Tang SiFu

53095_476760003543_3112716_oI’ve never been hugged by my dad.  Growing up, I was under no illusion that I was anywhere near the favourite of his 9 kids.

I thought he was harsh, dictatorial, mean-spirited; I couldn’t stand watching him pander to those with social standing.  I was appalled when he once grabbed a little Indian kid out of the Odeon by the ear and told him never to come back.  The kid had been hawking curry puffs from a basket and the way my dad saw it, was threatening our own livelihood.

He was never quite sure how old I was, let alone remember my birthdays.  He once threatened to break my legs for wearing shorts.  It was a rough relationship and I used it to milk for sympathy from anyone who would listen.

Ironically it took a privileged Scandinavian to help me see things from a different perspective.  I had relayed these stories to Steffen (my boyfriend at the time) in anticipation that it would win me some brownie points; his response took me aback and somewhat annoyed me.

Yes, but did he remember ANY of his kids’ birthdays?  Did he hug ANY of his kids?  Never having met my dad, Steffen, at all of 21, was nevertheless wise enough to the fact that my dad probably had a tough upbringing and A LOT of responsibilities AND was of a different era and culture where affection was not freely displayed etc. etc. etc.  But, but, but – what about his tolerance towards some of my other siblings’ perceived misbehaviour and hardline towards mine?  By that stage, even I knew I was splitting hairs.

My dad, Wa Koy Tang, was born in 1927 in Malaysia from immigrant Chinese parents.  His dad was an alcoholic who died when my dad was some 13 years of age.   Dad had to leave school to take up the breadwinner mantle for the family, having only completed primary school education.

There are gaps in my knowledge of his early years; I know he was sent to labour camp during the Japanese occupation of Malaya, where he worked for a not-completely-evil Japanese industrialist.

He was fed a diet solely comprised of yam which made his face swell up – it gave his mom some relief when she finally got to see him after a long absence, thinking he must have been well-fed by his oppressors, when in fact he was severely malnourished and at the brink of death.  It was also during this stint in the labour camp that he developed an injury to his knee that was to haunt him late in life.

His marriage to my mom was pre-arranged; he met her when she first got off the boat from China – they were both kids back then.  He laughed when he relayed in his twilight years that he thought at the time she was really ugly, with buck teeth.

My parents went on to have 10 kids, 9 of whom made it to adulthood.  My dad worked 20-hour days 7 days a week – that’s 20 hours of hard, physical labour.  He started out selling street food;  he was enterprising enough to diversify, eventually taking up a canteen at the Odeon Cinema.

He borrowed money from friends to buy a bus and start a school bus run.  He then started a factory bus run.  He ran most of these ventures at the same time.  On top of that, he somehow managed to find time to learn, and excel in, martial arts.  And lead a martial arts school in Seremban, earning him the title of “Tang Sifu” (Master Tang) among his followers.

He even travelled to Port Dickson some twenty miles away once a week to teach additional night classes there.  And he’d hire his bus to daytrippers on weekends driving them to the beachside resort of Port Dickson or to KL.

As a kid, I once found a very nice sketch of a girl back when we were living in Templer Flats.  I tried to cut her out with a pair of scissors so I could play dress-ups with her, but with my poor scissor skills, I accidentally chopped her head off.  Growing up in relative poverty does not preclude one from throwing a tantrum, and I did – I wanted whoever drew that picture to do another one.

Nobody owned up to it, so my stepmom helpfully tried to replicate the drawing to appease me.  Her sketch was awful and I bawled my eyes out.  It wasn’t until many years later that I found out the mystery artist was in fact my dad.

I’ll never fully learn the scope of my dad’s talents.  I know that despite having very little education, he could speak every Chinese dialect, some of which are so obscure I’ve (still) never heard of them.  He could communicate in Malay and seemed to have a better and quicker grasp of English on arrival in Australia than his much younger wife, despite never having learned them formally.

Back in Malaysia he would watch English movies and TV shows without subtitles and understand the entire plot and get the gist of the dialogue without knowing the language.  My dad never had the privilege of education, never had the luxury of indulging in his creativity and exploring his potential; he worked himself nearly to death, driving his buses till, on many occasions, he could no longer keep his eyes open.

And when it came to the dinner table, he always let his family eat first, claiming he was full until there were only scraps left for him.  Only when my stepmom threatened to throw out the leftovers, would he reluctantly eat up.  This pattern of behaviour continued his entire life, even when his kids were all grown up and we were no longer impoverished or in danger of ever going hungry again.

In “throwing away” all my higher education and promising career to pursue my passion for Malaysian food, my dad was the only person in my family who seemed to get it.  My family doesn’t get it; my stepmom with her occasional nagging about my waste of a good education, and the deafening silence and lack of moral support from most other quarters are the kind of stuff I’ve resigned myself to.

And yet, the gleam in my dad’s eyes when he occasionally inquired about how things were going made it all worthwhile – he’d ask with a smile about adding this dish or that dish to my repertoire, or reminisce about his own experience in selling the same dishes back in his younger days.

The first time I was featured in a half-page spread in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Living section, he laminated a copy of it and kept it as a souvenir.

My dad is dying.  He’s suffering from dementia and doesn’t have much time left.  He sleeps most of the day and my stepmom looks after him.  He shows signs of lucidity once in awhile, eg. when interacting with baby Noah, even if I doubt he really knows who he is.

Recently at family dinner, my brother-in-law who’s been in Australia probably about half a century, tried to crack a joke by speaking very broken Malay to my dad.

He gave up when he couldn’t remember the Malay word for “fishing”.  My dad, seeming to be in his own little world up to that point, piped up – “pancing ikan!”  Happy Father’s day, Dad.  I love you.

Odeon Cinema lobby

Odeon Cinema lobby at Chinese New Year


Letter to My Customers

To all our valued customers,

This is a screendump of an email I received earlier this week –

“ …If you are charging $ 16 for a plate of rojak, we have high expectation that  it is of utmost palatable quality. My simple homemade rojak is definitely better. ” I asked Gwen for her bank details and refunded her money immediately.  Vani ALWAYS asks each table how the food was after their meal , so I’m perplexed why she didn’t speak up at the time, but whatever.

Here’s another one from Brindha several weeks prior, complaining about the service whilst complimenting us on the food – “I am terribly sorry to have to write an email like this to you.  However, I hope that some improvement can be made to the service so that it complements how good the food is and doesn’t deter people from coming to your restaurant”.

Which I would’ve taken somewhat more seriously if her group hadn’t simultaneously  posted on a review site – “..Please spend another few $$$ and go somewhere erse (sp)…Far the worst place I have ever been in Sydney, very disappointed as I took my in laws with me.”

These are just two examples, a number of others have crept up online over the last couple of weeks and if I were to be analytical about it, I would say they coincided with the media exposure I have been receiving of late – a combination of elevated expectations and a case of the tall poppy syndrome.

Every few months or so, I get approached by interested parties offering to buy me out, and it has been something I’ve considered on and off, in particular some 18 months ago when faced with the prospect of a difficult pregnancy and the knowledge that I would be raising a disabled child alone.   My crew had been adamant we kept going, hence why I’ve stuck around.

The fact is, despite the smiles in the Noah homecoming video after 7 months in hospital, behind all the cute Noah pictures and videos, one sobering reality remains, and that is that Noah is still a very sick baby who needs round-the-clock care and who may not make it past his third birthday.

And behind the façade of normality on social media, I am in reality still a single parent providing full-time care to Noah whilst trying to navigate (without much success) the intricate web of government assistance and early intervention programmes along with running a business.

Consequently, ever since his birth 10 months ago when I would stay with him in the ICU daily and right up to the present day, I have generally been absent from the day-to-day running of the restaurant.

In my absence, there are no doubt some quality control issues that have crept in that we need to address and because of that, starting this week, I will be back in the kitchen supervising everything  whilst keeping Noah in the adjacent room downstairs that currently works as a storage room, so I can make sure our staff are consistent with the meals that get served.

I continue to run the markets myself largely because I can’t find anyone to replace me, and when Noah got distressed one day by the heat and smoke and general chaos of Leichhardt, I dropped him off home, put him to sleep and came back out to load up my van and leave.  When I relayed that to one of my fellow stallholders, they made a veiled threat to report me to the authorities for leaving a child at home, so I made a point of always having him with me after that.  (For what it’s worth he was still sound asleep when I got back home, but before you defend the lady’s actions, I get it.)

Two weeks ago, at a different market, I received a phonecall a day prior to advise that someone’s reported to the authorities that I’ve been bringing a baby there, and that the occupational health and safety inspector would be around to check the next day, hence why I’ve had to hire an extra person and make myself scarce in between setup and pulldown.

You can appreciate why I would feel under siege of late and why the prospect of bailing seems somewhat more palatable than Gwen’s experience of my rojak.

Anyway, as I said above, I concede we need to address some quality control issues with our food.

Other swipes eg. about our uncomfortable seating/basic toilet facilities etc. will NOT be fixed.  The fact is, despite the high rent and overheads, my premises do NOT come with a toilet, so you are in fact coming up to my private living quarters and using my bathroom when you ask for the amenities.  You’re welcome to hold it in until you leave, but if you’re going to use my bathroom, have the decency not to complain about its lack of frills online.  And if my seats are not good enough for you, you’re really missing the point of Malaysian street food.

So from now on, I’m back in the kitchen, and if it becomes too much, we will cross that bridge at a later stage.  If I need to travel for work or am double-booked and am not sufficiently confident that the restaurant kitchen is in good hands, I will close it for the duration.

To all my patient and longsuffering customers, thank you for cutting me some slack this whole time.  To those who don’t know my circumstances, well, here it is, now you know.  To all the other detractors, “please spend another few $$$ and go somewhere erse” as Brindha’s group would say.


Footnote 1) – the day after I posted this, two guys walked into my restaurant and made me an offer on the lease that I couldn’t refuse. My Malaysian food business still exists but the restaurant is no more.

Footnote 2) – the featured image in this post was taken during a pop-up event promoted as a celebration of my return to cooking after taking a few weeks off when Noah was born. A day or two before the pop-up I was advised that Noah needed to have urgent open-heart surgery by which stage we had already sold a lot of tickets, so I opted to go ahead with it. In between posing for the cameras, cooking and giving a speech I was running to the back of the premises to make phonecalls to the hospital for progress reports on Noah.

Baby Noah’s Journey

Several weeks ago, in my first group meeting held with all the different medical teams at Westmead Children’s Hospital, I floated the idea of having Noah home by Christmas, notwithstanding any deterioration in his condition.

I’m grateful for the doctors and nurses who worked together to that aim, and on 17 December, baby Noah was finally discharged after spending the first 7+ months of his life at Westmead Children’s Hospital.

I’ve attached 2 videos here, one of which is a slideshow of photos taken since Noah’s birth, and the second, shot and compiled by Ian Chow.

No amount of words or images could do justice to the gratitude I feel for the staff at Westmead and for the public support I’ve received especially via Twitter (many from people I may never meet in person).  I thank you all for keeping me going in the worst of times.

I’m loathe to single out people for praise but it’d be remiss of me not to mention Dr. Sandra Heck at Grace Ward who was instrumental, I believe, in saving Noah’s life in more than one instance.  Also nurse Rebecca (who couldn’t stop saying “oh my goodness” in the homecoming video) – Noah’s first diary entries were by her, and her care and attention towards him during his first 3 months were not unnoticed.  And of course, Cheryl, Noah’s Ward Granny, a volunteer who was a retired nurse herself, for spending Mondays and Tuesdays with him the last couple of months of his stay at Westmead.

Noah’s journey is by no means over; he has pulmonary hypertension and respiratory problems and has endless hospital appointments ahead of him.  For now, however, I am grateful to be able to end the year with this critical chapter of his life behind us.


Baby Noah

Compiled by Ian Chow through stitching together some images and videos from my public posts regarding Baby Noah.

The doctors are aiming for a discharge date of Monday 17 December; he still has a couple of hurdles to overcome before then, but I’m hopeful that at 7 months, he will get to leave the hospital at long last.


Letter to My Baby 7 October 2012

Dear Baby Noah,

You’re nearly 5 months old now and you’ve yet to leave the hospital.  You came very close earlier this week, when they transferred you out of the ICU for the first time, to the general ward.  Mommy was told you could be home within weeks; days even.  Just like the last time when you had just had the pulmonary band put in your heart and they sat me down with notes on how to tube-feed you when you came home for a little while (which didn’t happen because you got sick again) until your full heart bypass, this time they gave me notes and instructions on the ventilation equipment that would be coming home with us.  I guess I won’t be needing those anytime soon either because you got very sick and they had to transfer you back to the ICU.

Mommy often gets asked how I do the things I do.  Some people think I’m strong to keep carrying on with the business; others probably think it’s tacky that I look like I have too much of a good time goofing around online and with my crew while you’re sick in hospital.

But you know mommy visits you every single day that I can and we cuddle for hours alone except for the handful of visitors you’ve had since you were born.  I joke that the bills aren’t going to pay themselves, but the truth is I don’t need to be running such a complex, expansive business.  I could sell up and I did consider that for awhile before you were born; then I could spend every waking hour with you without worrying about staffing issues here and placing grocery orders there and disputing incorrect charges and wrong deliveries and dealing with compliance requirements and marketing and promotional activities and the fifty million other things that come with being a business owner.

Even with what was known before you were born, nobody could guess how much more confronting your problems have been – Down’s, AVSD, duodenal atresia, hydrops, pulmonary artery banding, chronic lung disease, pulmonary hypertension, post-surgery leakage between the right atrium and left ventricle – your case is as complex as has confronted the doctors at the ICU, at a hospital that takes in the sickest babies in all of NSW and even overseas.

You’ve nearly died 3 times now, first when you were delivered and they had to resuscitate you, then two middle-of-the-night calls for me to come in, once right after your bowel surgery and another time when your hydrops that they thought had gone away, came back.  Then there was the time when your heart started failing sooner than they had expected, and because you were too little, they decided to put in a temporary band around the artery to buy you a little time.  Mommy had a pop-up restaurant event happening that night so I couldn’t be with you during the surgery.  I couldn’t cancel because they didn’t give me enough notice about it.  So in-between speeches and smiling for the cameras mommy was calling the hospital for updates on a surgery that I was told beforehand there was a 5% chance of you dying on the operating table, though the test would be how you held up post-surgery.

Then they thought you could come home for a couple of months before your big open heart surgery, so one of the supervising nurses sat me down and went through the whole feeding tube thing with me because you would need to be tube-fed for a long time.  And other stuff like getting my borrowed baby capsule fitted by a certified mechanic, and how I would need to stay overnight at the hospital with you alone in a room, and spend time taking you out in a pram in the hospital grounds to acclimate both of us to having you home.  I was dizzy with excitement that night.

But the next day I was told your heart had started failing again and the neonatologists wanted you to have your bypass right away because they figured you’re never going to get better and they might as well risk it, but the surgeons refused to do the operation because they didn’t want to play the role of ‘executioners’ and wanted to wait.  And I was told if they waited you might in fact get worse and they’d never be able to operate, and also that you might need to be hooked up to an ECMO machine during the surgery because of your chronic lung disease, which would cause permanent developmental damage especially for someone with Down Syndrome.

Mommy has been confronted with the possibility of you dying even before you were born.  Everywhere I turned it seemed people thought I was better off terminating the pregnancy.  I was told most Down Syndrome babies don’t make it to term anyway; it was “nature’s way” of dealing with defects.   And when you had your first life-saving surgery 2 weeks after birth, I was told everything had gone well, only to be called in and told you were at death’s door.

They were running blood tests on you every hour overnight and your condition was deteriorating despite everything they tried.  Then mommy showed up at 4am and for the first time, it seemed the reading was marginally better.  The supervising neonatologist was on the phone with the surgeon and as a last resort had wanted him to cut you open again to make sure nothing was missed earlier in the day, that wasn’t showing up in the X-Ray.  They decided to wait until the next hourly blood test before they wheeled you into theater and again, it showed a slight improvement, and it continued to improve after that.  Thank God they didn’t cut you open again because I think that would have killed you; you were 2.2kg and so incredibly fragile.

To treat your hydrops, they had been giving you steroids and were shunting fluid out of your body.  They stopped the steroids when you had your first surgery, and sealed off the shunt because it looked like all the fluids had been drained and you were okay.  Then your tummy kept getting bigger and I was told you were fine; the doctors had been keeping a close eye on it and there was nothing to worry about.

At 5 weeks old, Mommy even posted a picture of you on Twitter and people were making jokes about your big tummy.   That night, I got another phonecall to come in and was told you were dying; that the hydrops had in fact not gone away and the fluid gathering around your tummy was now infected.  They resumed the shunting and the steroids (which they weren’t sure had helped in the first place – there’s no known, fixed cure for hydrops) and I was called into the office by the night supervising neonatologist and was told that it wasn’t looking good; that in fact if you were to have recovered from hydrops, you would have done so within the first 30 days.

The day supervisor started her shift and she called me in for a meeting as well.  She was even more blunt – she said that hydrops plus Down’s is in fact not survivable and I should arrange for someone to be with me for when you die, especially if I wanted to capture the event on video as a keepsake.

I demanded she backed up her statement with statistics, but she wasn’t able to provide any because she said, most such pregnancies don’t make it to term.  They’d stopped feeding you because you weren’t tolerating it – I’d been expressing milk every day and labelling them diligently in the ward freezer, and they weren’t being used, and I couldn’t bear the thought of emptying out the bottles if you didn’t make it, so I stopped that day.  I had also, after 5 weeks, just sent off your birth registration forms the day before after waiting for your health to improve, and now faced the prospect of having your birth certificate arrive in the mail after I had buried you.  I think that was the first and only time I broke down at the hospital, really.

Then when I got home that night I googled hydrops + Down’s and found a case in a parenting forum where the baby did make it, so that renewed my resolve.  And I chose not to make arrangements for when you died, just like I chose to turn down the offer of the free professional photography session before your heart surgery where the nurses would specially remove all the tubes and tapes from your face beforehand so I would have photos of you as a ‘normal’ baby in case you didn’t make it out alive.

And I reiterated to the neonatologists that palliative care was off the table; I wanted them to throw the book at you where it came to saving your life.  They told me from their experience most parents get antsy at about the 6-8 week mark, when life starts to get in the way of the hospital and that’s when most lose their resolve to fight.  And that I might change my mind after watching you scream for the hundredth time as they pin you down to try and draw blood from you for tests (you don’t bleed easily), and I might then just want to hold you and let you die peacefully in my arms.  I said it wasn’t going to happen; I was in for the long haul.  That I get that my life would be so much “easier” without you; that if it was about convenience, I would have aborted you during the pregnancy.  So the next time I was “sat down” for a chat, the neonatologist took a different tack.

He said that in his opinion, after everything you’ve already been through, he doesn’t think you’ll ever be a productive human being; you will need round-the-clock care, and whilst he knew from watching me that I would be up to whatever I was confronted with, that I needed to consider what would happen to you after I’m gone; that you would be a ward of the state; that therefore I should give in and let you die, which you would, without the heart surgery.

That made me mad.  He’s basically saying that you will be a burden on society and therefore don’t deserve to live.  And that’s why mommy does what I do.  I run my business from your bedside; I take restaurant reservations, negotiate business deals, do conference calls via Skype and Google Hangout, hold meetings at the hospital cafeteria, do media interviews etc. while I’m cuddling you in my arms.  I’m building a little empire for you, baby Noah, so that you will one day be the envy of “normal” kids, not the liability that the doctors predict you will be.

Now with this latest setback mommy will have to wait a little longer before I can show you off to the world.  But it will happen, my little Hakka warrior.  Just you wait.

The Psychics (aka Chinese Ghost Story Part 2)

“He’s VERY tall – at least 6’2”.” That sounds promising, I thought.

“Let’s see about his age; how old are you?” asked the phone psychic.  OK, aren’t YOU supposed to know the answer?  For someone who’d had reviews from people claiming she was able to tell them even the names of their future spouses, I was a little disappointed she’d already started fishing for information.  I told her anyhow, and was irked when she gave me an age that was conveniently quite a few on mine.  I mean, I’m not Madonna/J. Lo -sad, but I’m not in the business of propagating the Asian mailorder bride stereotype by dating a geriatric either.

Sensing my scepticism, she added – I can see he really looks after himself  –  I get the feeling you’re going to be very surprised to find out his age. Silence. In fact he looks more like 40-45, she offered encouragingly.  That wasn’t helpful for someone like me who’s never been into manicured metrosexuals.  The clincher, of course, was that it would be someone I’d meet at work.  That could apply to the average wage-earner, but as the Queen Bee in my dinky little organisation, who was I going to meet at work? My next kitchenhand?

I was phone-skyping, believe it or not, from my hospital bed; I’d been kept overnight for observation after one of my daily visits for monitoring of my high-risk pregnancy had raised some alarm bells.  Determined as I had been right throughout my pregnancy not to let a little fact like having a special needs baby on the way interrupt the rest of my life, I’d arranged for an overnight bag complete with laptop and mobile broadband modem to be dropped off the evening before. It wasn’t easy trying to nail a reading with this ‘psychic to the stars’ as she was known, so I wasn’t about to cancel our scheduled appointment.

So how did someone like me, raised to believe fortune-telling is the Devil’s work, end up on a psychic wild goose chase that lasted several months?  Well, to cut a long story short, it was because I’d become estranged from my church, so I decided to seek guidance from other sources.  Hearing stories about other people’s experiences, I was sufficiently intrigued to finally give it a shot.

My first consultation – by phone with someone in the USA – reeled me in after the fact.  A particular card from the psychic’s tarot deck kept making an appearance – which she herself thought was peculiar. I looked it up online, found that it commonly signified pregnancy (although most readers tended to stay away from that interpretation), then a day or two after that – I discovered I was pregnant.  That did it for me; I called her again – we both figured her ‘guide’ had been trying to clue her in and she’d missed the signs, and from then on, it became something of an addiction as I started to seek others out with abandon.

Some had better hit rates than others. Some used numerology, others read palms, runes, angel cards, had spirit guides, saw dead people; most deployed a combination of these, and almost all used tarot decks.

The no.1 question I wanted to know was what was going to happen with my pregnancy, having had two consecutive miscarriages prior to this. The US-based psychic said it was going to be difficult, but she felt the baby was going to make it to delivery.  (Correct). I consulted with her again several months later; she said I was having a girl.  I already knew it was going to be a boy, at which point she was extremely flummoxed, said she’s usually very good, apologized and said she’d felt “off” all day because of the death of a close friend, and offered to refund my money or reschedule.  I liked that she was ethical and we agreed to pick it up again a couple of days later.  This time, she said it showed that whilst there would be problems after the baby arrived, they would go away within 3-6mths, max. (Noah’s nearly 3mths old at the time of writing.)  In summary, a lot of the things she told me leaned towards the ‘sage advice’ column ie. suggestions as to how to deal with a particular situation rather than outright forecast.

Then there was the Newtown psychic recommended by a friend of a friend; some online reviews said she’s the most accurate ever encountered, so I booked a reading with her.  She asked for a couple of minutes’ meditation before she got started, presumably to get tuned in to me.  I don’t know if it was a bad connection but I just knew she had nothing when she started telling me stuff about myself that anyone can probably pick up within seconds of meeting me, without laying claim to special psychic powers (I’m assertive, a straight-talker, I stand out, yada yada).  When the cold reading seemed to be getting nowhere I started feeding her information out of frustration – and that became a pattern with a lot of my subsequent psychic consultations, which begs the question of how much is built around what you tell them and how much is actually special revelation.  In the end, because it was taped, I went back to it months after the timeline had passed and found she got pretty much every single thing wrong, which has to take special talent in itself.

Next was one I came across in an online forum – again declared by a fan as ‘the most accurate’ they’d ever encountered – so I called the number supplied and was at her place within a couple of hours.  On arrival it concerned me a little that she was trying to cover all bases mystically (Jack of all trades, master of none, etc.) – everything from the incense that was burning, to the Hindu meditation music playing in the background, to Persian rugs, Scottish runes, angel cards (from what I can gather, they’re like feel-good affirmations – they do nothing for me), framed pics of the Dalai Lama – or was it some Indian mystic – I forget; even a magical book on King Arthur and his Round Table.  The only thing missing, really, was a crystal ball – and I’m pretty sure if I’d looked hard enough I would’ve seen it sitting on one of her many bookshelves.  Plus she had a cat – I’m allergic to cats.  Then the cat, acting like it owned the place, jumped on the table and knocked over the framed pic of the holy man, then sat on it, which kinda freaked the psychic out and ruined the mood somewhat.

To top it off, after my inevitable frustration that the ‘cold reading’ was getting nowhere, I blurted out that what I really wanted to know was what was in store for my baby.  I was about 6mths along at that stage, and clearly so, due to continued complications with my pregnancy.  Her reply? Oh, I didn’t even notice you were pregnant.  I put it down to the dim lighting and smoke from the incense.  That, or she just thought I had a fat tummy.  Anyway, taking my lead, she channelled her psychic energy to my baby, broke into a reassuring smile, and said – it’s a girl, isn’t it?  I can see her playing on the floor, just over your right shoulder.  I told her it’s in fact a boy, at the same time growing worried about whether this little girl spirit was going to follow me home.

Just as I was about to give up on the whole deal, I was then told by one of my staffers about how they’d stumbled across an old Chinese fortune-teller.  She’d set up a table plus handwritten cardboard sign in the paved mall area in Haymarket offering readings for $10.  My staffer got a reading done by her, and when I was brought up as a ‘friend’ she was concerned about, the lady told her that I work in a kitchen (she thought Chinese restaurant, but, close enough) and also that my baby would be a boy – and that I (and the baby?) will be fine.  These plus other short-term predictions that turned out to be accurate, got some of us at Jackie M Inc. intrigued.  We spent the next several weeks making casual and not-so-casual detours to Haymarket on our evenings off, wandering up and down the street trying to hunt down this mystic, hoping to get our own readings done.  We never found her.  Maybe the cops got to her first and shooed her away.

Our next stop was the Mind, Body, Spirit Festival at Darling Harbour.  Convinced, thanks to that recent experience with the Chinese lady, that maybe the Asians have special access to Eastern mystical powers, we lasered in on this Thai lady for our readings.  Not only did she pick up right away that my staffer had given her a fake date of birth (done to test her), she also figured that I was her boss, although we went in separately.

With my reading, she nailed some aspects of my character – I’m very active and busy, strong but extremely flexible to the point that it gets taken advantage of, hard to get to know because of trust issues – “fewer than 5 people know you well” – extremely resilient, very adventurous, practical to a fault; using the metaphor of the squeaky wheel getting the oil – I don’t squeak much – hence I get taken for granted.  Also flattered me with others – excellent hand for business, extremely creative, lots of admirers, plus my life is about sex, power and money – by way of people wanting to give me authority in this life.  Also, this is meant to be a GREAT year for me to realise the extent of my powers – yay.

What about the baby??? Again, oh, I didn’t even realise you were pregnant.  It was all downhill from there.  She saw a boy AND a girl – but she thought one of them might actually be my business.  Ignoring the feeling she was straddling the fence somewhat, I helpfully offered that I do in fact have a daughter, and am now expecting a boy.  So she ran with that – he’s going to be very powerful, very similar in temperament to me, sensitive to noise, like the same kind of music I do – but the clincher this time – healthy – no problems at all.  Noah had already been diagnosed with a whole host of life-threatening problems in-utero.

Anyway, a week later, and some 6 weeks before my baby was meant to be due, I was in the hospital, voice-skyping with this renowned psychic.  I will be in another relationship towards the end of this year, but stronger relationship aspects lie in about a year’s time (that’s when I meet the geriatric kitchenhand).  Also, overseas travel before the end of the year, which her ‘guide’ specifically told her would be “well worth (my) while because the outcome will be good”.

Oh, and “nothing drastic around the birth of the baby” (so wrong, I don’t even know where to start).  Finally, she asked when the baby would arrive.  Her ‘guide’ was being very difficult – refused to give her a date, she said.  I was fully expecting to check out as soon as the morning shift doctor had given me the all-clear at that stage.  She persisted with her ‘guide’ and he told her – “try ten hours”.  She’ll be thinking of me that evening, she said.  Eight hours later, Noah was delivered via emergency caesarean.


Tucked into my hospital bed on Mothers’ Day after being held for observation. My kid was thoughtful enough to pack my Hello Kitty in the overnight bag she’d dropped off.

Emails to Vodafail

An old friend from my teenage years came to visit at the hospital last week and in the course of our conversation she joked about my legendary fixation with writing complaint letters back in the day.  One good thing to come out of spending hours at the ICU Ward is the inordinate amount of downtime when baby Noah is asleep.  This has spurred me to pick up where I left off, except it’s even easier to do so now in this digital age without the need for stamps and post office lines.  And of course, when I get nowhere with them, I can always post the back-and-forths here 😛


26 June

to vcredit,
Account No: xxx xx xx xx

Some months back when one of my “3” mobile phone contracts expired, I was coerced by the 3/Vodafone store staff to upgrade to a Vodafone service, which I did. Unfortunately the connectivity was so bad I requested to be transferred back to “3”, and after liaising with the TIO your office agreed to cancel my Vodafone contract and execute the transfer. I was assured by your staff that the outstanding balance on my Vodafone account would be automatically wiped out since I was only on your plan for less than a day when I made the request for the change back.

Last week, I went to get 2 of my other mobile phone plans renewed and was told this time that I had no choice but to transfer to Vodafone and was assured that your connectivity issues have been resolved. When they attempted to do the service upgrade to Vodafone, my account showed up as having been “flagged for collection”. I can only imagine this is a mistake on your part and I look forward to your response confirming you have now rectified your error. Failing that, I will be in touch with the TIO with an official complaint regarding this unethical practice.

I look forward to your reply.

Jackie M


V to Jackie M –

Hey Jackie,

Thankyou very much for your email. Unfortunately in terms of billing and customer account issues, this is not something that can be assessed by the VHA credit department. Please contact either customer care or your local dealer to assist in your request for these services to be upgraded and migrated to a new vodafone account.

Kindest regards,



26 June

to V
Simon please be advised that

1) I no longer want to transfer or upgrade my services to Vodafone.
2) I did contact yr local dealer who were the ones who referred me to you.
3) I want my account status about being flagged for collection to be removed. That is all.

If you are unable to assist please refer me to someone who can rather than to people who have already told me to in turn contact you.

As someone who has never had a credit problem you can appreciate my confusion about this black mark on my account and would expect your immediate rectification failing which I will have to involve the TIO again for what i perceive to be underhanded tactics on Vodafone’s part.

Sent from my iPhone


(6 days later)

Jackie M to V

Still waiting on your response, Simon.

Jackie M.


V to Jackie M –

Good Morning

The confusion from the Credit team appears to have been caused by your correct, full surname has not been provided in any e-mail below (only the initial, M) Also, you’ve stated your application was declined due to a billing issue and not provided your application number.

I have had a search with the account number (which is not something the Credit team uses to assess applications) and can confirm this is not a credit team issue.

The reason your application has declined is the store has attempted to submit your application under your old account number 705383368. As there is no active service under this account number, the system automatically declined the application.

The application will need to be submitted correctly, under a new account number.

If you have any further isues when you resubmit your application again, under a new account number, please feel free to contact the credit team to discuss.

When you contact the credit team, please provide your correct, full name and your application number (not account number).

To confirm: Happy to review your application again, once it is submitted correctly under a new account number to create a new account.



Jackie M to V –

Bruce, that is incorrect. I would appreciate it if you could re-read my email correspondence thus far, but

1) In case you missed it the last time, I DO NOT want to submit an application to Vodafone any more.

2) My concern is NOT that I am unable to submit an application. It is that in the process of transferring my ‘3’ service to Vodafone, they discovered that Vodafone has previously “FLAGGED FOR COLLECTION” my old Vodafone account. I should NEVER have been flagged for collection per my explanation in my previous emails.

3) I’d like to highlight the word “PREVIOUSLY” in the above point. The “3” store did NOT attempt to submit an application which then got rejected. They never got that far. They SAW that I had an EXISTING Vodafone account. They SAW that it said it was “FLAGGED FOR COLLECTION”. They told me because of that, NO PROBLEMS transferring my service anyway, but I would not qualify for the special deal they had spent minutes trying to sell me on before that came up, and would instead get a run-of-the-mill contract. Minutes of my life I will never get back, I might add. Which is why I’ve decided I’m not transferring to Vodafone any more. Because life’s too short.

4) I WOULD, however, like to have that status REMOVED because obviously if “3” can do a cross check and find that to be the case, what more any other companies I do and will deal with in the future when it comes to credit checking.

5) The account number I submitted to your office originally was in fact given to me by “3” as the number to quote, along with your email address ie. vcredit@vodafone.com.au. If you were to state that the credit department does not use account numbers as a point of reference, maybe that is something you need to take up with your colleagues at “3” since I’m obviously only following orders. I can even scan and send you the piece of paper on which they scribbled both pieces of information as they waved me away, if that’s any help 😛

I look forward to your timely response to this matter.

Jaclyn xxx xxx (my full name, for what it’s worth)


Another super-long email from Bruce on what the Reseller needs to do to resubmit my application (with my inevitable reiteration that I do NOT want to reapply), before he finally rang me out of frustration and vented for a good half-hour at my inability to understand what he was trying to say.  I had to tell him to chill out because he talked so fast and in such high pitch I actually thought he was a woman for the first few minutes.  Yes, woman by the name of Bruce.  He was THAT convincing.

Bottom line – “Flagged for Collection” is a generic message all Vodafone resellers get when an application is declined.  It is MEANT to convey that my account is in arrears EVEN THOUGH IT’S NOT.  It’s meant to raise red flags so the Vodafone reseller calls up their credit team to find out, to then be told, no, all it means is that it’s an old, closed account – they shouldn’t attempt to migrate to a CLOSED Vodafone account; they have to create a NEW Vodafone account.  Quite simple, really, to Bruce.

I’m sure he’s still puzzled why I’d be concerned that next time I apply for, say, a credit card, some credit checking agency might pick up on that account status and decline my application.  That just doesn’t happen according to Bruce, because of privacy laws, supposedly.  I wouldn’t know; at this stage I’m happy just to have given Bruce a great start to his week by raising his blood pressure levels.  He was so adorably flustered I almost wanted to adopt him.

Baby Noah


Chinese Ghost Stories

When my mom and her adoptive family first arrived in Malaysia in the 1930s, the only place they could afford to rent was an apartment above a Chinese funeral parlour. It was cheap because the owners had problems leasing it out; living among the dead is taboo within most cultures; even more so among the highly superstitious Chinese.

In line with Chinese belief that the spirits of the deceased remain on earth for some eight days after death, I’m told mom would often see ghostly figures in their apartment. These were supposedly the spirits of those whose funerals were taking place downstairs.

There was the apparition of an old man sitting in their living room on one occasion, and another time, a young girl who wouldn’t stop crying. My mom asked why she was upset and she replied that it was because she had to leave this realm and she didn’t know where she was going.

My eldest sister remembers looking on in fear as mom consulted spirits by laying out some kind of cloth with writing on it, and seeing the divining saucer move by itself and land on the answers as she asked questions. I’ve never seen it myself, but it sounds like some kind of Chinese Ouija Board.

Then there was the day the principal at Choong Fee’s school had to summon my parents to school to tell them their young son was in his office, so terrified he had refused to go home. The reason?

He’d had a premonition that he was going to die young. After that incident, it was well-known that Choong Fee lived his life with a death fixation, seeking out fortune tellers and trying to get in contact with the other side, like my mom before him.

I don’t know about my siblings since I’ve generally lived my life quite apart from any of them, but I too have a death fixation. I guess it started with my mom’s passing. To have to spend 3 nights at the foot of her coffin in the funeral parlor and to be instructed to tell my mom to ‘cross the bridge’ if I saw her ghost would make an indelible mark on any six-year-old, I guess.

I remember my older sister recounting a vivid dream she had not so long after my mom’s death, about mom sitting at the foot of her bed and telling her she was very cold where she was. Not to mention my own morbid dreams about mom that continue to pop up every now and then.

When I was a teenager newly arrived in this country, a friend, whose dad was a renowned fortune teller, gave her a chart with my life path drawn out – completely unsolicited.

Despite my dread and trepidation, my curiosity got the better of me and I let her explain its meaning. It highlighted 3 years in which my life would be threatened; if I made it through each of those years, my life would continue unharmed until the next date on the chart.

Two of the three years have come and gone, and his forecasts have been seemingly accurate both times (I was the victim of a violent robbery one of those years, and I was in an accident the other – I think). The third year is yet to come.

Because of this kind of history, I’ve never been of the ‘all psychics are fake’ or ‘there’s no such thing as ghosts’ schools of thought, but rather that there is something out there, even if their origins and nature are unexplained.

The strident church teaching I was raised with, that frowned on any dabbling with spirit communication, meant that my fascination with the after-life was limited to watching scary movies and, when the genre took hold, paranormal reality TV shows.

At my first Australian school camp, I even tried to get exemption from a compulsory yoga class on account of my religious beliefs.

For the best part of my life, I saw people who consulted fortune tellers as weak-minded individuals who were susceptible to fraud, and held them with equal measures, I guess, of derision and pity.

That was, until late last year.

(to be continued)

Email to My Real Estate Agent

My landlord decided to change insurers to someone with family ties and suddenly I was confronted with a list of new, stringent compliance requirements that had never been demanded in the past, all of which I have spent weeks to meet, except the one last point regarding my exhaust that will cost me $900 to fix, which I’m resisting.  At Noah’s bedside at the ICU I just got an email from the real estate agent chasing me up about it.


First of all Anthony, I have received no further correspondence regarding the invasion of privacy and breach of contract with the workers turning up unannounced and banging on my roof when I was trying to sleep when I was heavily pregnant with severe complications.  Not good enough that you would say you would tell the owner.  You’ve said that many times before and it still happens.

Second of all, if you’re talking about the filters, I’ve been given a ballpark date with which to look for receipts from the cleaning but my staff have yet to recover them since as you can imagine, I have full boxes of tiny little receipts to go through.

Third of all re: the exhaust cleaning, I got a quote from an exhaust cleaning specialist who in his own words, said that THERE IS NO RISK BASED ON HIS ASSESSMENT AND ON THE TYPE OF COOKING I DO, OF THERE BEING A FIRE HAZARD.

Fourthly, as I have repeatedly pointed out to you, this is a completely out of the blue requirement by the new insurance brokers who are making completely unreasonable requests for compliance that have NEVER been requested in the 6 or so years I’ve been at the premises.

Fifthly, if it means that much to them, based on the exhaust cleaning people’s own assessment, I can try to organise for an objective third party certified inspector to check it out and produce a certificate stating there is no need for cleaning and no fire hazard posed.

And FINALLY, I just delivered my baby 6 weeks prematurely last week via emergency caesarean, I’m in the hospital 12-14hours a day to be by his side at the ICU, he’s suffering from THREE life threatening conditions, one of which has a 90% mortality rate (in other words, 9 out of 10 babies with this condition DIE)…so take this for what it’s worth, the filter BULLSHIT is not on my priority list right now.

Jackie M.


Letter to My Baby (9th May 2012)

Dear Baby Noah,

I got news at the hospital yesterday that you will arrive next Thursday 17 May 2012.  You will be arriving 5 weeks early because the doctors say you’re in trouble and will not make it past the next two  weeks or so.  Right now I don’t know if you’re gonna make it, baby.  Mommy was given the option to ‘let nature take its course’ – because your heart is failing – or to take the active intervention option.  I’ve opted for the latter so we will be delivering you via caesarean and hoping to be able to save you.  You have a ton of hurdles to overcome, baby. When you’re delivered, you’re going to need to be resuscitated because your lungs, heart, tummy and skin are filled with water.

Mommy has  had two steroid injections to help your lungs grow stronger before you arrive.  And they’re hooking me up to the CTG monitor every second day to check your vitals are still okay. I’m told to come prepared each time to stay for an emergency delivery should they find you in distress.

Once you’re delivered and they stabilize you, they will need to operate on your bowel obstruction problem.  You’ll be spending time in the hospital for awhile to recover from that.  Then, if all goes well, you will need open heart surgery at  11 weeks old, thereabouts.

I have looked up the stats on your latest condition, baby.  They’re not looking good.  Anywhere between 40%-90% mortality rate depending on which study you read. But we’re in good hands with the team at Westmead Hospital.  And the duodenal atresia operation that comes after that has a 40% mortality rate as well.  I don’t know about the stats with regards to the atrioventricular defect surgery, baby.  The doctor is unable to fully assess the extent of your problem until you actually arrive.  The odds are against us, but you have people praying for you as we speak.

I will have to stay in the hospital for 3 days at least, after you’re delivered.  I’ve been told to be prepared for the worst.  If you don’t make it it’s gonna be tough to stay there on my own, for the following days.  And it’s gonna be tough returning the baby capsule and baby pram and baby clothes that your cousins have so kindly donated/loaned to us.  So hang in there, baby.

Baby, whatever happens, we know it will be God’s will.  I try to tell myself that you will be better off with Jesus in heaven , because you have a lifetime of struggle ahead of you even if you make it past these complications.  You will need physical therapy, supervision and lifelong monitoring because of your condition.   But Mommy is up to the task, whatever lies ahead.

Whether you make it through the birth or through childhood or through adulthood, mommy will be with you 100% of the way.  So be strong for mommy’s sake, baby.  I love you and I always will.

Postscript 15 May 2012 – Baby Noah was delivered via emergency caesarean yesterday (Monday) at 34 weeks, after a CTG scan revealed abnormal readings over the weekend.  This had been preceded by strong contractions for some 48 hours beforehand.  I’m still recovering at the hospital; I’ve just been told his condition has taken a turn for the worse and the doctors are continuing to work on stabilizing him as we speak.

16/5/2012 – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007308.htm


Baby Noah in the ICU –