Saturday, August 17, 2013

Education: one-dimensional no longer, we hope

Schools really do have to de-emphasize academic achievement based on test and exam scores while giving non-academic activities a big boost.

Co-curricula activities (CCAs) hone talent in sport and aesthetics; and provide experience in service-oriented project tasks. Community involvement (if not done in a too-contrived manner) lets kids experience and participate in the real world away from their sheltered, blinkered lives on campus or at home.

If we're worried about the kids' employability think about this: academic certification only ascertains which league a person is eligible to play in, but it doesn't guarantee that he or she will be picked to play on a team. A company in the real world wants an employee who can cope in the real world. Those with talents in multiple fields have the most opportunities as they are those most sought after.

Kids gunning only for academic achievement, your certificate can only prove one and only one ability you have to offer: that you can take a whole year to reproduce a chunk of text from memory. Wow. I'm so impressed. Let me Google up who else can do the same thing in less time...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Them's fighting words

Thanks to a visit from yet another motivational speaker, I've been thinking about what I would want to say to my graduating class on the last day of the timetabled curriculum.

As usual, this speaker's message is no different from the previous: it's all about delayed gratification. Kill yourselves for eighty days and enjoy life after.

I prefer a more realistic message:

Kids, you're going to look back upon these last two years and remember them as a holiday camp. Where you're going, life is going to suck so totally, sometimes you'll wonder whether it's worth getting out of bed and slogging it through yet another day. You may already feel like that now, but it's only going to get worse, not better.

You're in school now because you're in training. It's safe in here. Failure in training has fewer consequences than in real life. As long as you learn, you will fail; but as long as you fail, you will learn. The outside world is not so forgiving.

As it is in the military, you're going to cry for mommy while you're training in boot camp. But the reason you're being trained now is so that we can send you into the battlefield later. You're sheltered and protected when you're in training; out there in the rain, muck, blood, fuel, flames and cordite, you screw up, you die or get limbs blown off or worse, get someone else killed. You're being trained to go to war, not Club Med, so don't expect too much when you leave this safe haven of Junior College.

Why then should you bother to train so hard now, when there is so little to look forward to, out there? Look at it this way: would you rather go out there without adequate training? Because one way or another, you'll end up there anyway. If you weren't attending Junior College, you could be out there right now.

Training hard and training well means you're building instincts that just may help you survive another day. Knowing how to survey the lay of the land; learning skills, tactics and strategies for survival and victory; and developing the stamina, resilience and resourcefulness to see your plans to fruition; these are your rewards for working hard now, so that when you eventually take to the field you're not just cannon fodder, but rather in a position of command (even if the only squad you have to command is yourself).

Like it or not, in whatever career or vocation we find ourselves in out there, we all have one singular objective. To achieve it, our personal survival is a prerequisite. The end of the world is coming. Every passing day brings it a little closer. Our job -- I mean everyone's job -- is to fight on and delay that inevitability for one day more. Together, we're going to hold out until we hear the declaration, "Today we are cancelling the Apocalypse!"

Only then will we even think about "enjoying life" as a personal entitlement.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but better to hear the truth now than experience it first-hand for yourselves and become bitter and disconsolate over it. Loss of morale at that point is the first stage to getting yourself killed. Fat lot of good you will be to the cause then.

Chuck the big expectations of happiness. Work hard; train hard; fail a lot; learn a lot; survive and every day, will yourselves to fight on for just one more day. Go into battle with this mindset and every small victory, every simple pleasure will be that much more meaningful and enjoyable. Forget "delayed gratification"! Where we find true happiness is daily, in the small things in life.

Suit up, check your gear, it's time. Move out!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Twinkies taste test

I never knew what I had till they were gone. In all the time I spent in TO, I never had the urge to pick up and taste this legendary American supermarket staple. That is, not until they disappeared off the shelves not too many months ago. Only then did I regret being too cheapskate to indulge my curiosity when they were in abundance around me.

Well, the good news is, they're back. Even better, May acquired a box (a whole box!) for me to taste test. So... golden sponge cake? Check. Cream filling? Check. But the individually wrapped confections were somewhat smaller than I had imagined. The sponge cake had a pleasant springiness to the bite, though it was dry in the mouth. Definitely needed a beverage -- a glass of cold milk, say -- to wash it down. The cream was smooth and had the type of consistency that was perfect for squishing between the tongue and the upper palate.

Taste? Sweet. As expected. It's more a soft candy bar than the 'snack food' it bills itself as. So it's unlikely to be the first thing I'd think of stuffing my face with in a zombie apocalypse; but as a sideline indulgence... sure. Bring milk.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Langkawi Highlights


Langkawi Highlights, a set on Flickr.

Been out of town over the super-long weekend with seriously dodgy wi-fi and no way to update.

First time travelling with extended family, three tiers deep. Also for the first time, I belong to the highest ranking tier. Representing the next and subsequent generations were my niece and her hubby followed by their little 'un (my grand-nephew!) who turned one while we were there.

'There' being Langkawi. It was a trip we'd been planning since CNY and though the weather alternated between torrential rain and drab, patchy skies we still had a good time.

We rented two cars for island transport. Roads were quite clear, most drivers tended not to speed and navigating by GPS made driving rather easy. Stick shift, though, so auto drivers like me were last choice for wheel duty.

Accommodation was at the Federal Villas which was basic but comfortable enough. I did have a lot of wi-fi connection problems, considering that I had to pay for it (RM40/24 hrs), though some of my travelling companions had a better time of it with their devices.

Food-wise we opted to cook our own brekkie on the provided hot-plate: supermarket-bought eggs, bread, cheese, spreads, cereal, yogurt, spiced with condiments stolen liberated from the previous night's dinner. Lunch was usually a free-and-easy affair apart from one memorable occasion celebrating grand-nephew's birthday with eight lamb shanks(!) at Secret Recipe. And we were faithfully regular dinner customers at Fat Mum's (a.k.a. Eagle View Restaurant). The first night we had to wait about two hours to be served due to the unexpected holiday crowd, but we learned and ordered two hours early the next two nights. Why Fat Mum's? Because of walking distance from our hotel, and because the food was so very good. Of the mixed dishes and rice, most notable were the Teochew steamed fish, tofu in special sauce, noodles on fire (house specialty in which yee fu noodles are wrapped in alum-foil and flambeed) and the crispy squid rings which I don't usually like but these were deliciously crisp and so not-rubbery.

We descended upon every meal like a plague of locusts, almost cleaning out every dish, barely leaving the garnishes and overlooked crumbs behind. That attests to either the general quality of the food in Langkawi, or our terrifying appetites coupled with a no-waste policy.

Of tours we took a couple. The boat ride through the Kilim Ecoforest Park was an interesting look at the local wildlife -- eagles in particular -- in their natural habitat, plus some fish farming and natural landscape formations. The Sky Car ride was scenic, climbing to acrophobic heights from which we could look down and see practically the whole island and its neighbours in the Andaman Sea.

The first family trip has been a pleasant enough experience. If enough of us can find another common set of dates, another trip could be in the planning.