Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Not a typical Singaporean

After meeting with the team for our GNIE school project today, AP, PY and I adjourned for a gossip break before continuing with our part of the project work.

PY is a PRC who was recruited from China by the Singapore government to study nursing in a Singapore polytechnic and had worked in Singapore for some years to fulfil her bond obligations. She has a negative impression of Singaporeans. E.g. not smart* (see below), kiasu (competitive), selfish, and so on.

I realized on our first day at school that PY did not liked being associated with anyone/anything Singaporean. I introduced myself as a Singaporean in class. When PY later introduced that she graduated from XYZ Polytechnic in Singapore, I remarked enthusiastically, "Hey, we were from the same school!" but PY's response was muted. So I asked her which hospital she was from, and when she replied, I mentioned that I had a friend was working there and asked her which department she was from. She snubbed me. Since she did not seem friendly at all, I hung out with the relatively easy-going young Filipinos (like AP) instead.

Towards the end of the 1st semester, after about 4 months of school together, one day during lab, PY suddenly remarked to me, "You seem smart, not like my schoolmates in Singapore. Why?" I just smiled. IMHO, PY, like many of the PRC students recruited/sponsored by the Singapore government, forgot to take into account that she has gone through a selection process, a filtration which (hopefully) ensures that she has some "quality" that would put her head-and-shoulders above the average Singaporean student. [Otherwise, how can the Singapore government justify spending money on foreigners instead of its own citizens?] However, she was comparing herself against the average Singaporean polytechnic student -- no, make that the "bottom of the barrel" of Singaporean polytechnic students because nursing was (still is?) one of the easiest faculty to qualify for in the Singapore polytechnics. [Note: Nursing, despite its "noble" job nature, does not generally attract the crème de la crème students because of its pathetic pay and work conditions in Singapore.] Thus, I was not surprised that PY had assumed that I was like her typical Singaporean peers back in her polytechnic days and snubbed me initially. [Not that it was fair/right for her to snub her peers, but it is understandable given the superiority complex common amongst PRC "scholars" on Singapore government sponsorships and the typical Singaporean's prejudice against PRCs. Click here and here for examples.]

In addition, PY did not think highly of her Singapore nursing education. E.g. Whenever I remarked that we are both "well-trained by the Singapore system", PY would reject my suggestion and countered that it boils down to the individual. Admittedly, she was under the 3-year diploma in nursing programme with mostly teenage-students, so her teachers were stricter (i.e. more disciplinary/punitive) in their approach. I was from the 2-year accelerated programme with fabulous teachers who treated us as motivated matured learners. In fact, PY looked surprised today when I told her that my (main) nursing lecturers were UK-trained and trained us based on UK standards. That is, they trained us to function as critical-thinking RNs who assess patients independently and advocate for our patients, much like RNs in Canada.

Anyway, time flies and we have been in school for almost 9 months. During this time, although we have had some classroom interactions, PY and I generally moved amongst different circles. After all, we were not in the same clinical groups. Over the months, PY heard feedback from the other classmates about me -- "WD did this...", "WD did that..." (generally positive feedback). In fact, one Korean classmate SS even went so far as to say, "I want to migrate to Singapore. Singapore is such a good country! Clean, strong economy, good education, good government. Even the people are nice, look at WD..." At which point, PY told SS, "You cannot judge like that, WD is not a typical Singaporean." [I learned about all these today straight from the horse's mouth.]

So over gossip break today, PY told me candidly that she did not like me initially because of her negative experiences in Singapore, both in nursing school and at the hospitals. How bad is nursing in Singapore? Well, both of us agreed that we never want to return to nursing in Singapore, ever again. In fact, she has forgotten much about her "Singapore experience" as she let the bad stuff slide off from her memory. She also told me how she came to change her mind about me, a Singaporean (see the preceding paragraph).

AP, PY and I went on to share and discuss our generalizations of the "typical" Filipino, India Indian, Iranian, South Korean, PRC and Singaporean. We recognize that generalizations are just that -- it is not wise to let our initial prejudices get in the way of getting to know an individual. E.g. IMHO, PY and I have more similarities than differences in our approach to work and our attitude towards academic performance.

My new slow cooker

I had been thinking about buying a slow cooker for a long time.

Sometime last year, PN asked me why I did not cook more frequently. I told her that I was too lazy and the time spent on cooking seems unjustifiable given that I was just cooking for one (i.e. feeding myself). So she suggested that I buy a slow cooker, set the timer-up so that I get freshly cooked meals each time I return home.

Then earlier this year, when my cousin's wife visited, she made the same suggestion as PN. At the same time, she also shared verbally with me her Traditional Chinese Medicinal recipe for turning white hair to black. [Yes, my cousin's wife does not have any white hair despite being in her late-40's!] The beauty secret tempted me, but still I felt that since I am on a "student budget" I should not buy anything that is "non-essential".

Early in August, I mentioned to a friend in Singapore about my cousin's wife's recipe for regaining black hair. My friend was interested to try it, so I obtained the recipe again form my cousin's wife. Thus I am tempted once again to buy a slow cooker to boil that "magic potion".

So I asked the universe for a "sign" that I should spend that money on my health. Yeah, I am kind of thrifty on the non-essential purchases at the moment given that I had already spent my part of my annual fun budget on the trip to Banff, Alberta.

Last week, the temporary house-mate monk nagged at me about the state of my health. He told me to make 四神汤 ["4 gods soup"] and listed the ingredients for me.
I acted as if I knew nuts about herbal soups and did not quite understand the monk's instructions mainly because I have learnt from previous interactions earlier that week that he wanted to feel wiser* than me. [*Note: More about that, perhaps in a future post.] In any case, his recipe for 四神汤 ["4 gods soup"] is slightly different from my mother's, so I was somewhat confused and had to check the internet. [Apparently my mother has a modified recipe.] The monk did not know that, being Cantonese, I have grown up drinking herbal/medicinal soups; and for a period during my mid-teens and early 20's, my sister and I had to cook for our entire family of 7 -- soup, 2 to 3 dishes and rice daily.
Coincidentally, there was a sale on slow cookers in a shop, so I did some price comparison and online research. Finally I bought a slow cooker last Wednesday.

My new slow cooker

Have you watched the classic Spider Man where Peter Parker designed his own mechanical web-shooters and suddenly he is up for the challenge? Yeah, it feels a bit similar for me with my new slow cooker. Suddenly, so many of the food that I grew up with seems within reasonable reach. E.g. I no longer have to sit next to the stove for 2 hours just to get that nicely creamed Cantonese congee.

My first experiment
Cantonese congee with medicinal ingredients

The next day, I woke up to Cantonese congee with medicinal ingredients. For the following few days, my neighbouring house-mate thought that the monk was cooking mushrooms when he smelled the fragrance of mushrooms in the air. [It was me braising shitake mushrooms with the cooker in my room.] As it is, I have pre-cooked and froze/refrigerated most of my meals for this week. It is really nice to be able to cook specifically to my own taste and also to share good food with friends.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Brunch, encyclopedia and British accent

(A) Brunch

I just returned from brunch with the Mensa Canada group. We ate at Hazelmere Golf and Tennis Club near the American and Canadian border. Given the proximity to the border, several restaurants/outlets fly both the Canadian and American flags outside their stores. It was a lovely ride down south and back, passing by miles and miles of agriculture land, including some horse farms.

I had the buffet breakfast. It was mostly typical English buffet items with a North American touch. Have to say, the food quality is good* at CAD28, inclusive of tax and tips -- but do remember that this is typical bland English-style food, so you'd have to appreciate the ingredients, i.e. do not expect the dishes to be spicy. [*Note: Except for the cooked-on-the-spot egg Benedict which I did not try, as it seems like I'd prefer the ones at The Pantry in Richmond because I like them slightly more runny.] It even has the donut-shaped Canadian award-winning cheese with a dark/black-coloured herbed-rind amongst its cheese-and-cracker selection. [I do not know the name of the cheese, but for now, you can imagine that it looks like the Grey Owl, except that it comes in a donut-shape.]


(B) Encyclopedia

On my table we have a mix of working adults and retirees from different industries. From trains, to administration, nursing, civil service, accounting, etc. [In previous gatherings, I have met car salesman, clerk, roofing specialist / comedian / videographer, computer specialist, businessman, unemployed, etc.] There is a wide range of occupations and age in the group. Someone shared about a movie based on a real-life story of a very intelligent girl who rose above her squalid life circumstances. In the movie was a real-life joke related to an encyclopedia, so I asked around the table, and it turns out that everyone at my table had access to an encyclopedia when growing-up.

On my way home, I asked the elderly couple (both Mensa members) who were giving me a ride if they had access to an encyclopedia while growing-up. The man had a set and the lady did not have an encyclopedia, but loved to read randomly from the dictionary. She also mentioned that she would checked the "neighbouring words" as well when she looked up a word and/or the page-delimiting words that looks interesting. I mentioned that I did the same too as a child. We agreed that in converting to the digital/internet media, we have lost that random fun-way to extend our vocabulary and knowledge.

Me, growing up amongst my uncle's books
[Note: I was not smiling because 
I was not allowed to for the photo, 
given that I had black-coloured milk teeth.]

In my early childhood, I lived in an extended family. My paternal grandparents doted on my uncle (father's younger brother) and gave him money to buy whatever books he desired. Amongst them was a set of hard-covered encyclopedia (I think it was the Britannica). My family was not English-speaking, and my uncle never spoked English at home, so at that kindergarten age, I could only muster the A-Z and "A for apple, B for boy, C for cat, ..." and so on. Nevertheless, I loved flipping through the thick and heavy encyclopedia books, looking at the pictures, looking for letters, words, pictures that I could recognize or figure out. Sometimes, I even spent time analyzing the pictures to try to understand them and/or correlate back to the words. That caused quite a bit of conflict at home because my uncle was rather possessive about his books, and he did not like us children to touch his things, even though I would personally put the items back exactly where they were from, right-down to the direction of the binder -- yup, I was anal-retentive for details as I wanted to minimized being accused of messing with my uncle's books. After some negotiations amongst the adults, it was finally agreed that the children (us) were allowed to read only the encyclopedia, and only if we handled the books carefully (absolutely no reading with food/drinks nearby) and put the books back in order after use. Being the introvert that I was (and still am), I remember spending hours, randomly flipping through the pages of the encyclopedia (and secretly some other books as well, including the dictionary). My time spent on the encyclopedia was perhaps only matched by my time spent drawing/copying pictures from the English children's story books that my elder brother borrowed from his primary school class library.

Anyway, just to share this story because the current consensus is that IQ is a composite of nature and nurture. In case you're a parent interested in nurturing your child's in-born abilities. [E.g. My GNIE classmate IT whose daughter's linguistic skills is beyond her years, so I told him about Mensa Canada.] Note: I do not currently own any shares of any encyclopedia, dictionary or educational books publishers. I am just sharing this little tidbit for fun.


(C) British accent

At brunch today, we had a visitor from the British Mensa -- let's call him Mr SA. He is ethnically South Asian and spoke with a posh upper-middle class British accent. [IMHO, not quite the upper-class Queen's English yet, but similar.]
When Mr SA spoke with the other Canadian Mensa members who were formerly from the UK, he asked them whereabouts they grew up. From their interactions/reactions, I deduced that the (Caucasian) ex-Britons grew up in (much) humbler neighbourhoods than Mr SA. Mr SA, it seems, grew-up amongst the posh crowd. As you can tell from my photo above, I wasn't born with a silver spoon -- quite the opposite is true, I was working class. So yes, Mensa members are from all walks of life and spans across social classes, especially in Metro Vancouver. That said, Canada is comparatively socially-equitable and generally not class-obsessed. Thus I could tell from the reactions of the elderly ex-Britons that they did not quite appreciate Mr SA's questions, although they had answered him politely.
After Mr SA left the table to join his family for a shopping trip down at Bellingham, USA, (the lady seated to my right) L mentioned that the USA border guards would probably be confused by Mr SA. His accent is clearly posh-British, but in L's opinion, the USA border guards are typically rather "provincial", and thus they would probably need a double-take to resolve their mental association of "posh-British" = "white skin" when it is clearly a "brown skin" man standing in front of them. Oh what fun!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Building resistance against cold

Autumn equinox will arrive in about 2 weeks. Fall is already creeping in, the sun is rising later and setting earlier. While the daytime temperature still hits a high of 20degC, the night temperature dips down to a single digit low. People start wearing their jackets wherever they go.

My landlord has several rooms which he lets out to short-term tenants. I have a new house-mate today. He is a Buddhist monk from Taiwan. My landlord commented that the monk wears thinner layers of clothes than us, yet he does not seem to feel as cold as us. The monk then mentioned that there are some stuff we can eat to "fight away the cold" (i.e. building resistance against cold weather). So I asked him to share his secret. And here it is.

  • Thinly slice and shred a bit of ginger (老姜 old ginger preferred).
  • Boil water. Brew some fresh red tea 红茶. [Note: It has to be red tea because the red tea has a specific function in this brew. Green tea will not do because green tea hurts the digestive track of vegetarians.]
  • Add the ginger shreds into the red tea. Let it to steep for a while.
  • Drink the above before 12 noon, or at least before 2pm* daily.
*Note: According to the monk, consuming the above brew any later than 2pm will have the opposite effect of the one intended.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Reality check on love

As mentioned in the comments on my previous blog post, I pulled up my old "10 ground rules for love" to do a reality check.

1. He must be single (or divorced or widowed) and available. No "separated", no "just broke-up", no flings. [Checked.]

2. He must be financially able to sustain himself. I don't need him to be rich, but I will not respect him if he needs others' charity to live-on in the long-run. [Checked.]

3. He must love me as I am. I am not perfect. I have my flaws. I need someone who can accept and love me as a whole. [??? No data to form a conclusion.]

4. He must love me enough to want to marry me. We will get married legally as soon as it is convenient. No grand weddings, they are often a source of headaches! [??? No data to form a conclusion.]

5. He must love children or nature. It does not matter if we have any or otherwise. It is just that I don't think much of the kindness/humanity/gratitude of a person if this person cannot bring himself/herself to love children or nature. [Checked, this guy loves nature and hiking. Can also tell lah, he is not a flabby tub.]

6. As an extension of the kindness/gratitude rule, he must care about the people related to himself and me. He does not have to agree with them or like them, but basic fellow human concern is expected. [??? Rumoured to be so. IMHO, not enough data to form a conclusion.]

7. He must live/work in the same city as me for a long enough period. That is, until after marriage and the relationship is strong enough to withstand the distance. [FAILED!!!]

8. I must be able to trust him. He must trust me too. This takes time to build, thus the rule about living in the same city. [??? No data to form a conclusion.]

9. He must be able to forgive. Not necessary to forget, for we learn life lessons from our experience. But in the long run, a willingness to recall the past without anger, bitterness or heavy regret is important to being happy. [??? No data to form a conclusion.]

10. He must be a non-smoker. It is not just about his health. My nose cannot stand the smell of a chronic smoker's breath. [Checked.]

CONCLUSION: Don't put any eggs into that basket for now. Failed critical item number 7.


Then I decided to parse through the Master of Negativity (i.e. asingaporeanson) test as well.

1) List down 10 flaws about him (in your eyes)
2) Arrange them by order
3) Look at the top 5 flaws 
4) If you can't do 1), you don't know him well enough
5) If you managed to do 3) ask yourself if you can live with them.
6) If the answer to 5) is yes, go ahead and fuck. 
7) and blog it.

At step 1, I got stuck at flaw number 3!

CONCLUSION: "you don't know him well enough"


Ok, back to being happily single. Yeah!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Met someone interesting

On this trip to Banff, Alberta, I met someone interesting. 
One of our main purpose of the trip was to meet up with JX, ZS's wife, who obtained her registered nurse license (RN) and job in Alberta. Due to some changes in the CRNBC rules (i.e. B.C.'s nursing board), she has to work in Alberta for some time before she can transfer her RN license to B.C. I missed JX. She is a sociable and very considerate person. IMHO, both ZS and JS are excellent examples of "good quality" [素质好] PRCs of high caliber and excellent character. Despite their professional success (ZS is a researcher in a health/biology-related field at a public university here), they are sincere, humble and generous. Guess, what? They left Singapore because they felt that the work-life imbalance there was too challenging to raise a happy and healthy family. [Note: Both made and are still making conscious effort to assimilate into the Canadian culture.]
On the first day at Banff, JX arranged for her "local" friends from Calgary, Alberta, to show us around. [Calgary is around 2 hours drive from Banff.] Her friends, T and WN, hung out with us for the day. T was originally from B.C. but moved to Alberta after marrying her husband decades ago. She has lived in Alberta since and watched her children grow-up into adulthood there. WN was originally from Hong Kong. His family migrated to Canada in his youth, in preparation for the 1997 Hong Kong handover back to China. T soon made it known that WN is "single and available". Along the hike at Johnston Canyon, PN started discussing with JX about the possibility of match-making me with WN. JX was cautious about making their plans known to me, for JX and her husband ZS had tried (unsuccessfully) to match-make me with another guy before. Of course, PN could not keep her excitement under wraps, to which I replied, “八字都还没有一撇!” [i.e. "We aren't even acquainted yet!"]

That said, WN is refreshingly different from the usual "available" guys that I have met. Throughout the hike, he was pretty much quietly observing others and offering the occasional assistance. He was not eager to talk about himself all the time, although willing to answer frankly when asked. He is able to maintain cordial social chit-chat, but does not engage in it non-stop. Neither does he give me the feeling that he was looking for a specific person to fulfil a role*.
*Note: Yeah, you know that "mate-hunting" behaviour of men. Sometimes the guy is looking for someone whom he can "protect". Given my petite size, I did (and maybe still do, I don't know) unwittingly attract such guys. Sometimes the guy is looking for someone who he can "show" to his friends and/or family. Sometimes the guy is looking for someone whom he can focus on as his motivation to work hard and/or to improve himself. Sometimes the guy (especially the older divorced or widowed one) is looking for a young companion whom he can mould to fit his needs. Sometimes the guy is looking for someone who can Wash, Iron, Fuck, Etc. Sometimes the guy is looking for a rich partner. [I am not rich. I don't know why they assume I am despite my simple clothing, just because I am from that "rich" country named Singapore.] Sometimes the guy is looking for an easy "visa" to that "rich" country named Singapore.
A clue of my petite size
[Children's shoe-size chart at Zellers]

At the end of the hike, somehow the others convinced WN to join us for dinner at our motel suite. [T needed no convincing, she was complicit in the plan.] For some strange reason, I counted that there were 8 for dinner and left a gap between me and WN at the table. We chat over dinner, but it was really rather awkward. I mean, it was pretty painfully obvious that T, JX, ZS, and PN were trying to pull me and WN together. Poor EM who was clueless about the game, possibly until mid-way into the meal. T and WN left for home after dinner at around 10pm.

WN seems a decent guy and I do not doubt T's sincerity, so back in B.C., I emailed JX and suggested that they "Friend" me on Facebook. WN counter-suggested that we connect on Google+ Talk instead. [Now, there is no way I would use my "Winking Doll" identity. I treasure being able to release "steam" online candidly and anonymously.] Fortunately, I have another rarely used Gmail account which I upgraded to Google+.

We chatted online today, when he took breaks at work (and I was home since I do not have school today). I have to say, it is nice chatting with him. I took the chance to be straightforward about my age, given that people often mistook me to be younger than I really am. It turns out that he is only a few years younger than me. That said, IMHO, he is more mature than me. Haha! Where will this go? I don't know. So far, I like his candid sharing -- so few (especially Asians) would dare to admit to someone (especially someone they don't know well) that they have issues with their parents. [Note: I was candid with him too, that I have issues with my mother, to which he responded that he has issues with his parents.] In addition, I like that he is able to chat about the casual stuff too, e.g. bubble tea, coffee and teh tarik.

Frankly, this is the stage of romance/love that I absolutely hate. I know that many females love/enjoy "the chase", but not me. I mean, why can't love be like a simple "Yes" or "No" toss of coin? Get to the point, make the decision and move on with the consequences. With such an attitude, sometimes I think I am possibly "lost" from another era when it comes to romance/love. Haiz, I think I am really not quite cut out for "modern day" romance. Argh!!! I really wish I have a friend like "Alex" from the "He's just not that into you" movie... hmm, maybe that's why my past significant BGRs (boy-girl relationships) were with long-time friends. Sigh. Any advice? Thanks!


Btw, I shared some of my past dating experience in LIFT's recent blog entries "Love & xenophobia in Singapore" (check out my comments there on why JX and ZS's previous attempt to match-make me did not succeed), "What Singaporean women think of Singaporean men", "The truth about men in Singapore" and "What is wrong with Singaporean men?".

Picking blackberries

This is in response to asingaporeanson's request on his blog post "Cheap Onions" to see pictures of blackberry vines. To quote from the comments in the above blog post.
Winking Doll commented on 11 September 2012 06:13:
"Yeah, I also enjoy picking fruits fresh from the vine. I have picked a punnet of fresh blackberries from the vine for free 'cos it was growing wild along a pavement. Fun!"
asingaporeanson replied on 11 September 2012 10:39:
"Can you show me some pictures of the vines? I'll love to see them"
Here are some photos taken last summer (i.e. Aug-2011). The vines were cut down during spring this year, so I would have to go elsewhere if I wanted to pick free blackberries this year. There are lots of them growing wild in Richmond, B.C., Canada.

A ripe blackberry in hand is worth 
more than many unripe ones on the vine.

Blackberry on the vine amidst other plants.
The blackberry vine is the prickly one.

My punnet of free blackberries 
picked from the roadside vine.

p.s. Blackberry the fruit is not to be confused with the other Canadian BlackBerry. :-D

Sunday, September 09, 2012

B.C., Canada: Water and Power security

Besides food, air, water and energy/power are important components of a population's survival.



"Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink."

Thankfully British Columbia, Canada, is blessed with lots of snow-melt fresh-water. The same is true of Alberta, B.C.'s neighbouring province, for we share the Rocky Mountains. [We may be biased, but JX and I agreed that B.C.'s water tastes better than Alberta's.]

Johnston Canyon, Banff, Alberta
Can you see the tiny people at the bottom of the photo?

A creek in Shannon Falls, B.C.
[Photo courtesy of my friend AA]

Hollyburn Trail, Cypress Mountain, B.C.
[Photo courtesy of my friend EM]
A thick blanket of snow that elevated us to tree-tops.
All this snow would melt into B.C.'s fresh-water supply.

IMHO, most British Columbians understand their reliance on the fabulous gifts from Mother Nature. Which is why the any economic activity that may threaten the pristine wilderness is watched over with hawk's eyes, including the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project (tar-sand oil pipeline from Alberta to B.C.). [Click here and here for news and views about the project.]



According to The BC Energy Plan, in 2004 B.C.'s total electricity production by source (% of total) is as follow.
  • Hydroelectric: 92.8%
  • Natural Gas: 6.0%
  • Waste and Biomass: 1.0%
  • Diesel Oil: 0.2%
  • Others [Coal, Nuclear, Other Renewables]: 0.0%
That was in 2004. B.C. has since added wind and more hydro (renewable) electricity generation. In fact, there are plans and projects in place to meet future energy demand (projection for the next 20 years) and the province's self-sufficiency targets under B.C.'s Clean Energy Act, with a focus on increasing sources of renewable energy. To quote from The BC Energy Plan, here are some of the province's key policy actions for energy security.
  • Maintain public ownership of BC Hydro and the BC Transmission Corporation.
  • Achieve electricity self-sufficiency by 2016.
  • Make small power part of the solution through a set purchase price for electricity generated from projects up to 10 megawatts.


B.C.'s air quality is good to excellent. [Click here for more information.] It helps that B.C.'s neighbouring countries/provinces, e.g. Alberta, Japan, Korea, etc, do not have a culture of slash-and-burn. Even then, B.C. has Plans for Improving Air Quality.


B.C. is blessed with environmental advantages for its survival. Nevertheless, it takes a lot of political will and advocacy to:
  • move towards renewable resources for sustainability, and 
  • ensure that policies implemented do not destroy its environmental advantages.
For that, we have B.C.'s liberal socio-political climate to thank.

Canada: Food security

One day, when I was a young child living with my paternal grandparents, my grandmother came back from the Chinatown street-market anxiously telling everyone in the family that we had to start stocking up on rice, oil and other essential food items.

It was the 1970's. The Americans had just lost the Vietnam war. Rumours were that Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.) and China will back Communism's spread by moving the war southward from Vietnam, to Thailand, to Malaysia, and then Singapore, and even Indonesia. My grandmother lived through World War II as a married woman with children to feed. She knew what life was like to be without food security.
My mother mocked her mother-in-law (my paternal grandmother) for being an alarmist and that there would not be "enough" no matter how much we stock because our food supply would be raided if war should arrive on Singapore's shore. To which my grandmother looked at me with love and concern in her eyes and replied (in Cantonese), "Then we must buy gold!* Would you like a gold* necklace?" She asked me. I just looked at her, [I was] lost and frightened -- even at that age, I trusted my paternal grandmother, more than my own mother, to keep me safe. My mother flatly turned down any offer of gold from her mother-in-law. [*Note: Gold being the default currency in chaotic times.]

It is often joked that Canada has 2 seasons, "winter and construction" -- construction being done in the few summer months. It is nevertheless a myth that Canada is a wintry country that does not grow enough food to feed its population. Here are some statistics from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

According to the statistics above, in 2011, Canada exported CDN$40.3 billion and imported CDN$31.1 billion worth of Agri-Food, making it a net exporter of CDN$9.2 billion. Looking at the top 5 import and export items, the major Canadian agri-food exports -- e.g. wheat, canola oil, soybean, pork -- are basic essentials (if a worldwide food crunch should occur); whereas the major Canadian agri-food imports** are arguably optional food items with respect to basic survival -- e.g. wine, food preparations (i.e. pre-packed food), bread, pastry, cakes, biscuits, and coffee. For more information about agri-food import/export for various countries worldwide, check out FAOSTAT (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).
**Note: With the exception being raw cane sugar import. IMHO, sugar is one of the essentials, but Canada produces alternative forms of sugars, e.g. honey and maple syrup. According to Statistics Canada, Canada had 7,671 beekeepers and 627,713 colonies of bees that produced 35,451 metre tonnes of honey in year 2011. In addition, Canada produced 38,877 kilo-litres of maple syrup in year 2011.
If one is not convinced, a trip across the plains of Richmond, the Delta region, and eastwards (especially the province of Sasketchwan) should put one's mind at ease. In fact, within B.C., the Okanagan Valley is famed for a wild variety of agricultural produces -- cherries, apricots, peaches, prunes, pears, apples, grapes, tomatoes and onions. According to B.C. Berry Grower Magazine, B.C. is a major producer of blueberries, cranberries, raspberries and strawberries besides tree fruits and grapes. [Note: Except that Canada consumes more strawberries than it produces, and thus importing from California, Florida, Poland and Mexico. For more about British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture's agri-foods strategy, click here. See also City of Vancouver's urban agriculture guidelinesCity of Vancouver's community gardensCity of Richmond's Garden City land, and YWCA Metro Vancouver Rooftop Food Garden project.]

Wheat field harvest in Richmond, B.C.

More farmland in B.C. enroute to Alberta

Okanagan farmland, B.C.

More Okanagan farmland, B.C.


I think back to the time when I was a kindergarten kid in Chinatown, Singapore, facing the possibility of impending doom of wartime survival; all I can say is, IMHO, food security is not something that Canadians have to worry much about.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

De-natured city girl

What is the black arc in the following photo? Make a guess! [See the bottom of this blog entry for the answer.]


I grew up in Chinatown, and then moving to HDB units in Bukit Ho Swee and subsequently to other HDB new towns. That is, all my life, I have lived in pretty much city environment. Hence, my knowledge of the animal kingdom is very limited.

On this trip to Banff, I hiked at EM's pace and looked out for wildlife together with her. Here are the photos of some rodents I saw along the way, identified with EM's help.

Red Squirrel

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel
(same one as the photo above)

Yellow-pine Chipmunk

American Pika

Clark's Nutcracker (bird) flies


"If you give a wild animal food, you take away the very thing that makes it special -- its wildness."

When a squirrel isn't "just another squirrel", a "rabbit" is actually a pika [somehow Pikachu comes to mind], a bird isn't "just another bird" but an osprey, and another bird a Clark's nutcracker, somehow the animal kingdom seems a lot more interesting. Somehow the need to retain a natural habitat for this huge variety of life that share this beautiful planet Earth with us seems more important. And given the conflict between human and wildlife needs, the need to consider alternatives to sustain wildlife existence seems a lot more relevant.

Wildlife-crossing (bridge)

The black arc in the 1st photo of this post is actually a tunnel formed by a wildlife-crossing (bridge). The bridge is created to allow wildlife to cross the highway safely (guiding wildlife to use the bridge by fencing the perimeter along the highway); i.e. to reduce road-kill.

GNIE: Bevel Up

Today in nursing school we watched a section of the documentary film "Bevel Up". [Click here for to watch it and other related videos online.]

The above was shown to us to educate my class of Internationally Educated Nurses about how the 4 Pillars of Primary Health Care (Teams, Access, Information and Healthy Living) based on Canadian values drive the delivery of non-judgemental primary health care. As my Canadian nursing lecturer puts it, the issue is not drugs per se, but poverty*. Recognizing how the social determinants of health have a huge impact on the population's health outcome means that advocating for social justice is an important part of a Public Health Nurse's role.
*Note: There are rich drug addicts and poor drug addicts. There are drug addicts who are productive members of society (i.e. people who hold jobs -- think of some movie stars, Wall Street traders, etc) and those who are "cast aways". For those addicts who have income to support their habit, the effects of their addiction are "hidden" from the public. Thus the issues that the public often associate with drug addiction are really issues related to poverty.
Indeed, many years ago in Singapore, I used to have a room-mate who was a drug user. I do not know which drugs she used exactly -- my guess is that it was probably "recreational drugs". She ended up being my room-mate because of some "emergency" issues which led her to turn to my landlady (who was a long-time friend of hers) for help. The fact that she is rich meant that her drug use and its impact was not seen by the public. Years later she "cleaned up" and started running her mother's business empire which she is slated to inherit.
Personally, I know of some Canadian friends/acquaintances who use hash (i.e. smoke pot). A few even offered/recommended their stuff for me to try, reassuring me that it is not addictive; but I turned down their offer anyway. That said, it is easier for me to remain neutral as a friend since my value is that "my friends are responsible for the consequences of the choices they make in their lives" and I am not affected in any way by their personal lifestyle choices. I wonder how I would react if that happened in a professional context.
I realize that it is easier for me to be non-judgemental towards the girls living in a teenage shelter that I used to tutor as a volunteer back in the 1990's Singapore. I listened their stories and learned about life through them; I recall one was involved with gangs by age 13. Back then, I recognized that at that age, they probably landed up where they were because of a lack of guidance (many came from dysfunctional families) and their socio-economic background.
I do not think that I will choose to be a "Street Nurse" at this moment. I do not think that I am able to be that non-judgemental as yet, given my background. I recognize that I am challenged on my personal values in this topic -- I can imagine myself as an ER nurse (Emergency Room) getting angry at drug addicts who repeatedly utilize health care resources that could otherwise be spent on those who are more motivated to improve their lives. That said, I am very happy to watch and learn from the above documentary. I feel that being introduced to Canadian values and understanding how those values guide the provision of health care (e.g. by examining ethics in a professional nursing context) is a very practical and valuable part of the GNIE (Graduate Nurse, Internationally Educated) programme.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Banff trip and thoughts

My long weekend trip to Banff National Park, Alberta, brought out many thoughts -- mostly about sustainability and a country's security. I am busy with the new school semester at the moment, so I will share some of my thoughts later. Meanwhile, here are some photos.

Highway on high grounds

Highway bridge on high grounds

Some of us felt our ears "popping" as we drove along the highway up in the mountains, heading east to Alberta. This gives me a new meaning/association to the phrase “山路” [mountain road]. IMHO, the fabulous scenery en-route is worth a road trip on its own. Do drive carefully for safety though. There are stretches where only one car can pass on each direction with the mountain wall on one side, a steep drop off the edge on the other side (the barrier/railing is missing or under construction/repair).

Johnston Canyon, Banff

We went to Lake Moraine and Johnston Canyon on the 1st day. Beautiful scenery again. Johnston Canyon has 2 trails. The lower one is suitable even for those on wheelchair. We completed the lower trail and did part of the upper one. We saw an osprey (bird) and a few other wildlife on the way up.

On the 2nd day, we did the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail at Lake Louise. Various wildlife viewing on the way up-and-down. We had to keep our eyes and ears open, paused on our hike every now-and-then to spot them. I even saw an avalanche on an opposite mountain and heard a total of 3 avalanches ("bang" like the thunder). There were a couple of stretches on the windy face of the mountain where "grab chains" are provided for safety, because there is no barrier on the narrow path between the hiker and a long, steep, drop-down. At the top, the winds blew on-and-off furiously (imagine driving at around 80km/hr with an open car window), especially towards the end -- at the non-maintained stretch of the trail. I did not dare to cross the path of loose avalanche rocks to the glacier plain. My friend EM did and she touched the glacier. This is a moderately difficult trail, mainly because of the long distance to hike (walk) up. That said, on our way down, we met a couple of elderly ladies, who looked like they were in their 80's, walking casually up the trail -- at an elevation where even EM (a fraction of their age) and I  were panting on our way up. It goes to show, physical fitness depends not on age! I joked with the group (especially EM) that we managed to create a 3rd miracle that day -- having me up and down the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail safely! [Click here for the other 2 hikes that my friends brought me on.]

View from top of the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail, Banff

Windy path to the glaciers

Windy avalanche path of loose rocks at the top

Warning sign near the end of the trail

Rock climber on mountain wall
(spot for the light blue T-shirt)

The best place on earth! 

Driving west, back to "The best place on earth!" -- as the British Columbia signboard states.