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.