Memories

Are they your first form class?

She gestured to the class photograph on my cabinet. I couldn’t help myself but broke into narratives of individual little kids – one of them almost threw a fire extinguisher at their chairperson and another teacher, one cut himself with a penknife and had to be sent to the hospital after it bled out of his bag… these memories were priceless. And because they are priceless, they are also happy ones.

Our experiences, some though nasty, should be kept and stored as pleasant memories. After all, memories are but our way of remembering the past. If we choose to associate sadness and unhappiness with the past, our memories will be grey ones. But past experiences, unpleasant moments and discontinued friendships alike, can all be stored and saved as happy memories.

Those will make our lives more lighter, happier and more beautiful. :)

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Peace and Joy

sailing

Thursday, the 18th of December, was a significant day for many of us. I was worried for many things, with all sorts of thoughts floating in and out of my head. The following scenarios kept playing out in my head: What if the cohort did the worse out of the previous cohorts and was terribly unimpressive? What if the students did unexpectedly terribly? What if we did not do our students justice? 

I was not freaking out – I was still enjoying my little K reality drama show the night before and having a very restful sleep. But those thoughts did nibble at my mind every now and then. After a while, I realised that my biggest concern wasn’t the results analysis or what the school would think of the quality of our teaching, but the kids. This would mean so much to them, not just English per se, but all the other subjects together. This would mark the end of their journey of their Secondary education with us, and the start of a new one somewhere else. And what else could that be full of but hope and anticipation? I wish and prayed that they would see it as just that, no matter what the outcome of their N levels are. I prayed that they might have the wisdom and insight to recognise that every one of them would have a different path to travel, one that would suit them, one that would inspire them.

It gave me peace to know that the Sovereign Lord is in control of every single one of their lives, what we have no control over.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14:27

It also struck me that I have so much to be thankful for. Just when I felt extremely drained after close to four years of teaching them, it took the 18th of December to remind me why I enjoyed teaching in the first place. God is so good – this is the first cohort of students I have taught since 2011 as a beginning teacher, and it is such a privilege to be able to teach them English since four years ago – my very first cohort of students I have seen through to graduation. Of course, there are many things I have done (or not done) which I am not terribly proud of. There is always something more that could be done, and I could never compare to Jean or other inspiring teacher figures who have really chosen to give up almost everything else for their students. But I try, and I know that this is one class that I probably have the most personal relationship with.

I remember going through the feelings of anger, diasppointment, frustration with them; they have driven me up to boiling point, to my wits’ end. But by the beginning of this year, I think we have come to an acceptance of each other: my temper and whinyness on some days, their laziness on (most) other days, but our tolerance and acceptance towards all those things. It isn’t the most professional thing to do, but this is one class I felt I could rant and share about certain things with them, without worrying that they might hate or misunderstand me, perhaps because they have seen the ugliest and best sides of me, and I them.

Coming one full circle with this class of students is truly an amazing experience. I can truly say that I have grown to love and care for every one of them, even the most trying students. And I thank God for this wholesome experience.

So how did we do? By God’s divine grace, our school achieved 100% passes and an improvement in both the percentage passes and percentage distinctions from previous years. The breakdown of results analysis was not all that fantastic – I had expected some students to do better by 1 or 2 grades. This was where I felt we fell short, and we could have done more for these students. I realised that God gave us again, just enough, to make us realise that it is He who holds everything in His hands. If he had given us too much, I may have jumped through the roof and forgot that it is God who has always brought us through. So thank you, Lord, for your wisdom and grace is upholding me and my students all these years.

Hong Kong Diaries

This December, I went to Hong Kong for a short trip with M. In the five days there, I have returned wholeheartedly acknowledging the heartiness of food at the centre of Hong Kong’s lifestyle. It was massive, excessive even, and yet the amount of physical exercise we did on foot seemed to offset the indulgence we spent taking care of our tummies.

M was patient and accommodating, and we went around to some lovely touristy places and visited the streets of Mongkok and explored some of the lovely HK eateries. The best part of the eating must be the HK congee. I fell in love with the generous flavours and cook of the rice. Although I have never been a huge fan of porridge, I loved and polished every bowl of porridge I had in Hong Kong. We also had our fair share of egg tart and bread tasting at several bakeries, including Kum Wah Cafe & Cakes as well as Tai Cheong Bakery. There was a lot more variety and flavour in the food and I definitely enjoyed savouring each dish I was introduced to. I could not appreciate every dish though – the traditional HK dim sum with the beef balls and fish balls were strange to the palate and I had to rely on M to help finish up the food. But goodness we ate so much – almost every thing we had could have been halved and we would still be full. There just was not enough time spent in HK to fully explore the different foods and flavours!

We also went to Disneyland, Ocean Park, and The Peak – which were exciting places to spend time at. It would have been great if we had other company to give us that boost in bravery to take more rides. M isn’t quite a thrill seeker when it comes to theme parks, and I needed that extra persuasion to truly make our every penny count. It is my first time in Disneyland, and the experience was truly magical – it is probably the best time I had in Hong Kong these five days. We had a nice variety of thrill rides, fairytal-ish exhibits and performances, and delicious park snacks like caramel popcorn with Mickey sitting on the pack, and a Mickey Mouse shaped rice with grilled chicken from their Starlight Fast Food stop yum. M specially requested to stay for the evening parade, which really killed my feet by the time we got back to our hostel – but I thought was something we could not miss out on! It was amazing the lights, logistics and detail that goes into the parade, and I was nothing short of being blown away.

Our accommodation was at the HK Youth Hostel Association’s Mei Ho House at Sham Shui Po / Shek Kip Mei – one of the revitalisation projects that aimed to preserve the historical aspect of the district after the 1953 big fire that wiped out many families’ housing. The hostel was only opened a year ago, and the building was beautifully furnished, complete with a gift shop, laundry room, huge kitchen pantry, beautiful eclectic cafe, open-air lounge areas, and even an indoor museum that presented the story of Mei Ho House.

I did not think I would need that long to walk through the exhibits in the museum, but I spent almost one and a half hours in that 2-storey showroom. There was a fair balance of videos, photographs, artefacts from the past and more importantly, write ups that presented very honest but courageous real life stories of people who experienced the fire in one way or another. In the midst of the disaster, the strength and resilience of the victims of the fire really moved me in a powerful way – almost as if there was something that connected me with these families that I had not even met. The burning down of the residential buildings made way for restorative projects and the new housing policies from the government. It also brought out the best in other people in communities near and far. People who generously donated to the needs of the victims, people who contributed their time and energy to raise funds for the victims, even the victims themselves who came together to tide through the difficult times, sharing bathrooms and food and money. I was just amazed by the strength in humanity to face adversity in such a courageous way, something I am not sure I can manage. It is in times like these that we see the providence and sovereignty of our God who gives strength to the weary and hope to those in darkness.

It is a lot to take back, in a strange way. During the week-long vacation in Hong Kong, M visited her aunt several times, which allowed me opportunity for some personal reflection and prayer. As she shares with me the personal stories of her relatives and family in Hong Kong, what strikes me is that they have endured certain kinds of hardship that required them to stand up strong from beneath it by relying on the Lord, and in a very humble way, they have done so.

When my ankle gave me all sorts of mobility problems – we had to plan our itinerary around it in some way, resting at regular intervals, avoiding walking long distances (and eating more) – M’s relatives kept asking after us, reminding us to rest enough and apply medication and what not. As much as the attention can be overwhelming, their concern is undeniable as well. Despite wheelchair-bound, living in an elderly care home, M’s aunt bought pork buns for us as she worried we may not have time to grab dinner.

More than anything else, these five days gave me plenty of time to spend with my good friend and sister-in-Christ, and catch up on what has happened in the past one semester of our lives. We had plenty of time to pray and think and engage in conversation, and I give thanks for that.

Lots of take back, lots to remember to keep moving forward.

Messages

I gained two distinct messages from the trip.

Set higher standards. God will not compromise His plans for you and so shouldn’t you.

The last guy I had a ‘crush’ on had a whirlwind of problems. Mister Shao need not and should not be perfect, but to say that his spiritual life was a roller coaster up and down is an understatement. :/ I had forgotten what it should be like: having like-minded people to engage in edifying conversations. I had forgotten what it felt like to have quality, uplifting fellowship with others, and how much I actually desire it. I had forgotten that it is not enough that someone craves spiritual intimacy with God, or attends church every week or prays every day. Mister Shao needs to live out his faith through his speech and actions, his advice and prayers. Will he be able to lead others in prayer? Will he be able to give out sound biblical advice when others are confused or troubled? I think these things will determine how ready a man is to lead another in a relationship. And I know that God will not compromise on His plans for me and go, “aye, she’s running out of time. How about let’s match these two together, they will do.” So why should I allow myself?

Get your act together. Your expectations slacken because your relationship with God has grown distant.

Obviously if the quality of expectations I set for a Mister Shao are in question, then it reflects my spiritual relationship with God as well. If I am resting in His abundant grace, (1) I would not think that Mister spiritual-life-was-a-roller-coaster-is-an-understatement-guy is acceptable. That, would be settlingAnd (2), I would be so joyful being busy with other things – serving in church, at work, socialising with friends in healthy activities – not trying desperately to get my act together and stand on my own two feet, not constantly asking myself what I need to do to get my life in order. The fact that I am trying to get my life in order and exercise some spiritual discipline, shows just how slack I have become. The only way to understand the will of God, is to know Him through His word. Please, get your act together, hoshao.

 

A Second Life

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Writer: I would read, so much, that my knowledge of books would fuel my love for words, for ever. Because words are not cheap, I would write only those things that matter, give myself a voice.

Anthropologist: I would sit by a windowsill with a cup of coffee, enjoying the unadulterated bliss of people watching and sketching in my plain modest notebook. It does not matter what brew the coffee is, that is the barista’s to mind. Mine would simply be to observe, patiently, understand and appreciate.

Cafe owner: I would create a space for working adults to live and relax, with friends or family. An area away from work and politics that exists solely for the purpose of rejuvenating souls who come through the doors. A space with wooden shelves filled with literature that would revitalise the soul and inspire conversations from the heart. Working hand in hand with able bakers and baristas to reach out to the greater community.

Wife: I would brew a fresh simple cup of coffee every morning for the husband before he goes to work. No frills and other elaborate fancies that could complicate the modest empowerment of a cup of coffee. It would be his morning dose of caffeine to enrich his mind body and soul as he labours in goodwill for the Lord. It would be a constant staple in our marriage; a way to say “I love you.”

And if I could not live those lives, I would at least fulfill those same purposes. I would read and write, and give myself and people like me a voice. I would spend simple hours in life understanding and appreciating others, being thankful for the world as it is. I would create my own classroom, my own space, where I am, and rejuvenate hearts and minds of people I come into contact with. I would be the faithful prayerful wife to a God-fearing husband, the ardent supporter and devoted lover.