Category Archives: family

Easter with family

We visited my parents-in-law last weekend. On entering Pirbright, we had to slow down as there were horses in our way (or perhaps we were in the horses’ way.) I took a picture of the horses and the nice-looking ladies.

horses -- give way

horses — give way

We all exchanged chocolates. My husband melted some Fairtrade chocolates and mixed the melted chocolate with something else and then poured it into lovely moulds. This’s what we called ‘home-made’ chocolates. My husband collects wines, monster figures, Doctor Who DVDs and chocolate moulds. I sometimes complained he bought far too many chocolate moulds such as rose, pigs, rabbits, hearts, pyramids, bars, mini eggs. “What’s the point? Why don’t you just buy chocolates from shops? Why must chocolates look cute?” But, once in a while, he created some chocolates in funny shapes and people love them, then his confidence would grow, and his popularity is enhanced by having cute chocolate moulds in the first place.

My parents-in-law bought Ben The Real Easter Egg. It’s interesting to know that

“Out of the whopping 80 million chocolate Easter Eggs sold each year, not one of them mentions Jesus on the box.”

The Real Easter Egg is the first and only Fairtrade chocolate Easter Egg to explain the Christian understanding of Easter on the box. It also supports charity and development projects.”

My sister-in-law bought all of us special chocolates — with our names on. On my chocolate, it has signs with ‘X’ — in this country, ‘X’ means love. I only knew ‘X’ means love (and ‘O’ means hug) after many years living in this country.

I’m not a great chocolate eater, so my mother-in-law bought me some strawberries instead.

Our Easter was peaceful, with family, with good food, chocolates and good company.

Son: the non-comformist

One day, when my son was walking to school with our neighbours’ son, I walked near them to go to work, but they treated me like a stranger. I was warned that I wasn’t allowed to walk with them or to be seen to know them, as it’s embarrassing. The boys are 12 years old. It’s understandable.

I had always thought for months that the two boys walked all the way together to school, a half an hour journey.

The boys actually parted at the first set of traffic lights. Our neighbours’ son G then crossed the road, waited for his other mates at a bus stop. He would wait for his 2 mates and walked to school with them.

This group of boys would later cross the road at a very busy roundabout together.

Busy roundabout: some children cross this road to get to school.

Busy roundabout: some children cross this road to get to school.

How did my son Ben continue his journey?

He continued walking to the end of the road, walked a further 5 minutes, and crossed the road at another set of traffic lights. He walked to school on his own for the most part of his journey.

I had mixed feelings. I was pleased that Ben didn’t join the boys and crossed the road at the busy roundabout. That is a nasty roundabout. Ben sticks to the route that he and I both had agreed before. That’s a much safer route with 2 sets of traffic lights though it would take slightly longer to get to school.

However, I feel a bit sorry that Ben is on his own, without company.

I asked him, are you ok? Don’t you feel a bit left out by your friends? “No! I’m ok!” Ben sounded happy and confident. He told me that he doesn’t like the shortcut that other boys take. He likes his own route, and he doesn’t mind walking on his own.

To try to understand him a bit more, I gave him another scenario: in the middle of the night, when there’s no other cars, and the traffic light turns red. Would you still be waiting for the green man to let you cross the road? Ben said, yes. “You must always follow the traffic lights.”

My son enjoys a very simple routine in life. He doesn’t enjoy changes. Two weeks ago, it was the World Books Day and everyone had to dress up as a character from a story. Ben hates dressing up from a young age and he has never enjoyed various dressing up opportunities in the primary school, including Christmas performances. I’ve thought that kids don’t have to ‘dress up’ as a character any more in the secondary school to save me from further nightmare, but I was wrong. On the morning of dressing up, Ben decided to wear the school uniform as he really refused to be someone else in school. After a long discussion and after I’d started to raise my voice at breakfast, he finally agreed to wear casual clothes to school, a T shirt and a pair of jeans. “Are you sure I can dress like a ‘normal person’ in school today?” I warned him that he would be teased if he dared to wear the school uniform on the World Books Day, surrounded by Harry Potter, Cats in the Hat, Sherlock Holmes, vampires, Wally, Dennis the Menace and James Bond. I threatened him, “I don’t want you to be the only boy who wears the uniform today. You’d be singled out! Do you want people to laugh at you? Do you? Do you…?” 

You see, I’m teaching my son to be the person that he isn’t. I tried to take him outside of his comfort zone. I tried to make him ‘socialise’ though he may not be comfortable with the given situation. It’s hard work for him and for me.

My child is not the most sociable, and he doesn’t like playing football or rugby. When he was in Year 6, his teacher gave him a Grade D in PE — a near-fail grade. Her reasons were that Ben was not brilliant in team work and there was a big gap in his social ability with his peers. He simply didn’t try hard enough to be friends with everyone. I agreed with the teacher that teamwork is ever so important in the society and school should prepare a child to function well in the work place and the wider community. However, I also challenged the teacher’s view. I asked her if she was aware that Ben is a competent swimmer, and he had been practising badminton for a few years with me. Ben plays badminton to a good degree — he does’t play strategically, but he plays for an hour each time without complaint. To a child who hates team or contact sports, who has always been clumsy with balls, being able to hold a badminton racket, serve, raise his arms, aim and hit hard and run sideway, I think it’s an improvement.

However, in my son’s primary school, badminton was never taught. The teacher explained that swimming and badminton are brilliant, but these are one-to-one activities and they’re not that important to her. “They don’t count,” she answered. In primary school, “we focus on team work and playing games.” My understanding is that, a child has to fit in to play the games that are endorsed by the decision makers, to demonstrate team spirit. Personal endeavours such as swimming and badminton skills are not as valued.

Having only one child also comes with stigma. If the child turns out beautifully, it’s because the parents simply having too much time and energy to devote 100% to the child, so it’s no wonder that the child can achieve Grade 8 in piano and can also speak Arabic and Chinese plus English. If the child misbehaves or if he is perceived rude in public, it’s because he is spoilt. “She has only one child. She must have spoilt that child.” I was once criticised that my son was obnoxious and I made too many allowances for him. Belittling criticism like this is not helpful. I’ve nurtured my son the best I could. I try to look at the world from his viewpoint. I try to appreciate why he has chosen to walk by himself and why he hates parties and dressing up. Ben also astonishes me with the way he views the world when categorising events. At dinner table today, I asked, “When is the Easter this year?” His answer was, “The day after the new Doctor Who series starts.” Never mind Jesus.

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How much is your anxiety worth?

I received a letter from the HM Revenue & Customs today.

It unveiled to me that my anxiety was worth £25. (You see, because I’m worth it!)

It read, “Having carefully considered the circumstances surrounding your complaint I feel that the amount of £25 sent to you was consistent with payments we have made in similar circumstances. Our payments for any anxiety caused by our errors (and or) complaints mishandling are a good will (sic) gesture, a way of acknowledging that our mistakes have affected someone badly.

Tax Letter

Last December, I was bombarded with unpleasant letters from the HM Revenue and Customs and the Debt Management Department. I was chased for the money that I didn’t have. I was harassed due to the mistakes that they’d made.

When dealing with the HM Revenue & Customs, I found that they’re extremely apologetic. They use plain language to the effect of “We feel your pain.”

They started their sentence with “I understand you are unhappy because ……”

“Firstly, I would like to say how sorry I am to hear of the difficulties you have experienced in your dealings with us. It is clear, form my review, that we have not handled your tax affairs as well as we should have done and have failed to provide the level of service that you are entitled to expect from us.” Oh, my heart melted.

I asked for compensation for the cost incurred and time wasted due to their incompetence. However, though they’re apologetic and admitted that they had mishandled my case, they gathered my anxiety was only worth £25. Because I sent 3 letters of complaint, detailing hours wasted by them, my anxiety value is now increased by £20. So, the total value of my anxiety, in the eyes of the HM Revenue & Customs, is £45, equivalent to 5 and a half live chickens.

I’m deeply disappointed not because of my tax being miscalculated, and being pursued for a large sum over Christmas, I’m more alarmed that some people could simply say ‘sorry’ eloquently and still keep their job. What about a sense of responsibility?

I’ve now put a stop to my fight with the tax man, as I’m not prepared to waste more time. With my fight in the past 3 months with them, I’ve received the value of 5 and a half live chickens. It’s a small achievement for me.

In the past few months, my memory has taken me back to this determined peasant (played by GONG Li) in an old film by Zhang Yimou: The Story of Qiu Ju.

I admire her spirit and sheer determination. If you have a chance, it’s a film definitely worth your time.

The Story of Qiu Ju 秋菊打官司

The film tells the story of a peasant woman, Qiu Ju, who lives in a rural area of China. When her husband is kicked in the groin by the village head, Qiu Ju, despite her pregnancy, travels to a nearby town, and later a big city to deal with its bureaucrats and find justice.”

Vermin in Eastleigh

My friend JD, the promiscuous linguist Language Omnivore from Tuttle Publishing, sent me a link to an interesting article about my neighbourhood, Eastleigh, as he knows I’m not the kind of person who would normally read The Economist.

From The Economist

From The Economist (click the image to read the full article)

Vermin, not politicians, was the subject of the first paragraph. A local resident asked the Tory campaigners to deal with his urgent need: “We need a bait-box.” Continue reading

“Hens down! More hens down!”

My husband picked me up from the train station last night. The moment he saw me, he said, “I’ve got some more bad news.”

These days, whenever my reticent husband opens his mouth, it all starts with the same line, “I’ve got some more bad news.”

“Two hens of our neighbours’ were killed last night. Killed by a fox.” Continue reading

Why did the chicken cross the road?

I got home at 5pm this evening after watching the music drama film Les Misérables. While I was still traumatised by the singing of Russell Crowe, I saw this dramatic scene outside my house:


Our missing hens were back! One was still on top of the fence, but another was in front of the house. At least they’re now back. Now, we need strategies to coerce them into the garden. Continue reading

Neighbour from hell

Last week, the air in my neighbourhood was stirred. Leaders of three political parties all paid a whirlwind visit in Eastleigh, to fight for the February by-election. I’ve a theory that the arrival of these politicians (Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Ed Milliband, leader of the Labour party) have somehow disturbed the harmony in the region, which consequently provoked an imbalance of the yin and yang in the atmosphere.

That might explain why my house is not at peace. My chickens sensed an omen was upon us. Continue reading

Madness with pets

I live in a mad house. When I returned from work this afternoon, my husband opened the door and announced solemnly, “I’m sorry I’ve got some bad news. Another chicken had died.”

Ben went to the garden this morning and found one new hen had died. Her feathers were scattered around the garden, but there was no signs of injury. Could she have been attacked again?

We’ve lost 3 hens so far. One was possibly killed by our adopted cat; the second one was killed by my neighbour’s dog. Continue reading

Why are we all called Jade?

I wrote about my paternal grandmother recently.

I had never met my grandmother.  I was the No 9 child, the youngest. I didn’t get the luck to meet any of my grandparents. My grandmother’s name was Chinese Cabbage Lady – 白菜娘.

I learnt about a story about Jade – 玉.

Now I know why I was named Jade in Chinese. Now I know why all 5 sisters were named Jade. (Note: Our name formation: Surname + Jade + different character)

Here is her story in a picture.

My grandmother’s Jade Bangle found.