Mini review

Things I have not done since I started the PhD:

1. Crafty stuff with the kids. I had grand hopes of being super-involved due to work flexibility. Ha! My schedule got so out of control, I could barely manage an extra 45 minutes with them. I mentioned this to one of the mums at the kindy and she said: “Oh don’t worry, I don’t work and I don’t do crafty stuff. To be honest, it’s quite boring.” Feel better.

2. Exercised: I was sure I’d lose a tonne of weight because surely I could get an hour in every day. Ha again! I ended up not even completing the yoga class I signed up for, which frankly, I didn’t miss once when I was working.

3. Read a lot on my topic: This is the biggest irony. I have not even been able to properly work on the thing I’m supposed to be researching. Because I loaded up on coursework and had a tutorial to take. Gahhhh

Things I have done:

1. Read a lot about French feminism and developed a love of Luce Irigaray even though I don’t agree with her final position on the question of difference.

2. Bonded with fellow students who I think don’t think I’m the boringest aunty around.

3. Dropped Benji to school a fair bit and developed relationship with teachers, other mums, hosted play dates, etc.

4. Written a paper, which might be of some use.

5. Completed a semester of being a tutor and impersonating being a teacher who knows what she’s doing. I have some ideas how I might do better next semester.

6. Seen a very good counsellor.

Normally, this would be the time to take stock of the year etc. But frankly, I can’t be arsed to get into it in detail. It’s been a crazy year, and frankly, the part of it when I wasn’t in the PhD programme seems like another life. My marriage has been a rollercoaster, and its still a work in progress though I don’t have much patience about working on it anymore. The breakthrough is that we have an underlying bedrock of love or affection or whatchamacallit that counts for something and are communicating a wee bit better after the fact if not pre-emptively. Lost interest in certain old friends – I used to feel bad about these relationships drifting and now that I’m going to see them, I realise I don’t care if I do or don’t, though seeing them might change that. Honestly, a part of me is done agonising, if that’s possible with me. I feel like I should just bludgeon chaotically on and not feel too bad about having not thought things through.

Normally, I’d have some existential goal for the coming year. But I’m very clear what I want:

1. To present a paper at at least one conference.

2. To catch up on all the reading I haven’t been able to do.

3. To be a better teacher. Though I don’t care tooo much about this.

4. To count to 10 more before reacting to the husband. How many years have I been saying this though? Should I give up on this goal since it’s clearly not happening? It’s a fine line between silence and resentment that just simmers and screaming to everyone’s alarm.

That is all. Back to the books.

My phone is dead, long live my phone

So apparently you cannot fling an iphone to the ground multiple times (with long intervals in between) without it breaking down. To its credit, it took more than a year. It would have been nice if it had chosen to die on me within the year, because then it would have been within the warranty period, but life never works out like that, does it?

So yeah, the phone finally copped it. Although visions of a new phone began floating through my mind, I quickly came down to earth (nudged by V) because I cannot really afford a new phone now. Nor do I want a new one actually. I really like my phone, and it’s been only a year. I did know that it was on its last leg though because the last time if fell, part of it bulged out of the case and it took a bit of deep breathing and a sharp crack to get it back into place.

Anyway, V who has never been a fan of repairing electronics suddenly decided that we should try to repair this. I really had my doubts because although its not that old, the phone has really taken a beating, between the kids flinging it around and me the klutz. I guess the difference between this one and my old phone, the iphone 3G, was that the latter only had me and my butterfingers to contend with and not the rage of Mimi’s right hand. Also, because the iphone C has a pretty cover, I kept it case-less for the longest time.

So urged by V, I called the hotline. I was just getting set to explain the situation to someone with Hong Kong English which is usually the case on these phone lines, when someone with super-fluent English in an Aussie accent picked up. He was very friendly and helpful. He took me through a number of steps to see if my phone could be resuscitated. Unfortunately, though the software seems to be working, the screen seems to have conked off. Fortunately, I could get an appointment at the Apple store that evening at a time that suited me.

I wasn’t hopeful, but we went anyway. The store is always a sight because there is usually an actual line of people (tourists, most often from the Mainland) waiting to get in. We got the eye because we waltzed in due to our appointment.

The experience of the Apple store – if you haven’t been to one – is also pretty cool. The shop assistants do everything, including billing, with their own phones. Sort of a demo of the product itself. It’s usually a good experience. You’re left to yourself to play with the products, unless you need something and then someone is there pretty quick, even given the throng.

Anyway, the technician pretty much told us that we could give it in ‘for repair’ but essentially, what they’d do is quote us HK$2000 and give us a new phone. This is more expensive than we had expected, but in my mind, if it’s a new phone, it’s not a bad deal. Because I always feared that even if they ‘repaired’ it, it wouldn’t really run for very long, though V had more faith in the repair process.

So I turned my phone in, and then was phoneless till we figured out a new phone for me. Again, we didn’t just run out and buy a replacement phone. V floated the idea of trying to use a really crappy phone we have at home and although I was quite sure it wouldn’t work, I agreed (I don’t think it’s going to work.) I could get a cheap phone really cheap and yet, I’m ok with not. I called a friend and asked if she had an extra.

V is always telling me I’m addicted to my phone. Probably I am. I do look at it first thing in the morning before even getting out of bed. It helps me get out of bed. I know. I should be rushing out to hug the kids who are already awake but what can I say, I’m a reluctant riser.

Thing is, before I had a phone, I had a book. I was never the person who wanted to interact with people more than ideas. I was always lost in my own spiral of thoughts and interaction with some non-living-breathing-interface. The phone actually is easier than a book because I don’t get so sucked in. Contrary to popular opinion, ahem.

So I didn’t have a phone for two days, and V kept teasing me about it. I suppose he was looking for signs of a total collapse. But I was okay. There were moments I reached for the phone and it wasn’t there and I just shrugged and did something else. That someone else might have been the iPad, but not when we were out. Or in bed.

V always contends that I don’t talk to him because I’m always on the phone, and this unintended experiment has shown that I don’t talk to him because I don’t have that much to say anymore. So if I don’t have the phone, it’s not like I’m talking 90 to the dozen anyway. There was a time when I’d fill every silence with conversation, but with him, somewhere along the line we switched places and I became the silent one. I was replicating him and then became him. And I don’t want to be chatter-chatter anymore. Sometimes, often, I know that my own thoughts are going to be more interesting than a conversation just for the sake of it, and I don’t have the patience to test that theory anymore.

And I think this is okay. It’s not some sad gaping fact that we’re not going blah blah at each other every moment. I’ve actually come around to V’s position, that’s the irony of it, and now he can’t handle it. Maybe because my silence makes him insecure (just like his used to do to me, though his could be attributed to the male personality while I was always chatty even for a girl.)

Also, with the kids. Possibly not having the phone made me more engaged with them, but I’m not sure. I’m coming to realise that I’m as engaged as is possible for me, because I never claimed to be super interested in kids in the first place. I find mine a tonne of fun, but there are lots of times I’m spacey and not awww how wonderful that you jumped off the table for the hundredth time. So with the phone, I might space out on it, but without it, I might be a tad more engaged, but I might also just space out in my own head which I’ve had three decades of practice of.

So yeah, this whole thing about if we didn’t have this technology we’d be having ‘real’ interactions may not quite cut it with me. Maybe 3%-5% more, but not much more than that in my case.

Four

The other day Benji was lying on top of me and V said: “He’s almost as big as you.” This is not exactly true, but yeah, he’s a tall kid and he’s gaining on me and last week he turned four.

(I still cradle him in my arms sometimes and we pretend he’s a baby. Not that often, but more than Mimi would ever let me.)

We had decided that we wouldn’t do a big deal for his birthday, but as the date drew nearer, a plan started taking shape in my mind. We had planned to take Benji and Mimi to a nearby indoor playground (the kind with a jungle gym of slides and those balls to crash into) as a treat, so I decided to invite the two kids Benji has been having playdates with. The playroom is the mall near their school and there’s a pizza hut there, so we could have lunch together. I asked the mums and they were game for it.

It was the simplest and most effective celebration. I didn’t really do a thing, not even make a booking, which resulted in mild panic on the day itself. But it was fine. While heading to pick up Benji from school, I went up to the playroom and bought entry tickets for all of us (small heart attack when I saw the playroom was super crowded – I think a kindergarten had booked it for the morning) and reserved a table at Pizza Hut. This made me a tad late in picking up the kids, but that turned out to be a good thing because I was stressing about this one kid that we hadn’t invited, and by the time our kids got their shoes on, most of the others had left.

Pizza Hut lunch was a good choice as it’s easy to get something to suit everyone. The kids were fairly orderly till the end, and anyway the restaurant wasn’t super crowded.

The kids had a ball in the play area afterwards, though the mums were flagging. Mimi overextended herself had had a meltdown, which was the only false note. I had picked up some books at a sale, which I used as giveaways along with stickers.

Benji’s school allows us to send a cake to be shared with the class, and I had planned to do that, although it was proving hard to locate a nut-free one. In the interim, Benji started saying he didn’t want me to send a cake to school. I was concerned that this was an exhibition of not being willing to share, and while there might have been an element of that, underneath it all I detected a reluctance to be the centre of attention.

After trying to convince him and getting scolded by V, I finally explained the situation to the school. Benji’s teacher later told me that Benji didn’t want to talk about his birthday much but they did sing for him. I witnessed a mum wishing him and him going: “Why is everyone wishing me?” with a sheepish look.

I see myself in him. It was only when I was twenty-something that I looked back on my childhood birthday parties, the ones my mum took so much trouble over, and realised I had not enjoyed them all that much. I was stressed out, and the only lucky thing is that my sister and I shared a party. I think I enjoyed the later celebrations which were something casual like a movie or a sleepover with a smaller group much better. In my twenties, my boyfriend would harangue me into having a combined big do for our birthdays and the final straw came on my 20th, a party that was according to me in my self-consciousness and stress, a disaster. Now looking back, I don’t think why I felt my life was unraveling because people refused to dance, but that’s the thing about me, I’m hypersensitive on my birthday and an anxious host and these two things are not a good combination.

But this is not about me. Rather, because I can understand a person not wanting to be the centre of attention, I can see the telltale signs of stress in my child. I noticed it last year before his big party, though he had a good time in the end. Benji’s school principal told me her oldest son was the same and she hadn’t realised until much later that he did not enjoy the big dos.

So I did this one thing right I think. My son will have the birthdays he wants, which thankfully are within our purview to arrange. He had a lovely time playing with his besties, and opening his presents and cutting a cake at home later. We sang happy birthday to him three times because I couldn’t get the video recording right. We skyped with the grandparents. The weekend before V’s brothers-in-law Benji’s uncles landed up in HK as part of a boy’s trip and they showered the kids with attention and presents before they left. So he was surrounded by cars and transformers and superheroes.

He was happy.

 

Boys and girls

More and more, I’m realising how people use gender categories to explain everything, and it makes me want to laugh and scream in equal measure.

Some time ago, had a tense little discussion in my philosophy class where I proposed that the sex (I am not even going to make the gender/sex distinction anymore because the two words are not really that different. The sex categories – male and female – are constructs too, just as ‘gender’ is) is not really a thing, or at least not really a thing to be dwelled on, and got mini lecture from prof on how the human mind needs to think in terms of categories. Um. Well, yeah, but they can be more than ‘this’ and ‘that’ no? They can be ‘this’ and ‘this’ and ‘this’ etc. The need to stop at two is just …lazy.

Seriously, I think a lot of the time, people stick with the girl-boy explanation out of sheer laziness.

The other day, a mother in my building whose daughter used to go the Benji’s school, asked me if Benji’s birthday was coming up. I said yes, but that we’re not really doing anything, because I’m busy and Benji isn’t too bothered. Immediately, she writes back ‘yeah, boys won’t ask.’ Hello, it is possible that Benji is just a kid that doesn’t want a hoopla for his birthday. I say this because I was also that kid. I noticed last year that Benji was kind of stressed out before his birthday party, though he ended up having a good time. And this year, he’s been saying ‘do I have to have a birthday?’ and explicitly doesn’t want us to send a cake to school. I am sensitive to this, because only as a grown up I realised I hated being the centre of attention on my birthday. It took be 20 years to stand up for what I wanted. So maybe I’m a boy. (In fact, increasingly I think that’s the simplest way to explain my personality to people: ‘I’m a man … in drag.) Or maybe this explanation is just nonsense, and Benji doesn’t want a birthday hoopla because he is a human being with his own likes and dislikes that do not conform to a gender category, just as most people’s don’t if we could only give up our obsession with categorising.

Also my helpers. Often when they want Benji to do something, they go, “because you’re a boy”, or Mimi isn’t doing it “because she’s a girl.” It’s almost a reflex response. Often, they could well say “because she’s smaller” because that’s the real reason. But sometimes, it’s more complicated to explain why they can’t do something and they just go with the gender thing. It’s like gender is the new God, now that we can’t say ‘God will punish you anymore’.

The Mad Momma had once written about how if you really want your kids to internalise your value system, you can’t leave them to helpers. And I’m seeing this now. My helpers are awesome and most of the time, our value system’s match. Like, my helper has really taught Benji and Mimi some good habits. But the gender thing is a step too far for them.

My policy with my helpers is not to interfere too much because I have chosen to let them have a hand in raising my children, and I cannot micromanage. But the gender thing has gotten out of hand, and a couple of times, I’ve snapped, and I think now they’re realising that this is a sticking point with me. So at least in my presence, I don’t hear this boy-girl explanation. But obviously, ingrained mindsets are hard to break and I can’t say what’s going on when I’m not there.

Doesn’t help that V also resorted to the ‘let’s do boy things together’ dialogue. It backfire severely when Benji insisted V do everything with him, and Mimi just to be contrary said ‘I want Daddy’ and he had two kids hanging off his arms, both screaming at each other. I just sat back and crossed my arms. But the ‘boy and boy’, ‘girl and girl’ thing has stuck and I can only be the counter-current.

Even in my own house, I cannot break the dynamic. And I am a feminist. So sorry, I cannot buy the essentialist argument yet. Because even those of us with the best (non-gender-essentialist) intentions have to raise our kids in a society where people are obsessed with gender. We have no pure experimental environment to solve the nature/nurture debate on gender. Till such time, I’m leaning towards nurture.

Essential reading on this topic: The case of Indian athlete Dutee Chand.

Happenings

My life right now is kind of schizo. I’m tyring to record it, partly to vent, partly so I can look back and laugh.

1) Another playdate happened. Each of these is like an event that I come out of with nerves frazzled. This time at Indian girl’s house. She is not a great friend of the two boys and I wondered if forcing these friendships works. Well, from this experience it seems like maybe it does. She seems to be growing on my boy, so maybe they will be closer in school too having now had some common experiences out of school. In fact, at some point the other boy was left out and he had a mini meltdown.

Their house is ginormous. Why can some people with normal apartment houses not invite us over? These people, in addition to garden with trampoline, have entire room with toys for their kids. I on the other hand have a husband who thinks two baskets of toys is too much. The thing with these large houses is that the living rooms are beautiful etc (whereas mine functions as an extended playroom, dining room, TV room, and closet) and there are designated areas where the kids can play, which the kids don’t always want to abide by so one has to rush over shooing them into preferred area.

Also, I feel like I was on edge, constantly correcting my child even when he was doing normal kid things like talking loudly (one mother kept saying ‘inside voices’) or playing with a noisy toy. And Benji was pretty well behaved. He ate himself beautifully.

After the disaster playdate at our place, we have been insisting the kids sit in one place and eat, and that Benji eat by himself. It’s been a week and it’s been going ok. I made the mistake of mentioning this to one of the mums at the playdate and she was like “they’ll do what they can get away with” semi-sanctimoniously and I was like arrgh, can’t people just commiserate instead of getting know-it-all in these matters.

I think I feel the judginess of modern parenting too keenly and need to find a balance whereby I let some things go with my kid even if it’s not the other parent’s preferred style. It’s looking like this is going to be a once a week thing. The mothers seem to talk a lot about their kids and school stuff. A tad excessively. I like getting this kind of information, but not for two hours. At one point, I escaped the mothers and started hanging out with the kids, and realised I was happier there. Imagine! Me! Choosing the kids over the adults. For me the final straw was when one kid was talking in a baby voice and the mother kept trying to ask us if our kids were, and she ends up blaming this on another kid in the school, and I’m like whaaa?

I am aware that more than half of this is my own insecurity and feeling like a fish out of water, so bear with me.

2) Had a bad day on Facebook. A family member put up one of those ‘omg this food will kill you’ type posts. I pointed out that if one avoided a food on those grounds, one would have to avoid almost anything off a shelf. Apparently, a comment, a response and a comment again is too much for some people to handle and I was summarily dismissed.

It suddenly occurred to me that some people like to share stuff and expect people to comment positively or ‘like’ otherwise STFU. This had seriously not occurred to me, and definitely not with this person. I was like oookay. My rule of the thumb hereafter is follow this guideline of ‘liking’ except for select few who almost always can be identified by having a Humanities degree.

On the other hand, I was also quite rude to someone who commented on something I posted. The article was this¬† ( a gripping read if you like birth stories, though maybe a tad slow going at the beginning. The person, who was actually a friend of friend (so my first thought was “who are you?”) said something along the lines of “hypnobirthing tells you that pain is not pain” and I just saw red. It’s all very well to tell women not to overdo the fear factor of the whole experience, but this idea that ‘now now ladies, it’s not pain, it’s actually just nature” makes me want to stab someone with a spoon and tell them that’s nature. Ouff. Anyway, the person who commented was most offended and left me a huffy comment and blocked me (which is fine because I don’t even know her) but I do wish I could have apologised because the tone of my response was a bit aggressive (although that was my calmed down version).

So much FB drama in one day. (Note: This is not the time to tell me you’re not on FB. If you’re not, congratulations. I happen to think the Internet is part of real life, and enjoy FB quite a bit, including the involved discussions that happen among those that are open to them.)

3) PhD life is chugging along. I have thing after thing after thing. I’m trying to tick them off one by one instead of getting into a panic about going arrrrgh (at least visibly).

Last week, I had a presentation that went spectacularly. The reading was tough, but I have fallen in love with Irigary even I don’t agree with her final position on the question of difference. When I got to class, which happened after a break of two weeks, everyone was saying how they didn’t understand a thing and I had a mini panic attack because I felt pretty confident I had understood it but what if that was all an illusion and I had completely missed the point? Turned out I am a genius and had cracked it, and the professor actually gasped when she saw my chart. Yes, I did a chart. V helped me. The second essay I presented wasn’t awesome, but I think everyone was sufficiently wowed by the first one. You know you’ve done well when someone asks for a copy of your presentation.

In our department, we have to attend these periodic sessions where other student present their work. At some point, it was decided that it was compulsory to attend (fine. I like attending anyway) and that every PhD student had to ask questions. One question per semester it seems. Okay then. I asked a lot of questions in the last session so didn’t feel burning need to come up with something this time. In fact, I did think of a question but felt that since I had overdone it last time and there is a time limit on the sessions, I should shut up.

Bad call. One faculty member turned to us after the session and was like: “You’re supposed to ask questions.” I pointed out I had in the previous sessions and he’s like: ‘At every session.’ My god. I just stared at him like he was nuts.

Which I’m convinced he is. He’s new, so new that embarrassingly at the first session I thought he was a student. At that session, he asked us if we’d been to our office yet – it was two days after the semester started – and when we said no, he looked very upset. What a weirdo.

The Playdate

Happened.

The things I worried about did not come to pass.

The house was reasonably in order – though we did change the sofa covers and at the last hour I removed all the coats from the adhoc closet in our hall that has been functioning as a clothes rack, toy cabinet and snack storage area (in sealed containers) – and albeit small, the two mums (or their kids) did not fall over in shock.

There was a small incident with a cockroach that made an appearance (!), thankfully (?) a bit after we had an a discussion about how most people seem to have a cockroach problem and how ours is due to renovations upstairs. Still, it was mortifying.

Moving on. The food turned out fine – the kids ate it, as much as kids can be expected to, and the mums liked it.

However. My child turned into a complete riot. He was so excited to have friends over + I made the mistake of letting him have a couple of Indian sweets that one of the mothers brought along and that might have contributed to his behaviour. Which involved shrieking, running, jumping uncontrollably, thereby inducing the other kids to do so as well and leaving us all dazed. This sounds like regular kid behaviour but it was at a pitch that was unsustainable.

In addition to not listening to me when I ordered him to calm the eff down (I did not say the eff part out loud), he also did a couple of unseemly things such as spitting a mouthful of pasta out into his plate because he encountered a herb he didn’t like.

My conclusion is that we need to work on his manners a tad and also be less tolerant of his penchant to do as he will which is getting out of control. He gets a pass because he has historically been a calm and easy child, but I think we might have reached a moment that requires intervention before the behaviour spirals further.

Mimi also did not acquit herself admirably because she joined in the rumpus wholeheartedly and also grabbed a couple of cookies brought by one mum, ate a bite, and them came and dumped them back in the box, not because they weren’t nice but because she just doesn’t have a sweet tooth.

I failed, because I did not try to control them until it was too late and they had already turned into little demons. Morever, one of the girls was saying a made-up word that Benji has been saying a lot, and I blithely took credit for the word saying it was meaningless but annoying, and then got later ticked off by V for a) making our kid the root of the annoying word b) doing so when we didn’t know if it was true because I had misunderstood V and thought he and Benji came up with the word, when V said Benji had probably learnt it from school.

So overall, I’ll give us a C. Minus.

In other niggles, the girl who I invited because her mum invited us and I felt bad, was a tad left out. The fact is that I don’t think she is a great friend of the two boys. I think her mum’s strategy is to throw her together with some kids and hope that they get along. More experienced mums, does this work? I’m 50-50 on this. My kid explicitly said he didn’t want her to come and I was dreading him actually voicing this on the day, but thankfully he was kept his rude thoughts to himself and even went into her car without a fuss. But it was clear she was sort of the third wheel and as a parent that would make me sad. Anyway, we are supposed to be going over to their house next week, unless the invite is pulled in the light of my child’s holy terror behaviour.

What did the mums talk about?

1) The two guest mums talked about the school their older children both go to.

2) They complained about things they don’t like in the kindergarten our kids go to. I contributed by mentioning the runny noses of some little ones and they took this more seriously than I did, resulting in me regretting mentioning it.

3) PhD programmes. Apparently, in some places, you pay for the number of courses you take as you go along. PhD mum went a little green when she heard I was being paid to do it. However, she did not know how little I am being paid. Still.

The talk was easy, but interrupted with kids screaming, thus very truncated and leaving one with a feeling of fragmentation and not having said exactly what one wanted to because one didn’t have the time to clarify anything.

In summation, this comic strip.

Weird and wonderful happenings

I walked into office last week and felt something was not quite right with my desk. I noticed that the CPU was angled a bit wrong but figured someone had been using my computer, which sometimes happens. I don’t really use my office computer except as a conduit for printing, which is why it was only after I had emailed my presentation to myself and switched on the desktop that I realised what was wrong – my mouse was missing. A gander around the office did not yield the missing mouse. I roped in a colleague to confirm that I was not indeed imagining that someone had made off with my mouse. Then I gave up and called ITO. The ITO guy said he would replace my mouse but never turned up and so I left. The next day – no mouse. Called ITO and the guy said: But I left it on your desk. Curiouser and curiouser. Turns out he left it on the wrong desk. But it wasn’t even there. Further questioning revealed he had left it on a desk in the wrong office! Two hours later, he turned up with a replacement. I just find the whole thing funny because a mouse is called a mouse.

***

Mimi is ready to go to school. V is not ready to send her. Or rather to pay the exorbitant fees for pre-nursery. He figures we can put it off till next year. I, on the other hand, am faced with a child who throws tantrums every morning because everyone (i.e. father, mother and brother) seem to be going somewhere but she isn’t. She will go the park later, but she can’t wait. She wants to have an agenda. She attends playgroup twice a week and she likes the idea of ‘my school’.

Suddenly, I realised I had been counting on her getting into Benji’s school and not applied anywhere else. And there had been no word from his school though I had applied months ago. Pushed the school and finally they arranged an interview today. Mimi is familiar with the school and eager to go, but she still did a meltdown while getting ready (ended up taking her in the thankfully fancy pajama set she insisted on wearing) and had to bribe her with M&Ms to sweeten her up literally.

I had been trying since yesterday to prime her with the idea of talking to someone at his school, as opposed to just playing which is what she usually does. It didn’t help that Benji went: “No you can’t come to my school because you’re small and you’ll cry.”Heh. In the end, she squeaked out a few words to the principal who quickly gave up on interviewing her and said it was fine. A whole lot of kids emerged into the area and Mimi seemed quite interested in them.

It’s interesting watching the school during the time when parents usually aren’t in. I always wondered how teachers keep and eye on that many little ones – and it appears, they don’t. Even though they had a lot of them, there were kids wandering around and kids with runny noses and kids bawling. The teachers did comfort some kids, but my takeaway is that parents should think twice before sending kids too school too early. My son’s school is one of the better ones and still it’s hard for the teachers to wipe every kid’s nose.

Mimi’s ‘interview’ was a write-off. She barely spoke to the principal, and she drew a few lines when asked. But the principal to my relief said it was fine and they’ll reserve a place for her. The cutest thing was after school, Benji rushed out and hugged and kissed her, and took her to show his teacher, who seemed a little disinterested hmph.

***

Benji has a bestie who comes from a more affluent background. This means that J’s mum is keen to organise play dates so that J has someone to play with since they’re pretty much marooned in a big house out in the boondocks. (It really is out there – seems impossible to reach by public transport which is rare in Hong Kong). Her kid doesn’t sleep in the afternoon and mine does – and while I obliged by letting Benji skip his nap one day, I did not appreciate the little lecture on how I should try to wean him from his nap. Um, why would I do that? Ironically, J sleeps at 7 pm or something, and when I suggested he come play in the evening, his mum got all angsty about him changing his timing. I don’t know how people don’t see the irony of these things.

Anyway, after Benji went to J’s house twice, I felt the need to reciprocate. The thing is, it would be fine it is just the kid and helper, but these mums are very involved in their kids lives and will come too. And since they’re coming during lunchtime, I will have to cater to not only the kid but the mum (who eats only salad). Don’t get me wrong, the lady is very sweet and has a PhD to boot, but what I realised is I’m not terribly into hosting someone in my house ever so often, especially if I have to provide lunch.

To make matters more complicated, another kid’s mum asked me for a playdate. Now, I’m pretty sure Benji is not that into her kid, but she too lives in some isolated location where presumably the kids can’t just make friends in the playground. So I said okay, and then she picked the same date as the one I had arranged with J and finally I caved and just asked her to come as well. It was kind of weird because it was obvious we had planned something without her.

Actually, I really don’t want to have more than one kid because I already feel the size of my house is going to shock them in its smallness and two kids and two mommies seems a lot, not to mention I have to cater now for two more diverse tastebuds. Ugh.

Helper suggested that I just ask helpers to come (its much easier with just helpers as they will just hang out and eat the same kind of food …at the last playdate at J’s house, Benji ate the helper’s food because he likes Filipino food).¬† How can I do say send your helper instead of yourself though? The thing is that I think mums tend to like these kind of get-togethers because they can get some adult interaction but I already get adult interaction. I also realised that pretty much all my close friends don’t have kids, and now more so because the people in the uni are a whole generation younger, and I feel like the things we talk about are very varied and not necessary baby or expat life in Hong Kong related. And while I could do with a few mommy friends, it is also a bit of a minefield, because the only thing you have in common is your kids.

I’m kinda dreading it to be honest.

I also realised that I need to draw some lines. Such as no more than once a week and I can do once a month at most in my house. My kids are fortunate to have easy access to friends in the building so I don’t really need to set up these things. I feel the need to do them to encourage Benji’s friendship, but I really cannot keep hosting gatherings of mums and children, because actually I do have other things to do. So after this one, I’m just going to say I’m super busy and then hopefully they will get the hint and send kid with helper.

Breather

I was kinda dreading getting back to the grind after out minibreak but Monday turned out to be a good start.

The reason I was dreading it was because I had three tutorials to take in a row – and I’ve moaned enough about these, not to mention that dismal last one – and to make matters worse the troublesome Kant course got re-scheduled to Monday at a very inconvenient time that would have had be at uni from 9 am to 9.30 pm.

Luckily, my tutorials turned out to be more stimulating that normal, maybe because the texts were paintings so the students did not necessarily have to do any advance work. And I decided to just go home and rest after them, and take the train back to the uni in the evening for the Kant class, at which I had to give a presentation.

I had been dreading the presentation because I find Kant really challenging. First of all, grasping his meaning. And then when I grasp it, I’m not impressed. And then the people in the class are at all different levels (I am somewhere in the middle to bottom). And then having slaved over the presentation it got postponed – okay I’ve moaned about that before.

Anyway, I was well rested for the presentation, which was not stellar. I am really not a great presenter, but also, stuff that I thought I was clear on, suddenly came undone in my head under the stress of presentation. Next time, I’m just going to print out a paper and read it like the other students did because anyway this is more discussion group than class.

It was a good thing I rested, because the class went on till 10.30 pm. That’s the main thing about the class that annoys me. It overruns, and we’re talking a class that’s from 6.30 pm to 9 pm on a good day. And then, they decide to skip a session and make-up at some totally inconvenient time. Which happened again. This was a supposed to be a make-up for last week’s skipped class, only they decided to skip another class so now we have to make up for that class on a Saturday. Arrrgh. I’ve decided to just go with it.

The main thing is that it was decided that the final assessment would just be a another presentation of the Dialectic portion of the book. Which suits me fine because I think I would have gone mad if I had to apply Kant’s theory to anything, leave alone anything remotely related to my PhD project. So although we emerged at 10.30 pm, I did a little jig inside.

Island staycation

I intended this post to be an update, but it turned out to be too much about our recent staycation so to make up for the drought of posts, I’m splitting it into two.

Last week as I think I reported was chaos. At the end of which, we had planned a mini-break to one of Hong Kong’s several outlying islands, this one called Cheung Chau, known primarily for its famous bun festival where people climb poles to fetch buns like a similar festival in India. I had been casting around for placing to go for the Easter long weekend earlier in the year and come across this cute little B&B which seemed to have good reviews and capable of dealing with English speakers, not always the case with the very local places here. However, when we called then it was all booked up. Since Benji had a mid-term break last week, V decided to take some leave and suggested we try to go to Cheung Chau. We got the booking but I was not truly looking forward to it because it came in the midst of my week of crazy.

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A view of Cheung Chau island from the ferry.

In the end, it was lovely. The place was really nice – small but nicely renovated rooms, with all the little touches you have in a hotel room like fresh towels, kettle, mini-fridge, effective air-con, etc. Breakfast was a part of the deal and very nice too. The best part though was the location which was a literally five minutes to the beach, so that if we went there for a swim, we could just wrap our towels around ourselves and come back to our rooms to shower.

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I’ve been to Cheung Chau once before and it struck me as a relatively sleepy village, particularly outside the main street near the ferry pier. But now it’s totally on the tourist trail with several bylanes of shops with knicknacks, little cafes – including a few Western ones – seafood restaurants and stalls selling the famous gigantic Cheung Chau fish balls. The shops targeting visitors run all the way to the beach and some are quite yuppy, but the good thing is the village has not lost its character and many of the snack stalls or products on offer tie in with the village. Also, if you veer off the beaten track you’re pretty much in a sleepy village.

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Everything is mini here. The streets are narrow so no cars are allowed, except for emergency vehicles, which are hilariously mini-sized too (like the ambulance in the background of the photo). Benji and I burst out loud when we turned around at a siren to spot a police car – it was an electric Smart car.

The village-ness of it all is evident in the street names, which are pretty much descriptive. For example, this one:

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If you veer a bit off the beaten track, it’s a typical village where the olders hang out together in chairs under banyan trees and dogs roam. I dragged V to lunch at a European-looking place, where the proprietor-chef was clearly one of the Western-educated returnees to the village. That’s her dog in the photo:

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The above is a giant incinerator for burning offerings (I think) and below are the traditional Chinese publicity for an upcoming performance or festive event (at least that’s where I usually see them), though this one is more lurid than normal:

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On the one hand, there are these touristy touches, like these tong laus (Chinese-style shophouses) given a makeover with brightly coloured paint; on the other, there are the usual dried fish stalls typical of a Chinese fishing village:

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Apart from the beach and wandering the bylanes, the local Pak Tai (Taoist God of the Sea) temple is quite impressive.

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In the land next to the temple was a house adorned in a style similar to a temple to my eyes, but the more I think about it, I think it’s just a very grandoise house stuck between two normal houses.

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We had some really good and reasonably priced seafood meals there. Our kids love Yeung Chow style fried rice, I loved deep-fried squid and V loves steamed fish. So we were all happy. The tables are outdoors, right at the seaface and we had to watch out that the kids didn’t fall into the water. But it did amuse them to look at the boats.

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We were gone all of two days. During which time we swam, wandered and ate. The kids were addicted to the beach and digging in the sand so V and I could leave them with the helpers and walk around the island ourselves. We came back refreshed.

I’ve noticed that most of our friends with young kids do holidays abroad. The idea of getting on a plane with the kids does not thrill me. Maybe because I’ve travelled a fair bit before I had kids, these excursions to different parts of Hong Kong sate my need for a change of scene and the kids seem to love them too. I figure apart from our annual trip to India we’ll be doing this for the next year or so, and I’m really thankful that Hong Kong has such amazing places to explore just a ferry trip away.

Whew

As this blog reflect, I’ve been busy. Crazy busy. The busy that started the term never ended. Well, I had a brief respite, but then mid-term happened with presentations due and it all got crazy busy again.

It’s hard to describe what I’ve been so busy doing (and I am aware that I’ve used the word ‘busy’ too often). The short answer is that I took on too much coursework. I figured that I’d be better off finishing the coursework requirement (i.e. the mandatory number of courses I’m supposed to take) early instead of pacing myself with one per semester, and so I took two, without realising that the Graduate School was going to pre-register us for another series of courses, which though not intense still require my physical presence in the classroom.

And I also have to act as a tutor for another course, which requires me to do a certain amount of prep. Hong Kong students are not vocal in the classroom, or at least not in my classroom (though I’ve heard this is a generic problem, and I’ve witnessed how even the most engaging teacher has a hard time getting a word out of students) and a tutorial is meant to be about ‘discussion’. Luckily, the students present for half the course, but then I still have to while away the other part. Next time around I’m going to give a little spiel on how they must talk or else, or make class participation a part of their grade. It’s seriously frustrating how they never raise any comments on other people’s work or even read the goddamn reading. It does not bode well for a future as a teacher, though I’ve heard that this is culture-specific.

Right now, we have to give everyone a pass because there is a huge political confrontation going on and at the start of the semester many students were out in the street protesting. Which I respect them for, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I think right now they’re just getting away with not reading for class. Was this the case in India as well? These were undergrads. Somehow I feel that these students have so many more resources – hell, we never had tutorials as undergrads – and should be grateful and take advantage of them, but instead as I suppose is to be expected, they take them for granted. I’ve got some positive comments, but my general impression is one of apathy. Gah.

After the one drinks get-together, I’ve not done much socially with the other students. Though not sure they’re doing much socially with each other. Some have gone to the protest site together. One guy invited us all to a football game but I couldn’t go though I would have liked to. There was a dinner after a symposium that I skipped. In the end though, I’ve stopped caring because I’m too busy. Also, I realised I’m not the only isolated soul, and in some ways I’m more connected because I go into office fairly frequently and do the odd chit-chat.

I still have an ambiguous relationship with the foreign girl. I think she could be cool if she wasn’t so academically activist in her views, but more to the point if I didn’t get the sense she’s only friends with me when there’s no one more interesting to cast around for. Like the other day, she pretty much ditched me for a girl with cooler (green) coloured hair. I don’t know whether to be outraged or amused.

In between, the marriage hit a low and this combined with the general fatigue made me hit and all-time low. I decided I was properly depressed and just gave up – on the marriage, not the PhD. The studies were the one thing that was keeping me sane because I was too busy to over-contemplate the ruins of my relationship.

The birthday was coming up and I decided to just skip it. I wanted to wallow in my misery on my own.

Then suddenly the husband twigged that he had gone too far and decided to give me a break. I have to admit I’m still skeptical and on my guard, but at the moment things are looking hopeful. Though one never knows how long any such period will last until we descend into the warzone again. I’m not sure I can ever go back to the person I was in the relationship, but this respite shows me how draining constantly having someone on your back can be (now that I don’t.)

Part of the reconciliation was that I decided to have a very small birthday party at home. I had been wanting to invite the fiance of a friend home for ages so I called them and another couple. V went all out and cooked up a storm. My helper E commented this was the first time she had ever attended a birthday party for me, and it’s true. I’ve never really had people over. Benji instead of being his usual reticent self was a bit manic. Mimi ignored the guests because I suspect she’s afraid of one guy in particular simply because of the way he looks.

My most recent frustration is a class I’m taking on Kant. It’s a very small group, to the extent that it’s more like an interest group than a class, and therefore the discussions are really random and ad hoc. Which would be great, but either the comments are too detailed or just vague and what I want is like a clear eluciadation instead of rambling when we haven’t grasped essentials.

Also, everyone in the group is firmly in the Enlightenment humanistic traditions, when I’m in the postmodern poststructuralist era whereby the very notion of sex is up for question, and apparently this is a radical idea to some people. Which I know it is, but this is a philosophy department for God’s sake. I made the mistake of unbiting my tongue and airing some views and was firmly corrected by professor in charge. Gulp.

My most recent gripe is organising my schedule around a presentation for the class, only for the class to be cancelled the afternoon of the presentation, and then rescheduled to a most inconvenient time. I’m still seething. Argh!

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