Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Amelie's Cafe

Been inactive here. Blame it on the activity elsewhere. Am wishing for more hours again.... 8( But we took time for a short trip to Penang.
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This is one of the street murals that is identified with Penang. Two (very happy) kids on a bicycle.... on Lebuh Gat Armenia or Armenien Street in Penang. The bicycle is real... the kids are drawn onto the wall. This mural draws lots of attention.... I think it's quite cool.
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We were there for this - Amelie's Cafe. This was one of the places we wanted to try for a long time but never quite got around it. But on this particular trip, we were quite determined to try out the place. The plants have almost covered the entrance. During our last trip, the demarcations were clearer, from one plant to another.

Actually we would not have managed to eat here if not for a small series if mishap. As a result, we got to Leboh Armenia at 11.45 a.m., which was a good thing cos when we arrived, the door was still shut. Had we been earlier, we would have just looked for another place. Initially we thought the place might have closed down but after some probing through the plants, I noticed that the place was supposed to open at 12 noon. We soon noticed a group of 3 young people waiting outside.
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Almost wanted to give up as the doors remained closed at 12. They were 10 minutes late in opening. We were walking towards Edelweiss when it opened. I realised the smallness of the place once we stepped into it. There were only 6 tables in the whole restaurant. And the menu was on the boards hanging all over the restaurant. Orders were soon taken as we were table number two. But by the time our orders were taken, all except one table had been taken.
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This was daughter's Mushroom, Pork Sausage Meat with Gorgonzola Cheese. It's one of the nicer spaghetti that I've tried. The pork sausage was really nice. Yummy. The cheese went well with the mushroom. I think our gal enjoyed this though I think she must have probably wished that she could have more. 8)
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I had this - Gnocchi with Mushroom in Truffle Oil. My first time having gnocchi. Not bad. Gnocchi is basically thick soft dumplings. Again the cheese complimented the mushroom. I really enjoy their mushrooms. By the way, their plates are a mix and match, odds and ends kind of combination. The furniture too. Quite quaint and charming.
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Other Half says this is probably the best sandwich that he has had. Everything was just nice. The dash of mustard went very well with the salad. The vegetables were crunchy and fresh. There was a generous helping of bacon to go with the salad. Bread was soft and just right. Other Half is a sandwich fan. So this Bacon and Rocket Focaccia Sandwich with Salad must be as good as he says.
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This is their Crispy Bacon Salad. Suffice to say, our gal took most of the bacon. The tomatoes were really nice, sweet. The salad was basically light, and you get to taste each vegetable in it. I've lately begun to appreciate the individual tastes of each food. In a well prepared dish, that's what one is supposed to taste.... the original taste and not the overwhelming sauce flavours, which makes the food artificially flavoured, distorting your taste buds.
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Zabaglione - our dessert. I asked the proprietress to recommend the dessert. This wasn't too sweet. Very often desserts are overly sweet and you sort of get sick with the sweet feeling. This had a tinge of alcohol to its taste, just a teeny weeny bit of taste which makes it quite aromatic. Like the texture too.

There is no set menu. Dining is a surprise in this place. Food is according to the chef's whims. Walk in and the standard menu offers only drinks. I'd rate this a gem in Penang. Nice food with an interesting ambience. 8) And by the looks of it, there is no shortage of people who know of this place.

Oh ya! An interesting observation I made. I noticed that the proprietress is quite sharp in identifying those who come in for food and those who appear to want to have a drink. And I noticed too that Malaysians come short in the 'understanding' department. Despite being told again and again that they only accept guests who want to have lunch (as in have food) some actually say they want to be served drinks.... They do serve drinks only... but it's after 2, when the lunch crowd is done.

Friday, October 12, 2012

4 Weeks On... Coursera

... and I am still at it. I've actually had quite a insightful and wonderful time following my World History course at Coursera. I didn't expect to last this long. At this stage, I am only 1/3 through. Listened to 8 hours of lectures. Done 1 assignment and 5 peer reviews. There are 4 or 5 more assignments to go, if I finish this course. It's a struggle to find time to listen to the lectures but with each of the 1 hour lecture broken up into segments of between 10 - 15 minutes (some just slightly longer), it becomes very possible to finish section by section.

I've actually learned a lot. Shows that having someone teach still makes a difference. I mean one can always read but it's different listening and 'interacting' with a person, even though it's just a video. I'm seeing History from more angles, am still learning that there are more similarities than most of us care to know or imagine of events which have taken place throughout recorded history. The Philosopher in the Book of Ecclesiastes said there is nothing new under the sun. Having listened and read through some of the events in history, I think I see what he means. Only the actors are different. Why and how things happen... well, they sort of follow a few types of scripts.

It's end of the year again. Every year end, we're reminded to fill in our Latihan Dalam Perkhidmatan card, to make up the 42 hours of in-house training that each of us is supposed to go through. These days instead of the physical card, we do it online. And even attending a Hari Anugerah Cemerlang qualifies for LDP!! Fancy that! What training does one get out of it? Decorating skills? The Mesyuarat Agung PIBG counts too. I don't quite know how those things are going to make us better professionally. I mean they're school annual events. LDP started off with noble intentions. Somehow along the way, it got hijacked (like most things) by mediocrity, lack of funds and imagination. So most of the 42 hours on paper don't quite make us better teachers. But since they've started it, they'll have to let it continue.

We might as well just stick book reviews only since this is one sure way of making sure we learn something. After all, given to our own devices, most of us won't even touch any 'ilimiah'-like books. Some are too tired from the demands of school and home. Many just don't like to read cos the pull to sit and yak is very great. Actually, it'd be quite interesting to do a study on how much time teachers spend time in places like the canteen (or any other favourite yakking place - usually a spot in the Staff Room)... do something like a "productive hours vs the hours spent at school" study. It is interesting though, to note that canteens are like echo chambers. A colleague of mine just told me recently that she's going to try to stop going there next year... been hearing too much negative echoes, apparently. I wouldn't know since it's been over 2 years since I last stepped in there... after I found myself being charged indiscriminately for the food.

And so I wonder too, whether the hours I spent listening to courses online (like my current World History course conducted by a bona fide professor of History) would counts.  It's quite funny actually cos this definitely by far is the best course that I've taken this whole year.... how to find a better teacher than a Princeton professor of history, by the way? Lol! And what's funnier, I realised this is one course I took up on my own free will.... no paksaan, some more had to curi time here and there to listen and and even squeezing in more of the limited stolen time to write the assignment. I find myself looking forward to the next segment after listening to one.... Quite ironic cos in a way, it's also a reflection of how the system is failing to engage its own teachers... And we in turn fail to engage our students.

It's the end of the year too... a time when a stray (or more) student here end up with me. What do I do with these kids? These are kids who somehow got lost in our unengaging system. Almost everyone of them has a problem with History; some more than that. I get many such kids at school too. However, the difference is the former have had a change of heart. So, I walk down the path with them, hold them accountable, try to inspire them to to see the practicality of studying history. But that's another story for another time.

Anyway, 8 more weeks to go.... before the completion of this course. I hope I can see it to the end, if not all the assignments, at least finish the lectures. Free quality education. Who'd think it possible even a decade ago?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Stolen Life ...by Jaycee Dugard

If something of yours is stolen, you'd feel a sense of loss. The intensity of the feeling would indicate how precious that something is. But what if, it's your life that's stolen? Would you feel that sense of loss? You're alive and you do stuff which might not be normal to most people but because you've been doing it for so long, it feels normal. It's hard to imagine how a stolen life that lasts 18 years can feel like cos by a couple of years, everything would be so hazy.

I remember reading about her rescue not too long ago. It made news worldwide because of the length of time she had been in 'captivity'. She was kidnapped when she was 11 years old, turned into a sex slave by this demented man, Phillip Garrido and his wife for the rest of the next 18 years. And in that time, she had 2 daughters, the first being born when she was 14 and the second 3 years later when she was 17. It's hard to imagine that a person can sink so low to such beastly acts. And that another person can be an accomplice to such acts. And our laws? Do we give people second chances? Jaycee was abducted by a repeated offender on parole. Parole officers visited him. He even went back to prison in the 18 years. And they did not find out about her.

And he was all her world for the first few months. Later it expanded to include Nancy, his wife. So how would one know that their life had been stolen, when all that you get and know are just 2 people? It's hard to imagine. And the horrors of his sexual runs, how he used her, yet interspersing those abusive moments with rather normal everyday mundane activities. There were pets for her and the kids. She was even allowed to go out on trips to Walmart and to do her nails very much later in her captivity. By then she could have escaped but did not know that she could. She even had Internet connection where she downloaded materials for her children as she homeschooled them. Her world was what Phillip painted it to be. And that despite all the horrible things that he did to her, the rest of the world out there was bad.

Yet I find it amazing, her love for her kids. She wanted them to have an education. She searched for materials on the Net, printed them and organised their learning, despite her own little education. But I realise that even when a life is stolen and you seem to lose everything, not everything is lost. Even though she became Alissa, she never forgot her name or her mother. How do you go back to that one moment of your life when everything was frozen in your memory while the same everything has moved on?

But I wonder too, how she would be if the nightmare had gone on. Would she totally lose herself? Would she forever lose Jaycee and become Alissa?

Book 18. This is the second consecutive book (randomly picked) on the subject of abuse.  It's a memoir, written in a candid way, confusing at times but poignant nevertheless. It's a story of hope too, hope for the victim and her family. I cannot imagine the anguish that her mother had to go through. And coming from one who had just 5th grade education, I think it's quite amazing how she had managed to pick up her life as she went along.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Japanese Cuisine

Alor Setar has another new Japanese makan place!
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Japanese Cuisine - the newest Japanese makan place in Alor Setar. It occupies what used to be Light and Easy Cafe, at Jalan Gangsa. I went on the second day of its opening. The place was just filling up when we arrived at almost 6 p.m.
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Their menu looks and feels impressive.
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But they only sell French Fried... such a pity that this was allowed to happen. We noticed another error at the back of the menu. My expectations went up a notch or two after looking at the menu. The food looks real good on the menu but their labelling wasn't all that great.

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This was Other Half's order - Chicken Teriyaki Set. The chicken was well marinated and tasty. The rice tasted like normal rice. I think they don't use the usual Japanese rice. Miso soup was okay. They had this bamboo shoot to go with the rice and it complimented the rice. Unfortunately, the chawan mushi was rather runny. It would have been nicer had it been firmer.
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Daughter had their Sweet Corn Butter Ramen. I didn't try it but Other Half did and he said it was okay. Our gal liked it.
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My order of Seafood Tempura Set. This was a huge disappointment. The seafood was just prawns. Would have been nice if it had fish and squid. It had the usual tempura vegetables but the batter was really hard. I had a tough time chewing the almost rock-like tempura. This was the most expensive order of the day and it wasn't nice. I've always liked tempura cos they do it really light and crunchy. This one was a chore to eat.
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Endamame... can't go wrong with these. Boil and sprinkle salt.
It's nice to have another Japanese outlet here. By the way, Green Tea is RM0.60 with free refill. Recently Kaede Restaurant (the other Japanese Restaurant) started charging green tea by the cup. Food is still better there, though. I hear that a well known Japanese Restaurant franchise will be opening at Alor Setar Mall soon. Am looking forward to that.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Why Me ...by Sarah Burleton

This is a very short book. Finished it in one sitting. A book about abuse. Sarah Burleton grew up in the Midwest, had a emotionally disturbed mother who abused her by making her rinse her mouth with liquid soap and pulled her hair as forms of punishments. An unwanted child, her mother made sure she is reminded of that through verbal abuses.

The book had me hooked cos I wanted to know how Sarah turned out. I had not read any reviews about it or known of her. It's quite horrible what she had to go through but quite heartening that she came through it. Am sure there were scars but it's heartening to know that people have resilience to emerge from the turmoils of their lives.

Her mother wanted to abort but was made to keep her after a call from the hospital her grandmother answered. She remarried, had another daughter but was unfaithful. She did things like kill a goat with a BB gun, hung a cat to die. Yet at times she seemed to show some tenderness to Sarah. But Sarah left home, finished high school, married and had her own family. She tried to mend things with her mother but didn't work out. In the end she wrote to her mother, severing ties with her.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

So I teach...

... and I've been at it for more than 2 decades. It wasn't quite a career I entertained until my final year, when many of my course mates started applying for the Dip Ed. I had set my mind on a career elsewhere and had actually even secured a few job offers by the time of my finals. But Dad told me to finish my Dip Ed first and then decide...

My first posting was to a rural school. When I arrived, the Principal told me that their Form 3 had been without a teacher for 5 months. He asked whether I was okay with taking all 5 classes. Being quite gung-ho, I agreed. It was after that, I found out that the passing percentage had been 20% for English PMR the year before. My HM did not pressure me and I didn't know any better. I was as raw as can be for a newly trained teacher. But I dived into teaching the kids... I did lots of writing, made the kids accountable to me, became a tyrant of sorts.... but had lots of fun with the students. And they taught me about life too. I was in a border town and the small town me was often shocked by the tales regaled by the 15-year-olds. Lol! But back then English still felt like second language. The school was rural but kids could at least still understand a smattering of English.

Some of the kids would hang out at my place in the evenings sometimes, just to chat while Other Half was busy at work. We had a big yard and made plans to turn it into a volleyball court. That year, the passing percentage went up by 20%! The significance of the rise did not register in me though, being naive and all that. That following year, I took all the Form 3s again! This time the passing percentage hit the 50s. In 1.5 years we went from 20% to 54%. It wasn't because I was a terrific teacher. Nor did I hold any extra classes. All I did was conscientiously go into classes, held my students accountable for their work and engaged them. I took interest in their lives and they responded by paying attention. In fact, in the first 2 weeks of teaching, 2 school inspectors (one from the state and another, federal) observed my class. I had an earful from them about everything. And it formed much of my impression of what constitutes constructive criticism. Much of what I did seemed not to be right by them. But now I know that the results showed that at least I did quite a bit right.

Fast forward 20 years. The attitude of the students I have now has changed much. Sleeping in class seems to be a favourite past time for many boys, I noticed. They are a disinterested lot. It's still possible to engage them sometimes as I discovered with my Form 4 class sometimes but I can no longer do it in English with them. Much of their English lesson is conducted in BM now. Their lack of command is simply overwhelmingly debilitating. English doesn't feel like a second language. It feels like a foreign language! And when I see them incapacitated by their lack of English skills, I see a lost generation; lost because they have lost a tool to improve themselves. You see, much of the good stuff out there is still in English and many of our young people have all but lost that ability to digest them. The internet has made this loss a really painful one because the internet has opened the door of knowledge wide for everyone. Having the right tool helps.

For a while, there seemed to be a little hope. The English results have been inching up... even in my school, up till PMR the going has been good... at least numerically. As much as some teachers think that it's their effort, I feel we actually have the PPSMI to thank for. There was more English contact hours. But I think it'll be a downhill ride for a while after this... unless the MBMMBI is effective. But data is often times doubtful these days... the lowering down of passing marks, deteriorating command of examiners themselves....

Sometimes, when I go through students' (from other classes) exercise books, I see glaring errors which were missed by their the teachers. We now have many English teachers who can't tell wrong from right. Sometimes the errors are so glaringly basic that I don't know what to think of them. We have many incompetent English language teachers teaching English and they are doing much harm to our young. Hiding behind the veil of nationalism which resulted in mediocrity has all but seen to it that only the privileged have a usable command of the language. And so we trained our students to memorise essays. They get their grades but leave school without the sufficient language skills. And what's worse I suspect is many feel they are good... We know what 'thinking that we're good' does to us.

A student of mine recently went into a monosyllabic chant when I told him that he should pay attention to his teacher, followed by a retort that it's how his teachers sounded like and it puts him to sleep. I was a student once too. Sleeping wasn't a norm, that's for sure. I don't know whether it was a healthy dose of fear or our teacher could engage us. Perhaps we were just simply better kids but I doubt that.

Schools put kids through hours of extra classes now. Parents send their kids for tuitions to get more reinforcements. Yet kids don't seem to get any smarter. If observations of my own kid is anything to go by, I see her curiousity and inquisitiveness being dulled by all those extras... As she grows older, I notice the rush to complete the ever increasing pile of homework. I see haste in trying to finish the task at hand so that she can begin the next one. Play becomes a luxury... Learning becomes a chore. I thought learning should be play too....

So, I teach. What I see around me is more technological advances but less teaching innovation. I have also come to realise that while technological advances are great tools, they're but mere tools. It's whether the user is able to to use it to his/her advantage. Many of us fail....

Monday, October 1, 2012


A while ago when the MOE proposed that exams be abolished and be replaced with the PBS (School Based Assessment, I thought it was a good idea. Almost a year on, am not so sure any more. The Form 1s are not supposed to have any exams and I think it might not be the best thing for them. The class assessment somehow isn't quite the same. Teenagers ought to get used to being challenged... and I think PBS doesn't quite do that. There is no real sense of achievement attached to it.

I am beginning to feel that it's UPSR which should have been abolished and not the PMR. Teenagers are not like younger kids. They need to be pushed. Not having exams at primary level might be better cos it removes the pressure of scoring 'As'. It gives teachers more breathing room to inculcate the love for learning; although we need really good teachers to do that.

I think many parents might be waking up to a nightmare of sorts when their kids get to Form 5. Cos that's when they're going to find out how inadequate their kids are.

Assessments are good. It's just that after looking at how everyone has been rushing through them this year has made me realise that the teachers seem more concerned about making sure the evidence that the assessments have been carried out are there. After all, when audit is carried out, that would be how they measure the running of the PBS.

The preliminary National Education Blueprint has noted that only 50% of the lessons delivered are not done in an effective manner. I've been wondering what constitutes 'effective' the last couple of weeks. Information is readily available. The Internet made sure of that. Lessons come into our homes. There are just so many resources out there these days and they're quite readily available. All you need is an internet line and an attitude.

I have been on Coursera for 2 weeks. In 2 weeks I learned a lot. An email from Prof Jeremy Aldeman to the course participants made me realise something... he wrote that someone had approached him and commented that the videos were not as engaging as attending his lectures in person. Today, that remark was reinforced to me in my English class.

I teach this Form 4 class where majority of the boys are well-known for their ability to doze off or just not pay attention. But this morning, somehow, my lesson with them drifted into history. I incorporated History into my English lesson and I used one sentence as the starter... All roads lead to Rome. An interesting Q&A ensued after I managed to get the students to see the implications of roads leading to a single point... And we wandered into entertainment, gladiator fights to the death, our spa as compared to the Roman bath houses....and of course the glory of the Roman Empire. Today became one of those rare days when I had everyone's full attention. Every single one of them!!! And the reason was simple. They felt engaged. That's what is required of teachers these days... the ability to engage students and make them see the relevance of learning something.

PBS or School Based Assessment is supposed to make learning more meaningful. It's supposed to keep track of individual student's progress; so that no kid gets left behind. Assessments, graded according to bands are keyed into an online portal under the NKRA initiative are supposed to enable parents and teachers to keep track of the progress. It sounds good on paper...Well, it's been a few months we've had this thing running and most of what I've been seeing is this mad rush to make up for evidence for lessons taught early of the year; about 5 months worth of them. So what many teachers have been doing is they give out sheets of papers for students to do so that they can key in the grades. And much of everything else has suffered as a result. Paper evidence, not real teaching (or learning) is the key preoccupation now.

The existing system is mired with the usual problems. The ranking and reward systems, labelling of schools, etc, etc have all created this mad chase for them. Education becomes performance based; just that it's not the individual student's. Statistics becomes of utmost importance. We chase those because every percentage point means a position gained or lost. And rewards are based on those statistics. Statistics are not supposed to lie but these days I think we've discovered creative statistics so that we can paint a picture of success.

It's just one of so many things that have gone wrong in our midst... skewed system as a result of skewed practices stemming from skewed values. We are totally skewed!!!