Happy Halloween!

TODAY’S THE DAY to get all dressed up and be who you want to be; throw an egg at that someone you’ve waited all year to do so and still get away with it (because you’re in disguise); go trick-or-treating and enjoy all the candies without any guilt.

Nah, we are not into ringing doorbells and begging for candies, nor roam the streets and terrorise people. We (hubby and I, and a friend Dr Fauziah) did check out the streets of Georgetown, Washington DC back in 1998 on Halloween night. It was really out of curiosity as Georgetown is known to be a hotspot for Halloween revellers, and we lived nearby. It was also a Saturday night, we had nothing better to do and were hoping to get some cheap thrills! We didn’t bother returning the following year.

While we are not into skeletons and ghouls, we just love taking pictures of/with pumpkins, the lovable orange icons of the celebration. Over the years we have seen a galore of them – small and large.

Pumpkins pumpkins everywhere… (L-R) In an Amish village (1999), Pennsylvania, US; My little “pumpkin” in the US (2000); The same “pumpkin” all grown, in Moscow (2006).

Em's first Halloween experience in HK's Ocean Park (26 October 2009).

Em’s first Halloween experience in HK’s Ocean Park (26 October 2009).

 Our Halloween outings to Ocean Park, Hong Kong, over two years.

 VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

  Neither sombre nor spooky about the skeleton in the coffin, the kids had a good laugh.

Neither sombre nor spooky about the skeleton in the coffin, the kids had a good laugh.

More Halloween props.

More Halloween props.

Move over Hermoine, I CAN FLY too... on the green screen.

Move over Hermoine, I CAN FLY too… on the green screen.

Left: My kids love this adorable litte Dracula; Right: Nah, wouldn't want to get into one of those before my time.

(L) The girls love this adorable litte Dracula; (R) Nah, wouldn’t want to get into one of those before my time.

More pumpkins... (L) Too big to hug; (R) Wonder if it'll grow any bigger!

More pumpkins… (L) Too big to hug; (R) Wonder if it’ll grow any bigger!

The biggest pumpkins I’ve seen so far were in China, and they were real ones. These pictures were taken during my trips to Interlaken OCT in Shenzen and Nanning, China.

Left: These were labelled “Giant Space Pumpkins” found at the Interlaken OCT Resort, Shenzen. Its description says that “the seeds were carried into the outer space by a spacecraft and brought back to Earth after being affected by the synthesis rays in the universe. Researchers planted the seeds after 3 months taking the advantage of greenhouse effect, resulting in these giant pumpkins that weigh 150 kgs. At the peak of its growing period, the pumpkins could grow as much as 5 kgs per day! Right: These gigantic vegetables are being grown at the Guangxi Modern Agriculture Science & Technology Demonstration Zone in Nanning, the capital of southwest China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Left: These were labelled “Giant Space Pumpkins” found at the Interlaken OCT Resort, Shenzen. Its description says that “the seeds were carried into the outer space by a spacecraft and brought back to Earth after being affected by the synthesis rays in the universe. Researchers planted the seeds after 3 months taking the advantage of greenhouse effect, resulting in these giant pumpkins that weigh 150 kgs. At the peak of its growing period, the pumpkins could grow as much as 5 kgs per day! Right: These gigantic vegetables are being grown at the Guangxi Modern Agriculture Science & Technology Demonstration Zone in Nanning, the capital of southwest China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

 

Monumental Momentos

WHEN WE TRAVEL we tend to take pictures of/with monuments and landmarks significant to a place. The significance of the photos grows over time. One look at them, we recall instantly where we were then, and possibly how we felt at that very moment.

Moscow, like Washington DC where we stayed before, is also a city of monuments. We took pictures with a few of them, but nowhere near the 824 architectural monuments the city reportedly has. (Source: “where’s Book of Moscow Records, where Moscow magazine, May 2006)

St. Basil’s Cathedral on the Red Square has to be the most recognisable landmark of Moscow. No one can claim to have gone to Moscow until she’s taken a picture with it.

“… Its architecture is governed by precise symmetry and a most complicated engineering calculation. Its eight tower-churches are evenly grouped around a ninth, doing justice to the Russian word for cathedral – sobor, which also means a “gathering”… Popular legend has it that after the completion of the cathedral, Ivan the Terrible summoned the architect and asked him whether he could build a church still more beautiful. Upon hearing the answer “Yes, I can”, the monarch ordered the master blinded, saying: “I won’t have anything more beautiful appear anywhere else.” (Source: “Miracle of Miracles”, where Moscow magazine, October 2006)

Located next to St. Basil’s Cathedral is the first monument ever erected in Moscow – the monument to Minin and Pozharsky, though not many bothered with its name. I have always assumed it was a part of St. Basil’s Cathedral since my first visit there in 1993, till I read the September 2006 issue of where Moscow magazine, during my stay in the Russian capital.

“The first monument erected in Moscow was in 1818 – that of merchant Kuzma Minin and Prince Dmitry Pozharsky, who in 1612 led the struggle of Russians against Polish invaders – by sculptor Ivan Martos… The monument was initially placed in the middle of Red Square but in 1930, Stalin’s government decided that it got in the way of military parades and had it moved to where it stands today, near St. Basil’s Cathedral.” (Source: “Beauties and Beasts”, where Moscow magazine, September 2006).

The September 2006 issue of where Moscow magazine also named the monument to Peter the Great as the ugliest.

“The brainchild of the most prolific contemporary sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, who has created many other monuments in the city, the monument to Peter the Great is one of his most conspicuous creations, nearly as large as the Bell Tower of Ivan the Great. Malicious rumours have it that the monument was to depict Christopher Columbus and meant as a gift to the United States for the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America but the Americans would not accept such a gift, and Tseretli, in a stroke of genius replaced the head of Columbus with that of Peter I and presented the statue to the city of Moscow. By order of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, an old-time friend of Tseretli, the monument was placed on a spit of land on the Moskva River in the city center, just a stone’s throw away from the Kremlin.  Many art critics and city residents resent the monument which distorts the entire cityscape, including the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, but some foreign tourists have taken a fancy to the bronze monster…” (Source: “Beauties and Beasts”, where Moscow magazine, September 2006).

I suppose I am one of those “foreign tourists”! I certainly don’t think it’s ugly. I thought it’s pretty majestic and it was such a welcome sight every time I looked out of my 17th floor apartment.

  A zoomed-in view of Moscow scenery as seen from my apartment.

It is formally known as the “Monument in Commemoration of the 300th Anniversary of the Russian Fleet” and was launched in 1997 during the celebration of the 850th anniversary of Moscow. Wikipedia wrote that the 98-meter high statue is the 8th tallest statue in the world.

Great moments with Peter the Great over the years. Even hubby couldn’t resist another go at the monument when he re-visited Moscow early this year (right pix).

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and Peter the Great share a frame, one taken in summer of 2006 (left) and the other in the winter of 2011 (right) when Moscow River was partly frozen.

The magazine also named the monument to Yuri Gagarin as the most elevated.

“Defying the law of gravitation, a titanium cosmonaut soars into the sky, celebrating the dream of a spaceflight that has come true. The monument of Yuri Gagarin, the person who made the first manned space flight on April 12, 1961, was created by Pavel Bondarenko as an ode to the audacious accomplishment of the impossible.” (Source: “Beauties and Beasts”, where Moscow magazine, September 2006).

The 40-meter monument was erected in 1980 on Leninsky Prospekt, Moscow’s longest street. We used to live off Leninsky Prospekt and drove by it often enough. It was only in our final month there that we made the effort to take pictures of it.

On the other end of Leninsky Prospekt is another towering monument of the man the street was named after, Lenin. His bronze statue stands on Oktyabrskaya ploshchad (October Square) which is also a metro stop.

Michelle first took up piano in Moscow, so I thought we couldn’t leave Moscow without taking a picture with Pyotr Tchaikovsky, one of the greatest Russian composers who wrote the ballet scores for Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky’s 4-meter regal bronze statue sits by the Moscow Conservatory – his legs crossed, left arm extended and right arm resting on a music stand.

Like Washington DC, Moscow has its own Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Eternal Flame.

“In December 1966, when the Soviet Union marked 25th anniversary of the Nazi defeat at Moscow, the remains of an unknown soldier killed in the Battle of Moscow in December 1941 were buried in the Alexander Gardens near the Kremlin wall…  The monument on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was inaugurated on May 8, 1967. This imposing architectural ensemble is a broad platform with a gravestone inscribed with the words: “Your name is unknown, your heroic deed is immortal”. The eternal flame of glory was brought from the Field of Mars memorial cemetery in St. Petersburg. The flame bursts from a bronze light fixture in the form of a five-pointed star. The tombstone displays a bronze composition of a banner, soldier’s helmet and laurel branch, three symbols of grief and glory.” (Source: “Monuments to Courage”, where Moscow magazine, May 2005)

Presidents, Prime Ministers and high-ranking officials have laid wreaths at the Eternal Flame on many occasions…

… while layman like us watch from behind the lines the soldiers goose-stepping to precision during the Changing of the Guards. 

The July 2006 issue of where Moscow magazine voted the People’s Friendship Fountain at the All-Russia Exhibition Center (VVTs) as the most grandiose. 

“The People’s Friendship with 16 gilt sculptures of young women, each symbolising one of the then 16 soviet republics, was acquired in the 1950s – during the Stalin era that demanded grandeur in everything – and placed in the Exhibition of National Economic Achievements (re-named All-Russia Exhibition Center) that was established in 1937 to showcase the advantages of socialism.” (Source: “Sparkling Miracle”, where Moscow magazine, July 2006)

We visited the VVTs two summers in a row. Colourful flowerbeds abound and there were many on-going exhibitions to keep one interested, numerous amusements and huge open space for the kids to run about.

The same issue voted the “Abduction of Europa” on Europe Square as the most international.

“The Europe Square was created in 2002 near Kievsky Railroad Station, with European flags and a fountain with an abstract sculptural composition called the “Abduction of Europa”. It is the work of Belgian sculptor Olivier Strebelle.” (Source: “Sparkling Miracle”, where Moscow magazine, July 2006)

Europe Square is fondly remembered as the first place daughter and I checked out when we first arrived in Moscow that cold April. It was within walking distance from the Radisson SAS Slavyanskaya Hotel where we stayed. We returned on a lovely summer day to take the above photos.

We always take for granted that monuments and landmarks would always be there but look what happened to New York’s Twin Towers! So keep shooting, photos, I mean 🙂

Celebrating Carolin

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CAROLIN! My, my, she has grown into a pretty young lady.

We met Carolin when she was barely a year old. We were next-door neighbours briefly in Moscow when we were staying in a service apartment B103 (while awaiting the refurbishment of our own apartment) and Carolin and her family moved into B104 one November.

Just as Kathrin and I became fast friends, so did our girls. We spent a lot of time together, indoors and outdoors.

Thanks to Kathrin who speaks Russian, she introduced us to little nooks and corners of Moscow that we otherwise wouldn’t have ventured on our own.

(L to R) Toured the Kuskovo Estate; admired Russian art at the Central House of Artists; watched a performance at The Manezh; got up close to a beluga whale at the Dolphinarium.

It was cold and there were lots of ducks to feed, Carolin did the job while Michelle lazed around, Michelle compensated later by playing Carolin some simple tunes.

Come rain or shine, the girls loved hanging out together…

Carolin and Michelle became friends of all seasons…

A friendship that survived the Year of the Pig into the Year of the Rat…

Our final moments together, it’s hard to say goodbye…

Till we meet again, dasvedanya, maya daraga 🙂

Michelle’s Imaginary Playmates

MY ARTICLE published in The Star, on this date, nine years ago.

The Star, 23 October 2003

“MUMMY, meet my friend, Mee Ho.” My 32-month old daughter Michelle, said to me one day in March. I was pleased my daughter has learnt the courtesy of introducing me to her friends.

I looked around. There was no one but the two of us in our living room.

“Hello, Mee Ho.” I extended my hand, unsure where to extend it to.

“He’s here,” she offered, pointing to her left.

“Hello, Mee Ho, nice to meet you,” I played along. “How old is Mee Ho?” I wondered aloud.

“Five,” my daughter said while animatedly sticking out her palm.

“Why is he here?” I was curious.

“To play,” came her short reply.

“Where is his mummy?” I probed.

“At work,” another curt reply.

“Where does Mee Ho stay?” I asked.

“Cyberjaya,” she replied.

Meet Mee Ho, Michelle’s invisible friend. He is here to stay. At least he has been a permanent feature in our home since then. Mee Ho follows my daughter around, plays with her, goes home occasionally but always returns, bows to her and doesn’t retaliate when she scolds him.

Overall, Mee Ho has been a dream buddy. Michelle reciprocates by treating him to her meals, telling him stories, sharing her toys and even inviting him along when we go out, making sure he has a spot at the back of the car.

Experts say that more than half of the children between the ages of two-and-a-half and six create imaginary friends. It is a normal phase in a child’s development.

Parenting website BabyCenter.com says a toddler with imaginary friends is not only normal but also very creative. Another website Keepkidshealthy.com highlights that “it is more common in first born or only children, especially if they have a creative imagination. An imaginary friend can help provide companionship, allow her to be in charge of and control someone, and allow her to experience many of the good and bad things that she dreams about.” Similarly, Gale Encyclopedia of Childhood and Adolescence offers that “the imaginary playmate relationship nurtures the child’s imaginary and can provide practice of social skills”.

So I wasn’t worried when Michelle brought five more “friends” home in May. My friend from Singapore had sent her a VCD of Australian teenage pop group Hi-5. By her third birthday in July, Kathleen, Kellie, Charlie, Tim and Nathan had become her new friends. She watches them on Astro daily and occasionally on the VCD. When the TV is turned off, she continues to sing and dance with them.

A quick check amongst my friends here revealed that none of their children have imaginary friends, except one who resides in the United States. A mother of two, Huei Ling has this to offer about her first-born, a three-year old girl.

“Zoie’s really shy and reserved. When she is with other kids, she is really quiet and does not talk much. But once she gets home, Tiny and Bigger become her friends. Tiny is her best friend. Sometimes I have five Tinys in the house. I had to feed yoghurt to six kids!”

Signs of loneliness, you think? Highly possible in Michelle’s case. She is an only child. But I take comfort that she is able to deal with her “loneliness” quite creatively, for our living room is turned into a make-believe world daily. It could be a palace one day, a supermarket the next, or a kitchen, a forest, a stage, etc. and her friends are always around, sometimes one, sometimes all.

Of the six, Mee Ho is still the favourite. I often wonder how Mee Ho came into being. My daughter hasn’t gone to school yet, so she couldn’t possible know of any Mee Ho from school. Neither is there any child in the neighbourhood named as such. It doesn’t sound anywhere close to the names of her eight cousins, whom she often plays with. Once I asked how Mee Ho looked like, I was secretly afraid what her answer would be. My fear was laid to rest when her brief description revealed a “regular boy”.

As to where she derived Cyberjaya from, I could only deduce that that weekend in March, we took her for a meal there and the place must have stuck in her mind.

A parenting expert was once quoted on BBC’s homepage that having imaginary friends do not pose long-term harm but cautions that it is “terribly useful to have someone to blame when things go wrong!”

Huei Ling is quick to agree that Zoie’s friends Tiny and Bigger are “nothing but partners in crime”. She says, “If Zoie decides that she wants to test us or she knows that she had done something wrong… oh no, Zoie didn’t do it, Tiny or Bigger did.”

Thankfully Michelle hasn’t reached the stage of blaming her friends for any of her misdeed, like spilled water, torn pages of a book or broken toys. Far from that, her imaginary friends have been a source of inspiration. She says she’d like to be able to dance and sing like them. She creates stories with them in it. She builds things with her friends in mind.

Just as my daughter finds a good friend especially in Mee Ho, I quickly made him a convenient parenting “tool”. When Michelle refuses to drink up her milk, I’d tell her Mee Ho wouldn’t waste good food. When she gets upset writing the alphabets, I’d tell her Mee Ho wouldn’t throw a tantrum over that. When she refuses to go to sleep, I’d tell her that Mee Ho has long gone to bed. Neither of us needs psychiatric treatment. I’m fully aware of what I am doing and so does she. “Pretend only,” she occasionally tells the both of us.

Someone shared on an internet open forum that “it is my understanding that an imaginary friend is a sign of being gifted.”

Well, I don’t know about the gifted bit. Michelle hasn’t painted any Sunflower or read the Harry Potter series. No sign of her taking after Shirley Temple’s footsteps either.

For now, I am just glad she has someone to play with, while I get some of my chores done, uninterrupted. Though not always.

On numerous occasions, Mee Ho proved to be a nuisance. I wasn’t allowed to turn off the TV even after her favourite show ended because “Mee Ho is still watching”. Once I was ironing and my daughter insisted that I played with them. With a heap of shirts and a scouring 120 degrees heat, I was in no mood to entertain my daughter, what more an invisible kid. What I had was a burning desire to exterminate him.

However, I know it’s a matter of time before Mee Ho goes away on his own accord. Michelle will outgrow her imaginary friends, as she did her spring cot and Barney (though up till eight months ago, I was convinced whoever marries her would have to embrace Barney as well).

I also know that when Mee Ho leaves, I will surely miss him.

Postscript:

1)  Michelle indeed outgrew Mee Ho, she left him behind when we packed and left for Moscow… Mee Ho wouldn’t like the cold there anyway.

2)  Michelle has since found a REAL playmate in her little sister.

3)  Today, Michelle appears a “regular gal” – her creativity still intact, a little reserved but otherwise “regular” with interests in school, books, Taylor Swift and guitar-playing. She has since read three Harry Potter titles.

4)  I still think of Mee Ho, occassionally 🙂

Hubby’s Travels 2011

LAST YEAR HE travelled abroad just as much. Sounds exciting to have been to so many places/countries 🙂 but more often than not, time was spent cooped up indoors attending meetings, the other half of the time flying across continents or on transits at airports 😦 Often, the travelling time took more than the meeting itself, and on one of his trips, he had to transit 3 times before reaching his destination.

March 2011, Washington DC, USA… his first trip of the year, once again back to a place we called “home” before. Again, he met up with former colleagues, and found time to walk down the path of our old apartment building in Arlington, Virginia (right pix).  

April 2011, Budapest, Hungary… where we last did an overnight trip there in August 2007.

May 2011, Montana USA… where there’s snow at this time of the year!

June 2011, Budapest, Hungary… again 🙂

August 2011, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

September 2011, San Francisco, USA.

October 2011, Dubai, United Arab Emirates… (bottom right) photo taken from the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa; (bottom left) with THE man himself who was a member of the pioneer management team. 

November 2011, Bangalore, India.