Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ickle Break

Will be taking a blog hiatus.

Going to be in London and will return on 9 Feb (in time for the Olympics!).

To Do List
Quite apart from boring work-related stuff, I will...
- Discuss with Eddie more environmental ethics
- Lepak with Rose and Martin
- Chill with Dan (and his fiance!), LJ, Paul, Lucy and Randal as they descend upon London (to see yours truly)
- Watch Panto with Diane, and go shopping
- Make it for a play with Andrew
- Have Chinese New Year yummy food with Yong Kai, Sooks and Eileen
- Go to Chinatown and buy some pregnancy foods
- Catch the Dali Universe

Italian Mobile phone will be with me, but will try to keep it switched off.
Internet access will be intermittent.

Post Script added at 8pm
- as I write this, I'm breaking into a sweat and my tongue as gone numb.

This is because I figured that since Fabien was not coming back home for dinner tonight, I could conduct a little kitchen experiment which I've been meaning to do called ... (*drumroll*)

"How hot can I go?".

Since I've not been having spicy food for some time, I figure my tolerance levels have kind of gone down, and I just felt like calibrating it. So I made a spicy sambal sea bass pasta, with extra sambal belachan on the side, and now my nose is seriously running, and I've got chili high.. so forgive the more incoherent than usual ramblings...

The results - The max food to sambal ratio is about 1:1 per spoonful. Anything more than that and I might breathe fire.

Ethics and Environment Part 2

I'm probably not doing much justice to poor Ed's emails. It's hard to summarise in bullet points the stuff we've been going on about for more than 3 weeks now. Having massacared his arguments, I am going to try to summarise my own views. NB: we both agreed that for the purposes of the discussion, we would leave religion out of the equation.

Views on Ethics

- There is either an absolute "prefectly ethical" standard, so that people are either right or wrong; or else all ethical standards are relative (meaning that you can have a variety of different results which are ethical insofar as each individual decision maker is concerned). BTW - I don't see a third option, but if you do, pls enlighten me...

- Like most other people, I know there's always a "better" ethical solution out there, but since I'm not sure what it is, or how it looks like, or even that it just doesn't appear appropriate to me, the minimum requirement appears to be that I only need to act ethically enough to be able to sleep at night.

Views on the environment:

- I am not sure if the earth is currently overpopulated. From the literature I've read, I think that there are problems (such as food shortage) commonly blamed on over-population, but which have root causes (e.g. corruption, civil war etc..) which are far more direct, and it appears more effecient to deal with those direct causes rather than trying to wrestle with something like global population control which is further removed and whose causal links more tenous. There is a great deal of empirical research and literature on this. Whilst some are indeed politically motivated, and others are clearly written by crackpots, there's still enough material for intelligent people to arrive at reasonable opinions that the planet is either or is not overpopulated now and/or in the future. Nobody can say for certain either way. Just for starters see:

- That being said, I agree that current uses of natural resource is fairly wasteful and can be better optimised. It is ethical to try to encourage optimal use (e.g. by recycling household water and wastes) so that economic and environmental benefits can be transfered either to current or future generations. However, I am not so sure if we have to take such an extreme stance as stopping population growth/replacement level reproduction.

To conclude
- There seems to be no fixed view on the eventual direction of the environment and humanity's role/place in it. It seems to depend on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist.

- I like to believe that I am a cautious optimist. I do recycle a great deal, I try to walk as much as possible, I try to burn as little fossil fuels as is reasonable (ie to the level where I can sleep at night about it). It is true I can do more (or less!) about the environment, but I have to balance betwen making enough effort to perhaps inconvenince me sometimes but not reduce the quality of my life. To that end, I'm a great believer in greener technology - hybrid/fuel cell cars, nuclear/ wind/water/solar (where available) power etc.

- Whilst I agree we have to keep making efforts onwards, I think we're making rapid advances in feeding the world with safe/green GM foods, in developing sustainable energy (albeit nuclear), and at the same time raising the quality of life of the other humans on this planet. I am optimistic that we will find ways to adapt ourselves and our technology for the continued use and enjoyment of our future generations... At least, optimistic enough to want to introduce another person to it!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

perspectives 1 year on

On 22 Jan 2005, we were married in Singapore. It's a bit embarrassing to admit - but I forgot our anniversary, and Fabien remembered, so he got these great ORANGE flowers, which was a really pleasant surprise to wake up to in the morning. Umm Next One I'll remember ( June 4 - remind me okay?) ..

In a bid to reduce the pollution and get pure white snow for the Winter Games, road use in Turin was restricted. If your car was not below a certain pollutive standard, you were barred from road use. Just as well we had rented a car this weekend which we could drive - we had the road all to ourselves!

So we decided to drive up here (the church at the top of Mont Cappuchin) - you can see it behind the statue. It's that white looking building up the hill.

What was fun was going up these really tiny (less than 2m wide!) roads, and hoping like heck that nobody was going to come in the other direction. You can't really see it in the photo, but if I put my hand out of the window, I could touch the side of the hill.

The view from the top was really lovely. It seemed appropriate that there was a church there, whre we could give thanks! Bright sunny winter's day and lunch at the restaurant on top of the hill is a great way to celebrate 365 days of being legally conjoined, waiting for our first kiddie, celebrating life, love and our many many blessings!

This is a hill-top view of the Mole Antonella which is just behind our home. It houses the Cinema museum, and is the tallest brick building in Europe.

Monday, January 23, 2006

You go girl!

This is a plug for...

My friend Kat has started her own business making jewellery. Even if you don't buy anything, at least do go to her webpage and bump up the hit counter (it's morale boosting).

I'm really proud of her. It's so brave taking a plunge from a steady job and income to striking it all out on your own. YOU GO GIRL!!

Big kisses and hugs from me.

Also on that front - some adventurous friends have also started making headway into the Great Unknown of New Jobs. It's great and I'm very happy for them (can't give too many details cuz some places are real touchy) But SHOUT OUT AND HUGS from me too!!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Over-populated Earth?

One of my best friends Ed thinks that it is unethical for Fabien and I to have a biological child. A very brief thumbnail sketch of his argument is as follows:

- The earth is currently overpopulated
- This is (and will continue to be) harmful for the environment
- Harming the environment will eventually make earth uninhabitable for humans
- Having a biological child increases the overall global population
- Therefore having a biological child is harmful to the environment now and in the long term
- Ethics is about not decreasing and if possible increasing the sum of human happiness
- Therefore doing harm to the environment is unethical because it will make a large number of humans unhappy in the future when they become unable to inhabit the planet. Though the happiness of future humans may be better expressed as what an economist would call an "opportunity cost" rather than an actual unhappiness (the never-born can't be unhappy).

This has inspired weeks of entertaining and stimulating debates.

Tell me what you think and mail me if you want to join the discussion!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

hello old friends

I recently got in touch with some old friends, and it was a really pleasant way to start the new year.

Warm hellos to Nick and Nisha who may or may not be reading this right now. You can also read my policy on refering to my friends by real names here , and of course, if you especially don't want me to blog about something you should also tell me about it.

Anyways, here are the answers to some questions raised by my re-discovered old friends, and a brief re-cap for the rest of you who may have forgotten already. I haven't included the questions because they can be fairly easily deduced from the answers.

  1. The baby is due in middle/end May 2006 (actually this is stated on the email flyer you probably already have)

  2. It was a "planned accident" (yep - for those of you actually asked outright, you can email me directly for what I mean exactly by this term! I have no objection to telling you, but I assume it's Too Much Information for everyone else)

  3. Fabien and I met in Singapore, where we both lived and worked for 4 years. Fabien came to Singapore to work for a French Transport company as a project engineer for the trains on the North East line. Sharon was working as a very boring lawyer, with the same love for travel as Fabien but none of the mobility.

  4. I'm currently working from home mostly as a legal researcher/proofreader. What this means is that whenever I am not busy correcting other people's grammar, I'm spending my own cash on Lexis/Westlaw searches, which is then almost completely offset by whatever I get paid for delivering the answer to some idiot too lazy/busy to find the answer him/herself. I'm waiting for the day when someone asks a question I already know the answer to, so that I can recycle all the previous work and collect pure profit, but it hasn't happened yet... Anyway, this means I spend an inordinate amount of time online, and am usually found blogging/answering email when I really should be working!

  5. I'd like to work for the UN in a developing nation at some point in time. I think the UN has a lot of cleaning up to do before it can get over its credibility problem. I understand that there are a great many things wrong with it, but I am optimistic that it can be resolved. I will start a short-term IUSE tutorship contract in March/April (it was originally scheduled to be longer, but then the baby made some serious schedule shifts!) I will not take on any new assignments after the baby is born.

  6. we're moving to Beijing at the end of 2006 for Fabien's work - he's a validation manager in the same French company for a set of high speed trains which are manufactured in Turin and installed in Beijing. I hope to work in Beijing. Although I haven't decided as what yet.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Renaissance Cows

13- 15 Jan 06 = romantic weekend was spent in Florence - a goregeous Tuscan city. The cow parade was there this weekend.

Our favourite wacky cow is just outside the Palazzo Pitti - those lamps actually work!:

Cows in Florence must have a limited life span, given that a regional speciality is Florentine beef-steak! We give the award for best beef to Le Fonticine which grills them over an open charcoal fire and carves them up table-side...

We finished more than a kilo of steak!! Here is the photographic evidence:

We took our typical tourist picture over Ponte Vecchio - which looks really nice (and cold) at night

Also explored various gardens and admired the view over the river. In this picture please click to enlarge and note from the size of the castle in the background how high up we are - not bad for someone lugging around a few kilos of both baby and steak!

Of course we went to the museums on the tourist trail, and I won't bore you with the descriptions of lots of oil paintings - you just have to go check them out yourself if you like galleries. However, one that does deserve a special mention is the Leonardo Da Vinci museum. This man was a GENIUS.

He had ideas so much way before his time in areas as diverse as architecture, hydraulics, flight, and mechanical/civil engineering. All that and being a wonderful painter at the same time. This is his work with mirrors - note how they've built the mock up according to his sketches =

Monday, January 16, 2006

And the prize goes to...

People have had fun trying to guess whether our kid is a boy or a girl. So far we're split at 4 people being absolutely sure it's a boy, and 3 people being convinced it's a girl. Today's 20 week plus ultrasound scan is quite detailed and usually conclusive as to the gender.

First, the sonographer and I saw and measured the head, mouth, arms, fingers, heart rate, checked that the umbilical cord was doing its job etc ... S/He was waving at us, sucking her/his thumb, bending like beckham and generally showing off for the camera.

Second, we moved lower and saw the stomach. At this point, I told the sonographer that my husband and I elected not to know the gender in advance, and started to turn away from the screen. This is because the next part of the check entails measuring the length of the femur (thigh bone) and it is usually at this point that you find out the sex.


Murphy's law prevails!

Our friend decides it's bedtime and curls up and turns his/her back to the camera. The hand-held scanner is pretty good at measuring bones at lots of angles, but there is one blind spot where it can't do so accurately, and it was exactly there that our kid decided to put his/her femurs.

No amount of prodding and encouragement could get her/him to wake up. I got off the couch and tried to jump up and down and walk around to try to get him/ her to turn around because I REALLY didn't want to have to make an appointment to come back another day.

Some acrobatics later...

The kid didn't bother waking up but kinda turned around enough for us to make some kind of measurement, but kept her knees prudishly/cheekily (depends on your viewpoint) crossed at her chin. The sonographer (a nice old man) remarked that it must be a girl because she's so shy!

Henceforth the Bump-known-as-Murphy will sometimes be referenced at varying intervals as both "he" and "she", but neither should be taken to be conclusive. Whatever the gender our baby sure has a sense of comic timing...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Mari and Vivi

This is Mari and her little daughter in the bunny ears - Vivi.

Vivi was found outside an orphanage in China (don't know which province) with her umbilical cord still attached (i.e. at most a few hours old). She spent the first 10 to 18 months of her life in that orphanage with lots of other kids like her.

Within those 18 months, Mari and her husband were being inspected at least once a week by Social Service workers (SS). The SS scrutinized every single aspect of their lives - how much money they earn, who their friends are, what they have in their cupboards. Random spot checks were also conducted in addition to the normal planned appointments, and they had to go through several rounds of interviews with the SS, who contacted friends and relatives to confirm everything they declared in their official statements. It was like living in a fish tank with your life on constant display. From quick internet browsing, I understand that international adoptions are an expensive process as well, so they were paying to have their lives put under a microscope.

2 factors helped them through the "fish tank for 15 months". Firstly, being lawyers kinda helped them make sure that everything they said was clear and consistent. Secondly, they really really wanted to have Vivi in their lives, so they reminded themselves that every intrusion of privacy was for her sake.

So 18 months and lots of trips to China later, Vivi had a brand new Finnish passport and loving parents. Vivi is growing up to be precocious and intelligent child who speaks Finnish very well, although Mari wants Vivi to learn Chinese a little later. They are keen to let Vivi know her roots and let her know about her past.

Recieved wisdom about adoption have changed greatly in the last 20 years or so. Previously, social workers tried to match children with the same eye and hair colour as adoptive parents, so that parents could choose not to tell their kids about their adoption. The new catchphrase now is "open adoption", where adoptive children can choose to maintain contact their birth parents where possible.

I really admire them. Nobody pores over your life like that when you decide to have a biological kid. Pregnancy only lasts 9 months and even long labours last as long as say, 40 hours. It really is not all that much compared to what Mari and her husband went through to get Vivi.

Purely through unofficial sources, I found out that Fabien and me are (according to old fashioned SS) not prime candidates to be adoptive parents, primarily because we are fertile. Even if we decided NOT to have biological children and only adopt, the authorities would have placed very little weight on our application. This is because they think that we would make better adoptive parents if we were actually unable to have our own children (which I think is complete and utter hogwash).

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Blue eyed Babes

I can't tell you the gender, but I can tell you what colour eyes our kid is going to have.

Murphy is likely to be born with blue eyes. For the first 6 months of his/her life anyways. Kinda like a kitten, the eye colour of human babies change after birth. check this link

Apparently according to this site: ...

the colour of a person's eyes are dependent upon a structure called the iris. The colour of the iris derives from the presence, and number, of pigmented cells called melanocytes. These cells migrate from the neural crest during embryonic neurulation and make their way to their final destination where they differentiate and start producing pigment.

In a newborn infant, not all the neural crest cells have yet found their way to the iris and started producing pigment. Therefore the retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE) portion of the retina (whose melanocytes are derived from the neuroectoderm not the neural crest) can be seen through the iris.

So when you look into the eyes of a newborn, you basically see the dark grey or bluish tinge of the retina itself. It can be up to six months before all the cells become established and produce pigment, and the iris takes on the characteristic colour it will have for the rest of that person's life.

Afterwards Murphy will have dark brown eyes like me. But will carry the recessive blue eye gene from Fabien, thus giving rise to the possibility of other blue-eyed descendents.

So there you go. Science of eye colour 101. Though I doubt you are really fussed!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Our Weekend in Venice!

In response to Olivier's comment about not being able to keep up with which part of the world we are in, what we are trying to do is to travel around whilst the baby is still hitching a free ride with me on a 40 week fixed-term tenancy with NO possibility of lease renewal.

So here we are in Venice...

The sunset over the Piazza San Marco is as pretty as a picture postcard. We had hot chocolate in Cafe Florian to try invoke the spirits of Byron, Henry James and Cassonova...

My friend Madoka was visiting us in Torino, so we kidnapped her along to Venice with us. This restaurant which we are in is really cute - it is called "La Zucca" which means "the pumpkin" and we sit just overlooking a canal. Take a look at this weblink You can kinda see my tenant peeking out from under the sweater. But it's a great pregnancy because I don't really notice Murphy unless I get a kick to remind me that I have to share my body. This means I get to more or less the same things I used to do 5 months ago (except ski and horse-ride).

We have lots of these typical brightly coloured buildings reflected onto water kind of Venetian photos, but we won't bore you with them. This is just one shot of the buildings on the way to the old Jewish ghetto. We also managed to see lots of Museums but of course you cannot take photos inside.

To conclude
Travel off-peak. You save on the touristy prices, you get to see things without having to fight with barbarian hordes of thousands, and there are more charming locals around.

We are off to Florence this weekend - Arrivederci, and we will post again about the trip to Leonardo Da Vinci Land...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Parenting Classes in Finland

Why did we choose to spend Christmas in Finland?

It is so cold even the horses are nippy

And look what happened to poor Santa!

Principally because my good friend Jukka, his wife Titta and his 3 lovely children live in Rovaniemi. Where is Rovaniemi? Take a look here

We managed to learn such a great deal about children and parenting from them. Jukka is basically paid to do his PHD in the university of Lapland and Titta works as a midwife, so both of them juggle busy careers and taking care of their family of Elian (5 yrs) Emil (3 yrs) and Ada (15 months).

At the same time, we hung out together with Titta's cousin (Mari) and her husband (also lawyers!) who are currently raising their little daughter - Vivi. They adopted this heartbreakingly lovely child from an orphanage in China and explained to us some of the difficulties and joys involved in having an adopted child.

Some important lessons we have taken away from Finland:

1) Children are a lot tougher than you think
I love the Finnish way of putting babies to sleep. You wrap up your kid and leave them OUTSIDE in the pram. No kidding when it is minus 10 degrees! You stop doing it only when it gets really too cold (like minus 20) but apparently they learn to like cold air after a while. Sometimes they cry but then they quickly go back to sleep - you don't hear them outside (the doors are thick).

My friends love their children deeply, but refuse to spoil them and I am deeply impressed by this.

This is Elian and Emil getting dressed to go out

This is the suit that Ada sleeps in outside

2) You need time as a couple
We spent a great deal of time with the kids and the family but some times (like that fateful roll in the snow after the sauna) we dropped them off at Mari's house and spent time with our friends just as adults. It allowed them to do the things they used to do as a couple (i.e. go out with friends).

I think your friendships are just as important after having children, so you must make the time to maintain those ties. An absolutely crucial friendship is the bond between husband and wife, so you can get an overnight babysitter as soon as your child stops breastfeeding exclusively, and go spend time with your spouse. How else do you think they got their other kiddies?

3) Children must do sports
In Finland, all children above 3 years old can ski. It is like they are born with skis on their feet. And Emil (who is 3) zooms down the slope on his little sledge much faster than I could ever dream of moving without a car! They are healthy and they hardly complain when they fall or are cold or subject to all the travails of childhood. What my friends do is that they asses each injury or the severity of the discomfort (without letting the child know) and if it is not serious, do NOT react. If you kid sees you appearing to take it very lightly, they will take the cue and realise that there is nothing to make a fuss about and get on with the infinitely more important activity of having fun.

Here are all the kids playing just outside the house. Ada is in the sledge and Vivi is walking around in her own little pink suit.

I will post separately about having an adopted baby girl from China because there are some subtleties which deserves special mention, but the above 3 observations from Finland applied equally to all children regardless of their derivation.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Resolution 1 of 2006: Snob Alert

ARRGHGHGH I think I am a snob.. Not for wealth or material stuff but an intellectual snob. I don't know if it is redeeming to say that I prefer the artist starving in a garret to a rich fool.

It sucks and I am trying to change such beliefs. I realised this because when Fabien tells me about his French collegue who went to Shanghai, married a Chinese girl and then returned to France, I thought nothing of it untill he said that she now works in a department store as a sales girl. I commented that it was an interesting career choice - I always wanted to be a bartender. Then Fabien told me it is because she didn't go to university, and I caught myself thinking "and he wants to marry her?" I don't even know this girl and I am passing judgement on her!

Sigh - I realise that I carry inherent biases about intelligence and education. Being brought up in the Singapore education system, it is ingrained in me that good academic performance = intelligence = good.

The French are of course not much better. Napolean cleverly set up all these engineering and public admin schools and made entry difficult so as to increase the prestige. It is an unfortunate part of our human condition that something difficult to obtain seems to become so special JUST BECAUSE it is hard to get and not because we really need it. I suppose that is why diamonds are a girl's best friend (or is it just De Beers advertising?)

Anyway Resolution 1 of 2006 - stop being such a snob. Not everyone needs to have a university education to be smart. Not necessarily are smart people good. I like smart people but it does not mean I will automatically dislike dumb people.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

we are back from Finland!

Snow and Sauna seem to be the recurrent theme here.

Snow is great fun when you are dressed warmly. We went into the forest on a snow mobile.

Snowmobiling is fun because by geting out of the car, you can connect with nature alot better. So our trip to Finland would not have been complete without saying hello to Rudolph.

The thing about Finnish Sauna is that you go out and play with snow while naked. It's proof that all that heat must go to your brain... Wonder what that shows about us from the tropics.