The final lap

Exactly two years ago, I laid foot in China together with the spouse and two children. Actually, I arrived in construction city. It was 2009 and the city was about to host the World Expo and the whole place was under construction. Grey sky, blurred vision, polluted air.  It was an extremely difficult time to settle in.  A factory owner said, "to you, foreigners, this is pollution but to me, this is the smell of money!" *shudders*

And yes, for the first time, I saw a dead body being fished out from a river!

China isn't a place I wanted to visit. You know how we all have a list of places we must go before we die. China isn't in my list. I am neutral towards her. There is no like or dislike. After settling down here for the past two years, I must say that this isn't a place I want to come back. But I am thankful that God sent me here because I saw how tough I could be and it was a place where I could, not only teach my kids but show them real-life examples. It was a place to teach survival skills.

Not sure if this is good or bad but having been here, my perception of the people here have changed completely…majority, not for the better. Especially so for those who belong to the upper class. I have witnessed how the rich intimidated a waitress, a driver, a security guard, an ayi….the list could go on. How being nice means "I can take advantage of you". I have warned kids who tried to bully my children. (It is a big mistake to even have a thought about it).  How people try to win your favour because they see some value in you. Am I an idealist?  I hardly could tolerate hypocrites  but are we not surrounded by them all our lives?

The word 'shell' opened my eyes to a new meaning. Nothing is for real until it is real! My first house here was fantastic…on the outside. Barely into the first month, the pipe under the kitchen sink started leaking and believe me, it didn't stop till the day we moved out. Then the roof leaked, then the flooring popped, then the cornice fell……any one of us could have been hurt but the Grace of God kept us. Truly, the Will of God will not lead us to where the Grace of God cannot keep us. I don't have to go on about the food and the most recent 'rail' mess.

It was here that I realised what happened to all the good teachers in SG…they have all descended on SSIS. I have met some of the cream of the crop teachers. Teachers who are more concerned with the learning than the results. This is the TRUE meaning of education. If good results come with good learning, that's the icing on the cake. But honestly, if there is a good learning process, good results will usually follow. Sadly, SG schools are more concerned with only good results.

However, I have also made friends with some really nice humble people. They are not rich, some are middle-class, some are lower class. They showed me what having a soul is all about. My part-time helper is probably the only local whom I can trust. She has been working for me since day one of my arrival. She doesn't take advantage of me although I have been very nice to her. In fact, she reciprocated my kindness with her generosity. Farm grown peaches, corn, vegetables, water-melons, home-cooked dumplings, spring roll are just some of the things she would share with us. The book seller, the DVD seller made sure we only have the best quality. The fruit-sellers who sell me only the sweetest and the juiciest. The gardeners and the cleaners in my compound. I thank them by giving them my little home-baked cup cakes. I could see their gratitude when they gave me a broad smile showing their white teeth on a sun-burnt, red hot face.   The lines and wrinkles on their face could not hide the kind of tough life they have to go through but it will be worth it. Being able to come to the city to work means having a better life when they return to their hometown.

Yes, this will be the final lap. Looking back, I have indeed come a long way…do I want to return to the land which helped me to see how far I could stretch myself? This is a land of opportunities, a land of wealth…

Nah…however good others may say it is…the truth remains, this is not my HOME.
Mum's proud moments

Something I shared with a good friend, now I share it with you…

Last Friday, my ayi (part-time helper) told me something which made me teared.


Translated (Mdm, Kai is a very good boy. Last year, during Ann's birthday party, I was here helping you. Kai came to me and said "auntie, all the food (party goodies) here, you can eat too. Go ahead and eat." I was very touched. I went home to tell all my friends and families that in our country,  it is difficult to find a good boy like Kai)

Ann's birthday was in Nov last year, I didn't know about it till now. It was very heart-warming and I teared, to know that what I have constantly taught him, he not just listened but he walked the talk. I have always thought that Kai is too self-absorbed but he has proved me wrong. I am more than glad to be wrong.
Just before the school closed for summer, I received an email from Kai's teacher…

I have enjoyed having Kai in the class. He has, as I've told you many times, a great deal of potential. At the same time, he is not a proud child. I like Kai I shall miss him very much…
I wanted to add that I admire the way both you and your husband raise your children. It's very obvious to me that you are not parents who resort to stereotypical means to get your children to produce results. Your children (I see it in your daughter too even though I don't teach her) are open and positive beings. Kai is a very creative individualist and yet, at least at this point, this individualism does not make him an isolationist.

Parenting is all about being involved in a child's life. It starts the day we bring a life to the world. When the kid is young, we get involved by playing with them, when they are older, we get involved by being there. Getting involved isn't holding on and not letting go. Getting involved means be in the know of your child's being. Perfect parents we will never be but being the best parents, we should always strive to be.

When we invest your time and love on our children when they are younger, we will realise that it will be a breeze guiding them when they are older.

Finally, always pray for our children. Pray and pray and pray. No prayers are too many. I pray for more wisdom than knowledge...wisdom to apply knowledge and to know that all things come from the God!
Nice gesture

On the last day, when we checked out of the ryokan, after paying the bill, we were given a little Japanese pouch. In it were little nick –knacks made in Japan. It was really a nice gesture from the ryokan.  A way of saying "we appreciate your business".

All those from the service industry, something for you to think about.
Nothing big or fanciful, nothing expensive but we were touched by their thoughtfulness. We brought home wonderful memories of this beautiful ryokan.
The Japanese

I have not travelled round the whole world but I have been to many places. Honestly, the Japanese are the nicest people I have ever come across. I find them nice not because they are nice to me. I find them nice as in the way they carry themselves, the way they look after the environment, the way they show consideration towards others. No matter where I have my meals, every table will be cleaned up for the next person to use. The people who clean up are the very people who have used the table. The staff are there to wipe the tables only. All utensils are put away by the consumers. Singapore is a clean city (is it still a clean city?) because we have foreign workers to clean up. Japan is a clean country because the people, for years, they have been taught to clean up so others can use. From the very old to the very young, they have cultivated and kept this virtue all through the years. What make them so successful in this area? What did they do right for decades and decades?

Strangers I have met are such wonderful people. Even in Tokyo, a big city, I have not met any hostile people. At most, they just maintained a serious look but they will never be unfriendly. Asking for directions,  if they don't speak English and cannot help, they will be very apologetic.
They are people who love and respect each other. They are people who love and respect their environment…

That morning, we were at the bus station waiting to collect our tickets for the local tour. There was a long Q. What happened was the system broke down and every ticket had to be hand-written. It took a long time for them to issue the tickets to everyone. You know, no one complained, no one got impatient, no one was angry (at least they didn't show it), no one was rude. It was amazing. I can imagine, had it happen in Singapore or Shanghai, the scene would be quite different.

Very clear blue sky. I just can't have enough of it!

Even the night sky is beautiful

Not every place must make way for big malls

Spotlessly clean train station

I would love to stay in one of these…bring me away from the maddening crowd, let me smell the flowers and hear the crickets

This is downtown Sapporo in the morning. Clean street. I am not exaggerating when I say that I could hardly spot a sweeper on the street

What are these people doing heading to the same direction? Yes, to return the dishes. Even mother with young kid is doing the same thing. That's how the young are being educated. For your information, that is a food-court

At the Narita airport, because of the March 11 disaster, they are conserving energy. Lights are dimmed, air-con  usage is being cut down. Fans like the blue one are placed all over the airport for passengers to use. Yes, everyone was doing their part.

So did I….

"Japan...... rife with mystery, beauty, exoticism and grace.

...when you leave a meal, moment, or place not quite completely satisfied, you cherish it that much more because it was ephemeral and left you wanting"  Victoria Abbott Riccardi – Untangling my chopsticks

We will be back…for more.