Archives for category: Imperfect America

8am: Delivery of complimentary rich chocolate birthday cake to hotel room.

9am: Sumptuous Mediterranean breakfast buffet at hotel restaurant.

10am: Shuttle to Magic Kingdom for a fun-filled day.

11am: Discovers all spots at Bibbadi Bobbadi Boutique (don’t know how to spell the damn thing) @ Magic Kingdom booked for the day. Meltdown ensues.

11.10am: Daddy manages to get a 5.10pm slot @ Disneytown outlet right before evening dinner with Disney princesses. Meltdown ceases. Daddy looks to be missing an arm. And a leg.

2pm: Mommy totters on brink of exhaustion and heat stroke but stoicly soldiers on because strapless smock looks better upright.

3pm: Discovers all kids had for lunch were goldfish crackers. Not to worry, there is a parade. We’re not going anywhere even if it means standing around in full on 100F Florida weather.

3.40pm: Mommy thinks Magic Kingdom afternoon parade Prince Eric is kinda hot.

4pm: Rush back to hotel on shuttle for a quick shower before makeover at BBB. Discovered complimentary birthday balloons in room. Got two kids and two adults cleaned and ready in record time of 12 minutes. Don’t ask me how but it can be done. With enough screaming.

5.30pm: Birthday girl is happily made up and will not wipe grin off face all evening or go for a boat ride because she is afraid wind and water may ruin hair and makeup.

6.25pm: Dinner with Disney princesses @ Norway town @ Epcot went very well. Snow White is MIA.

8pm: Autographs with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale. Some were not very into character, Mommy notices. It’s friggin’ 8pm.

9pm: Manage to catch Epcot fireworks. Mommy and Daddy also perform human Tinkertoys feat with children on shoulders, Daddy trying to close Skyler’s (who was on Mommy’s shoulders) ears while Rae tries to use Daddy’s armpits to close hers. Mommy’s hands had to remain down due to strapless smock. You had to be there.

10pm: Driving around town trying to look for a coin-laundry because running out of undies. Mommy comes up with brilliant idea of buying more undies.

11pm: Kids crashed but Mommy insisted on brushing teeth and bathing. Sleepy, cranky children are wonderful to clean.

12.32am: Mommy says goodnite to blogosphere. More of the same tomorrow at Hollywood Studios!

This is one birthday we will never forget, that’s for sure.

Happy Birthday, my dear six-year-old. Evidently, we’re out of our minds with love for you.

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I didn’t expect the crowds on a weekday. I didn’t even expect the variety of world cuisine.

But what I really did not expect was that we young families would be a minority in Disney Town (not to be confused with Disneyworld or Disneyland).

Let’s just say Lokes had his fill of grown men being affectionate towards each other in public for a lifetime. Especially the full-on tongue action we caught heading back to the carpark and a mini Village People reunion just outside the west entrance. Puts the recent Safeco lesbian kissing incident to shame, I tell ya.

FYI, it’s not always like this. Gay Days is on. These are times I wish I was still childless. I am not kidding when I say those dudes look like they know how to have a good time!

Truly, all the hot ones are gay (except for you, babe).

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This was what Lokes said yesterday.

I had no idea it was THIS hot. And I can’t wear less clothes without causing a scene.

It’s been 2.5 years since I’ve felt this hot (and I don’t mean because I’ve-got-this-cute-new-bob hot).

And people here are too tanned and healthy-looking for my comfort. What the hell. I have been having salad two days straight.

But it feels good. I’ve lost about five pounds since starting the South Beach diet and two weeks of exercise. Best of all, I don’t even feel the munchies. Dr Agatston is a genius. I don’t even feel as though I’m on a diet as well, even on vacation. Although I did have a creme brulee yesterday at Maggiano’s. That was awesome.

Rae is turning six tomorrow.

“I can’t believe I’m gonna be six years old,” she quipped a moment ago.

Neither can I, sweetie.

Neither can I.

Swine and Dine

Hog Dog

Pork ‘n’ Roll

Memphis, Tennessee: Best hog barbecue in the US (BB King’s ribs are melt-in-your mouth delish), worst oysters (tastes like cardboard jello).

Pics when I get back.

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We received an invoice recently for a no-show fee for a missed appointment on Dec 4 2007, of $25. Enclosed is our check.

To this end, we are sorry to inform you that we will no longer be needing your services. Here’s why (and I’m sure you’ve heard all this before but no harm in telling it again).

While I understand that this no-show penalty policy serves as a warning for your tardier customers, as I’d informed your Patient Care Coordinator Liz Kather through a rather awkward phone call this morning (she simply kept quiet while I asked if there could be any flexibility to this bizarre policy), we had snow out in Duvall that day and I was not ready to risk a 30-minute drive up the hill that morning (the appointment was at 9am) without tire chains to make the climb up and back again. However, I was informed that inclement weather had no bearing on your policy.

This leads me to your at-least-24-hour cancellation requirement. Seeing that the snow had fallen overnight and I’d missed the ‘deadline’ to cancel, I just did not think to call as I had made the mistake of expecting companies such as yours to understand the nature of emergencies.

Perhaps you should make information of such penalties clearer to your customers (particularly foreigners like myself who may be unfamiliar with such practices) in the future. I was never given this information and had to look for it AFTER I was invoiced just to make sure. Might I suggest placing prominent notices at your front desk, make your administrators offer up the warning when setting appointments (and when making telephoned reminders). Also, you might want to place the info right on the appointment page of your website and not hide it in a PDF. Ignorance is never a good excuse but it is a reasonably commonplace mistake among visitors to your country, and when they become your customers, it would be helpful to at least do them the service of a brief education and not leap right to the conclusion that we are deliberately delinquent. Believe it or not, such policies are not the norm in other countries (where the doctors, hairdressers and other critical service-providers are still surviving).

Lastly, had your staff checked my records, this is our first ‘offence’ and we are not in the habit of missing appointments just to mess with you. You should attach at least a first-strike exception to this policy, because (and I’m sure the irony is not lost on you) for all of $25, you’ve now lost a customer and I, for one, will not be referring anyone else to your clinic (foreign and otherwise).

I hope you will consider my suggestions, and we wish you all the best.

Yours sincerely,
Jennifer Tan


(yes, I’d actually mailed my cheque – I spelt it the American way above just because – with this letter, and I also sent one to my paed who had referred me to them. My raving lunacy knows no bounds!).

(this seems to also be turning into a DOWN WITH HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS! week. I just don’t know anymore).

Today, at our Chinese New Year party, I heard a most disturbing story.

A friend of mine, someone who lives in our small community, made an appointment to visit a doctor a few weeks ago, at one of the two biggest healthcare institutions here in Washington, which had a branch office in our little town. My friend was eight minutes late and was promptly told by the receptionist that the appointment was, hence, cancelled.

Eight minutes late, folks. By THEIR clock.

Angry but not wanting to pursue the matter, my friend then asked for the phone to call her husband, who had dropped her off at the doctor’s office. The receptionist said no because the number was a Utah number (they’d not changed it since their move), and the office phones could not be used to call outstation. My friend then asked if the receptionist would lend her a cell phone because her husband would not return until 50 minutes later and she did not want to wait that long. The lady said no. My friend then offered to pay her back for the phone call. The lady, again, said no. Becoming increasingly frustrated but still calm, my friend then asked to make another appointment. There was a slot open at 2.30pm that afternoon. My friend agreed, but noticed that the receptionist did not seem to be writing anything down in her little appointment book.

That afternoon, my friend returned to the doctor’s office at 2.32pm. The receptionist looked at her and said, “You’re late.”

My friend answered, “I am two minutes late.”

“You are 20 minutes late,” the lady replied. “Your appointment was at 2.15pm.”

Long story short, my friend and the receptionist, along with the two other desk clerks present, exchanged some heated words.

After a few minutes, the clerks simply left the front desk and retreated into the office, leaving my friend to fume at the lobby alone. When they did not return, my friend took the hint and left.

When this story was related to me by my friend today, I could feel nothing but a sad, reddening anger. As I listened, I was struck dumb by the fact that this had happened just weeks ago, and not ten years ago, and in my town, and not some Godforsaken place a million miles away. In fact, the clinic she had visited is just a one-minute brisk walk away from my house, two in the cold Seattle rain.

What interests me about this story is that my friend is an Iranian. She has long, dark hair and beautiful, serious black eyes. She wraps around her American English a thick Middle Eastern accent, perhaps with a hint of Eastern European (her Hungarian husband’s). To a stranger, she may look severe and unapproachable but my friend is by far the funniest person I know here in America. Her humour is self-deprecating, her wit razor-sharp and her honesty humbling, and ultimately, she can be described as the best kind of surprise one can ever find underneath a perpetually furrowed brow.

What saddens me is that, no matter how much I want not to jump into conclusions about anything, a big part of me believes that this is a case of racism and discrimination. Why? Because like it or not, there are still people out there who are just plain idiots. These people are everywhere – small town America or big city Asia. They look at a person, they look at their clothes, listen to their accents and make judgments and summations and peg you as what they think you are so as to be able to survive the next few minutes without submitting into fear or anger or hatred and losing all control. Or they just do what they do to make themselves feel better.

I was in Hong Kong many years ago on assignment, and I’d walked into a noodle shop for dinner one evening. Not being able to read a single Chinese word on the menu, which was made up of pieces of coloured paper stuck on the walls, I’d looked across to the next table and noticed a lady eating some sort of chicken curry. I decided to take the easy way out and pointed to it to the ‘waiter’.

Presumably a Hong Kong Chinese, he smirked and as he walked back to the kitchen, muttered in Cantonese, “Chinese person, can’t even speak Chinese. What kind of Chinese is that?”

The fact was I could (and still can) speak Chinese and I could understand what he said. I just can’t read it and did not want to risk ordering the wrong thing. But what did he care? He’d made a snap judgment about me which I was never going to correct without making a fool of myself. And those ladies at the clinic, in my opinion, made a snap judgment about my friend, who was made a fool that day when they’d all walked out of the reception. The difference here is that I may have deserved a little of what I got, being a ‘banana‘ and everything. Did my friend deserve the sort of treatment she was subjected to, as though she’d been a plain criminal? How else can you explain why she, of all people, was treated in that manner? Was it really random? Were all three of the nurses having a bad day? And twice in one day?

I’m almost tempted to make an appointment there myself (living right next door and all) and then be eight minutes late, to see if I’d be treated the same way.

I don’t know. I just might.

One of the main emphases of our co-op preschool program is positive discipline, and a lot of the training us parent teachers get in the course of our involvement in the school is through conflict resolution in the classroom. This is one of my favourite reasons for joining a co-op, in that twice a week, I am exposed to not just my own kids, but other people’s children as well, and get to ‘practise’ how to resolve a conflict between two kids in a positive manner.

Don’t I have two kids of my own at home who are constantly fighting? Yea, I do so yes, I am clearly insane.

Seriously, resolving conflicts between your child and someone else’s is a different dynamic, and from the experience, I have learnt to see both my children more as individuals than just my own kids and siblings. Rae takes the fact that Sky is her sister for granted sometimes, and hence is more likely to take advantage of her, whereas she knows she can’t take the same liberties with her friends at school. As such, she’s more likely to have a meltdown when she can’t get her way because she is at a loss of how to make her friends do what she wants. At the same time, she is adamant at wanting things the way she wants them, so it’s really interesting to see how she works these situations out now that she’s in kindergarten. It’s the same with Sky, my three-year old who’s at the co-op now, as well.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt at the co-op is How to Accept an Apology.

Back in Malaysia, I didn’t know that there were other ways you can accept an apology graciously, other than saying “it’s okay”. Think about it, my Malaysian friends. How do you respond to an apology? Do you say, “it’s alrightlah, don’t worry about it”?

When you think about it, what does “it’s okay” mean? Does it mean you’ve forgiven the person? Or does it mean that the apology was not necessary? This automatic, seemingly polite (when really, it’s quite thoughtless) response may be appropriate to a grownup because we can figure out what it means. However, to a three-year old child, forgiveness is a foreign and complex concept. And hence, what they will glean from “it’s okay”, is that they had not committed an infraction at all, and the apology was not necessary, when it really was. Aside from being polite, saying sorry means you knew you did something wrong. So if it’s okay, it means I did nothing wrong.

And then I came here and learnt from the fine teachers at the co-op that there were other more meaningful ways to respond to an apology, especially when the wrongdoer and the wronged are children.

“Thank you for saying sorry. It was really hard and I really appreciate it.”

And there it was, so simple and yet effective. You are accepting the apology and thanking the little person for it. And yet, the child is clear that what he did was wrong.

What if sorry is not enough? What if you feel that the apology does little to assuage your anger or frustration or sadness? At the co-op, we’re taught to ask the wronged child, “Did that make you feel better?”. If not, we escalate to “Okay, then what can (the wrongdoer) do to make you feel better?”. Usually, the wronged child is already crying and a hug is then recommended by the grownup, or perhaps a handshake.

Now this is a beautiful process and it usually works – the operative word being ‘usually’. As in real life, things sometimes do not go as planned. For instance, what if the kid who is apologising clearly does not mean it and is saying it in a teasing manner just to get the apology over with?

The recommended response than was that the wronged child must learn to walk away from the situation until a later time when the wrongdoer is ready to apologise correctly, and the wrongdoer is given a talking-to about the importance of being nice to his or her friends.

When my friend Mat and I were discussing this yesterday, I started to wonder. While these techniques work well in a classroom with a one parent mediator, perhaps even at home if one is consistent about it, do they really work in real-world situations, especially when your child enters public school where a grown-up’s assistance may be hard to come by?

Are we, in a way, preparing our children for the less forgiving real life by stepping in all the time to resolve their conflicts, overcompensating by mapping out the resolution so neatly when in real life, they’re rarely so smoothly resolved?

Rae is in kindergarten at a local public elementary school and during recess, she plays with some older children at the school playground with little adult supervision. This has, in the past, caused me some worry. As such, I’ve had to equip her with a ‘bully blocking’ action plan, which I review every week with her because, yes, I’m an over-protective mother.

Of the two times I was around to observe a conflict resolution (without her knowledge) this was what she did: She’d simply stomped away to a corner and sulked. A few moments later, she’d glance over at her friend (who’s probably said sorry a couple of times but of course, with my over-dramatic daughter, it’s never enough), who’s now playing happily by him or herself. Seeing that no hug or satisfactory action will be given, she goes and joins him begrudgingly, dealing with the disappointment by simply not thinking about it, and voila, they are laughing and playing together again as though it’d never happened.

It wasn’t perfect but it was enough. I tell myself that at least, she had not thrown a fit right there on the play structure just because sorry was not enough. It was so hard for me not to step in. I didn’t know of whom I was more proud – Rae or myself.

This is what parenting is, isn’t it? From the moment they’re born, you start to teach your children to be independent, not so much for them to eventually let go, but so that you yourself are able to one day do so (knowing that they won’t embarrass the heck out of you when you’re not there!).

I can hardly believe it, but today, it’s exactly two years and one week since we moved to the US.

Even though I feel I’ve been here ages, it also feels as though I’d just arrived because I can remember the move as clearly as it was yesterday. How can that be?

How are we doing? What have we accomplished? Any regrets? Let’s see.

Firstly, we love Seattle and the Northwest. If we ever had a choice to move anywhere in the US (we didn’t, Microsoft HQ having overtaken most of Redmond), we could not have made a better one, and this is despite all the rain. We’ve found and made so many wonderful friends, particularly for Raeven (Sky has the attention span of a caterpillar so she’s not acquired any bosom buddies). Seattle has become more of a home for them now. In fact, Skyler has lived here longer than she has in her own country (we moved when she was one – now she’s three).

We love the town we’re living in (or at least Lokes doesn’t mind it so much anymore). I’ve also become more competent a mother and homemaker, which is saying a lot considering the fact that I never swept a square foot of floor back home nor wash a single plate. I can now make breakfast, lunch and dinner, organize an entire closet, all the while protecting my kids from mortal danger and cleaning a soiled backside.

I’ve also found purpose in my own life as well. I help run a co-op preschool, have gone back to school and am writing my first collection of short stories. Any American agents out there looking for a storyteller from mysterious Malaysia?

I know it sounds as though I’m doing too much, and I may be but my days have assumed a sort of rhythm that plays like an Ingrid Michaelson song. The girls are growing up so fast. Just this morning, Raeven was helping Skyler put toothpaste on her toothbrush while putting on her own clothes. In short, I run a tight ship.

The one thing I’ve really neglected is my blog, and I think I know why. As much as I love to blog, and my blogging friends, and the blogosphere, I’ve become somewhat disillusioned by the craft, if one can call it that. I have questioned myself time and again why I’m blogging, and I keep coming to the same conclusion: just so my traffic’s not gone to waste (and of course, it has). A while ago, remember I’d said I will only blog if I have something worthwhile to blog about. Well, as it turns out, I have not the inclination nor the energy to blog even about the stuff I care about, not if I want to do it right.

And there’s the fact that I have assignments to WRITE and my own book to WRITE. Blogging is WRITING as far as I’m concerned so really, I just need to conserve my writing energy.

Two years. Just flew by so fast. What will another year bring? Hopefully, 60 credits for me.