079 I Am Back!

Time to wake up

I have not blogged for months since last November. Out of nowhere, a friend TS texted me one week ago,

“Hi, William. Hope you’re well. I miss your blogs.”

I replied tongue in cheek, “I’m in hibernation. Thank you for waking me up!”

Sensing my humour, she retorted, “Wake up! Your friends and fans are waiting for you!”

“Text conversation with TS”- Consent given by TS

TS’s exhortation jolted me out of my inertia. Now that I know someone misses my blogs, it gives me an extra impetus to get back to writing quickly.

It’s so fortunate to have friends who encourage us in our endeavours, don’t you agree?

Was It Just A One-Hit Wonder Blogpost?

Over the last few months, so much has happened that I have scant idea where to begin.

Last year, the blog was gaining momentum with more viewers for every article I wrote. By November, there was a sharp spike in the readership. I had 15,000 more views in 2019 alone, four times more than the previous year!

“Wordpress Statistics”- screenshot from
personal account.

It was not just the figures that made me sit up. I was motivated by the responses from readers. In the last post, some parents told me how my personal anecdotes helped them to solve the impasse they had at home with their children over the choice of school. I felt good knowing that my article made an impact on some readers. I had helped some families out there.

I was flattered when a private tutor contacted me for collaboration. I told him my rates for writing advertorial and my principle of writing only things I had experienced, so I needed to observe his teaching and interview his students. And I imagined that I would be able to give him some useful consultation. After all, with two decades of experience working with excellent teachers in Singapore and abroad, I do know a thing or two about helping children to manage their studies and advising people on running a successful education business.

It did not bother me when the tutor asked for my viewer statistics. But he made a remark about whether my latest article was “just a one-hit wonder.”

Alas! I naively thought that he was my supporter. Too bad, we were not meant to work together.

“Disappointment”: WordPress Free Photo Library

Nonetheless, the attention garnered made me rethink if I should focus more on education topics. As a matter of fact, friends were surprised that I did not write more about education issues all this while. The reason was simple. I started this blog for very personal reasons – introspection and connection with others. I had been a little reluctant to talk about work in my personal time.

Can I Up My Game?

I have a change of mind, now knowing that my writing can touch lives. To up my game, I contemplated to start a YouTube channel to engage parents on educational issues.

Thinking that it may be a great idea to bond with my fourteen-year son, Conan through this collaborative project, I tried roping Conan in,

“I am thinking of YouTubing. I think it will reach out to more people than blogging.”

“YouTube”: WordPress Free Photo Library.

Conan nodded, but he was kind enough to stop short of telling me, “I told you that long ago, didn’t I?” As if he knew what I was going to suggest next, Conan said, “It’s a great idea, but I don’t know how I can help you.”

“Well. You will make a better Youtuber than me. I think people would prefer to hear directly from your study experiences. And your personality is likeable and you certainly speak English better than me.”

“Oh yes, Dad, you really need to fix your pronunciation.” Conan chuckled as he made a dig at me.

I said, “Well. That’s why I cannot do this without you. But I am good at creating content. Let’s collaborate.”

Conan grinned in agreement.

But it was an untimely decision. My workload at the workplace unexpectedly increased dramatically in November. There were occasions I had to bring work back home to work over the weekends, something that I have always refrained from doing since five years ago. I became too tired to hit the keyboard. I had had enough of screen. I had to shelve the idea. The idea of Youtubing with my son hit a roadblock.

Try something else

Instead I turned to doing something else with Conan- cultivate a common hobby of reading Chinese martial arts novels (武侠小说). I was so glad to see that Conan, who had stopped reading Chinese books entirely for the last three years, has taken to the books authored by Jing Yong(金庸), the titan of this genre.

Source: https://wapbaike.baidu.com/theme/
金庸小说“武器录”/47747882900?bk_fr=lemma

Week after week, we devoured books borrowed from the public library. To encourage Conan, I tried to read at least one book ahead of him. However, after a while, Conan asserted his independence by picking up books that I had yet to read. I ended up chasing after the titles that he had read. The shared hobby brought me and my son closer.

Conan gave his consent to use this picture I took.

The most obvious benefit was Conan became more conversant in the Chinese language. One morning during our regular weekend breakfast time, I intentionally prolonged the conversation to see how long he could hold the conversation in Chinese. Conan pulled it off very well! I saw in him a newfound confidence in the Chinese language.

It came as no surprise when his Chinese language teacher sang praises of his command of Chinese language at a recent teachers-parents meeting. The teacher said, “Conan is a rare gem who reads Chinese novels in his spare time. Hardly do I see any other students interested in reading Chinese books these days. I was therefore disappointed when he did not ace in his recent Chinese test like his other subjects.”

To this remark, Conan explained sheepishly, “Well, the reason is simple. I can read everything in Chinese these days. But writing the Chinese character is another matter. Those marks I lost were all because of writing.”

I laughed and said to his teacher, “It’s alright. Grades do not matter as much as his love for reading.”

The teacher nodded approvingly.

Stick To Purpose

Sometimes, we get derailed from the things we set out to do. But it’s not always a bad thing as long as our purpose remains the same, don’t you agree?

 

William W K Tan

8 March 2020, Sunday

 

 

071 The Meaning Of Life Is In That Droplet Of Honey!

One of the greatest perks of parenting is to engage children in meaningful conversations. They set us thinking about important questions.

A Conversation About Pursuing Dreams

Several months ago, I had a conversation with my thirteen year old son, Conan, about “pursuing dreams”.

I said to him, “Before you turn fifteen, try to have a dream that makes you passionate enough to learn and do everything you can to realise that dream.”

To illustrate my point, I gave an example, “You love watching Youtube. Rather than spending many hours consuming the content as a viewer, wouldn’t it be more satisfying if you become a content creator? You are capable of that.”

And I went on, “Be a Youtuber!  Isn’t that an idea you had before? I’d rather you try working on your dreams even if it means compromising a little on your school grades.”

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

Conan’s eyes lit up and remarked, ‘Dad, do you know that successful Youtubers make millions of dollars and influence millions of people?”

I nodded smilingly. “Yes, you told me that before.”

Then he challenged me, ‘But do you also know that only a few become that successful? Most people eventually give up their dreams, make do with a nine-to-five job, settle down with a family and lead a normal life like anyone else. So, what’s the point of pursuing a dream?”  

Ouch! That sounded like an insinuation at his old man. But I was impressed with what he said. Letting out a chuckle, I replied, “You have given an apt description of many people’s lives. And you spoke as if you have seen it all.”

Then, I continued, “Life does seem pointless if you look only at the sketches. Life becomes colourful only if you fill in the colours.”

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

Conan pondered over my words quietly for a few moments while looking intently at me. 

I posed him a question, “If life is just the same thing for everyone, then you wouldn’t mind swopping your life with anyone else.  So is it okay that if I were to get you to study in another school that you don’t like, have a different set of friends or grow up in another family?”

Conan laughed at the absurdities of my hypothetical question.

I explained, “The truth is life may look the same for everyone, but it carries different meaning for different people.”

He replied, “I think I am okay with my life as it is now. It’s just that I lose interest in things so quickly that I don’t know what my dream is.”

“That’s a problem you have to solve fast. Do you remember you were very keen on playing soccer at primary four, and we supported you fully? But you eventually lost interest when things did not go well despite your best efforts.”

Conan gave an awry smile.

I said, “It’s not a bad experience actually. At least you found out that group sports is not the thing for you.  You get to know yourself better. And one day you will know what your dream really is and no hurdle can stop you from pursuing it. ”

What Is The Point Of Living?

Interestingly, Conan and I had a sequel to this conversation today when I told him about a friend’s seventeen year old daughter’s troubling question to her mother.

Her daughter questioned, “What is the point of life if all we do is to wake up, go to school, eat and sleep. And everyday we repeat the same routine!”

Conan said excitedly, “Dad, tell her this interesting story that I read. A man fell off a cliff and caught onto a tree branch. At the top, there were hungry tigers. And at the bottom were poisonous snakes. In that precarious situation, it’s a matter of time that he could not escape death. Suddenly, the man noticed a droplet of honey dripping off from the branch. And guess what he did? He leaned forward with all his might to lick the honey and cherish every bit of it. The meaning of life is in that droplet of honey.”  

Picture from WordPress Photo Library

That’s a tad too philosophical. I pressed Conan, “What do you think she should do?”

Conan replied, “Let her think through it herself.”

Let’s Hear What Children Have To Say

Growing up, it is only natural that children start to question the meaning of life. But some friends are having serious trouble dealing with the tough questions their children ask. They question the purpose of school life, work and family obligations.

The problem does not lie in our children. It is completely understandable that children who are going through rough patches in life to ask tough questions. The problem, perhaps, is in we adults.

Perhaps, we have become too caught up with dealing the imminent problems (the tigers and snakes) in our lives that we forget to look out for the things that make us feel alive. Or perhaps we have become so jaded that we forget to saviour the occasional honey in life.

Children remind us of important things in life. Let’s engage in meaningful conversation with our children even more. And hear what they have to teach us.

William W K Tan (aka Uncle William)

4 August 2019, Sunday

058 Cut yourself and your children some slack

Be a role model at all times?

Parents are often told to set a good example for their children. It is a tall order to be a role model at all times.  Most parents do their best in the presence of their children, but they inevitably fall short sometimes. Children see through their parents’ acts easily. 

A friend told me impishly how astonished he was as a teenager to uncover the porn magazines that his supposedly impeccable dad had secretly stashed away. Another friend’s adolescent son complained of his mother’s double standards when he found out that his mom watched Korean drama up till the wee hours after making him stop watching YouTube at bedtime.

I had to tell them with wry humour, “Well, be thankful that your parents aren’t saints. If not, you would have a harder time to live up to very high standards.”

Picture from WordPress Photo Library

Cut yourself and your kids some slack

Parents must learn to be honest with their own failings. It is beneficial for adolescents to learn firsthand how parents deal with their inner struggles.

A friend HP shared moments of vulnerability that he experienced with his adolescent son. HP spoke about the embarrassment he had to deal with daily because his mom patched his torn dark-coloured school pants with white thread.  HP also told his son how the birthmark on his face affected his confidence as a teenager. Stories like that helped his son to accept inadequacies as part and parcel of growing up. HP said to me, ” Accepting one’s vulnerabilities is healing. ”

HP’s words is food for thoughts. I have seen parents who are overly-hard on themselves and their children. Perhaps they have forgotten how they were like when they were kids themselves. Cut yourself and your children some slack if your demanding methods are straining your precious relationship.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

Open conversations about problems  

I open conversations with my son about problems I observe. One day, I told Conan,  

“Do you notice that many teenagers go through a phase of wearing black all the time?

Many teenagers are not confident about their looks. They keep away from attention by wearing black. And they are often left alone to deal with their insecurities over appearance during this period.”

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

Conan showed interest in the topic. So, I peppered the conversation with my personal anecdotes,

“But I think it is a bad idea to wish that the problem will just go away. Look at my acne-scarred face. It wouldn’t be this bad if I had gotten help at that time.

Physical appearance affects people. I remember being mocked for an uncanny resemblance to an actor who convincingly portrayed the role of a moron in a popular TV drama. And all that was simply because I had a bad hair-cut and an obese physique at that time.

Actor Chen Zhong Hua (陈忠华)in a 1986’s local production of a Chinese drama “The Bond” (天涯同命鸟)

I think lessons on personal grooming are often neglected in schools and at home. More can be done.”

Such conversations made it easy for my son to tell me how he felt. Conan candidly revealed,

“Between close friends, we got into this bad habit of calling each other names and trading insults at each other’s looks in the last two years. Come to think of it, it did affect how I think about my looks too.”

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

Then he added with laughter,

“But no worries. I have gone the opposite path. I am now pretending to be narcissistic. Self-adoration is an antidote.”

I am not sure if self-adoration is a good thing. But talking about problems openly with personal anecdotes is surely a good way to communicate values with your children. Hopefully, if children face moral conundrums one day, they will find it more comfortable to speak to you.

William W K Tan

30/03/2019

Saturday

055 How to make good conversations with your parents?

I was delighted to know that my previous blogpost did some good. My friends said it was a timely reminder for them and their families.

A friend WB said he only started to fear when his mom fell sick. Another friend JR shared my blogpost with her children who are studying overseas.

Spending more time with aging parents is a topic that is close to the hearts of many people.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library

Having trouble spending time with your parents?

Already, making time is difficult enough. To put the time to good use is even harder.

A friend CT lamented, “I’d like to spend more time with my mom, but she is a nag. 😂”

“I hope that your daughter did not say the same about you.” I rebuked her in jest.

“My daughter has already said so.” We both laughed.

I consider CT lucky. I have heard of much worse.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

At one end of the spectrum, there are elderly parents and their adult children who live as if they are leading separate and unrelated lives under one roof. And at the other end, there are parents and children who often trade barbs and blows at each other in the heat of argument. 

I was just told a sad story of an old lady who leads a nomadic life of moving from house to house every month.  Because her four children decided that it is only fair that the burden (their mother!!) be equally shared among them. Her neighbour rolled her eyes, “Her children did not even allow her to stay a single day longer!”

It seems to me that some people may be having trouble in spending time with their parents. It’s time to kill the silence and stop the hurt.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

Making good conversations is a cornerstone of emotional support

Primarily, there are three areas of support to provide our aging parents, namely financial, physical and emotional. Giving financial and physical support is concrete, but emotional support is abstract. I think making good conversations with parents is the cornerstone of emotional support.

Making conversations with parents is probably my forte. Whenever tricky issues arise, my siblings will turn to me and say, “You go and speak to dad and mom. They listen to you more.” It’s not that I have the gift of the gab. It’s just happens that I have figured out some ways that work:

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

1.      Tell Stories

I tell short amusing stories from my job and family. It signals to my parents that I want them to be part of my life. It also assures them that their son is doing well at workplace and home.

My dad smiled when he heard of my work endeavours such as speaking on the air at a local news radio station last year. And my mom laughed when told of the ludicrous things my children said to their mom.

It’s highly satisfying to see your parents smile and laugh at your company.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

2.      Exchange Views

A year ago, I tried to broach the sensitive topic of life and death.  Borrowing a page from the highly-acclaimed “Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”, I said to my parents,

“Here is an interesting thing Dalai Lama said, ‘death is synonymous to changing our clothes. When clothes become old, then it’s time to change them. When this body becomes old,  it’s also time to change it to a new body.’ No wonder Tibetans have no fear for death. ” 

In subtle ways, I found out that my dad and mom held very different outlook towards death. It also helped me to understand why they held on to certain views about life very strongly.

Source: https://usa.rigpa.org/event/the-tibetan-book-of-living-and-dying-book-course-study-group/

3.      Disagree respectfully

There were times that we disagree over things. I learnt from experience not to pretend that I agree. Parents can easily see through the acting skills of their children. And I find it foolhardy to try to win an argument with them.

In the Analects, the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius said,

“In serving your parents, you may disagree with them from time to time and seek to correct them gently. But if they will not go along with you, you must continue to respect and serve them without complaining.

What matters is the expression you show on your face. ‘Filial piety’ doesn’t mean merely doing physical tasks for your parents, or merely providing them with food.”

Reaffirm the points you agree, and clarify the things you do not agree. It takes practice and patience, but it pays off to disagree in a tone and expression that will not hurt your parents’ feeling. And it will make you feel good about yourself as a son or daughter.

Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analects

4.      Praise and encourage

I have a sense of gratitude towards my parents for raising me. And I honour them out of a sense of duty even if we disagree. But it never occurred to me to see my parents as ordinary human beings who need acceptance and encouragement like everyone else, until the recent years.

My dad told me, “After middle age, I gradually see more people I know in the newspapers obituaries. Then suddenly, it stopped. It dawned on me that none of my friends is left.”

As people age, their friends dwindle and health suffers too. Praise and encourage your parents more. Take a refreshed look at the positives of your parents. You will be surprised how much you take after them.

Just the other day, my mom said,

“You are so much like your dad. Like to make friends and be with people.”

I returned the compliment, “That I agree. But I realise I am so much more like you when things go awry. I will dig in my heels and tahan (Malay word for ‘endure’) all the way.”

My mom nodded smilingly in approval.

Finally, if you are not good at making conversations, there is just one thing that you can definitely do much better than I do.

Lend your parents a good listening ear.

William W K Tan

8 March 2019

Friday