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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Aiden at JSSL-Arsenal on 19 March

Aiden at JSSL-Arsenal on 19 March (wearing green bib, cap worn backwards and green boots). His second official session at the soccer school and the first time wearing spectacles to training. We still can't find a good product to hold up his glasses securely in all that sweat. Unfortunately, sports glasses with curved lenses are not suitable as he has 800 degrees of myopia in his right lazy eye.

Good to see that he is enjoying himself though. He's looking more decent as a defender than striker at the moment!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Thoughts on Singapore Budget 2016

The Singapore Budget was announced on 24 March 2016 with much anticipation, but not because many goodies were expected to be given out. On the contrary, it was a Budget announced in the midst of much uncertainty. With a landslide win in the General Elections juxtaposed against an economic downturn, rising costs of living and doing business, low birthrates and widening income gap, it was anybody's guess what measures the new Finance Minister Heng Swee Kiat would roll out.

Going through the various measures as a parent, it was clear to me that the Finance Minister had an uncharacteristically narrow focus - the very poor and the very old. Nobody would say that these groups don't deserve a helping hand, but there are three areas which I thought the government could have done more, especially with an expected Budget surplus of S$3.45 billion for the Financial Year 2016.

CDA First Step

If you thought that the S$3,000 gift to your child's CDA is a good reason to start cheering (like how the mainstream media are reporting it), think again! At the end of the day, it is a scheme that would only benefit those who can't afford to deposit any money into their child's CDA.

This is because the government's total contribution to a child's CDA didn't change. Before Budget 2016, the government would match dollar-for-dollar, savings that are deposited into the CDA, say up to S$6,000 for the first child. Today, the government will top-up S$3,000 automatically, and then match your CDA savings dollar-for-dollar up to S$3,000 for a total contribution of S$6,000. Same as before!

It's really a repackaging of the way the previous grant was disbursed, rather than a genuine attempt to further incentivise couples to have children.


Well, the speech seemed heartening enough:
We will pilot a new initiative, called KidSTART, for children in their first six years. There is extensive research which shows that experiences in the early years of a child’s life significantly influence his or her physical, cognitive, and social development. 
We have been enhancing development programmes through our preschools and primary schools. However, there is a small group of parents who may need more support to give their children a good start in life. 
KidSTART will draw together government and community resources, to help these children receive appropriate learning, developmental, and health support. We will develop approaches that work best in the Singapore context. 
About 1,000 children are expected to benefit. This pilot is expected to cost more than $20 million. The Minister for Social and Family Development will elaborate on this at COS.
Maybe I'm trying to be a devil's advocate, but there is real danger that the government might end up doing more bad than good with this measure.

We are already living in a world where our kids are overexposed to enrichment classes, tuition and various academic related pursuits, and at ages that are far too young. It worries me that if the government endorses in one way or another that such "developmental/enrichment programmes" are essential for the child's future success, it might worsen the 'arms race' among kiasu parents to do even more in this area.

Also, $20m divided by 1,000 children means S$20,000 per child. Would that send a signal to parents that if you spend anything less than S$20,000 before your child turns 6, you are not giving them a 'good start in life'?

It worries me that instead of encouraging families to spend more quality time together, the government might unintentionally encourage parents to send their kids to more enrichment/developmental classes, albeit high quality ones.

Encouraging more births

Lastly, the government should have done much more to encourage more births. For example, single-parent families continue to be ineligible for CDA top-ups/baby bonus/etc, levies on foreign domestic workers continue to apply for households with kids, second week of paternity leave continues to be non-compulsory.

Also, I thought the government could have rolled out measures such as heavily subsidising the hospital costs associated with pre-mature/complicated births, giving childcare leave based on the number of children, and changing the Working Mother Child Relief to the Working Parent Child Relief.

By not extending a helping hand to couples in bad economic times, I think we are only going to go backwards in terms of the birthrate.
Saturday, March 26, 2016

Amsterdam & Brussels 2016 (Videos)

Serious withdrawal symptoms since we came back to Singapore. Awesome holiday! Can't wait for the next one!

Extra Footage: Amsterdam & Brussels (February 2016)
Too many clips didn't make the cut in the original video so I just had to throw them into another montage. That's what happens when kids are not holidaying with us. :D Music is more mellow to reflect the post-holiday withdrawal symptoms. :(
Posted by Darren Yang on Monday, 14 March 2016
Friday, March 18, 2016

Goal, Aiden go!

Daddy Darren recently enrolled Aiden to JSSL Arsenal and kick-started his weekly soccer training on Saturday mornings. I went to watch Aiden play once and really love how he is having fun while getting a really good work out from the drills and games.

It was really enjoyable watching the little boys playing on the field, such a cute sight. A proud mummy moment for me when Aiden scored a goal during one of the games! 

I love how Daddy Darren and Aiden bonds over soccer, from watching the games on television, to practising at home and on the field and now attending regular soccer training. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

In the Spotlight: PriviKids - The Business Times

We are featured in The Business Times, and really thankful and encouraged to push on in the challenging times ahead.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Hello 2016!

Two and a half months into the new year, we opened our third PriviKids store at Waterway Point Punggol in January, celebrated Aiden's 5th birthday in February and came back from our first trip to Amsterdam & Belgium early March.

As busy as it gets, it is really fulfilling doing what we love. Constantly trying to strike that fine balance between time with the kids & the business, seizing pockets of quality time with them.

The boys in my life, putting the finishing touches for our new store.

PriviKids, Waterwat Point Punggol West Wing #02-32
Unique, quality products for kids 0-12 year old
Dressing up, practising their 'Gongxi Fa Cai', snacking non stop and collecting red packets. It is fun this Chinese New Year with Ava at 26 month old, mimicking her gor-gor Aiden and unveiling her cheekier side.
Aiden & Ava ushering in the Year of the Monkey
Aiden celebrated his 5th birthday in school with his friends, before we set off for our Singapore Flyer experience. This year, it was also the first time we did a larger scale birthday celebration for him with a barbecue by the pool.
Happy birthday my dear Aiden!
The siblings hanging out
Love the intimate celebration

After a stressful period preparing for the Waterway Point store opening, I am really glad for our holiday to Amsterdam & Belgium that Daddy Darren planned just for the both of us.

Having withdrawal syndromes now and dreaming of our next holiday with the kids.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Yangs go to Tokyo (9 - 13 November 2015)

Before I started work with my new employer in March 2015, I actually brought Mummy Cher and Aiden to Tokyo for a long awaited holiday. We thought Ava was too young to travel with us then (she was 16 months old), going by Aiden’s travel experience. He doesn’t remember his first Hong Kong trip at 3 months old at all, but has some memories of his adventures in Hong Kong at 23 months old, particularly in Disneyland. And since we decided not to bring any proper camera with us to Tokyo in March, all we had were random and limited pictures taken on our mobile phones.

For our Tokyo trip in November, I made sure Ava would join us and brought my DSLR along! Here’s how it went.

Travelling on Singapore Airlines Business Class

We weren’t sure how Ava would handle the 7.5 hour flight from Singapore to Tokyo, and being conscious that Ava’s ticket will be heavily discounted as a "lap child”, I decided that we should try the Singapore Airlines Business Class on the Airbus A380.

Being a “lap child” means that the child would have to share the seat with an adult. However, the child must be less than 2 years old in order to qualify. The special thing about a lap child is that the ticket only costs 10% of the adult fare. In comparison, Aiden’s ticket is 75% of the adult fare as a child between 2 and 11 years old. Ouch!

In SQ Economy Class, having a lap child on medium/long haul flights is not advisable, as the bassinet (even if available) is not the most comfortable place to be in. It is about 76cm long and only supports up to 14kg. Also, it cannot be used every time the seatbelt sign goes on, and during take off and landing. Instead, you would have to secure the child with special seat belts while he/she is sitting on your lap. Imagine finally coaxing the baby to sleep in the bassinet and then you are forced to bring her our due to turbulence!

The SQ Business Class seats in the Airbus A380 are not the newest (which are found in selected Boeing 777-300ER flights) but are the widest in the world at 34 inches (or 86cm) and you can sit beside your child in comfort. Another advantage of the Airbus A380 that flies to Tokyo is that the entire upper deck is dedicated to the Business Class. It is more likely that the seats would not be fully taken up. Typically, the air stewardess would offer the empty seats to people travelling with kids. In our case, we were given 2 extra seats on the flight to Tokyo and 1 extra seat on the flight back! 

In a 1-2-1 seat configuration on the Airbus A380, most business travellers would prefer the window seats and avoid the middle aisle seats or change the seat if they see that there is someone sitting beside them. They would also choose the seats in the front rows first. A tip would be to focus on the back section of the plane and choose just one of the middle aisle seats on separate rows. That should give you a good chance of scoring extra seats!

Day 1 - Ginza / Yurakucho

We arrived at Narita Airport in pretty good spirits at around 5.30pm and were already thinking about our first yummy meal in Tokyo. Aiden however paid the price of watching too many movies and not getting much sleep on the plane. He dozed off on the Narita Express train which conveniently connects Narita Airport to Tokyo city.

We stayed in the very new Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel right smack in Ginza and we were not disappointed. It is situated right above a subway station so getting around with children in tow is no problem at all.

First stop was skewers for dinner at the Yurakucho area, a 10 minute walk from our hotel. Located underneath a bridge are various restaurants, mostly selling skewers. Pretty cheap and quite affordable and frequented by many locals, the best part is the trains rumbling above us as we tuck into the food.

Day 2 - Ginza / Odaiba

In the morning, after breakfast in the Ginza area and some window shopping, I left Cheryl and the kids for lunch with some colleagues who are based in Tokyo. I know I shouldn't have but I'm glad I did, as they treated me to amazing BBQ beef, or Yakiniku.

I rejoined them after their own lunch date with Cheryl's local friend, and proceeded to Odaiba. Although it wasn't far away, there were a few train connections to make and luckily the kids were up for it. Maybe they were looking forward to the toy shops and attractions that we mentioned.

Unfortunately, we arrived 5 minutes past the last admission time for Legoland and were denied entry. Pretty bummed I must say as the place was going to remain open for the another 2 hours or so! I guess the tip is to research and plan properly when it comes to attractions and not go with the flow like what we tried to do.

Day 3 - Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland is a must go if you are visiting Tokyo with kids. However, I wouldn't recommend staying in one of the hotels next to it as it would be quite inconvenient to go elsewhere, like Shibuya or Shinjuku. Amazingly, Tokyo Disneyland is actually cheaper than the Universal Studios in Singapore. Restaurants served proper food at reasonable prices and everything else was wallet friendly. I know I had to say "That's too expensive. Why don't we buy something else?" many times when we visited USS, but never in Tokyo Disneyland.

If you have older kids (maybe above 12), you might want to visit Disneysea as well. "Duffy" the Disney Bear is exclusively sold inside Disneysea and we were so tempted to go. However, the rides and characters would not be as kid friendly. I've been told that you hardly see Mickey Mouse in there! It would be tough for me to explain who on earth is Indiana Jones, so no Duffy bear for us yet again.

Back to Disneyland. A common problem of such themeparks is the insane queues, especially when you have young children with you. Two tips would be to get as many Fast Passes as you can, and to take more rides after the fireworks display.

Unlike in USS, Fast Passes in Tokyo Disneyland do not cost anything. You just have to be at the machines to get them, and return for the ride at the stipulated time. It works on a quota, first come first serve system, so the later you take the Fast Pass, the later the given timeslot. Also, once you get a Fast Pass, you can't get another one until an hour or so later. So an efficient way is to have one person go around collecting Fast Passes for everyone while the rest queue for the faster moving rides the normal way.

Secondly, if possible, try to stay beyond the fireworks display which is around 8.30pm. The park closes at around 10pm. Many visitors are Japanese on annual passes and they would start to leave around dinner time. That's when the queues start to shorten.

Oh, maybe this doesn't count as a tip as it would be obvious to Singaporeans, but do get your tickets online to avoid queues. You can buy first and decide on the actual day which park to visit, land or sea.

The kids had so much fun hunting down their favourite Disney characters and trying the rides. The Disney magic is real!

Day 4 - Tsukiji / Chiyoda / Asakusa / Oshiage

Many people would wake up early to witness the Tsukiji fish market auction but not the Yang family, especially after a long day in Disneyland. In my defence, we would have to arrive at 3am and wait 3 hours for the auction to start at around 6am. That sounds crazy for even myself to sit through, let alone the kids! So, we arrived at the outer market area at around 10.30am to check out the various shops selling super fresh seafood and delicacies. There are a few famous ones in the inner market with long queues and higher prices. As we have eaten there before years ago, we decided to try the restaurants in the outer market instead. No regrets, with shorter queues, lower prices and uncompromised quality!

After filling out stomachs with various seafood and street snacks, we headed to the Imperial Palace, followed by the Senso-ji temple at Asakusa. We had a great time people watching and stuffing our mouths with Japanese snacks. So many samples to try!

After dinner (I'm surprised we could eat some more!), we made our way to the newest observation tower nearby, the Tokyo Skytree. It is even taller at 634m than the Tokyo Tower at only 333m. The best thing about the Skytree is that it sits on top of a train station and a shopping mall that has many quirky shops. Some would say it is a tourist trap but we love it this way. We are such typical Singaporeans haha!

Day 5 - Aoyama / Harajuku

It's the last day of our holiday already! After checking out of our room, we headed to Aoyama for some window shopping, before walking to Harajuku to buy some toys at Kiddyland. After a mandatory meal at our favourite ramen place (Jangara Ramen), we explored the famous Takeshita Street and had even more snacks.

We rounded off Ava's first overseas experience by visiting the Honda showroom (with the Asimo demonstration) and some last minute shopping back in Ginza.

Even though we only had limited time in Tokyo, I'm glad we didn't pack the schedule. We took our time at the various attractions, took many coffee/snack breaks and didn't set out to see everything that was penciled down in the itinerary. We ended up with many beautiful memories of the time spent together, and that is just priceless.

The kids still remember the trip fondly and are looking forward to the next family trip!

View the video of our trip here (watch in HD!):
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