Saturday, December 09, 2006

We've got Universal Studios setting up shop on the southernmost tip of continental Asia! I got my wish for exciting coaster rides within driving distance after all! That's the good news. The even better news is that by the time it's ready in 2010, I should be able to get in on senior citizen rates! "Please remove dentures and all other prosthetics before riding the Lethal Weapon 6 for your own safety. Thank you!"

While the politicos and moguls are talking about the impact the Genting-Star Cruises deal will make on tourism arrivals and length of stays, I wonder if Universal is considering to use the theme park here for more than just rides and family entertainment. The possibility of Universal setting up a real movie studio here using Asian locations and talent hasn't been discussed yet, but it's worth thinking about. For both Universal and us, there's an opportunity to break into cinemas worldwide with quality storytelling and high production values... can't blame me for dreaming, right?

Looks like we're putting a lot of our economic eggs into the MICE/tourism/hospitality/family entertainment basket in the coming decades. Are our current batch of students being properly prepared for this industry? I'm sure currently we can produce a very able, very competent crew of engineers who can fabricate and maintain the stuff in their blueprints, but who's designing the blueprints? We've got penny-pinching, meticulous accountants who are great at counting money, but whose money is it? And will all the service staff and the guys in funny animal mascot costumes be from our vast pool of foreign talent 'cos our own local employment-seekers are too self-centered, too individualistic and too easily embarrased (paiseh) to entertain our guests?

In our immediate future, our working population can no longer be made of unquestioning assembly-line robots. We need people who can relate to people, understand them and integrate across cultures without prejudice, and be less obvious with keeping an eye on the profit motive. We need people who can respond to rapidly changing situations, and be empowered and able to act on good decisions quickly. We need creative, imaginative people who can weave interesting and credible narratives with whatever abilities and talents they have on hand.

Our schools willl have to make the paradigm switch, as will our students and their parents too. Though our curriculum rigour need not change, our end result needs to be students who are knowledgeable, yet fun-loving, sociable, active and adventurous. All this, and a healthy dose of common sense too.

Am I asking a bit much? Yes, as long as we keep knowledge an individual, competitive, have-or-have-not commodity. Instead, if in our schools we can develop a culture in which knowledge is freely shared and open-sourced rather than individually hoarded (for obtaining meaningless marks on exams, no less) I'd say that would make content learning much less work, then at the same time we can learn to think and have fun too.

Friday, December 08, 2006

"I gave [a lecture] in The Hague, Holland, to an audience of people who teach in English-language independent schools throughout Europe. I should stress that they were not primarily teachers of English, whom I have for the most part stopped addressing, since I came to the conclusion several years ago that they are the educators least likely to depart in any significant way from their pedagogical traditions. I do not know why this is so, but it is a serious deficiency, since English teachers are better positioned than any others to cultivate intelligence."
Postman, Neil. "Defending against the Indefensible." Conscientious Objections (1988).


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Thought it would have been fun to grab my laptop and go sign up for the free wireless broadband service that's available to us for the next 3 years. There are already quite a number of locations around the island that offer this service, and the opportunity to surf and blog on location was an appealing idea.

Nice idea, but it didn't work. Quite a number of people have already signed up for the service already, so it's not likely to be a network problem. Somehow, my laptop isn't configured to detect a wireless signal, so I felt like a bit of a chump lugging it around Marina Square and getting squat out of it.

I'll take the laptop back to our campus tech and see if she (what's her name now? I've heard it twice already but it won't stick in my memory...) can help me get unplugged. Or, more likely, she'll tell me it's because of some paranoid company security policy that my wireless feature has been disabled. Grr.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

It's a pity our bowling team didn't survive the changes we underwent this year. With 2 of our teammates getting transferred out and 1 leaving the service, when we finally had a reunion today, it was like we'd split into 2 separate factions: Amy and I still with the college, while Anthony and Vince are now in the secondary school system. Yee, gone on his own way since early this year, was too ill to join us today.

It's a pity because the competiton in this year's league doesn't seem as intense as last year's, and we could possibly be flying high as a result. Still, it's nice to be able to bowl for fun and not kill ourselves trying to beat the next team's high game or whatever. Thanks for the game Boyz!

And tonight, we celebrated Adrian's and Mary's birthdays at Long Beach, ECP. We opted for a few simple dishes and none of the messy crab stuff. They have an unusual spinach cooked with century-egg and salt-egg. Looked weird, like a creamy mess, but tasted quite palatable as a topping for rice.

For dessert, we finished nearly half the Goldmine cheesecake which June and I bought from NYDC. The remainder, Jen took back to her office to feed her workers and volunteers. That's staff welfare!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Prom Night this year was at the Fullerton Hotel. And the students really dressed to the theme of "The Red Carpet". Amongst the memorable was the guy in the 1920's gentleman's suit complete with coat and tails, top hat and cane, whom the MC mercilessly made fun of. Most of the women looked sleek in their gowns and dinner dresses, and had their hair and make up professionally done. It's amazing to see our normally drab students transform into unrecognizably glam personalities with just a touch of effort. Ok, maybe more than just "a touch", I understand some of the do-packages were quite expensive. But for a night of good fun, good memories and great pix, it's worth it, right?

Tonight's menu was an Asian-western fusion buffet. I enjoyed the smoked salmon, and the steamed shrimp served on-ice . The sweet-sour fish was tasty too, and the duck confit was... rich (maybe what I mean is deliciously fatty, though I'm not exactly sure that was it). There was a crispy noodle that was oddly sweet, and the consomme was a little more sour than I had expected. By the time I got to the dessert table, there wasn't much left. I scrounged together a decent portion of bread pudding, a crunchy apple tartlet, a smooth chocolate mousse thing on a light cracker, and some healthy fruit for balance.

But what kept the party rockin' was a livewire MC who put together a repertoire of games that were entertaining, yet not too embarrassing for the participants. It helped that the students themselves were great sports and participated wholeheartedly. Makes all the difference in the world. It also helped that the MC had an assistant he kept abusing. Somehow, whenever he called for "Alfred", it was like playing off a foil of himself, so the humour had quite a self-deprecating quality.

If anyone is wondering why we staff at the VIP table did not participate at all in the games, it's because we were there as non-paying guests. Therefore, we had no business trying for prizes that the students had paid for. Good prizes too. Quite a number of shopping vouchers for quality stuff like from Kino, NYDC, Nike, Levi's and VivoCity. We also gave away an i-Pod shuffle and a nano, new models. The top prizes were sponsored: a night's stay at the Fullerton, and air tix for 2 to BKK, courtesy of Swissaire.

Congrats to Errol, our Prom king. He had a retro-aviator look (Top-Gun was what, early 80s?), and he had the showmanship to secure his votes, no surprise there. I don't know the prom queen personally, but I think throwing her fur stole into the crowd boosted her popularity somewhat.

Also, thanks, Amy, for the invite. I know our table was full of your cronies, none of us being senior staff deserving of VIP status, except the P of course, but we only responded after no one else did, so we did give everyone else a chance first, didn't we?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Currently reading Panic Nation by Feldman and Marks. Got through about 6 chapters so far, and so far the authors have been the bearers of excellent news! Everything we've been taught to fear about the food we eat is nonsense, according to them. They suggest that our precautions against consuming foods we think are dangerous to our health are actually the result of an "organized paranoia" perpetrated by well-meaning health-regulatory bodies who would rather err on the side of caution (and avoid expensive lawsuits) rather than good sense and good science.

Feldman and Marks cite study after study, across different demographics and over the long-term showing that there is no significant change to our life-expectancy even if we conscientiously reduce consuming "unhealthy" foods. They systematically debunk our fears through statistical as well as scientific analysis and expose the myths behind fat, "junk" food, cholesterol, salt, sugar and a whole bunch of other supposed poisons, toxins and carcinogens in our diet. In fact, by drastically cutting down on some of these substances, we might actually risk harming our bodies because we need them in certain amounts in order for our bodies to function properly.

Some facts they bring to light are quite eye-opening. For example, the cholesterol we eat does not and can not become the cholesterol that clogs our arteries. The two aren't even the same thing, having completely different molecular structures from each other. Sugar is a direct cause of tooth decay, but only contributes to obesity because it makes food taste better and therefore causes people to eat more food than they need. Salt intake is always properly balanced in the body of a normal, healthy person. If there is too much salt, the body excretes the excess through sweat and pee, but if there is too little salt the risk of heart failure actually rises!

If anything, Panic Nation advocates that we eat whatever we want without having to feel guilty about it. We just need to eat a variety of foods in reasonable quantity, like our ancestors have always done, and quit worrying that whatever we put into our mouths is going to kill us. I'll remember that next time I reach for a Krispy Kreme.

Myth: You can live forever if you only eat healthy food.
Truth: Life is sexually transmitted and always ends in death (Vincent Marks).

Further readings:
BBC News: Is junk food a myth?
A more balanced review: here.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

My niece's classmate is a little girl who's so obsessed with gymnastics that she spends most of her life outside school in training. On the weekends, she attends dance classes for variety. Her academics, she just lets slide because she has no time to keep up with her homework, focused as she is on becoming a gymnast.

It seems that at her own birthday party, she disappeared from amongst her group of invited friends, and after a frantic search, was found alone in her room watching the Olympics gymnastics event 'live' on TV.

Currently, she's in Pri 4, which puts her at about 9 years old. It's rare to see such children in Singapore, with such drive, such determination to pursue a dream she has identified and claimed for her own already. And it seems she's good at what she does too, so it's not just empty wishful thinking.

Question is, should we let her get away with being academically ignorant? She may be talented in her own area of expertise, but is it acceptable that she sacrifices her knowledge of the sciences, mathematics, languages, and whatever else we teach in school, in order to excel at just that one thing?

In our society, we're very hung up about everyone acquiring some kind of 'basic education' from which we then determine who deserves what in our 'meritocratic' resource distribution system. But to some, having to demonstrate an ability in 'basic' could force them to lower their personal aspirations and abilities in an attempt to score a pass in mediocrity instead.

It's kinda' like Dexter of Dexter's Laboratory, boy genius in applied sciences, inventor of incredible gadgets, obsessed with attaining Ultimate Knowledge, then having to put aside everything so that he can go to school and learn that 1+1=2. A rigid education system may be great for equipping the unmotivated, but it stifles the high achiever.

I wonder if for our girl gymnast whether her education can proceed in a more practical way?

To complement her kinesthetic development, she'll need to learn bio mechanics in relation to the physics of motion; biochemistry in relation to health and nutrition; sports medicine and physiotherapy to deal with sports injuries; and by opening lines of communication with her fellow gymnasts from other countries she can learn several languages and international relations at the same time. It's just a matter of framing subject content in a way that is useful in supporting her passion.

How flexible might Education have to be to cater to such children? Well, here's one extreme but possible scenario: click here.