Thursday, March 31, 2011

To Be a Woman...

... you're up against more. Social norms, mores, laws and yourself....

To be a woman in Malaysia... baby dumping is to be classified as murder. Guess who are the more likely 'murderers'? Yup! The women.

Mr. Bung got hauled to court for marrying a second wife, the lower court sentenced him, he appealed. Finally he only paid a meagre RM1000 fine. A woman was caught for beer drinking, she gets caned. Women get this and that law shoved at them... Why?? Cos Mr. Bung has responsibilities, so said the judge..

“As this is a first offence and the appellant has a great responsibility to the family and society, I believe that a prison sentence will affect his responsibilities to the family. Also suffering by the family can lead to problems.

“In addition, the reputation and image of appellant as a member of parliament will be viewed negatively by society if the prison sentence imposed,” he said.

I was in a shop one day. In walked a lady garbed in a burqa-like outfit. Suddenly she pushed her mobile to the shop assistant and said that her husband wanted to talk. Turned out, the husband is a doctor. And I was thinking, the wife had every inch of her (except her eyes) covered up so that other men cannot see her. Yet everyday, as a doctor, he probably sees his patients 'exposed'.... unless he's one of those pencil docs. Kinda unbalanced. Are women are merely objects to be owned like a car? A car is owned by one, cared by the owner and when you are done with it, you change it for a new one....

Girls, women... we get giddy headed way too fast. Not too long ago, a woman and her two kids got splashed with acid. Husband/Dad was responsible. The weaker sex is easier to bully and has a softer heart. I bet she will accept him if he comes crawling back with 'soft' words.

Household chores... who sees to most of the chores if there is no maid? The wo-man! Leave it to the man and they'll say no need to do unless it's dirty. Laundry??? I don't know... maybe till the last clean clothes is out of the cupboard. So, do women really get a better deal in a marriage these days? Stay at home and take care of the family - no own money. Go out and get a job - got money but more work and no time for self.

I've got colleagues who get up at 2-3 a.m. in the morning to cook during fasting month. Then they come to school to work. I seldom hear of my male colleagues doing that. Two jobs... the WO in front is just an added burden; they carry extra burden in life.

So, what while Mr. Bung, Mr. Rahim, Mr. Chua and countless Mr.(s) get off for their promiscuities, the wo-man continues to bear the brunt of the laws made lopsided by our gender-biased lawmakers. Not just that, Mr. Rahim has gone on the record to say that he's out to expose an immoral person. A (black) pot calling the kettle black? There was a story about him and a 15-year old girl back in 1994 and Lim Guan Eng went to jail for speaking up about that... Mr. Pot and Mr. Kettle.... To be a woman???? It ain't no bed of roses... anyway, roses are full of thorns to begin with.

But don't get me wrong... life as a woman in Malaysia is better than in Middle East of many African countries. Women here still have the freedom to choose, though a perverted group of religious men seems to be doing their utmost best to throw their holy edicts to curtail and even restrict the women. They seem to think that the women are the root cause to many of their sins... while most of the time this group of people gets told off, I do see some women having less of a say in what they can or want to do with their lives. It's still a very sexist world that we're living in. Ah yes! Our Mr. Bung recently says this of women drivers...
“When you honk at them, they get agitated with some even showing hand gestures to other drivers,” he said in Parliament on Monday.
Showing hand gestures? More men or women do that, I wonder? Goes to show how easily duped we the rakyat are, cos we can elect reps like him who doesn't seem to think much with their heads... I guess too that's what stories of bulls and boorish pea-brained buffoons are made up of too. And we get charmed by such characters.... guess our brains must be even smaller than peas then.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Flood???

It's end of March! And we're actually entertaining worries of flood. In my years here, never have we thought of flood at this time of the year or experienced one! And hope not to. Flood was always a year end issue, a problem which some of us who live in the lower lying areas have to reckon with.

But lately, the weather has gone all unpredictable. We are reading of flood in Southern Thailand, now... during this supposedly dry season. It's normal to expect some rain during the Qing Ming (All Souls' Day) Jie. But to have torrential rains is something totally unnerving, so soon after the last flood, barely 5 months ago.

The phobia is there. News tend to take on a life of their own and become bigger. News of more places flooded, even though they are in the low lying areas send us into worry mode.

It's been raining for 2 consecutive days. We had almost 80mm of rain just yesterday, non-stop raining. Today, there was a welcomed break in the afternoon. News has it that 21 schools were closed in Perlis today because of rising waters. Some low lying areas in Changlun are also flooded. Most of us further downstream get a little flustered because in the last flood, the one more than 5 years ago, water travelled from Southern Thailand to Kangar, Jitra and then Alor Setar.

Dark skies.... I used to like rain a lot. These days, dark skies send dark worries, not only to me but to many around here too... The authorities say this is the effect of La Nina. I think we're looking at the consequences of our own doing. Global warming effects have now descended on us...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Birds of the same feather....

Why? ... of course they flock together! That's common sense.

Over the years, many of my friends migrated overseas. The Foochow community in which I am part of, value education over many things. So, our parents worked hard, scrooged and saved to give us, their children a good education. We grew up with an extra awareness that we needed to work hard because the extraordinary is required of us to make it. Cos our system was so bent on the quota; many of us who were deserving could not get into the local uni (which was the cheapest to study in) or if we secured a place, not a course of our choice. So, many parents sent their children overseas. It's still the same today.

Now if you send kids in their formative years to a country where better opportunities are in the offing, it is only natural that many of them would want to try work there for a while. But the 'while' soon become permanent. Some came home, tried to settle in but found it hard because the system here does not recognize their talent or hard work. And so, they uproot again and move back to the country where they studied, to familiar territory, so as to say.

But over the years too, I've managed to reconnect with quite few of them (with the help of FB). I've also gained 'peeks' into their lives. You see, most of them are 'bananas' (Chinese on the outside but very Westernized in their thoughts). But when I look at the photos they share, most of the time, what I'd see would be their friends are mostly from the same ethnic or at least Asians. Birds of the same feather.... they kinda still flock together.

The only thing is... even though my friends tell me, racism also exist in the places they've chosen as their new home, their opportunities are not exactly reduced by it. They have many laws to protect everyone's rights too... that's to put it very simplistically.

So, over here in Malaysia... we've all the different ethnics. We should actually be able to live together and prosper each other. If we do things rightly, it is only natural to expect progress. But ours is a society built on perceived rights... that one race has more rights than the others. So, we get a brain drain... but what should probably alarm us more is, by not doing things right, we've also allowed corruption and rot to set in. When there is no need to work hard, you can never hope to bring the best out of us. And if everything is made easy.... we'll just become lazy.

It's okay to have birds of the same feather flock together. It's okay to have your community and my community. The thing is, we've got to have the same set of rules for everyone so that we can do right....

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Look! No Wires... HP 1536dnf MPF

This is definitely fun... printing and scanning minus the cables... the HP 1536nfd MPF, our new network printer! 8)

Our Canon MF4350d kaput-ed for the 3rd time in as many months, same problem I think since we've been getting the same Error Message. Our dumb luck to end up with a unit that is faulty. Anyway, each time it goes to the printer hospital, it stays a long time. Sales service is good. Can't say the same for service. We were sold by the durability our old Canon MF5750 and when it gave way after 5 years of heavy use, we got a Canon MF4350d as its replacement. But before its first birthday was even over, we were already getting its Error 225 message. Went into the forums and discovered that it seems a common problem.

We thought we could trust a name... cos our older model, the MF 5750 was totally reliable and hardy. Learned one lesson through this... a good name with a positive experience is not good enough to guarantee another good experience. I am totally cheesed off by Canon this time around, especially the slow service.

It's now back to the printer hospital... don't know how long it will be incarcerated there. Anyway, we decided to return to HP. Got a HP1536dnf MFP cos it's supposed to be Mac-friendly and is one of the printers that supports AirPrint. The Canon will be a spare when it comes back... probably in a couple weeks' time.
HP 1536dnf
It's totally cool to be able to scan on the fly this being a network printer.... LOL! We've had to fix a printer switch for the different computers and it's nice to just be sitting on the couch and press print... and ta-da... the printed sheet appears. Same thing for scanning though you have to get up and put the pile of papers in the document feeder. Totally cool!!!

Now to see whether this printer lasts. Our first HP Printer, I think, was the HP Laserjet 5L which we gave to a friend some years back. It's still going strong. It's at least 10 years old I think! So, we're hoping that perhaps this latest addition of HP will be equally hardy.

These days, the things don't seem to be made to last.... 8(

Friday, March 25, 2011

Setting Boundaries

One of the things I do for my gal is to have lessons with her... well not everything since I am semi-illiterate where Mandarin is concerned. I used to follow her (learn Mandarin while teaching her) when she was in lower primary but work got in the way and I gave up. So, while I can read, I stumble more and more over characters not known. Time constraints have made it stressful to keep going back to the dictionary. One of the hazards of working moms. But I still have sit down lessons with her.

The thing is, because I don't set boundaries for her, she happily does whatever that comes her way. The results has been quite encouraging. She writes better than okay for her age... where English is concerned. And I throw in what she terms as fun stuff... anagrams, poetry, puzzles, word games. She used to be wary of puzzles (word and logic) probably because this is something they don't do at school. But after getting a hang of it, they often clamor for more. Occasionally, I'd email short stories for them to read on their IPads.... I tell them we're going green, cut down on paper wastage. The kids all have IPads... so I turn that into a novelty for learning, for now.

I've learned this too... given the right 'support' from parents (and teachers), we can often move or set boundaries where kids learning are concerned. We can tickle their brains, prod it and set forth more creativity or fill them with just facts, just for passing exams...

I've learned too from the experience with my boy, most stuff they learn.... they forget soon after the exam is over. So if we fail to work on the attitude and instill a love for learning for themselves, we will fail to inculcate lifelong learning for them and miss the opportunity to set them on a path to continually better themselves. We've got to teach them that there is a world out there that we must try to understand because it's supposed to make us more humble when we begin to understand how small we actually are. That unfortunately has gotten lost in the myriad of results that we chase these days. We set our boundaries for them and limit their potentials.

At schools, we teach them to write. And they write beautiful and flawless essays from memory. Ask them to write something original. They tell you they don't know where to begin. For continuous essay writing (one title or a phrase is given) in SPM, majority of the students will only write descriptive or narrative essays. There was one year when I made my students memorize a few types of situations for descriptive and narrative writing - a person, a scary experience, a trip, a happy occasion - and I made sure I taught them how to modify the beginning and the ending. I even had one student score an A2 for her English! She cannot speak or write well... but even for language, memorizing helps. Continuous Writing makes up a big part of the overall marks. So, it is not uncommon to have students score A+ (under the current grading system) in English but still not be able to write or articulate their thoughts well. We've all fine tuned our memorizing abilities down to the dot! And it works super well. Again we set our boundaries.

Other Half suggests that I take out the old exam papers from our time for the kids to do... I told him we don't have to look far. Just take our neighbour-down-south's Primary Six exercises for comparison. Even my Form 5 students won't be able to handle them well. The vocabulary is just way beyond them.

Kids learn Geography and History. But they have mostly local content. I think learning about the savannah, prairie, tundra helps us have a better idea of our world. I think learning about Hitler, Mao Tse-tung or even Napolean Bonarparte helps understand our world, of how we can learn from past mistakes. But what do we do? We build our own tempurung (coconut shell) and poke a few holes in the shell to allow some view outside.... limited learning which limits our world. Boundaries...

But unfortunately, in the end, it's still the A(s) that matters.... Boundaries!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yet Another SPM

11 years of secondary schooling and it boils down to your SPM result. One of my duties include doing the analysis of the SPM results of my school. And data provides interesting insights. One more interesting note, this year we had to do our own analysis. For some reason (and there are many rumours flying around) the department were not able to supply us with the data like previous years. In the age of computers, one would think that that would just be a couple of clicks away... hmmmm

One foremost in my mind is how easy it is to pass SPM these days. I based this on the comparison of students' achievements in school tests. I think passing marks for many subjects are probably in the tens. I think too that perhaps there is a compromise in the quality of marking too. Students who cannot even write a proper sentence in English can pass their English. And students who consistently score below 10 marks in their school tests can pass too.

The importance of keeping students in the class. Passing grades go up if you can keep them in the class when they're supposed to be there; not the extra classes! In normal day-schools, one of the problems we face is the problem of truancy. Many students come to school but do not remain there. Sometimes they hide in the school compound. There are those who sneak out too. Yet there are those who left home in their uniforms but never made it to school. It is difficult to keep students in the classroom.

A culture of 'kesian' (pity) is pervasive everywhere. That is why, I salute my former Students' Affairs Senior Assistant. A small diminutive lady, she packs twice as many punches as any male teacher I know. Not one to mince her words or actions, students were terrified of her. Yet I know her to be generous to a fault with the students too.... once they do what is right. She walks her talk and it's hard not to see that when results go up, a lot of it has to do with her effort of keeping the students in class. A teacher would only need to tell her that so and so skipped class and you can count on her pursuing those kids, even if it took days sometimes.... the kids wizened up and they will skip school the following day, hoping that they'll be forgotten.

Another SPM topic - I hear that many Chinese students meet their Waterloo with their Chinese subject. I basically don't understand why they have to set standards so high for Chinese. One reason why many Chinese kids miss up on their straight A(s) is because of their Chinese. The other honour belongs to BM. Being in a Chinese school does not make it any easier to score an A for Chinese. But being in a national school will help a Chinese students score better in BM! Go figure.

And if you compare Moral Studies with Pengajian Islam, it's way easier to score an A in Pengajian Islam. It's always difficult to see our Malaysian Education system as being fair. And what might be fair to another might not be to the other. We are all befuddled by our politics.

The push for a higher ratio of students studying Science. I look at the results and my set shows that many of my Science students would be better off taking the Arts or Humanities. They'd get A(s) in BM, Sejarah, Pengajian Islam, and perhaps Science and Maths but hardly ever from Physics, Chemistry, Add Maths or Physics. In fact most of them get D(s) and E(s) for the latter. I think it's wrong advice. These kids would probably be scoring straight or near straight A(s) doing the subjects that they can cope with.

Oh ya! This is the best SPM for the nation in 4 years, according to reports. I think students who do well this year stand to get a windfall, especially the non-Malays. What comes around almost every 5 years? Election!!! There's a likelihood of more scholarships for students who performed well. Keep the parents happy.... feel good factor. It will translate to votes. The GPK improved from 5.34 to 5.19 (lower GPK being better). So, if election is before the next SPM, next year's batch will not be so lucky. Aiya.... now parents have to start planning their kids to coincide with the country's election. LOL! Will next year's GPK continue to improve? It'd be interesting to see whether there is a trend of better results during election (or near election) years. My thoughts are just conjectures. Anyway, I think our education has been politicized.... not a good thing.

So another SPM gone by, another set with its own tale. But one thing stands I think... today's SPM grads don't seem any better despite more sophistications in methodology and facilities.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Being used...

In a pensive state of mind.

This is an old song from so long ago... and the lyrics been going through my mind.

But this is kind of genre was more off the path of mainstream music even back in the days of my youth.... kinda weird in a way. Not something I like but it just kinda played itself in my head like a broken record.

Might not make much sense but today the Selfish Self seem more prominent. How easily we betray ourselves too..... but then again, sometimes 'desperation' makes us do all kinds of things, agree to everything.

Magnanimity, humility, grace and patience I require.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Wrapping Up and Days To Come...

School term reopened for me today. I took an extra day off for family matters. It was a good trip. Kids got to play with their cousins. They got to play on the Wii. LOL! Met up with relatives not met before.
Ikea
Didn't get much chance to shop but managed to grab a few things from IKEA, it was full of people as it was the last day of their Sale. We've never managed to go for any of their sales before as our trips would often fall outside their sale periods. Didn't go for our usual food adventure as the dinner the night before was heavy enough and we were in a rush to get home.

The ride home as wet.... from the time we entered the highway till we got home. Saw three accidents including the one where a bus crashed into a lorry and another lorry later crashed into it again. I saw huge rolls of papers on both sides of the road as I passed the accident site. It rained cats and dogs on the stretch after Ipoh and I had the misfortune of following behind a container lorry which insisted of hogging the fast lane in the heavy rain.... Repeated flashes from the headlight fell on blind eyes. In the end, we had to overtake him from the right. Crazy!!! Cos the terrain after Ipoh is also very windy and hilly. And this! A bus from the Education Department (with SMK Mutiara Impian painted on it) overtook me.... and I was going at 110kmph. It shot out of sight after a while! Even government buses don't honour the speed limit for heavy vehicles which is supposed to be capped at 90 kmph for highways! And I'm sure many notice too that police officers don't buckle up when they are driving. Somehow, the uniform gives them immunity!

Came back to school and changes were afoot! One welcomed and the other with mixed feelings. And the former has put halt to my train of thoughts about taking some time off from work - to be a lady of leisure. LOL! Been feeling tired lately; compounded by load at work.

Days ahead of some running around. I'm actually a little lazy to move around but getting out of school is oft a welcomed break from the 'madness' as well as routine. Too much routine and control can be stifling and can induce madness.... LOL! Anyway, interesting days ahead, not just where work is concerned.

Sarawak State election is coming! Cans of worms will be opened. There'll be plenty looking for worm to can and open later. Poor worms... they are most probably the real victims here, being labelled dirty and all that when they do a lot of good. Ha! Ha! There'll be dirty laundry to be washed... and dried. But seems to be money still buys a lot... using money for the battle of hearts for votes. That's how politics is all about actually. How do you explain people expected to vote in the CM despite his obscene amount of wealth???
Baby Julia
Dropped by to see Baby Julia... but she slept the whole time we were there. Can't blame her. The weather was perfect for such a pleasure; it was raining! All babies look the same - they are all cute! Cute used to be defined as "ugly but adorable' in the dictionary of my day. These days, they are defined as pretty, dainty, sweet.... meanings change with the passage of time too! Newborn babes look almost the same, huh? Round bald heads....

Don't know what we'll do without the GPS. It seemed so yesterday that Other Half knew KL roads like the back of his palm. But they've changed too much for us to make sense of. Everywhere, roads are bigger, wider and every trip out is like opening the cash register non-stop. Toll here, parking there, toll beyond... the cash register never stops ringing! I'd pick Alor Setar over KL anytime. It's a world of mad rush over there. And the people!!! Everywhere you see 'em.... I enjoy my little space (which is also getting a bit more cramped) here any time. KL is maddening... everywhere, you see cars parked by the kerbs, empty spaces.... cars and more cars everywhere!!! And the air... let me not even start with that!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Are Results ALL That Matter?

If you scored 5A(s) in your STPM you'd think that the world will be at your feet, and you can't be blamed for expecting that. Wrong! A 5A(s) applicant to NUS (National Uni of Singapore) got his application rejected. His results qualified him, but he didn't cut the grade where an interview and written part were concerned. His lack of mastery in English failed him.

STPM alone is not enough these days if you want to try to make it into the premier universities of the world. They require TOEFL, IELTS, etc, etc apart from just your exam results. But it's not just the lack of English that is glaringly the problem here. Select universities can afford to be selective. They have a big pool of talented people who want to get in. So grades alone are not enough these days. They want undergrads who are have depth, maturity and versatility. Hence, one might still have a great set of results and still not be able to make the grades. Years of rote and drilling will train us to be dull, boring and predictable... which is kinda good in meeting today's general workforce requirements, unthinking and obedient workers....

The demise of thinking skills in our schools. Kids have no time to think or reflect much these days. There're way too many extra classes conducted by schools, too many tuitions to attend. A kid's day is filled to the brim with classes after class. The chase for grades is what teachers and parents go after, ceaseless and endless. Parents get highly strung when their children don't perform. I find myself falling into that same cycle with my girl too cos it's so competitive in her school. Though we try to balance it up by encouraging her to read, give her time to play with her toys, such times are a luxury. But there're always the grades which serve as a constant reminder....

Woe to those with kids who are constantly struggling to keep up. And because the focus has shifted to academic performance, sports has been negated to a distant behind. Kids who are not so academically inclined but physically gifted these days don't have much avenue to earn and gain some confidence. Everything inadvertently boils down to school grades. As much as some say that the American system is not good (i.e. being sports crazy), I think it provides better opportunities for kids. And because sports is acknowledged, there are more opportunities for coaching and sports related positions for those who excel in it but don't have much academic inclinations.

In a class of 40, there can only be one top student. In a cohort of 200 there also can only have one top student. The mad scramble to the top has caused parents to go on a frantic search for tuition teachers who can perform miracles. And very often such 'miracles' can be made to happen... by lots of rote and drilling. Sometimes I think this steals precious time which can be used for self enhancement and discovery. But these days, everyone is too tired. Parents are tired from their jobs and kids and sending their children for tuitions. Kids are too numbed by the formal and informal classes they attend and teachers are too bogged down to actually get down to really mentoring the kids.

But because the demand of the society is such that we churn out students to meet the needs of the economy, we plod on. Life is all about work (of the future) these days. From the time you can toddle, you get sent to the nursery to learn as much as you can so that you can have that edge when you enter Primary 1. Then more reinforcements in primary school followed by a frenzy of outside classes in secondary school. Tuition is a prerequisite, not an option for one to be successful in secondary school.

Teaching kids more and more, and at ever younger age these days. A 4 year-old is packed off to nursery. By 6, he might be attending reinforcement classes for Mandarin, Maths, BM in the afternoons too. His day begins at 9 a.m. and he gets picked up at 5 p.m. Because there is so much to learn and teach, children are not encouraged to learn via the slower methods - discovery, inquiry, exploring. So, we boxed them up, kill their companion, Curiousness and dull their friend, Creativity in the process. We hit the kids with every pedagogical methods we know to teach them more... and more... and more!

I guess next would be the transformation at work place... Work place in the future might be just like chasing the academic results of today.... non-stop, running almost 24/7, 365 days a year. The system owns you... you function along the line you've been 'programmed'.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Teacher or An Educator

I teach 25 periods a week, which translates to 1000 minutes or 3.33 hours a day. There are 200 schooling days a year which means that I should be teaching something like 670 hours per year. Compare that to teachers in the US who teach roughly 1100 hours per year, my work environment should fall into the ideal category. In Finland, a country with has been among the world's top performer in reading, science and maths in the world, their teachers teach 570 hours.

However, I am not as well paid as my Finnish or US counterparts. And I do not have the kind of autonomy in the classroom like my Finnish counterpart. I teach the equivalent of high school. But unlike Finland, we are often told to give as much homework as possible to students. When that doesn't get the desired results in national testing vehicles like the PMR (soon to be abolished) and SPM, extra classes come in. FYI, Finnish high school kids get about 1/2 am hour of homework only. My teaching hours will increase with the extra classes. Most of the time, these classes are shoved down our throats. A one hour extra a week plus a couple more during the hols would easily add another 100 hours to my teaching hours...

It should be noted also that Finnish kids don't get tested till Grade 5 or Year 5 of our equivalent. Parents are not informed of their kids progress via report cards. Teachers make sure the kids are well educated in the basic skills necessary. But they make the students accountable for their own learning.

In Malaysia, we tend to make teachers accountable for their teaching. My own experience has shown me that, if we can make kids accountable for their own learning, they improve much faster. But if we 'force' it down the their throats, i.e. by making sure the teachers fulfills their contracts, syllabus, etc, etc, progress is only as much and well as they can regurgitate. A kid accountable for his own learning will take the extra effort to make sure he understands while a kid who is part of the equation via the teacher's accountability often becomes just another statistic to a goal. Kids who want to learn make their teachers their partner-in-learning. Kids forced to learn view their teachers as task-masters... or slave drivers. Thus you have situations where 12 year-olds (UPSR year) kids rushing to finish a certain number of questions because their teacher wants them to, rather than learning something well.

Here, we are very much caught in this trap that more is better. So term break is sacrificed for more cramming sessions. Many of these cramming sessions have become rote and drill sessions... no real education takes place.

Also, teachers in Malaysia do a lot of clerical work. A good portion of our time is currently eaten up what I term as data crunching. We do Head Counts to project future results and that set of data is not based so much on student abilities than the school's desired target.

This year they enforce this contract of exercises on us too. We have to meet the target set in our contract. So instead of sometimes meandering along certain topics which sometimes is necessary to spark the kids' imagination, we are now more obsessed about giving exercises. It's all about figures more than educating. Somehow, it is now common belief that more exercises is the only way.

My recent batches of students have also shown to me how poor listeners they make. Learning via the hearing channel doesn't seem very effective. And I thought listening is a skill too that we must teach. Our autonomy is slowly being eroded, in part I suspect because of the deteriorating quality of our students. So, planners must be thinking that teachers are not doing their job. What more with vernacular Chinese schools who seem to work wonders with their super hard work where extra classes are concerned.

A teacher teaches a thing and it stops there but an educator teaches a thing and lives it. These days, we can't live it cos we neither have the time nor energy. And being stressed out also means that the happiness scale is on the rather low side. A happy teacher makes a better teacher. A stressed out teacher makes a harried one. Go figure which kind of teacher benefits a student.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Finland...Where Less Is More

Zite kept me busy during the hols. I was simply overwhelmed by the sheer amount of reading stuff. Quite amazing.

This topic that caught my attention, Education in Finland. Finland has been singled out together with South Korea and Singapore as having an education system which places priority in recruiting the best of their college grads to enter the teaching profession. Teachers teach what they are trained to. But what is amazing about Finland is their students have been topping or near topping the PISA exams for reading, science and maths. Extra or prep classes are unheard of there.

Many might not have heard of Finland. Yet it has one of the most successful education systems in the world. One thing that stands out is, among the developed countries, Finnish kids spend the least time at school, between 4-7 hours only. Their education system is rather relaxed. Instead of promoting competitiveness, they promote cooperation and sharing. The South Korean and Singapore success on the other hand is build more on competitiveness. Prep classes and tuitions are the hallmarks of these 2 countries and kids are very pressured. Suicide rates among kids are climbing in these countries too.

Parents play an important role too. Many parents read to their kids from a young age. They are involved in their children's education. For kids struggling with specific subjects, an additional teacher comes in and help out with the reinforcement.

Education is a tool for nation building in these countries too. But strangely, national testing, school ranking or even school inspections (like having the Nazir to check on schools in Malaysia) are not practiced in Finland.

A country may spend a lot on education but it does not necessarily translate into better achievements. Countries like South Korea, Finland and Singapore spend way less than a country like Italy and yet still do better. I guess there is less corruption too. These countries invest in education to better their economy. 40 years ago, the state of the Finnish public schools was so bad that they estimated that 75% of the people will flock to other alternatives. The government then decided to change that. And they obviously hit on the right formula.

What can we learn from Finland? Malaysia spends a lot on education too. But a lot of it seems to go to waste. We provide resources for the IT push but equipment lay waste in classrooms, some never seeing service at all. It was more about doling out the contracts so that some people can fatten their wallets. We push for transformations like PPSMI (Maths and Science in English) only to backpedal after spending billions. A big number of our teachers were grads who could not find employment elsewhere. Our smart kids don't ever want to be teachers. Kids take tuitions because many believe that the teachers don't teach well in class. A lot of time is wasted. Our administrators try to ingrain into us that all the teachers are the same. Is this a way of covering shortcomings?

We have educational administrators and planners who seem to be at a lost as to what actually constitutes education. As a result, policies keep changing. There seems to be a constant effort to be seen as doing something, often times glossing up reports which do not benefit students. Programs after programs, yet our graduates are no more employable today than before. In fact, the general consensus seems to be they've gotten worse! The brain drain has robbed us of our best and brightest but again because race comes to play, they rather lose than retain.

Education as a nation building tool. We have way too many types of schools. The non-Muslims are wary of Islamization of their children. And this fear is very valid. So they send their kids to their own vernacular schools. A great opportunity to build on common grounds is lost. Politics continue to harp on our differences rather than common grounds but the funny thing is many politicians send their children to international schools. Education is often seen as dividing students into the 'we' and 'they' groups. Scholarships when given are still perceived to be more race-based than anything. Entrance to local public uni does not follow a universal set of rules for all. Again, it's clear why. Take how the government handle the Bible issue... it takes very little brain to see that religion is a mere tool for UMNO. How do you build a nation on one standard when the leaders are not even consistent?

Parents in Malaysia generally are way too busy to spend time with their kids. I think it's safe to conclude that many middle income families leave the bringing-up to the bibit or kakak (maids). Parents are beat by the time they get home. Some parents hardly see their kids preferring to leave their babies at the baby-sitter. This is quite common among the Chinese. Other parents are too busy eking out a living. Too many kids, not enough money.. cost living is rising by the day.

Tuition is a way of life. Most schools feel that more will translate to more, hence the entry of extra classes after school hours and during term break. The work never stops. The kids hop from school to extra classes and then scurry off to tuitions. By the time they are done, the sun has gone down on them without they having as much as the opportunity to play in it or just take in its beauty. Our kids are a tired lot.

So, instead of the common belief that more begets more, Finland has been able to show that less can actually be more. Frankly speaking I was beginning to doubt that less can be more myself cos even at work places, it is commonly accepted that everything must be more in order to have more. But the Finnish model is a reminder that less is more is possible. A kid gets to be a kid and still grow up to be smart enough to be among the best in the world. Surely, they must be doing something right, striking that sort of utopian balance that would delight a kid? Anyway, read here for an overview of the Finnish education system.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reading on the Ipad

Malaysia is in the 3rd group... that's how 'significant' we are where Apple products are concerned. Ipad2 has been released and this round of sale is even better than Ipad2. Orders have been pushed back further and now I wonder if we have to wait just as long as Round 1.

We're waiting to get one but looks like it might be a long wait. Was at Switch last weekend and the guy there said it could be a 6-month wait. Plus there's still the old stock to clear. Next week the 1st group will be getting the release. And there's still the second group (which Singapore is in) before they get to us.. the 3rd groupie.
Zite,IPad
The Ipad has changed the way I read. Recently I added Zite which is basically a magazine reader. And I have more than enough on my hands to read. Best thing is I get to choose what I want in my magazine!
Zite,IPad
Now I always have something different to read on my Ipad, as long as my wifi is up and running! That's apart from magazines such as Discovery and NatGeo and so many others which I read on the iBook app. I still do the bulk of my book reading on my Ipod Touch since it's so handy to bring around. The Ipad is like a newspaper at home, only difference is the content changes 24/7. Makes great coffee table read... to borrow a friend's quote.

My little gal is currently into podcasts - Sesame Street. She chooses and downloads the episodes herself. I introduced the word camouflage to her and she downloaded 'What's the Word on the Street' from the Sesame Street podcast. She occasionally reads on it too. There are apps with videos which teaches her how to fold paper planes. There are also origami ideas as well. Plus those e-books. Bible stories come alive on the IPad as well. IPad is a great learning tool if the kids can be taught to use it well. But the snag is always the lure of gaming. Gaming on the IPad is very fun too. And between the two, it's a real tug-of-war.

I enjoy the podcasts too. There's one called SermonAudio which one can download sermons; many are quite good. I've just started listening to some. The best part is I can pause it when something comes up. I used to listen quite a bit of TED but time constraints have put that on the back burner for the time being.

3rd group... means there's still the wait to reckon with. There's always the other Android gadgets but somehow, I am still not sold on them yet.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Into The Term Break

And on the 6th day I got myself back... sort of. *Grins* I didn't realize how tired I was. I didn't realize how much school had 'eaten' into me. Anyway, hopefully I'll be wiser after this... going to have to cut down on some of the silliness of being chased for all the pretentious stuff.

The last few days have been a blur of sleep.... I slept every afternoon. Again, I'm not an afternoon 'napper'. But I find myself needing the sleep. On top of it, I experienced vertigo for 2 days. Other Half says it's probably due to the lack of sleep too... and the stress at work.
Kampung Roses
And yesterday I got a bit of myself back. What I did was I pottered around my little my garden. Pruned my kampong roses at the pagar. This plant has been with me for years! I thought it would not survive the heat but it has been quite resilient. My gal and I have been trying to plant all sorts of plants from seeds. Some grew, some didn't. In the end I got confused over what is what. Been a while since my last gardening craze and I had difficulty identifying the plants.
Tomato plants
Anyway, these are my tomato plants growing from our recycled ceramic peacock fish 'pot'. My peacock fish have joined the big league and they're dwindling in numbers in the big pond. We threw in lots of plants and other stuff to compost as well before throwing in the seeds. The smaller plants are torenias which grow wild in our compound. Years ago, I bought some and they've been propagating by themselves with little or no help these last few years, adding seasonal colours to our house compound. Once they bloom they'll be quite a sight to behold.
Tomato Flowers
The tomatoes are beginning to flower. I've been putting homemade compost and organic fertilizers. Hopefully more will bloom.
Tomato seedlings
The same batch of seeds.. in a planter box under the shade. They're not growing as fast as the one out in the open. Tomato plants like lots of sun, I read. I've just moved these out to under the tree.
Tomato seedlings
Don't know what to do with these extra seedlings. They are growing rather well in the tiny pot. Maybe I'll just leave them there and make sure they get lots of water and nutrients.
Japanese Roses
So this term break... it's welcomed. It's needed.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cheeky Duck... Straits Quay

Cheeky Duck
This came all the way from Newcastle cos their other restaurant is in Newcastle. It's started by a Hongkie. So from the West to the East and not the other way round... this Asian kitchen and bar.
Ducks and Meats
You can see ducks, chicken and part of porky hanging from the glass window at one of the walls from the outside, I guess as a way to 'enticing' people with the sumptuous looks.
Inside Cheeky Duck
The interior is nice and big. But the place looked kinda empty when we were there... maybe cos wasn't quite dinner time yet, it was more like tea-time actually. We wanted to grab a bite before going back so that we needn't stop for dinner anywhere. 8)
Appetizer
Appetizers... simple but makes one feel hungry after a few bites. I think it's pickled with sum-boi (sour plum). We had to take some time to go through their menu which was rather extensive.
Broccolli
Broccoli fried with garlic. It got cold very fast in the air-con. But taste wise it was okay.
Meats
3 types of meat.. siu-bak (roast meat), char-siew (barbecued meat) and siu-ak (roast duck) in one plate. We got the impression that the portions should be quite big but it wasn't as what we anticipated. But it was just enough for the 4 of us.

Cheeky Duck is pricey. All the above, with one iced latte (the rest had iced water) came up to almost RM80. For that kind of money, one could just take a drive to one of the many makan places in the Tanjung Tokong or Gurney areas and eat yourself silly with just as nice or nicer meats. But then again... how often do you also get a bar well stocked with all kinds of liquor in an establishment that sells chicken/duck rice.
Straits Quay Yacht Berths
However, this is Straits Quay, where the rich stay and play. This time around, construction was ongoing for the yachts parking lot. This is where the yachts will be berthed... I guess the idea is get down from your condo or house and hop into your yacht or boat and off you go for a cruise or run, ride.. whatever they call it. I guess the next time we have our meals here, there might be a few of those rich people's toys berthed here.
Smidapaper
One more 'treasure trove' we discovered there was this - smidapaper; a shop selling all kinds of papers for scrapbooking and other craft goodies. The downside is the price though. I went to check online for some of their products which I was interested in and the price difference was quite a lot! I am so tempted to go back and get one of their 'crafty' tools.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Standard of English...

... it's in the dumps, that's almost certain. Read in the papers how the Academy of Malay Studies (AMS) undergrads at UM got angry at their VC for asking the undergrads to improve their English. And true to the constant 'brainwashing' that we've all been getting about how unpatriotic one is deemed if one pushes for English, the undergrads went ballistic at the VC! ... even labelled him biadap (uncouth)! I guess this is what sums up the AMS mentality. This mentality convinces its inadequately equipped owner to look inward, to reject outright things not understood or not good at. Basically it makes us arrogant in a silly way. Arrogance out of ignorance and ignorance continues to breed ignorance.

Despite PPSMI running for so many years, my Form 1 batch of students generally have a horrendous command of English, with most if not all, not able to even make simple sentences, let alone converse. English mastery is in the dumps... major dumps. We just didn't have enough teachers with mastery and commitment to carry it through.

My first few weeks of English with my Form 1 students sounded more like BM lessons than anything. For the past 2 months, I've done nothing but lots of written work to familiarize the kids with English words. Even comprehension passages are not spared from copying.... most of these kids are so tuned off to English that what goes in one ear goes out the other... with not much to stop those words for processing in between.

I've come up with this conclusion after years of observations. In order to learn after all these years, what the eyes see, the head must process for the hands to produce. Read that as enforced reading with reinforcement. Printed materials (handouts) don't have the desired effect as most would resort to just randomly circling the answers. Very little learning takes place, making those lessons, lessons of futility. Our environment are way too BM for any meaningful learning of English. I suspect in many primary schools, teachers are more comfortable teaching English in BM.... a sure fail method!

So, as unsophisticated as this age-tested method may seem, it gets the kids places. A small number is now able to complete their tasks with some comprehension. I basically overwhelm them with written words (with meanings written on the board for selected words). One or two have even begun to see some light, even able to answer those simple open-ended Wh-questions that I am beginning to put up ever so often on the board.

Progress, unfortunately today is very much linked to mastery of English. Some day, it might be another language, Mandarin or even Hindi.... or even some of the other languages which are considered minor today. But our politicians (especially one former leader who actually should just keep his mouth shut) keep telling a particular segment of the population, they need to be helped.... I wonder if I continue to make sure my children always need me, will that mean that I'll go on to be like the Empress Dowager in their lives... indispensable, always keeping them weak so that I remain supreme.

That's why we're just trudging along while countries like Indonesia and Thailand, despite having their own disadvantages (compared to us) are slowly beginning to whiz by us. It used to be our competence in English that gave us an edge... These days, we've all but removed that edge from ourselves, thus putting ourselves further on the bottom pile of competitiveness. Add that to a big number of the populace being the recipient of NEP... read somewhere that most Malays think of getting a job with the civil service. The government has to put the graduates somewhere... so where else but the civil service. Else we'd have lots of unhappy grads. Hence, we've one of the biggest ratio of government servants per population. And it results in a civil service that is not reflective of our multi-cultural diversity.

One more observation. It always strikes me how when a Malay English teacher meets another Malay English teacher, the language they use to communicate with each other will somehow always be BM. Communicating in their mother tongue happens less among the Chinese or Indian English teachers. There are other underlying reasons such as the diverse dialects of the Chinese and Indians at play here too. So, if you go by this simple observation, that generally makes a Malay English teacher less effective in class... the tendency to use the same language as her Malay students is almost unavoidable.

Instead of digging into the wealth that the diversity our multi-culture and multi-ethnic society can offer, we keep harping that a certain race still needs crutches. So a major segment remained clutched by these crutches. On a chessboard, we are pawns divided. Instead of allowing these pampered ones to learn a few knocks from the school life, we continue to incapacitate them by not allowing them to sharpen their survival tools. English happens to be one of those tools now.

As for VC to be labelled as biadap for asking the undergrads to improve their English??? What is so uncouth about that? They should thank him for the reminder. AMS grads are among those who have the most difficulty landing a job upon graduation; one reason being their poor command of English...
Berita Harian
I guess this qualifies too as an AMS mentality... looking inward at themselves that they think this is creative; when tens of thousands perished in the tsunami after the great earthquake in Japan. This got us mentioned in CNN... done in really bad taste. I guess the artist must have thought that it was funny.... and being so full of his own creativity, he forgot that there was great suffering and despair.

So this AMS mentality... who is responsible??? I guess the rot always begins from the head...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Agua... Mediterranean Cuisine

On the day my hydrangea bloomed and it's still blooming.... 8)
Hydrangea
It's been a while since we went to Penang and the 'place' of the day now is still Straits Quay. This time we decided to do Mediterranean, something we've never had before. And we heard that this place is supposed to serve rather authentic Mediterranean fares.
restaurant,Straits Quay,Penang
Agua.. sounds like Ah Gua in Hokkien. In Urban Dictionary, it means a man acting like a woman; in other words...pondan. But Agua in Spanish has several meanings.
Agua,Straits Quay,Penang
Anyway, ever since we heard of this Mediterranean place, we thought it'd be nice to give it a try. The first order was a starter... Agua Platter Tapas, made up a slices of sausages and ham, manchego cheese served with olives and hummus. I learned today that hummus is a Middle Eastern dip or spread made of mashed chick peas blended with olives and other herbs. In the picture above, it's the yellow mashed-up stuff in one of the smaller plates. I put them on the bread and it was not too bad. Nevertheless, it's still a taste to be acquired for us.
Agua,Straits Quay,Penang
Next to come was the Sticky Spanish Ribs. These are pork ribs served on salad. The meat is a little tough for my liking but the dish feels light on the stomach. Son says it's a bit bland. Other Half and I think it's healthier. 8)
Agua,Straits Quay,Penang
The main dish was this... paella. I've always seen paella being prepared on Astro's AFC. And I like this the most. The rest didn't like it as much as I did. Paella is actually a rice dish; rice cooked in a pan, with a stock. This one had seafood as well as chicken. I like the sticky taste of the rice, which the rest didn't fancy. They prefer their rice fluffy. I think I shall try to cook one of these days; quite an easy dish to prepare I should think.
Paella Pan
I sapu bersih whatever was left on the pan...

This is a new experience. I think my Other Half and kids would prefer German food to this any time. But... we agree that it's always good to try something new. However, be prepared to pay more.. it's kinda pricey. The paella alone came up to RM85.80, portions for two... the minimal order. You can buy more than 2 bags of premium rice with that kind of money. And the prawns they served weren't that big either...
Straits Quay,Penang
Oh ya! There is a new attraction at Straits Quay... the Royal Selangor Pewter Visitor Centre. It's supposed to be their flagship up north. We took our kids up there to see but ended up giving them an experience of hard knocks...
School of Hard Knocks
For a fee, they could experience The Royal Selangor's School of Hard Knocks. They taught them to imprint their names on round flat pewter pieces and then give them mallets to knock those flat pieces into bowl. Our lil gal made good progress until she hit her own finger... then the Papa took over! LOL! She was quite brave about it then until we went out of the Centre. And then when we asked her about it... the floodgates opened. LOL! We had to pay for our kids to learn how those hard knocks were actually a lot of hard work....

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Blind Side: Evolution of A Game... by Michael Lewis

This book took a longer time to complete cos I'd been bogged down. Anyway, I didn't know what to expect when I picked it up. I had no idea who Michael Lewis was or what the book was about. Neither was I expecting to read about American football, a game which I used to think as a game of brawn and brute strength.... but I've changed my mind a bit after reading this. And I've learned quite a bit about the roles of each position in the game.... Up to this point, only one position comes to mind, Quarterback!! LOL!

The book provides a good insight to the changes that the NFL has undergone in the last 20 odd years. It focuses prominently 2 players... Lawrence Taylor and Michael Oher. It's the second guy's story that caught my imagination. Simply because in it, in it one finds the warmth of generosity and hope. Perhaps charity will be a better word to describe that generosity. It's a story of how some people can just open and share their lives with a kid such as Michael Oher.

It's a story of a hope-less black kid who made it good. His first break was when a private Christian school accepted him, even though his reading ability was really low. Michael had gone in and out of the system in his early years and got hopelessly lost in the foster care system and also because his mother was a junkie who had countless children.

It's a story of how a white family, the Touhys took him in as their own, embraced him as family. And how good nurturing can transform a life; to heights unimaginable. They hired a personal tutor for him. They went to great lengths to make sure he made the cut-off grades for college. You can't get into college even though you have a football scholarship if you don't make the grades. I hadn't even heard about Michael Oher until I read this book. And after finishing the book, I Googled him up... a lot of what's in the book corresponds with his real life going by the reading... and there is a movie on this. Will be looking up for it. Sandra Bullock won an Oscar as the best actress. Have always liked Sandra Bullock, ever since I watch her on The Net. 8)

One of my friends told me that Americans are way too sports crazy. I see a plus point out of that... it's a way out for those with no academic inclinations but are endowed with physical prowess. In ancient societies, such people would have made superb hunters and leaders by virtue of their physical abilities. In today's world where brain rule over brawn, such people are often overlooked.... Sports give them that chance at life and balances the scale somewhat.

And the little bit of change that the book did to me.. I've begun to appreciate the strategizing that takes place in this brutish game too... like all games, you need to have a certain intelligence to be a good player... American football is no different. Definitely a book worthwhile reading. Book 11!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bliss...

... of sleeping late. Today is the first day of the first term break for the year. And I could sleep late... late means getting up a 8.00 a.m. these days. Have difficulty sleeping beyond that these days. I've a teenager who can sleep and sleep like Sleeping Beauty....

Had an extra long day at school yesterday... ended at 5.30 p.m. Got home, almost 6 p.m. Would have been later if not for the intervention by the weather. LOL! A storm descended on us; strong winds which sent pots of plants over and chairs reeling!!! Good thing we do not have a closed hall. Else it would have gone on and on. The turnout was okay in the beginning but after the tea break, the crowd was reduced somewhat. Maybe because there weren't much freebies this year... in the previous years in order to entice parents to come, there'd be lucky draws... bicycles, rice, etc, etc... Very much like the freebies that they throw out during election season. This year, we only gave them a RM5 coupon to be used at the stalls (Co-Curriculum Day) which were running concurrently with PIBG meeting.

Been a stressful term for many at school; the paper chase that has been on since the beginning of the year and the kind of innuendos, clear and subtle, that have been hurled like spears at our directions; they've been piling up...

So it's good to be able to just sleep in for a change... we had Canteen Day (Hari Ko-Kurikulum) too yesterday. I feel sorry for my colleagues who had to be down in the bicycle sheds to sell food with their students. Surroundings were less than comfortable... with the heat of the day blasting them from every direction. When I went down again in the early afternoon hot sun, some of them were already turning red. And the food!!! I think quite a bit would have turned bad in the sun...

There were no other co-curricular activities like other years... we used to have football, netball... this year, if not for the karaoke, things would be much subdued. But I'm sure some of the kids enjoyed selling their stuff. And most teachers opted for 'catered' food stuff this year... most are too worn out (fed up???) with the 'duri' that have been coming our way.

So, it's bliss to be able to sleep, be away from the (wo)man-made madness at work. But this madness still continues though, in many schools... EXTRA CLASSES are running - during TERM BREAK! What is the point of a term break? Don't kids deserve a break? Or are extra classes meant to BREAK the kids. All these drilling and rote (from Year 4)..... for the 3 days of UPSR. So for 3 years, classes after school, classes during weekends and classes during holidays. Our education (and it's happening not just in our country) has indeed replaced the sweatshops of the olden times.

On a more subdued note... an old friend whom I recently met up again after many years passed away. It was all very sudden. Life is brief and we wouldn't know when our time is up. I asked my friend as we were sitting at the dinner table how had things been ever since she took her optional retirement almost 15 years ago. She said it had been good... they enjoyed working on their dusun, just living... I was happy to see her and it was vice versa. But one minute you are here, next minute you are no more... and what with the Japan Earthquake and the thousands misplaced and lives lost... the brevity of life. While we should make sure that we're ready to meet our Maker, we should also live our lives to the fullest.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Good Principals....

Thought this is a good one... Of late the importance of a good head seems more apparent. I think we lack good leadership in many schools. Heads are too busy chasing all those labels... High Performance Schools, Pengetua Cemerlang, New Deals.. every year something new comes up. For every Pengetua Cemerlang, there must be a whole lot of guru cemerlang behind them cos Pengetua Cemerlang don't become cemerlang without their guru cemerlang... but that is often lost after they get promoted. Pengetua cemerlang are supposed to create more guru cemerlang... but these days, they're no better than slave drivers.

So how do they chase all these awards??? Paper trails! Pushing paper, crunching data with plenty of make-ups.... if you think teachers' core duty is teaching, think again. These days, the former is more important cos that's how a Principal gets rewarded. Then they move on... a new one comes, like the Medusa head, they keep growing and growing.... teachers are everything but not what they are supposed to be.

Some good highlights from this slideshow...
1. It's people not programs that make a school work
2. Treat everyone with respect, every day, all the time
3. The Principal is the filter that decides the tone of the school
4. Teach the teachers
5. Experienced teachers are not the best teachers, best teachers are best teachers
6. Focus on behaviour, then focus on belief... (not the other way round)
7. Make people who do the right thing feel comfortable
8. Understand high achievers (but that's a rarity in the teaching profession these days)
9. Make it cool to care... most Principals care about their upward movement only...



Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Birthday and A Lunch

Food is always a nice distraction... especially when you have people to share with. Add an excuse to indulge yourself, guilt of gluttony is reduced..... LOL!
Sweet Sour Pork
Some sweet sour porky dish. I would prefer the meat more tender. Now that age is catching up, eating these chewy meat dishes tend to be more challenging. 8(
Steamed Cod
This one is a favourite for my kids and me. Cod! This one is steamed with just plain sauce. I think my kids like it for the same reason I like it, its yummy-ness... lemak. My girl and I like cod fried in teriyaki sauce too. But over here, this is an occasional treat cos cod is expensive!
Fried Leng Ngau
Fried 'leng-ngau' with black fungus, celery, carrot and water chestnut; with shavings of almonds, I think. 'Leng-ngau' is hokkien (fuchow) for lotus root. The usual way we eat it is boil it in a soup.
Clay Pot Sea Cucumber
Sea cucumber with lots of garlic and other stuff in it. Its a little gooey but quite appetizing to go with plain white rice.
Roast Duck with Herbal Sauce
Some of this dish ended up in our stomachs before my camera got to it. Roast duck in some herbal sauce; I could identify the ginseng. The sauce was nice but the duck meat was a little on the chewy side. Duck is always chewy and has a strong smell. I'd have preferred the meat slightly more tender but with duck, that's always difficult.

This was our birthday lunch for our main source (Ah Ho) of goodies!!!! Another year of richest blessings we bid her, a lady with a heart of gold... especially where food is concerned. 8) At Hua Tang.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pretty Tea and Pizza

Tea.. beautiful tea.
Jasmine Tea
This is jasmine tea. My tea has always been just throwing in a bunch of tea leaves or a teabag into some hot water. This one is pretty... pretty tea drink. LOL! Courtesy of Joyce's mom. 8) Tea with aesthetics, not bad, don't you think?
Jasmine Tea
View from the top... it looks like there is a little patch of garden in my tea. 8) How not to be lifted when you see such a pretty drink?
Pizza
On an evening when we made pizza... well, actually it was more of Other Half and our gal's project. We're currently trying our hands at pizza making with bread dough... I cleared while they fiddled with the ingredients. The kneading was left to our trusty bread machine.
Pizza
The enthusiasm shows here... they were over generous with everything!!!
Pizza
Ta....da!!! Came out looking perfect! And it smelt really good too... until we sliced it. You see, being over generous, the top had become so heavy that all the juices from the goodies flowed to the centre and sort of bogged it down. LOL!!!

But by the next day... after a night in the fridge, it had 'solidified' some what and after reheating it, I packed them for the kids to take to school. Son said it was better than Pizza Hut. Daughter drew some drooling stares from her friends, she said...

With all the craziness lately... this surely beats everything. Memories are made of these....

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Secret of Terror Castle ...by Alfred Hitchcock

Simple pleasures... and this is one of them. Simple reading from yesteryears. One of my favourite authors when I was in primary school. Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews.

I guess reading such books helped to shape my thinking and approach in life. I think I must read almost the whole set... 40++ books. I used to think of Jupiter Jones as one cool dude. He always kept his cool and mind in the most critical situation. I'm sure somehow, reading so many of them must have rubbed off on all of us who were ardent followers of such series. Sometimes too, I wonder whether the lack of such kinds of reading also plays a role in the 'dumbing down' of our kids.

I remember reading those mystery series where the heroes and heroines were smart and independent. They were always trying to figure out a solution, always trying to solve a mystery, always curious. It's hard to find such stuff in the kids I meet and teach today. The kids today seem to naive despite the high tech-ness of their lives. They seem so ignorant despite having the Wiki there for them all the time. If anything I think Google has robbed them of their own originality. It's so easy to plagiarize these days. Plagiarizing is just a couple of taps away on the computer keyboard. Anyway, I think books for kids today are way to emo-based or take the path of 'solution via power'. In the popular Twilight series, it's all about appearance and emo-ness. In Harry Porter, it's about the one with the more powerful magic.... there's very little on the powers of deduction... I could be wrong in my observation.

So, it was a rather pleasant experience reading The Three Investigators again. After all these years, it's still actually very nice. In fact, I appreciate it in ways which I never did before. I read a couple pages with my gal and she found it interesting. I hope she will pick them up and read them. Book 10 - a 'kiddy' book with nice memories.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Lessons From History... by Will And Ariel Durant

Book 9.... I picked this book up cos I wanted something different to read, thinking at the back of my mind perhaps it might be good to read something non-fiction or narrative for a change. And it was a surprisingly good read; plenty of lessons in it.

"If man is fortunate, he will, before he dies, gather up as much as he can of his civilized heritage and transmit it to his children." That's one of the summing sentences of this book and very apt to describe the role of history in our lives.

They're making history a compulsory pass from next year's SPM. They are many objections to that. Some feel Sejarah has become a brainwashing tool. I think it's a valid fear. Our history is prejudiced and not balanced. History is supposed to be the creation and recording of our heritage. And in Malaysia, that heritage does not just belong to one race but when you read the our history textbooks, sometimes there is this feeling that you are reading a propaganda. Sometimes you get this feeling that one race is being put up at while the other races are being put down.

Education is about the transmission of civilization and history plays a very important role in transmitting that legacy. Yet when you read our textbooks, there are omissions (on purpose) of the founding fathers from other races. Where is Yap Ah Loy in the textbook today? We seem to fail to realize that if the transmission of civilization is interrupted, we regress.

History is supposed to make us realize the need to dethrone ignorance, by drawing lessons from the past. What is has been. We learn that nations die. Resilient man picks up his tools and his arts, moves on, taking his memories with him. The civilization migrates with him. The Romans imported the Greek civilization. The Europeans borrowed the thoughts of the Islamic civilization. America profited from the European civilization. The Chinese and the Indians migrated to the Malay Archipelago and brought with them their tenacity. With each move, there was new prosperity.

But history also taught us how despite the progress, we debase our own humanity - Hitler, Mussolini and in recent times how people can laud the actions of Usama bin Laden. History reminds us of our foolishness, yet we continue to be foolish.

History records man's progress... yet have we progressed? Materially, perhaps. There has been never a time where so many have life as we are living. We have control over the conditions of our lives, like never before. Yet, if we measure progress from Man's actions.... perhaps we might be humbled by the fact that Man's nature has remained almost the same. What drove the ancient man still drives the modern man too.

A good read with plenty of illuminating insights.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

I for 'Inverted Cranial Rectumitis'

Another one for my alphabet series. Decided to skip a few other alphabets and get to 'I' first. I... the egoistical self. The I is made up of the id, ego and super-ego, according to Freud. I studied Psychology... long time ago. Hence the familiarity with all these Freudian jargons... which may be a little archaic by today's standard. I is very often full of delusional fantasies and puffed up ego.

Anyway, I'm going for the Inverted Cranial Rectumitis (ICR) for I; quite a mouthful for one alphabet made by one straight line and a dot. ICR in the Urban Dictionary basically means head in the butt. People with ICR basically runs everyone down; cos since their head is in their butt, they don't see much of anything else except the insides of their butt. The 'I' becomes magnified after prolonged contact with the butt residents.

They have this super inflated ego which makes them feel that they are sitting on the throne and everyone must bow down to them, that their words are their commands to be obeyed. And that everything they say is the gospel truth! ICRs come in all sizes... from the very top to the bottom of the monkey tree. Today we've a new term for the little ICRs - Little Napoleans. People with ICR suffers from the Napolean complex too, minus the 'short' part. Power gets into their heads and they behave like the feudal lords. People with ICR are generally a pain in the butt too... what to do? The head is in the wrong place, hence the pain. And because their head is in the wrong place, they tend to be rather myopic too... tunnel vision only since the butt kinda limits their line of sight too... And because their heads are in the butt too, they can't hear very well which makes them really lousy listeners. Also, since space is a premium in the butt, people with ICR too don't know how to compromise... cos they feel they need to forever assert and claim their position. The butt is not a very conducive place for positive growth...

Why do people suffer from ICR? Could it be from the lack of something?? IQ, EQ or coloured by prejudices? Natural meanness.... is there such a thing? Long time ago, I read that social psychologists claim that there's this bad genes that make people do bad things... So, we those who take pleasure in being a freakish pain to everyone around them.

Muammar Gaddafi says his people love him... and he's bombing them to stay in power. A classic case of an ICR... in the last few months, we've seen quite a few of his likes being kicked in their butt. People with ICR... they really make nerves fray.

And what is more horrifying, ICR people breed many more ICRs. Somehow, it's always easy to breed the negative. It's far easier to bring out the worst in a person than the best. I've also noticed how we pounce on the negative and help it take another life of its own...

Ah! Welcomed weekend... a break from all these. Been a freakishly lousy week.... nerves are fraying. I need grace. I need to be gracious.