I am a Star Trek Convert

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I have never been a fan of spaceships, universes, outer space and planetary quests. I’m not even a big time travel fan. But watching Star Trek Into Darkness has made me a new fan of the Star Trek film series. Especially so with J J Abram’s directorship and some lovely screen actors and actresses to boot. So I just had to declare that I am a convert of Star Trek! I like it better than Star Wars now. 

 

The Fried Carrot Cake Story

I decided to apply for medical leave and not go to work today. As much as the runny mucus has dried up in the body of my nose, I was can feel the wave of cough and pleghm rise up and down my chest through my respiratory system. So after I pulled myself out of bed, I headed downstairs to buy breakfast – and quickly settled upon fried carrot cake and a mug of coffee. Now as I dig into the packet of warm and tasty breakfast, my thoughts went back to two years ago when having breakfast with our beloved Reverend Lai was a rather frequent affair. He loved the fried carrot cake downstairs – cooked by the same uncle who prepared mine this morning.

carrot cake

You see, there are two fried carrot cake stalls that are both a (less than) five-minute walk away from our block. We would always buy from this particular stall instead of the other – not only because the cake was tastier, which made the dish more delicious, Reverend Lai also talked about how the uncle who prepared the dish would be dating the very wok of carrot cake he was frying – “谈恋爱” – that was the term Reverend Lai used. No matter how long the queue was, the uncle would never rush through each wok of carrot cake because he seemed to really enjoy what he was doing – serving up delicious, tasty carrot cake to his customers, who appreciated the dish for the same reasons. Today as I dig into my packet of fried carrot cake, I realised he had also sprinkled some green spring onion garnishing on it. That always make the dish better.

At times, other uncles may take over the cooking, but the carrot cakes they produced would never taste as nice. They always seemed to be in a rush to serve up the dish fast, or to meet the demands of the many customers. There was once or twice when my mum felt the brunt of one of the uncle’s attitude when he showed her the huge pack of spring onions that were yet to be chopped up, after my mum requested for some spring onion garnish. Other times, the amount of carrot cake would be inconsistent – at times too little, at times too generous. The carrot cake may be messily chopped up and thrown into a packet or on a plate before being dished out. The layer of fried egg that is suppose to envelope the fried carrot cake may be miserable, burnt or inconsistently poured over the dish. But the carrot cake I am eating right now has just the right amount of fried egg wrapped around two distinct layers of carrot cake, cooked to a beautiful shade of brown. Yummy.

We would always enjoy the fried carrot cake served up by this particular uncle because he knows how to dialogue with his food. It was more than just cooking or running a business, it was probably a craft, a skill that required a degree of craftsmanship and professionalism to get it right. He mastered every flick of the pan and every tilt of the wok with such grace and art, never rushing and compromising on the quality of the conversation because of pressure or the long line of customers waiting.

Do we also dialogue with the important things in our life? Or do we give in and cave under pressure and “just do it”?

Sometimes we have dinner conversations with family, and although we sit at the same table, the conversation grows stale. I suppose perhaps we expect a conversation to roll out on its own, but a quality conversation will never materialise if we do not put our heart out on the table and share and listen.

Sometimes we have too many KPI and targets to meet, that they just become penmanship on paper, and we forget the true meaning or value behind why those targets were there in the first place. When we teach, do we let other things get in the way? I need to feed my students with model essays because I need to meet this target. I will let my students do all their assignments in class instead of teaching them responsibility and self-management when they bring home work to complete, because that is the only way I can ensure they get a grade.

Do we converse enough with the things that matter to us? Or do we just do it to get by?

Some food for thought from some simple carrot cake this morning, hmm.

World Beyond Me

The past few posts have been really selfish and possibly even arrogant. Tonight I wanted to try put into words the unspoken care and support God has given me through fabulous people I often take so much for granted. 

On Wednesday I had a dinner appointment with some old teacher friends. I was expecting a possibly awkward gathering given that four of them would be bringing their spouses or partners to the dinner. But I was left absolutely speechless when they surprised me instead with a cake, card and birthday earrings from Chomel. I have never felt so shamed and embarrassed at being so selfish before; and at the same time, so moved that Roomie See and those wonderful people were so genuinely caring and supportive. 

This evening as I was battling a prolonged bout of flu, I asked my brothers what they would like for dinner. Mum and sis had gone abroad for a month for a summer programme at Regent College (whee!), and I was to help stay above it all and make sure the house doesn’t fall apart. Tonight, they whipped up a meal for me because my birthday is a few days away, and the youngest brother would have to go back into camp tonight. They banned me from entering the kitchen and prepared a generous plate of pasta, cheese sausages and egg – how could they assume I have the same appetite as they? 

Despite a few nasty downers, the week has been looking up because there are just so many reasons to smile, and people around you remind you of those reasons. Thank you Lord, for this beautiful world. ;) 

Boy A

Boy A sometimes misses school for a few days at a time, sometimes up to a week, because of his frail health. He fell ill before his mid-year examination, and right after the exams had an appointment with a specialist. Yesterday I asked him how he was, and as much as it was a personal affair and he probably felt uncomfortable talking about it, he looked like he was really trying to be brave under that quiet, wide-eyed, good-natured and happy front. He explained what was the diagnosis and status objectively, and explained that he may have to go for an operation after a second check-up. “Are you okay, are you scared?” I asked him. And that was when he looked up at me and nodded and said, “Yes I am quite scared… because…” At that time I wanted to give him a huge hug to say, “It’ll be okay, don’t worry, be brave.”

This is the same boy who comes to school with a smile each day, helps to throw out the rubbish even though it isn’t his duty to do so, and is very adorable and slightly quirky. He reminds me a little of myself – he will walk straight towards his class, suddenly come to a halt, turn around, and bow and greet us, his teachers. I hope this boy finds peace and strength and gets well really really soon! Dear Lord, please keep him and comfort him with Your love and power. 

What are you in this for?

The inspirational ads the government has come up with on teaching turns me off – Mrs Chong, Mr Kumar, we all know those teachers exist in some form or another, but we also need to know that those campaign ads were created to serve one purpose – and in order to fulfil that agenda, glamorised and romanticised the occupation into a beautiful fictitious narrative.

I have had (and heard) numerous conversations about teaching. When I was still training to become an educator, I believed that a teacher does not choose his or her students; a teacher makes his or her students. That was the reason why I did not want to apply into a particular school, because I believed that God would lead me to a school according to His will – a place where I would be able to learn to become a better educator, grow as one, and learn to trust in the Lord Almighty as well. Two years since, I have had other conversations that seem to run against this principle. The notion that different teachers are suited to teach in different schools – is that true? Is that reason enough for a teacher to think about transferring to a different institution? Because the school “does not suit him or her”? As legitimate an argument it seems, it doesn’t seem fully sound either.

Guilt has plagued and frustrated me for awhile, feeling angsty basically at firstly, having angsty rebellious students who do not care to put in the effort and who disrespect the teacher, and secondly, having really meaningless paperwork pile up that screams for your time and attention. I think it is further compounded by the fact that I am at a spiritual low and have not been reading the Bible, praying nor enjoying fellowship.

So I ask: What am I in this profession for? When I shared some of these concerns with a few of my other teacher friends a few evenings ago, they reminded me that the result of this job is never instantaneous – you may never feel the sense of appreciation you humanly crave, or see the results of your hard work and heart work ever – but you must trust that if you put your heart and soul into your job, the students will feel it and ultimately, learn from it.

Are they right?

Sure they are, but in many ways, I wondered if they understood what appreciation I craved for. I do not desire presents, or teacher’s day cards, or thank you notes, or even good results. Heck if my students have a certain academic capacity, I don’t even expect them to blow me away with decent results. Much less desire students to come back three, four years after and make it big in their post-secondary education, and come back and acknowledge me as having played a small part in their success. I don’t expect any of those big glamorous things that the teaching ads are so good at conveying.

All I honestly really want, is for the students to show me that they are putting in the effort. Whether is it through submitting their assignments, or doing their work in class, or asking questions to show a desire to learn. Just do your homework – so I do not have to chase after you every day for weeks – and end up giving you a zero – because I hate to do that. Not because I am afraid to see a fat zero on your result slip lest I have to answer for it, but more because we all know giving you a zero doesn’t do any good to anyone. You, the student, don’t learn from not doing the assignment; the results are not a true reflection of your ability and is hence irrelevant; I don’t know how to help you because you have failed to do the assignment; it reflects poorly on your character and attitude as a student; and it affects your overall performance and perhaps your future.

Sigh.

So what am I in this for? Ungrateful students who may never come round and affirm the effort and care that you have invested in them? Someone who may end up insulting you and your personality whether directly or indirectly for years, not acknowledge your effort for them, and disappoint your aspirations and dreams for them?

Then I realised the answer, and this is what makes teaching so unbearably noble, if I may say so – that if you expect anything more to keep you going in this profession, then you may be rudely disappointed. The reason why so many teachers have such a big heart, is because they selflessly work for their students, not because they want to see the results of their hard work, or feel the sense of achievement when their students do well for an examination. Of course, those things would build up a teacher’s confidence greatly, and we do desire those things too. But if nothing comes out of it, if our students are unresponsive, if some of them don’t turn around, if they fail us and our expectations of them, if they don’t reciprocate the affection and trust we have invested in them, we might still be able to go on and thrive because we don’t look for those things. No matter how tough it gets, if you work hard because this is a calling – something beyond living for yourself – you would probably feel less uptight when a student fails you.

Is it possible for people to go on living like that?

Please pardon the rude, self-centred dialogue in this post as I struggle to find a way out of this garjumble of a mess of thoughts.

Had enough.

I have had it with their tardiness and irresponsibility, and for some of them, sheer complacency at thinking that things will roll themselves out into an acceptable OK mess, that their ability will get them somewhere.

I hate it that we have to answer to everybody … for somebody else’s results that is not a result of our tardiness, or irresponsibility or complacency. Why should we bear the brunt of their whims and fancies, and their targets and goals, when we have our personal aspirations and dreams to protect?

But of course, fiery passionate zest of beliefs can only last that long. They are authentic and true, powerful and legitimate, but they don’t last forever.

Today I called his mum to inform her of the consequence of his attitude. I just logged into Facebook and realised that today was his birthday. Well Done. It really must be a wake-up call for the family then. I just feel terrible for the mum. Terrible.