My Niece Baby Lydia

The ward at the medical center has a similar layout to the one we have visited three years ago, when my niece Bethany was born.  Yesterday – March 30th – my mother, my wife, and I drove to the same center, as we did in 2010.  I was not rushing in, as I did before.  Partly because I had a terrible backache.  Also partly because we knew what to expect.  My sister was admitted to the medical center in a Saturday morning.  Two and a half hours later, Lydia was born.  Lydia did not take as long as Bethany did.  I read somewhere that the second one may come out relatively faster than the first one.  Who knows?  Maybe my sister is getting the hang of childbirth.  Maybe the third one may pop out even faster.

She is Lydia

My first reaction in Chinese when I saw Lydia was: She is made from the same cookie cutter!  Figuratively speaking, this means Lydia looks the same as Bethany as a toddler.  I beat everyone to the usual discussion of which part of the baby resemble to which parent.  Freshly delivered from the womb, Lydia looks the same as Bethany.  Period.  That drew a lot of debates – not unexpectedly so – between Benny the proud father, Lora my beloved sister, my mother, my wife, and soon, the in-law side of the family.  I even took out a picture of Bethany taken when she was very young.  Only time will tell if I am a genius or I am missing the details.

I am not entirely sure how my sister feels to have another girl.  To me, that is extraordinary.  Two daughters in one go.  Sure, while it is less likely I would be drinking beer with my nieces and watching Formula One on TV, I can relate to girls better.  I can’t wait to bring them out for shopping, with their daddy’s credit cards.

Cynthia was especially curious how the three-year-old Bethany would react when she first met Lydia.  I reckon Bethany must have some level of understanding that a baby once inside her mother’s tummy is now sleeping peacefully by her mother’s bed.  Bethany was calm as her parents made the introduction.  When her grandparents tried to ask her questions, Bethany quieted them with a gesture signaling them that her sister was sleeping.  I was touched by the whole scene.  So young, and she has this sense of responsibility.  We whispered to each other, not wanting to upset Bethany, which is better for Lydia I reckon.  All the while, little Bethany sat on her mother’s bed quietly looking at her sister Lydia.  Given any other days, Bethany would have been running around and making laughter.  This level discipline suddenly struck me as an exhibition of growing up.

I noticed that in the ward, everyone was looking at Lydia, smiling at her.  How would little Bethany feel now that she may no longer be the sole center of attention?  I took out my mother’s tablet and signaled Bethany to come to the far end of the room.  Her father gave his blessing and we were playing her favorite pinball game, which I have installed for this very occasion that I have anticipated.

Avid readers may have followed my observation on Bethany and our pinball game.  New to our previous encounters, Bethany now has this awareness of losing.  A ball going down the drain is no good.  Now she gets it.  She would get all tensed up when she lost, holding fists and getting frustrated.  But when she managed to hit the bell at the top of the machine, she would smile and said slowly: This is … FUN!

Normally, I praise Google’s effort in evolving the Android platform.  In the new Nexus design, there is no physical buttons on the front of the device.  Instead, the three buttons – back, menu, and running applications – have become part of the touchscreen at the bottom.  This has given me tons of headache when Bethany now keeps on hitting those virtual buttons by mistake.  The game would suddenly disappear and she would get a shock every time that happened.  I would need to tell her that it is OK and show her how to return to the game.

And that happened every 20 seconds or so.

I am thinking, would Lydia grow up to like playing pinball and racing games like her sister?  Or would she have a whole new different personality?  Just one day before Bethany was born, my sister was playing racing game on my computer.  Now I wish I had instill some video gaming excitement to Lydia days before she was born.

Observing Bethany

It is rather challenging to buy fresh food from the local supermarkets during Chinese New Year Eve.  Hence, I prefer to do my grocery shopping two days before.  The challenge to me this year was that work has been hectic.  We are ‘encouraged’ to put in extra hours at work.  It is hard to explain to my non-Chinese colleagues – which is the majority with I being the only Chinese – the gravity of the situation.  Without fresh food, there is no reunion dinner.  How shall I delicately explain the importance of family members getting together for a reunion dinner?  That I am the eldest and hence, dinner would take place at my home?  That I prefer cooking to dinning out?  On Thursday, I simplified the entire tradition for my non-Chinese colleagues with six words: I need to buy chicken tonight.  Most of them got it, though some might have thought that I was joking.

Chinese New Year Eve was on Saturday.  But my sister and I have decided to celebrate it on Friday so that she could celebrate the actual day with her in-laws.  Fine by me.  Except, I have to yet again explain to my non-Chinese colleagues that burning midnight oil on Friday was not an option.  Because: I need to cook chicken tonight.

This is Bethany!

After our reunion dinner, my niece Bethany all of a sudden took my phone and wanted to take some self-portraits.  I tried to explain that this is a Sony phone.  There is no front camera.  She sort of understood and asked me to take pictures of her instead.  So I did.  Picture frame and special effect are added to the picture thanks to Cynthia’s Samsung Note II LTE and her beloved apps Paper Artist and Cool Frames.  Cynthia still loves her phone dearly, after months of having it.

It was less than a month ago when I hang out with my niece Bethany, when she asked me not to eat her family.  Kids are the most wondrous beings on Earth.  She likes to play with my Indonesian drum (which she dropped, and cried, and did not play that evening).  And she likes to play with my guitar.  The first time she played with my guitar, she yanked the strings really hard.  I was more worried about  Bethany being hit by the snapping of a string more than the hassle of replacing a broken one.  A month ago, she would strum it softly knowing that I disapprove such harsh treatment of my beloved guitar.  Last Friday, she would pluck the string with the right force, which is pretty amazing because she picked it up on her own.

Besides guitar playing, she has made slight progress on my F1 2012 video game on PS3.  Mind you, Bethany is only 3-year-old.  Her hands are way too small to handle a controller.  Compare to a month ago, now she seems to understand how the accelerator works.  She definitely knows how to reverse the car because she does it all the time.  Not sure why.  Perhaps she loves to see my shocked reaction.  She also seems to understand steering, although she still can’t quite grasp the technique of acceleration and steering at the same time.  When she is stuck (like hitting the walls), she would pass the controller back to me and ask me to get the car back on track.  Previously, she did not have such awareness.

What is interesting to observe is that she keeps on thinking that pushing the joystick up is to move forward.  And that she would turn the controller in mid-air like a steering wheel hoping that the car turns the same way she does.  I have not tried Nintendo Wii.  Looking at how Bethany intuitively interacts with the game, I think the simplistic design of the Wii motion sensor controller could well be a winner.  Too bad.  When Wii first came out, it was out of stock for like a year or so.  By the time the stock was available, all interest was lost.  Fortunately, I don’t have to wait that long for my Nexus 4 to arrive.  That’s another story for another day.

Oh, one more observation to share.  Bethany loves to play with my phone.  But my Sony phone does not have many interesting apps or games (thanks to the super low memory).  There is a pinball game that she enjoys playing.  A month ago, she would think that the ball falling off the drain was a good thing.  Now, she understands that it may not be such a good idea.  She still has’t quite got the technique yet.  I am sure she will get it in no time.

“Don’t Eat My Family”

Kids say the funniest things.  Out of nowhere, my 3-year-old niece led me out of my living room – where my sister Lora and my brother-in-law Benny were seated – and into my bedroom.  She said in a calm and composed manner, “Don’t eat my family.”

My niece and I

She then closed the door on her way out, effectively ‘locking’ me into my bedroom.  Just not too long ago, she led me into the common bedroom – which is now her room – and we have started our drawing ritual.  Bethany does not draw much.  But she enjoys watching others to draw.  So I asked her, “What shall we draw today?”  She replied, “A monster”.  I did just that.  Perhaps too realistic in my ever burning enthusiasm in everything I do.  Bethany was frightened and in one quick reflex, I tore the page out, collapsed it into a ball, and passed it to my wife Cynthia literally erased the monster from our drawing history.

“Wonder Pets!” Bethany requested.

What on earth are Wonder Pets?!  I called out to her parents for help.  Still unable to visualize how a turtle, a duck, and a guinea pig look like in a wonder pets setting, I quickly asked for my phone and Google it.  How I love technology.

With a kid around, it is impossible – just not possible – to sit and do something for, say, 10 seconds.  The moment I stepped away, Bethany would call me back.  I said to Cynthia, “Could you please keep her occupied for a minute?”  Nope.  Just not possible.

I love watching Bethany playing pinball game on my phone.  There is no such notion as losing a game.  Bethany got excited and she cheered every time the ball fell off the drain and reappeared at the spring launcher.  It is as though she has made it happens (which in a way she has).  It is good to see the world through kids’ eyes at times.  Participation is a win by itself.

Benny has taken some photographs using his Nikon D90.  I am happy to share them here.

  • Click here to view the photo album (7 photographs)

Looking At My 2-Year-Old-Ish Niece With Curious Eyes

My niece Bethany called me last Saturday while Cynthia and I were totally distracted by the aftermath of a glass jar jumped off a cabinet smashed into pieces.  No one claim responsibility.  But that was a great deal of debris to clear.  I heard the call but was unable to take.  Fortunately, I have invested in a digital answering machine.  Bethany promptly left me a message in English, after the beep I suppose.

“Kaofu, I want to see you today. Call me.”

Note: Kaofu is how she addresses me in Cantonese.  In Chinese culture, we don’t address each other by names.  Instead, by titles that indicate seniority.

My niece Bethany seems to like this photograph a lot. She kept on going back to this one as she browsed the album on my phone.

Wow, kids grow up fast these days.  She even has this notion of: If you don’t come and see me, I shall go and see you.  Impressed by my niece’s desire and determination to visit and since Cynthia took the car for her haircut appointment, I patiently waited at home, for Bethany and her entourage a.k.a. mom and dad to arrive.

The last time I met Bethany was half a month ago.  We went to Sentosa celebrating her mother – my sister – ‘s birthday.  Even till that very moment, my 2-year-old-ish niece hardly spoke a word to me or did we manage to have any meaningful conversation.  All was about to change last Saturday, when her linguistic ability [towards me] was unlocked.  Just like Stephen Hawking once described and made famous by Pink Floyd, she began to talk.

For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We began to talk.

I could only imagine the joy of a 2-year-old when all of a sudden, she is able to articulate her thoughts and communicate with the external world her wants and desires.  All those years of crying, not knowing how to speak, vanished in thin air.  In return, the floodgate of words pour out from within.  She has learned to speak and listen.  Perhaps, that’s why as adults, we shall continue to learn new skills and sharpen existing ones so as to be able to do something we have yearned for, but are unable not do or do that well.  To articulate our musical thoughts, to cook a delicious meal, to play a beautiful sport, or to write something inspiring – all lead to moments of joy that can be invigorating and liberating at the same time.

I am not a fan of candies.  That explains why a box of candies next to my amplifier is still full.  In every visit, Bethany always attempts to open the box of candies, tightly sealed in a plastic container.  I was so used to talking to her as though I was talking to myself.  So subconsciously, last Saturday, I said to her, “Candies are bad for health.”  And I added, “Chocolate is also bad for health.”  Her parents smiled at my comment.

To that, Bethany replied with one word and she spoke slowly, “Moderation”.

I am sure all kids are super kids.  And I don’t suppose Bethany is any different from others.  This revelation has shocked me in a few ways.

  1. She appeared to listen to what I’ve said.
  2. She appeared to understand what I’ve said.
  3. She appeared to form an opinion and disagree with what I’ve said.
  4. She appeared to articulate the reason why candies and chocolate may not be all that bad.

I was shocked, and am impressed.

After that defining moment, I have come to the realization that this little one may be able to understand what I say.  Not only that, she begins to articulate what she wants.  We played some music – I was on the guitar and she on percussion.  We played a game she called duck-duck-goose, which is more or less like a hide-and-seek on steroid.  Bored of all the games we have played, she led me into my common bedroom.  And she said, “Close the door”.  My interpretation is that she likes things in order.  Open doors are to be closed, crumpled floor mats are to be straightened.  I promptly closed the door and observed her next move.

She went through my notepads and picked one that was blank.  She then chose a pen and has started drawing.  Frustrated by her lack of progress, she handed me the pen and said, “A dog”.  I doodled a dog.  Then she said, “A sheep”.  We took turn to draw and it went on and on until both of us were tired.

Bethany asked me to draw a school bus.  And I did.  She then ask me to draw a person.  Two, and three.  After I was done, she took the pen and started drawing vertical lines on the picture.  I asked, “What is that?”  She answered, “Rain”.  She passed the pen back to me and said, “Umbrellas”.  So I drew three umbrellas, one for each person (I presume her mom, her dad, and herself).  She then requested, “Draw thunder”.  I frowned and replied, “We can’t draw sound.  What we can do is to draw lightning that caused thunder.  Is that OK?”  She nodded and hence, I draw a lighting bolt.

Bethany then climbed to the guest bed, tugged herself nicely with a blanket.  I sat next to her pretending to dose off.  And I asked, “Bethany, tell me a story”.

“You tell me a story!” she giggled.

“No, you tell me a story!” I insisted.

She gave up and started a story, “Once upon a time …”

I looked at her closely and she giggled.  Bethany continued, “Once upon a time, there was a little Kaofo“.

At that my moment, my eyes were moist and my heart was melted.  She was telling a story about me!  Indeed, once upon a time, I was as little as Bethany.  What was on my mind back then?  Who did I want to be when I grew up?  What was my dream?  My mind drifted until Bethany pulled me back to reality.

“Once upon a time, there was a little Kaofo … [giggle] … you tell me a story!” said she.

I smiled and said, “Once upon a time, there was a little Kaofo.  He liked to play guitar … and he lives happily …”

To my surprised, Bethany completed my story with two words: Ever after.

My heart leaped in joy.

Before she left the common bedroom, she went through my oil painting collection.  Staring at the first one on the stand, she asked, “What is that?”  I replied, “These are wine bottles”.  Onto the second one, same question.  I replied, “This is Stitch, you favorite cartoon character”.  Onto the third one, she paused and rubbed her hands all over the painting.  Normally I would be quite mad.  But I recalled Randy Pausch‘s last lecture: The importance of people versus things (people come first, always!)  I laughed it off and gently told her that this might dirty her hands.  She seemed to get the message and she asked, “What is that?”  I stared at my third painting.  I genuinely did not know how to explain.  So I said, “I don’t know really.  This is abstract art”.

*     *     *     *     *

There is so much to learn from my 2-year-old-ish niece.  I can now understand why kids can be so addictive and adorable.  And I wonder when she will visit me next.

On Lora’s Birthday Bethany And I

Lora is my sister.  Bethany is my niece.  On Lora’s birthday Bethany and I built sand castles at Palawan Beach, Sentosa.  After that joyful afternoon, it took me two days to recover from my muscle strain.  Oh little Bethany.  How you have worn me out.  But that was worth it.  Because  she seems to be friendlier towards me after I have spent some quality and quantity time playing with her.  Her mom was munching under the shade most of the time.  My wife Cynthia too was munching and has elected to supervise the end-to-end process instead.  Her daddy’s job was to fetch sea water.  As for me, I was the designated photographer and the co-sand castle builder.

So the plan was to meet at 10am.  The night before we went to sleep, Cynthia asked if we needed to set the alarm clock.  I casually and confidently waved her thought away and said, “How is it possible not to wake up by nine?”  At 9.50am, Cynthia woke me up from my beauty sleep and we both screamed at the clock.

A few days ago, my sister has this sudden urge wanting to build sand castles by the beach.  Jolly well.  I love the sand and the beach.  It was a warm day.  The afternoon sun was rather punishing.  Fortunately there are shades everywhere in this resort island of Singapore.  I often think that Bethany – like my sister – is a more indoor sort of person who prefers air-conditioning to tomar el sol.  I was quite surprised that Bethany could be pretty active in the outdoor.  Her determination to build sand castles was admirable.  Except, no matter how hard we tried to show her, she used dry sand instead of wet sand.  That did not work out.  Halfway, she gave up and played with sea water instead.

I cannot fathom why she deliberately avoided the wet sand.  Maybe she prefers the lighter color to the darker one.  I do not know.  I tried to teach her to add water to the dry sand inside the cup.  But she tended to pour in too much sea water so much so that the sand turned mud got stuck inside the cup.  What should I do?  Instinctively, squatting next to her, I took the larger bucket and started to fill it up with wet sand.  Bethany followed what I did and fill it up with her personal preference: dry sand.  I mixed our sand as we worked our way and fill the bucket to its rim.  Before I flipped the bucket, I would ask Bethany where she wanted it to be placed.  She would pinpoint a precise spot and we would do the count together, looking into each other’s eyes and said …

1 – 2 – 3 … Wow!

OK.  I have to admit.  It was fun.  It went on and on and had I not stopped, the Great Wall of Sentosa would extend all the way from the tree that shaded us to the shore, which must have been fifty to a hundred meters away.

Normally I bring my 24-70mm f/2.4 lens for a general purpose photography session like this one.  That day, I brought my 70-200mm f/2.4 telephoto zoom lens instead.  I love my zoom lens.  It produces a nice bokeh.  And it collects less background distraction.  No distortion to the faces at 90mm and above.  The only drawback is that it is heavy and it requires quite a distance between my subjects and I.  In an open space like Palawan Beach, the latter is a non-issue.  It has only become an issue when Bethany got friendlier with me and started to get nearer to the camera.  That was when I had to jump backward in order to take a photograph.  All in all, no regret in bringing along my zoom lens.  My intend was to be able to take pictures of Bethany without getting too close and become intimidating.  Objective achieved.

In the past, I host my photographs within my website.  But time has changed.  I am more involved with Google+ these days.  So I am giving it a try and have uploaded the photographs there instead.  I am not sure how this will affect the non-Google+ users.  I hope it doesn’t.  Do let me know your feedback in the comments below.  I would love to hear.

  • Click here to view the photo album (29 photographs)

I am delighted to have found a new way to bond with my niece.  Sand and sun at Sentosa is very doable.  Next time, I may wish to bring my chilled picnic box and stock it up with ice cold Apple Cider.  That would be an ideal way to spend a Sunday.