Feb 12, 2016

Why We Turned Down the Gifted Education Programme Offer


One and a half months into the new school year and everyone in the family is getting used to the familiar weekday routine once again.

Although things may have been a whole lot different had Ayd changed school.

You see, Ayd was selected for the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) in November last year.

As GEP pupils are perceived to be advanced in their mental capabilities, the GEP curriculum is an enriched one that is pitched to challenge and stretch them. To be honest, when Ayd first passed me the famed brown letter from MOE's GEP Branch, my insides were a bundle of happiness, shock and fear.

Happiness for obvious reasons. Growing up, he was always just that little different from the rest of his peers. He doesn't like socialising much but hand him a book, and it'll keep him enthralled for hours. He peppers his conversations with facts and do-you-knows. One memory that will always stay with me is when I wanted to reward him with a present for doing well in his exams 2 years ago and asked him what toy he would like, he replied that he wanted a Math Olympiad book instead! So I'm absolutely happy for him that he was chosen to be enrolled in such a programme that would challenge his mind.

Shock because I really never thought he would be chosen. There are 2 rounds of quizzes that one must clear, with the first round being open to all Primary 3 students. I was confident he would clear that round but Round 2? Apparently only 1% of the entire cohort is admitted to the programme so yes, Ayd being selected was something I least expected.

But above all, I was fearful. Simply because for all of Ayd's mental prowess, he is someone who takes an agonisingly long time to adapt to a new environment. He took almost close to 2 years to adapt to primary school life. It was heart-wrenching to hear from him how he felt like the loneliest person in school because he found it hard to make friends. Classmates would not include him in their games during recess and he spent many recess breaks during the first 2 years wandering aimlessly along the corridors while waiting for the bell to ring. Those admissions by him totally broke the wifey's and my hearts. Fortunately, his form teacher assigned a 'buddy' to him during P3 and he has been improving ever since.

So I am not certain if changing to a new school will be asking too much of Ayd. On one hand, I know for a fact that he will relish the many beyond-the-textbook learning opportunities but on the other hand, I am worried if he will crumble under the challenges of being in a new school and environment, with new friends and teachers, increased workload... and being away from his older brother.

Yes, that last bit is highly significant too. Both boys are extremely close (even though they can get on each other's nerves at times!). They share the same interests, love the same cartoons, crack the same silliest jokes and I can even hear them chatting in their room well past their bedtime.

So if Ayd were to change to a GEP school, both of them will definitely miss one another terribly. Already, Ash was subtly sowing the seeds of staying put in Ayd's mind throughout the month of November last year!

For me, I would be lying if I said I did not wish for Ayd to take up the new challenge. We went for the GEP Open House and I was struck by the amount of interesting research and work that the students are put through. I could see Ayd was a little moved after the Open House but the wifey and I decided to leave the final decision to him.

We gave him a few days to make up his mind and in the end, he decided not to take up the GEP programme.

There were a few reasons behind his decision:

1. He was not sure how he would adapt to a new environment with new teachers and new friends.

2. He would be separated from Ash.

3. He was worried about the increased workload. (A typical school week will see students stay back to 4-5pm for at least 3-4 days)

BUT the one reason that he gave which totally floored the wifey and me was this:

4. He was afraid... that the new school's canteen will not sell fried bee hoon that is as yummy as the current school's.


Always trust Ayd to give a non-standard answer when you least expect it.

And so, that's all about there is to it really. 

Of course, there have been numerous occasions when I had questioned myself if I had made the right decision in letting Ayd make the choice himself. Should I have pushed him a little more to accept the GEP? Am I short-changing him by not enrolling him in the programme? Will his potential be forever left untapped?

Well, no real point in dwelling on the what-ifs.

I'm certain that the GEP has its merits but I believe getting into the programme - or any school for that matter - is only the beginning. It is most definitely not the finish line. If Ayd is not able to handle the additional stress of being in a new environment or cope with the workload in a highly competitive environment, the GEP might do more harm than good for a young mind like his.

Sure, stress is all part and parcel in the life of an adult and it is something that our kids will have to learn to cope with. But until then, I do not wish to kill his joy for learning - especially seeing how much he enjoys going to his current school now.

So as much as I secretly wish that Ayd did take up the GEP offer, I also know that his happiness is the ultimate thing that matters. Because if there is one aspect of parenting I learnt after all these years, it is to never let my kids be the victims of my unfulfilled ambitions.

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Feb 10, 2016

The Best Attractions for Kids at Cartoon Network Amazone Waterpark

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"Can you feel my heart beating very fast?"

So asked Ash, when we first stepped into Cartoon Network Amazone Waterpark in Pattaya. 

I didn't tell him but mine was equally pounding as quickly.

You see, our visit to Cartoon Network Amazone was undoubtedly one of the TOP attractions that the monkies (and I) had been looking forward to during our recent trip to Pattaya in the year-end school holidays last year. And as we found out, Pattaya is home to plenty of family-friendly attractions.

But first, back to the amazing Waterpark that the monkies were clearly going bananas over.

Billed as the world’s first Cartoon Network-themed waterpark, Cartoon Network Amazone is split into six zones containing some of the highest, fastest and thrilling waterslides and pools in the whole of Asia.

Think 13 water attractions consisting of looping water slides, a meandering lazy river, one huge wave pool and many other fun water activities for the family and I think you can understand why the monkies' mouths remained gaping open the minute we stepped into the waterpark.

And there is nothing quite like the water slides to get the adrenaline pumping! In terms of water slides, there are plenty of options to chooses from:

One of the tallest and steepest rides in Asia, the XLR8-TOR had the boys and me screaming as we plunged almost vertically from a height of 18 meters before accelerating at lightning velocity to a splash landing. It was so exhilarating that we went on it another time!

Alien Attack
This fast, thrilling 110-meter long tube waterslide took us along an array of wild twists, turns, and the chance to defy gravity as water jets blasted us uphill, only to take us spiraling through three darkened alien space shuttles.

Banana Spin
If you prefer something milder, this Jonny Bravo-themed ride is perfect for those who are not fans of dropping from heights, but still want a reasonable thrill all the same. Highlight of the ride was being sucked into the corkscrew after swirling around on a 2-person float, going through a water curtain, and plunging into the pool below.

Intergalactic Racers
The Intergalactic Racers allow up to four people to race through a series of bumps, twists and serpentine tubes to the final open flume and see who earns the bragging rights at the bottom. Given my weight, I was a shoo-in for first place. Lol.

Enter the alien world of Ben 10 with the world's first OMNITRIX water rollercoaster. Towering a whopping 23 meters above the ground, the fully enclosed OMNITRIX accelerates riders down a seemingly never-ending tube before dropping them into the top of the Magicsphere and out of vertical ramp and into the water. Definitely for the faint-hearted!

Goop Loop
From zero to 2.5 G's (that's is 2.5 times the force of gravity) in less than 2 seconds! That is how thrilling this water rollercoaster can be. The ride starts in an enclosed capsule, where a trap door releases below the feet, dropping the poor rider into a 12 meter free-fall generating maximum g-force and propelling him into a 360-degree loop. My knees got weak just by typing this, so it is no wonder that the boys gave this ride a miss.

Something more palatable for the boys was the Humungslide, as two water rafts are able to race each other in circular slides 23 meters high, speeding through daring twists, turns and unlimited surprises before being dropped eight meters into the clutches of Humungousaur for a dramatic, heart-pounding finish. Cue many repeated rides for the boys.

One of the boys' fave cartoons is Adventure Time and it is also one of the reasons why the Cartoon Network Amazone appeals to them so much - simply because of the Adventure time-theme water slides!

At Jake Jump, we experienced an exhilarating combination – rafting, a mega drop, a vertical burst and even weightlessness! In a dual raft, the boys shot vertically up Jake's stretchy body and paused momentarily... before gravity took hold for one last thrill and a giant splash into the pool below. How many times the boys went on the ride? Erm, I stopped counting after the third. Arguably the boys' most favoured ride at the waterpark,

Rainfall Rainicorn
Compared to the rest of water slides, Rainfall Rainicorn (from Adventure Time) feels less eventful. This is one slide that has less twists and turns and gentler drops but judging from the smiles on the boys' faces, it is still fun all the same!

There is nothing quite like the thrill of riding waves on a surfboard, no? Little wonder then that the monkies did not mind waiting for their turn at the Surf Arena, even though the queue was pretty long! 

All of the above water slides and surf arena were definitely fun for the boys but if you have a child who is below 120cm in height (like Ale), then he/she will not be able to go on any of them.

So is it still any fun for kids below the height of 120cm? Well, as Ale found out, she still thoroughly enjoyed herself!

A staple in every waterpark, this lazy river allowed us to simply drift along on our water floats. And can I just say how much I loved the designs of the water floats?

Suitable for everyone - free-to-wear life vests are provided around the Waterpark - the wifey and I took turns bringing Ale through the Riptide Rapids as the boys went for their water slides fix.

Mega Wave
What could be more relaxing than hanging out in Cartoon Network Amazone's gigantic wave pool? If you are looking to just get away from the bustling crowd, then the wave pool will be your best bet.

Bob up and down on the gentle waves or just soak in the cool clear water - perfect for families to laze the day away.

At certain timings, there are performances right on the Mega Wave stage too where the monkies got to catch their fave Adventure Time live show!

And what's a Waterpark without the obligatory water playground for kids?

The water playground at Cartoon Network Amazone is one of the best (and largest) ones for kids I have ever seen.

An amazing aquatic activity area jam-packed with splashtastic slides, fountains and tubes, there are more than 150 water features for kids to discover!

Kids get to hang out with Gumball, Ben 10, Chowder, The Powerpuff Girls and other favorite Cartoon Network characters, while choosing from different slides of various heights. Best of all, this aquatic paradise is strictly for kids only!

Personally, what set Cartoon Network Amazone apart from the rest of the other waterparks in the region is its characters. So if your kids are huge fans of the numerous Cartoon Network characters, such as Finn & Jake from Adventure Time, Gumball & Darwin from The Amazing World of Gumball, Powerpuff Girls, Ben 10 and many more, then this IS the waterpark to head to.

Thanks to its many live shows and performances throughout the day!

Oh, there is also a live parade happening towards the later part of the afternoon as well!

Of course, do not expect the parade to be on as grand scale as compared to other theme parks but in terms of offering photo opportunities to visitors, this is as good as it gets.

I, for one, was happy enough to be able to snag a photo opportunity with Gumball and Darwin!

Yes, thanks to my boys, I am now a fan of the cartoon. Oh, and make Adventure Time a fave of mine as well.

Seriously, I do not know who was happier for the meet & greets - the boys or me? LOL.

Here's a tip if you are planning to visit the waterpark: the timings for the shows and meet & greets changes so be sure to request for a timetable at the information counter. I understand that there are lesser shows and meet & greets scheduled on weekdays.

Oh, and another tip: it can get really hot in the park so for that added bit of comfort, rent a air-cooled private cabana from 2,000 Baht (S$80) for one entire day.

Food-wise, there is a huge food court, serving a range of food from fish and chips, burgers and pizzas to Thai and Chinese noodles & rice.

And do not forget to drop by the Cartoon Network Amazone Boutique on your way out!

I have said it on Instagram and I will say it again - Cartoon Netwrok is just AMAZEBALLS! It is absolutely one of the best water parks the monkies have been to.

I suppose spending a total of EIGHT hours at the waterpark is already a testament to how much they enjoyed it.

Yup, it was dusk when we finally exited the waterpark.

Tired, yes.

Chatoah (sunburnt), yes.

Super fun, double confirm.

Useful Information

Cartoon Network Amazone Waterpark
888 Moo 8 Najomtien, Chonburi, Thailand 20250
(a 20-minute drive from Pattaya)
Opening Hours: 10am - 6pm daily
Ticket prices: Adult THB 1,590 | Child (3-12) & Seniors (above 65) THB 1,290
*For current ticket promotions, visit HERE.
Getting there: The Waterpark has a daily shuttle bus service from Pattaya City. Please contact transport@cartoonnetworkamazone.com to check the shuttle schedules.
Website: www.cartoonnetworkamazone.com

AirAsia flies direct to Pattaya from Singapore daily. For more information and to book, visit airasia.com.

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Feb 8, 2016

Happy Year of the Monkie!

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Happy Chinese New Year!

Here's wishing all our readers a very prosperous and bountiful Year of the Monkie!

Stay healthy (always important), stay cheekie (quite important) and remember to spend quality time with your loved ones (most important)!

祝大家猴年吉祥! 身体健康! 心想事成! 年年有余! 家和万事兴!


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Feb 7, 2016

The Complete Family Guide to Kranji Marshes

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A combination of lush, marsh, woodland and grass habitats with more than 170 species of birds, 54 species of butterflies and 33 species of dragonflies lies in the north-western part of Singapore – and it is NOW open to everyone!

Spanning 56.8 hectares (half the size of Gardens by the Bay), Kranji Marshes is the largest freshwater marshland in Singapore. Together with Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, it is home to a rich array of flora and fauna, and provides an important habitat in the Kranji area for the conservation of biodiversity, especially marsh birds.

And when there is a new nature playground in Singapore to explore, you can be sure the monkies will be there to suss it out. But prior to heading down, I looked at NParks' website and this particular sentence caught my attention:

"The terrain is rugged at parts and may be unsuitable for younger children."

Hmmm, interesting. Only one way to find out!

There are two main areas – one that is open to public and the core conservation area which can only be accessed via guided walks. For the public walk, the start journey begins at Kranji Gate which is located at the end of Neo Tiew Lane 2 (beside D'Kranji Farm Resort).

The walk is a relatively straight-forward linear one, a 1km route which ends at Raptor Tower.

Do spend some time at the shelter area at Kranji Gate, where visitors will be able to familiarise themselves with the various birds at Kranji Marshes.

Then it was off for our trek to Raptor Tower!

As you can see, the route is entirely paved and smooth. We had a great time strolling alongside Neo Tiew Woods and trying to spot nationally threatened bird species, such as the grey-headed fish eagle and the changeable hawk eagle. No luck though.

But there were plenty of millipedes crawling on the floor throughout! And the monkies loved them! Perhaps it is the result of having brought them to nature parks frequently but the monkies were enough game to have the millipedes crawl over their hands... even Ale.

Along the way, there are two shelters for visitors to rest their legs or take refuge with the first being Weaver Shelter.

Have you ever stumbled upon a cuter find in a Baya Weaver's nest than this?

The second shelter is Woodpecker Shelter, which came complete with useful information panels about woodpeckers.

We did not manage to spot any woodpeckers but at least Ale enjoyed learning more about them!

After a 20-minute walk, we arrived at the highlight that the monkies were looking forward to.

Raptor Tower!

Bur first, there was the tiny issue of allowing the monkies to run wild.

The area is also home to 2 lookout shelters - Moorhen Blind and Swamphen Hide.

These places are where wildlife enthusiasts camp out for a chance to observe shy marsh birds such as the Purple Swamphen and Common Moorhen.

If you are visiting between November and March during the raptor migratory season, look out for visiting species such as the Black Baza and Japanese Sparrowhawk. But even if no birds are spotted, the views from the hides are extremely calming and scenic.

For an even more awesome view, ascend the 10-metre tall Raptor Tower!

Simply because the tower offers a panoramic view of the entire Kranji Marshes.

For sure, the Raptor Tower is THE highlight for the monkies!

To complete an educational day out for the kiddos, head to the nearby Marsh Station where they can learn more about the birds and their respective bills and feet. A very nice touch, in my opinion.

Oh, and remember NOT to go into the water areas so as to avoid giving yourself a nasty surprise.

Yes, crocodiles.

But I reckon everything should be alright as long as one stays on the proper paths.

All in, I feel Kranji Marshes is suitable for families, even for younger children. The paths are well-paved and stroller-friendly - terrain is not that rugged as far as I could see. Also, there is no doubt that the Raptor Tower will be a hit with the kids, as evident from our time there.

With a range of natural habitats such as freshwater marsh, woodland and grass habitats, Kranji Marshes is a great place for parents to bring along their kids to observe and enjoy nature. Not to mention it is FREE!

Planning to head down? Here are a few things to take note:

- Kranji Marshes is open from 7am to 7pm daily.

- There is no lighting within Kranji Marshes.

- The entire walking route from Kranji Gate to Raptor Tower is 1km and takes approximately 20 minutes one way.

- Except for strollers, leave anything else with wheels at home. Yes, bicycles, skate scooters and roller blades are NOT allowed into Kranji Marshes.

- To get there via public transport, hop on the Kranji Express bus from Kranji MRT Station which operates daily from 8.30 am to 5.45 pm. (Bus Schedule HERE) Alight at D’Kranji Farm Resort and take a short walk to Kranji Gate.

- If you drive, free parking is available at Kranji Gate. But parking is extremely limited with 20 parking lots. There are also 10 motorcycle lots and 30 bicycle lots.

- Do keep to the designated trails and appreciate any animals you may see from afar.

- Toilets can only be found at Kranji Gate.

- Prepare adequately, such as wearing proper footwear, bringing sufficient water, and a hat. There are no shops or vending machines at Kranji Marshes, only a water cooler at Kranji Gate.

- Save for Ale's one mosquito bite, we did not have any issues with mosquitoes or other insects.

- Pets are not allowed.

- Remember to take only what you have brought in, and leave nothing behind but footprints.

- Free guided walks are conducted once a month, on Saturday evenings. Explore and learn more about the nature area from the experienced and knowledgeable guides who will take you around. To register, visit HERE.

Useful Information

Kranji Marshes
11 Neo Tiew Lane 2, Singapore 718814
7 am to 7 pm daily
Free Admission

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