Friday, December 25, 2009

New year thoughts (not resolutions)

I am not a person who believes in making new year resolutions. Reason being, I simply don't have the mental (and physical) discipline to follow-through.
Okay, maybe it's also because I don't see any particularly pressing desires or needs that requires fulfilment.

For instance, while I would like to lose some weight (who doesnt??? okay, maybe EP doesnt... hoho), it isn't something I am "desparate" about. At least I am not desparate enough to go on a diet or anything. At the moment, all I'm trying to do is to balance out my cravings for fried/oily foods with a more-or-less regular regime of exercise - 2-3 times a week of light gym workout. And I think it's going pretty well at the moment. So no need to make any 'resolution' or promises to keep...

I would like to pick up the cello again if possible. I kind of stopped playing it completely after the beastie arrived in our family. Just didn't have the time and energy to carry on going for lessons. In the new year, I would like to pick it up again. Guitar remains my true love, but the cello is seductively attractive too... :P
Hmm.. maybe one day I can perform a duet with my boy - Guitar and Cello! or Guitar and Piano?! or ... a classical guitar duet!!

How to retire??

Recently, the topic of "retirement" came up in several of my chats - with colleagues, ex-colleagues as well as with friends. It may sound a little early for us to be thinking of retirement - we are all in our thirties, by the way - but in today's context, if one doesnt actively think (and plan!) for retirement, most likely one never would retire!

Seriously, "retirement" has long been viewed as a kind of reward - for slogging the majority of our productive years of life working in jobs which we dont even enjoy doing. Com'on, how many people can honestly say they ENJOY working? I'd wager that many people would (at the most) be satisfied or find their jobs fulfilling, to a certain extent. Like for instance, some people feel a great sense of achievement when they've accomplished something at work - e.g. completion of a project, or promotion, etc. For some people, this is how they guage their self-worth, and does fulfil certain emotional needs, I guess.

But to work because you ENJOY working? Hardly.

I guess the real test for that would be for you to ask yourself: Would you still be happily working at the same job, IF you do not receive a salary/pay for working there? If the answer to that question is "Yes", congratulations, you are living what an ideal retirement lifestyle would be like, in my opinion.

You see, "retirement" doesn't mean doing nothing and staying home staring blankly at the ceiling or walls. No, that is more akin to "waiting to die", I think. Retirement to me means engaging in activities which one enjoys doing, without having to care/worry about maintaining the standard of living that one is used to. Simply put, it means being able to do what you like to do on a regular basis, without thinking about the financial aspects of the activity(s).

The activities one engages in retirement could be simple ones, ranging from gardening, cooking, walking/jogging/swimming, chatting with friends, etc. Or in some cases, it could be expensive ones, like travelling, shopping for luxury goods, fine-dining, etc. Whichever the case, it has to be something that the person ENJOYS doing.

And that is where many people (including myself, I have to admit) get stumped... as clearly, there are 2 aspects to a successful (hence great) retirement: First, you must be able to IDENTIFY an activity (or activities) which you really enjoy doing, since this retirement period can be rather prolonged (we are not talking about just a couple of years. With medical advancements these days, we could be talking decades...). Second, you must be FINANCIALLY able to maintain that lifestyle without worrying about running out of funds before we move on from this world to the next.

I'm not sure which aspect is the tougher one to fulfil, but both are equally important. In truth, for many people I guess the 2 aspects are inter-dependant and closely co-related, since clearly, if one does not have the financial independence to "break free" of the working (and salary) necessity, the kinds of activities one can engage in is also limited to what the society at large deems "productive" (and hence deserving of a financial reward - ie. salary).

Take for example - I enjoy playing the guitar. So when I retire, I am sure the guitar will be part of my retirement activity. That does not mean I love having to conduct guitar classes and teach guitar in schools/music establishments (although there are times when I find it enjoyable lah!). If money is not an issue, I would love to meet up with my regular guitar kakis to jam new songs and play in a guitar ensemble, performing free gigs at public performances, and if possible travel out of Singapore to visit other guitar estalishments and possibly take part in guitar competitions. However, if I need the money to sustain my retirement, I may need to compromise my retirement activities, such that I end up teaching guitar classes and conducting workshops, etc. since these are what the society deem as "productive activities" and I would be paid for participating in them.
To some people, they may say," wow, you're so lucky! You like the guitar, and you can retire playing the guitar!" Little would they know that I'd actually compromised my retirement plans - ie. the financial aspect/considerations has limited my choices for the activities I would've done otherwise.
In other words, it is not really "retirement". Not a successful one, in any case.

I guess that's why Wolf kept harping on the need to generate a "passive income", something that can take care of the financial aspect of retirement. If only it were that easy! Still, I have to keep that in mind and work towards it....

And as for the activity aspect of retirement.....what else besides my guitar.....

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How they grow

Met up with J today over lunch. It's always nice to meet up with ex-colleagues and catch up. For J and I, our main focal point would always be our kids - she has a 3 year old boy, while my little beastie is 2 year old.

I recall about a year back, when we had an department outing at the Botanical Gardens on a Saturday, the 2 boys wore the same clothes! Yep - exactly the same design and prints - except for the size, of course. More unbelievably, according to J, they had the same stroller as well! hahah
* oh, coincidentally.... just last week I re-watched the video clip which I took that day. And realised how small the beastie was then, and how much he has grown over the last year.... Sigh. How time flies...

J told me about the childcare centre that Mat (her boy) was going to, was going to close down (due to tenancy/costs issues). Pretty sad.... especially since it took Mat 2 months to get over the stage of crying and sobbing whenever he goes to school. And just when he's starting to enjoy the company of the other kids and the teachers there, they'd received news of the impending closure of the centre.
That made me think about how we'd eventually have to put the little beastie in a childcare centre - so that he would slowly learn how to be more independent, and can also start picking up the basic life's skills - esp. interaction with other people, besides his family. Just imagining how he would (almost certainly) cry his heart out when we leave him at the centre, brought an ache to my heart. I doubt I'll have the will to walk away from his cries then. (in this aspect, EP is a much tougher parent. No wonder she's Kuja...)

We also talked about travelling with the kid. Apparently, J and P have brought Mat overseas on many occasions already - and as far as Canada (20+ hours flight time) ! Really can't imagine how we'd be able to handle the beastie on a plane for more than a couple of hours. He would surely terrorise us (as well as the neighbouring passengers)! Hence, the travel destination(s) next year will most likely be modest, nearby locations like Bangkok, or maybe Hong Kong or Taiwan. =P

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cameron Highlands (5th - 8th Dec 2009)

We embarked on our very first overseas trip as a family on 5th Dec - 8th Dec, when we took a Firefly flight to Ipoh, then a coach which brought us up to the cool plains that is known as Cameron Highlands in Malaysia.

Our prelimanary concerns were of course focused on whether the little beastie would be cooperative and could sit through the one and half hour of flight and then another similar duration of coach drive time. The first part proved to be relatively smooth-sailing. Kai was super excited at the airport as his cousin Jamie was there with my parents to send us off. The 2 kids wrecked havoc at the Hans outlet where we had lunch, and the beastie must've expended much of his energy, such that by the time we boarded the plane, he was already almost asleep and managed to subsequently sleep through almost the entire plane ride.

The coach part was not so easy though. We had a tough time trying to get Kai to sit down for even a minute, as he trudged amongst our seats and along the walkway as the bus was moving round and round the mountainous path. It was really pretty tiring!

Finally, we reached our hotel - Equatorial Hotel - at the hilltop (after a rather horrendous time trying to get the coach driver to drop us at the right place. EP had to call up the local agent, and there was the customary screaming into the phone kinda thing...hahah).
The hotel (supposedly a 5 star hotel) was decent enough. We were delighted to find a real fireplace at the lobby (in fact, there were 2 fireplaces), and the beastie was fascinated by the heat and light - a welcome sight with the cold air and dark skies outside. Temperatures were around 18-20 degrees celsius, which to me are just about nice and cool, except when the strong wind blows and the rain pelts down on you... that's when you'd really feel the cold....*shiver*

We booked a day trip to visit some farms - including a strawberry farm, a rose farm and a butterfly farm! It was raining most of the time, making it a challenge for us to carry both the beastie and an umbrella at the same time. Fortunately, most of the times the rain was more a like a constant drizzle and never really became a downpour at any time, so while we were a little wet, bothered and tired (mainly from carrying a 10kg beastie up and down the bus, up and down stairs,etc..), between EP and I, we somehow managed.

It was a great disappointment to us when we found out that due to the large number of visitors, strawberry picking was only allowed on the farms only on weekends. So, on the 3rd day, we suddenly found ourselves with very little to do! EP was particularly agitated that our hotel did not have a spa or massage parlour (hahaha). Looks like our next trip would have to be BKK again..woohoo..

The nearest town to our hotel, Brinchang, was really not much larger than say, Bukit Batok or Clementi town centre area. After taking a cab/hotel coach down there a couple of times, we could more or less memorize the shop locations already! It didnt help that many of the shows sold similar stuff - strawberry key chains, strawberry chocolates, strawberry fridge magnets, strawberry prints T-shirts, strawberry.... you name it, as long as it's strawberry related, they'd have it!
I rather enjoyed the zi-char stalls over there though - I though their food tasted better than what we have back here, but EP says I'm biased... maybe it was the colder weather there that made the hot food taste more delicious?!

I didnt really mind too much though, lazing around and doing very little in the hotel, as long as the little beastie was having fun. And it sure looked like he was! =)
Overall, I thought the trip was more for us to relax (read: do nothing), and spend quality time together as a family -especially with the little one. Really look forward to our next outing!!