April 28, 2010 0 Comments

'Class, you guys must concentrate when studying. Do you hear me?' (rueful look, sombre tone)

'And do you know what concentration is?' (dramatic pause, lifting of right eyebrow) 'It's mass per unit volume or moles per unit volume. Get it?' (laughs hysterically as class stuns. stops after realising that no one else is laughing along)

*joke can be used when teaching Mole Concept, able to relieve tension and boredom
Here's another one: Most scholarships come with a minimum bond length.

'Do you know what's a bond length? It is the distance between the nuclei of the two atoms joined by a covalent bond, affected by the extent of overlap of electronic charge clouds.' (same laughter, same stunned expression, same sudden stop in laughing)
Think it'll be quite funny (to me). Most of my jokes are met with looks of utter disbelief from friends and family. Apparently, they don't find such puns funny.

Then again... don't think I'll ever display such personal humor to a class. Seems as though it's the surest and fastest way to gain a reputation for being a nutcase, hahah.


Listening with Presence, Awareness and Love

April 27, 2010 , 0 Comments

An Excerpt:

When a friend is in tremendous emotional or physical pain, sometimes we're afraid to go and be with him or her, or afraid of communicating honestly when we visit. We think we should know how to relieve our friend's pain, or have the right words to say. Yet what a person who's suffering needs most is our presence. The Greek word for one who comforts is paraclete, literally meaning 'one who comes along to walk alongside'. What we bring to our friend is our loving presence, with perspective. More than anything we do or say, what helps a person suffering is who we are.
-Christine Longaker
Was leafing through books in the library (while avoiding my favourite fiction authors). Thought that I ought to return to a staple of mind-broadening - though somewhat stale/boring/numbing - books.

Picked up this book on the importance of listening and was immediately hooked by its theories.

Often, we avoid people in pain for we do not know how to help them. We think that there must be some words that can be said or actions that can be done to immediately lessen the pain. The truth is that there are no such words or actions or magic pills that can vanish pain instantly.

The person suffering must work through the various phases of pain - denial, disbelief, resentment, bargaining, depression, acceptance and enlightenment (7 phases postulated by psychologists) - before he can come to terms with the pain. What friends can help is to simply encourage.

To simply encourage doesn't mean that the corollary - giving encouragement - is simple. Encouragement must come with a healing presence, timely perspectives and without self-motivated or biased judgement.

It's a two-way street; The injured party must also be willing to accept the aid. Too often, the hurt person snaps at helping hands.

When one feels the desperate need to be loved, one tend to behave in a very ugly and unlovable manner. One bristles and wallows in passiveness, turning minor misfortunes into epic tragedies. This repels the people around them - how would they approach someone curling in pain and pity? - thereby perpetuating the loneliness.

How sad is it that one tend to push away others when he needs them the most? And how sad is it that others get pushed away so easily?

There are no easy solutions to such questions. Psychologists have been grappling and will continue to grapple with such issues.

To learn to love and be loved, to learn to listen and be listened seem the most apt solution to resolving pain. 


Revision of PSLE (and why they shouldn't be doing it)

MOE's reviewing the weightage of Chinese in PSLE. There might be a reduction of the subject's contribution to the PSLE T-score from 25% to lower. (The extent of reduction's not made known yet).

What does this policy, if implemented, mean?

Students well-versed in the niceties of Maths, Science and English would get better PSLE scores (based purely on the way the score's tabulated), enter top secondary schools and go on to set the world on fire with their brilliant intellect, serving as catalysts for impressive advancements in the society.

At least, that's what both parents and the ministry think. Dream on, dream on.

If the policy benefits everyone to an equal extent, then top secondary schools would still be just as difficult to get into. Besides, entering a premier secondary school does not mean that the kid will go on in life to become a great success (although, arguably, it does tilt the scales in their favour).

If it benefits everyone equally, then the policy should just go ahead. Studying less is good for kids. (Aren't they supposed to be playing, enjoying themselves and creating fond memories that they can treasure instead of being entombed in a room, reciting a litany of Chinese characters?!)

The hitch is that the policy will not benefit everyone to an equal extent.

Kids from English-speaking families would benefit greatly from such a policy. Their parents are already voicing enthusiastic support, urging the Education Ministry to take steps towards realising this policy.

But how about kids from Chinese-speaking families? Contrary to popular beliefs, there are many low-income, Chinese-speaking families. Such a policy would only disadvantage them further, decreasing social mobility.

Where does the Ministry draw the line then? Must they really pander to the demands of parents?

If so, why not lower the weightage in PSLE Science for students weaker in Science and in PSLE Maths for students weaker in Maths and in PSLE English for students weaker in English? That way, everyone would be happy.

Personally, I don't really give two hoots about this policy (since I took my PSLE years ago and, in all likelihood, would never take it again). Besides, I've no kids yet, so there's really no need for me to fret. :]

But, if I've kids and they're weak in Chinese, I'd encourage them to learn more about their culture and in that education, grow to appreciate the beauty of the language. I'd not tell them to give up on Chinese or hope for a nanny state to step in. I'd not support any policies or pressure any government agency into sheltering my kids from such difficulties, essentially preventing their growth.

And if I'm a spokesperson from the Ministry of Education, I'll just ask the parents to raise their kids properly and not expect the government to make everything easy for their darling babies.

Remember, It's all for you own good.


Fact or Fiction

April 21, 2010 0 Comments

Was fingering a fiction book wistfully, tempted to be drawn into the alternate reality it offers. Used to read storybooks, one after another, always hungry for more. The feeling of immersing oneself in a different world was intoxicating.

Wait, let's see... Think there's a nice-sounding word to describe this. Escapism, they call it. Escapism.

Everyone have their unique ways of escaping reality/routine. It might be reading manga, watching movies or even playing virtual games. The sheer indulgence, while relaxing in moderation, induces lethargy when prolonged or when in an overdose.

And it's so difficult to resist such insidious temptations.

Fact or fiction?

Have decided to give up on the latter. It seems to be a time as good as any to give up on foolish dreams and face up to the reality of life and living.


Chinese & English

April 19, 2010 0 Comments

Surprised myself by agreeing to tutor Chinese. (Especially since I'm not particularly outstanding in this subject.)

Make no mistakes, Chinese is a beautiful subject. Its rich history and luxuriant imagery lends the language a brilliant grace that English can't compare to.

In the myopic race to score distinctions, I had neglected to appreciate this beauty and poetry in Chinese. All I could see back then was the complicated strokes, the various nuances of a particular word and the tiring effort it takes to master the language.

In short, like all other students, I was lazy.

And English, it's so much easier to learn! It's simple. It's functional. It's a mixture of words all over the world. It encompasses Chinese words like kowtow, French words like entrepreneur and Malay words like amok. Its broad nature allows it to proliferate flamboyantly throughout the globe.

Now, I'm still fascinated with English. But as I tutor Chinese, I'm discovering a new side of my mother tongue that I've never seen before.

'华文是个很美丽的语言,' I'd say. And repeat. And elaborate. And substantiate. And repeat.

While attempting to brainwash the kid into liking Chinese, I fear that I've brainwashed myself too. Kind of enjoyed the brainwashing too.


Veronika Decides to Die

April 17, 2010 0 Comments

What is the definition of sanity?

It's a consensus among the masses as to what is the norm, the standard, the typical, the expected, the usual. Over time, a society agrees upon the proper decorum and expects its members to abide by it.

To sing and laugh when expected is sane. To sing and laugh when unexpected is insane.

Insanity is when one decides to break free from the mould, to cease adhering to the invisible laws that govern the society. Many times, scientists - Copernicus, Newton, Darwin et al - and artists - Pollock, Matisse, Hirst et al- are deemed mad for the radical ideas they have, ones that don't conform to the norms.

But, are they the mad ones? If they are not mad, then people who accused them of being so are.

All too frequently, people get put down for what they are about to attempt. 'That's crazy, it won't work.' 'You're not talented, don't even think about it.' 'Don't be an idiot.' 'Why are you doing this?' 'You're trading your future away, that's what you're doing.'

And all too frequently, they acquiesce. They submit passively to expectations, shrivelling within. Is this a more apt definition of madness? To behave normally and satisfied, to let each day pass dully and blindly, to be someone like any other along the streets?

To act different from what one is such that one can be the same as others?

And so, Veronika concludes. The world's filled with insane people who appear to be sane.


Looking at Friendship, Scientifically

April 15, 2010 , 0 Comments

There are two forces at work in life. One constructive, the other destructive. They coexist and define each other, therefore acquiring meaning, depth.

Things tend towards disorder, even at a molecular level. (That's what entropy's all about.) Most reactions are exothermic, producing greater chaos. This microcosm's reflected in the greater scheme: friendship fades; happiness don't last; ideals are ideals, simply imagination.

What that once binds tightly seems predestined to fade into mere wispy silvers, trembling then disintegrating at the slightest turmoil.

Always thought that friendships don't last, can't last, will never last. It takes effort, energy, even some modicum of money to maintain a relationship. No, it takes double the effort since both parties must be willing to maintain, much less nurture. As the Chinese saying goes, 孤掌难鸣, 单脚难行。

But thankfully, there's an opposing force to this relentless ruinous force.

It's what chemists termed as affinity. (They used this word 'cause it sounds really cool; can't find other suitable words too.)

Hydrogen molecules can react with the vastly different oxygen molecules to produce the water of life, a product radically different from both reactants. Paracetamol, a non-narcotic analgesic, can be produced from phenol, a mild irritant.

It seems that miracles happen on a more frequent basis that one would care to think about. Evolution - leading to greater logic, lesser disorder; antithesis to the chaos principle - occurs. Relationships aren't as frail as I once thought.

Decided to contact friends that I've neglected and been likewise neglected by. Unwilling to just let everything crumble into ashes.

Perhaps just a little sms to let others know you care?


Consensus With Oneself

April 11, 2010 , 0 Comments

He was idly fingering the yellow-purple bruise on his leg, lazily admiring the strange mix of sickly yellow and dirty blue, when he suddenly recalled the little boy from ages past.

Back then, I was only a Secondary 4 student, concerned with my academics, focused on impressing others, wrapped up in my shallow world. Living in the cloistered environment of a loving family and nurturing school, I had this impression that we were all living the carefree lives of our choices.

Life seemed beautiful. Hard work was recognized. Love abound. Friendship lasted. Fairy tales came true.

One day, while traveling home after a particularly draining day in school, I saw this Primary 5 kid sitting along the pavement. I recognized him. After all, we had chatted before, even walked with each other to school a number of times. (My secondary school happens to be adjacent to his primary school.)

The kid, scrawny little boy that he was, told me that he was locked out of his house. Seized by compassion – feeling all saintly and Mother Theresa-ly – I invited him to my home for dinner.

We had to travel through a meandering path, one which passed by a dark, brooding canal. The kid clutched to me as his imagination ran wild, his thoughts churning along with the drain water he could hear but not see. Later, during dinner, he revealed his fear of being kidnapped by me along this isolated path. Me? Kidnap him? Do I even look like a kidnapper?! Was mildly amused/ offended.

In my humble home, I served the little boy a plate of rice and made him a glass of instant fruity drink. ‘Help yourself to the dishes of meat and vegetables before you,’ I said, 'all these dishes taste great.' The little boy had a great deal of rice, some small pieces of meat and no vegetables. Such an unbalanced diet! No wonder he’s so skinny! Tried forcing him to have more veggie but to no avail.

After dinner, I attempted to get the little boy to leave for his family. He wouldn’t, claiming that his aunt wasn’t home yet. And so, somewhat reluctantly, I allowed him to stay for a while longer.

In that short span of two hours, he had fought with my younger brothers for the computer – quite incredible, considering that he was merely a stranger in this household – and rejected a nice wallet offered.

And then, it was time for him to go home.

Out of fear that he might lose his way, I decided to accompany him. (The labyrinth within this private estate can be confusing even for the residents, what with its cul-de-sacs, nooks and crannies.)

He was locked out of the dilapidated double storey corner terrace and refused to ring the door bell. ‘My aunt will beat me,’ he whimpered. ‘May I just stay over at your home for one day?’

I did not have to think. ‘No.’ It was a definite answer, ringing with the finality of it all. He did something which changed my response immediately.

Have you ever had anyone clung to you in sheer desperation and need? If not, you really should try it someday.

The boy threw himself at me and hugged me with a fervent anxiety. That hug was, in a way, sheer torture. His agony, his dilemma, his turmoil, they were all palpable. It was incredible, the way his pain penetrated through all the shields that I had. It destroyed all composure, leaving me frail and vulnerable. With difficulty, hoping that I won’t hurt the boy’s feelings, I extricated myself from his grasp.

Why did he hug me so? Then, he showed me.

Beneath his short sleeves were ugly bruises. Some were days old while others, weeks old. Apparently, his mother has died while giving birth to him. He was staying with his aunt who physically abused him and a grandmother who didn’t care about his well-being. (It was true that those who physically abuse would pick spots that were not immediately visible to pinch. The skinny but tanned boy, with a rapidly firing tongue, bore resemblance to a playful monkey. He was the very picture of health, that was until one saw his scars.)

I didn’t know what to do. I was merely a Sec 4 kid. I was neither Nelson Mandela nor Gandhi nor Angelina Jolie. I didn't have the political/ social/ financial wherewithal to effect a change. Hell, I didn't even have a degree! (Naively thought that a degree solves all the problems in the world.)

We went back to my home. Had this inspired thought that my family can adopt this kid. Hey, he could be one of my many brothers! After all, I already have 3 siblings. One more shouldn’t make any difference, right? Besides, one of my aunts was adopted. With a precedent, everything should be easier, isn’t it?

My family flatly rejected. My uncle insisted that he leave for his own home. I was speechless with indignance. Words failed me but thoughts remained rampant. How can they turn out this poor child? Aren’t they devout Buddhists? Aren’t they suppose to help those in need? What about practicing what they preach?

I had been so insistent, enfolded in this bubble-wrap of idealism, innocence and stupidity(?). There were many things that I didn’t understand then. And now that I understand, I no longer wish to understand.

My elder brother asked me to be rational. Couldn’t imagine the venomous thoughts coursing through my mind about my brother and his religion at that moment. It felt darkly satisfying to be in touch with such a primal anger; there was this feeling that I no longer cared for what that might happen. The last thing I wanted was to be rational, to be scientific, to be so coolly logical. If one could explode from self-righteousness, I’d have been a splatter on the pavement.

My brother joined the little boy and I in wandering around the neighbourhood. Caressed by the gentle midnight breezes and the warm light of the amber street lamps, my irritation abated. Felt kind of selfish when I suddenly thought of the mountainous load of homework yet to be done and the class test taking place the next day. A guilt made worse when I weighted them with regards to the abused boy walking beside me.

At the T-junction near his house, we sat and tried to come up a solution to this little boy’s dilemma. His dad didn’t live with them in the huge double-story dilapidated corner terrace. Why not call him?

He was terrified by this suggestion. Revealed that his dad would drive down from where ever he was working to whack him. He flinched when my brother placed his hand on his shoulder to comfort him. Was it from the painful contact of hand and raw bruises or was he just not used to being cared about?

Saw a terrace in front of me, one in which a school mate lived in.

Didn’t really feel anything much about him, simply thought that he has a rather irritating pseudo-American accent. Desperation drove me to press the doorbell. This guy, he suggested to contact some family protection services etc. yada yada. His cool rational wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I wanted an instant solution for this little boy. I wanted him to allow the boy to sleep in his terrace home. His dad declined, citing that they could be charged for kidnap.

With face flaming – why did I even try? – I thanked them for their help and we walked away.

The boy finally revealed that he can climb over the gate and sleep in the veranda. With cautious steps, he stepped on the ledge, grabbed the railings and heaved himself over to the other side. The eroded, iron-wrought gate stood between us as we bid farewell.

For the subsequent weeks, he studiously avoided the boy.

The boy had made him promise to walk with him to school daily but he dared not commit. He would either pass the path slightly earlier or later, always hoping that he wouldn’t meet the boy.

Why? Years later, he asked himself. Perhaps, it was because the boy remind him of the ugliness that abounds. After all, the kid’s the one who opened his eyes to the unfeeling truth. Perhaps, the boy evokes a deluge of consuming emotions. Perhaps perhaps perhaps.

He dare not dwell too much on this issue. The possibility of having definite answers frightens him as much as the questions upset him. Sometimes, while he was just lazing around, he would wonder about this boy – where is he now, how is he, what is he doing?

How, indeed, to reach a consensus with oneself?


The Future

April 09, 2010 0 Comments

The future, what does it hold?

Sometimes, I wonder what my friends, my family and I would end up as.

Would he be that famous photographer that took some award-winning images? Would she be that beloved tutor who had inspired many? Would he be that top performing real estate agent? Would we end up rich and famous?

Or would we end up as the average HDB-dwelling, middle-income Singaporeans? Anonymous, faceless and insipid?

Not sure where I'd end up. Not even sure when I'd like to head towards.

It seems futile to predict the future, especially when each event (and the response to it) holds the possibility of altering the future. So many unknowns, too many variables.

Still, it's nice to wonder.


At wit's end

April 05, 2010 0 Comments

Was just thinking about the Rosenthal Effect and how it might relate to my own tutoring. Rosenthal posits that by the sheer magic of willpower, one can spur others to greater heights.

This however appears to be part of the equation. The more important variable isn't addressed. It doesn't account for the determination - or its lack thereof - in students.

Simply wondering what's the mojo that can allow people to reach their aspirations. Why aren't the students scoring despite intense, positive beliefs in them? Is it because they themselves are satisfied with mediocrity? What are the exact ingredients to concoct the cocktail of success?