Saturday, May 28, 2005

Frivolous Supplies Convoy to Council Camp '05, P. Ubin. Posted by Hello

NBS had a bright idea. Let's go cycling on Pulau Ubin and drop in on the Councillors at camp as an excuse. We'd bring some non-tactical, unhealthy snacks for the Camp Supervisors just to make our trip worthwhile. Our manifest included some green-coloured corn puffs, prawn crackers, potato chips (I think it was) and 9 individually packaged sachets of dried seaweed.

Woke up early today and met Lucy and NBS at the Ferry Terminal. A short boat ride later and we were on the little island swarming with schoolchildren on foot and on bikes. Apparently the 2 youth Brigades arranged for some mass activity and the jetty was crowded with kids getting oriented to a wild and rustic side of Singapore many of whom would never have seen before. It's a slice of rural life from 30-40 years ago preserved by the islanders and long may it stay that way.

The main road from the jetty is lined on both sides with bicycle rental shops. At random we picked one and got our Shimano mountain bikes at $7 each for a full day's rental.

Ubin's environment is such a change from our urbanized mainland. Here, it's mostly greenery, houses are still made of wood, the cars are in a condition that would have warranted scrapping a long time ago, and there is little evidence of air-conditioning even in the better-looking structures. It's a great place to get away from it all but I probably wouldn't last more than a day or 2 before I'm itching for bright lights, big city again. Town mouse, that's me.

We met the Camp Supervisors and accompanied them back to the jetty area where we settled in for lunch. The initial idea was for a seafood feast but as the Supervisors were going to remain on the island until Monday, they decided against ingesting anything they might regret in the near future. No chilli crab then. So we ordered rice and dishes: sweet-sour pork, 2 different styles of kailan, a tofu dish, deep-fried baby squid, and fresh coconut to wash it down with. There were 11 of us at the table and the meal came up to a very reasonable $5.50 per head (less drinks). June's thinking of bringing family here for a cheap meal-outing soon.

After lunch, we escorted everyone back to camp then the supply convoy took our leave to make our way back to civilization. Before boarding the boat, we made a quick pit-stop for more coconut and sliced local mangoes which smelled heavenly and tasted like bubblegum.

To Amy, Vince and the rest, just hang in there for another night. You'll be home soon! Until then, have fun roughing it out!

Ooh... check out the local wildlife:

Abu, a fisherman's burly tom, naps beside a well on P. Ubin. Posted by Hello
I am stretched thin at work. Coping with a ratio of 76:1 for one subject and 50:1 for another means that my time in actual contact with individual kids can hardly be significant to them. Case in point: today I took one group of students to the NUSCC for the National NE Quiz '05 (some memories there for 03A2, yah?) then I had to abandon them there to sit through the entire experience while I returned to campus to meet my PW groups for another round of project consultations.

I feel like I've been running out on my classes a lot and that they haven't got the full benefit of my undivided attention due to one committment or another in my capacities as subject tutor, Drama Club in-charge, NE Coord, and having to prepare and undergo training for The New Subject as of next year. Speaking of which, the curriculum planning people for The New Subject came down to meet me and NBS on campus in the afternoon to see how we are coping, if we had any further concerns and for ideas as to how they can help us make the transition. A useful meeting, I think, and it's nice to see sincerity and concern on their part for us on the frontlines.

Oh, how did we do in the Quiz? Same result as last year. 3rd in our round, thus not qualifying for the Grand Finals. Hope 05A3 got to learn some NE trivia for their trouble. Thanks, guys!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Edit 01:
Forgot to mention the place I went to for lunch with Weng and Anthony. It's called Friends, just recently opened on Maju Ave right next door to the Cartel.

Friends is both a wine bar and a cafe. The first view of the interior is that of a wine cellar with racks of wine greeting the patron at the entrance. The dining area is not far behind. Tables and chairs are oddly low, though luxuriously comfortable. The chairs are the kind you might just fall asleep in after a good meal, if you didn't have anything pressing in the afternoon. Weng speculates that the low furniture gives the illusion that the ceiling is higher than it actually is, which makes the room seem more open and airier. Clever, efficient use of available space, that.

The lunch set is quite reasonable. $9.90++ for a soup OR salad, a variety of main courses to choose from, dessert and hot beverage (the coffee is pretty strong, Grinders, an Aussie brand). I had the beef lasagne. It went down smoothly, the flavours of mozza and ground beef blending nicely together. Substantial, yet not too heavy as lasagne tends to be. The passionfruit cake was tangy and fresh. Yum.

But the one thing I am most impressed with is the fact that my water glass that came at the beginning of the meal still contained a significant iceberg after I had drained it at the end of the meal. The water was cold and remained so throughout. That, to me, is a clear invitation to visit again. Def.
Maybe I spoke too soon about the "oppressive doctrine" I mentioned in my previous post... [mumble, mumble]...

Anyway, the college blogsite is up and running with some posts already up by our student contributors. The site link is also on my sidebar for easy reference. It's called "Oil Lamps" after that stale joke about our college not needing anyone to change our light bulbs 'cos we are still using said item. We need visitors to our site to win, and your comments and suggestions as to how we can make it better, more attractive and, most importantly, more meaningful to you will help us a great deal, so please feel free.

This entry is also to mark my nephew, EJ's, birthday. He's still Thomas-mad (see my previous post of a year ago) and all his pressies were all themed accordingly. Thomas Lego Duplo from Japan, Thomas 'Lady' figurine with railway tracks, Thomas underwear, Thomas stamp with ink-pad, Thomas railway playset. Once again, M-i-L baked a mango cake and arranged another Thomas railway station diorama on top. Observe below:

Mom-in-Law puts a lot of effort into her homemade cakes. Posted by Hello

I wonder if this Thomas obsession is bad for the kid? Shouldn't he immerse himself in other forms of popular culture at least for some variation? Like Pokemon? or Power Rangers? One Piece? On second thought, maybe not.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Yet another day spent off-campus. The M2 is getting a real workout this week. Couldn't come at a worse time for him 'cos he's overdue for his 5000km servicing and I've been too busy to make an appointment with Mazda. Hope he doesn't start falling apart through my abuse.

The Department signed up to attend another GP Seminar, an occasion for most of our fellow GP tutors from all colleges to meet and gather in one spot to listen to Important People talk about Important Things. This time, it was about the Geopolitics of the Middle East. The speakers were 2 very distinguished representatives who've had significant experience with our Foreign Affairs. Of the 2, I've only heard of Mr Mahbubani whose services for Singapore in the UN and in other strange lands are quite well documented. Just Google his name and check out 'em glowing credentials.

Our speakers very briefly touched on the surface issues surrounding that extremely bristly corner of our world, giving it so much of our diplomatic attention. They gave us a little historical insight into the Arab-Israeli problem; discussed our economic and diplomatic interests in the region, our surprisingly respected voice in the politics there (basically everyone tolerates a voice of reason), the opening up of the media which is oddly backfiring on the US who encouraged such press freedoms in the first place; and they reminded us of the fact that whatever we might think of the Arab world, the vast majority are people just like us, who want the things we want and have to some level already achieved: peace, security, freedom of expression, shopping, you know, the normal stuff we can all identify with.

And some of these normal activities we take for granted can be like a bunch of us dropping in on the Colbar for lunch before car-pooling our way to the IPAM auditorium for the seminar. The freedom of sitting at a table with a bunch of friends (Amy, HP, Yee and Gerald), tear into our meat, mushrooms and chips and laugh at the general silliness of life, and no one to tell us we can't do that because ... [insert whatever oppressive doctrine here].

Everyone should have the right to do what we did this afternoon. The tragedy is, we're amongst the few in this world, for one reason or another, who actually can. Sobering thought.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Drama 1st Years helped launch NLB's READ! Singapore programme today with their dramatic reading from "To Kill a Mockingbird." It was interesting to compare our performance with the other 3 items because it was certainly different in style and genre. The most obvious difference was that our performers read from text that they carried on stage whereas the others were actual performances. We went for realism: movement that had definite motivational cues, the others went abstract and stylized. It's not so much a case here of which performance was better than another, but it seems like we were the odd ones out.

This fact became quite pointed when during the shmooze session, a lady representing a local Chinese drama organization commented with good intentions that our item was a bit static and could have used more movement. I totally agree. If we had been off-script, there could have been a more detailed study of the characters in terms of gesture, traffic pattern, anything other than a repetitive stand-sit-stand make-contact-break-contact kind of interaction; but considering the scenario we were playing and the style we were presenting in, I chose to move only when there was a real need to rather than move for the sake of moving; to not overkill a scene by playing around with light and sound; to bring in new elements without precedent; and to have characters stand around waiting for a line without having a reason or purpose to appear onstage other than to deliver it; all for the sake of giving the audience something to look at so they don't get bored. No wonder I don't win awards for my directorial attempts.

Anyway, this READ! Singapore programme aims to get everybody reading a common set of books -- a canon comprising 3 specific titles for each of our 4 national languages -- and then start book clubs wherever we are, work or neighbourhood or in transit, to discuss them.

"Eh, Seng, you read "Tequila Mockingbird" or not?"
"Ya, that Ah Tikus is my ou xiang. Now I wan' to study lor...!"
"But that May-la, dam' b**ch one, ok? Mei you liang xin for the black guy."
"Ayah, black people always very poor thing lah. But Ah Tikus fight for them, that's why I like him!"
"Actually, I'm more of a Bo guy..."
"No lah! Carrie will be the next American Idol!"

I feel so literate already. Oh, well, at least we're talking.

But seriously, it may be idealistic, but I too am buying in on the need to read. We live in the too-much-information age. What info we access is so transitory, so rapidly mutable, that it affects the way we think and the way our belief structure works. We learn quickly that nothing in our world is permanent and apply this attitude to things that do need a sense of the long-term, our values and our relationships, for example.

Reading for pleasure helps us slow time down. Unlike information, the stuff in stories does not change, and we get horribly upset if someone tries to do just that. A work of Fiction may have all the descriptive details thrown into the text, but our imaginations fully engage to fill in the gaps where language proves inadequate. This is how we exercise our ability to dream, and dreams are in short supply in this place.

Ironically, the kind of industry our country is moving into is named "knowledge-based," but we'll never survive just providing information alone 'cos it's too cheap and too easily available anywhere in the networked world. We should sell dreams instead -- they are from an unlimited source, our minds -- and we have the facilities, technology and know-how here to turn them into reality for other people. It's a more fun and rewarding business to get into, besides.

So here's my 2 cent's worth for READ! Singapore: Go grab a book and learn to read for fun; can you afford not to?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Just returned from a pet farm in Pasir Ris Farmway 2. The place is called "Pet Movers" and it had a write up in the June 2005 edition of Simply Her which June spotted.

What a fun place to bring our dogs, Q-tip and Mimi. There were other dog owners there to make use of the facilities: an enclosed dog run where dogs big and small gambolled around, the al fresco cafe where we had breakfast, and a dog paddling pool in which dogs swam while their owners waded after them.

The cafe's menu is very basic. We should have gone earlier 'cos their nasi lemak had sold out by the time we arrived. We had to settle for their fried bee hoon topped with a chicken wing and sliced green chilli. Stomach-filling stuff, little else. But we didn't go there for the food, anyway.

If we had known about the paddling pool earlier, we would have brought towels for our dogs. It's safer and friendlier for them to swim here than in the open sea with its unpredictable waves and currents. We saw a happy little Jack Russell playing 'fetch' with a tennis ball which his owner kept throwing into the water. If only Q-tip was as active.

Apart from the run, the place also has a large pet supply store with reasonably priced merchandise. There is a section where puppies for sale are on display together with a grooming facility. It's a bit smelly here but that's only because our urbanized noses are spoilt, unused to the natural scents of animal agriculture.

A great place for dogs and owners alike to socialize and shop. And a good way to get our 2 antisocial pets to meet and make other canine friends.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The circle is now complete. We have the full life story of one Anakin Skywalker from a precocious 9 year-old Jedi prodigy to fallen Jedi/Sith Lord to redeemed Jedi in the last few minutes of his life. And so ends a saga that took nearly 30 years in the telling.

June says Anakin led a wasted life. For someone so powerful to spend most of his power on causing pain, suffering and death to millions is unpardonable, especially when that power could have been used to do the complete opposite. That he chose his path out of his own impatience, pride, fear, arrogance, guilt and ultimately gullibility is tragic. Obi-Wan rails at him for not living up to being "the Chosen One," but perhaps the Jedi Council didn't quite understand the meaning of the ancient prophecy, as Yoda feared. Anakin was supposed to "bring balance to the Force," and that was exactly what he did.

How much more good could Anakin have done in a galaxy already watched over by the Jedi Council? The Sith in comparison were vastly outnumbered. Darth Sidious (Palpatine), Darth Maul (deceased), Darth Tyranus (Count "I will suck your blood" Dooku), and as far as the movies go, no one else. 3 Darths vs the hundreds of Jedi younglings, padawan, knights and masters doesn't seem quite fair odds even in our galaxy.

Against such overwhelming opposition, the Sith create an empire and all but wipe out their competitors in a single strike. Fine, they have the entire Clone Army behind them but that's just a matter of careful preparation, isn't it? Vader himself strikes at the heart of the Jedi organization and in the most heartless way demolishes it from the inside out. Result: The Sith rule, and 2 Jedi remain (Yoda and Obi-Wan) to rebuild the Jedi faith all over again. Balance achieved.

Episodes 1-3 is innovative in the retelling of a common myth -- hero triumphs over incredible odds and restores peace to a troubled land. In this movie series, it's just that the side that wins, the side that the hero fights for, isn't the side we like. Anakin rationalizes his actions under the banners of peace, security and stability for the galaxy but the peace that comes with his victory is a contrived one, one that exists simply due to the absence of war, and of course it doesn't last very long. And so, equilibrium has to be achieved again and from Episode 4-6 it's Luke who rebalances the galaxy. Anakin/Vader is again instrumental in achieving this rebalancing -- he is the fulcrum to Force balancing in both parts of the saga.

So Anakin fulfils his destiny as far as the prophecy goes. Just be careful how you read your prophecies. They may come true in ways you might not like.

Episode 3 was a blast to watch. A visual treat in the scale of the conflict, in the sense that whatever you were looking at, though huge by itself, is just a tiny cog when the camera zooms out to present a larger perspective of the battlescape. I guess it's that way with Vader too. His is a looming presence over the Star Wars franchise, and yet still a tiny part in the grand scheme of things. That's perhaps what's so great about this entire saga: it's an ensemble piece with every part living and breathing rather than being just a vehicle for any star in particular.

There are few surprises in the plot, since we all know how things eventually turn out but it's nice to have the gaps filled for a clearer picture.

I was also lucky enough to catch a complete screening of "The Clone Wars" vols. 1 and 2 in one sitting yesterday. This animated series chronicles the events between Episodes 2 and 3, tracing the exploits of the Jedi knights through the Clone Wars, the unorthodox promotion of Anakin from Padawan to Knight (hence answering how Anakin could aspire to the title of Master since the last time we saw him he was still just an apprentice), and finally leading up to the kidnapping of Senator Palpatine by General Grevious which is where Episode 3 opens. Many thanks to Cartoon Network for this unexpected bonus.

I guess all that's left is to propose a home screening of a Star Wars movie marathon with loads of popcorn and coke when all 6 episodes (in extended format maybe?) come out on DVD with my taped copy of "The Clone Wars" thrown in. Anyone interested?