vrijdag 31 augustus 2012

Opvoedkundige tik, stokslagen en lakse ouders

"Oh, maar kinderen krijgen alleen stokslagen voor hele serieuze vergrijpen, zoals stelen", verzekerde Mr J., de directeur van E.'s kinderdagverblijf, mij. En alleen nog maar op sommige scholen, en zeker niet in zijn etablissement.

Ik raakte vandaag bij het ophalen van de kleine blonde verzeild in een lezing over "het weerbare kind" (the resilient child) van het Singaporese Health Promotion Board. "Sit, sit", zei de receptioniste bevelend, en ik ben door E. inmiddels zo gedrilld dat ik mij met een map vol flow charts en koelkastmagneten voor een healthy lifestyle in een kinderstoeltje liet neerploffen.

De boodschap: zorg goed voor jezelf, want je kind kopieert jouw gedrag. Blijf kalm, want je kind voelt jouw stress en reageert daarop. Voed de oudste goed op, want de volgende volgt diens voorbeeld. Zet redelijke doelen en laat de deur open voor communicatie. Een vrij standaard verhaal, leek mij.

Totdat de voorbeelden kwamen. Van een meisje dat een heel schetsboek vol tekeningen weggooide, omdat het toch nooit goed genoeg was voor haar moeder. ("Zet redelijke doelen.") Van de zoon die geen contact meer heeft met zijn ouders, omdat zijn vader hem de deur wees met de woorden "als je nu weg gaat, hoef je niet meer terug te komen". ("Hou communicatie open.") En de kleuter die elke keer dat de meester op het bord wilde schrijven, onder de tafel kroop omdat een opgeheven hand voor hem een tik betekende. ("Je kind krijgt stress van jouw stress.")

Een generatie geleden waren stokslagen op school nog heel gewoon in Singapore. En Singaporese ouders zien zich nog steeds af en toe genoodzaakt om de stok, houten spatel of riem ter hand te nemen. (Acceptabel vanaf twee a drie jaar, naar ik begrijp.) Ook hier heb je zachtmoedige ouders die liever de stok sparen - die slaan met de vlakke hand. De naughty corner wordt als bijzonder ineffectief ervaren (en aangezien huizen hier geen hal of trap hebben, is het ook erg lastig om het kind te isoleren op een plek zonder speelgoed of gezelschap).

Onze kennissenkring is geen uitzondering - ook wij kennen mensen voor wie de correctieve tik tot het normale arsenaal van opvoedtechnieken hoort. De verleiding is ook mij weleens bekropen - maar ik heb te vaak gelezen en gehoord dat het geen zin heeft om in het opvoedkundig nut ervan te geloven. Maar wat doe je dan met een peuter van 18 maanden die haar handje los rukt en gillend van de pret de stoep af rent? Op wie streng toespreken en ouderlijke angst en woede geen enkele indruk maakt? Is dan de angst voor de pijn van een tik niet beter dan de bumper van een voorbijrazende auto?

We hebben het - gelukkig - niet hoeven uitproberen. E. is inmiddels 22 maanden oud en - enigszins - voor rede vatbaar. Ze weet dat de regel is dat ze op straat papa's of mama's hand vast moet houden. Dat ze anders niet zelf mag lopen, maar wordt gedragen. Dat ervaart ze als een straf - je zou het ook een consequentie van haar gedrag kunnen noemen. Ze heeft sinds kort ook door dat papa en mama boos op haar kunnen zijn, en dat vindt ze niet leuk. Sommige cognitieve ontwikkelingen lijken zo klein, maar het effect is van levensbelang, om nog maar te zwijgen van de weldaad voor de huiselijke rust.

Ik mag onze Singaporese en andere Aziatische vrienden graag. Ze wekken niet de indruk met enorme littekens uit hun jeugd rond te lopen - de relatie met hun ouders is liefdevol. De kinderen waarvan ik weet dat ze af en toe een tik krijgen, zijn net zo vrolijk, aanhankelijk en, ja, ook stout als onze tikloze E. 

E. is wel duidelijk een Hollands kindje aan het worden, dat zagen we ook in mei toen ze tussen haar leeftijdsgenootjes rondstruinde. Ze is ondernemender dan veel van haar niet-Westerse vriendjes en vriendinnetjes. Ze kan zichzelf troosten, ze laat zich door een paar weerbarstige sokken die niet aan willen niet al te snel uit het veld slaan, ze zoekt niet voortdurend hulp (wel veel aandacht). De vaakst voorkomende bijvoeglijke naamwoorden op de speelplaats zijn "vrolijk" en "zelfstandig". Wij glimmen dan bijpassend.

Maar ik ben benieuwd hoe dat over een paar jaar zal zijn. Nu al zie ik de contouren opdoemen van het Hollandse luidruchtige, eigengereide, brutale wezen waar in andere culturen zo'n aanstoot aan wordt genomen. 

Het Singaporese Health Promotion Board mag dan voorstander zijn van open communicatie en een zachte hand, ik denk dat ze toch niet zitten te wachten op zulke lakse ouders als wij. Want uiteindelijk moeten de kinderen natuurlijk wel gewoon presteren.

woensdag 29 augustus 2012

Singaporeans do things differently: Prenatal yoga

As most of you have picked up on, I am pregnant with a second little Tamtam. (The first little Tamtam appears to be comfortably blocking this knowledge from appearing on her radar.) If all goes according to plan, in about four months time we will not only have a Tiger in the house, but a Dragon as well.

So I'm working on a plan.

As part of the plan, I am attending prenatal yoga classes. (Another part of the plan that I hope to get around to tomorrow morning is prenatal massage because my lower back is killing me. Or, it's killing my ability to sleep, which is worse.)

Prenatal yoga is offered in the Netherlands as well, and consists of gentle stretches, breathing exercises and lots of chattering to get to know fellow mummies.

Prenatal yoga in Singapore* consists of proper asana's with an instructor walking around, eyeing up postures and remodeling you (usually mainly me) so it hurts more it stretches deeper. There is a bit of meditation, lots of cushions and bricks to make sure the pregnancy loosened muscles and joints don't get torn, and lots of encouragement to keep on breathing. As one instructor pointed out to us, "you will need to breathe throughout your labour as well"**. (I like plain speaking instructors like that. It motivates me.)

There is not a whole lot of gentility to prenatal Singaporean yoga outside of the instructors beatific smile and soft voice. And there is no chatter during the 75 minute long work out. None.

Now, all I know about Dutch prenatal yoga is hearsay. I myself opted for the more traditional prenatal gym class, set in primary school gymnasium and consisting of twenty minutes of actual exercise, forty minutes of explanations about birth and labour (including a gruesome video during which S. leant over and whispered: "Is that or isn't that guy your old publisher boss?"), and as much chatter as we could squeeze in between stern admonishments by our track suit clad instructor. That is about as far from Singaporean prenatal exercise as you can get.

There are lots of birthing classes without exercise on offer in Singapore, set up by hospitals, by doula's, by heartland community centers. However, I've already gone through the whole thing once, and as far as I remember all theoretical knowledge went straight out of my head when the real labour pains hit.

Luckily for me, S. had - under duress - actually attended one class with me and he was in no pain whatsoever so could actually remember quite clearly how to breathe. So there we sat, me moaning it hurt, him squeezing my thighs and huffing and puffing in an exemplary way. When I gaspingly tried to point out that it was easy for him to maintain a steady rhythm, the nurse told me to shut up and follow him along because "otherwise it'll just hurt more". (Did I mention plain speaking motivates me?) So I shut up, huffed, puffed, went into some sort of weird time warp survival zone for a couple of hours and the next thing I knew I had a daughter.




All this to say that I don't think I'll be attending any birthing classes here. I might make S. go for a refresher course though.

* After visiting several prenatal yoga classes, I have opted for Casa Santosa on Robertson Quay. I especially like Pharrah, who does the Thursday morning class, because the pace suits both my 20-week belly (still fairly flexible and able to do an actual work out) and my non-knowledge of yoga (patience, lots of posture correction). The classes are small and the instructors focus on helping mums find the right position for their body, instead of simply modelling the desired asana with their lithe, non-pregnant limbs.

** Writing this down brings back the memory of my prenatal gym instructor teaching us an ingenious way of hurting one another by squeezing a pressure point on the shoulder and then making us breathe while being manhandled by our fellow mummies. She must have been my Singaporean yoga instructor's spiritual sister.

dinsdag 28 augustus 2012

Plaatjespost & Picture Post: Our front door

Welcome, visitor! This is what it looks like when you step out of the elevator and onto our hallway. We live in a serviced apartment, meant for short term occupation (a few weeks to a few months)(yes, the length of our stay is slightly out of the ordinary). It's furnished in muted beige, olive and brown colours with big black and white prints on the walls, but we have managed to subvert the colour scheme into green, white and blue with a little help from Ikea and lots of pictures on the walls. 

On the 8th floor there is a pool and a breakfast room (yes, breakfast is included, which is handy when we run out of milk in the morning). We also get housekeeping every day (yes, that means daily clean towels and sheets) and if there is anything wrong maintenance will hurry up and fix it for us. Montly pest control comes and blasts all ants out of their evil little holes. Basically, this is the easy life.

The building is basically a square hollow tube and the open air hallway faces inwards (so that our balconies face outwards). Pictures of the red brick facade and pool can be found here, pictures of the inside of the house here, but what I'd like to show you today is the walk from the elevator to our front door, as demonstrated by E. who has developed a fascination with heels and golden shoes. MY heels and golden shoes. Also noteworthy: the pictures on the table next to the elevator. Bless. 











woensdag 22 augustus 2012

Melancholy brought on by bicycles

I miss my bicycle. It's actually the first time I've lived outside of the Netherlands and really, but really missed my bicycle. It's gotten to the point where I wistfully stare at cyclists from the confinement of my taxi cab window. Ireland, Bolivia, I just walked everywhere, it was fine.

But the Singaporean heat doesn't lend itself gracefully for walking, and neither does the Tamtam type of pregnancy. It lends itself beautifully to cycling, however. Except neither do I have a bike, nor is Singapore particularly safe for cyclists (S. saw the remains of the bike and came home quite shaken). The government is looking into it, after cyclists stirred up heated feelings with a couple of letters published on the internet.

So, I'm reluctant to get on a bike. I try to convince myself to use the public transport more often, but seeing as how time tends to warp itself around me, I usually end up taking taxis. You'd think that the convenience and comfort of a cool cab would far outweigh the sweat and toil on a bike (let me mention here that Singapore is not flat in the sense that the Netherlands is flat, but flat enough to create strong wind). But it doesn't.

I suppose it's the Dutchness of me. Interestingly enough, even though as a child I had a bike in Singapore (a blue BMX-bike, this is before BMX-riding became an Olympic sport), I did not learn to properly ride a bike until we moved back home. And then I learned it in my grandparents driveway, before we even moved into our own house. My grandparents used to live opposite an old people's home, and my dad kept trying to shush me: "Don't make such a fuss, you'll wake the pensioners." I was six years old at the time, which by Dutch standards, is actually really late to be taught the essential art of bicycle riding. (I think my brothers and sisters were up and riding around three years of age.)

Little E. used to love going on the bicycle when she was little (she has now transferred this love to mopeds and motorcycles).

There are actually quite a few park connectors to facilitate cycling around Singapore, however. It doesn't offer the Dutch straightforward use of the bike as transport, but give or take a little time, would get me to some of the places I visit reasonably often quite efficiently. Of course, the public parks do not offer quite enough challenges in the form of distance or speed for Mr Tamtam, but they might do nicely for outings for me and the little ones, a bit further on. We're thinking of getting a balance bike for E.'s next birthday. (We're also thinking of getting her a big box of duplo - we'll have to make up our minds.) 

So, who knows, this time next year, the three of us might be toddling around, following in the wake of swiftness personified. 

dinsdag 21 augustus 2012

Plaatjespost & Picture Post: Krabi and Ko Lanta

"There is no such thing as too much beach", I wrote in an earlier post. So we headed off to the home of white sands, turquoise seas and dramatic limestone cliffs rising up out the ocean: Thailand's Krabi province. And a lovely sight it was too, from the privacy of our secluded hillside villa.

Yes, it was every bit as wonderful and luxurious as those sentences sound. 

We hired a longboat, and told the guy: "Take us to beaches on islands." And he did and we swam and lay on our backs looking at the blue sky through the pine trees and wriggled our toes in the sand and ate corn cobs roasted over open beach fires. 

We visited James Bond island where S. re-enacted the entire sequence set on the island for us and where E. charmed all the Muslim sales women with her undiluted enthusiasm for their wares and their chairs. "Sit! Sit! Sit down!" she'd command me, while grabbing at all shell-lined necklaces in sight.

Then we went to a villa with a view to die for, enough space to house two families and private, partially shaded balcony where E. could run free (read: naked) while we lounged in the lounge chairs. Or the hammock. Or the deck chairs. Or just the cushions on the floor. We hired two mopeds and zoomed around the island, visited the nature park, the old town ("blink and you'll miss it", according to the Lonely Planet), the sea gypsy village of Expeditie Robinson fame and some more beaches. We ate lots of Thai food, the best in a roadside shack, and I even learned to make some of it myself. (For those of you on whom I have inflicted my previous green curry concoction: you can actually taste the new one.)

E. managed to nap in the babycot provided in the villa (though it took us the better part of an afternoon to convince her of the use of sleeping - still, the staying put in one place thing really works), she napped extensively on the mopeds while wearing the cutest red helmet which she took a fierce liking too and which had to be prised out of her hands upon leaving (she's still asking for it two weeks later and she still tries to climb on all motorcycles in sight, including fierce Harley Davidsons) and she discovered the joy of a sea breeze on her unclothed bum. 

Oh, it was generally wonderful. 

I think I've said that before, haven't I?

















vrijdag 17 augustus 2012

Drop en kaas en kwarktaart

De rust is weergekeerd in huize Tamtam - alle visite naar huis en de vakantie is voorbij. Kleine E. kan weer alleen in haar eigen bed in slaap vallen en is groot fan van Jip (ze doet niet aan drie lettergrepige woorden en refereert aan haarzelf als "baby").

Grote S. heeft zich weer in zijn werk gestort en is al de hele week laat thuis - al ligt dat ook aan zaken als ijsjes gaan eten met collega's om de late uren te verzachten en het sponsoren van roze cupcake evenementen van andere collega's.

Vrouw Tamtam heeft zich, onder bezielende leiding van haar zuster F., een weg door de Singaporese zwangerschapskledingwinkels gekocht en ziet er zowaar weer toonbaar uit - niet in het minst vanwege een bijpassende kapbeurt en pedicure (de nieuwe schoenen zijn hier te bewonderen).

Wij hebben de Olympische Spelen vrijwel geheel gemist, er is hier in huis nog geen woord gewijd aan de komende verkiezingen en de zon maakt braaf haar twaalf-urige tropische werkdagen vol. Kortom, wij zijn het contact met het Nederlandsche een beetje kwijt, vrees ik.

En dus poogde ik daar, geinspireerd door broeder P. en zijn vriendin IJ., recent iets aan te doen. Er is hier namelijk een winkel die catert voor Hollandsche expats - de German Market Place (de winkel catert hoofdzakelijk voor Duitse expats, maar heeft ook enkele schappen voor het kleine buurland gereserveerd). Niet alleen zijn hier beschuiten, pannenkoekenbeslag, stroop, appeltaartmix en muisjes te krijgen (zowel in roze als blauw, handig voor januari) maar er is ook een rek met diverse dropsoorten.

Een heel rek. Met apekoppen, salmiakritsen, heksehyl, schoolkrijtjes, muntdrop, katjes, dropveters, zachte zoete drop, harde zoute drop, oud-hollandse drop, nieuw-hollandse drop en vooral geen door buitenlanders geherinterpreteerde 'liquorice' of 'lakritz'.

Dus daar heb ik enkele kilo's van ingeslagen. (En een doos bastognekoeken en bokkepootjes voor Man Tamtam, zodat hij van mijn drop af zou blijven.) En die zijn inmiddels op. (Het is twee weken later.) Ach, wat was dat fijn, die drop. Haast net zo fijn als die koelkast vol kaas die achter mij staat te brommen. We rantsoeneren onszelf (of: ik rantsoeneer mij, want Man Tamtam eet niet zo heel vaak thuis en mag dan bovendien graag sushi halen bij de Japanse supermarkt in de kelder). En ik rantsoeneer E., want die weet feilloos alle kaas in huis op te speuren en ziet niet in waarom je dat heerlijke goedje zou verpesten door er een kleffe boterham met - gruwel - korst aan toe te voegen.

De bastognekoeken daarentegen keken ons dag na dag verwijtender aan vanuit hun onaangebroken verpakking, totdat ik me zo schuldig voelde dat ik er maar een kwarktaart van heb gebakken. Zonder kwark, want die kon ik in onze lokale supermarkt niet vinden (Japanners en zuivel - nee). Maar Griekse yoghurt blijkt ook prima te kunnen.

Gouden tip: niet alleen boter en gemalen bastognekoeken gebruiken voor de bodem, maar ook een paar eetlepels jam van de vrucht die de taart haar smaak geeft.

Ja hoor, we overleven het wel tot we weer in Nederland zijn.

woensdag 15 augustus 2012

Singaporeans do things differently: public toilets

Jumping right back in, ignoring the past week and a half of deadly silence (white beaches, turquoise sea, lots of limestone cliffs and buckets of tom yam)(yes, there was wifi. I hang my head in shame.)

The lovely Crystal over at Expat Bostonians has actually already covered part of this subject recently, so please head over for the American point of view to her blog. (Actually, if you look at the top of her blog, there are reviews of nursing rooms. Many malls in Singapore have dedicated places for nursing babies! With curtains! And chairs! I found this a stupefyingly wonderful idea and momentarily regretted weaning the carbs-loving E. so I couldn't actually try them on for size -though seem very big, big enough to fit in a pram- but as things stand now I should be able to update you lot around January next year.)

You know how in the Netherlands you can always depend on McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken for a nice clean free toilet visit? Well, you can't in Singapore. Not because it's not clean (Singapore does not really do "not clean"), but because they don't have toilets. None of the restaurants located in malls or office buildings have their own sanitary provisions - the mall or building provides the toilets. The quality of the toilets, I have found, depends on the mall (by which I mean that Louis Vuitton and Prada-harbouring malls have sumptuous luxurious-looking toilets with dark gleaming tiles and spheric lighthing, whereas my personal hang-outs tend to have more basic white tiled toilets with scenes of happy people painted on the walls in equally happy colours. No difference in cleanliness.)

And you know how in the Netherlands you'd avoid public toilets in places like train stations, national parks and near the beach like the plague since it would likely cause an outbreak of the aforementioned? AND they'd make you pay for them?* AND there is never any toilet paper or soap in the dispenser?

Well my friends, in Singapore It Is Done Differently. Not only are the toilets free (FREE), they are generally clean and usually there's enough paper to go around. And sometimes, like in the Botanic Gardens or on Sentosa, the toilets (and, in the case of Sentosa, the public showers) are so lovely and filled with comfortable benches and soft lighting around the large, but not intrusive mirrors, and the sounds of the jungle and the sea rustling in the background and the light breeze coming through the open doorways and conveniently high windows, that I could happily move in and live there.

Of course, I have ended up in, well, less nice places. In those cases I like to opt for the Asian style loo (in Europe more commonly known as those French ones along the highway or on camp sites): the squatter, where only the soles of my shoes are in actual contact with the surroundings. See? No need for ickyness, since I keep myself clean. Even dirty public toilets in Singapore are better than the ones back home.

The Singaporean public toilets are an unsung highlight of the city and make life so, so much easier and more enjoyable. It truly is a creature comfort.

So please, if you ever visit Singapore, wait with doing your business until you hit the Botanic Gardens or Sentosa. If you can't manage that long, drink a large bottle of water at the entrance. I promise you, it's worth it.

ps. For obvious reasons, there are no pictures with this post.

* For non-Dutch readers: if you truly want to hurt a Dutch person, make 'm pay. Literally. Also: if you want to convey your deepest love and devotion to a Dutch person: offer to pay for them. I have been told the Dutch are very like the Chinese in this respect. Ah, a subject for another post! Must make note!

vrijdag 3 augustus 2012

Al onze gasten zijn weer vertrokken.

"Anne Mie", zegt E. vol verwachting als ik haar ophaal van het kinderdagverblijf. "Nee, tante A. is op vakantie", leg ik uit.

"Daan Jel", stelt E. "Oom D. is ook op vakantie", zeg ik.

Even is het stil. Maar E. is niet voor een gat te vangen.

"Ohm Peeh Ur!" Helaas: "Die is ook op vakantie", zeg ik. En ik voorkom de volgende alvast: "Met tante IJ."

E. fronst. E. denkt. Het huis zal bij thuiskomst toch niet leeg zijn? Aha! "Flooo!"

Ja. Tante F. is weliswaar nu nog in Vietnam, maar die komt nog een dagje buurten voor vertrek vanaf Changi naar Nederland. Maar dat is pas over een week en E.'s inzicht in de toekomst reikt nog niet veel verder dan een paar minuten. Dus: "Tante F. is ook op vakantie."

Nee, E. vindt het maar niks, zo alleen thuis met haar ouders. Suffe boel.

"Opa!"

Gelukkig is er altijd nog skype.

woensdag 1 augustus 2012

Singaporeans do things differently: shopping hours

Some things don't change. As it turned out, one of those things are the Singaporean shopping hours.

"We would pop out for a bit of shopping on Sunday evening", grandmother Tamtam reminisced when she visited us. Shopping-with-children took her a bit of getting used to after coming home in the mid-eighties, when she couldn't just put us to bed and head out while grandfather Tamtam did his fatherly duty at home.

It was a full decade-and-a-half before the Good Christians for the first time ever did not manage to manoever themselves into power and thus could no longer stop the advance of prolonged opening hours in the Netherlands.* I can still remember the first supermarket opening its doors past 6 pm as well as the panic waves that would roll through student houses upon discovering the empty bread sack after 5 pm on a Saturday evening. That necessitated a trek down to an out-of-town gas station** in order to get food for the morrow since everything else would be closed on Sundays. Things have changed since that time.

But even so, in the Netherlands shopping hours beyond the generally agreed upon hours of business, i.e. 9 am to 6 pm on weekdays and 10 am to 5 pm on Saturday - yes, this means generally everything closes on Sundays  - have to be fought for tooth and nail. Of course, there is the very generous weekly "shop night" when shops stay until the incredibly late hour of - gasp - 9 pm. This is either a Thursday or a Friday, depending on the city.

In contrast, Singaporean shops open from 10 am to 10 pm generally (unless it's a really posh mall, then it doesn't open until 11 am). Every day of the week, including Sundays. Lately, I've been following in the footsteps of grandmother Tamtam and I don't head out until the offices close. This way, S. gets a lovely evening to himself (music! Xbox! computer! no talking!) and I get to peruse the wares leisurely, while neither of us has to chase E. down aisles or curb her enthusiasm for pulling down towering stacks of T-shirts and pushing buttons on expensively fragile hi-fi equipment.***

("She is fast", commented the current visitors, uncle D. and auntie A.)

I am usually accompanied by many Singaporeans, who enjoy nothing better than a little retail therapy after office hours and afterwards taking a bite to eat in one of the myriad of food outlets of all types and qualities available in the malls. This is the Singaporean lifestyle.

So imagine the surprise of the Cheekiemonkies clan who, while staying in Amsterdam (known throughout the Netherlands for their overly generous shopping hours - some shops open every Sunday!), when after a full day's sightseeing and an ethnic dinner they wanted to pop out for a shopping expedition... And everything was closed!

I have taken to the late hours like a fish to water (no surprise to those who know me, I think). What has tripped me up on occasion, is the lack of early hours. Even though we live above a supermarket, there is no running down for milk in the morning, as it doesn't open until 10 am. (I have to add though: it is a very fancy supermarket. Apparently other more low-cost supermarkets do open earlier and the wet market keeps to globally agreed market hours, i.e. 6 am to 11 am). And heading out in the morning to look for shoes turned into a bit of a running expedition, as the shops didn't open until 11 am and I had to pick up E. from daycare at 12.30.

I still managed to snag 3 pairs though.

But the wildest shopping experience of all to be had in Singapore is Mustafa's. It is open 24/7, it is crammed with stuff, it is the size of a housing block and it sells everything either at the same price or cheaper than anywhere else. It also sells stuff I didn't know was for sale. Or existed.




* This might not be factually correct. It is, however, true.
** Out-of-town gas stations: another thing that does not exist in Singapore, seeing as how out of town also means out of the country.
*** Amazingly, the staff's reaction to our little destructive tornado tearing through the shop generally varies from "adorable", "so cute" to "so happy, lah!"