September 17, 2017 0 Comments

There are always bright spots in the darkening sky. That's how we see metaphors in constellations, Orion in the scatter of stars, Ophiuchus from disparate pinpricks of light.

We see meaning in what that may be essentially meaningless. Random clusters of rocks are imbued with myths. Within stars, there is an archer, a lion, the snake charmer.

We are meaning-making creatures, prone to see colours in drifting leaves. Apophenia: that's our tendency to attribute meaning to perceived patterns between unrelated things.

Sometimes, it's easy to be disheartened by young people, how they lose their temper for what may be trivial reasons. That vulgarity, that arc of marker across the classroom, that defiant tilt of the chin.

How easy to see patterns in these acts, a constellation of why not to be. How easy to forget the oft printed call to make a difference.

Much more challenging to remember the laughter within the classroom, the easy smiles along the corridors, the unexpected gifts between lessons.

There are many people to leave behind, many reasons to leave. How then to perceive the network of light to stay for, to remain for.


A Reminder On Why We Teach

August 11, 2017 0 Comments

Sometimes, it's easy to forget why we teach. There are exams to set, students to counsel, stacks to mark, meetings to attend, parents to call... There's a litany of activities, one after another, a frantic rush.

The key point, of course, isn't grades. It isn't about the number of passes, the percentage of distinctions, the mean subject grade.

It's about sitting down and talking to students and explaining your point and raising your voice when you have to and softening your voice when you have to and trying to grow with them, beside them, alongside them. It's a balance that's impossible, given the sheer number of individuals we try to help.

It's easy to be swallowed by the rush, to forget.

Today, during assembly, the principal shared about a call she received. Usually, these calls are complaints about students not moving to the back of buses on their morning trips. I was ready to nudge students into paying attention.

"A seventy-five year old uncle called me last week," she said. "He was on his bicycle when he made a turn and fell off. Two of our students went past, paused and offered help. He told them that he would be fine, just let him rest on the ground. Our students said, "We cannot leave you in the rain." This was the line which touched him: "We cannot leave you in the rain." They helped him to the bus stop and wanted to call for an ambulance. But the uncle said that his wife was waiting for him at home. So they helped him home and even called him regularly to ensure that he is well. Turns out that the fall had caused a fracture and he needed a surgery to insert a metal plate into his hip. Our students help were invaluable."

It's incidents like this, that reminds us of why we teach.

The warmth, it's akin to swallowing a mug of hot chocolate.

(Monkeys seen in Bako National Park)


Day at the Flower Dome

June 02, 2017 , , 0 Comments

I rushed into the staff room with a box of orange files and a fistful of papers. There was a need to prepare them - files and forms - for checking by some colleagues. It was the last day of the first week of June holidays and I simply wanted to rest.

In the neighbouring cubicle, there was a little girl playing with Lego blocks. My colleague's daughter.

'Hello, girl girl. Do you still remember my name?' I smiled, hopefully in a non-creepy way.

She mumbled something. 'Sian Yoo.' For that, she deserved and got a bottle of Vitagen drink.

'Girl, you must be polite and say thank you loudly,' my colleague pointed to me. 'Do you call him Kor Kor or Uncle?'

The child looked at me, paused and said, 'Kor kor.'

It was a sweet glorious moment.

After a while, my colleague wanted to bring her to the washroom. She came back up and whispered, 'Uncle, I'm going off to visit the forest today.'

Look at her. She's not cute at all. How could she call me an UNCLE?!
We were going to the Gardens by the Bay, to meet up with a group of elderly and show them the myriad of flowers. It was strange, every interaction with such elderly seniors, their vulnerabilities and ours, all exposed.

I wondered if I would be stuffed into an old folks' home next time, deprived of possessions, a living thing waiting for death.

My colleague and I were paired with a 76 year old lady. She kept reminding us that we were fortunate to receive an education and to be paid decently for the work we do. At the end, she reminded a nurse to buy 4D for her.

Some of these old ladies told another colleague - very forthrightly, perhaps too forthrightly - that she should lose weight. 

There were many flowers in the dome, all resplendent and cheerful. Their colours were a promise; their youth, a harbinger of rot. 

There were many orchids as well. Some look so different from others that one could scarcely believe that they were grouped into the same sub-genus.

All in all, this was an interesting trip - the intersection between the faded, the fading, the blooming and the just-blooming.

Where we are, the multi-generational fabric is fraying. Threads unravel, everything falls apart.

Through this trip, we remember the whys of our existence.


Comical Moments In Class

March 05, 2017 2 Comments

1) Was standing in front of the classroom while going through a newspaper article when I spied a cable twisting towards a charging point. 'W h o i s c h a r g i n g y o u r p h o n e? o w n u p n o w.' The class went silent before starting to giggle.

It turned out to be the school's air purifier which was installed since last September.

2) A group of hyperactive students went past the room. I casually remarked to the three students right in front, 'These sec ones are so cute. So bouncy and mini. You know, you were like them last year.'

They swivelled their heads, looked out and said, 'Cher, they are prefects, not sec ones, and they are old.'

3) Under the subtopic of human circulatory system, students learn that valves are present in veins to prevent backflow of blood.

'Valves only let blood go in one direction.'

There was a studied silence.

'Valves, blood, one direction. One Direction, get it? One Direction.' Their groans drowned out my little One Direction hum.

4) 'From food to faeces, from ingestion to egestion.' It was the topic on the human digestive system.
'In fact, Disney wrote a song about how our digestive systems end. Do you know which one?'


'It's about the excretion of waste materials. And it has a line like this... ... Let it go, let it go, can't hold it back anymore, let it go...'

5) Probably something of an equivalent nature will happen tomorrow.