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    My Blank Sheet

    My kids got the chickenpox vaccine, but I did not!

    My kids got the chickenpox vaccine, but I did not!

    The day before we left for our family vacation to the U.K., my husband told me he had this strange rash on his right shoulder and upper arm. I said to him, “Must be the gym towel!” 

    The rash got worse the next day. The skin felt like a chemical burn, and he suffered intense pain in his muscles underneath the rash. But he didn’t have time go to the doctor before our flight. We got to the U.K., and he kept researching on the Internet. “I think I’ve got shingles,” my husband made the conclusion.

    Shingles, also known as zoster or herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the same virus responsible for chickenpox: the varicella zoster virus. If you have had chickenpox in the past, you can contract shingles. That’s because the chickenpox virus remains in the body, lying dormant in the roots of nerves, and can reactivate many years later. It’s not clear why the virus reawakens — in some people it never does — but researchers believe that the virus is triggered as the immune system weakens with age or in conditions of stress. 

    I thought to myself, “Well, at least we’re all safe because we all got vaccinated against chickenpox as children in Hong Kong.” How wrong I was!

    We continued our busy itinerary in the U.K. A few days later, my 11-year-old daughter, Verity, started developing flu-like symptoms – mild fever, wanting to vomit, and a loss of appetite. We were convinced she just had a mild flu, and gave her Panadol to ease the symptoms. That seemed to work.

    A day after she got better, my then 8-year-old son, Max, had a high fever at night. We didn’t have a thermometer with us, but his body felt boiling hot. For a moment, my husband and I thought, “This could be really serious. Maybe we should take him to the hospital.”

    I wiped his body with a cold, wet towel 3 to 4 times throughout the night. That seemed to help him feel slightly better, and he managed to get some sleep. The next day, the fever was gone. “He must have got the flu from Verity,” we thought.

    After 2 weeks in London, we went to Bristol for a week of kid’s summer camps, and stayed with the grandparents. During the 2-hour car ride from London to Bristol, I felt really tired and a bit “car sick.” As soon as we arrived, I felt so sick I had to lay down. My body felt hot.

    “Uh-oh, I must have got the flu, too,” I thought. I couldn't sleep that night because my whole body itched.
    The next morning, I saw some tiny blisters on my chest and arms. Later in the day, more blisters developed on my body. I was carrying a mild fever. When I looked at my blisters, I remembered the little scar on the face of Brenda, my second sister, a lingering memory of chickenpox. The next thought that came to mind was, “If we all got vaccinated against chickenpox as children in Hong Kong, how come Brenda caught chickenpox?”

    Hong Kong has quite a comprehensive childhood-immunization program. Children from birth to Primary Six receive vaccines to protect them from 11 infectious diseases, namely: tuberculosis, hepatitis B, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis), pneumococcal infection, chickenpox, measles, mumps and rubella.

    Chickenpox vaccines weren’t included until 2014. “Verity and Max had their chickenpox vaccines at a private clinic,” I suddenly remembered. I realized that meant my children had chickenpox vaccines, but I never did!

    It didn’t take long before blisters started to develop on my face and the rest of my body. They were itchy and irritable. I felt really sickly and weak. I had a very high fever, couldn’t sleep well, and I didn’t want to eat. I basically spent the whole week lying in bed because I just couldn’t get up. Luckily my kids were occupied with their summer camps.

     Chickenpox behind the Snapchat filter

    Chickenpox behind the flattering Snapchat filter

    My sisters were also visiting the U.K. for my niece’s graduation. Originally, they planned to spend a night in Bristol with my in-laws. As soon as I told them I had chickenpox, my oldest sister and my niece, who both have never had the disease before, decided to cancel their stay with us. Chickenpox is highly contagious. They were going to go to Holland for a week after Bristol, and they couldn’t take that risk.

    After one week of lying in bed, the countless pox on my body gradually dried up and scalped. This was when I stopped being contagious. That was a tough week.

    I understand why parents in previous generations used to organize “pox parties” where they purposely invited kids with chickenpox over to play with their own children so that they could get the virus, too. Chickenpox seems to be less dramatic in young children than in adults. It’s more vicious in its effects once you’ve grown up.
    Now that I have recovered from chickenpox, I still occasionally have a sharp muscle pain in my arms. This pain sounds like the same kind of pain you get from shingles, based on the description that my husband gave me. And I still have all the dark spots of scars on my body. Some of them are dented because I scratched them before I realized they were chickenpox.

    So if you have never had chickenpox in your life, I strongly recommend you to get vaccinated. That’s all the more true since you can contract the same virus from someone who has shingles. The symptoms of shingles may not be obvious. You can in rare cases still can get chickenpox after you get vaccinated, but the effect is much milder. A lesson learned!

    Enjoy authentic Japanese food at home

    Enjoy authentic Japanese food at home

    If I was forced to pick one cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, I would go with Japanese without any hesitation. “What? Not Chinese?” you may ask. But if I had to pick only one, Japanese it is!
    Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world. Their diet explains quite a lot. Japanese cooking uses beans (miso), seaweed and fish in many dishes. I happen to love all these ingredients.
    Since I lived in Japan for a while, I have certain expectations in terms of authenticity when it comes to Japanese food. In Hong Kong, to eat real authentic Japanese food, it will most often cost an arm and a leg. Sometimes when I’m desperate, I will go for “fake” Japanese restaurants. The “fake” Japanese place on A street or the “fake” Japanese restaurant on B street – that’s how I refer these restaurants when I talk to my friends about where to meet. I don’t even bother remembering their actual names!
    Very fortunately, now when I crave for a bowl of authentic miso soup or some tofu salad with Japanese-style vinegar dressing, I can make my own! The person who saved me from spending $$$ on eating at “real” Japanese restaurants is a lovely Japanese lady called Yuki. Yuki is a fellow mom at my kids’ school. She is passionate about cooking. Her son Lucian is a classmate of my son, and mine often comes home telling me how amazing Lucian’s lunch box was! I literally signed up right away when Yuki announced she was offering Japanese home-cooking classes.
    The first class I attended was called Ichiju-sansai, which means “one soup, three dishes.” Yuki unveiled the secret of making real Japanese miso soup. For a long time, I thought miso soup just involved cooking miso paste in water. But the fact is, you need dashi stock (fish stock) instead of just water to make real miso soup. And the most interesting thing was, Yuki taught me how to make dashi stock from scratch. Dashi stock is the essence of Japanese cooking. When I walk around Japanese supermarkets, I see they stock instant dashi stock in the form of granules. But in Yuki’s cooking class, you learn how to make everything from the most original, fresh and healthy ingredients. From Yuki, I learn not just how to cook Japanese food, but also how to cook in the most healthy and organic way.

     Ichiju-sansai (One soup, three dishes)
    Ichiju-sansai (One soup, three dishes)


     Assorted tempura
    Assorted tempura


    Makizushi (rolled sushi) Wagashi (traditional Japanese confections)
    Makizushi (rolled sushi)
    Wagashi (traditional Japanese confections)


    Another element Yuki has inspired in me is food presentation. Like Yuki always jokes, “Japanese eat with the eyes.” After we finish cooking, Yuki always prepares sets of beautiful tableware to serve the food. She told us that whenever she goes to Japan, she always brings back some nice tableware. I remembered the first time I made miso soup after the class, I put it in a Chinese ceramic bowl. It tasted great – but somehow, it didn’t feel right. So I went to a Japanese department store to stock up on some lacquer bowls especially for miso soup.

    Japanese food is an art form, as well as delicious. It’s not just the food, it is also the presentation and tableware that completes the whole experience. 


    Find out more about Yuki's cooking classes


    Mahjong - an awesome family game!

    Mahjong - an awesome family game!

    Due to the wet weather, we were stuck at home.

    We played all the board games we had at home. We then moved to playing cards. But we were running out of card games to play.

    As I was staring at the corner of the living room struggling to come up with new game ideas, I saw an old Mahjong table that was acquired in pre-married days. Yes! I used to play Mahjong with my girlfriends on weekends. It was a great social event and we enjoyed chit-chatting during the game. All the fond memories flashed back…

    Okay so we were set for the game of Mahjong!

    There are many different versions of Mahjong in the world – Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese and Western. I am not familiar with any version other than Chinese. Since I hadn’t played the game for a long time, I had to refer to the rule book to be reminded some basic preparation – seating, building the wall, breaking the wall and the deal. 

    Two suits of tiles are all in Chinese characters. So I had to spend sometime explaining to my kids what each one was. Coincidentally, my daughter just learnt the Chinese writing for directions (the Wind tiles) so she was quite proud she could already read those tiles while my son had to learn some new words! The Character suit was fairly easy for them as they were numbers in Chinese, from 1 to 9. (Although you may also buy Mahjong tiles with actual numbers on the side to remind you what the respective Chinese numbers are.)

    Mahjong is a great workout for your brain. It’s pretty much about collecting the same tiles and tiles in order in the same suit. Since you can pung, gong and chow from other players’ discarded tiles apart from drawing them yourself, you have to pay careful attention in the game. For young children, it is a great training for their patience and observation. At the same time, you also need to keep track of your opponents’ games to avoid discarding tiles to their benefit. It is not surprising to read that mahjong has been found to preserve function and delay decline in elderly individuals with dementia, even in those with significant cognitive impairment. If you extrapolate this further – if it is good for the prevention of age-related decline, then it ought to be good brain training for younger people as well. 

    Regardless of frequency of playing, mahjong produced consistent gains across all cognitive performance measures – digit forward memory, verbal memory, and MMSE. The effects lasted after mahjong had been withdrawn for a month, suggesting that constant practice is not necessary to achieve therapeutic effect once an initial threshold is attained.” – International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 

    We played a trial game with me explaining the rules along the way. My daughter, being a fast learner, started getting a grasp of it very soon. My son on the other hand got a bit lost and started playing with the tiles as if they were building blocks (Yay I can stop buying Legos haha)! We played a few games and I pretty much won all those games (you may also tie with no actual winner). I showed them my hand each time and explained how I won. At least that was how I learnt the game – from watching the grownups played at Chinese wedding banquets and dinner gatherings.

    My kids (especially my daughter) really enjoyed learning how to play Mahjong and were looking forward to the next rainy weekend so we could all play the game again!


    Here are some useful links for beginners of Mahjong:

    Where to buy Mahjong tiles and tables in Hong Kong

    Mahjong rules of different versions

    Mahjong rules (Hong Kong version)