Monday, August 30, 2004

A bittersweet taste...maybe things should not have begin this way

Celebrations, don't you just love them...every year, for a day without fail, the students put aside their horns and forks, squeeze the air out of themselves, making them white and pale and put on a little "halo" over their heads. Yes I am talking about Teachers' Day. As I look back on my past 4 years of teaching, I started to reflect on how things have changed over the years. Whitening hair well covered by the inexpensive black, brown, coppertone hair dye, receding hairline which shows wisdom of the teachers and of course the pulling hair due to sheer frustration- a sense of resignation not helped by the unappreciative nature of certain students. But then again, what's new? This is part and parcel of teaching, just like irate bosses in the corporate world, hard-to-please customers in sales, things do happen in every profession.

And how can I forgot... the presents that got the teachers all excited. Don't get us wrong, we are not really hard up for cookies, edible (read: won't create a case of LS) or inedible ( read: heavy enough to be paperweight and a potential killer litter/ discus when thrown) Well when I first joined the profession, the numbr of presents received during this day was like the contestants hearing the poll results from Gurmit in Singapore Idol. You may not sing well ( read: teach well) but if you can smile, twinkle your eyes a little, you might survive another round. But in the long run... hm... that will be really the challenge. The number of boxes of presents I have collected over the past three year read a proud "three" one for each year. I have gotten things, from chocolates, to flowers, to mini Tshirts, cologne (smell bad huh??) to total Picasso wannabe cards, Ng Eng Teng-ish sculptures ( read: colour bottles with colour water which I believe is breeding Aedes mosquitoes the very moment we read...) I have to say I really appreciate all the girls efforts. They are so forthcoming when it come to show appreciation during the once a year event. And presents, be it big or small, is always appreciated. I understand that the student contributed a part to the teacher dinner tonight and for that let me on behalf of the teachers extend a big thank you. However I personally feel that this is just an extravagant and frivolous way for the teachers to celebrate Teachers' Day. Much as we appreciate the effort done by the parents to honour us this day, I believe some of the teachers would just love to celebrate it with..... the teachers ourselves. I missed the days when the teachers celebrate this day in a small restaurant just by ourselves. With our raised status, instead it became a formal occasion for teachers to receive the accolades of the parents who had been zealous to appreciate the work of the teacher done for their daughters; this stupendous effort to make us appreciated. While a classy dinner in a classy restaurant in a classy place in Singapore may be an idea of a tribute to the teachers, I believe the teachers would not mind forsaking it for a simple dinner, not one with the frills and thrills, or worse with the Tuxs and the coiffed hair! But then again please don't treat this as being unappreciative. The dinner will be great but I just feel that the money can be of better use.

On a side issue, have you notice the stress level in the school? If it is not apparent to you, you are a) oblivious of what is going on b) pretending to be oblivious of what is going on. Things are getting stressful for the teachers, students and even the school sweepers with increasing number of trees starting to shed their leaves ( it is autumn mind you!) I have seen teachers breaking down in tears uncontrollably or even laughing hysterically or doing both at the same time. Family committment anxieties? Work related tension? Or a bad joke passing around? One thing for sure, the stress level will be leviating to greater heights in the last term. The sec 4 are in the midst of theier preliminary exams, and the Sec 1-3 will be having their end-of-year exams in approximately 3 odd weeks or so. I shuddered at the sense of urgency , most the lack of it seen in many of the classes I teach.

In fact, for the next few weeks, I shall
1) be an absolute devil, and make sure my students start studying.
2) If I turn soft at heart to excuses, I must refer to point 1)

I made my form class do something to find their innate desires to study and to do well in the examinations. With their so many out of school curriculum activities and after school school related activities such as the stupid IPW and the mind-boggling crazy commitments, it is hard for them to find a period of time for them to start study for an extended period of time. But I guess this is the poor life of the students.

(For Teachers' Day, Mr Ng wished all his students would channel their enthusiasm from showing appreciation to him to their work so that they will do well in the Sec 3 exams. No matter how he hate it, he would hope to see the entire classes he taught to Sec 4 next year and prepare them for the O level. He, however, would not mind cookies which can double as coasters or flying targets for the errant students who love to put their heads on the tables during SS or History lessons)

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Queue the Singaporean Way
Before I start my nonsensical ramblings, I would like to thank 3/1 for providing such a funny inspiration for me to write the following entry.

What is it with Singaporeans and queues? Singaporeans queue for the most trivial of things (e.g. said cat, condominiums, free gifts) but don't for the most civil (e.g. the bus, and the MRT). You have to wonder if we have our priorities straight. Does lining up for four or more hours make the prize so much more rewarding? But then again, I personally find greater pleasure in getting my food early, satisfying my hunger and watching people line up for their food from where I sit!

A couple of years back when there was this craze for Hello Kitty Dolls given out with a extra value meals, the queues for the white, dot-eyed, mouthless one have to be seen to be believed! I grinned when I saw the snaking line outside the YMCA at Stamford Road. But I almost fell off my seat when I saw the queue at Centrepoint. It had obviously started at the fast food restaurant but had made its way through the underpass and was twisting and turning towards Somerset Road! I have had a personal account from an ex-student of mine who joined the masses at 6 am and managed to claim her reward at 10 am ( yes of course missing lessons!) . A cat could go through eight of its nine lives in that time!

A passing tourist might think that McDonald's had just landed here and sua-koo locals were rushing to get a taste of some hallowed burger. (That or there is a food shortage in conjunction with the Civil Defence exercise!) Someone on the tourism board should take advantage of this and tout the phenomenon as a tourist attraction... Come see the eighth wonder (or blunder) of the world! Correctly guess how many people are in the queue and win an exclusive Hello Kitty wearing an "I saw the Hello Kitty queue" T-shirt. There are dozens to collect. Collect them all and put them one behind the other so that they form the longest line possible! If you form the longest line, you get a free McDonald's meal voucher for you and your cats or you can choose a movie ticket to watch "Super Size ME". (Conditions apply. Valid for use on Thursdays only and preference will not be given to contest winners. You join the queue like everyone else.)

Is there anything wrong with the queueing craze or even the obsession that people have? NO? Hello! Working adults were jamming highways or abandoning their cars on roads or letting the fruit of their loins* be late for school... all for the sake of ... Damn some people don't even know what they were queueing for. They stand behind the line with the mentality that "queue"="good things ahead". While queueing showed a civilised nature of the adults, psychologists say that adults can't be adults all the time. I see the logic in this. That was why there was that childish "my father can beat your father" incident when two fathers - one doctor, one Beng - fought over a place in the line for the Hello Kitty toy years back and of course, the broken glass pane when over-zealous people tried to push their way through when the outlet was opening.

Why queue? Is it really because something is good, or just a atypical singapore trend? If it is , why are people queueing for things like Hello Kitty, First Day covers, or even previous years NDP tickets? The experts also said that adults who collected such souvenirs were simply making up for lost childhood as they now had money to buy what they could not get when they were young. Hello! I also know for a fact that there is a growing number of people with not so innocent intentions. These are not real collectors or fans of Hello Kitty. They look at the black dots for eyes and see dollar signs instead. You can spot them a mile off. You know, these swarthy types that look more at home with a bottle of Guinness Stout in their paws than carrying a litter full of kittens. There are people who pay other people (one such person called them "runners". I call them "catnappers" or people with nothing else better to do) to line up for the toys and then sell them at "fat precious darling" prices over the Internet or in stores. It's like another stock market out there! And while the company might not readily admit it, there are those in McDonald's uniforms who make a brisk profit off catnapped Kittys.

To look at this in a positive note, this can be seen as being entrepreneurial and people who consider this as "entrepreneurial spirit" would be proud. Singapore is producing people who will answer when opportunities knock, strike while the iron is hot, not hesitate and not therefore not lose... and queue even before the kitty in heat calls. But the age old question resurfaces: why do people ultimately do this?

Let us examine (rough cat tongue-in-cheek, of course) why McDonald's decided to sell Hello Kittys? Why do people creat the illusion of having limited editions of certain merchandise. To make money, of course. But why? Were Macs not already saving and making money by reducing the size but increasing the price of their cholesterol-laden meals? Ah, but some people saw through that ruse. That's why they threw away the burgers after getting their Kittys. Perhaps McDonald's just got bored of just making so much money. Why else would it ruffle KFC's feathers by selling chicken? Why sell toys if not to threaten Toys'R'Us? Perhaps they were in cahoots with a mad scientist in NUS to devise a cruel social experiment. Perhaps they had a deal with CISCO to employ excess/trainee guards.

Highly unlikely. What is more likely is that the phenomenon is due to pure, unadulterated greed! A stack of money gets very lonely after a while so it craves for company. Money, being a highly gregarious entity, needs to be in the presence of lots of other like-minded notes. It suffers from insecurity. It pines, it calls, it wails... and so as doting owners, we succumb to what it wants.

Speaking of suffering, have you seen what the fans who don't get their hands on what they were queuing for? They look like a forlorn figure in the rain: sad, dejected and drained. Tensions, and frustration grows. There will be a Queuing Depression Hotline soon. But I know of some "kind" souls who, right after successfully lining up for the "toys", go right to these victims and victimise them some more! They dangle their catches like, well... the way you might dangle a ball at the end of a string to a cat. Both parties walk away contented: the seller satisfied with a fatter wallet; the buyer with a spring in his/her step because of the load removed from the wallet and the prize in hand.

If I were one of our country's leaders, I'd take a leaf out of the McDonald's handbook. Why? For whipping up such fervour. The only other queue that rivals that of Mac's is the one that forms for National Day tickets. (however being pragmatic high tech Singapore, we have choose to allocate tickets through electronic balloting, saving people the fun of queuing.) But there is a difference. There is so much passion, excitement and expectation in one queue compared to the other. People jostle or literally fight over positions in that queue. There are those who plan in advance and chope places the night before. So I must say in this case Mac Donalds 1 Singapore 0

Disclaimer: Although Mac Donalds is targetted in this article, it is by no means a personal insult. I still love Mac Donalds Mc Spicy burger, and apple pie... And by the way got free gift or not??

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Old Men and Old Boys

Caustic comments don't just disappear.. they mellowed and turn acidic with age.

I am sensitive to the word "age" or anything that sound remotely similar about age (Ever wonder why words that sound similar are called homonyms and people who sound each other out are called homos ;P) I am not a stick in the mud when it come to exercising sensitivities to the concept of ageism but I truly believe that the elders need respect, balding or not. And again just to get the record straight I am not balding. I just happened to have a higher and wider than normal forehead. And for your information again, that is not abnormal. If you are into geomancy, palmistry, chemistry and geometry, you would understand it is blessed to have a wide forehead as it meant good fortune and prosperity. Trust me I said so. The least you would want is a blue black eye for the national day holidays. Blue and black aren't really patroitic colours...

I can fully understand the girls disdain when they heard me singing praises about my school Victoria. As an old boy of the school. I have deep affection and high regards for the end products churned ( me not withstanding) I guessed sometimes my fervour can be overzealous and suspiciously xenophobic when it come to other second rated boy schools. Just like all IJ girls would see their tradition and their schools as the best. I also commented that about Victoria School's motto (notice that we are sensitive to the word Victoria Secondary, as it put us in the same brackets as the rest of the other neighbourhood schools, Damn we would called ourselves Victoria Institution, modelled behind some wannabe nerdy boy school if the acronym of Victoira Institution did not sound that demeaning to an elite boy school.) Victoria School " Nil Sine Labore" or "nothing without labour" in English exemplified the qualities one need to survive and get the necessary advancement without society. Then again everything in life must come with a bit of labour and with this come the philosophy of how did you end up in this world in the first place, ( of course after a night of labour :P) But I digress, VS's motto is a simple and yet profound mantra that we should keep as the guiding principle of our life. Nothing come for free you see.

I can already envisage angry people with the compulsion to type angry replies to what I have said. Make yourself heard and remember "nothing will come without labour" :P

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The MEAN ME is back (almost)

I haven't blogged for years. Well the old me, I feel. Welcome back, I feel like a spirit in transition, creepy but I feel that my evil twin had "invaded' my body. Well chosse the following response, do you like a) the old me? b) the new me ( ie the past few weeks) or c) there was a difference? But I feel that my PMS period is ending. period. Starting to get the momentum back but I am just waiting for the National Day to disrupt everything again.

Anyway, I realise that I have "lost" my acute sense of lameness especiallty when it come to the delivery of jokes. I attempted a weak effort this afternoon with my form class, since they have been always "supportive" but I guess it fall really flat, so flat that it look like a pancake. Then again pancakes are supposed to be flat.. But then I digress.

I ALSO realised that my 'mean'ness also went down a couple of notches this period of time. I just lack the zest and vigour to scold and scream. But let me warn all of you , I am about 605 back and I should be in full swing by next week. Watch out IJ!!

Haven't you been looking at the blocks of flats as you walked along the streets. For those who feared an intrusion to privacy and suspected that I am a voyuer by nature. Let me assure all of you that I am. Being a typical Kapoh Singaporean, I love to keep my eyes wide and ears open especially to interesting sightings and juicy gossips. One of the thing that I observe is the serious lack of patroitism among the Singaporeans. To justify my point, let's do an oonline survey. What will you do when Singapore is under attack? I know that this is an old grandother/grandfather/granduncle story but so are the response to be chosen. Is it

a) Stay put in Singapore and defend Singapore. This is my homeland ( and break into choruses of Kit Chan "Home" or the horrific Tanjong Katong Primary version? Anyway what happen next, hip hop version of "home"?)

b) Leave? (Come on let's be realistic, how can an island take so many people since there will be foreign invaders coming. The countries is already facing a serious overcrowding and the least we need is having people to take up extra space. Anyway we need to reproduce more Singaporeans to keep the fire burning.)

c) Singapore? What Singapore? (As I always mention to the rest of the Sec 4, Singapore is oh so big that a spit, a piss and a shit from every citizen of China will be enough to drown or/and bury us whichever come first!)

Which answer have you choose? The politically correct one is of course a) and of course as "patroitic" students you will choose a). But then again is this the answer that is deep in your heart. Feel it, (take it out with a knife, massage it a little) and is it pumping to the rhythm of Majulah Singapura? Sad to say this is not how many feel. Some Singaporeans just didn't bother to put the national flag outside their flat. Have you notice the patoitism level goes lower and lower and lower by the year. I did a simple count of the number of flags in my block and got a shocking 3!! 3 out of a blaady 100 plus flats. Talk about patroitism!!

What's wrong with Singaporeans nowadays. This is the 39th birthday of Singapore, and Singaporeans are not participating enmasse for the celebrations. There are also Singaporeans who are making use of this long break for a trip up north or south or anywhere except in Singapore. Singaporeans are far too deprived when it come to holidays and no one is willing to let this opportunity for a short break miss. But if you can stay at home to attend your mum's dad's or grandpa's birthday, why can't you just stay for the country's birthday? Many argued that patoritism is not wearing it on you shirt/dress/blouse, but through actions. People also agreed that going out is not an act of disloyalty. But when it come to the crunch how many people would really be bothered about all the little things about protecting the country? While we don't associate attending National Day Parade and putting the National Flag outside your flags as acts of patroitism, but these are a start.

If you see a half naked man, with a unflattering body trying to fix up the flag outside his flat. Take a second look, it could be me after getting my conscience pricked by this article that I wrote.