GETTING TO KNOW Gramps who share hobbies with their grandkids

Meet grandparents-grandkids who prove that age is no barrier to making a meaningful connection, thanks to shared interests.

Maintaining a bond with the grandparents can sometimes be difficult. But some families have overcome the age barrier and forged strong connections between the generations. From attending dance classes, to volunteering at a local charity, these grandparents are passing their passion down to their grandkids.

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Every week, Ho Kheng Hou,74, heads to ballet class and slips on her dancing shoes. Her granddaughters, Tan Rae-En, 6, and Rae-Lyn, 9, are hot on her heels these days.

Kheng Hou was hooked the minute she began attending dance classes when her own daughter started taking ballet lessons some 40 years ago. She now enjoys going for “open classes” at Attitude Performing Arts Studio at Bukit Timah Plaza as a form of relaxation.

It was music that had actually drawn her interest initially. Kheng Hou enthuses, “I love classical music and I play a little bit of the piano, too. I love Chopin’s and Tchaikovsky’s music — they suit me.”

Over the years, the grandmother has also dabbled in jazz dance and even ice skating. When the sprightly septuagenarian has free time, she also attends Pilates and Gyrotonic classes. Rae-En takes jazz dance classes, while Rae-Lyn does ballet.

Kheng Hou smiles, “I love that they love dance, too. I enjoy going to their performances and I often just sit back and watch them dance in class.”

I enjoy going to their performances and I often just sit back and watch them dance in class.”

The girls’ mother, Lau Joon-Nie, 45, a journalism lecturer at Nanyang Technological University, says that their passion for dance comes naturally to them, since they are also into classical music, just like grandma. Rae-En takes piano lessons while Rae-Lyn plays the violin.

Joon-Nie adds, “Plus, kids need to move and dance allows them to do this while providing some structure, discipline and physical training.”

So, does grandma offer any feedback or critique their dancing? “No way,” chortles Kheng Hou. “Kids these days don’t heed advice from anyone besides their teachers!” she says with a laugh.

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Former maritime surveyor Francis Tan, 67, used to paint as a hobby. After his retirement in 2003, he has pursued a “second career” as a watercolour artist. He now shares his love for art with his grandson, Connor Mah, 2.

A nature lover who adores the outdoors, Francis acquired his artistic skills at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, where he graduated in 1988.

He often makes trips to fast-disappearing spots around the island to capture the local landscape, such as the Singapore River and old shophouses. “These places are vanishing and it just means a lot to me to capture them before they are all gone,” he muses.

Besides selling his pieces through group exhibitions and by commission, Francis also held his first solo exhibition at Signature Art House at Tanglin Shopping Centre in August 2014. These days, he pursues his passion while juggling his other “full-time job” — helping to care for three grandsons, ranging from 9 months to age 4.

“Kids surprise you — they’re really spontaneous in their brush strokes and it’s wonderful to see their imaginations at work.”

He laughs, “I’ve set up a mini-easel in my painting room at home, and the boys enjoy just coming to tinker with the brushes and paints.” He adds that things can get pretty messy, such as the time his oldest grandson Christian, 4, decided to show off­ his “artistic” skills by smearing paint all over the floor.

“It’s not easy to guide them at this age, but kids surprise you — they’re really spontaneous in their brush strokes and it’s wonderful to see their imaginations at work,” he chuckles.

Francis is glad that his grandsons have the freedom and opportunity to express themselves through art and maybe even consider it as a career choice, something he wasn’t allowed to do when he was younger. He says. “My own parents used to say there was no future in art, so I didn't even entertain thoughts about pursuing it. I’m glad that things are di­fferent now.”

It’s clear that his grandsons enjoy the bonding sessions with gramps. Connor says with a happy grin, “I like it when my pop pop says my drawing is good. He helps me make the colours nicer!”

Meet a grandma who cooks with her grandson, and a grandpa shares a passion for charity work with his granddaughter!

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Every Lunar New Year, Doreen Phan, 63, who will be baking up a storm with her grandson, Elliot, 7. The pair enjoy whipping up festive goodies, like pineapple tarts, together.

Cooking has always been a big part of Doreen’s life, ever since she picked up her culinary skills from her mother-in-law. “She’s Indonesian-Chinese, but her cooking was a mix of everything that she had tried and tested,” she says.

Doreen’s specialties include curries, as well as a fishhead steamboat. Doreen still turns out yummy meals daily for her family, which now includes six grandchildren, who especially enjoy homey dishes like her steamed fish.

No surprise either that her passion for putting feasts together, as well as her cooking skills, are being passed down to the new generation. Indeed, her son and daughter-in law, Mervyn and Amanda Phan, are the couple behind Cookyn Inc, which runs culinary workshops, in addition to popular eateries like Grub at Bishan Park and Fix Café in Balestier. Mervyn also spends time in the kitchen with his own sons, Gerald, 2, as well as Elliot, 7.

“They’re really good. Once they learn it, they do it faster than me!”

The Phan household takes festive baking seriously, too, by the way. Doreen reckons that she bakes around a thousand tarts every year. “The kids help with making the pineapple paste and mixing the ingredients for the pastry,” she says. “They’re really good. Once they learn it, they do it faster than me!” she chuckles.

She adds that Elliot is quite disciplined, so she has no problems baking with him. Plus, the kids get to learn a lifelong skill — they’re already able to cook their own eggs for breakfast in the morning, she says.

Summing up, Doreen says, “They’re already very close to me and now that I can share with them the joy of baking, we strengthen that bond even more!”

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Francis Tay, 61, a full-time pilot, volunteers at the Willing Hearts Charity, which provides meals to the needy. He brings his granddaughter Rebecca Lai, 4, along to help out there, too.

It was actually a neighbour of Francis’ who introduced him to the charity some ­five years ago. After making several trips to the Jalan Ubi headquarters, he decided to make volunteering part of his life as he found what they do really meaningful. He helps out — by preparing and cooking, to washing, packing and delivering the food — whenever he can spare the time.

“It was the first time I had ever done any volunteer work, and I thought it was quite ful­filling,” he shares. “Plus, my own kids have grown up, so I’ve got more time now.”

Though he flies overseas regularly, this Singapore Airlines pilot makes it a point to go down to the soup kitchen whenever he’s back home. “Whatever I can do I’ll do, until the day I can’t do anymore,” he smiles.

“I want Rebecca to eventually learn that not every family is like hers, with a roof over their heads and three meals a day.”

His granddaughter, Rebecca, 4, tags along these days and enjoys helping to pack dry rations and household basics. Some 60 needy families receive this monthly care package, which is aimed at reducing their grocery bills.

Francis notes, “I want Rebecca to eventually learn that not every family is like hers, with a roof over their heads and three meals a day. Children can volunteer their services, too, no matter what age they are.”

The grandfather of two points out that the younger ones can help paste stickers on the food boxes, while older kids can clear the rubbish.

“It’s part of doing charity work — you don’t choose your job, you just do,” he says, smiling.

This story was first published in Mother & Baby February 2016.

Photos: File photos

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