When Ming blogged pictures of the bento boxes she was making to help her son settle at school, they went viral. She tells us about starting her blog – Bento Monsters – creating cartoon character lunches and being a mum in Singapore…
Li Ming Lee lives in Singapore with her two sons Ivan Tey, 11, Lucas Tey, eight, and her husband of 14 years. She’s a full time mum.
(This interview was originally published in December 2015 – so a few things might have changed).
What is your home like?
It’s a ground floor three-bedroom apartment. It’s compact and comes with a patio. I tidy it up every morning, but it’s a vicious cycle, as my boys make it messy very soon, and I’ll shout at them to clear up their mess, and not long after they will mess it up again…
Where were you raised and what was your childhood like?
I was raised in Singapore. We used to stay in a small room at the back of my dad’s shop. My parents would work in the shop and I would always be playing around the vicinity of the shop. There was no gadgets then, so it was a lot of imaginative and pretend play both alone and with friends.
What memories of food and eating do you have from when you were young?
My mum is a very good cook. She used to work for my dad and would always find time to whip out an entire spread for dinner every day.
When did you develop a passion for cooking and food?
I’ve loved to bake since I was a teenager; it started when we had our first lesson in baking during Home Economics in school. But I only started cooking after I got married and the passion for cooking came when I began making bentos for my first born.
The Bento Monsters blog started so that you could document the amazing lunches you were making for your son, tell us how it that…
Yes, I didn’t think people would be interested when I started the blog, I had only intended it to be a platform for me to make a journal of our lunches. Before the blog, I used to print out the bento photos and paste them on a scrapbook, and my boys and I would flip through it now and then. When the photos started piling up, I thought it was easier to just upload it on a blog.
It helped to give him something to look forward to at recess. He always enjoyed looking at the bento and lunch notes I prepared for him
What exactly does ‘bento’ mean?
Bento simply means a meal packed in a box.
Where did you get the idea for these cartoon character bento box lunches?
From everywhere, from stuff my boys like, things I see online and around me, etc. When I get an idea, I’ve a habit of noting it down on my phone. I’ve accumulated quite a long list, so I’ll just choose what I want to make every week from the list.
How long does it take you to make?
It usually takes around half an hour, sometimes much faster and sometimes a little longer.
You were making the special lunches because your son found it hard starting school, in what ways did it help him to settle?
It helped to give him something to look forward to at recess. He always enjoyed looking at the bento and lunch notes I prepared for him.
Did other children at school feel envious of his lunches; did you start a craze?
Not really, those sitting beside him would take a look, but that’s all. It created more interest in my younger boy when he was in kindergarten, the teacher and kids will crowd around to see what he brought everyday.
How do you spend your time when the kids are at nursery/school?
My boys are in different sessions, so I usually have one kid with me. Time is spent on the usual household chores, marketing, cooking, looking at their homework, spending time with them and chauffeuring them to school. And if I have free time in between, I try to make food art; it is now like a hobby for me.
What do you do on the weekends, as a family?
My hubby and the boys usually play basketball over the weekends, I can’t really play but I just join in for the fun of it. We try to take them outdoors whenever we can – to the beach, nature reserves and parks. And we also make regular visits and just hang out at our parents’ house.
How is it, raising children in Singapore; is it a child-friendly city?
Yes it is. It is also a very safe city. There are many playgrounds here, both indoors and outdoors. There is plenty of greenery and nature for kids to explore. There a also lots of places of interest that we can take kids like the zoo, bird parks, underwater world, Universal Studios, water parks, etc.
Most shopping malls have a nappy changing room and nursing room. There are also lots of pro-family incentives from the government to encourage us to give birth to more kids, as childbirth rates are low.
You were approached about making a book off the back of your blog but worried that you wouldn’t have time, why did you eventually agree?
They managed to persuade me that the deadline was very flexible and said I could always push it back to the next submission date if I could’t get it done. I eventually took a year making the book.
Has the book been well received?
So far yes, judging by the first month’s sales figures.