Friday, July 23, 2010

Rejuvenating Genting Highlands

This June holiday, my family visited Genting Highlands for a good 4 days, 3-nights again. It was a refreshing break as the weather on top of the mountain was cool, comforting and offered the much needed respite from the sweltering summer heat.

The view from the top of the mountain was awesome. The puffy, white clouds were drifting down into the atmosphere. As they touched the heat from the atmosphere, its tails tapered away and vapourized into the thin air. It was a sight to behold and to marvel at the wonders of nature.

Fabulous Family Fun at the Peak

Atop the mountain, we were away from the bustle and hustle of the city life. We were transported into another world where fun and excitement never end. The children loved the theme park with both indoor and outdoor parks offering exhilarating thrills. As for us, we especially appreciated the safety aspect that came with the rides. The cooling weather was a big plus point. It was not a coincidence that this theme park was rated amongst the best in Malaysia.

We stayed at First World Hotel because that was where all the actions were. The key attraction of the outdoor theme park was the Dinosaur Land. My two boys never failed to play make-believe that they were dinosaur-slayers or some poor victims who were stranded in an island and constantly in the run away from these humongous creatures. There were also carnival games where my hubby and children tried their try at "fishing" rubber ducks. As for the indoor theme park, the "gondola ride on the sky" was their favorite. After a hard day of play, the entire family proceeded to the relaxing heated swimming pool. The waterslides kept the children occupied and mini-waterfall that poured gushing water massaged the adults' sore backs. The night was still young after the stimulating hot dip and after a sumptuous dinner, the children had dollops of fun at the video arcades.

There was a bonanza of entertainment at the peak. The shopping galore was aplenty. Besides shopping, our family also made time for movie catching the latest Toy Story 3 and also a magic live show, "Dazzle" at the Pavilion. My husband and I also managed to catch two old movies on the TV - "Which Planet Are You From" and "Love Thy Neighbour", while our two little guys enjoyed their cartoons and bedtime story from yours truly. I also managed to have some "me-time" reading the famous "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill.

Foresight and Going Forth

As I read I could not but admire the foresight of Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong, a prominent Malaysian businessman. He conceived the idea for a Las Vegas-cum-Disneyland style theme park in the 1960s. At that time, investing in construction at an altitude of 2,000 m above sea level was considered absurd. Yet, Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong was firm in his decision. Just the building of the tortuous and impossibly steep road cutting through the dense, jungle-covered hills took 7 years. His persistence paid off when the government conceded to allow Malaysia's only casino to operate.

All in all, it was a rejuvenating trip and it also set me thinking about what I really want in life. Perservance, persistence and patience are the important ingredients of success. There is also much in common between Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong and Steve Jobs who once said "Stay Foolish, Stay Hungry." This is the renewed energy that I shall instill in my two little boys and bring back to work.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Woodlands Waterfront

My colleagues ask me where my favorite vacation place is. I tell them I love to take leave and stay in Singapore. They burst into laughter. But it is true.

When I was younger, I tended to be more footloose and wanderlust hit me ever so often. But this disappears after I have two boys. They keep me rooted and that is a blessing in disguise. I am then given the opportunity to explore the nooks and crannies of Singapore. Of course, it helps that Singapore has also been embracing other aspects in life, not just blindly pursuing the number 1 spot as the fastest economy on earth.

I am duly rewarded in my quest to find the next beautiful place in Singapore and Woodlands Waterfront is the latest gem to be added into my treasure trove of places to go in Singapore.

My family make our way via car on a Sunday morning. I understand that parking is currently free. Standard facilities like toilet and water coolers are available but we have not seen any shops in the vicinity of the park.

The jetty.

Situated along Admiralty West road where a stretch of old warehouses used to be, is now Woodlands Waterfront. The jetty used by the warehouses is now refurnished and opened to public. The jetty and many parts of the coast is opened for fishing.

View from Woodlands Waterfront: Across are the buildings in Johore Bahru.

The somber structure in the sea cuts a forlorn figure.

We love the waterfront park, which overlooks the Straits of Johor. I understand that more is to come when the remaining six hectares of the Woodlands Waterfront is opened by end of the year. There will be Catilevered Promenade, nature area, trails and green spaces. When fully completed, it will be linked to the nearby Admiralty Park and the park connector along Woodlands Centre Road and Admiralty West. The Woodlands Waterfront will also add on to 1.5km of the 150km-Round Island Route, which allows seamless strolling, jogging or cycling around Singapore.

It looks like another good place to go. However, the tree foliage is too thin to offer much shade against the menancing heat. So do bring along umbrella and/or hats, slather loads of sunblock to protect yourself against the scorching sun

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sawadee Ka in 2000

The first and only time I visited Thailand was in 2000, with my husband. Thailand was still the "Land of Smiles" and it was a place where cheap deals were aplenty. The latter was a big plus point as we had only joined the workforce for a couple of years and were low on cash.

We scoured the local tour agencies for the cheapest package tour to Thailand and found one at around S$500 per pax - most of the meals in package. It was a 5 days/ 4 nights tour package which would offer us the opportunity to visit Bangkok and Pattaya. It was a good deal considering that budget airlines were a non-existence then and we took a full-fledged airline - Thai Airways. Thai Airways was then celebrating its 40th anniversary and I still vividly remembered the beautiful and graceful air stewardess who dished out the collar-pin to commemorate the special occasion.

The Gem Scam

One very important lesson which I learnt was never to buy jewellery in a foreign land. We heard about the abundance of precious and semi-precious stones and metals, the relative low cost of labour and plenty of skillful craftsmen and designers. But there are also unscrupulous con men. The jewellery scams in Thailand were well-publicised. Stranger will come up to you with promises to take you to 'a good place for gems' and a too-good-to-be-true deal. The same applies to taxi or tuk-tuk drivers with similar promises. They are usually collecting commission and the gems that you pay with your hard-earned cash are worth only a fraction as they are of inferior quality.

Chatuchak Weekend Market

One would not have visited Bangkok if he had not gone to the famous Chatuchak Market. It covered an enormous 35 arces of land with over 15,000 stalls. More than 200,000 visitors thronged the place every Saturday and Sunday in search of good buys.

You can virtually find anything under the sun hawking in this market, ranging from clothing and fashion items, household goods, crafts, pets, art and collectables, plants, food and etc. Yes, virtually anything, you name it, you have it. The only challenge here is how to to find them. The stallholders seem to have a mind of themselves in deciding where to peddle their wares.

As we had just bought our matrimonial home, we took the opportunity to buy fake fruits that looked like the real McCoy. They looked so real that we almost could not believe our eyes. The biggest giveaway was in their touch and feel. They were much lighter than real fruits and lacked the lustre feel of real fruits. But they had adorned our dining table for a good eight years before we finally decided to dispose them when we did a major renovation to our home.

The Floating Market

The floating market was colourful, noisy and very touristy. The transactions were more concerned with tourists than locals. However, it was a good experience. The bulk of the little souvenirs which we bought back were from the floating market. It was really chaotic place where the small 'klongs' or canals were filled with small flat boats jolting for position, expertly paddled by mature ladies ready to stop and bargain at a moment's notice.

Glitzy Nightlife

Then there was the glitzy nightlife. We visited the famous Tiffany Cabaret Show in Pattaya. The bevy of professional transvestite entertainers were very talented with their artistic impersonalationns through songs and tales of love and adventure. The experience was further heightened by the fantastic sound and light show.

Amusement Park, Zoo and Shopping

Also in our itinerary was a visit to the amusement park which looked pretty flimsy. My husband took the spin of his life, suffered a nasty stomach churn and avoided similar ride henceforth. We also visited the zoo with domesticated tigers as their key attraction, that was before the tiger mauling in Thailand. And of course, more shopping.

I never visited Thailand again after that trip. My inability to speak Thai is a great giveaway that I am a foreigner in a foreign land. Though things are cheap, somehow, I find Thailand to be too touristy for my preference. Perhaps being a Singaporean makes me feel awkward to engage in bargaining. And I feel as if I will always end up with the shorter end of the stick when I am engaged in bargaining.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Raise-a-Reader Workshop - The Primary School Years

I have just attended the Raise-a-Reader workshop to enlighten and educate parents on how they can play a supporting role to raise the reading levels of children. Here are the key learning points.

General Comments

It was a very information-packed session and it spanned 2 hours. The speakers obviously have done much research and put together a very comprehensive information package for parents to refer to after the session. However, due to the very wide range of topics covered - almost too exhaustive for me - it was a challenge to remain attentive throughout the entire session. The speakers did try to engage the audience by asking questions but there was limited response as the question only called for a one-liner kind of answer.

Perhaps, the speakers could divide the audience into groups of 5 and allow them to discuss about the challenges that they faced in raising a reader in their child. Afterall, the maximum number of audience was 30 and this breaking up session will enable parents to network and learn from others. This would also promote more response with the speakers as the audience would find "safety-in-number".

Key Learning Points

The speakers shared about three categories of readers - namely, Emergent, Early and Fluent Reader. To nurture the spark in reading, do turn off the television and other distractions and be familiar with the stories that your child would be reading. For those who are reading bedtime stories to their children, be anitmated in your story telling. Encourage your children to read through leading by example and have a little library corner at home.

For those with emergent and early readers, you can start with books on rhyming, engage in reading activities with your child, play word and sound games. Do visit the library and bookshops and allow your child to choose the books. Allow your child to ask questions anytime during the storytelling sessions and not for questions to be raised at the end of it.

I particularly like the recommended booklist for the different categories of readers. As a rule of thumb, emergent readers would be around age of 6 to 8 years old. Early readers in the 8-10 age group and fluent readers would be those aged 10-12.

Books for The Emergent Reader
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin (JP MAR-[BA])
- Chicka, Chicka Boom, Boom by Bill Martin (JP MAR)
- Mouse Mess by Linnea Riley (JP RIL)
- Who Took The Cookie From the Cookie Jar? by Bonnie Lass (JP LAS)
- Dr Seuss, the Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss (JP SEU)

Books for The Early Reader
- Are You My Mother? by P.D Eastman (JP EAS)
- Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel (JP LOB)
- If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura J Numeroff (JP NUM)
- Amelia Bedelia (Highly Recommended) by Peggy Parish (JP PAR)
- Tiny Seed by Eric Carle (JP 582 CAR)

An example of Word Game (taken from Riddle Rhymes by Charles Ghigna, J 818 GHI) which the child would enjoy:

Here I sit upon the shelf.
I'm not a toy. I'm not an elf.

Yet I can take you far away.
To any place, night or day.

We'll travel to each foreign land.
Yet I will stay right in your hand.

My Friends and I, you will see,
Are full of facts and fantasy.

So pick me up and take a look.
Now you know - I am a ...... BOOK.

Other resources which you may be interested in would include searching for relevant materials using the keywords "kids crossword" and "enchanted learning".

Books for The Fluent Reader

What I find most heartening here is that a fluent reader does not agree with everything that is read. So the fear about the fantasy element in books such as Harry Potter may not be well-founded. But each child is different, as parents, we need to also monitor the child's behavior and prescribe the action needed accordingly.

Some recommended books include:
- Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown (JS BRO)
- Two Times the Fun by Beverly Cleary (JS CLE)
- The Genie in the Book by Cindy Trumbore (JS TRU)
- Revolting Rhymes (Highly Recommended) by Roald Dahl (J 821 DAH)

Parents can also google for American Library Association for recommended booklist.

Reluctant Reader

The most challenging type of readers would be the reluctant readers. They tend to say "I Can't", "I Don't Know How", "I'd Rather", "I Don't Care" and etc.

To encourage them to read, we need to be creative. Does a book necessarily mean one with words? No! There are currently pictorial books for children that would tell a story without words. Magazines and graphic novels are books too! Unlike the yesteryears where graphic novels or comics as they are also known, were plagued with bad English, today, they are pretty well-written.

Follow the interest of the child. E.g. if he likes cars, get books or magazines on cars. While majority of children enjoy visual learning, some would prefer sound and action. So we can try audio books and engage in physical activities such as acting out the scene in the book.

More Resources

For those who are interested to know more, you can access for a copy of "Reader Profiling" brochure.

I find this piece of information the most useful, we can access a list of e-books from the NLB e-sources. It is at Click on Register on the left menu. Afterwhich, you can log in and click on Browse - For Children and access the TumbleBook Library (Story Books) for P1 to P3 pupils, Tumble Readables (Chapter Books) for P4 pupils, Tumble Readables (Middle School Readers or YA/Teen) for P5 pupils and Tumble Readables (Children Classics) for P6 pupils.

I hope you will find the above materials useful. I am going to the eresources now...