I Scored 207 for PSLE; I Still Became a Lawyer.

You decide your future.

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I’ll never forget the day I went to collect my PSLE* results.

I walked up to my form teacher nervously. She looked at me with disappointment, shook her head and said,”You could have done so much better.”

Those words burned into my head.

(This is the same teacher who did nothing but tell my whole class that we girls were “so complacent and so conceited” throughout the year. Maybe we were, maybe we weren’t, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the right way to motivate a bunch of 12 year old girls. But I digress…)

Of course, there was the mass comparisons of PSLE results happening around the school hall, but not on a scale as large as now, what with the availability of social media.

I remembered feeling upset, thinking I was stupid.

And I felt worth less.

I carried these feelings with me for a long time. Always an invisible barrier to the success that I wanted.

Ok, let me first take responsibility for my results first. Did I study hard? No, I’ll be the first to admit. But I was busy enjoying my childhood. I was busy playing, learning, asking questions and laughing.

I had a happy childhood.

But my point is – it didn’t matter that I was doing so well in other areas. I was netball captain. I was a school prefect. I did all sorts of creative stuff like putting up the P6 concert and participating in our 150th anniversary concert.

All it came down to was 3 numbers at the end of my primary school endeavours.

I was placed in Express stream in St. Margaret’s Secondary School. Went to Nanyang Polytechnic to get my business diploma. Went to Curtin University and obtained my business degree with distinction. Then completed my education with a law degree from NUS. And finally, got called to the Singapore Bar.

I managed to achieve my dream of becoming a lawyer with sheer determination and my family’s support.

I am married to a wonderful man, and we have 3 beautiful children.

Standing where I am now, I really feel for the kids who are considered “low PSLE scorers” and labeled as such. I feel their own disappointment at their results, and even worse, their parents’ disappointment at their results.

As a kid, the worst thing to me was to disappoint my parents. (I actually don’t remember my parents saying anything, they probably felt sad with me. But I remember my grandmother’s disappointment.)

 

Why do we need to place kids in boxes and categorise them as “high achievers” and “low achievers” at such a young age?

Isn’t it more important to ignite curiosity in a child and to let him/her discover who they are and what they are good at? Isn’t it more important to equip children with the right tools to survive and thrive, which includes a strong sense of self-worth and self-confidence? Isn’t it more important to let the child know that he/she is loved completely whether they do well or badly in school?

Instead of crushing their confidence and dreams so early on and allowing them to think they are not as smart or as good as someone who did better than them when that is complete and utter bullshit.

My children are all under 5 years old at the moment. And I am dreading putting them through the local primary school system because it might not develop all my children to their fullest potentials. They are all different. Some might thrive under this system, some might not.

Don’t get me wrong, as a type A personality, I am all for the spirit of competition and doing well and I encourage it.

But not at the expense of my kid’s self belief in his/her own abilities because I have learnt without self-belief and confidence, there is nothing.

*For my non-Singaporean friends, PSLE stands for “Primary School Leaving Examination”. It’s a huge exam which streams kids into different categories for Secondary School/High School at 12 years old. And their academic talents are nurtured accordingly from then on.

Music Monday

Part of the highest & truest expression of myself.

I have grown up with music.

And I’m not talking about the occasional piano lesson here and a ballet lesson there.

I’m talking about intense immersion in music.

My mother was a piano teacher. I started learning at 3 years old. My dad plays the guitar insanely well (Hotel California? Peanuts.).

I play the piano, drums and a bit of guitar. I also learned the violin when I was very little. I went for ballet lessons, tap dancing lessons and even Chinese dancing lessons.

I composed music, wrote songs, and sang.

When I used to go to church, I was a worship leader. I choreographed hip hop dances too. A friend of mine remarked before that if I didn’t have music in my life it would be like chopping off my right arm.

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Suzuki Violin Class Performance

When I stopped going to church, the music stopped too because I associated it very much with a religion that I could not relate to anymore. This was an extremely agonising decision since it meant changing an enormous part of my life and routine.

But I maintained the belief in spirituality and a Higher Power that doesn’t necessarily have to be a deity.

I’ve since realised (even though it took me some years) that even apart from religion, music centres me. It relaxes me and helps me find my groove, so to speak. When I need inspiration in a hurry, the quickest way to get there is by listening to something I find creative or that I like. When I need to get into The Zone, there’s always my Fight Song Of The Day. When I need some comfort, there is always Debussy’s positively hypnotic Claire de Lune.

There is just something about music that I connect deeply with and I cannot deny if I want to be able to fully embrace and express who I am. Maybe because of my upbringing. Maybe because that’s just the way I’m put together.

But I know that when I include music in my processes, I am able to do my best work in business and with my family because it is inextricably linked to my highest and truest expression of myself.

Kitchen & Kids: Fig, Prosciutto & Mozzarella Pizza

So Easy Even My 3 Month Old Got Involved!

I don’t have time to cook as much as I would like these days but when I do I try to involve the kids so we have something to do together. Making food is one of my favourite weekend indulgences. It’s relaxing, and I’m always amazed at how many good business ideas I come up with while bustling around in the kitchen.

The kids always want to help and the great thing about pizza is it’s easy for them to do so. Also, it’s a good trick to get your kids to try something they otherwise wouldn’t eat. My kids love to eat what they have helped to make.

One weekend when I saw figs on sale at the supermarket (rare sighting in Singapore!) I knew I had to try making Lorraine Pascal’s Fig, Prosciutto and Mozzarella Pizza. It might sound a little huh?? at first, but I guarantee the combination is absolutely yummy! Salty prosciutto, contrasted with the sweetness of the figs. The creaminess of the buffalo mozzarella is cut by the slightly tart tomato sauce base. Top that with fresh basil leaves and you get an unbelievably aromatic experience.

It’s lovely to eat on its own but if you want to kick it up a notch, I like to pair this with a fruity Sauvignon Blanc. The fruitiness matches the figs and the crispness contrasts with the creaminess of the cheese.

It’s the ultimate lunchtime indulgence.

This recipe is super easy to follow and it has 2 parts. 1) Make the pizza dough 2) Top the pizza and cook.

Part 1) Making The Pizza Dough 

Ingredients

For the basic dough

  • 250g/9oz strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp fast-action dried yeast
  • 125–145ml/4½–5fl oz warm water
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for oiling and drizzling

Method

Mix the flour, salt and yeast together in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. In a jug, mix the water and oil together, then pour the liquid into the well of the flour mixture and mix to make a soft but not sticky dough.

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Mixing flour, salt and yeast

 

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BABY HACK: What do you do when you need to get the dough done but the baby wants you to carry her too? Put her in the Manduca baby carrier for the win and get her involved too! This baby carrier is not cheap, but it is extremely worth it. It’s been a complete lifesaver for the hubby and me for all 3 of our kids.
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Mix it all up with water & oil
  • Knead for 10 minutes by hand on a lightly floured work surface or for five minutes in an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Bring the dough together to a smooth flat ball and place on a large, lightly floured baking tray.

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My favourite – KitchenAid. What would I do without you?
  • Cover the pizza dough loosely with oiled clingfilm, making sure it is airtight. Leave in a warm but not hot place for 30–40 minutes.

TIP: If you have a mixer that has the hook attachment, I recommend that you use it to knead the dough. This is way less tiring and you can do other things whilst the mixer is kneading for you. But if you’re in need of some catharsis, kneading the dough by hand will do the trick.

Part 2) Topping The Pizza 

This is the part where it’s easy for the kids to help out with minimum mess.

Ingredients For the pizza topping

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The makings of a great tasting pizza – good quality ingredients.

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7.

  • Remove the clingfilm from the dough and roll out to a 30cm/12in circle to knock some air out, then prick holes all over the dough with a fork. Spread over the tomato purée, leaving a 2.5cm/1in border, followed by the mozzarella, prosciutto and half of the figs.

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    Spreading the puree: Older kids who are more in control of their fine motor skills will find this task easier.
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    Allegra helped too ❤
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    The little miss was happy to just look after she was done with the puree.
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    Ready for the oven!

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    Doesn’t it look yummy already?
  • Drizzle with oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake in the oven for 15–20 minutes, or until the bread is crisp and golden-brown and the cheese has melted. Scatter basil over the top and arrange the remaining figs on the pizza. Drizzle with oil.

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    I feel like I need to make this all over again now – num num!
  • Serve at the centre of the table so everyone can rip off their piece of Italian gold.

TIP: Be sure to use buffalo mozzarella or mozzarella balls. Don’t use regular grated mozzarella because it will be too salty and not at all creamy.

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They love it!
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All smiles 🙂

Happy Birthday, Baby Alexa!

After 2 weeks of pre-term labour scares, Alexa has arrived safely on 22 February 2016 – the last day of Chinese New Year!

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Welcome to our world, baby girl.

Maids Are The Backbone of Our Society

When I was growing up, we had a couple of domestic helpers around the house, usually from Philippines or Indonesia.

(For those unfamiliar with Singapore, domestic help is commonplace because it is affordable.)

From my observations, even as a child, I knew that good domestic help was difficult to find. When we did have a good helper, things at home were well taken care of and my parents and grandparents would be freed up to focus on more important things.

When the helper was not so good because of attitude, work ethic or other various issues, it would be stressful for everyone, to say the least.

Yesterday was Foreign Domestic Worker Day and all the helpers were enjoying themselves at the carnival that was specifically organised for them. We were there to attend the Foreign Domestic Worker Awards Ceremony because my Mother-in-law was nominated for Foreign Domestic Worker Employer of the year – and she WON! She’s travelling so my husband went to receive her award on her behalf and had so many interviews with the media.

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From left to right – 1st photo: Weihong receiving the award from Minister of State, Sam Tan; 2nd photo: arranging their pose for the camera; 3rd photo: SMILE!; 4th photo: Weihong & Marny getting interviewed by a Straits Times reporter.

 

(Read the Straits Times article here.)

It is always been amazing to me that my Mother-in-law has managed to keep her helper for 28 years. Marny came to Singapore in 1987 to work to support her son, and she’s been here ever since. 4 years into her job, Marny asked for a $10,000 loan to buy farmland in the Philippines and my Mother-in-law agreed to lend her the money (Read full article here.)

Of course we can all draw parallels to hiring employees to help in business. The good ones help to grow the company. The not so good ones are a drain on the company.

The really great, stable ones, to me, form the backbone of the company.  My stepfather’s secretary was with him for 30 years and that really helped to contribute to the success of his company.

As a Mum (to 2 munchkins under the age of 4 and a 3rd one on the way) and entrepreneur, it is imperative that my support network works. Without reliable domestic help (which we are fortunate to have because my helper is super), I would not be able to do a lot of things that I do today. My husband has a very demanding job too as a lawyer so we rely heavily on our support network (which includes our extended families too. Takes a village, and all that).

Lots of successful businessmen have their wives to stay home and look after the kids and all other home matters. That’s not the situation for me so I have to be highly creative and organised.

Today, I am thankful for my reliable helpers and employees, who, just by being great at their job, are helping me (more than they know) to achieve my dreams, goals, and and the life that I desire for myself and my family.

(Originally posted on lisechew.com on 7 December 2015)

The Cupcake Lawyer – My First Business While in Law School: Lise & Ebony

The biggest lesson was learning to trust myself, my creativity and my instincts. After that, hard work brought whatever I dreamed up into existence. And finally, the absolute belief in my products and the correct presentation brought it home for me.

I was still in law school and I decided I had to start making some money for myself.

This was at the cusp of the cupcake revolution (in Singapore at least) and they were the new in thing.

At the time I had just returned from Australia, fresh and full of creative ideas and this was the perfect outlet for it. I had lived off-campus while studying there and had gotten really good at hosting parties. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea, dinners. I planned the menus, did the shopping, cooked up a storm and always ensured everything was appropriately presented and decorated.

The food had to be yummy delicious and satisfying. The decor had to be perfect. And everything was held together by warmth and heart. There was no half-past six nonsense presented at any of these gatherings.

Though it would get quite stressful mainly because I’m a stickler for every little detail, I enjoyed every moment of it.

It was through all that planning and dreaming up these events at my house that I found my love for beautiful things/creating beautiful things. I learned to trust my creative instincts and my gut.

To start my business off, I conjured up a short menu of desserts I was good at making to sell. Cupcakes with buttercream frosting, cream cheese frosting, chocolate frosting, chocolate cupcakes, THE bestselling Ebony Cake, carrot cake, tiramisu, and velvety dark chocolate truffles.

The next thing was the name. NAME. What to call my business?

I had been to Göteborg, Sweden when I was about 20 and my stepfather and mother brought me to Liseberg Amusement Park. (I hit all the amusement parks that trip. Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach, Denmark’s Tivoli and Norway’s Tusenfryd. Nuts!). Anyway when we got to Liseberg, my stepdad told me that “Lise” is a variant of my name.

I didn’t really think much about it until I had to think about what to call my business and I thought it would be cute to include “Ebony” in my business.

Well who’s Ebony?

Ebony, was my trusty old black Honda Civic. I included her in the business name because she was the one who got me to places when I needed to make deliveries or set up at weddings. And yes, the Ebony cake is named after her.

So I brainstormed for names for awhile – Red & Ebony, Ebony’s Sweets blah blah… until I decided to use “Lise”. No hiding behind any other brand or even Ebony. This business was an expression of who I was at the time, and so I thought this was the best name.

I still needed a short description of what the business did but didn’t know how to phrase it. Bakery? Cake Artist? Cupcakes? Desserter?? (!!)  Nothing quite fit.  I decided to just let the question sit in my head while I got on with other preparations.

I was so excited to start this business and what made it even better was that I was gonna go to New York to visit my sister who was studying at NYU then. I would be visiting the famed Magnolia bakery (amazing energy and omg the banana pudding!), Serendipity cafe and all these other places New York has to offer that would be the sources of my inspiration.

And then it happened when we were standing outside one of the many froyo shops (I think it was Pinkberry).

I saw the word “artisan” on another shop and for some reason I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of using that word before. Dessert Artisan.

With that, everything fell into p l a c e.

Lise and Ebony Photogrid
Lise & Ebony Launch Party 2007

I had a little launch party and invited all my relatives and friends and I must say it was pretty successful. I meant for this to be a small homemaking business where I would bake/make chocolates to supplement my income and it worked out well. I made enough to cover my law books, buy new clothes and shoes and travel.

I didn’t know it yet but this experience would be a defining one. I learned so many practical business lessons that I would continue to use to this day.

The biggest lesson was learning to trust myself, my creativity and my instincts. After that, hard work brought whatever I dreamed up into existence. And finally, the absolute belief in my products and the correct presentation brought it home for me.

 

Years later, I’ve come full circle.

And I don’t know why but I’m thinking about Lee Kuan Yew and how he had decided that neither the Japanese nor the British had the right to push us around and that fuelled him to make Singapore into what it is today: Independent, prosperous and successful.

I am standing at the edge, looking at all my options, deciding.

I feel a certain rhythm in me and I’m waiting for

The.Right.Time.To.

Jump.

(Originally posted on lisechew.com on 9 June 2015)

Some Kinda Crazy

Crazy, is what it takes to slay the jabberwocky.

I am of the opinion, that to be a successful entrepreneur, you’ve got to embrace your Crazy. Yes, Crazy with a capital C.

Some people say entrepreneurs are creative, well they’re right, but they’re just being politically correct (and polite). After the last few years of running my own business, Crazy, is what it is.

Crazy, is what will take the business to the next level. Crazy, is what leads to thinking outside the box.

Crazy, is what it takes to slay the jabberwocky.

(Originally posted on lisechew.com on 8 April 2015).