Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Is screen-exposure good for your baby? The Stranger in Bangkok gives his take.

Does anyone ever think of what goes on in babies' minds when they look at images on screens, be it movie screens, TV screens, computer screens, iPad screens or smartphone (which are amazingly getting too big for my huge palms to hold properly) screens?

This is actually a topic that has been (and is still being) fiercely debated and there are many schools of thought, including an increasing number of parents who apply the drastic measure of eliminating televisions completely from their homes (bravo! *clap clap, I would never be able to let go of watching my favourite Spurs play every weekend), some parents/guardians allowing babies to be glued to the screen for hours so that they have time to themselves, and some who are in between, limiting their children to "educational" programs and smartphone apps.

I am a believer of play, by that, I mean real play (not video games!) - babies touching real things, interacting with real humans, being able to experiment, imagine and finally discover for themselves how things work. That said, I am not about to start another debate on this over-discussed topic, as every conscientious couple would definitely have worked out a mutually-acceptable way to bring up their kids, including the amount of screen exposure their children will have.

Noah has been away from me for more than 2 weeks now, and there's another good 2 weeks before he returns to Bangkok. The only way he sees me now is via our frequent Skype chats, which means viewing me through a computer screen. As happy as I am to see how he looks like real-time, it does get quite disheartening when he doesn't smile at me, or doesn't respond to me calling out his name, or looks more interested in a piece of paper than to look at the screen (me).

Assuming he can recognize me, what is he thinking looking at me on the screen?

Hello Noah, do you miss Daddy, Daddy misses you a lot you know?

Why is Daddy on the screen, and not here beside me to hug and hold me?

Has Daddy become part of the 夜市人生 that I watch with great-grandma every weekend?

Is Daddy talking to me, or is this like a cartoon playing on TV, that I do not need to respond to?

Is Daddy calling me now, or is this pre-recorded?

What the h*** is going on? Can you just let me play with my toy?

Noah is just a baby. I don't expect him to understand how much I miss him, or that the person onscreen is his Daddy speaking to him real-time, but if he cannot learn much or obtain comfort looking at his loving Daddy talking to him from the screen, I have my huge reservations over the effectiveness of the so-called 'educational' TV programs and smartphone apps.

I also know that no matter how often we "meet" in this manner or how engaging I try to become during our "chats", it will NEVER  be better than 1 minute of holding him in my arms and giving him a big smooch on his cheek.

I can't wait till that day comes again.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Stranger in Bangkok's ruthless rant on Thailand's Annual Vegetarian Festival

It's been a while since I blogged about interesting happenings in Thailand (which is supposed to be the heart and soul of this blog) especially after I got my hands full with little Noah in the house. I do not know whether this post will step on some toes, but after a quite memorable week (food-wise) in Bangkok since I came back from Singapore, I shall give my ignorant rant on Thailand's annual Vegetarian Festival, aka Tesagan Kin Je.

Food stalls selling vegetarian food will attract attention using these triangular yellow flags
Thailand has given me no shortage of food surprises from the day I set foot, mostly pleasant, but others a little peculiar. While I marvel at the locals' brilliant art of layering every other dish skilfully with at least 4 different tastes (usually sweet, sour, salty and spicy), some habits still take some getting used to, like how pizzas are drenched with ketchup before eating with rice (Thais can eat anything with rice, 3 meals a day), the unforgiving stench of Plaa Raa (a potent fermented fish sauce) which many beautiful ladies surprisingly adore, labeling of perfectly-crafted Chinese dishes as absolutely tasteless, and the saturation of nicely-seasoned savoury soup with additional spoonfulS of sugar to name a few. This Vegetarian Festival is unforgettable as well, not for many right reasons I am afraid, but again, this is only my opinion.

Tesagan Kin Je is a festival with deeply religious origins (not elaborated here as it's not the point of this post), taking place annually from the 1st to 9th days on the 9th month of the Lunar Calendar.  Aside of many staunch Buddhists applying grievous hurt to their own bodies by piercing ridiculous sharp objects through unimaginable parts of their faces, it also involves eating vegetarian food (no meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products and even aromatic vegetables like onions, garlic and chives), which I believe is supposed to cleanse the minds and souls of practitioners.

However, having scrutinized and tasted the food available for the past week, I beg to differ. On the surface, the spread of Vegetarian Food on display under the many little yellow flags seems incredible given the cooks' limitations, with variety ranging from Vegan Kway Chup (pork innard soup), Vegan Fish Maw Soup (complete with mock salted egg with a glowingly artificial orange yolk), Vegan (Mock) Meat, Vegan Khao Soi (chicken/beef curry noodle soup from Northern Thailand) and a huge range of deep-fried Vegan items etc..... you get the idea, but how on earth are you supposed to achieve an elite level of cleansing and health by stuffing yourself with mock non-vegan (many exceedingly oily) stuff?

Mock meat (or whatever) is either made from gluten or soy beans, which is then of course highly processed in factories and artificially seasoned to achieve certain tastes and texture. Can you even try to compare the nutritional value of this highly processed food with say, a piece of raw chicken you buy from the market, which is made of nothing other than chicken (with possibly a cocktail of antibiotics and growth hormones nevertheless, but you could go free-range/organic)?

In my view, real vegetarian food should be a enjoyment of real fresh vegetables, fruit and lightly processed foods like tofu. I have greatly increased my vegetable intake over the years and do not completely rule out becoming some sort of a vegetarian myself in time to come, more so now that there's someone in my house appearing to genuinely enjoy healthy vegan cuisine when served.

That's how you enjoy REAL vegetarian food

It's not that there were no places for me to satisfy my perverted carnivorous cravings during the past week, but it sure did not help when my favourite Kway Chup and Khao Gaeng (equivalent to economic rice in Singapore) stalls served up comparatively-uninspiring and unhealthy vegetarian versions of their usual fare. Let's just say that I am glad the festival is finally over.

Despite all I have shared above, I have to reassure everyone that the Vegetarian Festival is not all that bad. This post could be just an unreasonable complain letter from a lonely family-deprived man sore at being also deprived of his meat. Aside of Loy Krathong, Songkran and the King's Birthday, this could be the most unique festival happening every year in the Land of Smiles, and I recommend you to come experience it for yourself, particularly if you are a vegan.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Stranger in Bangkok feels lonely on the eve of Chulalongkorn Day

It's been exactly a week since I've been back to Bangkok. And man.... have I felt lonely. Tomorrow is Chulalongkorn Day and Bangkok is half-empty, as many Thais who work in Bangkok have taken Monday off to complete their mega-weekend. I might be the only living thing in Thailand wishing it to be a working day tomorrow. Sitting alone on my gigantic bed on an eve-of-public-holiday after a mentally-torturing day at work simply reminds me of how I miss my babies - Li Li and Noah.


On one hand, I am happy they can finally be back in Singapore after Noah's long-drawn passport saga, to spend quality time with Noah's maternal relatives and be hugged and loved by them, but on the other hand, I would die to have them right beside me now, with Li Li perhaps nudging me to read Noah his bedtime story and Noah prowling on me giggling over nothing.

I used to spend nearly 50% of my time travelling around the world, leaving footprints on all continents multiple times. I wore my best suit, training doctors in hospitals and attending countless international trade fairs, this month in Buenos Aires, the next in Abu Dhabi. Before I could re-adjust to Singapore's timezone when I eventually got back, I would be urgently deployed to South Africa to apologise for the company over a project-gone-wrong. It took me four years before I realized that enough was enough, that I wasn't looking forward to messing up with my body clock anymore, that I needed to settle down and spend quantity time (quality time is a myth created by busy people) with myself and my loved ones.

Running a company in Thailand has fortunately, allowed me to settle down in one country (though it's a big one and I am required to make short trips domestically once in a while) and spend ample time with my family, and I have never been happier. They are the reason I work so hard, and the reason I can look forward to going home at the end of a tough day. Life can all of a sudden, become so stable, simple and satisfying.

Noah is nearly 9 months old now. He's growing FAST. In a short space of time, he has learnt to accept solids, then sit on the baby chair to eat properly. He has learnt to spin on his tummy, then drag himself forwards, then now learn to pull himself unaided onto a standing position. I cannot imagine how much more he would have grown over this month that I will not be with him. It really bothers me that I cannot be there every step of the way, experiencing all his firsts.

What if Noah comes back with teeth?

What if Noah comes back with a full head of black hair?

What if Noah comes back already knowing how to speak his first meaningful words?

What if Noah has already forgotten about me?

Noah happily accepting my feeding.

It's ok man, even if it takes me 200 kisses, 400 hugs, 600 cuddles, countless changes of your soiled diaper and endless feeding of your favourite pumpkin mash, Daddy will win your heart back.

I did it before, I will do it again.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Survival tips in a foreign land part 4: 入乡随俗 aka "When in Rome, do as Romans do"

7 months down the road, I have finally gotten down to completing my first real attempt at putting together a series to "advise" others based on my personal experiences. Looking back at my 3 earlier posts, I have to say that I am pretty pleased with what I have to offer, and I do hope that this final instalment will not disappoint.

Before I get on with it, it might be a good idea for everyone, especially new readers, to review my 3 previous  survival tips, all of which are extremely important:

Tip 1: Building a social circle

Tip 2: Family

Tip 3: The 2 Capital Ps - Patience and Perserverance

Everything happens for a reason. I had almost forgotten about writing this post, but in the past month, Amy Cheong's rant on a Malay wedding on her Facebook page and the consequences she suffered reminded me of this unfinished series and gave me the conviction that I HAVE TO complete it. Amy Cheong was an Australian (born in Malaysia) working in Singapore, very much like my current situation in Thailand. Her rant was, in my opinion, not exactly racist, but extremely rude and disrespectful to the natives in her adopted nation, which ultimately caused her swift downfall. I seriously do not consider her a racist, as she might have done that to any event or anyone on a bad day, but I would say that she got what she rightfully deserved, as we all have to bear the consequences of our own actions.

This brings me to the final and MOST IMPORTANT survival tip, called 入乡随俗 in Chinese and "When in Rome, do as Romans do" in English, though the Chinese version brings out the essence more accurately. Tips 1 to 3, as vital as they are, would mean nothing if you are not prepared to "Do as Romans do".


    I do not mean that you have to smoke if most locals smoke or become an inefficient worker if the working environment is generally relaxed. The more important aspect of this is RESPECT, respecting the people, culture/s, food, customs, habits of the locals etc. Always remember that you are the odd one out, not them, if anything, they should be the ones expecting you to behave like them.

    This is no longer your home-ground  you cannot always win. If you cannot get your head around some of the locals' behaviors or habits, try harder, or maybe find another place to work/live in, because they are not going to change for you. Please do not resort to ranting on your FB page, you know what will happen next.

    Try to understand the history and culture of the people to know why they do certain things. I had to take the public bus with my colleague to understand why she had to leave office on the dot everyday. By talking to them, I also knew what I could and could not do/say to locals, as the locals do have their traditions and preferences.


    It's ok to follow world news and keep in touch with what's happening in your home country, but ultimately, Obama or Romney becoming the next US President would not be more important than what's happening right outside your doorstep.

    By caring about the news and happenings in the country you live in, no matter how strange it might seem, you will start to feel a sense of involvement and belonging. Celebrate National Day with the locals, avoid the riot locations, be updated on what new rules are regulations are being put into place. It will definitely make your stay a more fruitful one.


    English is supposed to be the Universal language, but sadly it is not as widely used as we hope it would be. For example, in Thailand, I can reasonably assume that more than 90% of the entire population of 70 million cannot speak English properly. Thai characters, originating from Sanskrit, consist of 44 consonants and up to 28 vowel forms, not forgetting 5 tones, meaning it is infinitely more difficult to master than English, a language I spent half my life learning and can't say to be very good at.

    Although I admit I could have spent more effort learning how to read and write Thai, at least I can now speak quite a good bit of basic Thai (I am starting to learn reading too) and usually don't have major problems getting simple ideas across with the locals. If you are content with staying in your luxurious serviced apartment watching cable TV, you will always be dependent on others to do things for you and will never be able to solve you own problems.


    You are no longer a tourist. You can't possibly go to the places filled to the brim with foreigners every weekend though you are one. Try to go to spots locals frequent to see and experience the local way of enjoyment. It could be a walk in the park, grilling seafood by the beach or even fishing by the river. Life will never be the same again.

So I have finally come to end of my series. I hope in some way or another, my input would have helped you. Remember, I am a 31 year-old Malaysian who has spent 28 years in Singapore and another 3 in Thailand, in addition to leaving footprints on every continent multiple times, you do the Math. There might not be many other people floating around the globe at my age who can say they are more qualified than me to give a lecture on this topic.

My final sentence to close this off would be to absolutely respect and appreciate what the country you live in has given you, because only when this happens will its people respect you back.

If Eddie can do it, so can you.

Noah Yii's Guide to making your foreign-born child a Malaysian citizen

This is Noah Yii taking over Daddy's blog again. Yeah I know, I am in Singapore with all my folks while poor Daddy is working hard alone in Bangkok. I miss him lots, but let's not go too deep into sentimental issues now, because this is Noah's personal guide to becoming a Malaysian citizen when born outside Malaysia.

Daddy spent 2 long months battling for my citizenship and travel documents. Without going into any tiring details, it will be useful to note that he literally acted as the coordinator between the HQ in Putrajaya (Kuala Lumpur) and the Malaysian High Commission in Bangkok before finally succeeding. He does not want anyone else to go through what he did, so here are some important pointers if any of you happen to deliver a baby outside Malaysia and are patriotic enough to make him/her Malaysian:

  1. If you got married outside Malaysia, please go to the Malaysia High Commission there to apply for the Malaysian marriage certificate, preferably right after marriage, because things get more complicated if you make the application after your baby is born.
  2. Be sure to obtain an official English translation of your baby's local birth certificate and get it endorsed by the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  3. Check if the Malaysian High Commission in the country has the ability to make the actual passport for your baby, if not you MUST proceed to apply for a document Borang W (Malaysian birth certificate for citizens born outside Malaysia) WITHIN SIX MONTHS after the birth of your child. This is absolutely crucial because if you miss the deadline, it will be an almost impossible task for you to make him/her a Malaysian in the future.
  4. At the same time, you should also apply for an Emergency Document which will allow your child to travel back to Malaysia once to apply for the actual passport. The Emergency Document has a validity of 3 months, so you can only apply for it when you have a concrete plan to visit Malaysia. Don't worry, it only takes 3 working days to process.
  5. The most important advice of all. FOLLOW UP! Do it until the passport in in your hands!
Emergency Document, erhemmmm, this was when I was a few days old and down with jaundice

On a side note, I simply do not understand why passport photos cannot look better. I guess all of you know by now, I am EXTREMELY photogenic.

See what I mean? This was simply a snapshot at a restaurant

However, I end up with horrific pictures on both my travel documents. What's with the boring blue background, serious look, exposed ears and hair not covering the eyes? My hair don't cover my eyes nor ears anyway.

Who can recognize me from this picture?? I am ruined!

I propose that all babies unite to start a movement which will allow us to use our favourite pictures as our passport photos. Since we grow so fast and passports last for years, the overworked Uncles and Aunties at the various customs checkpoints would not be able to recognise us from the baby pictures soon. Wouldn't it be better if the pictures can reflect not our full features (which change at lightning speed), but our actual style and personalities.

Here, I would like to show off my version of the perfect passport.

See? That's the real me!

The customs officers are miserable enough looking at thousands of serious adults daily, it's up to us babies to brighten their day with these cheerful pictures and a bright smile at the counter. If we make their day, I am sure everyone's experience at the airport will be a better one!

PS. The NEW Malaysian Passport photograph now requires the background to be white!

PPS. The above information and advice is accurate up till March 2015, Noah Yii will not be responsible for inaccuracy if there are any changes in the procedure in the future.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Stranger in Bangkok's microscopic diamond and cheesy wedding proposal

The aim of this post is to put an issue deep inside me to bed. I have been trying to close this chapter in my heart over the last couple of years but it has never failed to haunt me once in a while and I realized I just cannot forget it without doing something like this.

For the personnel involved, if you eventually get to read this, I am sorry if I appear petty. Looking back, I managed to sit through our entire conversation and paid for everyone's drink before leaving. That, to me at least, is gracious enough, because on another day, things could have gotten ugly, very ugly indeed.

To cut the story short, I am, till today, still sour over being labelled as "cheesy" for how I proposed to my wife. And that, by a complete stranger, who then told me my 0.62 carat diamond was minute as she had never seen anyone proposing with less than a 1 carat diamond (which planet are u living in?). I wasn't even the one who wanted to share the details!

Anyway, to make things clear, I am not writing this post to step on anyone's toes or to get back at any individual. Everyone has their freedom of speech, and I absolutely respect that. I am just writing this post to invite comments from both men and women reading this, to do a final debate over this issue before forgetting it once and for all.

As a man, to finally decide to commit my heart and soul to a woman and invite her into my life forever required immense courage and conviction. I took pride in the way I conducted it, and to be mocked because of it was and still is a horrible blow.

I bought my diamond in South Africa, one of the major sources of this glistening unbreakable carbon allotrope. I went to the jeweler who served my client well when he proposed and had a long chat with him before deciding exactly what the band would be like and how to rock would be set. During my first check of the ring, I even voiced my displeasure over their work and demanded the ring to be re-made before settling on the final product. As unimpressive as it might look or as small as it might seem, I can cross my heart and say that it was a proposal ring that came from an exotic location and fully customized from start to finish personally for the love of my life.

My proposal was an even more intricately-planned event. It was supposed to take place during our first ever Europe trip (to the Netherlands, Belgium and UK). As it was a free and easy trip, I carefully planned almost every part of the journey to ensure it would be an unforgettable one, plotting the exact venue to propose and drawing out contingency plans in case something cropped up to block the first attempt.

Beautiful flowers pictured at the Keukenhof
And so the proposal happened successfully (Thank God!) at the Keukenhof, also known as the Garden of Europe, only open for 2 months a year. It was a nerve-jangling moment for me, and I am sure I made it a sweet memory for Li Li as well. Whatever the case, even if it rained that day, my proposal would still have happened along a picturesque river in Brugge, along the Thames River in London, or even at a nice little cafe in Singapore if all else failed during the trip. Point is, any well-planned proposal will most definitely be a beautiful one, even if it's only true in the eyes of the couple involved.

All the guys reading this, I invite your comments as I want to know your views on this post of mine, especially those who have proposed before, negative comments are welcome too, just knock some sense into me if my diamond was really too small. Ladies, equally, I need your views as well, as I need to know whether I have really short-changed my wife or have I done actually done an adequate job.

Happy Yii family
The only thing I know now is that my microscopic diamond and cheesy proposal has given me the most beautiful wife and the most precious baby in my life.

What a good deal.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The complain cry, fake cry, hungry cry, real cry and Daddy's cry

Fatherhood has so far been an amazing journey in my life.

Noah's smile has completely overwhelmed me and it's incredible how this little (ok, not too little) boy can devour my heart in such a short space of time. Maybe because we have no help here in Thailand, aside of b-feeding, I can proudly say that I am absolutely involved in every aspect of taking care of Noah (aside of cutting fingernails, because I am too scared to do it), and I wouldn't want it any other way.

As a result, Noah and I have fostered a deep bond (at least I think so), so deep that he has technically considered me to be his potty, the safe and sound mountain to lean on when he needs to poo. He will usually stick on me and look me seriously in the eye while he's getting rid of waste. I am not proud of being viewed as a toilet, but hopefully he has already the belief that Daddy will always be his pillar of support whatever happens.

Last week, this poo-poo thing became more complicated, because he failed to do it for a few days though he tried as usual, and it became a little worrying. When I was changing his nappy on Sunday morning, he started squeezing and I finally got to see the hardened stubborn stools which have gotten too big for him to excrete easily. Noah **cried in anguish as he pushed with dear life, successfuly getting rid of only a bit of it.

(**Through the last few months, Li Li and I have concluded that Noah has a few types of cries:

  1. The 'complain' cry, which happens most often when he doesn't want to sleep, complaining until he finally falls asleep or breaks into a real cry (with tears and all).
  2. The 'fake' cry,  the whining when he does not want to be left alone or placed somewhere he does not feel like being in, like on the playmat or exersaucer. These usually do not involve any tears, and can be rectified immediately by carrying/accompanying him.
  3. The hungry cry, the cry that doesn't stop no matter what we do to appease him, but immediately stops when food is given.
  4. The real cry, when in pain or shock, the kind that absolutely breaks my heart.)

A couple of hours later, while I was playing with him, he suddenly let out a shriek of distress, I knew for sure that he was trying again. This was the real cry, the wail that sent tremors through my skin right into my heart, the cry that causes tears to spurt out of his tiny eyes like in comic books, the scream that breaks my soul into a million pieces.

I held him closely in my arms to support him and when he screamed again, I caved in. This was a momentous  instant in my life, I cried together with my son. I couldn't help myself, the tears just came and I wept as ferociously as Noah did. He looked at me a few times with his teary eyes while I was crying and consoling him at the same time and he must be thinking, " Hey what are you doing Daddy! You are supposed to encourage me, not distract me with your loud sobs, I am trying to concentrate here."

Li Li came in and got a shock, I still don't really what she felt when she saw father and son weeping together in the room. She took over Noah and left me to recompose myself.

Looking back, it really seems lame, to cry like a baby over my son's constipation? But when I thought about that moment again, I can still feel my heart wrenching as my son suffered pain and discomfort.

Thank you Li Li, for making this collage which sums up my relationship with Noah

So this is what being a parent is all about.

It's not about saying "It's ok" when it's not ok.

It's about laughing with him when it's ok, and crying with him when it's not.

PS. He's officially not constipated anymore, in case anyone of you is still worried.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...