Saturday, January 09, 2010

Book run to the Cheshire Home

Today's Library delivery run took us to the Singapore Cheshire Home. For once we were assigned to a single one-stop address. Though that sounds more convenient, it was actually a bit more difficult because once we arrived, we had to locate the individual recipients and then figure out a system to keep track of our disbursements and collections when more than one came to find us at about the same time. Communication wasn't easy either -- some of them were barely audible because of their disabilities.

The residents have a mixed bag of disabilities. Most are wheelchair-bound, some needing help to wheel them around the place. They vary in age-range, from teenagers to the elderly. It wasn't even possible to guess who was requesting which books until we met them personally. One young fellow was quite taken by a book about tattoos in his pile and soon became absorbed in choosing a design for himself, quite determined to get one as soon as he was able. An older gentleman turned down a pair of Chinese classics, though initially we couldn't understand why. Then it became face-palmingly obvious: the books were too heavy for his atrophied hands and the words were too small for him to read. We went looking around for a little kid who ordered a set of primary readers, but he eventually turned out to be an elderly lady who wanted to learn English through reading kids' books.

Quite a bit of feedback for the NLB then, especially to the staff helping to choose books for the next delivery. Hope they can read the scribbled comments I left for them in the feedback form.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

An expat settles in

Another of June's foreign contacts dropped in from Germany. He'll be staying in S'pore for half a year and needed a place to rent. We spent this evening taking him around to view a couple of rental units that June could scrounge up at such short notice.

The first one was in Potong Pasir. A tiny, cramped shophouse apartment that smelled funny and was asking 2.6k per month. For a foreigner, it would have been quite exciting to live like a heartland S'porean. To eat for cheap at the kopitiam downstairs, to go marketing at an NTUC, to mill about with aunties and uncles and listen to the cacophony of a milieu of incomprehensible languages and dialects from day to day, that's learning to be a true S'porean while simultaneously studying at at NUS on an exchange programme. But the asking price was way too much for the experience so we moved off to the next prospect.

Staring out of a 30th storey window of the Plaza Apartment, the view was absolutely stunning. The panoramic windows put the entire city on display. At night, it's a fully dynamic light show of buildings and traffic that never sleep. Just slightly left of centre is the S'pore Flyer and Marina Bay lies beyond. That promises a fantastic view of the occasional firework display, the next one probably being at CNY, just around the corner. Food around here is still relatively cheap in the Arab Street area, while the heart of downtown is within walking distance, as is the MRT if he wants to go further. Jacuzzi bathtub in the bathroom. Asking price (after June got through negotiations) 2.8k per month, pro rated.

No prizes for guessing which apartment won the contract. Our friend is going to live like an expat and not a heratlander after all.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The apprentice

Dropped in on Jojo and Derek's new condo for their BBQ housewarming. Most of the evening she was recounting to us her renovation experiences which didn't quite live up to our expectations as we had recommended to her our ID whom she contracted without seeking a second opinion.

Therein lies the difference between having the work done by the master ID himself (which was our experience) and having the work done by an apprentice. While William controlled every aspect of our renovation with an iron fist over his workers, his poor apprentice showed how freshly minted green she was by getting properly bullied by everyone from her workers to her increasingly frantic client. The apprentice got run through the mill of tardy workers, delayed deliveries, assorted errors of calibration and other careless mistakes; and probably got yelled at quite a bit too by various parties.

We're kind'a sorry our recommendation for a trouble-free renovation experience turned out to be a more hairy one than expected for Jojo, and we're thankful she's not taking it to heart against us. As for the apprentice, we hope this job has taught her to be tougher and more in control of her resources, and not run home crying to mommy about all those mean people she's had to put up with. It's that kind of an industry, and she's just got to learn to survive in it.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Practical GP

Since we're already discussing how dynamic the education industry is with its constant updates and course corrections, can we really think we are so unique that change doesn't take place as quickly in other countries? That seeking education 'for a job' and not as an end in itself is just an Eastern/Asian concept?

Here, we old schoolers bemoan the dwindling number of scholars in the more liberal arts, like literature and philosophy, while the bandwagon hard sciences and math; accounting and business have gained in popularity because they appear more connected to the 'real' world where food on the table is a necessary precondition of life and all else is esoteric luxury. It's hard to argue against that kind of cold pragmatism.

However we like to idealize education, the fact is that today the primary purpose for people to take up an education is indeed to become employable. It's true here, just as it is in the US where the Liberal Arts are likewise giving in and reinventing themselves to become more practical in the employability stakes: see "Making college 'relevant'".

Are our Liberal Arts degrees (and the ricebowls of us old-timers) going the way of the dodo, then? Of course not. As the article points out, the key is to innovate our subjects so that they can offer the kids long-term training in real-world, practical skills. As long as we can give what employers want, we continue to be relevant.

What do employers want?
According to The Association of American Colleges and Universities (quoted in the above article) 89 percent said they wanted more emphasis on “the ability to effectively communicate orally and in writing,” 81 percent asked for better “critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills” and 70 percent were looking for “the ability to innovate and be creative.”

Currently, people view GP as just essay writing and comprehension exercises, a.k.a. advanced English (language). But everything employers want is there in the GP package. But we need a fresh way to teach and engage the kids in it, with more emphasis on what employers want rather than just GP for its own sake. Fortunately, what's required is not a major overhaul of the subject itself, but merely a redesign of the packaging.

New year, new kids, new focus.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Tastes like protection

We're quite indiscriminate about our daily expendables such as toothpaste. We have no brand loyalty. Our priority is whatever looks cheapest or on promotion, we grab. So happens, the latest teeth cleanser we're using is Sensodyne. The ads say it's a special formula that protects people with sensitive teeth from pain when biting into hot or cold foods. What the ads don't say is that it tastes like mint bubble gum that's lost its flavour having been previously chewed... by someone else.