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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Need to Fight for Freedom meh?

Blaspheme our brave freedom fighters. Wow!

Don't We Already Have Freedom?
This blog has many entries critical of what the PAP has done to Singapore in the last 15 years.

- MOE is delusional - HERE.
- The government is a sickly shade of grey - HERE.
- PM is talking rubbish at the NDP rally - HERE.
- Stupid Population White Paper - HERE.
... and many more besides...

In many posts on this blog, I have not minced my words. Yet, no one has come in the night to take me away for torture and beheading. Ummm... there are societies that will do that you know... make you disappear in the night, or behead you and all those dear to you.

I do have the freedom to speak my mind. Despite the many blog posts highly critical of the government, I am no freedom fighter. I am merely conversing forthrightly and openly with my government.

So silly... what fight?! Nobody is fighting lahhhh... no need to sound heroic!

It is just civic discourse that results in mutual understanding and social progress.

Ruthless Freedom Fighters
Before he became a dictator, Fidel Castro was also a freedom fighter. Before the Chinese triads preyed on the Chinese common people, they also started out as freedom fighters. The ISIS began as freedom fighters too.

Just because someone speaks a single message that resonates with you does not mean that person is trustworthy. The person who spoke up for you (and himself) could well be the one to exploit you when given the opportunity. If RN and HHH cannot respect the civil liberties of a group of Special Needs children, then what tells us that they will respect the common people's civil liberties if ever they become elected MPs?

NParks allowed for separate spaces in Hong Lim Park. Why did the CPF protesters insist on marching around the YMCA event?

Freedom is a Negotiated Space
The notion of freedom is interesting because if one person had all the freedom to do anything he/she wanted, then he/she would necessarily impinge on someone else's freedom. Nobody in civic society has complete freedom. Your freedom ends where mine begins. If you had every freedom to walk naked down the street, you impinge on my freedom to walk down the same street without being offended by the sight of your privates.

Whilst HHH and RN had all the freedom in the world to protest the CPF, they infringed on the freedom of a group of special needs kids and their parents to take part in a charity event un-harassed.

In a civic society, freedom is a negotiated right.

Whilst RN has the freedom to protest the CPF from his blog, he infringed on Lee Hsien Loong's freedom to live a life free of toxic libel. Just because he is PM does not mean he foregoes his right to defend his reputation.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Lock Her Up

Lived Through a War
It has been a constant source of worry for months. The Daughter left for an internship in Israel one week before Operation Protective Edge. I worried right through the war, checking compulsively 5 times a day for news.

Not My Choice
I know. I know. I know. Many mothers will be scratching their heads asking why I allowed her to go. Like I had a choice? The Daughter is all of 20 years old. Back when I was 20 years old, I pretty much did what I wanted too. The difference between my daughter and I is that I would have gone right ahead to do what I wanted to do without telling my own mom ANYTHING.

When Israel attacked Gaza, the National University of Singapore required her to get my formal signed permission to be allowed to stay in Israel. I agonised for 2 days telling her that since I was legally responsible for her wellbeing, I would need to think hard and maybe say "No."

The defiant Whatsapp that came into my phone read as follows, "Mom, I am only a few months away from 21 years. Had this trip happened 6 months later, I would have been able to make this decision on my own. I should have just forged your signature and be done with it."

That shook me. I was made keenly aware that she wasn't asking my permission to stay. She was TELLING me to sign that piece of paper. So, I did. I signed it.

No Rest for the Worried
I breathed a sigh of relief when a long-term truce was declared and held. It appears now that The Daughter's thirst for adventure will not grant me rest.

Last Tuesday, a whatsapp arrived stating, "We are preparing to go to Petra, Jordan."

Oh dear! What with the Syrian war, ISIS, various beheadings... a mother is allowed to worry right? Staring into my phone in the dark of my bedroom, I wished that I could forever lock The Daughter up in a little cupboard at home to keep her safe from herself.

A flurry of Whatsapps ensued. I did not want her to make the trip. It wasn't safe. "There are lustful men in the desert on the way there who have no respect for women. Do you want to become a Bedouin's sex slave?" I whined.

Then, I tried some emotional blackmail. "You should not make your Mommy worry." I wrote.

The cheerful answer blinked its existence onto my phone, "Next time, I will tell you after I make the trip, ok?"

At that point, I really felt like cursing in 4 languages, "Ohhhh... bloody hell!"

Back in Israel
Anyway, now that she is back in her Tel Aviv home safe and sound, I cannot help but feel proud of her. The Daughter knew how to find, earn and deserve a rare opportunity. Of a multitude of applicants, only 12 finally made it to Israel on an internship. The Israeli companies were the final decision makers. You had to pass the job interview. The Israeli companies do not assess applicants on paper qualifications, the way Singaporean companies tend to do. Even though she has made the Dean's list almost every semester and has 8 A level distinctions to show, we knew that these qualifications cut little ice with the Israelis. They had to see her and like her.

They like her.

The Daughter has a sense of adventure and is not afraid to take some risks. The Daughter actually went to Petra!

Some market somewhere...

I dunno where...

Dead sea mud pack.

Floating in the Dead Sea.

The camels at Petra are not well-treated. However, the Bedouns in the desert are very gentle with their camels. 

The Indiana Jones view of Petra.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Three of Five Topped Cohort

We have 5 students going for PSLE this year.

At first, the prelim results looked like this... TWO top in cohort and ONE top in class and ONE 2nd in class. See HERE.

Now, it appears that we have THREE top in cohort and the 2nd in class had had her marks adjusted to top the class.


For more student results, go HERE.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Work Less Teach More

I woke up this morning to some pleasant surprises. There were 4 bits of news on the MOE 2015 Work Plan...

(1) Teachers will get more support and mentorship. See HERE.
(2) Teaching expertise in primary schools will be deepened. See HERE.
(3) There will be an online portal for Teachers and students to share resources. See HERE.
(4) MOE will streamline admin and give schools centralised admin support so that Teachers' time can be freed up to TEACH. See HERE.

"Waaaah!" I thought, "Christmas is here." My wish for an online portal for students and teachers to share learning resources (expressed HERE in 2011) has come true. My wish for Teachers to teach rather than do admin (expressed HERE in 2012) has come true. My wish that MOE is managed less crappily (expressed HERE in 2013) has come true.

2011 - 2012 - 2013 - 2014... waaaaah... it took THREE looooooong years for MOE to DECIDE to set up Teacher-Student Learning Portal. Now, still gotta wait till 2016 leh... If MOE were a private sector organisation so slow to change, sure go the Nokia way one lor...

Anyway, though it was a bit slow to happen it still happened. So, I was happy. I WhatsApped every mommy I knew with kids still in primary school. The responses I received poured cold water on my enthusiasm. I hope these Mommies are wrong. I do hope so!


After reading this blog post, more than one Mommy has lost all respect for me. I think. I have an uncomfortable feeling that they think I am both naive and gullible to believe in Santa Claus at Christmas. Siiiiiiigh!

Post-Script 2:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Helping Friends

With exams looming, Little Boy's school has implemented a CCA stand down. So, I was surprised that Little Boy was still coming home at 7-ish.

It turns out that the boys have come together to run a Peer Tuition Clinic. Little Boy and 3 other friends started the clinic months back as a study group. They met to discuss the deep and incomprehensible ramblings of their Physics teacher. 

Then the group evolved to tackle every other subject too. The boys tested each other and discussed questions to past year papers. Soon enough, word got around and other boys floated in and then out. So, yesterday, some boys approached my Little Boy to ask for some help. So, Little Boy stayed behind after school to explain what he could.

He said, "It helps me too, Mom. I revise as I explain."

I think it is wonderful that Little Boy's school is not big in competition but big on collaboration. Everyone wins that way, no?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Not Grandma

I am Dr. Pet, not Grandma.

Learning Nothing
I find it intolerable when I see no improvement in a child. Since I mark every piece of HW from every child, I am keenly aware that a child is not improving. Quality of HW is a reliable, almost fail-safe Lead Indicator of exam performance. Rather than wait for parents to query after exams why their children did poorly, I take a very pro-active approach. I look at HW and evaluate the speed of learning. Then I make projections for each child. If HW quality shows that the child is not learning optimally, I send out email alerts to parents informing them that results will be poor unless something is done now.

I am not a crook.

It is an intolerable situation for me to know that any child I have care of is learning nothing from me. Then why am I taking parents' money? Once the lack of progress is clear, then the problem needs to be tackled or another teacher (that is not me) found for the child.

I am more than happy to brainstorm solutions with the parent. In this way, we have managed to resolve very challenging children indeed.

(1) Little D did not hand in HW for 4 weeks and each time he lied about why. Today, Little D hands in top notch HW every week habitually.

(2) Little F sat in front of her computer for 3 hours a week over 3 weeks. She adamantly insisted that she was incapable of writing Short Sentences and insisted that she doesn't know why she makes the same careless grammar mistakes week after week. Today, Little F makes very sure she does not repeat mistakes from the previous composition I marked. In her last composition, there was NO grammar mistake at all on the 2nd page.

(3) Little J sat in one corner of the classroom repetitively wailing, "I am boooooooored...". Little J's Momma threatened him to pull him out of tuition en masse. In a fit, Little J ran to his room and banged the door. 5 minutes later, he popped his head out and yelled "You can take away every tuition but you cannot take away Dr Pet!" The door banged shut again. Little J went from failing (at one point) to top in class (at another).

(4) At another tuition centre, Little T went under the table and refused to come out. He was there for 1 year and never completed a single compo. In collaboration with Mommy, we were able to get him to write a compo every week.

There are as many solutions as there are children.

However, every solution requires both Dr Pet and a parent. We have very challenging children that others have given up on but they are now performing well. We have very easy children with very minor problems but these small problems defy all resolution because for some reason, the parents cannot get their act together.

Don't ask me why. They just cannot.

Case 1: At Cross Purposes
This parent was prone to extreme bursts of temper which were highly demotivating for her child. I requested that she bite her tongue and stay calm. 2 days later, an email arrived asking for more help - "I could not stand it. I slapped her on the face."

Okaaaaaaaaay... fine! I then requested that Mommy refrain from getting involved in Dr Pet's HW. 1 week later, I heard from Mommy "I could not take it. I reminded her and sat down with her to do your HW."

Okaaaaaaaaay... fine! I next provided a set of clear step-by-step instructions on how to work with the child. Sometime later, I learnt that Mommy was not able to implement these step by step instructions because she was busy.

Finally, I decided that if the Left Hand (she) and the Right Hand (me) do not co-ordinate, the child cannot improve. If I know the child cannot improve, then I am no longer motivated to invest further time.

Case 2: Dr Pet the Secretary
This parent required reminders to buy a grammar resource. It took her 3 weeks and yet more reminders to buy an iPad app necessary for learning with Dr Pet. In Dr Pet's enrichment, such are our textbooks and learning tools.  Meanwhile, week dragged upon week and the child was learning nothing.

Parents should not need to be nagged to buy textbooks right?

This parent appreciatively noted that it was good that I followed up and sent reminders. I made clear to this parent that I was not her secretary (nor Grandma). In a time where many people working in good universities (and publishing papers) lie about their qualifications, Dr Pet REALLY does have a PhD. It was not my intention to work my tail off to get a PhD in order to now make a living as a secretary or Grandma-for-hire.

If push comes to shove, I would rather plant flowers and clean the toilet with my PhD. Of all household chores, I enjoy toilet cleaning the most. Really.

Case 3: Agree But Dun Do
I asked this parent to buy a composition assessment book from Popular bookstore and ONLY give her child the PICTURES. In the lead-up to PSLE, I had requested the parent to administer a mock exam trial at home once a week. Even a casual read-through of the model compositions in the book would compromise the weekly mock exam trials. This means that faced with a real exam, the child would be unprepared. Hence, it was important to ensure that the child be shielded from the model compositions that came with the book.

The parent agreeably said "Ok!"

When I received the first exam trial compo for marking, it was clear to me that the child had copied word for word, the ENTIRE model composition from the assessment book and passed it up to me as her own work. Clearly, the parent had not shielded the child from the model compositions at all.

My email to the parent read "May I know if she reproduced Page 1 from another compo? Or were they her own words?"

At least, after reading my email, go and open the assessment book and make a comparison, no? The second exam trial came in to me. It was yet again copied word for word. The weekly exam trial meant to prime a child for PSLE conditions, had become a penmanship exercise. 

The parent had not bothered to do due diligence at all! Not only did the child have full access to the model compositions, the parent failed to even check that the child did not copy (despite an explicit note from Dr Pet). I scratched my head. What was so hard about giving the child ONLY THE PICTURES, as agreed? Take a picture on a sterile iPad cut off from internet. Display in the photo app. Easy, right? What was so hard about opening the assessment book to compare her child's work with the model compo?

That, for me, was the last straw. It had been 1.5 years of hard work and worry, thinking up this and that strategy to help the child, only to find that the parent partner had over a period of 1.5 years consistently failed to implement any plan properly.

Case 4: Difficult! Difficult!
This parent found everything difficult. Skype? I don't know how. Please help me? Name the Word document properly? Too complicated. Hand in work on time? Schedule too packed.  5 senses incomplete? It is too difficult to edit the composition with 2 extra sentences to add in the missing 2 senses. See! My daughter is in tears. Please come to the phone and help her with 5 senses even though it is 11.30pm at night.

Again, I found myself having to remind and nag.

It required 2 weeks of reminders to set up a Skype appointment so that I could go through some technicalities with the child one-to-one. It is not something I do often because it is a fair bit of extra work for me. Many parents are keen to Skype and receive one-to-one guidance for their children.

When I found myself sending out yet a 3rd reminder to get yet something else done, I called it quits. 

Not a Nagger
My children are grateful that I never nag them, nor do I remind them. When Little Boy could not wake up in P2 in time for the school bus, he simply did not go to school. Twice. I believe that my children need to face the consequences of their own action/inaction. I don't live their lives for them. My kids are happy for it. I live a stress free life.

I don't live parents' lives for them either. I can't. It will destroy my already fragile health.

Parents are my peers. I am not superior to them. I cannot be responsible for their inaction/action. I only happen to have a specific skills set (like any plumber or electrician) that allows me to recommend (and collaborate in) strategies to bring about behavioural change in children. A TCM practitioner can develop herbal recipes. However, if the patient refuses to brew the herbal recipes properly or refuses to drink the brew... there will be no results.

Once I see that, it is time to draw the relationship to a close. I do want to see results, you see. Else, I find the cognitive dissonance intolerable. The child cannot be learning nothing from me.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Big Berkey

People with low thyroid function are hypersensitive to chlorine and fluoride. For this reason, I can no longer swim in chlorinated pools. I have to also cut out from my drinking water, the traces of chlorine and fluoride left behind. I did consider getting an alkali water dispenser but I was not sure about alkali water. It looked to me like a fad, and not very natural.

Pure water however, is natural. The Big Berkey can filter even pond water and make it safe to drink. See HERE.

From now on, all water use for cooking rice and drinking will be from the Big Berkey.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Vocational Training Collaboration Between ITE and Top Schools

Little Boy is in one of those schools people call "elite".  Even though I am extraordinarily happy with how the school is educating my son (both in values education and in academic exposure), I am keenly aware that the school (being an "elite" one) does not provide vocational training of any sort. However, Little Boy has picked up a keen interest in designing and building machines.

3D Scanner
Together with a group of like-minded classmates, he constructed a 3D scanner (from industrial scrap) and won 2nd prize at an event named Deconstruct. The project was later presented at the Mini Maker Faire Education Day. The Husband (who had to attend the same event that day for different reasons) even managed to snap a photo of Little Boy standing next to Heng Swee Keat.

Self-Cleaning Table
This year, Little Boy's school devised project homework that required the boys to errr... build something and document it. From what I understand, the instructions are really as vague as that. This gave Little Boy a great deal of freedom to be creative. So, he got some friends together and built a self-cleaning table because Little Boy was fed up with dirty hawker centre tables. He figured that such a device would have good commercial application, because Little Boy also enjoys turning a dollar profit.

As a loving and doting Mother without the usual prejudices against vocational training, I approached ITE to see if Little Boy could attend ITE classes part-time. This was their response...

If the government wants Singaporeans to take vocational training seriously, it may make sense to develop top school - ITE collaborations? Create a program that is highly prestigious (because Singaporeans are shallow in that way) and limit entrance to top students in top schools (because again... Singaporeans are shallow in that way).

Doing so will signal to everyone that ITE skills are valuable skills. At the very least, it shows that the government is walking the talk.

I do really believe they are valuable. I make it a point to learn as much as I can from carpenters, swimming pool cleaners, aircon servicemen, carpenters, electricians and plumbers. Frequently, I am envious and impressed by their tradecraft.

I also think Little Boy will benefit from such skills training as an extra-curricular activity. Socially, it will break down barriers between youths. Overall, Little Boy will receive a more holistic education and have the opportunity to follow his passion.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Roast Pork Belly

Here is my photo recipe for Roast Pork Belly.

Brine the pork belly overnight.

Steep it at 80 Deg C in the thermal pot for 4 hours. Open the thermal pot every hour to bring the temperature up to 80 Deg C.

Medieval torture device.

Prick a gazillion of holes in the skin with the medieval torture device.

Wrap the meat parts up in aluminium foil.

Blow dry the skin with a fan for 2 hours. Rub salt onto the skin.

Just before cooking, rub with a mix of salt, cumin, coriander and 5 spice powder. Roast at 165 Deg C for 1 hour.

Crispy roast pork belly.