Everything Else and an Absent Groom

I can assure you: I am not mad and have not lost my mind.

A few years ago, sometime after I began serving in the Toddlers’ Ministry team and after my teaching stint at a kindergarten, this unique, indescribable maternal desire started to blossom and grow. I kid you not when I say I watch TV series and when I see a cute kid, I dream of tucking my own child in bed, or reading him or her bedtime stories, or planting a kiss on their cheek. There came a point of realisation when it dawned on me that not everyone feels a surge of maternal instinct and the desire to have a child when they see a happy family portrait on TV; and it dawned on my sister that I was potentially mad.

Then came the house. When we went Ikea shopping, I began to visualise how my own home would look like in the future with a family. I would flip through Ikea catalogues in my spare time and imagine what kind of dining room, bedroom or family living room I would like to have. I would even imagine walking down the aisles shopping for furniture with Mr Shao. I recall that there were instances when I wondered if I was normal.

About a year or so back, my friends, being in their mid-twenties, began to get married, one by one. They fussed over wedding decor, the bridal gown, the bridesmaids’ dresses, floral bouquet, the reception, the decor again. But I love weddings because they are such whimsical beautiful things that makes you feel all hopeful and mushy and happy all at once. Since then, I began to pay a lot of attention to the details of a wedding too.

First of all, I have decided that my wedding gown will be as simple as I can help it – I hope it doesn’t have the poofy cagey things which makes it so difficult to walk. I also don’t wish to have everything elaborated and highly-ornamented because a wedding is suppose to reflect the celebration of joy and a life formed together before God, but those things need not be massive exaggerated affairs, do they?

I mean, sure I would like to have those lovely photographs and frames and guest books with ribbons, roses and sprinkles all over – or something to that effect. But please – let the bride be comfortable enough to participate in her joyous special day.

 

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Monologue

Ever since the advent of 2013 and the Lunar New Year, being in my twenty-sixth year has become somewhat monotonous and dismal. If I could wish for something, I would wish for Change. I would wish for Adventure and Excitement, and to do a series of crazy things. I would want to go travelling solo, write like a passionate lover, perform a musical instrument, teach beyond the classroom and syllabus, pick up a culinary or pastry class, spend time with people other than teacher friends (laughs), volunteer for a period of time, break out of the usual routine, of the usual norm.

This journal, weblog; this diary of sorts, has been a great company for the monotonous life of a twenty-six year old. My thoughts, personal or otherwise, are penned down in this space, painted on this WordPress canvas, and recorded for eternity. Sometimes I hesitate and safeguard my secrets more privately with a password; other times I do not. It is always about finding a balance between how much you want to disclose and how much you want to keep private.

But this sacred WordPress space is becoming like a sterilised white space, just like being enclosed in a sound-proof room where the air is stiff and stale and Silence rings louder than any other sound. This space where I have come to cherish and value as my own personal space seems to resonate with my non-fulfilment in life.

It is pointless verbalising your thoughts and opinions when your audience is non-existent or dumb. Perhaps in this case, a silent or absent audience is worse than a bad or distasteful conversation. Similarly, it is pointless describing the activity in your heart and mind and soul when they do not give birth to action. What value is there in talking about travelling or falling in love or growing closer to God spiritually, if I do not commit to live it out in actions? Are my words worth so little they only exist as long as the reader scrolls through the pages?

This monologue of ideas need to take flight and give birth to a dialogue, where every passer-by plays the role of reader and writer.

It vaguely reflects my life at twenty-six: a monologue of unfulfilled dreams and incomplete relationships. Now I need to translate that into a dialogue of dreams and relationships to be fulfilled and pursued. Will that work?

I Value My Personal Space A Lot

I am not going to lie… going out to mark today feels extremely pathetic and miserable. What’s wrong with you, hoshao!

Here comes the Chinese New Year break and many of us are thankful for the extended weekend up to Tuesday. It is tradition to have our family reunion dinners and familial and social gatherings during the first few days of the Lunar New Year, and needless to say, there were gatherings aplenty during the past few days at home.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not dislike family reunions or social gatherings. I think they can be very heartwarming and meaningful ways to spend your time, especially if the guest and host are genuinely and sincerely keen on wishing each other well this season. Which probably explains why I feel so bad and miserable having “work” sit like a stubborn mule in my head when I visit my relatives or have guests over at home.

I have not reached the point where all reunion dinners are meaningless and I look upon them with selfish disdain and cynicism. But I have reached the point where I realised how much I value my own personal space. Is it problematic that it has become a burden being at home the entire day with the whole family?

We wait around for everyone to wake up and have breakfast together, talk about the latest news reports in the papers, then every hour or so there is a phone-call that keeps one engaged in conversation for a few minutes, the television set in the family hall is switched on for hours on end because well, there are plenty of shows to watch (isn’t there? – well, no, there isn’t.), and someone is always playing the piano because well, it’s the holiday and when else can we afford time to practice our skill? Then suddenly guests pop by to visit mum – which is sweet but kinda irritating when they are unexpected.

So late this afternoon I decided to carve out some personal space for myself and packed and headed for the nearest shopping mall … with my marking in a second bag. I met a friend of a friend along the way, and he was nicely decked out in a checked pink top and pressed pants, and said he was going to visit his girlfriend’s family for the New Year. How sweet! In return, I said, “I am going to J8… to do some marking.” Which served as a really pathetic and awful response, honestly, to someone looking all handsome and suave ready to do some New Year visitation.

Nonetheless, if I had not gone out for a bit to finish some marking and take some time to breathe the outside air and talk to myself outside, I would probably be driven much closer to insanity this evening. I have come to realise how much I value and treasure my personal time and space. So much that even family cannot penetrate that space no more.

Let’s “Get Smart” Together

It is all around us, the message that our ability, most often measured by or closely related to our intelligence, determines how our lives will turn out. Our abilities are more or less fixed – if I am streamed into the Normal Academic stream, I should roughly live to perform as well as the slightly-below-average-to-average in life. If I am in an Express class, my teachers and parents will expect me to do well academically because… that is what Express students should do. We implicitly recognise our students as HA MA or LA, and more often than not, those labels tend to stick for some time. A MA student should always perform about average, and if he writes a HA essay, I would pause and re-read the essay in order to be persuaded a second time of its merit.

At one of the teaching workshops I attended yesterday, the mentors and course instructors were trying their best to make us recognise how prevalent and significant these messages about education, the value of our child’s intelligence, and their future opportunities are in our society. And as I chewed upon these things shared, I realised how often we too are the perpetrators of the very philosophies we do not want our students nor their parents to subscribe to – “I am NT only.”, “I am NA only.”, “I cannot do this like the other person can because I am not smart enough.”, “They will most probably end up at an ITE.”

Just this morning I woke up to a Facebook photograph a friend posted of her four-year-old sister wearing her junior college school uniform. The caption read, “All ready for ABC JC!” And immediately the alarms went off in my mind. Although the post, both photograph and caption, meant no harm and looks very adorable, the implicit message is that they look forward to seeing the little girl go to that junior college like her older sister. What happens then if the child grows up not being able to study in ABC JC? Will her life be tagged to the potential of a bright future in a particular junior college – such that if the dream does not happen, it means failure to a certain degree?

Our instructional mentors kept drilling into our heads yesterday how we must not take the students’ behaviour personally; that sometimes, it would be useful to just observe them in silence, and before thinking “Oh they are acting up again, what method shall I use to hold them down?”, think instead: “Oh they are acting up again, what are they feeling or thinking of right now? How can I help them feel empowered so they will feel that they can complete the task at hand?” Just last evening, a student dropped me an SMS claiming he was very stressed about a speech he had to write for the presidential elections for our CCA. “I can’t contribute anything.”, “I don’t know what to say”, “I don’t know how to do sia.” were among the messages he sent. It was the perfect way to try put what I heard that day into practice. After a few messages, he actually wrote a draft of it and continued to work on it meaningfully today – receptive to my suggestions and input to help him.

I guess apart from the strategies the sessions have shared with us to motivate and develop a student’s belief in effective effort, the course yesterday really was an eye-opener to the implicit messages our words and body language convey to our students, our colleagues and people around us. When we say, “you are so smart!” it simply means… nothing more than “you are so smart”. But compare that with saying, “you’ve worked so hard and gotten so smart!” What that really is saying is… your hard work and effort has paid off, look, you can become even smarter! And I think that is the (positive) message we want to give to our students.

So in today’s lesson(s), I was consciously trying to use the positive languages of “incremental growth theory” and help attribute a student’s performance to their effort rather than thin air. For their listening comprehension self-assessment, I went, “Well done! You must have listened out very carefully to the track!” For students who did well (or not), I asked them to “give yourselves a pat on the back for your good effort” and “I’m sure you can do better the next time round with more concentration!” When guiding the students to write the speech, I went, “I’m sure you have a lot of brilliant ideas for our CCA.” and “I’m going to give you some questions to help you lengthen your speech, okay?” and “Let me help you to add more things together.”

I hope hope hope the weekend doesn’t dilute this mental lesson, and sticking with it throughout next week, will slowly bring about some positive change and effect in the classroom. I think many of our students do need to realise and believe that effort on their part is the one thing that they can be control of to make a difference. Praying for the wisdom to share this great thought-provoking lesson with my kids. “Let’s get smart together.” :)