Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tips for parents handling toddlers alone on (multiple) flights

Last week, I made a trip not many Daddies will make, not because they cannot handle it (because I believe many can), but because they either will rather not take the risk, or will not be allowed to by other members of the family.

I took Noah back to Sarawak by myself. It sounds simple, but it's more complicated than it looks. There are no direct flights from Bangkok to Sarawak, taking the easy way out in terms of flight timing choices means I had to transit at KL via a famous budget airlines, which meant my luggage could not be checked through the whole trip. Furthermore, I had to visit 2 cities in Sarawak. It finally translated to a mammoth task of bringing Noah on a 5 day trip which involved 5 flights, 3 cities and more than 24 hours of travel time (including transit).

Noah extremely bothered by the loud announcements at the airport

Having brought Noah back to Bangkok in one piece, I think it should be time to share with other parents my personal tips to handling toddlers alone on such daunting trips.

1. Be fully prepared in advance, don't play games with time

To be extra cautious, I made sure every leg was checked-in online. I went to the airport early and once I got my boarding passes, went through the immigration and located the boarding gate without delay. I would rather reach the boarding gate and relax there with my child than to risk missing the flight if anything went wrong during another activity far away from the boarding gate.

Use the same airlines to complete your journey if possible, as they will be more willing to help you if anything screws up during transit (can also check the luggage through if not a budget carrier). If like me, you have no choice but to use a budget carrier over multiple legs, make sure you allow ample time (at least 3 hours) between flights in case your first flight delays. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Flight 1: Bangkok to KLIA2

2. Choose the right seats

Even though my son is 2, my budget airlines incredibly seated us apart for 2 of the 5 flights. This forced me to pay extra to ensure we sat together. This is a very big reminder to everyone taking budget flights, if you did not check this properly, you might have a lot of unnecessary negotiation to do on the plane itself. Not good with a potentially cranky kid in tow.

My other advice is to not have the child seated by the aisle. Firstly, an aisle seat could give him/her the freedom of getting off the seat and start walking along the aisle (not what you want if it is not your choice). Secondly and more importantly, I would not want to run the risk of him/her getting hit by an unknowing passenger or even the push cart along the aisle. It will also reduce the chances of him/her getting hit by a falling luggage from the overhead compartment to zero (yay).

Flight 2: KL to Sibu

3. Prepare a good carry-on bag

Try to spend some effort preparing a bag which contains all the essentials for you and your child. If you forget anything, don't fret, most airports will have shops to sell what you need (unless you forgot your passport or wallet of course). A simple checklist will be as follow:

- Passports
- Boarding pass (if checked-in online)
- Wallet (money, credit cards and insurance cards)
- Snacks
- Water bottle
- Pen (to fill in arrival/departure cards)
- Mobile phone
- 1 book for your kid (just 1!)
- Extra battery or power bank (you do not want to lose communication at any instant during the trip)
- Little toys (I brought a little car and a turtle soft toy)
- Carrier (if your toddler likes to be in it)
- Extra clothes and diaper (bring 2 sets if possible)
- Tissue and wet wipes

Flight 3: Early morning flight from Sibu to Kuching

 4. Travel light

What? After that bloody huge list I gave above?

Yes! I had everything in my slingbag and my bag did not weigh over 4kg. Note 1 missing item in the list, the laptop. The smartphone is more than capable of addressing our emailing needs and if you are going to be the one and only caretaker for your toddler throughout the entire trip, you probably will not have time/energy to be at your laptop anyway.

You need to travel light because your toddler is heavy, and if you have check-in luggage your hands are going to be full in between flights.

Flight 4: Afternoon flight from Kuching to KL, sleepy-eyed Noah snoozed for the entire hour and a half

5. Keep the kid well-rested, full and hydrated

As I have shared in a previous post about bringing a toddler for a staycation, I have to emphasize again the importance of keeping your kid well-rested, full and hydrated. Diet training can resume tomorrow. If your kid wants only fries, cookies and cupcakes, my suggestion is not to let them go hungry.

I was fortunate enough that Noah sleeps pretty easily on planes as long as he's tired enough. It kept him in decent spirits throughout the long journeys and I recommend that you do your best to find a suitable environment for your kid to sleep as well.

6. Keep an eye on your toddler at ALL times

I can never forget my wife's warning. In one of our discussions leading up to this trip, she told me, "We cannot afford to lose him."

I shuddered as I read it, and it reminded me to be extra vigilant. I am usually a very trusting person, but we really do not know the dangers lurking around the corners of international airports. Losing contact with your child, even for a split second might result in irreversible regrets. So my final reminder is that, your phone can wait, your messages and emails can wait, Mark Zuckerberg will always be there. Treasure every moment with your child and use it as a precious opportunity to build an even stronger bond with him/her. Don't lose sight of your kid, it's not worth it.

Flight 5: KL back to Bangkok. His worst-behaved flight of all, but it overlapped with his bedtime so it's understandable.

During the descent of our final flight of the odyssey, Noah suffered a major breakdown. He started wailing for Mummy and refused to sit on his seat and put on his seatbelt. All of a sudden, the plane went through a period of the worst turbulence I had ever experienced in a plane (trust me, I've sat in a lot). Noah finally relented and sat motionlessly in his seat, holding my hands tightly. After 10 minutes of roller-coaster style excitement and shrieks of fright from fellow passengers, I could finally catch my breath.

Impressed with Noah's great behaviour, I thought to myself, "Maybe this has been the very best training for Noah of the importance of putting on a seatbelt in the plane." Then I looked at him again, close-up. He had long fallen asleep! So much for the training!

In any case, I hope my experience will help you in some way or another. Just be prepared, and everything will be ok. Happy flying!

PS. Noah, if you ever get to read this, Daddy wants to say thank you to you for being such a great boy during this very tiring adventure. We could get through this more because of your good behaviour than my competence as a Dad. I hope our bond has gotten stronger along the way, and here's to many more father-and-son escapades in the future!

Friday, October 17, 2014

2 teddy bears warming Daddy's heart

Last night, I asked Noah to help me open a present my colleagues bought for Ellie on her first month.

It turned out to be a walker that's way too advanced for Ellie now. That's ok, because Noah can play with it in the meantime and not feel left out even though the present was not meant for him.

The cute walker happened to have 2 large adorable teddy bears bouncing up and down as it moved.

Interested to know which lady Noah likes, I cheekily pointed at the blue teddy and said, "This is Noah." to which he quickly acknowledged.

My subsequent question was of course, "Who is this?" while pointing at the pink one, expecting names like Ruirui, Aida, Ellie,Unna or even Mummy to pop out.

"Daddy. Noah and Daddy," was his shocking reply!

I couldn't describe my feeling when I heard that, still can't now. I just know I have to write it down before I forget about it.

Who says Daddy shouldn't wear pink? I am a happy pink Daddy Eddie!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The daily selfie with Noah

Since I took over the job of sending Noah to school, I made it a point to take a daily selfie with my dearest son, who totally cooperated with me, well, most of the time anyway.

It's been a really tough couple of weeks with him recently, with him battling the many changes of going to school, having an unfamiliar confinement lady at home, and of course grappling with the appearance of a baby sister.

I do not expect him to understand completely what's happening, but some days get really really bad.

The daily selfie compilation

After a particularly difficult night, I decided to make a collage of our nice selfies together, to remind myself that for every difficult moment, there are countless beautiful ones.

May today be a better day.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Story of Ellie - A Tale of Gratitude

Now that little Ellie is back where she belongs, healthily drinking, burping, sleeping and pooping her days away, I finally have some time write a post for her.


If there's anything my nearly-3 years of parenthood taught me, it's that raising children is NOT just about the parents, far from it. In Noah's case, we thought we could get by with just the 2 of us and the help of my mum after delivery, but that didn't turn out too well, so this time, we really activated almost everyone we knew, near and far, to ensure a more comfortable path especially for my wife. Even then, the unpredictable nature of a newborn's health presented us with challenges we could not previously anticipate.

My poor baby, looked at her pocked hands, both of them were the same.

Less than 15 hours after Ellie's birth, she was diagnosed with Transient Tachypnea. From what I understand, it's a problem caused by fluid in Ellie's lungs, which affected her ability to breathe normally by herself without aid, especially during latching. It's not uncommon in newborns, especially those delivered via C-section before 40 weeks, nor is the condition serious, but it pained us immensely to see her all tubed up for a week, through the nose (oxygen), mouth (milk), hands and feet (IV and blood withdrawal). She also had to spend a few hours in the light box to get rid of her mild bout of jaundice.

This condition posed unexpected challenges for us. Li Li had to spend full days in the hospital when she should have been staying in the comforts of home during her confinement after discharge. I had to forgo many days of work when I already took many days of leave after  Ellie's delivery, and Noah had to spend virtually a full week in the hospital with us.

Now that this chapter is closed, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who made this more bearable than it really should be:

- My family in Sarawak, who miraculously managed to make a huge stash of brand new baby clothes (from Australia no less) and mee sua appear in my house, and also to keep some pretty serious news from my knowledge so that I could completely concentrate on what's happening here.

Thank you Dad, especially, sorry that I neglected you because I was busy becoming a Dad myself. I thank you for your strength and understanding. Rest more and smoke less, you will see us soon.

- My in-laws, who took turns to visit Bangkok right before Li Li's delivery to carry luggages full of goodies for us.

Especially my mother-in-law, who was here during crunchtime. Sorry that Noah did not give you an easy time, but we thank you nonetheless for being here when we needed you and ensured we had nothing to worry about at home. 

外婆 and Ellie!
- Our friends, especially Grace, who recommended a good confinement lady to us, Wendy, who took the trouble to do some last minute shopping in Singapore to allow Li Li to drink the most nutritious soups in the world at home, Junhui, who bought a stunning pair of sandals for Ellie even though he did not manage to see her in the end during his trip to Bangkok, and Frances, who recommended the hospital and OPD to us.

- My CG in Singapore. We have not been around for more than 4 years, but I know some of you prayed for us, and every single prayer counted.

- The team at the hospital (doctors and nurses included), who worked tirelessly to ensure both Li Li and Ellie recovered well. I can see your heart and love when you are working, so keep it up. I just hope you are paid as handsomely as the hospital you are working for!

Maybe the best nursery in Thailand!

- Noah, my first-born. Formerly the youngest in the family but now officially an elder brother. Thank you for behaving like an angel throughout the entire week in hospital. 

Noah slept with me on the sofa in Li Li's ward.
I did not expect you to understand the importance of your sister's arrival, but you did, and you did not make a single complaint, even if we had to spend time with her at your expense.

Yes, you are behaving out of character sometimes these days, but I am sure you will get used to the many changes at home soon and return to a settled routine like before.

Noah and Ellie
The love in your eyes when you hold Ellie is unmistakable. Daddy and Mummy are so thankful to have you with us.

- And finally, my wife, Li Li.

Sorry that I can never give you the ideal amount of assistance required, and thank you for being such a brave and strong Mummy, to battle through another difficult birth process to deliver our precious daughter. We are four now, and our family will be stronger because of it.

I would also like to thank everyone who is still reading this, for sharing my unforgettable parenting journey with me. 

Noah was named during the floods in Thailand in hope that he can be a blessing in his generation. Ellie means the light of the sun. 

With Noah and Ellie, rainy days and floods are no longer scary, and there's bound to be sunshine after the rain! 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What would you like to be when you grow up?

Even though the picture of Sakura (from the famous online trio, Ninjagirls) as a grass cutter seems a little too sexy to be true, her latest article had me ponder a bit.

When I was little, I was constantly being 'brainwashed' by my mum to either become a doctor or a lawyer (now doesn't that sound familiar), so much that it seemed like these 2 are the only respectable jobs in the Universe, and the only 2 that will serve as a benchmark to my success as a person and my mum's personal achievement as a parent. And as Sakura mentioned, it's not uncommon to hear parents using cleaners and grass-cutters as a warning to their children if they do not do well in school.

I have posted my fair share of complaints (and praises too) about Thailand on this blog since I came, but I will have to say that after being immersed in the Thai culture for a best part of 5 years, a lot of my perspectives have changed.

I get greeted a warm "Sawadee Krup" by the guards at my condominium, banks, malls whenever they see me.

Ladies of all ages clear plates at food courts with a smile, and toilet cleaners also look just as happy as their counterparts working in nice offices. This bodes well to the end result of their work too, most public toilets in Thailand are extremely clean, even those at petrol kiosks and small eateries.

More than half of my own staff held odd jobs before they joined me, even some of my more senior staff.

I see locals making a good living in ways that would likely be discouraged by most parents in Singapore/Malaysia. Some spend years as waitresses at the same little restaurant, some repair air-conditioners so well that the ended up forming a team of technicians which can serve as many as 6 households at one go, some lose their jobs and find a new lease of life selling grilled pork along the streets. One thing that stands out, is that even if life is tough, they will try to enjoy their work when they are at it.

I have to admit though, in spite of all this, I will not be the proudest parent if Noah ends up spending his life cutting grass and pruning trees (even though I sell brush-cutters and chainsaw parts myself), but I believe that there is beauty in every job, and to excel, you have to try your best and have fun while you are at it.

At the end of the day, 行行出状元, we must give due respect to every profession that adds value to the society.

No job is more important than another, and as long as my children are happy and making a decent living out of whatever they are doing, who am I to complain?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sharing the experience of choosing an International School for my child in Bangkok

Throughout the entire research process for Noah's school, my wife was the one doing all the work. I only made visits to a selected few and took part in final discussions before making the decision together. This piece represents my personal view only, sharing my after-thoughts after the whole exercise.

Of the many obstacles we have to overcome being a foreign family in Thailand, our children's education proved to be one of the trickiest ones. Unlike in Singapore, where parents have their hearts in their mouths while waiting to see whether their children have been given a place in their preferred primary school, Thailand presents a set of completely different challenges.

Firstly, the public education system is simply not a choice. It's largely monolingual in a language we do not understand, so we have to look to international schools.

Secondly, once it comes to international education, we have to decide which curriculum to go for. Established ones will naturally be the American, British, and yes, you guessed it, Singapore curriculums. We ended up opting for the Singapore curriculum not because we feel it's the best one, but because Singapore international schools here focus on both English AND Mandarin, while most British and American schools only conduct classes in English, with limited emphasis on other languages or offer them as out-of-curriculum options.

Thirdly, Bangkok is not a place blessed with good traffic, especially during peak hours. As much as we would love to send our kids to the best school possible, it is more important not to end up spending half the day on the road. It is logical to choose the most suitable school out of the ones near our residence.

Lastly, international schools are expensive. No matter how much financial mileage I get from living in a "cheaper city", it will eventually be used up in my children's education. International schools hire foreign teachers (all foreigners have a high minimum salary which varies with country) and all language teachers are native speakers. On top of that, the student-teacher ratio is kept very low, so we could easily look to spend between 650-2500SGD per month in school fees for our child, depending on the school and the kid's age. We need to start spending this amount per month from age 2.5-18 before spending another bomb for University education. Take this, consider inflation and rise in school fees over 2 decades multiplied by the number of kids I have, my children's education fees can LITERALLY BANKRUPT me.

Having considered all the factors above, we visited every school that offered the Singapore curriculum around our apartment.

School A:

We were greeted by a huge moving water display, a sign of good 风水 (especially for the school after seeing their fees). It was followed by a rather impressive visit of the facility, with particular emphasis on their "Wall of Fame" showcasing the usual suspects' proud academic achievements in international competitions. It was really a 'back-to-Singapore' experience, which was what I was NOT looking for since we were already out of the island. I personally grew up in a similar atmosphere, with a relentless emphasis on academic performance. Ultimately, even though I benefited from my results to a certain extent, I am sure I would be better served in an atmosphere that focused more on actual learning than results.

School B:

The closest to our house, which would make the most sense for us if it proved to be fitting to our requirements as well. It is relatively new, so the campus is pretty small, not a big issue for me if other things fell into place. However, everything started to fall apart after sitting down with the principal.

A brief boast about the academic achievements of her children was followed by an extended interview on whether my company will be paying for my children's education expenses. When I told her it would be unlikely, she started discussing with me a whole range of reasons why I should be reimbursed and even sounded a bit impolite towards my bosses who have given me everything I have since I moved to Thailand. My head hurt a little when I left the office, as it was more of a HR meeting than a meeting with my son's potential school principal.

School C:

The furthest of the 3, but still within reasonable driving distance. A humble but rapidly-expanding school campus. I do not remember hearing of any wall of fame nor any HR lecture, but something about them keeping their fees reasonable by not spending any fees on marketing and re-investing their earnings into more facilities for their students. Music to my ears indeed. It also helped when we already had 2 friends who put their kids there and did not have bad things to say.

In the end, our choice was pretty clear. That said, Noah will not formally start class with them until next week, so it is a bit too early to pass judgement. Let's just hope for the best.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Authentic homely taste of Mainland China savoured in Thailand

Guess what dish is this? Clue: It's our dessert

Chinese food is widely available in Thailand. As most of the early Chinese immigrants are from Swatow, there is a huge Teochew flavour in Thai cooking. Braised duck and pork trotters are some of the chinese flavours commonly found along the streets of Bangkok.

When we visit the Chinese restaurants in good hotels, decent Chinese cuisine is not hard to find, but these are mostly, as expected, Cantonese flavours. Little did I expect that somewhere just a few kilometres outside Bangkok, in the neighbouring province of Samut Sakhon, will I enjoy authentic Hakka food in an eatery which does not even have a signboard. As I told my staff, this is real China Chinese (客家家乡菜) food, not the typical Thai-influenced Chinese food we get anywhere else. 

I have decided to list down the dishes I ate on my blog before I completely forget about them in the future:

Claypot bean curd soup.

Deep-fried fish in sweet and sour sauce, I believe the pineapple was the only local touch in the entire restaurant.

Stir-fried bean curd skin, black fungus and mushrooms.
How they made such humble ingredients taste like heaven with a spatula and a wok, I will never know.

Deep-fried tofu with a minced-garlic sauce.

Wok-Hei-filled fried kway teow

I believe that even in Singapore or Malaysia, we will struggle to find ourselves Hakka flavours as original as this. I would never be able to relocate the eatery by myself in the future, so I am counting my blessings to have tasted these delicacies in Thailand, and hope my new customer will bring me back there again soon.

It's yam paste, not too sweet and slightly savoury, served with a generous sprinkle of sesame and peanut.