Saturday, May 22, 2004

Another late night! Just got back from Sun Plaza, finally getting June to watch Troy with me. We were supposed to go last night, then she remembered it was the last episode of the HK serial she's been following on cable TV, so we postponed it to this evening.

No regrets watching Troy a second time. Very humanistic, aethiestic portrayal where the main theme is not to trust too much in the Gods or reality will hit you smack in the face. Achilles says, "The Gods envy us... because we are mortal." I guess so, and all the heroes go off to seek immortality on their own terms, in death and death-dealing. Ironic but how else, if the Gods are not on your side? That says a lot about the kind of wars we face especially today, if you think about it.

Have a blah workshop to attend tomorrow morning. Something about the new, improved job appraisal system. Hmm... I joined Education to get away from this industrial rating system, but I guess there's no getting away from annual assessments, tests and appraisals even when you are this close to your 4th decade. If ever there's a course I would have to attend with a bad attitude, this would be it. If the tests were more real or realistic, then I would be just fine, but I suspect this series of tests will only reward those who show more agreement and support for the Emperor's new clothes. I wonder if our students feel the same way about the tests they have to take? Probably.

Lunched with Anthony and Cara at Katong Laksa, located at the junction of Boundary and Paya Lebar. The outlet is smart enough to keep the sambal on the side so patrons can choose how much of the deadly toxin they will add into their own dish. With my delicate stomach, I kept the sambal completely at bay and had my laksa totally mild. Thus I had the best of both worlds, the potent lemak flavour without the eventual regret of having flaming innards and a case of the runs. Today I wimped out, so sue me! We went whole hog with an unhealthy lunch, washing down our laksa with a whole coconut each including both the water and the meat. Not being used to opening my own coconut (even though it's been commercially packed and pre-cut) in my struggle to get the top off I succeeded also in getting my shirt front splashed with coconut water. I also wasted quite a bit of water pouring it into my cup of ice. Anthony learns fast from other people's mistakes. Thinking laterally, he poured the ice into the coconut instead. No wonder Dad always told me never to be a doofus (do-first). Watch. Observe. Learn. Oh well, Dad can always adopt Anthony if he wants.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

At the risk of sounding completely vague, I have to maintain my diplomatic posture and simply make a satisfied observation that the staff is able to unite and stand up to decisions that are clearly misguided and even dangerous. Sometimes the upper echelons make certain observations and, with the best intentions, radically try to change certain norms without actually experiencing the situation on the ground. Perhaps there can be too much of a spirit of "I&E" when we "think out of the box" and implement "something different" without considering that such changes to the norm can result in making the situation even more dangerous than before. There are some norms that we depend on in order to ensure public safety because we know that everyone will follow the set rules and hence behave in a predictable manner thus reducing the element of random, disorderly, dangerous behaviour. This is particularly true in the context of traffic safety laws that guide the behaviour of both drivers and pedestrians. As long as everyone follows the rules, safety is maximized. There is no call, therefore, to make a decision that directs one party to disobey the established laws and as a result cause more chances for an accident to occur than if we simply had left things alone. Our staff on the ground, who speak from real experience, has shown an ability to unite and collectively speak up against change that is arbitrary, and literally a matter of life and death. I'm happy that we can be flexible when decisions come down from on high that seem strange but harmless, and that we can identify decisions that have real consequences and can act together to resist such. We may be easygoing, but we are not sheep. My respect for our staff has been raised a notch. Let's see how this situation will be resolved in the days to come. Let's hope the uppers will hear our voice and make the right decision and not overreact and make an even worse decision. To be honest, this matter is really very trivial, but it's funny how things can blow up when people make decisions on the assumption that students cannot be trusted to do the right thing when left on their own. It's this lack of trust that's going to kill all the things we do right in Education. Then again, sometimes students don't exactly help their own cause. *sigh.
Wow, what a day! Must be grateful to all our students who were cooperative and well-behaved while visiting Tekong. As it turned out, the trip proved most popular as I had to turn a few hopefuls away. I could only take on those who came in direct replacement of their fellows who for one reason or another could not make the trip. As it turned out, I had a total of 130 pax, including Mark who stood in as a last minute replacement for Vince.

It was quite an experience for me, whose Basic Training was on mainland Nee Soon so many donkey years ago. The only time I went to Tekong was for my Marksmanship Test. We stayed almost a week on the island in an old abandoned school, sleeping on concrete and shivering every night because it was so cold. The wet towel we used as a blanket didn't help much. The mornings were so different, hot, humid, sweaty and did I mention hot? Of course, with the new computerized marksmanship training facility, such old fashioned training programmes are now things of the past. It's now like a realistic, yet boring video game that trains a soldier in the firing of his weapon without having to actually use any 'live' rounds. Looking back, I ought to be jealous, but I can't be. There's nothing like sleeping on the cold, hard floor for a week that makes a man out of you.

Was very interested to view the contents of the combat rations package, 'cos although I've been issued with such things before during training, I never opened up the green packages to eat the mess inside. I'd always preferred to survive the day on the biscuits, hard-tack, flavoured either butter or chocolate. The supplementary package also used to contain a chocolate bar and a fruit bar and an assortment of Horlicks tablets and Ovaltine biscuits and these would usually keep me going all day. Not doctor-approved, but in the field, you'd want to minimize the number of times you'd have to go potty too. Er... in the literal not figurative sense, I mean. The mysterious green packages come in non-muslim, muslim and vegetarian varieties and they are either a rice-based or pasta-based food. Even after sampling the stuff, I can't say much about how it tastes other than "palatable." Biscuits still taste as good as I remember, perhaps even slightly better because of the buttery and chocolatey flavours where in the past it was simply flavoured "bland."

Personal equipment also seems improved -- a bit lighter. The helmet, Gore-Tex jacket and combat boots have a fibre mesh built into them to make them lighter and more airy. Saw the recruits' bunks and rec room; we really know how to take care of our NSFs these days. Tough training, with an eye for safety. Good attitude to take.

A trip is successful, I think, if there are no bored faces and there weren't any that I could see today. The instruction delivered by the Army trainers was so clear, practiced and the pedagogy is designed to convey the most meaning in as efficient a manner as possible. Instruction is designed to be understood by everyone regardless of intelligence quotient. With a closed curriculum and lots of repetition, the trainers are competent and confident in their jobs. Our students are most likely to have learned something today. Or otherwise, they at least had a good time. One or the other.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

I'm trying to journal at least half and hour a day as a discipline. Looking back, I think I've been doing well so far, and I've got lots of stuff written down to show for it. But there are days, like today, where I'm feeling dry and there's nothing really worth talking about. How far can I go on talking about nothing? Hmmm...

Step one: Sift through the mundane
Organizing a trip for 120 students and staff to a military installation is something to look forward to, yet so many things can go wrong.

Step two: Find point of conflict
As it is only 120 are going instead of the 150 expected and of the 120 who have signed up, what are the actual figures going to be like tomorrow when I have to take attendance? I've got help from Jong Yann and San Chye, but I'm going to miss Vince and Tsui Wei who have classes that they can't miss. I gave a briefing this morning to our contingent, but how many were there to actually listen to the briefing? How many will remember? Which tutors will flip because I'll be pulling so many students out of class prematurely on Wednesday morning? Will they make it a point to be punctual tomorrow so that everything will run according to schedule? It wouldn't be so much of an issue if our college was the only one going, but we are just one of many colleges visiting the same place and it wouldn't do to keep everyone else waiting for us.

Step three: Examine psychology behind the conflict
It seems like I'll be just going along for the ride, but it's also my responsibility to see that we conduct ourselves appropriately and I just can't relax until the whole visit is over tomorrow evening. I may look calm on the surface but inside anxiety has free reign while "the Sword of Damocles is hanging over my head."

Step four: Derive conclusion (regardless of how lame it is)
For now I can only hope everything goes well tomorrow and then maybe I can rest again. Hur hur...

Other events to note to avoid writing off today as being completely boring:
Had dinner at mom-in-law's place and I realise that I haven't paid her a visit since Chinese New Year! Q-tip came with us to pay a return visit to Mimi. Celebrated bro-in-law, Tong's, birthday with a beautifully rich lemon cheesecake from Hiestand Swiss Gourmet Bakery.

June met the cat auntie at the square while doing her rounds and they got to talking as usual. Auntie has some wonderful horror stories about our neighbourhood strays. It so happens Void is missing today and June is so worried for her. Cat auntie is telling this story about some nutty Thai guy leaping into bushes to catch stray cats for dinner. Void is such a friendly sweetheart. We really hope she hasn't ended up in someone's tom-yam soup. Cats in our neighbourhood have been known to disappear from time to time only to reappear in their last known location after a couple of days. Maybe she just went on vacation? We'll keep our eyes open for her in the next few days. Hope she's ok.

Right. Not bad, I guess, for a day of "nothing."

Monday, May 17, 2004

So close to midnight, almost bedtime. What's wrong with Blogspot tonight, anyway? Graphics not loading properly.

Watched the Nick Berg execution video with 03A2 today. Everyone so grossed out and quite upset. Understandably so as no one can imagine such a horrible thing happening in a world that is supposed to be humane and civilized. Unfortunately, while pockets of sanity exist in the world, the vast majority of our human population live, and even thrive, in squalor, misery and horror. Civilization is the exception to the norm, a truth we don't really want to acknowledge.

So the beheading is ostensibly in retaliation against the abuses in Abu Gharib prison. So what's going to be the response to the retaliation? More violence? It doesn't seem to have an end and on the one hand, I'm saddened that this is the world I'm passing on to my students (sorry we've made such a mess of things for you), and on the other it is so necessary to see the world for what it is instead of deluding ourselves that everything is 'just fine' when it obviously isn't.

I recall these thoughts as my phone rang in the middle of my last bowling game tonight. You're wondering right now how I could get so frivolous by changing the subject so abruptly, right? Just play along, ok? My caller was in pretty bad shape, facing a situation that no one should have to. I would love to lend a hand but I also realize my limitations and I know there are many things that lie beyond my ability to control. How do I advise in this kind of scenario? I'm sorry, but all I have is common sense: identify the areas that are your primary responsibility and take control over that which you can take control over, regardless of how small it may seem compared to the big picture. Seek help and accept what help you can get. All that stuff outside your scope of control, don't pretend it doesn't exist, but avoid expending more energy worrying about it than necessary. Seek to control your areas of primary responsibility first and be grateful always for small triumphs along the way.

In our own way, we deal with the frighteningly enormous picture of a world all gone to pot. Individually, there is so little we can do, but that doesn't stop us from doing what's necessary as an individual. We can only trust that our collective efforts (whether intentional or not) will take us human beings to a higher plane of existence in time. Considering where we are now, it'll take us many more generations to get there; so all you young'uns, listen up -- learn where we, your predecessors, went wrong and do it a little better, do it right, when your turn comes around. Teach your young'uns to learn from you, and so the cycle goes.

And on the the frivolous stuff.

When my phone rang, I was having a real lousy game. I just couldn't keep the ball straight and hit what I was aiming at. As I took the call, June had to stand in for me for a couple of frames and I must say she did well to maintain a reasonably respectable score for me. I felt energized after the call and though it was a tough struggle it came down to having to score a strike on my last roll in the 10th frame in order to win a(nother) keychain. 130 pinfalls awaiting 10 for a score of exactly 140. I am now the proud owner of 2 new designed flashlight keychains from 3 games in total. Messed up my first game and missed the keychain by 4 pins! Grrr!

Good company tonight with regulars, Anthony and Wendy, June joined me at last and bowled a credible 90+ average, and Celine and hubby, Chang Wei, came as well. Under pressure from lanes on both sides. On the right lane was a guy who scored a 6-in-a-row and chalked up the lane's high game of the day! On the left, the SYCC-Cathay Bowl league championship was going on and the bowlers were of the above 200-250 pinfalls category. I bowled a 3-game average of 147, which I should be proud of. And I am.

Other thing to be proud of: The Odyssey got a Bronze award at the SYF. Well done, everyone! We've worked hard at it and we have achieved a very decent result. You've kept the tradition of English Drama alive at our college and we are grateful to you, NYeDC 03-04, for your enthusiasm, teachability, and tenacity that got us this far. Celebrate we shall, so maybe this Wednesday for a change, NYeDC will focus on putting together the all-important PSYFP. Lookin' forward to it!

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Blah! No such luck with Troy last night. Hard to make charm work if subject has pulled a sleeping beauty on you. Yup, wiped out on the carpet lost in dreamland. Hong Kong serials can be quite a powerful sedative, especially if you've seen the episode once already. June only woke up at 8, time enough to go to dinner and back for a DVD in front of the TV. Nvm, there's always Tuesday's cheap movie night!

Watched The Missing (Blanchette & Lee Jones) on DVD. Wasn't quite the movie I was expecting. I thought there would be horror elements in it (where did I get that misconception from?) but the story turned out to be quite mundane after all. Bunch of Army deserters of Apache descent have a career switch and make it their mission in life to kidnap 8 (lucky number) nubile females and sell them off in Mexico. They happen to make off with Blanchette's eldest daughter and she enlists the help of her estranged Pappy (Lee Jones) who had abandoned her during her childhood to live as an Apache in the wilderness. Heaven help the kidnappers and their shaman leader when father and daughter pick up their trail.

Typical of made-in-China DVDs, the movie went well until the climactic battle when the picture started freezing, jerking and losing resolution. Who needs the censorship board when there's always poor quality recording you can count on? As soon as the battle was over and it's time to count bodies and see who's died, picture's back to normal again until the end of the credit roll. *sigh.

For most of what happened today, however, see yesterday's entry. It's like deja vu or Groundhog Day, only difference is, I'm leaving for dinner at my mom's place in 10 minutes. GTG!