We had just finished an excellent lunch at the Laperouse, a historical restaurant that had served the likes of Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo, when our host asked us politely: "What do you plan to do on your last afternoon in Paris before heading back to Singapore?"
Ten years ago, I would have said: "More sightseeing excursions."
"Shopping" was what I uttered, with the defiant tone of an incorrigible shopaholic.
The other Singapore journalists at the dining table shot me bemused looks.
Almost all had favoured a trip to the impressive Sacre Coeur Basilica at the summit of Montmartre, the highest point in the city.
I smiled apologetically but remained unmoved.
Firstly, I had been to the Sacre Coeur.
Secondly, it was drizzling and I didn't fancy trekking up steep slopes in the rain to get to the church.
Most importantly, I was left with a short time to fulfil a long shopping list as I had an official dinner in the evening and an early flight the next day.
The day before, my hopes of an early shopping spree were dashed by an arcane French rule that prohibited stores from opening their doors on a Sunday.
In the event, we decided to split up. Two intrepid reporters pressed on with a visit to the basilica. Three others took a cab to Galeries Lafayette, a shopper's temple that would usually have suited me fine.
However, I had already mapped out my shopping itinerary, which would take me back to the serviced apartment in the vicinity of the Louvre Museum from where we were, near the Notre Dame Cathedral.
I had worked out that the 1.7km route back to the apartment would take me down the Rue de Rivoli, a thoroughfare that is home to a warren of shops full of stylish merchandise and bargains. I cannot think of a similar street in Singapore. The nearest equivalent is Nathan Road in Hong Kong.
Suffice it to say, I managed to get something for myself and my wife, as well as about a dozen apparel pieces for my daughters. At the risk of being ridiculed, I must say it was a satisfying haul.
It is rather insidious how I have morphed into a metrosexual as a result of fatherhood. Growing up, I was never interested in shopping and, aside from a short spree to get shirts and trousers when I started work, I had no need to patronise department stores.
All that changed once my daughters came along, as dressing them up took on a certain appeal.
The first time I bought a dress each for my daughters was in 2007, when Yanrong was five and Yanbei was three. It was from a department store in Athens, Greece, and I remember making three visits before finally settling on two identical triple spaghetti-strapped Bonnie Jean dresses that cost me a pretty penny.
The reason I can describe them so vividly after eight years is that they are still hanging in the wardrobe even though they no longer fit the girls. My wife thinks the dresses are too beautiful to discard.
That's a feather in my cap as the men are often stereotyped as having poor fashion sense when picking out clothes for girlfriends, wives or daughters.
I also scored with a summer dress for Yanbei, which I bought from Zara in Amsterdam. She took a fancy to it and wore it quite often until the rise in the hemline turned the midi dress into a micro mini.
However, there were dud buys as well. The worst were those that were too small from the word go, no thanks to my over reliance on the indicated age range on the label. (Apparently, you can't always trust the labelling. For instance, some clothes labelled as suitable for children aged seven to nine for a European cut could not fit an eight-year-old Singaporean girl.)
These days, before I travel, I take my children's measurements using tailor's tapes, log the data onto my mobile phone and pack the tapes in my travel bag as carefully as I do with my passport. If anyone is wondering, I don't just shop for clothes for my daughters when overseas.
I have bought them watches, stationery, story books, toys, puzzles and even a German-English dictionary, as books for learning German are rather pricey in Singapore).
It is only when I travel that I feel compelled to shop for the girls. I have never bought them a dress in Singapore, except for the occasional cheongsam to wear to school for racial harmony day and Chinese New Year celebrations.
Could it be guilt or the need to compensate for being absent, particularly in the case of parents who travel extensively for work?
I know of a friend who comes home from his travels with a special suitcase laden with nothing but chocolate bars for his kids. I thought that was rather excessive until I learnt he has five children.
However, as I don't travel anywhere as frequently as he does, I doubt it's guilt that brings out my shopaholic urge.
Perhaps, it's just my way of saying: "I wish you were here."
This article was first published on June 7, 2015.
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