Monday, December 29, 2014

Gift giving

Sudden realization: gift giving is neither about the giving nor the receiving. It's about remembering your relatives' names; particularly those whom you only meet once or twice a year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

All that remains

Clan reps took a little boat trip. Somewhere between Changi and Ubin, we held a simple ceremony in which we reunited the ashes of Uncle N with Aunt L by scattering them into the sea. It was a reunion 26 years in the making and today would have been their 59th anniversary.

Together at last...! :)

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Riding off into the sunset

I'm beginning to dread scheduled vacation periods. Quite consistently over the past year or so, during these times, someone I know shuffles off this mortal coil and moves on to the other side. This is not to complain that my hols are ruined by tragic events, but to recognize that the old people whom I've always assumed to be a permanent fixture in my life are now so old that I can no longer take them for granted.

Uncle G was a true free spirit in his younger days. A traveler who went places, often on a motorcycle, is now finally free of the ailments and the ravages of ageing that tied him down these last few years. Have fun putting rubber to the asphalt of heaven!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Things that came in the mail

Not the snarky watch, but the replacement watch strap in black and Bugatti red from Clockwork Synergy. My original watch strap snapped for no apparent reason, so my wrist has been bare of a watch for a couple of weeks now. Also, an anthology of short stories by S'porean writers -- my reward for donating some cash to the "Singapore Literature Festival in NYC" via Kickstarter pledge. The other part of the reward was to have my name mentioned as a donor in the programme booklet (left). I'm just glad to have helped.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Lookin' good, dawg!

You've seen in recent photos the little scruffbag the dog's become. Today, we brought her to Petopia for a much-needed grooming. The wife liked the before and after pix of some of their satisfied customers, and indeed some of them look like adorable plushies in their 'after' shots. As for our dog, she looks neat and clean after her session, her sleek lines showing nicely once again.

Guess you can call this a 'during' shot. Apart from grooming, there are hotel and spa services as well. Upon entry, we are greeted with a spa-like sense of calm and the scent of lemongrass. First-timers get a tour of the facilities which look comfortable, friendly and safe. Hotel guests get to socialize in air-conditioned comfort while the groomers' schedules are not overcrowded so they can take their time, giving each client their full attention. The service is warm and personable and, thankfully, free of over-enthusiastic high-pressure sales pushing. They're not selling packages, but they do reward repeat patronage with appreciable freebies. As it is, the advice is to book a grooming session at least a month in advance. We've already booked our next appointment for the National Day weekend.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Little night light

Collected another quirky mail-order purchase. Meet the Firefly. It's a geometrically-shaped object you can hold in the palm of your hand and is powered by four AAA batteries if you want to carry it around. It also plugs into a wall socket if you just want it to stay put.

 What does it do? It's a laser lamp that casts a funky grid of blue light dots on whatever you're pointing it at...

like so. I'll probably use it as a night light until I can figure out what other uses I can put it to, like maybe to drive multiple cats nuts or something. I think it might also create a cool lighting effect on stage -- a star field or a magical environment that suddenly comes into being with a convenient push of a button.

I got this Firefly as a Kickstarter package that includes this handy carry-case and heart-shaped filter for a roomful of hearts instead of star points. Being a Kickstarter launch, inevitable production delays meant that I had to wait over a year before it finally arrived, just a little too late for Drama Night. But I'm sure I can find a use for it in next year's. For more details, check out the Parhelion website.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Last long walk

Probably the last chance to take a long walk for a while. We covered the entire beach front from Siloso to Tanjong as a circuit; then to complete the 'T' we looped around the 'Universal' globe at USS -- a little over 11,000 human steps. I don't see how we're going to keep this activity up when term starts on Monday. We'll have to be contented with short daily walks from now on. Bleh. Btw, the dog is a great coversation-starter with strangers who will pause and comment on how 'cute' she is. Too bad I'm not a stop and meet random people kind of guy. #Sentosa

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Walkies

One frazzled-looking puppy who discovered that 10,000 human-sized steps traverses a distance from the Botanic Gardens car park A; through the Napier Road gate; up Orchard Road until Lucky Plaza; and tracing back the same route back to the car. Today was a good day for walking. Neither wet nor too hot.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Zippin' along

First citation for speeding, doing 76 in a 60 km/h zone. I've always tried to be a careful driver, and usually my estimation of speed is right on, but when you're on a dead straight road, fairly wide and little traffic around there are fewer cues to tell you what speed you're really going at without actually looking down at the speedometer.

The missive says I got off with a warning this time, but that I'd better not do it again. I value my clean record, so yes, I shall endeavour to be more careful and comply. How's that for an anti-climax?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Old faithful

Having computer trouble again. My primary desktop PC became increasingly unbootable and for two days now I've been running between home and the shop. Bought a new power supply thinking it would fix the problem, but it just got worse. Today the service guy decided it was the mainboard that was giving trouble. The good news: the warranty is still valid. The bad news: it will take weeks of hospitalization to get the necessary parts switched out.

So my old faithful stand-by PC has now been pressed out of retirement to serve me once again. Spent much of the day updating software (though that's pretty much it for Win XP support). It runs like an old man: slow, clunky, even video playback is juddery... but it works!

Unfortunately, PC gaming is completely stalled for now; but maybe now I'll have more time for my dog. Walkies, girl?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

No martyr

So, someone lost their job over their beliefs. If he had so many problems with his CPF, I guess now that he isn't getting it any more he's got a lot less to worry about. Anyway, I'm sure he could just as easily crowdfund his monthly maintenance from now on. Lots of disgruntled S'poreans would gladly continue funding a martyr for their cause.

I'm no martyr, however. I'm not about to die for my beliefs, but would rather live for them. If they want me to roll over, sink into depression and fade out of sight, I'm sorry to disappoint them. I'm coming back swinging.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Battle for Castle Black

It took a day to calm down enough and objectively assess what has happened. My costs are likely as follows: a permanent place on the D-list; at worst my pet project; at least a substantial amount of funding for it for the foreseeable future.

My gains: nothing.

I have however retained all my principles in refusing to compromise them to satisfy the one.

So comes my time of testing. At some point, those who hold fast to their beliefs will have everything taken away from them in order to prove if they will remain true or if they will capitulate and abandon them in the face of adversity.

And these are indeed hostile, adverse times. In stories like these, the victor is the one who fights to the end against the odds. But while in the midst of it all I can only see disaster.

The enemy is strong, the odds a thousand to one. Castle Black may have withstood the first attack, but there's more attackers that will assail the walls again tomorrow.

This is what I will face every day of my life now. There is no victory. Just to survive one more day is cause enough for celebration.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Helpful advice

For everyone who's all jacked up about the whole CPF thing, if you wanna stop worrying about it, be a CEO, don't be an employee.

Palate cleanser

Here's a little something to look at while I get through a terribly busy week. Sit. Good girl!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

This. Ain't. Sparta!


Meh. It certainly wasn't the best two years of my life, and there isn't anything I remember fondly about it. But then, I don't believe I was supposed to enjoy the experience, anyway. So I say just suck it up and do your national duty.

Video link here in case the embed doesn't work: click.

To the vet's

Shots day for the dog. Also getting their shots are May's cat and our UTI cat. The good news is that UTI cat got a clean bill of health, though he was advised to drink more water to avoid a relapse.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Independent endorsements

We had the J1s share their personal reflections on their experience with NYeDC and Drama Night to date. Every single interviewee opened expressing how fun it has been for them. Elaborating further, they described how non-competitive our CCA was; how they felt relaxed during our sessions; and how they felt free to create and express themselves without having to fear the judgement of others. They also recognized that working as a team was essential to our success and that each one could contribute to the overall effort in their own special way.

Much of this feedback came from the kids who have had experiences with other CCAs before and then came over to join us because we didn't run our organization like Hitler Youth. With us, they say, they are able to enjoy close bonds of friendship, and many memorable moments spent in good company.

To be fair, it's not like theatre is a haven for slackers and losers. As an art form, there are skills to be acquired through training; a discipline that comes from a dedication to schedule; a sense of teamwork and coordination among people offering different talents and skill sets; and no small amount of courage in stepping out of a teenager's usual comfort zone and willingly "throw face" in front of friends, peers and family. Yet all of this acquired training is transparent because we offer it to them in a fun and non-threatening way. And we laugh a lot. It's the nature of our craft.

It's good for me to hear all this from independent sources speaking from personal experience. It's exactly the kind of CCA I've wanted to build: less focused on a fire-and-forget KPIs or national awards, and more on offering a positive experience in an art form that they will continue to enjoy (some may even grow to indulge in) for the rest of their lives.

But for today, let's hope the J1s will build on their positive experiences and find a way to bring their joy to a larger segment of our campus, not as a KPI but because everybody needs a little theatre in their lives.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

What a ride! Drama Night 2014

I wish I could say that Drama Night 2014 went without a hitch. Still, we had the best run ever of our main feature which looked and sounded pretty scrappy during the rehearsals -- even down to the full-dress. The kids peaked on show night, thankfully, and delivered a snappy performance that had the audience rooting for them all the way.

'The Car', by local playwright, Verena Tay, is a script with a little bit of everything: nostalgia; tenderness; conflict; humour; and a conclusion that brings a tear or two to the eye. Yes, even to me who's watched the rehearsals several times over, it still packs quite a potent punch, especially when all the magic comes together like it did last night.

One of the best production decisions we made was to blow our budget on headset mikes for the cast. The dialogue was strong and clear, though we could have balanced the sound better -- particularly when raised voices got a bit too loud over the speakers. Our set elements were minimal, leaving a stage practically bare of anything but generic location markers: a park bench (outdoors); a pile of home removal boxes (indoors); and centrestage reserved for the eponymous car, personified by our lead actor portraying an old Fiat Marvellette with a personality and many wistful memories to share.

The kids did well to deliver an honest and believable performance. We felt for Daniel, dad with the best of intentions, but obsessively overprotective over his beloved daughter. And as mother predicts, his inability to recognise that his daughter is growing up drives a wedge between the family members, with the car caught in between. Interspersed amidst the family drama are comedic elements provided by the supporting characters of the car salesman and his bevy of show car demonstrators; the frustrated mechanic who can't find spare parts; and the rival Datsun -- bright, shiny, pink, utilitarian, and ultimately disposable.

Based on overheard comments during and after the show, the audience enjoyed a polished performance that was easy to follow and realistic to their experience. They were stunned by the emotionally moving conclusion. We haven't delivered emo for a number of years now, focused as we have been on comedy, and tears -- real, sincere ones -- have apparently made a timely comeback.

The J1 special item would have been utterly hilarious if we had more time to rehearse it in its final incarnation. It was a parody of the god-awful STB 'Let's go over there' ad featuring a female tourist dragging her male companion around S'pore's more touristy locations. In our parody, we focused on the reason why the male had to be dragged around and we settled on playing up the female's neurotic fetish for inanimate objects. The conclusion was meant to degenerate into a Muppet Show chaos... but the J1s are as yet unblooded by onstage mayhem and so it ended more conservatively flat than intended. A few more rehearsals and we could have made an impact.

The irritating bits were the curtain transitions and the rather unprofessional curtain-call which we rehearsed, but perhaps not often enough to become automatic. I suppose we could blame time constraints for not being able to rehearse the entire show from beginning to end. It was all we could manage to make the content satisfactory, but we really have to work harder on the packaging as well if we're going to evolve beyond 'school-show' standards.

So one more big milestone in 2014 is passed. Roll on Drama Night 2015!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Drama Night 2014 FDR in pix

Drama Night 2014 is upon us. Photos of tonight's full-dress rehearsal are available here. Amazing what a little judicious cropping can do to enhance a photo.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Brave

We worry a lot about our kids being right. I wish we'd spend more energy getting them to be brave instead. They can learn to be right any time in their lives. It's only now that they can be brave. And if they won't be brave now, it's unlikely they'll be brave when they get older and more set in their ways.

Outline bloat

I wonder if the current trend of crafting monster essay outlines for our essay test questions started with me. Looking back, whenever I wrote outlines, they were long and detailed, stuffed full of whatever garbage knowledge I possessed and could dredge up that would in one way or another fit the question. I was so proud of them, I'd even post them here for people to download, should they be so inclined. I'm not sure anybody did, but they're still in my previous posts, nonetheless. Hope the links still work.

Today, there's almost a competition among us to see who can drag out the longest possible essay outline. Somewhere, we seem to have forgotten what 'outline' means. It's a skeletal, basic structure of an essay. These days, we have bloated our outlines so much with content so that by word count, the outline is often way longer than the maximum size of an 'A' Level GP essay.

We've even gone to the extent of research by Google to acquire as much content as possible to dress up our outlines so that they don't look naked compared to anyone else's. And the discussions we have over them... the more the bloat, the more avenues for disagreement over question and terminology interpretation; the relevance of this or that approach; the aptness of this or that example or piece of evidence. We spend hours trashing out questions (sometimes just one question), and outlines to these questions; chopping and changing as we go. Occasionally, complete overhauls have to be done. All this before we let the kids have the questions to answer in their tests and assignments.

While we can say we work our asses off setting test questions, I wonder how much of this effort is actually productive? Kids writing essay tests face certain constraints that we don't: a maximum count of 800 word; a time limit of 90 minutes; and one brain each with no Internet access. We, on the other hand have a currently expanding word count; nearly limitless discussion time; many brains working together; and Google access. This huge disparity of constraints inevitably doom the kids to failure. How can they, with their limitations, possibly match our expectations? Anything they come up with will look incredibly crude and ignorant next to our expansive and erudite outlines. And when we mark, our tendency inevitably seeks out that which is missing from our expectations and penalize each omission cumulatively. There is no way for the average student to pass like this.

In a court of law, which judge prejudices himself by working out beforehand what arguments and evidence to accept and reject even before the trial begins? Rather, the judge weighs the arguments and supporting evidence offered by the opposing legal counsels, consults precedents and then makes a ruling. Likewise, when we are grading essays, each essay is a case we need to rule on. It's inherently unfair of us to presuppose an answer and score them low when their answers deviate from our expectations.

Perhaps this is the reason why we are sometimes surprised at the 'A' levels when some kids who usually pass our tests do unexpectedly poorly; and other kids who normally fail do unexpectedly well. It's probably the difference between those who are good at formulaic responses but apply the wrong formula, and those who just have to muddle through with no choice but to focus on the question. Anyway, as far as I can tell, Cambridge only releases its detailed report AFTER the markers have completed the marking and they only report on what they have observed of the overall performance of the cohort. I believe when Cambridge marks, the marking is done without prejudicing themselves beforehand.

So now that everybody is submitting monster outlines, I find myself swinging back towards flexible, non-partisan, short outlines of 5 or 6 sentences long, focused on the reasoning structures required by the question with no interest in the content. I have no control over what content the kids are likely to present me with, anyway, so content is a secondary concern. My primary concern is to see if they can address the question appropriately while making their logic transparent. For me (and likely Cambridge too) that's good enough to pass. Beyond that, I can then reward what content each kid provides accordingly. And that is a fairer marking system, I think.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

The more things change

I hate "motivational speakers". In our meeting this morning, we were exhorted to embrace change and be more forward thinking in our approach. I couldn't agree more. But despite all the new and sudden changes we've experienced so far, I still think we're not thinking forward enough.

What I see is that we are still doing the same old thing, just more of it. We are being held back by our belief that our mission is to get kids past the uni entrance requirements. That's been our mission from the beginning, and it hasn't changed. In fact, all the more it's being reinforced.

If we want to embrace real change and make a real difference, we have to train our kids not just to enter uni but to thrive in the uni environment. They're not the same thing. When we are able to appreciate and articulate what that mindset change requires, then talk to me about making change. Otherwise, we're still going to be lagging behind.

Further reading: 'No, your organisation really won't innovate'

Friday, May 02, 2014

A show of their own

The NYght must be hands down the most popular of events on campus. An hour before auditorium doors open there is already a line. The noise and excitement only gets more frenetic the closer we get to curtain-up, and stays throughout the performances until final curtain. And even then, the celebrations continue as the exhausted contestants meet with their fans at the stage apron. Selfies and glitter abound.

Only on a night like this do we get to see the kids letting their hair down, determined to have a good time. This is the talent contest of the year, not to be missed because somebody inevitably knows somebody appearing on stage, belting out their own versions of the latest hits and showing off slick dance moves -- displaying an unexpected mobility going by how they usually slouch at their desks during tutorial time.

The importance of this event is not to be underestimated. First, it is their one and only opportunity to showcase their raw, unpolished talent. This is talent they can truly call their own, unsullied by any teaching or instruction provided by the best coaches money can buy. Their efforts are self-taught, their coordination; compositions; arrangements; and rehearsals all worked on in their own time rather than predetermined through adult supervision. This is student ownership in the truest sense of the word, and it's wonderful to see the whole thing come together.

This is not to say that the staff are completely hands-off. Staff manage the event but the content and substance are provided by the kids themselves. In this environment, the audience is entirely supportive and encouraging. Hiccups in the individual performances such as going off-key; the inevitable technical faults and delays; lapses of concentration; and the awkwardness of stage-fright are taken in good humour; while the audience is ever ready to forgive, showing their support with rhythmic clapping; generous applause; and enthusiastic singing along, buoying each performer's confidence enough to gracefully finish the set.

I've never, in other campus events, seen students rallying for each other to this extent. In other events, the knowledge that the performance has been stamped and approved by trainers and coaches raises expectations a lot and the house becomes less forgiving. In sporting events, the audience are led to chant artificially composed cheers according to a forced 3, 2, 1 togetherness. But on the NYght, it's wild; chaotic; friendly-competitive -- and yet it also reflects the kids' strongest support for one another in the entire school calendar. The performances may not in themselves be perfect, but that imperfection brings out the perfectness of the unity within the student body. This is the students' show, so let's keep it that way. Always.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Encouragement from a horse

Meh. Getting flack from upstairs about our choice for Dad in 'The Car'. So the kid was nervous and flubbed a couple of lines. Also, our choice of play was "too local" and probably wouldn't resonate with the 'foreign' judges. That, they say, is likely to devalue our assessment, jeopardising our chances at the top tier. Solution: conscript a better speaker for roles in our plays. The advice is, of course, well-intentioned, but certainly targeted at a very different goal from the one I am aiming at.

What is it with leadership? The higher they climb, the shorter-term the vision. There is no use in teaching the unwilling when there are those eager to learn, but would never get the chance to learn if winning was our top priority. Reminder: we're not here to chase accolades, we're here to encourage a life-long love of the art.

What was most encouraging for me at yesterday's performance was when a member of the audience stopped me for a little chat. She revealed that she was a long-ago member of the NYeDC and if I remembered her. I could not. She looked so different from the girl I knew when she was performing in our 'Animal Farm' in 200x. But when she mentioned her name, I immediately knew her role as Clover, the horse. Today, she is with the Arts Education branch of the NAC.

To me, that is a better success story for our little Drama CCA than achieving a high placement in a meaningless competition, which is no longer even identifying itself as a competition.

Run up to Drama Night

One milestone for the year finally crossed. The Drama Club made its Festival presentation today. It was an excerpt from local playwright, Verena Tay's, 'The Car'.

The eponymous car has survived a few decades, a very unusual feat for a car in S'pore. Because of the prohibitive COE tax, cars usually get scrapped after at most 10 years.

This car has seen a lot of the changes that S'pore has undergone, but more importantly, has seen the little girl grow to adulthood. Oddly enough, her major life experiences seem centered around the car, so he is a quite a repository of family history. If I were the girl, I wouldn't wrestle so much with the idea of having him scrapped. I would sell him to the Pawn Stars and probably get more money out of it.

Personally, I think the kids performed well at today's presentation. Their characters were quite real, their portrayals quite believable. Flubbed lines are par for the course, and I wish the recoveries could have been smoother, but we can't worry about that now.

Drama Night is just around the corner. That's gonna be an even bigger hurdle than the Festival presentation. No rest for the wicked.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Proxy of the Year

In a first, I (as Civics Tutor) get to read the citation for the Student of the Year in front of the most august College Day assembly. In another first, the Student of the Year has fallen ill and is unable to attend the ceremony in person. To make a perfect three of firsts, I get to receive the award for Student of the Year on her behalf. No, I've never been Student of the Year before, so yeah, it's a first.

When I delivered the award to the Student of the Year this afternoon, I got a chocolate cake and durian cake for my trouble. Awesome! Will place the chocolate cake in the staff room so my colleagues can help themselves to the token of appreciation from the Student of the Year. The durian cake, well, it had to be cut up and partially consumed in order to fit into my somewhat overstuffed fridge. It is no longer presentable, but is still edible. Trust me.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Pillars of light

Such an occurrence is hardly impossible on Diablo 3 RoS, but it is uncommon. Two Legendary item drops from the same elite pack of monsters is rare enough, but to have one regular (orange) and one set-piece (green) at the same time is just puking rainbows. Granted, both Legendaries turned out to be underwhelming in stat rolls and bonuses, but still...!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Lick my poop cycle!

We GP tutors think we are so important. We're all about complex systems, procedures and outcomes. Right.

What is GP really about when we strip all the elaborate trappings off our precious subject?

1) Read
2) Think about what you read
3) Write about what you think about what you read.
4) Read some more...

There is nothing else.

This process is akin to the poop cycle. Input --> processing --> output --> more input

The poop cycle is instinctive. The GP cycle, well, that's essentially the communication cycle -- and it works the same instinctive way.

The more procedure we try to drill into our students, the stronger the indigestion. Outcome: malnourished, bloated, constipated students with writing to match.

The truth is, the kids can survive if they are allowed to do what they do naturally. They can even survive without us. All we need to do is to help the process along -- let it flow, not impede the process with obstacles of 'GP' conventions.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Downward slide... arrested?

Is the state of blogging truly dead? Neither my nor any other blog I follow has been updated for some time now. Not that there haven't been opportunities to blog about. To date, I've missed potential reviews of Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls and its whole system 2.0.x revamp and Captain America: The Winter Soldier; and even personal family milestones like the passing of Aunt L.

Could it be that my not blogging is due to subconsciously unfollowing a trend everyone else has already left behind, or that I've simply lost my love for it? In fact, it seems like I've lost love for a lot of things I used to enjoy doing, and now I'm just going through the motions out of routine or habit, following someone else's agenda instead of my own. Zombie is probably an appropriate description of how 2014 has been so far.

What's been behind this downward slide? Top of my list of demotivators is a sense of a loss of autonomy in designing my own curriculum because of a current mania for 'standardization'. It's a good idea to share best practices among experienced staff but a very poor one to take everybody's best practices and mash them together into a prescriptive SoP that everybody must follow. It is really a step backwards and will probably undo much of the good we have accomplished to date.

The second is the sense that the recent don't dos are the things I like to do, while the dos emphasize the things I don't like to do. We are building a risk-averse culture that frowns on experimentation and avoids uncertainty. Too much top-down control, too many reminders about things that don't need doing and too little encouragement towards what does need doing.

Perhaps it has always been this way, and I've only just woken up and smelled real-world coffee?

Or perhaps I've just let inconsequential things get in the way of what I love? Elsa from 'Frozen' may be right about some distance lending perspective to one's situation. A couple of days away from campus to attend iCTLT 2014 has brought me back in touch with other people who are visionaries in education, at the forefront of education reform and yet are juggling with old-school expectations and strictures, and rising above it to tell their stories to us who are supposed to be at the pinnacle of global education success.

It's great to hear how although we've done some things right, there are a lot of important things that we are doing wrong. I'll want to compile and digest what people here have been saying in another post, but for now it feels good not to be the lone voice crying out in the wilderness and that there are those who have waded through the same muck and have moved forward to where we want to go, even if some of us have to be dragged kicking and screaming to get there.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Double bill

To truly appreciate being Singaporean is to accept the transience of our existence as a people. On the one hand, there is the desperate longing to capture a sense of permanence, but the reality is that life moves us not just from location to location but also through time -- from the here-and-now to the "will we be remembered?" and "will we have meant something?" when the realisation of our mortality finally dawns.

In the two plays in Play Out: A Double Bill featured in the NUS Arts Festival 2014, this theme carries strongly in the slice-of-life family drama, "Wai?" and in the more abstract movement piece, "Candlelight".

In "Wai?" an elderly couple frets over the fate of their son when television news reports a terrorist attack in the country he is residing in. Their anxiety over the possible reasons why the son is not picking up his phone escalates into a blame-game that dredges up the couple's past history, and their deteriorating relationship with each other and their son.

The presentation is realistic and made-for-TV, the stage set up in a typical dining room-living room suite familiar to HDB-dwellers. The dialogue is chronological and easy to follow, as the couple reveals their attempts to cope with raising a child whom they hope will live a much better life than them, yet regretting not being able to hold on to that child when he does fulfill their dreams for him.

Veteran actors, Gerald Chew and Judy Ngo are obviously playing characters older than themselves, but have a good sense of timing in delivering the kind of verbal fencing that elderly couples (like my own grandparents) are wont to do. There is some humour and poignancy in the jabs that they trade... predictable, yet true-to-life at the same time. At one point, I wanted to rush the stage as their son to reassure them that I was all right, but since I was in a box seat a floor above, I exercised a little restraint and the urge went away.

"Candlelight" was visually arresting in the movement choreography of the chorus whose members also portrayed specific characters in the play. Some movement could have been trimmed for brevity and the lurking presence of Grandpa's, um, ghost(?) seemed superfluous, at least until closer towards the end when its appearance could have been more impactful. As such, this play took a while to warm up, but when it did, there was quite an interesting story to follow about a dyslexic man tasked with recording his family history. Of course, not being able to read and write puts a bit of a damper on his efforts to do so.

The man remembers his grandfather's stories, verbally passing them on to his daughters as a way to keep the memory of "Ah Kong" alive. Despite initial resistance, at least elder daughter, Jadene, learns from her linguistic heritage to become her own person with her own brand of storytelling.

The script is quite linguistically clever, although it tends to bounce a lot between internal reverie and family interaction. Snatches of memories do not necessarily connect with other real-time incidents, but rather make linguistic and philosophical connections with the characters they involve -- dad and daughter, in particular. This piece is clearly harder to follow than the previous one, but at its core it is pretty substantial. It just makes the brain work harder to get at it.

Overall, a satisfying double bill. A nice contrasts of styles, well-executed in presentation make for a decent evening at the theatre.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Graduate

What better way to celebrate the beginning of spring break with a little graduation ceremony? The dog is finally certified 'obedience trained' meaning she can go off-leash in a dog run. As with the driving licence, as my driving instructor told me ages ago, acquiring certification means that the training continues, but without necessitating the supervision of a qualified instructor. Anyway, good girl, Tasha!

And now a group shot with classmates. L-R; Hershey, Tasha, Captain, Daisy, Gigi. Congrats, everyone! And thumbs up to the positive training methods from Pup Pup 'n' Away. A happy, disciplined dog is the best kind to have.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Keeping it going

It's been a tiring, taxing, draining week. Never let it be said that JC1 was a walk in the park. Haven't had much time to post entries since term began, and am feeling too pooped to add much more in this one. A couple of pix then?

The dog's still undergoing basic obedience training; there's been no rain for a while; and the grass is brown. Everywhere.

I succumbed to the evil empire today and finally got my very own iDevice. Of course, I'd think twice about shelling out for it if it weren't heavily subsidised by a mysterious, unnamed benefactor; and having a retail membership discount making it an even sweeter deal. Also, ageing eyes needs a bigger screen to look at. There. I said it.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tainted honour

It's hard not to get all emotional about the charges laid against the NSF who blew the whistle upon witnessing animal cruelty in his army camp. His dad is apparently so upset, he posted his outrage against the army for disciplining his son for what should be seen as a heroic act. "There was no honour [Facebook login required] in the way this situation was handled by the Singapore Armed Forces", he complains bitterly to the online community.

While I am against animal cruelty (barring the cruelty done to animals that provide nice, juicy steaks; sausages; bacon and other yummy stuff, the origins of which we'd rather remain blissfully ignorant of) this entry is not about that. It's about how the concept of 'honour' has been twisted into a bad argument posted by the distraught dad above in commenting on his son's plight.

The boy is being charged on two counts: shooting photographic images in a location that prohibits photography; and providing information to a party who has no privilege of access to such information.

Security of information is a key protocol which the military will rabidly uphold. Wars are won and lost over control of information. Dad's argument is that the content of the information provided by his son would not have compromised military security and therefore should not constitute a breach of security protocol in both the acquisition and the delivery of said information to the third party.

Dad is wrong on both counts. The law prohibits the action regardless of the sensitivity of the information breached. The charge is therefore against the action, and only in deliberating mitigating circumstances will the content of the information in question be considered. Hence the organization is not conducting itself dishonourably in prosecuting someone who has clearly broken the law.

But on the other hand, did the son act honourably in doing what he did? There is honour in standing up for one's convictions. His act was noble in intent, and for that he deserves credit. But an individual's honour goes deeper than that. Honour is in upholding the law of the land first and foremost. If one's personal convictions necessitates the breaking of the law, that does not absolve one from facing the consequences of one's actions. Given this untenable situation, the honourable thing for the son to do is to acknowledge that in order to do the right thing, he had to do the wrong thing, and accept the punishment for it. Colloquially, he did the crime, so he must do the time. In principle, two wrongs do not make a right.

The other factor to consider is if the son's actions were, in fact, necessary. Did he have to shoot video, and did he have to pass the video on to a third party, and did he know she would likely have politicized it the way she did? Was it his intention, in the first place, to politicize the information he passed on? The video is now for public viewing here [also requires Facebook login]. What it shows is a dog tied up by its neck, its head suspended by the tautness of the rope. Its weight is supported by the floor, so while it may look uncomfortable, it isn't being deliberately strangled unless it struggles against its bonds.

Clearly the boy had already decided to disobey orders by shooting video and distributing it through unauthorized channels. If he was going to disobey orders, then wouldn't it have been more necessary at the time to place the dog in a more comfortable position by re-tying the rope that held it? Did he leave the dog that way the whole night after he shot the video? In other words, if he wanted to alleviate the suffering of the dog, there were more immediate and practical options than turn to his phone-camera for a more sensational solution.

Of course, this is the army we're talking about. This is the kind of social organization that makes a business out of treating people worse than animals, so its approach to perceived threats to its operational capability usually leans towards the brutally effective. If the boy intended to instigate an investigation and force a change in tactics by eliciting public awareness and opinion, he's done a great job. The strays will probably be treated better now. So he should complete his honourable act by taking his punishment like a man. Much respect if he does; no respect if he attempts to squirm his way out of it.

And, Dad, your son's actually a grown man. He made a mature decision, so stop embarrassing him with your overprotective indignation. You should be proud of what he did, and not undermine his heroism by sending the wrong message that whistleblowers should be exempted from prosecution if in blowing their whistle they break the law.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bright side

So now we're letting someone with a bad mouth set our benchmarks to meet their unreasonable demands?

Maybe we need someone like that to shake us out of our complacency with a kick to the butt every now and then. Just sayin'.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Good food on 4 legs

Found a new place to eat with dog. The 4 Legged on Jalan Leban.

Apart from providing food, there are also other boarding and day-care services available for dog.

This handsome fellow is one of three samoyed residents who comprise the welcome wagon upon entry. There's lots of floor space for the 4-legged ones to run, play and socialize while the people eat. Nice.

The menu items bear cutesy names, but are quite normal where it matters. There is a mix of simple western dishes like this pasta carbonara, and other local favourites as well.

While the carbonara was done with the right touch of creaminess and bacon-ness, I'm not so wild about the fish and chips. Not sure what it was, but I thought the fish had too much MSG. Don't know if that is an accurate diagnosis, but that's what it tasted like.

The pet menu looks appetizing too, with a generous mix of veggies, meat on brown rice. We ordered pork balls for the dog, but the kitchen counter-proposed pork stew instead. Good choice, and healthy too.

Brownie and ice-cream to follow. I like places like these where the food coming out of the kitchen could have come from the kitchen at home. Simple, functional fare, reasonably priced. Comfort food.

Dinner was quite a different affair. We had guests arriving from overseas so we took them to PS Cafe at Ann Siang Hill. A dignified, sit-down joint where a sign at the front door advises diners to please leave their kids elsewhere. Gutsy policy, much appreciated. Steak must be enjoyed with focus. Slow chews, releasing savory juices to dance on the surface of the tongue. And no chaotic neighbouring table issuing outbursts of random energy to distract from the experience. This particular experience was worth savoring, the meat done to the right degree of rare, so juicy and tender. The fusion elements of the kai-lan stalk and Japanese mushrooms added some interesting textures that complemented the striploin nicely.

Satisfied? Yes, very.

Friday, February 14, 2014

V-day dinner company

Valentine's Day and we're passed out on the living room carpet semi-watching yet another HK lawyer drama serial. It's been a long, busy week for both of us and to be able to just do that is luxury enough.

Now that she's working for a charity NGO, she's starting to involve me with some of her work. Earlier this evening, we took a little time out to eat a simple dinner with the old ladies boarding there. For a treat, she got me to bring over a couple of tubs of Neapolitan ice-cream for them. They seldom get ice-cream, so they were quite appreciative of her thoughtfulness.

All-in-all, this V-day has been quite special. No gifts to each other, but a small token that didn't cost much given to others from the both of us. Dinner was hardly romantic, but there was a different kind of warmth around the table for more than two. Special, indeed.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sitting on the high chair


It feels good to throw a hissy-fit once in a while. Rather than having meetings in which everyone just nods and agrees with decrees from on-high, this committee is full of queries; questions; counter-points; objections; and obtuse arguments. Sitting in on such sessions is an emotional roller-coaster, especially for the one chairing.

Since yours truly was chairing the last couple of sessions, it was quite draining. After arriving at an agreement, work got done, only to be undone at the next meeting when consensus was broken by someone who didn't say anything at the previous meeting, but felt strongly enough to voice it at this one.

On my part, I have no problem chopping and changing, and having to reinvent the wheel from scratch repeatedly. But with every revision I should feel like improvements are being made. Instead, with every new version of this plan, the wheel seemed to be getting increasingly square. Not a good sign.

Last meeting, I let my inner kid out. I became pouty, grouchy, emo and snappy -- the remaining four dwarves Snow White does not ever want to talk about. Someone else had to be the adult, I'd had enough.

With all the whinin' and bitchin' (mostly coming from the corner with the short people) an amazing thing happened. Every concerned party put their cards on the table and patiently explained their position and their concerns without reservation.

Then in a moment of clarity, a viable alternative that met everyone's objectives appeared. This time, it looks like the agreement will hold. It's back to the ol' drawing board again, but now it's for a product everyone should be happy with.

Definitely one of the most productive meetings ever attended.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Narrow line

I'd like to think that consistently writing opinion articles gives me some credibility in teaching others to write opinion articles. However, I'm currently at a stage in which I'm doubting this belief as being too simplistic. Lately, I've been doubting myself. A lot.

Perhaps a little humility would be good for the character? The line between superhero and super-villain is an extremely narrow one. Gotta figure out which side I'm on.

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Snape approach to exam success

The new J1s have arrived fresh and squeaky clean from the 'O's. This year's crop is overall the best scoring we've ever had to date. They are probably used to being straight A students, but there will be a few who would be celebrating unexpectedly good results. Yay for them all.

But, no, this will not do. The leap in standard that these kids are taking is quite a tremendous gulf to bridge between secondary school and college undergrad. Because they are undergoing a major skills upgrade, they must get used to failure. Repeated failure. It is only in failure that learning takes place. Fail once, change technique. Fail twice, change approach. Fail a third time, change something else. Trial and error until something clicks. When that happens, they would have learned something new and I would have finally been successful at teaching them something new.

Does it have to be that way? Can a straight A student continue maintaining straight As throughout the course? It's possible, but at least initially that's not recommended. Fresh off the success boat, and as horrible as I sound, they have to be humbled if they are going to become teachable again.

What of their morale and self-esteem as we modern educators seem bound to pander to? The 'A' Levels is a long-term goal. We reassure the kids that they are constantly failing, not because there is anything wrong with them per se, but because we are always raising the bar. But no matter how badly they fail -- as long as they don't give up, and as long as they help each other along -- they would have learned so much by the end of first year that they will barely scrape through their promotional exams. The promo, after all, is not a high-stakes exam but a formative one. The barest minimal pass is sufficient for advancement, hence there is no pressure to Ace it.

Our long-term goal only comes into sight around the prelim exam in the October of the following year, which is the summative exam as far as our local jurisdiction goes. By then, they are ready to gather their own resources and Ace that. Some kids need a good result on the prelim in order to apply for early enrollment in some universities. If they don't want early enrollment, then the summative is the 'A's in November. This is the only result that counts, hence this is our target for high scoring achievement.

Once we have a perspective on what is going on at the 'A's, we realize that not every test or exam or assessment requires every student to achieve an A grade. A failing or near-failing grade is more par for the course. It's only when we can convince the kids (and middle-management) not to expect high scores in every little assessment that we can take the pressure off the kids' education experience and focus them back on real learning. And we will see a stratospheric improvement in grades all round -- but only at the end of second year.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Building bridges

Important insight gained from the PE Dept's staff sharing on the low-elements team-building facilities today: although safety is the #1 priority in team-building activities, the participants also share in the responsibility of keeping themselves and their fellow participants safe. By personally experiencing some element of danger, as a group they develop a sense of concern and look out for each other, especially when it is made clear to them that success is team-dependent and cannot be accomplished solo.

A case in point is the 'river crossing' activity in which a series of blocks are set in a pattern on the ground between crossing points. A team uses the blocks as supports for a bridge they build with a limited number of planks to get from the starting point to the ending point on the opposite side. It would be so much safer if the play area was bulldozed flat, but the ground is left in its natural state with grass and soil, bumps and dips, making the traverse unsteady and the risk of falling off is quite real. So apart from just focusing on the goal of getting from point A to point B, the participants are also figuring out how to utilize their limited resources most effectively; how to stabilize the bridge while they are building it; and how to support each other to avoid falling into the 'river' until all are safely across to the other side.

This kind of affective learning the kids are getting from the PE Dept needs to continue in the classroom. We academics tend to focus on getting our kids from exam to exam and all the work we do is intended to bulldoze the way smooth for them. Content packages; skills packages; parent support network; remedial classes; personal consultations... with every need catered to, there is no incentive to reach out to their fellow learners and support each other through their journey. So instead of teaching three or four classes a year we each have effectively taken on the responsibility of teaching 70-90 individual students per year -- and we wonder why the burnout rate in the education industry is so high.

At this level of study, success is a team game. Individual effort is important, of course, but our job isn't just to groom a handful of brilliant scholars but to work on raising levels for the entire cohort. That means the kids themselves must bear the responsibility of helping one another because the individual teacher alone cannot possibly build the bridge AND carry the entire lot of kids kicking and screaming across from point A to point B.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Horrid hybrid

Of exams, there are two types: the formative and the summative.

The formative type functions as a student's learning tool. It allows the student to do a bit of self-learning and evaluation as to the progress made in learning so far. These exams are usually simple and occasionally even fun -- if you can call pop quizzes and essay writing fun. They may also take the form of 'alternative assessments' or self-directed projects that make use of the skills and content learnt and mashes them up in the crafting of a non-traditional artefact for assessment: a video, a poster, or something as creative and colourful. There is more flexibility in submission deadlines, consultation and advice from the assessor, and collaboration with peers. As such, they are low-stakes assessments because the objective is skewed more towards the learning process than the assessment results.

The summative type is the assessment of what the student has already learned, not what the student is in the process of learning. In order to gauge the student's learning fairly, the assessment would put the student in an unfamiliar position or situation  and see how the student is able to draw on the skills and knowledge already acquired and use them to effectively carry out the assessment requirements.

In our tribal past, a novice may be learning from a master how to make a drum or a canoe. During the instruction period, the novice may be called upon to assist in various parts of the process and observe others. There may be mini-tests along the way, but the results would have little serious consequence to the final product. The master would always be there to praise competent work or repair any damage done, but the learning experience would have served its purpose. These tests are formative in nature.

The summative assessment occurs when the novice has to build the whole item from scratch for the first time. With the learning scaffolds removed, the novice would encounter real life obstacles, difficulties, or unforseen circumstances that could not have been prepared for beforehand (the master made it look so easy!). The novice may have the knowledge and skill, but to do well must also be able to utilize some personal ingenuity, insight, quick critical thinking and improvise a solution on the spot. Here the assessment is high-stakes as the end-user (not the master!) depends on the quality of the work produced. Good work results in a satisfied customer, poor work results in a waste of time, resources and probably a reprimand and retraining for the goofball who screwed up.

Jumping back to the present age, assessments have become a source of unnecessary stress for the students of today. That's because assessments perform neither formative nor summative functions, but rather have become a horrid hybrid of both. What should be formative assessments are over-studied and over-prepared for as what should be low stakes have become high stakes. The actual high-stakes final exams (of which there aren't really that many) are taken as formative in nature as every student feels inadequate taking them without being hand-held all the way to the last full-stop.

If every assessment is taken as high stakes, and if every result is viewed as more important than the process, little real learning is taking place. If the assessment meant to be summative is prepared for like a formative one, there is little opportunity for practicing independent thought. What we get is a generation of students that don't know how to tackle questions unless they are told the answers beforehand. The problem is, we can't teach them all the answers because no one knows all the questions.

Our efforts to teach to the exam may bring results, but also undue stress to everyone involved and a very warped picture of what exams are and what they are meant to accomplish. Let's go back to when formative assessments were easy and the answers accessible to a diligent student; and summative assessments challenged a student with unfamiliar, off-the-wall questions that cannot be easily prepared for. Less stress, more learning, better results all round.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

C'mon in! The bandwagon's just fine!

Darn it! Got suckered into making a promise based on a faulty argument. I cannot believe I caved into the old "I don't think it's fair that..." It's a classic chestnut to guilt schoolchildren with over tardy assignments, and I should have known better. The premise is that since everybody's done it, you should too... and hurry up with it! A simple bandwagon fallacy.

If I am to do something, I have to be convinced that it is the right thing to do and that time and energy are not being wasted on a project that serves no purpose other than create its own existence. I wasn't convinced in the first place and I am not convinced now, but I gave my promise without thinking it through. Then again, it was phrased like it was not my decision to make, anyway. I just wish I had capitulated to a more logical argument rather than a transparently manipulative emotional hair-trigger.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Multi-poo

The dog has the runs, but it's me doing most of the legwork. Clearly something she ate didn't agree with her. Last night, her output was quite impressive. More than half a fresh toilet roll used up cleaning the floor and her pee tray. Pee mat after pee mat had to be folded up and disposed of when usually they last one a day.

Today's pyrotechnics, however, are set to 'shock and awe'. 'nuff said. But she's at least considerate and I'm getting smarter. Most of her detonations are confined in the shower, so now I'm just hosing down the area after sprinkling a cupful of Walch disinfectant.

Took her to the vet and she exploded once more in the car. They could scrape the upholstery clean for a stool sample if they wanted, but they preferred to help themselves from the source. Oh well, it was worth a shot. Walch is fast becoming my new BFF.

Now I understand the trait that gave rise to the nomenclature of her breed.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Go fetch!

Oh, my! A new package freshly delivered! It was supposed to be dog's Christmas pressie, but missed the date by a stretch. Better late than never.

The box graphic says it all. It's a ball launcher for dog to play 'fetch' with.

The overall design is reminiscent of an old-time spittoon. The hopper up top is where the ball gets dropped into. There is a click and a whirr, and seconds later the ball is ejected out the spout. Fun and games ensue as dog frantically tears after said ball, leaving a wake of destruction in her path. Lesson #1: clear the runway of foreign objects before attempting airborne operation.

The ammunition that came with the ball cannon. In all seriousness, despite the, um, nostalgic outward aesthetic, mechanically the iFetch is a nicely designed dog toy patterned after the tennis-ball launcher. Powered by wall socket or six 'C' batteries, the range can be adjusted from 10 to 20 to 30 ft. Launch trajectory is low to avoid unexpected crotch shots. Uncomplicated, hardy, and unlikely to break down easily due to apparently few moving parts, it's quite a good buy. This particular unit came at a Kickstarter introductory price, so that was even nicer.

A couple of points to take note of, though. Although the balls look like tennis balls, they're actually softer and smaller in size. For a small dog, that's fine, but for a big dog, could they be a choking hazard? Also, the long-term plan is for the dog to operate the iFetch by herself in case she has no one to play with when she's bored. However, there's some training involved that's going to take some time. There's a helpful training video on the website, so that's gonna be fun. Let's play ball!

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Language of Mime

One way to describe mime is that it is a means of telling stories without using words. However, that's not an accurate description at all. Like the spoken word, mime too is a language that follows a set of linguistic rules in order to communicate its message.

Breath and energy:
In the spoken word, before we speak, we fill our lungs with air. Speech is created by regulating the release of the air in our lungs. How many words we can speak from a single breath determines the bandwidth of information transfer. Our volume, inflexions, nuances and emotions are dependent on our degree of control over this release of air from our lungs. The better the control, the more meaning can be encoded in our speech, thus maximizing the bandwidth determined by our lung capacity.

Mime shares the exact same starting point as speech. The inhale stores energy released through movement at the moment of exhale. The speed of the exhale determines the rate of energy released, which conveys the intention of the actor (the person who is acting on this release of energy). The expression of different nuances, moods and textures all stem from the breath. A sudden, explosive release of energy has a very different connotation from a slow, controlled release.

The mime has total control over the breath. Every movement is begun and completed in the same breath, just as is a spoken sentence. There is no call to complete a movement mid-breath, or to continue after the lungs are exhausted without some cause that runs counter to the actor's intention -- an interruption from another actor, perhaps; or a sudden change in the dynamic of the narration.

Joint articulation and isolations:
Individual words are discrete units of information carried through vibrations we perceive as sound. They make little sense on their own beyond their particular definitions. It is in the combination of words within a particular syntax and context that words are able to communicate meaning.

The mime's vocabulary is located in the joints between his bones. The more joints he can move in isolation of the other joints, the wider the vocabulary with which he can express himself. Like any spoken vocabulary, it takes discipline and practice to amass enough words to be able to communicate, except that the mime trains muscle memory. Instead of discovering and verbally repeating words to remember them, the mime discovers new muscles to move in new ways and repeats those movements until he is fluent in them.

Manipulation:
Words are strung together in a sequence to form sentences that convey meaning. Likewise, the mime strings together different isolations in a sequence that conveys his intention. Unlike a spoken vocabulary, however, isolated movements do not represent meaning according to a predetermined definition. The meaning of movement is more context specific, and so through deft manipulation the mime creates the space around him.

Illusory boxes; invisible walls; immovable objects; the ability to take on the material characteristics of water and air... how are these manipulations carried out in such a way that can be seen and interpreted as 'real' to a audience? The main guiding principle is Newton's Third Law of Motion which states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The mime creates 'reality' by balancing his intention against the resistance of the object he is acting upon. An intractable object is moved along the mime's plane of intent when he can summon enough energy to overcome its resistance to the movement.

A classic example is the 'walking against the wind' routine in which every step forward is countered by the wind resistance acting in the opposite direction. Forward motion is only possible when the mime proves stronger than the wind blowing against him. If the wind proves too strong, the mime's every forward step results in backward movement, which is the basis of the 'Moonwalk' popularized by Michael Jackson.

Movement Analysis:
As with the spoken sentence, the mime's movement sentences need clarity of execution in order to communicate his intention effectively to the audience. The mime observes behaviour and deconstructs it into separate discreet movements, each a breath long. Depending on the focus, the mime may reconstruct the same behaviour using the minimum number of discrete movements (in order to get on with the main story); or using as many discrete movements as possible to complete the portrayal of the behaviour. It's the difference between looking at a specific movement frame-by-frame through a low frame-rate set of animation cels and through a high frame-rate HD movie. The former is efficient in carrying a narrative while the latter is more interested in the minute details involved in a single action sequence.

Once the mime is at this level of fluency in the Language of Mime -- it could take years of practice to get this far -- he might be ready to start telling some stories. Don't worry, it's a learn-on-the-job process.

Note: Sirius prompted this post because she suggested I teach the Drama kids some mime skills which could prove useful for stage awareness and presence at this year's Drama Night production. Poor kids didn't know what hit them when they showed up for the workshop this afternoon.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Claws in the dark

In daylight, this handsome fellow doesn't appear too scary. But when I come home at night he has the habit of surprising me by pouncing on my back in the dark, sinking his claws in and climbing to my shoulder where he can then jump to the top of the shoe cabinet, which is otherwise too high for him to reach. These days, he's gotten a bit heavier and can't jump as high as he used to. That hasn't stopped him, though. Now when I open my front door to a dark house, I take a deep breath, step in and pray I don't get stabbed in the kidneys.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Inner child

Workshop on using Transactional Analysis to establish a better rapport with the kids could have been useful, but I got distracted by the results of my personality test. Good teachers apparently are able to balance the Parent-Adult-Child states and can call upon the appropriate state to keep interpersonal interactions civil and constructive. When the other party approaches from a destructive state the balanced teacher can neutralize and defuse the situation without it escalating.

It shouldn't be much of a surprise, but my test results came back snowman shaped -- tiny Parent; below ideal Adult; oversized Child states. The rest of the workshop, I was a pest and a disruptive influence. Even after it was over, I continued to be rude and obnoxious to my colleagues and friends while being clearly aware of the negative Rebellious Child persona that was starting to take over.

Now I don't know if how I behaved was 'normal' behaviour for me, or if it was triggered by being made aware of the big inner kid that's driving my motivations. After all, awareness is licence to act up, and that's just what I did. So that's my conundrum of the day: is my behaviour normally childish and because of the workshop I am now aware of it; or is it because of the workshop that I put on the mask of childishness and played along accordingly? And do I really want to know the answer to that question?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Poor choice of words

So a fella gets ripped a new one for posting insensitive comments online. The fact that he is a foreigner is not a factor in this situation because anyone who posts stupid things online is fair game for trolls seeking easy targets to vent on.

The hypersensitivity of the overreaction is more fascinating to me. We are enraged for being labelled "poor". Um, so what? There is no shame in being poor. The vast majority of us do not drive around in Porches, but we still get around town and get our stuff done just fine, anyway. We're resourceful like that.

Besides, we even call ourselves "poor" and complain we can't afford fees, fares, housing, education and food. So we can label ourselves "poor" when it suits our arguments, but we can't accept the same label when it doesn't? Instead, in our online culture we take every chance to shame people who claim to be "rich". Essentially, we are telling people who own nice things to get off the Internet. That's not very nice of us, is it?

His second transgression was stating his desire to "wash [off] the stench of public transport" after his experience with it. We've all thought the same thing ourselves; we've posted the same thought online ourselves; and now we are excoriating someone for also posting the same comment in his own paraphrase? Everybody knows our public transport system is terrible. Online we're so vocal with our complaints about overcrowding; so many breakdowns; such frequent delays... That totally stinks and yet they keep raising fares! TMD!

So we all think the same thing, and we post our thoughts online though in different words, some more prosaic, some more droll, most just shoot from the hip. There is no need to take such huge issue with a "poor" paraphrasing of such a common thought. Let's just take a chill pill and give more room to nuance, off-colour humour, and multiple-entendre. And stop trying to police the Internet for politically-correct speech. Right now, online trolling is more a threat to our Internet freedoms than the MDA. Think about that.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Questions

Useful afternoon workshop... although the key ideas presented didn't push the envelope quite far enough to reach their logical conclusion.

Consider that our obsession with making the kids answer questions correctly has us barking up the wrong tree. The right tree to bark up is teaching our kids to ask questions no one has ever thought to ask before so that collectively we can dredge up some new answers from the bottomless pit that contains the sum of all human knowledge.

The highest aim of T and L ('Teaching and Learning' in campus parlance) is the ability to ask questions, not pickle that which we already know.

Sadly, most people can't see past the end-of-year exam. That's why we get proposals like MP Denise Phua's experimental do away with 'high stakes' exams through-train schools cluster. It would be nice to have a stress-free educational experience, but removing the exams does not remove the source of the stress. In every journey there are milestones to pass by en route to the destination. Removing the milestones does not make the journey any less tiring.

Exams are only milestones along the way to whichever education destination we have chosen to journey towards. They tell us how far we've come, and perhaps how far more we have to go, but that's all. As soon as we encounter one, we just walk past it on the way to our end point. No one plans a journey to end at a milestone because usually there's nothing else there, and yet that's what many of us are doing on our education journey. Instead of seeing the little rock at the side of the road with some useful numbers etched in it, we see a boulder right across our path that stops us dead in our tracks. Stress comes from our faulty perception when we can't see things for what they really are.

So why are some milestones harder to get past than others? Because not every journey is a straight-paved path strewn with primroses all the way to the end. Many a time, the terrain becomes difficult to negotiate. There are detours; unexpected obstacles; sometimes the path becomes hard to see; other times, we may have wandered off the path and struggle to find it again; and sometimes we may even change our minds and strike out on another path towards a different destination. The next milestone we encounter tells us we have found the right path, so keep on moving to the next, and the next, and the next until we finally arrive at wherever we want to be.

So pack for a long journey; enjoy the scenery; don't fixate on the milestones and just keep going. Your journey only ends when you decide you don't want to go any further. But it's a decision you have to make. A milestone can't make that decision for you.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Belt up

Taking the dog out in the car can be dangerous. I'm parked so right now she looks real cute and all, like perching up the crow's nest ready to yell 'land ho!' When we're on the move, it's not half so much fun 'n games. A moment of unrestrained exuberance and either she could go flying from an unanticipated jerk, or we could both end up in a ditch.

Now, that's better. She doesn't look so thrilled any more, but she's safely harnessed to the rear seat-belt. No more wild adventures in the cabin.

Here's a closer look at the safety belt clip -- it's just a loop made of seat-belt material attached to a clip -- made by Rogz. While she gets used to driving around all neatly belted up, we have to endure her singing belting out the song of her people (such a sad song it is, too) all the way to where we're going.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Positive feedback

Since her previous obedience school failure, Tasha has started attending an new class using a new approach involving positive reinforcement. That is, she gets a tasty tidbit whenever she exhibits the behaviour she is being trained for.

During training today, she was really good. She got a lot of treats. She got so many treats in fact, that when she came back home she turned into a barf fountain. She made horrible noises and I had to clean up four impressive piles of upchuck thoughtfully deposited onto the two study carpets. -_-

Oh, you want pictures? Trust me, you do NOT want pictures.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Briefing drama

Awaiting an important briefing at Goodman Arts Centre. Arrived an hour early so keeping company with a peach melba and an earl grey tea at Cafe Melba to pass the time. Some nice touches in the dessert: a raspberry topping, blueberries and almond shavings. However, not enough ice-cream and too much grenadine syrup made for a sour-bitter last spoonful.

At the briefing in the GAC Black Box with my esteemed colleagues representing their different institutions.

The highlight of the briefing was the announcement of some format changes to the Festival. Some people do not adapt well to change. Quite a bit of whining and moaning from a loud couple of crybabies (I'm sorry to say), as if preparing their defence in case they achieved an undesirable result this year.

A major objection was that the lighting rig will be in use by other performances throughout the run-up to the Festival. While GAC promises that the rig will be set to a standard default, there are worries that the set-up may not be in exact alignment for both our tech rehearsal and performance dates. Then they went all non sequitur about what kind of values we are teaching our kids if the performance doesn't go according to how they rehearsed it. O_o

First of all, the kids will have the opportunity to exercise their values when things don't go according to plan. Values of resilience, resourcefulness, teamwork and adaptability come into play under less-than-perfect conditions. Second, the kids are performing in an actual professional space with real-world constraints, compared to performing in what is basically a test-tube of a campus venue, luxurious as it may be. Third, get over yourselves and your egos. Set an example for your kids and deal with the problem with the resources available rather than just demand your way based on your moral high ground and shrillness of voice.

But then, we're drama instructors. We're artists. We're temperamental and passionate about our jobs. We're demanding and to a large extent, perfectionist; otherwise we wouldn't be doing what we're doing. Tantrums are par for the course and some of us are more diva than most. Gotta love us all!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Dearly beloved...

It's a massive milestone reached when the kids you taught ten years ago have a reunion of sorts on the occasion of one of them attaining matrimonial bliss. It's true that you never forget your first, and this bunch is the very first batch I saw through a full two-year term. Amazingly, I remembered each one around the table by name, and what they were like as students with a clarity that subsequent batches would never surpass. Now that they're grown up so much -- a number of whom I can call colleagues in the education fraternity; others have challenging, yet satisfying occupations in the private sector; and some have started their own families already -- it made me really happy to see them again in a setting in which we regard each other as respected equals. To the Loonie one: the dinner was lovely, the company was perfect, and you were a radiant bride. Congratulations, and may God prosper your union all the days of your lives!