1st visit

Thien Nhan arrived in Singapore on Sunday, 25 April 2010.

On Monday, him, together with his adoptive mother Mai Anh,
adoptive brother Little Minh, Elka (the journalist who
helped Mai Anh adopt Thien Nhan) and Sol (Elka's son)
went to the zoo.

Despite the downpour, they had a wonderful time.
According to Elka, the kids loved seeing the monkeys and orangutans.
Thien Nhan was very impressed that they were bigger than
the ones that he's seen in Vietnam. They also liked the otters,
which were frolicking in the wet weather.

I would like to thank Singapore Zoo and
Ms Isabel Cheng (Director of Sales, Marketing & Comms
at the Wildlife Reserves Singapore) for kindly hosting
their visit.

The next day, I finally met the family for lunch at Swensens.
Now, because of their popular one-for-one lunch promotion,
Swensens do not take lunch reservations.

Then again, children love ice-cream and I couldn't think of
another more kid-friendly restaurant than Swensens...
so I wrote them an email and they kindly made an exception
and allowed me to reserve a table (thanks, Siti and Jeslyn).

Okay, on to the pics!

Here is the entire gang (except me, who's the cameraman,
and Sol, who's missing at the bottom left corner of the photo).
Joining us for lunch were my colleagues Miel and Chern
(both regular donors to my cause) plus Adarsh (another
regular donor) and his mum, Ms Latta.

Ours was like a "Mini United Nation Table" of sorts
'cos even though it was a small group, it comprised of
people from various countries: Vietnam, Canada, Malaysia,
The Philippines and Singapore.

Oh, here's Sol. He and Thien Nhan were playing with
their Iron Man figures, given to them by Adarsh.

They were so busy that the allure of kiddy food was lost on them
and Elka had to feed them both.

Poor Sol was feeling under the weather.

Here's a closeup of Thien Nhan with his Iron Man.

This is Little Minh playing an electronic handheld,
a present from Miel and I for the brothers.
Big Minh had to stay in Vietnam because he was having his exams.

Little Minh is big on dinosaurs. When Chern gave him an English
pictorial book on the subject, he rattled off names of the beasts in Vietnamese.

I was very impressed because, heck, I have problem even pronouncing
dino names in English!

Little Minh with his mum, Mai Anh.

Thien Nhan shared a gaming moment with Little Minh.

From left: Chern, Adarsh and his mom, Ms Latta.

Thien Nhan's turn with the gaming device.

Oh, by the way, that cut above his lips came about from his curiosity
when he was playing a spinning top back home.

Apparently he was so fascinated by how it stayed upright
that he went too close and the gyrating toy grazed his lips.


Thien Nhan and Chern.

Miel with Mai Anh.

Miel and Thien Nhan, who was so engrossed with his new gadget
that he didn't respond when I asked him to smile for the photo.

Hey, Thien Nhan! Uncle Miel is ready for the pic.

Hellooo Thien Nhan!


My colleague Miel is very photogenic and can strike hilarious poses on the fly.

Here's a shot of him in what we like to call the classic "Ah Pek at a Kopitiam"
("Old Uncle at a Coffeeshop") pose:

The lunch was rather short as Thien Nhan had to rush off to
the National University Hospital for a medical consult
(which was the main reason of his visit to Singapore).

Here they are, at the NUH waiting area:

And still waiting...

Thien Nhan was seen by Dr. Prabha.

After returning to Vietnam on April 28,
Elka sent me an email regarding the consult:

"Dr. Prabha felt that TN should have prosthetic testes inserted ASAP,
and that the penis should be extracted from beneath the skin so that
he can look like a normal boy. In his view, inserting small prosthetics
into a reconstructed scrotum now will help to stretch the skin,
so that when TN is older it will be easier to insert larger ones.

Dr Prabha felt that doing the genital surgery now would not impair
longterm fuction, and that psychologically it was very important.
His interpretation of ultrasounds was that TN had up to 2/3 of his penis,
and that it should work well in the future. He was very optimistic
about this. Of course we hope that this is true!

He suggested doing the surgery in July. TN would need to be there
2 days before and stay for 1 week after, then return after 3 months
for a checkup. Dr Prabha offered to waive his surgical fees and
try to get the hospital to minimize its other fees; if Mai Anh
decides on this course of action, he will give us a cost estimate
before we proceed.

We will now have to do some more research into these procedures
(and Prof Prabha), and then Mai Anh will have to decide which
course of action to take. A big and very difficult decision for her!
(The hospital in the US advocated waiting until age 9 to
perform any surgery.)"

I spoke to Mai Anh during lunch and learnt that she tries,
as much as possible, not to use the donations for Thien Nhan's
medical consults because she is concerned about the actual
costs of the surgeries when he needs them.

But I assured her that when that time comes, I will do my best
to raise the necessary money with my readers to help out.

After all, this is what this blog is for.

Didn't make it to print

When the year 2009 came to an end, my colleagues and I were assigned
to do a cartoon spread on the 10 most quirky stories throughout the decade.
I picked the years 2004 and 2007. Unfortunately, the project was scrapped
at the last minute. But, as a token of appreciation to you for taking
time to visit my site, I shall now present my unpublished toons:

A banana half-eaten by a British TV presenter Kate Garraway sold for
£1,650 (S$5,200) on eBay. Mr Jamie Falarczyk, who works for an online
brokerage company and won the bid among some 30,000 people,
said he would display the fruit in the office to "boost staff morale".
Sounds like a rotten deal, but at least the money went to charity.

A cat's knack for predicting death made it into the New England Journal
of Medicine. Oscar, a two-year-old male feline, would sniff and observe
patients at a nursing home in Rhode Island, USA, then sit beside people
who would end up dying in a few hours. It predicted 25 deaths.
For its efforts, Oscar received a wall plaque publicly commending its
"compassionate hospice care".

Okay okay, the cat's not evil at all. I made that up for comic effect.
Here is a pic of the real thing (everyone together now: "Awww..."):

Pigs get right to shower

[Published on 04 September, 2008]

Want to get rid of your goldfish? Swiss owners who have
been flushing them down the toilet -- still alive --
must now use a kinder method.

Under new animal protection laws, a fish must be first
knocked out and then killed before its body can be disposed of.
Pets, farm animals, animals destined for scientific experiments,
zoo or circus animals are all covered under the new law.

But just like in George Orwell’s satire Animal Farm, however,
some animals are more equal than others.

Not only are goldfish now afforded a more "dignified" death
than being dispatched round the U-bend, but Swiss anglers
are also banned from catching only to throw the fish back in
the water, or to use live fish as bait.

Common household pets such as budgies and hamsters can no
longer be kept by themselves. The same applies to more exotic
breeds such as lamas, alpacas and yaks that are kept in zoos.
Man’s "best friend" comes in for special treatment. Dog owners
will be obliged by law to take special classes on how to raise
Fido properly so he is less likely to bite.

Dog owners wishing to "customise" their pets as fashion
accessories will not be allowed to crop their tails or ears --
or "force them to have surgery to get droopy ears".

And pigs, often said to be happiest when rolling around in the
mud, now have the legal right to a shower to freshen up.

Underground water found

[Published on 30 April, 2002]

Sitting below 25 sq km of reclaimed land in Changi is an underground
reservoir with potentially enough water to fill 35,000 swimming pools.

A team from the Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) School of
Civil and Environmental Engineering, which has been prospecting for
water in the area for the past few years, reports that the reclaimed
land, which acts like a natural reservoir, collecting and filtering
rainfall, holds a substantial amount of freshwater.

And the underground reservoir could potentially store more than
70 million cu m of water, making it a viable alternative source
of water here.

New text-to-voice SMS

[Published on 04 March, 2002]

What happens if you send a Short Message Service (SMS) message
to a home or office telephone number?

Nothing, right? Because SMS messages only work with mobile phones, right?
Like everyone else, that is what one Straits Times reader thought until
the telephone rang at home the other day and he was surprised to hear
a computerised voice read out a message to him.

The friend who had sent him the SMS message had accidentally sent it
to his fixed-line home phone.

He tipped off The Straits Times. Checks showed that he had stumbled
onto a new text-to-voice SMS service being tested by SingTel,
the biggest mobile-phone operator here.

Walking down the aisle

[Published on 11 Aug, 2002]This is how the original artwork looks like:

To make it easier for you to read, I have broken the illustration
into the following bits:

ENTRANCE - Assault on the senses
A riot of colours and smells greets you as you step into the store. Plump
fruits and leafy green vegetables beckon with their vibrant freshness.
Sometimes, flowers are also placed here. Bakeries, with their heavenly smells,
are also positioned at the entrance to draw you in.
This enticing vision of freshness is not a coincidence. It is there to
counteract the impression that food in supermarkets are not as fresh as in the
wet markets. So instead of showing boring grey rows of canned food, they
bombard you with fresh fruits and vegetables.
For instance, Cold Storage, which positions itself as The Fresh Food People,
always has fruits and vegetables greeting you as you enter.

AISLES - Logic to the madness
You may feel like a lab rat in a maze when you are scurrying around trying to
locate all the items on your shopping list. But it is not the intention of
supermarkets to confuse and trap you. Instead, there is logic in the layout.
This is especially important as there are not many sales assistants around to
Complementary goods, such as coffee, cereal and other breakfast items, are
placed together so you can pick them up at a go.
Frozen and chilled items are usually near the end of the shopping route, to
help you get these items home at an acceptable temperature so they do not
spoil in the heat.

SHELVES - Out of reach, out of sight
Eye level is the most coveted space on the shelves, as these are the first to
be seen, and therefore, more likely to be selected.
However, certain big brands are so well-remembered or are already market
leaders that they can be placed anywhere. For instance, consumers will search
high and low, literally, for brands like Coke.
Going down one level, there is eye level product placement for kids too.
After all, these tiny tykes do get their own kiddie trolleys to push around,

MUSIC - All day, all around
Easy listening fare is usually played throughout the day, to appeal to the
widest range of consumers possible.
Festive music, such as Christmas carols or Chinese New Year ditties, can also
work subtly to remind you of the coming celebrations and all the goodies you
need to stock up on.
Certain supermarkets may also play different tunes to signal to their staff
that a shoplifter has been spotted or that it is time to change shift. Closing
music may also be more up-tempo, to prompt you to make your last purchases

SAMPLING - Free food, free drinks
Yummy cheese slices, deep-fried sotong balls and tiny cups of cultured milk
drinks are there to entice you.
All five senses are engaged powerfully, and by sampling the products before
buying, you can be sure of what you are buying. Also, promoters are on hand to
answer questions, so fear is minimised.
The same strategy applies to in-store demonstrations of appliances, mops,
sponges and miracle kitchen cloths.

CHECKOUT - Batteries & breath mints
Standing in queue can be such a drag. Your basket is overloaded and heavy,
and the brat behind you is bawling. Good thing then, that you can sometimes
grab a magazine at the checkout counter. And you will probably end up buying
it after browsing.
These are items which do not need much evaluation and comparison, and by
placing them where you are bound to see them, the stores hope to trigger you
into making a quick decision to buy.

Horror lifts

[Published on 27 October, 2008]

A ride in a lift may take only a minute or two, but it is time
enough for an array of "lift crimes" to happen.

Urinating, defecating, vomiting, littering and vandalism are
just some acts which irk residents in Housing Board estates.
Residents from Jurong, Bedok, Potong Pasir, Yishun, Sembawang,
Queenstown and Ang Mo Kio said they encounter the results of
uncivic behaviour at least thrice a week or even daily in the lifts.

Some town councils have declared war on this anti-social behaviour
by installing closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems in lifts,
in hopes that the CCTVs will deter those who scrawl graffiti,
damage public property, litter and urinate there.

Blindfold Date

[Published on 14 October, 2001]

A blind date will be literally that for some singles.

Social Development Unit (SDU) members have a new way of
breaking the ice - in the dark.

They will start their dinner date blindfolded in a darkened
restaurant, with romantic music playing in the background.

The blindfold comes off as the three-course dinner progresses,
and the lights are turned up at the end.

More than 30 people were intrigued enough to sign up.