Friday, November 27, 2009

Ten years

June and I have been married exactly a decade as of today. We marked the date quietly. No big celebration, no big fuss, just a simple dinner at a restaurant we didn't even have to make reservations for. Dinner for two.

What was disturbing was on our way home, we walked past a couple who were not behaving as couples do, or even should. The girl was seated on the ground, nearly slumped over, back against a wall of a void deck of our neighbouring block. The guy was bent over her, hands at her throat. Clearly, they'd been fighting.

We stopped and made it clear that if anything untoward was to occur, we'd be on hand as witnesses. When they saw us just standing there watching everything, the guy acted like he was helping her stand up. But then she called out, "help me!" instead. So we both marched over to make sure she was all right. We weren't alone. Another fellow joined us, and together we put it in no uncertain terms that the guy's behaviour was unacceptable. June went so far as to make a 999 call, but at the girl's urging we did not press the matter.

After sorting things out between them (apparently alcohol and adrenaline do not a good cocktail make), we let the girl depart in one direction and made sure the guy left in the opposite direction. I doubt that would have been a long-term solution for the two, but at least I hope the guy will think twice about abusing his girlfriend again, knowing that the public will not stand for this sort of nonsense, and is willing to take serious action if he does.

There are things men do not do to women (or children, or animals) and it thoroughly pisses me off when I even hear reports of such things happening. To actually see such abuse with my own eyes, in my own backyard... dammit, we're supposed to be better than that.

Anyway, that was our 10th anniversary. An interesting present, then, from above.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I haven't the words

For the record, when I was in Pri 1 (a long, long time ago) I was asked to choose which language I wanted to take up as a second language. A second language was compulsory, being that a policy came down from on high that everyone should have a bilingual education.

In my own wisdom, I opted for Malay. As a six-year-old, I had it all figured out. I was already quite adept in reading and writing English; and Malay was taught using the exact same alphabet. I would have no trouble with the pronunciation of words and the grammatical structures didn't seem to differ much between the two. Malay was a simple substitution code for English, so learning Malay as a new language should have posed little difficulty for me. As a six-year-old I had a clear strategy: take Malay, ace the exams, no problem.

The Fates had other plans for me, though. I never made it to my first Malay lesson. I was literally Shanghaied off to study Chinese by certain elements that did not agree with my assessment of the situation. By the time I took my 'O's, the only thing I'd learned from Chinese class was that I wasn't as smart as I had once thought I was. I believe I wear those scars still.

The sad thing was that I had a choice, and I made a choice, but there's not much a six-year-old can do when his choice gets overruled by people who think they know better.

Fine. I suppose I was a nightmare to teach just as it was a nightmare language for me to learn. I was a rebel with a closed mind, fearful and suspicious of every teacher I had. I had horrid ones that threatened and actually hit students for whatever reason (I did mention this was a very long time ago, did I not?) but I had nice ones as well.

Regardless of teacher disposition, nothing helped. The most telling incident I can remember was when I scored an impressive near-80% on one test in Sec 3. I had a nice teacher then, and I remember putting full and total effort into memorising everything she wanted me to memorise. I wasn't disappointed with the test results. But I realised that all my efforts went into memorising something I had no recollection, no understanding of as soon as the test was over. The results would not have been duplicable on a retest. To me, that was just too much work for too little gain.

In any case, the way it was taught back then is not how people learn a language. It would probably have been very good practice for people who already knew the language to have a better, more in-depth appreciation of it. But for someone who was barely conversant in the first place... well, I don't quite have the words.

It's important that we can all express ourselves in more than one language, and yes, I do feel somewhat handicapped with my less-than-satisfactory command of Chinese today. But it's not too late to pick it up, even now. Chinese serials on TV with subtitles help with the conversational aspects which I can practice with other people should the need arise. But please, don't send me back to the classroom again.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Human road-kill

It's inevitable for people who drive that since they spend so much time on the road, at some point in time they will encounter some form of road-kill. Two legs poking out from under a white plastic sheet was what I saw today while on my way to work. There were cops standing around examining the scene, awaiting the clean-up crew to arrive.

Not hard to speculate what had just occurred: truck and motor-bike attempting to merge into one lane, inadvertently merging into each other instead. The operator of the smaller vehicle apparently did not survive the merger.

Motor-bikes are one of the road's most unpredictable factors. They're small and nimble, and appear and disappear off our scopes seemingly at random because they can get to places drivers don't expect to be looking at because no one in their right mind should be there at all. Often, as soon as I signal to change lane, a motor-bike a safe distance behind will suddenly accelerate to get in front of me and I'm forced back into the lane I attempted to leave. Bikers can be so irrational.

But I'm not here to rail at the idiocy of others; and I'm certainly not saying that that was what happened in this traffic fatality. We can't fix other people so let's just be more proactive about the things we can control. Drivers, signal early and check your blind spots always. And can we, like Canadians, give a car's length respect to the bike in front of us and not force them to squeeze in between cars because that's so dangerous? Yes, the idiots will do it anyway because they can, but teaching them a lesson by getting them killed is not an effective pedagogical strategy. Let's please try something else.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mel's new place

Officially met the kids I'll be inheriting next year. A massive redeployment of staff means I'll remain in the 2nd year team and hence take over these classes from their original tutors whom they will lose in the reshuffle. Personally, I'd prefer to follow a batch through the two-year term; get to know my charges better that way. But I guess spending just one year with this group will have to suffice. In the half-hour allotted for our meeting and intro, we discussed a little theory and a little of my "pedagogical" philosophy. Hope I haven't already confused them too much. We have a whole year to look forward to together.

Pulled an extended duty for my last hall monitor slot. A sole candidate requiring a laptop to type his answers on. And with his splinted and bandaged index finger, he looked like he needed the extra 45 minutes which I couldn't begrudge him.

Dinner was at Mel's new place. A house-warming, of sorts, but mostly it was an opportunity for Mel to try out her new culinary skills on the rest of us. Recipes born in desperation from an imaginative mind to satisfy the need to eat. Been there before but really only learned to prepare eggs in one or two ways -- fry or boil -- and mostly surviving on instant noodles, and acquiring a taste for bagels and lox. For Mel, her experience taught her to cook not just for her own self-preservation but also for others to savour. Tonight's fusion-experimental dishes worked very nicely. My compliments to the chef!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Choice of company

It's been a week of alternating between official duties and exploring Ferelden, chasing every quest and sub-quest via my Warrior and her all-woman party. Freud might have something to say about my choice of adventuring company, but I just think it's more badass to have a bunch of girls kick macho male enemy butt. Besides, the male characters I could opt to play with have boring personalities. Two won't talk to me 'cos they're, like, strong silent types; one's a whiner; one's a sleazebag; and the last is a drunk who prefers to belch then fall down and mumble incoherently rather than have a proper conversation. Typical.

So, tonight's dinner with Jen put a temporary end to a week of partially self-imposed near social isolation from real people. Our dinner programme began at 1500 at her workplace where, in an effort to get ourselves at least contributing to society in some little way, we stuffed envelopes with appeal cards for pledges and donations to the organization she represents. We had lots of help: about 70 kids of mixed nationalities (someone remarked it was like the UN) had descended to tour the place, lend a hand with the mailers; and interact and play games with the residents.

In a sense, the residents were helping the visitors out more because the latter had to have some kind of community involvement as part of their training, and the former were happy to oblige. Anyway, we all worked furiously to prepare as many envelopes as possible for mailing. The kids were boisterous and playful, but still got the job done without too much distraction. And when everyone went outdoors to play, both residents and visitors clearly had great fun with each other. We old-timers stood on the sidelines, nodding sagely at the proceedings while ducking the occasional stray dodge ball carelessly cast in our general direction.

Later at dinner proper, it was finally down to Jen, June and me in serious conversation over nachos, salad and pasta. "Serious", as in the adult, mature sense rather than giggly hee hee ha ha sense. Basically just to catch up and see how we've been faring since we last met, oh... months ago.

I really need to get out more.