DSC00051 copyFor a food lover, especially one who lives to eat, and not the other way around, the best thing that can happen would be to chance upon a new eatery which serves excellent food, swathed in a nice cosy atmosphere and of course, the clincher, offers great value for money. Naturally, the concept of value is subjective, but in the day and age of present Singapore, now ranked as Number 1 most expensive in the world to live in, the concept of a cheap and good meal has almost gone the way of the Dodo.

Nonetheless, in Singapore, Japanese Cuisine has always been imagined as fine dining with stern, highly trained chefs, wielding ultra sharp knives and serving up delicacies from behind the counter. Not so in Ishinomaki, which offers something different. A quiet Japanese eatery located in the basement of Palais Renaissance along Orchard Road, the restaurant opened for business in August 2014, and has been quietly gaining stellar reviews amongst local food bloggers. Helmed by Chef Chee who hails previously from Keyaki Restaurant, Pan Pacific Restaurant Singapore, the restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner. The restaurant is a member of the Japanese Fisheries Association and receives its Pride Fish from Hokkaido, Japan on a twice weekly basis. Here is an insider tip, the fish are airflown from Hokkaido, every Tuesday and Friday mornings, arriving in Singapore late that same evening. So the best and freshest fish are available in the restaurant every Wednesday and Saturday!

Below are some of the pictures of the meal that we had.

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Selection of Pride Fish from Sapporo, Hokkaido

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Starters. Simple preserved vegetables with Japanese bean paste, served along with fish liver.

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(Not on Omakase menu) Extra order of Yakitori Prawns with Mentaiko Sauce

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Meat ball and straw mushrooms in clear chicken broth

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So tasty, wife wanted to show the insides of the meatball

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Extra order of Eggplant in special sauce with Katsuobushi flakes

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Sashimi Moriwase with extra dollop of uni, courtesy of Chef Chee. We ordered a fresh fish from the catch, and Chef had it sashimi-ed with the the remaining head and bones added to the Miso soup.

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Hiroshima oysters with cheese

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Scallops baked in cheese

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Chirashi Sushi. Assorted cuts of crab, salmon, toro (tuna) topped with copious amounts of tobiko (flyish fish roe) on a bed of vinegared rice.

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Wagyu beef beautifully done and served with vegetables

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Check out the cut. Yumz!

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The remainder of the fish head cooked in our miso soup. The umami was simply awesome.


Dessert was green tea ice-cream with Japanese pastry

Dinner was served nice and slow, giving us ample opportunity to chat with the chef and also the staff on duty. We were never rushed at any one time and the staff went out of their way to make us welcome and at home, even though we were already past 10pm by the time we finished.

Chef Chee also mentioned that the restaurant was doing well at lunch time selling their specially prepared lunch-boxes, priced from S$25 upwards. Business while initially slow, has picked up nicely and he recommends making a reservation early for dinner, so as to avoid disappointments.

Damage for the night was $88++ per pax for the Omakase dinner. We did not go into the Sake menu that night, but the spirits list sure looked well stocked. The extra fish we ordered went for $60, inclusive of slicing and cooking of the miso soup. Honestly, to us both, that was without doubt the dish of the night.

Bottomline, we will be back again, and very likely with some friends who love good value Japanese food as well.

Keep up the good work, Chef Chee, and for the rest of us, better go soon before the word goes around, and booking has to be done online by ballot, for a spot 2-3 months down the road, like some other Japanese outlets in Singapore.

Here is the link to the website:

ISHINOMAKI GRILL & SAKE 390 Orchard Rd, B1-02/02A/03 Palais Renaissance, Singapore 238871

Opening Hours

LUNCH MON to SUN 11:30am to 3:00pm |

DINNER MON to SUN 6:00pm to 10:00pm |

CONTACT 6737 1065 |





It’s been 5 years since my paternal grandmother passed on, and nary a day passes by without me having a fleeting thought about how much I miss her. Surprisingly, it was a dream I had the night before about her playing Mahjong with me, that spurred to pen my thoughts about this very Asian game of chance, which combines skill, strategy and luck to a fair degree.

For the uninitiated, Mahjong requires a foursome to start the game, or sometimes just 3 in local Singapore/Malaysian variations. The local game involves using 156 tiles based on Chinese characters and symbols, including some special tiles that have flowers and little animals carved onto them. In ancient China, these tiles were carved on bamboo, and some of the wealthier families will have them carved on ivory. To date, these sets with their intricate colors and delicate patterns, are priceless heirlooms passed down from generation to generation. In the modern age, Mahjong tiles now made from plastic and carved by machines. The availability of advanced materials has led to Mahjong sets with all sorts of vibrant colors as backings.

Since the days of old, Mahjong games were social gatherings. A round of Mahjong would mean the wind changing from East, South, West and North, and on average will take about 2 hours or so, maybe longer if the gossips were more tantalizing. Yes, gossips. In the days before the internet and the handphone, Mahjong sessions were a major way in which news, gossip and latest updates on what was going on in the community, will get passed on. Over 2 rounds of Mahjong, much can learnt about whose son was going out with whose daughter, whose kid was top in school, whose husband was monkeying around and of course, whose daughter was eligible for marriage. Prospective sons-in-law were often invited to play a round of Mahjong with mother of the young lady in question, with the matchmaker and also maybe an aunt to complete the foursome. There is an old Chinese saying that goes somewhere along the lines of, ” to see the real character of a person, all you need to do is to play a round of Mahjong with him/her.” This little phrase holds much truth, because you will see plainly see how a person reacts when he  is losing  or when he is leading comfortably, winnings wise. You can also see how a person behaves when things go against him, like when he fails to convert while waiting for a winning tile to be discarded. The last bit is also known as to be ‘calling’. A prospective son in law who knows how to curry flavor, can also discard favorable cards for his future in laws. This sort of behavior denotes someone who knows how to sacrifice small personal gains for the prospect of future good. The list goes on, but suffice to say, the game of Mahjong provides a reason for people to interact with each other.

As a young child, I recall sitting on the Mahjong table with my sister, after my dad and his friends had finished playing. We would build walls upon walls of Mahjong tiles, before attempting to remove them tile by tile in our Mahjong version of Jenga (, often spilling tiles all over the floor and getting a right ticking off! If anything, those little games helped in improving the dexterity of my fat little fingers. As I grew older, I would turn the tiles face down and try to decipher the identity of the concealed tile using my right thumb only. This helped in increasing my tactile sensitivity, though to what other good or purpose, is still a mystery to me. Grandma allowed me to ‘hold’ her cards for her when I was 14. She would have her usual foursome or ‘kakis’ come by, and while she went to the kitchen in the evening to cook dinner for everyone, I would play on her behalf. No matter if i played horribly and lost everything, but it was live-firing! No more blanks. Real money was at stake here! From those impromptu ‘second half substitutions’, I learnt how to how to read the game, how to guess what tiles the opponents needed, and also to balance risk-reward percentages from the discarding of a single tile. To be honest, Grandma was not a great Mahjong player. She was always too busy making sure the guests had enough to eat and drink, than to concentrate on her tiles. But she was never bothered by how much she she won or lost, considering that the stakes that we played in were really small. All she wanted was to spend time with her family and friends. I remembered when I asked her, how much she lost after one game, and she replied, ” I lost 2 red tigers today.” Our secret code between grandma and grandson was one red tiger = ten dollars, red being the colour of the ten dollar Singapore note.  She was really endearing, my granny. Man, how I miss her. 🙂

My dad has long since given playing Mahjong on a regular basis. Too time-consuming, he says. I can’t blame him. With the kids growing up, and demanding more and more of my time, I find it hard to balance work, playing dad, golf, and photography. Let along even contemplate playing mahjong regularly. After all, we all only have 24 hours a day. As a ritual, 2 good buddies of mine, TSW and WCY,  who go back all the way to Secondary 1, make it a point to get together every Chinese New Year (CNY), for a game of Mahjong. And that is the only scheduled Mahjong game I have all year. Here, we catch up on family, work, and of course the latest gossip involving mutual friends. During the last CNY game, WCY made a poignant remark which struck home. If we were to live till 80, that means that we would have only 34 games left between the 3 of us. Provided, of course we retain the soundness of mind to keep playing. (Note to self, better spend more time with friends and family.)

Perhaps in this age of XBOX consoles, smartphones and tablet PC’s, not many of the younger generation are learning how to play the game of Mahjong anymore. In fact, none of my kids are remotely interested in the game. A sign of things to come, where children no longer interact much with each other, but prefer to improve their KD ratio and blow up their mates/enemies in COD4. Whatever it is, I am looking forward to the next Chinese New Year and my next game of Mahjong.

All Smiles

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All Smiles by Dad Bear (Adrian Tan)
All Smiles, a photo by Dad Bear (Adrian Tan) on Flickr.

18/4/2013, St Andrew’s Primary School.

With the success of the U13 team in Nationals the previous day still fresh on everyone’s mind, the spotlight now shifted onto the U11 team. This team had gone through its ups and downs, given that no U11 team from ACS(J) has ever won the South Zone tournament, let alone the Nationals. So to ask them to emulate the achievements of their seniors would be tough to ask for, or was it?

A little bit of background going into the South zone tournament. With the onset of the One ACS concept, teams from ACSJ and ACSP had regular sparring sessions almost every week. In the two tournaments that the ACSJ U11 team had taken part in so far, they were slapped around, bounced around, and knocked about in the Bintang BRC tournament in KL. That tournament only served to forge the metal of the weapon that this team of quiet achievers would ultimately become. In the Standard Chartered Tournament, they played decently, but lost ultimately to eventual winners, De La Salle Primary by 0-14. Significantly, De La Salle also defeated Saint Andrews, albeit by a score of 7-14. This gave the coaches and teachers hope. The standard in ability between the rivals was razor thin. Maybe winning the South Zone was not all that impossible, just maybe.

The first match on the cards that afternoon for ACSJ was against brother school, ACSP. Both teams had their chances, but it was the ability of ACSJ team to defend the slow ball which saw them dominate at the breakdown, ultimately leading to a decisive 21-0 win. Saints in their first match, took down Pei Tong 28-0.

In the second match, ACSJ took on Pei Tong. Again, decisive breaks by the backs saw ACSJ stretch their opponents’ defence, breaching the line 3 times for a 21-0 win. In second match, Saints, took down ACSJ 28-0, setting up a winner take all finale between ACSJ and Saints.

At that very moment, I am sure all ACSJ related parent/teacher/coach started to entertain the possibility that the impossible might actually be possible again, but we didn’t dare to say anything, lest we jinx ourselves. After all, Saints are no pushovers and we were playing on their home grounds. But maybe, just maybe, in a 10 minute match, we might just pull off a miracle.

Saints struck first in the match with ACS(J), breaking away to the left which was left unattended as our players congregated near the middle. 7-0 in the opening minutes. We were facing a mountain to climb. However, using good forward play and rucking, coupled with a couple good incisive runs from the backs, in particular, Josiah, Matthew and Kaylen, the lads struck back swiftly. They equalised soon after going down and then, did the unthinkable by going forward 14-7 with some 3 minutes to play. The 3 minutes must surely by the longest 3 minutes for the parents and coaches. First, a break from midfield by saints was stopped just short of the try line. Saints try to muscle through but were repelled by the lads on the line itself. Our boys were so willing to put their bodies on the line. When the ball broke out to the Saints left, yet again, they were repelled just short of the line. When they thought that they had crossed the line, the eagle eyed ref noticed the double motion, and correctly called a penalty against Saints. Just then the horn sounded and it was an alert Kaylen who took the ball and punted it out of play, signalling a historical victory for the U11 team and also for ACSJ. Mind you, even our U13’s fell to Saints at this stage last year, when they were playing at the U11 level.

There were tears and whoops of joy from parents, teachers, coaches and of course, the players themselves. The Saints boys were stunned. They had thrown everything short of the kitchen sink at the ACSJ defence and nothing gave. This definitely augurs well for ACSJ rugby. The U11 Nationals are known for producing surprising winners. So we still much to do before scaling that next mountain. In the meantime, we should celebrate and give thanks for the many blessings that we as a school, as a CCA and as a community, have received. Not to mention, there is a small matter of finding a an unoccupied blank wall(s) in the school.

More pictures in the South Zone final can be seen here:

To God be the Glory, The Best is Yet to Be.

One Spirit, One Goal, One Family

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I have been asked by a few parents to pen my thoughts with regards to the achievements of the U13 team in the National Schools Rugby Tournament. I have had the privilege of taking pictures of these young boys and also seeing them grow up from literally, ah boys to fine young men.

Some of the boys, like Jiawei, Sachi and Richard, played with my son, Isaac, 2 years ago in the U11 tournament. Only to fall to Saints in the Quarter Finals that year. Last year, they raised their game in the U11 tournament and yet again, came up second best in the semi finals of the U11 tournament, to a Saints team who can be described as more street wise than our lads. That time, the lads fell to a sucker punch of a short kick which barely cleared the required 5 meters, ultimately leading to a golden try in extra time. This year in in Bintang, they were the only team to beat Sai Kung Stingrays, the eventual winners at the BRC Tournament 2013. The effort unfortunately taking it emotional toll on the lads, and they fell to a surprising defeat to Bintang BRC in the Bowl Final.

However, to their credit, the boys took all these defeats and knocks in their stride. They learnt from their mistakes, and grew stronger and closer as a result of it. There were many punches thrown against them in Bintang, particular from the overseas teams, but our lads play rough and tough, but fair. Each knock just served to temper the steel which would form the foundation of this band of brothers.

When they scythed through the opponents 192-0 in the group stages, nobody batted an eyelid. Everyone, Saints included, was looking to stay away from ACSJ as long as possible. For our lads, the semi final match against Saints was THEIR mental final. They had never beaten or even drawn against Saints before. When they took to the pitch against Saints, the question was on everyone’s mind, especially the parents and teachers, can they really fulfill their destiny? The look on every single player was that of resolution, and determination. The game face was on.

Saints never knew what hit them. A flurry of Blue and Gold hit them in waves. Forwards tackled and rucked, creating openings for the fleet-footed backs to exploit. There was only a short moment of doubt, when Saints equalized following a couple of missed tackles down the left flank. There was no panic, the machine merely shifted up a gear, with Richard Goo, gaining at least half the pitch, before Joshua Ng slammed home the second try. Half Time 14-7.

Saints never recovered in the second half. The ACSJ lads never gave an inch, and took plenty. In fact, the score would have been greater if the ref had not rules 2 good looking moves as ‘held up’. In the end, it was speed demon, Jia Wei who sealed the deal with another breakaway try, to banish all lingering doubts. With the final whistle, there were tears of joy and crying aplenty from the lads. They knew they had played a good game. They knew Saints could not match their power and speed.

The final against Endeavor was a bit of a let down. The body language of the Endeavor boys showed they were glad to be in the finals. The ACSJ boys were professional in their play, dispatching Endeavor 38-7 in a fairly lopsided final. It was heartening to see the ACSP boys, who finished 5th overall, rush into the field to hug and congratulate our boys. A beginning of a lasting playing relationship to both these sets of boys.

When the dust actually settled, Betty Lim, past PSG chairperson, asked me, how do we replicate this? What can we do to make this possible again? I mean, we have never entered the finals, let alone win the Nationals before. This title that Coach Adrian, in his years of experience, has never won before, the other being the U11 National Title). This led me to think a little deeper, into what was the makeup, or rather, the Anatomy of a Winning Team in School Rugby.

I gave it some thought, and perhaps I can allude to a few things that went right for us. Firstly, we were very fortunate to have a group of 15 individuals, at least 12 core, who were already naturally athletic. They could run, they could tackle, and they had ball sense. More importantly, you need these lads to be able to gel together, to be able to read the minds of each other, and if need be, put the body in the line of fire for each other. The bunch that we have in the U13 team, had all that, and then some. It definitely helped that they spent plenty of time together, on and off the field.

Next, you had a bunch of coaches who not only knew the fundamentals, but in Coach Jesper (Encik) Lim, you had had someone who, short of having a Psychology degree behind his MBA, knew the boys inside out. You had someone who knew what was going on inside the boys head even before they put up their hand. He was one person who molded the minds of the boys. In Coach Colin Lee, you have an old boy who was a player in ACSJ just like them. A role model. AND these boys need a role model. Someone whose footsteps they can aspire to follow. In Coach Adrian, you have someone who has been there, done that, and knows how to pick the winners. Someone who studies the videos to devise methods of beating the opponents.

Thirdly, you need dedicated teachers. In Mrs Soo and now, Ms Chen, as teacher in charge, they set the tone with regards to discipline. In the many trips overseas, the rules of behaviour and rules of engagement were drummed into their heads. Discipline was always top of the list. Without discipline, our lads will become loose cannons. With ability and power comes responsibility. That has been well ingrained by our teachers. With them working hand in hand with the coaches, we need never worry that our boys are in bad company or danger of straying.

Fourth, you need unwavering support from the parents. I mentioned it the other day, and I will say it again. When a boy in the family plays rugby, the whole family is involved. Transport, laundry, medical attention, keeping an eye on the homework, financial outlay for overseas trips, boots and other equipment, i.e., mouth guards, head gear, sports gear, food, drinks, cold towels etc. The logistical support behind every player will please every military G4, right, Hugh Lim?

Finally, you need to have faith. Faith in God. For those who are wavering on this, think back to the South Zone finals. Was that lightning break a stroke of luck? Maybe. But when Someone up there follows it up with a performance by ACSP which stunned everyone out there, maybe it is time to start believing. When Saints again landed in our laps in the semis, God was again giving the boys a chance to prove to themselves that they were made of sterner stuff. I am very happy that before and after each match, Coach Adrian leads the kids in prayer, thanking God for a good game and the safety of every player. Only when we trust and put our faith in God, will our prayers be answered. No doubt it might be answered in a way different way from how we want it, but God in his infinite wisdom always has the BIG picture in hand. On hindsight, losing the semis last year to Saints, was a bitter and tough pill to follow. However, it might have been the right medication for our boys to swallow. They knew after that, how much more they had to improve to beat not only Saints, but every other opponent in their age group. No more leaving it to extra time. Get it done during regulation time.

So the curtain draws to a close on this amazing chapter. We hope that the U13 lads will be able to play together as a team again. Be it in Barker or in Independent. From now till then, they have to be disciplined in grinding out results on the academic field just like when they were on the rugby pitch. Perhaps, some boys need more help than others, and here is also where teachers might have to step in to give the lads whatever extra assistance they might need. Maybe, extra classes for ruggers arranged by Ms Chen, with the blessings of principal, Mrs Koh, of course. That said, wherever our boys go, as long as it is within the ACS Family, they will be in good hands. The onus now is for all parties to come together again and plan forward for the future. That is the only way, ACSJ rugby will continue to extend the golden period it is currently enjoying.

More photos can be seen here:

Happy Family

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Happy Family by Dad Bear (Adrian Tan)
Happy Family, a photo by Dad Bear (Adrian Tan) on Flickr.

The recent debate about the White Paper on Singapore’s population brought up a very pertinent problem that we Singaporeans face. Namely, we are just not replicating ourselves enough. Hence, the slew of measures that the government has introduced into legislation. All in a bid to entice couples to have more babies. Ok, sounds good in principle, but somehow I just feel that perhaps this whole thing has not been thought through. Perhaps, rather than throw money at young couples to entice them to make more babies, they should get feedback from those who are already parents, and seek to find out what is it that makes having children so difficult, and perhaps take pointers from the problems that parents of young children currently face in Singapore, and help make the whole process of family building a sweeter and rewarding experience.

I will be 45 on my next birthday and my wife 43. We have been married for almost 18 years and we started our family early. Our eldest Joshua, will be 17 next month, Matthew is 14, Isaac 13 and our little princess, Vivienne is 10. I guess we have had fairly ample experience on the topic of bringing kids up in Singapore. Back then when we first got married, having kids was as natural as breathing. Fine, we never really thought about having 4, but when they came about, we celebrated the each new addition to our family. We have had our ups and downs, but nothing insurmountable. We have been largely blessed with good God-fearing kids, whom we hope will one day be a credit to society. So without further ado, allow me to share my own experience and suggestions about having kids:

1) More leave. Maternity/Paternity/childcare. No complaints here. However, they end when the child reaches 7. Does it mean that kids do not fall sick after 7? Some companies and those in the civil service get enhanced family care leave, which applies to kids up to 12. This is unfortunately not universal, and at the cost of the companies.

On a side note, as an employer, I understand the implications to the bottom line when more leave is legislated out. We all want more leave when the kids arrive, but who is going to pay for the leave? Many SMEs run on a tight budget, and the government can help here in terms of more tax relief and subsidies to the companies. This should apply whenever mothers are employed or returned to the workforce. Currently when employers hire a lady, one of the things we will definitely look out for is whether the lady is of child-bearing age. Some ladies about to start their families, worry when they seek employment. SMEs with a smaller headcount, have to consider each candidate when hiring. The fact of the matter is once the probation period is over, should the newly hired employee become pregnant, the company has to grant maternity leave. No doubt the 3rd and 4th months are covered by the government in the case of Singapore citizens, but the main worry remains what happens when she is away. An SME being very lean on the manpower side, will likely have to hire a temp to cover the duties of the new mother, thereby incurring double the salary costs during the period of the maternity leave. This is also one of the many reasons, why sometimes hiring someone from overseas to do the job gives the employer peace of mind. As they are NOT allowed to get pregnant and even though we may have to pay a levy, there will NEVER be the ‘financial burden’ of maternity leave to consider.

So maybe one day, the Government will consider this point and ‘make it worth our while’ to keep our highly talented and educated mothers in the workforce. Be it in terms of tax relief and rebates. We too, want our mothers to feel reassured that when they are on maternity leave, their jobs are safe and waiting for them when they are done. However, the onus has to come from the powers above.

2) Education and schooling. Ok, this is a touchy topic. Being Asian, and in particular being Singaporean, we want to make sure that our kids do well in school. Not only just to pass, but to excel. The topic of the PSLE has been debated endlessly, so I won’t go there. Back to the basics. As a parent, one of the worries I will definitely have is which school my child will go to. A very significant reward that the government can give to parents with 3 or more kids, is to allow the parent to have first choice of whatever school they wish to go to. Namely, they can enter phase 1 for primary one registration if they have 3 or more births. Something along those lines. That will go a long way to make having more kids seem like a blessing than a burden. Another point is a review of our education system to see what is it that makes our system so much a pressure cooker. Is it the schools? The curriculum? The tuitions? What is it that many of our kids are not enjoying schools any more? It is rare to have children who succeed academically without having at least one or more tuitions in the various subjects. So much so that tuition centres and private tutors in Singapore have become a multi-million (if not billion) dollar industry. One big question here, are we teaching our kids things, which more often than not, will never see the light of day once they graduate? Surely we can re-look at other important life skills which will be used day in and day out in their working lives. Skills like presentation skills, public speaking, even basic skills like cooking etc. We find many new graduates lacking behind when compared to their western counterparts in the area of presentations and public speaking. We see our kids, while intellectually equal or even better, with multiple distinctions on their certificates, but often remaining quiet during group discussions and conferences, because they are afraid to speak up, afraid to make mistakes and afraid to look stupid amongst their peers/colleagues. Our schools should and must educate our children and prepare them for the global market. Our schools should cultivate a spirit of discovery and adventure, to dare to tread a path less often trodden, and to avoid buying into a herd mentality.

Next, re-visiting our values. Blessed is a school if they have teachers who constantly remind our children the importance of core values, like humility, honesty, compassion, honour, justice etc. So often are schools wrapped up in the paper chase, that scholastic grades become the sole and only yardstick a child’s worth is measured. We can only hope that our schools will also harness and develop the talents in each and every one of our kids. Be it in academics, sports, arts, music, leadership etc. Our children are each special and unique in their own different way. Few schools have the resources or will to help each and every child find his or her own niche. Such is the burden of the the immense workload placed on both teachers and students alike that there is sometimes hardly time for anything else. All we can hope is for them to be equipped with the right skills of life, so that when one day, we are not around, they are able to look after themselves and hopefully their families as well.

3) Cars and transportation. Anyone with kids, especially if you have 2 or more toddlers, will know that family outings, on public transport, is a logistical nightmare. You not only have to pack the stroller(s), a backpack for the kids spare change, plus extra diapers, clean wipes etc, and another backpack for the milk powder, thermos flasks, milk bottles and teats. Try loading that up onto a crowded MRT train, while carrying 2 screaming kids. You get the picture. So, while I wouldn’t go as far as to say that having a car is critical to having a family, having one will definitely go a long way towards planning to start a family. The obscene and exorbitant price of a COE aside (around 90k at last count), the scarcity of a COE is another issue. A positive step would be to move those with 2 kids or more up the queue for a COE, or even a special COE rebate. Sure, some might argue, this might lead to abuse from certain parties, but let it NOT be transferable. Certain kinks will definitely need be ironed out. The main idea is to make the transportation needs a of young family less daunting.

4) Children with special needs (SN). Not every child born is blessed with 4 functioning limbs, a functional brain and functional organs. While it is good and well to have a healthy bouncy baby, what happens if there was some asphyxia (oxygen cut-off) at birth, leading to a child with cerebral palsy? What if the new born child has Down’s syndrome, especially in the case of elderly mothers approaching their 40’s? A very likely scenario (viz a viz elderly mums) given the rising mean age of tying the knot nowadays. What if the child has a learning disability? From the very severe forms of autism to dyslexia? As parents of a child who has ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, we are constantly plagued with decisions and situations which can, at best, be described as trying and exasperating. We face a constant uphill task in getting him acclimatised to school and his peers. We are fortunate that ever since the age of 2, we were made aware of his condition and have ploughed countless hours and financial resources to get him up to speed, so that he can integrate into the demanding Singapore school curriculum. While there are many programs to maximise the potential of gifted pupils, as a society, we still lag behind many western countries in that we still do not offer the same opportunities to help our children with learning disabilities and SN. Working as a family physician, my heart reaches out to the parents who are struggling to bring up their kids with SN. Waiting times to seek treatment at government institutions can be up to 6 months. And these treatments and diagnostic tests are not free. Some of the kids come from single income families, and very often, they are forced by circumstances to stop treatment halfway because they cannot afford it, or when parents are both working, no one is free to bring these kids for therapy and treatment. We appreciate that IRAS has made tax relief available for handicapped kids. However, their definition of handicapped kids encompasses only those who are physically handicapped and not able to do their own activities of daily living. Raising a child with SN can be an expensive experience. Many requiring either occupational therapy, speech therapy and periodic psychological testings etc, and sometimes all of the above, especially in the more complex cases.  As a rule of thumb, therapy sessions range north of $120 per hour and psychological testing can go in the thousand dollars range. More can be done to help these children and their parents, be it more public SN facilities to reduce waiting time, more tax rebates, more funding for needy families etc. Only when a society spends more time looking after its own disabled, along with its gifted, can it claim to have truly arrived.

5) Rising cost of living. I am thankful that the Singapore is a safe country, where my children can walk along the streets at night, with little fear of being mugged. However, it is becoming increasing expensive to eke out a living here. The newspapers recently published an article where Singapore is now the 6th (up from 9th) most expensive city in the world to live in. ( but I doubt that apart from the very top-tier, our salaries and disposable incomes have kept pace with the inflation. A simple example of how things far things have changed. At my favourite Hill Street Mince Pork Noodles at Crawford Lane, the prices have gone up from $4-5-6 to $5-6-8-10. The $10 bowl (ok I admit, I tried it) is a true bak chor mee lover’s wet dream, the rest just represent a 20-33% price increase for the same bowl of noodles and ingredients. Hang on, I thought Singapore’s inflation was 4.3% in Jan 2013?( So is it the bak chor Mee uncle fleecing me? Or maybe the number reported is not showing me the whole truth? So if my little 286DX brain computes correctly, unless our salaries can increase by 10-20% year on year to offset inflation, sooner or later, I won’t be able to afford my occasional indulgences like a $10 bak chor mee much longer. Bottom line, I just feel that it is becoming increasingly expensive to bring up a family. As a professional, I am thankful that as long as I am able to work, there will be a bowl of rice on the table for wife and kids. However, the meat and veggies to go with it seem to be shrinking rapidly. Many people too find their disposable incomes shrinking and yet more retired and elderly, find that their CPF savings insufficient to sustain them. Fortunately, the government has implemented the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) to assist the needy above 40 years of age, who earn below $1500 of family income per head. This is a positive step, but it is a palliative measure at best, it still has not addressed the problem of rocketing living costs.
In summary, I am proud to be a Singaporean. I have done and completed my national service and I have drummed it into my sons’ heads that they too, must do their part when their time comes. I love my country for what it is, the rich tapestry of different cultures, the ethnic diversities, the different cuisines available, and lastly, for the many friends that I have, from school, from work, from the army and from my leisure activities e.g. photography kakis etc. Like many others, we are here to stay, we have invested too much in our country to just pick up and go somewhere else. My parents are still here, and I want to look after them in their twilight years. It is only right after all they have done for me all these years. My practice is here and this is somewhere I feel that I CAN make a difference to the lives of my patients. Now all I ask is for God to guide our leaders and navigate our country through the uncharted and murky waters, beyond even 2030.

Band of Brothers

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Band of Brothers by Dad Bear
Band of Brothers, a photo by Dad Bear on Flickr.

17th April 2012, CCAB, Singapore

It was the last game of the group stages of the National U13 Rugby 2012 tournament. In Group C of the competition, ACS(Junior) headed the table with 2 wins out of 2 and a positive point difference of +63. Damai and Bukit View (BV) were on a win and a loss each with Damai having a point difference of -14 and BV a point difference of +28. Si Ling PS were the whipping boys of the group, and Damai were licking their chops to get at Si Ling, in a bid to score as many points as possible to overcome their -14 points differential. For Bukit View, it was simple enough, win and they were through. Lose and they would have to hope that Si Ling would do them a favour, and upset Group top seeds Damai. ACSJ simply needed to avoid defeat to ensure they finished top of the group, and the reward of avoiding tournament favorites Saints in the quarter finals.

So with all the subplots clearly spelt out, we fast forward to the start of the second half. BV held a slender 2 point advantage 7-5 after ACSJ failed to convert from Janan’s try at the very end of the the first half. Firm but encouraging words were spoken at half time. The ACSJ boys emerged from the 3 minutes break with a steely look in their eyes. They knew what was at stake. They controlled their own destiny. Coach A made a tactical switch, at the start of the second half buy swapping Isaac Tan and Janan at in-centre and second row respectively. From the kickoff, the boys in gold kept up the pressure they were exerting on BV at the end of the first half. They kept their game simple, namely keep possession, keep it tight and exploit any holes in the lines with the battering ram forwards. When Isaac scored off a penalty 5m out, which was converted by Kabir with aplomb. it certainly looked good for a short while. At least until a ball was knocked out of Darshan’s hands 5m from the BV try line. The ball was then swiftly picked up by the towering BV #16. BV16 burned our backs down the left sideline and scored with 1 minute left on the clock. BV led by 2 points 14-12 when play restarted. ACSJ were staring down the barrel of defeat, despite having 80-90% of the possession in the entire match. One mistake, one knock-on, or one penalty conceded or the ball going to touch meant the end of the game. That set the stage for what must be one of the finest comeback tries I have ever seen.

BV #16, fresh from his scoring exploits, kicked the ball into the waiting arms of Kabir, deep inside ACSJ territory. With all the confidence of a seasoned campaigner, Kabir made no error with his catch and side-stepped the onrushing BV player. He was then brought down by BV who were penalised for not rolling away in the tackle. Janan then took the ball and crashed through the BV lines, gaining 10m in the process, before he was tackled and brought to ground. In the ensuing ruck, BV were penalised for offside from joining the ruck from the side. Quick-thinking Doug did not wait for BV to set their defence, tapping and running with the ball, making 5m down the left touchline. He took pains to avoid being driven out, and upon being tackled, he managed to recycle the ball to Darshan who went right but did not make much ground. Darshan passed the ball to Xander who twisted and turned but was swallowed up by the sea of white and blue BV defenders. Kabir then took over and burrowed his way forwards, making a few more metres of ground. Isaac Heng and Ben secured the ruck allowing Darshan to pick and go, making another few metres before being brought down. Janan then quickly picked up the ball and made 4 hard earned meters, before offloading the ball to Xander. Xander went wide laterally but was shadowed by BV players all the way. He then offloaded the ball to Peter who tried going wide again but decided against it as the risk of being driven out of play was very real, what with the BV#16 shadowing his every step. When Peter was tackled, the ball came out from the back of the ruck, it was loose for a few seconds but quickly seized upon by Kabir, who made 2 meters before going down. Isaac Tan then weighed in when he cleared out 2 BV players hovering over Kabir, allowing Ben to make further inroads into BV territory, before offloading to Janan, who barged his way to the 5 meter line. When Janan was brought down just shy of the line, Ben secured the ruck, allowing Ronan to dart in quickly with the ball, only to be stopped by a high tackle by BV. A quick thinking Pete, seeing Isaac Heng with fresh legs and free to the left, spun the resultant penalty ball out to IH, who then stretched his long legs, aiming for the left corner.  When he spotted a gap between BV players, Isaac Heng abruptly cut in and dived for the line, touching the ball down for a decisive try, which was greeted by spectators, parents, teachers and coaches with wild rapturous applause. The try was neatly converted by Kabir, sealing a 19-14 victory for ACSJ.

The boys from BV could not believe what was happening to them. They thought they had already won when they scored that second try to go 14-12 up when the hooter went. Many were on their knees crying in disappointment, while others just stared blankly in numbed silence. ACSJ would progress to the quarter-finals as winners fo Group C. They will play Concorde PS in the quarters. Concorde PS had earlier surprised everyone by drawing 7-7 with St Andrews in the Group stages. Damai beat Si Ling 35-7 and will play Saints in the quarters. Bukit View, no thanks to Isaac Heng’s last ditch try, were out of the competition, having been literally seconds away from victory over ACSJ.

The last play after the hooter had gone off, from the time Kabir received the kickoff, to the time Isaac Heng touched down, had taken nearly the best part of 3 minutes. That 3 minutes of keep ball and possession rugby would go down in the annals of ACSJ rugby history as THE try then showed the coming of age of this batch of P6’s, who today became men in their own right. Men who would not bow to defeat, men who would not take no for answer, and men who can close the deal. Some have only played rugby for less than a year, others longer, but they all now have the cement of experience to count upon in the years to come, be it on or off the rugby pitch. During the long winding march from one end of the pitch to the other, every player on the pitch showed up and made a decisive contribution. No one shied away from their responsibilities. There were no slackers, there were no individual stars, just 10 young men busting their guts and working for each other to get a result, and a result they certainly achieved.

Key points from today’s games:

1. The lads played to their strengths. They knew they did not have the fast big backs to play expansive rugby. They had to play ugly rugby and win with whatever they had. This bunch of players had strength and power by the ton. And they were not afraid to flaunt it!

2. Good kicking. We have much to thank for for the single pair of posts back at ACSJ. The posts and the renewed emphasis on conversion kicking has led to an increased awareness on the importance of kicking in rugby. Well done Kabir! Your percentage accuracy in the Nationals has been exemplary.

3. Experience. Going overseas and playing together as a team has a special effect on a team. It helps to gel people together. Perhaps that is the first step towards trusting each other. Playing in tournaments too allows for players to gauge their competitive level against other teams. This helps to set a benchmark for improvement over time.

4. Parental Support
Our boys are blessed with incredible support every step of the way. Like it or not, the lads will always play better when they know they have the folks rooting for them every step of the way.

5. Good weather. The cloudy overcast weather was a massive boon. If the temperature had climbed up to 32’c and above, the results might have been a little different. We must pray to God to continue to bless us with good weather on Thursday.

6. Staying healthy. While the rest of Group A and B have had 1 week plus of rest, our boys have been on the pitch longer than we would like. Let us pray that the coaches will do their magic on the boys, to get them up and about after a quick pitstop in the pool on Wednesday. On the flip side of the coin, we should not show any rustiness from inactivity come Thursday!

7. The referee had a good game. As the videos would show, he was quick to apply the advantage and also quick to penalise fouls, in particular dangerous ones like high tackles. He communicated well with the players, and had good command and control of the game.

3 matches down and more (minimum 1 and maximum 3) to come. As our Mr Kallang Roar says, we respect everyone and fear no one. Bring on Concorde Primary School this Thursday!

More pics from the games so far can be seen here at:

He’s Back…………..

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He's Back.............. by Dad Bear
He’s Back………….., a photo by Dad Bear on Flickr.

20th March, 2012, CCAB, Singapore

On Matchday 7 of the B Division Rugby tournament, brother schools, ACS(I) played ACS(Barker) in the final tie of the Round Robin competition. Both teams were comfortable in the knowledge that they had progressed safely into the semi-final stages. It was a matter of final table standings, semi final opponents and maybe, bragging rights. As the positions stood at the start of play , ACS(I) was slated to play RI in the first semi final on Monday 26th March 2012, while ACS(Barker) were due to take on Saint Andrews in the second semi-final on Tuesday, 27th March 2012.

ACS(I) took the field with a strong starting XV, clearly stating their intentions to approach the game positively. On the other hand, ACS(Barker) knew that either way, they would finish 2nd or 3rd, meaning they would either play ACS(I) again in the semis if they won, or play Saints if they lost. Either way, it would be like being between a rock and a hard place. That thought likely forced Coach L’s hand, as he decided that discretion was better part of valor. ACS(Barker) rested the bulk of their first team backline, opting to give many of their seasoned veterans a rest.

ACS(I) looked edgy (as usual) on the kick-off, conceding possession deep in their own half, but solid rucking and defence saw them weather the initial uncertainty, and it was not long before the V12 engine of the ACS(I) B Div team, started to purr sweetly. ACS(I) quickly racked up a 41-0 HT lead and were eager to bring on the long awaited return of their BIG offensive weapon, Daniel Goh.

DG had been out of action since Dec 2011, with multiple fractures of the right wrist sustained in friendly match against ACS(Barker). After undergoing an operation to fix his fractures, coupled with intensive rehabilitation post-op, DG was chomping at the bit to get fit to play again before the season added. It was hence fitting that he should make his return also against ACS(Barker). Sometimes, in life what goes around, does indeed comes around.

When DG made his appearance in the second half, it was heartwarming to see him take to the field like a young Bull released from its pen. On his first carry, DG (albeit a lighter and leaner DG with the slight drop in muscle mass) smashed through the Barker lines like a hot knife through butter. He handed off no less than 3 players and left a stream of players strewn like broken dolls as he bore down inexorably on the try line. Only to be foiled when he dived for the wrong try line and knocked the ball on in the process. That is the problem when you share a field with many sports. However, that aside, parents stood up, and fellow players were seen cheering DG on as he rampaged his way down the middle of the park. Not so much just a return of a player, but a key one dearly loved by all his team mates. One who will give everything on the field, and woe befall anyone who gets in his way.

In the second half, ACS(I) swiftly ended the game as a contest, running in a total of 13 tries before the ref called the game with the scores FT 77-0.

In the earlier match, both SJI and RI took to the field knowing that only a win for either team would guarantee the final semi-final spot. Scrappy play plagued the games as both sides probed for weaknesses in the opponents defence. SJI drew first blood when they converted on a sweet drop goal 30 m out. They were unable to make much headway against the strong RI defence, and knew that kicking would be their best chance to put points on the board. RI then responded with a well taken try down the right touchline. The try was virtually presented to them on a tray by the feeble tackling of the SJI wing defence. At the stroke of halftime, RI, playing with a penalty advantage, showed that they too knew where the posts were, delivering a drop goal from 25m out which ricocheted in off the left upright. HT 10-3.

In the second half, SJI started strong and soon pulled to within 4 points with a well taken penalty, 10-6. They continued to pile on the pressure as they attacked relentlessly, only to be denied by wild RI defending, which saw RI reduced to 14 men on 2 occasions, including the last 10 minutes. The yellow cards were for a high tackle and an intentional knock on. With 5 minutes on the clock, SJI were awarded a penalty on the 22m line in front of the posts. Controversially, they elected to go for the points instead of kicking to the corner for a line out just short of the tryline. As mentioned earlier, perhaps the coach felt that even against 14 men, SJI’s best chance was to score from the boot, rather than crossing the line. The penalty was taken with aplomb, RI lead 10-9 with 4 minutes to go. However, from the kickoff, a mistake by SJI allowed RI to camp in the SJI half. Following desperate defending on the try line, it was RI who swung the ball wide to score on the opposite wing. They missed the conversion, RI leads SJI 15-9. The last play of the game started from the kickoff, and saw SJI throw everything but the kitchen sink, at RI. The forwards pounded untiringly, but made no headway, SJI used their bigger players to pierce through but were stopped by RI defenders who threw their bodies in the fray. When SJI knocked on 5 meters out, it was all over as the ref blew for time. RI progress to the semi-finals, albeit by the skin of their teeth.

So in next week’s semi final lineout, we see ACS(I) play RI in semi-final #1, and Saint Andrews play their bogey team ACS (Barker) in semi-final #2. For some reason, in recent seasons, Barker has always been able to get the better of Saints in crucial matches, like during the C Division semis last year and also at the same stage, a few years ago. We always feel that Barker has that one big game in them in every tournament, and we hope that Barker will pull off what would be a great victory in the semi-finals.

Points to take away:

1) Our boys are prone to a slow start. Perhaps they knew that Barker was fielding a weakened side, and the adrenaline of battle was not exactly flowing. However, against teams like Raffles and Saints who will bay for your blood and snap at your every mistake from the opening kickoff, there can and must not be any repeat of the slow starts against these well-seasoned opponents. From now on, it is the playoffs. Win and you are through, lose and you pack your bags. No second chance. This is it.

2) GL took over kicking duties yesterday as JC was unavailable from a bad back. a successful conversion rate of 6 out of 13 kicks (<50%) is nothing to crow about. Every kick from now on will mean something. I am sure the coaches have made this amply clear to the boys by now.

3) Our boys, especially our backs, should learn to be more “zhai”, a hokkien word which means cool, calm and calculated, not in the least frazzled. They sometimes appear to be in such a hurry to swing the ball to the wings that they seem to throw wildly. Resulting in forward passes and knock ons, giving away hard won possession back to the opponent. The cure for this is perhaps experience. Many of the lads have played in finals before, be it 15 a side or 7 a side. They must remember that to use that experience to their advantage. They must know to stick to the basics and shut out everything else. Because in the end, it is what is playing between the ears that counts. When they are in what sports psychologist call, the zone, they will be able to shut out everything else. The ball becomes bigger, the path becomes clearer. Everything becomes instinctive, and not reactionary. Our boys must strive to achieve that “ZONE”.

4) No issues with rucks and lineouts. Efficient. Only one overthrown lineout ball, but otherwise, the machine is well oiled and drilled. Credit to coaches and players.

5) With the return of DG, there will be a very interesting availability of choices for the coaches. This welcome headache will simply spell trouble for the opposition. As DG showed today, he has lost none of his fitness nor his offensive ability. We thank the Lord for his speedy recovery, and pray that He will keep the rest of the team safe and healthy in the remaining matches.

6) Republic Polytechnic is one small little plastic piece of real estate. It really does not reward strong wing play that a full sized pitch at CCAB and ACS(Independent) offers. Tactics will have to change to maximise the advantages to us. Saints have played ALL their matches in RP. Everyone else has had to play their matches at either CCAB and RP. Considering that the size of RP is about the same size as the pitch in Potong Pasir, You can be sure that Saints will be very familiar with every blade of plastic grass on the RP pitch.

7) As parents and old boys in the school, we can only hope that both ACS teams rise to the challenge and make it an all ACS final. The next 2 weeks promises to be a very interesting one indeed for ACS Rugby parents and supporters.

More pictures of the match can be seen here at:

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