Sunday, September 18, 2016

Email Address Conundrum

When I first started teaching Form Six students many eons ago, the only things on my mind were finishing the syllabus (I was teaching Literature, besides English Language) and polishing their abilities to retain information, organise information into the form required by the question and present the info in an academic fashion.  However now, things have changed.  Not only do I have to scrabble my way along the minefield of today's schools (mines that begin with e- or online-), I also find myself having to deal with social pitfalls.  Not MY social pitfalls,  THEIRS.

And one of the most interesting is their chosen email addresses.  Yeah well, let's deal with one social pitfall at one time.  One of the ways I make sure my MUET students at the very least know how to attach a document to their email is by asking them to send me their homework via email.  I do this because I want to ensure that they arrive at university campuses with rudimentary knowledge of online communication systems.  While focusing on this, I came across some very interesting (and sometimes breathtaking - in a choking manner) discoveries.  Most students I knew used very creative email addresses.  Some of the most creative I have come across in my last ten years of teaching were,,  Sometimes I even force them to change their email addresses when they ask me to check their resumes.  Imagine sending an application letter and resume to a top bank and there your contact email is or  I even got into a long argument via WhatsApp with an ex student because she had a tripleXrated email address (a body part was mentioned in slang) and she insisted it was who she was, and she wasn't about to compromise her integrity for money or fame.  Eventually she grumpily created one email address just for formal use.  I told her those people in the HR dept knew she chose that email tag because that was foremost in her thinking at that time.  What would her chances of success be???

Needless to say, it has become my mission to ensure that none of my Form 6 students will be allowed to leave school without changing their email tag for a better one.  Or at least create a secondary one.

It seems this is a worldwide problem.

49 People Who Really Regret Their Teenage Email Address

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots 
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
by Wilfred Owen
Thought to have been written between 8 October 1917 and March, 1918

The Walking Wounded

When people talk about 'the walking wounded', they normally think of soldiers returning from a battlefield.  I usually think of a war poem I studied in university... Wilfred Owen's 'Dulce Et Decorum Est'.  Oh man, that was such a gory poem.  I could actually hear the sounds of the wounds... viscera spilling out into the open where it was never meant to be...

But today I am thinking of different 'walking wounded'.  In my many years of navigating the morass of relationships, I have been continually astonished by the level of woundedness I have encountered in people I meet.  They walk upright and smile when they would and sleep when they should... but they carry such deep injuries within.  I almost wish they had physical injuries instead... at least these injuries would be exposed to the air and dried sooner or later.  But emotional and mental injuries can live forever within psyches.  Like an abscess, they sit inert but causing pain.  And these wounds continue poisoning the people... causing new friendships to be ruined and new hopes to be dashed.

Sometimes I feel drawn to these people... and it is almost as if I can hear them crying out for help.  The problem is when I reach out to help (even though I have no idea what to do), their automatic reaction is to snarl back and flash their claws.  And what makes things sadder is that they may even hurt their loved ones, causing fresh wounds themselves. 


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The 'Fun' of Pre University Exam Registrations

Twice a year, the pre university exam results come out and excite ecstasy, happiness, horror and even nonchalant unconcern among the students.  The lecturers are usually just tied up in knots.  The ecstasy or despair comes later, after the analyses are done.  But I don't want to talk about that. 

Today is the second last day before the deadline of repeat exam registrations and already the kids have made my colleagues and I feel like strangling them. 

First, some of them buy the PIN at Bank Simpanan Nasional at the very last minute (which would be tomorrow).  Then they happily whatsapp the PIN to the poor teacher in charge of Exams, thinking everything will be fine.  They will have had two weeks to ponder their options... two weeks to decide which paper to repeat and therefore two weeks to buy this PIN.  But most will wait till the last minute.  Poor teacher will be struggling to access the website together with countless other Exams teachers all over Malaysia.

Second, despite countless briefings (at least two briefings every semester), the same questions get asked:
- Do I register myself or do I ask the Exams lecturer? (Ans. : The lecturer.)
- Do I buy one PIN per subject or one PIN for all? (Ans. : one PIN for all)
- Why do I need to whatsapp the picture of the PIN to Mdm J? (Ans. : Because you may copy the PIN wrongly if you retype it)

Third, almost every semester, some bright kid will msg the PIN image to my colleague, thinking that she is psychic and is able to know who the sender is and which subject the sender wishes to repeat.  Luckily my colleague is rather patient and just breathes fire & brimstone back at the hapless kid.  Sounds like a small matter, right?  But once repeated msgs and calls were left unanswered.  Later we found out the student was at work.  I don't know how my colleague managed it but the registration was successful.

I wish I could tattoo the instructions into the kids. If only they didn't look so sweet and innocent...

Friday, October 16, 2015

Heartbroken Yet Fighting

It seems to me that I am meeting more and more young people from broken lives or families.  I'm wondering if all this while, there have always been broken families and lives everywhere or has the world gotten worse?

Yet these young people still fight on to find meaning and stability in their lives.  They still laugh and smile with their friends and classmates, never showing how much they are bleeding inside.

I suppose there is no point in railing against a cruel or unjust world... because they cannot change the outside elements or factors. They can only change how they respond to their experiences.

So far, the majority I meet have shown admirable resilience... although a few have the tendency to snarl and snap when people accidentally touch on sensitive topics.

What I do notice is how all of them find their anchor in God.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Little Things You Do

I was on FB checking on some stuff (yes, my FB account is still dead but I have a shell account for school groups) when I came across my ex-student's fb.  Let's call him Max.

Way back when, Max was a brooding young man with too much pain for someone so young.  There was so much loss, rejection and anger filling up his heart and mind.  When my eyes rested upon him, my heart hurt for I saw wounds I couldn't put a bandage over.  Sometimes I wished I could just take him home and get him to smile.  But of course, I couldn't do that.  My house would be overflowing if I gave in to every urge to take a kid home.  But that was a long time ago.  Max was fortunate because an angel smiled on him and he was given an opportunity to join a training program which took him away from painful home and prepared him for a well-paying job with an MNC.  There was a time when his FB account showed statuses that spoke of wanting to give up and go home.  I prayed that he wouldn't.

Fast forward to today... and yes, he finished his program.  Yes he is now working at the MNC and doing well.  And he JUST got married :D

How I wish for all my students to have happy endings like Max's.  I know I know... his life isn't ended yet and he still has a looong way to go.  But at least he has a solid platform under his feet.  At least when he has children, he can offer them a better life than the one he had. 

The little things teachers and parents do can make a difference in a young person's life... even if it is just a sharing of information of opportunities... or an encouraging push towards a program.  Not all the young people will respond positively... but at least they know of options.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Developing Obsessions and All

An old friend commented that I 'know my stuff' and that puzzled me for a bit. By the time anyone reaches my age, he ir she better know their stuff. Or risk winning the 'Slow Learner' award.

But then I do tend to know things intensively and exhaustively. That is because I develop a near-obsession about new things. I like new things because well... they are new. So I always want to figure out what they are, where they come from, why they are like that and all things related. If I were to create a mind map about what I want to learn about new stuff, the resulting paper required would be knee deep. Metaphorically speaking.

Perhaps I have a psychological condition but I need to know enough about something until I am able to reach a sort of critical mass and I am able to say,"Yes, X is _______ !" And that adjective or noun should be able to describe X to a T.

It took me 15 years to reach critical mass about debate. And what a great 15 years they were....

And yes, in the process, I have gathered tons of 'useless' facts. Yet I treasure each and every one of them.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Raw Masterpieces

It's been 23 years since I first stepped into a school as a teacher and I haven't lost the fascinated feeling I get when I'm at work. The feeling of sometimes being awestruck in silence when I watch my students...

To me, each of them are raw works of art... potential masterpieces. They themselves are the artists and they hold their own palettes and brushes. Yes, there are times I feel like screaming in frustration ... or like grabbing one by the shoulders and shaking him or her awake from a dreamfog.  A lot of such times... but isn't a masterpiece usually born of frenzied energy and angst?

And now I teach pre university students... it seems like ALL of them are brimming with angst.  I used to feel like I was the one holding the brush and that I HAD to do this or do that... but I have come to realise that these masterpieces-in-the-making need to make their own decisions of where the brushstrokes need to go and how much paint to use and when to apply the colours...

It is so hard to watch my students learn about themselves sometimes ... but there is no other way for them to journey towards the critical point of self knowledge... and then off they go to a wonderful new place.

And I can't go with them. I can only watch... and wait for the next batch. But then I know, every new group will have something else for me to observe and learn.

This is why I haven't tired of my work yet.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

My New Passion : Gardening!

Old friends would gasp in amazement if they knew that I was now interested in gardening.  And if you had told me two years ago that this would happen, I'd have gasped louder.

But then here I am, wrist deep in black earth, getting all excited at the sight of earthworms... did you know that earthworms improve the soil?  Well, I have a lot of clay soil to be improved...

Actually I got into this out of necessity.  After getting a headache trying to get pesticide-free veg and looking at the prices rising around me AND reading up about the crazy things going on in and outside Malaysia, I decided to start planting my own vegetables.  A) I'd know for sure I'm eating pesticide-free greens.  B) I'd defray some of the cost of feeding my family.  C) I'd not die straight away if the shops closed for weeks.  Don't laugh...I'm deadly serious.  The Tanduo Lahad Datu scare was no joke and spending four days in Tawau just before the holidays opened my eyes real big.  (Hint : camouflage, wings)

Anyway this post is about gardening. 

I was never into gardening because my experience with plants have not been very encouraging.  My mum took care of a row of daisies for a year plus and they bloomed for her.  She turned them over to me and they died within 3 months.  I watered her jungle of plants for years and never experienced even a tinge of desire to plant some of my own.

But things changed after I moved into my own house and acquired lots of reddish clay soil.  My dad helped plant some grass.  I watered and babied the patches because I preferred green to red.  My mum donated rows of her flower pots to me.  The ones that survived were the cacti and the bougainvillea.  Yay. 

I planted vegetables.  The okra, tomatoes and chillies grew.  The pumpkins (yellow and white) never even sprouted.  One balsam plant grew... where the heck did it come from?? My long beans produced a lot for a while before they died.  My husband planted some fruit trees and they grew...but then stopped growing...
And I started to do a lot of reading about this puzzle called gardening.

Then my school was given the task of establishing an organic garden.  Thankfully the principal chose another better-qualified lady to head the team.  I played observer.  But the more I watched, the more I became interested.  Especially when they started using a microbial inoculant EM1 on their plants.  The effect was amazing... leaves grew like crazy and plants practically burst into bushes. get the idea.

So I got hold of this EM1 and tried it myself.  My stunted fruit trees started putting out new leaves by the dozen!  My kaffir lime trees lemon australia tree came back from the half-dead!  My chillies grew big and fat!  My remayong stalks became remayong plants...!

I'm bit.  By the gardening bug.

The EM1 is not meant to be used diluted straight out of the bottle (RM25 per bottle).  It needs to be activated first.

This is the formula I used :

Mix in one 1.5L drink bottle (recycled and washed clean)
- two capsful of EM1 (I used the EM1 bottle cap)
- 2 spoonsful of molasses/brown sugar or white sugar (if that's all you have)
- 1 pinch of salt
- a few slices of lemon rind/lemongrass/pandan leaf (for scent) -optional-
- water that was used to wash rice (just wash 2 cups or so of rice kernels in non-chlorinated water, strain the kernels out...water should be milky in colour)

Shake the bottle and then pour some of the mix out into two other bottles.

Now you have three partly-filled bottles. Squeeze the plastic bottle before tightening the cap.  Gas will be released over the next few days and you don't want the bottles to blow up.

Now keep the three bottles in a cool place, out of sunlight.

Let the gas out on the 4th day.

By the 7th day, the mix should be ready for use.  You will know it was a success if the mix doesn't smell bad.  Mine smells a bit lemony (I used some lemon slices) and fermented.

Before spraying on plants, mix 10ml into a medium sized pail of non-chlorinated water. 

Spray on the leaves and on the earth.

Do this 2 atau 3x a week. Pick a nice sunny day.  Rain will wash off the good stuff.

Then just wait for the good things to happen!

P/S  EM1 is not a fertilizer.  Google it up.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Joy and The Pain of Creating A School Magazine

Last year the admin thought it a great idea for me to be put in charge of the school magazine. Wow. Gee. Hooray.

So I got to work. I kinda made a mash of the committee meetings... LOL, there were none! With teachers anyway. But plenty of gatherings with my editorial board. Plenty of pizza too.

Went through a steep learning curve, learned how to use software (that I won't mention as I can't even afford to breathe on the CD box) and brushed off dust from old skills in design. I may prefer to dress simply and sometimes monochromatic but I know what looks good on a cover. I even dragged in an old friend Sufri into designing the cover (lucky thing he's school alumni).

Well, Bornean 2013 is done and I'll hold the finished product in my grubby hands today... yay!  I consider it my first draft. Bornean 2014 will be a groundbreaker.

Can't wait... :-)