“If it won’t matter in 5 years, it doesn’t matter.”
I decided I would stay in bed 5 minutes longer to cuddle this little face. She loves to come into the room, bright and early, clamber onto bed and cuddle. I usually just get up and stumble all over the room to try and get ready for work. But I’m glad I have constant reminders to hug my baby as much as I can before she gets to a stage where she says “Ok enough!” to me when I hug her. (Yes, Allegra does that to me now!).
I also finished my first New York Times Crossword Puzzle, with dismal results. But because I did finish it, albeit with quite a lot of help, I realised some tips to keep in mind when attempting this confounding exercise:
The answer can be more than one word; and
Even though the New York Times Crossword Puzzle has this reputation for being super difficult, sometimes the answer is really simple. So simple, that you would roll your eyes and kick yourself for not guessing right away.
Also, I learned about a Chinese philosopher named Zhuang Zi because of a colleague who studied Philosophy in University. He is her favourite philosopher because his writings are in beautiful story form.
I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Sabrina Tan at Galboss Asia. She shared her experience with growing her local custom skin care company, Skin Inc, into a global brand. It is now in over 100 cities around the world through skin care and make up juggernaut, Sephora.
I had heard about her success before meeting her through various business associates. And since I’m in the skin care industry too, I was very curious at how she did it.
Kudos, by the way to the Galboss Asia people who scheduled her sharing right after lunch. That was a good way to keep people awake! I’m sure there was no one sleeping since it was such an interesting and inspiring sharing.
I was particularly fascinated with her story because when she was building her business, she was also raising her family. Her youngest kid was only 1 when she started. I can most certainly relate to that. It is somewhat comforting also to hear that she had many challenges too before this huge success.
Having met her and if I had to describe her in 2 words, I would use the colloquail term “chilli padi“.
For my non-Singaporean readers, a chilli padi is a chili pepper otherwise known as Bird’s Eye chilli. It is small, but extremely potent and spicy. One small bite of this chilli will send an overwhelming explosion of flavour into your mouth, and it can be so spicy that it’ll make your ears hurt, I kid you not!
In that same thread, don’t be fooled by her petite frame. She is a force to be reckoned with.
These are the questions I asked her when I got the chance to chat with her:
How did you juggle your business and your family?
What were your biggest challenges in business and how did you overcome then?
What was your inspiration for Galboss Asia?
Great insights, no?
I also asked her this one last question off-camera,”The skin care industry is so competitive. Weren’t you afraid?” She just looked at me with steely determination and shook her head as she said,”No. Don’t even think about that.”
Besides what’s in the news, little is known of the people behind Phoon Huat. This is a peek into what it was like for me growing up with the business and the stories that I’ve heard.
My grandfather, Wong Chen Keng, came to Singapore in 1940 when he was 4 years old from Hainan Island to join his father, Wong Tai Fuang. He travelled with his mother and older brother by Chinese junk boat.
In those days, the conditions on the boat were far from sanitary and disease spread quickly. My grandfather fell seriously ill and nearly died.
But as good fortune would have it, my grandfather survived.
Phoon Huat would have been a very different company if he didn’t for he was the one who developed Redman flavoured concentrates that gained popularity in the 60s and 70s.
When I was in kindergarten, we had a Redman factory in Aljunied. My grandmother used to pick my sisters and I up from school and bring us there for the afternoon. As we ate lunch my grandmother packed, we would watch the factory churn out glass bottles containing concentrate in psychedelic colours. Pink, orange, red, green, yellow vials of concentrate would twirl around with timed precision as they were filled, labelled and capped by machine. The aroma of syrupy sweetness always hung in the air. I remember sitting at the supervisor’s desk, watching the finished bottles of concentrate arriving in a circular space at the end of the production line. 2 factory workers would then pack the bottles into boxes of 10, smear industrial glue on the flaps and close the boxes. Sometimes when the circular space got too full too fast, or if the factory worker who was packing was careless, glass bottles breaking were not uncommon. We did try to pack these boxes because we wanted to help but the glass bottles were quite heavy, and we were quite short and couldn’t quite reach the boxes comfortably.
If we were sleepy, we would nap on the boxes that were already packed and waiting to be shipped out. Of course, as kids, we sometimes got up to mischief when we had nothing to do or we were tired of our Carebears sticker book. More than once, one of us would push the emergency button and all machinery would come to an abrupt halt. I don’t remember being scolded for it but the factory workers were none too pleased.
Besides Redman concentrates, grandfather also successfully reverse engineered the recipe for the ever-so-popular Konnyaku jelly that Phoon Huat has sold in little blue packets since the 90s. As kids, we were always happy to be guinea pigs for him to test out the different versions of the Konnyaku jelly on. “Too chewy like chewing gum!” “Not chewy enough, it’s like agar agar*!” “Not sweet enough!” “Why no flavour?” He took our feedback seriously and would tweak the recipe accordingly. Every week, when we visited the grandparents for our weekly family lunches, we would have a different batch of Konnyaku jelly to try until he got the recipe right.
Other than these experiences, I remember Redman lorries delivering boxes and boxes of stock to our house for repacking. My grandmother would work tirelessly and we’d help too.
Growing up in a business family, I was given the privilege to watch first hand what it took to build successful businesses. I inevitably learned many business lessons by just sitting through family dinners. I had the front row seat to watching our family go through the highs of achieving great success and the lows of terrible heartbreak. Such is the nature of business. Such is the nature of life.
The heartbreaks were one of the reasons why I chose to become a lawyer. I thought I could insulate myself from disappointment and tragedy, take home a stable income and live a relatively comfortable life.
But it also meant not becoming who I was meant to be.
For someone who effortlessly sold 2 lipsticks to her principal while in kindergarten and who wanted to make cassette tapes of her father’s music (yeah, he wrote songs too) to sell when she found out he wrote songs, I would be denying a very natural and important part of me.
This family business has shaped me more than I know.
*Agar agar is a local term that refers to a gelatinous dessert with a more crunchy (as opposed to a more chewy) texture.
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
For the basic dough
250g/9oz strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for oiling and drizzling
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2 sick toddlers + 1 newborn does not a happy Mama make! I swear it’s the Universe’s way of pointing and laughing at me,
“HA. HA. HA. Supermamapreneur that.”
2 sick toddlers + 1 newborn does not a happy Mama make! I swear it’s the Universe’s way of pointing and laughing at me,
“HA. HA. HA. Supermamapreneur that.”
This is when running a business from home and mothering is a mishmash mountain of Icky, Sticky and Tricky.
#1: ICKY – When they are sick
This always happens to me. Two out of two. The 2 times I had newborns when there was already an older child around, the older child(ren) would get sick.
When Allegra was born, Kaius caught the dreaded Hand, Foot & Mouth disease (HFMD) when Allegra was barely a week old. He had the ulcers in his mouth and throat. But the most worrying thing was HFMD can be fatal for newborns. Luckily, Allegra didn’t get HFMD but she caught a mild version of the flu. The poor thing had a fever, cough and also a stuffy nose when she was not even a month old.
When Alexa was born, both Kaius and Allegra caught some bug from school which inevitably turned into bronchitis. They had to use the nebuliser for medication and were also on antibiotics. Alexa ended up with a stuffy nose.
I spent my confinement month* with all three kids at home (this was sonot the plan!), and ferrying the kids to and fro from home to the paediatrician.
Somedays I brought just Alexa for her routine newborn check up, other days, 2 kids, and on really great days, all 3 kids would have to go.
Imagine the bills. And the whining (from Mama too).
#2: STICKY – When medication (& puke) ends up everywhere
I wish there was a magic formula to help young kids understand that if they scream and scream to avoid taking their medicines, they will cough and cough, and then they will puke and puke.
ALL OVER THE FLOOR.
Their bed. Mybed.
Y (insert appropriate expletive) W H E R E.
Kaius is 3+, so he understands that he has to take his medicine to get better and the nebuliser is part of that process. He’s calm and takes what he needs to without drama. But to be fair he’s not a dramatic kid.
My spunky Allegra on the other hand, hated taking the powdery notsonicetasting antibiotics and using the nebuliser. She would scream and cry and shout and fight each time she had to take her medication. We’d usually have to carry her and let her watch some TV to distract her.
So many times each medicine session would last 30 minutes and end with her in a pile of sobs and covered in sticky medicine and me exhausted. And y’know what’s the most “fun” part? When you think you finally got her to swallow her medicine, but she chokes and sputters and then pukes everything out. Which means you’ll have to do it all.over.again.
But I also had to remind myself that she’s sick and not even 2 years old, so she’s allowed to be afraid and cranky and difficult.
Oh and since my office is at home, my poor gem of an assistant had to work through all the commotionpandemonium.
By the way, I will gladly pay money to anyone who can make antibiotics for kids in gummy form. My kids LOVE gummies and it will save Mummies everywhere the heartache of having to force medicine down their kids’ throats.
#3: TRICKY – When EVERYONE wants Mummy
And you know it wouldn’t help even if you could clone Mummy because the clone probably wouldn’t have the same smell as Mummy.
This was the most tricky for me.
I had the newborn to attend to, and to get breastmilk production going for.
I had the aftermath of the birth to deal with – yes, painful boobs, stitches where nobody wants to have stitches (Google “episiotomy” at your own risk!), and just generally trying to bounce back quickly.
Then I had the 2 older children who just wanted to be near me because it made them feel better.
But because I couldn’t afford to get sick (cos if I do everything will fall apart), I couldn’t spend too much time with them also. They had to settle for brief cuddles instead of dozing off in the same room as me and Alexa.
The crying. The whinging.
On top of that, the Boss, I need your approval on this and that & what’s our marketing plan now? type questions. (Having the baby earlier than expected always brings about planning nightmares for work. And it doesn’t help when sometimes it is difficult to focus to get good ideas for marketing.)
There isn’t a quick fix for this. Only taking it 1 day at a time. Sometimes 1 hour or 1 minute at a time.
The general plan is usually this: When the shit hits the fan, eliminate shit maker(s), switch off the fan and then clean up the mess.
And when it is allover, we celebrate by going shopping!
*In Chinese cultures, the “confinement month” refers to post-natal care which lasts between 28 to 40 days. Usually, the mother is encouraged to stay at home to recover from the birth. During this time, a special diet is prepared and herbal medicines brewed to help her regain her strength and vitality. Everything is specially prepared including herbal and/or lemongrass baths, red date tea (that is drunk in place of plain water) and green papaya fish soup to encourage milk production. The confinement nanny is hired to do all these things for the mother and to also help look after the newborn for 28 days, typically.
My sister was the only female (and young!) eulogist for Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral last year.
Last week, we had a mini family excursion to Temasek Polytechnic’s (TP) library for a memorial exhibition for Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. It was especially exciting for us because TP was featuring one of its alumna and my sister, Cassandra Chew, in this exhibition.
If her name sounds familiar, it’s because she was the only female (and young!) eulogist for Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral last year. And as a thank you, she was given one of the artillery shells from the 21-gun salute that occurred during the funeral procession and it is part of the exhibition’s central display.
To give an idea to non-Singaporeans of what a big deal this eulogy thing was, she delivered the eulogy in the presence of many world leaders, including Henry Kissinger and former US President Bill Clinton. So you see, I’m not bragging just because she’s my sister. It really is a BIG deal!
Lots of people ask me how she received such a privilege and the simplest answer is this: She interviewed Mr. Lee and his family for a book about his life at home (not yet published) and the picture book Lee Kuan Yew: A Life In Pictures whilst she was a journalist at Singapore Press Holdings.
Besides the fact that she is my sister, I thought it added more heart to the whole funeral because it was important to the decision-makers that the eulogist who represented Young Singaporeans actually knew Mr. Lee and got to spend some time with him.
I brought my 2 little girls along because I wanted them to be part of this moment in time with their Aunt (Kaius was at school). When they grow up and realise what an insane honour this is, they can also be amazed (like we were) at Ah Mai* Cass’ achievements. For this is her legacy, and they got to be part of it.
‘LKY & I: Remembering 23rd March’ The exhibition is open to the public from 24 March to 15 April 2016 during the Library opening hours:
Mon-Fri: 8.30am to 7pm; Sat: 8.30am to 1pm. Sun/PH & where the eve of PH falls on a Sat: Closed
*Ah Mai is Hainanese for an Auntie who is younger than her niece’s or nephew’s mother or father.
I did not know Mr Lee Kuan Yew personally for most of my life. We met while I was on two assignments as a journalist – documenting his life at home and collecting photographs for a picture book for his 90th birthday.
I met him up close six times, for meetings and interviews, from July 2011. Most were large, formal meetings at the Istana. Naturally I was on my best behaviour.
After all, this was the man who had led Singapore to independence, triumphed over his opponents in a storied political career spanning over 60 years, and transformed a sleepy colonial outpost into a bustling metropolis. And there he was, in person.
I didn’t dare to say a word to him until my editor made me lead one of the interviews. He thought Mr Lee would enjoy the interaction with a younger Singaporean.
I was so nervous I could hear my heart pounding before the meeting, and actually felt a headache coming on. I braced myself to be peppered with questions on whether I was married, when I planned to have children or whether I spoke Mandarin often enough – questions Mr Lee, as you know, was known to ask young Singaporeans he met.
But there was none of that during the 80-minute interview, which was focused on the beginnings of his political career. There was no room for nervousness either.
He came in, sat down, and asked, “Who’s going to start?” And with that, the interview began. As always, Mr Lee was focused on the task at hand.
Over time, I gained more glimpses of what he was like as a person. For instance, it was a thrill for me to learn from his oral history that he once failed an art exam in primary school. But that was of course a small blemish on his distinguished academic record.
I also learned that in his later years he craved his late mother’s gado-gado and mee siam, which thankfully, his sister, Madam Monica Lee, could replicate.
I made at least eight visits to 38 Oxley Road, where I went into all the rooms. But the only time I saw him at home was during our 20-minute photo shoot which began in his study, where he spent most of his time while at home.
He was in good spirits that day, dressed in a white, short-sleeved shirt, dark trousers and his trademark sports shoes. It looked as if he had been going through his email at his desk, which also had newspapers, magazines, binders of papers and stationery, all neatly arranged.
It was clear that even at home, his focus was on his work. It didn’t matter to him that his furniture was more than 60 years old and outdated. They served their purpose and that was all that mattered. That was how he lived his life: very simply and frugally, and always putting the country first and his own creature comforts second.
We moved to the living room, which was also a very private space because it was where the late Mrs Lee was remembered. Her photographs were displayed in two rows above her urn, and I was told Mr Lee would gaze at them daily as he had his meals.
I could feel how much Mr Lee missed his late wife. She was his partner, his anchor, for more than 63 years.
The last set of photos we took at his home are my favourite. Seated on a chair by a wooden table on the verandah, Mr Lee flashed a bright smile. They turned out to be the best photos on the reel.
No one knows about this, but to thank him for the photo shoot that day, I had prepared two chocolate cupcakes after learning how much he enjoyed chocolate. I even got the bakery to label each cupcake so he’d know exactly what kind of chocolate cupcake it was. But, on the day, I was far too excited and dropped the box before I could present them to Mr Lee.
I had been reflecting on what I was learning about Mr Lee, as a person and founder of independent Singapore, and had just begun to understand just how much he and his family had sacrificed to ensure Singapore’s success. I realised how much I had taken for granted, and how much more I had to thank him for.
To me, Mr Lee had transformed from an elderly statesman who our textbooks say did a lot for us but didn’t quite seem relevant to my daily life, to a man for whom I developed a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation. So much of Singapore began to make sense to me now that I had seen the world through his eyes.
I decided to try to express my thanks again, and wrote him a Thank You card. I had so much to say, but did not know how to say it, and ended up writing four simple lines. A few weeks later, I received a reply. True to his personality, his response was brief and to the point. “Thank you”, he wrote, and signed off as “LKY”. I was thrilled to have heard back from him, but a little sad that I did not convey what I felt in my heart.
This is my last chance. Mr Lee, thank you for everything. Some days I cannot believe how fortunate I am to have been born a Singaporean. We don’t have everything, but we have more than most, because of your lifelong labour. On behalf of young Singaporeans everywhere, I’d like to say: thank you.
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.
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.