Saturday, September 11, 2004

And so the nightmare begins. Prelim marking is going to make me look back over the next two weeks and remark that I once had a life. A lovely stack of essays await their fate as I turn Freddy Kruger again and hack and slash until I am waist deep in mire and gore. I think we've been here before. Deja vous.

I think just to motivate myself, I'll run a daily scoresheet on the number of essays I've marked. It'll be inspiring to see this figure advance as my stack regresses. But in the meantime, I'll also be dealing with assorted distractions like sleep and meals. I guess this is the only way we tutors can keep you company as you struggle through this difficult period. We comiserate through mutual suffering. Fair?

Did the statue thing again today as I will be doing another three more times in the next two weeks. I modelled for "Stamford Raffles (standard)","lout and lampost", "slut at her dresser" and "Buddha's meditation on a writing surface." Too bad there weren't any AEP students around to immortalize me in an 'A' Level sculpture submission. Invigilation in 03-49 is not a pleasant thing. The room looks smaller than the others and when the students bring their belongings in and place them along the front and side walls, there's hardly any space left to walk. It becomes claustrophobic and it gets worse when the first few bars of "Heart of Gold," by Johnny Hates Jazz, starts repeating over and over in your mind for no apparent reason. I was thankful to Mei Lian who subbed me for 25 minutes each paper, and for some mindless administration that shut Johnny up for a while.

> Initializing 'Marked Essay Scoresheet'...
> ... Initialized
> Tally 'Marked Essay Scoresheet'...
> Number of Essays marked today = 0
> Cumulative Total = 0

>sigh< I'd better get started.

Edit 01:
8 hours later...

> Today's tally = 5
> Cumulative total = 5

Well, it's a start, I suppose.

Friday, September 10, 2004

The NE course was quite enjoyable, though I was the only one representing our college. Should have invited some others to join me as it felt a bit lonely and strange, and I think a few of our staff would have enjoyed themselves too. Anyone interested in storytelling would have benefited and those of us (like me) who love stories but can't tell one for beans got a real boost in our storytelling abilities as the presenters slowly built our confidence up step by baby step.

To be honest, most of the NE stuff was forgotten as we learned to craft tales from our personal experiences and from a chosen story that we had to prepare last night. At least, I was more interested in learning the skill to see how it might apply to GP and to lit. After all, storytelling is such a forgotten art form that only a select few know how to do it really well, and the rest of us don't seem to bother with it so much any more.

As our opening speaker, Gopi, said, today we let other people tell stories to us, usually large corporations under the behemoth known as "Hollywood." We now rely so much on 'realistic' visual stimulation from TV drama and cinema SFX that we have lost the need to listen to each other and create for ourselves individual interpretations of reality using our own imaginations. Instead of sharing a common vision, we are all plugged into the exact same one and we lose ourselves in the process. No wonder we are now having so much trouble with studying literature -- the subject forces us to utilize the brain 'muscles' that we have allowed to atrophy due to a severe lack of constant exercise, all thanks to the convenience and attractiveness of modern electronic media.

The seminar showed me a couple of things. First, storytelling is an acquired skill, and anyone can pick it up regardless of how incompetent one may feel initially. Second, the craft is really honed in the telling of stories in front of an audience, not so much in the rehearsing of the story beforehand (i.e., to be a good storyteller you must tell stories). Third, simple stories work best for both teller and audience -- don't get too clever or creative or whatever; a delivery that is natural to oneself always works best. Fourth, we all love telling stories, despite what I said earlier. That's why some of us blog, right? The rest of us just yak till the cows come home.

Since storytelling is such an important skill, perhaps my next batch of year ones will begin first term next year just learning to tell stories. GP as a subject can wait. What do you think, folks?

Other notes: Apollo Hotel fed us really well. Lunch was a luxuriously long 1-and-a-quarter hours at the all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant. Must especially mention the salmon sashimi which was so fresh. Haven't tasted sashimi this good since that breakfast at Kansai Airport's Takashimaya last year. The spread was generally light and dainty, so you always felt that there was room for one-more-plateful... This includes the meat dishes, fish, chicken, satay and whatever else there was (I'm not big on buffet meats, myself) and the desserts as well. And, yes, we must always make room for dessert. The brownies (a bit sweet), American cheesecake (cut to look like tiny sailboards), chocolate cake (that looked like nougat on a chocolate base), and ice-cream bythetubandhelpyourselfthankyou. *waves to Jenny and Bina who kept me company at the lunch table. MINDEF officers, if you must know.

Oh, and one more point. Jack Neo didn't show up after all. He was scheduled for tomorrow's session but since the organizers combined both sessions into today, Chan Soo Sen (him with the big portfolio), today's keynote speaker, spoke instead.

OK. To all who are taking tomorrow's GP prelim, go sleep now. Come in with a fresh mind and a rested body. Good luck and enjoy your paper tomorrow!

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Today I checked TRAISI, our online course planner. I knew I had sort of applied for an NE course scheduled for some time around now but I wasn't too sure when. I also didn't know if my application had been successful. TRAISI confirmed the approval of my application and informed me that the course is on, like, tomorrow. Gasp. Good thing I checked else there'd have to be explanations a-plenty justifying why I didn't attend a course that cost the college $250. I don't think a sheepish, "I forgot :-P" is going to be sufficient.

Now it looks like my free Friday has become a full-day event. 8:30-6:00. And I have homework to do to prepare. The course material is a whole bunch of folk tales and stories which we have to look through since we'll be discussing them to some length during the hands-on workshop sessions. Jack Neo is the invited guest speaker, so it could well be quite entertaining. Still, a whole day of activity... I don't know.

Health concern: lower back pain that's lasted almost 4 days now. Think I'm starting to walk like an old man. Scary thought. Must've screwed up my back sitting on my butt too long hunched over Watson's keyboard a couple'a days back. When will I be free to get my spine straightened out again? Hopefully, it's just another temporary ailment.

Also, for the record, after patient preparation, training and quite some persistent stalking I finally caught Latias. There. I've made full use of my bragging rights. 'nuff said.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Bored at home so I went walking around the Heeren in the late morning. Checked out the DVDs at HMV, but didn't see anything I wanted. Actually, I was more like pretending to shop around but really I was watching the episode of Friends that HMV was screening. It was the episode where Chandler and Monica were being interviewed as potential adoptive parents of a baby. Despite Monica's desperation in trying to capitalize on a mistaken identity, Chandler's honesty shone through for a happy ending.

Lazy afternoon, not getting anything important done. Dinner found us at Blk 419 again but this time we ordered the Thai fish head curry for a change. This dish is a specialty of the coffee-shop here and we've noticed that it's a favourite amongst many of the customers, but it always looked way too big for just the two of us to handle. It was good that the coffee-shop could handle a dinner-for-two order. We had half a fish head in a gorgeous tom yam gravy and a side of kangkong to go with our rice. The combination of spices is still making it's presence felt in my stomach, but there's no denying that dinner was delicious tonight.

Uneventful. *purrs with satisfaction* this is as a vacation should be.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

My 'normal' entry of the day:
Spent a pleasant afternoon with good food and good company. A week ago, Jo invited Boon Sin to lunch. Boon Sin made some phone calls and Jo wound up with more folks at her door than she had initially expected. Apart from me and my potato salad (good guess, Gid); there were Vince and BS (who shared the ice-cream); Agnes (chicken wings); and Bhagia (chicken curry). Avian flu? What avian flu? Jo herself prepared the staple -- bee hoon with lots of crunchy fried shallots.

I think we were prepared for more people than for who eventually showed up, so there was food in abundance. Light, silly conversation around the table with BS bearing the brunt of the jokes. BS also took care of entertaining Jo's older daughter, leaving the rest of us adults free to yak and eat. Learned Agnes is giving up her car and Vince will be too once his stint as CPE is over in December. Hmm... I ought to feel guilty about that since I turned down the "opportunity" first, but I'm relieved, really. Not having a car multiplies the stress of CPEship by a lot.

Q-tip hasn't gone out for 2 days straight already. Strangely, we've been too busy to look after this detail. Maybe I'll go fetch her leash now...
This entry was inspired by Mei's blog. Last minute tips for handling the General Paper essay, just before the Prelims. If this issue is of no interest to you then don't bother reading on...

Gather materials that are current by having a daily read of the newspapers. News that tends to get repeated every day is worth paying attention to.

Use the news as relevant to your question -- drop names (people, places, organizations), refer to incidents, but don't waste time retelling the stories.

Choose questions that you have the most to say about. It doesn't matter if you don't have an opinion on the issue at the time you choose the question.

Give some thought to what the question is essentially about. Most of you answer to the topic but fail to pay attention to the question. LISTEN to the problem first before you go blindly solving something you don't really understand.

Completely answer the question in 1 paragraph within the first 20 minutes of the paper (if you answer the question in the sequence the question is presented in, it's hard to go wrong). By this step, you would have formed your opinion on the issue and not before. This paragraph becomes your introduction para.

Develop your essay according to the sequence of points you raised in the intro.

Do not bring up new points in the conclusion. Conclusion must agree with the intro. You may conclude with an insight into human nature, or about society, but only within the context of the points you have raised and discussed.

Balance: your job is to NEGOTIATE a fair position between 2 conflicting points of view. Your position must be realistic and fair (repetition for emphasis). Remember that both conflicting parties are idealistic children, but you are the rational adult arbiting between the both of them. Do not sink to their level.

Refer to the following web resource for more general instructions on essay writing and language use: OWL at Purdue.

Try hard to get a good grade in the prelims. It'll give you confidence in preparing for your 'A's.

English Lit advice:
My best advice is, unless you are dealing with early 20th century poetry, do not first approach your texts with your brain. Instead, pay attention to what your senses are telling you, i.e., your sense of sight (imagery, metaphor, simile), sound (rhythm, rhyme, metre, alliteration, other sound effects), touch (texture), not so important are smell and taste. When you can discuss what your senses are telling you, then only can your brain start processing how the author/poet is attempting to manipulate the reader into fully participating in the story, to see things in the first person instead of in the third.

Being intelligent (brain smart) doesn't help in lit. Being able to utilize our 5 human senses helps us appreciate lit a whole lot more. Remember: no author sits down to write "literature." People write to people and they make contact using the tools that are common to everyone, our 5 senses. Everyone connects, but lit students see how the connections are made, and appreciate the author's craft in doing so.

Bzzzt... ERROR: INFO OVERLOAD. Allow time for processing...

Monday, September 06, 2004

Today's the kind of day you smash your hand down on the snooze button of your alarm clock and continue sleeping. You wake up disoriented, suddenly remembering it's Monday morning and your wife has left for work before you. Then you remember that it's the first day of the term break and snuggle back into bed enveloped in the best feeling in the world.

Not for long, though. I still had to get on campus by 11 for a Drama Club meeting. Just before I left, I had the urge to smoothen out the living room carpet which had somehow got scrunched up in one corner. I was about to beat it back into place when the messy corner miaowed. Momo had found a new hiding spot to nap in. Stupid cat.

Drama Club looked like it had everything in order, but during the discussion, Mel and I took a sudden interest in Chinese mythology. I went off to Popular at Northpoint and picked up some research material for further study. Perhaps it's the fault of the authors, but the myths I scanned through were dry, boring and episodic. Formula looks quite simple: something happens (usually on a fairly regular basis); someone does something about it; there is some kind of result; and that is why some custom or other is celebrated to this day. Fine, most myths follow the same pattern, but there is usually more drama to the telling of the story than what I've been reading. Hope the other books I bought aren't going to be as bland.

Met June for dinner at the Crystal Jade la mian place at Northpoint. The noodles and soups taste fresh and healthy, though a bit expensive. Still, the noodles, are hand-pulled on site so I guess we are paying for the extra effort, though I can't afford this luxury every mealtime.

Also did a bit of grocery shopping for tomorrow's pot luck lunch at Joanna's house. Bought russet potatoes, celery, spring onions and Kraft mayo; so guess what my contribution is going to be?

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Watched a documentary on Hong Kong's dim sum on Discovery Channel last night which made me hungry. So this morning's breakfast we settled for an el cheapo coffee shop version downstairs of our flat. I must have a peasant's taste for dim sum as I find the expensive, restaurant version too rich (read "oily") and fanciful for my blood. According to the documentary, our breakfast menu comprised a "large chicken bun," "prawn dumplings," "steam-and-sell (a rough translation of siew-mai)," and some other standard things that didn't feature in the programme. We were too full to face lunch after that.

Yan had gone home so I decided not to bother her after all. That left 2 things to do today: go watch the petanque international at Toa Payoh's petanque courts and the SAF Open House at SAFTI.

Anthony and Weng had gone through a lot of trouble organizing the tournament, so I thought I'd go lend them my support. Weng and one of the team's youngest instructors -- a Sec 1 kid with a seriously aggressive playing style -- taught me the basics of the game while Anthony warmed up for his match against Australia.

Concept is simple enough: each player has 3 metal boules (balls) and the idea is to throw the balls to land as close to the target ball (the jack) as possible. When all the players have exhausted all their throws the player who has the nearest ball to the jack gains the point and a new round begins.

Players have to decide how to make the best use of their throws to ensure that their boule is closer to the jack than their opponents' at the end of the round. Players can simply throw their boule to land as close as possible to the jack (pointing) or they can knock their opponents' boules away from the jack with their throw (shooting). That's about the sum of what I learned today. Maybe I'll attend a couple of training sessions next week to see if I can be any good at this game.

We left before Anthony finished his game against the Aussies. We sat and watched for what felt like an hour and the score was 5-2 in favour of Oz at the time. They were going to keep playing to 13 points, and we decided we couldn't wait that long. Wonder who won? I believe the match was for 3rd placing in the secondary tourney.

The weather turned nasty on us so SAFTI will have to wait until next year for our visit.