Friday, December 06, 2013

Leaning tower of PISA

A bit late to chime in on our national success at PISA, but the results have been impressive. Internationally ranking second in mathematics, third in science and reading, what's not to be chuffed about? Well, in terms of ambition, we're aiming way too low.

Wait. Backstory: Over the weekend, I bumped into a trio of my graduated students. We chatted at length about how everyone was getting along. All three are currently engaged in undergrad programmes and should be living the Singapore Dream for their stage in life.

But they're not happy. Everyone told them that 'life would get easier at uni', but guess what? Everyone they know is still studying their brains out 24/7, just like they were at JC. Nothing's changed except that it's even harder to socialize now that their class schedules are so diverse, it's difficult to meet anyone even for a simple meal. For the one enrolled in the University that is supposed to "Make a difference", he says that at least things are marginally better there, and that if he had gone to either of the other two more established unis, he'd go nuts.

Our three chums, like many others in their cohort, have no idea what they are studying so hard for, other than that everyone else is studying equally hard and if they don't keep up, they're bound to lose out. They want a way out before they become 'zombiefied' (their terminology, not mine) like everyone else.

See what I mean by not having ambition and not aiming high enough? For many of our kids, their only ambition is to top the subject, top the class, top the cohort and scale the increasingly leaning tower of PISA. Once they've done that -- and many of them are doing exactly that -- then what? Oh, right. Climb the corporate ladder as high as they can go... and then? Retire comfortably, fizzle out and disappear back to the nothingness they came from, I suppose. Woohoo!

I'm so proud. These three musketeers may not have been my best scorers in GP, but they learned my most valuable lesson: don't be a corporate zombie. They have seen through the empty shell of academic ranking and now they're asking about what else there might be for them.

So, lesson #2: Note that academic and career achievements are inherently selfish goals. The effort is entirely aimed at benefiting oneself and not anyone else. Instead of wasting your youth pursuing meaningless 'A' grades, go explore other areas of life and find something you really enjoy doing. How will you know what that might be? Simple: you will enjoy it so much, you will want to share it with other people. At that point, the more you share with others, the better you will get at sharing it with others. Translated into academic terms, your 'A' achievements become meaningful because the knowledge you are gaining is helping you become a better sharer of that which you enjoy most in life.

This is not to say that there is no ambition at all among Singaporeans. We've done some marvellous, even miraculous things with our little nation. We just need more people with more audacity to dream up and do more crazy things. Whether it's rocket scientists; Olympic competitors; big-name entertainers; environmental crusaders; cupcake chefs; or mad doctors looking to cure cancer, we have them, but we could always use more. After all, the kids are already doing well in school. Do we really need more academically high-scoring yet aimless corporate drones?

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Pig out weekend

Hur. What's the point of taking daily walks to burn off calories when they all come back on the weekend?

Well, it WAS a special occasion (alert: pure food porn follows):

Location: Angus House, where the service dresses in French maid costume and the chefs cook in full view of the dining patronage

Ordered the rib eye steak set comprising...

a prawn roll, which is roughly equivalent to a popiah but with Thai/Vietnamese skin that has the more glutinous texture, upended so it looks like a kueh pie tee set. A nice, fresh starter that only whets the appetite for more.

Soup. This one is the cream of corn. Very smooth... maybe too smooth. I like my corn soup with some kernels to chew on, but otherwise a good soup.

Salad served with an Oriental dressing, mostly soy sauce based. The combination is light and tangy while the salt of the soy sauce works to heighten the appetite for the main course to come. As far as possible, the dishes here reflect a European-Japanese fusion philosophy without going overboard with creativity.

At last, the tender, juicy rib eye arrives on a sizzling hot plate. The texture and consistency make it one of the best steaks I've ever had. On top is a pat of butter on a slice of lime -- a very simple but effective enhancement to the oddly dry-ish, yet fruity gravy you can see at the bottom of the pix.

Dessert is a mango pudding topped with vanilla ice-cream, another fusion idea that works so very well. Sweet, smooth and cold, it rounds out the meal satisfyingly.

That was dinner. Breakfast took us back to PARK @ Holland Village:

In the foreground is the main breakfast set, background is the smoked salmon crepe.

In detail. The Parma ham (between the sunny sides) is an optional extra. The pancake would have been served with syrup, but I'm on a diet. Yup.

The latte bears a portrait of Tasha, probably inspired by the fact that she's under the table -- so cute!

Ok, enough with the food. Back to losing weight in the morning.