Monday, September 28, 2009

Naughty pupils make good teachers

Scratching Post, Weekender, 26th September 2009

In school, I was known as the goody-two-shoes. The geek. The (cringe) teacher's pet.

Little did everybody know, I longed to be anything BUT. I harboured a burning desire to be the coolest girl in school, a girl like Sharmila.

Some (misguided) teachers might have labelled her naughty, but to me, she was a heroine. A tad rebellious. Witty as hell. But always brave. All the qualities I aspired to.

Obviously I couldn't be her. So what was the next best thing?

To be with her, of course. Form 2 and 3, the two years I spent a lot of time with her and the ZOPFAN gang (you know who you are) were two of my happiest.

Judging from the responses I received, this story struck quite a few chords, though the only person's response that I was worried about was the story's heroine - Sharmila.

I've written about heaps of people in the past. The difference is, they knew of my intentions. I usually forewarned them at least a day before the article was due to come out.

In Sharmila's case, I wanted to surprise her. Consider it a revenge for calling me "Dangerous."

"She's going to freak out," my ex-colleague Poh See hooted with laughter.

I send Sharmila an sms first thing in the morning. No reply. At 8-ish am, an hour I deem suitably decent, I call her. "Have you read?"

"Dei," she growls in a sleep-slurred voice. "I got your earlier sms already. I am not so fast wei. I just got up lah. You think I'm superhero ah dei."

10am. 11am. 12 noon. Already, five readers have written to me. Not a word from her.

I text Chang. "Could she be angry? So long also no response one."

"She is probably busy at her husband's clinic. Remember, teacher by day, clerk by night, and sexy wife at midnight."

"Cannot be. Today is Saturday and a holiday. "

"Holiday means data entry girl the whole day. What I see is only praises. She might be crying her heart now, touched by your magic words." (I have always maintained that I'm not smart or witty in the least; I am merely fortunate to have smart and witty friends, who have a propensity for poking gentle fun at me)

I am not convinced, so I sms Sharmila again. "Are you angry?" I ask timidly.

"No. How can I be angry at a bunny?"

Her cryptic reply plants the first seeds of suspicion. Maybe ... she... hadn't... read it?

At noon-ish, she texts me. "My husband read already. I just got the paper. Will read after lunch. Reaction at 1400 hour.

1400 hour?????


What kind of a human being can be so cool and clinical while her friend is practically apoplectic with anxiety???

At five minutes past five, my phone lights up.

"Now my husband thinks I put frogs in people's pockets..." she says before dissolving into laughter.

"Didn't you? Hmmm. Maybe old already, foggy memory."

We speak for a while before putting down the phone. A text comes in. "Thanks mate. I hope others read and make a difference."

So do I, Sharmila, so do I.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Conservation through Children

Community, Going Places, Sept 2009

This story was special for two reasons.

One, it afforded me another welcome opportunity to return to Penang, where I spent my formative adult years. As usual Penang didn't disappoint. Its streets are as colourful and lively as ever. It would seem, from the outset at least, that the charms of Georgetown are relatively insulated from the recent economic meltdown.

Most importantly, it brought me face to face with two extraordinary women: Janet Pillai and Chen Yoke Pin, who along with Kuah Li Feng are the main drivers behind Arts Ed.

Anyone who has lived in Penang would have heard about Anak-Anak Kota, the Arts Ed-initiated programme that aims to preserve local cultural assets through children. Getting secondhand information and actually being part of them are, I discovered, two very different things.

On Saturday morning, I joined the kids on a heritage walk. They streamed in and out of hallowed institutions around the Streets of Harmony, armed with nothing but pencil and paper, maps and a boatload of curiosity. We visited St George's Church, Acheen Mosque, Masjid India, and lots more, all beautifully-preserved, legacy-rich landmarks I'd driven past a zillion times and never even stopped to look, until now.

The weather did little to dampen our spirits. For starters, the facilitators' own enthusiasm for their subject was infectious. Gamely toting umbrellas, we trekked through puddles, huddled on roofed pavements when the rain got too heavy, and even stopped over at a warung where an be-saronged uncle sportingly demonstrated how to pull teh tarik and make roti canai.

Heh. If only my own history lessons were half this fun ...

In that too-short span, I began to develop an appreciation for what Arts Ed has been trying to do in the last ten years: to conserve our legacy through children (thanks for that great headline, Viv!)

Anak-Anak Kota - and by extension, Arts Ed, are a living testament of what real passion can do. Salute, Janet and team.

If you'd like more information about Arts-ED activities and program, Tel/Fax 04-263 3471 or visit

PS Swee Wah, thanks a million for providing the link.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Papa the storyteller

Navel Gazer, The Weekender, 29th August 2009

"Wah. Now I know why your mother fell for him. Your father looks so handsome and smart."

Chang's probably just joshing me, but isn't that what all starry-eyed little girls feel about their father? And woe betide any unfortunate suitor who falls short of her daddy's lofty standards, ahem :)

Dad is one of those rare beings the Chinese call hoe sin sang. In Chinese, being an onomatopeic language, the phrase could mean one of two things: 1) Good man 2) Good teacher. As if all the forces of fate conspire to converge, my dad fits both the bills :)

He is legendary among my good friends for storytelling skills. On the eve of my gall bladder operation, he pinned my two besties Chang and Wendy to the hospital canteen chairs with horrific high-drama (his painful encounters with kidney stones) and feelgood fables (more Chinese fairy tales with an uplifting moral). Even I, who'd heard it all before, couldn't help grimacing when he recalled, with a relish he could afford on hindsight, the gruesome pain of kidney stones.

We were sitting in the hospital canteen when a faraway look entered Dad's eyes. He recalled, "The worst kind of pain is kidney stone pain."

I looked at mum. "How did Dad get it?"

"He grew up in Pangkalan, where there were a lot of tin mines. I guess it could be the minerals in the water they drank..."

"The stone is passing through your urethra, a tube so slender.." he shuddered. "It was so painful that my entire body broke out in sweat."

Mum nodded gravely. "He was bellowing like a cow. I drove him to the clinic and he couldn't even climb out of the car. The doctor had to come to the car and administer the jab..."

Suffice to say, Dad wasn't the only one who shuddered.

"I used to think, gallstones, kidney failure, back pain, all these things only happen to old people like our parents..." I said ruefully. "Guess what, we got old too. Or at least, are getting older.

"Yeah look in the mirror woman, face the facts staring right at you," Chang chipped in.

Indeed. Like it or not, I've got to deal with the fact that my body isn't an invincible machine anymore, able to withstand the vagaries of an unhealthy lifefstyle with no wear and tear.

"Can't sing that song by Corrs does the refrain go, "We are so young, so young, so young now," Chang continued.

"No more fatty food. OMG." I facepalmed melodramatically.

"Look on the bright side," Chang quipped, "at least you save on liposuction."

What was that again ... Sai Ung Sat Ma? :)


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