Saturday, January 15, 2005

To be fair, there isn't much to complain about as far as my life is concerned but if there's one thing I would bitch about is that I've always been and will probably remain transportationally challenged.

Every schoolboy rides a bicycle. At least all my friends did. But Dad wanted to teach me some good values -- the value of money, in particular -- and so I was obliged to save up for my own ride. He had no objections to me having a bike, but I would have to use my own money for it. Until then, after a couple of disastrous attempts at riding pillion, I had to content myself running behind my so-called "best buds'" bikes, at least until air bags became standard safety equipment on two-wheelers.

I never gave up on my dream of owning a bike one day. Back then my daily allowance was a little more than half a dollar, so I put my pennies faithfully into a little savings box anticipating the day my little acorns into big oaks grew. I began my savings plan in Sec 1 and by late Sec 3 I had accumulated just enough to make my scrimping pay off. I got a pretty solid fire-engine red machine for $99 and after a couple of rounds around the block the training wheels came off and I was free, independent and feeling the breeze run through my hair. What a rush!

The euphoria was short lived though. No, the bike didn't get crushed by a passing bus, nothing as dramatic as that. It's just that Sec 4 soon rolled round the corner and I was mostly confined at home to study for the all important 'O' levels. While my mind rotted under the influence of irrelevant textbooks, my bike rusted away through neglect never to be ridden again. The corroded heap was one day sold for scrap and I don't remember receiving any part of the proceeds.

Mom's favourite threat was that if I didn't study, I would never afford a car and would always watch enviously on the sidewalk as all my friends drove past me. I wonder if she could predict 4D numbers with such accuracy? Maybe I should ask her.

I think back to my uni days and the time I passed my driving theory simply because I happened to be accompanying a friend to take his driving test and I happened to be standing in the wrong line while waiting for him. To pass the time I picked up a driving manual and was perusing it at leisure while the line kept pushing me forward and towards the cashier to whom I was too embarrased to protest that I wasn't lining up to pay test fees. So based on what I had flipped through earlier, I took the test and passed. The practical test was even easier: once around the block, one competent parallel park, and "Congratulations, please stand at the wall for your ugly DMV licence photo." I've had my driving licence for years, just no car to go with it.

This no-car thing is a serious handicap to a guy's social life. I can think of potential girlfriends I have lost because of my disability. "Jack's got a car, I think I'll go out with Jack." Or Tony, or Adrian, or Mike, or.... It isn't just the convenience or the status that girls are concerned with, it's that having a car means having grown up, reached adulthood, and being someone other people can depend on rather than being always dependant on the whims of other people or the vagaries of public transport for a ride. That and the given assumption fact that cars are babe magnets.

Guys, if you ever want to get your own car, do it before you get married. Unmarried guy + car = dates :D. The car to the Girlfriend is an essential piece of dating equipment. It's convenient since the guy can make a doorstep pickup without the sweaty trek to the bus-stop; it gets to places fast; it's a showoff item in lieu of The Diamond Ring; it can even be a makeshift makeout spot for the more frisky of us. The Girlfriend loves the car. Besides, if the driver turns out to be a loser, there's always Tony, or Adrian, or Mike... to pick up where the last one left off.

Getting married before getting a car means that it isn't likely that a car will ever be needed, ever. The car to the Wife is a very different animal. The transition from Girlfriend to Wife is caused by a serious dose of pragmatism ingested immediately after cementing (sementing?) committment with the guy. The car becomes an unnecessary drain on financial and temporal resources; a source of potential danger to life and limb; a quick means of escape during domestic disputes; and every Wife knows the threat such a babe magnet can bring to conjugal happiness.

The only hope left for such a guy is to see if the Wife will make the transition into the Mother. Then the car becomes indespensible again. Taking wailing, hyperactive, olfactorily and verbally offensive imps to and from school, ballet and swimming lessons, math and Chinese tuition, soccer practice, Gramma's house and perhaps the occasional token outing to the beach [where one can contemplate walking into the water and just keep going until one reaches Tahiti] by public transport is simply a non-option. It's the car or the bar, baby!

It's either that or at the age of 70 he could go buy a classic red Ferrari on an installment plan. With any luck he would drive it once round the block, parallel park, and breathe his last before the repo guys come to take it away again.

This entry inspired by "Wheels of Fortune" (ST, January 15, 2005.)

Friday, January 14, 2005

AV for today's lecture worked and Vince got to show the pix he'd collected to the Arts group. It was gratifying to hear the audience respond to some of the more disturbing shots, the headless aborted foetus and the vulture eyeing the little starving girl for example. The group demonstrated a knowledge of the content and the context of the pix and there were a few individuals who were able to articulate some pretty cogent views based on what they saw. A generally smart bunch, this group of Year 1s.

We had something special sort of planned for this lecture. "Sort of" because we couldn't decide which specific course of action to take. We wanted to announce something about the lecturer during the lecture but we just couldn't quite think of a good excuse to take the mike away from him to do it. One idea was to surreptitiously insert an additional few slides into the presentation, but the lecturer kept reviewing his slides up to the last minute so that wasn't possible. We suggested a warm up speaker to run icebreaking games before the lecture proper, and on this pretext Amy snuck into the LT to join in the fun. But the lecturer wanted to use the whole hour himself and the icebreaking games master wasn't quite ready with any icebreaking games at that time, so no games. In desperate times, subtlety goes out the window. The lecturer finished a little early and was about to dismiss the group. We took the chance to push Anthony up to the console where he asked the lecturer if he could make an announcement. And then the whole LT sang the birthday song to our esteemed lecturer who, Anthony announced, had just turned... 18 yesterday. Heh, forever young!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

I wasn't meant to be a civics tutor this year but the 1st term intake wasn't as humongously large as we had expected, though it still is bigger than we've ever seen before. So temporarily I have a CT of 26 (how will I remember all their names?) to keep me busy with this term.

My new CT is a nice mix of people with a number of foreign students, a balance of guys and gals, and though predominantly ethnically Chinese there are a couple of other Malay and Indian folks to make things interesting. The group is also a "rojak" in terms of subject combination so the only time they will meet together is during CT and GP tutorials. Wonder what this diaspora will mean for CT unity, but the individuals themselves look quite enthu, and if given too much freedom could be quite a handful. I'll try playing more the disciplinarian this year (though I doubt I could keep it up for long) and see what effect that might bring on the CT after 1 term.

I gave them a bit of a spiel about how responsible CT committee members have to be and that it isn't a good idea to nominate people they don't like for such positions because they will then be rewarding the people they dislike with PEARLS points and other recognition (glowing testimonials for e.g.) that other people (i.e., the proposers themselves) deserve. It's true, isn't it? This revelation made sense to the CT and I had no trouble getting volunteers for CT rep, etc. I am prepared to take the chance on these volunteers, that they will be as responsible as they promise, though I might still have to guide them on their methods of getting things done.

Am proud of everyone in 03A2, many of whom are working and discovering that they still haven't outgrown rules of attire, behaviour, etc., which still apply even in the corporate world for the most part (oops, sounding like the P now); but I can't live in the past any longer. New year, new kids. Time to start all over again.
Yay! I'm blogging with no strings attached! Couldn't resist picking up the MS wireless optical keyboard and mouse still being offered at Christmas prices. Now I've got rid of 2 more cables snaking under my desk, can close my keyboard drawer properly and, with keyboard comfortably on my lap, blog from a distance in the comfort of my beanbag! (Now, how do I make the words on the screen bigger?) Oddly enough, the package also comes bundled with a free PS2 mouse. Duh. Go figure.

Amy had the honour of having Anthony and me standing in an empty parking lot to reserve the space for her Echo's eventual arrival. We lunched at Killeny Road where we sadly observed that the lobster laksa shop had closed. But anyway we were there looking for durian cheong fun ("rice rolls" as the signboard helpfully translated), not laksa. We needed a more substantial lunch, though, so we ordered fried rice almost all round. I don't know about the others but I think it was obvious that fried rice isn't quite the forte of this eatery. It was slightly undercooked with little to distinguish it as something special.

Lynette amused us with her careful consideration of her choice between abalone or fresh scallop cheong fun on the side. The scallop one won out as being more value-for-money, though June strongly disagrees on this cost-benefit analysis. Reason: Canned abalone is always by far more expensive than fresh scallops any day.

And how was the house specialty? I'm not really sure. I haven't tasted enough of the durian cheong fun to make an unbiased judgement. I only took a piece and while it tasted abundantly durian-like, the mix of smooth, rubbery, bland cheong fun and the creamy durian didn't sit well in my mouth. It must be the sort of dessert one downs in quantity while simultaneously being busily engaged in conversation to be fully appreciated. Oh well, a new food experience, anyway.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

I feel like there are 2 voices speaking to me from somewhere above. The voice higher up the, um, ladder says to give more freedom, more autonomy, more responsibility and personal accountability to the kids themselves. They must be independent, find their own way, express themselves as their talents and interests direct them; let them discover things for themselves through experience rather than via second-hand input; let them initiate activities amongst themselves and learn from each other.

Then there is the other voice from a little lower down. It says that we must tighten control, have many layers of accountability, more stringent monitoring for adherence to rules and regulation, black and white documentation of such transactions between instructor and student as may be considered "counselling" in order to establish a pattern of recalcitrant behaviour when such cases move up the scale for higher counselling.

It's interesting that freedom and control are so directly related to one another. The greater the freedom, the more control is needed to ensure that the system does not fall into chaos. The greater the freedom, the more numerous the variables become and control mechanisms have to be established for each possible eventuality thus making a system increasingly nit-picky. The less freedom there is, the less control is needed because every eventuality is governed by only a few (or just one) rule/s. "Off with his head!!!" comes to mind.

In the creative arts, the realm of freedom of expression as we generally allow, even such freedom is governed by rules that determine how a piece of work is created. Solo artists have talent, but it is also a process of grooming, training, practicing and developing a discipline that brings out the potential inherent in talent. Rules are especially crucial for collaborative artworks, like in theatre. Even in improv comedy such as in "Who's Line is it Anyway," the form of the created piece and the product itself are the result of imposing a set of rules on an otherwise free form of expression. Everyone knows the broad parameters of the improv games the performers play with each other to a finite set of variables provided by the audience, and the result is always hilarious and very entertaining. It would be infinitely harder to say, Ok, let's improv something together... let's see... um... and here we're at a point of searching for a rule to work with in order to get the collaboration started.

Notice I said "broad parameters" and "finite variables"? Too many rules becomes a blueprint that ensures that every product turns out the same -- as in a mass production line -- and didn't we say we were moving away from this primitive concept of education? As staff, we now have a load of procedures and protocols to administer regarding the monitoring of each individual student's behaviour, development and holistic progress, which amounts to a lot more forms to fill per student on a regular basis. New year, new initiatives. We really have to remind the kids and ourselves that it's maintaining the spirit and not the letter of the law that will balance out our 2 conflicting voices, else we'll just go nuts.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

English Dept and technology don't mix well together. First GP lecture of the year and the AV goes completely dead. No picture, no sound, just the blue "no signal" screen. And the intro lecture as prepared by Anthony and Vince is graphics heavy. Idea was to flash photos taken from recent news and see what the students would say or ask about them. This plan was not to be. The intro lecture became very imagination-dependent as Anthony verbally described the pictures the students were supposed to be seeing, and he was supplying his own responses to them himself. An interactive lecture gone back to monologue instead. On hindsight, maybe he might have called up various members of the audience on stage to describe what they saw on the laptop? That way, it wouldn't have been all Anthony-talk but some audience participation as well.

There was nothing anyone could do. The equipment was working perfectly the session immediately before. Even with our tech on site, he was no help at all. A screw-up this serious usually means someone forgot to do some simple little thing, but no one could figure out this little problem this time so there was no AV throughout. Regardless, Anthony kept his cool and just did his thing. It wasn't that difficult for him to do the talking, just harder for the audience to visualize what he was saying.

For courage and composure under technical breakdown, we tutors in the back row gave him a standing ovation.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Dropped in for rehearsal workshop at 126 Cairnhill this evening. It's been at least 2 years since I attended a workout like this, when once long ago it was routine. Don't get me wrong, it's not an exhausting, sweat soaked huffnpuffarama but a soothing, gentle series of exercises to realign the body with its spine. Some mild stretching, focused breathing, some rolling and curling and de-kinking of the vertebrae. Today the exercises were a little harder for me because the stomach is starting to get in the way of my usually lithe form. Ahem.

Initially, Mel and I went there to discuss a little 'bidness' with Tina. Mel was tired and left after our chat, but I stayed on 'cos it's hard to resist YT's workout sessions. Working out like this is stress-free for the muscles and joints. It is non-impact and instead of feeling tired at the end, it's more like a recharge. I'm sure if I did this regularly, I'd be fit again real soon. I hope my Monday evenings will be free this year so I can attend this workshop more often. It's open to all at no charge so if anyone's interested to go too, just ask for details.
Downloaded another Popcap game. Anyone remember "Bookworm?" It made for a couple of our noisiest classes in 1st year 2003, as I recall. Popcap's new game is called "Insaniquarium" (actually it's been around for a while already). It's quite addictive, but if only it wasn't such hard work at the same time.

It probably got its name from the insane amount of mouse clicking involved in playing the game. There's this fish-tank, see? The idea is to populate it with different kinds of fish that kinda' live off each other in a fixed food chain. Big fish eat small fish -- that kind of relationship.

As the fish increase in size and number, they drop coins that finance the numerous upgrades for the fish tank, like better quality food and higher calibre weapons. Er... yes, every so often the fish-tank gets a visit from one or more aliens who attempt to eat the fish and so deserve to be blasted into oblivion for trespassing.

A successful round is when the financial rewards collected amount to being able to afford 3 game pieces which assemble into a complete egg that will hatch into a specialized 'pet' with a unique power. This pet goes into a stable of 24 such unique pets and up to 3 of them may be brought into the next round as helpers who run the fish-tank using their unique abilities.

The reward for clearing each round is a sub-game, the objective of which is to 'catch' as many shells as possible within a given time limit. The shells buy fish and other items for a virtual fish-tank that functions as a silly screensaver alternative to the aquarium one MS provides.

I remember Jon saying he watches the fish swim around in his tank for relaxation; playing "Insaniquarium" just might be a little more fun. So, click mouse to feed fish, catch coins, blast aliens, catch shells. A clicking frenzy. A prime suspect as the #1 cause of RSI or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Get a full workout just by manipulating a mouse. Now we know the secret to Popeye's big forearms.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

What an unusual occurrence. A number of staff representing the different departments descended upon Escape Theme Park to try out some of the rides for ourselves. In an intermittent drizzle alternating with short periods of downpour, temperatures ranging from 29-29.9ÂșC, an assortment of our college's finest sampled the Flipper, Alpha-8 and the Pirate Ship before the rain got too heavy and the park closed the rides until better weather smiled on us again. Some staff assessed the rides as too intense for themselves to handle so they got the task of looking after our barang while we jumped on board.

The seasoned coaster nuts found each other pretty fast; we were usually the first in line and the first to compare the ride with others we'd tried elsewhere. Audrey (who turned out to be more gregarious and enthu than my initial impression of her) has tried the thrill rides in our immediate region, Anne has experience with the 6-flags chain, and me having thrilled to theme park rides in Canada, Korea and Oz found Escape mild in comparison though Flipper and Revolution came close to causing a rush for us during the occasional head-down free-falls. The Inverter, arguably Escape's most thrilling ride was closed today for "upgrading." How disappointing.

The second part of our recce was to go across the river into Pasir Ris Park. The intention was for us to trek the boardwalk through a small mangrove swamp and check out the sights, but too bad, the boardwalk was closed for repairs. Project completion projected for mid-'05. Too late to be useful to us.

What's all this Saturday gallivanting all about? It's a field-trip we are planning to bring the entire J1 cohort on next month. We're taking lessons outside the classroom while having some fun at the same time. The 1 thing we all learned today was: we'd better come up with a solid wet-weather plan or it'll be a washout, literally.

Officially, we ended our recce before lunch, but me, Anne, Audrey, Victor, SC and CY (not LCY) went back to Escape for a quick bite, then back to complete the rides we missed due to inclement weather earlier in the morning. Some quick bite... a bak kut teh for me, and thanks to Victor's itchy mouth, we stuffed ourselves further with ice cream for dessert.

Went immediately back to look for the Revolution (which is easy to underestimate the intensity of), the Wet 'n Wild (which got us all soaking wet except Audrey who wore her NDP poncho) and we lined up for the go-carts (which now seems to be covered by the price of the admission ticket, though it was a separate charge some time ago).

There are worse ways to spend one's Saturday off than hangin' out with fun-loving colleagues in a theme park.