Sunday, May 21, 2006

Buried alive

Have lots to blog about. But currently buried under piles of exam scripts, exam feedback to consolidate, report cards to prepare, and the most annoying of all -- holiday lessons to get ready for!! (Tell me what does 'Teach Less Learn More' mean again?)

Will be back.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Explaining 'wayang'

You know how, when you need to explain certain local terminology to a foreigner, words like kiasu, yao gui or even shiok, that you struggle to find the right words to articulate the rich and multi-dimensional facets of the word and you end up giving examples, hoping that the kwai lo will get it?

So now I think we have a new term we need to explain to our hapless friends : wayang. Used pretty extensively recently in the press, I'm sure the uninitiated needs some help here to fully appreciate what all the fuss over this word is all about. Let the English teacher here offer some examples :

1. Wayang is when your high class friends, who live in private property and hardly fancy taking walks in your crummy estate, suddenly turn up at your humble HDB flat, and offer to scrub your floor. You wonder what's their hidden motive and think, "Wa, what's all this wayang about?"

2. Wayang is when your father tells you he's going to work out a pocket money policy for you, and you go into a serious anxiety attack because he looks like he's really going to implement it this time (after all he's told the whole clan about his plan and he looks very confident it'll work and save him a bundle). Then suddenly, when you threaten to drop out of school if he cuts your allowance, he backtracks and says, "Actually, implementing the pocket money policy would be a huge administrative burden. I think maybe I won't do it after all." Then you can say, "Wa lao, if I know you wayang so much, I don't need to get so worried la."

3. Wayang is also when you sit in a coffee shop and let off steam to some of your kopi tiam acquaintances about your anal retentive boss. Then next day, you discover your kopi tiam friend has reported your remark to your boss and now you have to apologise for what you said in an unguarded moment or your career would be at stake. To which you can then utter, "Wa piang, you listen to me like a friend, now you bite me back. You very good at wayang hor?"

4. Wayang is when you change the script according to what direction the wind is blowing. Like for example, 71 years old is too old, but 83 is not. In a wayang, actors can improvise his lines as he sees fit.

5. Wayang is when you call certain people Normal, when actually what you mean is they are not Express, Gifted, Special or take a special kind of transport (like through-train). In a wayang, you give names to people so that they sound nice and it helps you to enact your story with more convincing power.

Anyone who can contribute better definitions or examples of wayang, please enlighten us so that we, as well as our foreign friends, can better appreciate the complexities of this lovely Singlish word.

Monday, May 01, 2006

What's wrong with you parents?

I'm utterly disgusted with the parents featured in The Sunday Times (30 Apr) who still blatantly give monetary handouts to their grown-up, working 'children'. Of course I am equally appalled that single adults who are earning at least $1500 a month can expect their parents to foot their handphone bills or support their lavish lifestyle.

I mean, where is your spine, you young un-encumbered post-65ers who are supposed to herald the next era of societal progress?

But I reserve the most scathing comment for the parents of these parasitic offsprings for it is you and your warped parenting that is doing more harm than you realise. Every time I see an ill-disciplined, wayward child in school, I go to the source of the problem, and more often than not, it is the parents and their poor parenting, that has bred the next generation of irresponsible, self-seeking and self-centred children.

What values are you imparting to your children, when you cannot even let them manage their monthly expenses independently? There are many families who subsist on less than $1500 a month, so why is it so difficult for your child with an executive job to survive on such an amount, when he/she already has free lodging and food readily supplied by you? Do you know what kind of monsters you are creating when you unquestioningly offer such handouts in the name of love for your child?

And we thought we want to raise the next generation of people who are resilient? Can we please give these middle-class parents some lessons on parenting first?

P.S. Read blogger Ondine's post about this as well. Her no holds barred vitriolic attack on these hothouse young adults gets a standing ovation from moi.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Recurring dreams

There was this article about Recurring Dreams in the Sunday Times last week. And boy, am I glad to find out that I'm not the only one who has these recurring dreams :

* that of a pair of contact lens that get bigger and bigger as I was about to put them in my eyes. I have asked around and have never found anyone who has such dreams. So the only plausible reason I gave for such a bizarre dream (let alone the fact that it's a recurring theme) was that I have big eyes, and deep in my subconscious I have this fear that I cannot find contact lens that will fit me. Now that I know there are fellow growing-contact lens dreamers like me, my hypothesis is quashed and I am beginning to posit that maybe we are people who fear putting foreign objects in our eyes but are too vain to wear spectacles. And this fear manifests itself in a dream when contact lens must necessarily become the evil object that refuses to be a conspirator in our vanity.

* that of being late for exam; and or of not being able to answer the exam paper. This, despite the fact that I have left school for more than 10 years, is quite telling. Singapore is one of the few places where many people are traumatized, to some degrees, by exams.

* that of frantically looking for a place to pee; or of finding a place, but being unable to pee (the darn thing just won't come out!). A simple case of not emptying my bladder before I sleep, I suppose.

* that of being possessed by the devil. This is one that I try to find a spiritual reason for. I remember occasions when I felt like I was in a trance in my dream, and I tried to wake up, but I couldn't. And in my dream, I would be screaming for Jesus, but an oppressive force would suffocate me. I am extremely frightened of such dreams, and wonder at times if they are even dreams at all, but are actually real cases of demonic oppression.

* that of having someone hold my hand. Doesn't sound like a big deal except that this is a recurring phenomenon, as if I feel a desperate need to have my hand held, and it is always by a man. Sometimes he is someone I know, sometimes he's a stranger. Perhaps my insecurity surfaces in my dreams, where my need to have someone guide me, or take charge of me is manifested. I usually wake up feeling ridiculously comforted. (Except when the man who held my hand in my dream is 'untouchable', you know what I mean, in which case I'll feel quite guilty for having such forbidden thoughts.)

I'm no scientist or psychoanalyst so I don't know the full implications of my recurring dreams. But it sure feels reassuring to know that some of my recurring dreams are not unique to me. I'm not that weird after all.

Friday, April 14, 2006

'Cher, you remember me?

I got a surprise phone call today. From an ex-student whom I had taught more than 2 years ago.

Now he wasn't a model student in any sense of the word. In fact, he gave me quite a bit of problem then - was caught smoking in the toilet, skipped school, coloured his hair...etc. He was a bright kid though, but he wasn't keen on studying, and after his N levels, despite just making the cut to continue to Sec 5 to take his O levels, he decided to quit secondary school to join ITE.

Now he's going to be enrolled into NS next month. And in between his smattering of English, Mandarin and Hokkien, he told me he wanted to meet up, "drink kopi", and catch up.

As teachers, we naturally like the students who listen to us in class, do their homework dutifully and win awards for the school. But there is another bunch of students, the ones in the shadows, the non-achieving ones, and sometimes even the wayward, trouble-making ones, who somehow never leave your mind.

They leave school eventually, and you heave a sigh of relief, for your days of torture teaching them are over. But you wonder at times what they have become since then. And then when one of them calls you out of the blue, you know somehow he hasn't forgotten you too.

Now I've got a kopi date with my pre-NS ex-student. And for some inexplicable reason, I am looking forward to meeting him soon. :)

Monday, April 10, 2006

If Pa were still around

In the run-up to Good Friday, I was suddenly besieged with a sense of loss. For it was on Good Friday last year, that my father left us, after many years of fighting COPD, a cruel fate branded on heavy and stubborn smokers.

I can still remember the day in the hospital. It being a public holiday, all of us were there, not knowing if that day would be his last, though we were painfully aware that he was already tottering at the edge.

His last words, strange as it may seem now, was a strong, passionate comment about gambling. A visiting relative had mentioned, by way of making conversation, about the government's casino decision. And Pa had mustered all the strength he could summon in his frail state, and said, "Gambling is wrong! No matter what!" And then he slumped back onto his bed, and closed his eyes to rest.

The rest of the afternoon passed, with him slipping into unconsciousness. By then the heart monitor was showing signs of his impending departure and we hovered at his side, and urged him to hang on, for my brother was at that point on a plane, rushing back from the U.S. He never got back in time to say goodbye though. And I saw, with my own eyes, how Pa's life ebbed away, with every fading beat of the heart monitor.

* * * * * *

For a reticent man like my father, he sure had very strong views about certain things. If he were still around now, I am pretty sure he would :

- vote against the PAP in the coming elections. That has always been his stand. He felt very marginalised and oppressed by the ruling party. I think he would have collected his Progress Package, muttering "About time!" and voted for the other side anyway because he never believed the PAP had done his lot much good.

- rant non-stop about the soaring prices of cigarettes, but still dutifully hobble to the mama store to get his daily fix, even as the nefarious demon sucks the life out of him. And he would blame it on the government, for the high duties he has to bear would enrich their coffers, while robbing the poor smokers like him, who could not kick the habit. He had a similar line of argument about COEs and the maid levy.

- still refuse to call my brother in the U.S. because "I don't know what to say". Pa is a product of the traditional Chinese upbringing, where fathers do not tell their children they love them. And though his heart pines for him, and he yearns to know how he is coping in that ang-moh country, and he tells relatives with pride that "my son is working in the U.S.", he just could not bring himself to pick up the phone. And the chasm between him and my brother is never closed, and will never be closed now because my brother did not make it home in time to see Pa on his last day on earth and he is left wondering just how much, if at all, Pa loved him.

* * * * * * * * * *

As Good Friday approaches, I think of Pa again. With a bit of regret, I think of how we, as his children, didn't really say the things we should have said to him. Like how grateful we are, that an uneducated lorry-driver with a very hard life, could put 3 kids through university, with very little external help. Like how proud we are of his tenacity and selflessness, for though bitter and angry he had been about the establishment, he still ploughed on, and gave us all a decent start in our lives, so that we won't end up frustrated and bitter like him.

I'll remember, Pa, that gambling is wrong. Cos if it matters to you to say this on your dying bed, I will remember it forever.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Stupid newspaper

On Monday, a day after the accursed article from the Sunday Times came out, I was suddenly asked to see the Principal. I was in between periods, and basically just minding my own business, getting ready for my next lesson.

I must confess, a sudden panic seized me and a few thoughts ran through my head. "He's going to say,'I heard you've got a blog.' " And then I'm going to be made to admit to writing about things that to his opinion, are not professional of teachers, such as griping about my work, and using curse words like "arse" in my capacity as a teacher, and not being a good role model, etc etc. I actually said a silent prayer for strength and fortitude before I trudged down to his office.

Imagine my relief when it turned out to be nothing of the sort. Actually he had more pleasant things to say to me. And I felt silly for even letting that stupid newspaper article unseat me.

Damn you, Sunday Times. For writing about a non-issue. And yes, it's another pathetic attempt by the MSM to cast aspersions on bloggers. Shame on you, for choosing to pick on a group of people who are vulnerable to sometimes unreasonable scrutiny from parents and the public, when the majority of us teachers here are trying our darndest to connect with our students, and who need the space to vent so that we can keep our sanity in this demanding job. We know how to blog professionally and responsibly, and we don't need some newspaper folks to remind us. You just mind your own business, and stop butting into ours.