70th Birthday Celebration at Bukit Indah

I have been away on vacation for some time. I have to use up all my annual leave for the year before I embark on my sabbatical from 1 October to 31 December 2019.

We celebrated my wife’s brother’s 70th birthday. We chilled out at an AirBnB apartment (Skyloft Premier Suites), a seven minutes walk from Aeon Bukit Indah, Johor for two nights. It was a relaxing and rewarding time.

At the Jurong East Bus Interchange – a reasonable queue, a short wait.

The journey from Jurong East Bus Interchange on Friday morning took an hour and a half including going through Singapore and Malaysia customs. On the way back on Sunday afternoon it took longer, about 2 hours because many buses loaded with tourists were also returning via the Second Link.

What did we do? Shopping was inexpensive because of Singapore’s strong currency. We shopped. I bought 4 polo Padini T-shirts at S$10 a piece. I could never get them at this price in Singapore nor in Thailand. And then there was the catching up on movies. The apartment was equipped with TVn Movies which streamed one Korean movie after another. I must have caught about three or four movies the best of which was a movie titled, I Can Speak, which was specially moving.

Tim sum and local delights
Red tablecloth birthday treat for birthday boy Simeon Poh on the left in orange polo.

What else did we do? Eat. Eat. Eat. There were cooking facilities available but why cook when good inexpensive Malaysian and international food was available with a short walk. Tim sum, Malaysian ze char dishes, Korean food, Japanese food, local Malay and Indian food – we enjoyed the food, the conversations and just being together.

I felt rested and blessed and satisfied. Must try to do it again.

Galaxy Note 9 suits pastors

It came down to Galaxy Note 9.

When it came to changing phones, for me there were two things that were “must have”. One was that the new phone must have a good camera. I needed it for social media, for travel, for keeping memories about events and people. I have given up all my SLRs and compact cameras. They were all lying on the shelf, neglected and hardly used because they were bulky and heavy. So I gave a few of them and sold one away. Most times the best camera is the camera you have on hand, and for me, it is the mobile phone.

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 pearl white

The second “must have” is some kind of note-taking, organising capacity. As a pastor there are many notes to take. Names and faces to remember. Sermon ideas to note before it disappears. Sermon notes of fellow preachers. Things to do lists. Notes of books others borrowed from me. Sermon illustrations and stories which I can keep in a folder. It’s so convenient to have this note taking and keeping ability in a phone.

Outside my master bedroom overlooking Jurong East shopping belt – nice night shot
Deaf congregation pastor Barnabas Phua sharing about the challenges of reaching the deaf in SE Asia.

So while I was attracted to the fact that currently the Google Pixel 3 takes the best pictures, I simply could not let go of the Galaxy Note 9 selling over the Chinese New Year season at a very special price. So I bought it with a plan and am happy with the pictures it takes and with the note taking abilities. I especially liked a new feature they added – the S Pen acted as a trigger for the camera via bluetooth. Very useful. The bokeh effect is easily obtainable and looks quite natural and the night shots are reasonably good too. Not as great as the Pixel, but I am satisfied. Especially with the S Pen and the other familiar capabilities that I am used to in my Note 5.

Chinese New Year

This was the first time my wife and I celebrated Chinese New Year without our children. They were all overseas. This felt empty, but that’s why they call it empty nest!

Reunion dinner and the sumptuous food cooked by Jenny

However it was a joy to have Baby and family, Simeon, and my brother over for reunion dinner on the eve. My wife cooked up a storm and the combination of dishes looked impressive.

On the first day it was to my eldest brother home that my siblings and their family gathered. It is a good tradition to pay respect to the eldest on the male side – in keeping with ancient Chinese traditions. CNY is all about family and the lunar new year. In China, after a long cold winter, the first signs of spring is always welcome. In Singapore, it’s hot all the year round. There isn’t that sense of anticipation that makes CNY so welcome. Nevertheless, we keep some of the traditions.

At my eldest brother’s condo clubhouse

Later it was another potluck dinner with my mum’s siblings and families, and the second day of CNY was a potluck meal in my home again.

After these several rounds of makan, conversation and in particular cooking, for my wife, she felt absolutely tired and needed a few days of afternoon naps to recover. She gets better at cooking with each passing year but the spirit is willing and the body is stretched to its limits.

Next year we may get smarter. But I don’t know how because whatever smart ideas will be offset by the return of my two sons and their families. We may cook less days, but still cook more food. Ha….. still at least it is a good problem.

My wife could have a time-out but I couldn’t because I had to preach on Sunday, which was the 6th day of Chinese New Year and a day we launched the Andrew Initiative to all three congregations: the English and Mandarin and deaf congregations together. This poses the challenge of communications that suit quite different people groups. Thank God for his grace that it was suitably done. What an exciting and meaningful and tiring Chinese New Year!

We rejoice in all the blessings of health, prosperity and success because ultimately God is the source of this abundance. Praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Amen.

Ten Things I Enjoyed In Washington DC

THE HOSPITALITY OF THE TANS

Edwin and Lydia enthusiastically offered to orientate my daughter Elaine to life in Washington DC. They were the most qualified to do so being Singaporeans who have lived and worked there for more than a decade. Lydia has written a useful book about living in America. So my wife and I were relieved to know that Elaine would be in good, wise hands. She stayed with them before we arrived to stay with her in their house (another act of hospitality from the Tans). While we were there, the Tans were in Singapore. They even allowed us to use their cars -which we did!

Lovely and larger suburban home of the Tans

THE MONUMENTS

Fantastic free tour led by informative and humorous guide
Well known Washington Monument in the distance
Vietnam War memorial looks simple but a brilliant work done by a student
But of course THE famous Abraham Lincoln

We went for this free walking tour that gave us interesting information about the monuments. The wonderful thing is that the major monuments are within walking distance of each other. I thoroughly enjoyed and learned so much from this tour about the history, culture and values of America. Fighting for freedom is a top, top value for USA. Quite a few memorials are to the war dead: the second world war, the Vietnam war, the civil war. This country has shed a lot of its children’s blood for freedom in their land and elsewhere. I cannot help but feel beholden to them, even if they did it with “enlightened” national interest. If not for their contribution to the war in the Pacific, Singapore may still be under the Japanese, and I would be speaking Japanese, and eating Japanese food (which may not be too bad), or be second class cheap labour for Japan industry. I had lost two uncles who disappeared during Japanese army occupation of Singapore in the late 1930s, and these are memories that still embitter our older generation against the Japanese military occupation. I am rambling.

ETHIOPIAN FOOD

Elaine brought us out for some Ethiopian food. Washington attracts people from all nations so it is no surprise you can get authentic  Ethiopian food. We enjoyed it because of its similarity with Indian food. I would definitely go for it again and again if I do visit Washington again.

Just loving’ it, and her, of course

THE SMITHSONIAN MUSEUMS

National Air and Space Museum

Its amazing that these museums do not require any entrance fees. They are wonderful large museums with interesting and sometimes spectacular exhibits. A few require payment of an entrance fee. We went to a few of the free ones over a period of two days. They are all within a grid of several square kilometres. We drove to the park and ride, and took the metro to the station nearest to the museum we wanted to go. Very convenient and accessible.

Fascinating art museum
Great for photos as I need t o learn how to enjoy art

VISITING THE WORLD BANK

Lois showing us around World Bank with the End Poverty posters behind us

A friend of Elaine was able to get visitor passes for us so we could have a look at what it would be like for Elaine. Since it was on the way to the museums and her friend was willing to show us around, why not. It looks like a United Nations – employees from different countries working together, security conscious, and bound together by the one common English language. I also discovered they had several buildings all within walking distance of each other.

On the way to the museums we sent her off on her first day of work

WORSHIPPING IN AN ASIAN CHURCH

Worship on Sunday

The church my hosts attended was founded by Asians – Taiwanese and Hong Kong immigrants. So the English service I attended on that wet Sunday was full of people of Chinese descent, both young, the middle aged, and the old. The worship used familiar songs and choruses and the odd hymn, and the sermon was treading carefully around the spiritual gift of tongues. There were quite a few Malaysians and Singaporeans there too. So after the service we went to a huge reception/fellowship hall where we were hosted by the greeters. A pastor of many decades sat beside me and we had a long conversation about work, theology and life experiences. He told me that nowadays the church receives more and more Mainland Chinese converts! This gives the church fresh blood.

By day a florist, by night an artist

After the service, a Singaporean,  Florence, one of the church members, brought us to a mammoth warehouse discount store. We were wowed by this megastore and the prices were also very good but you had to buy bulk. This was fun. This was my quick introduction to the consumer culture of America.

Later we went to Florence’s home and were amazed at the lovely paintings in her newly purchased townhouse home. She is a florist but painting was her hobby and she found it therapeutic. We had a dinner of salad and baked chicken before we headed for home.

APARTMENT HUNTING

Elaine was hunting for an apartment and over several days we went house viewing with her. We saw about seven apartments with her. It was reassuring to see that the surrounding streets looked safe and good. I realised there is a strong rental market (US $1,500 to $2,500 for a studio or one bedroom apartment) in and around DC. Most residents seeking work in DC would begin with renting an apartment or house. After they know that their jobs are stable, and get to know the city better, they may then go on to purchase a house or apartment. Since transience is part of the working scene in DC, rental still trumps buying a property.

MEALS WITH OUR DAUGHTER

Melas at home of the Tans
Greek food at Dupont
American food at a suburban restaurant

We were together for all the meals when we were there and that was a luxury we did not have when she was living in Singapore, what with her work, ministry commitments and her friends. So the time together was precious. All the more sweeter for we knew we would be missing her for some years. This was easily the highlight of the trip.

WALKING

We did a lot of walking. We had no choice. We enjoyed walking anyway. We are hikers. Therefore with proper footwear, walking is a piece of cake for us. We walked the most during our visits to the museums. We also walked a great deal while hunting for apartments and looking at the surrounding neighbourhood.

SHOPPING

Shopping can be inexpensive in America. There are many good food stuff, household stuff and clothing and shoes that we could buy at good prices. Branded goods at the premium outlets carry shocking price tags. If I were into brands, this is Paradise. However, I  bought sparingly because I am not into branded stuff. If I already have so many watches why should I get a Fossil watch just because it was cheap. If I do not need it, why buy it? Things in America: houses, cars, clothes, supermarket food and household products are inexpensive when compared with Singapore. What hits you between the eyes is the health insurance!!!

Boston wedding reception

What was I doing in Boston? I was there mainly for my daughter in law’s family’s wedding reception. My son Joshua had already had the wedding registration and reception in Singapore. This was for Ping’s family and  relatives in the U.S.

On the front stage at the restaurant: Joshua & Ping, my wife and I

One interesting thing about this wedding was that it started at 11pm in the late evening of Sunday and ended at 1.30am on early Monday. Many of the guests were relatives in the restaurant business and they came after they had closed their businesses or stopped work after the restaurants closed. My pastor friend told me that when they did ministry among restaurant workers, it was done at such odd hours too.

We were there at 9.30pm
The delightful lobster dish

Another interesting thing was that everyone who came was given a bottle of red wine, which they placed on the dining table in front of the cutlery of each seat. The wedding feast was fabulous and not cooked to Western palate but to the Chinese taste. Fantastic food with lobster included.

Joel Tay performs his magic to the delight of a guest

There was even some live entertainment provided by Joshua’s close friend Joel Tay who performed some illusions at each table to the delight of children and fascination of adults. Tricks with cards, book, and other stuff. He was confident and serious and he made time fly by quickly. Little did the audience know that he is highly educated in science and theology and was full-time in a ministry that educates churches in creation science.

Ping’s parents Guang Tai and Yin Cheng, and Lynn, Ping’s sister and her family

My wife and I were greatly blessed with kind hospitality from Ping’s parents. We stayed in their large home and we were spoilt by the great food they cooked us for dinners. We actually had lobsters for every meal except breakfasts.

The warmth and love and care made our stay there so comfortable, memorable and we were so grateful.

Going to America by Lydia Sin (book review)

I received this book and wanted to read it in the plane on my way to America. The author, a church member, gave it to me “so you have a context to pray for Elaine”. Elaine is my daughter who would be working in Washington DC with an international agency.

Going to America by Lydia Sin

My wife and I made a visit to the USA for two reasons: to see our daughter settled in her new chapter of her life; and to be part of my son’s belated wedding reception with his wife’s family and relatives in Boston.

I did manage to read the book because I wanted to know what it would be like for my daughter to live in USA. For any Singaporean thinking of studying, working or moving to America, this would be a practical, down to earth, and sensible book. It is packed with information and good advice from a Singaporean perspective. This makes it special and unique.

Enjoying Greek cuisine with our daughter Elaine

The book tells us what Americans are like and what is the work culture there. It describes education from elementary to university levels. It gives you survival skills like winter tips, health tips and emergency supplies. It advises you about what to do with the US holidays and what to expect from the different seasons. It shows you how to cope with loneliness and build a support network; and finally, how to deal with racial sensitivities and understand the maze that is US politics.

I enjoyed this book and I found it helpful and readable . I shared interesting bits of the information with my wife and daughter too. It also assured me of what my daughter will face in her new chapter in the U.S.

I liked the author’s personal stories of the mistakes she made and how she learned to successfully navigate this major transition.  The stories were personal and humourous and enlightening. All in all, you get a warm, positive picture of her experience of going to America and settling there with her family over more than a decade.

Completing my MTh(Ed)

MTh(Ed) with AGST Alliance

Finally I received my MTh(Ed) from AGST Alliance in a folder over registered mail. I have graduated. It was an enjoyable, enlightening and enriching journey.

It was fun to meet fellow servants of God from pastors, lay leaders to lecturers of Bible Schools who want to pursue further equipping and increase of knowledge and skills on a part-time basis, while still in their respective job responsibilities or ministries. When you are together in class, and over meals and breaks, over several courses, or even travel together, you are sure to build friendships and acquaintances.

My classmates are mostly from Malaysia and Singapore but there are also those from Australia and USA. They are from different  denominations, Bible Schools and missions. This makes our interactions and fellowship times interesting and exciting.

I learned a lot from the course modules which included spiritual formation and Christian education. Each module comprised a five day 9am to 5pm lecture phase, preceded by reading assignments, and followed by research assignments. The lecturers were helpful and facilitated our learning and treated us with graciousness and thoughtfulness. They knew the kind of struggles and challenges people in ministry faced in trying to juggle assignments and work.

The whole package created a learning environment that befits the degree we pursued. To be a good practitioner would require that I patiently and diligently seek what I learned to what I am doing. It comes from reflection-action-reflection in the journey of change. But the burden and speed of ministry means you do not have the time to reflect sufficiently to design something that is customised. It is always easier to find a package and use it. Besides having time, I only wished I was able to apply the insights gained with a coach’s or mentor’s help.

I must confess that towards the end I struggled a great deal with studying part-time. My grades were above average most of the time. But the tougher assignments at the tail end took a toll on me. I needed to dig deep, ask my friends for prayer support, and cry out to God for grace and wisdom and motivation to get over the line. By the grace of God, I finished the course, and graduated. It gave me a great feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment, but it makes me think twice and pray thrice about taking out any further courses.