Friday, 20 April 2012

3 and a half

With a cute profile, thoughtful gaze and pretty, long and curly eyelashes, you are still as babyish as ever.
Struck by an awful flu this week - fever, runny nose, cough, phlegm, vomit, diarrhoea and stomach wind, you had to down 7 different types of medicines, and you bravely did.
You sang a song of your own while I cleaned up your little buttocks, diarrhoea and all.
You are my brave and lovely angel.

Rectification Lesson

I went for my third lesson yesterday.

Am I glad that it was a different instructor this time round.

It was supposed to be the sixth module. However, he spent the bulk of the lesson reteaching me on the basics: gauging that the car is in the centre of the road, pausing and holding the steering wheel when turning, driving straight by looking far ahead, stepping on the accelerator in a way that prevents the car from vibrating and without having loud engine.

He even made me drive down the slope to the carpark, saying,"I am not scared, why you scared?"

I felt more sure about these driving techniques.

Let's hope I would be confident in handling the car in time to come.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Final Theory Test and 2nd Driving Lesson

I passed my Final Theory Test last Wednesday, with a perfect score of 50/50 again.

The Test started at 6.45pm. I glanced at the time the moment I finished: 6.53pm.

If anyone who is taking the theory test wonders how I seem to pass my Theory Tests effortlessly and with a perfect score each time, there is no secret: just do the practices available at the driving school. For the Final Theory, I booked four sessions, two back-to-back sessions on Monday, and two back-to-back sessions on Wednesday just right before the actual test.

You see, just about every question tested in the Tests is in the practices. Within a span of 45 minutes, which is the length of a practice session, you would be able to cover about 100 questions with explanation for the answers. For vanity's sake, as well as for keeping tab on the number of questions I covered, I counted the number of questions I did within a session.

Unfortunately, the computer that prints the 'Pass/Fail' slips was not in working order the night I took the Test, so this time round, they just stamped a 'Pass' on the identification paper they gave you before the Test.

I went for my second driving lesson yesterday.

Not fruitful at all.

I was disappointed when I saw that the same Malay instructor was allocated to me again.

Again, he asked me to take Auto-car for driving lessons. Again, I did not learn much from him. He does not really teach in a tangible manner which you can apply to a general situation. For every situation I encountered, he merely told me the steps without explaining why to me.

Instance 1

I saw a car stopping in front of me.

Me: Oh dear, what should I do? Should I stop?

Instructor: Go up somemore ... step on the clutch ... get ready to stop ...

I did a full clutch and stepped on the brake upon hearing the word 'stop'.

Instructor: I didn't ask you to step on the brake, but you go and brake.

Me: (Huh? 'Stop' is not 'brake' meh?)

There was a slow-moving traffic, really slow, sometimes stopping.

I did not know if I should step on the accelerator when the gap between the car in front and mine widened. He also did not say anything when I stepped on it.

It was later when we exchanged seats that I observed what he did that I understood: when in slow-moving traffic like a jam, step on the clutch to stop, and half-release the clutch to move.

He could have explained this to me very simply, but he failed to arrest my inability to understand his point when he gave only step-by-step instructions without explanation.

Instance 2

Instructor: You need to look at your rear mirror before you move off.

Me: Oh why?

Instructor: ... Good question! You will be penalised 2 points in the test if you don't do it. Is it good enough?

Instance 3

Instructor: You need to look at your rear mirror before you turn and after you turn.

Me: Oh why?

Instructor: ... You will be penalised 2 points in the test if you don't do it.

Other than the above instances, I felt that there must be a way to show me how to gauge if I am at the centre of the lane instead of just reminding me that I am drifting (which I already know) and that I need to remain in the centre of the lane.

For turning, he did tell me to turn the steering wheel when the centre line of the road disappears below the car corner, but I felt that it did not seem to apply all the time as when I did what he said, he had to help me steer at times. I got the feeling that the guidelines he gave me are not a rule-of-thumb for general situations, but for a learner driver, I need rule-of-thumb guidelines.

For all his obvious hints of 'go and learn auto-car', I was thinking to myself,"If I continue to be under you, I definitely would fail the test and would need to learn Auto." and something told me that the females who learn under him did not learn well.

Quietly frustrated, I approached the reception counter and spoke to a lady wearing a tudung,"Can I have just Chinese instructors for my driving lessons?"

I was not expecting a positive reply, but to my pleasant surprise, she asked me for my blue driving booklet, and after tapping on some keys at the computer, she stuck up her thumb and told me she had put a note there saying that I needed 'Mandarin instructors'.


I had felt that the two sessions I spent was only fruitful for about 15 to 20 minutes when the Chinese instructor was with me. And each session cost me $71.69 (off-peak)! I simply did not want to continue wasting money learning nothing, or minimal, at the price I was paying.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

First Driving Lesson

Today marks the first time I sat in the driver's seat.

It was my first driving lesson.

A Malay instructor.

He was nice and friendly. However, I felt that the learning was not very effective. My car kept stalling, and my brake was too abrupt. It jerked the two of us forward each time I stepped on the brake.

The instructor kept telling me not to release the clutch 'too fast', and to 'brake gently', but I just could not get it.

After some time, he had to excuse himself for a while and a Chinese instructor sat in.

Upon the first time that I stalled with him in the car, he explained to me that the pedals are 'very sensitive'. I just need to release the clutch gently to the point when the car could move and stay my foot there and it would not stall. As for the brake, I only needed to press very lightly, not pump all the way in.

Within 20 minutes of his teaching, I got what I could not with the previous instructor.

I was a little disappointed that he had to go when my instructor returned.

My family members and friends who learnt driving mostly did not have a fixed instructor, so I am quite sure I do not want to fix an instructor either.

Let's hope I have better luck the next time.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

School Choices

Almost everybody who knows me asks the same question when we meet again:

Your girl is taking her PSLE this year right? How is the preparation?

My reply is always the same: stressful, because my kid is not stressed.

I don't know which idiot decided on this, but the school has never spelt out the class and standard positions of children in their report books, since P1.

The only feedback the school gives on the child's academic performance is using percentile.

They issue this piece of information on which your child's results for each subject is collated, and they tell you your child falls in the 0 - 20 / 20 - 40 / 40 - 60 / 60 - 80 / 80 - 100 percentile of the cohort. In short, the higher your percentile, the better you are eg. if you are in the 60 - 80 percentile, it means your result for that subject is the same as or better than 60 - 80 percent of the cohort.

I don't fancy this type of feedback because the information is limited.

We need to know exactly where my child stands in the class and the cohort so that she has a target to work towards to ie. she ranks 25th in class now, she should strive to be 20th. Unfortunately, the school does not provide such information, so there is no specific target for my child to work towards to. The percentile thing is just too vague. My child is in the 40 - 60 percentile. Er ... is she in the 40th percentile or is she in the 60th percentile? It doesn't give enough information for a child to set her targets.

Worse still, the school has a few classes of children who did well enough to get through the first round of Gifted Programme but not the second round, they decided to label these children as 'high-achieving' and put them in three classes and have mostly promoted them en-bloc among the 3 classes from P4 to P6. The rest of the 'medium-achieving' classes would be promoted likewise. Some parents from the 'MA' classes had enquired if their children could be promoted into the 'HA' classes if they managed to catch up with time, but apparently, the school feels that the potential of the HA children is ascertained by a very refined, tried-and-tested test when they were 8 or 9 years old. I can't remember how it was phrased, but it was made known that the MA children, no matter how well they do, would not be placed in the same class as HA children. However, the MA children who eventually do very well would be grouped together in a class.

I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I am glad that Coco gets to be promoted alongside with the HA children; on the other hand, I feel that such a system creates complacency, because subsequently, there is no need to put in effort to get into a better class.

My father has said that Coco is so stress-less because she has given up on catching up. According to him, I should have put Coco in a neighbourhood school so that she stands a chance at being the top student - you know, the big-fish-small-pond and small-fish-big-pond theory?

I have given some thoughts to this at different juncture. I did think about this before she went to P1.

I had decided that she would be a small fish in a big pond.

There are different stories to the theory. Some had said that being a big fish in a small pond was good for their children as their confidence was greatly boosted, others said that a girl or two had thought she was very good since she was the top student in her school, but she became demoralised and depressed when she went to a top secondary school and was shocked to find that there are many others who were better than she was.

I have to return to my original intent when I decided to place Coco where she is now:

1) To allow her to be in a Chinese-majority environment
It is not about racial discrimination. I had come from an all-Chinese primary school and I feel that there are benefits to it. Some benefits are beyond word-description as they are more subconscious. Others are: less likely to be clique-kish since young and promotes competitive spirit. For some reason, Chinese are more competitive than other races.

2) Less likely to have disruption

i) Some neighbourhood schools tend to take in students more indiscriminately as they are more 'needy' of numbers. Some students who have special needs, and ought to be in special schools are in neighbourhood schools because of various reasons: the parents are in denial, or afraid that their children might be stigmatised or ostracised and refuse to send the children to special schools; the fees at special schools are too high for the parents to pay; there is no vacancy at special schools; special schools refuse to admit the children for various reasons.

So these children end up in neighbourhood schools. They disrupt the lessons on a daily basis. Children in the classroom watch free dramas every day as the child fights with other children, or fights with teachers. Teachers need to channel their energy to classroom management more often than teaching itself.

ii) The next reason may not be true or valid, but it's an inkling that I get: that Coco's school is less likely to insert relief or temporary teachers for curriculum teaching.

We all know of schools that have frequent change of teachers, or teachers who simply absent themselves for weeks in the course of teaching, leaving the children stranded on an academic island and affecting their studies badly.

I have a gut feeling that Coco's school is less inclined to do that for fear of complaints.

3) Coco would have to be the top 1st or 2nd if she were to be in a neighbourhood school to stand a good chance, or any chance at all, to get into a decent secondary school.

To me, that's harder than being among the possible 175 (approx) to get a good T-score at PSLE.

4) It's very far-fetched I know, but it was at the back of my mind when I decided to enrol her: her own children would be able to get into the school via an early phase next time.

I cannot imagine what would happen or how competitive it would get when it is her turn to do the P1 registration when we are experiencing craze at least 25 years ahead of her time.

Even decent neighbourhood schools see crazy balloting for the places. I was so tensed and worried during her P1 registration myself especially when hers was a baby-boom year. If we had to ballot, I was sure we would never get it if we had counted on my luck!

I will never know how Coco would have fared if she had gone to the school down my block. She might have been a prefect, might have been perfect, might have excelled, might have turned out to be very disciplined, might have been more competitive ... but I have made my choice based on the best information available to me at that point in time. I would have made the same choice if I could go back in time.

When my colleagues and bosses knew that I wanted to apply for no-pay leave to study with Coco, quite a few approached me and told me this: we all know that it's the child's attitude that determines how she does. So Coco might have the same kind of laid-back attitude towards studies even if she had gone to a neighbourhood school, and chances of it happening is higher because many children in the environment are equally, if not more, laid-back.

Have I ever doubted my decision in sending her to her current school? Sure.

Have I regretted sending her there? Never.

Sourcing for the Right Person

I had emailed quite a number of contractors and interior designers my enquiry on my study's carpentry last December and January.

Some were simply not interested due to the small-scale job and thus nil response, others replied me with an estimated quotation ranging from $3,500 to $8,000.

I met up with the one who quoted me the lowest and fastest, and trudged on to source for more contractors via renotalk forum.

A surface review of those I met up:

1) Sky from Basic Image Interior
He was the first to come down my place to take measurement and promised to give me a quotation within one week.
He disappeared without quoting. Probably forgot.
I didn't bother to chase after him.
If he can forget about my business, I'd better forget about him.

2) Steven from Vencia
Steven's response was the first to come in after I sent out enquiries.
The initial estimated quotation was about $3,500 which I thought was cheap.
Met up with two young and polite chaps, including Steven, at my place.
They provide 3D drawings even before you sign up with them.
The first set of drawings was a disappointment though even though I have told them the measurement and how I had envisioned the place to be.
I emailed them exactly what I wanted and their designers followed what was emailed.

Unfortunately, the final quotation came up to $6142 after some negotiation.

3) Eric from Biz Interior
He didn't smile throughout the measurement-taking, and was the first one to tell me the exact measurements of what I wanted may not be practical, an advice that reminded me of what my father had told me about what I wanted.

He sat there and started drawing up a 3D representation of the study, detailing the air-con trunking.

He seemed to know his stuff well, able to forsee the limitations and told me where the length of the drawers would extend to.

His quote: $5800.

4) Jimmy
A contractor I got off renotalk forum without knowing which company he is working for.
A young Malaysian guy who seemed to be nice and straight-forward.
He tried to match some of the items that I was quoted lower for.
But his door is on the high side ($1,200).

His quote: $5540.

5) ID Note
Got the contact off renotalk forum.
A friendly and nice uncle.
He quoted on the spot: $5330

6) Ah Hoi
Also from renotalk under a 'carpenter' thread.
He stayed at my place for close to two hours, detailing the measurements and drawings, and discussing with me the colours and laminates.

His quote: $4350

7) Mr Lee
A contact given to me by a colleague who did up his Design & Build flat for just $10k, without flooring.
Didn't get back to me after saying would contact me a couple of days later.

8) Siong Yee Renovation
A man by the name 'Ah Chai' came down to take measurements and gave me true-to-size quotation and told me how and what could be done for the limitations I mentioned.

His quote: $5630

Price is a concern to me. Of course, after the contractor nightmare I had six years ago, I don't want someone who just charges cheaply and can't deliver either.

Ah Hoi seemed honest and appeared to know what he was doing. He was also able to advise me on whether things to be done were feasible or aesthetical. And he was the cheapest. So I gave him a ring recently, 3 months after I first met him.

I took so long because I was worried that he might not have the laminate that I was looking for. I had flipped through the samples he brought down and didn't see The One I had in mind. On top of that, he didn't quote me the door initially. Then I thought, what the heck, my priority is the study furniture!

He came down on Thursday and we spoke for an hour plus to firm up the structures and layout of the cabinets and study table before I rushed off to pick up Baby.

He came down again on Saturday for 2 hour plus to confirm the design, the laminates, the dimensions of the furniture.

At the end of the discussion, he told me he would requote me as material prices and factory rental have increased after Chinese New Year!

I had also enquired about the cost to do up a feature wall for my bomb shelter and he had suggested to customise a shoe cabinet.

I told him we will talk about them after I look at the workmanship of the study furniture.

So I hope that on account of getting more business from me, he could give me a quote similar or even identical to what he had first quoted me.

These are what I have drawn up. I drew up quite a few as Ah Hoi kept making notes on my original drawings and taking them with him. These are the final version of what we discussed:

 Book cabinet

 Study table with top cabinet

Settee with storage

Let's hope they materialise.

Monday, 2 April 2012

A Glimmer of Hope for the Mother

For some reason, I picked up a free copy of My Paper at the MRT station as I was making my way home today.

Usually, I don't care for free papers because I am of the belief that 'no good thing comes free'.

Then I saw this

I was quietly excited - you would know how it feels like if you have ever wanted to scream out of excitement yet repress it for fear that the hope dashes.

I saw the potential of the opening of the film-studio of Hogwarts as a possible motivation for Coco to study hard for her upcoming life-threatening, all-encompassing, future-at-stake exam.

I am going to show it to her today. I am going to promise her a trip to the studio if she does well enough. I am just so excited about it :)

More can be read about it here.

The First Day On Our Own

Today marks the first day Coco is weaned from her schoolbus.

Ever since the schoolbus had a change of driver to a 'foreign talent', Coco has been coming home late. I mean, real late.

Her last lesson in school ends at 4pm. Her schoolbus normally sets off from school at 4.15pm. She used to reach home at 5pm, or slightly before or after 5pm.

Lately, she has been reaching home at 5.45pm. That's like almost two hours on the road! I find that totally unacceptable.

I called the boss to tell him the situation, that my kid had been coming home late ever since he got the new driver.

He became awfully defensive,"If you want your kid to go home early, fetch your kid yourself. You cannot expect me to ferry only a few kids. You cannot expect me to (do this and do that) ..."

So I called off the bus service last week and this morning, we went to school by train.

Unfortunately, the alarm did not go off. I woke up at 6.05am, the time we were supposed to set off!

After some rushing to the bathroom, drinking of milo, packing of stuff, we rushed out of the door at 6.25am.

Then, at the MRT station, Coco asked,"Where is my homework file?"

Drats! She placed it on the dining table when she wanted to put her waterbottle into her bag. After that, she forgot about it.

She looked utterly crestfallen. She was sure that her teachers would give her a earful for all the homeworks not submitted. Not wanting her First Day to be ruined, I told her I would bring the file to her after school.

When we reached our destination station, it was still raining. I told Coco that the morning was a formula content for 'The Most Unfortunate Day of My Life'. She smiled in agreement.

That was not all.

I walked in a puddle so that Coco could walk on the narrow pavement, but because of the poor visibility, Coco wanted to join me in the walk, so her socks and shoes were soaking wet when she reached school!

The only good thing that happened was that it rained, so there were many others who were also late. Children were still streaming in the school gate at 7.25am. Long, stationary lines of cars were formed on the single-lane roads heading towards Coco's school. That was just about the only thing that cheered the lass up.

Much Ado About Something

It has been a week since I started on my no-pay leave.

So far, I have cooked three full family meals and two morning porridges for Baby.

I have been sending Baby to school too.

A couple of days ago, when I was picking Baby up from school, her teacher suddenly said this to me,"We need your support to guide her at home."

I was surprised and was wondering why she said that.

She continued,"When we teach the theme 'Post Office', you can also support by teaching her about post office eg. I teach them when you apply for a job, you need to buy stamps to send the letter out. When I teach them 'H', I also ask them to go home and ask their parents for 5 more words that start with H."

All the time, Baby was hanging her head low, peeling off the hardened glue on her little fingers.

The next day, Baby did not want to go to school. She said she was tired, sleepy, leg was painful, itchy, wanted me to carry.

I told William about the 'phenomenon' and said in jest that Baby has his lazy gene.

When he picked her up after school, he said that he had asked Baby why she did not wish to go to school, and she said that her teacher had beaten her on the hand.

According to her, she had told her teacher that she was tired and would like to sleep.

Her teacher said no.

She cried.

Her teacher beat her on her hand.

Baby cried even more as she felt that it was painful.

I decided to ask for the teacher's side of her story today when I sent Baby to school.

The teacher said,"Beat her? NO!" and gave Baby a dirty look, and taking the tods with her, walked away quickly, leaving me looking and feeling like an idiot standing there while other mothers looked on.

A mother said something in Cantonese to another mother and walked away. The mother standing beside me asked if I had asked the teacher about her beating my child. I said 'yes'.

I was shocked that:

1) the teacher did not bother to clarify the matter
2) she gave Baby a dirty look
3) for someone in her fifties, or at least late forties, she actually took what a toddler (who is probably 45 years younger than her) said so personally
4) an early childhood educator behaving in an unloving manner

I am not expecting her to love my kid, but to give a toddler that young a dirty look is something inconceivable to me.

And she is supposed to be a Christian, given that the school is a missionary kindy. I don't supposed anyone who is a non-Christian would be teaching gospel songs to the kids.

But I don't want to kick up a big fuss over the matter and cause Baby to have any unhappy memories of her early schooling days. I will leave it as it is for now and hope that things will turn out for the better.