Sunday, 28 January 2018

The ideal family unit? A pot of curry may just help?

I wonder, what is the ideal family unit? Is there an ideal family unit in the first place?

Is this part of the naturalistic fallacy?

That is, whatever is good is reducible to what ought to be, and what ought to be therefore ought to be the norm of every society; yet that is deemed unfounded, and fallacious.

So, is DJ Shobha Nair defining what ought to be when she dismissed the application of a gay Singaporean, who paid US$200k to father a boy through surrogacy arrangements in US, and then applied for adoption in Singapore to transfer US citizenship to Singapore citizenship for his son?

According to The Economist, one of its articles entitled "Rules are thicker than blood" (Jan 13) described DJ Nair's ruling as having "firmly laid out that the ideal family unit, in the eyes of the Singaporean state, entails the marriage of a man to a woman."

In the papers, our Singapore High Commission Foo Chi Hsia came out to defend DJ Nair's ruling on the "ideal family unit".

Foo said: "Our values and social norms on what makes for a stable family unit are conservative and shape the Government's policies and rules of adoption."

Further, in response to The Economist article deriding "Singapore's norms on what constitutes a family as 'Victorian", Foo added that "pushing for rapid social change, especially on contentious moral issues, risks polarising society and producing unintended results"".

She wrote: "In Singapore, nearly all children are born and raised in wedlock (not out of wedlock), starkly different from what now happens in the West. The Economist may think Singapore is quaint and old-fashioned, but time will tell if a cautious approach to social change is wiser."

Lesson? Just one.

Funny, this back-and-forth between the Western media and our ambassadorial front-liners has been going on for decades. It never ends.
And this reminded me of curry.

Some years back, Singapore had a curry dispute. It's a tale about two next-door neighbours: one, an Indian family, and the other, a migrant family from China.

The news about it first came out in Today on 8 August 2011, and Sharon Teng has written a good summary of it.

It started innocent enough: it's the smell of curry from the Indian household that stirred the rift.

The Chinese family could not tolerate the curry smell, and out of consideration, "the Indian family would shut their doors and windows whenever they cooked curry."

However, the smell still sneaked into the Chinese household, and they asked the Indian family "to refrain from cooking the dish altogether."

The Indian family refused, and both families ended up in CMC in a bid to settle the curry dispute.

This was how the dispute was resolved as reported:-

"The settlement that was reached following the mediation was that the Indian family would cook curry only when their Chinese neighbours were out. In turn, the Chinese family acceded to their Indian neighbours’ request to try out the curry dish."

Strangely, the settlement divided Singaporeans and even foreigners.

Some found it "unfair"; others thought that the intolerance of the Chinese family was bordering on bigotry. Still others blamed the settlement as not being culturally sensitive, and against our multiracial and inclusive society. What's wrong with the fragrance of curry?

Even our law minister Shanmugam weighed in.

In brief, he asked Singaporeans and all to respect the settlement which was reached by mutual accord.

He "cautioned Singaporeans against letting the unhappy feelings generated by the curry dispute ferment into a blanket dislike of all foreigners in general."

Imagine that, one curry pot boiling along the corridor of two families of different races could actually cause such mischief and provoked such national commotion.

Alas, if one woman (Rosa Parks) could trigger the civil rights movement and one man (Hitler) could start the second world war, it should then come as no surprise to us that two neighbours disputing over a pot of curry could very well test the racial and cultural unity of our little garden city.

This brings me to the back-and-forth between the Western media and our foreign delegates about DJ Nair's judgment.

What is the "ideal family unit" anyway?

(And one is completely misconceived if he thinks DJ Nair is even trying - in the faintest of hint - to define or epitomise the "ideal family unit" in the judgment. She in fact categorically excluded that to set the record straight. Her grounds were mainly to balance and keep the object of the legislature and the various enactments consistent with each other).

So, notwithstanding the backhand sarcasm in that reference in The Economist article, the issue is really not about what is ideal or what is not. Neither is it about what is natural or what is not.

From a secular point of view, I would not even bring in religion to state categorically with religious zeal on what is morally non-negotiable, and end the whole debate there and then (or open the Pandora's box to endless arguments).

In this postmodern environment distorted by the polarisation of values based on questionable opinions online, most of the thinking has already been done for us.

They come in prefabricated chunks, backed by suspecting sources and dubious stats, repeated ad nauseam, and authenticated by arbitrarily ruling out other contending views not by examining their merits, but by conveniently stamping a "fake news" on them, thereby throwing the baby out together with the bathwaters.

As such, all the netizens have to do nowadays is to just pluck from the lowest hanging fruit of mouth-watering rationality and be off with a sense of self-smugness about what should be just right and what should be just wrong.

In the end, taking my cue from the curry dispute, it is really about cultural sensitivity, being good neigbours, and learning to get along. Let’s leave the big ideological arguments for another day.

We are essentially still conservative at heart, and communalist in spirit. We still enjoy a good spicy pot of curry at home, and if the smell gets to you, the solution is not to insist we stop enjoying curry altogether.

Let’s settle our differences with deeper mutual understanding, always keeping an open mind, and on some unavoidable occasions, politely walk on by when the smell happens to exceed one’s level of tolerance. 

Being good neighbours is ultimately more than just about fussing over a pot of curry. It's essentially about sharing a common corridor, but living by different values in the home. Cheerz.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Surviving a midlife crisis.

I wonder, how many of us, in particular men, go through mid-life crisis?

Is it even a proper medical or psychological term, diagnosed for the purpose of identifying, addressing and remedying the undesirable condition?

Will this condition lead one to resignation, depression and even suicide? And what can one do about it? Can therapists, psychologists and maybe, one pricy over-the-top session with Tony Robbins help?

Today's article by Ignatius Low says it well about this condition with this catchphrase of a title: "Surviving a mid-life crisis".

He wrote that he just turned 45 (three weeks ago) and at that threshold point, he felt something that "he couldn't quite put (his) finger on it."

He asked around and realised that something called mid-life crisis happens just about his age or later, that is, there is a meteor-hitting range between 45 and 65 years of age.

So, for Ignatius, it came too early or too soon?

I am 48 this year, and I guess by that range, I should be experiencing one just about anytime soon.

In fact, I wrote about it some time back in my blog and admitted to an intermittent visitation of a nagging sense of existential numbness very much like a driver taking an 8-hour trip to nowhere on a long, straight and uneventful road in a dreary and rainy day with no sunshine in sight.

FYI, that feeling that one can't put a finger on in fact has a definition. Ignatius wiki'ed it and here is what it says:-

"Mid-life crisis is a transition of identity and self-confidence brought on by events that highlight a person's growing age, inevitable mortality, and possibly shortcomings of accomplishments in life."

Alas, there are three things you cannot do without if you are deemed to be going through the dark tunnels of what is called a mid-life crisis: that is, growing older (or old), nearing the grave and falling short.

And you can't avoid the first thing. Neither can we avoid the second.

Unless you happen to stumble upon a fountain of youth in some godforsaken corner of your HDB or private estate, the telomere in each of your chromosome will not be extending itself forever.

That's another way of saying that the grim reaper with his over exaggerated sickle will be waiting for you at the end of your mortal journey. And that journey will definitely end. There is thus a tombstone with your name on it in the near future.

While you can evade taxes as the Panama affair has shown, death makes no exception or provides you no haven. The rich and the poor, famous and unknown, stand on the balancing scale of mortality on even footing.

And as an aside, even immortality have their own issues. Just look at the dysfunctional and war-torn household of Zeus and I think you get the drift.

So, the point for us mortal men is, "Why fight the inevitable?"

And if death eventually becomes us one day, and for those above 40, it may come sooner than expected, why not just accept it and treat it like a faithful grandfather clock gently reminding us intermittently rather than a specter rising from nowhere, when we least expect it, and haunting us indefinitely?

At this juncture, it may seem like I have calmly resigned to my own mortality (at age 48?), but I have not. Surely not.

If truth be told, death still scares me. Every slowdown, ache or numbness in my ageing body and mind tells me a grim tale of how I am going to go disquietly into the night one day.

While I have attended wake, funeral, cremation services and a commemoration, I have yet to attend mine.

So, pardon me for stating the obvious, I have still yet to meet my grim reaper face to face.

I sometimes even wonder whether he will be glad to see me and take me in my sleep, or dread every bit of it as I struggle with him in the hospital bed with hands still clutching on to my loved ones, refusing to let go.

That evening (Oct 2016), when I saw my brother-in-law (only 38) lying on his bed in his home with loved ones surrounding him was the closest I came to death.

There and then, I saw the face of death; it was nevertheless still a perennial struggle to the end. I felt the touch of death; it was lonely, heartbreaking and cold. And I heard the whisper of death; it was to let go.

And whether it was time or not, it was really not up to my brother-in-law. I realised that death does not set his clock to ours. It sets it to his, and while it is inevitable, it is dastardly never certain. The torment is thus never about its inevitability, but its uncertainty.

Yet I thought about that evening often when I recounted my own mortality. From a mortal point of view, death's timing always sucks.

The reality is, not all can say that they will die at a ripe old age when all their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will be there to say their last goodbyes before they quietly transfer their grip from life to death and make that irrevocable transition.  

But, paradoxically, at least for me, the uncertainty of death carries with it a message. It is a message that I find is the only antidote to the third thing about mid-life crisis as defined above - that is, "possibly shortcomings of accomplishments in life."

There are many "inevitables" of life, and one of them is that if we measure our life against what it could or should have been, we will always come up short. That's unavoidable.

Nothing is without its flaws. No one can match our expectation all of the time. And no union, career and worldly achievement is perfect.

There is always a gap and a lack in our pursuit for a flawless or perfect what-it-should-have-been life.

With the limited time we have, whether it comes sooner or later, I've come to realise that a contented life is essentially about its depth, and not about its length.

And because the length is uncertain, the anchorage of our certainty is with the depth. That is something within our control, at the very least.

As such, the ultimate question is this: To what depth am I prepared to go in my marriage, my relationships and my friendships?

Or am I chasing one depthless ambition after another and reaping much success as ostentatiously displayed in the worldly landscape of my many achievements, yet the same is with little depth (or roots) to anchor my sense of identity, contentment and fulfillment when death threatens to blow it all away?

If I bother to change my lenses, of how I view life in its entirety, I believe I  will see that the deeper I go into relationships, the more fulfilled I will be when the time comes. So, when I have enough depth, that is, firm roots, I earnestly believe that the length will take care of itself - somehow.

Alas, there will no doubt still be a strong vehemence against letting go when it's my time. But the assurance is that I will have invested enough in the depth of those I leave behind, and that will ultimately ease the passage of accepting and embracing the inevitable.

The ease will unavoidably come with some struggle though; however, it will be something that death cannot rob me of, and that is, my brief life on earth that my loved ones will remember for my love, hope and a spirit that chooses to fight on for what anchors my soul and yields enduring meaning. And I trust the same will be their legacy and empowerment too as they live their own life to the end. 

And I believe a life lived this way will not experience any mid-life crisis, but instead a mid-life maturity and resilience that is accompanied by an after-life celebration, eventually. Cheerz.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

A love this strong: Amelia's joy.

Parenting nowadays can be really tough. 

You have to compete for milk and diaper brands, pre-schools and kindergartens, then in later years, to enrol in suitable primary schools, and suffer anxieties over PSLE and choices of secondary schools before your child brave through the "N", "O" and "A" levels. 

But for Straits Times correspondent, Amelia Teng, 29, and her one-year-old son, Christopher, tough is an understatement. 

You have to read her article to fully understand what she has to go through in just the first year of Christopher's birth. It's in the Sunday Times today A4.

I will not in words or commentary here do any justice to the travails of this young mother. Neither will I do justice to her incredible strength and faith and her (and husband's) love for baby Christopher. 

You see, Christopher was born with a rare condition known as "bile acid synthesis disorder". 

This is a rare genetic disorder inherited from Amelia and her husband. Both of them share a bad copy of the same gene. 

When Christopher was diagnosed with this condition, Amelia was told that he is the hospital's first patient. It is estimated that 5 out of a million children have this condition worldwide. 

Amelia discovered it when she noticed that "a scratch and a prick from a blood test left (Christopher's) nose and finger bleeding for more than 30 hours."

It reports that "this disorder interferes with the production of bile acids, such as cholic acid, which help the flow and excretion of bile from the liver and assist in the absorption of fat and fat-soluble vitamins from food. Without cholic acid, toxic bile acids accumulate and damage the liver, causing it to fail ultimately."

The solution for Amelia and hubby is the synthetic production of cholic acid. 

But cholic acid does not come cheap. Based on the hospital's recommendation, the monthly outlay came up to $26,700. As Christopher will be on the medication for life, that works out to millions.

Amelia even considered liver transplant to lower the costs, but doctors said that it would result in other complications. 

So, she had to source for cholic acid elsewhere, and with her doctor's endorsement, she managed to secure a batch of cholic acid for $5000 a month from Melbourne. 

Thankfully, she got a friend to ship it back for her. She admits that this is just a stop-gap measure. 

Currently, Christopher is responding well to the medication, and Amelia and hubby couldn't be more grateful and thankful for the prayers and love she had received from loved ones. 

In the meantime, Amelia has to confront the following daunting and sobering reality. 

First, she applied for Medication Assistance Fund Plus subsidy of the high monthly medical cost, but she was told that the drug Christopher needed was not listed with the Health Science Authority. 

But to get cholic acid listed, a pharmaceautical company has to pay $10k. And it will take years to get listed. No profit-sensitive company will want to do it for only one known patient here. 

Second, she was told that her son's treatment did not fall under those approved by Medisave. Neither did it satisfy the MediShield Life criteria, thereby closing doors to government-assist funding.

Third, Christopher was not covered by any private insurance and again, no profit-sensitive private company would want to sign Christopher up. 

Lastly, Amelia also tried to admit Christopher into clinical trials, but none were available. 

Alas, this will be Amelia's world in the near future, and with a brave front, she said this: "I knew raising a child was not going to be easy, but I did not think these challenges would come so early in parenthood." 

Amelia has no delusions about Christopher's future. She knows the costs and sacrifices waiting for her and her hubby. 

And she takes nothing for granted because everything she does for Christopher are moments of "life-changing" experience. 

She thought breastfeeding was painful, but nothing would have prepared her to see her son "confined to a bed hooked up with wires and drips" and "spending hours every month keeping hospital appointments, drawing tubes of blood, hoping, then cheering when (they) saw improving liver enzyme figure."

She thought that spending on milk and diaper brand, and picking out baby's romper would be a chore, but nothing would have prepared her for the cost of medication, which would deplete her savings in the long run. Thus far, she had spent $60k. 

And she once thought that having a second child would be the next logical step to give Christopher a sibling to play with, but nothing would have prepared her to receive "counselling about alternative options for conceiving a second child, who has a one in four chance of inheriting the same problem from (them)."

Amelia added: "The first year of parenting was nothing like what we thought it would be like. It has been like a storm, forcing us to rethink priorities and perspectives. We accept that our son was given to us for a purpose that we do not fully understand yet. But the joy he brings is also beyond what we expected."

This is the joy Christopher brings in return for a parent's unconditional love and devotion as tenderly described by his mother:-

"He was just 2cm when I first saw him on the ultrasound, and heard his heart beat. I could hardly believe I was carrying such a precious eight-week-old gift.

Now he has crossed the one-year mark, and we love all 10kg and 74cm of him. He squeals, laughs, smiles and has a lot of personality. He is a cheeky monkey, loves music, and big open spaces where he is free to crawl at full speed.

He cries like he is being tortured in anything that confines him, like the car seat and the high chair. He hates it, but is a champ at taking medicine after months of training."

She concluded: "My son is not an error - he was made special beyond measure. It's in his genes."

Lesson? Three, and it is in Amelia's own words. She recounted:-

"I told a friend recently that this first year has been so eventful. "Life-changing," he corrected me. That is a much better word on second thoughts. 

Because of the lessons my son has made us learn - to be more resilient in the face of chaos, to cling onto hope when life springs hurdles, and to be thankful for little blessings along the way."

1) "More resilient in the face of chaos". 

I recall in Job 5:7 these words: "Yet people are born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward." 

But there is another part to that, and it is that people like Amelia will rise up to the occasion just as sparks fly upward. That's the devotion of a parent, and it is indeed life changing for the parent, the child and the people around them. 

And the resilience of a parent's love is that it grows together with the trouble, and at some point, it outgrows the trouble.

2) "To cling onto hope when life springs hurdles."

I believe that people who hope are like bridge builders. Where some people see only huge gaps, people like Amelia and her hubby see vision of bridges (even when none could be seen between the gaps).

But these visions of bridges do not come prefabricated for easy assembly. They are built over time, with perseverance, brick after brick. 
And with every brick laid with tears of labour and joy, the bridge builder draws closer to the goal, until one day, he find himself on the other side. 


3) "To be thankful for little blessings along the way."

It is said in first Timothy that "everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude."

I always believe that one can never be happy, fulfilled or content if he or she is not grateful. 

Like hope, gratitude will not make everything perfect or smooth, but it will surely make all things imperfect meaningful. 

In other words, it somehow transforms sadness to gladness, tears to joy, mourning to dancing, adversity to overcoming, and pain to growth. 

Gratitude does not make life bearable, but it makes it surmountable, and in eventually surmounting trials, this life promises meaning, deep resilience and boundless hope. 

Amelia's love for Christopher arises from such perspective of gratitude. She does not see her son as an error but a gift, not perfect but perfecting, and not normal but simply "special beyond measure".

Thanks Amelia for such priceless lesson for the close of 2017. Amen. Cheerz.