dear ex-colleague and our friend.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Who you calling a Chinese dumpling?

I went for my 28 week check-up yesterday morning, and it was after a very fitful sleep since I made the mistake of drinking 'teh tarik' (milk tea) at dinner the night before (I have zero tolerance for caffeine and get high even on green tea and coffee sweets, really!). Even Rosabelle seemed to be on a caffeine high and was moving, twisting, turning, kicking throughout the night...aiyo, I was so afraid my blood pressure readings would shoot up (not helped by the fact that my eczema was making me itchy, and I had to wake up extra early to eat breakfast, since I needed to fast for my two-hour blood sugar test reading)!

Luckily, my blood pressure readings were at a normal level, but maybe it's due to the fact that I don't have a habit of eating too much at breakfast, my blood sugar at two hours after food was at a low 4.9 (normal is 6.0) -- the nurse who took my blood thought I had purposely starved to clear the test (haha!). I normally have a cup of milk and eat about 3 biscuits for breakfast, before heading to office for a cup of Manuka honey water, and a serving of fruit an hour later, so my stomach doesn't normally go empty for 2 hours flat.

Upon checking my tummy, my doctor indicated that I have a smaller-than-usual tummy for baby's term. Coupled with the result that I seemed to have low blood sugar level, she was worried I wasn't eating enough and affecting baby's growth, and asked me to go for an ultrasound. Aiyo, got me worried for awhile as I was wondering if I was over-doing my cut-back on sugars/carbos after the last GTT re-test. What if baby's really too small, or what if my tummy's not growing fast enough to accommodate a growing baby?

Anyway, the ultrasound cleared all our fears and doubts, heh - Rosabelle is now 1,103 grammes, and the scan doctor even said at such a size, she's actually 27 weeks 6 days old (instead of the previously measured 27 weeks 3 days). This means that she has about doubled in size since the last check-up, and we could even see her mouth opened during the scan (so cute!). Wayne remarked that her nose seemed quite big (like mine!), but after seeing photos of all the newborns at the hospital - we've reached a conclusion - there is NO infant born with a non-big nose (see Simon's and Marianne's at right - they in fact look alike).... haha!

Little Rosabelle was cleared with a healthy slate of major organs, and my womb fluid is also at a normal level (I thought if baby's size is ok, could it be due to the fact that I don't have enough amniotic fluid..phew!).

So my doctor was quite relieved at the results of the ultrasound and encouraged me to continue with my daily walks, and the level of food I was eating. She mentioned that I could be one of those women who are "薄皮大馅" (i.e. in reference to Chinese dumplings that have very thin outer skin, but can actually hold alot of fillings - hahaha!). However, I have been "punished" with having to do a two-hour blood sugar test for my next check-up at 30w as well, so as to continue monitoring if it is within healthy levels.

I have also been instructed to keep close track of the foetal movements - Rosabelle has really been getting very active these days (I read that babies from 28-29w sleep/wake in five-minute intervals, my goodness, so busy, this daughter of mine!). When I sleep at night, it helps for me to prop my leg up to a level in line with my heart, and to sleep on my left-hand-side (but I do get breathless at times when there is a constricted feeling on my chest from the increasing weight).

Oh well, am happy as a lark all's nice and normal for Rosabelle and I. Only glitch is - I have met quite a lot of people who tell me "Oh, you're expecting a boy, right?", just from looking at the shape of my stomach. Our neighbour downstairs who has a one-year-old boy, some of my colleagues, and even some people I meet for the first time. They assume because from the back, I do not look like I am pregnant (yaay..I still have an outline of a waist, albeit a thick one; though Wayne says "From the waist, you can't tell. But from your butt, can tell you are pregnant." - haha!). Also, maybe it's because my stomach looks slightly pointy, and is low, not round and flat if it was a girl inside - you can read other (some rather ridiculous) old wives' tales about how to tell the sex of the child here.

In any case, the three scans we've done all show Rosabelle to be a girl, but I've heard stories of how it turns out to be a boy at the end of the day (because for various reasons, the boy's "part" does not show up on the scan), and for obvious reasons, I am not going to name my friend (you know who you are *wink*) who had to bear the childhood humiliation of wearing a pink, knitted sweater his Mum prepared for the daughter she thought she was going to have ("Oh, so is this a boy or girl?" relatives asked at the one-month celebration where the pink sweater was proudly shown off...with him wearing it).

Well, as we always say, boy or girl, so long as it's a healthy child, we are blessed - and we also have not bought any gender-specific clothes/toys/furniture etc (except that the poor kid, if it ever turns out to be a boy, would be confused as to why I now keep calling him by a girl's name and saying I would buy beautiful dresses for him...). I have a back-up name if it's a boy - Jayden Shi (yet to have Wayne's blessings, but again, that's also the name of Britney Spears' kid...ewwww....).

Since we're on baby stuff, we also took the weekend to look at baby bath tubs. As I'd mentioned before, I won't be buying alot of things in China before I leave (as I will be doing my confinement in Singapore), but we'd considered getting:
  • a cot (now realized we don't need one as our study room can accommodate a sofa bed and a super single mattress side by side, demonstrated during Wayne's parents' visit - so good, Rosabelle can sleep on the mattress next to our Mums)

  • a hot water flask so we don't have to keep re-boiling water in our electric kettle (I redeemed a free one using my mobile phone points - yaaay!)

  • a heating plate (we'll get this when we are back in March when the stores have more of these, as there will be a few days before it gets cold in the house since central heating stops only on Mar 15)

  • a wardrobe (we'll also get this after we come back, to assess how much storage space is required for Wayne's Mum and baby stuff - we've amazingly managed to clear a fair bit of space from our spring-cleaning a few weeks back)

  • a drying rack (for nappies and baby clothing - we now have a minuscule balcony that we use for hanging out clothing, but the racks are high up and inconvenient for me to reach, so the kinds that can you can spread out on the floor would be more practical - but we also have to consider the space issue and where to place this...heh...)

  • a bath tub (we saw bath tubs ranging from SGD8 to SGD55 - Mum said "no need so expensive one!", where the 'high-end' tubs had fitted measures to prop baby up so she can lie down comfortably - such features are actually quite a hindrance when baby grows bigger and needs the extra space to kick around in the bath tub, so guess we'll settle for an ordinary one and place an anti-slip mat at the base)

Goody, not that much to-dos before heading home, but knowing me, I will likely be pottering around here and there before I leave for Singapore!

The things parents do for their children

Shortly after I posted my last entry on Friday evening, Wayne told me his parents were going to head home the next night on Saturday, as Dad's fever did not seem to subside even after countless visits to the hospital. He was actually feeling better on Saturday, well enough to go with Mum to the National Grand Theatre (again), to sell off the tickets they bought for a performance this week, and to take an inside tour of the place. But guess they decided to play it safe and go back to the comfort of their homes where Dad can rest well.

Over dinner before they headed to the train station at night (brought them for Malaysian food at a local restuarant, Malacca Legend), Dad revealed that he was also afraid he would pass his bad flu to me. Aiya, there was no way I could convince him that Rosabelle and I are hale and hearty, but they were adamant about leaving, so it's a pity Wayne, I and Rosabelle could not spend more time with them and bring them around more.

Well, at least they managed to get some of the Olympic action on Friday, taking in sights of the renowned Bird's Nest, Water Cube, and 20 minutes of the All-Around Women's Gymnastics...

With them being away, Wayne and I have decided not to let the remaining sets of Olympic tickets go to waste. Instead, I will go with him for tomorrow's gymnastics events (yes, with Rosabelle too!) - we are setting aside more time to get to the venue so it won't be too hectic for me, I shall report more on my Olympics experience!

For Dad and Mum, they reached home safely on Sunday morning and thankfully Dad's feeling better. With such an episode, Wayne and I are hesitant about having Mum stay with us for too long in future to take care of Rosabelle - Dad is also at an age where he needs her to be around (as Wayne put it, they are really each other's "老伴" - companions for life), and it won't be fair to keep them apart for long, so guess we'll have to make longer-term plans for Rosabelle.

Still back to the Olympics subject, as I caught various events on TV over the weekend, there are some highlights and moving moments that stood out for me - it's not about Michael Phelps and his personal achievement of 8 golds (or a total of a record 14 Olympic golds); or the fact that China is leading in the medal tally over arch-rival USA; or even the trials and tribulations of Team China who managed many firsts this time round.

It's more of the personal stories like that of the below that show the selfless love of mothers and loved ones...
  • that of Chinese 75kg weightlifting champion CAO Lei, who dedicated her win to her mother who passed away just two months ago. Her family had tried to keep the news from her, and since her mother was the first person CAO always wanted to talk to whenever she called home, her father had to lie and told her to concentrate on her training and not call anymore. Upon urging by CAO's coach, the news was broken to her only much later.

  • that of 33-year-old German gymnast Oksana CHUSOVITINA, whose son Alisher was diagnosed with cancer before his third birthday in 2002, and she then moved from Uzbekistan to Germany, where better medical care saved him. In an arena of young 14-year-olds doing flips and stands, this mummy gymnast is also the first female gymnast to compete in five Olympics. She came out of retirement to take part in competitions to be able to earn enough for her son's illness then, and has been quoted as saying "If I don't compete, then my son won't live... It's as simple as that. I have no choice." Although her son is cured, she is not resting on her laurels.

Or even closer to heart is Mum's support for the China team when they were up against our own Singapore team in the finals of the Women's Table Tennis Team event last night. My sister even called her a "叛徒" (traitor) in jest...haha! China President HU Jintao was even present at the finals last night, so you can imagine the pressure on the China team (they obviously won). I heard that there were Singaporeans present at the stadium, cheering LI Jiawei (Singapore's strongest paddler) on, but they were screaming "ai zai, ai zai!!!" (Hokkien for "steady, steady!!!) - erm..maybe it's because she's a Beijing native and did not understand the cheering...

In any case, it's no mean feat for Singapore that last got an Olympics medal (bronze for weightlifting) 48 years ago - even our Prime Minster Lee Hsien Loong delayed his National Day Rally speech by a day to await the results of this match. Just managing to see the Singapore flag raised at such a mega international sporting event as this is really quite an achievement (though the paddlers are mainly from China, heh). Looks like the $750,000 awarded by the Singapore National Olympic Council to the silver medallists will pay for a big party...(oh, in line with all things Singapore, the amount is taxable, by the way, heh!).

More about Mum - she has been updating me of the various preparations she and my sis (and guess everybody else at home) have been doing for Rosabelle's homecoming: re-painting the house (and finding out there were white ant nests lurking in parts of the home in the process - yeeks!); getting a new set of dining table/chairs (in her own words: "scared that when the fat, pregnant woman sits on the old chairs, they might give way and fall"!); dragging out Simon's/Marianne's infant clothing and washing them clean; cleaning out the cupboards for baby's and Wayne's/my clothes; re-varnishing the wooden furniture;...

They really have been kept busy, and even my sis, who has started part-time work in a friend's law firm, informed her boss that she will not be working in November, as I was going to deliver then. So sweet of them all, and I'm also getting all excited about going home in less than a month!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Totally sapped

One definition of "sapped" from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:
- to gradually diminish the supply or intensity of
- to weaken or exhaust the energy or vitality of

The above is exactly what Wayne's poor Daddy is feeling now. As you know, they are now in town to catch the Olympics action but perhaps it's due to a hectic past few days (where they both woke up really early (like, before 7 am) to head out in Beijing's hot August weather to places like the National Grand Theatre, Qianmen, or to scout for a place for Dad to play his favourite game of table tennis. Or the fact that the room aircon was too cold for them the first night. Or maybe it's due to new surroundings and they have not been resting well.

In any case, it has caused Mum to come down with a red eye (not conjunctivitis, but burst blood capillaries - too heaty), and Dad to come down with a bad flu. Bad enough for Mum to have to take him to the hospital this morning for a jab and glucose drip, and bad enough for them and Wayne to have to leave just 20 minutes into the finals of the Women's All-round Gymnastics this morning (which China got a bronze medal for) to go to the hospital again for further checks.

Poor thing...his nose was all red last night, and he was running a slight fever (he even told Mum he wanted to go home for fear of infecting me, aiyo!). Anyway, hope he gets better in time to catch the next event - the finals of Men's Parallel+Horizontal Bars/Women's Beam on Tuesday, 19 Aug, if not it'll be a wasted trip for them to not be able to enjoy the Games, not to mention him feeling terrible all the time...

On a lighter note and to celebrate the coming weekend (am going for my 28w check-up on Sunday!), enjoy some Dilbert clips showcasing some other work situations that I would certainly NOT miss (luckily I don't have to encounter them in my current job...). TGIF!




Thursday, August 14, 2008

Woe betide whoever dares say my kid isn't cute enough!!!

Warning: If my blog or this post disappears overnight, you know it's due to some mystical forces of the Chinese government.

I'm brought up to write proper English, and am sickened when people over-use exclamation marks (e.g. Wah lau eh!!! This noodle is very nice to eat leh!!!). But, I simply had to title my blog with (at least) three exclamation marks to convey the strong feelings I have for the subject of this post.

Sad news about the Olympics, and it's not about the fact that (obviously and NOT suprisingly), Singapore has yet to pick up any medal, or that some Chinese hot-for-gold medallist got silver or bronze instead. Instead, my sadness is linked to the story of two Chinese girls (that's LIN Miaoke on the left, and YANG Peiyi on the right).

Quick question before you read on: Do you think both girls are cute, or is "angel-faced" Lin cuter than short-haired, crooked-teethed Yang?

Now, read on:

Pretty, pixie-faced Lin Miaoke became an overnight star (or in her own father's words, "an international singing sensation") after she appeared in the opening of the Beijing Olympics, singing the all-too-famous patriotic Chinese song "Ode to the Motherland". She became a hit with her sweet voice, beautiful red dress (and what I think is an overdone plastic smile and too much make-up for a nine-year-old). Fair enough.

Problem arises when reports have surfaced that Lin was lip-synching (oh well, international pop stars lip-sync too, and it has also been reported that Luciano Pavarotti's performance at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin was pre-recorded as the wintry cold made a live performance impossible). However, this has been pushed to the limit when horrors of all horrors, it was also revealed that Lin was not lip-synching to her own voice, but to that of another young girl, seven-year-old Yang Peiyi.

In China's keen attempts to present its "best" on the international stage, Yang was not deemed good enough to sing at the opening. You can read more about the details in this report, but details are summarized as such:

Chen Qigang, the ceremony's music director, had been asked last minute by an unamed Politburo official to replace Yang with Lin, according to an interview with Beijing Radio. This is what Chen said (I've combined various parts of his quotes into the below abstract):

"The audience will understand that it's in the national interest... The national interest requires that the girl should have good looks and a good grasp of the song and look good on screen... Lin Miaoke was the best in this. And Yang Peiyi's voice was the most outstanding.... We had to make that choice. It was fair both for Lin Miaoke and Yang Peiyi...We combined the perfect voice and the perfect performance."

Obviously, the end results are far from perfect - Yang's looks were just not cute enough for some official (who I'd assume does not have kids of his own and thus judges innocent kids harshly based on looks).

In my personal view, China's quest for perfection has really extended beyond acceptable boundaries - it's quite shameful and saddening (as well as maddening!) to think that poor Yang has to live in the shadows of being deemed uncute, and even Lin is a victim for being deemed to have a lousy voice. Who needs "perfect" when you are just a kid, for goodness sake?! There are many comments online with debate and disgust about this and obviously, alot of local media have been told to remove the story, suggesting that Chinese authorities are indeed uncomfortable with the fact that they've been exposed.

Of course, as with all matters, the other side of the coin has a camp of people who agree with the lame "national interests" excuse that China needs to present its best to the world at such an important event. However, who cares about "best" when your "best" turns out to be "fake"? And isn't one of the key elements of Olympic spirit about "fair play"? Hubby Wayne offers his two cents' worth as he's more in tune with the psyche of his fellow Chinese citizens: if Yang were to appear on stage, there would also be criticisms of why a "cuter" girl was not chosen - you can't please a nation of 1.3 billion, and it's easy for us non-Chinese people to look on and criticize; guess you can't please everybody whilst balancing "national interests"!

However, even more heart-tugging is Yang's sincere response (and hopefully nobody had to hold a knife to her dad's neck to force her to make such a politically-correct statement), that "just having her voice used for the opening ceremony was an honor". Now, why can't we adults and the folks in question exercise such innocence?

I shall end my rambling outburst with the mission of the Olympic Spirit:

"Our vision and purpose is clear - To be an icon of Olympic values and ideals, to inspire and motivate the youth of the world to be the best they can be."

Mark R. Dzenick
Chairman - Olympic Spirit Group
Note to guilty parties: Key phrase in above is "to be the best they CAN be", and certainly, definitely, absolutely not "to be the best they APPEAR to be". (Cue: Shake head and give a heavy sigh...)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The many manifestations of parental love

  • Wayne's parents reached Beijing on an overnight train from their home in Zhengzhou, Henan this morning. It has been two years since Wayne's father came to Beijing (the last was in August 2006 when our families met for the first time here - as per pic below). They are here to soak in the Olympics spirit and attend the three events Wayne successfully bid for tickets to - two sessions of gymnastics, and the semi-finals of women's basketball. More than that, them being around has made our home livelier, and the two weeks they are in town will be a chance for Rosabelle to "acquaint" with her Ye Ye and Nai Nai before she pops out (hopefully they will consider spending their CNY in Singapore, heh).
  • I experienced a strong, pulling pain on the right side of my abdomen last night (when sleeping on my right) in the midst of my sleep. It was so bad I could not even switch positions, and only after five minutes, when I moved over, then did the pain subside. I got so worried when I did not feel Rosabelle kick for about 10 minutes, and was so relieved when she started moving so I knew it was probably nothing more than the usual pulling of my ligaments when my uterus expands. However, this pain, unlike the rest of the times, was constant, and almost paralysing...to the point that I woke poor Wayne up to tell him about it (sweet, sweet Wayne was very reassuring...).
  • My mum, as with usual routine, would call me every weekend to chat, and one of the first things she told me on the phone on Sunday was, "Eh, this Friday is the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. You and Wayne better go home early on that day." (embedded in strong Chinese beliefs about the Ghost Festival, and the fact that on the 1st, 15th, and 30th of the seventh lunar month, the ghosts are fiercest/most disruptive).
  • On 10 Aug, defending champion Xian Dongmei won China's first judo gold medal - no mean feat for a 33-year-old lady who just gave birth to her daughter 18 months ago. She is the first Chinese judoka who has managed to win gold medals in two consecutive Olympic Games, and is also the first ever mama Olympic champion in China. Understandably, this meant that she had to resume training shortly after birth, and her very poignant celebratory interview on CCTV made my eyes water. She said something to the effect of, "I really want to thank my husband who has given me much support to my coming back to judo after marriage and giving birth to our daughter, and what I want to do most now is to make up to my daughter whom I have not seen for more than a year."... and upon mention of her daughter, her voice cracked and eyes filled up with tears.

Such is the sweet bliss of parental love, and I am blessed to be able to be showered by it, and to manifest this in return on Rosabelle.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Huat, Huat, Huat, Huat, Huat ah! (发、发、发、发、发!)

What were you doing on 8 August 2008, at 8:08 pm? Well, I'm in Beijing, and of course I was catching the much-hyped over Opening of the 2008 Summer Olympics Games (more on that later...)! It was a busy, hectic day for Wayne and I on this day, where fortunately, both our companies granted staff a day off to mark the occasion.

In the morning, we headed out to play golf (well, at least Wayne did, and I sat around reading magazines, and snacking non-stop to keep from being hungry)....Wayne's lately into golf and is busy practising his shots before venturing on the green one day, heh...

As the driving range is in an "ulu" area of town, we had to call for a cab to come and pick us up after we were done. It being the first day of the Olympics, and there being many, many, many kinds of traffic restrictions and road closures, there were lesser cabs than usual and Wayne had to walk a stretch out and hail a cab in to fetch me (same situation on the night before when I was heading from work to meet Amy Tee and John Millward for dinner - more about them later - I had to wait for about 20 minutes going from work, something totally unheard of in Beijing where cabs are in abundance! We even had to take the bus back to their hotel after dinner at Da Dong Roast Duck - horrors!).

By the time we got a cab, it was late so, we skipped lunch with the Millwards - we were originally scheduled to meet them at their hotel for lunch, but I was too hungry by the time we got home and wanted to take a bath... bad call to settle our own lunch as the Millwards raved about it - they are staying at The Opposite House, a new, swanky boutique luxury hotel right smack in Sanlitun area, and Amy had the privilege of getting a complimentary stay (through her previous work with Amex), and complimentary F&B/services throughout their stay!

So, lunch at the mediterranean restaurant, Sureno, was free of charge, as was their cocktails in the lounge the night before, as was their laundry service, as was their room's mini-bar, and as was everything else - how shiok can that be?! Only thing the Millwards needed to do is to critique the hotel room, service, food etc since they have yet to open officially (my dream job - get freebies for doing something I am adept at - complaining!)

We reached their hotel and went up to their very nice room (rooms have different themes there), where Amy forced John to lie in the wooden bath tub and pose as if he was in a coffin - hilarious! We ended our "stay" in the hotel with again, complimentary, drinks at the coffee area downstairs - the lobby is also very nicely done-up - their check-in/out are all entirely wireless/paperless, yet another nice touch to their already very-good service!

We bade farewell to the Millwards who headed off to the outskirts (see you next month, my dears, it'd be a nice reunion of the BBC - Blare Bitch Club - of ex-Public Eureka colleagues where Amy's the VP cos she's always so bitchy (hoot!), and me, I'm the CEO - meeeooowwww....), and Wayne and I took a walk around Sanlitun's The Village.

This place, or in fact, any other place in Beijing these days, takes on a completely new facade within a matter of weeks (or even days). They have many new (and nice) buildings, and shops, and we even visited the Olympics Hospitality Tent of Adidas (faux pas is Wayne was wearing a Nike T-shirt - haha!) - Wayne's ex-colleague, Robin, is working with Adidas, and flew in from Shanghai to be in Beijing during August (as Adidas is the official sportswear partner of the Games).

So, we got unrestricted access into the VIP tent and you see the backdrop of their award-winning ad? I personally like the TVC and print ad of this inspiring commercial, but read somewhere that with the sketchy faces of the people, it looks like a scene from the "Hell of 10,000 souls" - freaky but true (hehe!)!

Visitors could also get imaginative by putting speech bubbles next to the characters on the backdrop, but check out this one of somebody who is in CHINA but could not get the spelling right...(sheesh!):

Hungry me then had to bid farewell to Robin too, as we walked to the nearest fast food outlet, KFC, where poor Wayne had to queue for about 20 minutes to get me some snacks to eat (was tough getting a seat too)... throngs of people there as alot of people were in Sanlitun area to congregate and watch the opening on big screens with friends.

Still on the topic of food, we then headed on to our last pit stop of this "huat, huat, huat" day - Tim and Van's house - their relatives are in town for the Games, and we decided to join them to catch the opening together in the comfort of their home. In commemoration of Singapore National Day the next day, there was a Singapore feast with catered food from local restaurant, Lau Pa Sat, and we OD-ed on the likes of curry chicken, sambal kangkong, mee goreng, almond jelly...(for about SGD20 per person, though dessert was provided by the friendly hosts).

On screen, the opening (especially the countdown) was already quite majestic with more fireworks than the history of Singapore's NDPs combined (multiplied by 500x), but in retrospect, CCTV (the national broadcaster) did not do justice to the real magnifique of the whole session choreographed by Zhang Yimou. It's not clear, but some have put blame on the broadcast director of Beijing Olympic Broadcasting (BOB), a Swedish; whilst others have attributed it to CCTV's own mish-mash of their own footages, which only they had rights to, with that of BOB's.

In any case, t
here were many, many important and "wow!" scenes that were enjoyed only by the audiences on-site, or better captured by other better broadcasters, so I won't even bother to give the link to local renderings, but instead those from Getty Images on BBC. There is a local blog posting that captures images that we poor TV viewers did not catch due to the lousy directorial skills - sheesh! Kudos are given to the NBC broadcast (which I caught on DVD), which obviously fared much better than its CCTV counterpart.

At parts where only an aerial view would do justice, CCTV chose to focus only on the sweaty faces of the performers, or on the bored-to-death faces of the Chinese politicians. Further, for those foreigners who did not know better, the appearance of the various countries' athletes was not in alphabetical order, but according to the number of strokes in the first letter of your country's Chinese name! Now, how would any foreigner know that - imagine having to hold your pee for fear of missing your country's short (in the case of Singapore, very very short) appearance?! And I won't even go into how the subtitling failed terribly (minuscule Chinese fonts with no English translations during the sequences; names of countries only appeared in English...).

One other conclusion as well about the opening - at sequences where we were debating if they were mechanically/computer-driven, they ended up to be operated by manual labor (i.e. it's cheaper, maybe free of charge, to have Chinese people moving blocks up and down, rather than to install a device that will do it for you - 1.3 billion people leh, am sure they can find many willing volunteers!).

An interesting fact to end this post -- on this day in China, there were other "records" being set as at least 314,224 couples tied the knot on this auspicious day of so many "8"s (or to mark the Olympics as well), a one-day record for marriages since 1949 (when the People's Republic of China was founded). Well, there's another saying that "88" is the colloquial for "拜拜", or "bye bye"...so auspicious or not...you figure it out (I know in Singapore, it's the seventh lunar month, or the Ghost Festival, so maybe it won't be so auspicious, depending on which part of the world you sit in). There are other couples in China who even demand for caesarean births to coincide with the date, and have named their child "Olympics", or at least, the Chinese equivalent "奥运" (faint...).

All in all, a very eventful and purposeful day (in comparison to what I did on 9 Sep, Singapore's National Day - cleared up the last of the wardrobes in the house - the guest room's; and went for facial, for manicure/pedicure...so uneventful...yawn...).

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

You know it's Olympics season when...

  • Taxi drivers in the city are decked in a uniform of pastel yellow shirts and striped ties.

  • When you get out of a taxi, an aunty comes to you and does a short survey of whether you were happy with the ride (was the aircon on? did the driver speak properly? did he remind you to take all your belongings? does the taxi smell?)... and presents you with a complimentary pink face towel as a gesture of appreciation.

  • When it's much harder to get a cab since (i) the city is imposing the single/double-digit number plate rule to limit private cars, so everybody else is taking public transport (ii) those who have to take the train are forced to take cabs because the city has closed alot of stations for security reasons, or have such long queues to implement security checks that more people are getting late for work (iii) selected cabs have been tasked to stay empty as they ply the roads as they have been given implicit instructions to ensure foreigners can get cabs whenever they want (time for me to whip out my SGP passport...).

  • When the friendly greeting du jour and small talk is not about "have you had your meal?" or "it's a hot summer, isn't it?", but instead "do you have any tickets to the Olympic events?", or "is your company granting you leave during Auguest because of the Olympics?".

  • When in dry Beijing, and the even drier and hotter summer months of July and August, we get occasional rainfalls (thanks to rumoured cloud seeding of the city government who want to clear the air for the Games).
  • When your friendly neighbourhood DVD shop closes for "stock-taking" for the loongest time over this period (to avoid IPR issues).

  • When companies start granting vacations for 8 August to mark the opening day of the Olympics (and are realistic about how terrible traffic conditions will be). Some companies even allow flexi working hours or one- to two-day telecommuting in a week (not mine...).

  • When family members and friends from out of town start visiting and putting up at your already-cramped homes so as to avoid paying for exhorbitant hotel room rates.

  • When family members and friends from out of town always start or end their personal emails with something along the lines of "it must be an exciting time for you since you are there in the thick of action for the Beijing Olympics" (and maybe hoping you will offer them a free homestay...).

  • When those in my line of profession swing extremes - you will be super busy if you/your Client are involved in the Olympics; or occupy yourself with stuff you would normally not have time to do (like budgets, executive trainings etc) if you/your Client are NOT involved in the Olympics.

  • When any other Company, whether international/local, sponsor/non-sponsor, will attempt cheap shots at linking itself with the Olympics by using sporting images or phrases like "2008" and "中国加油" (China go!) in their communications.

  • When TV and radio stations do nothing but talk/play Olympics-related images/songs (I know I will be seriously relieved when this all blows over...).

  • When you suffer from Fuwa (the 5 Olympics mascots) overkill with memorabilia/souvenir shops sprouting up anywhere and everywhere in departmental stores (fakes galore as well in side streets and some touristy areas).

  • When you get worried if your kid's going to grow up in an over-competitive environment because alot of Chinese people want to have kids this year to aim for an "奥运宝宝" (Olympics baby).

  • When you know your country's own 43rd National Day Celebrations on 9 Aug pale in comparison to the Olympics opening on 8 Aug (Happy Birthday, Singapore!).

  • When I start blogging about the Olympics even though I am seriously sick of all the overhype and the inconvenience it brings to me.
I'd always answered the question "so, how long do you intend to be in China for?" with a "well, at least until the Olympics", so I can witness for myself being in a host city for the first time. The time has swung round, so why am I not too excited?


Maybe it's too much overkill, with the 1,000-day, 500-day, 100-day, N-day countdown and Olympics songs playing till death etc, and as I mentioned, the inconvenience it brings to me as a resident in this city (in traffic-congested Beijing, they have designated some lanes for Olympics vehicles only, so imagine the further congestion it'll bring). Folks renovating their homes over this period have to contend with a lack of renovation supplies as they are restricting such courier of large goods into the city and prices are higher than usual due to a lack of supplies and transportation.

Before the Chinese government reads my grousings and decide to shut down my blog, it's not all a bad thing... the streets are cleaner, the taxis are cleaner and drivers more polite, public facilities/amenities are completed, security is beefed up for good reasons (there are seriously alot of saboteurs, so even though we have tickets, I am not going for any of them and will leave to Wayne and his parents to enjoy), and it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Below pic was taken almost two years ago when the Fuwas just came out...we had a visiting colleague, Tracy, from our Malaysia office then. Here's hoping the good things continue after August and is not just for-show-only to impress the rest of the visitiors, and that we have a successful (and safe) Olympics!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tokyo Sojourn (Part IV) - Lodging, Kawaii Stuff & Finale

Alas! The last of my lengthy postings about Tokyo Sojourn!

Humble Abodes

Prior to going to Japan, I've heard stories of how tiny their hotel rooms can be (I was even worried whether with my expanding belly, if I can fit into their toilets/shower rooms!), so I went with really low expectations of minuscule capsules for rooms...

On our first night, we checked into Prince Hotels & Resorts, outside of Tokyo city centre. There was much grousing initially on why we are not staying in the city, of how we were being short-changed for a hotel in the outskirts etc (cos it's nearer for us to head off to Hakone the next day), but we heard from local friends that this hotel is relatively "bigger" and has nice rooms, which is quite true. Rooms in Japanese hotels have "pay per view" channels, or in Japanese, they are "有料" channels (i.e. soft porn lah!), so I took the brochures from this hotel - no scintillating photos, which is surprising, because aren't they supposed to entice the men to want to watch and pay for the movies? Hmmm...

On the second night in Hakone, we checked into a hot springs resort, Hotel Heian - I know, it reads like darkness "黑暗", but in Japanese, it means "平安" - we slept on tatami mats, but this hotel was soooo old, they had ancient-looking fridge, TV, phone etc in the rooms, and I swear the day curtains in my room had blood stains! The room does look like something out of a Japanese horror movie where the killer chops bodies up into a hundred pieces and stuffs them into the ancient-looking fridge...thankfully I did not agree to getting a single room as my office Admin Manager so nicely offered (I figured I'd need help with my luggage, and in case I needed someone around at night, so my roomie for the trip was Chen Yi, my university mate who is now my colleague, heh!).

There was nothing much to do around this hotel area after dinner, and my colleagues and I heeded the advice of our Taiwanese tour guide who suggested we go to a hypermarket "not too far" from the hotel. It took us 40 minutes one way to walk there, and we had to rest along the way.... it turned out to be just a one-level supermarket where I ended up buying a bunch of champagne grapes, a packet of milk, and sweets! Wah lau eh.....at least the air was fresh and it was a leisurely walk, but still! As we walked along the way, we chanced upon a red light district street, and also came to the conclusion that all the rest of the hotels/resorts look less seedy and are much nicer than the one we were staying in!

By the time we walked back to the hotel, I seriously needed a bath (rest of the folks took their baths in the hot springs, which are segregated by gender - as seen in signs such as those in the right picture), but in my condition, I could not soak in the hot springs at all and decided to bathe in the room.... where to my bad bad bad luck, the room had no hot water at all!

So... I had to bravely (well, Chen Yi sweetly accompanied me though she already had her bath) go to the hot springs area, and though I did not soak, I had to take a bath in the communal area! Yes, baring my pregnant birthday suit in front of my colleagues and taking my bath in the steam room! Can die...luckily there were not too many colleagues there already as it was late, but I completed my bath in 5 minutes and thank god I did not have my spectacles on to view the other naked bodies...yikes!!! But it's either that or bathing with cold water...or not bathing at all...

I got quite worried whether the hot steam room would be harmful on Rosabelle, and actually developed a red, patchy skin on my tummy the next evening (could also be due to me shopping around the next day under hot weather), but after checking with AmCare, it should be fine, but it was an experience I'd very much rather forget man!!! (Luckily I didn't soak in the hot spring as one of the female colleagues revealed she could see the whole hot spring from the comfort of her room - i.e. view everybody else naked if she wants to - aiyo!!)

Our last night was spent in Tokyo City centre at U-Port Hotel, again much "bigger" than I expected, but after we rushed back on the subway (thank goodness we had our colleague's friend to bring us on the ride as the subway system is totally confusing), we still checked in late as the coach had to pick up the folks who went to Disneyland, and came back an hour later than agreed (it was holding all our luggages).

We had all our breakfasts in the hotels, so it's not anything to hoot about, but one thing we noticed is that there are alot of luuurve hotels around Japan (i.e. budget hotels with kinky themes for short-term/hourly use)...e.g. this below hotel that's literally called "Love", and another we spotted in Hakone called "Hotel Oh! Oh!" - my colleague and I exclaimed "Oh! Oh!" at the same time...it was hilarious...

Kawaii Stuff

We were allowed to bring along friends/family members (they paid for their own trip expenses, of course), and on this trip, we had four children tagging along. When it comes to group tours, having kids around will make everyone moan and groan as it's believed that the folks with kids will always be late, be the most troublesome etc etc...but this time round, other than some one-off instances where some were late (and got chastised by all), they performed relatively well.

See this really sweet photo of the two younger girls dressed up for dinner...

As well as this other photo of this baby at Hakone who was wearing watermelon shorts (of towel-like material)! So cute I wanted to kidnap (or just bite her buttocks)...

Other than being entertained by the cutie pies, I also spotted alot of other interesting Japanese stuff on this trip...e.g. a classic -- their "oh-so wonderfully high-tech the only thing it does not do is serve you coffee whilst you are peeing" toilet bowls - they had buttons to wash and blow dry your "er-hem" after you are done; buttons that can play waterfall/singing bird chirps in case you make embarrassing noises whilst doing your business; and also the toilet seats are all comfortably warmed so you don't get butt freeze! (But this last function almost killed me when I went to the toilet during lunch in Hakone - the toilet seat was so warm it warmed up the whole toilet cubicle, which was already very small and stuffy...thought I'd faint over from the heat!)

Unfortunately, Chen Yi revealed to me the "ugly China tourist" when she said one of the mothers of the girls who went on the trip with us made her daughter STAND on the toilet seat to take a pee. See, in China, they have this perennial fright of toilet bowls and would rather have squat pans, so this educated woman (I think she is?) made her daughter STAND with her DIRTY shoes on the wonderful, high-tech toilet bowl.... really makes me roll eyes in disgust.

Another thing is they had toilet signs in Chinese that requested for users to throw their toilet paper into the toilet bowls. Now, this is OBVIOUS for us not staying in China, but in China, where the plumbing system is not as sophisticated (in the past), they are brought up (and used to) throwing their used tissue in the bins to avoid clogging up their bowls. So, yes, even in my CBD office building in Beijing, I still have to do my business next to bins overflowing with such "used tissue"....and when local folks visit my house, I will hide my bins and remind them to throw whatever into the bowls (no way am I going to empty THAT kind of trash for them!) but in Japan, they obviously face the same problem with these Chinese tourists, so it was common to see overflowing bins as well...EWWWW...

Enough of toilets...the signs that I saw around Japan were all also very cute and camera-worthy, and for Sanrio/Hello Kitty fans, it was heaven for them (not me lah...).

However, not all signs can/should be taken literally, especially if read directly in our Chinese language. For example, this sign below means making love "作爱" in Chinese, but it's actually referencing a legit restaurant name...haha!

The streets were also filled with other intriguing things that I would have paid more attention to had it not been a mad dash around on the trip... e.g. that of a young boy drawing the street scene (to excruciating detail); nicely-painted store gates; floor depictions etc... am sure I would have enjoyed them all more if I had a leisurely time in Japan.

Final Musings
Many colleagues were surprised that I wanted to go on this trip, and without Wayne chaperoning us at that, and marvelled at how I trudged through with Rosabelle. I knew I wasn't going to be taking a vacation for a long time to come, and in my second trimester, this is actually the best time to travel (no more morning sickness, more stable pregnancy, tummy not too big yet etc etc). Further, the air and freshness in Japan was a good respite from the Beijing pollution, and the R&R away from work for a few days would do myself and Rosabelle good, heh.

However, following a tour group from China does have its cons - we tend to get marginalized (also because of the way they expect Chinese tourists to behave, which as I depicted in "stand on toilet bowl" incident above, is sadly true at times); get pushed back to the back-end of the plane (I had to fight for my emergency-landing seat with extra leg room); get booked on super-cheap airfares (my mileage points was zero to-fro!); had a super-lousy guide who followed us from Beijing (he got ticked off by me many, many times over!)... and of course, on a group tour, the itinerary is highly inflexible and we passed by sights only on the bus. We wanted to catch the Tokyo Sumida River Fireworks Display that took place on our first night (July 26) but as it could not fit into our schedule, those who wanted to go had to arrange their own transport...sigh!

But still, for someone like me who had never been to Japan before, and considering it's an all-expenses-paid company trip, in the caring and helpful hands of my fellow colleagues, it was still a good eye-opener. It's breath-taking sights like these that make me forget (but momentarily only!) all my grouses...

So...until our next road trip with Rosabelle (where Daddy Wayne will likely have to be involved to), here's Mummy Wendy signing off on the report about our Tokyo Sojourn - hope you enjoyed it!