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The beginning of another month, another batch. I must keep my resolve to finish another batch. I have finished two batches already and that's not bad for a start. Why do I even want to do this? It is good discipline. I am looking at the end of paid vocation. It may not be at the end of this year, but it will happen. When it happens, I want to be prepared for it. This is what I can do, and go on doing, into my twilight years. This is what I enjoy doing. It is authentication of my being
One of the essays I read in the book "What Should We Be Worried About?" (Harper Perennial) was this one by Nicholas Carr. He worried about "The Patience Deficit". He says research done in 2007 shows that for people shopping on the Internet, if it takes longer than 250 milliseconds to load a page they will skip it and go to another page. We will not wait a quarter of a second! Back in 1996, it was 4 seconds! Time is relative. Our idea of what constitutes a long wait is now done to milliseconds - a blink of an eye!
The search for MH370 is now only in the southern Indian Ocean. Here's a thought: what if the search south is a diversion? What if they are luring all the TV and news crews to Australia so that they can mount a discreet operation to free the hijacked plane that they have reason to believe is somewhere near Pakistan or Central Asia? I hope to God that this is true, because then, the people could still be alive somewhere. That would explain why nothing is found after so long. But if it is a diversion, it's a very expensive one!
He left the country after finishing med school with his wife and baby to serve the poor in a foreign land. Others would find a good job, settle down, then buy a property and work the rest of their lives to pay off the mortgage. Then they go into retirement enjoying the fruit of their labour. But he bucks the trend. After twenty years this missionary doctor returns and lives in the university quarters, without a car, a flat and a television set. He still looks for the poor, the underprivileged and the lonely in society, and serves them selflessly.
It's been more than a month since the Malaysian Airways jet disappeared. In the first few weeks, we had round-the-clock reporting on all channels. Now, they have run after another quarry: Oscar Pistorius! Why is there a need to tell the whole wide world every single lead that the investigators have on the missing plane? Don't people know that it compromises the investigation because the perpetrators - if there are any - would know, and they would move the plane, if it has indeed been hijacked. One British minister put it nicely - "we don't know whodunnit, or whatdunnit and whodunwhat".
It was during the long drought in February that I realise we are at the mercy of the elements. Yes, we can get water from the sea through desalination, or recycle waste water. We will have access to safe drinking water for all our needs. No one need fear that we would ever run out of water. But there was no rain. Not a drop. Should we be afraid? I think we should. It is not just access to water that makes life bearable. We need rain for our sanity. The thought that we cannot make it rain is terrifying.
I saw him hold the one-foot long catfish with his left hand and stroke the length of its body with his other hand. The fish was partially in the water and it was just lying still, seemingly enjoying the touch of his hand. He explained that the catfish enjoys physical contact. "But you don't want to do this. His jaws are very powerful. He will snap at your hand and you could be really hurt." The catfish does not bite him because the catfish knows him and trusts him completely. My son has a way with animals- even fish!
Some time this year, the school administrators will have a staff interview with me. This annual exercise usually lasted no more than ten minutes. The principal asks all the questions and the rest of the deputy principals, all five of them, sit nodding their heads, and if you are lucky, smile in support of what you say. This year, I am expecting something more to be said. They will ask me for my plans, or they will tell me their plans for me. By the end of this year, I will be 62. They may even retire me without notice.
Am I concerned about being retired? I will have no severance package. There is no "golden handshake". Unlike other teachers in the civil service, I am not under any pension scheme. From having a monthly salary to nothing at all should terrify me. But I am not breaking out in cold sweat. Neither am I going to beg them to retain me. They have retained older staff before on a different contract. Also, there are other forms of teaching arrangements available in the civil service. But really, forty years of teaching is really quite enough. Whatever it is, I'll live.
I have thought I would write for some loose change now and then if they retire me, but after looking around, I realise there won't enough to pay the bills. It will keep me from going senile, but I will still need a paying job for my own upkeep, howbeit less demanding than the full-time teaching I am now doing. Although no one talks about it, this society is ageist. While they should value us for our experience, they are concerned about our "use by" date. They don't think we can be as productive and agile as younger employees.
Technology is so pervasive today that we are constantly hooked to gadgets, to media and to the internet. We are totally immersed in a web of information, communications, media and entertainment and can never be totally free. It is pervasive, ubiquitous and stifling. It pollutes the very air we breathe. The mind is never free from the constant digital input. We are not aware of how our mind is being changed by digital technology and media. The unshackling of ourselves from slavery to technology requires deliberate effort. It is important to fast periodically from our gadgets for a digital detox.
It's Open House once again. The crowds came streaming in even before all the booths were set up. Two young ladies from my Higher Level class have volunteered to help, and they were there at their station when I showed up at the auditorium at 8.30 in the morning. It is always better to have the students themselves answer questions from their perspective. They know other aspects of the curriculum that their teachers are not familiar with. Besides, being in the programme themselves, they have first-hand experiences to share, and that makes their explanation all the more authentic.
What makes us human? Interesting question. There are many easy answers. I heard this one today, and I thought it makes a lot of sense. It is being able to make things with our hands, or being able to connect directly with the land, with nature. For some, it means making things out of what we find in nature - wood, bamboo, cotton and other natural material. To others, it could mean growing plants, or keeping pets. Even sports like canoeing, sailing, swimming or hiking can make us feel more human. What makes us human makes us glad to be alive.
The speaker works among inmates in Changi prison. He had asked to conduct some classes for them and the prison authorities say they can only attend classes during yard time. Yard time is precious to them, and few would give that up for anything. Still, he went ahead with the classes. One of the men who had turned around after his classes told him what he learned: getting what you want does not always make you happy. That's because we don't always want what's good for us. He had been living life his way and this what it came to.
This is the day of the first "blood moon" - the first of four lunar eclipses between 2014 and 2015. This has significance to apocalypse watchers, although I rather doubt if there is any significance at all. But then again, I really don't know that much to be sure. The day was quite uneventful otherwise. The last class of this long day, a Diploma Geography class, took a scheduled term test, while I caught up on my reading. I did not drive to school today, so I went home by public transport. It's a very ordinary day, a rather delightful day.
The Environment class has an assignment today. The class is divided into two groups to talk about whether a Mass Rapid Transit rail should be built through the MacRitchie Reservoir, which is in our Central Catchment Reserve. One group argued from the point of view of the government, the people concerned with infrastructure development. The other group is to represent the interests of civil societies such as Nature Society and the communities living near the reserve. This is not a debate, and the point of the whole exercise is to learn to listen emphatically. Everyone should come out a winner.
The grass in our school field is always green. During February's drought, it became very obvious to our neighbours that it is artificial turf. We called our field Astro Turf. There was a stray cat that made this field its home, and the community of students its family. The students affectionately called it Astro the Cat. Astro climbed onto park benches where students did their homework, and ate scraps of food they offered. I know Astro died last year, but it was only this morning, that my students told me how it died: it was mauled by a stray dog!
Good Friday. The part about the service I love best is TT's flawless rendition of the song, Gethsemane. After the sermon, we were asked to write something we want to make right or be forgiven, on a red piece of paper. Then, we were to bring it to the front of the sanctuary and place it in a blue box in exchange for a white bookmark, signifying that the slate is wiped clean. I had not expected anyone to be brave enough, but after we were assured that no one will read the notes, almost half the congregation went forward.
Henri Nouwen, in Eternal Seasons, wrote "To live in the world without belonging to the world summarises the essence of the spiritual life. The spiritual life keeps us aware that our true house is not this house of fear.. but the house of love, where God resides." I don't think he means for us to live a hermit's life, detached from the realities of this life. I understand this to mean that we should not crave material possessions or wealth. This material life is not all there is. We have a spiritual house, so we should not crave material things.
My favorite book store in town has announced that they will move one floor up to smaller premises, taking over the units to be vacated by my favorite Art store. It is a sad day, because I would have fewer reasons to spend much time in town. Operating costs are very high here, so high that big book stores have been closing one after another. Take for instance, Page One. We used to go to Vivocity because of this huge book store. When the rent became untenable, they closed their flagship store here and focus on operations all over China.
There were nearly eight emails regarding An's absence this morning. His teachers were after him for one thing or another. He had been absent from school for two weeks because of chicken-pox. His medical leave officially ended last Thursday. When he did not come for classes today, the matron went to his room only to find him still asleep. He lied that he had another day's medical leave. I would have cut him some slag, but his arrogant disposition did not warrant any leniency. I know he is just a kid, but he has to learn to live responsibly.
I have six minutes left before my next class. Let's see if I could write one hundred words in five minutes. This morning was mostly boring. Even my own lessons was boring to me. The students were nice about it. They sniggled when I said I have been to Kumammoto. I was talking about the Minamata Disease. "I know half the time you don't believe me when I tell you things, but this time, I really have." They sniggled again. But I was there, in 2005, at Minamata. I went to the museum and I had spoken to the victims.
I had just gone to tell the class that school dismissal is an hour earlier, in about 15 minutes. Our class today is cancelled. I would not blame them if they had broken out with cheers and squeals of delight. Instead, I could have sworn they were disappointed! Someone even said, "But we would rather have a class. It's more enjoyable. What are we going to do in these 15 minutes?" Right. I'm supposed to believe that! They have a problem with early dismissal! "May I suggest you try having lunch or play a game of catch in the field?"
In class today we talked about deep ecology. Our discussion centred on the man who first coined the term: Arne Naess. Naess was a Norwegian who died at a ripe old age of 97, some years back. What was it? January, 2009? He was the first president of Greenpeace, Norway, and had spent 25 years of his life in a hut on a mountain. While I extolled his great fortune of being able to live in a vast wilderness with such awe inspiring view all around, my students quipped, "He must be so lonely!" Alright, so I failed to inspire...
What is justice? I have just watched two episodes of Michael Sendel's videos. The rest will have to wait til the weekends. In one episode, he says, to Aristotle, justice means giving people what they deserve. But who deserves what and why? He gives the example of the flute. Who do we give the flute to? To anyone who can play the flute? Or, to the one who can play it best? Why? Because that's what flutes are for. Flutes are for producing excellent music. Give it to the one who can produce the most excellent music. That's simple enough.
I have just seen geese fly! Big deal, you may say, but, hey, I am in a city, a concrete jungle. We don't even see birds very often, let alone geese. We are grateful for this little corner of the city where we could enjoy an intimate moment with nature. I am here at the Botanic Gardens, a heritage site, with manicured lawns and thoughtfully landscaped gardens. The geese swooped overhead and descended on the grass at the far end of the pond. There's a guinea fowl waddling near me. Here, in the tranquility of the gardens, birds fly unmolested.
I quote Joseph Campbell: "It takes courage to do what you want. Other people have a lot of plans for you." Let me try to unpack this quote. Firstly, we need more than courage to do what we want. We need wisdom. Oftentimes being able to do what we want may not necessarily make us happy, and not being able to do what we want may not be that bad. But it is true that we should not let others decide what we should do, especially when we are old enough to decide for ourselves, and know what we want.
I was driving along the AYE (Ayer Rajah Expressway) at about 6.50 in the morning. Traffic was a little heavier than usual for this time of the morning. I got on to Lane 1 for a speedier ride. I couldn't be driving any faster than 80 kph, because I had just passed the 90 kph speed limit camera. Near Clementi, I noticed the traffic had gotten thicker as cars poured in from the Clementi and West Coast entrances on to the Expressway. I had already slowed down, but I suddenly realised that the cars in front are barely moving.
That's when I realized that I was not slow enough and I would soon hit the car in front. I jammed on the brake, and floored it with all my might, until the car stopped, just a whisker away from the car in front. Then I heard loud banging, screeching, screaming, honking. Oh no! It was a pile-up! I didn't get out because I was sure the car behind did not hit me. Instantly, the cars in front started moving. I drove off. Back at school, I checked my Suzuki. Phew! Not a scratch! I hope no one's hurt.
The flowering of roadside trees has stopped. The colours are gone, and left the city in a state of dull green and brown, the brown of fading blossoms. For a while, we had delighted in the changing colours of the seasons common to more than three-quarters of the rest of the world's population. That was the result of an uncommon month-long drought that coaxed the trees to flower when the first rains came. I became aware of how I have been lulled into complacency about the wind and the rain - the elements, basically - because of our seasonless existence.
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