Cheongsam update for the day

I am returning to a favorite topic, the cheongsam, which is also the main interest of most of the blog followers.

This time I am showing photo shots of the dress in both the traditional and the modern forms, as well as news of design launches of some of the online boutiques.

Black is a favorite color of many, and here we see it in various designs. First off, is this black cheongsam with peony print from Hana. This is typical Hana straight cut design with hidden back zip and no piping nor embroidered buttons. I presume this is to show off the beautiful water color painting of the flowers. But
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Another piece from Hana in a black lace overlay over black silk lining. I didn’t get to check it closely but it appears to have front opening along the chest and side. This is the LBD of cheongsam, and would make a beautiful dress for a nice dinner or a cocktail event.
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I was at Raffles City last week and decided to check out some of the boutiques. Naturally Shanghai Tang cannot be missed, and I found a couple of interesting modern designs.
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When I felt the fabric of the above flare skirt cheongsam, I initially thought the fabric was wool, but it turns out to be blend of cotton and polyester, though the lining is mulberry silk. The material is rather heavy but not stiff, and so it allows the dress to drape nicely on the bodice. I like the casual chicness of this dress and the high collar adds a touch of elegance.

Shanghai Tang impresses me again with this dress-shirt cheongsam, a design which will appeal to the modern woman. The gap at the collar shouid also satisfy those who find high, wrap-around cheongsam collar stifling. I like how, by pairing it with a belt, it creates a waist which is accentuated in the traditional form. This is truly a creative modem interpretation.
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Spotted these at the display: one a cheongsam pant suit and the other a wool dress. I have featured a similar dress in an earlier post “Cheongsam for the occasion” dated 22 July (which shows the dress in red with beige trimming). I don’t like the design of the pant suit, which looks similar to the one from Ong Shunmugam. Worse, the floral design makes it looks “auntie”.
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On the second floor of Raffles City mall is Xi (喜). At the window display is a casual A-line dress with denim trimming and chinese water color print is displayed. (Unfortunately the glass reflection reduces the clarity of the picture.) A mix of the west and east with modern characteristics.
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I checked out Allure, also on the second level, to see if the boutique offers cheongsams despite not being the new year period. It does but the design is rather blah: traditional straight cut form with piping, embroidered buttons and hidden back zip.
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Now to the news. Our Bitsy Prints and Joli Pretty are launching their next collections tomorrow. OBP’S designs are available at 9PM while you can check out those from JP at 11AM.

This is a sneek peek of JP’s collection.
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I like a couple of the prints like the dragonfly (bottom right) and what looks like panda (top middle). Not crazy over some, like the bottom middle blue print which reminds me of ameba (single call organism).

OBP had children’s day (1 October) in mind when they designed this latest collection.
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Some of the prints are rather pretty, like the one of potong (cut in Malay) ice cream (top left) and the clouds in pastel blue background (bottom left). I also find the print of cassette tapes peeking out from a pocket (middle middle) rather whimsical. But some of the prints seem a little too crowded (top right, middle right and bottom middle). Though I will have to see the dresses to decide if that is the case, or perhaps the prints are juxtaposed appropriately.

Lark and Peony is going retro with their cheongsam, at least for one dress.
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This comes with a circle skirt. It will be interesting to see the full design. But the collar is too short though. Anyway this is part of the next collection scheduled for launch in mid October.

The food at RWS

As mentioned in my previous post “A Staycation at RWS”, I am reviewing the food experience we had at Resorts World Sentosa in this separate post. Though I have to state upfront that I didn’t take any pictures of the restaurants or food.

When we arrived at Hotel Michael, we had lunch at the Italian restaurant, Palio, since it’s convenient. To be honest, I didn’t have much expectations because the hotel is run like a China man shop.
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But, to our surprise, the food turned out to be better than expected. We ordered the 2-course set lunch of appetizer/dessert and main for S$22++ each. A margherita pizza which Buddy also took, a green salad, a spicy tomato pasta and a hazelnut crunch cake.

The pizza is freshly made and though not as good as the one from Bruno, it can rival Spizza. Buddy loves pizza, though so far he had only tried those from Spizza and Da Paolo Gastronomia. He enjoyed the one served at Palio, and even ate the crust. We didn’t give him the spicy pasta, but it was very well done too. My only beef is the small portion of the cake. In fact it is so tiny that it can gobbled up in two mouthful. Buddy is also a cake lover, and he said “yummy” to the cake.

The next morning, my husband suggested that we had breakfast at Palio as well, also for convenience so that we could spend more time at Universal Studio. Palio offers breakfast buffet at a fixed price of S$22 nett for each diner. That sounds rather reasonable. But turns out the price also reflects the quality of the food. In a word, breakfast sucks!

The mini pancakes were not fluffy and broke into pieces when I tried cutting them. The tiny chocolate cupcake, which Buddy picked, was dry. Buddy only had half a cupcake, and refused to finish it. He stuck to having watermelon instead. (You can’t go wrong with fruits though there was limited choices, other than watermelon, there were only honeydew and pineapple.) My husband had some sausage and bacon, and remarked that he was only having them for the protein since there was no other options. Seriously, for a low quality breakfast, S$22 is expensive.

It had been some time since we last checked out RWS, which was about a year ago. The food scene has changed a lot, with more choices now. But quantity doesn’t equate to quality. Still there are some which have been rather consistent, like Coca Steamboat Restaurant, which also has an branch at Takashimaya mall. We used to go to the latter when my husband wanted a steamboat fix, and he loves the freshly made dipping. They still have it at the RWS outlet. In fact they offer a dinner buffet for S$44++ per person, and you can select from a wide selection of ingredients including seafood such as oysters and prawns, meat, and lots of vegetables and mushrooms.

Our dinner didn’t get on a good start, no fault of the restaurant. It was because Buddy didn’t nap earlier in the afternoon, and we thought we would have an early dinner so that he could sleep earlier. Unfortunately, at 5.30pm, Buddy started to get cranky. My husband rocked him to sleep and we thought we could then put him in the stroller. But he woke up with a wail when we tried. In the end, my husband ignored the resistance and placed him on the stroller. We had to take turns to have dinner as we pushed him around. Luckily, after a short nap, he was willing to join us for dinner.

Back to the food at Coca, the ingredients are pretty fresh and the dip is as good as before. If you like seafood, then taking the buffet is a good option, and in fact I recommend it for a healthy dinner. We also received attentive service at the restaurant. We didn’t have to ask for refill of water, and the staff was quick to help us open the door when we went in and out with the stroller.

When we were at Universal Studio, we had our lunch at Loui ‘ s NY Pizza Parlor, not by choice but for convenience since we were at the New York zone.

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We didn’t order a whole pizza, and instead asked for a slice of margherita pizza (again, since this is easy for Buddy to eat) and a meatball Bolognese pasta, and Buddy wanted a watermelon cup as well. Perhaps because the slice didn’t come from a freshly baked pizza, I find the taste average, and even the pasta is nothing special (and worse they are a little cold). Though Buddy had a little pizza, he had mostly watermelon again. (Yes, I realize he is a fussy eater like me.) The reviews at Hungry Go Where were positive; I can understand for those who ordered the freshly prepared whole pizza. But for the pre-prepared food, it was basically just to fill the stomach, nothing great about it. I would really reconsider about returning.

We had an afternoon snack at Mel’s Drive In, located at the Hollywood zone. Basically like a fast food restaurant, with similar offerings to Burger King or . But Mel’s is more expensive because you are paying the the price for smaller portion.

My husband was thinking of having a good burger for dinner, and Hard Rock restaurant seemed like a good place to go to. Unfortunately, Buddy started to get cranky and refused to enter the restaurant. He kept pointing to the opposite direction. So we decided to take him for a short stroll. We stopped outside Pisco, a restaurant serving South American food and the menu looks interesting But, again, Buddy refused to go in. My husband decided to take him for a stroll inside the Malaysian Food Street food court while I had to use the bathroom. While in there, he found that the Chinese were no longer cooking the food and instead were replaced by Malaysians. (We had tried the food there a couple of years ago and it sucks. My husband complained then that the Chinese, employed for their cheap labor, didn’t know how to fry a mean char kway teow (fried flat rice noodle with dark soy sauce).

My husband, who has a penchant for local Malaysian food, suggested we had dinner there instead, and we could tempt Buddy with roti prata (fried Indian dough), which he likes. The food court was rather crowded for a week day night, and understandably so, since the prices are more reasonable (compared to the restaurant) and it’s comfort food for the Malaysian tourists (a lot of them), and also preferred by other tourists as well. Indeed, the food is better than before. We had the chicken satay which is well grilled, the roti prata is quite good too, though I am not a fan of the Penang Loh Mee. I guess the Malaysian tourists must have screamed bloody murder when the Chinese screw up their food and RWS had to scramble in the locals to take over.

On the third and last day, we tried something new, Slappy Cakes. This a pancake place that serves all-day breakfast. After the sucky breakfast and pancakes at the hotel, we thought we could finally get good old American pancakes. At least this is what we saw outside the restaurant.

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We went in and got a table just in time, before the crowd came. On each table, there is a hot plate, and on the wall, there is pictures showing how to make pancakes with fillings. It turns out Slappy Cakes is a DIY pancake place, though you can order the breakfast course with pancakes included “Truck Stop”. My husband was a little dismay about it, and understandably so. Why can’t the restaurant provide an option to the diner who doesn’t want to cook the pancakes? So he ordered the breakfast course for himself and the DIY pancake for me.

To be honest, I was initially curious. The pictures on the wall make cooking pancakes look rather simple: pour a layer of batter on the hot plate, add fillings, flip over and voila, you have a beautiful layered pancakes. But when the batter and fillings arrived, and my husband and I looked at the hot plate, we realized we weren’t sure what temperature to set. There was absolutely no suggestion or instruction. The restaurant was also so short of staff that they just dumped the food on the table and ran off to serve another. Basically it is up to the diners to figure out.

My husband resorted to trial and error. He put in the batter on the hot plate and I added the fillings (strawberries, bananas, blueberries and shredded coconut) into it. But it didn’t turn out like the picture. When the pancakes were flipped over, some of the filling spill out. The pancakes were crumbly and fell apart, and the fillings on the pancakes looked like some sort of tumorous growth. “How can people expect to have good pancakes with DIY?” exclaimed my husband. (It’s not as if pancakes are a staple of Asian diet.)

My husband realized the problem, and as he tried with the second batch, he explained, “In order to make fluffy and nice pancakes like those in the picture, you need a thick batter. In fact the fillings should be mixed into the batter so that when one side is cooked and you flip it over, the fillings won’t fall out. But the problem with this batter is that it is runny.” He tried covering the fillings with a top batter. The end result was better, but still nothing like the picture. That is just a marketing gimmick to get you into the restaurant!

Buddy didn’t want to touch the pancakes. He only wanted his alphabet cookies and the blueberry fruit. Even the pancakes in the Truck Stop breakfast were not up to mark. The cook is obviously not experienced, and the rest (bacon, potatoes, scrambled egg) was measly and left much to be desired, and it costs S$20. “If the Americans are served this kind of breakfast, they will storm the restaurant!”   We seriously have no idea how the hell the restaurant was given an award for ‘best dessert 2014′ and received all those good reviews.

Well, I guess at any attraction, there is bound to be a mix bag of restaurants. Unfortunately you can’t really rely on reviews and have to try the food to know for sure. I am interested in the South American restaurant, Pisco, though I do realize the well-presented pictures can be misleading. Still we’ll have to be guinea pigs to know for ourselves.

A staycation at RWS

We had initially wanted to have a vacation in Hong Kong, where we could take Buddy to Disney World and Ocean Park. But after a spate of air crashes, including the ill-fated MH17 and others within a few weeks, the incidents spooked my husband and I. Logically, the risk of dying in an air disaster is really low; in fact we have a higher chance of dying from a car accident. But the news impact is greater for a plane crash and so we decided to avoid air travel for the time being, and go for a staycation instead.

We opted for Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) since it has  family friendly attractions. RWS offers a two-night accommodation with multi-attraction package that includes 2 adult day passes to Universal Studio, SEA Aquarium and the Adventure Cove Waterpark. (Children below 4 years old enter free.) We had been to the Aquarium last year, but Buddy was napping most of the time then and so we thought we could go for a second visit and hopefully Buddy would be awake this time.

The package starts from S$628, and requires prepayment. You have to be sure of the dates for the staycation, otherwise you won’t get a refund if you cancel or make any changes. There is a choice of one of four hotels. We wanted one which is suitable for family, so Hard Rock Hotel and Equarius Hotel were not in our consideration. That left Hotel Michael and Festive Hotel, with the latter touted as a family hotel. My husband suggested we checked reviews on TripAdvisor first, and it turns out both hotels have mixed feedback though HM is slightly better. There were complaints about the room quality, small size and no free WiFi available. But Hotel Michael has an edge because of its convenient location, being nearest to the attractions. We didn’t think we needed the extra space available at Festive Hotel, after all we only have Buddy with us and he is a toddler. So a deluxe room at Hotel Michael it was and I requested for a baby cot for Buddy. The package requires the guest to indicate which date they would be going for the attractions (for the day passes). We decided on the Aquarium for the first day, Universal Studio for second day and the Adventure Water Cove Park for the third.

On the confirmation letter, it is stated that the letter has to be shown at the Sentosa gantry for complimentary entry for the hotel stay. So we were a little surprised, after we entered Sentosa, that there was the entry and into RWS and we didn’t have to go through the Sentosa gantry. We thought there had been a change to make the visit a breeze, and marvelled at the convenience. But it turned out to be a mistake and there was a reason for going via the Sentosa gantry (though this is not stated at all in the confirmation letter). We went into the car park, where there are prominent signs pointing to the casino, and were looking out for the direction going to HM, instead we only saw signages for Hard Rock Hotel and Hotel Equarius. We were stumped but decided to park where HRH is. When we asked the staff there for the direction to HM, we were told it would be quite a walk. We went back to the car and called customer service to find out how we could get there instead. We were told there would be a U-turn at the car park exit but there was none. The situation was starting to sour the staycation even before it began. 

It was only when we checked with two staff, on their way to lunch, that we found out there was no way of going to HM from where we were, unless we exit and pay the rate of S$7 (for less than 30 mins)! The staff instead suggested we stay put at the HRH car park and take either the shuttle bus or the buggy to HM. It looked like this was the best option then. We went to HRH concierge and asked for the shuttle bus, which was coming in 12 minutes’ time. We had just plonk ourselves on the couch when the concierge staff came over and told us he had spoken to his supervisor, and they would arrange for us to travel to HM via the buggy. “That was a quick turnaround of service!”, my husband exclaimed. Sure enough, a buggy was waiting for us at the entrance and we were driven to HM. The HRH staff sure had redeemed the earlier unpleasant experience.

I had requested for early check-in at HM, and was told the room was being cleaned then and to return to the front desk at 2pm when it might be ready. It was almost 1pm and so we decided to have lunch first. For convenience, we went to the Italian restaurant there, Palio. (I will review the food experience in a separate post.) Sure enough, the room was ready as spoken. The front desk also gave me two complimentary parking coupons and two entry passes for Sentosa for the two-night stay. My husband used the coupons to shift the car, and I can tell you the coupons come in very handy because parking costs an arm and a leg.

The Tripadvisor reviews are right that the room is not very big (and the website doesn’t even put down the size). In fact the room is simply furnished, and when I saw the bed, I was a little surprised as it looked like a queen-size to me though I had asked for a king bed. The staff assured me it was the latter when I checked with them, but it seems slightly smaller than what we have at home. My husband tried testing the bed, and grimaced that the mattress is soft. He won’t be able to sleep on soft mattress! It gives him backache. I checked with the staff for a hard mattress, but was told all mattresses are the same. Strangely when my husband checked the other side of the bed, it was fine for him. I didn’t find the bed too soft for me then, but that evening, I had trouble sleeping. It could either be the mattress or the soft pillows. I had to lie on two pillows to sleep. 

Inside the room, there are basic amenities like mineral water (2 bottles), water pot, coffee and tea sachets, and toiletries (only shampoo and body wash provided). There was no hand soup in the bathroom, and I had to ask the housekeeping staff for it when she came with the cot. There is no mini-bar either (not that we use it), the mini fridge is empty. Our luggage was also not brought to the room, and I had to ask for them. As for the cable TV, there is CNN and Chinese programs, but no movie channels like HBO or Fox Movies. It looks to us like the hotel is geared towards the Chinese-speaking crowd. It is also true that there is no free WiFi available in the hotel. I have to agree with the Tripadvisor reviews that it is ridiculous for a resort hotel like HM that guests have to pay for WiFi usage. On the last day, my husband checked if there was in-room express check-out, and there was none. He remarked, “this place is really run like a China- man shop!” My husband is not a “jiak kentang” (westernized) person, but he feels that there doesn’t seem to be a proper system in place in the hotel management (likely someone from the Genting Group who owns the resort), unlike the Aquarium (by extension the water park), which is run by an Australian, is better managed. A little consolation for my husband is that the hotel has a gym on the third floor, and the equipments look as if they have never been used since the place opened.

Anyway, we didn’t go to the Aquarium straight after checking into the room, we decided to let Buddy take his afternoon nap first, and also for my husband to have a nap as well. Unfortunately, Buddy didn’t want to sleep and was playing on the bed, which also causes my husband to stay awake. We decided we might as well go to the Aquarium.

I don’t know why, but this second trip wasn’t as exciting as the first. Even the big tank doesn’t seem so impressive. In fact I found out from Wikipedia yesterday that the SEA Aquarium is no longer the largest in the world. (Expectedly, the Chinese is now holding the title.) Buddy wasn’t fascinated by the sea creatures as well. The only interesting experience for him was the touch pool when he had the chance to touch a starfish. So we didn’t spend a long time in the Aquarium.
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We thought we would have more fun at Universal Studio; my husband and I had a good time at the Orlando theme park. We still remember the scary ride at The Mommy zone when I kept my eyes shut the entire time. Admittedly both of us were chicken and didn’t try the roller coasters then. Hell, I was even a little scared of the Princess Unicorn train ride which was above ground. However for this park at RWS, we couldn’t even try half the rides because Buddy isn’t tall enough. We decided to go for whatever is suitable for him.
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Madagascar zone was the first that we went for, since it is located near to the entrance. There was a boat ride which we thought Buddy would enjoy. When we went into the cabin, the staff told us Buddy couldn’t be on my husband’s lap and had to sit on the bench because of the safety restrain that has to be lowered in front of the sitting passengers. But Buddy refused to do so, and struggled and wailed when we tried to make him. We had to take him out when the staff told us to calm him down first. We asked him if he wanted to go on the boat ride, he nodded his head. But when we asked him to sit on the bench, he shook his head. So no boat ride for us.

We then went over to the Madagascar carousel. Buddy was excited to see the animal rides, especially the zebra, but he didn’t want to ride on his own. Luckily there is a carriage for parents with infants, and I had to take it with Buddy, him sitting on my lap of course.
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We also caught the photo sessions with the characters.

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Buddy was more interested in the lion than the penguins.

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The lemur tried to chat up Buddy, unsuccessfully.

We watched the 3D show at Shrek: Far Far Away zone. Buddy didn’t want to put on the 3D glasses, and I don’t think he enjoyed the show. He didn’t like the sudden jerking movement of the chair nor the loud sounds, and wailed in response. Following that, we went for one more show before lunch, and that was an action-packed performance at Waterworld. My husband loved this, and was thrilled by the dare devil stunts. I was bored midway through it though, and he tried telling me to forget about the cheesy storyline and focus on the stunts. I don’t think Buddy understood what was going on either.

We went for a quick lunch at the sesame Street restaurant before returning to the hotel for naps. There was a street performance by the Muppets while we were there, but Buddy isn’t into Sesame Street (and neither am I). When we returned to Universal Studio in the late afternoon for round 2, thank God it wasn’t as hot then. The park closes at 7pm, so we went straight to the Jeep ride at the Ancient Egypt zone that we saw earlier in the day. We told Buddy, while on the way, to get him excited so that there won’t be a repeat of the failed boat ride. Alas, again he has to be on the seat, and when we tried to do so, again he resisted and we had to give up. Even when we tried to put him in front of the driving wheel, he refused. No jeep ride for us either.

Instead, we went for the show “Light, Camera, Action” “hosted” by Steven Spielberg. When we were at Orlando, we saw the simulation of a tornado. This time, it was a hurricane inside a boathouse in NYC. We were a little worried that Buddy would be frightened by the loud noise again, so my husband was prepared to cover his eyes and me, his ears. But Buddy was brave this time, he wanted to watch what was going on. I must say it was fascinating and exciting, even for me, especially the entry of the ship at the end. There was a toddler girl who cried, but Buddy didn’t, though he said, “scared, scared,” after the show.

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It was a good thing that we were at the Aquarium and Universal Studio on weekdays when there was no huge crowds, and the fact that last week was not a school holiday also helps. We didn’t have to queue for long at the shows and hardly queued for the rides. But it was really hot when we were at the theme park, and so it’s best to bring along sun block, hat, and perhaps an umbrella in case it rains. It is also fine to bring along the stroller or pram since there are designated parking areas for them at the park. We didn’t know about this and so Buddy didn’t have the stroller during the first half of our visit, and we didn’t want to rent one for S$15. It was rather exhausting for my husband to carry him under the hot sun, and me carrying the diaper bag and other stuff. With the stroller during the second half of the visit, it was much better. It was too bad though that we only managed to watch 3 shows and taken two rides (at the same carousel). Yes, we returned to the carousel for a second ride after we couldn’t take the jeep.

The Adventure Cove Water Park, which we went on the third day, turned out to be the highlight and climax of the staycation, which was unexpected. (We thought Universal Studio would be great fun.) Instead Buddy loves the water park.   

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Initially when we tried to put on the life jacket on Buddy, he resisted and struggled, but we persisted. My husband wanted to take him down the Adventure River on a tube but he didn’t want to go into the water. So we took him to the Big Bucket Treehouse, and he had such a blast! My husband took him up to the treehouse to ride down on the slides and they had loads of fun. Strangely, Buddy also loves to go under the water showers, though he doesn’t like it when we shower him during bath time.  I went to check out other suitable water play areas for Buddy and found the Seahorse Hideaway for toddlers. When my husband and Buddy saw the place, it was “blah, so boring, compared to the treehouse!’ It was just some water fountains in a shadow pool. We then turned back to the Adventure River, when this time, Buddy happily went into the water with my husband.

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We didn’t spend a lot of time at the water park since we had to check out before 2.00PM (I made a late check out request). But my husband told me the fun and thrill was condensed within that 1.5 hours.

If you ask me if I would go for another staycation at RWS, my initial reaction would be no since I am not impressed with the hotel. But I realized that there is advantage of staying at Hotel Michael because of the convenience of having a room to bathe and rest. We definitely want to return to the Adventure Cove Water Park since Buddy had so much fun there, and it would be nice to check out the other pools though not all are appropriate for him. So we will want to spend more time at the water park, and we will also want to go to the theme park again to persuade Buddy to go for some of the rides. But I will not go for the multi-attraction package since we want to skip the Aquarium. Instead the accommodation with S$300 credit is a better option, where we can use for entry into the attractions or F&B. So, unfortunately, we have to bow to the power of monopoly here.

A Les Amis experience

Yesterday, my team had a farewell lunch for two colleagues. Initially we thought of going to Tamarind Hill at Labrador Park, which boss had previously raved about the food and ambience. But when we proposed to him, he advised against it after he had a negative experience the last time he had lunch there, which was a month ago. Instead, he suggested Les Amis, which he highly recommends for the good food and wine.

Well, I’m not a wine person, but I was pretty excited when I learned we were going to Les Amis for lunch since it’s an icon in the restaurant scene. Besides I had never been there before, and had always wanted to try the food. Anyway, I also found out the other reason for my boss’s suggestion: he had a 30% discount coupon from his credit card company.

The interior decor of Les Amis is simple but classy, and the staff provide bag stools for ladies to place their bags on. Both my colleagues arrived first, and they had the bag stools. When my boss and I got there, I thought I would place my bag on the stool where S had her large canvas bag. The staff seemed to assume that since I did that, they didn’t have to offer a separate stool to me. I think it must be the male mentality because the staff are all men.

The male staff are, in general, rather polite and somewhat attentive. But compared to the impressive service at the fine dining restaurant, Gary Danko, in San Francisco, it’s still a far cry. The staff here still lack the perceptive service that blew us away at GD. (Example, GD staff remembered the coat I wore despite the restaurant being full and it was brought to me after dinner at the door, and best of all a cab was waiting for us when we wanted it and we didn’t even have to ask.)      

Anyway, back to the main topic, the food. It is a four-course meal and all of us chose the Menu Le Déjeuner at S$55++ each. My boss and S had a bottle of red wine between them. Since I didn’t try it, I can’t comment on the quality, but it was said to be good. The staff served us a basket of assorted bread and I only recalled the tomato bread and the bacon bread. They come with butter (in the shape of a cone) and sea salt. Though the bread is quite tasty, but what I don’t understand is why it wasn’t warmed up. Seriously, cold and slightly hard bread should not be served in a fine dining restaurant.

 

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Next came the salad: haricot vert salad in combination with foie gras and quail egg. Haricot vert is really just a fancy name for French bean or snap bean. To be honest, I couldn’t taste the foie gras at all. It might be that it was overwhelmed by the cream-based dressing. I also find that the French beans were a little over-cooked and lacked the crunch. The only interesting ingredient is the little green apple balls, which added a slight tartness and crunch to the texture.

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I like the soup, a chicken broth with foie gras ravioli and herb, garnished with cream on the side. It’s really flavorful, and the cream enhances the taste. My only beef is that the foie gras is measly.

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When I was served my main course, I was struck by how small the portion was. It was Scottish wild salmon served two ways: tartare and grilled. And it was really good! The tartare was blended with chopped onion and capers, and had none of the raw fishy taste. I basically devoured the entire plate.

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The other diners at my table opted for the baby rack of lamb with pommery mustard ice cream, and comes with mash potato. Because they asked for medium cooked, the meat turned out to be quite reddish. I declined to try it but my boss had no problem with that (he’s a meat lover). During lunch, he recounted that when he stayed at the Shangri-la Jing’an hotel in Shanghai last week, he went for dinner at the steakhouse there. He had finished 3/4 of a porterhouse steak when he realized that the inside was rare instead of the medium cooked that he asked for. He pointed out to the maitre’D and requested to have it cooked a little longer. When the maitre’D returned, it was a new plate of steak! My boss promptly finished it.
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The dessert was supposed to be Rum baba dark rum from Guatemala, blackberry nectar, crème chantilly. But I wanted something without liquor, so I chose Granité of fresh coconut on a mosaic of tropical fruit and milk jelly. The tropic fruits are pineapple and mango, and go very well with the coconut sorbet, which tastes really refreshing.

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S had the rum baba and I tried a bite. Rum baba is basically a yeast cake filled with usually rum. I must say it is good, especially with the blackberry sauce.

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We were also served madeleine with a passion fruit cream. I thought the Madeleine is best eaten on its own.

So, to sum up, I find the lunch to be a little disappointing. After all the hype on Les Amis, the dining experience is nothing spectacular. I am not sure if it is because of lunch or maybe because it was the cheapest set on the menu. But I had a much satisfying experience at Buchon Bistro by Thomas Keller at Napa Valley, when we were wowed by the food, despite being a Bistro.

Cheongsam Spotting

I have not had much ideas for a new post after the last one, so I thought I would showcase pictures of cheongsams I have been taking whenever I chanced upon any.

I had not mentioned anything on Vourgeois for a long time. Here are two cheongsam dresses available at the store located on the 4th level of One Raffles Place. The design is typical of Vourgeois style: block colored silk fabrics, and the embellishments, if any, are sequins. There is little variations in the design, and the dresses come in the straight cut fit with hidden back zip.
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I chanced upon this dress at Ong Shunmugam boutique I went to my regular alteration shop, “hey, this looks like the design from Our Bitsy Prints!”. I sent the photo to Melanie who told me OBP was inspired by the Verdame dress from the Valentino S/S collection, and the designer at Ong Shunmugam likely had the same Eureka moment.
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This is a mandarin top and pants set from OS. When I first saw it, my thought was “I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing this.” It looks similar to what my late grandma wore.
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Then there is this funny looking dress which looks like a mish-mash of fabrics (or “rojak” as we call here).
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Ong Shunmugam also offers peplum cheongsams. I thought the length seems a little too long, and the dresses look matronly as a result.
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A simple cheongsam dress from Mama & Misse, with flare bottom.
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This is a beautiful lace cheongsam from Hana. I like the graduated color of the lining fabric.
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The cheongsam news snippets

In this month, there have been launches from some online boutiques and sneek peeks of what to expect. Joli Pretty launched their second collection on 7 August, while The Happy Cheongsam launched its 5th collection last Friday, and The Lady General had one as well.

The Launches
Joli Pretty’s latest collecton is a continuation of their first, with the same design except for two dresses. And these two have sold out so far, though the reason could be that they retail at $89 each because of the polyester fabric. One is a bias cut dress with frontal colorful parrots print and block black color on the back. It is an interesting design though I have reservation about the parrots print which reminds me of a cushion cover.
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The other is a short sleeved A-line dress with owls print which is better. The design reminds me of the simple elegance of Shanghai Tang but with a whimsical tone.
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THC’s collection is inspired by California, though to be honest, I don’t see any link. There are two pretty dresses, like this formal turquoise green cheongsam below with a rosette on the belt. It would make an outstanding outfit for a cocktail party or a wedding luncheon.
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Then there is this dress that reminds me of something similar from Sissae.
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Except that for the Sissae dress, the print is pointing down.

When I first saw TLG’s latest collection, I spotted the peplum cheongsams with batik bottom, and initially went “that is so auntie!”.
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The problem is that it is a knee length dress, and of course the brown color doesn’t help. But on further thoughts, TLG may be catering to a wide range of clientele ranging from their 20s’ to 50’s or above. So the peplum dresses are actually appropropate for the older women.

For the younger set, there is the youthful orchid print flared bottom cheongsam with a wide belt, which is rather pretty. I prefer this to the purple Ji dress of the same design; I find the print a little too loud and getai-like (stage dress).
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TLG also offers a casual cheongsam with a retro feel. The designer, Elaine, has got it right with a short dress catered for the weekends. This will be a refreshing change from the usual jeans or shorts.
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Looking at the TLG dresses, I noticed the incorporation of local features like the batik and orchids, something that Our Bitsy Prints and Blum do too, and this is heartening.This is something to encourage and support, where we make the cheongsams our own using our cultural heritage.

Sneek Peeks
Our Bitsy Prints will be launching their latest collection this Thursday, featuring geometric prints. One of the new designs is a relaxed fit, but I find the color rather dreary.

OBP - geometric prints</

Here is what you can expect when the dresses are available two days ago. I see a mix of old and new designs. And are there two dresses with tulip bottom that I spotted?
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Lark and Peony offers a peek into the prints for its 2015 Chinese New Year designs, and again the trend is geometric, but of vibrant and contrasting colors; as well as whimsical Russian dolls and autumn leaves prints which remind me of those from Miz Apparels. Something to look forward to.
Lark & Peony prints

A search for cheongsam continues…

…with Studio 55 where designer, Peter Kor, creates comfortable and stylish cheongsams with premium cotton fabric from Japan.

I went to the boutique last week, which is located at 15 Purvis Street. For your  info, it’s across the road from Ya Kun coffee joint. That was what Peter told me when I couldn’t find it, and with this landmark guide, it became easy.

Studio 55 has a rather classy decor of simple but elegant Chinese furniture, with soothing operatic music playing in the background. It is also rather spacious, and because I was the only “customer” there, the place feels rather serene. There is a curtain at the back of the shop and I could hear the sewing machine operating behind it. Currently, the clothes are on sale, going for 50% off, and some even at 70% off.

Peter is a very slender man in his 50’s, with greying short hair, glasses, and a slouch. He speaks well, in a gentle manner, and rather friendly too. When he found out I was looking for cheongsams, he offered to show me the designs available. (A note here: I didn’t take any photos because it didn’t seem appropriate to do so inside the shop, and Peter is a nice guy. But I guess I could have asked.)

There are not many cheongsams since it is the end of the “season”. A couple of the dresses are in the straight cut form with plain prints. Then there is one that has a flamenco hemline which I really like. Peter told me he wants to make an interesting design, and I have to admit it it, and unique as well. There is a dress (last piece) in a beautiful sapphire blue color that has puffed sleeves with front key – hole opening. I was told that the color may look aging, but it is popular with the younger ladies who make the dress looks vibrant. In fact it was designed for the Chinese New Year this year.

I thought the fabrics of the cheongsams are silk, but turned out they are Japanese premium cotton. Seriously, they are of such high quality that they can passed off as silk. I asked Peter why he opted for cotton instead, and he explained that it is a fabric that is more comfortable for our humid climate, and also easy on cleaning. Unlike silk, cotton can be hand washed and there is the option of saving on the dry cleaning cost.

Peter is insistent on using only Japanese premium cotton fabrics for his dresses; in fact the blue colored fabric mentioned above is a kimono print. With the summer season drawing to a close soon, the autumn/winter season will see a change in prints with beautiful and rich patterns. Peter is already planning his next collections which will be available starting next month.

I noticed that all the dresses have hidden back zip, and there are only faux buttons in front. Peter explained that he had in mind the busy working women, who cannot afford too much time getting dressed in the morning. The dress is easier than separates, especially with just a zip. I have to admit this is true. Even since I had Buddy, I hardly put on separates (except on Friday when sometimes I will wear tights, also easy to put on). I rather have dresses, so that I don’t have to wreck my brain on what to wear. In fact when I’m running short of time, I’ll grab a cheongsam with back zip. Those with multiple fabric buttons are reserved only for days when I have extra minutes to spare, which is not often, but luckily I don’t have many such dresses.

Peter said that with separates, there’s a risk of pairing mistakes like clashing prints, which would make you look like a fashion disaster. He expressed dismay at the attires of some younger ladies who wear totally inappropriate outfits to work, like micro-mini skirt, and low cut tops, which look more club wear than work wear, and wondered why the companies tolerated it. I have to agree with him; I have raised my eyebrows at some women at Raffles Place. The hot weather here is no excuse for dressing like a night club hostess. I guess their bosses are men and enjoy ogling at them.

Our conversation moved on to a pertinent part of the cheongsam: the collar. In this respect, Peter is a traditionalist, like me he believes that the high collar is the essence of the cheongsam. So he insists on the minimum length of  1.75″ or about 4.5cm. In fact his preference is 2″ or 5cm. Some customers asked if he could reduce the collar length and he declined. He feels that with the high collar, the wearer is then made to straighten her back with the neck held up. (I can attest to this. When I wear a high-collared cheongsam, that is what I do automatically.) 

The cheongsam looks best on a woman with the right posture, and slouching is a big no-no. So the high collar does enable the posture needed to make the woman looks good in the dress. Short collar will just make it looks stunted, and worse, if the wearer slouches. In fact, I personally think a high-collared cheongsam makes the lady looks more elegant and regal, though some might argue it is not comfortable. But Peter will not back down. He  told his customers that they either accept it, or they can forget about getting the dress. He will not compromise.

Peter also took the chance to show me a red cheongsam with a luxurious red lace overlay. The lace is not monotonous, unlike many I saw, with a 3D pattern on it. Peter is experimenting with interesting fabrics and prints like gingham. He has also used kimono fabrics but found them hard to handle because they come in 14″ width panel. Basically you have to sew the blocks together to make the dress (which was described in The Lady General’s website on the making of the kimono fabric cheongsams). The problem also is that the fabric can be rather stiff, like brocade, and doesn’t drape well on the body. Peter then showed me a beautiful deep gold jacket using a Chinoiserie brocade, saying that the fabric is better used for the jacket instead.

I think I must have spent at least half an hour chatting with Peter, and it was really enjoyable talking to him. I will like to return next month to check out the new designs, especially the prints. By the way, before I forget, the dresses are not very expensive, the prices hovering at around S$300, or slightly more for lace cheongsam. Peter only make each piece in a couple of sizes.

A search for cheongsams

For quite some time, I have noticed this lady, in her 50’s with a bob hair cut, who is always in the traditional straight-cut cheongsams, and working in the same office vicinity as me. I have never seen in her any other attires. Though she is no Maggie Cheung, she is well groomed in her fitted cheongsam with make up and heels.

I had always been curious about her; because for the longest time she was the only cheongsam clad lady other than myself. Even now, she is the only person I have seen who wears the dress all the time (even I don’t do that), and always the same design. I had wondered where she gets her dresses made, and thought she would have to spend a lot of money on tailoring them. So I decided to strike up a conversation with her when I had the chance, but for some time I only had fleeting glimpses.

Finally last Friday, I was about to go down the escalator when I spotted her standing along the side while moving down. I grabbed my chance and approached, and she turns out to be a pretty friendly and chatty lady. She takes the same train line as me and so we had quite a long chat on the way home.

In my excitement to get info on her cheongsams, I forgot to ask her for her name, so let’s call her “The Lady”. She revealed that her dresses are tailor-made in Shanghai and she didn’t have to pay for them! Her older sister goes there every month and will have a couple of dresses made for her. The Lady provided her measurements the first time, and since then her sister will pick the fabric, arrange for them made at the same shop and pays for all of them. But The Lady admits that the fittings aren’t that good because there is a high turnover of seamstresses, and she has to alter them every time. And she uses Alter Pro too! So this explains why she wears the same design all the time.

Though The Lady doesn’t pay for her cheongsams, she is aware that they are rather cheap, a less than S$ 50 each (or about US$41). She also recommended a popular cheongsam chain store in China called “Silk King” which makes good quality cheongsam at a higher price of around S$200 (US$166) at fast turnaround time, even within 24 hours with advance notice.

We spoke about the cheongsam scene in Singapore, and she has also noticed an increasing number of women in cheongsams. (Cheongsam clad ladies stand out, and I will actually take a closer look at the dress and have fun guessing where it is from.) She herself feels uncomfortable wearing other attires. Like me, she has no problem with the high collar. “Someone told me she found it uncomfortable to have the collar wraps round the neck and maybe I got used to it. That’s probably true.”

She knows about the cheongsam boutiques at Raffles Place. “I went into Hana once, and asked for the price The owner said (imitating an uppity tone) “these are more than S $1,000.” I was shocked! So expensive!” With that she stuck out her tongue, and continued, “there is this lady in my gym class who once wore a black Hana cheongsam, a simple piece, and she paid S$1,000 for the dress. The rest of us don’t think it is worth it.”

I guess Hana considers itself as providing master tailoring skill for its cheongsams and so is charging international prices. But I must admit some of the fabrics used for their cheongsams can be rather luxurious, such as intricate laces, like these dresses below.

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Then there are those with just the prints.
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The Lady has her recommended cheongsam shops instead, both of which I wasn’t aware of. (I need to find more cheongsam boutiques out there.) One is Mama & Misse. I checked out the website and realized it has been around for a long time and has a few stores, located at International Plaza, Thomson Plaza, and People’s Park Complex. I decided to visit the one at IP to have a closer look at the dresses.

The cheongsams available are mostly in the traditional straight-cut design with open front panel on the right chest and side zip. There are some modern pieces with back zip or pleated bottom, and I even found a couple with the tulip bottom fit. In general, I find the prints rather dated, and no interesting designs. However the workmanship is good, and initial look seems comparable to Hana.

I took pictures of the cheongsams in the window display (surreptitiously as usual), and asked the staff if I could took one of this long elegant piece inside the store, but was declined. Though she said the pictures available online can be used since they are in public domain.

A lace piece on display, similar to what Haha offers except that the lace doesn’t seem as intricate.
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The prices of the off-the-rack cheongsam range from S $250 for one in cotton fabric to more than S $400 for one in lace. The boutique also offers tailoring service, where you can either have the shop sourced the fabric for you or you provide it. For the former, the price will be upward of S $500. For labor cost alone, the price is more than S $200 for cotton fabric and more than S $300 for silk fabric. You are also expected to provide the lining material, otherwise you will be charged S $30 for it. The workmanship also includes piping and buttons, which the customer can provide separate fabrics for them in case the shop may not have the right colors. The costs are definitely cheaper than Hana or Kang’s Boutique, and similar to Lady Xiang. It takes 3 fittings for the cheongsam to be completed and duration is a month.

These cheongsams featured below are taken from the Facebook page of the boutique.

Cheongsam in tweed fabric

Cheongsam in tweed fabric

    

Cheongsam in sari fabric

Cheongsam in sari fabric

Cheongsam in batik fabric

Cheongsam in batik fabric

Cheongsam with chiffon lace fabric

Cheongsam in chiffon lace fabric

Modern piece with tulip bottom cut

Modern piece with pleated bottom cut

A retro-looking piece with short mermaid tail

A retro-looking piece with short mermaid tail

An interesting print of broad colored brush strokes

An interesting print of broad colored brush strokes

 

 

The other boutique recommended by The Lady is Studio 55 at Purvis Street. I checked online and found that it is opened by a local designer, Peter Kor. I haven’t visited the store yet, and will write a post on it once I have done so. Meanwhile I welcome information on other cheongsam boutiques I haven’t covered.

Baby in Daycare

This is a follow up to my first post on preschool centers “And the competition starts now” dated 5 November 2012. I was prompted by a reader’s request for information on screening of daycare centers, and I realized I should write about my experience of putting Buddy in daycare.

When Buddy was almost 6 months old we had to find a daycare for him, or what is known here as “childcare”. We had initially planned for him to be cared for by my mom. Unfortunately she had to care for my premature nephew then, and he required a lot of attention. As expected we were caught in a lurch and my husband wasn’t happy that my mom couldn’t keep her promise. We had to scramble to find a daycare for Buddy then as I was returning to work in a month’s time. We were afraid we couldn’t find a daycare with vacancy near our home.

So what I did was to use the Childcare link website to find all the daycare centers within 5 km of our home. Though there are not as many daycare as there are pre-schools, the number is still sizable. We checked out all the locations to see which are the most convenient for us.

There were three centers that we made appointments for a meeting. (As far as I know, all daycare centers offer pre-school curriculum up to kindergarten.) One of them was a Sparkletots Centre located at Tampines, another was Baby Montessori and a third was one that is located fairly close to our home.

I had mentioned in my earlier post that I had a brief glance at a kindergarten group at the Sparkletots Tampines and wasn’t very impressed by the lack of enthusiasm that was observed at Pat’s School house. But I must admit I was biased then, and it wasn’t a proper observation to begin with. After all we only spent time at the infant care area. At the Tampines center , there was a high teacher to baby ratio, which if I remember correctly, was 1 to 3. The babies also had a lot of toys. In fact there was a newly opened toy box in the supervisor’s office. The facilities were also rather new since it only started operation a year ago.

A teacher explained to us on the general schedule for the babies, which isn’t structured since they are too young for it. I remember she mentioned they arranged for a child specialist who would come weekly to engage in song and music activities with the jnfants. At the end of each day there is an update report for the parents, providing information on how much milk the baby takes, the number of hours of nap, number of diaper change and pooping, and type of activities the baby engaged in that day. We liked what we heard, but the infant class was filled then and we had to be on wait list.

As for the Baby Montessori daycare, it had been established for many years and so comparatively the facilities are rather run down. It is located in a 2-storey house surrounded by a large outdoor play area, which is lacking in Sparkletots. When we arrived it was nap time for the babies (and some looked like toddlers), though not all were sleeping. They were lying on sleepers instead of cots which is the case at Sparkletots. Also it wasn’t air-conditioned, unlike Sparkletots.

The indoor play area is located on the second floor, and there is a room with a few proper cots. I guess the staff found it convenient to put all the babies together. One of the staff is a registered nurse which I thought is rather reassuring. The staff who brought us around kept emphasizing the importance of interacting with the child, and how they put in effort in this area. But teacher to baby ratio is lower than Sparkletots, and the center had a long wait list too.

The third daycare that we went to is also located on the ground floor of a HDB flat, like Sparkletots. This was the least of our preference. There were not many babies there unlike the other two centers. I found the infant care area a little too dim for my liking, unlike the bright and cheery environment at Sparkletots. The reason is because there is no separate sleep area for the babies, unlike the latter where the cots are placed in a separate room where the lights are off, but teachers can look in through the full glass windows. The place doesn’t give me the impression of having a lot of resources for the babies though they get to engaged in craft activities, and there is a record book for each of them. Expectedly there were vacancies.

My husband and I discussed and decided on Sparkletots for Buddy. My husband was impressed with the resources and high teacher to baby ratio. With more teachers around, the babies get more interaction. Besides there are a number of Sparkletots centers around our home, with two within walking distance. What more, my husband feels that it offers the best value for money.

Unfortunately our preferences didn’t have vacancies then. We put our names down on the wait list and also in a number of other centers further away. I made sure I followed up with the supervisor of our most preferred center who assured me that the wait list was a short one and likely Buddy would get a place. When I called again a couple of days later, I was given the good news. Since then Buddy has progressed from the infant care to toddler class.

Looking back, we realized that putting Buddy in Sparkletots infant care was a blessing in disguise, though we didn’t plan for it. He wouldn’t have received as much interaction and development if he had been taken care by my mom. The fact is my mom wouldn’t be able to provide the required attention Buddy needed. Though the schedule isn’t structured at infant care, he got to be involved in craft works, gym, music and reading etc. He learned to be independent, like he was able to drink from the bottle on his own before he turned one, and by the time he went to toddler class he was able to feed himself. The development continues at toddler class, where he starts to learn discipline and self control.

It is only some time after we put Buddy in Sparkletots that we realize how much resources it has. After all, it is funded by PCF (PAP Charity Foundation), an organization with high capability of fund raising. I have mentioned in a couple of earlier posts that my husband and I were amazed by the furniture and toys available to the infants. They have special chairs and tables designed for babies who are able to sit up, and numerous toys that we cannot match at home. We also like the fact that the center teamed up with the National Library Board to arrange for the mobile library called “Molly” for visits to encourage reading in kids as young as toddlers.

So if you are wondering what to ask during the introductory visit to the daycare, here are some suggested questions:
1) what is the teacher to baby ratio?
2) are the babies placed in a separate area from the toddlers and older kids?
3) what kind of activities do you provide for the babies?
4) how do you handle emergencies like the baby gets injured or sick?
5) what are the liability and responsibilities of the daycare should baby gets hurt?
6) are there CCTVs available and switched on during operation hours, and how long is the record kept?
7) what are the parents expected to provide for the baby in daycare, like milk powder, diapers?
8) other than the monthly school fee and yearly insurance, are there any other charges?

I have no qualms about encouraging parents to put their babies in daycare, but the key is to find a good one. I would be wary of those standalone providers or those using brand name as a marketing gimmick. But most importantly you have to assured that the center will take good care of your child.

An interim comic relief

I ran out of ideas for my blog until a couple of days ago. So while I’m preparing for the next post, I thought I will provide some comic relief for the time being.

1) Deathbed Instructions
(Something that Singaporeans will get it.)

Ramasamy is on his deathbed. He asked his nurse to be a witness to his will.

His wife, his daughter and two sons are at his bedside..all grieving…

“So”, he says to them:

“Lingam, I want you to take the houses in Steven road ..”

“Saraswathy, take the apartments over in Bukit Timah estate…”

“Jega, I want you to take the offices over in CBD Central….”

“Lulumali, my dear wife, please take all the residential buildings in Tekka”..

The nurse is just so amazed and envy by all this, and as Ramasamy passes away, she says, “Mrs. Lulumali, your husband must have been such a hardworking and rich man to have accumulated all these wealth for all of you…

Lulumali replies,  “we send newspaper one la!..

 

2) When you wish presbyopia on your neighbors

Not long ago, C relayed this incident to us.

“Last night, I took out the garbage, and bumped into my next door neighbors, sending their friends. So I said ‘hi’ to them, waved and smiled. Came back in the house, went to take a shower, and saw myself in the mirror. There was a thick black border round my face and upper lip!”

“Huh? How come?”

“I had a black peel-off mask after dinner, and thought I had peeled the whole thing off my face…I consoled myself that it was dark outside, Though the garbage bins are just under the street lights.”

“It’s ok wa, auntie…’

“The street lights just outside your house?

“Yeah…maybe they thought it was shadows”

“Yeah… maybe they have presbyopia.”