Where did we come from and where are we headed? 
I wrote this for Malaysian Insider yesterday. Thought I'd post it here too.

Where did we come from and where are we headed? By Sim Tong

I grew up in Malaysia, so you could say when it came to sex education, I was a homeschooler. Sex is such a taboo subject that nobody talked about it. The teachers didn’t want to talk about it. Nobody in my family talked about it. That is the Asian way. We present a black and white world to our kids – context is too difficult to teach, so everything is either good or bad. There are good words and there are bad words. There are good guys and bad guys. There are good things and bad things. Sex was put into the category of bad things because when you’re a kid, there’s just too much to explain. This is fine for about the first twelve years of life, but as kids hit puberty, they start to feel urges, and they start to question things. They are really left to piece together the whole picture by themselves.

Between the spread of HIV and babies in dumpsters, I think we can all agree that sex education is important. What we cannot agree upon is who should do the educating. The teachers think parents should do it, the parents think ‘The Authorities’ should do it, the government doesn’t care who does it, as long as they don’t use books with good pictures in it.
The children’s sex education book “Where Did I Come From” by Peter Mayle has been banned, a day after the sale of the book has been stopped by the Home Ministry, and some thirty years after it has been in wide circulation. This is a children’s book, 48 pages long in large font, including pictures.

We have to accept that some things are going to be difficult to explain to the next generation, and much more so if the previous generation didn’t explain it to us, but we have to stop this vicious cycle. We can’t get around it, we just have to get through it, to paraphrase another children’s book author.

Growing up, I’ve had my share of misconceptions about sex. I fumbled through my early adulthood and despite a few embarrassing occasions, survived relatively unscathed. Others may not be as lucky. You also have to consider that some things are different now. Many parents give their children access to satellite TV, highspeed internet, smartphones, Wikipedia, Google, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. They are learning faster and asking questions earlier. The leaders of tomorrow will be asking all the right questions, relevant to their time. We won’t know how to ask these questions on their behalf. We cannot afford to suppress inquisitiveness now. If they have a question we cannot answer, we should feel proud of them, not shame them into silence.

Telling kids sex is bad is the traditional way of keeping them out of trouble, same as ‘don't cross the road by yourself’ and ‘don’t touch mom’s scissors’, but it’s not a long term solution. It’s just a bandaid, delaying the inevitable. It's a tough job and some parents try to scrape through, skipping that awkward stage altogether if at all possible. Some parents undo this teaching when their kids hit puberty. Some wait until it’s time for them to study abroad. Some put a timer on it by introducing the concept of premarital sex. Sex before marriage is bad, but after marriage, they’re practically breathing down your neck to copulate and reproduce. This could work if puberty starts at the age of twenty five. In the real world however, there’s usually a decade or two between puberty and marriage. Yet other parents conveniently forget to undo their early teachings altogether. After a few generations of parents skipping their responsibilities in sex education, the idea that sex is bad becomes ingrained in our culture. So what happens when a kid hits puberty? They start to have urges. If I have urges - natural urges - to have sex and sex is bad, does that make me bad? By the way, this is the sort of thing that goes on in the minds of sex assault victims. Now imagine a few generations of people carrying this kind of guilt. That’s our community.

You could say that the Home Ministry is half right - there is something very harmful to the morals of our community. However, this book is not it.

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Gong Xi Fa Cai 
I recently stumbled upon a way to turn my 'shy', 'uncommunicative' and 'rude' 4-year old into a 'courteous' and 'well-behaved' little angel to get me through the Chinese New Year celebrations, so I figured I'd write a how-to.

Step 1: Corruption
As in most situations, greed is your most powerful ally. Alert the little monster to the contents of the angpows and if necessary, explain that money can be converted to their favourite commodity - toys. If you or your spouse has been spoiling your little emperor with material goods, then you should have an easy job.

Step 2: Deception
I’m calling this step Deception so it sounds in line with the other two, but we’re really not deceiving the child. We’re merely teaching him to deceive. If anything, we’re setting him straight by informing him that ‘Gong Xi Fa Cai’ and other wishes are the means to get to the angpows. If you’ve been telling him there are some other reasons, then you may need to undo some of that misinformation.

Congratulations, your job is almost done now. He might still be shy and reluctant, so you might need to add a small reminder every now and then. Something simple like, “Hey, Billy, want to get more angpows?” ought to do the trick.

Step 3: Intimidation
Materialism is a powerful force, but your child’s innocence might be more persistent than usual. In such a case, I find it helps to reinforce the toy-buying reason with another incentive. Let him know that whenever he hesitates to greet or wish an uncle or aunty, he creates an awkward situation which could lead to the pinching of cheeks, jabbing of ribs or tickling of armpits.

If that doesn’t get the little bugger to comply, I don’t know what will.
I hope this helps you through the rest of the CNY celebrations and good luck for the rest of the Dragon year.

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New new year resolutions 
The wife and I have reached a truce for 2012.

We both agree that squabbling has been bringing out the worst behaviour in our boy.

These are the changes we want to see in each other:
I need to:
Use positive words
Stop belittling her in front of him.

She needs to:
Scream less
Stop picking on all the small stuff
Blackberry less
Spend more time talking to him
Have more patience in conversation and stop changing topics randomly, cutting other people off or finishing their sentences for them.
Stop keeping toys in her handbag to buy her way out of tantrums
Cut down on buying toys
Cut down on buying books
Start driving lessons

He needs to:
Have physical activities
Watch less TV
Expect less toys

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My new power 
The kid slept late last night and couldn’t wake up for breakfast, so my wife and I got the chance to talk properly this morning. We never realised how rare these moments were. We’d almost forgotten how to communicate as adults. I started with something easy, “We need to buy some bread.”

My wife said maybe she should make some bread today. I knew where this was going and she seemed like she was in a good mood, so I jumped ahead of the conversation.

“You know, life would be simpler if we didn’t have a bread maker. I’d just say I’ll get some bread and you’d say okay and that would be the end of the discussion. Now, we have the option of making bread, so we think we need to buy bread, but homemade bread is healthier, but then again its more work and we need to clean up afterwards, but then it tastes better, but then again it doesn’t last as long... and so we stress ourselves out bouncing between these two great choices and probably won’t have any bread to eat for a few days.”

Normally, this is when she dismisses everything I have to say and goes back to Facebooking on her Blackberry. For some reason, she stayed tuned in, so I pushed forward.

“Having more choices doesn’t always make us happier. You can see it with our boy. Our rules for him are overly complicated. For example, yesterday, I already said sit on the sofa if he wants to watch telly and leave grandpa’s chair alone. He was already wiggling his little bottom onto the sofa, but you had to offer him to sit in grandpa’s chair. So then it became: don’t sit in grandpa’s chair, but sit in grandpa’s chair when he is not around.”

She was still listening. We had recently realised that everything we say to him is full of exceptions. Eat at the dining table, but if there are no fish bones, it’s okay to run around the dining room. We have too many toys, so don’t buy toys, but you can buy one if we have a coupon, or if something is on discount, or if we’re already buying toys for some other kid, or if you find something you really want.

“Every time I’ve already concluded negotiations with him, and he’s all happy and ready to move on, you jump in and redo everything. The other day, I’d already told him ‘Max, we’re not going to bring any heavy toys today because Mama has to carry lots of things’ and he was okay with that. Then you go ‘Hey Max, how about bringing the Millenium Falcon?’ Why do I even bother putting in any effort to help you at all? Not only is it a waste of my time and energy, it confuses the heck out of the little guy. We’re always so worried that he’s being short-changed of the tiniest bit of freedom, like the pleasure he gets out of some toy or book outweighs the confusion that we create from going back and forth adjusting all the rules.”

She laughed at this and said, “Sorry, I didn’t know yo had already talked to him that time. Okay, maybe we need a codeword so you can signal me when you’ve already finished negotiating.”

I thought about this a moment, but I genuinely suck at thinking up names and words. I suggested, “How about Blackberry?”

“No, that doesn’t make sense. It has to be something that will signal to me that negotiations have ended.”

“You pick it then.”

“No, you pick.”

“How about ‘keep it simple’?”

“That’s not a word, that’s more like a phrase, plus it’ll just blend into the general conversation. It has to be something that will shock me into realising that you’re giving me a codeword.”

“Like what?”

“Something like, I don’t know, abracadabra or something”

“How about abracadabra then?”

“No, not abracadabra!”

“Why not?”

She thought for a moment and gave up, “Um, okay, abracadabra.”

I don’t think she realises what she’s done. I was out at work most of today, so I’ve not had much chance to exercise it yet, but I walked around the whole day feeling like I’ve gained a superpower. I can’t fly, I’m not bulletproof and I can’t turn invisible, but from now on – every once in a while, when the conditions are just right - I can cast a spell to make my wife stop talking. I’m going to get some weird looks for sure, but I think I can get used to it.

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Ice Cream Fever 
My son has been coughing for 2 weeks. Fortunately, he didn't have an asthma attack this time. I take great pains to warm anything that comes out of the fridge so he doesn't chill his little lungs. Last week, as he was starting show signs of getting well, my wife feeds him a full serving of ice cream. That prolonged the coughing another week. She agreed that it was a mistake and she'd not do it again, but it was the sort of unconvincing agreement, "Yayaya, Okay okay okay." After a few days, I was actually convinced that she was sticking to the plan.

Yesterday, the boy was beginning to show signs of getting well again. I told my wife that she was doing a great job and to keep keeping all the cold food and drinks away. Today my wife fed him another full serving of ice cream. He loves ice cream but he knows he isn't supposed to eat a full scoop all by himself. He doesn't ask for it unless someone offers it to him and even then, he'd ask for permission from a parent, so I know he's egged into it every time. Now his nose is runny again. My wife says that has nothing to do with the ice cream. Maybe, maybe not, but I don't see why we had to put his health at risk.

So my question is why would a mother do this to a son? Can someone explain this sort of behaviour to me? Is it out of spite? Is it a science experiment? I just don't get it. Am I being too careful?

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