Monday, May 30, 2011

long piece! reflection of a class

[Warning: this is a long piece so you should either be very patient when reading it, or read it in pieces. The very proud author thinks that it will be worth the readers’ efforts.]

I teach for a living. That means teaching gives me life. I would like to think all my lessons are meaningful and helpful to the students. Sometimes though, I forget to live by the very lessons which I teach so earnestly.

The following transcript is an excerpt from a 80-minute class I taught to a group of 30+ teenagers. My topic was “Lessons I Learned from Nature”.

[I give each student a coin, and ask them to flip it to get either heads or tails consecutively for 10 times.]
Is it possible to flip a coin 10 tens, and get ‘heads’ 10 times in a row?
What about 100 times in a row? 300 times in a row?
Highly unlikely, isn’t it? Most of you said it’s impossible.
Do you know of every 1000 babies born in Malaysia last year, how many survived their first year? –994 out of 1000. That’s a 1-year old survival rate of 0.994.
What’s the age of the oldest human fossil found? –4.4 million years old*.
So, starting from at least 4.4 million years ago, your great-great-great….grandmother was born, and she gave birth to your great-great-great…grandmother, each surviving at least beyond their first year, until your grandma, your mom and now you. Taking the survival rate of 2010, do you know what’s the chance of you being here today?
The equivalent of getting ‘heads’ >600 times in a row!**
Is that even possible? No? But we are all here right now, aren’t we?
I see an insect mother lays hundreds of eggs, of which only a handful survive to adulthood. I see trees bear hundreds of flowers releasing thousands of seeds, of which only a handful of seeds sprout.
To survive is itself a miracle. You are a winner, if only because you are alive. Next time you feel bad about yourself and life, take a coin, and try to get 10 ‘heads’ in a row.

[For your sake, I will skip the Nature part for the following session]
What are you good at? Write down the one thing you think you do best, or like to do best.
Okay, now in groups of eight, I would like you to build a treehouse [but apparently city kids nowadays have no idea what a treehouse is, I should have used a ‘dog kennel’ instead]. Make sure everyone contributes with that one ability he/she is best at.
[They discussed and tried to fit into the project. Many had issues because they wrote down abilities like ‘swimming’, ‘eating’, ‘talking’, ‘sleeping’, playing computer games’…things that seemed very non-constructive and irrelevant to the project]
Ok, some of you think that you can’t contribute, that what you do best is quite useless. Really? Let’s see how we can make you useful. 
Swimming and eating, well you guys can go for competition or raise funds right? Eat 10 hotdogs in a minute.
Talking? Well, you can also raise funds with your persuasion, be our spokesperson, keep us entertained.
[In the end, everyone found at least one way in which they can contribute.]
Yes, everyone’s good at something, and you can be helpful to others in at least one way. You need to find that, and work on it.

[I will skip the Nature part for the following session]
I will read out a list of roles, if you belong to one of these roles, draw a line, and we shall count how many lines you have in the end.
Student, teacher, son, daughter, boyfriend, girlfriend, owner of a pet, friend, customer, grandchild, brother, sister, a buddy, a role model,…etc.
How many had 1 role? 2 ? 3?..5…12….18…21…? Wow, the least is 7 roles, and the most is 21 roles.
What does this tell us? Have you ever thought that you are at least 7 roles in one?
Can we be perfect in each and every role at the same time?
More importantly, if I am a lousy son, does it mean that I am also a lousy student? If I fail as a student, does it make me a bad brother? If I am an excellent girlfriend, will that also make me a nice daughter?
We have many many roles to play, we are many different persons to different people. Being a less than satisfactory ‘A’ DOESN’T MAKE you a less than satisfactory ‘B’. So if your teacher stamps you as ‘the worst student I have ever seen’, please don’t think that it also makes you the worst of every role you can play.

End of class.

After I got home, I thought about what I said in class that morning. The third session struck me the most because that was the point that I have somehow neglected for a while.
I have so many roles to play, I am a different role to almost every person I come in contact with. I would like to think that I play those roles well; at least I am happy in those roles. In other words, I think I am actually a good friend to many, a good son, a good brother, a good teacher, a good student etc. But there was one role that I thoroughly failed, and it has haunted me for years.
I was never a good boyfriend. I have never been a good lover.
Why do I say that? Because I was told that I was not there when I was needed, and I was there when I wasn’t needed. The tragedy that followed was more than enough to hammer the nail into the wall and pin down without doubt a sign that reads ‘Failed Lover’.
Usually I let stumbles go very easily and move on to the next challenge (or stumble haha), but I had the utmost difficulty letting this go. For you see, there was no other role that meant more to me than that of a lover.

After leaving Davis, my social circle took on a good change. I made many new friends in India and through my friends’ weddings, got back in touch with my students in Malaysia, and distanced myself (physically) from my friends in California. I started writing letters and cards again, such a wonderful habit! I also spent much more time communicating with my family now, though one can never make up for lost time. Through these all, and after my class that morning, it dawned on me that I have finally let it go. I still think that I performed terribly as a lover (no chance to improve until I get another lover, no?!), but I am very proud of all the other roles I play.

A few days ago I met up with my students for dinner. A few days later we went for badminton. Mingling with them was very therapeutic. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was about the interaction that made me feel good—I just did. I taught them when they were 9, 10 years old, and now they are 18. They have grown so much, and of course we interact differently than we did 10 years ago. Still, I love them as much as I did before and it’s very flattering to know that they are still eager to chat with me. To have been their teacher, and then a teacher-friend, is a wonderful transformation. Their respect and recognition of me have only grown. It also goes to show that students will ALWAYS appreciate a sincere and responsible teacher, albeit it may take time for them to realise it. That is already much more than I can say about what one can expect from your lover.

I have a friend whom I only met for a few days but we remained friends since. We communicated in the most romantic of ways—letters and cards. She and I are very different people, but I can safely say that we have truly helped each other in times of need of emotional support. Whenever I think of her, and of my other snail-mail friends, I understand that I mean a lot more to some people than I care to admit. Likewise, they make me proud of myself.

**Highly conservative calculation. The actual probability could be many many times lower.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Flowers are pretty
flowers are sweet
nectar offerings
bees busy slurping
if you listen carefully
in their hives you will hear
the bees whisper
not every flower is a honey pot
but each is worth a shot
if you listen carefully
in the breeze you will hear
the flowers humming
not a fruit every flower becomes
but a beauty they each once was.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

timak and bowie (2)

 Timak is slowly gaining the upper hand in their jovial jousting. When she first arrived, Timak was still small and had to be submissive most of the time. Even then Timak loved to cari gaduh with Bowie who's like at least 11 years her senior. Nowadays I see Timak climbing on top of Bowie often haha. I think Bowie also malas nak layan Timak but Timak's playful nature is very persistent.

 Snapshots can be misleading! In this picture one would have bet that Timak is a done deal.

 Then sometimes they become nice pals again and start licking each other. I have seen Bowie helped Timak groomed her fur with his teeth before (that's what dogs do, though I can't describe it properly), but never seen Timak do it for Bowie. Perhaps Timak is too young to know the trick yet? Hmmm....

I was surprised that Timak didn't pounce on my camera right after this picture.

But she ran over to the palm branch and began to fight it. What a worthy challenge!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

we be our own judges

when you are wrongly accused, 
when you feel unjustly judged,
don't lash back 
not immediately
stop, think, cool down
then act.
I assure you that you won't regret that moment of calm.

when your good will is ruined
when your gifts are mocked
when your tears flow in vain
don't blame
don't be ashamed
for everywhere there needs more people like us
give, and give, and give
and then
we give again.

we be our own judges
the hammer's held in our hands only
if slacking is what you wish today
then don't work
if breaking your back without pay is your desire
then don't stop
At the end of it all
nobody else goes into your mind
and tells you what you were
but your voice alone
as you heave 
your last breath.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Boom boom~

Thirteen minutes left in my lunch break, wonder if I can write a blog post before it ends?

A few days of last week were freakish. In terms of weather.
First it was super hot before 3pm. Well, about 33-35 Celsius la. The glare of the sun was so relentless that just standing out there gave me a headache in 5 minutes. Of course I needed to protect what's left of my little hair so I only challenged the sun with my scalp once.

Then after 3pm, you could see the dark clouds gathering in the sky and see no more. The whole sky became just a piece of blurry, dimensionless dark gray. You knew then the storm would be one of a kind (at least to us in Malaysia anyway,,,,takkan nak compare to those hurricanes and cyclones meh?).

Still, when the first crack came, it was startling.
Lightning flashed across the sky in symphony, east, west, north south, a lightning in every direction you cast your eyes to. Thunder, loud booming thunder shook from above and if I didn't know better, I would have believed that the thunder took physical form and was cracking the clouds from the top. Before one roll of thunder ended, another lightning lit up the sky, heralding the coming of another thunder.

I was reading at first, then realised that the incessant sounds and flashes were quite abnormal. I ran to the balcony and stayed there longer than I expected. Raindrops wet my face and head, washing away the heat of the hours before. It was a sensory feast!

Tropical thunderstorm. Yeah baby!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

the end is funny!

My best friend has left my side, but I am sure her phone calls will still plague me for a very long time.

Before she left, we had a ~2.5 hour chat over dim sum. Apparently she loves dim sum though I found that specific place just 'meh'.

We were both single (and still single haha), so naturally in between talking about ambitions/dreams (it was her birthday after all) we touched on our prospects of eventually ending our singlehood.

It was something we both hope for, yet also something we both don't dare to hope for.

This Saturday I will be part of my friend's wedding ceremony from start to end. I will be part of his Brothers Group (we will just get played a fool by the Bride's she-guards) in the morning and come evening I will be the emcee of his wedding dinner. I hope that the AWESOME positive energy of his wedding will blow away the dark clouds and the end of the ceremony, someone will tell me, not in a shy way,
"Eh, you quite good la. Still single? Me too. "
"Yeah still single ar. Interested in me ar? "
"Not interested la...just want to know you."
"Can, good good. Let me grab my angpow then we can go get a durian."

Wrote this post after I needed a break from correcting undergraduate's English for their FY project....

Thursday, May 12, 2011

It's Alive~!

In how many days of the past month did you feel alive?

Beneath my often rational reasoning, there runs a river of emotions.

I may be happy, I may be angry, I may be worried. I may be all of these at the same time.

Yet to feel alive, that's uncommon.

Thus when Life kicks in, I take in every single sensation it can give.

When I like someone, I feel alive.
I never felt the same when someone likes me. Only when I like someone, I feel alive.

When my actions helped to grow the confidence of others, I feel alive.
One of the strongest emotions I felt in my life was the pride that swelled in me when one of my students, she who was timid, shy and awfully indifferent to everything, raised her hand to ask a question in class. If my life ended there and then, I would have died a very content person.

When I develop a vision, I feel alive.
This was how I felt today. As I enjoyed dinner alone [my dad's herbal chicken was unbelievably delicious] tonight, my mind drifted to thoughts of my future. I remembered that I had wanted to start a business a short while ago. I told myself that I love to teach. Last week it occurred to me that I should help out at orphanage(s). One thought latched on to another, accelerating as they danced into a swirl in my mind even as I continued to eat. Before I finished the drumstick, the swirling stopped, and I had a vision. It was a philosophy- and passion-driven goal, equipped with a (general) practical plan and a healthy dose of romanticism. That's what I call a vision. For the second time in my life, I stamped an 'to do by X age' mark on something*. This time, X = 40.

What makes you feel alive?
Yes, you can reply "Reading your words make my cells dance!'.
I know it's true.

*1st time was 'to get my Ph.D. before 28'. I got mine at 27.

Volunteering for a positive purpose is a rewarding way to put life into your life.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


A close friend registered his marriage on Saturday.
I will be emcee for another friend's wedding in 3 weeks' time.

Time to dial my friends in India to check on their progress with mission "Find me a wife".

I am hoping that during my friend's wedding, there will be an overflow of charming, single ladies. If I can dazzle them with my awesome emcee skills on stage, perhaps I will be the second happiest man next to my friend that night :).

On the other hand, the excitement and pressure of hosting someone's wedding ceremony/dinner is scaring me...I hope I can sleep well over the next few weeks!

No picture for this post. Just imagine me with JEALOUSY painted across every cm2 of my face.