Sunday, March 29, 2015

When the going is good....

... many of us tend to forget how to appreciate it. That's one of the lessons I learned this past week, after the demise of Lee Kuan Yew. I have 'followed' his 'life as a public figure' for almost all my life. It's something which can't be really helped because Singapore's history is so closely intertwined with ours, the proximity of Malaysia and Singapore gave many of us no choice. I have read his speeches, books, listened and watched him (the Internet is an amazing window) over the years. This past week, I revisited those media again to relive his moments.

While he was alive, especially after he retired, there were many who would jump at the opportunity to throw potshots at him. There are many Singaporean issues which have become the butt of many jokes. Yet as I watched again some of those old videos this past week, reread some of his speeches, took out the books he authored I had in my possessions, I am reminded of one thing too. Whatever we might say of him, Lee Kuan Yew was consistent in one thing... his unwavering belief in the principle of justice, one that is fair to all. Where he succeeded, Malaysia failed... We are still deeply communal based.

Death.... It sums up the worth of your life. If you are someone public like LKY, your whole life is played like a movie again. And you have many proofs to fall back on. It becomes possible and easy to dissect his life. And it makes a clear conclusion possible.

That is the one major plus of looking at something on hindsight. You get to see the whole picture of what made this man great. In being able to do that, you see a picture of one who has been a remarkably consistent leader. I can't think of any country like Singapore. Third world to first within one generation, a city state that is super efficient and safe. How many cities or countries can claim that honour? Small as it may be, this tiny dot south to Malaysia, is still a country to be reckoned with cos they have the wealth that does a lot of their talking too.

However when one works into the future and even if he is fortunate enough to have the gift of foresight, it is still quite impossible to see the whole picture. With just the foresight, it is a lot of conjectures. You have to just hope you know what you are doing and that whatever you are doing will be the right thing. But this premise of hindsight is a good thing cos with it, we can reflect on many things too.

In our every day lives, we tend not to appreciate the good things we have around us, when we still have them. Busy schedules, preoccupation with ourselves... we make excuses, we find reasons. The outpouring of affection at death... though it is an inevitable one.. it's another one of those reminders that come my way this week.

It's Cheng Beng season now.. we see outpouring of piety and affection too, to the dead. One wonders whether there was the same outpouring of affection for the deceased while they were alive. In death what is left with us are just rituals and memories. The latter fades after some time. And that leaves me  to wonder too if the act of carrying out these rituals make a difference to the dead. How many generations of Cheng Beng because it is all forgotten and the circle begins again?

Ramblings on the day rain came back again after so many dry weeks....

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

How My Classroom Has Evolved

My classroom has undergone quite a few changes in the last 24 months. Come July, it will be exactly 2 years since I last used a chalkboard to teach.

It has been an exciting journey for me as a teacher. Not having to use the chalkboard... I find it most liberating. From Doceri, I ventured into so many other apps which gave me a versatility which made teaching (and learning too) so much fun. The icing on the cake... I did not need to turn my back on my students. I have not done that in class for a long time. All my classes are now face to face all the time.

I now write so much less in class. Typing has replaced much of the writing. Am thankful for my typing skills which I owe to Dad. He used to pay me 50 sen to do his typing sometimes, and I did it happily for the extra pocket money. I move from one form to another quite easily in class. This year I added another projector in the lab. I now operate with 2 projectors.

With 2 projectors, I can put up passages on one to annotate and questions on another for easy reference. I can use one for mind map and the other for other media in the lesson. One can come up with any combo of preferences.

Chromebooks are used for Google Drive and Socrative. There other assessment apps which I am itching to try but with the workload piling up, it'll have to take a while. Using Google Docs for essay writing is more effective than the traditional 'write-in-exercise-book' method. With a few add-ons like Doctopus and Goobric, I can view more students work. And monitoring... Today I asked a student if she was working on her writing. She said yes. I told her she wasn't. There was some denying but finally she admitted. It's amazing how I can click the tabs containing my students work and know whether they are working on their piece. There is also a more personal touch and students learn other skills too as they work on their writing online. And Goobric.... with the writing rubric attached, students get a clearer picture of where they stand. Google Drive ... almost like a 'one-stop' centre.

Students seem to enjoy this way of learning. I have had students coming back to ask whether they could take their online assessments again. I get more interests shown by the kids too.

Apps ... it's amazing what one can achieve when there is media as your teaching aid. A picture, or video, or even a caption... in the traditional class, it would have been a gargantuan task just to bring them into the class. These days, with just a computer or a tablet and a projector, you are good to go. And oh yes... a speaker system would definitely add the oomph.

And emails... I email my students reminders to pay their fees. Their parents can emailed me when their children are sick. I scan timetables, textbooks and ebooks I prepared to my students too. I am fostering a new culture of learning too, I realised. Many students usually are not aware that their smartphones can be used to enhance their learning because they were not taught so. My classes are slowly learning. Our students have not been allowed to bring their technology to class because we deem those gadgets as a distraction. Well, I disagree... It's mainly because they have not been shown the way.

But despite all the breakthroughs in technology... I learned one thing too. It is the teacher that makes a greater difference. The personal touch, the story teller, the listening ears, etc.... these are still unmatched by the gadgets. A good teacher is still more about those than just technology.

I have also been privileged to set up a digital signage for the school with the help of Other Half. Using Raspberry Pi(s) we now run two 60-inch TVs as our digital signage. Announcements are now in poster or video forms. The time saved due to announcement over the PA system is quite substantial.

Changes ... they are inevitable. We can choose to remain in our old but comfortable ways or force our learning curve upwards and change with the inevitable...Oh ya.. SPM results are out. One sees the usual rounds of jubilations and dejections. A parent said this when she was congratulated for her daughter's excellent set of results. Her answer..."God's blessings.' Sigh... means those whose children did not do well did not get God's blessings???

Friday, February 20, 2015

Chinese New Year

For every year that I get to celebrate CNY with both of my parents, I consider it a bonus. This year was a more relaxed CNY in the sense that Mom decided to 'eat out' and I think it is a very wise choice. When I think back of CNY in those long ago days, Mom would always be up at 4 or 5 a.m. in the morning to go to the market to get the ingredients for the reunion lunch... in my house we've always done reunion lunch and not dinner, even from those days.

Mom is getting along in years. She no longer has the energy for the big cookout. By the time we get home, we are tired from the travelling. She understands that and hence she would book the table for the makan. Still, it hasn't really totally spared her from the preparations. We still get to eat our favourites from her. Those dishes now feel even more of a truly a labour of love... A labour despite the discomfort from the a bad back, and everything age related.

I appreciate too my bros making the long journey home. Mom and Dad could always just celebrate CNY nearer to them but my bro insists that he comes back so that our kids could get together, renew ties. 365 days feel like a very lengthy time these days.

CNY is also a time when I see the women folk slogging it out in the kitchen. And I sometimes feel the senselessness of it too... Cos the cooking remains the women's domain. True some may argue that they do the hard work of driving, but increasingly I see this. During a time of supposedly a reunion, much if not all the food preparations are done mainly by the women folk. What is the point of reunion then... Half a morning or even a full morning of preparation, and throw in an evening of preparation as well... the women are cooped up in the kitchen. Makes reunion feel like a reunion of everyone else in the family except the one who is in charge of the food preparations.

The kids had a great time playing cards and firecrackers. I think I have not lighted this many firecrackers in many years. It's wasteful, I know... burning those crackers, but the kids had a truly good time.

CNY too is a time I meet up with my old friends. Old friends from a carefree past. Old friends who grew up known by our parents and in many cases many of whom who watched out for us almost like their own too. My friends and I are trying to make a trip when we turn 50.... just the bunch of us minus our families. So much time has whizzed past. A whole generation!

My oldest friend and I sent our friend back after our little gathering (this year there were six of us) and along the way I passed by my alma mater. We stopped right beside the my Standard One class which was just opposite her mother-in-law's place. The buildings have remained unchanged in the last 40 years! I have not passed that block for ages. How time has flown by... I guess that's how every former who passed by those corridors would feel too.

My friend stopped by to have a chat with my parents and I could see how their eyes light up from the visit. I went to visit my old friend's parents after that too and I see that same lighted faces. That's what celebrations is supposed to mean... lighted faces from the get-togethers, the meet-ups, the rekindling and renewing of ties... the remembering.

As I sat over conversations with my brothers too, I realise that no matter how well we have done, or how successful we have become, that which remain meaningful in our what will be the soon forgotten presence of us on this earth would the be the connections that we made and leave behind. But that too will fade with the passing of time.

Generations will come and will go too. Life probably will remain as what we now experience... the constant struggle and chase for something we deem better. Yet if I ask myself what truly is important, I find myself going back again and again to this thought about my roots, my connections and the people in my life. Sometimes, we forget that and go for stuff which we can measure.... the chase for a better life, the journeys that we embark on to make that a reality, the people whom we leave behind, the comfort zone that we cocoon ourselves into....

Everyone of us.. we get caught up by the busyness of our lives. We chase and chase for the rainbows that we think we need to light up our lives.... very often forgetting that we need to be the lights.

Chinese New Year 2015. It's a quiet New Year this time around. Economy is on the downslide. There seems to be less of this feeling of festivities outside. Times don't look so rosy. Changes are afoot. But I think, all those are actually quite secondary. Good times come and they go too. Bad times too. What matters in the end... the relationships that we are able to forge. I think that probably sums up the whole point of living....

Monday, January 19, 2015

Weeding Revisited

Weeding... I have not been weeding my garden regularly these last few years. I would do it when I couldn't stand the sight of the weeds especially when they were long and stood out like sore thumbs but there was no concerted effort to really get rid of them. As a result my yard would only look neat after a mow.

Getting rid of the weeds required a lot of effort as I have rediscovered. I was painfully aware how the years of neglect had allowed the the different weeds to spread their roots.

Well three months have passed. The skin of my thumbs and index fingers are hardened by the constant friction of pulling the weeds, making sure their roots came out too. Last year too, some signs of athritis began to show. The tell tale signs of knobbly fingers have begun to appear.

The first month of weeding netted piles of unwanted grass. It was a lot of hard work. It is always impossible to get rid of all the weeds. Life is like that too. One can likened bad habits to weeds (or not too). Bad habits can never quite go away too. You can correct and try to change them, or even try to get rid of them but they always come back. What we can do is like managing the weeds. The carpet grass if given a little help eventually will grow thick enough to squeeze out the weeds. Eventually you will still find the weeds tucked between the carpet grass, with a yellowy tinge from the lack of sun or looking scrawny but they'll still be there, waiting for the opportunity to break forth.

When we mow too, I realized, we can never cut the grass too short for the want of a flat, neat perfect kind of appearance. The grass must be allowed to keep a certain length to prevent the weeds from spreading. It brings to mind our efforts to raise perfect kids. I think many of us probably realised too that by trying too hard, many of our kids seem to lack that overall well-adjusted with little flaws here and there overall character. Weeds will always be there, no matter how hard one tries to get rid of them.

I shall try to keep the garden as weed free as possible. Consistent weeding will be required. I don't know if I have the time or the energy to persist but I will try. After all weeding is therapeutic as I have discovered too. The time spent draws me away from the incessant pull of the tablet. My mind goes free range when I weed too. And occasionally when I have company while I weed, it is also a time to simply just enjoy the company of another, be it in silence or chatter. We live in a world filled with too many planned activities and rushes... and one that is dictated by the whims of electronic gadgets.

Weeds... Just realised too weeds as I call them are grass too. They are just not the type of grass that I want.... just another personal preference. Same grass and of all things brought to mind the K-Pop singers hugging the girls. The bemusement and horror that came to mind. We are such sticklers to uniformity.... Adults bent on one tract expecting kids to be perfect (their version) when they themselves must have been less than perfect too at that age. One forgets the hormonal surges, the crushes that keep posters of their 'idols' on their room walls. The mind goes free range.... Maybe I should be kind to the weeds too... 8)

School is hectic but I am enjoying the work generally. Adapting to new tools and ways of doing things... It is also nice to be part of the agent of change too. Everyday poses new challenges. It may be tiring but so far I have found them to be challengingly fun.

 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fluid

When I was a kid I used to think my parents knew everything. Then the teenage years came and the 'I know all phase' began. Before long secondary school ended and university beckoned. There was so much to read and so little I knew. University was an eye opening experience. The internet age followed soon after and so much information suddenly became available. And it highlighted the fact that I know even less than I thought.

Books used to be what we depended on for knowledge and we set the contents of those books to be true, that they are correct and accurate. And that is how many of us treat the digital information that is stored in the web too. We deemed them to be true too like the books we are so familiar with. But it might not be so....

I have learned that actually what is deemed as true may not be totally so. Facts.... they remain that until a point when error is pointed out. Knowldege is fluid. The wealth of knowledge that we have, I feel, is shaped and formed by the environment.

In the beginning it was the primitive environment which gave shape to knowledge. Knowledge was quite basic, I guess. How to start a fire, hunt a wild animal for food, skin it, etc, etc. Then as the environment became more sophisticated, knowldege took on a more refined form too... different ways to start a fire, various materials that aid combustion, multiple tools to hunt animals, curing skin, making intricate designs out of them.... in short knowledge undergoes changes too along the way. It is fluid.

Sometimes fluidity means add-ons.... a rewrite or even a rehash. Other times it means a total write off. It is rendered useless and new information replaces the outdated one. Point is it is constantly changing. And perhaps because of this particular nature that knowledge, it is also a tool for power. It can be used to control, mould and shape, enhance a status, subdue, subjugate and even cripple. Even a taboo is knowledge and we know how taboos can be used to stop actions, practices.

Fluid... Life is a cycle. That itself, I think points towards an untold fluidity that perhaps many of us might be afraid to face sometimes. I just read that the Church of England is fast tracking those with management skills upward... to stem the decline of membership. The hunt is on for the talented ones, those with the right knowledge (read as skills too) to be singled out for roles which will arrest the tide.

From brawn to brain... We have seen that evolution in our lifetime. Might or brute strength used to be the only path to power. Then brain came into the picture. For over 200,000 years life was basically ruled by the might of brute strength. But in the last 5000 years, we have seen brute strength giving way to a more refined yet more devastating aspect... Might driven by brain. And amazing changes have taken place in this short span of time.

As we seek to be more knowledgeable, as we embark on new adventures into the unknown..... I guess that's where we need the wisdom to differentiate. These are probably the most challenging and exciting times in our midst..... Yet wisdom is lacking. But sometimes I think the powers that are don't want us to be any wiser too. Enough to be useful but not too much to question.

Ramblings during the week when school is delayed because flood waters caused so much devastation in many states of the country.

 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Welcome 2015

Another year gone by. Feels like it was a daze. Spent the last two weeks of the 2014, clearing up stuff at work and doing repairs. My Moto-Saw, Rotary Tool, drill and all the other tools came out to play. Did stuff which I normally don't do or would be too lazy to begin. But I learned plenty in the process.

Tools are important. The right tool affects the ability to get things done, qualilty of finishing and speed of work. Without the right tools many of the tasks would have either not been possible or taken a very long time to complete. Quality of work would have been greatly affected too.

That's life too. We need the right tools to get by and get ahead. EQ, IQ.... The right amount of each is needed. For some, the privilege of pedigree birth gives a distinct advantage over the rest. This has often made me wonder whether life is really fair. One who is born in a family with wealth or even just relative wealth immediately has a headstart. On the other spectrum, one born in the third world country into great poverty would most probably be destined to roam the bush or the slums to which he was born. The abject poverty would make it an gargantuan uphill task to get out of the cycle. Likely that he'll be stuck there. The unfair advantage always exists.

Year end flood. Another plane crashed. I was struck by the number of seven helicopters available during the early days of the flood. Only seven. A plane crashed and multiple governments came out with pledges to do all they can. I wonder too how much it'll cost. I don't know what the exact amount is but the cost for the of MH370 is running into the hundreds..... and that's in millions. And still counting too...

I had an interesting conversation with someone on the last day of the year too. She talked about how the king has directed that flood mitigation projects be carried out in her village in Thailand. During our conversation which crossed many boundaries, I asked her if the monarchy was really needed. I said history has recorded that the lavish lifestyle of King Vajiravudh was one of the reasons for the creation of constitutional monarchy in the country which brought about the 1932 Revolution. The maintenance and running of the monarchy.... It costs money which is borne by the taxpayers. So do we need the monarchy? Her answer was yes because she said the present king is a wise man. But it remains to be seen whether his heir apparent can fit into his father's shoes. Our conversation soon drifted to other things.

A new year. My kids said it is just another day. I tend to agree with them. I asked them to stay up with me to herald in the new year. But they were in their room before the clock struck 12. I fell asleep too. They were right. It is just another day. Heralding the new year becomes meaningful, I think mostly in a social context. I read about how an old friend would make a trip to Singapore to greet the New Year for the last 10 years. Many people I know would spend the last hour at church for Watch Night Service. New Year celebraion is always done in groups. It's more fun, I think.

I stopped making resolutions years ago. Instead of making resolutions which I will break anyway, I went on an ad hoc approach and try to maintain whatever I have decided to do for as long as possible.... and pick up from where I failed each time I fail.

Maybe we celebrate New Year cos we have been conditioned to want new things. New clothes even when the old ones are still perfectly good? New cars cos they give one new prestige? New gadgets cos they promise more features? New friends cos they show our social prowess? New places to visit cos they allow us to highlight on Facebook?

Yet newness is not about all those too. New is about rejuvanation too. The new comes to enhance. It replaces the old. The old has to make place for the new to take over. The cycle is repeated..... new will turn to old too. Compassion, generosity, humility, kindness are needed to make life more meaningful.

Many say 2014 has been a difficult year. Was it? Or it's just another year.... one of many years. Anyway, 2015 is here. Happy New Year!

 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Percy Jackson Series ... by Rick Riordan

I did 4 books in 3 days. Picked up the book cos my girl had been asking me when I was going to read them. Ancient Greek mythology given a modern twist. Enters Percy Jacksom, I supposed in the 21st century. Olympus has now moved to New York. The Greek go where the western world goes. Greek gods are western.... ang mohs. Lol!

Percy has his sidekicks too, of course. Stories with heroes will never be complete without their sidekicks. They change a little with every book but the main ones remain Annabeth and Glover. They travel in style too, with the help of magic... the three sisters with one eye.

I refreshed a lot of my rusty knowledgw about the ancient Greek Gods. Am reminded of words like Titan, Kronos... a nudge that etymology of words can actually be very fun. The Big Three... Zeus, Poseidon and Hades versus Kronos, the Titan.

And so as the wars are waged between the supposedly good and evil, I was transported into a fantasy world where Percy Jackson, a half-blood inherits his father's power in the water. No story is complete without greed for power, treachery and a little love. A story which reflects life .... well, I guess that will always be the selling point.

I read in between weeding. I read while waiting for people. I read before I went to sleep..... when I woke up. I read during toilet breaks, and while waiting at the supermarket.... The smartphone made it very easy to start, continue and resume. It's with me most of the time....

At the end of every book, Percy emerges triumphant. However, triumph was never total... can't win all. Life doesn't work that way in real life too. I did not finish books 5 and 6 yet. Might or might not complete them... Will see.

It was fun reading the books. A little magic always makes reading fun. We are all in a quest for that little magic in our lives too. If one wants to learn about the Greek gods, this series is a sure winner. It's fun. It's gripping....

Ah... I did read some books after all, this year. 8)