Dear friends who are following my blog, I am tracing my lineage beginning from my grandmother who ran a gambling den in Geylang way back in the 1940s. My dad swore off gambling because of that! It’s for a novel I am writing about a highly adventurous and courageous female who lived 1868 to 1958. Think Gone With The Wind. …. that’s my muse

Seriously, I lost touch with all my Dad’s relatives, so now am tracing way way back. Tough but hey, learning as I go along…. My grandma’s one tough lady!

I need lots of help. I will be posting photos and letters my Dad left behind on this page and thoughts as I travel this journey into my past. If it seems familiar or if you think you know someone, please, please let me know.

Take care and speak soon,

Catherine Khoo

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Thank you, everyone, for making 2013 special for me!

2013 was the year I learnt about taking life one step at a time. I learnt that self-worth is more important than net worth. It’s not how much I have. It’s how much I enjoy that makes me happy.

2013 was the year I learnt that nothing in life is to be feared … it is only to be understood. I finally opened up about my life as a mother, daughter-in-law, daughter and wife. And it never felt so liberating!

2013 was the year I learnt that I cannot do everything on my own. There’s a greater force that guides me. I discovered the power of God’s love.

2013 was the year I discovered the meaning of reaching out to other women (and men) through my book, Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! I gave two workshops on Writing From The Heart, with Women’s Initiative on Ageing Successfully (WINGS) and National Cancer Centre of Singapore (NCCS).

I loved 2013 ….. then, I received two emails which moved me to tears and made me more determined to inspire others to live their best life. I share both emails here, coz it made me want to hug my two friends for making 2013 so unbearably special for me! And yes, remembering the people and events I love and cherish through my photos ..

Dear Catherine,
I chance upon your book through a colleague who attended a talk about women’s menopause last month..I was immediately attracted to your book title…So I asked her to loan me your book …
It’s half read but i felt so connected …. it compelled me to write you an email…some excerpts of your book that touch me…my soul..probably I am going thru a midlife crisis ..
See I am turning 49 next yr..so close into the big 50…I am a divorcee with three kids living in Melbourne..
I felt intense loving bonding moments when I read about your CNY trip to spend with Pauli..the pelicans feed & walk in the park…simply magical…
I am motivated by your undying pursuit of your passion, your dream. so marvellous … I salute to your bravery…BRAVO!!
Its my hope to finish your book by 31 Dec 2013 to end the year and prepare to make more betterment in 2014..
Wishing you a magical new year!
Yes, things happen for a reason…
truly yours,

Hi Catherine,
Can’t let the year pass by without wishing you a grand new year ahead.
Been tardy again. Advent is behind us and so many things are still not done.
A number of books at the bedside vying for my attention. Store room needs a makeover.
Too laid back. Gotta find the zest of life again. Time fly off faster than a hurricane.
Gotta be more resolved to be more productive. Distractions, not busy schedule are the enemies
of good time management. Thus must instill a greater amount of discipline.
Will definitely spend some time each week, or perhaps every other day for some reflection, not just in the mind, but to put thoughts on paper, or on the computer. That’s my new year promise to myself. And you.
Thank you for the write trigger.
HAPPY NEW YEAR

Friends who taught me about the power of laughter and hope

Friends who taught me about the power of laughter and hope

Mrs Jetsun Pema, aka HH The Dalai Lama's sister, who taught me about unconditional love.

Mrs Jetsun Pema, aka HH The Dalai Lama’s sister, who taught me about unconditional love.

My N6 Cluster Advanced Young Author Scheme class .... where stories are best shared

My N6 Cluster Advanced Young Author Scheme class …. where stories are best shared

It was truly an Amazing Journey ... where giving taught my journeyers about life's blessings ...

It was truly an Amazing Journey … where giving taught my journeyers about life’s blessings …

Looking out from my room in Mcleod Ganj, Dharamsala .... overlooking the Himalayan plateau

Looking out from my room in Mcleod Ganj, Dharamsala …. overlooking the Himalayan plateau

Sitting among Men in White in Bangkok's celebration as UNESCO World Book Capital 2013

Sitting among Men in White in Bangkok’s celebration as UNESCO World Book Capital 2013

The Young Author Scheme in Manila .... yay! Finally going international!

The Young Author Scheme in Manila …. yay! Finally going international!

Happiness is doing simple things together! I love you, Paulina!

Happiness is doing simple things together! I love you, Paulina!

Cambodia taught me that every child has a dream. Every parent wants to fulfil this dream for them!

Cambodia taught me that every child has a dream. Every parent wants to fulfil this dream for them!

Coolest ride of my life. That's me, in the red-rimmed cap and sticking her head out whilst trying to keep her white hat on, is Paulina. Tis divine, flying over the Barossa Valley in Adelaide, and then partaking of a delicious champagne breakfast in a vineyard. Life begins at 50! And yes, this photo was inspiration for my book cover.

Coolest ride of my life. That’s me, in the red-rimmed cap and sticking her head out whilst trying to keep her white hat on, is Paulina. Tis divine, flying over the Barossa Valley in Adelaide, and then partaking of a delicious champagne breakfast in a vineyard. Life begins at 50! And yes, this photo was inspiration for my book cover.

Can a woman Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! Sure, why not?

Can a woman Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! Sure, why not?

Red, the colour of love!

Red, the colour of love!

Angels or rascals?

Angels or rascals?

I've come this far, jumped this high .... I know I can do it!

I’ve come this far, jumped this high …. I know I can do it!

Writing From The Heart workshop for NCCS. It was a truly humbling experience for me. I learnt the power of living life in the present.

Writing From The Heart workshop for NCCS. It was a truly humbling experience for me. I learnt the power of living life in the present.

Beijing in January 2013. Minus 17 degrees but loved the warm family togetherness

Beijing in January 2013. Minus 17 degrees but loved the warm family togetherness

My Learning Family Programme Alumni (LFPA) family. I learnt that social responsibility must come from the heart, not just from pockets.

My Learning Family Programme Alumni (LFPA) family. I learnt that social responsibility must come from the heart, not just from pockets.

Oh yes! My very first book review

Every so often, I key in my name into Google Search to see what comes up. Every so often I am surprised by the number of “Catherine Khoo”(s) that come up. Then lo and behold, I came across on Page 9 a review. Of my book! Every author wants the lowdown on her book and I am no different. And this came from a male reviewer. I liked what Mr Ivan Chew said about my book so here it is, the unadulterated version, word for word of what he wrote. 🙂 Thank you, Ivan, for your candid comments. And yes, if you are reading this, I am very keen to work with other women on their stories …. if they would give me a chance to ….

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book review: Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun!: a mother’s lessons on love, hope, loss and the gifts of life

This one came in the mail for me to review. The book, targeted at young female readers, was easy to read. The tone and style was very personable.

Book review: Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun!: a mother's lessons on love, hope, loss and the gifts of life
Cover from: catherinekhoo.wordpress.com. All Rights Reserved.

My take-away from the book:

Crap will happen to anyone and everyone, at some point. No one is immune. The difference is how we choose to carry on.

Taking risks doesn’t always mean we will come up tops. But it also doesn’t mean we will always fail.

Exercise compassion. Life is not just about ‘me’.

Not entirely the way the author described, but I think not too far from it.

The author shared selective episodes from her life, explaining how she realised that one should love and take risks in life.

Right off the start, I sensed this was a woman who did not conform to conventional thinking, even as a teenager. Her mother had forbidden her to go on dates, and that the young Catherine should only focus on her studies. But she dated the boy anyway, even initiating the courtship rather than wait for him to act. The consequence was that her studies were affected, and so did the boy’s.

Before you wonder what sort of message the author is imposing on young impressionable minds, the truth is that many of our friends (perhaps you and I) went through the same, in different degrees. There may be more ‘teen rebels’ among us than we care to acknowledge.

The key difference, I thought, was that a person like Catherine Khoo consistently applied her optimistic outlook towards life.

She wrote in another of her blog:

… I’ve lived this maxim since I was a teenager … and strange enough, it applies so much more as I grow older. Sure, sometimes I jump in without thinking of the consequences, and I fail, but how many times have I brushed off the blood and dust and moved on? Think of it this way, at least I figured out another way not to do it! Truth be told, though…I love this journey

Can we truly have a happy life just by living our dreams?

Cynics may say that there are those who have tried to do just that, and they end up being decrepit and miserable.

Perhaps in anticipation of that, the author peppers her anecdotes about seeing life optimistically.

Part of her credibility arose from her managing and growing her own business. I think it takes a feisty no-nonsense approach to do that, in addition to being a mother, a wife, and a daughter-in-law. If that’s not enough, try starting a writing scheme for teens.

I did not think the author suggests that one should one up-end our lives and gallivant halfway around the world. You get a sense that risk-taking has to be tempered with an underlying sense of responsibility first.

Still, I would not have done some of the things she did, no matter what you tell me. For example, her episode with the illegal taxi ride in a foreign country, where she almost became a victim of a robbery. If I learnt my wife/ mother/ sister did just that (accept rides from strangers), I would be very, very angry. It seemed reckless.

For the most part, I empathised with her stories. Like how she walked out on her husband one time, feeling that she was being unfairly put down by her spouse. As a husband myself, it made me reflect on my words and deeds towards my wife.

One thing I felt the book fell short was that flow of the chapters can appear to be disjointed at times — though this could be said to be the online-diary writing style. Also, I was left with the impression that there could have been a lot more interesting stuff to be told, but weren’t.

I would have wanted to read more was her trials and tribulations in starting and sustaining the Young Authors Club, for one. What went through her mind when she was asked to set up the club? Did she see a business opportunity first, or the social cause?

So, here are a few things that I would be interested in reading, perhaps in her next book:

  • Stories, as told by other woman, whom she met along the way.
  • Interesting stories of the children and teens whom she have met, through the club she set up.
  • The challenges in running a business, never mind being a businesswoman.
  • What was it really like when she “shattered the traditional Japanese male enclave when she became the only woman editor-in-chief of two Japan-based magazines published in Singapore, a position she held for seven years” (see this).

Overall, this would make a good book discussion for teens. Or among teens and parents (I guess the teens would have to be forced to attend such a session, lol).

In a practical and pragmatic society like Singapore, some parents will not agree with the premise behind her book’s title. The call to “love and live dangerously” was something that goes against conventional thinking when I was growing up, and in a way it’s still very much the covert values most of us go by.

This was Catherine Khoo’s fourth book. It is currently available at major bookstores here, like MPH, Kinokuniya, and Times Bookshop.

Her books are also available at the NLB libraries.

Catherine also blogs at www.catherinekhoo.sg/the-meaning-of-education.

If You Don’t Try, You Will Never Know!

Welcome to Chapter 2 of my book, Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! I’ve lived this maxim since I was a teenager … and strange enough, it applies so much more as I grow older. Sure, sometimes I jump in without thinking of the consequences, and I fail, but how many times have I brushed off the blood and dust and moved on? Think of it this way, at least I figured out another way not to do it! Truth be told, though …. I love this journey I’m on to build the next generation of thinkers and writers, and you know something? Life is too short for regrets. Break some rules! Have Fun!

Chapter 2

If you don’t try, you will never know!
I like Phil Knight’s statement: Just Do It! Because if you don’t, you would never know what it’ll be like if you had tried.
When I was but 13, I had a crush on a boy who lived in the opposite block. He was from St Joseph’s Institution, just a road away from my school, CHIJ. He lived on the third floor, nearest to the staircase. I decided he was someone very similar to the strong, silent, intellectual sort in the Barbara Cartland novels I devour, or maybe a bit of Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. So I waited for him at the bus-stop, purposely taking the same bus, hoping he’ll notice me. Me a bespectacled, nondescript girl who always had her eyes permanently glued on a book during the bus-ride. I waited for him everyday, hoping he’ll look my way and smile. Now how was he ever going to smile if I don’t even dare to look him in the eye? Throughout the 30-minute journey, I kept my eye on my novel, never daring to look up. Oh, were they the most frustrating bus-rides of my Secondary One days!
Then, one day, he did not come to the bus-stop. And another day. And another day. I was frantic. Where was he? For two weeks, I used my father’s binoculars to stare at his flat, hoping to see him. In my days, it is a teenage crush. Today, it is called stalking!
I did not see him anymore after that. Now, if only, if only I had found the courage to look him in the eye, smile and say hello. What could happen? I would never know. I promised myself I would not repeat this mistake with the next guy I took a fancy to. That was in the 1970s. My mum would have called me brazen.
At 15, it happened. He was from the same school as my first crush. We were in the same group in the Interact Club. My school organised a trip to a MINDS school in Margaret Drive with SJI. I partnered this guy who I thought was really nice. He was helping me feed a nine-year-old boy who refused to eat because everytime he tries to feed himself, he couldn’t lift the spoon far enough …. My SJI friend and I held the boy’s hand to scoop the porridge and gently guided the spoon to his mouth. And the smile the boy flashed warmed my heart. We looked at each other and smiled a kinda-camaraderie grin.
I found out his home number. And I surreptitiously went to the public telephone, put in my ten cents (yes, with another two more coins in my hands in case the call exceeds three minutes), took a deep breath and dialed. Each time my finger turned the dial and I heard the whirr, my heart skipped a beat. But hey, if you don’t ask, you’ll never know! Imagine the relief when he himself came to the phone.
“Hey, I’m Catherine, you know, the girl at the Interact Club …”
“Who?”
“Catherine …” I said it a bit louder. This was going all wrong.
There was a ten-second silence. I wanted to hang up the phone.
“Oh …” he mumbled. Finally a response. Not what I expected.
“I was wondering …” I started, “would-you-like-to-see-a-show-with-me?”
In case you are wondering, yes, he agreed. That began a two-year relationship. I was in Secondary Three, he was in Four. Now I know why parents frown on BGRs. They confuse you, they distract you. Needless to say, he did not do well in his “O” Levels. His mother blamed me. And I did not do well as well. I blamed no one, though. I guess if I did not make that phone call, all this wouldn’t have happened. But well, it was a crazy two years of my life. There! If I hadn’t asked, I wouldn’t have known!
It was this same philosophy that guided me to get into the career I loved. Publishing. I started out at 18 as a general clerk with just my “O” Levels. Got married at 23 and as with all mothers then, having children was top priority. Along came Pat in 1985. Pat made my life complete. I came home early every day because I wanted to be with her, to play with her, to hug her …. and when she mouthed her first words, “mama,” I felt tears welling up in my eyes.
But there was this deep, gnawing desire to be working with books, my first love. But which publisher was going to employ me? No experience, no qualifications? And so I decided I had to write a book.
If you don’t try you don’t know!
It didn’t happen until Pam came along in 1988. I was by this time contributing short stories to a magazine published by Eastern Publishing. Pam was the sweetest baby I ever had. She slept at the right time, which was at night, and at one month old, she hardly woke up for her milk. When she stirred, all I had to do was to stretch my hand across to her cot beside my bed and pat her to sleep. I have to thank her for giving me time to think of writing a book. The result: Love Notes. Falling in love Singapore Style! Part-fiction, part-real ….. I had great fun writing them! I’ve decided to include my selection of the best four in this book. I still think these old-fashioned values hold true today. You be the judge!
Okay, now that it’s written …. Well, typewritten, which sometimes I feel makes writers think harder, as we try to think of the best word so as not to have to do the xxxx backwards. Trust me! So, with a finished manuscript …. What’s left is to find a publisher! I heard horror stories that rejection slips are the norm for first-time authors. Some as many as 20! At the back of my head was the nagging doubt that no publisher would want to publish my book. I wrote to Federal Publications, who sent me a very curt note that they don’t do fiction. I gritted my teeth and went down the list. Heinemann? Sounded foreign, but worth a try. So, again, I slipped the 80-plus pages of my book into the envelope and wrote a “please-please-would-you-care-to-look-at-my-manuscript” letter. It took two weeks …. And one day, a letter from Heinemann came. It is true, the expression, my heart missed a beat, mine missed two … Do I open and be disappointed or do I not open and keep my hopes intact?
Rather hesitantly, I slit it open and dragged the letter out. The letter read, “We have read through your manuscript and would like to inform you that we would like to publish it under our Writing for Asia series.” Short and terse, signed off by the Managing Director, Charles Cher. Charles, if you are reading this, you gave me my first break because you believed in my book. Thank you, thank you very much!
I read the letter through, word for word, again and again. It felt so good, I don’t think anything like this can be put to words, but I’ll try. It’s like you discovered that someone believes in you, that that someone who has not seen you before likes what you have written and is willing to spend money on it. That it’s going to be in the bookshops. That’s the heady dizzy feel. Then when you actually see your book, actually hold it in your hands, you cannot, still cannot believe it. Till today, I don’t think any published author can adequately put into words how they felt when they first see and feel their book! I held mine against my chest, breathed in the fragrance of the pages, read and reread every word in every page, and yes, put it next to my bedside table. It was the last thing I looked at before I slept!
I used this book to apply for the post of an editorial assistant in 1990. At the mature age of 30, I decided it’s now or never! My lifelong dream was to have a career in books. I was addicted to them. Anthony and me used to scour the secondhand bookshops for our favorite novels. Can you believe it, it was just 50 cents for the well-read dog-earred ones, but it’s the words that matter, isn’t it? Our dream was to set up a bookstore along Bras Basah Road, then the bastion of any kind of book. We’ll stock it up with books we love to read … Agatha Christie (I had a whole collection of them, but our favourite detective was Hercule Poirot), Franklin Dixon, who wrote the Hardy Boys series, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with his Sherlock Holmes and Prof Challenger series …. It was really so cool! We could read all the books we sell!
Anyway, I wrote in to every publisher listed in the Yellow Pages and asked if they’d take an editorial assistant, without any experience whatsoever but has published a book? None replied. I took stock of the situation. Do I resign myself to my fate of that $1200 salary, typing and filing papers in a public accountants’ firm? I had this love for the written word, I wanted to share it with everyone, oh! If only someone gave me the chance! And I decided. If I want something I never had, then I have to do something I’ve never done. Convince them that I can do it! So I picked up the phone.
It took one year and a whole lot of calls before I landed a job in Hofer Media. My Love Notes opened the door for me. But the door shut on me because I did not have the experience. Again, it was dear sweet Vivien Kim, the editor then, who took a risk with me. Vivien, how can I ever thank you?
It didn’t matter that I left the CBD chic for the dress-down Jurong industrial crowd. It didn’t matter that I had to key in manuscript after manuscript (the Macs were just beginning the revolution into desktop publishing), it didn’t matter that I had to take a drastic pay cut! …. I was in a career I loved!

Testimony of Love and Commitment

She did not flinch, she did not shirk responsibility …. She did what she had to do for more than four decades. And she shared her love and commitment for the displaced children of Tibet with an audience of 70 women in the hall in WINGS (Women’s Initiative for Ageing Successfully).

I don’t think any one of them knew what Mrs Jetsun Pema would talk about. How do you speak on a topic called “How To Live A Fulfilling Life.” And as the Dalai Lama’s sister shared her life as Mother to close to 42,000 children in the Tibetan Children’s Village, I felt so much empathy and admiration emanating from the women seated quietly listening.

When she recounted how a boy of five who trekked across the Himalayas to seek refuge in Dharamsala and lost his fingers and toes through frostbite, who finally made it after that many days in the snow and danger from being spotted by border patrol guards, I thought I had a collective sigh of relief.

Throughout the one-hour sharing, I realized that what’s crucial in life is not about looking what’s wrong with the world around us. It’s about how we can help someone find his place in the world. Coz in helping that one person, we actually help ourselves. That is living a truly fulfilling life!

Thank you, Tempa la and Ama la. There's so much I have to learn about commitment and perseverance from you!

Thank you, Tempa la and Ama la. There’s so much I have to learn about commitment and perseverance from you!

It’s so evident in this picture we took after the talk. There’s Mrs Pema’s husband, Tempa la, myself, Mrs Pema, whom I call Ama la, little Tenzin, and Jinpa, my Tibetan friend, who helped me to get my book’s foreword from Ama la. What can you see in our faces? Yes, smiles of happiness and hope! Remember, there’s nothing so fulfilling as helping someone find himself!

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Those who dare to teach, should never cease to learn!

Oh! It's so enabling to know one is never too old to learn!

Oh! It’s so enabling to know one is never too old to learn!

Those who dare to teach, should never cease to learn ….. Saw this on the signboard of a training company while on my way to a WordPress class and I thought, how appropriate! I always find there’s something new to learn everyday, and yes, learning can come from everywhere, the people I meet, the children I teach, the parents and teachers I work with and yes, my family.

Perhaps it’s my training as a journalist, perhaps it’s innate … it doesn’t matter, what matters is how I view the world around me. I open my eyes every morning, stretch, turn to my husband and caress his face or just hug him (coz he doesn’t sleep very well … reason is I snore pretty loudly shh! It’s pretty embarrassing to share but makes me feel better that I’ve said it. There! Now you know 🙂 ) so yes, I open my eyes, stretch, reach out and say hello to the world, plant my feet firmly on the floor and tell myself, “Thank you for giving me another day!”

And as I work with the people around me ….. I am very delighted to be able to learn new things. In this session, I learnt about how to create websites using WordPress. Tough for a lot of people, especially people my age, in fact I was not surprised to note that out of the 7 in my class, 5 are above 40 and one is 63. Two are property agents, three are venturing into their own business, one just quitted coz he felt under-appreciated, and one is working in a bank and looks really tired. What a motley crowd. And all of them are learning to survive, either for a passive income or to keep in touch with their customers who do everything online. From looking for a house, to looking at samples, to looking for a course, today’s customer is so tech savvy. I think all of us try to make sense of it …. Some do, some struggle, but hey, I really admire this bunch who dare venture to learn new things. And yes, though I don’t think I can really learn everything, I am satisfied I managed to grasp the essentials. I learn when I understand and then I can remember, that’s my learning style, and I am so glad that I can put two and two together. Whew! Not that simple, but well, it’s not rocket science either!

Which brings me to my point …. One should never cease to learn. And you know what I learnt today? In realizing we don’t have all the answers, we begin to find humility!

Finally, after 10 years …. Light at the end of the tunnel

I've come this far, jumped this high .... Please, please show me the light!

I’ve come this far, jumped this high …. Please, please show me the light!

Finally, after 10 years …. Light at the end of the tunnel

There’s a timeline in my vision  ….. 2013 is the year my The Unique Classroom will go places. Don’t know how, don’t know where, but I know it will travel. I took baby steps in 2004 in but yes, it was more to get out of a helpless situation, more to find myself again. Didn’t help that my partner was the retired Director-General of Education …. Think he and I expected everyone to come knocking on our door, but no, connections don’t work when you are no longer in your position. I ventured again in 2007 to Hanoi, at the behest of again, a retired senior government officer, whose wife was in education, and who, again, knew next to nothing about running a business ….. Scary part was, he thought what he needed to do was to invest and everyone else did the running for him. Of course, the “everyone else” was me! But truth be told, all these failures taught me a lesson ….. Never have a partner who is from the civil service, because they know next to nothing about running a business 🙂

So now, 10 years later …. I feel it in my bones that I can do it! As I discuss with Robin and Winston, I know finally my licensing is going to happen. I want to get a licensee by May 28, 2013. Where would he/she come from? Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia? I’m priming for any of these countries. I know I can find one. Come on, you can do it, Ms Catherine Khoo!

And yes, now to find an investor, a partner, a licensee ….. someone who also cherishes the same dream as I. To build the next generation of thinkers and writers. Who believes in my vision: One Child. One Story. One Dream Fulfilled. Okay, Lord, you have led me so far ….. I believe you will give me an answer. I believe I have reached the end of the tunnel …. Maybe a few more steps, so please, please, show me the light.

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