PHOTO: There’s no going back to the Big Pineapple

A big pineapple of the past (photo by Tseen Khoo)
A big pineapple of the past (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

As kids, our family loved the Big Pineapple. We loved going there ourselves, and we took just about every single visitor there as well. Our photo albums are peppered with now-faded shots of various clan members. Complete with big sunglasses and perms. Everything about our trips there signalled excitement, visitors, and happy tension. Childhood’s salad days before we could see past the fibreglass and merchandising.

When I try to think about what it was exactly that we were drawn to, I’m left somewhat empty-handed. I remember the old advertisements on TV that featured ridiculously tall parfaits (that I never had) and the Macadamia Nut Train.

On a recent trip to Queensland, we stopped by the Big Pineapple for old times’ sake. To see it as it is today, and scotch the rumours that we’d all heard that it had been taken away.

It was there. The photo for this post was taken there in September 2014. Surrounding it were grassy, cracked car-parks, rundown novelty stalls, and overgrown pineapple patches. There was an odd little zoo further down the block. Everything felt a little defeated and sad.

We left thinking we didn’t need to go back to the Big Pineapple any more.

Placeholder Post

No Little Birdies (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
No Little Birdies (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Best intentions and all. Life’s totally overtaken my blogging schedule.

I started a new job at a new institution recently, and my new commute is 3 hours a day. While I thought this would mean OMG so much writing time, it has not come to pass. On a swaying bus, the best ‘work’ I can do is checking emails + tweeting from my various accounts (AASRN and Research Whisperer, mostly).

I’m keeping this here as a placeholder until things settle down. I’ve started dozens of posts, but never saw them through. Poised over the keyboard, thinking I needed to write something insightful and worthwhile shunting out into the world, I usually balk.

So, if you’re looking at this blog because you’ve found me via one of the hats I wear, here are some shortcuts for finding the kind of stuff you might be interested in:

Meanwhile, as I’ve been saying for about five years, I need to start shedding some roles…


Rusty in Buxton (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
Rusty in Buxton (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Bit of a break in service on the blog here.

There’s a few half-started posts in the queue – I can’t even call them half-finished.

I want to blog quite a few reviews that are AWW2013-relevant. I was so proud of myself for being on-task with the challenge, but good intentions were waylaid by a bunch of things. I guess they all make up that thing called life.

My mother’s hip surgery and ensuing hospital stay. Sick family pet that we had to have put to sleep. All this with backdrop of general domestic frenzy, and higher load at work because of a particular development program.

Every time I sat down to work on blogposts, I’d end up skimming Twitter and Facebook. And write barely 50 words.

One of the posts that’s started is a report from an event that was held back in mid-July. It’s starting to get a bit stale. I’m wondering whether I should bother finishing it. Weirdly enough, I was there the entire time but it did feel odd to be there. Am ambivalent about my participation and I think that comes through with the difficulty I’ve had writing it up. So, it’s not just laziness + being distracted by shiny things. Not all the time.

Most recently, we started watching the Scando cop series, The Bridge. Recommended to us by my sis and @sommystar, it’s a series we’re very much enjoying but, of course, it’s in a blend of Danish and Swedish. This means I can’t be blogging away or editing things because I have to read the subtitles (the dialogue is great – even though I think we’re losing out big time on in-jokes and cultural nuance with the translation [not sure if there are different versions of the show’s subtitles, but the series we have been watching has slightly dodgy titles at times]).

Several things that these waves of distraction have taught me: the consistency of my online blogging time really does drive the quality of my posts here and on Research Whisperer; my mother does so much for us within our domestic routines; and I do have fluctuating thresholds for social media (and this threshold was reached several times when I was feeling preoccupied and stressed).

Top 10 Asian Oz childhood foods

This post is inspired by this article on Foodbeast that floated my way through Facebook: 16 things that taste just like your Asian American childhood.

I browsed through it with glee, loving these kinds of walks down memory lane. Even if it wasn’t necessarily my memory lane.

Oddly enough, I encountered quite a few of the items in my adult life rather than my childhood.

I didn’t have my first Pocky stick, for example, till I was 27 years old. I was in Canada doing research for my PhD, visiting one my favourite Canadian authors, and she offered me a Pocky stick. It was the start of a long and fond relationship (for me and Pocky sticks, that is; the author’s pretty damn cool, too, it must be said).

Some of the food items did strike a chord, and reminded me of my Brisbane childhood, the trips to Fortitude Valley, and the evolving Asian grocery shops and malls through the 1980s and 1990s.

The items from the Foodbeast list that populated my childhood as well are: haw flakes, shrimp-flavoured chips, and pork floss (aka ‘pork sung’ in the Foodbeast listing). There were, however, many others that loomed large for our family. I’m not sure if they were unique to us, or whether they reflected a broader pattern of Malaysian-Chinese consumption.


What’s with the gaming aversion?

Galaga (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
Galaga (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

We were out the other night, with our daughter’s class for their ‘class dinner’. It had been a long time coming, and I – typical introvert that I am – had been dreading it.

Jammed together with a roomful of strangers with whom you have nothing in common except children at the same institution…?

Sure. That sounds like a lovely night out.

Thwarted from piking on the event by our daughter’s zeal and a hefty measure of working-parent guilt, we fronted up at the pub.

The evening was fine.

Children ran around screaming in the playground, parmas were eaten, and kids’ meals weren’t.

One moment that stayed with me, though, was when one of the fathers at the end of the evening noted that our four-year-old son was playing a game on S.’s phone.

The father said that they’d kept their daughters away from ‘those things’ so far.

He didn’t say it in an obnoxious way, and went out of his way to defuse any judgement we could have read into it.

But it did make me roll my eyes a bit (internally).

What is the virtue that’s to be had from preventing your child from playing computer games? It’s just one of a raft of things that our kids do. They don’t always only play screen games, just like they don’t always only jump on the trampoline or chase each other around the backyard.

Yes, it does involve setting limits, and prying them off the screens sometimes, but this kind of thing happens with playgrounds, bringing them home from their friends’ places or restaurants, and stopping excessive applications of tomato sauce.

If this sounds like self-serving justification, of course it is!

Did I play computer games? Did I ever.

Granted, not as young as my kids are now, but given that our first computer games involved an Atari console, things weren’t quite as evolved as they are these days.

There’s a cliche of computer games being solo pursuits, where a single sun-starved individual hangs over the keyboard for hours on end. Eating instant noodles and Cheezels. While I’ve had times where this was the case (without Cheezels, but with cheese toasties…), I’ve also racked up many hours of  play with my sibs and cousins on Entombed or Space Invaders. I grew into sword and sorcery quest epics like Wizardry and Might & Magic, then Oblivion and – most recently – Torchlight. I don’t get to play in any concentrated way now. At most, it’s short stints of kiddie-devolved Angry Birds (or Bad Piggies, as is the case at the moment).

While I was growing up, I also had Chinese New Year get-togethers with the large clan where we had all-nighters and played apparently illegal dice and bowl games, or mahjong. This was when I was quite young – pre-teen, I think, and also into my early teens.

My point after all that rambling is that obsessive game-playing – with or without screens – can be unhealthy, but occasional stints and a long-standing love of them, can be a helluva lot of fun.

Magic Land

Camping out at Magic Land (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
Camping out at Magic Land (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

There’s a door in our house that goes nowhere.

It’s in our hallway, and usually leads to the study, but we’ve blocked it up with bookshelves on the other side.

It’s never used.

The other day, pelting through the front door after picking me up from the station, almost-four-year-old G. paused at the door and asked where it went, and what’s behind it.

Off the cuff, I told him that unicorns and dragons were behind that door.

Weeks later, on his birthday the other weekend, he declared that he’d like to visit the unicorns and dragons in ‘Magic Land’ (behind the door).

This presented something of a dilemma.

How does one fulfil the promise of Magic Land without having that one-on-one talk that would reveal that I had made it all up?

E., two-and-a-half years older, comes to the rescue by suggesting that they write to the people/animals in Magic Land, asking to visit.

She stop near me and whispered, “I know it’s made up, but it’s his birthday and I want to make it special.”

Off they went to write a sprawling felt-tipped letter to the denizens of Magic Land.

I stood there for a moment pondering how to create anything that was anywhere near a child’s vision of Magic Land with the things that we had handy.

In the end, I rapidly scribbled a letter from the folk of Magic Land to the two kids, apologising for being closed that day (they can’t go through…), and inviting them to camp out beside the mysterious door. I then ran around setting up a circus play-tent, cushions, blankets, and two bowls with a few chocolate squares in them (a welcome gift from the people behind the door). A torch was balanced inside the tent to make it glow.

While to me it looked higgledy-piggledy and not at all magical in the gloomy afternoon light, they were both happy to tiptoe in with satisfying wonder. G., his eyes wide, said in hushed tones, “They must’ve set it up for us, E. The people from Magic Land!”

E. glanced at me over her little brother’s head and grinned.

They spent over an hour in the tent, eating chocolate and reading the book they’d packed to take to Magic Land with them (a Dr Seuss, no less).

Little G. had a fabulous time, and came out of the whole thing hopeful that Magic Land would be open the next day.

Things I said I’d never

Cheap thrills (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
Cheap thrills (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

There are things you say you will never do when you have kids, when you haven’t actually had kids yet.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have no credibility about many things.

Parenting two young kids made me realise how much more credibility I still had to lose.

Here are some things I said about having kids before actually having them:

1. No way would they ever have separate meals from the rest of us. 

After a few late night cry-fests because one of the kids realised they were hungry just before bed-time, the ‘eat it or you’ll get nothing’ approach was as much a lesson for us as it wasn’t for them. New aim: as balanced as we can get it, as much as can be done before derailing evening routine. Occasional cereal dinners for all.

2. I would never have the “yes,  you do”/”no, I don’t” argument (or versions of it) with the kids.

You don’t know you’re there till you’re there (cf. boiling frog syndrome).

3. I wouldn’t keep telling my (girl) child that she’s beautiful.

I say “Hello, beautiful” to her all the time. As well as, “Hi, gorgeous”, and a whole slew of other pet names. I also flag ‘clever’, ‘thoughtful’, ‘polite’, and ‘you’re a risk-taker!’ (this latter one is totally unlike me or anything I would say but it’s something she’s picked up from school as a Good Thing – I’m adaptable). Also, bringing up girls? It’s complicated. If you’re in the same boat, help a researcher out with her survey on Raising Girls.

4. I’ll be really involved in their kindy/school activities.

I’m really not. I’m awful. I’m one of those ‘do we have to?’ parents whenever my earnest and uber-helpful hubs flags a fundraising event or working bee. Mostly, this is because they are on weekends, and I like having weekends with the fam, hanging out and doing what we do. I’m not a good participator on this front.

5. I wouldn’t nag them about practicing instruments, doing homework, or cleaning their room.

Or, if I did, it would be with a knowing smile and light humour (rather than emotional blackmail and getting louder + louder). Oh, well.

I think I’ll just stay in a no-credibility zone because I’m sure their teens are going to be a whole other kettle of shouty, passive-aggressive, and maddening episodes. No pretensions on my part about what I’ll be doing with them at that point. 

Totoro + parenting

Totoro in the rain, Studio Ghibli. Source: @cinekatz's website (
Totoro in the rain, Studio Ghibli.
Source: @cinekatz’s website (

Last weekend, I spent Saturday afternoon watching Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro with the kids. It was their second viewing, and my first.

I know, how could I not have seen Totoro before this?

The kids loved the movie so much, they insisted I watch it ASAP. It’s not like I need to be compelled to watch Miyazaki. The first film I watched when I moved to Melbourne almost ten years ago now was Kiki’s Delivery Service, which was on at ACMI (it was also my first time at an ACMI screening…). The film evoked themes of curiosity, friendship, and the value of helping. I loved the film and the way I was left feeling that the world wasn’t such a bad place after all if something like this could be created.

I had an immensely satisfying time watching Totoro, too, weighted down with warm kiddie bodies, and having – once again – a beautiful, transporting time. I particularly enjoyed the fine detail of expressions and characters, magnificence of creatures, and communal good that was represented.



Piano (Photo by t.spang -
Piano (Photo by t.spang –

My six-year-old daughter has just started keyboard lessons during her Grade 1 year. She’s had about a month of lessons. We have a shiny new keyboard in the study.

And there I am, nagging her to practise. To hold her hands  just so. To warm up and strengthen her tiny fingers by doing some simple scales.

I am my parents.

Except that my parents retained their optimism about my erratic and negligent piano playing ways for about a decade. They invested in private lessons, theory + practical. My sister and I sat the AMEB exams. I managed to scrape my way to Grade 5 piano + music theory. My sis made it all the way to Grade 8; she was good, and had passion for the instrument and music.

Don’t get me wrong. I love that I learned the piano, know how to read music, and can appreciate the labour and diligence required to become a good player of any instrument. Education about music and the physicality of playing music have added dimensions to my experience and my life, but I was never great at it (nowhere near enough practice or passion).

One of my clearest memories about piano lessons was sitting with my very nice teacher at the piano in the cultivated surrounds of her Kenmore home.

Again, I hadn’t done much practice. She was trying to have a serious talk with me about whether I should continue with piano because I obviously wasn’t engaging with the music or instrument. There’s no point being forced to do music, she told me, and think of how much my parents were spending on sending me to lessons that were not being developed further at home with regular practice.

I remember blinking away tears. The easiest way to bend me to your will is to invoke guilt about parental sacrifice and hopes. I have loads of that guilt at the ready on those fronts, as many of those who come from migrant backgrounds do.


Sewing – in a holding pattern

Cool + disconcerting (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
Cool + disconcerting (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Since Oanh has immersed herself in sewing, and I’m surrounded by adept crafters on Twitter (looking at you, @meganjmcpherson @deborahbrian @kyliebudge @amieoshea), I’ve experienced a renaissance in sewing interest.

It makes learning and doing all new things feel much more do-able when savvy advice is on hand at just about any waking hour.

I’ve become a person who browses fabric and feels clothes to work out what material they’re made of (still not good at this because I’m only on a first name basis with a very narrow range of them). I also turn sleeves and hems around to see how they’re done, and to work out whether I could do it (current track-record is flagging a ‘no’…).

Our fabric pile is building. Being a texture-freak, with a hoarding habit that extends to kitchenware (particularly Japanese) and stationery, this is a road that poses dangers for domestic space and bank accounts.

So, what have we done since you were treated to the pic-post of PJ Birdy?

Masquerade capes, tunics, and masks!