Pung Sai Zhoa vs Kleenex Aloe Vera Toilet Tissue

Only triple ply will comply with our bathroom requirements
Only triple ply will comply with our bathroom requirements

Sourcing for the most effective and safest home products has been especially important to us with Kai joining the family four years ago. 

Since then, Naomi’s been a meticulous household shopper – as far as possible, we eat only organic produce at home. I can’t emphasize this often enough – you get enough trans-fat laden, preservative tainted, pesticide-laced food when you go out. We’ve also eradicated as many toxins as possible from our home – we only use castile soap, vinegar and water to clean most surfaces, zero insecticides.

And when it comes to household necessities, people tend to forget about the toilet quite a bit. Thankfully, there’s someone watching our toilet stock closely in our household. Yes.. It has come down to this, I am talking about toilet paper. Actually, it’s not that surprising. Early in the history of this blog/medium, I spoke with mrbrown on one of the first episodes ever of the mrbrownshow podcast, and we talked about toilet paper, and how one of our ACS schoolmates did not know the Mandarin term for it until on a fateful, diarrhea ridden trip to China in the days when China’s food safety was even more of an issue.

That classmate had to use the lavatory in a Chinese city, and he found it lacking in toilet paper of any kind. So he asked, in his best Mandarin translation of the Hokkien term for it,  which was “Pung Sai Zhoa” (literally translates into English as “Shitting Paper”) if he could buy some.

Unbeknownst to him then, our schoolmate had been politely but urgently asking a bewildered Chinese native if he could buy some paper with shit on it.

Seriously though, toilet tissue is an important issue in our household. Thankfully, we’ve been using the Kleenex brand for many years. In our recent trip to the supermarket, we got their new range that’s enriched with Aloe Vera extract.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of good toilet tissue. If you’re like me and get to use a public toilet often, you’d have had your fair share of waxy, single ply, crappy toilet paper. Sometimes, the quality of the wipe is less than optimal, and you end up taking half the roll to clean yourself after you’ve done your business.

And need we tell you that when it comes to toilet paper use, the term “breakthrough” is not a positive one.

We don’t have to teach Kai to be this discerning either. Toilet paper to him is either “just nice” or “too scratchy”. And when we’re using the “too scratchy” one, you can count on him being cranky the whole day after. Thank goodness we’ve always used Kleenex tissues at home, and now that there’s Kleenex Aloe Vera, we might just have to dabao some out when we leave the house.

I’ve also just found out recently that Kleenex is FSC certified – if you care about which companies use responsibly managed forests, you’ll be happy to know Kleenex does.

Details like these are small but significant if you care about running a proper household, and Naomi and I do.

No scratchy toilet tissues for me!
No scratchy toilet tissues for me!

Dementia In The Family

I think it must have been more than 15 years ago when my father began showing signs of Alzheimer’s Disease.

We used to joke about how his two major symptoms then – forgetfulness and constipation – meant that he could never remember the last time he went to the toilet.

Things only started getting awry when he would go for long walks outside his office and forget where he was going, and when he was supposed to have come back.

I didn’t think much of it then, and the family used to say that it was partly his fault for not wanting to keep his mind active – because the conventional wisdom was that if you did things like Soduku (Do Soduku So You Won’t Go Suku was a tagline we used at home) or the crossword puzzle or chess, you would stave off the progress of senility.

About 10 years ago, my father started displaying signs of Parkinson’s Disease – tremors in his limbs and issues with balance started to creep in. Again, we didn’t take it seriously enough and only got him diagnosed officially a year or two later, when we finally thought it prudent to put him on medication.

Our journey as caregivers began then. We were lackadaisical at first – partly because I didn’t live with my parents, and partly because till then, I had never, ever thought of my parents as my dependents.

For the first year after his Parkinson’s diagnosis, my father must’ve skipped at least half of his medication, and when he did take them, it was quite likely to have been at the wrong time. It was only after we got him warded for some other matter – when he developed a slow bleed in his esophagus (due to still being on blood thinning medication when he actually didn’t need to any more) that we got a chance to reset his medication regime.

Dad got progressively worse with his Parkinsonism. His walks were reduced to shuffles, and every trip to the bathroom fraught with danger, even as support bars and other accessibility aids were installed.

Training the helpers who lived with my parents were another thing altogether. Once you get that into your minds, you’re ready to face reality.

I started calling to check on whether the helpers had given my father his medication at the right time, and on whether he’d gone to the toilet, and as another year passed, my father’s ability to speak coherently was reduced. Monthly consultations with the neurologist ruled out a stroke. It was simply Parkinson’s taking hold of his ability to control his vocal cords.

Dad became more reserved and reticent about wanting to go out – which, in reality, was quite difficult. Bundling him in and out of my car was an effort, and we could only leave the house for an hour or two at most. This took a toll on his mental well being. People had also been shouting at him, thinking that he was hard of hearing. This meant that all semblance of a normal, communicative social life was disintegrating.

Physically and physiologically, his condition worsened. He fell heavily once, fracturing his hip. But because he was by then so stiff from Parkinson’s, we didn’t know that he had been badly injured. A trip to the Orthopedic’s clinic confirmed it, and worse still, nothing could be done, and a hip replacement would have been expensive, and pointless.

Then my mother died. Quite tragically, almost in front of him, at home. He had noticed the chaos when medical crews were trying to get her to the hospital, but I kept telling him for days after that Mummy was in hospital, and should be home soon.

For all that Parkinson’s does to seize your muscles, including those on your face, it is the eyes that betray your emotions still. I saw shock and heartbreak when I finally told him we were going to bury my mother, but that we could not bring him to the cemetery.

In the weeks and months that followed as my siblings and I went about settling our mother’s estate, we took a much more detailed stock of our father’s condition and attendant needs. Alzheimer’s had set in, together with what was now termed “end-stage Parkinson’s”.

Every few days my father would ask me where my mother was. And so, every few days he’d experience shock, heartbreak and then realisation and resignation. This has always been the hardest aspect of taking care of my father. I find it better to look away from his eyes when he asks.

I am forever grateful that my mother’s best friend and church pastor came to see my siblings and I, and advised us to seriously consider a nursing home for our father. He said as a pastor, he had dealt with so many families in the same situation, and that it was normal that you’d worry about whether you’re giving the best possible care for your aged and medically needy parents.

More importantly, it was not ok to feel guilty about “sending” your parents to a nursing home.

We weighed up the options. Keeping my father at home would mean the helpers would need to be 24/7 and ready to assist him. Having had two helpers in my parents’ house then, we thought, ok, we could manage.

Unfortunately, we neglected to check on him thoroughly enough. He developed bedsores so badly infected that by the time we got him to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the doctors there asked us to prepare for the worst.

A month in acute care and another two in the fantastic rehabilitative ward of the Renci Hospital bought us enough time to look for a nursing facility for him.
By the time his wounds healed, the doctors at Renci informed us that Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s were so advanced in my father’s case that full time care was an absolute necessity. Home care meant 24/7 attention plus weekly nurse visits if we didn’t hire a nurse already.

If we wanted to push it, we could have said we’d look after him at home. Technically, you could. We decided not to. It’s been more than a year now that my Dad’s been in the nursing home, where they look after his every need.

I feel guilty not because we’ve placed him there, but because I don’t make enough time to spend with him, in the few hours of the day that he’s lucid. I will make it a point to do so.

If you’re in a similar situation, do make a point of talking to your medical providers – one thing we found was that while they’re there to help, a lot of it is up to you to provide the information needed for fullest care possible. For instance, I’d never have known that Parkinson’s medication lowered blood pressure, and therefore my father needn’t have continued with blood pressure lowering medication (at one point, his BP went dangerously low).

The Health Promotion Board has organized a bunch of caregiver resources and a Dementia InfoLine at 1800 223 1123 where you can arm yourselves with information to make informed decisions about your loved ones, and just as importantly, for yourselves.

Don’t forget that your own lives are, or will be, just as affected as caregivers. In fact, just this week while at a script brainstorming session, my colleagues and I came across an article regarding midlife crisis and depression. Parents’ illnesses and death was listed as one of the main catalysts.

Sometimes I still struggle with managing the responsibilities as a son and a father, but I am glad there’s help at hand. Do take time to learn more, even if you are not in the situation I’m in. You’ll have friends who are, and they’ll need a hand sometimes.

Home Team Festival 2013

I have something to recommend for a weekend family activity:

The Home Team Festival 2013 kicks off tomorrow 1pm, 8 Nov 2013 and runs till Sunday 10 Nov.

Held at the huge Singapore Expo Hall 4, it’s packed with more family-friendly activity than an amusement park. And unlike Universal Studios, this one is free.

I know Kai will enjoy the kid-specific goodie bag, the CSI-style activities like fingerprint dusting and clue collecting. For a boy his age, he’s also gonna be thrilled with the number of really cool vehicles in the various Home Team agency’s motor pool.

The Family & Fun Zone will also have activities for older kids and adults – like a specially set up tree-top adventurer course that involves rock-climbing, abseiling and para-jumping.

It’ll be also be a great chance to teach your kids about what the cops, firemen and paramedics do to earn their keep. I’m told there’ll be photo ops with kid-sized versions of the various Home Team uniforms.

The Festival is divided into six zones:

Secure Border
Crime Control & Rehab
Family & Fun
Keeping Us Safe
Vehicle gallery
Join Us

Download the Home Team Festival 2013 app (for iOS and Android) for information on opening hours, transport and other information.

Hardware, Heartware and Headwear

The Facebook group “Love My Country Love My Hijab” is a discussion we’ve avoided for too long. It’s time we brought it out into the open and be bold but careful in declaring what our principles are as a nation.

It seems to me that we parade terms like “multiculturalism” and “racial harmony” while actually meaning “tolerating in spite of our differences”. It is time we recognised our differences and embrace them. Our ethnicity, beliefs and values want to be recognised because of what they are. It doesn’t matter if, as some people have put it, the hijab/tudung issue is a “recent phenomenon of Islamisation”.

It’s helpful to know that Sikhism was once considered a new religion, having been established in 1699. It is in the Sikh Reht Maryada that a Sikh is forbidden to cut his/her hair, and must wear hair unshorn. The conspicuous religious wearing of a turban has long been allowed in workplaces including that of military and civil services, as well as in exception to rules which govern the wearing of safety headgear in motoring.

At the very least, we should begin discussion about the tudung or hijab and the freedom to practice our beliefs.

Fixing Low Wages: Buck Also Stops At Employers’

Out of curiosity, I attended the Ordinary Delegates’ Conference of the National Trades Union Congress at Far Far Away Country Club (Orchid Country Club) on Tuesday.

As with many things to do with Singapore, there’s little pomp and ceremony to do with these things if you were to compare with our neighbouring countries: it is said that the world stands still when a Malaysian minister attends the opening of an umbrella.

There was still some ritual involved – calling the conference to order and declaring quorum and all that. But I was a bit disappointed to discover that union leaders were now addressing each other as “brother” and “sister”, much like a mega-church congregation, rather than the historically more significant and gender-neutral “comrade”.

OK enough of my frivolity and nongsern. More serious reactions to what was said at the NTUC Ordinary Delegates’ Conference by Ministers and union leaders were predictably swift.

Most of the complaints come from people who are not convinced that the government is making efforts to improve the lot of lower wage workers primarily because they feel that low-wages were made endemic by policies of the same government which were intended to fix a critical labour shortage.

Tripartism – a term often bandied about by the labour movement – refers to the workings of the unions, the government and employers in concert.

I don’t think there’s any other jurisdiction in the world where it’s been so effective for so long. But tripartism is only as effective as the weakest link.

With unions pushing for better wages through Progressive Wage Model and the government handing out subsidies, the slack seems to be appearing in the third partner’s hands. Sadly it is the employers who are directly in control of workers’ wages.

Still, it is helpful to note that attempting to achieve equilibrium between the labour market and the economic and social health of the nation is always going to be a fluid task that never ends. That’s why I’m thankful for those among our leaders who are able to recognise bottlenecks as they appear, have the political will and ability to make running repairs while attempting to define and crystallise the will of the people.