Saturday, October 07, 2006

Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" calls to mind Taily's question: "What is the worth of a blade of grass?" In the awful carnage that occured on the day that changed the world, Stone focuses his attention on just 2 police officers trapped in the rubble.

McLaughlin and Jimeno, 2 of 5 volunteers who swallow their fear and venture forward to assist in the evacuation of the towers. But here's the thing: before they even have had a chance to help anyone, the sky has already fallen on their heads and they lie buried 20 feet below visible light.

Stone ignores the major tragedy and loss of life and keeps our attention on the efforts of the two men who though separated and out of sight of each other keep each other alive by exchanging stories about their loved ones.

When word gets out that the two are still alive, the news mobilizes whole battalions of emergency and rescue personnel. Though only a few men can actually work on extricating them, due to the tight confines they are trapped in, when they each finally break the surface, the welcome they get from the hundreds of PD and FD volunteers is overwhelmingly tremendous. Everyone is just so happy to see them alive, and anxious for them to return home to their families.

Only 20 people got pulled out alive from the wreckage in which nearly 3,000 perished. Jimeno and MacLaughlin were numbers 18 and 19. But as in the story of the lost sheep, there is great rejoicing when the single lost sheep has been found.

What's the value of a blade of grass? Taken out of context, it means nothing. But when we connect its roots to the field it belongs in, it's true value is actually quite astonishing.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Horrid haze hangs heavy.
Hostile heat harms historical habitats.
Hacking, heaving; holding hanky handy.
Hope heaven hastily halts haughty human hubris.
Health, hurry! Hie hither home!

It's the mooncake festival tonight, and I've taken my 2 nephews down to the playground to bask in the light of the full moon. So many other kids down here with us, swinging their lanterns and sparklers. Some are busy trying to set the playground on fire with such arrangements of candles as are usually seen on a psycho's shrine to the object of his obsession.

Apparently, amongst all this lunacy, traditional Chinese scholars are meant to drink tea and compose poetry. That explains the few lines above that begin today's entry. Yes, it's supposed to be poetry. And it's about current affairs too.

So there.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

What is, "family"? Family is a beat-up old VW bus. The horn is broken and sounds intermittently, attracting all kinds of embarassing attention. The clutch is broken so it needs to be push-started, everyone putting their weight behind the machine until the starter can kick in and 3rd gear can be forced into engaging. Since the bus is now on the move, it has to be boarded one at a time on the run.

The first few times this process occurs, it's a mess of coordination, and getting moving seems pretty touch and go. But on further repetition, a system slowly emerges and eventually it becomes smoother and smoother, almost effortless.

A family may be completely dysfunctional, comprising every manner of misfit who can't even get along with their own closest kin. But the nature of the family is to bind people together as one, whatever friction is generated between its members. And when 1 family member is threatened, all differences get set aside and the family faces the threat together.

Whatever am I talking about? I must say no more or I might just spoil the fun when you go watch Little Miss Sunshine. This movie would've passed under my radar if Shah didn't highly recommend it. She wasn't wrong, and now I'm highly recommending it too! Whaddaya waiting for? Go!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

With regard to yesterday's entry, on 2nd reading it does rather seem pessimistic, as Mei has pointed out. I actually meant it to be read in a positive light, and I'm glad that Mei did fill in the blanks for me in her comments.

Let me expand on what she said. Y'see, by the time we've completed our undergrad studies, we've actually just had a glimpse into the known areas of work done in our disciplines. Our undergrad degree acknowledges that we have the necessary grounding to then start work on the unknown areas outside the borders of our current knowledge. That piece of paper we work so hard for is our licence qualifying us to explore beyond; to apprehend the unknowable; to distill new understanding; and to communicate our newfound knowledge to others; and thereby make our own meagre contribution to the sum total of human knowledge, taking us one more step closer towards a more unifying Wisdom [KIds, pay attention here].

Most people these days are content to take their undergrad qualifications as proof of their ability to slave away for some corporate entity for the rest of their days. They undermine all the work they've put into their studies by taking this attitude, but that's the nature of our employment market. Forget your airy-fairy dreams, people gotta eat!

But those who know the true meaning of their qualification and accept the responsibility therein are ready to take their toe out of the ocean and immerse their whole selves into it instead. The unknown is obviously scary, but it is also a source of great freedom and exhileration as well. Too bad that the ocean is so vast, but there are so few explorers to help chart it.

Why am I working with Education? Because I'm in the business of training explorers of the unknown. It's difficult because many of my students see a more pragmatic end to their studies. Often, we seem to be working at cross-purposes. Still, for every batch I get a Mei, a Faith and a Taily. That's what keeps me going.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

As we move closer to the 'A' Levels, our J2s are very much aware that they are approaching a big hurdle they have to clear before they can move on to the next stage in their education process. But while their eyes focus on the obstacle itself and how insurmountable it seems, how many of them have thought about what awaits them on the other side?

It takes 12 years of schooling on average to qualify as an undergrad. Within that time, how much knowledge in our basic disciplines -- language, math, the sciences, aesthetics -- have we already crammed into our minds in order to just sit for our entrance exams? Well, from our J2s' perspective, a lot. The endless late nights beating their heads on page after page of textbook material and lecture note scraps, and bits of tutorials they're still trying to make some sense of; while the X-box is mouldering away in the living-room (though Dad the dinosaur still dusts it off occasionally to play Tetris on).

All this sacrifice, we hope, gets us into our first tutorial room as a freshman at the uni. If we've made it this far, we've got to remember how smart we have had to be to get here. A moment of pride is justified.

However, within the 3-4 years of study till the time we receive our undergrad degree, we will learn only 1 lesson, and it will be the most important one we will ever learn in our lives. That lesson we will remember, as we step up to shake the Dean's hand, is that everything we've learned in our now 15-16 years of study add up to a staggering sum total of absolutely nothing.

The receipt of our degree is a humbling occasion rather than a proud moment. It's the time we actually see the vast ocean of knowledge for what it is, and we are finally convinced that what we know amounts to less than a drop in that ocean.

If we have learned this lesson, we are firmly placed on the path of wisdom, and our Education has actually meant something. But if we we think that receiving that piece of paper shows the world how smart we are, then I'm sorry to say that we've wasted our time.

Monday, October 02, 2006

I feel very challenged right now. Tomorrow first thing in the morning I'll have a lecture hall almost all to myself, and I'm to talk about 3 of the essay questions that we used in the prelims. Talking about 3 essays isn't the problem per se. But talking about 3 questions within the time limit that I've been given is going to be quite a feat.

At my usual rate, I'm like 1 hour per essay question (for someone as shy, quiet and retiring as me, I hog more mike time than I am usually aware of). Tomorrow I'll have to keep it down to about 20 minutes max per question. Maybe I should get someone to ding a bell or something for me?

I'm starting to realise that I get too anal about content and then I'm yammering on and on, layering more material than the kids can deal with. I mean, it's impressive and all, but all the kids need is just the bare-bones argument structure. Then they can fill in their own content as is relevant to the question.

Ultimately, it isn't about the content. It's about being able to have an opinion about the issue/s the question raises and being able to defend that opinion rationally and reasonably. That's it.

OK, something to bear in mind while I continue to prepare my lecture...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

So Faith asks the $64,000 question: Why did I come back? If only we could discern the secret to bringing home our diaspora, our government wouldn't have to be so worried.

Unfortunately, there's nothing to be learnt from my experience. Well, nothing relevant to the government's problem, anyway. The truth is, I have a very bad habit. When I get to the top of my game, I become very reluctant to move on. I don't want to change level, and I don't want to change the game either. Physicists call this tendency, "inertia." It's a great asset that keeps a body in motion, but it's a terrible liability when the body comes to rest.

After achieving an academic qualification I had never thought I was capable of, my reason for being away from home ceased to exist. In my remaining days out there, I was supposed to find employment to qualify for a work permit. But I wasn't ready to make the transition to employment so soon after my recent brush with success. Getting a job meant I'd have to get back on the ground floor and work my way up again. How painful is that?

Thing is, by not making that choice to go to work, the days slowly bled away on my student visa, and eventually I got kicked out of the paradise I had come to love. Stupid. Stupid Stupid. Lazy. Stupid.

Still, if you asked me today whether I have ever wanted to go back, I'd have to honestly say, "no." Location isn't the major factor as to where we choose to settle. Location is important, but human beings don't always choose based on logic alone. The friendships and the relationships I've formed here since I returned are stronger than glue. It's because of the people around me that's how I know I am where I am supposed to be. I am home.

Feel free to barf now.