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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

P Bullied Gong-Gong

The little girl sitting next to Little Boy in class is called P. And get this... she is a Prefect (i.e., an upstanding member of the school's student leadership committee). The reason why P the Prefect has been placed next to Little Boy is that a girl prefect has been assigned to every absent-minded boy... and a boy prefect has been assigned to every absent-minded girl.

This shows that the Teacher has some grasp of child psychology. At 10, boys and girls don't mix. The boys think the girls are mean and evil creatures. The girls think the boys are irritating and smelly beasts. It's much easier to snitch on a boy if you're a girl. Judging by the awful scoldings Little Boy has been getting, I would say that P has been doing some very enthusiastic spying and snitching.

"Hmmmm... a spy.... Is she pretty?" I asked.

"No way!" said Little Boy. "She has 2 funny ponytails sticking out from behind her ears, pulled so tight that her eyebrows have gone permanently up her forehead. Definitely not pretty. Besides, she is scary. How can scary people be pretty?"

Now, P the Prefect hates Science and she proposed to Little Boy that if he allowed her to copy his Science homework, she would not rat on him. In fact, P the Prefect even devised a schedule of rates. For every 5 multiple choice questions she gets to copy from him, Little Boy earns ONE rat point. For every one open-ended question she gets to copy, he gets ONE rat point. Each rat point can be used to redeem one instance of "don't tell Teacher I forgot to bring my book/homework/art".

"But Mom... I'm still scared of her," said Little Boy. "She can be temperamental and if she's in a bad mood that day, she'll still rat on me no matter how many Rat Points I have collected. "Next time," I advised "you tell that little Russian girl spy whose meanness makes up for a lack of looks, that you will NEVER allow her to copy your work if she rats on you even ONCE."

"Hmmmm... I can do that?" he asked.

"Why not? You won't know till you try. Don't be the one to get terrorised. Let her experience some stress too huh? You can still let her copy later if she is nice to you," I spluttered.

Milo, our Rottweiler

I am always a little sad that friends and neighbours never get to see the tongue lolling smiley side of our Milo. Our dog is that Leather Pants Biker Dude who drinks milk and hugs Pooh Bear to bed. You either see the Leather Pants Biker Dude. Or you see Pooh Bear. You don't see them both together.

Milo greets every visitor with a snarl. When visitors come, my dog throws himself at the wrought iron gate teeth gnashing and paws akimbo. It's an impressive sight and sound because Milo weighs 28kg. One big dog against a heavy wrought iron gate. Who will win? The visitors to the house are never too sure. They usually hug the wall when they walk across my study to the bedrooms even though the gate separates them and Milo, and a distance of 3.5 m separate them from the gate.

Milo has got so big that the condominium guards call the house first before they arrive to do their rounds on the roof. This was because Milo chased one hapless guard right around the roof. I was very upset with Milo and very embarassed. And it cost me ONE whole apple pie to soothe the fears of our condominium's security guard corps.

Milo dislikes dark skinned men. When he was only a puppy, some dark-skinned men in blue overalls frightened him so badly that he peed where he was not supposed to. Since then, he reserves his most violent welcomes for dark-skinned men... complete with bared fangs and snapping teeth. When he is that way, I hardly recognise him at all.

He never barks at long-haired girls. He'll chase them with a happy smile on his face and look puzzled when he realizes that they're not his Darling (i.e., The Daughter).

I suddenly realize that he must have grouped humans into species. There is the species of tall, dark and ugly men (the scary ones) and the species of tiny long-haired and fair-skinned women (the nice ones that scratch his itch in places he can't reach) and feed him titbits by hand. I am told that Milo possesses the personality of a Rottweiler - a snarling wolf with strangers, but a lamb "en famille". The same person said that I should be proud of such a dog because he would guard both house and home, and be completely loyal to me. Still, I do wish Milo would be more sociable, like our neighbour's vegetarian Golden Retriever.

Our neighbour's Golden Retriever is terrified of Milo. He's skinny and quiet and will gently sniff one's hand when offered. Not frisky. Not nervous. Just calm and quietly friendly. Possibly, being vegetarian has something to do with it? It is quite unfortunate however, that the neighbour's vegetarian Golden Retriever has a poor appetite. The neighbour confided this sadly to me and proposed that it may be because of loneliness. It was very difficult for me not to volunteer my own theory... that ummm... dogs are actually carnivores. They eat meat, not soya beans.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Machines Feel

I believe from the bottom of my heart and the depths of my soul that machines feel. They get hurt when you speak badly of them, and they get mad when you bang on them. Then, they will break down... stop work... go on strike. I came to that sound belief through rigorous experimentation. There was a time when I had to make photocopies - a regular Girl Friday, you know. It was the same machine, and we were 5 people. Somehow, when another Girl Friday was at the machine, it would break down every 7 pages or so. The Other Girl Friday cursed and swore... and the machine stayed resolutely silent. She leaves the machine and stomps off to do something else.

I come quietly behind... surreptitiously even. I gently pat the photocopier on it's hood, and whisper gently that I know it is a good machine and that I love it very much. Lo and behold! The photocopier wakes up and prints MY 300 copies in good humour.

As things turn out, The Daughter has absorbed many of my beliefs and values (through breast milk, I guess), and she too has an ingrained habit of being nice to machines. I even apologised to my Brother multi-function laser printer for accidentally breaking the feeder tray. Oops!!

The Husband, however, repairs machines for a living. He does so competently enough that people pay him to do that. He, of course, sniffs at my beliefs.

It was a mistake last night with our projector.

It was movie night and the projector decided that it would just go yellow. The projection on the wall glowed a bright yellow. We were watching a yellow movie. And The Husband was not pleased. He spoke derogatively of our projector. He cursed. He swore. He stomped about and changed this cable... and that cable. He did stressful diagnostic tests to "pinpoint the root problem".

Still yellow.

The Daughter waltzes into the room and declares "Dad... be nice to him and he will behave." I added "That's what I said, but he won't listen to me." The Husband opened and closed his mouth like a goldfish and said "Fine, you so smart, you fix it." The Daughter walks up and pats the projector's hair, strokes its ears, and then bends down to kiss its nose for good measure. Twice. She spoke nicely, said sorry for her Dad's uncouth behavior and she assured it that it was a very well loved member of the family.

Then, she switched it on. It worked fine, and we watched our movie. See! Machines have feelings.

Reaching the Tipping Point in Chinese: Part III

You can access Reaching the Tipping Point in Chinese Parts 1&2 here and here. We've reached the tipping point I think.

I consider Tipping Point reached when Little Boy recognizes enough Chinese words to enable him to read books he enjoys at his age. Previously, he possessed so little vocabulary that he was constrained to reading books for toddlers. He hated to read in Chinese because the content of what he read was either too childish (since all he could understand were baby books)... or the language was so difficult that he couldn't get at the content. He would look pained every time I proposed a Chinese storybook. And I could not help him by reading to him because I dunno the language. Now, he reads competently.

So, I've decided to stop getting Little Boy to memorize Chinese model compositions. It is time to move on to reading for pleasure, and through that, learning without seeming to. Oddly, it is Little Boy who is not coping well with this transition. Memorizing chunks of text from a model composition gave him a feeling of progressing. When he recited each chunk to me, he felt that he had learnt something. The activity has a clear beginning and an end. "Mom, just reading has no structure. I don't get a sense of having achieved anything or going anywhere," he complained. Also, he liked the improvements that he had experienced and saw no reason to stop.

I saw many reasons to stop. Firstly, it is inordinately time consuming. Secondly, it looks so painful. Thirdly, Little Boy knew many phrases and words that he could say but could not write. He had lots to say but was verbally constipated.

We needed time to stop absorbing language and begin producing it. So, we've moved on from memorizing regularly to reading and writing regularly. Until I proposed writing regularly, Little Boy was still unhappy about not memorizing. Now he is happy because he again has an activity that has a clear start and an end. Having completed half a page of story writing, he can look at his work and feel a sense of achievement.

This is not surprising. Designing short activities with clear start and end is one of a basket of motivation strategies that build self-motivation for activities that aren't inherently enjoyable. This can be an especially effective strategy if people around make it a point to celebrate the end of each short burst of activity. Pleasure may be had by counting off each chunk like some people count the number of sheep they sheared even if sheep shearing is tedious. Even more pleasure can be had in counting the number of sheep sheared in record time, especially when sheep shearing is tedious.

Truly, Little Boy accomplished a feat in record time. In 5 months, he has memorized more than 24,000 words. In a way, this works like a sweetener for bitter coffee. Some activities are inherently sweet and enjoyable. Others are not. Activities that are naturally bitter can be sweetened by simply designing them to be short, with a clear start and end, so that they can be counted like trophies on a stick... or like shrunken enemies' heads strung along a Dayak Chieftain's belt.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

When David Met Goliath...

WHAT did his mother say?

This piece is an allegory... and only one person in the world will know what it means. But it is also a story that Mommies can relate to I think.

We all know the story of David and Goliath. A young teen hardly out of puberty takes on the tallest and broadest (maybe not brightest) Philistine of the time... and wins with a pebble. Oh... it is a testosterone pumping story of epic proportions alright and sets afire the hot blood of every male three year old who listens wide-eyed before bedtime and imagines himself David.

What do Mothers feel when their children have to meet Goliaths?

If Mother were herself a Shield Maiden (i.e., one who knew about fighting... one trained to fight... had fought, had lost and had triumphed before). She has worked with David for years. She watched him grow, taught him his first moves... and lately, David has been nothing but disappointing in his moves. And yet, he can turn around and smile and say "I can get him good Ma!"

How would Mother feel? Panic doesn't even begin to describe that feeling. It's the sort of panic that sends the blood pressure soaring in no minute flat. A cold hand grips one's heart and you can feel an evil smile at your neck.

And it is at that point that Mother needs to understand that she is Mother no longer... that her role as protector and defender of her young is over. She must let go so that God may take over, and make something great of her children. You see, after you've taught them your moves, that they won't learn, they just might go out there and win their battle with a pebble. Notwithstanding this, I refuse to watch them fight.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

House Construction 13: Some Lessons on Managing the Process

Blog readers have wondered about The House. What's happening there? What high drama? What have I learnt? What's happening next and what else should Petunia be looking out for? Of those reading this blog, there are some who are here to learn about house building. There are others who are from the industry. There are also others who have completed the building of their homes and stand ready to offer advice. These last 2 groups of people have been instrumental in keeping Petunia alert to possible shenanigans and pitfalls in the building process.

That has been very helpful... so, thank you.

Building a house from zero is daunting, not least because one knows nothing at all about how it is done. How do you interpret the soil test report? What is concrete? What are steel rebars? How strong is strong enough? Why does concrete need to cure?

Over time, I learnt that managing the house construction process is no different than managing consultants (HR Consultants, medical professionals, researchers, teaching professionals), each individual with a deep body of expertise. Experts always disagree. Experts will always try to convince you of their expertise. Experts have pride and don't like to be thought wrong.

Once you accept this, things become easier.

Next, there is a realization that each person in the building team (architect, main contractor, quantity surveyor, resident technical officer and structural engineer) are business people. They all have their own agendas. And in the push and pull of the different agendas, my own agenda may suffer. Hence, I became sensitive to the need to TRIANGULATE information. I made sure that I took in information from all parties involved before deciding on anything. I also took in information from friends, blog readers, the internet and found material published by the Building Construction Authority. Always, I made sure to check whether the personal agenda of the expert advising was aligned to mine. If it was, fine. If not, think twice. Often, I took my time to decide, especially when the issue was complex and important. Here is an example.

In some parts of my house, there are steel columns. These columns are welded to a base. I was concerned about the strength of these welds, and so I asked somebody standing there about the strength of the welds. This person (NOT Mr Grizzly himself) assured me that the brick walls going up around the columns would help the columns stay up. It was easy enough to email people asking "Do brick walls support columns? Or do columns support brick walls?" One particular reply sounded aghast at the stupidity of my question... "Petunia, if brick walls support columns, what are columns for?" From there, it was not difficult to pull the rest of the team together to get every weld checked and tested... and to get proper reinforcements to the key parts of the steel structure. In this case, my agenda aligned with the Structural Engineer's agenda because if my steel columns gave way, the Structural Engineer loses his license to practise.

Here is another example.

One expert thought the other expert's aluminium frame design was not robust enough, and vice versa. When both argued in technospeak I decided to back off and observe. Then I did my own asking around. Finally, I communicated that the person who could put his resources where his mouth is, was deserving of trust. Mr Grizzly is now working on a warranty document that puts his resources (his name, reputation and money) on his design. To Mr Grizzly, his company is his life. I don't need to understand the technospeak, I just need to know that the man cares for his name and will not lightly put a pledge on his proposed design if he weren't sure. In this case, I reckon that Mr Grizzly's agenda aligns with mine.

What do blog readers (those in the industry) think?

Monday, April 18, 2011

He's Lazy Liar!!

Teacher phoned me today as I pulled into the parking lot. She sounded upset and rude. I had mixed feelings as I walked into the school. One part of me was ready to do battle on behalf of my son, ready to tell off an unfriendly and unreasonable Teacher. Another part of me said that it was important to understand Teacher's perspective before I clobbered her verbally... eyes afire, arms about my son and every muscle of my verbal skills at the ready to shoot arrows of deep hurt into her soul.

"Seek first to understand, and then be understood" I muttered to myself.

Teacher was upset because Little Boy had forgotten his homework THREE times in a row. It's a long story of absentmindedness. Understandably, it is hard for any adult to understand how a child can forget his homework THREE times in a row, especially when today's excuse was "My mom used my homework to clean the windows". It like saying "The dog ate my homework". Gee... which Teacher would believe you huh?

Nonetheless, every word of that was true. This set of homework is printed and distributed every week to students. It has simplified newspaper articles and English grammar exercises for students. It is printed on newsprint paper. Our domestic helper found it lying around and she did actually use it to wash the windows.

Whatever it is, Teacher hit the roof and hauled me in to complain. I listened carefully and then I sent Little Boy outside to wait. I explained to Teacher that Little Boy is no liar and he is not at all lazy. He is, however, very dreamy and he has been under a lot of stress lately because he worries about his exams a good deal. Also, since his first scolding 2 weeks ago, he has been petrified. The more he worries about getting scolded, the more he is distracted. The more he is distracted, the more he forgets. The more he forgets, the more he gets scolded. I explained that I understood why Teacher was mad and that if I were Teacher, I would be too. "Whaaaaat? You forgot your homework THREE times and you tell me your mom used it to wash the windows?! Can't you think up a better excuse?!" I would have said, if I were Teacher.

I explained to Teacher that Little Boy has been too ashamed to even want to go have lunch at the coffeeeshop near the school, lest he run into the classmates who had witnessed his humilation. I also explained that Little Boy had miserably told me that his Teachers don't like him. Then I told Teacher that Little Boy is conscientious to a fault. As I talked, Teacher's face softened. Then she nodded her head and we worked out a way to put my gong-gong back on track.

We then explained to Little Boy together that a Teacher who didn't care would not bother to address the issue with me. That sometimes, love can be tough, but it is still love. I'm hoping that it'll all work out from now on. Sigh! When do gong-gongs grow out of their gong-gongness?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Becoming A Great Cook

Quite by random, I have come across a way to become a great cook. Now... dear readers... who among you have slaved in the kitchen for hours, only to have a son, or a daughter, or a husband, or a niece, or a nephew wrinkle up the nose and say "Oh... codfish?" or "Hmmmm... a bit salty." or "Next time, can we have it well done and not medium rare? or "Mom, it's green." or (this one I hate), "There is something missing but I dunno what."?

If you have experienced these thinly veiled insults about your cooking from the nearest and dearest to you, then I have a solution for you that works so marvellously well that you can burn the toast and sugar the roast and pepper the chocolate cake... and your family will still wolf down your creations with lots a yum-yum-yums.

All ya gotta do is to feed your family raw food smoothies 5 times a week. These are delicious. You can use honeydew and pineapple. You can have banana and avocado. You can throw in whatever fruits you have at hand. Blend with a ground flax seed and toasted wheatgerm, and you have a nutritious meal that your kids hate and your husband eats because he knows it's good for his kidneys.

Then, when you make what they call Real Food, you suddenly become Nigella Lawson. Try it... and be the world's best cook in the eyes of those nearest and dearest to you.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

If You Had To Give Up...

It has been a while since I cuddled Little Boy at bedtime and talked silly. We used to do that every night before the cares of the world got to us. And by the term "cares of the world" I mean the PSLE... and the Primary Five mid-year exams in 2 weeks.

But, we have worked hard and long. Two weeks before the exams, it is time to lighten up and play a little. By next Sunday, Little Boy won't be studying at all. He needs to spend two days before any exam playing... playing... playing. What a magical word - "play". For me, it conjures up images of giggling toddlers in Pampers and crazy happy laughs in the afternoon sun, and outrageous talk at night when the lights go out so that a Little Boy can fall asleep.

I asked Little Boy to choose the things he liked best in the world. He picked Mommy's Cuddles and Yummy Food. Yeah... Little Boy likes his food. He likes my spaghetti bolognaise, my roast chicken, my grilled salmon with dill sauce, pork carnitas, mushroom quiche... He likes good food.

Then, I asked Little Boy which of the two he would give up if he had to. He didn't want to choose. He wanted them both but after some pinches and slaps and an attempt to bite off his nose, he said "I will give up Mommy's Cuddles"... and my little wise one explained himself quickly. "Mom, I have to give up Mommy's Cuddles one day right? I can't possibly get cuddled when I am big like Daddy right? But I must eat food for the rest of my life and I would much rather eat good food."

Sigh! I can't compete with food in for my son's affections.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tin Pei Ling II

I am horrified that people are asking for Tin Pei Ling to stand in a single seat ward. And for sure, if the People's Action Party (PAP) does that, it will never have my vote again.

The netizens bay for a sacrifice. Putting Tin into a single seat ward is to do so knowing that Tin will lose. It would reflect poorly upon the PAP indeed if it allowed the masses of unthinking and undiscerning people to taste blood. Undiscerning people who have rushed to make a snap judgment based on decontextualized videos and pictures. Better to withdraw her from the slate than knowingly place her on the sacrificial altar of a single seat ward.

In a single seat ward, Tin will lose because she is too clean, too good, too innocent and too well-meaning for the type of dirty politics it takes to get into power. LKY can do the dirty politics with knuckledusters and all, but Tin only wants to help, and I think she can. Why would the PAP choose to baptise Tin with dirt? What would that say of the Men in White?

Herein lies the irony. It takes dirty politics to get into power. Yet, can a dirty person be trusted with power? The thing is, politics in Singapore has been relatively clean. LKY dirtied his own hands, but he picked people who were clean and put them into positions of power. Generally, PAP Members of Parliament are ill-equipped to be dirty, simply because those who are apt to play dirty, wouldn't have made it through the PAP screening.

Tin doesn't know how to play dirty, and to force her into the mud pool would destroy the very qualities she possesses that can contribute to Singapore. What is odd about the whole thing is that PAP has had its pick of the PhDs and the Masters in GREAT jobs, earning FABULOUS pay. I personally know 3 who were tea-sessioned so to speak. These, from the intelligentsia, used to be the kind of political candidates the PAP ALWAYS picked. And the PAP has drawn flak for that. People go on and on about how far removed these intelligentsia are from the commonfolk. And so PAP picked Tin - your typical girl next door. Not slow but not extremely academic either, and not yet professionally successful. And of a sudden, people now laud the opposition parties for fielding candidates from the intelligentsia.


Far better a Tin than a Jack Neo, who until he got his penis in the wrong places, was widely tipped to be a PAP Member of Parliament (to garner the vote of the Chinese speaking masses). **Short digression: May Jack Neo's penis rot and drop right off... and his balls follow after in excruciatingly slow succession.** Jack Neo implicated a Minister George Yeo who, in true PAP fashion, couldn't see/stay-away-from/deal with dirty either. For more on Jack Neo, click here. Now, I do believe that Ministers, before they become Ministers, should know how to do a Lee Kuan Yew (i.e., SEE dirt, TOUCH dirt, GET dirty if necessary, clean up and go home clean), else they are too naive to be effective.

This applies to Vivian Balakrishnan too, who didn't see the dirt of poverty. He could have done so much to clean up the lives of the elderly poor and the disadvantaged children (and thus preempted crime) but he saw no need here and instead, blew more than his budget on the Youth Olympic Games. The guy didn't see the dirt under his nose.

But I daresay that the PAP Ministers under Lee Hsien Loong will stay away from dirty politics. Firstly, because when dirt gains a foothold, it's hard to stay clean. Secondly, Lee Hsien Loong was brought up to stay clean too. Not many people are like LKY you know, able to get dirty and still stay clean. Every machine needs a filter. LKY was that filter for dirt. He took dirt upon himself and he got rid of it. The machine stays clean, the filter got dirty.

Who will be the PAP filter when LKY goes away? Can LKY be replaced with filter mechanisms? For sure, I would like to see the PAP stay clean, and not engage in mudpool politics.

The PAP tends to be oblivious to dirt... doesn't know how to deal with dirt and won't get dirty. But clean is better than dirty any day, I say.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tin Pei Ling

Is Ms Tin Pei Ling too young for politics at 27? Lee Kuan Yew was 27 when he spoke at the Malaya Hall on 28 January 1950, about Malayan politics.

Is Ms Tin Pei Ling a heartless moneygrabber because she posed with a Kate Spade bag? Even the least brand conscious among us own branded goods. When I started work, someone gave me Saatchi briefcase because she said "Looks maketh the woman". I posed happily because it was polite and gracious, but I never carried the bag. Last year, I received three Longchamps bags. Then, I was given a briefcase of some luxurious brand (I forget which) that I gave to my maid when she went home. I hate briefcases. Backpacks are preferred.

Posing with a Kate Spade gift may just be the polite thing for Pei Ling to do?

Maybe we are reading too much into short snippets of videos and soundbites? She does have 7 years of grassroots volunteering, and it could very well be that it was because she volunteered with her Dad that she met her husband. Besides, I may be wrong, but Principal Private Secretary to PM is not a job for administrative high flyers even though it is close to the PM. If her husband were a true high flyer or white horse, he would be Perm Sec at 40+.

I'm too old to be really enthused by her. She cannot relate to issues that I care deeply about. And she does demonstrate some degree of ignorance about what people care about. But perhaps she was chosen to represent the young working professional (after all, she is herself not extremely senior in her organisation)? She could have been chosen for her enthusiasm throughout 7 years of grassroots work? Did we not want commonfolk who can relate to us rather than those who are way up there with their PhDs?

I think I'll sit back and give her a chance, rather than allow short media snapshots to define my opinion at present. It could well be that she would surprise us. I may eventually dislike Pei Ling as much as I dislike 2 Ministers, but for the moment I think she has some good things going for her...

(1) she is a woman (and compared to a possible PAP man - Jack Neo - she is preferred)... besides, the more there are women, the better. Pei Ling will go through motherhood etc... and as she evolves she will understand the challenges of bringing up kids in an environment where people work 7 days a week and 12 hour days are norm. Perhaps women will have a better deal? We need more women with energy in parliament. It's still very much a man's world in there.

(2) she is a psychologist (the government doesn't use psychology enough in governance)

(3) she is young (and has the time to build continuity)

I also like Foo Mee Har. She is a woman, and she is psychologist.