Friday, December 4, 2015

Of Being Trapped, Born Privileged and Education

If you are locked away in a cell forcefully, you will be trapped for as long that incarceration remains. But, what if you are trapped in the cells that you wittingly or unwittingly got yourself in?

Was in Genting recently for the a Music Art Festival with my students. It was a relatively huge affair, if you count 3000 plus participants as many. There were some international invitees... and scores of teams from schools all over the country. Three days of continuous feeds of music, from recorders to Chinese traditional instruments; the halls were filled with sounds of musical instruments, playing all kinds of music. The exposure was good for the students. They could measure themselves up against the really good teams as well as the struggling ones. In a massive hall like the Grand Ballroom, it was hard for the musicians to hear each other and so, some teams actually had a hard time keeping up with each other. So, to be able to listen to them play in harmony was a great experience too, more for the participants, I guess.

Three days of being locked up on a hill resort under renovation. The outdoor theme park is no more there cos it is making way for a new 20th Century Fox Theme Park. Genting is now limited to just that small space of hotels... and casinos. Everything else is being rebuilt.
 
The rooms we stayed in were really small. The bathrooms were so tiny that you can't even turn when you bathe. In that kind of space, you have no space to avoid the the scalding hot water. That means you actually have to stand outside the bathroom and let the shower run while checking the temperature.
Yet the place was crowded. This is the hotel lobby and I felt like I was in the train station. Everywhere was jammed pack with people. Yet this lobby was not like any other hotel lobby that I knew cos it did not lead to the outside clear sky directly. Instead the lobby led to this dimly lighted tunnel which brings in buses, cabs and vans. As a result, the lobby and the corridor adjacent had this odour of fumes hanging around all the time. By the second day, each time I went down, I was quite easily agitated. By the third day, it felt like I was perpetually drugged. This has to be one of the more toxic hotel lobbies I have ever been. Yet everyone wandered around, nonchalantly, unperturbed by the fumes or the noise.

Apart from the 3000 odd participants for the Second Malaysia International Music Art Festival plus their whole host of supportive Ah Kong, Ah Mah, Daddy, Mummy, Aunties, Uncles, Brothers, Sisters and other extended family members, the usual casino visitors were all there. The whole place was brimming with people. It rained in torrents on the first evening and I think most of the visitors in this. I had to walk to the adjacent hotel through a series of walkalators/escalators over a rather long distance before getting to an exit. The mist was thick and it was chillingly cold. I was cold to the bones.

The complex made me think of The Matrix. It is so easy for one to forget the real world once you are inside. And this is where I think they are hugely successful in getting people to come back and while there, spend. Casino entrances can be found at almost every turn.

Yet if you really observe the surroundings you find too, noticed a few things too. Casinos for the 'haves' and 'have less' exist here too. One hotel with cramp and tight spaces. Another hotel with a Lamboghirni had all these high ceilings, wide spaces and nice looking restaurants.
The Music Festival... it's quite clear that this is for the elite schools too. I don't think I saw any kampung schools here. MCKK was there and we all know how elite this school is. There were many Chinese vernacular schools too. This probably indicated that many of these schools could get outside funding for their students. Funding was necessary as there is a fee of RM100 per participant. The smallest group I saw was 8 people and that's RM800 for participation. Some bigger groups had more than 60 people. Also, the accommodation is not part of the fee. Each kid who was there had to fork out at least RM250 to take part if they are not able to find sponsorship... and that's just the minimum according to my calculation. The national schools which were there mostly belonged to the elite group - high performing, cluster. And many of the kids had a trail of family members up to this highland resort too. The parents could afford the trip and the stay up too. So, even in co-curricular activities, the line dividing the classes are very clear too. But the clear winner here I supposed would be the owners of where the competition took place.

A month or so back, I took students for the National Robotic Competition where I saw the same scenario more or less playing itself out. Lego Mindstorm is not exactly cheap. Only schools which can afford to spend tens of thousands will be able to give their students the opportunity of taking part. 
Generally rural schools will continue to lose out. Education as a great equaliser might not actually play out its role all that well. Being born in the right family, attending the right school, knowing the right people... all those play a more important role than one's IQ. Actually, many of us made it not because we are good or talented. The former play a more important role than many of us might care to admit.

As for Genting... for me, it was an artificial place. But despite all that, for a while, I too can just sit back and relax. After all, if the any of the bathroom fixture wasn't working, all I had to do was just to inform Housekeeping. If I needed a clean towel, just ring for one too. Oh ya... The same goes for cleaning the room. Put up the sign requesting for a clean-up and it's done by the time you get back to the room. At home, I have to see to all those.... The Matrix is not all that bad.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Aman Central - A Lifestyle Beckons

For many of us, an occasional trip to Penang often means going into a city with all its glitzy malls, branded goods and chic restaurants.

Aman Central opened on the 1st of this month. H&M, Chi, Sakae Sushi, Padini Concept Stores, Nando's, Starbucks... with one opening of this new upmarket mall, a new lifestyle is emerging. Coffee above RM10 a cup, gym in a mall, hawker food in a posh environment, everything shiny, bright and inviting. Where once, Alor Setar used to be a city with a town kind of lifestyle, this will surely and subtly infuse a lifestyle of branded names.

You walk into the mall and you can feel the difference. Baskin Robbins at RM10 per scoop. We used to balk at such prices for ice-creams. Yet if you look at the traffic at the ice-cream parlour, you would think that the people don't seem to be batting any eyelids where the price is concerned. Expensive clothings are flying off their racks too. The economic slowdown doesn't seem to show yet.

But perhaps that lifestyle has always been there. It was just that there were no avenues for it to be gauged. I was admiring a pair of shoes which was almost RM400. There were at least 5 pairs hanging on the rack. A few days later, they were gone, replaced by another series. Maybe the opening of this mall is good for the local economy. It is too soon to tell but already hawker centres in the viccinity are undergoing their own facelifts.

Yet there are still little tell-tale signs of small town here. Patrons who seem lost in the vast multi-tiered parking lots. One pakcik even drove against the traffic coming down the multi-tiered carpark. Toilets are smelly and wet. It feels as if those using it don't quite know how to keep the floors dry mostly. But these will surely change.... hopefully.

The official opening will be held in November. Not all outlets are operational. Not all business space is occupied. It is almost a month down the road. Cars still jam up the place, albeit at specific times now. Some businesses are thriving but there are those which are struggling too. But whatever it is, this mall heralds something new to this town-like city.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Parking Lot

Son started work this year. Like many of young adults entering the job market, the place to start.... the bottom. It's a place devoid of perks. And like most parents whose kid has just started work, conversations evolved around his new phase. In one of our conversations, it got to the parking issue. When you are a junior, you sometimes don't even get a parking pass. In cities like KL, everything is congested and packed. Parking costs. And so, he told me.... some day he is going to have his own parking lot.

A parking lot. Those in the senior positions often get their own parking lots. Senior managements have designated parking lots. The bigwigs get paid parking lots. Small people with limited $$$ pay for their parking lots. Ironic, huh? Somehow, doesn't it feel like it's always 'one-up' for the privileged?

The parking lot conversation made me think about leadership. Contrary to what people say about being given the opportunity to serve as a leader, I think it is more about owning the privileges than anything else. A parking lot is just one of many, a symbol of position and power.

I once parked my car in a designated shaded car park by mistake. Being new, I did not realise that some of the lots nearer to the main entrace were designated parking lots too. I only parked there for a day as the usual place I parked was undergoing some construction. I am usually very early to work. In the gray light of dawn, I missed the sign above. A few days later, as I was walking, a voice called up to me and asked whether a certain number plate was my car. I said yes. And immediately after, I was reminded that it was his parking lot. A parking lot serves too as a reminder of position. When that position is deemed to have been trespassed, there seemed to be this need to reaffirm that position.

Parking lots are symbols of power. Go anywhere and you will see designated parking lots. In olden days, the division of our social structure was very clear. The world seems to have move on but the feudal mindset has remained entrenched as ever. Leadership comes with even more privileges. In the olden days, generals and kings would lead the charge in a battle. They stand an equal (if not more) chance of dying in the battlefield. History is filled with stories of such leaders. Fast forward a few centuries, leaders these days hide behind an amazing array of defences. And they tell us we need to keep them alive to lead us.

Service.... If at all it is service that is the core of leadership... Privileges and recognitions. I think they ring truer for reasons to lead. A leader gets a private jet. Small people never get that.

Parking lots are about wealth and power. Take a walk in a condo and an apartment. The difference is clear for all to see. Designated and none designated. Shaded and road side parking. Parking lots... We need to buy them or get them designated to us. Either way, they point not to humble leadership but arrogance of power and wealth.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Seasons

When you are a kid, you tend to think that things would remain very much the same. You can't wait to grow up cos everything seems so out of reach and you can't wait to have those things you desire. Then you finish school, university (for some) and then work. Everyone around you goes through almost the same path. Most get married, have kids, move on. Time begins to whizz past. Before long, a few decades would just pass by.

We talk about kids growing up... then we feel a sense of pride when they move on too. Then they leave, just like many of us did not so long ago. We encourage them to spread their wings, fly high, reach for the stars, as our parents did so long ago. 

We set them on the path of life as we know it. That's where I sometimes wonder the wisdom of the way we perceive things should be. Kids fly high and far... I am okay with the 'fly high' but far? These days I am not very sure. Kids who are far... once in a while we pop in to see our parents. The further they are, the less often they pop in. The old adage, "out of sight, out of mind" rings true. The old ones get left behind... but that cycle plays itself over and over again, maybe pushed by the insatiable drive for a better something.

Used to think that things are set. These days, am not sure whether it's yet just another thing manufactured, invented by us. Ideals can be manufactured too, like many things. For the sake of social order, perhaps. 

Seasons come and go. But perhaps while they come and go, how we live those seasons or how we celebrate them might not need to be similar as in the ages before us.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Mid Year... Another One Come By

Time flies when you are busy... and crawls when you are not.

Busy is the word these days and so time tends to feel like it is whizzing past. Ringgit is at a very low point. GST is in full swing. Cost of living is high and everyone feels the pinch. And petty issues hog the newspaper. Sarong, towel and even a guy in a cute pink shorts denied entry to KLIA office to claim a lost baggage. What is becoming of the country that we dwell on the outward appearance.

The royalties seem to be a little different this time around. A dig into the archives of an old treaty highlighting the right to secede, pardons for the activists who took part in an unlawful assembly back in 2009, an idealistic young man just back from Geneva to face a possible jail term... there might still be hope yet for us.

Being stuck... ever feel like you are stuck? Feel that a lot too. Institutions around us feel like jailhouses actually. Inequality resides in even the most sacred of them too. How does one get out of being institutionalised for life? Yet everyone of us is a jailbird, one way or another.

Adolescents.. how is that I feel there is a general deterioration of everything. Met many parents over the week too and this stood out. There are more disappointed and a number of angry ones. The reason... their kids. Kids seem less able to empathise with the struggles of their parents. Parents too don't seem to be able to connect with their kids. Majority suffer from the lack-of-time syndrome. Tuitions, school activities fill one end of the spectrum. The busyness of life fills the other. 15-year-olds still go to after-school-daycare. Parents can't leave them at home. Fifteen!!! Babysitting still needed.

I've done some new things too this year, things I never thought I would do. Learned a lot about bricks and mortars. There are so many types of cements out there! Sat and watched cranes and mixers work. But skills... oh, they still do matter a lot. Attention to big and small stuff... they sap your energy and attention span too.

Mid year.. mid term at midlife. The coming of the autumn of life...

Monday, June 15, 2015

Keeping To A Standard

What does it mean? Standard? Yardstick? Rule? Law? Just watched a video on TED of a song presented by lifers, people with incarcerated with no hope of parole. 30, 40, close to 50 years in prison, for a wrong done. No hope out. Lifers... one might be excused for thinking that the word implies something that is eternal in a positive way.

Made me think. A sin is a sin.... big or small. Still a sin. No compromise. Yet we still measure them with different yard sticks. Made me think too. If all these ideas that we have are all just a brew made from the ingredients we put in.

This coming at the heels of the slew of comments of a gold medalist gymnast whose attire became a subject of criticism. Yet the same people reserved their comments when it came to cigarettes or footballers who are also not 'correctly' attired... if the same yardstick is used.

There are so many differing standards actually.

Or we could just say all these are just efforts to strive for perfection, which all of us, I suspect, know will fail miserably. I guess some sins are just not pardonable. Pearly Gates and Hades work along that premise too, I supposed. There is always an if, a caveat, an exception.... So, these lifers are condemned a lifetime.

Haves and the have-nots, rich and poor, the leaders and the servants, one gender role and the other gender role.... there is always this great divide. Woe is the one on the other 'wrong' or lesser end of the divide.

Just some ramblings.....


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Of 3D Printing, Lego Bricks and Stuffs...

Teaching is so filled with help these days. I do formative and summative assessments online with my students. I keep in touch with my students via the communication network... email, What's App, iMessage.... I can't keep up with all the new apps. I collaborate with students in the cloud which comes in all kinds of names these days. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.... the list seems endless... There are Dropbox, Box, Drive... again another long list. From the big bulky desktops, we have moved to chromebooks and who knows, perhaps tablets will be making their presence felt soon too. They are already in many places.

I use AppleTV to transmit lessons on the screen, write on little tablets instead of chalkboards. Mind maps make appearances with great ease because apps make it possible. Videos and animations too with great frequency. Students submit homework online. I still use the exercise books, though but they seem such a waste. Papers come from trees and we waste so many pages in an exercise book each year.

When I started teaching, cyclostyling was how we did the printing. You type on stencils with the clunky typewriter and had this red liquid which worked like an eraser for mistakes. It was a wow moment when dot matrix printers made their appearances at work places. Then came the laser printers. These days I mostly print my own worksheets. But most of the time, it's a mix of digital screens and papers. I try to minimise the use of papers whenever possible.

Then the Overhead Projectors came about.... followed by the visualisers and projection panels. Then as computers became more common, projectors made their presence felt. Chalkboards will probably be a thing of the past soon. LED screens, AppleTV,  Chromecast, smart tv and the most recent addition is the 3D printer. It is quite amazing what a 3D printer can do. From chocolates to titanium, these printers are able to print I have read. And they print even complete houses too, cars as well and homemade toys. As a kid, I think I never imagined such changes. Goes to show how small my world is.

My students play with Lego bricks, lego with brains, NXT, EV3... And these are for co-curricular activities. When I was a student, I knew only of one type of band and my school band was already quite special back in the early days in the sense we had a bagpipe section. These days kids in my school are spoilt for choice... 24 Seasons Drums, Chinese Orchestra, Brass Band and even a Symphony Orchestra. 

Lessons used to to teacher dependent within the four walls of a building. These days we have the world wide web to help us. All kinds of gurus reside there, in places like Khan Academy, Crash Course, UdaCity, Coursera and so on. If you want a visual instruction for a hobby, YouTube is available. We are even beginning to have our own homegrown versions. Recently students in Kedah were given access to Kedah ETutor where the video content is based on our very own curriculum.

However I guess too, if we are to ask the generation before us how it was like... I think their tale will probably be in the same tone too, albeit about different things. After all, theirs was a generation of huge leap in transportation and communication too....

But despite all these amazing development, I wonder too whether we have all become wiser and more resilient? Point to ponder. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Second Wind...

... or it could be third. I don't know. These days, I realise that the older I get, the less I actually know about the world I live in. We grow up, thinking that the paths that have been laid before us are known paths. I think they are not. Everything around us is actually more fluid than we know

Today, an earthquake hit Sabah. When we learned Geography in school, one of the things our teachers used to tell us was Malaysia is a country spared of natural disasters like earthquakes. The one natural disaster which we experience regularly is probably just the floods. But things have been changing. We experienced a tsunami when an earthquake hit Acheh back in 2004. And now an earthquake has hit one of our states.

One of the things I sometimes show my students is the computer simulation of earth's transformation in 5 billion years... a ball of nothing, ice ages, emergence of landforms, Pangea and the breaking of the supercontinent into smaller continents.... It is always amazing (and educational for me) to see their faces when they see Earth like nothing they have known. You see, I learned one thing watching these young faces. They are a product of a learning environment which does not teach these young minds that things are never always quite the same... though the behaviour that governs our actions may sometimes have some similarities.

Even the institutions that exist in our society, they have never been there all the time. Like life, they experienced birth, growth and death. But because we have only one lifetime, most of us think that things will remain the same... and so we pass on what we know to our children... Yet nothing actually is what they seem to be. Things will continue to change and evolve.

Recently researchers say gender equality was actually the norm in Paleo cultures. It became unequal when we no longer need to forage for food. Technology actually brought about gender inequality, it was postulated. At the turn of century we began to see the struggle for the emancipation of women.

The role of religions... It is interesting to read how they have kept dynasties in power and lent authority to those who claimed they were anointed mouth pieces. Empires have been built around religions. Wars have been fought over them too.

Feels like I am living in the Matrix....

Ramblings after an earthquake in Sabah....






Friday, May 15, 2015

A piece of ^%$#@*&

I have never been so cheesed off by another person but I think this has got to be one of those which serves as a good reminder that there are such characters....

Ever met a person who is so cocksure of herself that she is unable to be gracious at all? Every conversation to one who is so full of herself that she cannot see any wrong in herself... probably she deems herself the perfect almighty. I never expected such kind of person to exist... well at least not in the circle of people that I thought I knew.

A person who lies through her teeth, so delusional that she twists and turns her words and turns delusions into reality... her own that is and expects the people around her to swallow it all in. I never imagine that I would meet one, let alone see regularly. Makes me wonder if she has a psychological disorder.

Gosh... Some people just lacks the EQ so much that they read everything and everyone as either for or against them. Some people just are so filled with what they think is going right in their lives that they use it to snub others.

Such kind of people... they have this gift to drive you up the wall, as in really up the wall. And in the process maybe just pick up a few stones and hurl it at their directions. Such people are a danger to everyone cos they hold in their hands that sort of power to drive you to the edge and do something stupid.

And each time, after this behemoth show of might and delusions, when there is a need for your help, they come around and show you their nicest smiles and pretend as if nothing has happened. Shameless. And they push their way through like a bull on rampage. Such people prey on the 'niceness' of others by using the same methods to get what they want.

Makes you want to invoke a thousand curses... Sometimes when we get Older, we become a Loud and Grumpy person... A little power in the hands of one who can be delusional, lying, threatening makes such a person piece of @$%^& because they just seem to show their meanest streaks, even when they feel they are doing good. Putting this up as a public reminder to myself never to be like that.

(I supposed I have to congratulate this creature for pushing me over too...) Crappy, crap!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Teacher... He Do Me...

I think all of us are familiar with that phrase... it starts of as a self-preservation phrase, to get justice for a piece of injustice inflicted on us. Growing up in a family with one sibling just one year behind me, both my bro and I had our fair share of playing 'tattler'. Some of us outgrow this habit, many don't.

From 'He Do Me'... it evolves to tattling to a higher authority. Many of us learn from a young age the power of tattling. From addressing righting a wrong, we also learn that it can put us in good favour; and it makes others look bad.... Many of us would rub our hands in secret glee and gloat over our rivals' downfall from grace. 

We are supposed to outgrow that, but, I think we don't. It takes a big (wo)man to be able to do that I realise. Personal ambitions usually stand in the way of achieving that level of magnanimity. As we grow older, many of us learn to feign our ways through a lot of situations. It's actually hard to tell the difference between 'tattling' and 'telling'. But very often if we sit down and analyse, we can tell them apart too. It all boils down to intent. And intent is very telling.... add that to action, you get confirmation.

Tattling is a sign of selfishness too. Tattling is always for the wrong reasons. Kids tattle to parents. Students tattle to their teachers. Teachers tattle to the principals. Instead of 'he do me'.... we move on to, 'he didn't do this, she didn't do that.' We tattle for reasons only known to us... but most of the time, the tattling is for a selfish reason. Tattlers are poor leaders. Instead of addressing the issue, instead of taking time out to address and communicate, we go all the way up... to the power we feel that can put a person into the bad pages of a book.

At work I see tattling too... much to my chagrin and amusement because as adults, we are supposed to put to kids' tattling. Yet adults are no different too. 

Anyway, that's just us... I could go on to another good friend of 'tattling' called 'beh-kam-buan' who has a good buddy called 'jiak-chor'. When those two friends go hand in hand, 'tattler' is kept very busy all the time. 

Well, mom had a good solution... both tattler and the tattled one... we used to kena sama-sama from her. We learned quite early on that it wasn't worth our effort to tattle. It's much better to kerja sama-sama and understand that we're in this all together. You get more out of yourself and everything around you. I think her approach shows wisdom.

Ah.. what got me riled? To realise that from among the adults, the supposedly more sensible people around me, they tattle like the small kid who runs yelling to his mummy.... 'He do me'.... These people, they should not be positions of leadership because they are not really interested to build the people around them. What they are interested feels like this... building little pedestals for themselves... only.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

When the going is good....

... many of us tend to forget how to appreciate it. That's one of the lessons I learned this past week, after the demise of Lee Kuan Yew. I have 'followed' his 'life as a public figure' for almost all my life. It's something which can't be really helped because Singapore's history is so closely intertwined with ours, the proximity of Malaysia and Singapore gave many of us no choice. I have read his speeches, books, listened and watched him (the Internet is an amazing window) over the years. This past week, I revisited those media again to relive his moments.

While he was alive, especially after he retired, there were many who would jump at the opportunity to throw potshots at him. There are many Singaporean issues which have become the butt of many jokes. Yet as I watched again some of those old videos this past week, reread some of his speeches, took out the books he authored I had in my possessions, I am reminded of one thing too. Whatever we might say of him, Lee Kuan Yew was consistent in one thing... his unwavering belief in the principle of justice, one that is fair to all. Where he succeeded, Malaysia failed... We are still deeply communal based.

Death.... It sums up the worth of your life. If you are someone public like LKY, your whole life is played like a movie again. And you have many proofs to fall back on. It becomes possible and easy to dissect his life. And it makes a clear conclusion possible.

That is the one major plus of looking at something on hindsight. You get to see the whole picture of what made this man great. In being able to do that, you see a picture of one who has been a remarkably consistent leader. I can't think of any country like Singapore. Third world to first within one generation, a city state that is super efficient and safe. How many cities or countries can claim that honour? Small as it may be, this tiny dot south to Malaysia, is still a country to be reckoned with cos they have the wealth that does a lot of their talking too.

However when one works into the future and even if he is fortunate enough to have the gift of foresight, it is still quite impossible to see the whole picture. With just the foresight, it is a lot of conjectures. You have to just hope you know what you are doing and that whatever you are doing will be the right thing. But this premise of hindsight is a good thing cos with it, we can reflect on many things too.

In our every day lives, we tend not to appreciate the good things we have around us, when we still have them. Busy schedules, preoccupation with ourselves... we make excuses, we find reasons. The outpouring of affection at death... though it is an inevitable one.. it's another one of those reminders that come my way this week.

It's Cheng Beng season now.. we see outpouring of piety and affection too, to the dead. One wonders whether there was the same outpouring of affection for the deceased while they were alive. In death what is left with us are just rituals and memories. The latter fades after some time. And that leaves me  to wonder too if the act of carrying out these rituals make a difference to the dead. How many generations of Cheng Beng because it is all forgotten and the circle begins again?

Ramblings on the day rain came back again after so many dry weeks....

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

How My Classroom Has Evolved

My classroom has undergone quite a few changes in the last 24 months. Come July, it will be exactly 2 years since I last used a chalkboard to teach.

It has been an exciting journey for me as a teacher. Not having to use the chalkboard... I find it most liberating. From Doceri, I ventured into so many other apps which gave me a versatility which made teaching (and learning too) so much fun. The icing on the cake... I did not need to turn my back on my students. I have not done that in class for a long time. All my classes are now face to face all the time.

I now write so much less in class. Typing has replaced much of the writing. Am thankful for my typing skills which I owe to Dad. He used to pay me 50 sen to do his typing sometimes, and I did it happily for the extra pocket money. I move from one form to another quite easily in class. This year I added another projector in the lab. I now operate with 2 projectors.

With 2 projectors, I can put up passages on one to annotate and questions on another for easy reference. I can use one for mind map and the other for other media in the lesson. One can come up with any combo of preferences.

Chromebooks are used for Google Drive and Socrative. There other assessment apps which I am itching to try but with the workload piling up, it'll have to take a while. Using Google Docs for essay writing is more effective than the traditional 'write-in-exercise-book' method. With a few add-ons like Doctopus and Goobric, I can view more students work. And monitoring... Today I asked a student if she was working on her writing. She said yes. I told her she wasn't. There was some denying but finally she admitted. It's amazing how I can click the tabs containing my students work and know whether they are working on their piece. There is also a more personal touch and students learn other skills too as they work on their writing online. And Goobric.... with the writing rubric attached, students get a clearer picture of where they stand. Google Drive ... almost like a 'one-stop' centre.

Students seem to enjoy this way of learning. I have had students coming back to ask whether they could take their online assessments again. I get more interests shown by the kids too.

Apps ... it's amazing what one can achieve when there is media as your teaching aid. A picture, or video, or even a caption... in the traditional class, it would have been a gargantuan task just to bring them into the class. These days, with just a computer or a tablet and a projector, you are good to go. And oh yes... a speaker system would definitely add the oomph.

And emails... I email my students reminders to pay their fees. Their parents can emailed me when their children are sick. I scan timetables, textbooks and ebooks I prepared to my students too. I am fostering a new culture of learning too, I realised. Many students usually are not aware that their smartphones can be used to enhance their learning because they were not taught so. My classes are slowly learning. Our students have not been allowed to bring their technology to class because we deem those gadgets as a distraction. Well, I disagree... It's mainly because they have not been shown the way.

But despite all the breakthroughs in technology... I learned one thing too. It is the teacher that makes a greater difference. The personal touch, the story teller, the listening ears, etc.... these are still unmatched by the gadgets. A good teacher is still more about those than just technology.

I have also been privileged to set up a digital signage for the school with the help of Other Half. Using Raspberry Pi(s) we now run two 60-inch TVs as our digital signage. Announcements are now in poster or video forms. The time saved due to announcement over the PA system is quite substantial.

Changes ... they are inevitable. We can choose to remain in our old but comfortable ways or force our learning curve upwards and change with the inevitable...Oh ya.. SPM results are out. One sees the usual rounds of jubilations and dejections. A parent said this when she was congratulated for her daughter's excellent set of results. Her answer..."God's blessings.' Sigh... means those whose children did not do well did not get God's blessings???

Friday, February 20, 2015

Chinese New Year

For every year that I get to celebrate CNY with both of my parents, I consider it a bonus. This year was a more relaxed CNY in the sense that Mom decided to 'eat out' and I think it is a very wise choice. When I think back of CNY in those long ago days, Mom would always be up at 4 or 5 a.m. in the morning to go to the market to get the ingredients for the reunion lunch... in my house we've always done reunion lunch and not dinner, even from those days.

Mom is getting along in years. She no longer has the energy for the big cookout. By the time we get home, we are tired from the travelling. She understands that and hence she would book the table for the makan. Still, it hasn't really totally spared her from the preparations. We still get to eat our favourites from her. Those dishes now feel even more of a truly a labour of love... A labour despite the discomfort from the a bad back, and everything age related.

I appreciate too my bros making the long journey home. Mom and Dad could always just celebrate CNY nearer to them but my bro insists that he comes back so that our kids could get together, renew ties. 365 days feel like a very lengthy time these days.

CNY is also a time when I see the women folk slogging it out in the kitchen. And I sometimes feel the senselessness of it too... Cos the cooking remains the women's domain. True some may argue that they do the hard work of driving, but increasingly I see this. During a time of supposedly a reunion, much if not all the food preparations are done mainly by the women folk. What is the point of reunion then... Half a morning or even a full morning of preparation, and throw in an evening of preparation as well... the women are cooped up in the kitchen. Makes reunion feel like a reunion of everyone else in the family except the one who is in charge of the food preparations.

The kids had a great time playing cards and firecrackers. I think I have not lighted this many firecrackers in many years. It's wasteful, I know... burning those crackers, but the kids had a truly good time.

CNY too is a time I meet up with my old friends. Old friends from a carefree past. Old friends who grew up known by our parents and in many cases many of whom who watched out for us almost like their own too. My friends and I are trying to make a trip when we turn 50.... just the bunch of us minus our families. So much time has whizzed past. A whole generation!

My oldest friend and I sent our friend back after our little gathering (this year there were six of us) and along the way I passed by my alma mater. We stopped right beside the my Standard One class which was just opposite her mother-in-law's place. The buildings have remained unchanged in the last 40 years! I have not passed that block for ages. How time has flown by... I guess that's how every former who passed by those corridors would feel too.

My friend stopped by to have a chat with my parents and I could see how their eyes light up from the visit. I went to visit my old friend's parents after that too and I see that same lighted faces. That's what celebrations is supposed to mean... lighted faces from the get-togethers, the meet-ups, the rekindling and renewing of ties... the remembering.

As I sat over conversations with my brothers too, I realise that no matter how well we have done, or how successful we have become, that which remain meaningful in our what will be the soon forgotten presence of us on this earth would the be the connections that we made and leave behind. But that too will fade with the passing of time.

Generations will come and will go too. Life probably will remain as what we now experience... the constant struggle and chase for something we deem better. Yet if I ask myself what truly is important, I find myself going back again and again to this thought about my roots, my connections and the people in my life. Sometimes, we forget that and go for stuff which we can measure.... the chase for a better life, the journeys that we embark on to make that a reality, the people whom we leave behind, the comfort zone that we cocoon ourselves into....

Everyone of us.. we get caught up by the busyness of our lives. We chase and chase for the rainbows that we think we need to light up our lives.... very often forgetting that we need to be the lights.

Chinese New Year 2015. It's a quiet New Year this time around. Economy is on the downslide. There seems to be less of this feeling of festivities outside. Times don't look so rosy. Changes are afoot. But I think, all those are actually quite secondary. Good times come and they go too. Bad times too. What matters in the end... the relationships that we are able to forge. I think that probably sums up the whole point of living....

Monday, January 19, 2015

Weeding Revisited

Weeding... I have not been weeding my garden regularly these last few years. I would do it when I couldn't stand the sight of the weeds especially when they were long and stood out like sore thumbs but there was no concerted effort to really get rid of them. As a result my yard would only look neat after a mow.

Getting rid of the weeds required a lot of effort as I have rediscovered. I was painfully aware how the years of neglect had allowed the the different weeds to spread their roots.

Well three months have passed. The skin of my thumbs and index fingers are hardened by the constant friction of pulling the weeds, making sure their roots came out too. Last year too, some signs of athritis began to show. The tell tale signs of knobbly fingers have begun to appear.

The first month of weeding netted piles of unwanted grass. It was a lot of hard work. It is always impossible to get rid of all the weeds. Life is like that too. One can likened bad habits to weeds (or not too). Bad habits can never quite go away too. You can correct and try to change them, or even try to get rid of them but they always come back. What we can do is like managing the weeds. The carpet grass if given a little help eventually will grow thick enough to squeeze out the weeds. Eventually you will still find the weeds tucked between the carpet grass, with a yellowy tinge from the lack of sun or looking scrawny but they'll still be there, waiting for the opportunity to break forth.

When we mow too, I realized, we can never cut the grass too short for the want of a flat, neat perfect kind of appearance. The grass must be allowed to keep a certain length to prevent the weeds from spreading. It brings to mind our efforts to raise perfect kids. I think many of us probably realised too that by trying too hard, many of our kids seem to lack that overall well-adjusted with little flaws here and there overall character. Weeds will always be there, no matter how hard one tries to get rid of them.

I shall try to keep the garden as weed free as possible. Consistent weeding will be required. I don't know if I have the time or the energy to persist but I will try. After all weeding is therapeutic as I have discovered too. The time spent draws me away from the incessant pull of the tablet. My mind goes free range when I weed too. And occasionally when I have company while I weed, it is also a time to simply just enjoy the company of another, be it in silence or chatter. We live in a world filled with too many planned activities and rushes... and one that is dictated by the whims of electronic gadgets.

Weeds... Just realised too weeds as I call them are grass too. They are just not the type of grass that I want.... just another personal preference. Same grass and of all things brought to mind the K-Pop singers hugging the girls. The bemusement and horror that came to mind. We are such sticklers to uniformity.... Adults bent on one tract expecting kids to be perfect (their version) when they themselves must have been less than perfect too at that age. One forgets the hormonal surges, the crushes that keep posters of their 'idols' on their room walls. The mind goes free range.... Maybe I should be kind to the weeds too... 8)

School is hectic but I am enjoying the work generally. Adapting to new tools and ways of doing things... It is also nice to be part of the agent of change too. Everyday poses new challenges. It may be tiring but so far I have found them to be challengingly fun.

 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fluid

When I was a kid I used to think my parents knew everything. Then the teenage years came and the 'I know all phase' began. Before long secondary school ended and university beckoned. There was so much to read and so little I knew. University was an eye opening experience. The internet age followed soon after and so much information suddenly became available. And it highlighted the fact that I know even less than I thought.

Books used to be what we depended on for knowledge and we set the contents of those books to be true, that they are correct and accurate. And that is how many of us treat the digital information that is stored in the web too. We deemed them to be true too like the books we are so familiar with. But it might not be so....

I have learned that actually what is deemed as true may not be totally so. Facts.... they remain that until a point when error is pointed out. Knowldege is fluid. The wealth of knowledge that we have, I feel, is shaped and formed by the environment.

In the beginning it was the primitive environment which gave shape to knowledge. Knowledge was quite basic, I guess. How to start a fire, hunt a wild animal for food, skin it, etc, etc. Then as the environment became more sophisticated, knowldege took on a more refined form too... different ways to start a fire, various materials that aid combustion, multiple tools to hunt animals, curing skin, making intricate designs out of them.... in short knowledge undergoes changes too along the way. It is fluid.

Sometimes fluidity means add-ons.... a rewrite or even a rehash. Other times it means a total write off. It is rendered useless and new information replaces the outdated one. Point is it is constantly changing. And perhaps because of this particular nature that knowledge, it is also a tool for power. It can be used to control, mould and shape, enhance a status, subdue, subjugate and even cripple. Even a taboo is knowledge and we know how taboos can be used to stop actions, practices.

Fluid... Life is a cycle. That itself, I think points towards an untold fluidity that perhaps many of us might be afraid to face sometimes. I just read that the Church of England is fast tracking those with management skills upward... to stem the decline of membership. The hunt is on for the talented ones, those with the right knowledge (read as skills too) to be singled out for roles which will arrest the tide.

From brawn to brain... We have seen that evolution in our lifetime. Might or brute strength used to be the only path to power. Then brain came into the picture. For over 200,000 years life was basically ruled by the might of brute strength. But in the last 5000 years, we have seen brute strength giving way to a more refined yet more devastating aspect... Might driven by brain. And amazing changes have taken place in this short span of time.

As we seek to be more knowledgeable, as we embark on new adventures into the unknown..... I guess that's where we need the wisdom to differentiate. These are probably the most challenging and exciting times in our midst..... Yet wisdom is lacking. But sometimes I think the powers that are don't want us to be any wiser too. Enough to be useful but not too much to question.

Ramblings during the week when school is delayed because flood waters caused so much devastation in many states of the country.

 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Welcome 2015

Another year gone by. Feels like it was a daze. Spent the last two weeks of the 2014, clearing up stuff at work and doing repairs. My Moto-Saw, Rotary Tool, drill and all the other tools came out to play. Did stuff which I normally don't do or would be too lazy to begin. But I learned plenty in the process.

Tools are important. The right tool affects the ability to get things done, qualilty of finishing and speed of work. Without the right tools many of the tasks would have either not been possible or taken a very long time to complete. Quality of work would have been greatly affected too.

That's life too. We need the right tools to get by and get ahead. EQ, IQ.... The right amount of each is needed. For some, the privilege of pedigree birth gives a distinct advantage over the rest. This has often made me wonder whether life is really fair. One who is born in a family with wealth or even just relative wealth immediately has a headstart. On the other spectrum, one born in the third world country into great poverty would most probably be destined to roam the bush or the slums to which he was born. The abject poverty would make it an gargantuan uphill task to get out of the cycle. Likely that he'll be stuck there. The unfair advantage always exists.

Year end flood. Another plane crashed. I was struck by the number of seven helicopters available during the early days of the flood. Only seven. A plane crashed and multiple governments came out with pledges to do all they can. I wonder too how much it'll cost. I don't know what the exact amount is but the cost for the of MH370 is running into the hundreds..... and that's in millions. And still counting too...

I had an interesting conversation with someone on the last day of the year too. She talked about how the king has directed that flood mitigation projects be carried out in her village in Thailand. During our conversation which crossed many boundaries, I asked her if the monarchy was really needed. I said history has recorded that the lavish lifestyle of King Vajiravudh was one of the reasons for the creation of constitutional monarchy in the country which brought about the 1932 Revolution. The maintenance and running of the monarchy.... It costs money which is borne by the taxpayers. So do we need the monarchy? Her answer was yes because she said the present king is a wise man. But it remains to be seen whether his heir apparent can fit into his father's shoes. Our conversation soon drifted to other things.

A new year. My kids said it is just another day. I tend to agree with them. I asked them to stay up with me to herald in the new year. But they were in their room before the clock struck 12. I fell asleep too. They were right. It is just another day. Heralding the new year becomes meaningful, I think mostly in a social context. I read about how an old friend would make a trip to Singapore to greet the New Year for the last 10 years. Many people I know would spend the last hour at church for Watch Night Service. New Year celebraion is always done in groups. It's more fun, I think.

I stopped making resolutions years ago. Instead of making resolutions which I will break anyway, I went on an ad hoc approach and try to maintain whatever I have decided to do for as long as possible.... and pick up from where I failed each time I fail.

Maybe we celebrate New Year cos we have been conditioned to want new things. New clothes even when the old ones are still perfectly good? New cars cos they give one new prestige? New gadgets cos they promise more features? New friends cos they show our social prowess? New places to visit cos they allow us to highlight on Facebook?

Yet newness is not about all those too. New is about rejuvanation too. The new comes to enhance. It replaces the old. The old has to make place for the new to take over. The cycle is repeated..... new will turn to old too. Compassion, generosity, humility, kindness are needed to make life more meaningful.

Many say 2014 has been a difficult year. Was it? Or it's just another year.... one of many years. Anyway, 2015 is here. Happy New Year!