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It's November once again. The school year is wrapping up. There are the extension classes going by names such as Tutorial programme, Enrichment classes and Focus Camp. These are for grades 11 and 9 students who have not done well in the Final Examination. Then there are the external examinations for graduating grades 10 and 12 students. We teachers have to juggle our time between the classes and exam invigilation. It's not a happy time, even though regular classes have ended. Although the classes are meant to be remedial, they feel punitive to us. We feel we're being punished too.
This was the most lavish, and most memorable, of the farewell gatherings so far: the food was exquisite gourmet Chinese fare, the company was my hilarious "foodie" all-ladies group, and the setting was a classy Chinese restaurant in the heart of the CBD. There were seven of us, but none else of my vintage, except for the wine. Auds managed to find a bottle of Italian wine dating back to 1952, the year of my birth.
It was just grand of these ladies to throw me such a special retirement dinner. Love them all. I'm going to miss them.
I found myself going back almost forty years. There were good times, and bad. It had been a long time since I talked about my twenty years of teaching in government schools. Then I came over to this school- an independent school - and stayed twenty-one years! 21 years a slave! My friends, the two ladies from the Mathematics department, had no idea where that line came from. But they were lovingly listening and I was basking in their attention. I unloaded the burdens of forty-one years of teaching in a torrent, over a lunch treat they gave me.
Why do I want to retire in a foreign land, they ask. Why not surround yourselves with familiar places and faces? Well, that's just the problem. Like the tortoise who want to be a dragon, first he must leave his shell. Of course, we know the tortoise will die without the shell. But not us. How my views have changed! I'd thought that retirement means I take it easy. But now, I know if I stay here, do nothing more than relax, dementia and other health problems will set in. Literally, I'm waiting to die. If I leave, I live.
"Over the past decades. there has been a revolution in terms of who controls knowledge and information. This rapid change has imperiled the way we think. Without pausing to consider the cost, the world has rushed to embrace the products and services of four titanic corporations. We shop with Amazon, socialize on Facebook, turn to Apple for entertainment, and rely on Google for information. These firms sell their efficiency and purport to make the world a better place, but what they have done instead is to enable an intoxicating level of daily convenience."
- from "World Without Mind" by Franklin Foer
Continuing from introduction on inside flap of cover of Foer's book, "World Without Mind".
"As these companies (Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google) have expanded marketing themselves as champions of individuality and pluralism, their algorithms have pressed us into conformity and laid waste to privacy. They have produced an unstable and narrpw culture of misinformation and put us on a path to a world without private contemplation, autonomous thought, or solitary introspection - a world without mind. In order to restore our inner lives, we must avoid being co-opted by these gigantic companies and understand the ideas that underpin their success."
I have just e-mailed my Travel Writing class tutor that I am pulling out because there will be at least three out of the eight classes that I will not be able to attend. December is a time for travel with the family. I shouldn't have signed up, but I had a good time at the Creative Non-fiction course before this and wanted to continue while the motivation level is still high. It's not meant to be. I missed the second lesson, two assignments, and now I am nursing a sprained neck and will have to miss tomorrow's.
I think our wedding anniversary falls on Nov 8. I'm not sure because we seldom celebrate.
Yes, it is. I have just checked the marriage certificate. Nov 8, 1975. We have been married for 42 years! We have one thing in common: we are not romantic. We squirm when the other say anything loving or caring. It sounds fake. Some outward show of affection was necessary in the early days of our marriage because we needed assurance that we have not made a mistake. But with time, it becomes no longer necessary. Sometimes, it even sounds contrived if we try.
Dear Jawbreaker, I was delighted when I found you were still there in my HP IPAQ that I've tucked away in the steel cabinet almost ten years ago. How is it that in all that time, it had not occurred to me to reach under that pile of electricals and pull the IPAQ out? Then, one day, about three months ago, I did just that. I charged the IPAQ up and played a few games. Now, thousands of games later, I realise why I had put you away back then. It's not you. It's me. I was addicted to you.
Just watched Tristan Harris at TEDxSanFrancisco talking about Anti-blind. Basically, it's about acknowledging that when we went on the Internet and were presented with stuff, we have to check for blind spots, because these technologies seek to exploit our vulnerability and, whether consciously or unconsciously, manipulate us to want to do something or like something or have something. Doctors have a checklist to tick off on before surgery. We might want to have a checklist before we connect to our digital devices to make sure we are not being manipulated. I know what he's getting at. I'll try it.
Picked up this new magazine at the book store today: Popshot Magazine- The Illustrated Magazine of New Writing. This is Issue 18, the Light issue. I like the uncluttered format, the white spaces and the absence of advertisements and announcements. The poems, short stories and essays are neatly laid out like a book.
Someone just posted another of those wise sayings on one of the chat groups I'm obliged to stay on. It's another of those "healthy living" posts. Yes, health is important. But what do you do with time now that you are retired and have lots of it?
We can happily co-exist with someone who is not like us. He's happy to be in his room all day doing what he enjoys, and I'm happy to have time to myself, especially on a day like this when I don't have to report to work. Most of the time, he is working on his RC planes, or robotics projects, both of which I am not compelled to be interested in. It's too technical. I am happy to spend the day in my own room, painting, reading or writing. We get together for meals or breaks. Happy co-existence.
Very soon, I will not be walking these halls of noisy classrooms, and making small talk with teachers and students I meet. In the course of a school day, which starts at seven in the morning and can take up to five in the evening, as many as a hundred people may cross my path. I am obliged only to acknowledge the people I'm familiar with, and engage with those I need to. The rest will just pass me by with a smile, or maybe not.
Silence is slowly falling over the hallways. It's the year-end vacation once again.
When you are a salaried worker, it is easy to buy stuff. For instance, today I am inspired to seriously start writing, and my first thought is to buy a thumb drive. In the past, when I felt inspired to paint, I bought paints - watercolor and oil - and brushes and paper. I even bought mounted and primed canvasses of various sizes for oil painting. When I felt like drawing I bought graphite pencils, charcoal, blenders and colour pencils. Not just any colour pencils, but Prismacolor. I also bought books on writing, painting and drawing. Buying stuff is the easy part.
The longhorn orchid is thriving. For years I had watched it wither and almost threw it away. For the past year I had left it alone - no trimming, no fungicide, and no moving around. It's a rare dendrobium, and a healthy plant would be more than a metre tall. So it was with some excitement some months back when I saw a shoot sprouting and then two and now three. The first two stalks have flowered, the second even bloomed twice. The flowers are a deep shade of purple and white. I'm glad I have not given up on it.
I know I should be thankful for this country. The trees are always green, the roads always clean and the air fresh. It's so safe I could walk in the streets late at night without fear. I feel a tinge of guilt being even a little unhappy. But it's not dissatisfaction with this place that I'm feeling. It's because I need challenges, and a reason to get up in the morning. That's why I'm prepared to retire in a less comfortable place than this. If nothing else, it's so that I remain active and strong in the face of challenges.
Last day of work. Ever. They say I am retiring and the principal presented me with a plaque and wished me well. I had told him in the morning I would not be making a speech, but I used up my air time in the end. It can't be right to leave after 21 years in the school without saying goodbye.
It's been a long time. A life time. If I had planted a seed when I started it would have grown into a forest by now. A forest of friends. Thank you for the memories and love, my friends.
I bid my colleagues farewell yesterday. I said I'm not retiring; I'm turning a page, and starting a new chapter, probably the last chapter.
I've taught a total of forty-one years, with twenty-one in this last school. When I started teaching, we wrote on blackboards using chalk. Getting chalk all over my face and clothes was an occupational hazard. Then came the overhead projector and we were sent for training to produce transparencies. That didn't last long. Computer technology swept away everything in its wake, and now we had instant access to internet resources and other presentation tools.
Finally. Back in my room. It's 10.26, and I shall be hitting the sack soon. I woke up this morning tired, but went about the day with all the family and community obligations of a regular Sunday, even squeezing in a hospital visit before dinner and language class after lunch. I don't like Sunday to be so packed with activities, but I had limited options to work with. In short, I had no choice. I am just glad the day is over.
My idea of a Sunday is rest and reading. It would have to be another day then.
I am touched by the number of colleagues who had spent time with me these past weeks, ever since I made it known that I am retiring. This afternoon, I had lunch with one of the senior support staff and his family. It was a grand gesture taking me out for lunch with his wife and daughter.
I would include, among the things I have done right, investing time and heart in building strong friendships. I treasure these more than my professional achievements in my teaching career. It is heartwarming that even support staff care enough to bid me farewell.
I found this news clipping dated July 20, 1994, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Man's first step on the Moon, entitled "My husband went to the moon and came back a totally different person". That 'husband' was Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, after Neil Armstrong. Joan Aldrin said he was a quiet family man but after the Moon landing, he became world famous and very much public property. He became a womaniser, and suffered bouts of depression. Joan said, "When he came back from the moon, Buzz had nothing left to strive for."
That says lots.
I must stop reminescing each time I clear clutter in the house, or I'll keep too many things for no good reasons. I'm making a conscious effort to look to the future and not live in the past. Clearing clutter is a good place to start.
But I can't help remembering. The old notices of missed income tax installment payments remind me of the difficult years when my husband's company ran into trouble. Pictures of our sons from long ago make me wish we could go back to the time when they were young. Yes, I know what to discard.
Another two of my colleagues took me out for lunch today, this time, in DTF. This is the sixth group after I announced my retirement. Actually, I'm quitting, and working elsewhere, not retiring. As a result of these treats, I got to know them better, and have come to appreciate the importance of spending time with friends and investing in relationships.
Today, C showed me his family picture, and I couldn't recognise his younger son whom I taught nine years ago! How he has grown! C is one of the nicest men I have ever known. I will miss him.
Another day of feasting with another group of my friends. Today we went to the Shangri-la Hotel for a 5-star buffet.
Then, this evening, we got an e-mail from the sister of our friend who ran two orphanages in a very poor country. She said her sister can't afford to buy rice to feed the forty-odd children in her care. I was brought down to earth again. The money we spent on the lunch buffet today could have fed all of them until end of the year!
Yes, we will send money. We must help them.
It is a most difficult thing to live in a same small space with other people, especially relatives. It took me a long time to learn how to live harmoniously with my husband. The most important part of living together, ironically, is giving space to the other. We all need our private space. It is very stressful to always have to talk to others, to answer their questions, to do things with them. I thought it would be miserable living alone, but since my mother-in-law and her maid moved in, I kind of cherish my private space more.
The short twenty-minute ride to my son's place was punctuated with snippets of information and quizzes from my little five year-old granddaughter.
"What do you put in your little world?" she asked. I have come to understand that this is how they're taught at kindergarten to care for the environment.
"No cars. Bicycles. Lots of butterflies, bees and birds."
"Correct. I can do the split. I can do pointy toe too. I will show you when we got home."
The conversation has now quickly shifted to ballet class. Pre-school kids are so fresh and spontaneous. So cute.
I could give many varied and well thought through excuses for not walking round the lake near my home as a form of exercise. For instance, there are no shelters along the track and it rains here about 165 days a year. It doesn't take a genius to figure out the odds that it would rain before I complete the track. Also, the tropical heat is way too oppressive, so weighing the benefits of a workout with the possibility of heat stroke, I might as well not start. This will do for today. I will leave the rest for tomorrow.
I spent a whole afternoon at the Centre for Geriatric Medicine at a local hospital. My 87 year-old mother-in-law had a follow-up appointment for a fall she suffered about six months ago.
The patients were mainly in wheelchairs, each with a maid and a family member. They were wrinkled and feeble. A few even had feeding tubes, and I saw one domestic help, or maid, actually feeding an old man through this tube.
So we have one of the longest life expectancies in the world? What kind of life is this? They're kept alive. That's all.
I believe that people are gifted differently, and so it cannot be true that given enough training and practice anyone can do anything - learn to play a musical instrument, paint, sing, write, skate... It just cannot be true. I don't believe you can do anything you want, just because you want to do it badly. Some people are definitely gifted, but even they need to work at what they do well to do it better.
I'm rambling, I know. More like venting. I get tired of cliches like anyone can draw, paint, sing ... anything. Positive thinking doesn't always cut it.
Tomorrow is the start of the last month of the year. It seems the years roll on by regardless of what happens, what happens to us, to me, to anyone. Time stops for no one, for nothing, like the water that flows from the mountains to the sea.
These days the warnings are louder, clearer, warnings of the coming apocalypse of what kind or another. For a long time now we've been hearing about the coming tipping point, the point of no return, of global warming.
But another year is ending, and time marches on, unstoppable. Perhaps, they are wrong.
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