How to get ready for the 2063 annular solar eclipse

This morning at about 10am, George alerted me to the fact that the annular solar eclipse of our lifetime was going to be upon us presently, at 1.22pm-1.24pm SGT (Singapore Time). The next one is in 2063 and I would either be 79 years old or dead by then (cue the crying from baby Beano when she finds out that Mummies and Daddies don’t live forever), so I decided that I would quickly set up a safe viewing board for Beano (and the adults).

Here’s a diagram of my hacky setup…

A pinhole camera is doable but the output would be very dim and hard for a baby to see. Probably hard for adults to see too. So I decided to get some binoculars and build a simple projector with actual lenses. Benefits of living 5min from Mustafa is that I can waltz up to it at 11am and say to the man at the counter: “hello which is the best sub-$100 binoculars that you recommend???” And then go back with my awesome new binoculars and make a hacky job with some cardboard and tape, and get to a nearby hdb carpark rooftop by 1pm…

My top tip for people trying to build this in 2063 is to dispense with the tripod entirely and just hold it in your hands and lap as follows because ITS HARD TO FOCUS ON THE SUN IF YOU DON’T ACTUALLY LOOK AT IT.

I missed getting the ring moment on camera but I think got a pretty good view (and extremely safe view) of the eclipse anyway. I also pointed my preview camera at it and later when I looked I saw some refraction from the eclipse in my picture.

I don’t think baby was very impressed by it (possibly because she does not yet know what is SUN or MOON or SHADOW, etc) but now I have a great pair of binoculars with which to spend hours looking at the strange things people do on the streets of Jalan Besar / Little India when they think they are not being looked at…

Playing around with Jupyter Notebook, Sketch RNN & Neural Style Transfer

This week as part of my work I went to a 2-day crash course in Tensorflow for NLP, which is admittedly ridiculous because (a) 2-days? what can one accomplish in 2 days? would we not be better off slowly studying ML via a mooc on our phones? or the Google Machine Learning Crash Course? and the official Tensorflow tutorials? (b) I am struggling with both the practical side (I have absolutely no maths foundation) and theorectical side (I don’t even understand regression models, but, I mean, do I need to understand regression models anyway?)

Which then begs the question: DO I REALLY NEED TO PEEK INSIDE THE BLACK BOX IN MY LINE OF WORK?

Or, WHAT IS MY LINE OF WORK ANYWAY? And how much technical understanding do I really need to have?

Now I obviously don’t feel like I’m in any position to design the innards of the black box myself, but I’d like to be the person who gathers up all the inputs, preprocesses it, and stuffs it through the black box myself, so as to obtain an interesting and meaningful output (basically I’m more interested in the problem framing). But existential crises aside, this post is to gather up all my thoughts, outputs (ironically unrelated to the course I was at, but this is a personal blog anyway), and relevant links for the time being (pfftshaw, with the rate at which things are going they’ll probably be outdated by 2020…)

Jupyter Notebook

Jupyter Notebook is the wiki I wish I always had! Usually when working in Python you’re always in the shell or editor and I make my wiki notes in a linear fashion to recount the story of what I was doing (in case I want to revisit my work at a later point). For the purposes of learning I find it most useful to think of it as a linear narrative.

Jupyter is the new shell where you can do precisely that – write a linear narrative of what you think you were doing – alongside the cells of your code that you run. Its generally quite easy to set up Jupyter notebook via Anaconda which will install both Python and Jupyter Notebook and then you can paste the link from terminal into your browser.

I could have embedded my notebooks instead of screenshotting it but I ain’t gonna share my notebooks cos these are just silly “HELLO WORLD” type tings…
Let’s say you don’t want to run it on local environment. That’s fine too because you can use the cloud version – Google Colab. You can work on the cloud, upload files and load files in from Google Drive. You can work on it at home with one computer and then go into the office and work on it with another computer and a different OS. You can write in Markdown and format equations using LaTeX.

As an interactive notebook there are so many opportunities for storytelling and documentation with Jupyter Notebook. And if you like things to be pretty, you can style both the notebook itself or style the outputs with css.

Sketch RNN

I followed the Sketch RNN tutorial on Google Colab to produce the following Bus turning into a Cat…

Love the Quick Draw project because it is so much like the story I often tell about how I used to quiz people about what they thought a scallop looked like because I realised many Singaporeans think that it is a cake instead of a shellfish with a “scalloped edge shell”.

I love the shonky-ness of the drawings and I kinda wanna make my own data set to add to it, and perhaps the shonky-ness is something I can amplify with my extremely shonky usb drawing robot which could use the vector data to make some ultra shonky drawings in the flesh.

Now that I have accidentally wrote the word shonky so many times I feel I should define what I mean: “shonky” means that the output is of dubious quality, and for me the term also has a certain comedic impact, like an Eraserhead baby moment which ends in nervous laughter. (Another word I like to use interchangeably with “shonky” is the Malay word “koyak” which I also imagine to have comedic impact)

Eg: When Tree Trunks explodes unexpectedly…

Neural Style Transfer

I followed the Neural Style Transfer using tensorflow and keras tutorial on Google Colab to produce the following:

Beano x Hokusai
Neural Style Transfer with Eager Execution - Colab3

Beano x Van Gogh’s Starry Night
Neural Style Transfer with Eager Execution - Colab4

Beano x Kandinsky
Neural Style Transfer with Eager Execution - Colab5

Beano x Ghost in the Shell
Copy of Neural Style Transfer with Eager Execution gots

Beano x Haring
Copy of Neural Style Transfer with Eager Execution_haring

Beano x Tiger
Copy of Neural Style Transfer with Eager Execution_tiger

Beano x Klee
Copy of Neural Style Transfer with Eager Execution

How does this work? In the paper it describes how you can try to find out what is the style of an image by including feature correlations of multiple layers in order to obtain a multi-scale representation of the original input image, thus capturing its texture information but not the global arrangement. The higher levels capture the high-level content in terms of objects and their arrangement in the input image but do not constrain the exact pixel values of the reconstruction.

Image Source: “A Neural Algorithm of Artistic Style” by Leon A. Gatys, Alexander S. Ecker, Matthias Bethge

The Library of Pulau Saigon in “2219: Futures Imagined”: Animated GIF Workflow

The Library of Pulau Saigon, Now at 2219: Futures Imagined (ArtScience Museum)

Over the years I’ve often told a story about an apocryphal encounter I had with a certain glass case full of items from Pulau Saigon at the ArtScience Museum, back in 2011…

Back then as a designer, I had been working on some interactive educational games for the education team at ArtScience Museum, and I had an opportunity to also show my own interactive artwork about the Singapore River – in a large cavernous space at the end of the huge Titanic show – a section about Singapore during the time of the Titanic. I was very much delighted to be able to show a work about the Singapore River next to some actual artefacts dug up from the Singapore River (loaned by Prof John Miksic). At the time I knew very little of the history of the islet – except the fact that, well.. not very much was known about it, and that it was plainly visible in some portions of my interactive (which had been based on old maps of the Singapore River).

I don’t really know what I should have expected, but the items were much tinier than I had imagined them when Angeline first told me about them. I recall feeling somewhat underwhelmed by its scale; they were entirely dwarfed by the space. I remember being somewhat confused by the label; and even though they were not my things, I began to feel worried that people would not understand them, or want to understand them. Audiences today have so much media fighting for their attention – they want to be entertained by easily consumable chunks of entertainment; right before this there was the spectacle of the TITANIC! TITANIC! READ ALL ABOUT IT! Could we really get audience to spend time and energy contemplating and thinking about this poky little vitrine full of tiny, rough, broken, complex things which might take more time to understand?

Anyway, I thought about how I used to obsessively photograph everything even back then. So why had I never searched in my own archives for photos of this purported vitrine that I saw in 2011? So I went back into my photo archives and… successfully dug up these photos!

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BACK IN 2011: NOTE THE GLASS CASE ON THE LEFT OF THIS IMAGE!!!
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BACK IN 2011: Pulau Saigon Artefacts at the ArtScience Museum
Part of my desire to make “The Library of Pulau Saigon” stemmed from that encounter with that problematic vitrine. So it feels quite fitting that a copy of this work is finally making an appearance at ArtScience Museum – in the new “2219: Futures Imagined” exhibition.

In terms of how the work is made, I’ve always been surprised how far hand waving gets you. The truth of the matter is that models are made from sampling Google Images and me finding individual (and sometimes different) methods to reproduce those objects in 3d by writing Openscad scripts to generate models. Some were straightforward like just producing svg outlines of objects and transforming them into 3D but others involved more… er…. creative coding. As an artist I might like to say that its the machine helping me along in the creative craftsmanship of the object, but actually I’m in the back hitting the computer with a big stick shouting “COMPILE, DAMMIT, JUST COMPILE MY CRAPPY CODE!”

This time around I decided I also wanted to generate lots of gifs showing the process in order to supplement the existing physical work which I got onemakergroup to help me reprint. Why didn’t I do this earlier? It seems people are always drawn to the screenshots of my openscad files for this, although frankly speaking if you are a techie person then you will quickly see that a LOT of intervention has gone into the making of the objects (whilst I’m cheeky enough to say that its an unforgetting machine that is making it, to a great extent the hand and the subjectivity of Debbie the artist is obviously written over all the objects)…

THE GIF FACTORY

Since I did my project in 2015, Openscad has since gotten many more features including an “animate” feature – except that what it does is to render out frame by frame and you still have to compile everything together by yourself, so in the interests of time this wasn’t the method I wanted to use. (But if you did want to use Openscad to generate frames that you could compile into an animation, you can look at the default example within Openscad. You just have to create a value $t and then to start the animation, select View > Animate and enter some values into “FPS” and “Steps”, like this below)

Step 1: Automatically open and resize application window to specific size and position

First I figured out how to write an Applescript to resize windows so I can screen-capture them quickly. The following Applescript uses assistive access to resize and reposition the window of any app – including ‘unscriptable’ apps – but you’ll need to allow Script Editor to control your computer in System Preferences. You can change the numbers to fit the size you require. In my case I wanted to screencap it at 1024 x 768 but for some reason my screenshot app Monosnap does not start the capture at 0,0 so I adjusted it to fit (pixel by pixel). I also only wanted the app’s content so I added 2px to height and width.

Applescript to resize app window and set position:

set resizeApp to "OpenSCAD"
set appHeight to 770
set appWidth to 1026

tell application “Finder”
set screenResolution to bounds of window of desktop
end tell

tell application resizeApp
activate
reopen
end tell

tell application “System Events”
tell process resizeApp
set the size of front window to {appWidth, appHeight}
set the position of front window to {5, 0}
end tell
end tell

Step 2: Screen video

I just used Monosnap (Free, Mac/Win) for this.

Step 3: Convert mp4 to animated gif

To convert the mp4 files into animated gifs, I used Gif Brewery 3 (Free, Mac). What is it about the palindrome loop (boomerang) that works so well?

Anyway I’m glad to have worked out a faster workflow for creating gifs quickly and maybe next time every other image I upload to my blog or website ought to be an animated gif!!!

DBBD’s 50 Things to do on Maternity Leave

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Lists! Lists! At the start of this I wanted to think of the maternity leave as a kind of “artist residency in motherhood”. Indeed it has sharpened the focus of time, eking out minutes between feeds to finish a task. I decided to not pressurise myself to do something too intensive, and instead to try out new crafty mediums that I’ve not used before. So… here was my list of things I wanted to do on my maternity leave (and what I actually did in the end…)


1. Finish renovations, unpack boxes, and move into new house
We finished up everything and moved in the first week of June. See House Reno posts here:
Part 1 – Flat Viewings, Online Research, HDB Resale Flat Purchase Process, & HIP Options
Part 2 – Budgeting, Appointing Renovation Contractor, House Design Layout, Painting Scheme, Laminate and Tiling Selection
Part 3 – Hacking Works, Aircon Installation, Flooring, Electricals, Lighting, Carpentry, Hinges, Doors, Windows, and Blinds

2. Research the baby gear
A reconnaissance mission to two large brick and mortar baby stores in Kaki Bukit – BABY KINGDOM and BABY HYPERSTORE – were made, as well as other trips to Mothercare. Mothercare is quite expensive and only great when there’s a sale on (eg. GSS). Baby Kingdom has one floor of cots and walkers and strollers, and another floor of small consumables and clothing. As for Baby Hyperstore, it has many floors of strollers if you want to look at them all. After that I still did a lot of internet researching to figure out what I had to buy in order to be all ready for baby. I didnt buy anything from the brick and mortar stores – just their online incarnations instead! But it does put a face to all these baby shoppes…

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3. Buy the baby gear
After doing a price comparison, I made a massive spreadsheet and then bought it one by one from various e-retailers such as Pupsik Studio (who has a very excellent next day delivery if you make a purchase over $60), Mothercare online, Lazada, and Qoo10.

4. Sort out finances
In progress. Also, I switched to a cashback credit card that was more suited for internet purchases. My FirST CrEdIt CaRd in my life??? At the grand old age of 35…

DBS Livefresh: the credit card product seemingly targeted at university students and millenials doing all their purchasing online.
Wah! Also Got complimentary entry to Phuture & Zouk before 12am…. but zzzzz I already fell asleep

5. Assemble bassinet
I figured there was no point buying a forevercrib made out of wood or something solid because babyhood is so fleetingly short. So I chose a playpen which also doubles as a playpen when baby is older (just drop the base down!). We’ve got a Lucky Baby travel bassinet with a changing table and even a little mobile which I thought was pretty shitty but then BEANO LOVES THE SHIT OUT OF IT! Her favourite animal on the mobile is the stripey horse which I think is meant to be some kind of discount zebra, she talks to it all the time. (But what does the stripey horse say?)

There are lots of Fisher Price playpens, Chicco Playards, and Graco Pack and plays on the market which cost lots more (S$200-500!) but the Lucky Baby range which is designed in Singapore is cheaper (about 180sgd) and does the job. I was telling George that now I can recognise discarded bassinets on the side of the road when previously I didn’t know what manner of a bizarre contraption had been abandoned. OUR BASSINET IS ACTUALLY SOME SORT OF WEIRD FOLDABLE UMBRELLA. Also, babies do generate so much waste in a way. How can we reuse this item beyond Beano’s babyhood? I still don’t know…

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6. Learn how to use stretchy wrap
After looking around online, I bought a Keababies sling wrap from Amazon because it seemed a far sight cheaper than the other popular ones (before shipping and taxes, Ergobaby is about 30usd, Boba and Weesprout is about 40usd, Moby is about 45 usd, K’tan is about 50usd, etc) – the Keababies wrap cost about 24usd for the wrap + 8usd for the shipping/taxes coming to about 45usd/60sgd total.

When it comes and you take it out for a prewash, you might be horrified that it is basically all just one long 4m long strip of cloth. “HOW COULD THIS STRIP OF CLOTH COST SO MUCH!” you might be railing, and well the answer is that it is in the weave and elasticity of the cloth, which most other cloths just do not have. It takes quite a bit of practice to learn how to tie the wrap but the stretchy wrap I have works perfectly for having a bit of give but also a lot of support for baby. I liked it so much that I got a second piece!

Tips for the stretchy wrap: don’t bunch it up at the back or overtighten it on yourself or else it is hard to sit down. Wrap it up with the fabric as straight as possible! And it kinda works with friction and will magically stay up with baby anyway without you having to tie it to the point of suffocating yourself.

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7. Learn how to use structured carrier
We have a pre-loved Ergobaby carrier that was handed down from my colleagues Mei Leng and Soren and this proved to be even easier to put on than the stretchy wrap… although less snug – with the stretchy wrap you really feel like one with your baby, whilst with the Ergobaby carrer you feel like you’ve put on a tactical babywearing vest and now you are going out for a mission….

(speaking of tactical, I became addicted to looking up “tactical gear” on internet shopping sites. There is just so much of it. Yes, tactical as a keyword is a thing. TACTICAL!!!! What does it even mean. And who is buying these “tactical” MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) bullet rounds wallets online anyway? DO NATO ARMED FORCES GO ON LAZADA/QOO10/TAOBAO TO BUY EXTRA MOLLE EQUIPMENT? WHO IS THEIR TARGET AUDIENCE?? HUHH??)

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8. Learn how to use breastpump
I plan on returning to full-time work by December so that means that I will need to set up a pumping routine and Beano would be fed my expressed breastmilk during the daytime when I am at work. From Week 3 onwards I started pumping and trying to steal a bit of milk from present-day Beano to feed future Beano and personally speaking I don’t think I’d be considered an oversupply mom despite starting early. It was hard at first because the amount I pumped was a measly 5ml at the start but now it has gone up to 50-190ml per session (even whilst exclusively breastfeeding).

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The powerpumping really works (20 min pumping, 10 min rest, 10 minute pumping, 10 min rest, 10 minute pumping) but I’ve found that it consumes so much time that it becomes stressful and I lose out on sleep as a result. So I only do it when I really need to.

Currently I have 2 breastpumps – one is the Cimilre F1 Double Electric Breast Pump (S$159 from Pupsik Studios) and the other is the Real Bubee (S$25.50 from Lazada). It seems that a lot of people go for the Spectra or the Medela pumps which go for an eye-watering 300-400 SGD, but having used the Cimilre I don’t think you need to get a more expensive one to get results though. Obviously it needs to be a proper pump, but after that it is also diet, relaxation, and scheduling that determines the milk output.


Cimilre F1 – hospital grade, portable, very light, lighted timer, 2 distinct modes

The Cimilre is a lightweight portable hospital grade pump which seems to be very similar to the Spectra ones and has all the features – closed system, a timer, medela compatible parts. I use it together with the Simple Wishes Signature Hands Free Pumping Bra (S$44.90 from Pupsik Studios). The Cimilre’s pumping action is quite solid and can be quite strong so for me I rather use about power 4 instead of the default 5 which can feel like it is about to crush your poor nipples.


Real Bubee – USB powered, portable, no timer, basically only one mode

The Real Bubee is an even more lightweight pump that must be charged by USB when in use (it can plug into your computer or a power bank) and its sucking action is a bit more frenetic. Despite costing a fraction of what the Cimilre and the other branded pumps cost, I think it does a great job and I’m hoping to use the lightweight Bubee at work… We’ll see how that goes!….

Naturebond – Milkcatcher. A cheaper alternative to the Haakaa.

Another essential is the Haakaa (S$29.90 on Pupsik) or one of the cheaper versions of it such as Naturebond (S$11.90 on Qoo10). I have 2 Naturebond ones. This is a milk catcher which saves drops of milk from your other boob during the letdown.

NEXT UP: I’m also going to try out the korean handsfree Imani pump… waiting for that to come. It might be extravagant to have so many of these pumps about – but I feel that anything that will help me in the breastfeeding journey when I go back to work is worth it for Beano!

It also became necessary to set up a kind of pumping station where the bottles, pump parts, and other valves could live (and dry off when not in use) so here is what it looks like:

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Hegen bottles (for the slow teat), Philip Avent Storage Bottles (cheap and plentiful and has adaptor to use straight with breastpump flanges), and Tommee Tippee steam sterilizer with two bread bins (Redmart) that have been repurposed as bottle storage.

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Mother’s Milk: Last but not least, a galactagogue tea which helps in milk production!

9. Learn how to use car seat
We got the Cybex Aton 5 Infant Car Seat (S$239), to be used with the carseat attachment (S$49) to add on to the GB Pockit+ (S$269) – all from Mothercare during the Great Singapore Sale. Yes, these cost quite a bit and these were some of the largest purchases we made for baby. We used it for carrying baby home, especially because I had been told that you wouldn’t be allowed to take a Grab without one, but the setup is almost too heavy for me and my bad wrists to handle. Weirdly, I learnt 2 months later that the requirement of car seat for baby does not extend to standard taxis… ¯_(ツ)_/¯

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10. Learn how to use stroller
We have a GB Pockit+ Plus which was $269 from Mothercare. We don’t really use this much after all, as I prefer using the carriers and keeping baby close. Perhaps we will get more use out of this when Beano gets too heavy to carry. We only did one major outing to Newton Food Centre with it…

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11. Figure out how to breastfeed baby and still do some other stuff simultaneously
Now this one seems too easy at this point (10 weeks in) but in the first few days it was quite hard. All I can say is that you have to accept that baby will want to nurse basically ALL DAY LONG and if you haven’t got a system for letting baby feed on you whilst your hands are free then you will feel trapped. For the first few weeks I struggled with the breastfeeding but over time we made a few adaptations that made life better.

A good nursing pillow such as the MY BREST FRIEND is essential, and if you are planning on sitting on the sofa or some other armchair, get a rolling laptop table!!!

Then when you are familiarised with the setup, you can do anything from eat food and even do blockprinting.

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12. Figure out a Cloth Diaper Routine
Speaking to others, I know some felt that doing cloth diapers would be a lot of work and adding complexity to the first few months of motherhood, but I was very pleased that my mother was very supportive of cloth diapers as she had done the old fashioned cloth diapers when I was a baby and she was very keen on helping me with the modern pocket diapers I planned to get.

Beano has worn cloth diapers pretty much since she returned from the hospital. I started with a set of 24 Moo Moo Kow diapers which came with 2 inserts each (S$390 for 24 / S$16.25 per diaper). The inserts are placed inside the pocket diaper (not outside because they are so absorbent that they might dehydrate baby’s bottom too much). We wash them every other day and we use a diaper sprayer (the “bidet” in the HDB toilet) to spray off the large gunk and then the rest goes into the machine. We use the “babycare” setting on the washing machine but often turn it down to 40 degrees as the washing instructions on MMK diapers is for it to be colder not hotter. Sunning the diapers and inserts also help remove any yellow staining on the diapers. She began with one insert but by about 2 months 20 days she had upgraded to two inserts, and I’m also using more charcoal inserts (as they seem more resistant to staining) and hemp inserts (which are more absorbent at nights).

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The average disposable diaper costs about S$0.25 – S$0.30 per unit. If baby uses about 6-7 a day, that’s approximately S$50-60 a month, plus the environmental cost of disposables. On the other hand, good cloth diapers do cost quite a lot, and the market is flooded with a lot of cheap china made ones that are very thin and basically have no form and weak gussets. So I decided the only way was to buy something with a proper name to it. In Singapore, the popular brands seem to be Moo Moo Kow, Charlie Banana, Bambino Mio, and Bumwear and these are all usually about $30 or more. The only way I got the MMK diapers at a lower price was to buy them in bulk of 24. Willow & Sage is about $16. Happy Flute appears to have shut down. I think the price point that I can accept is $16ish, so this reflects what I’ve purchased.

[Tip: It also seems that if you are not too picky about colours and prints and will accept solid colours regardless of ‘gendered colours’ then this is the most cost efficient way to get your pocket diapers! Although on hindsight the many shades of blue diapers may be why everyone keeps congratulating me on my baby boy… EVEN THE GYNAE WHO DELIVERED THE BABY ADDRESSED HER AS A HIM AT THE FIRST CHECKUP]

Over time I realised that I’d like to wash it every 2 days rather than every other day, so I tried some more cheaper diaper covers to bring my total stash to 45. I tried a Willow & Sage charcoal bamboo with double gussets and 1 charcoal insert for S$16.90 (from the willow & sage store on lazada) which I think is very value for money but not as soft on baby’s bum as Moo Moo Kow. Then I also tried alvababy (via alvababy.com), simfamily (via lazada), and elinfant (via lazada). Alvababy came with inserts which seem decent enough, and the Elinfant ones are charcoal but the charcoal is kinda a weird shade of warn brown. These seem pretty similar and seem to do the job but I don’t think they will hold up to repeated washing as the MMK ones will, so we’ll be washing it only once a week at 40 deg C and more often at 30 deg C, lest all of the elastic disintegrates on these new china cheapies.

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13. Binge watch Netflix
Since my maternity leave started, I have watched the following non-exhaustive list of series in their entirety, frequently in one sitting: Steven Universe, Tuca & Bertie, Orange is the New Black, Working Moms, The Letdown, Derry Girls, Marcella, Dead to me, Hyperhardboiled Gourmet Report, Happy Jail, Pinky Malinky, Naked Director, Diagnosis, Tiny House Nation, Grand Designs, The Great Interior Design Challenge, Cabins in the wild, etc……..

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14. Write out Birth Story
Forced myself to write out Beano’s Birth Story within 2 weeks of her birth.

15. Take photos of baby
Private google photos album set up for the grandparents!

16. Make baby handprints and footprints
There are kits online for cheap such as this one on Lazada (S$4.82) which consist of a thin inky film that you can push baby’s hand or foot through and press onto a paper without ever getting baby’s hand dirty.

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17. Take baby to the park on a walk
Did you know that Fort Canning has escalators now??? Well we went on the escalators to the top… which wasn’t that far anyway, so I must confess it was easier to go to the park than expected….

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Fort Canning by day, fort canning by NIGHT

18. Find and use a nursing room in the nearest mall
City Square Mall has the nursing room on the 2nd floor next to Decathalon. One day Beano wailed when I was out and about and I made a beeline for this room which I had scoped out on a previous visit. On arrival I realised the door was locked with a message outside saying I had to call in to request for it to be opened. There was an intercom button to press but Beano was just wailing and I couldn’t hear what the person was saying. Nevertheless I guess the person on the other side of the line totally understood (or must be fielding a ton of people with crying babies trying to get in) and the door to the nursing room popped open magically. After she had calmed down from her feed, I was able to arrange myself and Beano so I could continue to breastfeed her WHILST WALKING.

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19. Make an effort to get dressed properly
Getting dressed properly? I snort. It turned out that what I needed was to have a nursing top that would give Beano quick access to the boob without all that excess fabric flapping about. This meant that…. all of my clothing didn’t work. This was when a bunch of tops that a colleague had passed to me suddenly made sense. Previously I was confused about the flappy holes in them but now these made a lot more sense. I also tried buying a few cheap nursing tops from lazada and I tried both a horizontal slit and vertical slit. I found that I really liked the horizontal slits whereas the vertical slits did not seem to account for the fact that women’s boobs are all spaced differently. I decided to buy about 5 of these tops which were about 9-10SGD each and that’s all I’ve been wearing during my maternity leave! Ah… I like a good uniform….

20. Get out of the house everyday
Was too difficult to get out in the first month. Then my wrist flexion improved enough for me to handle things on my own and I got better with the carriers! Now leaving the house is no problem!

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21. Organise a baby full moon
DID IT AT 6 WEEKS. CLOSE ENOUGH.

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22. Go to a baby and mommy activity
I HAVEN’T DONE THIS YET. I DON’T HAVE ANY MOMMY GROUPS TO FRATERNISE WITH!!!

23. Breastfeed in public
Done it during our first outings to hospital and polyclinic and to ICA because I didn’t know to feed baby in advance before leaving. And now I’ve done it so many times its not stressful anymore, and the other day I even breastfed the baby in a TAXI. The only funny thing was that Beano was so noisy (not a perfect latch) so it was like SLURP SLURP SLURP SLURP. I wasn’t embarrassed about public breastfeeding or accidental boobslips, to be honest I was only a little chagrined that my baby was just so loud when eating.

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24. Eat with baby in public
Done many many times now because obviously I wanna eat out like a normal human too. Just put a burp cloth over her head and eat, whilst trying not to spill HOT SOUP on your baby.

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25. Change diaper in public
Done it several times now (even with my cloth diaper setup). EVEN AT A HAWKER CENTRE. Here’s a pic of a big poo. Look at that! I fed that baby entirely with my boob! And now she made a massive poo. I’m proud.

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26. Visit Dingparents with baby
Beano got to meet my childhood toy, squirrel with rashes on his face. They got along splendidly.

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27. Mail Southparents a card
I made little blockprinting stamps and used them for the envelope. AND I MADE THEM WHILST BREASTFEEDING. I did make an accidental gouge into my table though…

Photo - Google Photos 2019-09-16 10-35-56

28. Write a baby blog

It’s been 5 weeks 1 day since I landed on Earth. Since my arrival, my mission has been mainly to feed for survival, and I am very very hungry indeed. I am fortunate to have acquired two humans who seem bound in servitude to me, although I confess that I don’t really know who they are.

Today, I awakened on my own in my darkened chamber just after midnight and decided that I fancied a midnight snack….

https://diaryofahungryalien.blogspot.com

29. Make a baby scrapbook
I bought one of those self-adhesive albums from Lazada and a totally generic set of scrapbooking papers and BOOM! A day’s work (whilst breastfeeding!!!) and I had done a dozen pages.

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30. Learn how to oil paint

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31. Learn how to block print with linoleum

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32. Make a resin casted ornament
Waiting for my resin kit to arrive in the post from China via slowpost…

33. Make cards for people
Did it using blockprinting!

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34. Read or listen to a book every week
I got Audible, Blinkist and Headspace to listen to, but I don’t really seem to listen to any of them consistently. BAH HUMBUG. I did get a cheap pair of bluetooth earphones for $16.90 which were LIFECHANGING. Goodbye cables! (but not goodbye to the very essential cable connecting the two – I’m pretty sure if it did not have any cable connecting the two that I would instantly lose one of the earphones!

35. Knit/crochet a baby hat sock
I crocheted one baby sock. Stay tuned for the SECOND SOCK lol.

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36. Do some embroidery and make an iron-on patch
Still in progress…

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37. Update my website with 2019 works
I finally did it!

38. Make at least one new work
I’m working on a new piece which is the result of a conversation with a neuroscientist, tracing the path of fishes which have been alarmed by schreckstoff or “scary stuff”. Been experimenting with some very bendy EL wire and PMMA optical fiber… I’m using American spelling because all the shops which sell it spell it as FIBER and sometimes these sites aren’t so smart so if you type FIBRE they won’t come up in the search…

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39. Update Family Website
Still in progress but started by scanning old photos each time I visit the Dinghaus.

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Debbie as a baby!

40. Get a jamu massage
10 relaxing days with Mdm Zita from Traditional & Holistic Post-Natal Centre who helped soothe my aches and forced me to carve out some me-time in a day of non-stop breastfeeding.

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41. Eat lots of deliveroo
I got Deliveroo Plus and I did use it a hella lot. There wasn’t an easy way to export the data but I found out that since 2 June 2019 (Start of maternity leave) to 29 Sept 2019 (last day of maternity leave) I’ve done a scandalous grand total of…

94 deliveroos!!!

 

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42. Drink a beer
My first beer in more than 9 months was a bottle of Little Creatures. I waited over 2 hours after that before I pumped milk and fed Beano again. I thoroughly enjoyed it!!! But unfortunately I also could not help worrying it would hurt my milk supply so I don’t think I’ll be doing it again any time soon until my breastfeeding stabilises!

43. Make awesome compilation video of Beano’s first few months

Beanovision: https://youtu.be/IHFo-UamfvE
There’s a 50 min version of the Beano “FROM BIRTH TO 3 MONTHS” video but I won’t bore you all with it unless YOU WISH TO SEE IT.

44. Bring Baby to a swimming lesson
I found out that most places are for 4-6 month old babies. Beano is still too small to go for swim class. Check back in a few months!

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Jalan Besar Swimming Pool – one day we’ll go there!

45. Label Beano’s things for daycare
I ordered labels from Brightstarkids so I could label all of Beano’s stuff once she starts going to infantcare at 6 months. I looked at a few other places but I wasn’t big on them so I went with the slightly more expensive Brightstarkids.

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46. Figure out how to use less disposables and more reusables
Since I got cloth diapers for Beano, it figures that I should do the same for myself. So I got organic cotton handkerchiefs, reusable cotton pads for cleaning face, and reusable pads.

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47. Pack diaper bag and make checklist for returning to work
Diaper bag and Packit for cold transfer of milk!! The Packit is a bag you put into the freezer in its entirety and it stays cold for the whole day if you minimise the number of times you open it.

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48. Freezer Stash
I have stored 10 full feeds (10x150ml) at this point, which was quite hard to do and mainly done through waking up in the middle of night to pump for hours. It was hard. Now i have dropped the middle of the night pumping and my sleep deprivation has reduced tenfold!!!! I’ve also got a small fridge which I verified was able to keep a temp that is 20 deg C lower than ambient – to keep the milk cool in the office as I pump it…

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49. Write epic blog post(s) about my 50 things to do on maternity leave
THIS.

50. Enjoy my time with baby
I’m still getting to know Beano!

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Beano’s Birth Story

Beano D. Ding-South
aka “BABY DINGDINGSOUTH”
29/6/2019 2.45AM
40+3 Weeks
Planned water birth that turned into an Emergency c-section
A Positive C-section Story

In the run up to the birthing of the DING-SOUTH Baby, I read a lot of birth stories, especially the positive ones, because all too often we only see examples in the media which portray birth as a very white-knuckle hair-pulling scream-y ordeal, so reading lots of different accounts of birth helped.

Here is our own birth story! Although this wasn’t exactly the water birth that I planned, I was very happy with how everything went and most importantly I felt that we were informed at all times of our options and our wishes were respected every step of the way and George was able to take control of the situation and help me make decisions at the critical moment.

Choosing a hospital and gynae in Singapore

I was originally referred to KKH via the polyclinic – this is kinda like the default public (subsidised) healthcare that Singaporeans will receive if you don’t make any specific choices on what kind of healthcare you want. KKH does what they call “team-led care” so you get seen by whichever totally random gynae happens to be on call that day. There are pros and cons to this – you get to see a lot of different gynaes and ask different doctors for second opinions on things, but you also don’t have a fixed doctor, and if you have preexisting conditions you’ll find yourself explaining them over and over again, and some staff may not be as understanding about certain circumstances (eg: I encountered staff who were dismissive and not very accommodating about my emetophobia and inability to swallow tablets).

KKH is known for being the best for neonatal care in the country but they also seem to treat the birth process entirely as a “medical event” and in general the hospital seems very risk averse (eg: apparently will only allow women to labour in one of two approved positions on the bed, no water birth, no birthing balls, etc). Also, when I showed one of the team gynaes my birth plan, they looked at me and said rather earnestly “In all my years here (presumably at KKH subsidised), no one has ever presented me with a birth plan…” So welp, I knew I was in the wrong place being someone with many opinions on what I wanted to do when it came to the BIRTH OF THE DINGDINGSOUTH.

My overriding concern as an emetophobe (translated: fear of vomiting) was to avoid any procedures that might cause nausea or vomiting. Fortunately I did not get morning sickness (neither did my mother when she had me) but I soon realised that other phases of pregnancy and labour involved some more nausea-inducing moments (eg: nausea and vomiting as a side effect of a lot of the pain relief methods and meds during labour, etc), so I was determined to look into alternatives…

That’s how I ended up taking a Hypnobirthing course with Yen, since mindfulness had really worked with me when I previously did a course of CBT and exposure therapy with a psychotherapist for my emetophobia. With the help of the hypnobirthing course that we attended, I felt informed about the stages of labour and confident enough to make informed choices about the birth experience that I wanted to have. We decided that if the pregnancy was going smoothly with no medical complications, I wanted to avoid any unnecessary pain meds and go for a natural birth that would avoid pain medication that might cause nausea (which would add unnecessary anxiety to the birthing process).

So at 30 weeks, I told KKH that I was thinking of switching to a hospital that would do a water birth. “In which case,” the random overworked KKH team gynae of the day immediately said to me (almost a bit too eagerly), “most probably you’ll never look back or return here. When I hear women say they want to switch hospitals for reasons like water birth, they usually will stick to it! So we’ll discharge you and give you all your medical records today!”

I switched to NUH – one of the two hospitals in Singapore that would do water births – currently the only options are National University Hospital (NUH) and Thomson Medical Centre (TMC). There are only 4 gynaes who do water birth at NUH, and I went with Dr Anupriya Agarwal, who I felt was very respectful and read through my birth plan thoroughly and discussed every point with me. The only thing that we changed on my original plan was that she told me up front that the hospital’s policy was 41+3 days max before they ask you do to an induction, and I was okay with this. I was also required to get a specialised midwife (EMMa Care) who would help me with the water birth.

I decided that I wanted to labour in a hydrotherapy pool, I got me some yoga balls to bounce on, I started doing a prenatal yoga class and tried all the spinningbabies moves, I tried to walk for at least an hour every day, I did the perineum massage and breast massage recommended by my NUH gynae, drank copious cups of red raspberry leaf tea for toning the uterus, eating dates – all the evidence-based methods that was recommended. At 39 weeks the baby was measured at the 50th percentile and everything was on track for a natural water birth. “A good size for water birth!” said my gynae then…

The Birth Story

23 June marked the start of the Show with some brown discharge but no contractions. Naturally I was alarmed because this was the first time during my entire pregnancy that I had seen any sort of ‘bleeding’. Over the next few days, I had an increase in the lightening crotch scenarios that made me stop dead in my tracks whilst I was walking around. Cue the furious googling of “WHAT ARE SYMPTOMS OF LABOUR?”

26 June which was the original estimated due date came and went and nothing happened.

27 June Evening we went for a long walk around the Bayfront and Gardens by the Bay – there was a light show and its funny to think of us ambulating about randomly – since it seems like a lifetime ago – when we got home I had a lot of pinkish discharge (part of the Show) and later that night I lost the mucus plug which looked like a lot of dark red gooey snot. I also began having these cramps that were akin to a menstrual cramp but pretty irregularly timed.

In the mirror: my maximum fatness before poppage, on a walk around the Bayfront
28 June 2AM in the wee hours I was pretty sure these were what you’d call surges now as they were lasting about 60 seconds and 4 minutes apart. I also felt that sitting on the birthing ball really sped things up whereas lying in bed slowed things down.

28 June 3AM after an hour of 4-1-1 surges (4 minutes apart, 1 minute long, 1 hour), we went to the hospital and proceeded to drop ourselves off at the wrong spot so we walked (or rather, I waddled) quite a distance to EMERGENCY. Looking back on this, the surges couldn’t have been that terrible if I could waddle so far on my own. There I was seen by a nurse and monitored for an hour with a contraction and fetal heartbeat monitor strapped to my belly. The doc on call examined me and told us I was only 2 cm dilated, so we were given the option of going home or being admitted. Since we did not live so close to the hospital, we opted to be admitted and I was given a room upstairs first in the ward.

28 June 8AM – after a fitful sleep (being woken every few minutes by the surges) I was pleased to find out that since I was not in the delivery suite and in a room upstairs, I was allowed to eat as much as I wanted, and food service magically appeared in my room. Housekeeping also changed the sheets which was handy because I was starting to bleed everywhere into the sheets I was sitting on!

LOOK AT MY PLEASED FACE
28 June 10.30am – dilated to 4cm
28 June 12.00pm – was fed lunch
28 June 2.45pm – dilated to 5cm, so they put a contraction and fetal monitor on me again to track for another hour. I was politely asked by my gynae if I wanted a membrane sweep but I declined it and they did not ask me again about it.
28 June 3pm – was fed tea – a green bean soup
28 June 4pm – dilated to 6cm and complaining of a lot of pressure down below, I asked to be able to use the hydrotherapy pool so they moved me back down to the delivery suite below. First I was tracked on a contraction and fetal monitor for another hour to ensure the baby’s heartbeat was good, and then I was allowed to use the pool at about 6pm.

The Hydrotherapy Pool in Room 12
The pool! It was a bathtub of water that was exactly body temperature (a small thermometer floating about) and I had two midwives who came in to help scoop water and pour it over me. I also had to wear the contraction and fetal monitor in the pool, but as the device does make a lot of noise (the heartbeat sound being particularly alarming, especially when it dipped or rose for no reason), we asked them to turn the sound off so it wouldn’t be so distracting. I really really loved this pool – on land the surges were so strong that I was involuntarily contorting my body off the bed a la exorcist style, but in the pool I was calm, I was peaceful, I was able to do the up breathing and relax quite calmly.

I came out of the pool to be checked that I was progressing fine (and also so I wouldn’t get overly pruney and wrinkly from sitting too long in the bath), but back on land the doc assessed that I hadn’t really progressed so much since then. This was always a possiblity, as being in the pool might slow progress, but it also relaxed me a lot compared to when I was on land.

Since it wasn’t progressing very fast, I was asked if I would accept Intravenous oxytocin, which I was indeed happy to do if it would just help move things along. Not long after that, I found that the surges had doubled in intensity. This wasn’t so good as I found myself really flailing about each time the surges hit. I was reaching what my gynae had jokingly described as the phase of labour where the surges get so strong that you become completely unreasonable and want to rapidly bitchslap your husband on the face. The breathing exercises were very hard to keep to.

28 June 8PM I was checked again and it turned out that I still hadn’t progressed much so they offered to break the water. At this point I was keen to get things moving as I hadn’t really slept in well over 24 hours now and was getting very tired so I agreed to breaking the waters. When they did, we discovered the water was tinged with meconium (baby’s first poop), which changed our plans a lot. It meant that I wouldn’t be allowed to continue to labour in the pool in case of aspiration of meconium, so my pain relief options were more limited. George took the lead in asking what were our options at this point. They offered gas and we asked them what was the side effects of this, and it included my worst fear, so George insisted that they also put an anti-emetic into my IV first to make sure that any progress we had up to this point wasn’t all offset by anxiety or terror.

The Nitrous Oxide
I have the feeling the gas was more of a placebo because it is meant to only take the edge off things (-30% apparently) and I don’t really feel if that it had much of an effect. Or maybe it was because by this point I was becoming so tired that I was spontaneously falling asleep between each surge and thus not inhaling the gas prior to the surges, so this was all quickly becoming very excruciating. I must confess that some more flailing and contortions happened despite best attempts to focus on breathing and keeping the appearance of inner calm. Throughout this the nurses would tell us the good news that at least the baby was doing very well and the heartbeat was still very strong.

George began to ask them about our options again and the doc on call recommended an emergency c-section because of failure to progress (this also was the final outcome written on my medical report) and because of their concerns with the meconium stained liquor. We discussed this and decided that a c-section might be the best call at this point, and that it would be better to do it before the baby was very happy and not in any distress, and also because the operating team was available to do it. George also prompted me to start trying to remove my somewhat complicated cartilage and tragus piercings between surges in case we had to go to surgery. The midwife nurses also asked me to prove that I could stop flailing about so the anaesthesist could do their job – this I did the best I could, but George later said it was like all the energy was compressed into my face then. Thanks to Nurse Swan Di for maintaining the calm in the room despite all my flailing about and my increasing volume of shoutiness.

Again my worst fear in all this was of the possibility of nausea and vomiting and we had a conversation with the anaesthetist who said they could do a spinal anaesthesia instead of general. We agreed to proceed with the emergency c-section. Things got moving extremely fast from that point – they verified that the last time I ate was at tea time (many hours ago), someone came in and quickly cleaned me down and shaved me, many a form was given to me to read and sign, and then many a form was also checked again by nurses “CAN I CONFIRM THAT THIS IS YOUR SIGNATURE?” pointing to my horribly illegible squiggles made in the throes of a surge.

29 June 2AM?? Right before I was being transferred to the operating room trolley I was given a small tiny cup of something intensely sour which they told me I had to drink to neutralise stomach acids and ensure that I would not throw up. Ironically, because it was so sour, I had great difficulty drinking it as it triggered a massive gag reflex (comes with the territory of my emetophobia unfortunately). There came a point where several staff were around the bed encouraging me to chug this pitifully tiny cup of goo to help me avoid any nausea or vomiting later on. Failure to chug ensued (Not getting crunk on this Friday Night), and I could only sip at it very excruciatingly slowly with about a half dozen hospital staff watching on, ordering me to just drink it quick in one gulp. After what seemed like an eternity of awful sipping of this horrible sour thing (probably the only truly unpleasant anxiety-inducing part of this entire birth experience really) I was finally ready to go to the operating room. Someone had taken off my glasses so it was quite blurry but the room was very white and bright. I was worried that I would not be able to control myself from not WILDLY FLAILING when the anaesthetist came to do their job, but fortunately there was another nurse to help hold me in place whilst they applied a local anaesthetic before they did the spinal anaesthetic. Within 5 minutes I could no longer feel the surges which was actually a big big relief.

The surgery itself was very fast, it doesn’t hurt because of the anaesthesia, and all you feel is a lot of tugging and pulling, and one’s arms might shake uncontrollably. Suddenly a cry was heard and not long after THE BABY was presented in my face! The gynae also told me that it turned out that this baby was a very big baby indeed, which may have explained why I had difficulties progressing in labour. Perhaps my awesome diet of the extra days past her due date had packed on the pounds – this was a baby in the 99th percentile for height (54cm) and over a kilo heavier than the average baby born in this hospital (she was 3.9kg, i was told the average baby born at NUH was 2.7kg)

THE BIRTH OF BEANOOOOO
George later followed them up to the nursery to have her weighed and to have some skin-to-skin time with baby – whilst they stitched me up and took me to the recovery room with some fancy leg massagers. Once baby got the medical all-clear, she was brought down to me for some skin-to-skin and for me to attempt to feed her. The midwife who had aided me all night came over and explained to me how to hold her in bed.

Thanks to the Emmacare midwives and Nurse Swan Di who were there at the critical stage of my labour and maintaining calm during this full-on process! Although I didn’t get to finish my labour in the birthing pool, I appreciated having the chance to try to labour in it and I felt in control of the entire process the whole time even though we had to do an emergency c-sect in the end.

Post C-Section Recovery

I felt awesome after the surgery and very much awake and happy whilst the anaesthetic had not worn off. Although I know I was meant to sleep, I was very excited and I felt like I could stay up all night and listen to baby’s weird snuffly sounds. As George slumbered on the weird sofa next to me, I watched the sun come up on Saturday and marvelled at my new baby! What a strange big baby! The foot that had been kicking me! The toes I could feel squished up against my belly! The strange being which had been hiccuping inside, now hiccuping outside! And all the tiny creaky sounds!

AND THEN…. all of the anaesthetic wore off!!! It is still major surgery which does takes a long time to recover from. Plus I had a terrible racking cough due to a pre-exisiting cold (I shake my fist at you, old person who kept coughing so virulently in my direction when I went for my endocrinology checkup at SGH!). Each time I coughed this gave me a lot of shooting pain near the incision site, and I also have de quervain’s disease which meant my wrist tendons were inflamed and I could not seem to use my thumb or wrist to do a lot of things that were pretty much fundamental to baby handling or getting out of a hospital bed. AHHH! The pain!

Abdominal support after a c-section: the doctor will recommend that you do at least 5-10 min of walking as soon as you possibly can. It may seem difficult to imagine at the very start but it does get better day by day. NUH also gets patients to buy an abdominal binder – this is meant to help support your abdomen which has internal stitches that take longer to heal than the external stitches. I did not find the given binder comfortable, so I later switched to another binder I bought online which was made of bamboo fabric which would not irritate my skin as much.

Coughing after a c-section: Right now the pain of the cough is fast fading but I know that in the moment it was truly seriously ailing me. I remember asking my gynae several times for reassurance that it was okay to cough. Because it hurt so much, I didn’t want to cough, so the phlegm would build up into a HUGE COUGH, which was just horrible. To cope with the pain I found that sitting bent over with a pillow or hand supporting the incision site helped with muffling the sharp rude pains of coughing. Now at 2 weeks post surgery, I can safely say that the pain of coughing will subside truly and yes even a deep hacking cough will not bust your seams if you hold it all together.

Weeing after a c-section: During the operation they hook you up to a catheter and after they take it out the nurses will ask to see that you do a wee in a small cardboard bedpan – to ensure that everything still works down there. I wasn’t sure if it was a matter of a shy bladder or something else, but this proved incredibly difficult for me. LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE! The floodgates would not open! The river would not flow! The nurse recommended I turn on the sink tap and let it run so I could hear the water sounds, but this did not work. I had drunk many flasks of water and the nurse observed that my bladder was full yet I could not go! With the nurse periodically knocking on the toilet door to check that I was alright, I began furiously googling in the toilet for tips and ideas of what to do; it felt like I spent hours in there. After several very difficult wees (and worrying that the wires might have been crossed forever) I eventually found something that worked for me! – spraying some warm water over the lady parts with the hospital bidet inexplicably allowed the waters to flow although I didn’t feel like I had much control over it. Anyway, I was relieved to observe that by the time I was discharged I had regained full control of my, ahem, weeing faculties.

Nursery Station on ward: The nurses and the Lactation consultant on the ward were super helpful, as well as the Nursery. Once the baby is born, it is in your room with you, you’ve got this little caddy on wheels with your baby and hand sanitiser and diapers and NUH swaddle cloths, and its kinda your call to figure out what to do with baby, or to ask the nurses for help with the various things you gotta do, such as BREASTFEEDING? DIAPER CHANGING? SWADDLING? EMERGENCY FORMULA FEEDING? The nurses however can also help take your baby away for a quick bath if you need a rest or sleep. TAKE THE OFFER WHEN GIVEN AND LET THEM BATH YOUR BABY UNTIL THE NEXT FEEDING TIME SO YOU CAN SLEEP.

Beano’s mobile hospital crib

Afterthoughts

Why did labour fail to progress along the way? I suspect that the baby’s position was a contributing factor in the labour’s failure to progress accordingly. Beano was stuck in a Right Occipital Anterior position from about 30 weeks to SHOWTIME, and this isn’t regarded as an ideal position – it is noted on Spinningbabies website that baby might rotate to the posterior and if so labour might have cluster contractions with slow downs and stalls (if chin is not tucked). I feel that even with the exercises a lot is left to chance – where the mother and her doula can only try to create room for the baby to rotate but the baby must actively rotate on its own.

Do some research on the possible outcomes: f I could do this all over again, I would also have spent more time looking up what were the likely outcomes, such as what a c-section would really entail. There were many things I didn’t know about how a c-section worked, because I assumed that I would try my best to avoid a surgical procedure, but obviously an emergency c-section was still a possibility not to be ruled out.

Thank god for Maternity Leave!!!: Friends, colleagues and other work collaborators, I was clearly too gung-ho when I said that I was hoping to get back up and running as usual right after the birth. I haven’t even figured out how to use the stroller or the baby sling yet!!! THIS IS GOING TO TAKE US SOMETIME TO FIGURE OUT!! HOW DOES I BABY LOGISTICS???

[Meanswhile the next door neighbour throws her two babies over her shoulders whilst she puts the laundry out to hang in the corridor plus she is also simultaneously able to keep a watchful eye on her walking toddlers and also have a leisurely conversation with other ladieees at the same time; next time you see a stay-at-home-mom with multiple kids don’t take this kind of next level childcaring for granted, it requires SKILLZ and its VERY HARD WORK!]

COMING UP NEXT: HOW DOES WE DIAPER BABY? R WE QUALIFIED TO HAVE BABBY??? HOW DID PEOPLE KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH BABY BEFORE THE INTERNET??? HOW LONG IS IT BEFORE THE BABY LEARNS HOW TO VOICE CONTROL OUR GOOGLE HOME??? AND OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS WHICH NO ONE TOLD US…

RENOVATION FOR THE D’OUTH HOUSE: Part 3 – Hacking Works, Aircon Installation, Flooring, Electricals, Lighting, Carpentry, Hinges, Doors, Windows, and Blinds

 

11. Hacking Works

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All of the kitchen walls and floor were to be hacked because the existing tile work was in a poor condition and also exceedingly filthy… This would be the only hacking works to be done for our flat. To save on costs, we only hacked the kitchen tiles, and instead did an overlay of the tile work in the living area.

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Our contractor helped us apply for the renovation permit (which takes 2 weeks) and this was straightforward as we were not hacking down any existing walls. If you are hacking any of the walls though, you’ll need to submit the plans for approval in advance and this can take longer for the approval of the permit. There are quite a few rules concerning what is hackable and what is not, but if you have looked around the block you will see that a lot of people do quite creative hacking in their HDB flats despite the many constraints.

Finally when the notice comes you have to stick it at the lift landing or at the door of the flat to inform neighbours of the works – and the contractor/sub-contractors should also keep to the working hours and days on the permit. Since our block is undergoing HIP at the moment, there are always a few dozen of these notices stuck around the lift because everyone is taking advantage of the chaos of the HIP work period to time their noisy or destructive renovations.

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Note the old rubbish chute in the corner…

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Replacement of rubbish chute (HIP) only after hacking and retiling
Another thing is that we asked the HIP office to delay the installation of our new refuse chute till after the hacking and tiling works, otherwise the new chute would be damaged during the hacking process.

As for the actual hacking itself, I am always surprised to see that the hacking is often done within a day. Similarly, the HIP works hacking also just takes a mere morning. You would imagine this to take a long time but actually hacking doesn’t cost a lot and is pretty quick.

12. Aircon Installation

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The finished product – the aircon in its room!
The all important aircon! Although it is the main splurge in our monthly electrical bill, without the aircon we might shrivel up and die in a sweaty puddle on the floor. Or in my case, productivity might drop by several points as a result of overheating. For our 3-room flat, we decided to get 3 blowers or a System 3 aircon – one for living area, and two for the bedrooms. We did not use our contractor’s aircon contact, instead preferring to do it on our own, so we engaged the aircon installers separately on our own and arranged for the dates to slot into the rest of the works.

The unit for the blower is BTU or British Thermal Unit (it actually stands for the the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit), and according to Gaincity’s website, how you calculate what you need in BTU is as follows:

Gaincity Aircon Buying Guide: “Find the square footage of the room you are trying to cool and multiply by 35. This will give you the ballpark BTUs you should look for. Shady room? Decrease that number by 10%. Sunny room? Increase that number by 10%. Add 4,000 BTUs if you are putting the A/C in the kitchen. If more than two people will be in the room regularly, add 600 BTUs per person.”

Living Area + Stores: Approx 4 x 6.3 = 25.2 sq m (approx 271 sq ft) – needs at least 9485 BTU
Blue Room: 4.35 x 2.9 = 12.615 (approx 136 sq ft) – needs at least 4760++ (sunny side)
Green Room: 4.35 x 3.2 = 13.92 (approx 150 sq ft) – needs at least 5250++ (sunny side)

The System 3 units we decided on correspondingly were (Mitsubishi Starmex Electric):
1 x Outdoor Unit MXY-3G28VA2 (for all 3 blowers)
1 X Indoor Blower Unit MSXY-FN13VE (12000 BTU) – for the living area
2 X Indoor Blower Unit MSXY-FN10VE (9000 BTU) – for the blue and green room

Aircons are usually installed over 2 visits to your house:
1st Visit: To dismantle wiring and existing piping and dispose of old system 2 aircon
(In-between which the house painter comes in and does the first coat of painting)
2nd Visit: To install new drainage piping, trunking, compressor, and new system 3 aircon
(After which the house painter comes in again and paints over all the new trunking)

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We also had to make some modifications to the new door frame design so as to accommodate the way in which the aircon drainage pipe would be run through the rooms. Here we were measuring the frame to see how much extra needed to be left so the big trunking could run across the top of the door frame – we eventually had to ask for the doorframe to be lowered by about 2.5″ here.

Our main contractor initially suggested we tell our aircon installers to do 3 visits – but this doesn’t seem to be the normal practice. The only reason you might break it up into 3 visits is because there are very dusty works going on in the house after the 2nd visit (eg: hacking). However, this can be fixed by having them put a big plastic wrap over the blowers after the 2nd/final installation to prevent dust from entering the blower and to restrict its use before the house has been properly cleaned up.

Our experience buying and installing our first home aircon: The dingparents were adamant that we should stick to a tried and tested aircon installer such as Gaincity which they had used multiple times. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps this would have been a safer bet. BUT HOW WERE WE TO KNOW UNTIL WE TRIED IT FOR OURSELVES? The main thing we understood at that point was that when picking an installer, we had to ensure that the installer was using the correct types of premium materials for the installation – pvc drainage pipes, the proper wire cables, the right kind of class 1 insulation, and copper pipes. We just assumed the rest would follow….

George found another installer online who promised the same quality materials and could do it within our rather tight timeline (to fit in with the rest of the works). We saw a number of reviews online that were quite favourable for the company JEX AIRCON so we engaged them to install our aircon. I also got the dingfather to come down help us check that it was done properly. But… I don’t know if I can recommend JEX AIRCON again (and I’m not including the link) because there were so many red flags:

Fear for workmen safety and worksite safety: On the 1st visit they did not use a safety harness when climbing out to check the existing blower and I don’t think the homeowners should be have to be actively worried that the blower might fall off the ledge during retrieval. When we hired someone to do the job we assumed they would follow all health and safety regulations and not let their workmen take unnecessary risks! Only one of the workers really spoke English (the rest of the team was composed of Indian workmen who did not understand English so direct communication with the workmen physically doing the work was difficult for us)

Not sure if installers were actually trained or BCA licensed: So on the 2nd Visit, we asked the workmen who came to our house if they were BCA licensed but we were given a blank look and the very worrying response: “What is BCA?” – This made us think that none of the men who were working on it were actually BCA licensed or trained, so I texted the company again who confirmed they were BCA-certified. What can one do that at that point?

Took an unusually long time for standard installation: They took from 9am-10pm to install 3 blowers, which seemed bizarrely/ridiculously long. I mean, I really didn’t expect people to work at my house from 9am till 10pm. The poor Dingfather had to stay there with them from morning to night because I was at work (and even after I got off work!!) – and actually the poor workmen were just working nonstop. It was hard to be angry at the men on site because they seemed to be really struggling and doing their best but they were just confused and unskilled and ill-equipped to do the job. From what I understood and from the dingparents’ past experiences (of which they had many), normal professional installers could install 3 blowers in a morning, but Jex Aircon’s men really did not seem to know what they were doing at all, as if they were doing it for the first time and figuring it out on the spot, which was bizarre for a professional company and also made us quite nervous.

Again, as Lemongrab might say: “UNACCEPTABLE!!!!!!
Finally, after a long arduous installation process on their end, they had finished up everything but were unable to connect it to our power to prove to us it worked, which seemed ridiculous. It was only with the intervention of Dingfather (who originally trained as an electrical engineer) that he instructed them on how to wire it to the mains DB box to test that it was functional. Lucky for them, it was working.

Things you’ll want from your aircon installation:
– Professional
– Securely installed
– BCA-certified

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Screenshot 2019-06-12 at 12.48.27 PM annotate
Unfortunately… I didn’t feel that we got any of those three from our installer, Jex Aircon. Also, er…. I wonder, is it normal for there to be no visible BOLTS connecting the aircon to the brackets??? I mean I don’t think a big wind will blow off our blowers, but seriously……. I guess only time will tell if we have any issues with our aircon units as a result of this haphazard installation. In the meantime all I can say if that if you wanna go with Jex Aircon, then… MAYBE…. DON’T?????

 

13. Flooring (Terrazzo)

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BEFORE: Image by Property Agent on original listing

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AFTER: Right after the terrazzo polishing
George did a lot of research on terrazzo polishing and sealants. Our friends living in Little India had told us a cautionary tale about the importance of SEALING YOUR TERRAZZO especially the new types of terrazzo, which was causing them no end of grief after they discovered how porous and greedily absorbent their terrazzo was, sucking up all the wine and coffee spilt on it, that they were always at attention with their baking soda and cleaning agents and cloths to absorb any stains that they noticed.

But then…. we got talked out of using sealant because of the cost. The sealant was going to cost more and we have the old sort of terrazzo that is super hardy. Dingparents also told us that if we really needed in the future it would be cheaper to simply repolish the whole lot!

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One thing we didn’t really personally monitor and which was subsequently not done was the polishing of the skirting board which is also terrazzo. As a result, none of the skirting was polished whereas all of the actual floor was polished brightly. The difference is stark in many spots.

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You would imagine that it would be obvious that polishing terrazzo should obviously include the skirting board area. But no, this is one area that the workmen might cut corners on if you aren’t present to insist on it. And we didn’t have time to rectify it because the work schedule simply had to move on!!!

Lesson learnt: Either get a better project manager to monitor the terrazzo polishing and check that they do the skirting board too -OR- Come down and monitor the terrazzo polishing yourself and insist that they do the skirting board for you as well

14. Electrical Distribution

We left this part to the Dingfather who drew this out. This distribution ensures that the load is distributed evenly and we won’t have an unsafe dodgy electrical situation such as in our previous rental where most of the house light switches, tv, oven, stove, kettle, and a billion other powerpoints and appliances were all on the same circuit, resulting in the tv and lights going out temporarily in one room when someone else turned on a light in another room.

Electrical Distribution Plan
 

15. Lighting Design and Fixtures (fans, heaters, oven switch, etc)

I didn’t know how to do the lighting BUT SOMEONE HAD TO DO IT so I drew up a plan mainly using a rail and spotlight system because, well, I am more familiar with how spotlights work in galleries, and I figured we could point them around as we wanted later, or even wrap them with gels later on to change the colour… and then… welp, I ACCIDENTALLY OVER-LIT THE HOUSE.

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This is the diagram I produced with my planned lighting which I used to brief in the electrician. We planned for a lot of two way switches and a hella lot of 13A double plugs because we like them. I must have done something wrong because at the end of this endeavour we had a electrical bill of OVER 4000SGD WHAT AND HOW DID THAT HAPPEN???

To be honest my expectation for the electrical bill was about 2000SGD and when we asked the HIP electrician to give us a ball park figure he said about $2500 for the entire house. THE ENTIRE HOUSE. So how did our electrical bill go so out of control?

My post-mortem review would say:
– Designer (myself) was blithely unaware that modern LEDS are EXTREMELY BRIGHT so calculating wattage may not be useful
– Designer (myself) was unclear about proper way of calculating lighting required for house
– Bought too many tracks for lights and then proceeded to INSTALL THEM ALL
– Bought too many LED lights for track lighting system
– Too many 13A power points
– Too many two way light switches

On the BRIGHT SIDE – WE HAVE AN EXTREMELY BRIGHT HOUSE NOW!!! The neighbours probably think of us as the people WHO HAVE THAT INSANELY BRIGHT YELLOW HOUSE (our bright lighting complements our bright yellow living room with BRIGHT YELLOW CEILING TO BOOT! HA TAKE THAT!)

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We got our lights from Aspire Lighting in Geylang. They had the simple lights we liked and they were super friendly.

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We also saw this fun little light and I think its my favourite light in the entire house. We put it by the doorway, it is the FIRST TIME I HAVE EVER HAD A FANCY LIGHT.

TOP TIP: Are you using spotlights? Don’t go crazy and buy more than the recommended amount “just in case”. You will not use that many. In fact you might remove some for sanity’s sake. Also, don’t ask for multiple two-way switches for everything. You think you’re making life easier for yourself but actually EACH BUTTON IS ONE MORE BUTTON YOU HAVE TO MEMORISE THE USE OF. Light switch affordances are harder to design well than you would think… even as an interaction designer I am still facepalming a few of my lighting and button decisions in this house…

16. Carpentry / Blum Hinges

Carpentry Design

I expected our contractor to design our carpentry with a bit more detail. This… we did not get. We got a less than impressive drawing with no dimensions on it. I was disappointed with this and even thought of using the diagram as an example of PERSPECTIVE FAIL to show to my Drawing students who are being taught the basics of technical drawing and perspective drawing at the moment.

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THE 3D DRAWING OF OUR KITCHEN THAT WE GAVE TO OUR CONTRACTOR
This is the drawing that we gave to our contractor to show him what we wanted. But as we are not carpenters, we cannot come up with all the interior thicknesses and dimensions on our own, nor could we design how to incorporate things such as the gas and water pipes behind – so we thought this Sketchup model would be a useful starting point for the contractor/carpenter to work with.

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THE DRAWINGS OF THE KITCHEN THAT OUR CONTRACTOR CAME BACK WITH
These were the slightly underwhelming drawings I got back from the contractor. Later, despite asking for more drawings the best I got was this drawing plus some dimensions added to it after we had a long discussion on the dimensions and placements. By which time I was very worried we would miss the timeline for completion before our critical moving date.

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THE NORMAL STANDARD OF KITCHEN DRAWINGS THAT I EXPECTED FROM A CONTRACTOR
This is the minimum standard that I had been expecting for a kitchen carpentry design – this is an example that the Dingparents showed me after our reno was nearly completed – the diagram made by their contractor for their own flat. I had seen this before and frankly although I don’t need a full render, I expected at least a digitally drawn, accurate diagram with dimensions.

Clearance for appliances

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Attention to detail was lacking in many spots of the kitchen but one critical error was that it appeared that there wasn’t a clearance designed for the top of our fridge. We had bought our fridge way in advance and it was quite a tall unit. I didn’t think that I had to explicitly say that a clearance had to be added in for our fridge but there just wasn’t any clearance and it was only with the help of a muscular cleaner in the house that the fridge was successfully wedged into its hole with probably just about 1mm to spare on the top (gulp). AAHHHHHHHHH!!!!

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Also, on an aside, who goes and designs such an elaborate torture for cables like this???…. Here is our tortured fridge cable and behold in this picture you can also see the lack of clearance between fridge and top. We have a lot of excess clearance on sides and back to compensate (where I think the actual cooling elements are) so I like to think our fridge is not any worse off from this unfortunate fitting.

Edge Band

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For those who don’t know what is the edge band and its in your quote, this is the edge band made of ABS. It is a 1mm strip of plastic ABS used to create a trimming for the carpentry finish. Look I’m trying to find some learning points so I can console myself that this was still a great learning process for us all despite all the disaster.

Cabinet Laminate

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I already mentioned the sad story of the WRONG LAMINATE in my previous entry, but the TLDR; summary of it here is that our contractor somehow mixed up the colour of the laminate we wanted despite it being named and typed out in all the docs and messages correctly – I thought it had a blue film over it thus making it green so I didn’t raise a warning flag until it was basically too late and so at the end we discussed it and he waived the extra charge that would have been charged for the premium laminate material. ITS OKAY WE CAN LIVE WITH A PISTACHIO GREEN KITCHEN. It is starting to grow on us.

Cabinet Inner PVC Foil

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The inside of your cabinets are lined with a pvc coating, you get to choose from a few inoffensive inner colours like these. We chose grey.

Worktop

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We chose an inoffensive sort of white quartz material for the worktop (see picture below). I like how the light scatters on top of it. You also get to choose different profiles (if you are feeling “extra”), but we stuck with just the normal flat one. Remember that the worktop has to be cut and fabricated off site, so if you need any holes cut THEY MUST BE DONE IN ADVANCE, otherwise, get ready for that sinking feeling of impending worksite disaster….

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By sinking feeling I am also making reference to THE SINK INCIDENT – wherein our silgranite sink (which was EXPLICITLY DESIGNED TO BE AN OVERMOUNT sink was installed wrongly as an UNDERMOUNT sink to the worktop. Nope we weren’t happy about this but figured that it would damage our sink to have them uninstall it and remount as OVERMOUNT after they bungled it. Infuriatingly, the installation booklet as well as its widgets were still STUCK TO THE SINK UNOPENED when we found it had been wrongly installed.

In the end the contractor said he could give a warranty for the sink installation as UNDERMOUNT so we left it as that, although to be honest we always intended this sink to be overmount. If we had known it would be undermount then we might have chosen another sink without such a distinct material (now the material is hidden inside the sink), but I really do like this silgranite sink material. Its like our floor – kinda grainy and rough to the touch yet oddly smooth. It is not slippy when wet and it also dries quick.

Top Tip: MAKE SURE EVERYONE AND THEIR GRANDMA KNOWS THAT YOUR SINK IS MEANT TO BE OVERMOUNT OR UNDERMOUNT. OR GO DOWN YOURSELF TO REMIND EVERYONE ON SITE. DON’T ASSUME THAT BECAUSE YOU SHOWED THEM A DRAWING/PIC AND SAID IT ONCE AND GAVE THEM THE INSTALLATION MANUAL THAT THE INSTALLER WILL DO IT TO SPECIFICATIONS! BECAUSE THE CONTRACTOR/SUBCONTRACTOR/WORKMEN WON’T READ ANY OF THE PAPERS OR MANUALS YOU STUCK TO THE ITEMS!!!

Hinges

If I did this all over again, I would explicitly ask the contractor “PLEASE TELL ME WHAT IS INCLUDED BY DEFAULT IN OUR AGREEMENT, WE’LL PROBABLY HAVE THAT” instead of having them say “oh go choose anything you want from the blum website online”. Firstly, it was very stressful and confusing having to acquaint ourselves with the different types of blum hinges. Why can’t I just ask for “the blum hinges that close slowly on their own” and leave the rest up to my contractor to do it? Why do I have to spend time going down to the blum showroom and study all the blum hinges myself? In addition to that, to be given an additional bill for choosing weird add-ons… How am i supposed to be the hinge specialist now? Man I don’t want to have to get into hinges again….

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So we went down to understand ALL OF THE PARTS OF A BLUM HINGE WHICH IS PROBABLY MORE THAN I SHOULD EVER NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MY HINGE OPTIONS.

Things I learnt were that for most of the normal casement doors you just need:
107 degree Hinge – CLIP top BLUMOTION – 75B1550 Silver – $4.25/pc
Mounting Plate with 0mm spacing – 175H3100 – Straight with height adjustment – $0.82/pc

This is not one of those $2 hinges you get at the corner store, this is the slow-closing action hinge with a separate mounting plate that allows you to make height adjustments to your door to align everything up. Most hinges don’t let you do that as they are fixed plates (if you misalign them they are misaligned and its hard to fine-tune things). Yes that’s why your hinge is so expensive. ARGHHHHHH.

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As for the food larder we chose TBX i5 drawers (above). These are of fixed sizes and go inside your large cupboard to give it structure. Some people say you don’t need a drawer, but we kinda liked it. We also asked them why people choose between 30 and 65kg load capacities and decided we did not need the 65 kg load capacity. That would be like having a DEBBIE sitting inside the drawer which is not happening anyway.

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We also tried out a lot of dish drainer mechanisms… but this was included.

TOP TIP: Ask your contractor “PLEASE TELL ME WHAT IS INCLUDED BY DEFAULT IN OUR AGREEMENT, WE’LL HAVE JUST THAT, AND YOU CAN PICK ALL THE HINGES AS LONG AS THEY ARE SOFT-CLOSING KTHXBYE”

 

17. Door and Door Frame Installation

Doors was another thing that we decided to do on our own. The dingmother recommended we try the shops along Eunos Avenue 4 and 5, which included Siong Doors, Yontat Doors, and PD Doors. The first two do a lot of those veneer doors which are extremely reasonably priced (Within the $200 range each). The only issue I see with these notably hollow doors (not solid) is that they sometimes slip open with the wind because they are very light. PD Doors does a unique sort of Japanese folding door that we might consider but haven’t found it so critical to install just yet.

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Yontat Doors
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Example of Yontat’s door selections and door knobs. I chose one that was more ergonomic (although less aesthetically pleasing). A kind of handle you could just slam down with a finger to open.

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PD Doors

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These framed doors can slide open and also fold up.

18. Window Installation

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We chose a casement instead of sliding windows because we wanted it to be really soundproof. George also initially wanted double glazing but we were talked out of it because of cost. It is not truly soundproof in there either, but a lot of the sound is indeed insulated.

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For the only sliding windows in the house, we had them in the living area. For sliding windows and grills they can be 2 track or 3 track. Note that the 3 track is obviously more costly so if you were quoted a 3 track price check that you haven’t received a 2 track instead (which happened to us)

19. Blinds Installation

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We got Korean combi blinds and it was 940 for all 3 windows including installation thanks to Blinds Guru who were super fast in doing the measurement on the day we went to their showroom and installation was really dust-free thanks to their awesome drilling-hoover-attachment.

 


Alright I’ve got De Quervain’s tenosynovitis in both hands and have to wear hand guards now so I AM ENDING THIS POST ABRUPTLY TO GO AND REST NOW. More of the juice in Part 4…..

RENOVATION FOR THE D’OUTH HOUSE: Part 2 – Budgeting, Appointing Renovation Contractor, House Design Layout, Painting Scheme, Laminate and Tiling Selection

Table of Contents:

  1. Flat Viewings
  2. Online Research
  3. HDB Resale Flat Purchase Process
  4. HIP Options
  5. HIP Works & Bathroom Fixtures
  6. Renovation Budgeting
  7. Appointing Renovation Contractor
  8. House Design Layout
  9. Painting Scheme
  10. Laminate and Tiling Selection
  11. Hacking Works
  12. Aircon Installation
  13. Electrical Distribution
  14. Lighting Design and fixtures (fans, heaters, oven switch, etc)
  15. Carpentry / Blum Hinges
  16. Door and Door Frame Installation
  17. Windows Installation
  18. Blinds Installation
  19. Non-built-in Furniture (Ikea, Hipvan, FortyTwo, Qoo10, etc)
  20. Household appliances (Fridge, Washing Machine, Dishwasher, etc)
  21. Plumbing (Sinks, Washing Machine, Dishwasher, etc)
  22. Moving Day
  23. MORE TO COME…

 

6. Renovation Budgeting

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ACTUAL PICTURE FROM THE FLAT LISTING (Source: Ben Fan)

When we first saw the online listing for the flat, I admit that it crossed our minds that it might have been on fire once. Alarmingly, when we did a cursory google search of fires in the area, there HAD been a fatal fire incident in the block in the recent past, befitting of the sales timeline of the flat. At this point, most normal people might run away from such a flat. BUT WE ARE NO MERE MORTALS. Also we were on a budget. How were we ever going to find an amazingly priced flat in the Central region? Possibly by going against the trend by looking for weird flats that might not attract the typical Singaporean buyer. (On the practical end, the majority of buyers in Singapore are likely to be Chinese just based on demographics, so we just had to think of what the typical Chinese buyer might avoid) So we persevered in digging up more on the story, and found that it was definitely a different flat that had been on fire.

ST (19 April 2017): Lighted joss sticks and candles may have sparked fire which killed elderly hoarder

ST (20 April 2017): Fatal fire in flat: Clutter likely hindered woman’s escape

We were sorry to read about the Rowell tragedy, but after investigating further: GOOD NEWS EVERYONE, THIS FLAT HAS NEVER BEEN ON FIRE BEFORE! And that totally black Electrical DB box that we thought might been burnt?? It was outdated but actually fine on the inside; it was just that someone had painted it completely black. In any case the flat was not one of those bright cheery viewings poised to sell. It hadn’t been maintained in a very long time. The things it had stacked against it were:

  • Located in Little India – which is not typically known a popular area for ‘typical Chinese buyers’ – and where the ethnic quota system is flipped (Indian quota maxed out as opposed to the usual case of Chinese quota maxed out) – flipped in our favour though, so YAY!
  • Having been on the market for more than 6 mths – garnering very high number of views on all the property listing websites, with signs that it may have been priced at 420 initially but that the price had been lowered – which raised the question of why it hadn’t sold for so long? why hadn’t someone else seen the value in this humble little flat?
  • Extremely “original condition” – dirt or joss stick/religious paraphernalia smoke marks everywhere, no fixtures, no fittings, might not have been renovated ever since the 80s, kitchen would need to be hacked and completely done from scratch – could we handle or afford doing a very extensive renovation project?

Since it was in a very “original condition”, we knew it would require a lot of renovation works. The next step was to try to intelligently guess the cost of the renovation so we could set a reasonable budget of sorts – by thinking of what were the absolute essentials, like having a BED to sleep on, having the electricals done, getting plumbing done, putting in air conditioning, having a kitchen sink, etc. With the caveat that I have never done a house renovation project before, this was the budget I (naively?) drew up to estimate the cost/budget on my side. All the items in Green were considered necessary, the ones in yellow could be substituted by cheaper off-the-shelf alternatives.

 

Estimated 3 Room HDB Resale Renovation Cost
Living Room
TV – Already have one! 0
Speakers and sound system – already have one! 0
TV Console Shelving 500 Estimated based on hipvan
Coffee Table 400 Estimated based on Scanteak
Sofa 1000 Estimated based on Scanteak
Ceiling Fans 300 Estimated based on Lazada
Dining Set 1500 Estimated based on Scanteak
Aircon – System 3 2500 Estimated based on Daikin
Lighting 1000 GUESS-TIMATED
Bedroom
Kingsize Mattress and Bedframe with Storage (englander) 2000 Estimated based on Englander
Wardrobe Carpentry 4000 GUESS-TIMATED
Bedside tables x 2 300 Estimated based on ikea
Bedside lamps x 2 300 Estimated based on ikea
Second Room
Ceiling Fan x 2 rooms 600 Estimated based on Lazada
Study Desks x2 800 Estimated based on hipvan
Bookshelving Carpentry 1000 GUESS-TIMATED
Good office chairs x2 800 Estimated based on Courts
Kitchen
Fridge 1000 Estimated based on Lazada
Washing Machine 800 Estimated based on Lazada
Oven 1000 Estimated based on Lazada
Sink 1000 Estimated based on hoe kee
Kitchen Cabinet Carpentry 15000 Estimated based on dingparents
Extras
Painting 900 Estimated based on moneysmartblog
Professional Cleaning and Polishing Everything 800 Estimated based on moneysmartblog
Electricals (Moderate) 2000 Estimated based on moneysmartblog
Hacking (Light/moderate) 500 Estimated based on moneysmartblog
ESTIMATED TOTAL (SGD) 40000

When I cross-checked the number with the very experienced dingparents, they had independently produced a similar calculation (although it was with different line items!!!). Anyway in my case, I thought that this was a reasonable number based on the cash savings I had available after paying the deposit for the house, and with George contributing an equal share this was definitely a number we could afford without overstretching ourselves or emptying out the bank (still able to put aside a reasonable amount of savings for emergencies).

Reality: So…. did we keep to this specific budget in the end? No. Not really if you really go and count all the extra bits we had to get outside of the main contractor works. Insert facepalm. Like any good episode of GRAND DESIGNS (ahem) we ended up exceeding our initial cost and time estimate. We were total noobs at this. But I’ll do a postmortem of this later.

7. Appointing a Renovation Contractor

The next major challenge was that we needed to appoint a renovation contractor who could help us with project management and most importantly, the complicated bits in the kitchen – hacking, carpentry, water points, gas, etc. You’ll always want to speak to several contractors before deciding on one – as it will be useful to see several versions of the itemised quotation, and to ask all the questions you want about each item they have quoted to understand what they refer to. On a practical note though, it can take a long time to speak to one contractor properly and communicate all your needs accurately, so its not really feasible to speak to every contractor that looks interesting out there – you have to make a shortlist first. We did our research (and the dingparents assisted us greatly with this too) and spoke to 4 contractors in total.

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Example of Itemised Quotations from different contractors
The whole point of engaging a contractor/ID is for their design advice/input. We also didn’t want a “yes-man” who would tell us that anything and everything we wanted could be magically built, because we knew that HDB flats have a lot more rules and regulations than private flats. We needed an experienced contractor who could do the project management and also point out where our planned design might encounter issues. Both me and George were working full time as well plus I had a lot of medical appointments and checkups getting in the way of being at the house – which was why we had wanted to hire an ID/contractor to project manage in the first place.

Our Timeline & Reality:
25 Feb 2019 – First meeting with Contractor
6 March 2019 – Contractor visits flat with us
8 March 2019 – Contractor drafted out first draft of agreement
13 March 2019 – Meeting to discuss first draft of agreement
18 March 2019 – Meeting to discuss second draft of agreement
23 March 2019 – Appointed Contractor and signed agreement

It took us 1 month to engage a contractor – from the start of first ever conversation to the signing of contract. Unfortunately, in the middle of renovation works, our appointed ID/contractor went MIA from time to time (uncontactable!!!) and wasn’t on site to project manage things at some critical junctions which made it very difficult as subcontractors in the house would ask us what they should do. Confusion ensued and works were delayed as a result because corrections had to be made, and we even had to move to my parents’ house temporarily for a few weeks whilst the works were sorted out between our rental and our new flat. If I could do this again, I would have wished for a better project manager…

8. House Design Layout

BUY THE FLOOR PLAN: So you’ve decided you want to do your own Interior Design. Or part of the way of it anyway. The first step is to purchase your HDB floor plan from HDB – For Existing Flats – which costs $5 so you have this handy little PDF file you can edit in Illustrator. In our case the seller’s estate agent actually helpfully gave us a copy of this so we didn’t have to buy ours. Anyway, in terms of the timeline, we could have started the process of designing everything from the moment we received the key. Except that we were slowpokes.

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RE-MEASURE YOUR HOUSE: Even with the floor plan, you’ll notice that it is nothing like the actual flat you have. So you have to go and measure everything on your own again. This is really crucial. For me, what was useful was this diagram that the dingparents had made. They might not be designers but I’m impressed with all of their meticulous drawings! I’m teaching the Drawing and Illustration module at the moment and I almost want to show the dingparents sketches to the class as an example of how learning technical drawing can still be useful later in life and beyond design school.

DRAW UP A DRAFT LAYOUT: This is where the design phase went a little bit mad, as George preferred to work straight on something that he could view in 3D and VR, whereas my first impulse was to lay out everything in 2D on Illustrator, which I am very fast on.

08-84@200640 - Draft Layout v1 - 27 Feb 2019 - For Contractor
Draft Layout – 27 Feb 2019 (by DBBD)

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Draft 2D of Kitchen – 9 March 2019 (by DBBD)

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Draft 3D Layout of House – 13 March 2019 (by George)

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Draft 3D of Kitchen – 13 March 2019 (by George)
Reality: We got stuck on this for a very long time because we were both working full-time during this time period (I had several exhibitions, having to give talks and speak on panels, plus my full-time teaching job). I found it difficult and overwhelming to start due to a difference in working styles – George preferred working spatially and moving the blocks around in 3D and viewing it with the Vive in VR – but I personally needed to work first from a 2D plan before progressing onto a 3D layout. Also if I could go back in time and tell myself one thing, it would be that there is no need to feel like you have to go to the contractor with a perfect finished design because the design is always changing…

8. Painting Scheme

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We went down to some hardware store near our flat with a big NIPPON PAINT on its signage and copped a feel of their Nippon swatch. After standing there for a VERY LONG TIME (almost as if we were contemplating stealing their giant paint swatch), the man just dug up a slim paint brochure with ALL the colours in it and gave it to us so we could go home and decide on colours at home with the booklet.

There are actually a few types of Nippon Paint available – here in order of price:

– Nippon Paint Matex White – the cheapest generic white – commonly used as the base coat and for ceiling
– Nippon Paint Vinilex 5000 – the standard paint commonly used on walls
– Nippon Paint Easy Wash – the washable paint we specifically requested for

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Painting Scheme for our flat
Reality: We noted however that during the painting process that the house painters did not use the Easy Wash paint we specifically requested for and instead had used the Vinilex versions of the colours we had chosen!! – so we did ask our contractor to reduce our invoice because Vinilex is cheaper than Easy Wash. Eg: 1 litre of White Vinilex is $20 sgd whereas 1 litre of White Easy Wash is $25 sgd.

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Another thing to note is that things like pipes and door frames will require the shiny Enamel paint. For this we used the Nippon Aqua Bodelac, a water-based acrylic gloss enamel paint, which as you can see from the sample above is a shiny glossy paint unlike our wall/ceiling paints.

9. Laminate and Tiling Selection

 

Colour Core Laminates for Carpentry

Firstly very early on we chose a laminate colour so we could choose the tiling and other paint colours. This was in a big book of laminates.

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There are many natural/wood laminates with textures such as these. We didn’t like these as they were quite artificial.

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The “default” solid colour laminate was something that had a black core like this. We didn’t like this as much either.

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We preferred the COLOR CORE range which was more expensive (an add-on) but had the colours we liked, in particular, BABY LEMONADE.

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I don’t really know how I could have made our laminate colour choice more obvious… because as the story goes, our contractor GOT THE LAMINATE COLOUR WRONG DESPITE THE ABOVE PHOTO BEING SENT OVER (and the code number being written out) in a text message, annotated on whatsapp, in the google docs, literally everywhere. I must have said BABY LEMONADE all the time as well, which as its name suggests, is a light lemon colour. When it went up, I saw a photo of the laminate, and I thought there had been a blue protective film over the laminate hence it being green from afar, since a lot of things in our house also had a thin blue film over it, such as the windows, the HIP gate and the Ikea furnishings, etc etc). However, it eventually became clear that there was no blue film, and that green was the final colour in the end.

We could have gone all Lemongrab at this point…. “UNACCEPTABLE CONDITION!!!!!!!”
As a result the contractor eventually waived the add-on fee as recompense for this extreme oversight. (They’re lucky that we can live with Pistachio Green as a major colour in our brightly coloured haus, otherwise we would have had to reject it and redo it all!)

 

Kitchen Wall and Ceiling Tiles

A Kitchen for Asian Food in Hot Climate?: Singaporean kitchens are partially wet spaces which are usually fully tiled, unlike the kitchens in London/Europe which are generally regarded as mostly dry spaces with lots of wood and dry fixtures. There’s usually at least one gully hole (small gutter for surface water to drain) in the kitchen floor (as well as the toilets), so you could theoretically sploooooge water all over your kitchen (and toilets) with wild abandon because it will drain off, and I was told that Kitchens are almost always fully tiled because of the type of Asian cuisine cooked in houses – which tends to be of high temperature (trying to achieve “wok hei”) and generates a lot of oil or spice vapours. To be honest we don’t really cook full-on Asian wok style here in our household (we’re more…. fusion? experimental?) but we still decided to tile our kitchen fully to suit the local climate and custom.

Fully Tile or Partially Tile?: You can fully tile the walls in your kitchen, or to just tile the visible areas. At first we wanted to do the latter and not tile the area behind the carpentry (because no one will see it). However, in the interest of changing designs along the way, if one selectively tiled the kitchen, this might result in MISSING TILEWORK later on if you decide to change the location of the carpentry or choose to renovate several years down the line. So we decided to fully tile in the end. It didn’t cost all that much more.

Size of Tile?: Smaller tiles might mean more grouting lines in the future which might be difficult to clean. Also… according to recent ST and BT articles, larger tiles were equated with a more “condo-like finishing”, as well as “construction productivity and efficiency”.

Dimensions of our chosen tiles were:
Wall Tiles: 60cm x 30cm (laid horizontally)
Floor Tiles: 30cm x 30cm

Backsplash?: The purpose of the backsplash is functional. In European kitchens I noticed this is the only area that is tiled in order to protect the wall behind sinks and stove from water and oil splashing.

Glass Backsplash?: We contemplated doing a Kitchen Backsplash in tempered glass but then we looked at the cost. Also we would need to predetermine all the placements of the holes to be cut for power outlets once it has been set against the wall, so this would require a lot of advance foresight and planning which we admittedly tend to lack haha. So… no special backsplash! Just the same old good white wall tiles behind the stove area! If you do feel the need though, you can change the tiles to a different one in the “backsplash” area for design purposes, but in any case our entire kitchen is tiled from floor to ceiling.

There are many places to get tiles in Singapore but our contractor uses Soon Bee Huat on Changi Road. We went down to the big tiles showroom at Soon Bee Huat with one purpose, and that was to ask them for a mustard yellow wall tile. Unfortunately, you will find that they are much more normal and traditional than we expected with their selection range. When asked if they had anything yellow, they pointed us to something brown. They did not have ANYTHING close to yellow besides these road crossing tiles, and some pasty yellow-brown floor tiles (not suitable for wall).

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So… er…. who wants some tactile road crossing tiles in their kitchen?

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These yellows and browns are only for floors and not really our thing either. Also far too shiny. We don’t like shiny.

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Eventually we decided on big white slab tiles which seemed a sensible and modest choice, along with dark grey-brown tiles for the floor. The big tiles could be grouted with white which would make them sort of fade away into the background. We also brought down the laminate book to compare the tiles with our chosen laminate colour.

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We asked them to cut two samples for the floor tiles so we could take it home and step on them for a while to see how we felt about them. In our very Scientific Tile Test, we also poured old coffee on the tile samples and smeared belachan chilli on them to see which was easier to clean after the stain had dried (plz excuse our very grotty kitchen sink).

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A clear winner for our tile was found!

Our decision: When in doubt just go with neutral colours like completely white wall tiles and dark floor tiles. I don’t regret this at all, you can still put in weird colour accents through appliances and fixtures and other things you fill your kitchen with! We were very happy with the all-white wall tile which from a distance looks like it could all be a perfectly contiguous white painted wall. For the floor tile we preferred a tile with the “sandy” feel (as opposed to a shiny waxy feel) and we found that it seemed to clean more easily. The floor tile with a waxy/shiny feel got quite slippery when wet and we felt that oil also clings more to those kinds of tiles.


Coming up next in Part 3: the commencement of works in the house with hacking, aircon, electrical, lighting, carpentry, hinges, doors, windows, and blinds. Phew!

RENOVATION FOR THE D’OUTH HOUSE – Part 1: Flat Viewings, Online Research, HDB Resale Flat Purchase Process, & HIP Options

The documentation on this blog makes a beeline towards the domestic! For we have begun works on what will probably be two very major long-term projects in 2018/2019 – the first of which is the HOUSE PROJECT, which I thought I should document for the benefit of others who have come after us since we too relied a lot on the power of INTERNETS to find out how to do all this.

The cost of renting a well-located 3-room HDB flat in Singapore actually exceeds that of the cost of a HDB Loan / Mortgage on a 3-room HDB flat (Public Housing), so it was a no-brainer for us to stop renting in Singapore and simply buy a flat here. Naturally, I will start from the very beginning of our search for a flat in Singapore…

Table of Contents:

 

  1. Renovation Budgeting
  2. Appointing Renovation Contractor
  3. House Design Layout
  4. Windows Installation
  5. Kitchen Appliances and Sink
  6. Tiling Selection
  7. Aircon Installation
  8. Lighting Design
  9. Electrical Layout
  10. Paint Scheme
  11. Doors
  12. All the rest of the Non-built-in Furniture
  13. Soft Furnishings
  14. MORE TO COME…

 

1. Flat Viewings

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HDB HEARTLANDS: ER…. NOT REALLY A ROOM WITH A VIEW…
We began our house search by doing viewings in earnest. Or sorta kinda. The first few random estate agents whom we had called up also seemed to know that we were NOOBS/NOT YET FULLY FORMED/NOT ACTUALLY VERY SERIOUS BUYERS because they were as awkward as we were. But the point of flat viewing was to accrue an understanding of the public housing flat formats available in Singapore. In order to ease us into the business of flat viewing, the first flats that we viewed were also in the same block that we were renting, so it was like looking into a duplicate or mirror image of the flat we were in – at least this was something we were a little familiar with and could comment on. (Looking into strangely depopulated duplicate husks of our own flat…)

Source: HDB Website – Types of Flats
Fun fact: Our flat is an older 3A model which is 796sqft (74sqm), meaning our flat is actually larger than the standard 3-Room or 3-NG flat.

Type/Size of flat: Based on our MINI budget we decided to look for 3 room and 3.5 room HDB Resale flats (public housing in Singapore). (This is equivalent to a “2 bedroom flat” in the UK, is usually around 60 to 65 sqm, and has 2 bathrooms). Private/condos were out of the question because I didn’t have that amount of savings and also that would be pushing ourselves into a hard financial position. But a very modest HDB flat was definitely within our means.

In my personal experience, I’ve always felt that the quality of public housing in Singapore exceeds the quality of private housing in London! During the first year I lived in London, I developed the misconception that the housing stock in London was on the whole extremely ancient and backwards because all the rental flats (private flats, bedsits, House of Multiple Occupation types) I had seen and visited were all incredibly run-down compared to the average Singapore flat, featuring interesting details like holes in the stairs, holes in the exterior boundary walls, rickety and unlevel floors, broken windows, cabinets that were falling apart, and rats the size of beer cans. I didn’t know any better at the time, so I very joyfully accepted whatever I could get, leg through the stairs be dammed, nothing could dampen my enthusiasm for living in these weird houses!

And then at some point I visited a friend’s council flat (bought with a generous gift of a deposit paid by parents – a financial feat otherwise impossible in this lifetime for someone working in Design/Advertising in Shoreditch at the time ahem…) and I was surprised as to how similar it was to a normal Singapore flat. SO, NORMAL FLATS EXISTED IN LONDON. But then, there aren’t really a lot of council flats to go around. So people are just being screwed by the awful private rental market in London, where the price of rental is extremely high and what you get is very little. It also feels like part of UK government welfare goes straight into subsidising private landlords because of the housing benefit payout, which doesn’t go towards really solving any of people’s problems. I suppose it would be more accurate to describe London housing as possessing both extremes – a wide range of extremely nice and architecturally interesting flats (aspirational Georgian front rooms! eco-homes! historical houses! art deco! or industrial/warehouse conversions???) and extremely terrible flats (a lot wider than the range of flats you would get in Singapore). Somehow, although the diversity of types of housing in London is so much wider, this also has somehow meant that the average standard of the affordable London flats is far lower than the average standard of the affordable Singapore flats…)

For public housing in Singapore we had the option of either BTO (Built-to-order) or Resale. It would take an estimated 3-5 years to wait for a Build-to-Order (BTO) flat because you would have to register first and wait for the flat to be built! That also would mean 3-5 years more of interminable renting, plus I was only eligible for a 2-room BTO under the Singles (Non-Citizen Spouse) scheme, so we went straight into focusing our energies on looking for a 3/3.5 room Resale flat (I’d be ‘sole owner’ under the Non-Citizen Spouse Scheme, George would be my ‘essential occupier’, and we would still receive a housing grant of S$25,000).

Agent/No Agent: Next, there was the question of whether we would work with an estate agent or not. The good thing about an agent is that they can do all the leg work and arrange for multiple viewings in one evening. However, you run the real risk of it being a sort of psychological game, where the highs and lows of the tour experience may have been designed by the agent to convince you of the virtues of a particular flat, by contrasting different elements, such as seeing a flat with strange or extreme modifications, followed by a normal boring flat, and then another strange flat with a crazy saxophone player outside it who toots away every evening [REAL INCIDENT] – by contrasting an ordinary flat with a TERRIBLE FLAT it obviously helps to make even the most ordinary flat seem a little better than it really is. But hey, we aren’t really wanting to see the worse case scenarios here when searching for that dream house…

Criteria: After many viewings, we devised our own criteria for what we were looking for. We liked things like the old terrazzo that often came with old flats, but not TOO CRAZY COLOURED. We were also very particular about the view. We liked either a city view, or a nature view, but not really a suburban view. It also seemed that some people liked being able to see their cars from their flat, so they enjoyed seeing a view of a carpark, but we were not those people. A lot of the “FULLY FURNISHED MOVE-IN IMMEDIATELY” type flats were not our style, so their fully furnished nature was not a plus point for us either.

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Big Terrazzo!

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So many different Terrazzos in HDB Flats!
* George also pointed out that it was quite odd to him that both me and Dingmother always started talking about visibility of ANTS whenever we looked at surfaces and that maybe people in other countries did not have “VISIBILITY OF ANTS” as a criteria for flooring/countertop colours. But we have so many different ants here in Singapore. CAN WE SEE THE ANTS WHEN THEY ARE WALKING OVER THE FLOOR? THAT IS A SERIOUS QUESTION! [And for those living in cold non-tropical ant-less countries who have never thought about whether ants will be visible on your floor or countertop, the answer is: Yes, yes, I would actually like to be able to see the ants. I do want to know where the ants are. I WOULD LIKE MAXIMUM ANT VISIBILITY!!]

Seeing a lot of the same size of flats gives you an idea of the possible fittings, layouts and modifications of that type of flat. For example, we viewed a lot of 3.5 room flats in the AMK area and these were always the ones that received an upgrade of an additional room at the end of their flats. A lot of them had reconfigured their walls in different ways, such as by knocking down the store or hacking down walls and erecting different walls to make different shapes, which gives one ideas about the possible iterations on the same template…

On our individual efforts, as well as the help of an agent for some part, and the Dingfather (our honorary agent for a while), we saw a grand total of 22 flats before finding the ROWELL FLAT.

What we chose: See a lot of flats on our own with no fixed agent


2. Online research

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The view from the only flat that we really liked in AMK…

Unfortunately, all of the flats that we ‘kinda’ liked in Ang Mo Kio were on the pricey side (nearly 400k / over 400k) which really could not really be justified because it was just so far away from Fun Things in Town and it might result in us having a very socially isolated existence. Some other flats we saw had red flags, such as CCTV cameras being installed everywhere (for what reason did the owner justify to HDB on the installation of CCTV? loanshark? private dispute? etc), weird looking doors and doors which could not be unlocked (was this really a home? why were rooms inaccessible to potential house viewers? why had these unusual office/industrial/shop doors been installed into the residential apartments?), very low floors (potentially affected by smoke from the incessant burning of taoist offerings, and noises from roads, funeral trumpets, construction sounds, schools, etc). All in all, its just not that cheap to buy a flat in the heartlands! And more crucially, some of these flats were older than me (a few were over 40 years old), which could result in loan issues (if you buy or take over a flat with less than 60 years, the housing loan may be disallowed) – and in the distant future, by getting an extremely old flat, we might deprive ourselves of the option of being able to sell and buy a different flat if we so wished to…

George found Edgeprop’s website which had a useful map detailing the per square foot cost of all the public housing in Singapore – Edgeprop Analytic Heatmap – which gave us a better picture of the prices in different areas of Singapore, and which areas tended to have the lowest per square foot pricing. AMK Central was far from being the the cheapest zone despite being so far away from the town area.

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Inspired by a visit to a friend’s house in Little India (an area that both me and George were extremely fond of) we began looking at the lowest price per square foot that could be had in the Jalan Besar District. And to our surprise, there was a unit on the market that seemed to fit all our criteria! It even seemed to overlook my old flat in Rowell Road!

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Source: Edgeprop Analytic Heatmap

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FUN FACT: Our transaction is reflected on this list (screenshot taken in May 2019), and yes we did get the best per square foot price for our size of flat. Singaporeans familiar with the square footage of flats here can probably easily guess which one was our transaction…

FUN FACT 2: The HDB flats on Kelantan lane average about 450 upwards psf to even 500+. As for Rowell Road, the road that I have the most emotional attachment to, it turns out it is the cheapest price per square foot in the whole Jalan Besar area. Well fancy that!…

Thanks Singaporeans with your racially suspect CMIO policies which has resulted in the Indian enclave near central becoming less popular with Chinese buyers – thus giving us (I’m classed as a Chinese buyer) a chance to find the most favourable price! Your loss is our gain!

What we chose: Little India with per square foot prices as low as SGD 420-440 psf


3. HDB Resale Flat Purchase Process

Buying Resale Flat Steps

Here is a record of our timeline. It took 5 months & 6 days (159 days, not including end day) from start to finish – calculated from the date we applied for the eligibility letter, to the date we completed the purchase.

20 April 2018 – Applied for HLE (HDB Loan Eligibility) Letter
27 April 2018 – Received HLE Approval (which will also tell you what is the max loan possible / what is your max budget)
18 May 2018 – Registered Intent to Buy
** WE THEN COMMENCED THE WILD VIEWINGS UNTIL THE ONE TRUE HOUSE WAS FOUND **
13 June 2018 – First viewing of the Rowell Flat
14 June 2018 – Second viewing of the Rowell Flat. Made offer.
15 June 2018 – Obtained Proof of Ownership from Owner.
25 June 2018 – Owner issues the OTP (Option to Purchase) Form
26 June 2018 – Request for Value Submitted
15 July 2018 – Exercise Option to Purchase (Seller completes portion of form)
16 July 2018 – Submission of Resale Application (Buyer completes portion of form)
20 August 2018 – Acknowledgement of Resale Documents (Confirmation of Purchase of Resale Flat, Housing Grant Agreement, Application of Housing Loan), Payment of Conveyancing and Caveat Fees. [Additional: in our case the seller wished to bring forward the date for Completion of Sale due to travel plans so we also arranged for an earlier date]
26 Sept 2018 – Completion of Sale at HDB Hub, Opening Utilities, SLA Caveat, Property Tax

* I wish to also add the note that when you go down to HDB Hub for the final completion, you don’t really have to bring any other documents previously submitted, besides your original IDs. Its a formality in which buyer and seller just sign the final papers in each other’s presence, the seller get a cute little HDB tote bag full of papers and HDB branded keychains and magnets and swag, and then you go off with the keys. Unfortunately, about 5 minutes before I was to leave the house to attend this momentous event, I became convinced that I needed to bring the original copy of some document that I couldn’t recall whether it should be in my possession or the seller’s possession. The result is that I tore through the house like a mad person tornado of flying papers (I realised later that the original was with the seller), and I went to HDB Hub in a nervous wreck – only to slowly realise that the completion was more a formality of signing and shaking hands and smiling at each other and receiving the keys… OH WELL NOW WE KNOW.

On hindsight, there are also three other VERY IMPORTANT things that you’ll need to do as a new home owner (but no one is going to remind you to do these):

  • Conservancy Charges: Set up giro/direct debit for conservancy charges to the town council (you’ll have to contact your town councils after 2 weeks, or in my case, if you forgot to contact them, they will send you a bill for your overdue conservancy charges ho ho ho)
  • Change of address: Change your registered address to the new one anytime within the next 3 months (or in my case, SUDDENLY PANIC ABOUT THE POTENTIAL ADMINISTRATIVE BOO-BOO YOU MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE CAUSED BY ACCIDENTALLY FORGETTING TO DO IT FOR SEVERAL MONTHS AND RUSH IMMEDIATELY TO THE POLICE POST TO CHANGE IT IMMEDIATELY SO HELP ME OH GOD)
  • Renovations: Start your house renovations so you can move into the flat! DUH. But because I was so busy with my PYT show and the ‘accidental commencement of MAJOR LONG-TERM PROJECT #2’ I admit that I was unusually slow to start the renovation process….

 


4. HIP Options

We were extraordinarily lucky in that the HIP timing coincided with the time we were purchasing the flat, meaning that I had taken ownership of the flat in time to make the decisions on what HIP options I wanted.

HIP stands for Home Improvement Programme (HIP), and HDB flats of a certain age are all slated for this programme in which their 30+ year old plumbings and toilets are replaced, spalling issues and leakages are fixed, and safety features like anti-slip coatings, handlebars and mobility ramps are installed for the elderly who need them – all for what is a mere token sum (if you are Singaporean the costs are almost negligible and can be paid through CPF in a few years time). You also get a new front door and front gate (optional Ease items)

The HIP contractor will erect a toilet showroom that looks like this masterpiece below (with a bow on the toilets), and you get to choose from a few inoffensive colour themes such as grey, blue, or sand…

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The HIP works are usually accompanied by great upheaval in the block itself, with everyone taking advantage of the chaos to embark on their own noisy renovation projects as the HIP works sweep through the block for the duration of the better part of a year. I must admit that I subconsciously ended up delaying the renovation of our flat because of the knowledge that HIP was coming soon and it would have been ideal to move in after HIP had been completed for our flat, otherwise we would have to endure another round of having to trot down to the common toilets during the shock of the 10-day disruption.


5. HIP Works & Bathroom Fixtures

In Feb 2019 the HIP Works finally commenced! We received a one month advance notice letter and a two week advance notice letter before the date, and someone came around to check the condition of the flat before we started, and where they pointed out to us a few weird parts of our flats.

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Seems like all the flats in the block have a slightly un-aligned kitchen toilet door. But no big deal… *TWITCHES*
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Based on the option form given back in October 2018, they printed out the list of works to be done in the house. With the works commencing, we also had to ensure we had all the new fixtures present for them to install during the process. We visited all the usual megastores for bathroom fixtures in Singapore such as Bathroom Warehouse, Hoe Kee, Sim Siang Choon, but ultimately decided to try the smaller bathroom fixture stores on Geylang. After doing a price comparison with HomeOne and Universal Union, we eventually bought our fixtures from Heritage Bathroom Gallery (we were served by a lady called Irene Chong).

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As the sink and WC were provided by HIP, we just had to supply the rest of the basic fixtures found in a bathroom. Here is a breakdown of the unit prices for which we got our basic fixtures (after comparing at least 6 different shops):

  • Mirror Cabinet with Internal Shelving – $118 (we chose one that was big enough to hold an entire Listerine Bottle)
  • Instant Heater with Rain Shower, Standard Shower, and DC pump – $249
  • Foldable Towel Rack with additional hooks – $88 (we had seen similar units for over $100 elsewhere)
  • Two way Tap – $33 (we had seen the same unit sold elsewhere in Geylang for $45)
  • Hooks in a row – $42 (we had seen the same unit sold elsewhere in Geylang for $53)
  • Toilet Paper Holder – $28 (we had seen the same unit sold elsewhere in Geylang for $39)
  • Bidet Sprayer – $39

Other things we got separately from Ikea:

  • Glass shelf – $12.90 (We didn’t fancy any of the designs we saw in the bathroom shops – too fancy! – and we wanted something even simpler. We also weren’t sure if this was absolutely necessary, so we got a cheap backup one with an extremely simple design in case we changed our minds about not having a simple glass shelf)
  • Toilet Brush – $9.90 (Don’t really need a fancy branded toilet brush considering that its something we’ll use and replace over time!!!)

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HIP usually finishes within 10 days and the owner just has to be present on the 1st day, 9th day (when the fixtures go up), and last day (where the entire construction team will come up to take a congratulatory picture with you upon the completion of your brand new TOILETS.


In Part 2 of this post I will continue with how we figured out a budget, design layout, and the all important task of appointing a main renovation contractor!

The Last Meal: Hawker dishes in the future (The Substation, 29-30 March 2019)

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The documentation of this project, “The Last Meal”, comes a bit late – although perhaps a little fittingly because a number of food-related ailments seemingly kept me from being able to work at my maximum potential.

Earlier this year, I was fortuitously brought together with Chef Ming (of JAM at Siri House) – by The Substation – and thus began a collaboration to reinterpret local/hawker fare into a kind of anxiety-provoking menu. A disturbingly uncanny trip up and down and around memory lane! A speculative vision of our human weakness fondness for nostalgia meets hard future utilitarian compromises! An experimental work for the palate! It was truly an pleasure and honour to be able to work with Chef Ming who took it on with so much energy and so many ideas to take it further, especially the start of the project coinciding with a period of severe fatigue for me.

I had recently sought treatment (CBT/Exposure Therapy) for what has been a lifelong affliction of emetophobia (a completely debilitating fear of vomiting) and an unreasonable aversion to acidic or vinegary foods (a difficult thing to explain at times, because it can sound absurd to preemptively tell everyone “NO VINEGAR PLZ” in the off-chance that any unknown dish might have vinegar). And I had also seen an endocrinologist to ask if there was anything to explain my ridiculously tiny appetite and aversion to cold temperatures – and was subsequently diagnosed with hypothyroidism (so said all the tests, despite me being an extremely hyper person). And finally, the biggest factor of all that had triggered this intense self-examination was: pregnancy! SHOCK! HORROR! Yes folks, the Ding and South are unexpectedly multiplying (stay tuned for a documentation of this new long-term project), and this meant that for a period of time during the first trimester I developed an strong aversion to my favourite food of all – eggs! This was very hard to live down indeed, compounding all of my food anxieties despite my attempts to deal with them head-on like an adult by following up with all these medical investigations. So all of this was in the background as we began discussions for this food project….

The starting point for our conversation had been one of my past projects from a Healthcare Workshop with the Kyoto Institute of Design x Royal College of Art, whilst I was doing my MA at Design Interactions (RCA). In a way, that workshop’s premise was already a bit like smashing two worlds together: you had that base of a historically practical and functional Japanese approach to researching and designing for elderly care (I remember our Japanese collaborator bringing to us these booklets of amazing innovative mobility aids and novel healthcare aids designed to assist in every aspect of elderly care) – meeting the provocative, parallel realities of a speculative future (as students from our Design Interactions programme used to call it, ahem, a more “DI” approach).

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Kyoto 2014: Kyoto D-lab held a Healthcare Futures Workshop centering on robotics in collaboration with the Design Interactions Course at the Royal College of Art – led by Professor Anthony Dunne and James Auger and D-lab’s Professor Julia Cassim.


Me, Calum Bowden, and Hiroko Narasaki worked on a project imagining a scenario where a robot was to prepare your “last meal”, having collected a lifetime of data of your food preferences, being able to robotically prepare the food you wanted in a texture that you could consume despite all your age-related changes in chewing and swallowing physiology. We discussed the ways in which factors such as end-of-life, food preferences, and necessary food modifications could be determined, and surveyed Japanese people on a list of foods they liked most. (Obvs this was also borne from our common interests in eating lots of good food in japan and spending a long time in supermarkets and food halls looking at all the beautiful plastic foods and gorgeous food packagings…)

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At the time we also thought that there might also be the issue where a meal is the sum of many parts and that people develop habits for eating certain foods together with others. But when we collect the data about the meal, the essential connections between unusual connections could also be broken – and odd pairings might be made. For example, in this case someone told us they loved foods such as Annin Tofu, Premium Niigata Rice, and Ashirari Decorations (to liven up the plating of her food). But in reality, no Japanese person would logically make a menu of Annin Tofu (Almond Jelly) together with Rice.

This was the starting point of the conversations we had to develop The Last Meal in Singapore, and to engage with a wider set of concerns facing the food industry in the near future (and specific to Singapore). Rather than to capture nostalgia in a perfectly rendered dish, the idea was to invoke the sense of the uncanny through subtle means. A twist of presentation, an unfamiliar texture, a physical constraint. The amount of alienation had to be right, and it was good that Ming kept us all on track by focusing on elements that would be universally recognisable by all Singaporeans.

One thing that was clear was that when we imagined someone eating these foods in a near-future post-apocalyptic bunker, the person in the bunker was very specifically us. A Singaporean, here in the present. It wasn’t a baby from the future who hadn’t had the chance to gain the lived experience of enjoying hawker food in the form that we eat right now. It wasn’t someone from a foreign country being introduced to Singaporean hawker cuisine for the first time. It wasn’t about exoticising or fetishising our nostalgia for hawker cuisine and ‘heritage foods’. It was instead about transporting a Singaporean living in the present into a distant, uncertain food future where perhaps food security was an issue; where automation and efficiency was top priority to the extent of influencing hawker practices, where alternative proteins had become widely accepted in an era of land scarcity; where steady state foods would be commonplace backups; where a rapidly aging population would seek out enzyme softened versions of favourite foods to recapture the tastes of olde…

DONT BE SAD, HAVE YOUR LAST MEAL WITH US! Tickets selling fast. Join us on 29 & 30 March for an interactive art experience with a four-course dystopian take on local hawker fare, designed specially by chef Ming Tan (@maehng), in collaboration with visual artist and technologist Debbie Ding. SAD: The Last Meal addresses Singapore's obsession with nostalgia, by looking at the alleged death of the Singaporean hawker, and the anxiety around losing a facet of heritage that this country holds so dear—our local food culture. Our 7pm slots are nearly sold out, grab your tickets for the 9pm slot at sadthelastmeal.peatix.com. Tickets are $35 per person. #thevanishing #citieschangepeopledie #subafterdark #hawkerculture #sgfood #singapore #nostalgicsg #heritagesg #nolstagicpanic

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Somehow this also needed to be rooted in reality, so we planned to shoot a series of audiovisual stimulation aids to excite (or confuse) the senses and stimulate (or deflate) the appetite. With the help of Cain and the sub team, we shot Ming in his kitchen at Siri House cooking up the originals of the dishes that were about to be reinterpreted (or as Ming likes to say, that we were about to try to knock off the pedestal…)

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Although we had recorded sound on site in the kitchen, the original sound was not usable – it held the sound of a living kitchen with food being prepared and a restaurant during service. If I had used that original sound, it would feel like you were a disembodied spectator looking into some other space when you listened to the video like that. But I wanted the cooking to sound like it was actually happening right front in front of you. LIVE SOUNDS in whatever space you were in. So the sound had to be totally manufactured from scratch….

I suppose sound design for a video to be played back in an open space is always like putting on overly-dramatic stage makeup so that the details can also be seen under harsh stage lights and from a distance. So I did make some of the sounds very extreme and almost comedic. For example, for a bouncing fish cake, I decided to use some exaggerated bouncing balloon sounds that surprisingly seemed to work. And I cut up a lot of juicy leaves (actually they were leftover strawberry tops and stems) and swished about a lot of polymorph beads and mic-ed everything up painfully closely to get the most goosebump inducing foley sound.

I was inspired by the foley sound I had heard on the documentary Fruit Hunters and a show about Chaoshan cuisine that has been on Netflix recently, Flavourful Origins. And I guess you could say I made it all in the spirit of ASMR videos.

These were to be screened in front of the audience as they ate the new reinterpretations of dishes… I am a little shy about showing the final mix in isolation online because it truly was a bit over-the-top (I also have to confess that I did some of the final edits in the controlled access machine room with two operational laser cutters and their giant extractor fans whirring noisily in the background so my working conditions were also less than ideal) but I might make a trailer mix when I have more time over the weekend.

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Some pictures behind the scenes…

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Chef Ming peeks through the curtain to see what guests we have for the night

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Chicken Rice in Kueh Form

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Chef Ron doles out the secret sauce (cucumber)

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Retextured Carrot Cake, first lovingly batch-cooked in a wok with two different varieties of chai por, then brutally blended so to allow it to be hygienically and efficiently reheated in retort pouches; all to be squeezed directly (or sucked up) into the mouths of the audiences.

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Laksa in a dried form, vacuum packed for longevity and easy long term storage.

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A special Laksa rempah coating the puffed rice, ready to be rehydrated at a moment’s notice to produce a seriously authentic tasting laksa soup.

Now that I am writing out this post I realised I forgot to take a picture of dessert – the tau huay!


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All of the production of this food was entirely undertaken by the amazing Chef Ming (and his assistant Chef Ron), who are both extremely knowledgeable and superbly skilled and inventive with the food they prepare. The actual realisation of this project completely wouldn’t have been possible without Ming’s professional and gastronomical expertise and his willingness to do something quite so daring with the food. For most chefs would rather make a pleasing menu, rather than one that draws gasps of shock from an audience; a menu that manages to bring the audience to relook their food with a critical eye. I am not qualified to cook the food and serve it to a public audience for I have not the required basic food hygiene training accreditation to do so, nor do I know the intricacies of how to organise or run a service! My role in collaboration felt much smaller; because ALL the props has to go to Ming’s efforts and hard work to make this experience a reality! I only provided the idea and brain fodder for the project, but all of the amazing food (and food innovation work!) was the Chef’s work! It was really my honour to be able to work with Ming.

Countless thanks must also go to The Substation: Annabelle and Si Min for facilitating the entire process and helping to take care of all of the small details, as well as all of the Substation staff (and interns Ariel and Celine) for all their help. Without the help of so many people this wouldn’t have been possible!

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Addendum:

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Some highly observant audience members asked me on the night why there wasn’t ice kachang and nasi lemak on the menu. I was puzzled about the specificity of this question until I realised that they were referring to the image they had seen on the promotional material drawn by the designer, which ended up being printed in an unexpectedly huge size and mounted on the wall on the night of the event. Well, the answer is that at an earlier stage the shortlisted dishes originally included ice kachang and chicken rice so that was drawn into the flyer. However, the chicken rice was in a pyramid shape that could have been easily interpreted as the pyramid of a nasi lemak as well. Well spotted y’all.

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In case you were wondering yes to the credit of the designer the portraits did have a rather uncanny likeness…

In the Press…

Plural Mag – The Hunger Games
The Peak Magazine – SAD: The Last Meal art exhibition serves up dystopian versions of beloved hawker dishes
SG Magazine – This is how local chef Ming Tan interprets dystopian hawker cuisine
CNA Lifestyle – Kitchen Stories: Fighting insecurity and emotions to prove himself to older chefs

The Art Space as Signal Processor: Sub-monument, a digital woodcut (Lasalle Praxis Gallery, 5 April 2019 – 5 May 2019)

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“Sub-monument visualises the art space as a signal processor which removes or amplifies specific features of the received signal to generate various artistic manifestations. For the art space to keep on running, this absurdist hardware requires a physical building and constant upkeep from its devoted programmers – the hybrid artist-programmers who translate and parse source material into shamanic code and thaumaturgical scripts inscribed upon oracle bone – in order to resurrect uncanny cultural apparitions from the years before, invoking an eternal cycle of audience and practitioner sighs.”

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“[Monuments] speak on your behalf, they require your symbolic death.”
– from Janadas Devan’s “Is Art Necessary” (Art Vs. Art: Conflict & Convergence: the Substation Conference, 1993. Singapore: The Substation, 1995)

About a year ago I agreed to work on a show in 2019. THEN A YEAR FLEW BY. AND ALL OF A SUDDEN THAT TIME HAD COME WITHOUT ME REALISING! So… I had to quickly produce the work during my (fortuitously timed) week off from work. I already knew from the start that I wanted to produce a large woodcut using lasercut because I had access to an awesome lasercutter of considerable size, and I imagined it to be a cross between an architectural drawing, blueprint schematic and alchemical scroll

I wanted to make a mysterious diagram, depicting an arts centre as a kind of haunted machine, or diabolical signal processing hardware; a machine into which all the ideas and intentions of the artists and arts programmers and artistic director trickled into… or maybe not so gently. Maybe the energies of all these artists and programmers and art workers were being uncontrollably sucked up into, brutally chewed up, and then this big machine spat it all out as art, scattering it randomly into the sky, broadcasting it far and wide, without total control on how it rained down or haphazardly drizzled upon the audiences.

What keeps the arts centre runnning? What kept the artists going? Where did they come from? How was it that there were always new generations of artists and programmers returning to feed it and keep it going? Was it simply the insatiable hunger of the arts machine demanding to be fed more fodder? And as time wore on, I want you to imagine the frightful sounds of the wear and tear on the various essential parts of this strange hardware: the groaning from the repetitive motion of gears, and the creaks from all the pressures of delivering this non-stop service, the echoes of lost voices within this highly emotional social space…


One of my favourite books is a very slim volume – Paul Scheerbart’s The Perpetual Motion Machine: A Story of an Invention, wherein he documents two and a half years of his life which he dedicated to his foolhardy attempts to build a perpetual motion machine, complete with 26 illustrations of his prototypes and accounts of his building process, accompanied by countless grandiose digressions into the potential futures he imagined that would follow after he had finally invented a working perpetual motion machine.

His apparent lack of experience/aptitude for physics and most forms of mechanical or practical engineering seemed to be of no deterrent to him, and he approached the challenge of constructing and designing a perpetual motion machine with a kind of fanatical enthusiasm and earnestness that might be read as either sheer genius or complete idiocy. Perhaps what had induced Scheerbart’s literary prolificness (and his endless tinkering) was the fact that then whenever he met with technical difficulties, he would allow himself to mentally leap over all these impediments and go straight to dreaming up fantastical futures with his perpetual motion machine.

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The initial sketch….

Naturally, one may make one’s own conclusions as to which arts centre I am thinking of. It is a very beloved space indeed, yet one that surely many artists in Singapore have conflicting feelings about. This isn’t even the first work I’ve made about it. Does my illustration or mapping of this schematic change anything about how the future will run? I’m afraid not at all. But I am still driven to make something at the end of the day; it unexpectedly surfaces like a recurring motif in a dream.

Production Process

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On the practical front, Artfriend sells 35 x 24 in. MDF (approx 910mm x 600mm) which is suitable for the GLS Spirit Laserpro which I had access to. The Spirit has a normal cutting bed of 34 x 24 in. (860 x 610 mm) which can also be extended to 38 x 24 in. (960 x 610 mm). [In the print settings you may need to tick the option “Extend” to get the larger size]

Issues encountered when Laser-cutting large works:

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Note the blurry finishing – a sign that it is out of focus!
If the line is not perfectly crisp, you should pause and relevel the machine!
Some of the lines above were cut twice hence the severe burn as well…

1. Bed or material is not perfectly flat: I do find that with such a large cutting bed there is a tendency for some warp-age which means that you have to level it several times to get an “average” level otherwise either the edges or the centre will be out of focus. Pat material down totally flat and make sure there are no stray bits of nobbly fragments pushing any corners of the wood up. If there is a focus problem, the “burn” will be more diffuse, you’ll produce a smoky line instead of a sharp cut.

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2. Material may not be uniformly thick. The first few pieces I cut were perfect but then I noticed that one of the pieces of wood was a different colour, probably from a different batch, with slight variance. And unfortunately, not all wood is the same. Measure it with callipers or just do it the simple way: lay all out the material side by side on a flat table and compare to see which one is slightly thicker. In my case I found that the offending sheet that gave me trouble was more like 3.2mm than 3mm!!!!). For me, I’d say the quick fix is to cut it with a thicker wood setting (eg: 5mm). If you try to cut over an already cut piece of wood, you’ll cause a lot of burning and charcoal on the finishing as the cut edges burn for a second time.

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I had to switch the cutting profile from 3mm plywood to 5mm plywood in order for it to successfully cut on the first pass.

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This is what it looks like on the back of that experiment – and what it looks like when it hasn’t cut fully through.

3. Excessive Burning on out of focus areas: If your first cut didn’t work because it was out of focus, it may have seemed logical to put it thru a second pass. However, the cut becomes more and more sooty and dirty, as if more of the edge has burnt off! However, reassuringly, I found that you can still sand off the burns entirely if you still wish – it hasn’t all turned to charcoal!

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Assembly and hanging in progress…


 

Bachelorette machines

Artists: Debbie Ding, Goh Abigail, Vanessa Lim Shu Yi, Victoria Tan
Curator: Caterina Riva

Bachelorette machines brings together works by four Singaporean artists: Debbie Ding, Vanessa Lim Shu Yi, and LASALLE BA(Hons) Fine Arts alumni Goh Abigail and Victoria Tan. Inspired by the artistic concept of the bachelor machine, the exhibition highlights the ideas and physical labour of these artists’ works.

In 1913, avant-garde artist Marcel Duchamp made a reference to the bachelor machine as a jumble of mechanical implements and schematic diagrams. In the exhibition, the bachelor of this art-historical definition becomes the ‘bachelorette’, echoing the song written and released by Björk in 1997.

In the exhibition, the machine conveys the historical and imagined engineering tools which have inspired these four artists. Spanning Praxis Space and Project Space, the exhibition includes sketches and installations, offering different entry points into the artists’ working processes.

Goh Abigail explores sound through a series of automated sculptures and drawings. Made of ordinary materials and objects, Vanessa Lim Shu Yi’s system of perpetual motion is designed to stimulate the human senses and muscles. In a new series of screenprints, Victoria Tan captures the changing landscapes of temporary sites in Singapore. Debbie Ding presents a prototype of an arts space as a processor, which filters analogue signals in order to generate various artistic outputs.

Opens on 4th April 2019!

Date & Time:
Opening date: Thu 4 Apr 2019, 6:30pm-8:30pm
Exhibition period: Fri 5 Apr – Sun 5 May 2019
Opening hours: 12:00pm – 7:00pm, Tue to Sun (Closed on Mon and public holidays)

Location:
Praxis Space and Project Space
Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore
LASALLE, 1 McNally Street