Thursday, 31 December 2015

Farewell Year 2015

A rare full cold moon brightened up the sky on Christmas Day. It's the first time in 38 years that it's full moon on Christmas. December's nights are the longest of the year so we could see the full moon much longer and it's a typically cold month. What a rare treat indeed to end my homeschooling year with Brandon! 

Drawings By Brandon:-

On a still winter night

H.M.S. Resolution in a Gale, original painted by Willem van de Velde the Younger (1670)

The cannon shot, original painted by Willem van de Velde the Younger (1680)

Shipwreck on a cloudy night

Hong Kong International Airport

The Starry Night, original painted by Vincent van Gogh

Brandon wrapped up his Charlotte Mason homeschooling year. It has been a very eventful year for him, and the family as well. We've thoroughly enjoyed the journey and saw the benefits of exposing him to a wide spread of interests and lotsa free time for him to explore and connect with things around him. Next year, he'll turn 10, and it'll be a new chapter for him.

The force is strong on Cookie

Cookie was a nervous freak when she just joined our family in April 2015. It's a very timid dog, and it barked a lot especially when it's afraid. It's so hard to house train her and she hated to be confined. Cos of her agility and small size, she could jump over the fence easily. We're almost at our wit's end. After Cookie turned 'one', she's spayed on Dec 17 and stayed at the vet for 10 days. 

We noticed a turn around in her since then. She's much calmer and always ready for an exercise. She also keeps her crate clean and dry the whole night. She still barks a lot, but she doesn't pee and poop so often whenever she's afraid. She's beginning to be more aware of our commands and instructions too. We're happy of her changes, it keeps our sanity for the time being. 

"We gain some, we lose some" as the saying goes. We're proud of Cookie's progress, at the same time we lost Disney on Dec 29. The boys were saddened but we hope she found a much better home somehow.

My Banh Mi, Saigon City 17-23 Dec 2015

Things to do with your kids in Ho Chi Minh City...

1. Observe the transition to modernity
Vietnam is opening up its economy and this brings a sharp increase in foreign investment. And it's changing the landscape of the city at lightning speed. The Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches are like a type of breakfast staple, combining a mix of French baguette, pate and native Vietnamese ingredients, eg cilantro, cucumber, pickled carrots and daikon and a drizzle of soy sauce. This trip, I saw a shift in trends - in December, two McDonald's were opened in downtown. I also saw a fast-growing trend from sidewalk stalls to the more upmarket lifestyle cafes.

2. French architecture in postcolonial HCMC. 
You can walk anywhere in the city and noticed the influence of French in their buildings, food and culture. Most of these buildings were built in the late 19th century like the General Post Office, Notre Dame church, opera house and some hotels.

3. Soak in the music & art 
The locals are very talented in both music and art. Most of them are self-taught or passed on from generations. Many are still producing paintings depicting the local scenes or copying certain popular art pieces. Slowly but surely, the new breed of artists are making their imprint in the art industry and many buyers came as far as America to source for these original and creative paintings. There's an interesting street at Nguyen Thien Thuat selling guitars and other instruments. We tried out many of the guitars and they're good and reasonably-priced too.

4. War impact
The Vietnamese have a long history of engaging in wars - with the Chinese, Khmer, French, Spanish, Russian and the most well-known, the war with the Americans. On Dec 20 when we're there, it was the 55th anniversary of the American invasion in certain parts of Vietnam. The War Remnants Museum is highly recommended to give the local perspective of the Vietnam War. It's a far better way to learn history about war here than reading it in textbooks. The boys were deeply moved when they saw the impact of the decade-long Agent Orange operations.

5. Sneek peek at the interiors
Mekong Delta is still a very value for money day tour (USD10 per pax) inclusive of all the boat rides, pony ride, lunch and tea-break. With visitors from the world pouring into the interior, it's gradually changing the livelihood and the backyard industries, mainly to cater to the tourists. But it's still a very good experience to see locals in the interior within a day.

6. The city came alive at night!
Opened in April, thousands throng the Nguyen Hue Flower Street every night as it's closed to traffic. Mostly locals, it's like a carnival with many street performances. Just like a typical square in other developed nations. There're many ongoing development around the area too, esp new subway stations and highrise commercial buildings. It won't be any different from Bangkok in the future. 

7. Indulge in food and the local coffee
Food is the highlight of our visit. Whether it's the street food and snacks, traditional local cuisine, fusion, Italian, French, etc. We believe food is the Vietnamese heritage. The restaurants mostly run their business out of very small shops. A typical shophouse is only 3-4m in width but few times more in length. So the dining areas are usually located in the upper floors of the shophouse with very narrow and steep staircase. My boys have to be very careful to mind their heads whenever they go up or down the stairs or to use the restrooms cos ceiling is usually very low too. Their locals love their parks too, and most of the youngsters can play 'chapteh' really well (a traditional game). In fact chapteh is their national sport, like what football is to the West.

8. Every face tells a story
Our visit to HCMC was planned at the very last minute. We've mixed feelings about the city. For the two older boys, they fell in love with the place very fast. It's not Brandon's cup of tea though. Much worse, he got food poisoning on the 2nd last day. For me, it seemed like a big mistake especially the first few days. It's hot, dusty and not much to do in the city. Looking back, I think it's the best place to go at this point in time. This nation has been through a lot, colonialisation, a horrifying past with so many wars and the consequences of wars that affect the lives of people till this day and a rich culture. By just walking the streets, observing the people and the things they do, their homes, we could tell that every face tells a story. We met this uncle, who despite his physical disability, still earns a living making chopsticks from coconut timber. He reminded us of the brutal effect of Agent Orange operations, that every human is capable of evil behaviour even with legitimate intentions.

Ho Chi Minh, Diamond of the Far East - 17-23 Dec

Posted by Xian Jin

I had a very memorable trip to Vietnam recently. It really was an eye-opening trip, because the life and culture there was totally different from Malaysia. Despite staying there for only 7 days, we took the opportunity to uncover this city as much as we could, to blend in with the lifestyle of the people who, only a few decades back, had gone through terrible sufferings of war.

I could see that the Vietnamese loved being outdoors, and I liked how they can always be found in groups scattered around parks or in shops just to chitchat or play some games. Unfortunately, this is something uncommon in Malaysia. 

Even at night, people crowd around in squares to watch musical performances, a mini-football game or to just gather around and chitchat.

Ho Chi Minh is known for having rows and rows of shops selling the same things, be it guitars, sports equipment or shoes. I enjoyed visiting these shops, as I could join in with them or even just watch them.


To be honest, I didn't know much about the Vietnam War before this trip. All that I knew were just facts which anyone could look up in Wikipedia. When I visited the galleries, museums and even watching the people's daily lifestyle, I began to see the War in a different point of view. I could see how much the war has impacted their lives, to make them who they are now. I was horrified after reading about the things they had to go through, like the hazardous Agent Orange. 

"A death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic"

Despite the historical tragedy, the Vietnamese are very forgiving and kind people. They may be shy, but they are actually really friendly.

The war had affected their attitude, their behaviour, and even their food! As delicious as their traditional dishes are, they are just made with simple ingredients, like the famous beef noodle soup - ph and spring rolls. Due to the French colonization for 100 years, the French have influenced Vietnamese food too, bringing in the baguette. If you travel to the outskirts of Vietnam, you can try some exotic food, like the elephant ear fish. Be sure to try the coconut candy too!

You can't say you've been to Vietnam if you haven't cross a single road there! The traffic is crazy, with motorbikes and cars coming towards you from different directions. But if you want to wait till all is clear, you would still be waiting when the cows come home. Just cross the road, and watch the motorbikes swim around you like fish. It was a whole new experience! Crossing roads now in Malaysia is a piece of cake!! 

We visited other places, like the Ben Thanh market, the Notre Dame cathedral, War Remnants Museum, Saigon Central Post Office, art galleries and even the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh. It was like a whole new world, so remarkably different from the other countries I've been to. Sadly, this would probably be the last time I see Vietnam as it is today. Already, you can see subway stations being constructed and skyscrapers filling the landscapes. I am really thankful for the opportunity to travel to Ho Chi Minh, before this rapid change is complete.

Chào bạn Vietnam!! Dec17~Dec23

Written by Xian Wei

When I heard that we were going to Vietnam, I knew that it was going to be an exciting trip. We were going to Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, the old city name, for 7 days.  The weather forecast was around 23~25'C but when we arrived it was 30+'C! So much for bringing jeans... We stayed in a 4-star hotel called Paragon Saigon hotel, next to many other hotels.

We went to many must-go sites, like the Ben Thanh market, War Remnants museum, The Post Office(Bưu điện), Notre Dame Cathedral, Mekong Delta etc. There were many French architecture because the country was colonized by France for 100 years, But now it's a communist country.

A common sight in the city- the messy electrical wires! Whoever who manages to 'organize' the mess into a systematic order should be elected as mayor. I hope it doesn't make one go


One of the most memorable things I enjoyed in Vietnam was the food. Their food is very simple but delicious. Examples are the phở (beef noodle soup), rice cakes and spring rolls. The Vietnam War(1955~1975) has influenced the preparation and the style of the food. Other than Vietnamese cuisines we ate at French and Italian restaurants, a new experience for our tastebuds. 

Vietnamese people are very fit and they love to exercise. Every night The Square at Le Loi Street will be bursting with life. People everywhere taking selfies, performing dances or playing musical instruments or even singing! 

Besides that, the most exciting parts in Vietnam is crossing the road. It might sound a little bit weird but trying to cross the road, especially roundabouts, with few traffic lights is tremendously scary. Even on a one-way road there are vehicles coming from both sides. But don't worry, although there were few traffic lights, there were rarely any accidents at all. 

These are only some of the activities and places we've been. I really enjoyed being in Vietnam, especially their cuisines. I also admire the Vietnamese's perseverance for their hardships after the war... It was the war that changed everything: traditions, culture and their lifestyle....

Desperate vendors......

The man trying to sell his "one-of-a-kind" sunglasses...

I am very thankful that I visited Ho Chi Minh city this time because in the years to come it would be a very different and modern city. Even now, the city is developing so fast, with the construction of the new subway station underway. Sadly, the next time I visit Vietnam things won't be the same. When you go to Vietnam, savour every moment and sights you see.

Grief - 12 Dec 2015

After battling with his physical conditions for two full years, my father succumbed to his illness on Dec 7 in the wee hours of the morning - in the hospital. None of the family was present at that time. It happened fast, and he was gone to be with the Lord.

In these two years as one of the caretakers, I was so indebted to HUKM KL and Hospis Malaysia. No words can describe my gratitude to the staffs who've labored there, taking care of aged patients with life-limiting illnesses.

My late father was a regular patient at HUKM especially in the last two years. From the parking attendant to the ward nurses, we exchanged casual conversations cos of familiarity. One thing I learned from the hospital visits - waiting. Wait for a car park, registration, appointments, medical tests, check-up, pharmacy, discharge, etc. The Emergency was always overcrowded. The wards were always full. The queue was always too long. During those times, I observed the medical and support staff at work. I saw there's really a never-ending stream of patients with all sorts of ailments, and they tried hard to make sure everyone has a chance to the medical care and treatment without prejudice. No matter what's the time and day, what type of needs, emergency or an admission or a check up, the hospital staff and medical teams will always be there to serve round the clock. Once I apologised to a ward nurse cos my late father was loud and noisy. Her comforting words still lingered in my mind, and she's so familiar with all her patients. The surgical team who operated on my late father on New Year's day with such quick response and attentiveness, the colostomy nurse who spent time and efforts to help us, the rehabilitation therapist on feeding skills, the ICU staff nurse, the friendly parking attendant - these were faces in my mind. Thank you to all of you at HUKM. 

I didn't have any experience with Hospis before. When my late father first had a major surgery, we're so lost with the post-operations care at home. He also has many subsequent hospital visits. During this time, we're grateful he became a patient of the palliative home care under Hospis. They provided everything immediately, eg a hospital bed with an air mattress, oxygen tank, other necessary equipment, physiotherapy as and when needed, etc. Their response time was unbelievably fast. Most precious of all was the home care provided by Hospis nurse and staff. They're always there, helping and supporting my late father and his caretakers. They've been a pillar of strength to my mom and myself these last two years. We did not have to pay for the services - and yet they provided the very best to us. A very big thank you and my hat's off to them!

Contrary to popular belief about the current state of healthcare in Malaysia, we didn't spend a fortune in healthcare for my late father. Yet the services we received were above our expectation. Words cannot express the gratitude and appreciation to all those who made a difference at HUKM KL and Hospis Malaysia. THANK YOU!!

Kiwanis Youth Camp - 2-6 Dec 2015

Posted by Xian Jin

Once again, I registered for my 3rd Kiwanis Youth Camp. It was located at Earth Camp, Gopeng for 5 days and 4 nights. I joined this camp again even though I knew some of the activities were the same, but there's a new theme every year.

I learned that there's no such thing as a good choice or a bad one. The only reason why we label choices as 'good' or 'bad' is based upon what we think the outcome will be. In order to make choices, you have to be AWARE. Only then, we start to make choices. 

We were exposed to many different activities, like whitewater rafting, high ropes and climbing and caving. We also did indoor activities, like public speaking. I faced my fears, even those that I wasn't aware of before, and completed all the activities, even enjoyed myself in the process. The whitewater-rafting and high ropes were really challenging, as I had to look out for my teammates and for myself at the same time.

This year I am very thankful for being part of such a wonderful team, despite the fact that I only recognized two of them when I first arrived. We went through ups and downs, but we stayed as a team and didn't give up. Nobody complained or disagreed, even though some of my team members came from difficult backgrounds.

The camp closed with a BANG. We did some community work at Kampung Chang, an Orang Asli village. Some of us unclogged the drains, painted the toilet and kindergarten and picked up garbage around the area. We were not afraid of being dirty or sweaty, and all of us put in our best effort. I was glad to see the overjoyed faces of the villagers, young and old, and some even joined us! After completing all the tasks, we were rewarded with traditional dishes cooked by the villagers themselves. The food was out of the world! I ate and ate till I could eat no more.

I really, really enjoyed myself here, making new friends and learning and developing together. Hopefully, this will not be the last Kiwanis Youth Camp for me.

Living with Haze - Chess

It could be the free time Brandon has in his homeschooling environment. Or it could be the prolonged haze that deterred all outdoor activities. He became very obsessed with playing chess. He took every opportunity he had, playing with his father or brothers, but mostly his online chess enthusiasts. He already knew how to play chess, but was playing it casually. We thought he will revert to some normalcy after the haze is gone. But the craze continues...

We allowed him to immerse in chess cos we're so caught up with many other issues during that time. It's a very good distraction. We're too busy to send him to any classes then, which turned out well for him. He watched chess games of other grand masters, analysed the moves and even appreciated some of the brilliant moves. The free time really allowed him to blossom and learn on his own. Jin was equally a good chess player but he's so tied down with school work that he hardly had time to play and enjoy the game much these days. Seeing the boys playing chess with one another, totally engaged and have fun together - at least it kept the blues away on some really bad, hazy days.

In December, we registered him for a tournament. Brandon came out 1st in his lower intermediate 1 group. He's beaming with joy. He just told us that he dreamed of playing chess and even remembered the moves! 

Now we can form a boys' chess club at home! Cos mama doesn't enjoy being 'check-mated'.

Going Bananas in the Haze

Our study of the banana trees in our garden led us to many discoveries. As we observed the trees day after day, we noticed the growth, the living creatures that the trees had supported, the changing weather and environment and the butterflies and moths that they had attracted.

Brandon has started a 'Banana Journal'.

 The Lady Finger Banana or Pisang Mas has very thin skin and the flesh is very sweet. The lengthwise veins on the leaves make them weak, easily tear in the wind.

A very interesting discovery about the banana skippers. These are leaf-rolling caterpillars. Watch out for tears on the leaves but these are not caused by the wind. Rather, these leaves are torn and rolled beautifully as shelter to the larvae of the banana skipper. Other than a shelter, the leaves also provide a food source for the larvae and they leave behind lotsa, lotsa 'poop', an obvious tip to the predator wasps! Look out, they also have a supernatural ability to blast their poop like howitzers, up to 3 ft a second, in a soaring arc that carries them up to 2 ft away! So ever wonder what happens to the poop from the caterpillars? Another beautiful story of God's creation, everything serves a purpose. The leafcutter ants will use the caterpillar poop in their fungus garden. These amazing ants are the world's smallest farmers growing fungi as a food source.

Bountiful harvest. Besides the fruits, the trees have many uses, the aromatic leaves can be used to wrap food and the inner stem and banana flower as food.

There're so many amazing discoveries as we take time to observe the same thing over some time. Brandon also loves the Dragon's Scale ferns that now wrap around our Podocarpus tree trunk. One thing leads to another, like playing a nature detective.

So much for the choking haze. We found our solace in God's creation.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Living with haze - Home Treasure Hunt

"A home entertainment during the Sept/Oct forest-fire haze."

The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the DESERT shall rejoice, and blossom as the ROSE (Isaiah 35:1).

(esor tresed)

A grass family - very useful as tea, soup, curries. Its oil can repel mossies and attract honeybees. 


Find the name of the 'lookalike' Christmas Star that led the Magi to baby Jesus.

(mehelhteb fo rats) 

From time immemorial, many civilisations looked for silkworms. Where do you think they'll find them?

(sevael yrreblum)

"I belong to the Witch Hazel family'. "Lookout!" I have many little fuschia hanging baskets over me. Botanists call me loropetalum chinense var. rubrum.

A dog sheds its hair. But this shedding falls right into our garden. In ancient time, they even used it as clothing.

What's Cookie favourite pastime when it's bored? Look deeper, but make sure you're protected first! 

(eloh a gid)

What's the most common bird you see? 

(anym nommoc)

Follow the direction and look who's behind the wheel. The guardian angel is keeping an eye on it.

What's the meaning of the idiom 'behind the wheel?' Find your treasure there!

To get your treasure, what does it mean to be 'pure' in heart? Psalm 1:3 (NIV)
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