The Classy Glassy Club

Classy Glassy Club

Founding members of the Classy Glassy Club

TWENTY TWO YEARS ago on this date, a few college mates got together to celebrate Christmas and exchanged gifts of glasses and mugs. And the Classy Glassy Club was born, specifically in Room D317.

We were from different faculties (except three who did the same course) and different batches, but we had one thing in common – we lived in Block D. We also enjoyed each other’s company tremendously.

PHT_AZL-R: Not so classy after all when we turned into witches; “sneaking” into the guys’ block (okay, only because it was Pesta Hari Terbuka); but on most days, we were the demure D3 girls 🙂

CelebrateL-R: The gang celebrating new year’s eve in my room, toasting to a new year while Cindy’s player was playing New Kids On The Block’s “Happy Birthday”; celebrating our graduation two years on.

Alas, the club had since disbanded, or should I say, broken up 😦

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Up in the Air in Ocean Park

ON OUR THIRD trip to Ocean Park on this date three years ago, Michelle and I finally got a ride on the helium balloon – that one and only balloon that goes up among other stagnant ones, the one with the picture of the park’s mascot on it that was visible and beckoned from afar.

It helped that we went on a weekday and a chilly one at that. For once the queue to the balloon ride on the SkyFair grounds was shorter than the 30-minute mark, so we headed straight into the queue. There was a weight limit per ride, thus everyone in the queue was weighed to determine the number of people that could go up for each ride.

After the ride, we checked out Ocean Park’s Christmas decorations and attractions, and managed to catch its Christmas tree light-up and Christmas carols performance before heading home.

Left: Our mission on this trip was to get onto that SkyFair’s balloon; Right: Before going up, we had to park our belongings in the baskets provided, so as not to add to the weight on the ride.

Left: Our mission on this trip was to get onto that SkyFair’s balloon; Right: Before going up, we had to park our belongings in the baskets provided, so as not to add to the weight on the ride.

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Finally made it up to the air; looking down at the roof of the Giant Panda Habitat, and the stage area where the Christmas carols performance was scheduled at night.

From the balloon ride, looking at the massive expansion works in progress.

From the balloon ride, looking at the massive expansion works in progress.

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Christmas decorations abound, including Santa’s sleigh full of gifts and giant stockings.

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(L-R) Looking angelic next to an angel; looking delicious on a candy cane; having a meal at Panda Café.

L-R: The picture shows Santa’s room with a desk with letters on it and cleverly done to appear 3-D; a snowman greets visitors.

L-R: The picture shows Santa’s room with a desk with letters on it and cleverly done to appear 3-D; a snowman greets visitors.

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Got “lost” in one of the rooms, and ended up in the picture frame!

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A well-spent day… AND night, just the two of us.

It was a good thing we got to experience that ride (ok, I admit it was nothing spectacular), for I read recently that the balloon ride was discontinued due to an incident on 28 June this year in which six people were injured when the balloon deflated.

A Walk in the White House

ON THIS DATE 14 years ago, I was in the White House.

Well, I was one of the “tens of thousands of visitors” who throng the official home of the President of the United States every December when the White House opens its doors to the public to view its Christmas decorations.

Fortunately for me, that day was particularly designated for members of the diplomatic community so we could enjoy the walk through the grand house and even take photographs (photography is otherwise prohibited).

The White House holiday festivities carry a theme each year. In 1998, it was “Winter Wonderland”. This was the message from President Clinton and Mrs Clinton on the program booklet.

“Dear Friends, 

It gives us great pleasure to welcome you to the White House. 

This is the sixth year we have had the honour of spending the holidays in the White House. Each year, we marvel at the beauty of winter in our Nation’s capital – the magic of the White House at his special time fills us with wonder. 

This year, we wanted to transform the White House into a Winter Wonderland. We have so many fond memories of our childhood winters. Through the eyes of children we relive the pleasure of playing in the first snowfall, the silver glint of skate blades on a frozen pond, breathless sled rides down a glistening slope and lopsided snowmen with carrots for noses, destined to melt in the morning sun. No matter what your age, nothing is more beautiful than the stillness of a starry winter evening – especially on Christmas Eve – when snow blankets the street and the world is calm and bright. 

To capture these wonderful images of winter, we invited artists from across the country to craft ornaments in the spirit of the season – from miniature snowmen, to tiny skis, skates and toboggans, to colourful mittens and hats. 

As you wonder through this Winter Wonderland, we hope you will relive your own precious memories of the holidays. May you and your loved ones have a happy, healthy New Year, and may the joy of the season always be with you. 

Signed, Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton” 

Left: A choir – “one of the musical groups from across the country who have been invited to fill the rooms with their joyous sounds” – greeted visitors; Right: The East Room turned into “an enchanted glittering wonderland where 18 soaring conical trees and a traditional Advent wreath were handmade with gold holly, shimmering white natural branches and assorted pine cones.”

Left: A choir – “one of the musical groups from across the country who have been invited to fill the rooms with their joyous sounds” – greeted visitors; Right: The East Room turned into “an enchanted glittering wonderland where 18 soaring conical trees and a traditional Advent wreath were handmade with gold holly, shimmering white natural branches and assorted pine cones.”

(L) The Red Room; (R) The Green Room which “is used throughout the year for small teas and receptions”.

(L) The Red Room; (R) The Green Room which “is used throughout the year for small teas and receptions”.

Another room where a haunting portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy was hung; the official portrait of the former first lady painted by artist Aaron Shikler;

Another room where a haunting portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy was hung; the official portrait of the former first lady painted by artist Aaron Shikler; a portrait of George Washington, one of the Founder Fathers of the US and the first President, painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1797.

While I went on my own, I bumped into hubby’s colleague and his family.

While I went on my own, I bumped into hubby’s colleague and his family.

L-R: Santa in the House; the official Christmas tree in the Blue Room; the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse just south of the White House.

L-R: Santa in the House; the official Christmas tree in the Blue Room; the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse just south of the White House.

Worth noting is that there is an official White House Christmas tree and it normally stands in the Blue Room. According to the 1998 program booklet, “the eighteen-foot balsam fir was presented to the President and Mrs Clinton by Silent Night Evergreens in Endeavor, Wisconsin… the tree is decorated with interpretations celebrating Winter Wonderland from artists across the nation. Snowmen from all fifty states were made by individuals recommended by the Governor of each state. The warmth of the room is captured with knitted mittens and hats from members of The Knitting Guild of America, and the thrill of winter sports is depicted in colorful wooden ornaments made by artists from the Society of Decorative Painters. The green velvet handmade tree skirt was designed by individuals from each of the fifty states, territories and the District of Columbia in celebration of the Clinton family’s first holiday season at the White House.”

I can’t recall how and why I missed (!) the 1999 event which was themed “Holiday Treasures”.

The theme for 2000 was “Holiday Reflections”. The program booklet carried the Clintons’ final message.

“The majestic beauty of the White House is evident every year, but even more so when it comes to life with the spirit of the holidays. When we pause to reflect on our family’s eight unforgettable years at the White House, our memories turn most fondly to the joyous holiday seasons we have shared. As we prepare to leave this grand house, we thank all who have made the holidays so special, not only for us, but also for the tens of thousands of visitors who come to share in its lively holiday splendor. We especially pay tribute to the countless artists and volunteers who have transformed the White House into a showcase rich with the creative spirit of our great Nation – from the talented craftsmen who fashioned handmade ornaments for the Blue Room tree to the devoted designers and volunteers who have decked the halls of the White House each November. We have enjoyed watching the joy and amazement in the children’s eyes as they wonder through the house every year. It is with great pleasure that we invite you to embark with us on a reflection of holidays past at the White House. 

Signed, William Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton”

The year 2000 was our final year in Washington DC. I pestered hubby to go for the holiday tour, this time taking along our little girl, despite it being a cold rainy day, all so our daughter could one day declare, “Been there done that!”

Alas, she will have little recollections of that visit as she was barely five months old and the only pictures we had of her were taken just outside the White House, all bundled up to keep her warm.

L-R: Leaving the White House after my 1998 solo visit; Two years later, with daughter and hubby; The National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse, sporting different decorations from previous years.

L-R: Leaving the White House after my 1998 solo visit; Two years later, with daughter and hubby; The National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse, sporting different decorations from previous years.

Besides the official Christmas tree in the Blue Room, there’s a National Christmas Tree placed on the Ellipse, a park south of the White House which has its loyal following. Every year, a December date is set aside for the President to officially flick its lights on (reportedly a tradition for nearly eight decades), marking the Pageant of Peace which features musical entertainment from 6-8:30pm nightly for three weeks. The tree-lighting also marks the start of Washington’s holiday season. The 1999 lighting ceremony reportedly attracted 4,000 people.

The 2000 National Christmas Tree was a 40-feet Colorado blue spruce decorated with 125,000 lights (enough to light up more than 500 Christmas trees). It was surrounded by 56 trees representing the 50 states, 5 territories and the District  of Columbia. The tree, described as “the most pampered Christmas tree” had “as many as 1,000 people working on it year-round…much like elves”. (Source: The Washington Post, 10 Dec 2000)

Party in the Park

FATHER FROST AND Snow Maiden descended on our building again on this day in 2006.

A letter came from our building management informing the children about it. It said: “Dear kids, we have received news from the North that Father Frost and Snow Maiden are going to visit on 16 December. They invite you to the performance which will take place in our Park, 12-2pm. You will see the show “Three Little Pigs” and together with heroes of this story, take part in games and competitions.”

The 2006 event was quite a party in the park. Bundled up in our winter clothes, adults and children played along with Father Frost and Snow Maiden as the story of “The Three Little Pigs” was told in Russian. It didn’t really matter that we only understood chut chut, the kids still had mnogo fun, especially when it was time to receive their presents from Father Frost; so long as they know how to say “ya hachu” (I want) and “spasiba” (thank you).

Party06The three little pigs and the big bad wolf in our park in 2006.

PigsL-R: Father Frost relating the story as the children played along; Michelle and Carolin took a picture with the “stars” of the show; we all played our parts too.

Ded Moroz & SnegurochkaMichelle got another photo opportunity with Father Frost and Snow Maiden.

The year before (17 Dec 2005), it was held indoors, with performances including a magic show, a contortionist and a live python! Father Frost and Snow Maiden were dressed in white.

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The year after (15 Dec 2007), the building management organised another party in the park themed “Snow Maiden’s Adventure”. This time Father Frost gave out gifts of rat soft toys.

Party07Loads of entertainment in the park in 2007.  

RatsGroup photo with Father Frost, Snow Maiden and the Rat – the mascot for the coming year; the kids happy with their stuffed rodents.

The annual celebration was held in conjunction with the New Year (1 January), Christmas (celebrated in Russia on 7 January), and also Chinese New Year (thus for two years, Father Frost came bearing stuffed toys of animals of the coming CNY).

The traditionally white-bearded and red-caped Father Frost (also called Grandfather Frost or Ded Moroz in Russian) is the Russian Santa. Snow Maiden (or Snegurochka in Russian) is sometimes referred to as Ded Moroz’s grand-daughter.

However, there are differences between Ded Moroz and Santa Claus, as pointed out in an article “Russian Grandfather Frost” in Passport magazine 2007.

“Firstly, Ded Moroz never enters the house through the chimney. Secondly, he always puts presents directly under the tree and never into socks. Thirdly, he does not ride a deer. The official story claims that he walks through the forests and carries his huge sack of presents on his back.”

For the Love of Taylor

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TODAY IS TAYLOR Swift’s birthday. She’s 23. So my daughter tells me.

At Michelle’s age when she’s so wrapped in her own world, Taylor Swift is one topic that gets her attention, one she speaks of excitedly and ever willing to share, even with her old-fashioned and out-dated mom.

For about three years now, she speaks of TS, listens to TS, reads about TS, even created FB pages on TS.

I understand the adulation and idolisation, after all, I was once her age too. There were … well I won’t go into MY list (it will really reflect my dinosaur days), other than saying I was in awe of American gymnast Mary Lou Retton, and a little later in life, Princess Diana.

So when Michelle first asked for a Taylor Swift CD, we got it for her. When TS appeared on a magazine cover, we allowed her to buy it. Reading, after all, is good. Only that she was interested in reading that ONE page specifically on TS. She confessed later she was more interested in the Wonderstruck perfume sample strip that was in the magazine.

When TS appeared on another magazine cover, hubby bought that while on transit in London as a surprise gift for daughter, only to be surprised that it was even cheaper back home.

Next when hubby went to New York, daughter asked for TS t-shirts. As her merchandises are not openly sold in stores, I went on TS official website but learnt that the items could not be sent on time before hubby leaves NY. Thankfully I found them on Amazon.com, ordered them and had them swiftly delivered to hubby’s hotel. And since she was so smitten (even stricken) with Wonderstruck, this idiot mom duly ordered it (at US$56), though why an 11-year old (at that time) needed perfume is beyond me. Idiot mom indeed, but for the love of their children, mothers have done far crazier things 🙂

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Some of our Amazon.com purchases

On hubby’s subsequent trip to NY, we got more TS stuff, this time including gifts to give away too.

The moment Michelle learnt Papa was making another trip to NY, she made an early Christmas list six months ahead… all for herself. She had trouble deciding what NOT to buy. Given a choice, she wants EVERYTHING that has TS on it. By then, I got my senses back and slashed her list – almost the whole list – save a few items. Also this time it included orders from her cousin, Tasha, another huge TS fan.

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Left: Seeing double? No, one set belongs to Tasha; Right: Part of my old Princess Di collection.

While I had my idols too, I don’t recall spending any money on them, except on Princess Diana, for books, magazines and postcards.

TS plays the guitar, so daughter wanted one too. In May (specifically on Mother’s Day 2012) we bought her a guitar, and within a month (specifically 14th June) she was on stage participating in her school talent show.

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The Fearless Five (as I dubbed them) performing Taylor Swift’s “Fearless”.

Together with four of her schoolmates – she the sole guitarist – they performed a TS number, Fearless. Daughter was fearless indeed, for someone who does not have any formal guitar lessons and had only learnt the basics from her classmate during lunch breaks then, she was indeed brave to appear on stage before the whole school, and before Datuk Siti Nurhaliza who came as a guest judge of the talent show.

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Left: Her love for TS led her to her first guitar; Right:… and a photo opportunity with Datuk Siti Nurhaliza; Michelle seen here holding her certificate of participation autographed by Siti.

TS appeared to have had a positive effect on daughter (so far, not to the point of obsession yet) so all the purchases I made were worth it.

Last month, Michelle received two gifts from her Ah Kor –  a cap and a notebook – two items she will never ever ever use. “Never” simply because they have “Taylor Swift” on them, so they are “too precious” to be used, and will be kept together with rest of her TS collections.

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