Monday, December 15, 2014

Ending the Year 2014

28 October 2014

This is a date which sealed my fate - a date that no one would ever want to remember, for it was the day when I was officially terminated from my job. I was given a 24-hour notice, but will be paid a two-month salary in lieu. I was speechless when the bosses gave me excuses for the termination; not that I'm damn good, but due to unforeseen circumstances, and for the interest of their ailing business, they had to let go of a foreigner who commanded a higher pay than locals when the student enrollment fell.

It was a painful event, one that I hope will never ever be repeated. I believe it won't, as I vow not to ever join the tuition fraternity again. Working hours are irregular, lots of worksheets to prepare (especially for secondary), and there is no life after work for me, as I believe in preparing well ahead of my lessons. My health suffered when I was there; my relationship with a woman of 5-years crumbled as I had no time for anything and anyone. The bosses are generally very jovial, friendly but when it comes to business, they don't mind beheading even their best pals who do not bring in enough students.

I had a wonderful two years in Singapore. Despite the brief stay, my eyes were opened wide. I saw why that tiny island is the richest in Asia, and why things work efficiently there. It has its fair share of problems - crime, economic problems, xenophobics and public complaints of everything and everyone. That aside, I would say that Singapore is a great place to live. Not sure about retiring there though. Given a chance, I would want to be there longer. I applied for Permanent Residence (PR) but when the 6-month waiting period was just about over, my employment was halted, It was very heart-breaking. So near yet so far. Within a few weeks, I paid a visit on a Social Visit Pass a few times to Singapore, and finally packed my stuff back to Malacca for good, leaving behind good and helpful Singaporean colleagues and my ex-girlfriend who became a PR a few months earlier.

When relatives saw me at a wedding dinner, they asked their usual question: "Hey, so how long will you be back here?" and "When are you going back to Singapore?" - I'd normally feel great being able to work in a foreign land, as it is difficult to seek employment on that island. But this time around, I was the victim. I sheepishly told a white lie to shut them up, and to hide the fact that I was jobless. Alternatively, when I saw that someone was less judgmental, I'd just tell them: "I'll be back in Malacca... my employment pass was not renewed... enrollment wasn't good." -  I felt like a bloody criminal when I had to tell the truth.

I started hunting for jobs, asking friends. My ex-girlfriend tried to get me back to Singapore, but I knew that once I'm out, there was no way I could get back in. Their policy on foreign employees have tightened two-fold since I was there.

8 December 2014

This date marks another chapter in my life. It was a date to remember, but for a good reason. I was to attend an interview in Johor Baru, another city which I dreaded. In fact, when the school called a week earlier, I refused to attend as I was hoping to get a job in Malacca which I had applied for. The school persisted when I failed to attend; they kept calling even a day after. I decided to return the call. So another interview was set for this date. In the morning of 7 December, I was still recovering from a stubborn flu. I told mom that I'm not going - I was almost half dead - and I was not going to drive 350km to the hotel in JB in that condition of mine. I cranked up my notebook to cancel my online hotel reservation. Internet speed was darn crappy as I had exceeded the 3GB broadband quota (it's back to normal now). I was about to hit the CANCEL button, when my ex-girlfriend who was on Viber asked me about my interview. She reprimanded me and told me that I have to take whatever opportunities that I had to get a job. It suddenly dawned upon me that if I had missed this chance, God knows how long I would have to wait for another interview from another school. So I immediately changed and told mom that I was going and be done with it.

On the day of the interview, I felt alright. I was like I didn't have a flu at all. That was strange. And getting to the school was not that difficult despite the heavy traffic. Of course, I made a survey of the location the day before with you-know-who who is a JB resident, so thank you. I didn't like the reception area; it's cold, and I'm not talking about the aircon temperature.

Waited quite a while for the Datin to attend to me. I was ushered into a meeting room to wait for her. She finally came and apologised to me. Surprisingly, she was plain Jane. No heavy metals on her body to flaunt her wealth. Then her husband, the Datuk, came in briefly. Very simple couple apart from their black Mercedes.

I had to do a mock teaching to Year 5 students who are actually two years younger than Malaysia's own Tahun 5 students, according to the Principal. I was nevertheless "peeing in my pants" but I used the knowledge and skills I learnt from Singapore to teach, and thankfully, I had asked for a stack of A4 papers from my ex-girlfriend the night before in anticipation that I might use it - I did. The rest was history.

The CEO (the Datin) and the Principal were impressed with what I had done in class, and hey presto, I was offered a job after some deliberation on their part. The only catch was that I had to give an immediate answer as they needed to do the timetabling the next day. I agreed without much hesitation, and was told to go for a medical nearby, which I did. It was unique, as the letter of offer was printed and signed on the spot. In the CEO's words: "We hardly do this, but your case is special." - because I was not local. I felt sorry for the other two candidates who were interviewed days earlier. This is an example of  "potong jalan" unwittingly.

It's a 5-day week, 8:00-4:00 pm (officially) but could stretch up to 5:00 pm. Saturdays are generally off unless there are school activities, and I would enjoy all the three terms of holidays almost uninterrupted. So I don't have any more excuse of not being able to visit my mom more often (though not every single week), and no excuse not to say hi to Singapore occasionally.

The CEO went through with me the offer letter section by section to ensure I understood the contents. Don't ask me about my exact salary ok? Some relatives of mine had told me to put RM5,000 on my resume - they were so delusional. Obviously I got far less than that, but more than what I used to get in MMU. I am bonded for 1.5 years, so I can't go elsewhere. There's good and bad in this kind of agreement but never mind, I now have a secure job unless I fumble, and I need not worry about enrollment. Books... all come from the UK. Yup, I'm potentially dealing with local and foreign brats. Corporal punishment is outlawed in the school, but detention is fine. "You cannot touch them," the CEO put it sternly.

My next headache is looking for a place to rent. Up till the time this blog is written, most of the nearby rooms have been taken, and I stand a "good chance" of having to navigate through the heavy traffic, and waking up at 5:00 am, to reach school by 7:30 am. Never mind, if it has to be, it shall be. I hope for Divine interference again.

Would my streak of misfortunes in 2014 finally end? I hope so.
Thank you, God. Thank you all for your prayers.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Ramblings #1

A week passed as quickly as the lightning strike. A week of holiday, or should I put that in quotes. A teacher is not one who has a holiday in the true sense unlike those 9 to 5, 5-day week workers. A teacher is most often on the roll, 24/7 and 365. Whatever "holidays" that we have is spent thinking of how to improve our teaching, how to ensure students learn, and most importantly, how to retain the enrollment. Of course, there are teachers who let all their hair down the minute holiday comes. They'd just drop everything related to work, and head for Paradise Island, sign up for a romantic escapade package or splurge in shopping. I suppose these are the teachers who know their work like that back of their hands. Dump them into any relief class, and chances are, they could deliver well, impromptu without a magic wand.

I have tried, but to no avail. In fact, even before the holidays began, I started planning what to do. 

Unfortunately, reality is that, whenever I'm home, there are errands to run, and other non-teaching stuff to do. Holidays ought to be the time when we relax, but not me. I wonder if I'm abnormal in that way. Ironically, I'd be silently clamouring for holidays. But I must admit that I do have a few days a year when I'm very laidback (that's bad sometimes) and just daydream. 

You're paid a salary each month, so you have to work. And the amount of salary you get commensurate with the job you do, though not always true in dire situations - and I'm not referring to natural calamities. 

Hmm, how many more years do I have? Err... approximately two decades more, or longer, since I have loans to pay up. Will I get to the point when I could sit back and relax under the coconut tree on Paradise Island, sipping coconut water with my other half (if I'm already married by then), and watching my children (if I have any) building sandcastles on the soft, sandy beach, and I would have nothing to think of but waiting for time to leave this world? There are many who have reached this pinnacle part of their lives - I hope to be in that fraternity some day.

Yeah, some day.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Education: Quality or quantity?

“Nowadays, kids are different,” I was told a few days back just before I started my class. Yeah, they are indeed a different breed. They pay the fees, so they set the rules. Actually it’s their parents who have to fork out the money, but what do the kids care anyway. All they care about is going to class, listening to jokes, having some activities, and doing minimal work. Who could blame them, as they have co-curricular activities after school, thus a few would attend my 6:00PM class in their school attire. I have also seen students nodding off right in front of my nose! A sign of boredom or exhaustion, or both?

Then I heard another “breaking” news – that the enrollment is sliding downward rapidly, and I suspect that I’m one of those who could contribute to that decline. Then, advice was given to me; I was all ears, as teaching is my rice bowl, and I was willing to make a change. I mean, who would want to lose their only source of income when you have loans to pay? I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my silent mouth. I am still baffled by the fact that numbers still play an important role in the private education industry, very often at the expense of quality. If you cannot retain students no matter what, enrollment drops and chances are, you’d be out of job sooner than you could bat an eyelid.

What have I done wrong? Haven’t my over two decades of teaching experience taught me anything new? I have learnt, actually. It’s just that the pace of change is too rapid to keep up. I have learnt that students are very different, and they’re not attending tuition to actually learn, but to have something “extra” that is missing from school – the fun element. But hold on, being a conservative teacher, I’ve been doing it all “wrong” thus far. Nevertheless, after some “brainwashing”, I did change a bit in the teaching method. I’ve done the following:
  • ·         Using music followed by language-related worksheet
  • ·         Getting them to do a poster, given a theme
  • ·         Getting them to write a hilarious story, given a phrase
Did those work? NOPE, they didn’t. They still wanted to leave because “the teacher is boring”. The reason, apparently, is because they have been so used to the “fun” teacher that they used to be with for two years or so. Therefore, I presume, they’ve had lots of difficulty adjusting to other teaching styles. Oh, just great. Now teachers have to adapt to THEIR wants. They know they’re holding us hostage – “I don’t like you, I go elsewhere. So do as we say or ship out!” – that’s the message I get.

What’s worse is that they make a mockery of the activities that were carried out. It is very disturbing and not motivating when a phrase like: “This is BS” when I handed them a piece of paper as their worksheet. I could have done physical harm to that provocateur, but knowing how verbally brash kids can be these days, I’ve become “smarter”, so I laid off and assumed that he was just saying “OMG” differently. No word of thanks, nothing for my effort. And they didn’t take the activities seriously anyway, or was I being overly sensitive to these new breed of students who don’t have the word “respect for teacher” in their dictionary? Well, I’m not asking for it. Never did, never will.

I’ll be using the newspaper as my next strategy in my next class. I won’t be hoping for much change, but my job is to teach them; I’m not a joker. When the time comes for humour, it will come. If this “new” attempt proves to be futile again, then it’s best these problematic ones go elsewhere. It’s better to lose them than to lose the entire class. There are those who seriously want to study no matter how tired they are, and I cannot deny them that right for the sake of profitability.

Friday, February 28, 2014

A Unity Lost

I have been a regular reader of the Malaysian Insider, an alternative online media, to keep abreast of the on-goings in my home country. While it is a norm to read of crimes and corruption in the State, it is definitely abnormal (to me, at least) to feel agitated as you keep reading. I have been rather disturbed by the recent developments that could threaten unity in the country.

It all began with the "Allah" issue where the Malays in my country believe that that word is exclusively for Muslims, and that no preachers of other religions have the right to use it in their sermons. The Catholics have been using it even before many of us were born! It's funny that the word that refers to God should be copyrighted by one race. I just wonder if there is more than one God in this universe, and if so, does it mean that each religion has to call God differently? It is actually a non-issue, but being a nation where politicians have nothing better to do but look for something to talk about in order to stand out among the crowd, we have highly sensitive issues like this blowing out of proportion, threatening the safety and security that we have enjoyed thus far.

There have been other incidents in the past years that touched on race and religion. There have been threats of reigniting the May 13 incident if we don't watch what we do or say. There have been lesser respect for other races and religions. The most worrying thing is that the leaders are not making things better, but have chosen to remain silent. It gives the impression that the green light is given for such uncouth acts of disrespect to continue. In the span of the past 12 months, the nation has been rocked by one silly statement after another made by mindless politicians and NGO leaders; we have been pelted with harsh remarks that hurt other races to the bone - but the latter have remained silent for the love of peace. If this had happened in other countries, there would be war.

The nation, blessed with a melting pot of cultures and abundant natural resources, has gained independence for over half a century. The nation has also seen major infrastructural developments, but it stops there. In terms of mentality and emotional quotient, my beloved country has remained status quo, or it wouldn't be too far-fetched to say that it has gone to the dogs, looking at the way the leaders run the country. I see that things are getting quite out of control if the top leadership continues to stay mum.

Our forefathers, the pioneers, who have built this country with their blood, tears and sweat to ensure all races live in unity would likely be crying in heaven, for they could anticipate that their hard work would be slowly but surely be destroyed if things don't change; if the attitudes of fellow citizens remain as they have been the past few decades.

I was reading the Bible one day, and this verse aptly fits the scenario:

"I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought." - 1 Corinthians 1:10 (NIV)

The verse applies not only to Christians, but also to every respectful religion on this planet. If leaders are not united, neither will the people be.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Routine

It has always been a routine the past two years. I wake up, brush my teeth and do my daily business on the throne. Then I change, and have breakfast at the nearby cafe or kopitiam. Then I'd sometimes go to NTUC to get my weekly groceries. In less than a hour, I'd be back in my rented apartment in the central area. 

I turn on my trusted Lenovo notebook, and begin cracking my head on what to prepare for my students that range from Secondary 1 to 4. I need not worry about those kids from Primary 3 to 6 which I'm also teaching because the worksheets have been prepared by a team of teachers. I'm often lost, but I have to thank the Internet resources, as well as the books that I've invested to help me through each day. Staff at POPULAR bookstore must be smiling each time they see me at their premise. Work doesn't officially begin till 4:00 PM - wait, before you say "Hey, I wish I could go to work at that time", think again. Despite starting late, I unofficially begin at 8:30AM at home, and spend a good 2 hours preparing worksheets for my unappreciative students - or perhaps it's my worksheets that are too simple (or too hard) for them. By the time I get back from work, it's close to 11:00PM, feeling weary. So when others are ready to go to bed, or literally rolling in bed with their partner, I'm just getting ready to eat dinner - or should I say, supper.

I work 6 days a week; weekends are a full 8-hour job from 9:00AM, which means I get up about 6:00AM and get ready to catch the bus, MRT or LRT (sometimes all three) so that I'd be on time to have breakfast at my destination (it's a different location each day). There's a lot of talking involved in my line of work, and when a large class is filled with boisterous kids, then my voice would be raised. There would be silence but it's only temporary, for the whole cycle begins ten minutes later. Kids these days have short term memory, or they're just hyper-energetic, I guess.

My only day off is on Monday. Take note that it's a "DAY OFF", which means I don't have to be physically present in class, but being the perfectionist and scardy-cat me, I'd spent half my off day doing preparations for the next week. I know other colleagues would just ignore work and go lay at the white sandy beach, hang out with friends, or shop till they drop, but I'm somehow "different". I feel guilty if I don't do any work, for that's what I'm paid for. Often, I end up getting very uptight or frustrated when my preparations boil down to zero when students refuse to do the worksheets as they are just too exhausted after their regular school hours. I won't blame them, but then, they're paying me to learn something - they fail to see that. I'm not a master teacher or the best teacher ever, but I have helped a couple of students pass the O-Levels when they had failed just a year earlier before coming to me for help. I've had a parent begging me to continue helping her daughter at secondary level even though my schedule is filled to the brim. So, I'm not that bad, right?

When I share all my grouses above with my girlfriend or friends, they'd tell me things like "hang in there" or "you must know what is it that you want in life". I often compare myself with other friends of mine who are less qualified academically but more successful now. I sometimes wonder if the Master's in Computer Education degree which took me seven gruelling years to complete (part time) was all worth it. I was an assistant lecturer at a renowned Malaysian university, and later a lecturer at a business school in Singapore, but now I'm a measly English tutor here. I've told myself NOT to compare or feel bad because despite being "demoted", I'm actually in a better place, and a better position now. Honestly, I can't agree more with that. It's an experience that not many of my ex-colleagues would have.

So what now?

I don't have a freaking clue, except that I know I've started to drag my feet to work - and that's always bad news for me when that happens. Yet, I don't have a choice; I have to earn a living by helping my students as much as I can to the best of my ability, and not bother much about whether they're in class to study or just to waste their parents' hard-earned money. Those who want to study, will; those who don't and expect the class to be an entertainment club, they won't. I don't have time to sit with them to counsel them as I'm not doing face-to-face personal tutoring. 

What's the worse case scenario?

I hope that this will not happen - having to say goodbye and going back to where I came from, and start looking for job all over again. It would be excruciating painful to my emotions and to my wallet. MTMY (anonymous friend) once warned me that I wouldn't survive working here, but I've so far proven that person to be wrong. I wish to continue for as long as I can... if not in this organisation, in another - perhaps in a different profession where I could proudly tell others: "I'm very contented with my job". Until that day comes, life will be a routine.

It's 11:46AM now, and in 2 hours, I'd be at the bus stop... and another (to transit) to get to my place of work at Marine Parade Rd.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

A NEW Chinese New Year 2014

The Year of the Snake has just slithered past, passing the baton to the Horse. What does 2014 hold for all of us? I’m quite sure most of us won’t be horsing around as there would be more challenges ahead, possibly more tragedies – I pray not. No matter what the Feng Shui masters and astrologists tell us, their predictions are just that – something very intangible. An accurate prediction is merely coincidental, for each master has somewhat varied predictions. So do take their “expert” advice with a pinch of salt. Those who believe in God will know that our lives have all been planned by Him, but it doesn't mean we could be lackadaisical in our work. We let Him handle his plans for us, but we must also have lives to lead, or else we would be no different than programmed machines.

Life went on for us; we continued working and doing chores as normal. Things changed for my family after my dad’s death mid-2013 due to cancer. We have lost someone who has played a significant role in each of our lives for decades. The Great Snake of 2013 decided to drag him along before it slithered away and won't return for another 12 years. Hence, we began the Year of the Horse without dad, and for the first time, we were short of a very important family member at our regular reunion dinner. There was another first too. As we gathered at the dinner table, my mother decided to say grace. This was something which she never did when dad was around as he was a Buddhist, so out of respect as head of the family, no one said grace. The words she used while saying grace touched our hearts as her voice quivered, noting that it was the first time we had a reunion without dad, and she thanked God for giving her strength to prepare the wonderful – though not as many dishes as previously – spread of food for the seven of us, inclusive of a nephew, two nieces and an in-law. It was not easy for her to prepare Nyonya (Straits-born) dishes for us all by herself, and we are truly appreciative of her effort. Anyone who is a typical nyonya, and who cooks nyonya food can vouch for the amount of work that one has to put in when preparing authentic nyonya meals.

The dinner spread for Chinese New Year Eve 2014
The soupy dish at the top right is called "pong tau hu", a nyonya dish that is not 
served in any nyonya restaurant due to its tedious preparation work.
On the Day itself, my mom cooked "ap sioh" (braised duck meat in coriander seeds),
yet another dish that you won't find in a restaurant menu.

The only difference was that there were no decorations at all – no red ornaments hung on trees, no red lanterns adorning the porch, and no cut-outs of Chinese characters pasted on walls. The red cloth known as “chai kee” (also known as "ang chai") around the door frame that had always been hung prior to dad’s demise was noticeably absent. It was like Chinese New Year has died with dad's death. In a way it is, for the Chinese believe that the family has to mourn for a year, so there would be no reds no matter what. On the eve of the new year, we went to bed as usual. Unlike the good old days when dad would sit around the house till way past midnight, with lights all turned on, and doors wide opened to welcome the new year, it was the total opposite this year.  I still sent greetings that night to ex-colleagues, and long lost friends. Some replied, others didn't. We still played some fireworks, though, before bedtime.

The overall ambiance on 31 January 2014 was still quite cheerful. We wore red, decided to give red packets to our nieces and nephews, and to the young ones in the family. If an elderly had been around, this would have been heavily criticized. Remember the “no reds” rule? We somehow broke it for obvious reasons – “modern” and “no superstitions”. I’m guilty of doing the same, so now we know why kids these days are blatantly blind and ignorant of their own roots, cultures and traditions. Being single – yeah, I still am – I gave red packets to only three people:  my two nieces and a nephew, and a special one for my mom. She could use it to get herself a brand new washing machine that decided to literally go up in smoke the night before. By doing so, I broke yet another rule – that singles are not supposed to give red packets to anyone as they have not reached that much-coveted “married” status. I gave because I wanted to; besides, I've had strings of misfortunes already, so I’m quite immune to the threat.