Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Devil in the White City ...by Erik Larson

This is a recount of Chicago in the late 19th century, the 1893 Chicago World's Fair to commemorate Christopher Columbus' 400th anniversary of his arrival to the New World, America's first recorded serial killer and an educational insight to life during that era. 53 chapers, 54 if you count the Epilogue and even before the first 10 chapters were done, I was reminded of the construction of the Tower of Babel. Man has never tried to stop reaching the heavens since then, going bigger, taller.

I learned that the Masonic Temple in Chicago, 1895, was the tallest building back then at 22 stories. We've hit 3 digits in the number of floors in a building, just slightly a century later. The current tallest building is Burj Dubai. And I finished the book convinced that despite what we think, know or feel about something, nothing is new. Everything that is, has been.

This is a non-fiction, another random pick. I seem to have a penchant for picking non-fiction these last few months. Anyway, this is a book packed with the history of Chicago. The reader is brought into the life of Herman Webster Mudget a.k.a H.H. Holmes, a doctor and a serial killer, much like Jack the Ripper who was on a killing spree on the other side of the Atlantic at about the same time.... the devil in the gleaming temporary city, the World Fair in Chicago.

It was an age of great innovation too. If we think ours in a generation of great innovation, it might be sobering to read about the late 19th and early 20th centuries as well. Each era has its own innovations and amazing discoveries. The city of Chicago had bad pollution problems back then too, with all kinds of putrified stuff oozing their way into the waterways from petrified animals in the slaughter houses and stench hanging in the air. Horses' manure polluted the environment much like our cars do today. We traded one evil for another without realizing it.

We read about the great architects like Daniel Burnham, Frederick Olmsted, John Root who lived in an era of greats like Edison, Eiffel, PT Barnum, mark Twain, William Cody; just as America was beginning to stamp her mark in the world. Currently our greats are defined by names like Gates, Jobs, Brin, Zuckerberg and so on. Some eras are marked by great conquerors, others by great architects, inventors, thinkers, explorers, engineers, musicians, 'war mongers', scientists, physicists, entrepreneurs and so on. To put it crudely, one can actually also see 'peer pressure' at work here. And they come in waves too... interesting, isn't it?

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

I got my girl to play these notes on the piano.... LOL! Everyone knows this tune! I always knew it as the snake song. Sol Bloom who developed the Midway Plaisance (the amusement park area) at the World Fair, apparently plinked it out as an adhoc measure for the belly dance show for the fair because the musicians had no idea what to play to accompany the dancers. Belly dancing was a new thing then. He was only 23. The young geeky entrepreneurs of our era shouldn't be a surprise to us. Young successful entrepreneurs have been there for a long time, with that same sense of dare to dream.

Also, the rise and fall of the financial markets are more common than one thinks. For every news of impending economic meltdown that sends the financial markets into frenzied worries and sometimes collapse, I learn that recorded history has many of these events too. Every fall precedes a rise... the law of gravity is at work here too. Right now we have the Greek and European crisis. Well, the world has seen many of these. Too bad that the only reference of an economic meltdown that our kids get to read is that of The Great Depression in the 1930s, and that also with such brevity. Our history books in Malaysia are muted to the turmoil and despair that plagued the lives of those badly affected by it. Depressions are more common than we think and I think the study of History in our schools does no justice to prepare us for the global world. People go through depressions too...

One thing I like about reading these days is the speed that I can do cross references on the net. Ours is supposed to be a generation of information free flow. Yet I find it disheartening that many of our kids do not make full use of this innovation. I learned a great deal about the different architectural designs from the wanderings into Google-world in between chapters. And one more thing, the Ferris wheel. The World Fair had the biggest ferris wheel on display. At full capacity, more than 2000 people could be rotated on it! And the engineer who designed and built it was George Ferris.

But above everything else, I realize too that for all that we achieve and own, they matter not to us when the final curtain is drawn. All that is left eventually are just memories and they too, turn hazy after a while. The memories we carry in our head get distorted over time. The same goes for great events. What we remember are basically what is written, rehashed, rephrased to the sway, bend (call it by whatever term) of the writer. It is interesting to note that as Holmes, the serial killer sat in his cell, he wrote his version of his life. In the end, no one really knows how many murders he committed.

I like how one section of the Acknowledgement by the writer very much.... as he acknowledged his wife for her help in his work, daughters for showing what matters and dig this.... his dog for showing that nothing matters but dinner! That basically sums up life... Our lives are enriched by our help/soul mates. The kids? Well, they're a joy to have but also a humbling experience too for they teach us priorities. And finally the dog - life is about the present. We should neither dwell too much on the past or the future. The past is a lesson, the future unknown. We can plan but we have no total control over it. And it's for one simple reason. Mortals do not go on forever.

Book 13. Very, very good read. Insightful.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Heaven Is For Real ...by Todd Burpo & Lynn Vincent

This was a random pick. I didn't know what the book was about until I was half way through. Yup! I sat glued to it cos I found it intriguing and insightful. The writer claims that the narrations in his book are collected from his 4-year-old who had a Near Death Experience (NDE), went to heaven and saw what it was like. Heaven... I mean, I've been taught about it. I think it exists, though sometimes, I wonder all sorts of thoughts. Often I am like DoubtingThomas...

And so mid way through, I decided to pause a while and google the book. Suffice to say I got a clearer picture but by then my eyes were giving way and I had to give them a break. Some hail this book as being too narrow because it works from the view point of Christianity only. These days, that kind of view point is considered offensive, I mean the 'one-angle-viewpoint'. We try to be inclusive. And very likely imagine how that argument will go. Then there are those who will be totally inspired after reading this book. The fact that this book made it to the Times Bestseller's shows the level of interest in the afterlife. We still want to cling on to that hope, I think. Anyway, after an afternoon of spring cleaning my cupboards, I went back to the book. I managed to finish it before the night was over, in part because it's written in easy language and less than 200 pages thick.

Does heaven exist? Through a 4-year-old who had a NDE (near death experience), it does. For him heaven is for real. And over the next few years (7 years before this book was published), his parents 'collected' the recollections of his experiences which he blurted or mentioned in various situations. So what do I think? For me, I think heaven is real. But that doesn't mean that I believe everything that is written in the book, as much as I may want to, in many instances. These are days where people try to turn (or create) whatever opportunities into something that sells. NDE is something that that has fascinated researchers and lay people. I guess deep down, everyone wants to know where they are headed after this life on this earth is over....

I enjoyed the book. One part of my mind tells me this might be one of those books written for profit. But another part reminds me that I don't know everything. I'm but a mere mortal, with an expiry date, and I wonder too, the beyond. But if one is encouraged to walk more faithfully in his faith because of the book, well, that takes conviction too. Not everyone is willing to let down their veil of self sufficiency for something that is beyond our mortal strength. It takes humility. We'd still like to rely on ourselves, many of us.... we'd like to think of ourselves as self-made, not created by some higher being or get where we are by grace.

The co-author of this book is Lynn Vincent who was Sarah Pailin's ghost writer for Going Rogue, and so some say this book has an agenda, anti abortion, gay, etc... which, for me, are okay agendas. We live in a society that is trying to accept everything these days. They can't be all that good! The first week isn't yet over and I'm already done with my second book this hols... and Book 12 for 2012! Happy!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

I'll Walk Alone ...by Susan Cain

This book follows a formula... Everything that can go wrong, goes wrong at the beginning and the opposite happens as the story moves to its ending. And almost every chapter ends with a cliffhanger which makes you stay glued to the novel. It's enjoyable read in the sense that all ends well; everyone likes a happy ending.

The main character, Zan's 3-year-old toddler gets kidnapped. For 2 years her life turns topsy turvy. She buries herself in her work. Her life is a sad one. She lost her parents and then got divorced from the guy who helped her piece together her life. She didn't know she was pregnant when she left him. But they ended their marriage on good terms, at least that's what appeared on the surface.

Her nightmare begins after meeting Ted, her ex, to remember Matthew's 5th birthday. Soon after that everything unravels. A photo which showed that she kidnapped her own son, suspicious transactions on her credit card and business, an arrest warrant, an attempted murder on a priest who heard a confession of a murder to be; everything that could go wrong with her.

And then just as things started to be real bad, events started turning around. Everything that went wrong at the beginning of the story began to right itself. That's why I felt the book was rather formulaic; predictable. This is the sort of entertaining light reading that's entertaining but not the sort that you'll want to read too many of.

Book 11.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Mid year break...

Am truly glad to be out of school, a badly needed break. Teaching isn't much fun this year cos most of the time I seem to be hitting the wall most of the time with students. Mid year exam has just ended too. And in 3 out of the 3 upper form classes that I am teaching, most of the boys were more interested in sleeping through the exam. I do not understand why they bother going to school at all. It's as though by being present will somehow magically change their results. I have my reservations. It's not that I am not hopeful but it's rather difficult to see light at the end of this tunnel cos most of them don't seem able to will themselves to move beyond their attitude. And how can I tell? Easy! Many boys handed in blank sheets.

Some would be asleep before the first 20 minutes are over. And the school is conducting extra classes during the hols for such students when we can't even get them to listen during school. Sometimes, I wonder the purpose of those extra classes. Is it to show that we are doing something? School discipline has been on the downhill slide ever since we started this Sekolah Penyayang thing. The management contributed too by being benign.

Yesterday, as I walked through a corridor there were 2 groups of boys squatting by the sides. They were hooting and taunting the younger kids and girls who were walking past. I chased them away with some difficulty but I heard the same hooting sounds when I was upstairs. They went back to doing what they were doing as soon as I was out of sight. Most teachers have stopped reprimanding such behaviour, which is why things are not getting any better. I met a colleague when I was going down later and asked her whether she had heard them. And her reply? She has learned to turned a deaf ear and a blind eye. What they they need is a firm hand but these days, we are told to be soft on them. Well, it's not working.

The school has tried Bacaan Yassin too, once a week. It's supposed to soften their hearts, make them better. That's another failure too. Instead, I think this has demeaned faith. Religious grounds are getting porous. My jaw almost dropped as I watched the video of the uncouth behaviour of the men doing the butt protest at Ambiga's house. And the response when Ambiga offered them 100-Plus... since when Muslims don't drink it. Yet, I often hear utterances in same vein. And on the last day of the term, I sent out 6 warning letters to my class students for absenteeism too.

So I am looking forward to some peace and quiet for the next 2 weeks, to do some housekeeping, read and perhaps just go for relaxing swims at the pool. Maybe some morning workouts at the gym. A break from dealing with juveniles to catch up on other things. Am making myself available to some of my senior friends for iPad lessons this hols. I've been teaching a few what to use it for. My oldest students are 76 years old! A sweet couple. Have a few more in their 60s. They started off with one iPad but they recently bought another one. LOL! I enjoy seeing their eyes light up when I show them what the iPad is capable of. I'm more convinced that it's a liberating tool. And they find it an amazing tool too... 8)

But for now, the break is good cos I am nursing my second flu in a month.... I blame it on the stress of handling difficult classes this year. I think the body can only go that long before it starts to protest. Those classes (that's 4 out of my 5 classes) usually leave me drained.

So holidays... am too tired to even hurrah it now... maybe in a couple of days, when the spirit is renewed, I might feel differently. One good thing, moods are like the weather... they can change.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

How Do We Teach Values

We have Pendidikan Moral and Pendidikan Sivik dan Kenegaraan in the school timetable. Values and civic mindedness - how do we teach them? Students have been poking fun at Pendidikan Moral for years. A student is expected to memorize the definition for each moral value and identify the moral values in situations given. Anyone can tell you the right thing to do. But not everyone can do the right thing.

The funny thing is both subjects are supposed to provide that missing link to a holistic education, turn us into better citizens. And on the same vein, we have Pendidikan Islam for the Muslim students. All 3 subjects have one similarity. They are subjects that deal mainly with the building of good character; for this world and the hereafter. One edge that Pendidikan Islam has over Pendidikan Moral is it is an examinable subject in PMR. Because of that proper teaching takes place. But soon it'll be on equal footing with Pendidikan Moral with the abolishment of PMR.

I've seen over the years, the sham of Moral Studies in lower forms. Students are often asked to go to the library or computer lab where they will be asked to do their own things. Teachers teaching Pendidikan Sivik and Kenegeraan would often replace their lessons with library periods. Sometimes I think such teachers are basically getting paid for sitting around, not doing what they are paid to do. It is also for this reason that many school heads and administrators opt to teach such subjects. It gives them the freedom from conscience if they skip classes. Teachers who teach such subjects have it really easy, I feel.

I recently went out for dinner with an old university mate. She posed me a question whether teachers ought to be put on a time-based promotion and get paid so much. According to her, Associate Professors with postgraduate qualifications are on the DG52 scale and we teachers get there too on time-based. It made me think of the examples I mentioned up there.... of those I know whom I'd rather not be teaching my own kids. Because I see around me, examples which make me wonder whether conscience really exists. And the alarming thing is they are teaching subjects which are supposed to develop a conscience.

According to the data given out by the Minister in this year's Teacher's Day speech, 390 teachers were promoted from DG52 to DG54, 676 from DG48 to DG52 and 3938 from DG44 to DG48. The time taken from DG41 (where all trachers start) to DG44 is 8 years with 8, 6 and 3 for the subsequent time based promotion requirements. One only needs to do his Maths to see the financial implications in the longer run too for the county, I mean. If salary goes up without an equal increase in productivity, any economist will tell you that is bad for the country.

Yet time based promotion is good for the group of teachers who are capable yet get bypassed for promotions. In a system like ours where race comes into play also, apart from the usual office politics, where promotion is concerned, there are few opportunities cos skin colour will always be a feature. As a result we see a lot of under performing schools these days, mainly because of poor leadership. And these days, I think even capable Malays are being bypassed. Once the rot starts, it spreads.

There are plenty of teachers who deserve the acknowledgement but there is also a big number who treats their vocation as a right, that the country owes them a living and not the other way around. And why is that so? Ours is a system of benevolence, one that works on a dasar ketuanan which uses race as a right. And that mentality has seeped everywhere!

So how do we teach values when subjects where values which are supposed to get caught apart from being taught become the sandpit which buries them. Kids watch and catch the values from our actions. Head knowledge is mainly to get the A(s). It doesn't mean that they will be keeping them even though they are well versed. And having multiple systems, vernacular, national and now international schools does not help national integration. Nor does it ensure proper learning of English too because everyone is busy being chauvinistic, championing their myopic rights. It is divisive.

So, time based promotion? Every teacher wants it cos it involves more pay and perks. But if we really do some soul searching and come clean, many of us will not deny that there are many teachers who are basically just hitching a ride and getting a good life out of it. I think if we dig deeper, we'll probably find the same problem besetting subjects like Literasi Komputer, Pendidikan Jasmani dan Kesihatan too. Many PJK teachers sit and watch their students.... in class or from under the shade or just send them to the library too.

Declining values... It's already difficult as it is to impart good values. But having poor examples as role models? I wonder. Listen when the kids talk about their school and teachers and you'll know what I mean. They're not as ignorant as we'd like to think of them. We can teach values but if we fail to show those values in our lives, they are noted by our learners and then ignored too. They learn by watching, remember?

Take a look around us... we now have political leaders who act as if they are above the law. Yesterday's news about the government suing the Bersih Steering Committee for losses is unbelievable too. For demanding a clean election process, we first had a court order to prevent a supposedly peaceful protest, followed by barb wires to keep the people out. And then there were the tear gas and chemical water sprays, police beatings, shutting down of the LRT stations to prevent people from leaving and then burger stalls and butt exercise outside the house of only one of the Steering Committee heads, who also happens to be a lady and an Indian. It should make us think why only Ambiga gets intimidated for demanding that we clean up our act.

Why not engage the Bersih demands? If a student comes to you with some grouses about the school about some things which he feels are unreasonable to the students, like being made to stand for assembly every morning. Do you engage him and discuss with him or do you come up with more punitive measures to shut him up? Do you go after the messenger and ignore the issue, especially if it's a valid issue. What do our actions imply about us then?

How did we ever arrive at this state? Did we teach our kids wrong? Didn't these people catch the right values from school? Whatever happened too to the religious teachings? Did it too get hijacked by the teachers? How did we ever end up with so many leaders who remain silent despite so many questionable incidents? Have we all been part of this 'I scratch your back, you scratch mine' culture. In recent years, we've had gua tolong lu, lu tolong gua becoming election catch phrases or baits to fish for more support. Well, however good some quarters may feel now, I think it will come back and hound us some day. As it is, bankruptcy may await us... but our journey there will also prove us bankrupt of morals and values too.

Teaching values... We teachers have to set ourselves right first too.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

School Based Assessment

One of the things we need to do for school based assessment (PBS - Pentaksiran Berasaskan Sekolah) is to assess students. And the yardstick will be the instruments used to measure their progress. There is a lot more paper work for the teachers for sure. We also have to key in the marks online too. Given that class sizes are still quite big, anywhere between 30 to 45 in many schools, we'll be buried under more administrative and clerical work.

Recently I was given a set of 'instruments' to gauge my Form 1 students' mastery. Now these are simple questions like 'What is your name?, How old are you?, Where do you live? and What is your hobby?' My colleague had this look of disbelief on her face when I told her that I did not expect one of my classes to be able to clear those questions to qualify for Band 1.

I went into the class and proceeded with the 'measuring'. About 3 could handle 3 of the 4 questions. They tanked at the 'Where do you live?' question. Another 3 could answer 2 questions. The rest simply sank into their own sea of ignorance, with 2-3 students answering 'bola' for the 'What is your hobby?' question. I guess the word 'hobby' saved the day for them since it's also 'hobi' in BM. Interestingly too, all 6 students who could answer either all 4 or 3 questions came from Chinese vernacular schools. And there only 6 Chinese in the class. The rest of the students came from national (kebangsaan) schools. Both sets of students are weak students but one set was able to qualify for Band 1 quite easily.

This is the 5th month I'm teaching them. It took me about 2 months to make them sit still in class and another 2 months to finally knock some sense into the really recalcitrant ones that it's better that they do the work given... even if it's just copying the questions into their exercise books. I feel more like a babysitter and sometimes taskmaster when I am in this particular class and 2 other Form 5 classes. This is secondary school and I am supposed to work on the skills that they are supposed to have, like being able to construct sentences, have a certain amount of vocabulary, basically some language skills. Yet all the years they have spent in the classrooms have amounted to almost nothing. But for the Form 1 kids who came from Chinese vernacular schools... (these include the Malay kids who studied there), compliance is high and there is less discipline problem. I think there is something the Chinese schools are doing right....

I am a firm believer that language being a skill is something that everyone can pick up. When a kid has no command at all of a language they are supposed to have been learning for 6 or 11 years, it points to a few things. One, the students have shut their minds. Why they are shut would be an interesting study. Two, language is a skill. If I were to put a Malay baby in a family that speaks Swahili, the kid will grow up speaking Swahili.

I started teaching my girl Science in Mandarin this year. I learned Mandarin to do it. I could read because there was a need for me to master it - for my kid. And so now I can read enough Mandarin to understand the questions. These kids basically don't see the need for English in their lives. And instruction probably has something to do with it too. Add that to the point that they are not academically inclined, the years in school will be wasted.

I have 2 other Form 5 classes who are no better than the class above. After spending 11 years in school, most of them can't even talk about themselves in English, let alone read and understand a simple passage. We seem to be coming up with new policies but they have not done much to solve anything. The standard of English has continued to slide. And it's getting worse by the year. As much as fhe authorities will deny, one main problem is the quality of instructor. Less than competent instructors will not be able to produce competent students. And because of that too, PPSMI never had a chance. It was doomed to fail right from the start because the most important component wasn't able to deliver.

I think the School Based Assessment can be good for such kids as it might draw our attention away from scoring in exams and allow us to ensure that students are equipped with the necessary skills. Learning might actually become fun. But other factors come into play here too, which might require real political will to overcome. There also doesn't seem to be any urge to look into the plight of these less academically inclined students. Instead of allowing them to languish in an academic environment, we should have more vocational training for them. Skills are what they need to be useful and productive. And that sadly is lacking from our current system. What is the point of PBS when it does not equip these kids for the real world. They go out worse, in fact... worse from the years of negative reinforcement.

It's exam time for the other forms now. And my boys from my two Form 5 classes have been spending most of their exam time sleeping. The scenario in my Form 1 class is repeated in these 2 classes. Five years down the road, that's how my Form 1 boys will be like. Teaching loses its meaning for me sometimes because instead if teaching language that I am supposed to be doing, I am spending most of my time dealing with behavioural problems. And this coming from a school standing in the 50th percentile in the national list. It speaks volume of the situation in our nation too.

Look around us... From the crowd behaviour in Bersih 3.0 to the knee-jerk responses that we've been getting, there are indicators of positive as well as the negative. It's heartening as well as worrying....

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Quiet ...by Susan Cain

Restorative niche, high and low reactive kids, orchid and dandelion children, introvert, extrovert - this book tries to understand how we tick. There are those among us who are reserved and then also those who seem to be the life of any group that they are in. In trying to understand our temperament and personality, we understand a little bit more our of ourselves and also those around us. And that I believe will help us deal with each one as an individual better. And this book is about all that.

My first exposure to the different temperaments came in the form of classic temperaments of melancholy, sanguine, choleric and phlegmatic. But it's easier to just have two broad categories - introverts and extroverts. In between, there're many personality tests like the Myers-Brigs and Keirsey tests which will help us understand our temperaments. It's been so many years since those days when psychology was more of a study of theories. These days, we have fMRI machines which can show scientists how our brain works, the role of amygdala, prefrontal cortex and so on. We can take peeks into our brains and see how they react and respond and in the process understand a little bit more what sets us apart from other animals

I wished I had this book when my kids were younger. Though it doesn't contain all the solutions to understanding my kids, it would have helped me understand them in a way that might have enabled me to avoid some of the mistakes I made because even though I was aware that different temperaments interact and react differently to our surrounding, there are many areas which the writer helps me see clearer. Her examples were funny in a way but I could identify with many of them. And being an introvert myself, reading the book, I found myself identifying with many of the situations.

Today's world is more ideal for an extrovert cos our culture has made virtue of the extrovert ideal. By understanding myself better, I think it helps me understand and cope better with life. It helps me accept that it's okay that often times, I relish being alone, even in a crowd, or why I often seek solitude for my timeout or why I can box people out of my life. It also helps me in my work because I deal with teenagers, understand that each kid behaves differently. And it helps me see why some methods work on certain kids and not others. I learned too I should focus more on encouraging our introvert children to be productive instead of pushing for confidence. Come to think of it, that's what MYF did for us - focus on productivity. The confidence came as a byproduct.

Teenage years are more about gregariousness and vivacity. If we focus on confidence, many of the quieter kids would be lost in the sea of extrovert idealism. It's hard for the introvert child to find his niche. And trying to make them fit into that extrovert ideal is tough on them.This is a book that describes us, the different us. Relationships are us. And in reading this, I realize the mistakes that I made with my boy as he was growing up, because I missed the signals. But I learned too that because I am an introvert myself, I tended to reflect a lot on my actions. And that helped somewhat in balancing some of the actions.

In quietness there is great strength, but introverts are like orchids. They can wilt under unsuitable conditions. They are unlike dandelion children who can adapt better. I think new parents should at least flip through this book, and couples too. Communication breakdowns can often be avoided if we learn the right way or understand our spouses, children or friends better. A spade is sometimes not a spade but it takes a lot of discernment to be able to see that sometimes. But introvert or extrovert, both compliment each other. It's always good to understand those different from us and work to include them into our world.

This is another non-fiction in my list this year. Book 10 and 7th non-fiction for the year.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Aren't We Racists?

Every now and then, racial slurs in schools will make the headlines. This is another. Now certain quarters want the teacher suspended, even sacked! Read here for the SMK Georgetown saga. Before long, Namewee might pick this up again and use it as material for his next crude rap or parody.... we Malaysians continue to remain stuck in a juvenile mindset...

I think most of us are racist to a certain extent. It takes a lot not to be a racist in racist Malaysia. Practically every official document we fill in reminds us our bangsa first. Mind you, bangsa here does not refer to being Malaysian. It refers to your ethnicity. 54 years and this is our 55th year of nationhood. And we are still behaving like juveniles as a nation. Somewhere along the process of 'growing up' the notion of nationhood got hijacked and since then, it's Malays/Chinese/Indians/Iban first before Malaysian. Who should we blame? In a ship, a captain is the one in charge. He makes the call. So I guess, the blame goes to our leaders.

This recent news is about this teacher who has made national headlines because she scolded the students with derogatary words - pariah, Hindu... She shouldn't have. And if it's true that the Principal tried to cover up the issue, then it's also wrong. It's quite appalling, the alleged cover up. But I think too that the whole issue has been hijacked, by the school admin and the subsequent groups who want to be seen as championing their race...

I feel sorry for the teacher too though. Though the terms she used were inexcusable, I can also imagine her frustrations at that point of time. No sane teacher would utter such terms unless they are under some form of duress. The racist in us is usually well controlled. But students can be quite difficult to manage these days. Teachers' hands are tied. You know, we even a circular listing down the things we cannot do to a student. We can't even glare at them! So, very often, something that might have started off as a juvenile mischief becomes the catalyst to racist remarks and reactions. And the subsequent reactions develop into racial innuendos because we fail to address them properly. This inability to address is in part a result of the 'I say', 'You do' mentality which seems to be the norm these days.

I've taught in different schools. And all have been different from my own experience as a student. Perhaps studying in a former mission school was the difference. It was built on a the values set by the founders (missionaries) who had clear principles. There were clear boundaries. These days, I often observe that the boundaries get blurred. Kids today are less docile too. But one thing remains, juvenile behaviour has remained more or less constant. But how we deal with them has changed somewhat. We bend the rules more these days.

The sad thing is how the racist keep coming to the surface. And that's where I think schools have failed to engineer that social change which would have gotten us to that masyarakat madani goal we set many years ago. I remember we were taught to watch our words during our school days. Rude and obnoxious behaviour would be severely dealt with. The teachers were also concerned about character building and how we should carry ourselves. And they did their duties well. School was not just for the academic stuff. It was also a finishing school. Over the years, for me it was 7 years in secondary school, we learned to watch our words. Till today, I can never bring myself to call an Indian, Hindu. I used to be quite taken aback by how some of my friends would use the terms Hindu or Keling quite freely when I first came to Kedah. And a bigger surprise was how easily my Malay students would call each other babi (pigs) at the slightest bit of provocation. Yet, if I were to utter that same word to my students, the kids would balk with righteousness and feign hurt. Even derogatory terms get their okay moments - depends on who utters it. Observe the Chinese kids and you get the same thing too... juvenile mischiefs are very predictable. And sometimes we don't outgrow that juvenile tendency because we weren't corrected as students ourselves.

Now in an environment where everyone is one equal footing, dealing with such kinds of issues would be quite straightforward. But we're not. Wrong doers are not dealt with in a way that conveys the right message. You get the impression that bullies are at work. And we know how bullies work... they bulldoze you into accepting their ways. When they accommodate, it means they are being benevolent. So on the outside, sometimes we appear to be civil but in reality we're actually like the shiny apple which looks delicious on the outside but actually has lots of worms inside.

And that is why our schools have failed. Teachers have failed because they cannot suppress their own racism. And so either through action or words and sometimes both, they churn out more sublimal racists. Our education system remains fragmented. We still have way too many types of schools. How can we expect integration when kids do not learn and play together? And oh yes! The recent doing away with the quota for local students at international schools.. the chasm has just gotten bigger between the haves and haves not. The rich will get to learn in English while the have-nots will have to make do with an 'inferior' system. One of the the downfall of the great Roman Empire was this.

Demanding that this teacher be suspended or sacked? Well, like the Medusa, chopping one head won't kill her off. Other heads will grow to replace one lost head. We need to take a good look in the mirror why we have become more racist, or why more teachers seem to become rather unbecoming. Or perhaps we should take a good look at these teachers and take two steps back into the system which produced them. Our system is one that has not been behaving in the manner that benefits everyone equally. Ours is a system with sanctioned double standards.... else why should a rich Bumi get a 5% discount on a RM500 000 house while his 'fellow-citizen' who is a non-Bumi not get any discount? Isn't this also a form of gua tolong lu, lu sokong gua?

Kinda sad, the state of our affairs... but there's still hope yet.... I hope.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Much Ado About Nothing.. On Teacher's Day

It's almost middle of the year. The mid year hols is just a week away, definitely looking forward. Not that I've had a spectacularly different year or experience so far. There are changes undergoing but then again, changes happen, all the time. Change is inevitable, positive or negative; it depends on which side of the divide you stand.

Son is about to embark on the next phase of his life. And he has spent the last couple of months working, as in holding a real job. The experience has been good for him. We didn't expect him, an introvert to do well in an extroverted kind of job like sales. But then again, being an introvert doesn't mean not being able to do well in a field that requires extrovertism.

A few verses bugged me today... but I had to do a little search cos I had forgotten where the verses come from. Anyway, from Matthew 15:24, But he answered and said, I am not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Another one from Luke 19:10, For the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost. Looking at it in the simplicity of both verses. The House of Israel and the lost; and within a narrower context, as in within the confines of a church, our own members and those out there. Often we fail to build our own. We focus on those out there cos we believe they need the message of salvation. We fail our own because we are too busy chanelling our focus on the work on the outside... and so the possibility of crumling from within.

The funny thing was one of the things that got me thinking about this was a question put forward by my colleague during a Q & A in a recent inhouse training that we were forced to attend. He asked the speaker why is it that good students seldom seem to show their appreciation to their teachers. And on the same night, during church service, the pastor highlighted Matthew 15:24, well it was one of many verses used in a different context. It was then I was reminded how often we forget the forgettable ones among our midst. These are the ones who are quieter, seemingly lack obvious talents to serve in church. They are always deemed not ready, willing or suitable because they fail to measure up to our yardsticks.

And it brought me back to a response in my mind to my colleague's question directed at the speaker... the smart students don't need us teachers much actually. It's those other students who need the extra push, attention, encouragement, discipline who need us teachers more. Yet, often we focus on the able ones. We gravitate towards those we deem ready, willing and able. We pour more attention and hope on them. Am reminded of how some in church too sometimes, we fail to encourage and challenge those quiet or difficult ones by deeming them not ready... but that's so us too.

Today's Teacher's Day. And it's smack in the middle of mid year exams for most schools. And this year too marks the first time, my lil one wasn't too keen about pressies for her teachers. My own? It wasn't any deal...

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The teachers sang this song... what riled me were the lyrics or rather the lack of common sense in choosing this song, the last line of stanza 1. The lyrics may be 'cute' but this is not suitable material for something formal like a Teacher's Day Assembly. We encourage the use of colloquial language in a formal setting, not really a good idea since schools are supposed to be a place where we try to inculcate oneness. Or if at all humour is the point, then perhaps care should have been taken to modify some of the words, again to reflect oneness. Perhaps sama-sama Malaysians?

Years of practising 2 standards in labelling citizenship has erased quite a lot of what should constitute being a Malaysian. There has always been 2Malaysia. You can scream your voice hoarse the 1Malaysia slogan but it actually amounts to very little. Can you imagine a school where there are non-Muslim teachers and if you sing this song, in the silliest scenario, you can be implied to claim to be a Muslim. And who is to guarantee that your body (after you are dead) might not be snatched for Muslim burial because of this 'admission'. After all, we have seen dead bodies which cannot defend itself being snatched because some quarters claim that they were Muslims. Crazy as it may sound, we actually 'fight' over corpses here.

Teachers, are supposed to be the pembentuk bangsa... but tell me what kind of bangsa are we shaping, if we can't be expected to exercise care to ensure that the spirit of nationhood remains. This year we're supposed to be the agents of tranformation..... which direction of transformation, I wonder?

Much but nothing... in a week marred by so many comical but(t) in a way a poor reflection of what we stand for. And guess what, a lot of this display of poor character traits stems from schools....

Friday, May 11, 2012

Imagine: How Creativity Works ...by Jonah Lehrer

Guess what? Apparently there is a consistent link between walking speed and the production of patents; cities with unusually fast pedestrians create more new ideas. In Physics you get action when particles bounce off one another with velocity. And so the most creative citites are ones with the most collisions, which brings me to the next point. Bigger cities are better for creativity cos obviously there are more people and therefore more 'collisions' are likely, which means more ideas can be generated. Point is, people need to meet people in order for ideas to start flying.

I always knew it... daydreaming is good. Lol! These days people always assume that daydreaming is the act of a lazy mind. Recent studies however shows that electrical conversations happen between the front and back parts of the brain only when we begin to daydream. And its significance is the brain blends concepts which are normally filed away in different areas when these two parts of the brain communicate. The result is we see new connections and overlaps that we normally overlook - creative ideas and solutions. Some people call this moments of epiphany. Think Archimedes and his Eureka moment. That is an epiphanic moment. So daydreaming and epiphany are related.

And sharing is good too. Sharing of ideas will give rise to new ones and the latter will usually innovate. When ideas are shared, possibilites multiply. A multiplier culture is the result of creative minds at work. Reading this book also convinces me that dividing to stay in power is not a good thing, as what the government has been doing all these years under different guises. Interaction is good. It gives birth to innovations. Throw in the freedom to exchange information, the right set of rules and customs in place to make sure that the people can take advantage of that interaction, we'll do better than many of the countries which are ahead of us in this region. Malaysia is a country with cultural diversity. Just imagine what this diversity is capable of if all races are able to share in an environment of freedom coupled with good and sensible governance.

Talking about sharing, one of the thing I noticed about Daughter's friends is how reluctant they are to share. I don't know whether it's the kiasu-ness compounded by being in a Chinese vernacular school at work or it's just plain human selfish nature at work but her friends always seem to have one excuse or another not to share information with her. They have been times too when they actually made an effort not to share. I teach my kids quite contrarily. I believe sharing, especially knowledge because sharing helps to make us more dynamic. It is when we teach others that we learn how little we actually know. And that in itself actually brings about a realization which might subsequently lead to a level of actualization.

I enjoy the insights from the writer. The genius if Shakespeare would not have been possible had the England that he was born into not be made up of the right ingredients. The writer also highlighted the fact that very few companies last beyond the 50 year mark. However cities do. And the difference between them is cities cannot be regimented while companies can. Companies get regimented as they grow bigger and the spontaineity is lost.

Talent is everywhere. However, talent alone is not enough. Creative ideas and solutions do not just happen at that one particular moment without effort. It takes a lot of grit and determination.... a lot of hard work. And our present academic systems which focus on rote learning and memorising do not nurture creativity. They stifle because children who question or daydream are considered more difficult to teach. We do not encourage working with the hands. We think that the path to success lies only through academic success. The book is filled with examples of outlier achievements, attained through ways which used to be conventional but regarded as unconventional today.

The examples are many, and stories aplenty. Even though it's a non-fiction, I found myself thoroughly entertained throughout the entire reading. I might even do a second round....

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Placement Tests For English Teachers

I don't know but I think the MOE seems to be flaying hands in different directions trying to seek a solution to our dismal English standard. But we don't seem to be making much progress. If current situations are to be gauged, the language command is even worse now. And so this week, another attempt to revive our English - English teachers were asked to sit for our Cambridge Placement Test (CPT) plus a Pedagogy Standards for English Language Teaching (PSELT) assessment.

I think they're conducting it in different phases and my state happens to be in the first phase. I was sick and not around when they conducted the test initially. But apparently it ran into problems as the pages took ages to load or did not load at all. I guess it's probably due to the huge spike in the load the servers had to handle. Anyway, I was passed a set of papers with instructions today. So head still a little heavy coupled with lethargy, I went through it. Questions weren't that easy. I had to guess answers for one listening section cos my itchy fingers clicked on the listening icon twice. I was wondering why there were two listening icons... forgot that it was for 2 rounds of listening... *slap head* And I wasn't paying attention. LOL! So, had to make do with some guessing work.

Another change of policy, another flurry of activities. To which end will this latest endeavor bring us? I don't know. One thing for sure though, the standard is still declining. Teaching English is a nightmare these days. Having 4 classes (no thanks to a skewed KP) belonging to the bottom of 3 different forms is enough to convince me that I am barking up many dead trees. Engagement only happens most when I use more BM than English in class... simply because the students don't understand much else in English. Most people will find that hard to imagine, I know.

I was doing a 2 sentence comprehension with my Form 1 class recently. It goes something like this...Jack is my friend. He invited me to his birthday party at the zoo.

This was followed by 5 objective comprehension questions (I've become quite good at cooking up questions with very little) and majority of the students still were not be able to answer all the questions correctly. Some even got all wrong! And this is even after I read with them and explained the sentences to them. These are 13-year-olds, mind you! It used to be 10-12 sentences per comprehension but after discovering how some could not even copy correctly, I reduced it. And I am still reducing..... At this rate, I might as well be using flash cards to teach these 13-year-olds who have gone through 6 years of primary schooling. My Form 5 classes aren't much better. How to discuss issues when there is no language to begin with?

The MOE is also incorporating new methods of assessment which are supposed to look into the use of specific instruments to measure specific skills and ensure that students have the necessary skills as they move from one level to the next. However, we can deploy all sorts of programmes with glamourous sounding names but if a proper foundation is not laid at the elementary level, teachers at the secondary level will be just as lost, if not more lost. We are ill equipped to teach elementary level.

And one of the elements in the laying of a good foundation lies in the quality of instructor. You cannot get quality instruction if the instructor is sub par. And I think I am not wrong in thinking that there are many English teachers who lack the necessary skills. Sometimes, I cringe when I read some students' work which have been marked by their teachers.... I have come across teachers who cannot form correct sentences and they have post graduate qualifications! How on earth did our local institutions of higher learning pass out such grads? And I have read through marked students' essay with glaring errors. How can students learn the right thing when the teachers themselves don't seem to know?

I attended a literature course once and the instructor was super duper boring. His ideas were innovative but if one checks out enough books (or follow enough ESL sites) you find them quite easily. It was his delivery which I found totally uninspiring. Among our midst, there was an old timer of a teacher who would have been able to deliver a more interesting perspective. She wasn't asked. Suffice to say, many found the course boring. Wrong people for the job... how to inspire? And I guess that's how many of our students feel.....

So what next, after these Placement Tests? Will the MOE send us for English lessons? What about those of us who flunk (oops.... not flunk but those who score dismally)? Will we be given other subjects to teach? Will the MOE hire only those truly qualified English teachers after this? As for me, I look forward to the day I can switch subjects. Have had enough of teaching English...

The CPT actually is good cos if feedback is given to each teacher, it tells them where they stand. Without realization, there cannot be any step forward. Cos our teachers are like our students too, constantly led to believe that they are up to par when they might not be. This being a system built on preferential treatments.....

Monday, May 7, 2012

How A Story Gets Told In 140 Characters

Launched in 2006 Twitter has changed how news travelled and told. If Gutenberg's printing press liberated feudal Europe and enabled the emergence of humanism which freed the people from the clutches of clergy, the slew of social networking tools in the past 10 years has also brought about a liberation of sorts, one that feeds real time information to the people. If anything, it has negated usefulness of the old media. The Twitter world is always abuzz with happenings. Articles, comments and opinions, you find them all on Twitter. I resisted using Twitter for sometime until recently and after jumping on the bandwagon, have found it to be quite amazing.

News go online. They go viral and the 'next change' comes as fast as the real thing. The following is a compilation of tweets about Khalid Ismath, a young man who was one of the 49 wanted by the police for questioning regarding Bersih 3.0. I picked this because the event unfolded and concluded within a day or so and I find this amazing. It's nothing like the traditional news reporting that I'm used to.

A little more background. This young man turned himself in supposedly for some questioning but found himself arrested. And Twitter allowed followers of those people involved to keep us with the development live. I could follow the story from beginning to the end. Now how awesome can that be. The Italic words in green are my comments.

This is one of the earlier tweets about the young man's situation after arrest.
Haziq Abdul Aziz (@HaziqAbdAziz)5/5/12 6:55 PMKhalid bgtau yg dia mungkin direman utk 4-5 hari. Pmbetulan : dia dtgkap krn dsyaki membelasah sorg anggota polis semasa


Before the night is over, we follow that a candlelight vigil was being organized for him. Again this goes viral.... It's a no wonder today's regime can no longer control the amount and type of information that filters through. It's just a gargantuan task!
Solidariti Mahasiswa (@MahasiswaMsia)5/5/12 10:08 PM@khalidismath telah dibawa ke IPD Dang Wangi sebentar td. Skrg Candlelight Vigil akn diadakn di IPDDang Wangi sbg tanda protes!


Then we read that this young man has support from Occupy Dataran, a movement that has been occupying Dataran even before Bersih. The arrest of this young man has apparently become an agenda in their meeting for the night.

#occupydataran (@occupydataran)5/5/12 10:55 PM#SidangRakyat Agenda(3): Kes penangkapan@khalidismath



And we are told that someone was giving the details of the case to the participants that night. Supporters are being won over for the detainee even as he sat in the jail... or details of his whereabout and reason for his arrest are being shared. The tweets ensure that more audience is reached. They are also making sure people know that support is being garnered.
#occupydataran (@occupydataran)5/5/12 10:58 PM#SidangRakyat Agenda(3): Seorang ahli sidang sedang berkongsi tentang latar belakang kes @khalidismath


A motion of solidarity and we find that people were going to sit outside the IPD.
#occupydataran (@occupydataran)5/5/12 11:00 PM#SidangRakyat Agenda(3): #occupydataran patut tunjuk solidariti kpd @khalidismath & turun candlelight vigil di IPD Dang


Then the plot thickens.... tweets highlight the situation as well as what the lawyers perceive as unfair treatment to their client. If he had been guilty, they should have arrested him on the spot.
Latheefa Koya (@LatheefaKoya)6/5/12 9:38 AMhari hari baca utusan! tergamam bila kita tanya knp tak tangkap masa kejadian! RT@afiqmnoor: Saya berbual dgn seorang pegawai polis


By now you get the idea that Latheefa Koya is probably one of the lawyers representing this young man. She opines...
Latheefa Koya (@LatheefaKoya)6/5/12 9:57 AMall i can say if we have a fair judiciary- @khalidismath will be a very rich man! utusan showed frontpage some lookalike saying its


The young man is brought to the court to extend his remand but it was turned down. Almost immediately the tweets go out...
che'GuBard (@chegubard)6/5/12 11:04 AMTerus LAWAN! "@JERIT02: Khalid Ismath;Polis minta 4 hari remand ttp magistrate tolak. Kemungkinan besar akan dibebaskan di IPD Dang


Another (re)tweet confirming the rejection to remand him further
AfiqMNoor (@afiqmnoor)6/5/12 10:56 AMReman terhadap aktivis mahasiswa Khalid Ismath tidak dibenarkan. @LatheefaKoya#BERSIH3.0


Yet one more (re)tweet from another different source
Fadiah Nadwa Fikri (@FadiahNadwa)6/5/12 11:04 AMGreat job! “@afiqmnoor: Reman terhadap aktivis mahasiswa Khalid Ismath tidak dibenarkan. @LatheefaKoya #BERSIH3.0”


And then it gets interesting, you get the feeling that someone might have been watching too many police stories on TV. After the remand was rejected, the lawyers followed the van which was bringing the young man back to the police station. This tweet comes complete with a picture of the back of the van as it was being followed...
Nashita (@NashitaMN)6/5/12 11:14 AMMengekori van polis yang membawa Khalid dari lokap Jinjang ke IPD Dang Wangi.yfrog.com/h7u8eexj


Somewhere, a supporter 'yays' the release. I am sure there are many tweets with negative stuff too.
S.Gobi Krishnan (@SGobikrishnan)6/5/12 11:16 AM@FadiahNadwa @LatheefaKoya @afiqmnoor #BERSIH3 hebat. Hakim tolak dr diperalat rejim UMNO BN!


More confirmations with tweeter's opinion inserted. You get added info.
Nashita (@NashitaMN)6/5/12 11:11 AMDari lokap Jinjang selepas reman ditolak, Khalid dibawa balik IPD dang Wangi. Akan dibebaskan di sana. Utusan Malaysia dan


And more while waiting for the release. Ah! And I discovered that his father is quite a firebrand of a character too.
Nashita (@NashitaMN)6/5/12 11:38 AMDi IPD Dang Wangi menunggu Khalid dibebaskan. Teringat setahun lepas ketika kami juga menunggu di sini bila En Ismath ditangkap demo Libya.


Some snippets of other information. We can infer from this tweet that they've been made to wait rather long for something that has determined by the court. Many I think can identify with this feeling of exasperation (??)
Latheefa Koya (@LatheefaKoya)6/5/12 1:11 PMMajistret tlh tolak permohonan reman @khalidismath- dia dibawa semula ke IPD DangWangi-patut sudah bebas- knp lama sangat? k'ga menunggu!


And the development continues. From this tweet, we learn that they waited 2 hours after the court rejected the request for remand. By now, the reader will feel a sense of injustice too.
Nashita (@NashitaMN)6/5/12 1:17 PMAzan Zuhur sudah berkumandang di IPD Dang Wangi. Keluarga masih menunggu Khalid Ismath dibebaskan. Lebih 2 jam selepas dibebaskan Majistret.


It gets more interesting... a spontaneous comment. I guess this might be the kind of tweet that will enrage people in quiet ways cos there'll be people who can identify with such situations. It does not paint the police in a good light at all.

Nashita (@NashitaMN)6/5/12 1:49 PMBila ditanya di kaunter mana Khalid, polis jwb "dia tak ada di lokap. IPD Dang Wangi besar bnyk pejabat, kami tak tau dia di mana." What??!!


And finally this... ah! Disappointment in missing the release.
Nashita (@NashitaMN)6/5/12 3:25 PMKami terlepas aksi bagaimana Khalid Ismath diselamatkan bila Arul tiba. Kami keluar untuk makan sekejap.


The drama ends. The young man is out. And we get the impression that this tweeter is your regular Malaysian who enjoys shopping on her weekend, just like many of us. How not to identify with them.. LOL!

Nashita (@NashitaMN)6/5/12 3:36 PMSelesai drama pembebasan Khalid Ismath. Sekarang masa melayan @asiahlatif yg bersabar sejak semalam. Jalan-jalan di SOGO.


Throughout the whole incident which happened over a period of slightly more than one day, tweets from people involved enabled me to keep tab. There were a few sources. In Bersih 3.0's case, the input was even more extensive. Acts of violence were recorded, speeches reported live.

It is really marvellous how tweets have changed the face of news reporting, though it is also quite easy to conclude that the sway of the news' direction can be influenced too, like mainstream media. At the same time too, it is hard not to see why mainstream media is losing their credibility. The 'truth' no longer comes from only their lenses. There are just simply too many people out there, reporting as citizen journalists... and many false information too. Journalism is no longer limited to the chosen few.

We become our own censors. While people can be led to believe certain things but given time, most truth usually finds their way out into the open. This is simply because it is difficult to exert control over so many sources, many who act independently. And I think this augurs well where accountability is concerned. The many independent sources will also make it easier for information to be known.

If the 1990-91 Gulf War brought the war into our living room via the television, news follow us everywhere in a more pervasive and also intimate way two decades on. We were only privy to snippets of the earlier wars of the 20th century. And prior to that, it was only based on information passed down. Today, a constant barrage of information keeps coming in.

The invention of digital social networking is probably heralding in another era of revolution, one where there is dynamism and fluidity and demands the constant reorganization of the mind. If it had been the traditional print, we'd have to wait till the next day, if at all it gets printed. By then the news might have gone through a few rounds of laundry before it is deemed suitable for public consumption. Call it micro-blogging, Internet SMS or Twitter or any other name. Stories can get told in 140 characters, in spurts of 140 characters that is.

Interesting, isn't it?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Renewing A Pledge....

Some of us fall in love, get married.... and as the years go by, forget to remain in love. The harried lives we lead, the struggles to build a life and then the chase for our dreams. They sometimes deride the stuff in life that actually mean the most.

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So, once in a while it's good to renew that pledge, made so long ago. The church that we're currently attending had a sermon on marriage yesterday. And it was rather nice that the Pastor incorporated this part of renewing our marriage pledge to each other. Families are important. They are the nucleus to a strong society. And strong marriages are important. The couples in the church were invited to renew their pledges to each other again, a pledge built on the one made years ago. It built on what was and the hope of what it could be, the hope shared by two lives who came together on their wedding day.

Focus on family. I think most of us do try to focus on our families. But I think modern living has placed a certain demand that very often eats into the family life and blurs our focus. It's very easy to get caught up with our own lives. Two lives, two careers, two focuses.... ours, yours, mine. Thus two people can become strangers. In many marriages, it becomes most apparent after the kids leave home. In the busyness of raising a family and chasing careers, they forget to nurture their own relationship.

So it was actually nice for the marriage institution to be acknowledged, recognized and remembered. This, in an age where there is a slew of demands for acceptance of the LGBT issues. Where once marriage used to be for life, these days divorce rates are on the rise. And where marriage used to mean a union of male and female, these days it can mean a union of the same sex. Where kids used to grow up in a family where mom and dad are the pivotal figures. These days with mom busy working, the maid has taken over. Teachers become babysitters. Grandparents become parents.

I wasn't feeling too well, with the onset of the flu, but it was heartwarming for both of us to pledge our commitment again after more than 20 years. For me, marriage has always been for keeps. Most, if not all of us go into our marriages on a high. But often times the high loses steam. So, it's good to be reminded and to recapture that wonderful, magical moment again. It creates a magical point further down the point.

Marriage, they say is a bed of roses. Yup! But we often forget, with the thorns too, if I might add. Roses come with thorns. I think Other Half and I have had our share of ups and downs though I think we had more ups than downs, weathered through tough times and sailed through good moments together. We've had arguments and laughter, shared loads of stuff and times together but we're still one. I count myself blessed. Other Half has been more than good for me. I'd like to think that I've become a better person because of him too.

Marriage takes a lot of work, commitment and sacrifice. It's a union of 2 imperfect people with plenty of flaws. So to be able to make this far, it's indeed by God's grace. Renewing a pledge.... we're served with a reminder to keep that pledge, be faithful and true to each other....

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sitiawan MYF: Mr. Ling KN's 60th Birthday Bash

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This was the reason we were in KL during the Bersih 3.0 weekend - Mr. Ling KN's 60th birthday. Ex-MYF'ers came from far and near for this occasion. I've not seen many of them for many years though a forum set up by Daboss and FB have enabled some of us to stay in touch. And of course there've always been the CNY get-togethers too. But this one was different. It gave us a blast from our past....

Ah Hea and Alan put it together very well, the reason for the gathering. The reason for the celebration was we didn't want to wait for some wake service to eulogize our feelings and appreciation for Mr. Ling. We wanted him to know that all these years, all that he stood and worked for; we the ex-MYFers are in a way, his kids too, his family. It took a lot of love to do what he and a bunch of other counsellors did for us.
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The oldest MYF batch came from 1962 (yes, there are now ancients among us) and the babies of the group were those born in 1978. Only one batch had no representative, 1967 if I'm not wrong. One would wonder how a group with such a big age gap can come together with such familiarity and warmth. I guess one only will if he went through what we shared together as a group, one that often times transcended beyond the limits of our own years. I met up with Lui again, 5 years my junior. She was my pianist at our wedding. Both Other Half and I wanted to spend as little as possible for our wedding (money wasn't something we had a lot of those days) and these younger MYFers pitched in and did almost everything for us! I will always remember their gestures of love.
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And the man who brought us all together, Keng Neo. And this is how I've always remembered him. He hasn't changed much! He asked us to stop calling him Mr. Ling or Sir after we came out to work. But somehow, it takes a lot of effort not to call him that. So, Mr. Ling, he has remained to us. Some came from as far as Singapore. One even flew in from Indonesia just for the dinner. We were there because he meant something to each of us.

We are a blessed lot. Blessed by the likes of him... Mrs. Tay, Mrs. Tan, Ms. Ling, Ms Teoh, Ms. Tan, Mr. Leong and many others who enabled these people to be a blessing to us. They are the embodiment of grace extended to us because of their humility and a willingness, driven by a love for God. They challenged us, humoured us, gave us chances and ultimately changing our lives. Each one of us owed a little of ourselves in varying degrees to this outpouring of love from them.

As Alan, one of the organizers for this dinner said.... Each one of us who was there that night are where we are today in part because of him (and the others). The hours that he, together with the rest of the counsellors gave us.... They listened, imparted wisdom, became our sounding boards for so many issues including our choices of life partners for some and occasionally even our shoulders to cry on in those tumultous teenage years. Problems big or small, they listened and helped each of us struggled through, not just in words but presence too.

They provided us a place to hang out - the House of Grace. It was a place where we studied, played and hung out. Grace extended in a house built on grace. This was later continued when some of us moved on. In PJ, it took shape in the form of Happy Mansion, an apartment which became home away from home for some, back in those days when we were still looking for our footing. Having solid friends around in those years was good for us. I spent quite a bit of time there, at Happy Mansion. The apartment was always opened to anyone who needed a roof over their head in PJ, for various reasons. Bro was one of the occupants and hence my reason for parking myself there. And its occupants continued to help each other along, sharing as how we've always been taught and shown. Later on, when some of them moved down to Singapore, Peace Tower came about. So from House of Grace to Happy Mansion and then Peace Tower, a little bit of MYF Sitiawan went with us. And throughout the years, the spirit of sharing remained with most of us. In Bangi, a group of them rented an apartment and it too was always opened to visitors.
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For most of us, MYF was a very big part of our lives. It filled our weekends with healthy activities. Friday afternoon meetings were followed by ice-kacang after that. We ran the meetings with their guidance. Games followed Saturday Bible studies and Sunday morning was for church followed by breakfast with friends after service. And throughout the week, games at the House of Grace or school field would be on. During the holidays, our time would be filled with caroling and musical practices. It kept us busy, with little time left for mischief. And not forgetting, preparations for our weeklong camp too, at places like Cameron Highlands, Fraser's Hill, Penang, Port Dickson and so on. We roughed it out on school tables, dormitories and floors. Comfort level was never much of an issue cos the company we were with more than made up for it. We argued, fought and made up. Crushes were aplenty too. Lol! But through it all, we were always reminded that we are God's children. And Mr. Ling was always around....
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For many of us too, he wasn't just our MYF counsellor. He was our Chemistry teacher, a darn good one most will agree, our band master and role model. I think his greatest strength came from his humility. My greatest lesson from him was this... He said to us one day that for him to remain an effective teachers/counsellor, he has to remind himself to remain 17. Being one of us to understand us. Back then I didn't quite understand it but I do! now. He allowed us to try.... and fail. Mistakes and failures were tolerated. And we were continually challenged, to be better, more faithful.... They became the building blocks for the next stages of our lives. That I realize now is probably one of the best ways to learn in life. All these sterile learning that most of our kids go through today.... they give good appearance but lacks substance on the inside.

And so that night, even his sister was amazed by the turnout; the fact that so many from far and near attended because he meant something to us. Like Bersih, we went on our own accord. We wanted to be there. A meaningful weekend. In my life, I've only seen such a gathering twice, the first being Other Half's grandmother. When she celebrated her 100th birthday, people came from far and near too. And you know what, she was also a godly woman, one who gave her life to God's service. She once worked with the young ones too.... and she too was a teacher. Teachers are important. Good teachers make a great deal of difference. Teachers like Mr. Ling KN, Mrs. Moses Tay, Mrs. Tan YH, Mr. Leong CS leave indellible marks in the lives they touch.
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As for the dinner, it's probably one of the best dinners we've attended.... cos we each received angpow from him! Alan and co and thoughfully planned everything. 8) For a brief moment a bit of our youth was relived. Food was good but almost everyone was busy taking a few bites every now and then and moving everywhere, catching up. It was a sit down dinner but felt like buffet instead. We sang some familiar songs... there were sharings from Ah Hea, Alan, Yee Hui, Teik Leong and Samuel. Wendy led in the MYF benediction before we called it a night. Many of us hung outside the restaurant after dinner was over, savouring the moment, still catching up. And quite a few continued over a yam-cha session at the hotel coffee house. Late night suppers, that's what the guys used to do....

My kids do not get to enjoy such kind of growing up years that we had. We were an inclusive group, always reminded not to be exclusive. Everyone was important. Usefulness was not measured by how much talent one had. Service was not indicated by how ready one was. Instead, we moved together, making sure that our weakest link stayed as steady as our strongest ones. And Mr. Ling played a huge role in that too, watching out for these 'else-who-would-have-been-forgotten-kids'. He made them feel special. And when they ran into trouble with their studies, he helped them. Many of us went through our school and university years doing that. The older ones would coach the younger ones who needed it. More often than never, it's not just the subject content that mattered so much. It's the coming together, and encouragement and knowing that someone cared that mattered more. Those things can make us move mountains, dig deeper into our reserves to get to the goal. Every time we went for our hiking session during camps - be it up Gunung Beremban, Penang Hill or Fraser's Hill, we were constantly reminded that we were only as strong as our weakest link. So we included and grew together.... I wish my kids can have that sort of experience.

And that is why so many of us are successful today.... And Mr. Ling has continued to live up to challenges. He retired from teaching and picked up accounting. He is now a CPA! How not to be inspired when you have a gung-ho counsellor who used to tells us everything is possible and he goes on to show us a career change after retirement! 8)