Friday, November 30, 2012

The Rise of the Guardians

I seldom do the movies at the cinema of late. Sitting still for almost 2 hours usually cause my back to act up the next day. And this time wasn't any different. Had to deal with a stiff back (and the continuous pain) the next day. Age is catching up. Body parts aren't that well oiled any more. And pain stays longer too. 8(Anyway, Son was the one who put it into the kids' heads this idea of going for a movie. We've been doing tonnes of stuff this hols but not done any movie yet. So it was not surprising that everyone was super enthusiastic about the idea. And I got talked into it.....

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Finding a movie is a breeze these days with apps like CineApp. We decided to watch The Rise of the Guardians at Jitra Mall... for one simple reason. The kids wanted to adjourn to Tutti Frutti for frozen yoghurt after the movie.

We had a badminton session earlier in the day and so had to rush a bit to get ready. Friend bought the tickets on her way back home. Kids helped to hang the laundry while I rushed out to collect some goodies from another friend. We made it to Jitra in good time.

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The cinema was quite empty when we got in. There were two other groups of people in the cineplex besides our group of 7. Movies aren't complete without popcorn and drinks. So we got those as well.

The Rise of the Guardian had awesome animations. The story is about how Pitch and his minions tried to kill the innocence of the children of the world. He wanted to turn their hope into nightmares and fears, warmth into cold... the sort of evil schemes which are supposed to plunge the world into a cold and destitute place. Enter the Guardians to save the day... Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Sandman, Tooth Fairy... and an inclusion by The Man on the Moon of Jack Frost. Jack Frost is usually associated with the bad but in this movie he's the good guy who saves the day. Anyway, after some suspense and many intense actions, with the help of one sole little boy who continued to cling on to his belief of the existence of the guardians, Pitch lost and hope was restored. Where there is hope, there is also happiness. Jack Frost was the hero of the day.

This is a movie which probably would appeal to kids at different levels. Many Malaysian kids today are unfamiliar with characters like Jack Frost and Sandman. Santa and Easter Bunny are familiar enough because of their associations with Christmas and Easter. The Tooth Fairy is probably identifiable too. Anyway, it's action-packed enough to keep the eyes riveted to the screen. But many of the subtle and underlying tales (and origins) would probably be lost on the kids.

I think the themes are not bad... the belief of one child could ignite a fire for others to believe and in the end gave strength to the Guardians to overcome Pitch. Life is kinda like that too... we need encouragement from others to believe and hope often times. Strength from those who believe in us....

Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are the faces of commercial Christmas and Easter. The tooth fairy... well, Other Half and I used to play tooth fairy with our little gal, till we made a slip and our gal came to her own conclusion that her Papa was the tooth fairy. But all of us need a little magic in our lives sometimes.... the awe and wonderment, the belief in something, someone.... And we need heroes to admire too. So the movie was nice in that sense. Plus Good triumphs over Evil. Who doesn't like a happy ending like that?

And yes! We went to Tutti Frutti after the movie despite the rain. Friend and I decided to forego the dessert and sat outside but the girls were sweet enough to share theirs with us. In the end, they left theirs for us and went back inside to tax their brother's. 8) after Tutti Frutti, the kids were reluctant to part... so we adjourned for dinner at Rong Reang. Rong Reang is a Thai restaurant, quite popular in Jitra.

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This is prawn tanghoon... supposed to be my favourite. But this one seems to need rice to go with it. It's not a dish that you can take on its own, despite being tanghoon based.

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Our own local calamari... though not quite in ring form. They're a little heavy on the oil though. The kids are small eaters. In the end, I had to push them to finish this dish.

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Seafood curry. Not bad. On a hungry stomach, this would be a winner. Unfortunately, most stomachs had yoghurt filling up most of the space. So finishing it took some effort.

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Mantis prawns in dried chilli - Son's favourite. Incidentally, this was also a belated birthday treat for him from Friend. Since it was his favourite, he finished this one.... He has a penchant of ordering the same food each time we go out..... We need to make memories for the kids and ourselves. Time flies and before long, each one will be leaving the nest. Just like the Tooth Fairy who took the teeth to preserve the memories for each child... Memories give meaning to our lives. They put smiles (and sometimes tears) on our faces. Sometimes we forget the reason for many things. Memories sometimes serve as reminders and reasons, as Jack Frost discovered from his memory the reason for him being chosen to be Jack Frost and eventually a Guardian. As he remembered he became more convinced and determined that he should guard and protect the innocence of the children.

For me, this hols has been a journey of discovery too in a way. I am ever reminded that much of the meaning that we get our of life often comes from the relationships that we form in our lives. And these are memories in the making too.... It reminds me too of memories of recent past, when I used to do stuff like this for Son and co too....

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Muzium Arkeologi Lembah Bujang

It's been a busy 2 weeks (onto the 3rd week) of the year end hols.... one that has been filled with activities for the kids. And believe it or not, it's even more tiring than working! But one that is more gratifying as well as fun.

We've done badminton, gone out for many makan outings and so far made one outing to the Muzium Arkeologi Lembah Bujang in Merbok.

I first went there many years ago and thus was pleasantly surprised by what greeted me this time around.
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There is a nice recreational area in the museum grounds, perfect for family picnics and the kids to get wet playing in the water. There was a small group of people there when we got there. The weather was perfect for an outing too, cloudy.
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The place was generally well kept. Monuments and artefacts were mainly outdoor and they were well maintained and taken care. The grounds was nice and the kids had a great time running all over the place while looking at the remnants of the ancient ruins of candi(s) or stupas and artefacts, mainly from granite and laterite stones, from the ancient kingdom of Kataha. Among them were Candi Batu Pahat, Candi Pendiat, Candi Bendang Dalam....
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My girl remarked that it was the first time she had visited an 'outdoor' museum. (Most kids only think of museums as buildings which house old things). So an outdoor museum was a new experience for them. The above artefacts were used to squeeze sugar cane for its juice. And they're huge contraptions compared to our little modern extractors. Took us a while to figure out how they used those huge stones! There is also a building which houses other artefacts like the beads, porcelain, Shivaite lingga. soma-sutera (a drain like structure) and arca.
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Lembah Bujang was a very happening place back then. Back then was around 1500 years ago when getting together meant the need to meet up physically. And Lembah Bujang became the meeting place where international interactions and the exchange of goods took place. Of course these days, all these can happen from the comforts of our homes, regardless of location. All we need is an internet connection and the courier service. And our own homes become the happening place where all these social interactions and needs are met, though I think it lacks the fun of the physical interaction. The pic below shows remnant of stupas (candi) which were mainly temples dating back over a thousand years.
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And when people meet, it's only natural that not only an exchange of goods take place but that of culture as well. And so the candi(s) or stupa(s) were built so that these wanders or travellers could feel a little of home away from home. Eventually many of them stayed back permanently. This too contributed to our racial composition today too. If we were to trace our ancestry many of us would find that we would have ancestors from different parts of the world too... my kids are no different as we can trace their ancestry back to the Middle East!
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Lembah Bujang basically had all it takes to be a good meeting place. Well located and sheltered within an estuary with plenty of food supplies and good weather, the port thrived for centuries. Small rivers flowed into the hinterlands. It was purported that the Chinese traders would use these rivers to get to the old kingdoms of Srivijaya and Langkasuka. The traders from China and India would wait out the monsoon seasons here too. This went on right up to the 11th century. And because of its long history of trade, it is one of the richest archeological sites in Malaysia. Hopefully it will continue to be preserved. Our authorities seems to have a penchant for 'erasing' certain parts of history....
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This is a good place to bring kids to visit. Beats the sterile mall environment anytime.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Buffet Dinner at G Hotel

To celebrate Son's birthday, we decided to go for buffet dinner at G Hotel. We thought it might be fun to try out their Surf and Turf buffet dinner which is on Saturdays.

We left quite late for Penang and when we got there, the parking bays were nearly filled. Took us quite a few rounds to find one. The whole area seemed packed with shoppers and people out on a weekend.
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We had a couple of hours more to kill before dinner and over these for tea at...
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.. where we watched this, as the tables were located at a vantage point just directly opposite and above the pageant.
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A Japanese Princess Pageant was taking place. It was quite interesting to see it at first. The contestants also had to answer a question in English. Noticed that spoken English isn't that great these days. It was the first time we had seen an event like this. Didn't quite get used to watching the girls do the catwalk, Japanese style. They had to be demure but everyone of them seemed to have to walk tilted to one side, it seemed. Well, anyway, I am no expert in Japanese culture.
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Turns out the Surf and Turf wasn't much to shout about. I mean the spread was okay and it could be we aren't easily wowed these days plus our stomachs can't seem to hold as much food as we used to be able probably had something to do with it.
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There wasn't much seafood surfing around the turf of the buffet table. Some seafood like squids were sorely missing. I supposed they think fish, scallop, mussels and prawns qualify the buffet to be called Surf and Turf.
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The barbecue stuff was at best basic with prawns and chicken as the main attractions. And most of the prawns were overcooked, leaving them dry and rubbery. The cook did a poor job at the barbecue pit.
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The kids enjoyed the dessert section though.
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...especially the chocolate fondue. Could see that they enjoyed coating the fruits and marshmallows with chocolate. The rest of the food was okay, not spectacular but okay. However, we had a nice outing together. Kids are growing up. Times like this should be cherished. Our gal enjoyed every moment she can spend with her big bro these days, I can see.

We walked around a bit after dinner and did some shopping. Kids got themselves a Cluedo board game and we got a present for Other Half's godson... Got home quite late but I think we had a great time. And one more thing... it was nice to have a driver both ways too. 8)

Our boy is a young man already. How time flies.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

One week into the hols...

Holiday time! Been a busy week so far. Early in the week, visited a friend about to get married.
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We went out for a makan in Penang at Agua at Straits Quay... This was the sticky pork ribs that we had, together with some tapas. I forgot to take the snapshots of the rest of the food. 8(
5 of us, 3 adults and 2 kids. Was a get-togerher with this about-to-get-married-sweet-young lass, a friend made via volleball. My fondest memory remains the 1000 volleyball digs which we dig together. And we decided to just go out and do the 'girl-thing' one more time before she ties the knot officially. So, we took another drive from Gurun to Penang.

Friend and I have also brought our kids for badminton. Age shows these days... bones are creakier, muscles ache more readily and easier too. But the kids seem to enjoy the sessions. I think the after-the-games sessions of makan are incentives too. Lol! We've done swimming too, though after all the hard hitting session with a teenager full of energy and refusal to 'lose' to an aunty ( I still win), my muscles are rebelling too... so not much swimming got done.

Holidays can be a stressful time for kids and parents these days. School and tuitions keep most of the kids busy during term. During the hole, it becomes a challenge to keep them occupied. For kids who read, the problem more or less gets solved. When I was a kid, I remember school hols as times when my bro, together with neighbourhood kids would have activities all lined up. And we didn't need any adults to plan our time for us! The day would begin mostly with 'dawn-badminton' at the open badminton court near our house, late mornings ping pong sessions, afternoon insect hunting or a game of real masak-masak... followed by more badminton in the evenings. And, as and according to the musim, games of baguli (glass or white ones), top-spinning, kite-flying would compliment the rest of the activities. By the time nightfall came, we were mostly bushed. And so parents today find the need to take their kids for holidays... which I feel do not solve the problem of filling up all the free time, still. Physical play is good, even necessary but I think many of our children these days only play on the console... with their fingers mostly. (sigh) It's not very safe out there these days and parents are busy.... A generation with lost childhood in the making.

Am still hanging on to my World History on Coursera. Just finished my 4th essay yesterday with a couple more days to spare from the deadline, this being the 8th week of the course. I realised that it's harder to get any real academic work done during the hols as compared to during non-hols time. Have 4 more weeks and 2 more essays to go before the course concludes. Have done 20 peer reviews too. It's not easy hanging on and there are times when I have entertained the idea of abandoning the written assignments altogether but so far each attempt has brought pleasant surprises in the sense that I realise that they help me consolidate information and make sense of the bigger picture in ways I never did! That got me staying on.
This is a video from one of the founders of Coursera. Quite compelling her arguments. Found her explanation on how students can follow a more personalised curriculum and the statistics and the efficacy of the different types of teaching and learning educational. Technology will change the way education is delivered, that's for certain. And I think we're slow in adapting and adopting it.
2 Sigma Problem
This one helped me understand why some of the work among some kids that I've been doing has been quite effective. Individual tutoring's achievement score is 98% as compared to lecture style which only produces about 50%. And it goes back too to the importance of attention, I supposed.
But from my own experience on Coursera, I think what they have done and are still trying to do is quite fantastic. I've enjoyed the last 8 weeks of learning. And I am keeping my fingers crossed that I can complete it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cafe La France

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Jalan Irrawadi is a place right in the heart of Georgetown, where many of the post war houses there have been turned into dining places. It was lunch time when we got there but the weather was really nice, cloudy with a bit of sun. The big trees gave shade and made the place really nice. Many of the restaurants were closed when we got there. But this was our destination... Cafe La France.
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This place is run by a couple, husband is French and wife is Chinese, it is supposed to serve French food. This was Other Half's order of Croissant Yoghurt Chicken. He says it's quite nice. The croissant is buttery and moist.

Our gal's Streaky Bacon Carbonara. It looks plain and simple. She was quite grumpy at first but after her first dig into it, she was enjoying every bit of it. She cleaned every bit of morsel or strand in her plate. I guess that was indication enough of pleasure in her food.
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My Aglio Olio. Simple but fragrant with garlic and herbs. The slightly sourish tomatoes gave it a different taste, sort of like a burst of flavours whenever you bite into one. I enjoyed this quite a bit.
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Crepe Compote (banana and apple) with cream and generous shakes of icing sugar (I think). This is another form of pancake. Crepes are popular in France. It's supposed to be considered a national dish. Originally buckwheat was used because people were poorer but was soon replaced with wheat as people became wealthier.
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Another order or crepe... Crepe Suzette. Desserts with a sauce of caramelised sugar and butter. The ice cream goes really well. Warm crepe taken with ice cream tantalises the taste buds, I feel. Suffice to say, the last few pieces found their way to our gal's stomach.
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Lunch and dinner have separate menus. Food is good and price is reasonable and the 'ambience' is nice. We sat outside as the weather was quite okay. Sitting there, it was quite nice to see people ambling past the restaurant. An occasional car and motorbike would go past too. It's actually fun, outside dining when the day is not too hot, with plenty of big trees around too.

Jalan Irrawadi, Jalan Burma... the names themselves imply the melting pot that Penang was and still is. Once upon a time, not too long ago, ships from all over used to stop by and along with them came nationalities of all sorts together with the cargo in their holds. Names of roads tell us our legacy too. When we remove those names, it is also an attempt to wipe out that legacy.... and at some point not too long ago, many old roads lost their names.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Lone Wolf ...by Jodi Picoult

A father goes into a a vegetative state after an accident. Leaves behind a daughter who will turn 18 in 3 months and a son who ran off to Thailand 6 years before. Has an ex-wife but she's happily married to a lawyer and they have a set of twins.

Mother summons the son, Edward, home because there was no next of kin to decide as daughter, Cara is not yet the legal age to make decisions. Edward wants to end life support while Cara wants it continue, because she hopes that her father will miraculously recover even though doctors say it is improbable due to his extensive injuries.

Luke Warren was a wolf man, an wolf conservationist, a man who studies wolf. He went to the extent of getting accepted into the hierarchy of the wolf pack, living and eating with them. And the novel is interspersed with tales of the wolf packs, how they live and function to survive.

This is a novel about choices. Medical science can often prolonged life when life would have actually ceased. And it has made moral choices very difficult. The animal kingdom is a practical one... survival not enabled by all these modern trappings. And Picoult weaves the tales of the two worlds in the novel, navigating between those choices in the wolf pack and the drama in the human world. The latter is also world of secrets, tragedy. The former is about plain survival. Sometimes I think our world would be easier if we operate like the wolf pack.

It's an interesting book, one which reminds me that very often life can be simpler and easier but made cloudy by us because of vested interests and other reasons. And perhaps too why man is different from animals...

This book took a long time to finish.... 19th book this year.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Life is fleeting...

On my last day of school, I heard that one of my students had been electrocuted to death... at his father's roadside stall. Details were sketchy but his death was so senseless. He leaned against an electric pole and the next minute he was gone; the pole had come alive with current, probably one of the live wires had been exposed...

R was 13, and in Form One. I only started teaching him sometime during mid year, when we were forced to reshuffle the students according to sets under the MBMMBI programme. The set system caused problems of their own too as the movement gave the kids plenty of opportunity to skip classes. And R was one of the 4 who skipped my classes. Little did they know that I kept track of my students's attendance for every class...

I went round the school a couple of times, trying to hunt them down but to no avail. So finally, I took all the boys' belongings (bags, books) and lugged them to the staffroom. It was a matter of time before all 4 showed up at my table. They gave all kinds of reasons why they skipped classes... and of course, not being understand the English class would be one of the chief reasons.... Anyway, I did not send them to the PK HEM as it would have been counter productive. What I did instead was told them to get their parents to come see me to claim their belongings back, which they did not want. Having a record of their attendance and also of their work not done helped a great deal in making them realize that they were cornered....

I made them go back to class and think about what I said and told them to come back to me when they had a satisfactory answer, which they did. R, I noticed was the quietest among the lot. He hung behind the group, a little shy. I spoke to him in a little Mandarin as I found out that he had attended a Chinese primary school. He's Malay incidentally. It's easy to tell the kids who have attended Chinese schools most of the time as they are usually more polite and subdued. His forehead was a little big, I noticed too. I thought he had signs of hydrocephalus... (many years ago, I did a minor in Special Ed and one of my case studies with whom I spent lots of time with was a girl with hydrocephalus.)

Anyway, the boys came back later. We struck up a deal. And that was the end of them playing truant where my classes were concerned. From that day on, they were in class. R remained quiet and subdued but I noticed his eyes would often light up when I paid him an occasional compliment for his work. Only once he had to sit on the floor to complete his work but after that he always completed his work.

News of students passing away comes once in a while. It affects us in different ways. In death, I discovered that he was an only child. His name means blessing. He was a gift to his parents in their later years.... after many years of trying. I cannot imagine their sense of loss. His father is in his seventies. And the boy has an upcoming appointment to check his slightly bulging forehead. It was a senseless death. And it highlights the danger of all those open and haphazardly built road side stalls which authorities close an eye to. We live in the tropics. Wire insulation deteriorates quite quickly over time. I am not sure about maintenance but what I see around indicates that it's not that great. And we have fierce thunderstorms too... with more great displays of lightning lately. The weather feels 'fiercer' these days.

And on the same night, a friend called me up about her father stricken with cancer and requested that we go see him to assure and comfort him. And so went. He passed on the next day. It's depressing to hear of deaths and know that one is near. It's heart wrenching to see suffering. I don't know... I mean maybe the last couple of days have been days filled with emotions... hence, maybe the feelings tend to hit at a greater intensity. And maybe that's why many of us choose to numb ourselves with things that take our minds and emotions away from all these.... and in the process numbing out everything else too.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Moving On...

Most of us don't like change. The familiar is comfortable, even though sometimes having the all too familiar all the time might not be the best thing for us....
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My little corner for the last nine of my ten years at work. And I thought I was going to retire here. Making a decision like this is never easy... yet it's been a lesson(s) of sorts. I think I am heeding the still small voice, but I don't know where it'll lead. My own voice drowns out a lot of other voices very often and gotten me more than my share of trouble.

I've always wondered why abused wives stay on with their abusive husbands. I think I understand better now. We feel that it's the only thing we know.... because we prefer the known to the unknown. Change is difficult to come by because we are uncomfortable with it, especially when it involves something that is routine.
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The process of leaving behind the familiarity of the last decade has been hard. I don't think that I'll miss the work place much. It's the friendship which I'll miss... lots I think. Ever since I got news that I was going to move, this has been a day I sort of dread... I mean, I am really looking forward to the hols but some things change somewhat from this point. I'll miss some of my favourite food at school. We have a few food arrangements of our own ever since we decided to stop eating at the canteen a few years ago. I think I'll miss that too. I doubt I'll ever have another friend strong headed enough to forgo a convenience like that. And I'll miss having a friend who stands for what (and who) she believes in.... even when it cost.

I remember a series of talks on relationships during my MYF days; the different types of relationships that we have in our life - colleagues, acquaintances and friends. The first group is made up of people with whom we are thrown together. We have no choice but meet them daily because we work together. Acquaintances are people we meet at functions, through other friends... basically people we bump into, off and on but have no real ties. The last category - friends. They are the ones who mean something to us... but this group is perhaps hardest to really have..... and easiest to miss.

Good friends are hard to come by. A good friend who stays true to us is even harder to come by. I'm blessed to have a friend like that at work, loyal and steadfast. Though our friendship extends to beyond our work place now, it's still something that brings an ache in my heart when I think about it. I'm a sentimental fool when it comes to relationships. But if I were to sum out the support I've had from this friend in one word, it's 'unwavering'. That is the greatest blessing in my years there. And the hardest to leave behind.

There can be a few reasons why going to work can be an everyday event one looks forward to. I'll leave the 'earn money' part out cos we work for a living. Modernisation and specialisation have virtually ensured that all of us need to work because we are no longer self sufficient. Anyway, why work can be 'fun'. One, because we enjoy it. Two, because of friends. For the latter, I've learned that even the worst of days become very bearable and turn into lessons of sorts because there's someone to soften the blows, reason stuff together, watch out for each other....

Good friends represents a world not born because they help us see different perspectives positively. And also because they interpret our world in light and not shades. And the result is often the birth of a world of possibilities and discovery. That I'll miss loads. Most of the time, we tend to add fuel to the fire.... that's why we love gossips.... they come naturally. But truly good friends do better than gossip. They make us into better people and make this journey of ours very bearable.... even enjoyable.

I realise too that change is something that I don't embrace readily this time around. If I can turn the clock back to that particular point when I started this wheel turning, I think I might just have let that moment passed.... But change is necessary in life too, I think. If we sit too long in one spot, we become complacent. We tend to become set in our ways... (I don't think being set is good...). But, today, I hovered longer than usual, staying on a little while extra, doing what we usually do, talk... and that is a routine I'll miss.
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This is another journey into another semi unknown, with probably lots of adjustments to be made. I'd probably miss my little corner with the comforts that we've added along the years and the plants I've tended to. And oh.... the space. But what I'll miss most will be the company of a truly good friend. When next year begins in a month or so, I think I'll be missing quite a bit of everything that has summed up our last few years.... 8(

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

An Afternoon Tea in Suffolk House

An afternoon tea down the hallways of a building restored to its old glory self... and, with some imagination, will bring to mind, young men and ladies dancing away into the night to the music of the band, surrounded by a pepper plantation. One can almost imagine how it was like those days, back in the late 1700s and into the 1800s, this supposedly very happening place in Penang back then. It was a cosmopolitan city, with Armenian Jews, Burmese, Chinese, Europeans, Germans, Indians and the Malays.

It's the residence where Francis Light lived and made his fortune with the woman he loved and lived with, who was later betrayed by his lawyers of her inheritance. And Raffles had many meetings here too. Penang and Singapore share a common heritage. Both had been part of the Straits Settlement.
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We wandered into this area by accident. Other Half saw a signboard with an arrow to Suffolk House. A friend of mine had told me of her visit there some time back and we decided to take a look of the place. The sight which greeted us was a magnificent building that has been beautifully restored. No photography is allowed and I decided to be good and follow the rule. So no shits of the rooms. 8)

It's a tranquil place. The Ayer Itam River runs in front of the restored mansion. Incidentally this is the only Anglo Indian mansion in Penang and the entire country! Entry is RM10 per adult. Our gal was charged RM8. The grounds are well kept. The building has been magnificently restored though I noticed that there seems to be some signs of roof leakage in one of the rooms. There were different rooms arranged and decorated with antique furniture to give it a feel of that era. I love the high ceiling and the balcony. Imagine sitting there, sipping tea with tall magnificent trees around.... looking into your own little domain. The weather must have been lovely compared to cold and dreary England.
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The greens around, birds chirping... the trees really make the place cool. It's a nice place to read.I always think we're chopping down way too many trees and someday Mother Nature will make us pay for our greed.
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Anyway, tea was what we had at Suffolk House. Just couldn't let the opportunity of not having tea with all that history surrounding us.
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Of cakes and cookies... the apple juice is for our non-tea drinking gal. And butter and cream too with an assortment of interesting tasting jams.
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English tea will not be complete without scones; these are what the jams, cream and butter were for. And sandwiches with pies too.
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Sipping tea on a cool afternoon in a house where the rich and famous from an age past sat and ruled. If the grounds could talk....

You can't go wrong with Earl Grey. I've tasted better pies. The cakes were okay... but the place was nice. A group of ladies were yakking away when we walked in for our tea after our own self-guided tour around the mansion. They were still there when we left... it's a nice place to sit back and relax, quiet and away from the traffic congestion found in other places on the island. And as we were having tea, a group of young people came...
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A group of them was sitting on the grounds, sketching the building as we were leaving the place....

This is a nice place.... and oh ya! When Other Half asked our girl who Francis Light was, her answer? The owner of Suffolk House. Lol! Well at least that's something....

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Coursera 6 Weeks On

I am still hanging on to my A History of the World since 1300 by Jeremy Adelman from Princeton University on Coursera. Going into my 7th week, with 3 essays done, 10 peer reviews and 12 hours of lectures. And that's minus the extra hours spent re-listening to some parts of the lectures again. From the feedback given to us, there were 83000 people who signed up for the course. But for the first essay writing assignment, 1800 or 2% submitted their essays. But according to Coursera that's quite an awesome figure. And I made up the 2%... #grinning from ear to ear#

Going on a course like this takes great discipline, especially when I have work and family commitments. Making time to write is a major problem but I've done all 3 so far, not my best effort though, given all those other commitments. But this is something I took up on my own free will. The thing that has kept me going on are the lectures and insights which I've found quite fascinating. Interest has kept me going and having a good teacher makes a world of difference too.

The listening part was easy. It's the writing that I found needed effort. Lectures were easy becasue I could stop them any time and listen to them any where. For the writing assignments, one actually has to read up, re-read, think through and re-hash the ideas. Essay writing is a good way of consolidating what one has learned. It makes us think. One thing which has been reinforced is the importance of writing skills. At school, what we are doing now is just getting kids to memorise essays. This dumbs them. The skills for memorising at best are just remembering, perhaps a certain degree of understanding and maybe some application skills.

If one is to further develop the abilities to analyse, evaluate and eventually create, one has to be made to write. Anyway, this is what I've learned from this endeavour.

Back to the course. What would be helpful would be some real feedback instead of the awards of 1-3 for peer reviews. But I guess for a course of such magnitude, it would be difficult to have that personal feedback. Anyway it's free. I think the people involved in Coursera are fantastic people and must be quite passionate about what they do. Hats off to them. I don't know how far reaching the effects is but I think this is one sure indication that education is changing. And I think too this will make our education system obsolete.

Education in Malaysia is politicised. Well, if we don't revamp and make it relevant, it's going to be obsolete. Who needs to go to school when school comes to us... and none of our institutions even come close to those universities offering courses on Coursera... And guess what, many of these courses apparently count towards the credits too for many universities too. Anyway, having gone halfway for my present course, I can see why. 12 weeks of lectures up a semester's worth of work. With 2 hours of lectures, they do meet some of the requirement of 'contact hours'. Just that in this case there is no face to face meeting or discussion. But the course content is what we do at university level.

Going through the last 6 weeks have taught me to look at events and how they affect us from yet different angles and perspectives. It's a process of mind sharpening. And an exercise of enlightenment too, liberating in a way. Learning from the past, reading about world history, I've discovered that the world is actually smaller than I had imagined.

Finally, why even bother with World History? It actually liberates the mind and reminds us that who we are, where we are today... well, the past had everything to do with it. Or that there were other great eras. Every century, every decade, every lifetime has had its share of great achievements, folly and misery. Many same outcomes, different players. Many shared goals, different players. What goes around, comes a round. Life is a circle and in walking down the world's timeline, you somehow learn to see it. One learns humility.

This is education... when stuff like this go online and one actively seeks it out, that's education one is seeking. And I think we've got to inculcate into our young such an attitude - to seek for an education and not just passing exams. Passing exams is seasonal. Seeking education is lifelong.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Yet Another November

.... time flies. It's yet another end of the year. Another year to be thankful for. And a year to ramble about. Been a couple of weeks of rush; the usual year-end 'madness'. Am looking forward to the break.

Taught Form 1 this year and as much as I want the school assessment base thing to work, I am getting increasingly disillusioned by it. The last couple of months have felt like a flurry of assessments. In some schools, students were taking home stacks of assessments apparently.... and I thought assessments should be done in class. We have school based assessments for almost every subject for the first formers this year. And it feels like teachers are more preoccupied with making sure that the paper work is there, i.e. the assessment sheets (Evidence). After all that's proof of work done. These days it doesn't seem to matter, whether the substance is there. Form over substance. And as I talked to more parents and teachers, many of us feel that we might be waking up to a nightmare when our kids get to Form 5.....

I am not anti-PBS and I think exams are not indicative of students' ability. But I also feel that our system is ill equipped to handle a class based assessment approach too. We'll probably need a revamp of the mindset before this can work. Add a makeover in too... Can we undo thirty years of systemic damage inflicted in a time frame shorter than the time taken to do that damage?

And some how too, I seem to be meeting more 'feudal lord' impostors these days.... and bullies too. Our society is still one that is sexist and sometimes I think local culture has a role to play. And it's much worse among certain races. Schools are going on a downhill slide because of such people.... these are worst than the little Napoleans. Funny thing, when I first started teaching, there was so much talk about following all these Kaizen, musyawarah concepts. Kaizen is Japanese... change for improvement. I think we're totally not ready for that cos if we were, we'd still not be stuck in this feudal mentality. Plus, take a look around... do we really have 1Malaysia? Musyawarah strikes closer to the heart and the word has Arabic background with religious affinity too. Well, that's crap too.... bosses these days don't like to hear differing ideas... And so, no matter how practical the next idea can be, if it's not his.... well, go hang it.

With SPM around the corner... Majlis Restu too. I have an issue with this cos I think it demeans loads of stuff. Restu without hard work. Restu without good behaviour. Restu despite repeated reminders not to sleep in class. Restu despite so many things. It cheapens the core of our soul. I'm seeing more different types of candidates too....

Been handling exam related stuff for almost a decade and these days I see parents coming to collect exam slips for their MIA children. Children who have not been going to school. Children who refuse to go to school. And somehow their parents come, take their exam slips and hope for a miracle. They deserve to fail....  Parents hope against all hope for their children while the latter continue in their blissful ignorance while sitting at home and continue leeching. And guess what too? Some teachers actually hope that these kids don't take their SPM.... lest the percentage drops and a post mortem report awaits.

Best joke of the year so far... A new Principal brought a group of teachers to his former school because he felt that he wanted to show them his 'legacy' there. He felt that he had done wonders there, that they thought a world of him there. Well the joke was, when the teachers were there, his former subordinates said they were so happy to rid of him, that they even had Bacaan Yassin for him to get promoted....

We're a misguided and lost lot. A reflection of what has and is still going wrong. We have bosses who push for the wrong things and think they're great things. We've parents who are clueless and at odds ends. And teachers... stuck in between these two realms. All these talk about transformations. Don't people realise that for that to happen, the old must die first?

And oh yes too! We are going digital. I lose count of the number of websites I must log in... to key in marks, to register students, to update my data, to key in other information, to make claims.... mind you, each of the one mentioned represents one website. Each one with a different user name and password too. My mind is all muddled up... That I supposed is a reflection of how berkecamuk our whole system is... We talk about integration, we teach top-down (or bottom-up) management style. Yet in the end, integration is at best adhoc, very much like our racial integration thingy too. And the results of our Cambridge Placement Test which took ages to come back to us. This in an age of computer technology. I thought results can be tallied almost immediately.

Too few good leaders. Too many people who do buttering. We should introduce our own management style and market it to the world like the kaizen concept. Call it feudal management - ala Malaysia. Am looking forward to the rest of November....