Monday, April 21, 2008

Breakfast in Jalan Besar 2 + Swim Carnival

I blogged using my mobile phone earlier but had more to say and the phone's tiny buttons are not conducive to long messages! So here's the extended version.

The dim sum in the back alley way was a nice brekkie experience. We had sent Isaac off to the Jalan Besar swimming complex earlier for his Swimming Carnival and since he was only swimming in event no 20 and #26, we had time for a leisurely brekkie.

Shortly after taking that picture, the skies turned black and opened up in a torrential rain. The alley we were sitting in became an island as the waters rose around us and slowly inched closer. By the time we left, the dirty waters were lapping at the red plastic stools.

Still, it was nice to have brekkie outdoors on a cool morning, newspapers and novel in hand. KH had his Today newspaper with him and I had Gerald Durrell's "My Family and Other Animals". The other patrons of the restaurant were old men upward of their 70s and PCK-style contractors complete with bad perms and open-neck shirts! In an adjacent alley, I saw a fat sleek rat run into a doorway. So yes, this was atmospheric and reminiscent of eating in Singapore in the 60s and 70s!

The storm and the rain meant that the swimming carnival events were pushed back. When we arrived at the swimming complex more than an hour after dropping Isaac off, we realised that not even one event had been swum yet - everything was pushed back and the kids and parents left cooling their heels in the gallery.

The event proper only started at 10.30am. KH left to pick up Owain from school so I was the only cheerleader there when Isaac's event was called. He participated in the P6 50m backstroke and the 50m breaststroke. The P6 backstroke event was a shoo-in since there were not enough participants so no earlier heats were required. But for the P6 breaststroke, there were earlier heats and Isaac had come in last in them so we were surprised and pleased to hear that he had made it to the finals!

We know he is not a strong swimmer but we've been encouraging him to take part ever since he was in P4. For us, the spirit of competition, the atmosphere, the camaraderie, the excitement and the good stress associated with it were reason enough. So year after year, despite the lack of medals, our boy has been gamely signing up and going for competition. Plus he does enjoy himself splashing in the warm-up pool with his friends before the events are called.

It's always very cute to watch him psych himself up before the race. Sitting at the pool before his event is called, he would make a furtive sign of the cross and clasp his hands in brief prayer. Never the most religious of boys, it was funny to see him give a quick prayer like this!

Well, we know that winning might be a wee bit tough, so all of us just hope he won't come in last - and he didn't! From observing him this year, he seemed more confident than before, and certainly faster too. Even though his backstroke was the same as before - stroking backwards with TWO arms instead of alternate arms - he still managed to come in second last. Brilliant boy! We're so proud of him for making the effort, for going out there and competing and giving his best. He could have said: no, sure lose so why bother etc. But he didn't - he gamely went in and swam his best. And for us, that's what counts!

As he swam, I walked alongside hollering and cheering and KH said: geez you sound like one competitive mother! I retorted: you want to know what's 'competitive', try talking to those other mothers over there - the ones armed with stopwatches and discussing timing!

Going for the Swimming Carnival is also fun for for me as a mom because really, you see boys in all shapes and sizes and of all abilities and talents (0r lack of!). I enjoy watching the unbridled fun and horsing around by the boys in the pool, all of them tanned, slick with water, like supple seals, faces alive and bright with mischief.

And without exception, practically every Swimming Carnival would have what I call the False Start Event. This year was no different. The P2 breaststroke event had a false start so the boys were told to stop swimming. After the first 3 metres of thrashing about in the water, most boys complied - except one. This boy enthusiastically kept swimming. On and on. Blithely ignoring the frantic shouts from parents and officials to "Stop swimming!!", past the foghorn announcements by the commentator: "Boy, boy, you can stop now! Stop swimming now!" and even past the line that they dropped into the water to halt his single-minded progress down the pool - he simply lifted the nylon line over his head and carried on. He only stopped two metres from the finish line when he was near enough to finally see an official bending at the edge in front of him, one hand held up to cut him off.

Then there was the P4 backstroke event. Swimming at lane one was a portly kid. Dressed in a blue full swimsuit, not trunks. He was slow, yes - the slowest in fact, but that was not the funny part. The funny part was everytime this fat boy lifted one arm to stroke backwards, the other side of his body would dip so steeply into the water, I was afraid he would just tip over. He looked like he was struggling by the mid-point, so much so that Mr Philip the HOD for PE walked over, peered into the pool (and by then the race was over since he was the last swimmer left still swimming) and with that funny deadpan look, kept looking at him and walking alongside, as if to ensure that he would not really sink! The expression on Philip's face was priceless!

And then there were the parents - particularly the parents who take swimming carnivals and kids' performances very, very *seriously*. The ones with the clipboards and stopwatches (no they were not the officials), who yelled serious instructions to their sons in the water and later analysed performance and timing. One father was famously overheard to have said in frustration: "There's no one pushing him, dammit!" And his son was leading...

Hey, its not the Olympics, ladies and gentlemen! Lighten up!

After the swim, we treated Isaac to a bowl of his favourite pigs' intestines prawn noodles to celebrate. This being the last swimming carnival for us for SJI Jr, I do feel a bit nostalgic and sad. My boy is growing up and moving on. And frankly, I would miss the fun of rolling my eyes at over-competitive parents and laughing in delight at the False Start Events, but as KH pointed out, Owain will have his turn in SJI Jr in a couple of years so I just might find myself back in Jalan Besar swimming complex one day cheering another son on!

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