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Happy New Year. It's 2016. Years ago, I got beautiful Christmas and New Year cards, with beautifully composed verses. When mobile phones became popular, I got text messages. This year, I get whatsapp messages with pictures and video clips, and most of these are not personal messages from my friends. They are downloaded from somewhere, and sent and re-sent to groups upon groups of people. The Internet must be clogged up with heavy traffic. I think this wonderful technology could be used for more important things, like sending messages to the moon. Oh, we did that! Happy New Year!
I have a very simple New Year resolution: do something significant or meaningful every single day. I must make a conscious effort to live each day well, and that does not mean just getting things done and not messing up. It means going to bed each evening and looking back, I can say, I have worn this day well.
This morning, I went through my journals and transcribed them into my iPad, clearing the clutter of notebooks in the room. Then, I went to town to look up new books.
I think I have worn this day well.
I may not be inclined to physical exertion, and I do have stress avoidance strategies, but I'm not lazy. I work very hard at the office and at home.
I just don't like to do odious tasks like changing a tyre, filling tyres with air, and sending the car for servicing. I have not done any of these even after more than thirty years of owning and driving a car. I managed to avoid these because I have a hero at home.
But for adventures like jungle trekking, I can be prevailed upon to take up the challenge.
The school year has begun with a bang! Here, it just doesn't roll in. New students, new faculty, are just thrown into the thick of things and they find their footing as they go along. There is orientation, but that itself is disorienting. For a new teacher, you are shown the school grounds, the staff, the school rules, your teaching schedule, you extra-curricular duties and everything you needed to know in one day, and then whoosh - you are on your own. You are assigned a mentor, but she has her own teaching load. It's better to make friends quickly.
My eldest sis died last November. My younger sis, in 2012. The fact that I am the only girl left of my siblings - I have four brothers - is not lost on anyone. The fact that I could be the next to go is not lost on me.
What did they do wrong that they are gone? What am I doing right that I live on? No. It's not a question of right and wrong living! Everyone dies one day! They went first, that's all.
That sounds unfeeling, but I am grieving. And accepting that I could be next.
I absolutely believe that we must not judge others. Why do some people feel it's their business to say how others should live their lives? That just because they're enjoying theirs, those who are not have themselves to blame because they're afraid to go without a job. Some people may not have much choice. I choose to stay in my job despite the stress because I need to support my family. Why is it so difficult to imagine that there are people who, like me, do not have the freedom to live the way they want because of their circumstances.
I don't know why I hadn't visited her sooner. It was probably just procrastination. But the longer I put off visiting her, the more difficult it was to do so.
When I was told in November 2014 she had stage 4 cancer, I went to see her immediately. When she started chemotherapy, I saw her in the first few months of 2015. Then, from April to October I did not even call.
She called one day in early November 2015, angry that I didn't care. She said the treatment didn't work. She was dying.
She was angry I showed no concern. It was awkward to have to apologize and offer excuses, so I went over that very evening. We talked and I asked how I could help. I offered to take her to hospital for her review the following Thursday.
But when I saw her that day, she was very weak. She was admitted that day, and passed away on Tuesday.
I am painfully aware that if had she had called, I would live with much regret.
My sister was right. I didn't care. I am so sorry.
In the previous two entries I lamented that I did not spend enough time with my elder sister even after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
It was the same when my youngest sister was diagnosed with brain cancer. She went through radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery, but she finally succumbed to the disease in a nursing home three years ago. I visited her in the hospital and at the nursing home but did not stay long each visit.
Am I unable to deal with death that I distance myself? I wasn't there when my sisters needed me.
By now I have more or less made up our mind that I will not be retiring here. What do old people do here all day long? They watch television, go to the malls, take up folk-dancing at community centres, or go walk in the park. This is a very small country. There aren't many places you can go to. It is a city, and old people are loneliest in a city that throbs with life but only for those with youthful exuberance. I'll be forced to retire soon, but I hope to go on living a useful life.
It's much easier not to write, but I have done that often enough, so I will just write. Why? Because I will be none the better if I don't, and if I do, perhaps I will make some improvement somehow, somewhere.
It's like exercise. It's much easier not to move, but we are meant to move. Our body is much too sophisticated for sitting still. If I move, even if it's just putting one foot in front of the other, some good will come out of it.
So, it's better that I write. There! It is written. Done.
I wasn't happy when my art teacher make us cover an entire piece of white paper, 1m by 70 cm, with charcoal, and then over the next three sessions erase and lift the charcoal to show a range of tonal values as seen in the still life display.
But this weekend, I covered the outline of a water fountain and two birds with burnt umber watercolor. When it was dry the next day, I lifted up the dark colours with a wet brush and paper towels. The effect is rather nice, and less messy. I think I like it.
This morning's "mindfulness" workshop was a waste of time. To amuse myself, I started making notes of the presentation. Haven't done this for a while. Have been using the keyboard. Then, I noticed my handwriting has changed. I don't write with a slant anymore. The letters are more rounded. In fact, I was holding the pen differently. I wasn't gripping it tightly, and I wasn't resting on my wrist.
I was holding the pen like a pencil. I think I've morphed into an artist, after half a year of art lessons. It's only now that I realised I've changed.
The track along the coastal wetlands have been resurfaced and now there are about three pods built above the ground, over the mangrove, where we can find relief from the tropical heat and enjoy the sea breeze. Actually these wooden structures are lookout points from where we can observe the migratory birds well hidden from them. They are built of wooden planks and shaped aesthetically like pods to blend in with the natural environment.
My friends call this the last wild place in this country. Even then, the paths are well paved and there are toilets and a cafe.
We were at our friends' place this evening. I love to visit them. They serve red wine! They resisted turning on the air-conditioning at first - "not good for the environment" - but it got warmer. Even with the air-conditioner on, we still felt warm. We focused on the evening's discussion to forget about the heat
Here in the tropics, the temperatures are often above 30 degrees C. It's worse in this densely built up city the temperatures are often higher. Where we were, the blocks of flats were very close to one another, reflecting heat and blocking wind.
I don't like the city. The trains are always crowded. There are people everywhere. There are long queues at the food court, long queues for buses and trains and for services.
I don't like the tall buildings, the narrow roads, and the traffic congestion.
Although the government run the city well, ensuring livable conditions - nicely paved rounds, quality amenities, tight land control - there's a limit to the space they can create.
We are disconnected from nature. Our children don't get to play with animals, or watch the birds fly. I can't even see the stars at night.
She is barely four, and already she's behaving like she is in charge. When she finds we've been talking among ourselves for a while and there's no way for her to join in the conversation, she would shout, "Stop. Talk to me!"
When she's talking, and we interrupt, she would say, "I have not finished talking. Don't interrupt!"
She speaks to us, her paternal grandparents, in English, to her maternal grandparents in Mandarin, and a bit of Cantonese and Hokkien dialects now and then.
How do kids do that? Speaking two languages at such a young age?
The school trips for students of three levels of classes start tomorrow. There is increasing anxiety about the safety- and therefore the wisdom - of these trips. One of the destinations have been changed just four days before departure, and the itinerary of other tours have also undergone changes. We err on the side of caution.
As with previous years, we would be glad when the week is over and half the school got back without any incident and with plenty of great experiences to share.
Myself, I will be here holding the fort with the half that stay.
"...the origins of speech lie in song, and the origins of song in the need to fill out with sound the overlarge and rather empty human soul." - J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace.
An interesting observation, but I am more inclined to think that human society has created language in order that we may communicate our thoughts, feelings and intentions to each other.
To take that further, in the absence of a deep and intense relationship that has been nurtured over the years through shared experiences, the only way to make our thoughts known, or hide them, is through words.
Bill met me along the corridor after class at 8.20.
"Let's go out for breakfast. We are free until 11."
"Should we? What if we are caught?"
"I don't think going across the roadt when we don't have classes is a big crime."
Still, it's an unwritten rule we can't leave school without permission.
We took the underpass, and made it to the gate without being seen. We're rebels, but we're still cowards.
In forty years of teaching, this is the first time I sneaked out for breakfast.
"You were private by default and public by effort. Nowadays, you're public by default and private by effort," says Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group for digital rights. "There are all sorts of inferences that can be made about you from the websites you visit, what you buy, who you talk to."
The above quote is taken from an article on Data Mining in Time magazine. Scary, isn't it? You read something on the Internet, and there are people who know what you're reading. There's no privacy on the Internet.
My daughter-in-law just sent me a video clip of my three year-old grand-daughter singing a song she was taught at nursery. It was one and a half minute long, and in two languages!
Wow! Could I do that when I was three? I didn't even attend nursery. I didn't go to school until I was six!
And wow! She recorded the singing with her phone and sent it to me almost immediately. That little gadget that was meant for us to call one another is now a camera, a computer and a TV set!
How do we help the poor?
We sat in at a presentation this afternoon by a group from this NGO that help people in poor countries to set up businesses by giving them training and help them network with others in the country and the region. The idea is that it is no good just giving aid. We must empower them to make a living for themselves so that the cycle of poverty can be broken.As for funds, the organization put them in touch with financial institutions or other NGOs that could provide micro-loans or credit.
It's already four weeks into 2016! If I'm not careful, I could come to the end of the year without accomplishing much! Time waits for no one.
Let me see. Have I accomplished anything significant or new today? I attended an important briefing and helped my group answer some questions. Then I came home and cleaned up the pond. I whipped up two new dishes for dinner in under an hour, and cleaned up the kitchen immediately after dinner.
I have not saved the world, or made any medical breakthrough, but I think I did OK.
It is full moon tonight. It hangs like a bright light bulb in the night sky. It is round, very round. Round like the earth. Round like the sun, the planets.
I know there are reasons why these are round, but it also appears to me that given enough time, most objects will lose their rough edges or sharp corners, and become smoother and rounder.
Rocks and pebbles, for instance. The stones in the upper course of a river are rough. Those in the middle are rounded.
OK. The planets spin, and so they're round. I know.
This is one of those days when I can truly say I have a good day at school.
I had a good Geography lesson at noon. I started with a video of the course of the River Tees. It was so easy using a smart TV. The students were able to sit closer to the TV, and I was able to point out river features on the screen itself. Concepts are better understood with this close interaction with the equipment and the students.
I also brought a cake to share with them. A nice touch, right?
The "professional conversations" session this morning was to tell us that every subject teacher must write comments in the students' term reports.
We must be positive, and yet provide useful information on the child's progress in school.
If there's anything negative, we should talk to the parents directly. Don't put it down on a document that cannot be revised in future.
Someone asked, "Why can't we tell it as it is for moderate cases? If the comments are going to be all positive, there'll be false positive, or cliche- positive."
No answer. Just write.
I have just watched a video clip of Matt Damon giving a speech somewhere.
The world is in a mess. The wrong people are in government, the right people are not. People are too obedient. There's a problem with obedient people. They allow dictators to do what they want. The problem, he says, is not civil disobedience, but civil obedience. The government is not distributing wealth. The law is putting people in jail for petty offences, while murderers and violent criminals go free because of legal technicalities.
It happens all over, not just in the US.
I signed up for a Coursera course tonight, my first ever. It's easy. Click on "Enrol", go to "Payment", give my credit card number and I'm a student. I'm given immediate access to the site, and began watching the videos, and even submitted an assignment and took a quiz.
This is more productive than Internet surfing or television. This course I'm taking is on the fundamentals of teaching English to speakers of other languages.
I like the idea of taking courses in the comfort of my home. I might sign up for more classes after this.
This year I'll be getting the long service award for having taught here for twenty years! Before this, I had already taught twenty years in another school. The age gap between my students and I is ever widening.
While the students were born into the technology of their time, I struggled to keep up. I started teaching using the chalkboard. In the eighties, they sent me for training to prepare overlays of transparencies for the overhead projector. Next, there was the VCR. Now we have digital technology.
Now, the gulf between us is a digital divide.
This is the last weekend before the Chinese New Year. I should have known better than to head down town for lunch. It was only when the wave of humanity surged towards me that the full force of the CNY frenzy hit me. For us, CNY is more important than Christmas.
This used to be a very stressful period every year, but since my children got married and moved out about two years ago, I have not felt the pressure to pull out all the stops. In fact, I make a conscious effort to cut down on purchases.
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