Monday, January 31, 2011

An Old Lady I Met

It was after I came out from the Dewan Serbaguna (I think that's the name) at Anak Bukit (Bangunan Persekutuan) after the giving out of the cash aid... the hall had been filled with people jostling to get their money, everyone had to line up. As I was trying to cross the longkang, an old lady hobbling on a cane asked me where to collect the food they were giving out. I pointed her to the place...

But then I realized there were many people jostling there too. So I told her to wait while I tried to get for her. She was rather happy that she got 2 boxes. It was later only I understood why. Then she asked me where I lived... she was hoping to thumb a ride to the nearest bus-stop. I asked her where she lived... and told her I would take her back; even though it was out of my way.

I learned plenty on our ride back. She was in her seventies, used to work as a cleaner when she was younger. Now she can't work anymore. I asked her how she was getting by. She said her husband is still around and they get by with whatever little he earns as a tukang urut kaki and the little aid from the Welfare. Occasionally, some kind soul or charitable organizations would donate cash and food to them. A grandson was staying with them... he was 'abandoned' by his parents from birth and has been staying with them since then..... wayward, refuses to go to school; and only 15! He takes money from his grandparents and blows them away at the internet cafes.

They moved near a school, in town for his sake, so that it's easier for him to attend school. She has 7 children but she said all of them have their own commitments and can't help out much.... they are all not very educated, earn just enough to make their own ends meet. The RM500 cash aid means a lot to her too... as we talked, she began to worry that he might take her money too. Almost reaching her place, she asked me whether I minded sending her to the bus-station in town so that she can catch a bus to her son's place to give him her money for safe-keeping. I made another detour and dropped her off at the bus-stop in town.

I watched her as she hobbled up the bus.... She is Chinese. There are many Chinese like her too... and Indians... and all the other indigineous races.... Malaysians! It's not just the Malays who should be given aid. Datuk Chong (MCA guy there) apparently said that 7000 names had gone missing from the flood aid list and he says MCA will try to ensure that the aid gets to them... but by now, probably many would have given up also.... The government may be dominated by UMNO but it should bear in mind that they should not be biased in executing out their amanat... every morning, in school, they play all kinds of doa over the PA system. Lately, I find myself thinking... so much prayers being recited yet so little of the attributes of their faith is being practised.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wang Ehsan Kerajaan.... Mangsa Banjir Alor Setar 2010

What a Saturday yesterday! They were giving out the wang ehsan at the new government complex in Anak Bukit. I went along just to get a feel of things. And boy! It was an experience to mingle with the crowd and I observed much too...

First word to describe the whole thing.... CHAOTIC! People who submitted forms at together to the same office found their names missing. The first thing when I got there was the confusion about the forms given by MCA and UMNO... turned out the form given was MCA was not valid. The people were told to get the UMNO form... I got the impression that the government equals to UMNO. Been reading about MCA being the running dog.... after this morning, I tend to agree. What power sharin?? In the end people were scolding the MCA reps because they seemed so helpless.

SECOND WORD.... loads of CRAP! Then I went in to listen to the speech... actually not many were interested to listen to what YB Ahmad Bashah had to say cos they just wanted to get their money and go back to work... regardless of race. I found it funny that the police guy joked that people don't work on Saturday. Obviously he's forgotten his roots. Farmers need to check on the fields, sundry shop owners need to open their shops, stall owners have to prepare for the lunch crowd, etc, etc.... he spoke like a true bureaucrat or is it idiocrat as coined by Citizen Nades. I think he's little out of touch with the man on the street.

Yet another word... the whole exercise felt INSINCERE! Another thought that came to mind.... I think the Buddhist Tzu Chi did a better job at disbursing their aid. They came across as more sincere and better organised. They went house to house, and systematically tagged each house with a sticker after each house had been visited. I also heard they went into the villages too. They distributed food and RM200 cash to each household in the flooded areas they visited. And they did all that within the 2 or 3 weeks after the flood!!!! I saw Tzu Chi members from Taiping in town one of those days. This wang ehsan.... the YB said it's wang kerajaan, Najib is giving it.... I wonder whether he realizes that it's wang rakyat, and that the government of the day is just a trustee to it. The government with its behemoth machinery pales in comparison to this private effort! Isn't it rather shameful!!!
Long line at L
Look at how people had to line up in the open air. Tempers began to fray as the day became hotter. They did not erect any tents. They actually expected people to stand under the hot sun... I don't know whether that's meant to discourage people from waiting, some actually did stand for more than 2 hours! Also, the petugas were rather slow. Certain lines for those with names beginning with L moved so slowly and took a long time.... I learned a lesson, if your surname is L, put an ang moh name in front, preferably with a B, C or any of the upopular alphabets. Whatever it is steer clear from M or L. But surprisingly, the M line moved rather fast compared to the L.

ACCOUNTABILITY... I noticed that the people were given a pink sheet of paper... with no security features. Even cinema tickets have better security. And you are supposed to take that piece of paper to change for RM500 cash!!! One can duplicate it quite easily with a scanner and a colour printer. Why not a check? The way it is done leaves too many holes for money to disappear I should think. There were some who went to check but found that their pink slips had gone missing....

People really wasted time... I had many friends there and many of them had a story to tell. But basically I think many felt that even in giving, there is a racial divide. One Malay chap asked a Chinese man how come he didn't have the Borang (I forgot the name, but it's the one issued by UMNO).... cos the guards kept saying that must have that Borang.... those who don't have were asked to go get one... so some people were sent on a chase round town.... only to find the UMNO office closed since it's a Saturday! One lady retorted that they're Chinese and not UMNO members! So how to get that Borang????
Wang Ehsan Banjir Alor Setar 2010
Notice how racial we are... Chinese politicians for the Chinese... Malays for the Malays... what actually does 1Malaysia mean?? Even in giving out aid, UMNO makes people feel that we owe it to them... we don't need the politicians to come make a show of giving the aid... we need the government agencies, the civil servants to be efficient, fair, transparent and accountable in carrying out their duties... not be some lackeys to a political party. I've never felt this racially segregated till I went to look see this wang ehsan thing on Saturday... and it's depressing to see us sink so low. And you wonder why Malaysia is so racially divided???
Wang Ehsan Banjir Alor Setar 2010
Checking the names... why not make it available on the Net... as it was, the people had to run around to all the MPs offices to check their names. Many people didn't know about it. They say it's published in the papers... many missed it. Why no letters of notifications? Why not bank into each victim's account? Isn't this an age of electronic banking? It would have been more transparent and made accountable. Electronic banking leaves trails... In an age where technology reigns supreme, they used the old method of checking names....

And the final thought? IRRELEVANCE! We'll slip into irrelevance at the rate our politicians divide and rule us. The rate they sow the seeds of racial mistrust because they want to keep the people suspicious of each other..... I wonder whether we can ever really do rally together!!!

It was an educational Saturday morning out... but it resulted in a backlog of clearing the house up.... more tales coming up.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Working Hours... and teachers

These days we are constantly made to feel that we are not putting in enough work hours.... so I decided to do a count of it...

The number of hols minus the weekends totals 48 days... looks like we get a really good deal, right? We're getting a good 23 days more than other civil servants!
March -5 days
June - 10 days
Sept - 5 days
Nov to Dec - 28 days

I shall try to dissect it down to see whether it really benefits us...
  1. We are often reminded that we can be called back 1/3 of our hols. For those who have to invigilate or mark papers it often would mean more than 1/3 of the hols. Examiners are paid by scripts... which is not very much actually. Invigilators get pittance. If they invigilate it also means that they can't go anywhere till December. And last year, the last paper for my school ended on 20th December, which basically meant that whoever was unlucky enough to have to go back to invigilate had about a week of hols before the staff meeting.
  2. They say we work shorter hours. But these days it's not uncommon to hear of teachers staying till 3.30 p.m. That would mean that we'd have filled the 8 hour work day as we start work at 7.30 a.m. and get no lunch break like other civil servants. Teaching is unique in the sense that we have to go back for after school sports practise, usually after office hours. And teachers are sometimes involved in weekend camps for students. Teachers also take students for games, athletic meets and various competitions... and these often spill beyond the normal working hours.
  3. The LDP or Latihan Dalam Perkhidmatan, essentially like many other plans, has noble intentions. The Education Department says that the school has a right to call us back for 2 Saturdays a month.... which kinda puts us alongside the critical services like the medical services, armed forces, police but not with their kind of allowance. My school has slated 8 Saturdays this year. That effectively would bring the total extra to just 15 days.
  4. Next, extra classes... teachers are 'forced', 'coerced' and threatened to carry out extra classes throughout the year, including during term break. Some schools even carry out night classes... some are 'compensated' but many expect us to do it as kebajikan. Let's say that involves just 3 days (usually it's more) of the term breaks.... since there are only 3 term breaks that counts. Now we're left with 12 days.
  5. Other duties... I know of other teachers who go back to school on their own during the break. I know I do. I usually go back to clear up after the SPM exam and perhaps once or twice while the exam is on. That would leave me with 9 extra days.
  6. 9 extra days... what else? Many teachers very often need to bring back work... books to grade especially. Try as much as I can to leave my work at the school gate, I still find myself spending time looking for materials, preparing lessons and doing the paperwork. I think the total spent on those can exceed the balance of 9 days.
  7. Oh ya! Some might argue that we get 7 days of CRK... which can be accumulated for the golden handshake thing. In 2008, the government announced shorter annual leave in lieu of a bigger golden handshake, from 120 days to 150 days. The annual leave was cut to 25 days... in line with the civil service in the US and many other countries... from what I gathered. But the thing is, many of us will find it difficult to get our maximum golden handshake... kids fall sick, family emergencies crop up and we often use up our precious 7 days CRK (Cuti Rehat Khas) on them. You need 22 years of not taking any days of your CRK to hit the maximum 150 days!
So teachers get many off days?? The only perk that I enjoy out of it is I get home earlier, provided I don't have to go school for sports practice. But as for other things, we pay premium for our holidays, we have to bersesak-sesak with the crowd, cos always, our hols must be taken during the peak season.

What I think most of us would like is probably to be left alone on our weekends.... the quality of LDP leaves much to be desired. It's basically a time when we are herded to listen to ramblings.... rarely do I get speakers who can really engage me.

Going through this, I sometimes think the 25-day annual leave, leave to apply as you want might be a better deal for us... but then again if they allow that, then what would happen if we apply all our leave on school days? Hence there should be some give and take here.... my wish is for the people up there to be more practical and reasonable and not be so demanding in determining the hours... cos whatever it is, for many, our teaching periods extend up to 2.50 p.m. even without the extras. And if they make it mandatory for teachers to leave only at 3.30 p.m. then we'd have to sit down and count all those extra hours too....

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chinese New Year...

Time flies... literally. School has been on almost a month. And CNY is just around the corner. Add that to the fact that it's been a rather crazy month at work, tiring partly because we've just come off a long break.

As of this point, my school is not taking a Cuti Peristiwa for the CNY eve. One won't question it if not for other schools taking it.... a neighbouring school with hardly any Chinese students is even taking that day off. It's at such times that I am thankful for our CRKs. I guess my boss is practising what she learned from our last LDP... tak payah jaga hati orang,....... (the second part being tetapi jangan sakiti hari orang... I thought they are intertwined.) But obviously it reflects the contents of their heart! LOL!

So, this CNY... even though the Principal refuses (despite requests from the other admin people) to take one extra day off.... it'd still not put a dampener on my celebration. What goes around will come around someday... cos sometimes I wonder whether it's anything to do with she being a racist. If it's just being mean or unreasonable, or perhaps she is just trying to proof something... I'd find quite easy to accept as her flaw. But usually we can tell from the way such people talk... it's rather clear....

Anyway, this will be the first CNY without F-I-L. And also the first CNY is a long, long time that my bros will be around with their families. In the last few years, Mom and Dad have celebrated CNY at bro's place. Unfortunately my sis would not be able to make it. Else it would have been really nice.

I realize too that as my parents grow older, CNY has become something that they forward to... they look forward to us children going back, to see their grandkids and all that. It gives them something to do too, the preparations, meaning.... I was just thinking the other day. There are 2 phases of our lives where CNY is an exciting event.... when you are very young and when you are old. The in-betweens like me find CNY stressful....

But celebrations are good. CNY is a good celebration to have. It gives reasons for families to get together; from far and near. It also gives friends an opportunity to meet up, since most of us go back to our hometowns to spend time with our parents. It allows our children to play with their cousins, meet up with their aunties and uncles, grandpas, grandmas.... For a kid to have all that is also a blessing and we should not deny them that blessing.

And one more thing... hometown boy and hometown girl... it makes things very easy during celebrations like CNY... you travel only one place even if you're uprooted. 8)

Happy Chinese New Year to all who drop by.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Old 'Classics'...

I first read them decades ago... as a teen. I wanted something easy to read and found these 2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian from The Narnia series by C.S. Lewis.

Narnia; of witches and centaurs, talking animals that are human-like...of Mrs. Beaver that smokes ham and sews on a sewing machine. The White Witch and her spell of never-to-come Christmas... The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Good triumphs over evil in the end... the lion sacrificed himself for Edmund (the son of Adam) only to rise again to triumph over evil, seems to mirror the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for man's sin only to rise again and triumph over evil. Some authors have tried to draw similarities of the underlying meanings....

Prince Caspian is the second book in the chronicles of Narnia. The kids went back to Narnia; centuries have passed and Narnia was in turmoil again. All end well in the second book too...

I completed the whole series when I was a teen. My kids have read this genre too... Lately I've been overcome by a book nostalgia, of the old series that I used to read.

Anyway books 3 and 4!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Prawns and Teenagers....

What do you think they have in common???
I thought this was funny. Me and Daughter bought these prawns and kept them in a holding container... so that they don't end up in the big fishes' stomachs. We put them in the pond so that they won't die... better water conditions for them. But try as we did to keep them in, they did their best to get out...

Which brings me to teenagers... try as we do to keep them safe, sensible.. they'll want to get out... cos they think it's nice out there... And they'll do all sorts to get out there too...

Beyond the net is open pond space... where big fish prowl. A few of the prawns managed to get out... You'd think they'd be giddy with the sudden feel of freedom but just a few seconds in the wide open space, they begin to scramble into the nooks and corners. Small prawns in big fish world... not safe!!!! LOL! Then the funny thing is they started to cling to the netting of the container from the 'outside' pulak.... and didn't put up much resistance when I used my hand to catch them and put back into the holding container...

And during the night, my netting slipped half-way and many of the prawns were released into the pond... and guess what? I found more than 10 of them in various conditions on the floor the next morning. Scared and shocked by the enormity and danger that lurk, many of them jumped out... some to a certain death, while a few whom I managed to rescue found a second lease of life.... which brings me back to the recent spate of suicides the last couple of months that we've been reading in the news. Sometimes, our kids are not ready.... and they go into the world... some survive, some give up... some 'take the easy way' out...

Sometimes it might be wiser to just keep our kids around a slightly while longer and prep them for what's to come... it's still not a sure thing but it sure beats some of the options that they might take later just because they're ill equipped to handle the stress and harm that come their way.

Having gone through the rebelliousness of one teen, I can see the similarity between the prawns and my teen!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sizing up the First LDP 2011

First LDP... it's near CNY and we're back at school, not to replace a holiday but to supposedly enhance our professionalism. The timing sucks, of course. Plus it's a Saturday...

So what's today's LDP on? More here and here about LDP. Team building.... My initial response when I saw the title was a ROFL kind of laugh. How not to... the way things are done these days is more like 'my way, and only my way'... the bosses' of course. Little Napolean wannabes they are. We have all these glossy terms and nice sounding words... permuafakatan, musyawarah, empowerment... They work fine as long as you don't go against the 'my way, and only my way' top-down management style. Big monkey 'defecate' (cannot use the sh** word, he! he!) on small monkey style. LOL! So, the mind basically switched off before the guy even started speaking cos no matter what, things must be done only one way at work anyway.... meaning teamwork is for us the lower branches monkeys only.... so that the big monkey up there can climb higher.... eat better. We'll just get more of the you-know-what coming our way.... and if you look face up, it's just going to splatter straight onto your face.

Anyway, there wasn't much new for me... I've done so many of these personality tests thingy on my own. But one thing the speaker said though... tak payah jaga hati orang, tapi jangan sakiti hati orang also... LOL! I think many bosses, especially lady ones fail on the latter cos they are just too 'mother-like' in running a school.... very stifling!!! Matriarchal, autocratic, inflexible.... and like children we must listen to them only.... The first part.... works fine for me too cos that also means us teachers also don't have to jaga their hati. 8)

5 hours on a Saturday morning... work on weekend, some more so near CNY. Wonder whether we can claim double the hours back. We go back for sports practice after office hours... and then these calculative bosses keep reminding us they have a right to keep us till 3.30 p.m. (no lunch break hours for us) at school to fulfill the working hours requirement. Wrong calculations??? As it is sometimes our classes end at almost 3 p.m.

So LDP... they're just a waste of our time. Speakers earn extra pocket money though.... so go figure who benefits most. Anyway, speakers usually don't offer much new things cos they take from the same boring pool of people... you know, the friend-friend kind of connection.

Then LDP was followed by a short briefing on Headcount... counting as though we're in the corporate world. Students become just statistics... to be shuffled around with all the TOV (Take Off Value)s and ETR (Expected Test Results). Aiyo! We're dealing with people lah... Even studies have shown that all these Headcounts don't contribute much to building characters....

And by the time we're done with all these idiotic paper work, we're also numbed by the effort that we're too drained to focus on teaching... I think the greatest stumbling block these days to good teaching effort is the administrators... Cakap banyak, karenah banyak, minta banyak... prihatin-ness is the thing that is kurang banyak.

Anyway... this is my most unproductive Saturday morning for 2011 so far!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Acquaintance, Colleagues, Friends

.. associates, the list goes on. We brush into people, bump into them, glue to them, stay by them, stick by them...... all our lives this moving about takes place... no man is an island. Actually, it's hard to be an island with the world population hitting the 7 billion mark Oct this year!

Plenty of 2-legged creatures go in and out our lives. They become acquaintances, colleagues or associates (for those of us working) and friends. Casual acquaintances there're plenty... Friends? Now that's a bit more complicated. After all the word 'friend' has an etymology of love and affection.

It's actually hard to find many true friends.... one thing I am glad though for the lesson of 'compartmentalizing' the people in my life that I had in MYF years ago... acquaintances, colleagues, friends. By moving people from one compartment to another, it also helps me do damage control for myself. It helps overcome disappointment or allow it to fester into bitterness... By compartmentalizing too, I learn to scale down (or up) my hopes sometimes. People disappoint us... we disappoint people!

I think all of us go through disappointments in relationships... friendships. It's part and parcel of life. Ramble, ramble, ramble....

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Ipad... and work

I've had the Ipad for a couple of months now... and I've this to say. It's a great tool. Unlike the Ipod which I use mainly for reading on the go, this one makes a great teaching aid and for reading magazines.

I've even read some where that it has eaten into prime time TV viewing hours cos its sofa-friendly, they say. Reading might even begin to be popular again... I think, since the Ipad meets the need for diverse content due to the short attention span of this generation and also at the same time satisfies the itchy fingers' needs to multitask! 8) The rest of the Ipad wannabes like The Galaxy, Blackberry tablet will eventually provide more alternatives to eat into this 'prime time' thingy... yay!

I've put in copies of reference, work and activity books in my Ipad for work. These days, I don't need to search for my books to bring to class. One Ipad would suffice. I had a lesson (with the Ipad to aid) with my class yesterday. The theme for now is People and I usually look for materials elsewhere cos the textbooks are rather boring. So, I found a passage of Kobayashi Issa, a haiku poet who lived in 18th century Japan from one of my many books on my Ipad.

I printed out the passage for my students and made them copy the questions on the board. Half way through the lesson, I decided that a little fun might be nice for them. With my Ipad, I went online to search for Issa's haikus.... as the students tried to answer the comprehension questions. Multitasking! LOL! No problem there and I copied a few of them straight onto the board from my Ipad. Next I looked for other samples for the students to read.... online also from my Ipad. And all the while, I was walking, and still talking to my students. 8)

Oh! Before that I went to Wiki to get some loose guidelines on haiku writing. All that in a short span of a few minutes, made possible by my Ipad. One might say that I will not be able to do all those if the Internet connection is not switched on... that's where my Huawei Ideos comes in handy... my own portable hotspot! LOL! I am loving this....

I love the Ipad, the portability and ease of use. I started experimenting with my Ipad as a teaching tool last week and for me, this is a thumbs-up-gadget where my work is concerned. I wish the gahmen would look educational technology of this sort to facilitate teaching and learning in schools... have real workable models; unlike many which don't seem to get far, cos we don't seem to have (the right) people to get it going.

The Ipad is easy to use... one touch of the button and it comes on. No reloading time, it hardly crashes, everything is just a touch away... plus it's hardy and sturdy. With the right adaptor, you can even project its contents.... if only projectors are affordable and bright enough for class use. It's easier to carry than a laptop, big enough to use as a display in class... I could think of a dozen things to do with it in class.... and everyday would be a journey of discovery. Now, doesn't that take learning (and teaching) to another dimension??? I bought Numbers from the Apps store... which means that I can keep tab of my students' everything on it... cos I can just tap into Google Docs for those docs which I keep there for quick reference.

Years ago, when the PPSMI (teaching of Maths and Science in English) was implemented, the MOE went on an overdrive to fix voltage regulators, cages for LCDs in classes.... Many of those equipment hardly saw any use. And they are now rusting away. I know cos in my school, they've basically turned into junk that never saw the daylight of service. And that's just thousands of ringgit sitting there.... someone got rich on that particular tender but there was no follow-up to make sure they were maintained and used. This is what we get when we have incompetent officials...

Anyway, I am happy that TV finally has some competition. These days, with ads on ASTRO, this 'new way' actually puts some power back into the hands of the viewers.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Patience and my hydrangea...

I've had a hydrangea plant for ages; older than my gal in term of years. And it never flowered all these years.... till now! A couple of years ago, Mom decided to replant it for me and suddenly I had 1 plant split into 2 pots. I had almost wanted to be rid of them cos they never did flower in the years that I've had them.
Hydrangea
This plant is the remnant of the days when I was plant crazy. My whole compound had all sorts of pots... all kinds of plants; annuals and perennials. I even bought myself an encyclopedia of plants. It remains today the biggest and heaviest book in my house.

I learned up as much as I could about plants, even tried planting those 'temperate' plants. Was crazy enough to get my sis who was in the UK then to send back some bulbs. Some did grow... poorly, some thrived but mostly just didn't make it.

Saturdays would be spent pot and plant hunting at the nurseries. I learned to identify flowers by name, often painstakingly flipping through my encyclopedia; Google was not a rave back then. LOL! And I was mad about roses. I bought books on roses too. Would go to Penang and check out the bookstores for plant books! Bought so many of plants too but most didn't survive beyond the first year... Today, only one rose plant is left at my pagar.

But recently, my 'gardening bug' is back, albeit a smaller scale. I spent the weekend with Other Half and Daughter repotting and redoing our little pond filtration system. We've decided to do away with the conventional sponge filter. I've gotten tired of washing our homemade filter every fortnightly. I am going for plants hoping that I only need to trim them once a couple of months... and who knows, if it works, maybe I'll even try hydroponic... my fish can supply all the nutrients for the plants. 8)
Plant Filter
We actually have a natural one going for years in this little pot of 'pegaga-like' plant and bamboo and they're good at removing the nitrates in the water. And we're doing another one to replace the conventional filter that we had in place.

So in phases we live our lives, in cycles they revisit us sometimes... back to gardening for the time being.... 8) And oh yes! I'm glad I didn't throw the hydrangea plant away... I am recently reminded that a little (or maybe a lot) patience means hope is kept alive. Where there is hope, there are still possibilities....

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Queen's Fool... by Philippa Gregory

I like Philippa Gregory's books.... This latest book that I've read is another one I enjoy immensely. Using a fictitious character, a Jew called Hannah who became the Queen's fool, the author brings us into the world of these 2 sisters who ruled England one after another; one as a Catholic Queen and the other a Protestant Queen. Both shared the same father, Henry VIII. One mother deposed of the other, yet both were bastardized by their own father. Ironic! Children were mere pawns in a power play too!

In a time when adversaries were ruthlessly cut down, beheaded or sent to the Tower, the author brings us into the complex relationship of the 2 sisters through Hannah, the fool and the Jew. It also highlighted the plight of Jews who suffered under the Inquisition.... Jews never had it easy even back then. The punishment for heresy was death by burning on the stake.

I enjoy this book greatly in part because it was set at a time in history, the Tudor Century not only because of its iconic monarchs, Henry VIII and Elizabeth 1 but one that turned the Church of England topsy turvy because of the anxiety to get an heir to the Tudor dynasty, an example of how man can twist and turn religion to their own benefit, something which we see in our midst too now. Plus lust had a great deal to do with turning the church topsy turvy... one man's lust, Henry VIII's.

Mary's mother was Catherine of Aragon, the wife, whom Henry VIII forsook for Anne Boleyn, the mother of Elizabeth, whom he later beheaded! Mary is portrayed as the suffering queen whose life turned out very much like her own mother's, forsaken by her husband, Philip of Spain and her people because of her fervor in wanting to bring England back to the true faith which plunged much of England into a blood bath in the hunt for heretics.

The character of Hannah invites us to share the experiences of the Jews who scattered all throughout Europe, living in fear of being labelled heretics and therefore burned at the stakes.

It took me quite a while to finish the book but it's one that I truly enjoy; many lessons and parallel comparison to our society today too. A more than nice read. Book 2 for this year!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Here we go again....

New school year... new set of students. Well, actually it's slightly more than half of them are new to me this year. Am thankful for that. I dread new students... it means getting into the grind and very often getting stuck in the rut of 'acclimatizing' these 'new' kids to my set of 'rules and regulations'.

And no matter how nicely I put it to the new kids that I want things done certain ways... e.g. work passed up on time, neat handwriting, corrections, make attempts to answer on their own... A good part of the next few months will be spent getting all these 'nitty gritty that should have been ingrained when they were in primary stuff' into my order....

Neat handwriting... it's horrifying how horribly many kids write these days.... and I've not even gone into the language itself. They don't seem to remember that they need to write the dates or make sure that their writing is legible. It's only 2 weeks and the old reality has hit me squarely on my face again. No amount of advice, cajoling will get them to do things properly.... but put a little discomfort and fear, things will begin to get rolling faster. And they say we teachers cannot punish kids these days... I think a little 'punishment' helps.... but who am I to go against all the psychologists??? *sigh*

Corrections... the only form of punishment left these days is to have them sit on the floor for corrections not done. None wants to sit on the floor cos it's dusty but at every beginning of the year, scores of them would get invited to my honoured place. It's just not in their system to do corrections. I wonder whether the primary school teachers made them do it.... it's actually very tiring to go through every single exercise book but it's something necessary.

Attempts to answer on their own.... this is where I'd wring my hands, often in despair. Work done to many of these kids means they are done copying, not answering on their own, mind you. I even had a kid bringing his completed copied work to me for marking.... blanks left unfilled. I sent him back to his seat promptly, raised my voice and told the class that I expect them to answer the questions themselves. There were many looks of surprise! I don't know whether it's because they're just not that used to doing work on their own.

Exercises in class... I grade them and send them back to them for corrections. And then I will check their books again to make sure the corrections are duly completed and marked again. But every year, I'd have hordes of non-compliant students. The floor space in front of the class is always occupied.

Unlike my old students... those whom I follow up from previous year; we've a better understanding. I waste less time chasing them for these little things...

...which brings me back to the same point. If these kids do their corrections, complete their work at the appointed time because they know I expect them to... or else the floor awaits them, how is it that my 'new' students don't have that same practice? It makes me wonder whether the teachers who taught them in the previous years expected anything of them.. or that the kids have learned through experience that if they push it long and hard enough, they're most likely to get away.... which also means that the ethics that once teachers had are now being eroded.

Good habits must be formed from young. Often it's not the work that matters in the end but the process of getting the work done that provides training of character, determination, discipline, commitment, responsibility, etc, etc. We're more concerned with just something to show these days without paying much attention to the building up of a life.... my two sen today cos I've just had a torrid week going through the exercise books.

Next week will be a week of chasing these kids.... for corrections, writing, etc, etc... here I go again. Year in, year out; same thing. But of late I feel that it has gotten worse..... kids seem more 'blanked' or spaced out these days... dumbing down??? By our education, social and political systems??? Beats me... more technologically advance but not any smarter... seems smarter but lacks all the character... basically dumbed down.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Kontrak Latihan..

These days we sign contract for everything... even our country has its own social contract.

Anyway, kontrak latihan is something that schools over here have been implementing over the last few years. First glance, there is some good in this contract thingy. In this, teachers are supposed to list down the number of different types of exercises that they will give to the students for the whole year. Barring unforeseen circumstances, you are supposed to make sure you carry out your contract... means students get due exercises.

I've always wondered why they needed to come up with this contract thingy. One immediate reason I could think of was the paperwork will look good. Looking good is important. Then this came. It hit me that perhaps the people up there realize that many teachers don't give much exercises to the students. Now we know that students need to do exercises to consolidate what they've learned. But there is nothing tangible to show for.

Sometimes I get students who transfer in from other schools at various times. Often I would allow them to use the exercise books from their old schools. And more often than never, the number of exercises given are lacking. There can be 2 possible reasons. It could be due to the student's repeated absence from school or it could just be the teacher just didn't give enough work.

The need for Kontrak Latihan also tells me one thing though; that the Principals are not going from class to class and randomly checking exercise books. These days, I'd say Principals are rather lazy. They not only delegate their duties to the Senior Assistants and Senior Teachers (which they claim is due to their heavy workload) but fail to check the students' exercise books at random. Everything must be sent to their 'office-step'. Teachers do more walking than the bosses.

I can hardly remember my books being collected for 'pemantauan' when I was a student. Occasionally when we complain to the Principal that certain teachers were not teaching or giving us enough work, he'd go into the class and asked for that particular subject's exercise books at random. But that happened so rarely.

But these days, we have to do up Kontrak Latihan. And guess what... some teachers go to great lengths to come up with nice and detailed kontrak. Would be interesting to see the progress. Cos some of these teachers do really good glossy marketing of themselves... as a result they are awarded APC, mentioned for being hardworking, when in actual fact, hardly get the students to do much work. But still results continue to rise... either they're really good at making sure the students retain the little that they do or our Bolehland yardstick is flawed.

Malaysian Education system... Our politicians and some academicians say that we're progressing and improving. I wonder whether it's the cosmetics that we're seeing... like the many things that I see being dolled up at work.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Downtown Cafe

Downtown Cafe,Gurney Plaza
There's this little cafe tucked in the posh Gurney Plaza; Downtown Cafe... quite unnoticeable except for the smell of food that wafts out into the corridors. We decided to give it a try cos it was close dinner time and we didn't want to stop on our way home.

I didn't notice much difference when we took our seats, except that I thought the place looked rather simple. Then came the menu... it too was simple but what was interesting was the food was relatively cheap for a place like Gurney.

We had 2 fried rice and one sar-hor-fun plus 2 glasses of iced chrysenthum tea. And the bill came up to only RM16.30!! RM4 for a plate (Lil One's had an extra fried egg which made hers cost more). Service was quick. I took a look around and noticed that they serve economy rice for lunch too. There were also some kuih(s) on the counter. Food tasted okay... almost like the hawker fare at the Esplanade. Just a couple doors away, the cheapest meal that I saw was around RM10++ tax included.

The enterprising owner had seen a market in this upmarket shopping complex and zeroed in; the workers. I am sure many would not want to spend more than RM10 on one meal. He had seen the opportunity and jumped in, providing convenience for those who work in the shopping mall a place to have their meals. In the half an hour we were there, I noticed that his phone was busy, the little cafe was too. His cafe took take-away orders and didn't seem to be short of them.

Just another thought here... I think the environment too sometimes compels us to move. I notice in Alor Setar, stalls would sprout out just about anywhere. I notice too that these are usually mostly Malay stalls. Chinese stalls don't get much leeway from the authorities according to word on the ground... if they open a stall by the roadside, the enforcement would shut them down or tell them to move to hawker stalls.

But by not having higher operating costs, no rental to pay, these very often become a stumbling block to the hawkers themselves.They operate on whims (ikut mood) sometimes because they their commitments are less.

But when commitments are forced onto us, we tend to work harder and as a result, become more resilient, achieve more... from stall operator to restaurant operator and eventually to property owner.... it boils down to hard work, the willingness to work hard. Sometimes the preferential system which is supposed to give the Malays an edge become the stumbling block.... to them as well.

Opportunities.... while've to be enterprising enough to identify them and take the necessary actions when we see them, the environment also compels us to achieve more.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Berlin's Bier Houz

One more food adventure... been not doing that a lot of late.
Straits Quay
At Straits Quay, Tanjung Tokong; the newest place to hang out and congregate in Penang, well... at least at Gurney and Tanjung Tokong areas. It's a nice place... providing supposedly the first marina retail experience. There will be berthing places for yachts in the expanse of water above. The residential area is really nice... we were curious and went to enquire. A one bedroom suite condo starts at RM1.5 million! No need to imagine what kind of neighbourhood this is....

Frankly speaking, I felt like I was in Singapore.... if they can maintain this place well it'll be a really nice place. Am reminded of the Marina in Kuala Kedah which seems to still be laying to waste.... poor planning, no proper studies, etc, etc....
Berlin's Bier Houz,Straits Quay,Penang
Berlin's Bier Houz was where we ended up for lunch. FYI, this is not the only German restaurant in this complex.
Berlin's Bier Houz,Straits Quay,Penang,Port Knuckle
Pork knuckles!! German version of our 'siu-bak'. The skin was nice and crispy. The meat was moist, tender and soft and the sauce complimented it quite nicely.... didn't overpower the meat.
Berlin's Bier Houz,Straits Quay,Penang
Duck crepe... food is also about presentation these days. And these looked appetizing right from the time they set it on our table. Didn't taste too bad either. But not enough to fill one hungry stomach.
Berlin's Bier Houz,Straits Quay,Penang
German Sausage Platter... made up of 3 different types of sausages. Pieces of corn and tomatoes gave it more colour. The sausages were okay. You can get better sausages at Edelweiss. I think they were all porky sausages but Other Half thinks otherwise...
Berlin's Bier Houz,Straits Quay,Penang,Port Knuckle
Our own mixed platter... crepe duck, pork knuckle immersed in the sauce and bbq pork bruschetta on our gal's plate. Oh yes! We also ordered their soup of the day which was asparagus cream soup. It wasn't really spectacular though! It wasn't a rave with my girl because of the 'green' taste.
Beer,Berlin's Bier Houz
And we had this!! Beer!!! I've never had beer for lunch. Actually, I don't really quite like beer... or liquor very much for that matter. Anyway, I had the Lowenbrau while Other Half had the Erdinger Weissbier. The latter was smoother and less bitter. He says beer goes down well with meat... I have to agree somewhat. Fruit juice don't quite go together that well... beer in a German meal is like Chinese tea to us when we go for a Chinese meal.
Four Season Bakery,Straits Quay
We checked out the place by taking a walk around. Many of the shoplots are still empty. But this caught my eye... kinda like a boutique bakery! You find wine and other stuff in this bakery too! I wanted to try their cinnamon bun but because the place was packed, I gave it a go.. a full stomach does not give one the impetus to go for more food!

Anyway, this is generally a nice experience. We'll most likely to be going back there to try out the other restaurants. One thing though, there seems to be more pubs under one roof here than anywhere else in Penang that I know of.

Friday, January 7, 2011

M & M

How many of us do not know what 'M&M' stands for??? It's one the most well-known chocolate candies for kids. Many of us grew up eating M&M. The small M&M candies have even become larger than life by assuming candy characters. One year, I even bought a M&M clock for my gal, which made her very happy.... though the clock sits on the shelf tick-tock(less) now.
M&M
But M&M has come to take on another meaning for many of us now at work. M&M.... they stand for Managers and Meetings. These are the 2 things that affect us, the worker ants, terribly. Managers, in my case the Principals, breathe down our necks all the time and come up with programs after programs which burden us. And there are many of them who seem to have nothing better to do except come up with more programs than let us do our job (in my case, teach) peacefully. Never a week goes by without reminders of Headcounts, Analysis, Extra Classes, Paper Work... the list goes on. By the time one is done with them, one would have lost a lot of the original desire and energy to teach as planned. One just gets on and over with the task...

We've even been asked to list down the exact number of questions we plan to give our students throughout the year! They call it our Kontrak Latihan. My Manager even goes as far as reminding us to do question by question analysis (for type and marks). With the kind of paper work that we're buried under these days, all these added programs distract us from our core business... teach. Though they keep reminding us that our core business is to teach, they distract us with more programs designed more to make them look good than give us more time to (and peace) to teach. I get mental block sometimes just thinking about the idiocy that plagues our system these days. I think very often these Managers forget that teaching is also an art... and we need time to recover and reflect.

Then the Meetings..... Gosh! You would think that we're idiots. There are so many meetings and briefings to attend. What can be accomplished in just one short meeting and printed manuals is mentioned again and again in meetings that duplicate each other's contents. They take us out literally. We get floored and disgusted listening to the same voice rambling the same things (or almost the same things). Managers seem to have nothing better to do... actually they have but sometimes I think they like meetings because it helps them feel good and be seen to be in control. I don't know..... but 2-3 hours of meeting? My eardrums go on auto shutdown after the first 30 minutes! In Educational Psychology and Teaching Pedagogy, we learned that the attention span lasts something like 40 minutes. Go figure where we apply what we've learned on ourselves. No wonder our system is rotting.

Principals are supposed to teach. But you see many Principals who 'empower' other teachers to enter their classes. And many Principals won't teach examination classes too... And they usually take subjects like Pendidikan Sivik, Pengetahuan Moral (Lower Forms) or Pendidikan Seni (Lower Form).... all non-exam subjects. But they sound downright clever when they try to teach us how to teach the incorrigible classes. Managers today should go for more courses on what it means to be a true leader... means you be with your soldiers in the field; not sit in some comfy air-con room or strut around ordering this and that done... get down to the worst class and teach!!!!

There are many Managers today who hold too many Meetings... but unfortunately unlike the original M&M candies which give us pleasure, they become our nightmares. They distract us cos they feel they must be seen to be doing work. But at the same time, they are not willing to be true leaders by assuming the most difficult task..... For example, when a school does well, often times, it's the teachers' collective efforts more than just a good manager. Yet, I've served under Managers who continue to berate us even though they get praised by their bosses.

A good Manager gets no where without good workers. However good workers still get somewhere even without a good Manager... there have been years when I've served under ineffective Managers... but because my colleagues are rather responsible, the students were not neglected. The school may lack certain things in other ways but because the teachers were still doing their job.... kids didn't lose out.

So, M&M... it's supposed to be a treat that gives us pleasure and happiness.... Unfortunately in many of our schools, they do just the opposite.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

3 types of Christians...

I rarely write outrightly about faith upfront, believing that it's a personal choice but this got me thinking and going... 3 types of Christians, part of an article by Thomas Lee Seng Hock, linked here.

The 3 types are the Introvert Conservative, the Health and Wealth Charismatics and the Radical Non Conformist.

I grew up in Christian community. Even though my grandparents came with the wave of immigrants brought in by the missionaries to Sitiawan, we were not brought up with any particular religious affliation. My mom came from a staunch Buddhist background but she didn't stop me from following my neighbour to Sunday School when I was a kid. Later I would join the Youth Group. The reason was simple, she saw the church as a good influence on us and it was.

In time I made the decision myself to become a Christian. My parents had no objection even when I decided to get baptized. My home church was blessed enough to have good pastors (Daniel Lim, Hwa Chien) during my time. They made sure we knew our Bible and I am grateful for that. MYF too had a good structure of Bible Studies. Camps were uplifting times. Year end holidays and festivities provided opportunities for fellowship and many of the friendship bonds built those years have remained till this day.

There were moments when I doubted my faith, especially in my uni days. I searched and read; the Quran, Hindu and Buddhist texts... I've read many. In the end I returned to my faith.

So what type of Christian am I?? Being the first type means I watch out for myself only. I agree with the author... there are many of these. Being the second type means I must have this feel-good and 'feel-high' factor in order to remain faithful; also many. The third type is probably what the writer is implying we should be.

I am conservative too but at the same time I also do not take things seated down. But to be a complete Type 3, that's a calling many of us find difficult to be. Too much flak which rocks our comfort zone.

In the case of the aides of the PM asking the church he was going to visit to remove the crucifixes... I think I'd rather not have him visit at all. But church leaders will comply. We prefer to please man, sometimes knowingly but sometimes without realizing it.

Anyway, Najib and his 1Malaysia.... it it's true then it will be lined up with the many of our policies which are along the line of cakap tak serupa bikin. And if true and he were to put against the test of the nilai murni of toleransi as we're so fond of doing at school (quantifying the unquantifiable through Pendidikan Moral), he'd definitely score a FAIL!

So, how to have 1Malaysia when even he, the PM does not have the nilai toleransi? But this is Bolehland, where everything can be spun off for political mileage... either way.

Anyway, this is just food for thought.... and reflection.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Yakety Yak...

... guess this will be the best place for me to yak... though it's more like a one way traffic, very much like the meetings that I attend these days. I thought meetings are supposed to be a two-way thing. But these days, we just sit and listen. The Ketuanan mentality is very much alive here.... wonder why schools are rotting? One reason is bosses don't listen to the teachers... it's their way and only theirs.

And rarely are these meetings useful. They waste our precious time. They tire us unnecessarily. The slew of words that bombard us demotivate us. Everything flows one way; their way regardless, much like the appointment of the Selangor State Secretary. Khusrin's appointment was made sidestepping the MB's choice. That's how schools work these days too; they don't take ideas or accept reasons from us. But they'll tell us that's how things are supposed to work... just like how the ruler of that state came out and said the above appointment was in accordance to the constitution.

We had this session of signing up students for this 1Pelajar, 1Sukan thingy. Imagine being told that we just need to do it for the sake of doing it. The Ministry can come out with directives after directives, but the reality is, sports will not feature importantly in any school's agenda except for the very few Sports School in the country. Success in sports will not bring the bosses fame and glory which are needed as stepping stones to get noticed and move on.

Having a boss who is a control freak and uncompromising make the work place a living nightmare. Add selfish ambition to it and it becomes a boiling cauldron. Bosses today seem to think that teachers are donkeys meant to be ridden till they drop. My Std 4 gal starts extra classes soon, every day she'll probably get home at 4. Mind you, extra classes mean sitting in the uncomfortable classes in our humid afternoons doing countless exercises. Where does play feature in a 10 year-old kid's life? Kids lose their childhood as soon as they enter school.

In secondary schools, it's no better. Students today are expected to keep office hours too. Add that to homework at night, their days are packed to the brim too... no time for idling....

People think that being a teacher is easy. It once seemed more attractive... seemingly 5-day week though many teachers go back to schools on Saturdays. Well, many teachers still go back on Saturdays but these days, other gahmen servants work 5-day week too... and we still go back to school on Saturdays. I could go on but it's stale stuff already.

Another reason for the rot... cakap tak serupa bikin. I came out from one meeting being told that we must be professional in our work; dedicated to our calling and the tasks entrusted to us, be good executors of the policies...

Well, a day later.... 1Student, 1Sports - I am told that we just need to make sure it is carried out, ala-kampung will do already. So instead of buying a proper ping pong table, a canteen table for ping pong would suffice. Or that badminton can be played in the open air in the hot afternoon 2.30 sun. Never mind that we have really strong winds for 4 months at the beginning of the year. As a parent, if my kid plays under the sun and gets heat stroke cos the game is sanctioned at that time by the school, can I then sue the school for negligence??? Such is attitude we have....

And just earlier, we were given a 'handout' on Etika Kerja Guru. It gave examples of how the wrong perceptions teachers make them ineffective. Well, what kind of perception would a teacher get if she is told that she must be professional, and comply to the requirements only to discover that most of those stuff are actually just a show. We get wrong perceptions in part because of our fallen nature (no denying) but also the bosses who provide very poor leadership. Cakap tak serupa bikin......

So, yakety yak, yak....... yakety,yakety.....

Monday, January 3, 2011

For One More Day..

Oh what joy to have the school hols extended by one day!!! LOL! And all because we won the AFC Suzuki Cup; football. I wonder how many days will we get if we win the Asian Cup. Dare not imagine how many days we'll get if we win the World Cup.

So what did that one extra day bought for me??? Lots by the feel of it.

This morning's traffic for one. It was raining and as a result traffic was at a crawl when I got to school. Only half the gate was open to traffic... the other half was blocked by a cone, allowing only one car to pass at each time. Plus there were parents who insisted on forcing their way through the traffic causing it to crawl even slower. Traffic flow could be improved but who bothers.... as long as the school looks beautiful, seems to be running well... oh well!

A particularly long assembly which reminds me how 'cheong-hei' assemblies are these days. More waste of time than anything but who am I to complain.

And to cap it all... another meeting so soon after our staff meting which made it a super long day for me. People who hold mikes tend to love to hear their own voices. No one seems to realize that we tend to switch off... who has ever heard of short and sweet meetings these days. Only long meetings show that work is being done... And wow! I just realized that some people have no shame of their words.. or perhaps I should be more positive and put it this way... no pride in their words. It's a talent, to butter words and heap praises on people unabashed!

But the bright spark is always entering a class of fresh face kids.... it's kinda fun, though it might wear thin in the coming months. LOL!

So, for one more day... I definitely am thankful to our football team this time. LOL!!! I'll be rooting for our football team to win the Asian Cup next. Maybe we'll get 2 more days!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Postcard Killers... by James Patterson

I started this in 2010. LOL! Two years to read a book! My first book for the year. It's an easy ready, gory and grotesque cos there were lots of killing in it, by a deranged set of siblings with incestuous relationship.

I was mainly bored when I picked up the book (ipod), not realizing that there was going to be so many murders in it. But the psyche behind it was rather intriguing.

The deranged siblings left a trail of dead couples they befriended all over Europe. And they send postcards to newspapers with gory pictures of their victims, bodies arranged in such a way to represent a famous work of art in the respective cities that they were murdered.

The hero is a NYPD cop whose daughter was a victim. And of course there is a heroine also. The ending was rather predictable though; lose one daughter, gained his meaning in life back through his sidekick in solving the murders.

As usual, Patterson's book is entertaining, a nice read for a lazy Saturday afternoon... but after I finished the book, we mowed our lawn.... 8). 49 is the number to reach, I wonder whether I'll go beyond that this year.