Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Chicken Pox Experience

After the 3-week school break, I headed back to Singapore. Then when I commenced work the following day, I started having back pains. I thought it was due to the extra load that I carried, as I added my full-sized notebook and lugged it every day to class. I did a bit of exercise, and the pain went off a while. I tried to look for an alternative so that I didn't have to carry that burden; I found the solution in my Nexus. I worked fine as I had a small class, and the bag wasn't as heavy. Yet, the back pain persisted. I thought: "Oh God, I hope it's not my slip disc making a come-back."

A week passed. One morning, I noticed two blisters on my back, and a few red spots in front on my abdomen. My girlfriend took a look and advised me to see the doctor as it could be chicken pox. I went immediately. Upon examination, it was confirmed that I had chicken pox. Apparently there were more than just two blisters; the trained eyes of the doctor spotted much more on the back, front and limbs. I have never had chicken pox, and I didn't know how bad it would be. Neither did my girlfriend.

Day 1-2:
I took the medication that the doctor had given. The antiviral pill had to be taken 5 times daily! Hours later when I took my bath, I saw something horrific - very red and vivid spots appeared out of nowhere, when just in the morning, I saw only two. When my girlfriend saw the spots, she freaked out and dared not get near me. The doctor gave me a week's medical leave and ordered me to stay indoors. There would be a review on the 6th day, The doctor hoped I could get well for Christmas.

Some red spot appearing
Day 3-5:
The spots got redder, and by now, the whole abdomen and the back were covered with blemishes, spots and small blisters. Even the neck was consumed by the infectious varicella zoster virus. The itch got a little worse, but still bearable.

Getting scarier by the day
Day 6-9:
Some rashes began to disappear, and blisters showed signs of drying up; the most noticeable was on the neck - it cleared first. I believe this is the most contagious period, so I had to stay away from humans at all costs. In my case, I have to face tenants in the kitchen each day - too bad if they get infected. It's not that I wanted them to. It was my first review at the clinic, and the doctor gave me another MC, which means, no work for another 7 days, and another 3 days of medication. If you think that's good news, it is - and it is NOT as well because I was still not allowed to go out. It was a self-incarceration. A second review was in store the following week.

The beginning of healing - blisters
with virus actively inside the bubble

Day 10-14:
It was on 23 Dec 2014, a day before Christmas Eve. Time for the 2nd review. The doctor checked my limbs, front and back with his flashlight. He was pleased to see scabs, which meant I was free from being a walking viral host... or as my girlfriend had aptly put it: "The Virus Headquarters". I could start work immediately after Christmas (yeah, that's right while everyone else is enjoying their year-end holidays, I have to work). That's good news as I didn't have to be worried about troubling my HR manager to get substitute teachers for all my classes. She had done a great job during my two weeks of absence.

What I discovered and learnt about having chicken pox (newbies, take note):
  • the older you are, the more difficult it is to heal
  • bathing is a very slow process as you couldn't scrub and wipe your body the way you used to - you might be afraid to touch your body while you soap yourself, as you could feel tiny bubbles everywhere
  • your self-esteem would take a dive instantly when you lift up your shirt and look into the mirror, but it will pass
  • stock up on food in your larder or fridge, as it would be difficult to get someone to buy you nutritious meals if you don't have anyone to cook or deliver food to you
  • you'd be in a dilemma as to whether you should adhere to the superstitions of the elderly about what food not to eat, or listen to the doctor's advise of eat anything you want
  • you'll feel like a leper, but then you know that everyone will surely have it one day, except for some very fortunate individuals who die without having chicken pox
  • if you have never had a full-blown chicken pox, you will likely have it the second time if the first one was "just a few spots". That's what a friend told me. As for me, this is my one and only. Full-blown, horrible looking.
  • when you have chicken pox, it's tests your friendship and relationship - are they genuine?

But don't be scared. As mentioned by my friend, "You won't die from it." 
You'll be back to normal two weeks later, though there could be scars.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

New Kids vs Old Kids on the Block

How different are kids these days? After teaching for a good two decades, I can fairly say that modern kids are so much more different than when we were their age in terms of their knowledge, their language and the things they do during their free time.

In terms of knowledge

In the good old days, knowledge was learnt from teachers, as our parents were too busy with their work, not highly educated and not kiasu. The job of parents those days was to work to support family – it’s still status quo now – and to produce offspring as they don’t have as much stress as we have now.

In modern times, kids as young as 10-years-old could tell you the formation of planets, can explain what gravity is, have dissected animals and learnt the parts and can tell you why their country sucks big time. These were things we never knew before, and never bothered to comment on, as we were happily playing “chap tey”, “gasing” and “hantu galah” with friends in our village. Life was so much simpler back then.

As kids, we were exposed to works by the Brothers Grimm, Lewis Carroll and Hans Christian Andersen. We enjoyed watching Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Sesame Street and The Electric Company. Today, stories like Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and the ever-famous Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would be met with the word “LAME” by modern kids’ standards. Many would give you a blank stare when you mention those titles. Talk about modern animated movies like Toy Story, Cars, Monsters Inc. (now Monsters University) and guess what else – Spongebob Squarepants too - and their eyes would light up the darkest room!

They read magazines like the National Geographic, Young Scientist, and books by Percy Jackson, Geronimo Stilton and Adeline Foo (who?). I even have a Primary 4 student who proudly announced to me that she reads Shakespearean stories like Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Twelfth Night (the abridged version I presume, but still… ), and when asked the reason for reading, the answer was apt: “There’s romance and love.” Can you beat that? Some of us in mid-life crisis don’t even know what these stories are about.

Talk to them about English grammar and creative writing, and they’ll literally yawn in your face. On the contrary, if you want to be in their GOOD TEACHERS list, talk about World War Z, Angry Birds, Blackshot, L.O.L and Mindcraft. They will salute you as if you were the General, and they’ll blabber non-stop about the levels they’ve achieved; suddenly you realize that your quiet class has transformed into an active one with the noise level of a Chinese restaurant.

In terms of language

Students still speak English. However, they use language that we never dreamed of using when we were in the primary school. Profanity seems to be the norm, so you’ll hear words like fuck, faggot (I honestly donno what it means), shit, bullshit and some Chinese expletives being liberally used in class and at home. Parents would just ignore and say: “It’s alright, daddy uses those words too.” – hello, they’re in the primary school, for Christ’s sakes. It’s the best time to mould them into tactful and restrained citizens when they could still be moulded. Once the bad habits are solidified, it’s too late to reverse the effect. If you think I'm talking crap, ask my 10-year-old student. He innocently declared: "Teacher, you know what my father calls me? An asshole."

In terms of what they do when they’re free

We played traditional games, we visited friends, we invited them to our houses, we went for extra-curriculum together. We watched TV or just read Enid Blyton’s works and the Hardy Boys' stories. Try asking what our little ones do in modern times?

In Singapore, it’s “study, homework, tuition” while in Malaysia, it’s coming to that too. My students are bored with holidays except for the lucky few who could travel overseas to some Western or Asian countries. We used to look forward to holidays, as it’s time to have fun with friends, but modern kids don’t do that anymore. Instead they spend hours paying close attention, literally, to their X-box, 3DS, iPad, iPhone, or i-Idiot for hours without much supervision, sleep, eat and eat more. Family time is a bore, and if they have to be dragged with their families, they need to be accompanied by their closest friend – the iPad or Samsung Galaxy, fully loaded with apps. Then you could take them anywhere including Timbuktu, and the kids are not even aware where they are. It's what I call a modern-day pacifier. Any parent who forgets to bring the devices on a long journey – or even a short trip to the eatery would have to face the “Wrath of Tantrums” from their tiny 6-year-old kids.

Come to think of it, what free time do kids have these days? After school, they go for one academic tuition after the next. Then on weekends they have their own CCAs like ballet, art, drama, dancing, singing, drumming, swimming, baking, piano, guitar, violin, creative writing, computer literacy, robotics, church meetings and the list goes on. Well, it’s the survival of the fittest, you know.

Only time will tell if things will work out well for these modern kids, and for the country in which they reside. By then, many of us would be watching from the heavens above.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Coping with the Loss

It has been three months since my dad's death as a result of cancer. Things have been pretty quiet here for mom, and for me. I'm into my 2nd week of vacation back in my hometown. Dad would normally pick me up at the bus station, but this time around, I had to drop off somewhere and drive myself home.

So it's only me and my mom at home. I don't know how to describe the feeling that I have - the silence, the emptiness haunt us. Mom tries her best to cope with her loss. She's pot around in the garden, repair stuff with a hammer, and everything else on her own. I did offer my help, but only because I care and I want to make sure she's alright for the 3 weeks I'm here. However, my kind thoughts were met with anger.

"You don't need to help me! I'm not that helpless, you know."

It can be frustrating for me but I let her be, for I understood the reason for that kind of response. I've decided to let her do whatever she wants, but under my watchful eyes. If I had to go out and leave her alone, I'd make sure I told her and lock the door and main gate. My neighbourhood is not as safe as it used to be. There's daylight robbery, literally. And I pray that she wouldn't get into a domestic accident when I'm not around.
I have been concerned that if I'm back in Singapore, mom would be all alone again. She needed some kind of entertainment, or something to keep her occupied even if it's only for an hour or so especially at night, when the silence affects her most. Out of kindness, I bought her a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3, the 7-inch variation. Though it costs me a bomb @ RM999 (approx. US$300), I bought it without much thought - thank goodness for the 6-month interest free installment plan; it would do her good. She could then keep in touch with her sisters, children and grandchildren via the various social networking applications especially Whatsapp and Skype. She often complained that she didn't have the chance to see her grandchildren physically, so why not let her "speak" virtually as an alternative? With that in mind, I parted with my hard-earned cash. I also spent additional money to subscribe to a local broadband so that she's able to use WiFi to get connected. This also meant buying a portable 3G Router to connect the broadband to the tablet.

The Galaxy Tab 3, and the USB modem

The wireless 3G Mobile WiFi
So I brought the tablet home, told mom about it excitedly. Her response was very cold. I even got a good scolding for wasting my money. She never liked technology, which she blames for causing eye problems. True in a way, but we have to keep up with the times. After some persuasion (and lots of patience), she agreed to try. Now, she could turn on the device on her own and use Whatsapp to chat with my sister and her 12-year-old daughter in the capital city. That's an improvement I thought.

I hope things would be better. Every one of us has to live with this change. We cannot turn back the clock, but move forward.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Grave Concern

A Prayer for Healing Cancer

Heavenly Father, I come before you with a solemn heart and in need of your intercession. I pray that the cancer that has come into my father's life soon fades into a quick remission.

I believe in your capacity for miracles, and ask for this on his behalf. As we grow older, I know we become closer to the day you accept us back into your kingdom. I ask that you delay that holy union if it be your will. In your name I pray,


July 3, 2013 was a day to remember. Just the night before, dad made a crucial phone call to my brother, Daniel as he needed to see a doctor as soon as possible. Dad had never in his life agreed to see a doctor; other than having his routing check-up for hypertension at a local physician's; he did not believe that going to the doctor is of any good if one had good eating habit and exercise. He believed in self-medication, so a flu does not warrant a visit to a doctor. However, that day was different. He had bad stomach discomfort that night; he had constipation a few days, so Dan sent him to the hospital. The doctor ordered an endoscopy, which could only be done the following day. Nevertheless, he was given a solution to be drunk so that his bowels could be emptied prior to the scope.

Dad exercises regularly, doing his regular brisk walks each morning, and he watches his diet though he loves drinking sweet stuff. He said it was fine as he was on medication, and he controls his food intake. He gives advise to anyone who falls ill like he's a medical officer himself. No one could blame him for that as he is a very well-read person, and his knowledge in medical stuff is quite impressive. To keep his mind sane, he tends to his garden, plays Sudoku on his favourite rattan chair. He is not afraid to speak his mind at meetings though he knows that sometimes it's futile. Nevertheless, he managed to get some things done, much to the appreciation of the community. Dad has a good reputation, and when it comes to religious rites, even the elders would approach him for advice. He exudes that authority as he had been through a lot in the past seven decades of his life. Whether or not we, his children, are able to keep up to his reputation is left to be seen.

On that morning, at the hospital, the blood test was administered first. At about 12:30PM that day, Dan sent me a text message to inform me that a blood test was done and that dad would be going through the CT scan soon. The diagnosis would be known after lunch at about 2:30PM. I waited at work, but my mobile phone was eerily silent. All the way to work, on the bus, I had flashback of what dad had done for me, and what could happen if something went terribly wrong. I was teary that afternoon. It was the longest an hour-and-a-half bus ride ever. I couldn't wait any longer, so I picked up the phone and called my younger brother.

Dan said in a rather normal tone, “You cannot wait for me to text you, huh?

So, how's it?” I replied his rhetorical question.

Daniel's voice became even softer, “Very bad. Cancer... fourth stage already.”

I was dumbfounded; I just couldn't believe it was cancer, and worse still, there is still no cure for it. Daniel gave me the details, and I was even sadder to find out that the cancer was metastatic – it had spread to the lungs and the bones. The doctor didn't encourage chemotherapy as it would aggravate his pain and suffering, so he was discreetly telling us that my dad has to live with it without any treatment besides popping in pain killers. I was horrified. All of us were. We didn't know how much time we had left to be with him before he departs this cruel cancerous world. It didn't take me long to decide to go home that weekend rather than to wait, as anything could happen. Never mind if I had to arrive home close to midnight. Never mind if I had to take a pay cut. Family comes first.

Dad was calm, as if in anticipation of the prognosis. Maybe he didn't know but he had accepted his fate as a result of his religious beliefs. He was positive about it and even joked with the doctor that it was a bonus to live up till seventy-four while many of his friends and relatives had passed on. He was mentally strong and prepared for any eventualities.

An endoscopy was done the next day to find out if there was any growth in the stomach. Thank goodness, other than a benign “growth” which the doctor assured was not harmful, his stomach was clear. We were elated to hear that piece of good news; it was a consolation at least. The thought of our dad having cancer bugged us the next 48 hours; it was like a nightmare. We have to wake up from this nightmare, and move on.

No one knew how it all happened. Being one of the silent killer diseases, cancer doesn't come knocking at your door. My dad doesn't smoke or drink alcohol. The doctor suspected that it originated from the lung, so my guess is that it happened way back. Dad loved going outdoors and is an active person. He was a sportsman during his school days. He was a scout. Could it be the accumulated smog in his weak lungs as a result of long exposures to outdoor activities over the decades have caused cancer? The recent haze even made it worse. Last year in 2012, he travelled to China with mom, and it was an excruciatingly painful experience for him, as he had to be wheeled out of the plane when he arrived at the airport. His health went sliding down after that, and took quite a long time to recover. Was that the initial sign of cancer which no one saw? I have no answer, no one has.

Saturday 7 June. I took the night bus home straight from work. It was a four-hour ride, and I almost got left behind at the immigration checkpoint. My sister, Kath, had warned me days earlier that dad looked different. I wondered how much different he could be. I saw dad for the first time after the prognosis, sitting on his chair with the television watching him. Kath and mom greeted me outside. My cousin picked me up from a bus stop as she knew it would be hard to get a taxi at around midnight. I guess they were all waiting up for me to arrive. No red carpet needed. Dad had been sleeping early the past two days but today, dad was wide awake.

Indeed, dad looked – different. It was like his hair had greyed so much, and what had happened to his eyebrow? I saw paleness all over his face. He was more gaunt than before, but not ghostly. The first thing I asked dad was, “Are you ok?” - I got the silent treatment. Obviously it was a stupid question to ask no matter how noble my intention was then. When Kath and my niece were in bed, dad, mom and I talked.

Dad's voice wasn't as commanding as before; it was coarse, feeble but he could talk. At least he could still eat albeit a loss of appetite. I discovered that he had been on a painkiller and also on medication to help him sleep. That can't be good at all. He couldn't sit long as he would feel discomfort after a while. When he woke up each time, his back would hurt and mom had to apply ointment. Dad and mom urged me to be more responsible and caring especially to my siblings. How was I uncaring toward them, I couldn't figure out. My nature is such that I would avoid any kind of confrontation the minute I smell it a mile away, if I could. Accuse me for being uncaring, I shall not rebel anymore; time will tell eventually. When there was a pause as we were watching television, dad told me.

I want you to tell you something. Now, listen carefully. When I die, I want to be cremated, and the ashes thrown into the sea. I've called Thomas, and he will handle everything. So you don't have to worry about coming back to clean the grave on Cheng Beng (All Souls Day), or go to the temple to pray; if you want to remember me, do so in your heart. I've already told Kath and Daniel about this and they're agreeable to it.

My sister cried buckets when she heard dad's wish, I was told. I suppose she wanted something tangible to remember him. Mom then asked if I were agreeable to that dad's wish. That was a dying man's wish for goodness sakes, so how could I disagree? Besides, I was, in a way, glad that dad could foresee our inability to fulfil the responsibility of being diligently praying and cleaning at the tombstone each year like what he had been doing for my late grandparents. He said that times were different now; my late grandfather, apparently wanted the same, but in those days, cremation was hardly ever considered. So, dad was prepared for anything, for he had summoned the cousin who knows the Chinese traditions and funeral rites to make all funeral arrangements when he eventually departs.

My aunt and uncle came from Kuala Lumpur the following day. They brought with them the snake grass plant – not the commercial ones sold in some orchards or shops. This plant, my aunt claimed, could help reduce the cancer markers, and testified that one of her friends had the number of cells reduced from 14,000 to only 500. In fact, another of my aunt also gave the same remedy although it had been packed into a powder form. I honestly do not know if this plant could help lung metastases, or advanced stage cancer, but since there is no modern wonder drug to help besides going through the painful chemotherapy, dad had nothing to lose. We shall all wait in anticipation to see if traditional medication works.

I surfed the Net to find out if there was any latest treatment for cancer, though I didn't expect to see any cure in the next hundred years. Sadly, there isn't any besides chemotherapy, and exposure to radiation which destroys the good cells. I thought that being in Singapore might be helpful as the country excels in providing medical care. An ex-nurse then told me of a breakthrough drug called Oxynorm. My excitement was temporary; my heart sank as this drug is what I term as the terminal drug – it's just one level below morphine. It is merely a sedative for very severe pain. I didn't want my dad to be too sedated; he would then be a “live” vegetable. I would rather have him move about – although slow – so that he didn't feel helpless, and mom thought the same, too. I've also checked out websites on the life span of cancer patients. It was rather disheartening to find out that on average, Stage 4 patients die in 8 months, though there were cases of such people living a few years more. It depends on a variety of factors, mainly age and overall health condition.

Mom reminded me to pray each time I called home; I have done that, and will continue to do so. In fact, I took a step further by seeking prayers for cancer healing online. The prayer on the top of this page bears testimony to my effort. I've also mentioned my dad's condition to a Christian website called YMI Blogging; they responded, and I believe they prayed too. I've also posted a request for prayer on another website for the online community to pray for my ailing dad, if they wish to do so. I had literally got the cyberworld involved in this special prayer. God listens, and miracles do happen. After all, has He not healed the sick? I had to be realistic as well, for not all prayers are answered in the way we wanted it to. Dad would still die before my next trip home, if God chooses to and if it were for our good. So I wouldn't expect anything except continue praying especially for my own strength to move on.

On the following day, July 8, the three siblings sat down to discuss the next course of action. I had expected some squabbles as I was the only eldest, and by the Chinese tradition, the male has to be more responsible, yet I chose to leave home to earn a living in Singapore, about a 4-hour ride by bus. I had no choice as I needed to service two large loans monthly. I had expected my fiery younger sister to insist that I return to Malaysia to work and take care of mother when dad eventually passes on. After all, Kath did tell Dan about it, and the latter sent me an SMS to inform me of their wish. Thankfully, there wasn't any argument about my status. The discussion focused on whom to pay the utility bills and how to help ease the old folks' burden. So we decided that we would share the bills – medical and utility. Dan would also get a wheelchair for dad (and I guess that's for mom too some day). I'll be pumping in more money monthly for household expenses via overseas transaction. Thank God for the Internet. Mom was appreciative of our effort, especially our mutual decision to keep the house no matter what, and treat it as a home where gathering takes place once a year on Chinese New Year. At least we have a place to stay, not in a posh hotel.

I went back to Malacca (home) again on 21 July. This time, I did not take leave. I decided to try making a quick visit then travel back to Singapore in time for work on Tuesday. Dad's condition was not much better. He appeared to be worse; he was more breathless and spend more time in the room due to extreme discomfort on the back. The traditional Chinese medication (TCM) which he took caused him to go to the toilet more often. Apparently that was expected, as it meant his body had lots of toxic. So it was a detoxifying process. That explained his weakness. He would continue on TCM – he had nothing to lose. I felt really sad when I saw his condition; he was as grumpy as before, and gets agitated easily (I would if I were in pain), and poor mom had to keep attending to his every need. I was there too to render any assistance I could. Things like pouring water for him to drink, checking if he's alright once a while, answering phone calls, and I even shaved his stubbles for him when mom suggested that dad should shave. I did so carefully, though I wasn't too sure how to get it done from where dad sat. He was seated on the low plastic chair, so I had to manipulate my hand, squat and whatever to get it done carefully – yup, mom certainly didn't expect ME to do that as she's always thought that I'm the uncaring one. Not bad at all, he's quite cleanly shaved.

On 23 July, I returned to Singapore.

I spent a few more days there until I got a message on 26 July, Friday evening from my cousin May (she works in SG), telling me that I had to call home urgently . My sister had tried in vain to get in touch with me, but she eventually did. I found out that dad has been hospitalised at a private medical centre, as he had bad stomach pain, and he could hardly move. Later, I was told that his blood pressure had also dropped so low that he was in a shock; dad almost died at home if not for the timely presence of my cousin Alex, a doctor, who was actually supposed to be out of town already but somehow stayed back in Malacca a little longer. With his help, dad was admitted to hospital alive but barely awake. The ambulance took a good 50 minutes to arrive!! Talking about inefficiency. The telephone operator had asked dozens of questions when one of our relatives called for the ambulance. Hopeless! I had to take leave again, but thankfully, the Human Resources Manager assisted me in getting replacements. I took a two-day leave (pay will be deducted as usual).

Saturday, July 27. It was the day when my dad was warded in the Mahkota Medical Centre hospital. He was scanned a few times; he had also lost lots of blood (no thanks to the TCM's so-called detoxifying process). He had loss blood through his stool. Dr Francis also found that his duodenum had a small perforation. In addition, he informed me that that TCM contains steroids, is acidic and could possibly cause damage to the stomach. It was unbelievable, and horrifying. When I saw dad in the hospital, he was extremely weak and in excruciating pain. I spent that night with dad in the two-bedded hospital ward. I hadn't had any rest since 7:00AM as I went to the hospital directly from Singapore. I decided that I should spend another night, so I was with him on both Saturday and Sunday.

I hardly slept on both nights as I kept vigil over dad, to see if he needed anything. In the two days with dad, I saw how much he had suffered in pain. At a few instances, he had indicated that he wanted to die. On my first night with him, he said: “You people are useless; cannot do anything for me.” - an initial sign that he was ready to leave this world. The second night was even more nightmarish for me. His breathing was much heavier, but the machine showed that his vital signs were normal. I know because I observed and I inquired each time the nurse came to check on him.

At one point, dad told me to help him turn (knowing it's painful), and when he did turn, his hand tried to reach for the machine to pull the out the tubes. I immediately summoned the nurses who came running in. They tried to talk to my dad; he said in a loud voice, exasperated: “My time is not up yet” - the nurses told him to calm down and not say anything rash. Dad stared at me and gestured that he wanted a lethal injection to end his pain – and life. I conveyed his intention to the nurses. After some words of comfort by the nurses, dad quietened, and the nurses left the room.

Dad was in such a pain on the second night that I felt so helpless, and scared – so scared that I tried to hide behind the curtain that separated the two beds (the other bed was vacant). I couldn't sleep at all, I wanted to make sure dad was still alive. He survived another day.

Monday came. Dad's condition wasn't getting any better despite being pumped in with Oxynorm, a strong painkiller. He spent far less time talking and used gestures instead. He could still feel the pain, and it had made him very drowsy. Surprisingly, he was aware of his surroundings. He gathered his strength and told me to get in touch with a few people; he also gestured that he wanted someone to pray for him daily. We did what he had wanted. That night, it was Dan's turn to keep a night watch on dad. Mom, Kath and I were at the hospital first that evening. Both Mom and Kath were at his flanks. Sensing their presence, dad pulled Mom's hand to his chest, then he took Kath's hands as well and pulled them closer. It was a final non-verbal message from him to advise both Mom and Kath to be good to each other, as he knew that both of them are always at loggerheads. It was a touching moment. We comforted him, we told him it was alright if he left us, and he could go in peace. Dan came in later, missing the drama. The four of us gathered – little did we know that it was our last meeting with dad. I touched dad's hand and talked to him; I cried like crazy as I told him how great he was, and asked for forgiveness as I couldn't help him during my two-day night watch; I cried so hard that my sister had to tell me to stop. They, surprisingly, didn't cry that much. Before we left for home, I said a little prayer to him. I choked as I prayed: “Heavenly Father, please take good care of him. I know that he will be in good hands. In Jesus name, Amen!” - I felt like a kid after being caned by his mother. With those words, the three of us left the hospital at approximately 10:00PM.

Tuesday, 30 July. It was a quiet night. We were fast asleep when my phone rang in the wee hours of the morning; it was just 2:30AM. My brother called, and said in a solemn voice: “Papa has slipped away.” I was speechless for a moment. I was the first to know, and I woke Mom up. She was shocked that he went so quickly when the doctor said he could last a few days. Dad was pronounced dead at 2:11AM. My brother wasn't even aware until he opened his eyes in the room and saw the nurses with the heart recovery machine. Dad had stopped breathing. I was supposed to leave for Singapore that same morning, so I had to cancel my plan, and extended my leave to two weeks.

We were glad we said what we had to say; we asked for forgiveness. I kissed his forehead hours before he passed on, and I wonder now if I did say that I loved him, or was it just an imagination. I couldn't recall as everything went by so quickly.


Monday, May 13, 2013

The 1-Malaysia Crap

5 May 2013 was a day Malaysians will remember. I call it a Dark Day for the simple reason that our hopes for a better future were shattered. What transpired the entire week later gave us firmer reasons to believe that the change that we have been clamouring for will be close to impossible.
When the election results were announced, National Front a.k.a Barisan Nasional (BN) - the ruling party - had won, albeit by an even smaller margin compared to 2008. In fact, it was reported that BN's performance was the worst in the Malaysian history. Despite being victorious, they were dissatisfied, and had to get a scapegoat to cover their embarrassing faces. Being the sour grapes they are, the BN government led by PM Najib called their loss a "Chinese Tsunami", implying that the Chinese rejected the government, and were the main cause of their dismal performance. From that day onwards, Malaysians saw headlines in the media of how ungrateful the Chinese have been. Whiffs of racial sentiments were blown across the country by irresponsible BN politicians each day. We see new articles in the media to condemn the Chinese who have been hurt by baseless accusations and condemnations.
"Utusan Malaysia", a pro-BN paper was ruthless when the headline "Apa lagi Cina mahu?" (What else do the Chinese want) was splash big on its front page. It doesn't take a political scientist to read between the lines. Their agenda, I believe, was to cause even more hatred to the Chinese amongst Malaysians, and the BN has given them the green light to do so. The editor's analysis on BN's loss and the Chinese's "contributions" to the loss was indeed a lame one.

So what's the point of having the "1-Malaysia" slogan that BN has been harping about when we have individuals and the media who work for the BN sowing seeds of hatred and lighting up flames of racism each time something goes wrong? And why is it the Chinese have become victims all the time?

The massive post-election rally in Petaling Jaya the day after the elections was proof that the Chinese were not to be blamed for BN's loss. There were evidences that the results were unreliable due to fraudulent activities that occurred on the night of 5 May. It was reported that close to 50,000 were there to listen to ousted ex-Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim speak to call for a clean election and to call for an investigation into electoral fraud. Attendees came from all walks of life, braving the rain and traffic congestion to show solidarity. Malaysians showed their indivisibility that night, and we should NEVER let a few moronic, selfish politicians to break this unity.

The true "1-Malaysia" slogan which our BN government has been crying out loud for was seen especially at the rally. We have always been a united nation; we do not need that slogan, which I believe is just eye candy. It's just that someone messed things up long ago, causing the disintegration of the unity that our founding fathers had worked so hard to achieve over five decades ago.

This is a country where everyone lives together in harmony - the Malays, Chinese, Indians, Punjabis, Dayaks (in East Malaysia) and the Orang Asli (the indigenous people) - live under one roof, undisturbed. Anyone who ruffles this harmonious society should be banished.

Monday, May 6, 2013

GE13: The Frustrations of It All

Chants of "Ubah, kali inilah!!!" (Change, now's the time) reverberated across the open fields.

The MP for Yong Peng waving at passers-by while supporters
held placards telling people to honk for support. Photo taken
on my way home.
These chants were made by Pakatan (the Opposition coalition) supporters weeks before, every day. The social media was clogged with similar messages to awaken the sleeping voters and fence-sitters, in our quest for a change in the government. We are tired of corruption, we don't want our money to be wasted, we despise racism. I watched countless video clips of political talks on YouTube, and the carnival-like atmosphere in each of them was so electrifying that I told myself that I just had to go back to Malaysia to vote even though I had initially refused for I knew Barisan Nasional (BN) the ruling coalition would chalk up another victory, and every vote counts - apparently. Never mind if I stand to lose an equivalent of RM960 as I had to take a 2-day unpaid leave, and forfeit my allowance. Like others, I too wanted a change, for once. Confidence of a Pakatan win filled the air. But then...

5 May 2013 (Sunday):

It's a day Malaysians would never forget. We made history as never has the percentage of voters achieved more than 80% in many areas. I was at my polling station at 8:15AM - the queues at both channels were extraordinarily long. A young father told his little daughter: "When daddy came last time, it wasn't like that." I couldn't agree more. I waited only a few minutes in 2008 compared to an hour this year. Could it be a sign that a change was about to take place?

Scene at my voting centre (polling station) at 8:15AM
The crowd was much larger than usual at this time 5 years ago
We waited, hearts pounding like a train, for the results to stream in late evening. It trickled. As I watched the marquee scrolling at the bottom of the television screen, BN logos appeared one after another indicating a win for the candidates of BN constituencies. My dad was delighted. I wasn't. Of course if he had known who I voted for, he probably wouldn't be talking to me for days :) Occasional messages came into my mobile phone to inform of unofficial results. I had palpitations when the PKR were thought to be "assaulting" one state which has been BN's stronghold for ages.

It was a race, a closely-fought one. By midnight, it was officially announced that BN has regained power after some heart-stopping moments, but they lost even more seats to the Pakatan coalition of PKR, DAP and PAS. Thanks to the Chinese voters for ousting the irrelevant MCA. This is another historic event.

What I think happened:

I believe there were last minute turncoats, but the reality is that Malaysia is predominantly a Malay country. UMNO, whose members are 100% Malays are the dominating BN party, while the MCA (for the Chinese) and MIC (for the Indians) are just parasite coalition partners who dare not even flick a finger at the supreme UMNO to criticism them. The Malays from UMNO are just not ready for a change, for it means the possibility of not having a good time like what they've been enjoying the past five decades. No more hand-outs of RM500, no more cronyism, no more privileges (the Federal Constitution never said they had one), and so on. I think it is more accurate to say that they do not want a change. Ever. On the contrary, the Malays who have joined either PAS, PKR or DAP are more open to changes, which explains why many constituencies were grabbed by one of the three.

Secondly, Pakatan is partially to be blamed for their under-performance. They have been bickering about who takes which seat, whether the Islamic law would be implemented, about policies that many were unsure would even take off if they win. It is my opinion that Anwar, the PM-in-waiting if the Pakatan wins, made a blunder. In his political speeches nationwide, he had threatened to snatch away all assets of BN's big guns, including that of Mahathir's own son, who by now has already been appointed the Menteri Besar of Kedah. This threat, though pleasing to the ears of the Chinese, Indians and other races, could have sent shivers down the spine of the Malays and given them something to ponder: "Will they lose everything if they let the opposition win?"

The most controversial point is the possibility of fraud, or the rigging of results when BN discovered that they were trailing big time. There were claims that the total votes from one centre did not tally after arriving at the Election Commission's main centre. There was a complaint of a 3-hour blackout at another centre, and additional ballot boxes being brought in out of nowhere. Could it be a coincidence? Only those who were there would know. In the meantime, I'd say these are speculations, and investigations must be conducted.

BN was damn fortunate that their  candidates in both states in East Malaysia (Sabah & Sarawak) won the majority of seats there. They should, considering the fact that the rural natives are quite deprived of information technology, many are not well-educated, and many families are poor. Therefore, it is safest in their point of view to vote for the party that could continue to support (or "support") them. Had the DAP and PKR taken even half of the total number of seats there, the headlines would be different. The morning talk show today would be solemn, to mourn the death of BN. The local papers wouldn't be splashing decals and large photos of BN's victory. In the end, the official results of the 13th General Election showed that BN had 133 seats (140 in 2008) and Pakatan had 89 seats (82 in 2008). Obviously, if BN politicians are smart, they should wake up and see that their popularity is sliding down. DAP has chased BN out of Penang once more. The Pakatan coalition also retained Selangor hands down. In Kelantan, PAS managed to secure the state once more.

This BN guy lost his post as the Chief Minister
when the results were announced
To Penangites and Selangoreans particularly, we salute you for wanting that change and for not bowing to pressures, and listening lies to vote for BN.

I was on the bus this morning back to Singapore a few hours ago. The passengers had indelible ink marks on the index fingers. They were all teens and youths; there wasn't a single elderly on-board. Only the sound of the engine could be heard. The rest appeared silent - there was nothing to cheer. Most would have chosen the opposition; they were likely to have felt totally disappointed that their attempt to call for a change was blocked by betrayers, and by people who preferred complacency over the chance of giving themselves and their families a better life. I'm not sure if Malaysia will ever change; we're unlike America (a president with Muslim heritage), Japan (opposition rules) & Thailand (the first female PM). Malaysian politicians just want to cling to power at any cost.

Back in Singapore, as I was having lunch, I heard someone talking about how some foreigners managed to get an identity card (IC) to vote in Malaysia...

I was truly embarrassed as I hid my index finger from being seen. Remnants of the blue ink are still visible.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A New Singapore?

It is my free day today, and instead of preparing more work, I decided to take a short break and read the online news. One article caught my eye - "Spell Singapore without LKY" - to the uninitiated, LKY is the initials of Singapore's first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of the tiny island. In his three decades at the helm, Singapore has transformed into a renowned global financial and education hub.
However, things are changing fast here. Core Singaporeans are disgruntled with new policies that they claim do not benefit them, but only the Members of Parliament. There are cries that the PAP party that has ruled for over 50 years are destroying their rice bowl by employing more foreigners and granting permanent residence to them.
A change is inevitable. Eventually another political party rival will rule Singapore but what sort of change that would take place is unseen. I shouldn't be too concerned - but I am - for LKY and his team of nation builders had worked hard for decades to take Singapore to great heights, and it would be a total waste if change brings the worst. Locals, foreigners and tourists have had nothing but praises for the government's efficiency, but I could see that the praise is slowly but surely fading. I myself have witnessed acts that I believe show a change - the opposite way. I see smokers though there are signage to prohibit smoking, I see people spitting on the pavement, I see jaywalkers and I see litters. Bus services are less punctual, buses are so crammed at peak hour, the traffic is heavily congested. Indeed, I understand why Singaporeans are lamenting and yelling at their deaf government, some cursing at the PAP for not doing anything to ease the problem. They blame corruption, greed, lack of interest in public matters. They blame foreigners who are here to earn a living. They blame everyone but themselves - not that they have to be blamed for everything.
To be honest and fair, Singapore is still a great place to work and to live in compared to some other Asian countries if you can tolerate the heavy traffic at peak hour, crowded buses as well as hectic face-paced lifestyle. I won't blame the PAP, the authorities or the influx of foreigners. The key issue now is, how the younger generation of politicians are going to handle these issues. Calling these as "problems" is tantamount to blaming someone, yet we know if LKY had not done what he had done, Singapore wouldn't be where it is now. No doubt he has made mistakes. Who doesn't? How will this matter be solved, now that LKY's health is declining as he's already an octogenarian, close to 90 years of age already. He cannot be the Mentor Minister any longer, can he? He is well aware that there must be new blood, and he has explicitly said so, for his era is gone. We're now in the "don't use the rod, it doesn't work anymore" era.
I fear for Singapore. When I see my students' attitudes - their arrogance, their crudeness, their lack of knowledge and respect; when I hear their ubiquitous "I don't care", or "Simply do, la" remarks, and their liberal use of the word "fuck" every other minute, I pray that they do not be politicians unless they miraculously transform from a worm into a butterfly by the time they reach 18. Asians have their own conservative values that need to be preserved. While we could allow some Western influence assimilate into our lives, we cannot let that influence fester and cause our unique culture to disappear altogether.
Indeed, fresh blood is needed to spur this country forward - or will these newbies suck more blood and put this once-flourishing nation into the doldrums? There will never be another LKY; he has set the foundation. Who will keep the flame burning for Singapore?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Teaching is Tough

The sky looks threatening, though not grey enough to warrant a great thunderstorm. It is my off day, as usual - the only day I don't go to work, yet I don't feel at ease.

I have been spending most of my free days preparing more work for my students. Well, don't blame me, for I have 20 classes to teach per week ranging from Primary 3 to Secondary 4 - the O Levels kids. That's a total of six different groups of students from ages 9 to 18. I have to teach 30+ hours per 6-day week. Oh yeah, I work on Sabbath Days too for a full eight hours from 9:30 till 5:00PM, inclusive of travel time. On weekdays, classes begin at 4:30PM, but wait, you'll then question me: "Then why are you complaining?" The fact is, unlike other professions, a teacher needs to do preparations - review what has been taught, and plan what to teach for the day in addition to preparing additional worksheets for the smarter kids. THIS is time-consuming. Unless you have been teaching for ages where you could then recycle materials, and unless you're the kind who just copy and paste lock, stock and barrel from the Internet, you will eventually end up working yourself out to the maximum - in the name of educating the students. I started with almost zero since joining last year. Would my agony then be reduced next year? Quite unlikely as I don't recycle too much - unless I'm darn lazy or ill.

You know, each time I have breakfast on weekends at the tuition centres, I am envious of residents lazing around on the bench, cycling with their children, taking a sip of their favourite local coffee while enjoying a good meal of roti canai or ban mian as they read their papers. Life seems to come to a standstill, yet they appear to enjoy every moment of their two off days with their loved ones. Those who are retired enjoy whatever that's left of their lives, collecting pensions and their CPF savings.

How long can I last? I have no clue. I'm just hanging in there while looking into my soul for something that interests me so that I don't have to keep job-hopping. Someone once said to me, "You won't make it" - well, she can say all she wants as she's having a great life now, but I intend to stay and prove that I can stay on.
A prayer helps too.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Unwell Once More

I'm not well - again.

It seems that every month, I will somehow fall ill. I do not recover as quickly as before, and my immunity is lower as time goes on. Prior to coming to Singapore, I had hardly taken any paracetamols when I got ill, but in the past few months, I've taken more Panadols than I've ever done in the past 10 years, and I'm not exaggerating! I remember, once I was ill for a week, and I was so afraid that I would not be able to go to work that I popped in not one, but TWO pills every alternate days for about a week, yet my sore throat and cough didn't go away. I went to see the doctor; his medication worked for a while, but I got the same problem again.

I wonder, is it the food, the weather or what?


It has been two days, and I had taken one Panadol per day. Well, that didn't work; in fact the pill has hardly any effect on me anymore other than reducing my temperature a bit. The sore throat, the cough are still persistent. So, I had to go to the doctor. People say: "must spend money, then only can be better". True to the hilt.

Roughing in Out

I'm supposed to get some work done. Well, I did actually for a while, but once that's done, I decided to stop completely for the day before I go to work.

I have been lamenting about my job in recent months, more so after getting my second job when the first one made me feel so destitute of a proper life. After much thought, I did something which I believed would be better - I left that job and hopped into something more "adventurous" by being a full time tuition teacher. I thought, "What the heck. I don't have to go back to my hometown so often, so working on Sat and Sun are fine with me." I'm into my fourth month of the new job, and I find that it's not a wise decision after all because when I do need to return for even one day, it's a hassle. I need to make a call, get the admin guy to find a substitute for me, apply for a no-pay leave (because I'm not confirmed yet). Frankly, the 6-months' probation for a tuition teacher is just too much, but then they have a reason for that. In addition to that, I also face the possibility of having my $200 allowance revoked for the month for not fulfilling my obligation of teaching without taking non-gazetted leave.

Yes, it's a classic example of the idiom: "jumping from the frying pan into the fire"

My only consolation is that I have better bosses (yes, that's plural) who won't barge into anyone's class to see how we teach, for they trust us. That doesn't mean we can sit down and rest on our laurels, as two staff had been sacked for breaching contract, for taking too many days off. Just make sure the bosses don't leave a message on your mobile, or that spells trouble. Beside having kind bosses, I have a couple of great colleagues who are in the dark about where I come from. No, I don't practice black magic in class, and I've not turned to the Dark Side (yet), but it's best I remain silent about my personal stuff.

You know, students have asked me if I had injured myself doing National Service, what it was like, and if I were still serving the army. In class, I talked like I was one of their kind - well, I'm not too far from that, anyway - so that they'd not feel distant. I've learnt lots of acronyms like CCA, SA, SS, OE, ORD, BMT which all pure Singaporean teachers and students are familiar with. Their favourite movie: "Ah Boys to Men" (Parts 1 & 2). As a foreigner, I have to assimilate, though where I come from, the culture is very similar.

Jokes aside, it is indeed an excruciatingly tough WORK life here, especially in this second job. I had been warned before jumping ship.  I had been working like an ox since January when enrolment started to grow. How hard? How does teaching 20 classes, 30+ hours and 6 days per week sound to you? I'd spare you the more horrendous details, or you'd just end up dozing off - which you probably are right now. Come to think of it, even oxen are having better days now with new farming machines. I can imagine seeing them basking in the sun wearing shades while watching me work my ass off in the field.

No, I definitely do NOT like what I'm doing now. It's not a bad profession actually, but it's eating me up. Someone once said: "This is slowly killing you inside" - I won't doubt that. Twenty years of being in the same field is a long time. People have asked me to return home to work (and I've completed only a year here), friends have advised me to look for my niche so that I could get out and start new. So, what's my niche? It's for me to find out. Because I'm seriously old (still not wearing dentures, and hair has turned more grey in just 6 months), I can't afford to just take a dive and see where it takes me, can I? That's suicidal.

Just BULLDOZE through it, and have a word of prayer each day and maybe - just maybe my luck will change.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Today in History

It's been 12 months since coming to this Tiny Red Dot as a foreigner. It was just a few years back when I had been cursing at any SG-registered car drivers for flouting traffic rules in Malaysia, particularly in Malacca, where they clog up the narrow streets to purchase tonnes of groceries to be brought back to the island. "It's very cheap", they claimed, which is true, no thanks... to the dwindling currency of my beloved country. I hated them each time I saw their cars. Little did I know that years down the road, I would be part of the labour force in THEIR country, serving as a foreigner.

It is like being in Malaysia because it's a melting pot. But that's where the similarity ends. I have not had any horrifying incident worth writing about, but I could fill up a hard disk if I could tell you the good things about this place. Like any other country, this country is NOT flawless - nowhere on this planet is. After a year residing here, I have praises for the way things are run. It's just amazing at the progress rate despite gaining independence a decade later than Malaysia (at what stage are we now, anyway). Their transportation system, though not as good as it used to be 10 years ago, is still efficient enough to put my motherland's MRT and stage bus service to shame. Their education system is internationally renown. The people here are surprisingly friendly and courteous. Of course there are occasional bloody rude drivers as well, but that has not affected me.

Is there racism? Yes, but it is well-contained. Racists have been sacked from their jobs within 24 hours. Is there crime? Yes, definitely. I have seen crime scene notices on pathways but no one has died of a C4 - yet. I have seen for myself kopitiam patrons leaving their bag in front of me at peak hour, and walking away for a while to get their food. I have also seen pedestrians clutching their wallets to flag a taxi or a bus. Things that I dare not do back home. Yes, this place is perhaps one of the safest around with CCTVs along corridors and on the streets. Read this with a pinch of salt though, for a I know there are many theft victims here too, perhaps isolated to certain areas.

Are things here expensive? As long as you don't convert every damn thing into MYR, some things are pretty affordable (or cheaper). I could get a plate of "char kuih tiau" for $1.50, and plain "roti canai" for 80-90 cents. A McDonald's breakfast meal costs $4.50 (McChicken)- and you could customise your order. It comes with an up-size option (never heard of it till I came here). So why convert when you're earning in dollars? Having said that, it doesn't mean that I'm a wealthy bloke now, for I have to transfer a huge bulk of what I earn to my Malaysian bank account to pay my loans and utility bills. That's the reason I came here... I just could not save in Malaysia. It's more breathable since working here.

Anyway who has worked here will tell you that work life sucks, and I TOTALLY agree. It's a routine - wake up early, come home late. In my case it's worse as I do not have a weekend at all. My only off day is spend preparing for classes. Yes, there's absolutely no life. That's the price to pay for moving here - an opportunity cost. I left a cosy office where I had a room to myself (and a roommate), complete with stationery, phone, computer and printer tagged to my name. Over here though, it's sharing everything - furniture, stationery, books but I have no complains for I have been blessed with great colleagues and good bosses. I have sacrificed comfort to be here. I'm not young, mind you. Friends my age are already at the peak of their career, and I'm starting all over. God has been kind to me, so far - seriously. Health wise, I've been fine.

Locals are complaining of too many foreigners so much so that they have become xenophobic! Sorry, people but I need to earn a living too. Certain foreigners are slowly but surely tainting the good image of this nation. I'm not sure how long I'd be on this island. People back home have asked me to return, but I shall wait and see. There will be no hasty decisions anymore. I'm too old to start all over AGAIN.