A reader asks, I answer (part 1)

Recently I got an email from a reader responding to my essay, "Once Bonded", which was published last July but apparently continues to make the online rounds. The reader posed several questions which I thought would make good fodder for blogging and offer a break from all the other pay copy jobs I'm working on, so let's have a go at them:

1. Have the eight years of the scholarship bond changed your initial intensely negative perspectives and desire to leave Singapore in any way (i.e. tapered/balanced your opinions)?

Let's be clear about one thing: I did the eight years, then at the end of 2005 I quit being a government civil servant and I've been a full-time professional writer since. So how and what I feel about Singapore right now is tempered by a host of experiences, not the scholarship bond period alone.

Do I feel less "intensely negative" about Singapore? Absolutely. To quote what I wrote in a prior blog entry:
[...] grumpy and filled with a general animus towards towards everyone and everything Singaporean, I spent most of the first six months [after my return to Singapore] frantically calculating how much I could save of each month's salary towards paying off the scholarship bond. [...]

My mother always says that it wasn't till after I took a trip to the US at the end of that first six months, to see the then-boyfriend and college friends, that I settled down. [...] maybe what I needed was to see that the people I'd known and loved in college were moving on with their lives, for me to realise that I should do the same. Quit whining, accept the period of indenture, and get on with it. Besides, eight years is a bloody long time to be grumpy.
As for how the subsequent eight years had an impact on my attitude to Singapore and being stuck in Singapore, let me be lazy and crib from that same blog post. In a nutshell:
I made friends, settled down, got married, bought a place to live and a car, worked reasonably hard at my job, got over all the things Singapore doesn't have, appreciated anew the things it does (chief among them: being able to get good food at all hours, especially Teochew moi (porridge) with pigs' intestines and salted eggs), let my accent go and gave up on the government.
I still enjoy being away from Singapore because I think it brings some much-needed perspective. Singapore is not only a tiny country, but effectively only a city --- there's nowhere else in this country to escape to, just to catch your breath or be somewhere that feels significantly different in vibe or form. I always say I would still be grumpy today if I didn't have the opportunity to get out of Singapore for a couple of months of the year.

Would I migrate permanently? I don't know. I thought about it when I was married, but then you get older, and your parents get older, and Singapore is a lot more interesting of a place right now (despite its flaws) than I ever would've dreamed when I was a child. I think it would be nice to have a second home somewhere else, just to get that regular change-of-scenery (Hoi An is rapidly becoming a prime candidate, in that respect) without having to uproot or disconnect entirely from Singapore. But I don't feel any sense of ironic wistfulness when I say this is home.

Still, I worry about getting too comfortable in Singapore, and forgetting that the rest of the world does not (and should not) live by the same rules, and losing that desire to always want something more, for Singapore to be more, than what it is today.

2. Did government service benefit you in any way, career-wise or 'spiritually' as a human being?

Career-wise, absolutely. I picked up a lot of skills from my teaching and communications work that are still relevant to my work today. Some are specific to writing --- how to communicate clearly, how to gear up publicity or make something newsworthy --- while others are just good-to-have, like public speaking or working with people you don't necessarily have much in common with. I'm still friends (and I don't just mean Facebook-friends) with a number of former colleagues, and because almost everyone eventually moves on to other jobs or life choices, there are a surprising number of ways in which we've been able to help each other, work-wise and on a personal level, even though we're not fellow civil servants anymore.

Spiritually, well, I would say my personal experience in the civil service didn't exactly enrich my soul (perhaps several interactions with students and teaching colleagues notwithstanding). But no one says you have to be defined by your job and there are also plenty of civil servants having wonderful job experiences out there.

I often opine that working in the government carries the same risks and perils as any other job. If for some reason you're stuck in it --- and there are plenty of people who are stuck in their private sector jobs for very practical and/or serious reasons --- then you can choose to drag your feet to work everyday or you can choose to make lemonade with them lemons. My lemonade didn't turn out too badly.

* * *

Okay, so there are three more questions the reader had, but I need to get some shut-eye for tonight. Come back for part 2 later this week.

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Scary auntie

Packrat's two-year-old twins are known for sticking their fingers into birthday cakes the instant they get the chance, so when his birthday cake was unboxed at lunch today and they were trying to paw their way into it (even as Ondine and other family members tried to restrain them), I unwittingly channelled the deepest teacherly voice I ever mustered in my five-year career and issued a no-nonsense, "Jor---dan." At which point the girl twin retracted her finger and looked up at me with big, big eyes.

Then I dissolved into laughter and said to my mother (who's one of her regular caregivers), "Oh dear, I don't know where that came from."

But hey, the kids kept their fingers out of the cake till Packrat blew out the candles.



Are you a maker or a manager?

As I was buckling down to work a couple of weeks ago, Pin sent me Paul Graham's "Maker's schedule, manager's schedule", which crystallises a lot of what I've only properly realised these couple of months about how I work. In a nutshell: managers get stuff done by breaking the day up with itty-bitty tasks and meetings, makers need uninterrupted blocks of time to get substantive creative work done. (He goes into good detail about each job type --- go read it.)

I used to multitask a lot more, and a lot more flexibly, when I first started freelancing. Maybe it was because I was doing itty-bitty bits of work, whatever came in that seemed interesting or paid the bills, none of which were very long-form or long-term projects. I also thought that trying to schedule all my client meetings on the same day of the week was 'cause I was lazy to go out everyday, which would feel too much like going to work at a conventional office job.

Now my work schedule swings between the extremes of (a) hermit-like self-imposed isolation at home with the internet on for research but not IMing, and (b) multitasking days for things like meetings, admin work and "grabbing coffee" (see Graham's use of the term). This month it's been mostly (a), which has been great for creative foment, although I have to admit that in this day and age of constant Twitter chatter and link-sharing, it feels counter-intuitive to take a step back and block it all out in order to get anything creative done.

I wonder also if this is why many of my teacher friends are always so frazzled during term time, as I used to be. Preparing a good lesson is "making", but so much of a teacher's life is filled with "managing" --- managing students and colleagues, being managed by bosses and the system. Just as non-freelancers sometimes assume that a freelancer having a "flexible" schedule means they can interrupt his/her day at any time, people in school often assume that a teacher who doesn't have a scheduled lesson is likewise "free" to be interrupted ("free periods" indeed).

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Night and day

I. Night

On Monday, I had dinner with a friend from Seoul. She worked in Singapore for a year and a half and moved back to Seoul recently, but can't wait to land a job that will bring her back here again. At dinner also were her friends from France-via-Réunion and Morocco, who have lived in Singapore for three years and counting. "We love it here," they said. "Everything's so easy."

On Tuesday, I had dinner with a former student who now works in New York City. He said he'd come back to Singapore to work if the right job came up. "Why come back to Singapore?" I asked, not provocatively, genuinely curious. He shrugged loosely. "It might be interesting. For a while."

On Thursday, at Polymath & Crust, I eavesdropped on a woman (I think she was French) talking about having lived in Singapore for over twenty years. "It's much better now than it used to be," she averred, "but things keep changing. I can't recognise some places anymore."

On Tuesday after dinner, I walked from Robertson Quay along the Singapore River over to Zouk (yes, I know no one goes there on Tuesday nights, that was kind of the point). The river seemed particularly shimmery that night. I looked across the river, seeing sparkling condominiums, seeing the ghosts of old godowns that used to define the riverbanks. I love my city, mixed-up as it is.

II. Day

I've been assured that there's been a wave of responses to "Once Bonded", though many must be invisible to me because they're on Facebook and non-public Twitter pages. At any rate, the comments that are public and the responses I've received have been plenty to digest. The essay seems to have tapped into what I've been calling a vein of unarticulated dissatisfaction --- though now that I think about it further, I'd rather describe it as a disquiet that dare not speak its name.

The spectrum and tenor of the responses are also fodder enough for another s/pores essay, but I'm not sure yet if I'll write that one. Maybe when there's been some distance and fresh perspective between this essay and the next.

I haven't added anything to the comments because I've said all I want to on this subject already. It's most welcome and intriguing to hear from readers, but hey, even if I were still a teacher, I'd say go talk about it among yourself and work out your own conclusions.

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Links for friends

I had some time to catch up some RSS feeds before dinner, because I'd finished what I needed to do in the day and needed to rest my well-blistered feet.

So in no particular order:

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Do the right thing

As a former teacher, I'm going to say this is the kind of student I would be proud to have: "Posing as a Bidder, Utah Student Disrupts Government Auction of 150,000 Acres of Wilderness for Oil & Gas Drilling" (via GOOD).

While many environmental groups launched campaigns to oppose the sale of the land, one student in Salt Lake City attempted to block the sale by disrupting the auction itself. Twenty-seven-year-old Tim DeChristopher posed as a potential bidder and bid hundreds of thousands of dollars on parcels of the land, driving up prices and winning some 22,000 acres for himself, without any intention of paying for them.

The Bureau of Land Management must now wait over a month before it can auction off these properties, but by then the bureau will no longer be run by the Bush administration.
Nicely done!



Talk, talk, talk

I write, and I talk too

Thanks to melch, I had the opportunity today to blather on to impressionable younglings about freelance writing. Talk about being out of practice since my teaching days. I forgot how much of an adrenalin rush it is from the minute one is "on", as in: "Here's the stage --- you're on!" One minute I was introducing myself, ten minutes later I realised I had finished the first part of my talk, which was fine, but was panting for breath because I'd been rattling away so fast, which was nosso fine.

The 400 ml of water in my Nalgene bottle? Nowhere near enough to get me through a 40-minute talk plus Q&A plus the five or six kids who wait to ask the speaker questions at the end.

Some interesting points that came to me extemporaneously:
  • What are important qualities to be a freelancer? "Discipline. Discipline, discipline, discipline. The kind of discipline that gets out of bed and at your desk at 8 am even though you don't have to meet a client. Being comfortable with uncertainty, i.e. not knowing now what I'll be doing in July. Knowing how to sell yourself to clients and potential clients (Asians very shy one). Work hard, do good work."
  • Which writer do you want to be like? "Easy question. [Then I tell a long and pointless story about the book of popular history I'm co-writing.] Answer: Bill Bryson. He's light-hearted but a serious writer. [Naturally, it seemed like most of the audience hadn't heard of him, though melch made a pitch for his books being in the library.] He takes culture, history and all sorts of information about a country --- and puts it in an accessible and entertaining package for the reader, even if you've never been there."
  • Who is your favourite writer? "I have so many favourites. PS: Favourite writer and writer whom I want to be like are two different things. I love Shakespeare, but I could never write like that. PS: I'm reading a biography of Shakespeare right now, that's why I've got Shakespeare on my mind. Okay: [I forgot the first name I mentioned], Jonathan Frantzen, Alice Munro --- hang on, I'm running through my bookshelf --- Salman Rushdie, Philip Roth ... Okay, that's five. You can go and find out more on your own."
The unexpected things I said:
  • "If you do bad work, one day it might come back and bite you in the --- okay, I think I'm not supposed to say that word, but you know what I mean, right?"
  • "I mean, I live alone, so I can work all day, not see anyone except my cats --- oh wait, that makes me sound like a crazy cat lady, right?"
  • "Eh, can you all stop talking? I am the one doing the talking."
The last point was when the audience of fidgety students got too chatterrific. It's kinda scary how teacher mode kicked in instinctively.

Now I just hope I didn't preach the gospel of freelancing too ardently, because it certainly isn't the ideal work situation for everyone.


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Notes from the National Day Rally 2007

Which I watched while making dinner in front of the TV (a salad and open-face sandwiches are easy that way) and chatting with sarah online.

First of all, WTF was up with the turquoise shirt? (Yes, it merits a "WTF".) Combined with the purple lighting, it was all very getai, all very 881, all very distracting.

When I finally got over that shock to my system (mostly by listening to the speech, rather than watching it), the man was maundering about education. I said to sarah, "It's very sad when a prime minister sounds like he just learned that secondary school students know how to use video cams --- WHEN THIS IS THE AGE OF YOUTUBE." Maybe he needs to watch Teacher Tube more often (via apophenia).

sarah thought it would help if he didn't talk about good teachers in neighbourhood schools as if he'd never met any before. Not to mention the implication that good teachers are those that come up with all the gee-whiz projects --- where's the love for teachers who are plugging away to get the basics right?

Oh wait, he foiled me with the obligatory "let's have the teachers stand up and take a bow" moment. But hey, in that contingent of about 40 teachers, where were all the women? The contingent was heavily male, which is hardly representative of the local teaching population. Or maybe the women were just better at making excuses not to attend the Rally ...

Reason #7924 why Singapore will never get its act together like a real society: the prime minister is happy to operate at the level of "Singaporeans like incentives", and toss more incentives at them. So the government thinks non-Malay students will study Malay as a third language if they get two bonus points towards JC admission --- which some of them will, but that's no guarantee that any of them will actually continue using the language after they snag their two bonus points, or that they will be able to effectively use the language as adults. Given all the former Chinese-as-a-first-language students I know who are barely bilingual today despite the "A"s they scored in school, let's just say I'm skeptical about how this new programme will fare.

I'm also wondering if trumpeting a programme like this will make some of the latent racism in Singapore all the more evident if the Chinese majority fails to respond even to prime minister-endorsed incentives and shows no interest in the programme. Sure, there'll be some who say there are more "useful" (e.g. widely-spoken) languages one could study instead of Malay, but there'll also be those for whom the bias against people of another race spills over into a bias against their language. We'll see, I suppose ...

Moving along, I said to sarah, "I find it weird that the PM says 'twenty-one-five' instead of 'twenty-fifteen' [when he's referring to the year 2015]". What is up with that? Everyone says "nineteen-fifteen" and not "nineteen-one-five", right?

And then there was the whole "Just do it" Nike reference --- the prime minister, ladies and gentlemen, telling people to get on with sex to make babies.

You know what? Even less than I want to hear my parents talk about sex, I want to hear any government representative talk about sex. Even as a "joke". Which was not funny. At all.

On the other hand, everyone could just take such "wisecracks" at face value and run out and start having wild bunny sex a) outside of marriage, b) without protection. Let's see how much they'd like that.

(Obligatory PSA time: If you're going to have sex, make sure you are protected. For heaven's sake, don't believe the prime minister and "just do it".)

So the prime minister was talking about his former constituent, an old woman who was worried because she was receiving medical treatment and her CPF money would run out this year. And all he said to her was a smiley "Man man lei" (Cantonese for, "Let's do it slowly"). Let me just say that if my grandmother were still alive and the old Cantonese woman in question --- not to mention any number of other fierce elderly Cantonese women I know --- she would tell him exactly what to do with his "man man lei". I think even my mother would, in Cantonese and in English, because she's effectively bilingual that way (no need for two bonus points for JC admission, either).

An old woman's only source of money is running out and he says "man man lei"?!?!?!

In the same vein, I'm sure the 91-year-old woman he spoke with really loves her menial job working at a hawker centre. Did no one stop to wonder if 91-year-old men and women should be working in the first place?

Lee Hsien Loong: I think we must improve the returns on the CPF.
ME: No shit, Sherlock.
sarah: Eh, he went to Cambridge, okay?

Lee Hsien Loong: It's going to cost the government a lot of money [to improve the returns on the CPF].
ME: Excuse me, the government get money from where? From our TAXES correct?????

I'm not saying they shouldn't spend the money, I'm saying they shouldn't talk about it like it's the government's hard-earned profits and savings, when in fact, last time I checked, it's the people's. This is what happens when the prime minister's allowed to refer without a trace of irony to "Singapore, Inc." in his speech, and no one calls him on it.

MEGO sections: CPF changes and HDB upgrading. Oddly enough, the HDB section more so than the CPF bit. The only thing I had to say about the HDB plans: "Y'know, if you didn't clear Punggol Point, you wouldn't have to plan to "bring back" al fresco dining to it."

Finally, just before 10 pm, it was over. But only after the prime minister waved his arms like an animatronic puppet.


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Off to a party

--- at which I will be the oldest person there other than the host's parents.

I'm not sure what stage of life this marks, but it has to mark something (other than impending dotage).


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It was gonna happen eventually

One of the occupational hazards of being an teacher is that one of your extremely competent (and hopefully not too frightful) former students might someday be your boss.

While this hasn't happened (yet), I knew that after I became a freelance writer, it was more likely that someday, somewhere, some student would be in a position to become my client. If I was lucky, maybe it would be a) a student who didn't have it in for me, and/or b) a project that I didn't mind working on.

Fortunately for me, when the opportunity did come round (thanks, suzie!), that's been true on both counts. The worst I've had to fear is that suzie will mock my copywriting because I know that she, like me, has a wicked ear for spotting the soullessly bombastic phrase or the abuse of adjectives like "unique" and "distinctive".

I think I used "unique" only once.


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I don't hate you, really, I don't

It's more than a little surreal when my former students are the first few customers trooping into last night's Sinema screening with sufficient consistency and timing that it starts to look like the setup to a joke or something. Thanks for the love, guys.

Then it turns out that certain other former students are, apparently, convinced that I hate them. And really, I don't. I never did. There's too little time in one's life to spend hating anyone, least of all former students whom I last encountered when they were still legally not allowed to drink and I was supposed to whip their writing skills into shape.

In fact, the worst that can happen is that I'll have nothing to say to them, not because I don't want to speak to them, but because there are always just some people in the world that one meets and just doesn't have anything to say to, and it's absolutely nothing personal, just one of those mysteries of human relationships.


In other ongoing mysteries, it turns out that when panaphobic left her cigarettes at our place tonight, she was also too lazy to come up again to get them, so she called me from downstairs to say can I please toss them out the window and she'll catch them.

I live on the eleventh floor.

I tossed the cigarettes. She yelled up, loud enough for me to hear through a closed window, "Got it!"




I don't usually ...

A different kind of Xmas tree

... get all gussied up at 5:30 pm on a Thursday. But I was told to show up for the party by 6 pm and it was gonna be one of those parties, that sent me scrambling to the back of my cupboard in the middle of the afternoon to rustle up an old (but good) dress that I'd completely forgotten I had.

... pay attention to speeches at an event. But this time I wanted to hear my colleagues' and collaborators' names read out for the applause they more than well deserved.

... eat that many profiteroles at a buffet reception. But I was in the mood for chocolate.

... invite an ex-student to crash a party. But panaphobic got lucky.

... dance in public. But the problem with declining to dance by advertising one's disinclination to dance in public, is that all one's well-liquored up colleagues (or even those who were relatively sober) immediately take that as a challenge. So when I let my guard down towards the end of the night, an evil colleague from Montreal whirled me out onto the dance floor before I could take cover.

... do the air-kiss-kiss thing. But when everyone's from Montreal, that's what you end up doing to say goodnight.

... mix white wine with champagne with vodka. No wonder I threw up on the way home.


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Spotted in a crowd

The thing about running into former students at Wine Bar is that, first of all, they bellowed my name loud enough that I immediately turned and fled the scene. (That is, not my name per se, but what they used to call me in school, Ms _____, hence also immediately distinguishing me as a teacher. Very cool --- not.)

When the dust had settled and we had all caught up, there were the exclamations of how cool it was that I was still clubbing. Despite my age, I guess? Thanks, guys.

And then it turned out that one of these young punks had a Master's degree. Damn, I need to get me one of those.

Finally, we did a little math and realised that they're now the age I was when I taught them many moons ago. I'm not sure how I feel about that.


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The last word

It's Father's Day today, so I figure I'd quote my dad for a change.
There are only three things you can do where you won't ever be out of a job: an undertaker, a chef or an English teacher.

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Reader Request Week: Life after teaching

Yes, yes, it's definitely been more than a week since I solicited requests from readers about what they'd like to hear me prattle on about. And in fact, this entry is not in response to any of those requests (some of which are still outstanding, sorry!) but to a comment that came in several weeks later from (an) Anonymous:
... Am in the same industry as you before you quit and will probably follow your footsteps in leaving the service by the end of the year. Its been a few months since you left your previous job now and I can also see that you are still working as hard. But on hindsight, what are some of the special moments whereby you know you made the right decision? Do you get flashbacks and then realize that you are glad you left?
I don't know that there've been any "special moments" this year, when it's hit me with a flash of light, à la Saul en route to Damascus, that my decision to quit teaching last year was "the right decision". For one thing, I've never had any doubts about quitting, once I acknowledged to myself early last year that it was a viable --- if potentially terrifying --- choice. Even before I left, but after I'd started to leave warning signs, it was the only path that I felt at peace about and that kept me from going completely out of my mind during the last few months on the job.

There have certainly been moments since I left when I'm reminded why it is that I left teaching, and I'm the gladder for it. Something as simple as not having to wake up everyday before dawn is a special moment. Ditto having shrugged off the dry routine of morning assemblies and the staid pace of having one's day dictated by the school bell. I'm unreservedly glad that I will never have to mark another examination script or class assignment again, or tear my hair out over the egregious misuse slash abuse of "whereby" or "economical" (instead of "economic"). And I'm thrilled, thrilled, to leave behind the meaningless corporate doublespeak from Ministry bureaucrats and school administrators that filters its way insidiously down to the lowest levels (even though I still deal with it in other forms).

Pretty in pink

Instead of all that, I take regular two-hour lunches (even though a number of them are working lunches with the boss), and meet and work with people from a wider variety of backgrounds. Most days I dress like a graduate student --- or an undergraduate, depending on how sloppy slash uninspired I feel. If a job goes badly, I can only blame myself, not some amorphous bosslet or organisation. And if I don't work, I don't eat (so to speak).

And lest I be accused of painting far too rose-tinted a view of life-after-teaching, I should point out that I also make less money now --- and that's without medical and leave benefits.

Nevertheless, to every person who's asked over the last few months if I've had any regrets in leaving teaching, my unequivocal answer has been: none whatsoever. There are many things I could be doing this year, but teaching is absolutely not one of them.

None of which is to say that teaching is an irredeemably crappy job that everyone should flee screaming from. I know people who teach and love it, despite the usual grouses --- yay for them! But I was done with the job and all it entails. It's not the job for me, not right now. Of that, I'm absolutely certain.

Onward ho, then. What's next?


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Rules are, apparently, meant to be broken

I popped into the National Library today to use their free wireless access and found myself what looked like a comfortable nook in the basement Central Lending Library section to log in and work for an hour. Notice that I did not say a quiet nook, not because it is self-evident that a library would be quiet, but because as I was heading for my selected seat, a cellphone went off loudly and a woman in business attire at a couch across from me picked up the call. And proceeded to talk for a few minutes. While scribbling in her notebook. And possibly arranging accommodation for some business associate flying into town. You know, as if this was her place of work and she was just doing her job.

I was stunned enough to give her a glance askance, as well as a sotto voce, "Dude" (because when I'm surprised and pissed, my inner surfer comes out). No one else around us seemed to react.

In the ten minutes or so that it took me to settle down, unpack my laptop and figure out how to connect to the library's wireless network, the same woman --- who had classily kicked off her heels and sat with folded bare feet on the couch meant for public use, by the way --- had taken a couple more calls and received a few SMSes, all of which triggered by extremely loud ringtones. The volume at which she conducted her business wasn't exactly discreet, either, except when she answered the calls with, "Hello, this is _____" and her voice mysteriously dropped in pitch when she said her name --- because it would've been too much information if we all knew who she was, I suppose.

Meanwhile, one man beside her furrowed his brow but didn't say a word. I cast the evil eye over the top of my laptop screen, meeting her gaze quite evenly, then went back to my work. No one else said or did anything, even though not everyone was plugged into MP3 players or laptops either.

Then the cellphone on the guy next to me went off, and he took the call as well. Mercifully, whatever he was on about took him out of the library, and off he went, bag and all. But at that point, despite the no-cellphone and no-talking signs posted in the area (next to the no-eating/drinking one and a fourth red circle/slash sign that I can't recall now, maybe no-smoking?), I figured there must be some kind of unspoken rule in this particular zone that made it tacitly acceptable for loud and annoying cellphone use.

Of course, what I should've done, if I'd had the guts and the Arsenal of Witty Sarcastic Comebacks, is the following:
ME: I'm sorry, is this your office?
Woman With No Manners: No, this is the National Library.
ME: Oh, I'm sorry, with the way you were going on and talking to your clients or whatever, I thought I mistakenly wandered into your office. You get paid money for whatever it is you do when you're talking on the phone, right?
Woman With No Manners: Yes, it's my job.
ME: Then why don't you take some of the piles of money you earn and spend it on renting an office where you can talk on your phone loudly? Because here in the library, you're supposed to keep quiet.
I admit that it's not so much the comeback I was lacking, but the guts. No one else was making a scene, so why should I? Even though she was being an asshole and pissing me off.

The thing about being an ex-teacher is that the awesome power to tell a person off for behaving like a dickhead in public is strong in me, but I also keep reminding myself that I'm not a teacher anymore and I don't want to inadvertently transmute into a fascist harridan who goes around telling everyone off because she knows best. So instead I transmute into one of these passive-aggressive non-confrontational the-anger-is-festering-inside "docile" Asians.


And now the nightly news bulletin on Star World is on, and the guest pundit from a Hong Kong university had his cellphone on during his interview and it went off during his spot and the news anchor had to ask him to switch it off.

Obviously, the world is coming to an end.


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Hands on mousepad
Taken by Terz.

Some days, work takes me everywhere but the office.

There's the National Archives, where the staff already recognise me well enough that it doesn't matter that I've forgotten to bring my reader's pass, and where former students writing their postgraduate theses lurk, as earnest and cheerful as they were way back when.

There's the school where Ondine teaches, where students wait to be terrorized. Oh all right, I wasn't that bad, maybe because I forgot to wear the "Let me eat your children" T-shirt that she bought me.

And there's the friend's office where he's conducting job interviews, but in a blink of an eye it turns into the neighbourhood drop-in for all our friends instead, and I pity the prospective employees who stick their head warily in the door --- "I'm here for an interview?" --- only to be challenged by us for non-existent passwords and jaunty repartee.

Not every day is like this. But these days are nice.


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Just a thought

Dear well-intentioned educators who failed to think the idea through to its fullest ramifications,

With Chinese New Year just five days away, now is not the time to bring massive hordes of disinterested istudents on a putative educational fieldtrip to the heart of Chinatown. Even during the day, Chinatown is quite well-jammed with people who actually live and work in the neighbourhood, not to mention all those who took the day off to complete their holiday shopping. Witness the line of at least fifty people waiting in line for Lim Chee Guan bak kwa (pork or beef jerky) at approximately 2:30 pm today, winding far down the sidewalk and around the corner of other stalls.

And those are people who are actually going to spend lots and lots of money (given the current "festive" prices) at these shops. Your students, on the other hand, are just happy to have the afternoon off school, eager to run willy-nilly through the crowds and makeshift stalls --- as evinced by the number of times I saw teachers and chaperones yell after an errant student in school uniform or yank them back towards the group. Your students will ooh and aah over the many multicoloured muah chee/mochi flavours, but does anyone of them wield the spending power of an impatient woman who has to stock up to feed up to one hundred guests over the New Year? I think not. And the students are getting in the way of the people with the money, while they're at it, which can't make the stallholders very happy.

Zhangde Primary, Canberra Secondary and a special school (I couldn't identify the uniform)--- I am delighted that you think your students ought to see what the real world is like. I think there's plenty to show and teach our children in Chinatown. I would respectfully suggest, however, that a fieldtrip during the current Chinese New Year madness merely teaches our children that one must worship at the altar of the consumer god in order to appreciate one's heritage.

Come back after the commercial insanity's packed up for the year. Show them what the streets are like the rest of the year, and why that still makes it Chinatown, despite every street corner not being garlanded in red and gold anymore. Peel back the layers of monetary gratification for them and show them what history and real heritage lies there. Before May, take them on a quiet afternoon through the rabbit warren of People's Park Centre (slated to be "upgraded" this year, so all the old stallholders have to move out by May --- and we know what usually happens then) and don't let their kneejerk reactions about it being dirty put you off.

Just do it all after the Chinese New Year. Thank you.


PS: Gongxi facai!

PPS: What's with maids accompanying primary school student groups on fieldtrips these days?


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On the eve of ... whatever

You know Stellou is a sharp one when it's almost midnight and she can say, with perfect aplomb, "You didn't have a plaster on your finger when we were out this afternoon, right?" That was also my cue to tell her the story of the fingernail that's been half-broken since Thursday afternoon: it hasn't quite come off but threatens to bleed assiduously when it does, so last night I'd slapped on a Handyplast to keep it in place.

Miraculously, pre-Handyplast, it did not get ripped off in the afternoon despite the many opportunities for such a mishap when Stellou, cour marly and I were gallivanting through Little India and fondling all manner of tchotchkes, bangles, spices and sweets. I could describe it all but it would take too long, and besides, cour marly's snapshots say it all. At least now I can say I've been to Mustafa's (the Ali Baba's cave of a 24-hour department store in Singapore, not the planet where Anakin Skywalker falls into a lava pit).

Thoroughly refreshed by an iced Milo (the sweetest in all of Singapore, even without the whipped cream topping) at Mustafa's Cafe, I took it into my head that we needed to go to Muji, so we walked over, never mind this pesky thing known as a mid-afternoon monsoonal shower.

I think the subliminal reason I wanted to go to Muji was because I've had my eye on their minimalist Xmas trees since November, and there's no better time to pick one up than on the eve of Xmas eve. So now we have our very first Xmas tree.

Xmas tree

In the grand spirit of procrastination, I only set it up at about 5 pm today. But the old tinsel and mini-wreaths for the front door still aren't up. Ahem.

The best moment at last night's party was when I was in a conversation with two other people, and one of them said, "Wow, I'm sitting here with two teachers," and I got to interject, "No, no, ex-teacher," while pointing to myself. (Okay, still on the payroll till December 31, but for all intents and purposes, I'm pretty much the ex at this point.) Yeah, that felt good.

Merry Xmas Eve, everyone.


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On the eve of Xmas eve

You figure the Xmas season is when life in an urban environment gets a little crazy and people get a little neglectful of their blogs and things. But that is not my excuse.

Xmas has actually been pretty painless for us this year. Procrastination always helps: We still haven't put up any Xmas decor, save for the Xmas table runner. And instead of sending paper cards, I decided I would save some trees and send pseudo e-cards (i.e. an email with an image attached, as opposed to a graphic/animation file that's actually designed to serve as an animated/interactive card) --- which I just sat down and emailed all in the last twelve hours.

But I also did some of my Xmas shopping online (thanks, Sarah!) and managed to pick up the rest without being mortally wounded by the downtown shopping crowds. And my mother has just informed me that we don't have to bring anything for ye olde Xmas family gathering besides the homemade fruitcake I offered to buy.

Of course, the latter mercy is double-edged: we're absolved because Terz will have to, er, work on Xmas. My grandfather has decreed that he would like us to all take a family photograph on Xmas Day. Okay, "decreed" is a little harsh because my grandfather is the mildest person in the world and doesn't decree anything. But precisely because he so rarely expresses a preference, that when he does, it takes on the air of a decree. Plus Terz owes him a favour from a photo project last year.

So on Xmas day, we will haul Terz's camera, lenses, lights et al to the family gathering place. In the evening, Terz will somehow organise 44 members of the grand extended family (including 6 children and 2 babes-in-arms) into an aesthetically pleasing arrangement in the garden and try to get everyone to focus and smile, or at least not look daft, at the same time.

Yesterday, my mother called to ask, "What if it rains?"


* * *

So that's Xmas in my family. For my best friend, Xmas came early in the form of an extremely cute baby boy, who currently alternates his time between sleeping, deigning to open one eye at us and snuggling with his mommy. He's also good at pooping and clutching adult fingers.

Baby finger

It is miraculous to think that he will never be this small again, and certainly not this wrinkly for quite a long while.

While I was visiting yesterday, the father came in with the paperwork for registering the baby's birth. He needed me to write his name in Chinese characters on some form, since my best friend's writing hand was sort of occupied with cradling the baby. (Daddy is pretty much Chinese-illiterate.) It was only after I'd done the deed --- fortunately, with none of those excruciatingly complicated Chinese words involved --- that I found out that I'd been writing on the birth certificate itself and that my feeble Chinese handwriting would be immortalised thereon.

Hopefully, the kid doesn't think his mom's Chinese handwriting (on a related form) or mine is the pinnacle of Chinese calligraphy or anything.

After I left, the best friend SMSed me to say she thinks the boy looks like the Claymation character, Morph.


* * *

Other things I have been busy with include work (both looking for it and experimenting with different types thereof) and entertaining Stellou, home for the holidays, to whom we can credit this gem of a remark:
"I can find my way places. I am a worm."
I also cleared out my desk at what will soon be my former workplace, so that the guy inheriting it can move in before the new (school) year begins. One last errand there next week, then I'll turn in my security pass and other work-related paraphernalia, and I will be a free agent.


Happy holidaze, everyone.


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What are we going to do now?, redux

This is what it comes down to:

Last Day of Service : ________________

Please tick your main reason for resignation:
(*Delete as appropriate.)

___ Better Prospects in Private Sector
___ No-Pay Leave Not Approved*Childcare/Accompany Spouse/PDL/Private Affairs
___ Join Independent School
___ Dissatisfied with Compensation & Benefits
___ Career Change
___ Dissatisfied with *Workload/Scope of Work
___ Lack of Career Development
___ Health reasons
___ Other Reason(s):

I confirm that the information given above for my resignation is correct.

Signature of Officer

Date of Notice of Resignation

Please note that interest will be charged for late settlement of any financial liabilities (eg. overpayment of salaries, liquidated damages, etc).
When I handed it to my boss, she started. "There's a form for it? You don't have to write a letter?"

Guess not.

* * *

I used to think I would write an irate letter when the day finally came: a letter filled with venomous diatribes against the misplaced priorities of the education system, coloured with sarcastic remarks about the empty Newspeak that has come to pass as professional dialogue and education development plans, concluding with self-righteous wounded disappointment at the demise of ideals and hope.

Instead, there's just this form.

What this form doesn't say: I've had a really good year working under someone whom I feel is a good boss. I really have had very little to complain about. I would recommend this place in a heartbeat to anyone that I thought would fit in and have as much fun as I've had. And the fact that this has been a great place to work has only made it harder for me to reach my decision to leave. Over and over this year, I've asked myself, "You sure you're going to quit? But you have it so good here --- good colleagues, the workload, good environment. You sure you want to give it all up?"

Yes. Yes, I am.

The workaday reason is this: I can't do the teaching thing anymore. Resuming the job, this year, something didn't sit right with me. I knew what needed to be done, how to get a class from point A to point B. But I struggled so much trying to think up ways that would engage them and help them to learn, and I wound up falling back on the me-talk-you-listen fashion (aka 'chalk and talk') that I was trying so desperately to avoid. Trying to plan lessons for each week soon hit a magnitude of difficulty on the order of planning a dinner menu with only fruit and salt in the fridge, or designing a wall mural with only white chalk and the ability to draw stick figures.

I suppose it didn't help that all around me I had colleagues with creativity oozing out their ears. I used to be like them; lesson planning used to be a cinch. But I've changed, I guess, and no matter how hard I try to retune my brain, I don't think that way anymore.

Now when you've got a teacher who can't teach and doesn't enjoy putting on the ol' song-and-dance routine in the classroom anymore, well, maybe that teacher shouldn't be teaching then.

* * *

As for the other reason I'm leaving, I can only quote Alfian Sa'at again: "If you care too much about Singapore, first it'll break your spirit, and finally it will break your heart." The casino "debate". The bloggers punished for "sedition". The "relocation" of Hock Kee House residents. The imminent demise of Geylang Serai. And all just this year.

I've been on the inside too. I've seen what I've seen and I've done what I've done. They get the job done, I'll give 'em that, but it's a job I want no part of, here on out. There are plenty of technocrats to take my place anyway. They won't miss me.

My parents have always said, "Change the system from within." I think I believed them, for a while. But I can't change a system when its fundamentals are so alien and divorced from my own. There is no basis for dialogue or discussion. Stay and be co-opted? I don't want that on my gravestone. Life, is elsewhere.

* * *

So here I go, into the blue. No new job yet, though feelers and resumes have been sent out. Friends have been extraordinarily supportive (thank you) and family --- uh, I haven't told my parents yet. I'm hoping to wait till the last possible moment, in the hope that I'll have a job offer by then to allay what I imagine will be their understandable concern about me striking out like this, at the age when they were having their first child (coincidentally, me).

I did blog about this some time ago, in a deliberately vague fashion, because it wasn't exactly public news then and I was in that uniquely bloggery quandary of wanting to blog about something, but not wanting the wrong people (i.e. people I hadn't told myself) to hear about it from my blog somehow. And then it turned out that some students read my blog, so I shied away from the subject altogether, because I didn't want them to think they were the reason I was quitting. (They're not, but a lot of things can be misconstrued over the internet.)

But people know, now. I was even able to coolly discuss it today with a colleague I hardly know, which then elicited, unsolicited, his remark that he would probably leave too, after a couple of years, to go see what else is out there. Other colleagues in the know have been wondering if I was really going to go through with it and I kept making jokes about reminding myself to submit my resignation letter before the end of November. But there's been no doubt in my mind. I'm good to go.

So I handed in my form to the boss today, which I suppose puts paid to any speculation that I might still be around in the new school year, and we had a really good conversation, as we always do. And then I walked out of her office, thinking, "So this is what it feels like to quit your job."

I usually end these self-indulgent maunderings with a Buffy quote:
Wesley: You need a strategy.
Buffy: I have a strategy. You're not in it.
Wesley: This is mutiny.
Buffy: (long pause) I like to think of it as --- graduation.
--- "Graduation Day Part 1", Buffy the Vampire Slayer
That works. But just this once, I'd like to end instead with something that I saw on an ex-student's blog recently:
"tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
That, my friends, is the most precious question of them all.


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To the students I taught this year

Some of you read this blog. Most of you don't, I imagine. Never mind.

When I saw you last in a formal class setting, we did what had to be done, to get you on your way to the examinations, and then I booked it out of there. I'm not one for farewell speeches or pithy advice, and I don't do so good in person.

Besides, other people say it better.

So here's what you should've had: "Let us commence" by Anne Lamott, delivered at the University of California, Berkeley in 2003. An excerpt:
Your problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued. Whether you're going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over people and circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.
You may need to click through some ads or get a one-day pass from Salon to read it, but it's well worth it.


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Take my breath away

I walked into the classroom with no expectations. My colleague, the art teacher, had invited us to come view the artworks that his students had prepared for their 'A' Level examinations. I'm guessing he invited me in particular because we've worked together on various projects this year, and also because I happen to teach three of the eight students involved and we've chatted about them from time to time.

Did I really want to be there? I confess that I waffled. I've just spent the better part of a year tussling with eighteen-year-olds --- their angst, their ardent desire to succeed, their unearthly stubbornness (obviously, I'm dwelling on the difficult moments). Did I, on my last day of formal lessons, really want to see all those issues spat out onto a canvas?

I went anyway, to be polite, to be supportive, out of respect for the incredible work that I know my colleague puts in with these kids. I was late, because his informal tour had started while I was delayed by a phone call. I was scuttling apologetically into the classroom, recast by the hush of black curtains into a serious exhibition space ---

--- and it snatched my breath away.

The image in no way does it justice. You can't pick out the intricacies of fabric and fibre, the twists of thought and tension, the sheer richness of the piece. Before I learned its title, what it was about or who made it, its language reached out to me and had me in thrall. The art teacher, was telling colleagues about the other piece in the room, but I had eyes, ears, soul only for this one.

I'm no art connoisseur, never even took a class in art history (much to my regret, I might add). My response to art is thoroughly visceral: I see it, I like it, even if only in some unarticulable way, and that nails it for me. My favourite painting in the world is Ivan Albright's That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door), because the first time I walked into that particular gallery at the Art Institute of Chicago, it forcefully hit me that this was what I'd been looking for in all the other galleries --- this was art.

Today's experience was more seductive. The longer I allowed Red Desert to hold my attention, the more I found that it drew me in. Reading the accompanying notes that documented the artist's creative process (an examination requirement) made me want to stand back and look at it even more. I inched in close, I leaned back to see it in full. I wanted to touch it, could've --- the tactile experience is part of what the artist intended --- but that would've somehow tainted the moment.

Most of all, I wanted to take it home --- not in any acquisitive sense, but so that I could spend time with it, look at it over and over again, deepen my relationship with it. It was asking so much of me; to give it merely those few short minutes was plainly inadequate.

We moved on to another classroom, to other artworks, but when the artist popped her head in and said something about having to show the vice-principal around the exhibition, I took the first opportunity to slip off and join her back at Red Desert. I couldn't help it, I played the groupie to the hilt; it all came bubbling out of me, yes, including the bit where I said I would buy it if I only had a room with a ceiling high enough to do it justice.

I would, in a heartbeat.

Because that's what art can do, you know? It takes your breath away. It stops you in your tracks in the middle of a busy day, when all the other weighty mundanities of life are tearing you down, and it demands your attention to the fact that there is more to the human condition than those mundanities.

All the artworks I saw today spoke to that idea. Clearly I'm biased towards Red Desert, but the other pieces too revealed a depth of feeling and exploration that I hadn't expected to encounter: from butterflies bobbing in the airconditioning's breeze, to fashion design and an original children's storybook, to meditative triptychs, a Grecian mural and a sculpted, domed installation (Late Renaissance- or Baroque-inspired? my architectural ignorance is showing).

You know what? I'm so damned moved by all this, I can't just describe it here. I am so damned moved, I am coming out on this blog to say where
it is I work, because goddammit, I want everyone to go and see them right now.

So you heard it here first: get your ass down to Victoria Junior College on Saturday. The college is hosting its annual Open House, so it'll be open to visitors anyway. But regardless of whether you have any interest in that, come down, find your way to the container classrooms (ask a student to point you in the right direction) and have a look at these incredible pieces of art. Be reminded, as I was, of how much vision, energy and talent young artists can have.

There is plenty to be depressed about in this country. But there is also art, and with art like this, that is enough.


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My turn

Not that I've been gloating that I hadn't caught Terz's cough/cold/fever bug, but it's come after me with a belated vengeance anyway. I guess it wasn't fair that he got all the attention for so long.

Just my luck that the incipient illness has struck on the very first day that I resume teaching after the examinations. As Ondine was saying today, because we both teach graduating classes who have their eyes desperately fixed on November's 'A' Level examinations, we really can't afford to take any sick days in the next few weeks, unless *touch wood* we come down with something on the scale of dengue fever. I've also got to cover classes for a colleague, which means a heavier teaching (and talking) load for the next couple of weeks, which makes this sore throat really inconvenient.

(Tangent: What with all the dengue fever news we've been inundated with for the past few weeks, it's gotten so I can't go past a neighbourhood for Dengfu Ville without my brain immediately registering "Dengue Ville" instead. I wonder if I'm the only one... )

At any rate, I've medicated up:

Originally uploaded by Tym.

Germs, beware!!


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Setting a bear-d example for all of us

A couple of days ago, Ondine asked in the comments about the "cute little toy" in the background of my red eye picture. Voilà:

The bear next door
Originally uploaded by Tym.

It was a Teacher's Day gift from students to the colleague who sits next to me, which sounds innocuous enough until you hear it snarl, "Scra-amm! Giddouttahere!"

Other choice phrases:
  • "You are UGLY! U-G-L-Y ugg-leeeeeee!"
  • "Quit buggin' me! Do I look like a playful teddy to you?!"
All in the same pseudo-Goodfellas fuhgeddaboutit tone that's funny the first time, a little painful the second time, and downright pain-inducing when it's triggered too often in a row. Yes, triggered --- it's got a built-in sensor on its tummy that triggers the pre-programmed wisecracks. I happened to trigger it a lot the first few days after it was installed, because I always duck really close to that corner of the cubicle when I'm scuttling from my cubicle to the printer or the pantry. But what I hear is that switching off the lights triggers it too, which can make things a little creepy for the last person to go home for the evening who thinks he's alone, only to be crudely squawked at from an empty cubicle.

No one's swatted the little bugger yet, even though sometimes the urge is strong because its tone is just so abrasive. A miracle of modern engineering? I know my mother would disapprove.


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Space to work, work to ...

Despite yesterday's surprise battery outage on the new camera, I managed to dash off a few pictures of my cubicle.

I've always regretted not having pictures of my previous two workspaces --- or, for that matter, of the various workspaces I created for myself while living in various accommodations at university. I suppose what they all had in common was that they were messy. I've been a messy-desk person since I had a desk to myself (circa 1989), much to my mother's despair.

The current cubicle is lucky in that respect. I didn't move all my usual teacherly things in because I wanted to keep clutter under control from the start. I've succeeded insofar as there's still a decent empty space where I do most of my work everyday --- though in this picture, that space is occupied by the laptop and the current pile of examination marking.

Originally uploaded by Tym.

For more details, click on the above picture, which will take you to the image on Flickr, duly cluttered with notes.


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September vacation update

This isn't a vacation vacation like the last time, but a break-from-school vacation.

No. of exam scripts I want to finish grading by Monday, 12 September: 4 classes' worth.
No. of exam scripts I've finished as of right now: 1½ (ack!).

No. of leads I'd planned to follow up on after 1 September: 3.
No. of leads I've followed up on as of right now: 4 (yay me!).

Amount of money I'd planned to spend this week before payday (Monday, 12 September): Not that much, so I could offset the cost of the real vacation.
Amount of money I've spent this week as of right now: Oh boy. Let's just say that there is going to be no offsetting of the vacation, and it's possible that savings may be dipped into to offset the regular monthly expenditure.

No. of mornings I wanted to sleep in: All 9 of them, of course!
No. of mornings I've managed to sleep in: 4 out of 6 so far ain't bad, I s'pose.

No. of pimples I'd planned to cultivate: Zero, duh.
No. of pimples I have right now: Only one, but it's right in the middle of my face!




Teachers' Day, redux

Nothing reminds you about the relentless penetration of new technology than receiving more Teachers' Day greetings via SMS than in person or handwritten missives, as was the abolute norm four years ago. Even more interesting was that I received numerous Teachers' Day greetings from non-students, including mother, aunts, friends and vendors. Has the holiday so penetrated the wider market that it's become, like Mother's or Father's Days, an occasion for automatic salutations-of-the-day to anyone you know who happens to fall into the category of what the Day is for?

Then I learned from First Aunt that her granddaughter's preschool instructed all the children to bring gifts for their teachers for Teachers' Day. Somewhere between my jaw dropping open in a rictus of astonishment and then freeing itself to yammer any number of outraged protestations, I remembered what Keat commented over at Top of Mind about "tacky plastic ornamental doodads" labelled for sale as Teachers' Day presents and decided that, clearly, the end is nigh because even Teachers' Day --- I mean, think about it, doesn't it sound vaguely Confucian-socialist, something no other developed nation would celebrate as a school holiday? --- has succumbed to the scourge of commercialisation.

tscd asked me in my previous post what my students gave me this year. To be honest, in composing that post, I was torn between publishing an inventory of loot and ignoring the situation altogether --- the former seemed tastelessly narcissistic while the latter might smell vaguely of premeditated false humility. Then, of course, there was the consideration that I didn't actually collect very much loot this year, so a short list could then leave the bitter aftertaste of the blatant clamouring for extravagant displays of affection or, conversely, the self-pitying blubbering of an inadequate mind clearly unsuited to the travails of teaching. And unlike trisha, I don't have the dignified modesty to reflect, "There's something worse than not getting any gift, it is getting something you don't think you deserve."

I have too many thoughts, I know.

Okay, here's the list, to satisfy curious readers. In publishing it, I hereby declare that I am not fishing for more pressies, I certainly don't need or want more stuff, and I'm certainly not trying to guilt anyone into wishing me happy T-day either. If you've said it, thanks! If you haven't, no hard feelings! Let's all get on with our lives already!

This year's loot from students:
  • Two handwritten thank-you notes, both of which referenced my abhorrence of the adjectives "unique" and "unusual" in describing literary style --- hurrah for students who paid attention last week!
  • A block of homemade cake that now sits in the fridge (too full from today's buffet to break into it yet).
  • A poem (not written for me, but written by the student).
  • Various SMSes received since Tuesday evening.
Thank you all.

What happens when two teachers and my grammatically strict mother go shopping? We talk about all the words that get mispronounced and mangled in Singapore. Pop quiz:
  • How do you pronounce "their"?
  • How do you pronounce the letter "H"?
  • How do you pronounce "student"?
  • How do you pronounce "resources"?
  • How do you pronounce "mood" (not a trick question)?
  • How do you pronounce "patronage"?
  • "their" --- it's "there", not "they're".
  • the letter "H" --- it's "aitch", not "haitch".
  • "student" --- it's "STEW-dent", not "STU-dent".
  • "resources" --- try "re-ZAW-ces", not "re-SAW-ces".
  • "mood" --- it's "mood", not "mode".
  • "patronage" --- if you're British, it's "PAIR-tronage"; if you're American, it's "PAY-tronage"; either way, the last syllable should take a "niche" sound, i.e. "PAIR-tron-niche", not "PAIR-tron-nayge" (if you're British).
Thus endeth the lesson.

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Teachers' Day

At some point after dawn, Terz turns to me and goes, "Don't you have to get up for school?" To which I happily (yes, even in my sleepiness) reply, "No, it's Teachers' Day." And then we go right back to sleep again.

At 9:45 am, I got up. A short while later, over blogs and email, we had champagne truffle mooncakes. Absolutely divine, absolutely decadent.

While the mooncakes were not a gift from my students, this is an appropriate moment to point out that the best gifts you can give your teacher are a personalised message --- be it in the form of an SMS, card, handwritten note or email --- and edible goods. Forget the stuffed toys, mugs, doodads and knick-knacks; don't wrack your head over what your teacher would like unless you know his/her taste well (e.g. the class that got me nothing but Buffy and Powerpuff Girls swag a few years ago scored rather highly in that respect). We don't need stuff, but a sincere thank-you is always welcome and, oh, if you insist, a little tasty treat won't be out of place either.

And speaking of tasty treats, I'm now off to lunch, since my grandfather's birthday is also 1 September and there will be some buffet delights in his honour.


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Who am I?

I. (Ex-)Teacher

When people who know I'm a teacher find out that I go clubbing or drinking, the immediate question on their minds is, "But aren't you afraid your students will see you?" To which my default response has always been, "Never ran into them before."* The question comes up particularly often when I'm at Zouk, because I guess that's where a lot of kiddies go.

Well, I won't be able to say that anymore. On Friday night, I ran into not one --- not two --- but three ex-students.

On the bright side, I only made eye contact and conversation with one of them.

The first one materialised when we were in the line outside Zouk to get into the Very Xotic party. I ducked for cover immediately, turning to Terz with fierce instructions to warn me if the kid got too close. This wasn't a kid I wanted to make small talk with, mostly because he never did anything in class except space out in his seat.

The second materialised outside Phuture. Again, I avoided eye contact, but I was alone, so there was no husband or friend to hide behind. Although this kid hadn't been the same spaced-out wastrel as the first, I still didn't have anything to say to him and it was too late in the night --- and way past too many vodka drinks --- to attempt small talk. Fortunately, it was dark enough for me to pull off another duck-and-cover move.

Third time's the charm, I guess, especially since he actually came right up to me to ask if my friends and I were in the line at the bar for drinks. I said no, and then I had to pull that awful line, "You don't recognise me, do you?" Cue vaguely awkward moment, made less awkward by loud dance music and generous amounts of alcohol, that mercifully segued to a brief and chatty, "So how are you? What are you doing now? I hear you're good? Yeah, I just had dinner with her last week." And so on, and so forth. I wouldn't've minded chatting with him longer, except that the music was really loud, he was with his friends and I was with mine, and it was all getting a little surreal. So I got my drinks, we said our goodbyes, and I walked away, trying not to feel all weirded out.

Is this going to haunt me forever? To feel like something's off whenever my worlds collide --- teacher/student metamorphosed without my engineering into a situation of fellow imbibers or, worse, lackey/boss? (By the way, in this scenario, I'm the lackey.)

* This is also typically followed by the retort, "So what if they see me? It's not like I'm drinking in the classroom."

II. Wife

I only have Burger King once in a blue moon, when I'm craving the taste of a Whopper Junior or when we're at the airport (because until recently, there wasn't any decent non-hawker food at the airport for non-passengers except for Burger King --- if that counts as decent).

However, as we were recently at the airport and there again on Saturday for Terz's flight to Thailand, this means that I've had Burger King twice in a month. Gotta put a stop to that (the excessive BK, not the vacation or overseas assignment).

How this is wifely is that if we need a meal before a flight, we do Burger King. That's just it. Of course, later there's the customary hug-and-kiss-and-remember-to-buy-me-cheap-clothes-if-you-have-time routine at the departure doors.

III. (Ex-)Teacher Redux

After Burger King, I went on to my second lunch (why, yes, now that you ask, I am a hobbit) with another ex-student. Okay, technically, like Agagooga, not a student whom I taught per se, but certainly one whose reputation preceded him into the staff room. A good conversation, except that I can't tell you what we talked about, or I'd have to kill you.

By the way, this new restaurant The Simple Life at Wheelock Place? Nosso good. Local hawker fare served at restaurant prices, which I wouldn't mind if it served fabulous food. But my nasi lemak wasn't lemak (coconut-flavoured) enough, nor the deep-fried chicken and fish (did I mention I was a hobbit?) with the right spicy flavouring to justify their inclusion in the signature Malay dish. However, the barley drinks were quite, quite thick and not too sweet --- precisely that homemade balance that's so hard to find in restaurants or coffeeshops.

IV. Helper-who-tries-not-to-screw-up (as opposed to a teacher, who is professionally qualified as a help-who-tries-not-to-screw-up)

Miyagi needed help. I needed to stop sitting on my butt in a solipsistic meditation on the blogsophere. mr brown needed to take videos to justify his mad skillz, yo. Plenty of organised chaos ensued, though none of us directly caused it. I was mostly trying to sort through the organised chaos in my head: "How do I talk to little kids? How do I talk to little kids with special needs? How come when I say, 'form a choo-choo-train', it doesn't have the same excited, delightful ring as when Miyagi says it?"

I am reminded that I don't have an instinct for children. I am reminded that children have way more energy than adults. I am accused, having fallen a little silent during dinner afterwards, of having "no stamina" again. Cheh!

Anyone else who wants to volunteer, the next session is in 2 weeks' time, i.e. Saturday, September 10. Let Miyagi know if you're able to lend a hand. I'm sure volunteers who can, unlike me, lift a weight greater than a four-year-old child will be appreciated.

V. Colleague

I accompanied a colleague to Book Cafe today. He had the teacher's perennial bane, marking; I had some work to finish.

Of course, that was just an excuse for me to be reading things other than what I was supposed to be reading for work. There was the quintessential I-S, the Ikea catalogue for 2005 (meh, as expected), some expat magazine (which yielded the following useful links for travelling in Tasmania: Bay of Fires Walk, Craclair Tours, Tasmanian Expeditions, Tiger Trails Eco Adventures, Par-Avion Wilderness Tours and Intrepid Travel), the Sunday Times' weekend supplement which grabbed my attention with a cover of pellucid-eyed Elijah Wood for its "Kicking the Hobbit" story and last week's weekly edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. I go to Book Cafe, really, for the free wi-fi and excellent iced lime green tea, but when on days when I'm too lazy to lug the laptop along, free magazines/books and a tasty iced orange tea will do just as well.

VI. Ditz

The dead toenail I've been nursing since June is finally coming off, but I'm loath to pull it off because (a) it would surely hurt, wouldn't it? (b) it would leave an unpainted gap in the sequence of toes. Little Miss Drinkalot assures me that dead toenails don't need extra protection or babying, but this is my first one ever and I'm not ready to take the risk. In fact, I'm thinking about taping a band-aid around it to keep it on.

Oh, be quiet with the mocking laughter already.

VII. Foodie

Restaurants to try with Terz before the end of the year:

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The last week

I suppose it's because I was trying very hard not to be ill, but I didn't notice until two days ago that I was down to my last week of formal teaching for the year. As of next Monday, my students sit for examinations. When those are over, I'll have about two weeks to review their examination work and patch up any other gaps in what they need to know for the subjects I teach, then they'll be left to their own studious devices in the run-up to the final, final examinations.

So how did this last week go?

On Monday, I got to teach an extract from Othello that finally drove home to me what an excellent play it is. Of Shakespeare's four major tragedies, I've always been indifferent to it; in order of preference, I'd rank them King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth and finally poor Othello. My usual bias applies: Othello seems to lack a strong female character, someone I could give a damn about besides the Man With the Tragic Flaw. And studying the play in school and university never seemed to quite illuminate why it was so damn beautiful.

Working through an extract for Monday's class did the trick. By itself, the extract's an amazing scene (from Othello V.ii, beginning with Emilia's brilliant, "You told a lie, an odious, damned lie" and ending with her being stabbed by Iago), but it also works because of everything that's come before it. So I'm going to give the play another chance and move it to the top of my reading list.

On Tuesday, I was reminded that it's always good when you can pull out a quotation from Yoda for teaching purposes. To teach the basics of syntax, the following quotation is extremely handy: "When 900 years old you reach, look as good you will not." (My memory didn't get it verbatim, but the point was clear.)

On Wednesday, I taught through a sore throat, drank copious amounts of warm water, and felt very virtuous. But only after sleeping away most of the afternoon to restore my spirits.

On Thursday, I carried many heavy books (20, A4-sized, 110 pages) to class and only one student of all the others I passed offered to help me with it. Kids nowsadays.

On Thursday night, BoKo and I clinked glasses to drink to the next day being the last day of proper teaching.

And today, Friday, I was fiddling with my rings as usual while talking to the class, and the wedding ring slipped clean off my thumb (where it was being played with, not where I usually wear it) and bounced a couple of rows back. Fortunately, it was readily retrieved, but not before I made an obligatory crack about how it was a ring I really shouldn't lose, and received the obligatory mild chuckle from the class. Ah, teaching.

But the real high point of the week came at the end of this morning's class. Class was over, I was gathering up my things and talking to a couple of students, when the entire back row stood up in unison and exited in a neat row out the back door, away from the main staircase. I looked at the remaining students in the front row, who told me that the next class was Maths. "So they came for my GP class, but they're skipping Maths?" They nodded.

And then I beamed.

Because this is a science class, which traditionally is not a fan of GP but would probably be a fan of Maths.

(Okay, so maybe they're so good at Maths that they don't need any extra help before the exams, but they need a little boost for their GP. I don't care. They were there, they picked me over Maths. Seriously, how often does that happen?)


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An entry in the style of Agagooga

This post is dedicated to "old style" Agagooga, i.e. before mr brown convinced him to go one-post-per-topic.

On the VS-may-go-coed ruckus:

"For those who are not Victorian, i trust and hope you have seen this spirit within us, when we cheer, when we fight, when we sing! Will girls in Victoria be able to continue this spirit? because to be crudely honest, and i hope no one takes this the wrong way, but girls will NEVER be able to do what we did, to show what we displayed. Please do not get us wrong. We are not sexist, we are not opposed to change. However, when something like this comes along, and our 129 years of tradition and heritage are threatened, WE WILL NOT SIT BACK AND LET THIS HAPPEN."

--- Xi-Wei, "We are here"

This is akin to saying: "Please don't get us wrong. We are not racist, we are not opposed to change. However, when our hundreds-of-years-of-pre-civil-rights tradition and heritage are threatened, WE WILL NOT SIT BACK AND LET THIS HAPPEN. We should not consider integrating our all-white club because blacks will NEVER be able to do what we did, to show what we displayed."

Meanwhile, in the comments section of the above page, lauises writes: "Its true that girls cannot do some things that we do. Not in terms of the excellence, but in others like the way we speak or the way we can relate to each other. To me at least, Victorians communicate in a very mysterious way. As in, really communicate, not just through speech."

I realise that some people have a major hang-up about the fact that girls cannot pee standing up, break their voices or do away with the menstrual cycle without a hysterectomy. But in "the way [VS boys] speak or the way [they] can relate to each other" --- wth?! Are male Victorians psychic now? It's funny, I've never seen my father or uncle display the slightest bit of extra-sensory perception. Oh wait, maybe it's because I'm a girl and wouldn't be able to "really communicate" with them, "not just through speech".

Meanwhile, Agagooga's penned a critique of the furore.


has updated its menu! Yay to more chicken options that aren't slathered in mayonnaise.


The web is taunting me. I wasn't able to connect to Gmail all morning. Blogspot addresses keep returning initial "Document contains no data" error messages too, although they load fine when I reload the page. *growl*


It's amazing the things one can learn over coffee with Casey. How do you pronounce the words in bold?
  1. Everyone has something to contribute to this project.
  2. I'd like a slice of almond cake, please.
  3. He's a very skilled political operative.
  4. We must educate them better.
  5. What are the economic effects of this change?
  6. It's their problem, not ours.
  7. What's your opinion on this issue?
  8. We're unsure about the cause.
  9. Where's the nearest MRT station?
  10. Do you have any comment on the changes?
  1. kun-TRI-bute, not CON-tribute
  2. AH-mon, not AL-mond
  3. puh-LI-tical, not POR-litical
  4. AIR-dju-cate, not AIR-du-cate
  5. eco-NO-mic, not e-CON-nomic
  6. there, not they're
  7. IS-sue or I-SHUE are both acceptable
  8. UN-shore if you're British, UN-shure if you're American
  9. em-AHR-tee, not em-ARUH-tee
  10. COM-ment, not com-MENT (regardless of whether the word is used as a noun or a verb)

Speaking of language use, here's a recent IM exchange with Agagooga:
Agagooga: "Dudes. /Nice/"
Agagooga: trying to get back into the groove ah
Me: I sometimes feel that slang best expresses the sentiment, when I have no time to sculpt amini-essay.
Agagooga: you're having a mid life crisis
Me: [MSN :P emoticon] See, you made me resort to emoticons
And more recently:
Me: Dude, NICE post on the VS stuff.
Agagooga: Yeah, Dudette!
Agagooga: your mid-life crisis is getting acute ;)
Me: Eh.
Me: I actually used "Dude" a few times in conversation last night. No one batted an eyelid.
Agagooga: I am observant lah
Agagooga: it's a seeming deviation from erstwhile conversational patterns

If you didn't know already, popagandhi is back in business, with a rubber ducky to cheer her on her way. Faster go and read!


So the media is trying to milk all they can out of the NKF saga. What about the fact that 4.5 million Singaporeans didn't get to vote in a presidential election because an election commission --- appointed by the ruling government, not elected by the people --- decided that there were no other suitable candidates than the incumbent?


To the "faceless, mediocre", "angsty, reticent", "recalcitrant" and "slow" former student: Thank you. And you were never faceless, mediocre, angsty, recalcitrant or slow. Reticent, perhaps, but I still have that Buffy calendar.


A conductor boarded the bus I rode home tonight. As it became apparent that she was going to check every passenger's bus ticket or ez-link card to make sure that everyone had paid or scanned the appropriate fares, a woman seated three rows from the front hastily pressed the bell to indicate that she wanted to alight at the next stop. Unfortunately, she didn't exit her seat quickly enough and had to submit her bus ticket to the conductor first. The conductor waved it at her, a gesture suggesting that the ticket wasn't sufficient for the woman's ride, to which the woman responded something along the lines of, "I know, I know," before clopping down the steps as soon as the bus had halted. I guess people do still try to cheat on their bus fares.

Bloody hell. They've got the red-and-white canopy set up outside our coffeeshop downstairs for the 7th Month dong-dong-chang. And I thought that with the coffeeshop under new management --- in fact, Terz thought the boss might be a Christian --- we could avoid the annual round of late-night rowdiness and shouting-into-the-mike.

I thought I'd halted the curse of the pilsener glasses, but the negative energy's merely been diverted: As I set down one glass tonight (without looking where exactly I was aiming it, as usual), it tapped the top of Terz's Coke glass and promptly chipped a whole piece off, while the offending pilsener glass remained intact. Oops.

I was going to finish my pile of marking after completing this post, but I had to spend almost half an hour excising random font tags that Blogger had wilfully inserted to confound my posting attempt. Now I go to bed, blind but all blogged out.


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