You can say Theo and I go way back. I taught Theo in my Sunday School class when he was 5 or 6 years old. And his father was the pastor who married my wife and me.
And now he is all grown up and has his own eatery called 吃Western at Blk 206 Toa Payoh North, Singapore 310206.
Go check it out. My family and I enjoyed his western food at reasonable coffee shop prices.
I'm on a road trip with mom through South Island, New Zealand.
It's not our first trip together. Among other trips, Mom and I have done Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen in Surabaya, trained our way from Tokyo to Hokkaido and trudged through lovely Japanese snow (including our favorite town of Higashikawa) and now we driving though the south of New Zealand.
From a very young age, my two younger brothers and I have been travelling with my parents and we learned to do it without joining a tour. Pa was airline staff and we got free tickets yearly but hotels and the rest were not free. So the only way to do it affordably was to rent a car and drive the brood through places like the islands of Hawaii (we covered pretty much all the islands) and the Grand Canyon.
And to save more money, we stayed in dodgy motels, or apartments with kitchenettes so that mom could cook, instead of us eating expensive overseas food (the US dollar was three Singapore dollars in the old days, and one Euro was more than SGD2).
There was a no-popcorn rule when we went to Disneyland as kids. We didn't understand why back then but look, a tub of that stuff was USD10. Which was SGD30. Which was a small fortune in the 1970s and 1980s. So, no popcorn. And meals were Mom's fried rice in a Tupperware, freshly cooked that morning in the hotel room with a Sanyo electric hotplate cooker.
This was the time before GPS and the Internet, mind you. So my old man drove, and my mom navigated the American continent or the Australian Outback with paper maps, and a lot of arguing. The entire family all developed the ability to adapt. After all, you can't google your way through your travel problems, or book a flight or a hotel room with your phone in those days.
Travelling solo with my mother in the recent years is still as fun as travelling with my parents and brothers back then. She is 75 years old now, and here are some random things I learned travelling with her.
1. Always be prepared for sudden toilet breaks. Old people need frequent toilet breaks. Myself included.
2. Always pack random food items. I'm an ultralight traveller and refuse to overpack. But I have to say, my mother's stash of 2-in-1 coffee and cup noodles were lifesavers when we were too tired to go out and eat.
3. You are never too old to play with ducks.
4. Destinations are just points between which you stop for New Zealand flat whites.
5. It's not where you go, it's who you go with. I am blessed to have a mother who is an awesome traveller. Traveller, not tourist.
6. Hotels or motels must have a television. No TV? Minus four stars. TVs provide ambient sound as you go about your business. And also become a source of shared entertainment as you both try to answer the questions on quiz shows together. Or laugh at local cop shows showing the mild crimes that highway cops deal with.
7. You can talk to any stranger. Mother has the amazing ability to befriend anyone on the street. Be it singers at the Oamaru Sunday Farmers' Market, baristas in a coffee shop, or an elderly German couple who are on a seven-week camper van road trip through New Zealand. Or birds. I suspect that is where I get it from, because I talk to strangers on Twitter and my Facebook all the time.
8. Always ensure you've downloaded your Oldies Spotify playlist before embarking on your next long road journey, so you can both sing along to Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams. And reminisce about the singers and songs my late father loved.
9. Don't let Mom enter a supermarket. She will buy enough to last you two zombie apocalypses.
10. Do let Mom enter a supermarket. And let her buy what she wants. Because she know how to buy the best fruits, and snacks, and breakfast items at the best price. And you'll be thanking her when you tuck into the ham and cheese sandwich in the morning.
11. Your iPhone 7 Plus may be able to pull down travel and map info on the fly, but Mom's National-Library-borrowed Lonely Planet dead tree edition works without batteries or the internet. And works even when you're out at Milford Sound with no mobile coverage (shame on you, Vodafone).
12. Don’t ask your mother where small jars of jam, small cakes of butter, and the random banana come from. Just eat.
13. You never know when you might need these bottles of branded hotel-sized shampoo, conditioner, body gel and body lotion. Good for the kids when they go swimming back home. Good for the crappy hotels you may stay in, down the road, that may provide lousy unbranded toiletries. You might even want to start a shop with the collection one day.
14. She makes jokes about your snoring drowning out the TV she is watching at night. You make jokes about her morning farts.
15. “This looks like a nice little town on the map.” usually results in a drive through some off-road countryside, across several rivers, that leads to a town with just one building. Or the edge of Paradise.
16. You learn where you picked up the travel habit of washing your underwear and hanging them wherever there is a place to hang something.
17. Just when you think she has filled her one luggage, she whips out a folding bag made of the indestructible China/Thai plastic/cardboard that can take about 45 litres of shopping.
18. Travel with your parents while they are still mobile. They won’t be able to travel forever. Age, and two fractures in the ankle and knee from hiking in Vietnam a few years ago, can slow a mother down. Even the strongest trees grow old.
19. When she decides she really wants to have Indian food in the middle of nowhere in South Island, she will find it. And it will be worth the search somehow. That was some yummy Chicken Madras and Chicken Tikka Masala, man.
20. You can take the Geography and Art teacher out of the school but you can’t take the Geography and Art teacher out of your mother. And you appreciate the geography and beauty of New Zealand even more in her company.
21. It is ok to drive up the steepest road in the world, and acknowledge that your old knees aren't going to take you up Baldwin Street.
22. And above all, stay curious, open and always willing to see and learn new things.
[All images made by me, mostly with a Panasonic Lumix GH5 and Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm F2.8-4 lens, a Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm F2.8 II lens, and an iPhone 7 Plus sometimes.]
Some of you asked for a translation of the words I used in my convo with my kids in the last post. I thought I'd provide a dictionary of sorts.
j/k: Just Kidding or Joking.
IKR: I Know Right?
Sensi: Sensitive. (Shoutout to Carissa for teaching me this one.)
Lit: Excellent (sometimes used with AF, as in Lit AF. AF doesn't mean Auto-Focus.). Nothing to do with the Literature subject, which was what I first thought it meant.
Totes: Totally. The few seconds you save from not saying the last two syllables will help you be more efficient. Somewhat confusing when used to describe an actual tote bag, as in "I totes need a new totes."
Throw Shade: Criticize or condemn. In Singapore, where it is hot, sheltered walkways also throw shade, but it doesn't mean the same thing.
IDK: I don't know.
On Fleek: On point, perfect. Started out describing eyebrows. Don't ask me why.
Triggered: Filled with hate or activated by something that sets you off. Like The Winter Soldier after you read a list of secret words.
I can't even: So overwhelming/funny/frustrating that you can't even finish your sentence. Sometimes without even a full stop. Frequently used with the word "literally", as in "I literally can't even". The use of "literally" triggers me though.
POMO: Post-modern, self-consciously so.
Sorry not sorry: Not really sorry. Like when the gahmen apologizes.
It's the March school holidays and the kids have a week to be at home to bug me. Isaac and Joy have their friend, Matt, over for a sleepover. Yes, I have an extra tween in my household but he's a good boy and it's fun to have him over.
As we walked back from Lickers, my fave waffle and ice-cream haunt, after some post-dinner waffle and ice-cream, Joy told me about their day of play.
"Matt trolled me today."
"Ya, I said I wasn't gonna come over but actually I was. j/k lah," Matt said.
"So he was j/k ah?" I asked.
"Eh Pa, you're not a Millennial," Joy replied, with mock horror on her face.
"IKR?" I continued.
"Paaaa…" said my youngest daughter.
"Don't be so sensi can or not?" I said with hurt in my eyes.
"Noooo…" Joy pleaded.
"But I thought my slang is so lit right now. Totes," I said, on a roll now.
"Stahp!" said my hapless daughter, beginning to laugh.
"j/k only, j/k only. Don't need to throw shade at me," I said to her.
"Ugh," Joy said, giggling.
"Actually Papa needs to cut his hair again," I declared, in a moment of digression.
"Ooh! Dye it another color!" Joy suggested.
"IDK, I thought I'd stay with blue. My blue hair is on fleek," I didn't even know what I saying by now. What's a "fleek"?
"Kill me now," said Joy.
"You're so triggered, I can't even-"
By that time, all she could do was chase me at the void deck and to tickle me in retaliation for my slang fest.
Parents, embarrassing our kids with our hipness since forever. Hey, what can I say, I'm POMO. Sorry not sorry.
"We don't need to go to my Mom's today," my wife said. That meant taking the brood out for dinner on a Sunday night.
As I tried to figure out where to take them, my youngest told me about her morning in church.
"Today some boy said my iPhone 4s was a noob phone."
"That's not very nice," I said.
"Ya! I told him it wasn't a noob phone, it's a vintage phone, bruh!"
That was not a bad answer, I thought. Joy's well-used iPhone 4s used to belong to her mother, and has been repaired at the neighbourhood repair shop twice (the first time to replace the aging battery, and the second time, a year later, to replace the shattered screen). It may not be the Nokia 3310 of iPhones but it is certainly one of the most repairable.
Isaac was unpacking his bag from Scout Camp and telling me about his three days away. I reminded him to repack for his Secondary Two camp that will happen in a few days. I don't recall having so many school camps when I was a kid. But I quite like that they get to gain some independence away from home, which is why the boy has been allowed to go for camps since he was very young.
"Make sure you shower daily," I nagged, remembering the time he went through one camp without showering.
A few days ago, the wife and I sat in the son's classroom and attended the Parent-Teacher Meeting where they discussed options for the Secondary Two boys, things like choosing the subject combinations for Secondary Three, and understanding Polytechnic entry requirements like the Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP) and the Direct-Entry Scheme into Polytechnic Programme (DPP). Sure, most parents want their kid to be in the Express and "higher" streams but parents need to know and embrace the pace which is best for our children.
We really appreciate the dedication that his teachers have for his class.
As I talked to Isaac about packing strategies for his camp, Faith was listening to her music from the living room Sonos speakers. She recently learned that music would play when she pressed the > button on top of either speaker (watch the cute little video here). You may think your severely autistic firstborn doesn't know stuff, but she obviously watches and observes and figures out how things work.
I don't mind because when she is listening to music from the living room speakers, she does not ask for her iPod. And less device time is always good. She does enjoy her music like any teenager, even though she is autistic.
The family never stops trying to teach her new things, like housework, as seen in this video taken by my helper. Marian decided that Faith could learn to help with her pillows and patiently taught Faith how to do it. The music you hear in the background is from the speakers, switched on by Faith. She really likes that song by Kirk Franklin a lot. It's "A God Like You", from his Hello Fear album, in case you are wondering.
After some deliberation (and begging from the two younger ones), I decided to take the family to Bishan Park for fast food, and pick up my mother from her mahjong session along the way there.
"Wait! I want to comb Faith's hair before we go, it is so messy," the wife said.
Faith was a little squirmy and Joy jumped in to help hold her still while Mommy combed Cheh Cheh's hair.
I have to say, Bishan Park is really nice. People were jogging, cycling, walking their dogs, and kids were enjoying the space. I can see why PM did one of his televised speeches there.
The family found a table while I parked the car. As I wandered through the park, I could not help stopping to take a few photos with my iPhone.
"Do come over, dear," the wife said, when she called me on the phone. "Come and help the kids with the order first before you take your photos, ok?"
"Coming, coming," I replied, but I snapped a few more shots of the glorious sunset before running over.
Eh, good light waits for no photographer, ok?
Me: "Joy, do you have any cute stickers I can stick on my AirPods case?"
Queen of Stickers, Joy: "I got ya, bruh."
Me: "Oi, that's Papa to you. Oooh that's a cute duck."
I had to do this to distinguish my review-unit AirPods from my wife's (I bought her a pair as a Christmas pressie).
How do I feel about them so far? Well, having lived with them for a few months now, here is my assessment.
The pairing process is wicked fast and painless. You open a new pair of AirPods and your iPhone will detect them and ask if you want to pair them. You say "Yes" and it's done. None of that pressing some button until a blue light blinks etc.
Once you pair them, it is paired across all the Apple devices you use that are logged in via your Apple ID. So you don't have to pair them again with your iPad Pro, Apple TV 4 or Apple Watch. That's also very neat.
The other neat thing is that AirPods work out of their case. You take them out and wear them, and your iPhone knows and auto-connects. There is no need to turn them on. Place them back into the case, and you auto-disconnect and the buds are charged. The AirPods last five hours on one charge and the case that is also a powerbank for the buds will let you use the AirPods for up to 24 hours. A quick-charge option gives you three hours of use if you charge them inside the case for fifteen minutes.
Will you lose them easily? Not really. I find myself putting them back into the case when not in use. Like my favorite Erato Apollo 7, you can't hang them around your neck and forget them.
I also like how the AirPods know when you take one earbud off and will auto-pause the music or video, and resume when you put them back on. It doesn't always work but it works enough of the time to make it very convenient. Using the AirPods for phone calls is also very good, with the mics picking up your voice so well, the other party thinks you are holding the iPhone to your ear.
Double-tap one of the AirPods while you are wearing them, and you can get Siri to do stuff. You can also set the double-tap to do other things instead of Siri, like pause and play.
What do I not like about them? The audio quality is about what you get out of the EarPods you get free with your iPhone. These aren't audiophile earphones by any stretch of the imagination. The isolation isn't great too, and you can still hear the ambient sound from your surroundings when you wear them. My Erato Apollo 7 has way better sound and isolation.
I also wish I could control the volume or skip tracks using the double-tap but the only way you can currently do that is to double-tap for Siri, and tell Siri, "Lower the volume by 50 percent." or "Next track."
So, that S$238 you are paying for is mainly the battery life, the ease of use, and the ease of pairing.
That said, these are the most convenient wireless earphones I've used with my iPhone. Now if only Apple can make them less dorky-looking by shortening the stems. And improve the audio quality, darn it.
There you go, the good and the bad things about the new AirPods. The few flaws I've noted don't seem to have affected their popularity or sales, I think. There is a six-week waiting time for a pair on Apple's online store as of now. And I can't find them in physical stores right now.
This comment by Edmund, on my blog, made me laugh out loud:
"When my school organised a viewing of the solar eclipse for students last year, one of the parents actually asked why we must schedule the event on a weekend and if we can reschedule it.
[Sunset taken in Tokyo, from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, on one of my trips to Japan last year.]
Some parent just asked at a school's P5 Camp Briefing if the P5 Camp is a weighted assessment. Really? You had to ask that question?
Let me clear that up for you. Of course it is weighted. Better get some tuition for the camp activities like Cheering Before Meals, Not Being Homesick, and Morning Ownself Showers.
I heard that some students even got into the top schools via the P5 Camp DSA. I heard some of the Independent Schools really want some national-level P5 Campers.
If you want your child to score at P5 Camp, you may even want to send him/her to some Mock P5 Camps before the real thing. Some of these camps even combine P5 Camp training with abacus and mind-mapping courses, killing two birds with one stone.
There are already a few P5 Camp ten-year series assessment books available at Popular Bookstore. Go grab them. Make sure you buy the assessment books with the detachable answers at the back. You know, the ones where the answer pages can be torn off. Or else your kid may try to check the tougher Camp answers when he is stuck on the test questions. The topic "Caring for One Another" can be quite hard.
In fact, P5 Camp is even an unspoken criteria in some Gahmen scholarships. The last five President's Scholars scored distinctions in P5 Camp.
So better get cracking and make sure your child wins Best P5 Camper.
Oh, since we are on the topic, Recess is also a weighted assessment.
Postscript: I was informed that the teacher who was asked that question was stunned. The camp organizer mentioned this was the first time he was ever asked such a question. The rest of the theatre of parents laughed, which is a good sign.
Faith's youngest sister, Joy, is babysitting Puffy the rabbit for a friend. Seems like Faith's autism didn't stop her from enjoying the company of Puffy.
Puffy probably thought Faith had food in that packet Faith was playing with. Faith enjoys playing with crinkly things, it seems to calm her sensory issues. I also think the rabbit adores her, for some reason beyond my limited comprehension.
It was fascinating to watch my firstborn interact with our new house guest.
📷: Auntie Marian
YouTube link: https://youtu.be/MeKq3_R6yPE
Ryan and I are in Taiwan visiting Taitung and a few other cities.
More on the Taitung stories in a later blog post but today, we are in Kaohsiung. Our day in this southern city of Taiwan encapsulated the mrbrown School of Travel:
We were cycling around Kaohsiung on free Giant bicycles provided by our wonderful hotel, and we stumbled upon a ferry terminal and scores of motorcyclists and some cyclists boarding it. (Note to self: Install a basket on my bicycles when I get home. Bicycle baskets rule.)
Me: "Let's go!"
Me, after we board the ferry: "What pier were we at just now ah?"
Ryan: "Not really sure."
Me: "Where does this ferry go ah?"
Ryan: "Dunno also."
So here I was, following the locals up the We-Don't-Know-Where-This-Goes ferry. We parked our steeds at one side, so as not to block others boarding the ferry.
For someone who doesn't know where he is going, I looked pretty pleased with myself.
This kid is so darn cute.
After a short voyage, it was time to disembark.
When we got off the ferry, we finally checked our map app and found out this is Cijin Ferry Pier.
And where we boarded the ferry was Gushan Ferry Pier. ORH, now we know.
Heng the ferry didn't take us to Hong Kong or something. That would be bad, because we didn't pack a change of underwear in our daypacks.
Cijin turned out to be quite fun to cycle around. We rode along Cijin Coast Park and also went up to the Cihou Fort.
I know, I know. I am very random.
Dear Ms Lee Wei Yin,
Wow. I just read your letter to the papers and the sense of entitlement is astounding.
"The school is providing a service, with its customers being primarily the students who are minors, and the parents. Students need constant chaperoning."
Excuse me, a school is a not service. It is a partner in the educating of your kids. Students are not its "customers" and neither are teachers the only ones responsible for the education of your children.
You don't get to treat schools like commercial tuition centres, that you pay for. Even commercial tuition centres have working hours for their staff. Why should schools be any different?
"Parents pick schools with the "best service" to maximise the potential of their children. They have a strong preference for schools with the best results in major exams and strong showing at co-curricular activity (CCA) competitions, which means extra class time and training to boost results."
The schools with the best results in major exams and strong CCA are not doing well just because they put their teachers through extra hours. Many schools have the buy-in and commitment from parents too. Perhaps schools should in future, get to pick parents with the "best service" to the school to ensure they maximize the potential of their students.
"Most parents have full-time jobs and are not able to attend meet-the-parents sessions or student performances during normal school hours. Therefore, it is not realistic to have such sessions during weekday school hours."
Hello, teachers are also people with full-time jobs.
If you cannot make time to attend meet-the-parents sessions or student presentations during normal school hours, then too bad so sad, don't go. That's your choice and prerogative.
But don't expect schools and teachers to bend over backwards to accommodate your obviously super busy schedule.
Even childcare centres charge you extra money for every moment you are late picking up your children. They don't care if you have full-time jobs and cannot make it on time. And schools are not childcare centres.
"All this comes at a price for everyone involved."
Seems to me the price is being paid by the teachers themselves.
"Therefore, more teachers are needed on such occasions."
Frankly, I think the reason we have 5,000 teachers quitting in the last five years is because of attitudes like yours.
It's hard enough to replace the teachers leaving and you still want the MOE to "cut class size and share the work load"?
Meaning hire MORE teachers? From where? Who would want to join the education sector where parents treat schools like they are the customer? And you think good teachers grow on trees?
Eh, you go and join lah. Be a teacher and help to "share the work load" leh.
mrbrown, son of a former teacher of forty years, who was also a full-time mother and full-time wife.
Original Letter: Working after school hours part of 'service'
I started the day with a song from Faith. She "sang" the entire Yankee Doodle song (or Barney song, if you like) to us in the lift when we were on our way to her Special School.
She even vocalized the bridge of the song, laughing as if she was sharing a joke with us. What a cheerful teenager!
I told this to her Teacher when I handed Faith off to her care. Teacher laughed and said Faith has changed a lot this year. She has become more vocal and emo, Teacher said. More outgoing and wanting to communicate.
"You should buy her Mee Goreng. She loves eating spicy Mee Goreng," Teacher told me. "She would eat it, then make blowing sounds because it's hot, then use her iPad Proloquo2Go app to ask for Help."
"Help?" I asked.
"Ya! 'Help. Help. Help.' Faith would press. She wants water! Hahaha!" Teacher said. "Then she drinks the water, and has another go at the Mee Goreng again."
Then I met Faith's autistic classmate at the school hall and shook her hand. She too, had a huge delightful grin on her face. So cute, these special kids are.
Sure, I'm worried about the P5 and Sec 1 exams my two younger ones are going through soon.
And I'm also worried about Mom as she is due to be discharged from hospital this week (that's another long story).
But my singing, Mee-Goreng-eating Faith made me laugh this morning, and the many cares just melted away.
Three days to reach Chicago with the California Zephyr and I was only 24 hours from New York. I arrived at Union Station in Chicago a little worn around the edges but still alive and not smelling badly.
I grabbed a Calzone for a late lunch at Chicago (it was already 4pm by then, why no Bak Chor Mee?), chilled at the Legacy Lounge until boarding time for the Lake Shore Limited to NYC at 8.30pm (Legacy Lounge users got priority boarding we got to board early). By 9pm, most of the passengers were already on board and we were off.
I chose the second window seat from the front, on the left side. Malcolm from Toronto whom I met on the previous train ride told me the left window provided a better view on this train.
This train journey was shorter than the SF to Chicago leg. People didn't talk or socialize as much, maybe because the ride was shorter. I never needed to share a table at the Dining Car. My wife said maybe East Coast folks were colder.
I was so tired I slept on the Lake Shore Limited train. Slept right through dinner. I woke up at 1am, I think, which meant the Dining Car and the Cafe Car were closed already. I wasn't very hungry anyway.
At the frontmost seat in the right row were two African American old ladies. One of them came in a wheelchair and had some difficulty boarding. They weren't very happy with the service provided by the junior train staff, a young black man, and kept complaining about him the entire trip to each other. "Did you see how he apologized to the other passengers for the delay? We needed help and they should have boarded us early, amirite? What was he thinking, boarding us so late? And he kept apologizing to the other passengers like it was our fault we took so long to board? Didn't he know I have a wheelchair?"
On and on, Wheelchair Old Auntie talked about this for the entire trip with her companion. The conductor, an older white gentleman, popped over to ask if they needed any food because it would be hard for her to make it to the Dining Car which was four cars away (we were the last car). He told his assistant, the young fellow that Wheelchair Old Auntie didn't like, to take their order and bring the food to her so she needed walk all that way.
I thought the fellow was trying his best to be patient. He stood there waiting for her to make her lunch order, even offering some suggestions. When he left to fill the order at the Dining Car, Wheelchair Old Auntie started complaining again. "The conductor is such a nice man! But that young man, I never saw him come over to check on us the whole time! And you remember how he apologized to the other passengers because we were slow in boarding…" and her song would start again.
She was quite amusing to listen to. Harmless old lady but opinionated as heck.
I didn't see much of a view at the start because we departed Chicago at night. But I did manage to catch the station of Toledo, Ohio. I could not resist taking a photo of the station in the darkness, and posting it on Facebook with the caption "Holy Toledo!"
I've always wanted to say "Holy Toledo!" at the actual place. I know, I very boliao.
The friendly conductor made some announcements throughout the journey. AT 8am, he announced, "The Dining Car is open and requires some kind of footwear to be worn". I wonder why he had to say that. Seems like a common sense thing to do. Do people actually go to the Dining Car barefoot?
Another announcement he made was to the effect of "If you are watching any kind of video on your video-type devices, please ensure that they are of a family nature". I think he meant no porn or R-rated stuff, since there were kids on board too. I should know, I heard one kid all night. Poor thing, the parents, who had to deal with the crying 5-year-old
Because my body was already trying to adjust to the 15-hour time difference between Singapore and San Francisco, and because my cross-country train journey took me across four time zones in 4 days, my body clock was a mess. By Day 4 of my train journey, 5am at the East Coast was only 1am at San Francisco, PST vs EST.
I chose to watch videos that were of a "family nature" and watched Season 2 of Fresh Off the Boat. It was fun stuff. I kept laughing out loud on the train and had to close my mouth so I wouldn't disturb others sleeping.
Breakfast on the train was at 7.38am EST but it was 4.38am PST in my SF mind. But a man's gotta eat, even if the Continental Breakfast, with three miserable slices of bacon added as an extra, cost USD$17.50 with tip.
USD17.50 could buy me the top of the line Bento Box on a Shinkasen in Japan, man. I missed my bento box meals so much.
I slept a little on and off, after lunch (they ran out of pasta in the Dining Car so I had a salad with a slice of grilled chicken breast), and when I woke up we were approaching Penn Station already. There was a mad scramble to pack my stuff back into my bags, and I think I left a small adaptor plug behind. Ah well, got to buy a new one, I guess, making a mental note to visit B&H in New York City, the Funan/Sim Lim Square of NYC. Wait, Funan is gone already hor? *silent sobs*
I know, it's just an excuse to go tech window shopping.
Penn Station was a madhouse of people. Kind of like Shinjuku Station in Tokyo but not as clean.
I looked for the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) because I would be staying in Flushing, Queens, where the REAL Chinatown is. I got off my LIRR train toward Flushing Main Street, a station too early though. Aiyah. Touch down in NYC only make noob train mistake.
The view of the parked trains at the train depot at Mets-Willets Point station was quite nice though. Nearby, folks were going to Citi Field stadium from this station. The depot looked like a place where an action movie would be shot. Or maybe a clandestine deal made in the late night between parked trains.
In the words of Tay Tay, "Welcome to New York". It is the city that never sleeps. Jialat. I'm already having trouble sleeping.
I didn't sleep well on Day 1. I was still recovering from jet lag from arriving in San Francisco a few days ago.
The train journey to Chicago was progressing into Day 2. We entered Nevada, Utah and Colorado, chugging along the ever-changing scenery of the countryside. A recap to those who didn't read Day 1 of mrbrown's Great US Train Adventure: on a whim, I am taking a four-day journey from San Francisco to New York City — three days to reach Chicago Union Station using the California Zephyr train, and then one more day from Chicago to New York City's Penn Station via the Lake Shore Limited train.
Some tips to make this trip easier for anyone contemplating this trip on Coach class (meaning not Sleeper or First Class):
1. Bring a pillow of some sort. It helps a lot. The seats are wide and recline quite far but a pillow will be more comfortable for sleeping.
2. A blanket is also useful but I got by with my Icebreaker merino wool cardigan. The air-conditioning on the train can be cold at night.
3. There are no shower facilities onboard except in the Sleeper cabins. So you need to clean up some other way. I used wet wipes a lot and that worked for me. If you like, you can take a leaf from your National Service days and take a talcum powder bath, but I don't recommend it. Because you'll leave a trail of white powder around.
4. I know, it sounds a little hard to live for 3+1 days on the train without a shower but it's not a big deal, really. You don't sweat much while taking the train so you never get very grubby. Unless you spill coffee on yourself, then yes, that may be a problem. And besides, you are kind of saving two nights in a hotel with the price of your ticket.
5. Pack some food and drink for the journey and you don't have to be at the mercy of the Dining Car prices.
I had breakfast with Rudy, Betty and Ethel, three lovely elderly African-Americans from Denver. They were coming back from Reno and Las Vegas. They experienced a four-hour delay on the way from Denver to Reno but this happens a lot because Amtrak doesn't own their own track in many places and often has to give way to freight trains belonging to the freight companies who own that stretch of track.
Rudy, Betty and Ethel were fun to talk to. Rudy highly recommended visiting Denver, where they come from. "Take your family too," he said.
The Scrambled Eggs dish I had wasn't very good value. Scrambled eggs with grits, and a side of pork sausage patties for US$15. Ouch.
But — pro tip —the Continental Breakfast with fruit, cereal, Greek yoghurt and a croissant is much better value. I added two pork patties for an additional US$4.25. What can I say, I like living the high life.
Some folks didn't want to pay the higher Dining Car prices and either brought their own food (see tip number 5 above) or they bought food from a supermarket to feed themselves for the journey.
Having an ever-changing roster of mealtime companions helped make my journey less lonely. And also having fun buddies in the same car as you, going on the same long journey to Chicago, helped too.
You can either get out of your comfort zone and make conversation with new friends in the carriage or dining car, or you can keep to yourself for three days. I opted for the former.
Every time we were near a station, our patient conductor, Jimmy, would make his announcements to remind folks who were going to get off the train at the next station to get their stuff together, and get ready to disembark.
Occasionally we would get announcements by the Dining Car crew that Breakfast was being served "on a first come first served basis" or that "We are operating at full capacity now so please leave your name on the waiting list" or "Party Number 5, your table is now ready".
You can tell I have memorized the train announcements quite well. They are like markers of your hours and days, helping you keep sane on the train.
Some of the station stops were longer and passengers could step out to have a smoke or stretch our legs or even buy something if the station had a store. I only encountered one store in the entire route to Chicago was at Grand Junction, Colorado. There was a tiny store at the station and we had about 25 minutes for a break.
I grabbed two muffins for US$1.50 each, and a peach that cost a US$1. I needed some backup food for the night. That peach was sweet and nice but such a pain to eat, dripping everywhere. One must be careful on a 3-day train ride without shower facilities.
One time, we got this announcement: "Please be reminded that this is a no-smoking train. This extends beyond tobacco products. If you smoke weed on this train, you will be asked to leave the train and you may be subject to criminal persecution. So please be considerate to our other passengers and we can all get to where we're going. We have detected some weed onboard and we are now looking for it. Please do not smoke weed."
Apparently, even though it is legal to smoke marijuana in the state of Colorado, it was illegal to smoke it on the train. I explained to my train buddies that pot was a Class A drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act in Singapore and the possession or consumption of weed can result in up to 10 years of imprisonment or S$20,000 fine or both, and trafficking in more than 500 grams can lead to the death penalty.
That's a stronger penalty than being kicked off the train, I reckon.
Some stretches of the train ride are such empty stretches of land that you have no cell phone signal or if you do, there are no Pokestops or Pokemon to catch. I know this because I opened my Pokemon GO app to try.
The viewing car is also a place for minglin' and socializin'. I went there a few times just to take a photo or two, and to listen to the volunteer guides tell you stories about Dead Man's Curve as seen in the Steven Seagal movie Under Siege 2, or the history of the Rockies.
I miss the old Steven Seagal. When he had less chins and really looked like he could kick ass.
I slept a little better on the second night. But I was still waking up a few times. "Go to sleep, buddy," Malik would say to me, at 3am, when he saw me on Facebook, my face lit up by the light from my iPhone.
I did catch up on my sleep eventually, during the day. But I really snored when I knocked out in the late afternoon. And my train buddies made a video of my less-than-glamorous sleeping position and sounds. I hope they don't release that video when I become famous one day. It would destroy my fledging movie career.
I called the Wife and kids when we were in Grand Junction, CO. Our FaceTime video call was a little laggy because my internet connection was probably spotty. But at least it worked.
Very often on the train ride, I would experience No Service on my cell signal. Kind of like flying economy on an American airline. After the initial withdrawal symptoms, I learned to cope with the stretches of zero Internet access. I used some of that time to read, or stare out the window, or think of what I was going to eat at the next meal time.
I decided to give lunch and dinner in the Dining Car a miss on Day 2. I just had a muffin for lunch and an Angus burger from the cafe car for dinner. The sad little microwaved burger was a little cheaper than a $22 dinner entree but I think they should spell it without the letter "g".
On Day 3, I had a Continental breakfast and shared a table with Malcolm from Toronto. He was on a vacation by himself and went to California to visit family and Nevada for some festival. He also took the same journey as me, from San Francisco to Chicago, where he would stay a night and then fly back to Toronto. He told me I had picked one of the nicer train routes to travel on. He has taken quite a number of Amtrak long distance routes like the Coast Starlight (from Seattle to Los Angeles), and the Empire Builder (from Chicago to Portland) and he thinks the California Zephyr is one of the best for scenery.
After three days of living out of seat 37, I finally arrived at grand old Chicago Union Station, the same station where that scene from The Untouchables was shot, you know, the one with the pram rolling down the stairs in slow motion, and Kevin Costner trying to save the baby while shooting the bad guys.
In three days, I had crossed two time zones and seven states: California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois. I've seen parts of America I've never seen before. Miles of desert, miles of cornfields, and the fabulous Rockies.
Sure, the Amtrak trains are not as nice or as punctual or as fast as the Japanese Shinkansen, but the views are pretty and the company I had was diverse and chatty. On Japanese trains, I never had anyone to talk to (probably the language problem and the fact that Japanese passengers tended to keep to themselves). Not so on American trains.
I have five-hour layover till my Lake Shore Limited train to New York City so I'm chilling at the Legacy Lounge (US$20 for a day entry) because they have a Happy Hour and a roomy toilet that isn't the size of a cheap IKEA wardrobe.
As I queued at the Amtrak counter to ask about the next part of my journey, I met my lunch companion from Day 1, Levi, a young man who took the train from the West Coast like me, who spoke with a strong Southern accent. He showed me his bag with US$10,000 of pro fishing equipment that he was going to use at the bass fishing tournaments in Michigan.
"Ah have never fished in the Great Lakes before in mah life, so Ah came down here to give it a trah. I can catch anything with mah rods, just gimme an hour in them waters."
Some of these tournaments have prize money up to US$100,000, and a new car, he told me. But you have to work your way up the tournaments system which can cost princely US$250 each tournament.
"This is mah cheapest rod, but I have mah more expensive gear comin' in the mail," Levi said.
I tell you, the people you meet on a long train ride in America is as diverse as the scenery across the continent. I also learned about the challenges of driving and delivering RVs (recreational vehicles) and trucking from my other friends.
That is an experience I won't exchange for the luxury of a shower or a bed in a three-day American train journey.
It has been almost 24 hours since I made the fateful decision to jump on an Amtrak train that will take me from San Francisco (Emeryville, to be exact) to New York City.
I made that decision at 5am on a Thursday morning in my hotel room, booked the train tickets on my phone, and quickly packed to get to Emeryville Station in Oakland for the 9.10am departure.
The journey will take me three days to reach Chicago Union Station, then another one day from Chicago to New York City.
I have only my Aeronaut 30 carry-on bag for my clothes, and my Synapse 19 backpack carrying my camera, lenses and tech, so hopping unto a super-long train journey like this wasn't going to pose an issue. No luggage to check in or drag around.
So far, the view from the train has been awesome. Except at night, of course, when you see nothing but the darkness outside and within you.
I make many new friends, some because they will share my carriage for the entire journey, and some because we meet new people at the dining car at every meal.
Big shoutouts to Ali and Brian who were off to Reno to see the hot air balloons, and Sandy, the backpacking grandma from New Zealand, and Jackie, mother of twins from Munich on her yearly solo trip, and Malik, my trucker friend and fellow Apple fan, and Arlene, RV driver and writer of books, and Melissa from San Francisco who has a super-talented daughter doing a Masters in music, and Louie on a two-week trip through Seattle and Colorado.
So many new friends, and it's only Day 1.
After 13 hours of riding the California Zephyr train, in the middle of my first night, we crossed from Nevada into Utah. And my Apple Watch adjusted the time zone automatically while I tried to sleep.
But I'm restless. Yet excited. And thinking of about a million things.
Where am I going to stay in the East Coast where hotels cost a bomb?
Should I fly back to SFO or take the train back?
How do 小妹妹 bloggers take selfies of themselves asleep while aiming the camera of their phones?
What shall I have for breakfast later in the Dining Car and who will I sit with next?
Why can't Amtrak trains go as fast as Japanese trains?
Did I turn off the gas at home?
Does it matter since the rest of the family is there?
Have the children done their homework before the school holidays end?
What is my wife wearing to work today in Singapore?
How will the recommendations of the Constitutional Commission to raise the criteria for candidates who wish to run for President impact the candidates who qualified the last time?
Should our leaders stop pretending they want an elected president when the ruling party can change the goal posts until they get the candidate they favour, and just go back to the Selected Presidency?
Should we rename the amendments to the elected presidency to the Tan Cheng Block Act?
Should I pee before I go back to sleep?
Where can I find a shower at Chicago's Union Station where I have a 6-hour layover before my next leg to NYC?
Then I told myself not to think too much. But just go with the flow. Just in case, I booked my NYC air ticket on my iPhone first. American domestic airlines have a nasty habit of raising prices aggressively if you don't book early.
I also paid my bills using my AXS app and watched my bank account shrink with one tap. I was almost scared to "Slide and Peek" at account balance in my POSB app.
And most important of all, I took this selfie of myself sleeping but looking like someone else took it.
Good grief. PM certainly gave us a scare eh? One moment he was delivering the English segment of his National Day Rally speech, then the next moment he turns pale, grips the podium and faints on stage. Ministers in the front row, especially the doctors, rush forward to his aid. And there was a suspension of the NDR.
My Whatsapp and Facebook feed exploded with concern and prayers. I think all of us stood up collectively in shock, whether you were watching live in the ITE auditorium or at home watching it on the bedroom tv wearing pajamas (yes, me). My heart dropped like a stone.
Just after he fell, PM even said sorry to the audience for fainting. Please, no need to apologize, PM. Rest, rest, rest and go for checkup, I think we were all thinking.
Then we got news from the PMO that PM is ok, that it wasn't serious, that it wasn't a stroke, but just exhaustion.
We all sighed a sigh of relief. But still worried because PM said he would come back to finish his speech.
We all went full Auntie and full Uncle at that point, I think. Aiyoh why carry on, PM? Don't need lah. National Day Rally can always be postponed lah. Don't continue if not well, we will understand one. You go and rest and see doctor for full checkup. Don't make speech anymore.
Still, when he returned live on tv at 10.40pm to a standing ovation, it was good to see him again. He joked about giving everyone a scare. He joked about the last time this happened to him when he was younger during a military parade. And he even praised the SCDF team who helped save Heng Swee Keat when he had a stroke, because they were there as his guests but ended up coming to his aid too.
I tell you, that SCDF team are a credit to our nation and our Home Team. Promote the whole lot of them, I say.
Interesting that the immediate topic after he came back from his fall, was Succession Planning. How apt, after that scare.
PM Lee concluded his speech saying someone asked him once, if God granted him three wishes, what would be ask for.
PM said he would ask for:
1. A divine discontent in our people, so we keep striving.
2. Wisdom to count our blessings.
Notice he used only two of his three wishes. Because in Singapore, we always keep strong reserves. We are Singaporeans leh. Wishes also must keep at least one for a rainy day. We very pragmatic one.
Dear Parents suddenly interested in sending your kids to swimming lessons after the Joseph Schooling win:
Butterfly stroke very shiong one. Start them on front crawl or breaststroke first.
Actually backstroke also very hard. I always don't know when to stop and langgar my head on the wall.
When I was younger, I used to swim in school events. I was a breaststroker. I didn't understand why I got odd looks when I said that back then.
I want to thank my mother for forcing us to go for swim lessons with Mr Saw, our coach. We three brothers swam for years with him. I started at age 9.
We came from a school of swimmers (no prizes for guessing which) and it was just part of life.
Only my younger brother went on to more competitive swimming. He was in school competitions and went on to be really good at water polo. He also looked better in Speedos than I did. His body was V-shaped one.
My youngest brother did sailing, and golf, and snowboarding. As you can see, I was not the sportsman of my family. I enjoyed the literary arts more, and logged six years of LDDS.
But I'm glad I can still swim. And if I ever end up in a sinking ship, I will know how to make a float out of my pajamas.
Those of you who have done the National Swimming Survival Award will know what I am talking about. I did the Bronze and Silver. Got too lazy to do the Gold.
I always wondered, what if the ship sank when I was not wearing my pajamas? What about people who don't wear pajamas to sleep? Questions of a kid trying to tread water with one arm for one minute.
[Image: Never-before-seen photo of me swimming in Lake Vänern near Mariestad, Sweden, May 2015. It was super cold in the water but my hosts said it is a fun thing to do after sitting in their personal sauna. My nether regions had no feeling for a while after that swim but it was indeed very refreshing.]
Dear Companies Who Did Diddly Squat For Joseph Schooling Before He Won His Olympic Gold,
Thank you for your generous offers of free rides, free whatever, and congratulatory ads that show your product big-big.
After Joseph Schooling won a Gold for our nation.
After all the blood, sweat, tears and money that he and his parents and loved ones have shed on his swimming training.
I think it's time pay up if you want some marketing opportunities with our new hero. Cash is best.
I have decided to compile a list of the bandwagonners. The first one, by SMRT isn't that bad. But it attracted some pretty funny comments below. Like "Congrats Joseph Schooling for being faster than our trains.". Ok, I admit it, that one was by me.
But there were other gems like "Hahahahaha. Joseph Schooling can swim faster than your trains arriving ;)" and "Only 4 people made it to celebrate his victory because there was a track fault".
We also had MPs jumping in too.
Dear Lee Bee Wah, please share with us a detailed breakdown of how you secured NS deferment for Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen, since you seem very convinced about your monumental contribution.
Because my understanding is that their parents negotiated with Mindef at a personal level. Sure, you brought it up in Parliament yonks ago but to include your "contribution" in a congratulatory message seems self-serving, no?
Hey, I also contributed to Joseph Schooling's win because I refrained from peeing in a pool he was training in.
This one by Lee Hwa Jewelry was damn one kind. Clever ah, use the headline of "GOLD" then tompang your brand in there.
Ahhhh, Brands Essence of Chicken. This one was one of the most annoying bandwagon ads I saw. The bottle of chicken essence big big put there, as if to suggest that it had anything to do with Joseph Schooling's fine performance.
Grab lived up to its name here. It really reached out and grabbed Joseph Schooling's name and used it for its own promotion. Come on lah. Using Schooling's name as a promo code? Without paying him a cent for it? An earlier ad even offered Schooling's family free rides.
How about you guys give their family some cold hard cash? You know, so that they can defray some of the costs they have spent over the years on Joseph's training and studies, estimated to be more than a million dollars.
Free rides?! Wah lau eh.
This one by 99.co more champion. Even uses Joseph's image. You welcome him home, you put your own photos here lah. Why must use his image without paying leh?
Singapore Airlines did put in some effort in giving Joseph Schooling some nice stuff. They offered him a Krisflyer Gold card with one million miles in it. Now I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially if it comes with 1 million miles, but eh, Gold card only ah? At least PPS lah!
And this photo above that ended up in the news got many of us scratching our heads. Whose birthday is it? Why is that fella behind not wearing formal clothes like the rest? Wait, that's Joseph Schooling! The cake wasn't for the fella in front!
Now these are all fine, hardworking staff of our nation's airline. So please don't flame them. And I am sure all this was done under a lot of time pressure. But whoever was responsible for the PR needs to vet these things, lest it sends the impression that the airline is more important that the hero they are celebrating.
Temasek Clothings (@temasekclothings) helped to fix that Singapore Airlines photo:
I will be adding to this Bandwagon List as we go along. I am sure we can find more.
Since everyone is jumping on the bandwagon, I also join in. This morning, in honor of Joseph Schooling's win and return, I got out of bed 50.39 seconds after my (third) alarm went off. I think it's a personal best.
Anyway, I also did 50.39 seconds for Butterfly before (25m Butterfly). I'm well on my way to Olympics Gold. Tokyo 2020 here I come!
The Bandwagon List of Shamelessness contributions keep pouring in. So here we go:
Pizza Hut, why Hawaiian pizza? Joseph Schooling is from Hawaii issit?
Canopy Garden Restaurant, so if Joseph Schooling swam slower, we would get more discount lah? Aiyah, why Joseph didn't swim his 100m Butterfly in 99 seconds leh? Then can get 99% discount from you lor.
What's next, McDonald's? Joseph Schooling Happy Meal with Schooling-O-Fish burger and Butterfly fries?
Because Joseph Schooling's thighs look like chicken drumsticks ah?