Our Wonderful Dad – Happy Father’s Day 2017

We have a wonderful dad
Whose shoulders we’ve always had
As a friend he is not bad
But don’t you dare make him mad!

He reads to us every night
He slides with us from the height;
He teaches us the Lord’s way
And joins us too in our play

Though he won’t listen as we say
“Daddy, please don’t go to work today!”
We are well fed and well cared for
What could daughters ask for more?

So Daddy, Happy Father’s Day!
Please know we love you everyday!

Love,
Your Little Nonas
18 June 2017

Not Mini Adult

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Children are not adults in wee little size. Though often we, the adults, expect them to be and treat them as one, to our own frustration. It’s probably about time we accept that being children means:

1. Covering their mouth AFTER, not before, sneezing (God forbid, with a full mouth, at someone’s face).
2. Asking pointless questions endlessly.
3. Cannot sleep when you want them to sleep.
4. Cannot wake up when you want them to wake up.
5. Wearing their slippers the wrong side.
6. Needing to pee, poo, at the wrong time.
7. Asking you to do the same thing again, and again, and again (please auto repeat).
8. Cannot find the ‘missing’ toy that is right in front of their nose.
9. Being so engrossed in what they do that they are deaf to you calling them.
10. Being so in tune with your voice that they know it when you whisper to yourself “let me get some chocolate”.
11. Do not understand/operate based on/respond to common sense.
12. Always moving (or talking).

And a thousand more.

Science will tell us that some of the above are because it’s in their wiring, and the rest are because it’s not yet in their wiring. What then, if it’s their wiring and there’s nothing that adults can do to make these little ones otherwise, does it not make more sense to conclude that this time window must have been meant to be a learning and growing opportunity for the adults?

Apparently, children are not the only ones growing and learning. Adults must, too. When the adults learn to forebear children’s childishness, with tenderness and compassion, that’s when the adults learn to be parents.

God help us to be parents.

“The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.” – Psalms 103:13-14

Happy Lunar New Year 2017 – More Than Just Food

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Even though this year I am again unable to make the trip back home for the reunion dinner, reliving some of the taste of home certainly brings me back to the fragrance of our late grandma’s table and the merry chit-chat of three generations’ folks around it.

Growing up in a close knitted family and having a tradition to remember is indeed a blessed thing. I hope our two girls, too, will grow up with a table and family tradition to cherish. Because a shared meal means so much more than just happy tummies. As the saying goes, the family that eats together stays together.

Wishing all of you a warm reunion and blessed Lunar new year!

P. S.
Sharing with you our favorite pork belly family recipe so that I will not be the only one coming out with belly excess this CNY 😉

Emotion Is a Gift from God

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The Tantrum Specialist

Our second daughter, Mila, is one emotional child ever since her newborn-hood. Her will is unbent, her tantrum intense. She cannot contain her excitement, and she expresses her sadness in manner that (I think) is beyond baby.

In this video was one of her emotional moments. It was taken when the eldest and I went to catch the Christmas Wonderland at Gardens By The Bay, leaving her with Hubby at home. We left while she was napping. I was told later that she was visibly upset but was rather quiet the entire evening. She finally broke down in tears after a lonely dinner.

Being blessed with an emotional child provides parents with its own challenge to struggle through. While dealing with their emotion, we may very often be overwhelmed ourselves, but we must remember to look at it as a blessing.

With it, humans are enabled to live their lives meaningfully. They are made able to love and be loved, to know grief and therefore learn to cherish, to fear and revere what is beyond them.

Ultimately, emotion equips man for a rich relationship with the Creator, with which they may feel the wonder of His love and be fulfilled by His joy, presently and even more so in the eternity. What a powerful gift! A gift when rightly used, blesses mankind in ways that are beyond the capacity of any other creatures, but when corrupted, turns them into the worst of beasts. And herein lies both encouragement and solemn warning for parents. Nip it not in the bud, as it is not meant for suppression, trim it dutifully while basking it in the Light of Heaven’s Sun, and see it bloom into the beauty it is meant to be.

To the God who has bestowed this child with the gift of strong emotion, we will turn our gaze and plea.

Grant us, O Lord, everything we need
to raise this child to be the master of her emotion.
And if it pleases Thee,
a fierce lover of Thy name.

Hidup Hemat: Kebajikan dari Masa Lampau

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(This is the Indonesian translation of the original post Frugality: Virtue of The Past, as it was meant to be a tribute to my parents, who will better understand the article in their national language.)

Baru-baru ini saya nganterin anak ke pesta ulang tahun temannya, biasalah, kalau sudah punya anak, kita pada cuma jadi supir atau bodyguard, anak-anak inilah yang menjadi tamunya. Sore itu cuaca panas dan acaranya di ruang terbuka, pas sekali para tamu disuguhi cemilan Es Ganefo – es yang biasanya dibuat dengan membekukan minuman bermacam rasa dalam wadah plastik silinder. Sering juga dikenal dengan sebutan Es Lilin.

Gegara Es Ganefo ini, saya jadi teringat kenangan masa kecil, kenangan baik yang membuat kangen. Oh bukan, saya bukannya sering jajan Es Ganefo semasa kecil, saya lebih sering dengar cerita tentang Es Ganefo. Soalnya Es Ganefo ini obyek ceramah favorit Papa di rumah, semacam kuliah beliau di meja makan.

“Kalian ini tidak sadar diri seberuntung apa ya? Waktu Papa seumur kalian, Papa mesti keliling-keliling berpanas-panas jualan Es Ganefo naik sepeda!”, begitulah Papa memulai ceramahnya, “Yaa elahhh Es Ganefo, Es Ganefo lagiiii…”, pikir kami diam-diam.

Orangtua kami memegang standar yang ketat kalau urusan membelanjakan uang. Seperti umumnya etnis Cina keturunan generasi mereka, mereka besar dalam masa yang sulit. Mereka mengalami dan tau jelas apa itu hidup miskin dan berkekurangan.

“Habiskan makananmu!”
Papa selalu membelikan makanan apa saja yang kami minta, tapi jangan coba-coba menyisakan makanan sehingga terbuang. “Tidak tau bersyukur ya kalian ini, waktu kami kecil, mau makan yang kalian buang ini pun kami tak bisa! Tau tidak, mie pansit pun kami cuma bisa makan setahun sekali!” Belum lagi cerita beliau tentang gulai ikan.. “Kami delapan bersaudara kalau mau makan gulai ikan, cuma bisa beli ikannya satu, minta kuahnya sepanci.”

Soal mainan, Papa sedikitpun tidak melonggarkan standar. Saya masih ingat dua kalinya saya pernah minta dibelikan mainan. Yang satu adalah boneka beruang berwarna ungu saat masih duduk di bangku TK. Berkali-kali kami mendatangi toko kelontong penjual boneka ini, dengan rengekan yang tidak berhenti, akhirnya saya dibelikan juga. Yang satunya lagi adalah Playstation set, kira-kira sewaktu saya kelas 4 SD. Saya dan adik terus-menerus meminta untuk dibelikan Playstation. Setelah lama didesak terus, akhirnya beliau mengalah, tapi bukan tanpa mengomeli kami dengan “Bapakmu tukang cetak duit ya.”

Sering juara kelas itu tidak bisa dijadikan alasan untuk minta dibelikan macam-macam mainan. Nilai bagus untuk mainan? Tujuan pendidikan kami bukan untuk sesuatu yang sedangkal itu.

Segala sesuatu pakainya harus hemat. Kami paling takut kalau Papa sudah mulai merapikan isi lemari TV, biasanya tanpa terduga. Kalau sudah kami lihat Papa mulai beberes, biasanya kami cepat-cepat kabur ke kamar. Tak lama pasti terdengar omelan Papa sambil mengumpulkan banyak penghapus, pensil dan barang-barang kami lainnya yang kami sangka sudah lama hilang dari dalam lemari. “Terus! Beli baru, beli baru terus ya!”

Almarhumah Nenek dari pihak Papa bahkan lebih ketat lagi standarnya. Pernah sekali saya dimarahi beliau karena minta pulpen baru setelah menghilangkan yang lama. “Kecil-kecil sudah royal ya! Besar mau jadi apa?” Padahal juga bukan Montblanc (memang sih anak kelas 2 SD juga tidak kenal Montblanc), cuma pulpen murah yang semua anak tahun 90an pasti pernah punya. “Tuh kan, memang keturunan..”, kami biasa bergosip dengan para sepupu. Kaum Hainan memang katanya menjunjung tinggi nilai berhemat. Tapi untuk anak-anak seperti kami pasti berpikir itu namanya pelit. Tiga sepupu kami bahkan berasal dari kelompok dialek yang lebih hemat lagi dari kaum Hainan. Kami hanya bisa menyelamati mereka, semoga bertahan.

Kami juga dilatih untuk memakai air dan listrik secara teliti. (Setelah bertahun-tahun diomeli, mematikan saklar ketika meninggalkan ruangan itu menjadi kebiasaan yang otomatis, seolah-olah akan ada alarm yang berbunyi kalau lupa mematikan.) Menampung air dalam ember juga umum meskipun kamar mandi kami sudah modern.

“Coba jual kerupuk Jangek ini, baru kalian tahu untuk mendapatkan lima ratus rupiah itu usahanya seberapa.” (Kalau dikurs ke mata uang Singapura saat itu kira-kira senilai 10 sen.) Uang dinilai dengan kerja dan usaha, bukan dari bunga bank ataupun bunga saham, ini pegangan kami ketika membelanjakan uang. Jadi memang “uang hasil keringat” dalam arti sesungguhnya. Dalam enam bulan pertama saya di Singapura untuk studi, berat badan saya menurun sebanyak 8 kg. Sama halnya dengan kedua adik saya, berat badan mereka menurun banyak ketika awal-awal keluar kota melanjutkan studi. Datang dari kota kecil seperti Pematangsiantar, biaya hidup di kota besar, bahkan biaya sekali makan saja, bisa berkali-kali lipat dari normal kami. Wajar kalau kami akhirnya menghemat makan dengan ketat untuk mengurangi rasa bersalah kami yang sudah menghabiskan banyak uang hasil keringat orangtua (tentu saja orangtua sedih ketika tahu kami berbuat demikian).

Dengan begitu banyak omongan tentang bagaimana kami harus hidup hemat, mungkin membuat orang berpikir bahwa Papa seorang kikir yang pantang mengeluarkan satu peser pun. Tapi kebiasaan keluarga kami seminggu sekali untuk makan bersama di luar, dan juga pemakaian uang untuk Mama berbelanja pakaian maupun untuk tujuan amal menunjukkan sebaliknya. Kuncinya mungkin bukan ‘tidak membelanjakan uang’, melainkan ‘memanfaatkan uang secara bijak dan bertanggungjawab’. Sesungguhnya nilai uang itu terletak justru pada penggunaannya, sebab uang yang diam dan tersimpan selamanya itu sama tidak bergunanya seperti talenta yang terkubur dalam perumpamaan Yesus tentang talenta, atau seperti seguci kepingan emas yang terkubur dan akhirnya dicuri dalam salah satu  dongeng karangan Aesop, tanpa guna di dalam simpanan.

Adalah bijak untuk mengingat pentingnya uang, tetapi kita pun harus berhati-hati untuk tidak menggelembungkan uang hingga melampaui ukuran sepantasnya. “Ingat, jangan memandang koin uang sampai sebesar roda pedati.”, demikian nasihat rutin Papa. Kalimat inilah yang menjadi penyeimbang terhadap semua ajaran beliau tentang pentingnya uang dan berhemat.

Kini, kami mengelola rumah tangga kami sendiri dan membesarkan anak-anak kami sendiri dalam kehidupan yang cukup nyaman di Singapura. Mungkin tidak lagi ada keperluan untuk hidup berhemat. Hemat itu tidak gampang, tidak nyaman, dan tidak menyenangkan. Tapi kita sejatinya sedang melakukan pembodohan terhadap diri dan anak-anak kita kalau kita berpikir dan mengajarkan bahwa hidup hemat dan beririt itu hanya respon semata terhadap masa sulit. Rasa berkecukupan, bersahaja, pengendalian diri, pemakaian sumber daya yang bertanggungjawab, dan tenggang rasa terhadap kaum tak berpunya yang dipupuk melalui kebiasaan hidup irit, uang lebih yang boleh disisihkan dari hidup berhemat untuk tujuan amal; kebajikan-kebajikan seperti inilah yang menjadikan kita manusia yang lebih baik. Seperti kata William J. Bennett, anak-anak (manusia) itu pada dasarnya adalah makhluk moral dan rohani, dan inti dari pendidikan adalah nilai-nilai kebajikan.

Orangtua yang memaksa dan melatih anak-anaknya untuk hidup irit mungkin bukan orangtua yang disenangi (untung saja mereka tidak mempermasalahkan suka tidaknya kita kepada mereka). Setiap didikan memang sepertinya tidak menyenangkan pada saat diterapkan, namun seiring waktu ia menghasilkan buah kebenaran dan damai bagi mereka yang dilatih olehnya (kitab Ibrani 12:11). Melihat ke belakang, saya mensyukuri dan mengagumi dedikasi orangtua dalam menerapkan hidup hemat dan sikap irit. Semoga saya pun bisa mewariskan kebajikan ini kepada generasi selanjutnya.

“Isilah pikiranmu dengan semua yang benar, semua yang mulia, semua yang adil, semua yang suci, semua yang manis, semua yang sedap didengar, semua yang disebut kebajikan dan yang terpuji.” – Rasul Paulus, kitab Filipi 4:8

Frugality: Virtue of The Past

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I went to a birthday party recently, my daughter’s friend’s party to be exact because once you are a parent you don’t get to attend a birthday party as the guest anymore, your kids do. It was a warm outdoor party, and we were aptly served Ice Ganefo – frozen snacks made by freezing flavored liquid in a clear and slim plastic tube. It is also known as ‘Es Lilin’ in Indonesian.

The thing about this Ice Ganefo is, it brings me back to my childhood. Fond memories, they are. No, I didn’t grow up eating it, I grew up hearing about it. It’s my father’s favorite topic of preaching, his kind of ‘table talk’.

“You bunch of ungrateful brats, be mindful of how fortunate you are! When I was your age I would be out there under the hot sun selling sticks of ice Ganefo on bike!”, he would start his lecture and we would roll our eyes thinking “here comes the ice Ganefo. Again..”

My parents were very strict about how money was spent. As was common for the Indonesian Chinese of their generation, they grew up in a tough time. They knew poverty and were acquainted with wants first hand.

“Finish up your food!”
While we were never denied the food we crave, leaving food to waste was a big sin in our family. “How ungrateful! In our childhood, we didn’t even dream to enjoy what you are wasting now. Wonton noodle is a once a year treat, you know!” And don’t get him started on the curry fish; “…we eight siblings would carry an empty pan to buy only one curry kembong fish while asking for a full pan of gravy…”

On toys, my father was no less strict. I still remember the two times I pressed him hard to buy me certain toys. One was a purple teddy bear, I was in my kindy. We visited the mama-shop several times with me nagging constantly before I finally got the teddy. The other one was the Playstation set, probably when I was in grade 4. My younger brother and I pestered him a lot and for a long time, he gave in but not without nagging back at us with “Right, your father is a money printer.”

Topping the class regularly had no bargaining power on him. Toys for score? Our purpose of education was never for something so banal and shallow.

Resources were to be used thriftily. As kids we dreaded the moment when our father would declutter the TV cabinets, which he did unpredictably once in a blue moon. We would all quickly siam* to the bedroom at the first sign of it. Because soon enough, he would be heard nagging while digging out many of our ‘supposedly-already-gone-missing’ erasers, pencils, and whatever sorts of stationary. “Everything buy new, buy new, buy new…”

My late paternal grandmother was even more strict. I was once strongly rebuked by her for asking for a new pen, having misplaced one previously. “What a young spendthrift! What will you be when you grow up?” No Montblanc here (not that a grade two kid would know a Montblanc anyway), just a simple pink with white stripes pen all the 90’s kids probably owned before. “See, it’s running in the bloodlines,” we cousins would gossip among ourselves. The Hainanese pride themselves for being frugal, or so we heard. But to us kids, it was just plain stingy. And three of our cousins are from a paternal dialect group that is known to be even more frugal. We bid them good luck.

We were trained to use water and electricity mindfully. (After years of being nagged at, turning off the switches when leaving the room just became a second nature, as if an alarm would go off if you stepped out while leaving one switch on). Having pails of water in our modernized bathroom is also common.

“Sit here and try selling this Kerupuk Jangek (fish cracker) then you’ll know how much effort goes into earning your 500 rupiahs.” (That’s probably the equivalent of 10 cents in Singapore currency of that time.) Money is valued by the amount of real work, so we are to base our calculation on this when spending. It’s hard-earned money in its literal sense. When I first came to Singapore to study, I lost 8 kgs in the first 6 months. Just as my two younger brothers did as they went to major cities for further study as well. Coming from a small town as Pematangsiantar, the cost of living, or a mere meal, in big cities is many times our normal. So we naturally skimped on meals to ease our guilt for spending so much of the hard-earned money from home (to our parents’ heartache of course).

With so much talk about thriftiness and frugality, one would probably think of my father as a scrooge who clutches his wallet tight unwilling to part with a buck. But our weekly family dining out and his approval for my mother’s occasional wardrobe spending and charity commitment proved otherwise. The key is probably not ‘not spending the money’, but rather ‘spending it wisely and responsibly’. Indeed, its meaning lies in its spending, for an idle, or permanently kept money is as no-good as the buried talent in Jesus’ Parable of The Talents, or the buried gold coins that were stolen away in one of Aesop’s fables, being good for nothing in the keeping.

While it is important to acknowledge the importance of money, one must also guard against magnifying it unproportionally. “In your mind, do not enlarge the coin to the size of the cart wheel, ” is my father’s regular advice. And it provides the much needed balance to our view of frugality.

Today, as we run our own household and parent our own kids in a generally comfortable life in Singapore, the need for practicing frugality may be virtually nonexistent. It is inconvenient, it is uncomfortable, it is unpopular. But we are fooling ourselves and our children if we are to believe frugality is merely a response to hard times. The contentment, modesty, self-discipline, responsible stewardship and empathy towards the needy it instills, the extra resource for charity it affords; virtue makes us better human. As William J. Bennett pointed out, children, human, are essentially moral and spiritual beings and the central task of education is virtue.

My father, and the elders who insisted frugality on us, might not be the most likable adults of our childhood (as if they’d care). But no discipline seems pleasant at the time, only later does it produce a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Looking back, I admire and am grateful for the persistent pursuit of a frugal life instilled by our elders, and I wish to carry this legacy forward to the next generation.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.” – Saint Paul

*siam: evade in Hokkian/Singlish.

Preschool with Mommy

Kana, the girl who can't sit still.

Kana, the girl who can’t sit still.

Our eldest turned three this year. Following the school age guideline in Singapore, she would have been a Nursery One student had she attended a preschool. Instead, we have a unschooled preschooler wandering around the neighborhood daily. It’s of little wonder that I get “Is she not going to school yet?” question from well-meaning neighbors every now and then.

As a single income family, we need to be careful in allocating our budget. Things of necessity take precedence over things of desire, and if we can afford to do things ourselves without hiring vendors, we allocate the saved money to other important things.

Playtime with the neighborhood kids.

Playtime with the neighborhood kids.

Early childhood education (preschool) happens to fit in our DIY-able item list. Reasons being first, I am staying at home with the kids; we have child-care issue taken care (preschools cum child-care institutions are among the main supports necessary for families with both parents working). Second, the basic curriculum for 3-6 year old preschoolers is one that most parents can teach. And finally, the financial cost of attending a preschool is significant, with some preschools charging fantastic fee.*

Spared from the expense of the early childhood education, we channeled the money into the girls’ tertiary education savings bond. Another good thing about doing our own Preschool is we get to customize the curriculum and decide on how many holidays in the school year, yay! 😉

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Clockwise: Spotted a “Cauliflower Mushroom”. Close encounter with bird pets of the neighborhood’s birds lover uncles. Picking some ‘blueberry-like’ fruits. Feeling the texture of a snail.

Our curriculum for the N1 level is light and easy. Although there are intentions and rationale for doing what we do, we are basically living the normal every day. We put focus on character building, outdoor play, nature exploration, language development, and peers and cross-age interaction.

A typical day of ours looks like this:

Three year old Kana wakes up at 8 AM. She is tasked with helping to make the bed and getting changed herself. We have breakfast together, she helps herself during meals.

We have a habit of turning on music on the CD player when we are at home (I prefer classical music and she loves her Chinese children songs and Bible songs). While I am preparing for cooking in the kitchen, Kana entertains herself and her baby sister, Mila. Sometimes she browses through her books and (pretends to) read out to Mila, or makes up some play with whatever we have in the house. Most of the time, she is busy drawing.

When I am done with the preparation we go for our outdoor time. Some days, it’s a walk around the neighborhood, getting to know the community and experiencing the hustle and bustle of the market and coffeeshops. Other days, it’s playing at the garden behind our block, picking some berry-like fruits, spotting lizards and basking themselves in the sunshine for their daily dose of Vitamin D.

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Clockwise: The garden and playground behind our block. A happy girl with her harvest. Picking the fallen Batoko plums found along our morning walk trail.

At 10 AM some neighborhood kids who have just finished their preschool session join us to play. While the children interact with each other, the mothers get to sit and chat, intervening in intervals when childish conflict arises. There are also mothers who practice non-immediate intervention, allowing the children to work out their own disputes. One of Kana’s regular playmates is from the latter group, and we enjoy the opportunity she gets to hone her social skill in the face of conflicts.

We are back at home at 11 AM for shower and lunch, followed by nap time at 1:30 – 3:30 PM. Kana gets to pick a story before nap, her favorites are from “The Book of Virtues” by William J. Bennett, “The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones, and “Maths with Mummy” by V. Zhitomirsky and L. Shevrin.

Snacks are served at 4 PM. On DVD days (usually Mondays and Thursdays) the girls get to watch a short episode from Qiao Hu. Non DVD days will be filled with free play. Occasionally, we do alphabet, numbers, Bible memory verse and Chinese character recognition. She then helps to babysit Mila while I take a shower.

At 5:30 PM we are out again for play time at the playground with the neighborhood kids. At 6:45 PM Hubby fetches us home.

Clockwise: Three year old Kana is drawing. "The Lady in Her New Shoes". Reading to baby sister.

Clockwise: Drawing. “The Lady in Her New Shoes”. Reading to Mila.

Our conversation is carried out in Chinese on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and in English on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. She speaks in Indonesian with her Daddy.

Some extras to add will be her once a week Chinese lesson at a nearby Chinese enrichment center (where she also gets to do art and crafts, singing, dancing and gets a feel of a classroom), our monthly trip to the Singapore Zoo (thanks to the free facility from Hubby’s working place) and our visits to various parks throughout the island.

It’s November and we conclude our N1 year with a thankful heart to God. We seek His continuous blessings and guidance as we embark on a life long journey of learning, of which the ultimate end is the knowledge of God and His glorification. The whole things are not geared towards producing a leader of tomorrow or giving any kid a head start over anyone. But we are certain there’s plenty of learning going on for the children every day, even as they play, precisely because they play.

Now, there are many great preschools and passionate early childhood educators out there, if it’s within your budget and your child thrive in the environment, that’s wonderful! But if as parents you have concerns or limitations for sending your little ones to a preschool, know that you can still support their learning in many great ways. 🙂

P. S: Are you considering doing your own ‘Preschool with Mommy’ too? If you are doing something similar, how does a day in your ‘center’ look like? I would love to hear and learn from you! Ideas and inputs from parents of preschool attending children will be valuable too! 🙂

Clockwise: Feeding a giraffe. Conquering a 'Crocodile'. Our Nature Tray.

Clockwise: Feeding a giraffe. Conquering a ‘Crocodile’. Our Nature Tray.

*For Singapore Permanent Resident, the yearly school fee estimation for N1 level is as follows:
SGD 2,400 for PCF run preschools (2 hour session)
SGD 5,000 for church run preschools (3 hour session)
SGD 15,000 – SGD 28,000 for branded preschools cum child care centers (half day/full day)