A Year As An Ad Man

After spending a bit of time trying to explain it wasn’t my birthday, I thought – heck, it is a birthday after all. But I never thought a decade and a bit of freelancing would lead to a full-time job at an advertising company, and one that I would enjoy tremendously. Jeff obviously thought differently, because, like a persistent suitor, he finally wore me down and got me to say ‘I do’ to the question he’d been asking for seven years: “do you want a job doing something you love”?

Nicely photoshopped (Thank you CK) publicity shot for the hire announcement

So my boss Jeff Cheong thought it’d be funny to repost an article from last year announcing my hire at Tribal Worldwide, captioning it “Happy Birthday”.

After spending a bit of time trying to explain it wasn’t my birthday, I thought – heck, it is a birthday after all. But I never thought a decade and a bit of freelancing would lead to a full-time job at an advertising company, and one that I would enjoy tremendously. Jeff obviously thought differently, because, like a persistent suitor, he finally wore me down and got me to say ‘I do’ to the question he’d been asking for seven years: “do you want a job doing something you love”?

It has been an amazing year of blistering pace and longer hours. And while chasing work has been about the same as I’ve experienced freelancing, the advantage of having the scale of 350 of the brightest, most hardworking people turning your silly, vague ideas into something fabulous is tremendous.

If there are other things to hope for at work, it would be that I never lose the feeling of being a n00b – the excitability at every idea, new and old, and that I will forever vacillate between nagging doubt and infectious confidence.

Thank you clients, for accommodating my nonsense. And thank you colleagues at Tribal and DDB – please continue to let me know when I’m being an asshole.

Never least, I am eternally grateful for my long-suffering family, especially to my guiding star Naomi, who plays the adult in the family, allowing our son to play and learn, and allowing me to play and learn at work – facilitating us in being the best we can be.

Bring on Year Two!

Help For Autism

I’ve very little experience in or knowledge of what care is needed or available for children on the autism spectrum. But I had a chance to speak with a friend with an autistic child, who has discovered a lesser known method of care that may be able to help. Please read and help me share with anyone you think will benefit from this.

Coming to terms with my firstborn and only child having autism has been the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. When we first became aware he was different, he was about a year old. He didn’t respond to his name, and seemed oblivious to the people around him. Friends and colleagues tried to allay our fears by saying he was too young for a proper diagnosis, but by the time he was 2, we had no doubt. Being a Paediatric doctor did not spare me from the many days and nights of crying, questioning and pleading. I had no answers, either for myself or for my family members who were all looking to me.

Life with a child with autism challenged so many things we took for granted, like going to a shopping centre or a food court. Figuring out his everyday needs consumed us, because he couldn’t tell us what he needed. We lived in a state of crisis aversion, doing whatever was necessary to avoid tantrums and meltdowns which lasted long beyond the terrible twos.
We tried the conventional, evidence-based methods available in Singapore. He went for occupational therapy and speech therapy. We started a home-based therapy programme using Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). We enrolled him in a special school. After 2 years, he went from being a non-verbal, disconnected but happy child, to a non-verbal, rigid, controlling, stressed out and anxious child who obviously wasn’t happy anymore. We couldn’t blame him. If your whole day involved people telling you to stop doing what you want to and do only what they wanted you to do, it would be completely understandable if you didn’t want to have anything to do with them.

Our son finally told us through an almighty sobbing episode that lasted 16 hours, that he’d had enough. So we stopped all his therapy and started looking for a better way of reaching him. After many more wrong turns, we found a little-known method called the Son-Rise Program®, which approaches autism from an entirely different perspective. Instead of the conventional understanding that autism is a neurobehavioural problem that causes our children to behave inappropriately, the Son-Rise Program actually believes that autism is primarily a weakness in social and relational “muscles”, and the behaviours that the world deems socially unacceptable are actually self-soothing or self-care mechanisms. One method that this program advocates is joining in with these exclusive, repetitive behaviours, in an attitude of love and acceptance. Basically, instead of telling them to stop what they’re doing, joining sends the message that we are interested in doing what they do just because they like to do it, and because we love them. Although it sounded crazy, we decided to try. We felt we had nothing to lose at this point. So off we went to the Autism Treatment Center of America in Massachusetts to learn how to help our child using this program.

From that first day when we started entering his world through joining his behaviours, we’ve seen breakthrough after breakthrough. Instead of what everyone feared, which was that we would end up reinforcing the very behaviours we were seeking to stop, he actually started to look at us more, and smile at us as if saying, “You finally get it! Isn’t this amazing?”. Soon he didn’t need those repetitive behaviours anymore, because he discovered how much more fun playing with someone could be. In the last 1½ years of running a Son-Rise Program for our son, he has started speaking in sentences, asking questions, and recently even commenting on the world around him. His imagination has blossomed so incredibly; he creates poems and songs and loves dancing. He expresses his concern for us with hugs and kisses.

We are finally hopeful and positive about his future, and believe that he can and will become someone truly amazing.

The Serious Business Of Dengue Prevention

Dengue 2016 Launch
Minister Masagos Zulkifli and others help hold up the banner showing the 5-step Mozzie Wipeout

It’s been a few years since I’ve been involved with the dengue prevention campaign, and you would think with a couple of years, the disease would have been controlled, or even eradicated.

Unfortunately, dengue fever is still prevalent. In fact, the number of dengue cases in Singapore is expected to hit 30,000 this year – higher than the record in 2013 when 22,170 cases were reported. And it’s come with a couple of challenges:

  • The Zika virus now making news around the world and akin to dengue fever, Zika is also carried and transmitted by the Aedes mosquito;
  • Campaign fatigue among people who are so accustomed to hearing about dengue this and that, that they become blasé about what needs to be done to prevent the disease from causing harm to them and our community.

But here’s the thing about dengue – prevention is, quite practically, in our hands. Essentially, the best way to prevent dengue is to prevent the breeding of its carrier, the Aedes mosquitoes, through the 5-Step Mozzie Wipeout, which can be incorporated into our daily household routine. The steps entail removing stagnant water in our homes, which are ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes, to break the Aedes mosquito’s breeding cycle. By doing that, we can stop dengue transmissions through the bite of these pesky insects.

This year’s dengue campaign launch repeated previous campaigns’ exhortation to do the Mozzie Wipeout, but this time to consciously do it for 14 days – to effectively break the breeding cycle of the Aedes mosquito. To take effective control of the dengue situation, a penalty for households found to be breeding mosquitoes was also announced.

A few things of interest about the Aedes mosquitoes and dengue:

  • Only the female Aedes mosquito bites (because it needs the protein in our blood to develop its eggs).
  • The mosquito becomes infective about 7 days after it has bitten a person carrying the virus.
  • The mosquito is more prone to biting at dawn and dusk.
  • The average lifespan of an Aedes mosquito is two weeks, and during this time, it can lay eggs about three times.
  • Eggs can remain dormant in dry conditions for up to 9 months, after which they can still hatch if exposed to favourable conditions, i.e. water and food.

With that in mind, I’m going around the house to check for and remove potential breeding spots – like on our BBQ canvas sheet cover at the balcony, potted plant bases, our (not used often enough) bicycles, which may have tiny nooks where leftover rainwater may accumulate.

The other thing I’m concerned with is that many of us delegate our household chores to our hired help, and dengue prevention tasks like the 5-Step Mozzie Wipeout may be one of the chores that can be overlooked at times. I’m quite keen to make sure that this is done myself even if we have help at home.

For us, dengue prevention is a serious business, as I’ve reminded everyone over the years, our now 7-year-old son had to have two blood transfusions at 8 weeks old due to dengue fever. So he’s going to go around our apartment and do the Mozzie Wipeout with me regularly as well.

It’s no joke – there have been more than 5,900 reported cases of dengue since the beginning of the year. So get on it now, and make the Mozzie Wipeout part of your household routine.

Preparing For The Departed

You will need to be detached in order to do the things that need to be done when a loved one dies. It’ll be easier when you’re prepared with a checklist before they leave. Here are some of the things my siblings and I had to prepare when our parents passed away in 2011 and this year:

Originally published on Medium.com

You will need to be detached in order to do the things that need to be done when a loved one dies. It’ll be easier when you’re prepared with a checklist before they leave. Here are some of the things my siblings and I had to prepare when our parents passed away in 2011 and this year:

Reporting The Departure 
You have 24 hours to register the departed’s death at either the ICA or at any police station. What you need is your IC, the departed’s IC and a certificate of cause of death — usually given by a hospital or a doctor.

Photograph
You want visitors to the wake/funeral and people who make it a point to read the obituaries to see a photograph they want to remember your loved one by. You may think this is simple — you just open your laptop and scroll through pics — but when your loved one is an elderly person who’s spent a large part of their last decade bedridden and not looking particularly photogenic, you may want to start looking through old photo albums and collections of passport photos. Pick a nice, happy picture.

You might find some of the photos blur or pixelated when blown up, so be prepared to spend some time on this if you need to have consensus between family members. There is also this convention that the departed needs to be depicted in a photograph wearing a suit. I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask why there was a dress code, and let the funeral home’s resident Photoshop expert blend the sharpest-looking suit my father never wore. Seriously, they do it quite well.

On hindsight, I would’ve left the photograph as it was — my father smiling in a batik/hawaiian shirt, probably stained with gravy from some pork dish — and I’m quite sure his friends would have remembered him this way too.

Funeral Director / Undertaker
Do some research, confer with family, and have a number handy. The company we used was a subsidiary of a church, and the staff involved in both my parents’ funerals handled everything, and us, with immense respect and sensitivity. You will need to confer with family regarding religion and ritual — I’ve seen many families squabble over what beliefs their departing loved ones held, and I can tell you, it will add to your anguish. My maternal grandfather’s funeral wake was a compromise made by his fourteen children — there were Christian hymns and prayers in the morning, and Taoist rituals in the afternoon. I think nights were reserved for the secular activities of eating and mahjong.

The funeral director will handle everything, including the layout and publication of an obituary. Note that it’s not compulsory to have an obituary, but it does serve a purpose — the departed’s old friends and acquaintances may only know of their demise through the papers.

The Wake
Some churches and funeral homes have rooms, and void-decks are also an option. The only thing about void deck wakes is that you will want to have someone guarding the casket and other things through the night. Whereas if you held the wake in a funeral home or a church, you would be able to set a cut-off time for visitors.
The funeral director will also ask you what you require. You may want to order the ubiquitous wake buffet or just packet drinks and snacks. You can return any unopened peanut and drink cartons. You won’t need to get anything else — the director will provide you with condolence books, red thread, and other necessities like playing cards and so on.

You may want to assign the collection of condolence cash gifts to a trusted friend or relative, and ask givers to put down their names so you can thank them later.

Friends and workmates will want to give wreaths and floral arrangements — but you have to be mindful of having to dispose of these later. No, they can’t be cremated or buried with the departed. A reasonable option is to state in the obituary that you prefer not to have floral arrangements and wreaths, and that the money that would have been spent on these be donated to charity instead.

“Paying respects” to the departed describes how visitors attend a wake, some saying a prayer before going to the head of the coffin where the glass panel is, and sometimes making a comment on how the departed looks. Be prepared for awkward comments.

The NEA gives you seven days from the day of death to when the remains are dispatched. If you intend to extend the wake past seven days, you can apply to the NEA for permission.

The Funeral and Beyond
You will need to choose between a cremation or a burial — which may be a given because of your religious practice, but all burials in Singapore a limited to 15 years. The only active burial ground in Singapore is at Choa Chu Kang, and is actually a complex of concrete crypts which will contain the departed’s coffin. After 15 years, the NEA may exhume remains and families are given the option of cremating the remains or re-interring (if there is an available burial ground by then). That’s right, burial is not freehold.
The crematorium at Mandai is a modern complex complete with service halls and an automated furnace with a viewing gallery.

The collection of the departed’s ashes can be traumatic. It’s as if you’ve had to say goodbye again, by putting the skeletal remains of the departed into whatever receptacle your funeral director may have recommended. It doesn’t help your emotions that the NEA gives you a Toyogo box to collect the ash and bone from another receptacle. It is a dusty affair, and some bone fragments may end up on the table or floor. If you’re not up for it, tell the funeral director, and they’ll do everything for you.

You will have the option of keeping the ashes of the departed at home or in a niche at churches, temples and also government-run columbariums. Scattering of ashes at sea is also permitted with an application, but limited to an area near Pulau Semakau. Think of it as a smokers’ corner for the dead.

After all that is done, you will have some more time to grieve, if you need to. And if you need to, you must.

Resource: NEA Care For The Dead Services

Ceremonies Are For Eating

We send my father off this afternoon with a church service and cremation. The ritual and ceremony of the event would have made him feel a little awkward. Most gatherings did.

We send my father off this afternoon with a church service and cremation. The ritual and ceremony of the event would have made him feel a little awkward. Most gatherings did. He would mumble through hymns, anthems and carols and once was even caught holding a hymnal upside down. He liked nothing better than to sit in a quiet corner and stuff his face with his favourite foods – and there were many – and then chuckle when he was found doing so.

When his mother passed away in 1999, my father, being one of two offspring, was tasked with marching and chanting around her coffin with the Taoist priest-mediums every few hours. They made perhaps about 8 rounds each session. At one of these sessions, my father dragged his feet mournfully around his mother’s coffin, lips pursed as if in protest at having to repeat whatever Taoist mantra that was being sung/shouted.

I remember watching him do two laps and then losing sight of him among the robes, ribbons, and incense. I thought at first the he might have stumbled and fallen, but the others in the procession would’ve helped him up. I thought he might’ve been overcome by grief and excused himself, so I got up from where I was seated and looked around the family’s Hose Road Seremban house for him.

I found him at a corner table, feeding himself a plate of funeral caterer’s beehoon and curry. When I asked him if he was alright, he said, “two rounds enough lah, no need to do so many times”, and carried on stuffing his face.

So, while I may not excuse myself and sneak out this afternoon when we hold the Catholic service that was arranged by my brother, I might sneak a handful of groundnuts, kwa chee or M&Ms in my pocket and stuff my face a bit. Don’t mind the crunching ok? Papa wouldn’t have.