Saturday, 25 January 2014

Facebook the Monster

Sometimes I think Facebook has become a monster. A monster that controls us all, and one who eats you up when you are not careful.

It used to be a friends-connecting device. I first knew about it when my then-supervisor emailed me a link to join Facebook. I thought it was at best another Friendster thing that would diminish over time. And because I was invited by my supervisor, I'd better joined it.

I was a dormant user for quite a while, not knowing how to utilise it, until a friend mentioned on her blog about looking at pictures on Facebook.

So I explored the function of uploading pictures on Facebook. I found it fun to be able to show my friends my pictures, so I uploaded hundreds and hundreds (a friend said there must be thousands) of them while the function was novel to me.

I progressed to using the 'What are you thinking of today?' function by posting my grouse of the day.

Then I made lists on Facebook so that it compelled me to remember what I had to do for the day.

Now I usually post things that make me laugh. Whether it is funny to my Facebook friends doesn't matter.

It becomes an addiction to check Facebook on a constant basis.

I had thought that it is a friendly device. It keeps me updated with what friends are up to, what their husbands buy for them, where they have been for holidays and the articles they read.

Until I read about this: Anton Casey, where has all our empathy gone?

The writer is very perceptive. I think just about the whole of Singapore has gone crazy with rage at Anton Casey. He picked up the herd mentality in this furore and summed up how humans are corrupted without themselves knowing:

The herd mentality has historically brought out the worst in human beings, because it stops us thinking as an individual, and doesn't allow us to find our moral compass.

It is also somewhat ironic that many of those who are angry against authoritative figures or the elites for perceived abused of power, often behave just as badly when they perceive that power has shifted to them - a power that is simply derived from the sheer number of people egging them on. Similarly, those who chastise the Government for groupthink also themselves fall prey to a groupthink mob mentality.

In short, the article is about how internet users are so sucked up in their anger towards Casey that sometimes we don't even think: are we angry with him because we are angry with him ourselves or are we angry with him because everybody is angry with him?

Call me spineless, but I honestly could not be bothered with what Casey thought. It was on his Facebook and he was entitled to his opinion. Anyway, my rich London experience has already given me a good inkling of how his kind perceive us. I just thought he was being stupid by posting such unintelligent stuff, something only frustrated, struggling peasants like me would do. Given his standing in the society and his obscene wealth, if I were him, I would remain a silent Facebook user like a banker friend I have. You have too much at stake to do silly things that peasants can do without any consequences!

But within a few short days, he has to fly to Perth to lie low from the mob.

Isn't Facebook a frightening thing? If Facebook doesn't exist, his life would not have experienced such an upheaval. The same goes for Amy Cheong, the lady who commented that some people should not get married if they could not afford something better than a void deck.

My Facebook friends' list consists mainly of people I know, and a few that I have met once, but felt comfortable to add as friends. But just a click of 'like' on my Facebook posts easily exposes my posts to other users that are out of my friends' list.

The Casey and Amy Cheong incidents serve as constant reminders that Facebook is a device that we should use with extra care. It can destroy us or our careers with a snap of its finger. It just takes a distasteful caption or a frank opinion to do that.

For someone as frank as me, all the more I should rein in my opinion.

A forummer pmed me that she 'start to appreciate your frankness a little more now' after reading a lengthy post I wrote. That jolted me further to rethink about being frank. "Nobody likes a frank person", as put by a straightforward friend when I was 20, when I commented that I liked her frankness, even when she pointed out to me that I had fats in my flabby upper arms. Apparently, her clique of friends was making their way out of her life because they did not appreciate her direct ways, but for someone who was raised to be repressed and submissive, frankness was something very refreshing to me. It is something that I have learnt and conscientiously value up till today.

Just that, for the age that I have come to, no matter how frank I am, I must withhold my frank opinion on Facebook the monster, sometimes.

Friday, 24 January 2014

The only way some children learn

The tiny red dot has been riled up by a few videos that have gone viral lately, namely the K-pop contestant who said that she was not proud to be a Singaporean, the Brit prick who mocked at the Singapore peasants who take public transport and the Spectra boy who shouted at his teacher.

Of these videos, the Spectra boy's case struck a chord with me the most.

Because I had a very challenging year last year because of someone worse than him.

On top of the fact that I had a teacher-aid shadowing me at my lowest-achieving class, I had a very defiant boy who was constantly challenging authorities. Any teacher who entered the class would have his or her 'once-in-a-lifetime' encounter, whether you are a subject teacher or a relief teacher who just goes into the classroom for 30 minutes.

He always came late for school. He didn't want to pay attention in class. He wanted to play paper planes with friends when the children were supposed to do work. He found lessons boring and would walk around the classroom, trying to provoke you.

He spewed the most fluent string of vulgarities I had ever heard. In fact, he blurted them out so fast and furious the only word I could hear was the f word on a repeated basis.

He jumped at anyone who he suspected was using vulgarities on him, even a very mild-mannered girl. He was always ready to attack anyone - and I mean anyone - if he felt challenged.

When he didn't get the attention he wanted, he tore down the displays in the classroom. He removed all the pins on the noticeboard and left the notices and documents strewn on the floor. If you still don't give him the attention, he would start a string of verbal abuse at you or do something to his classmates to make you succumb to his demands.

An example of a scenario:

Me: Please go back to your seat. Do you want me to minus points from your group?

Boy: If you minus points from my group. You see what I will do!

Me: Are you threatening me?

Boy: YES!

The worst he did warranted a police report, even for his age, but such publicity would do a lot of harm to the boss' reputation and appraisal, so the teacher told him with gritted teeth,"I forgive, BUT I WILL NEVER FORGET." I am sure she meant it because the marks would have remained with her for at least a few days.

And he was only 9.

Each time he acted up, the teacher who was present or who 'triggered' his violence would have to write a report on what had happened and give a detailed verbal account to the counsellor and sometimes the boss.

I wrote at least 3 times. Another teacher said he wrote countless times because he saw the boy once a week and every week, he refused to let the boy have his way, and so the boy always exploded.

In that teacher's word, everytime he acted up, the teacher got punished.

Consequences? No agreement seemed to work with him. The counsellor had to change the rewards and consequences frequently to try to make him like the rewards and hate the consequences, but they seldom lasted long.

Under the 'suggestion' of the English teacher, he was placed at the front of the classroom - something I would never do with such a disruptive character. But she insisted so badly that she cc-ed the bosses and had the bosses pressured me to do so.

The way I saw it, he became worse because now he was in full view of the audience. He could have as much attention as he wanted now. But I didn't want to get myself into trouble because of him, so I let him be, by and by. And all the more so because I have not put a destructive character at the front of the class before that, and showered him with attention. My belief is that such a character gets worse with more attention since what they do in the first place was to get attention. So I ignored him most of the time.

However, he was not the only challenging character. As the class consisted of many special needs children and children who were easily distracted, some of the boys decided to emulate him, especially when they saw that no teacher could do anything to him.

I referred at least 4 to the counsellor for behavioural issues, and at least 2 for dyslexia, bearing in mind that these are new cases. And each time, I had to fill up a form that consisted of about 4 or 5 pages that went into the specifics of the child's behaviour, academic performance, and after which, I had to hunt down another 2 teachers to give me their feedback on the child before submitting it to the counsellor.

On top of what other normal teachers do, I was doing a lot of admin and paper work that other teachers would not need to do because of the class I had.

I felt exhausted - emotionally and physically, and discouraged, that a big group of these 9-years-olds would not put in any effort to learn, on top of the fact that I had to deal with the challenging boys.

Just one year after my break, I felt that I was ready to throw in the towel when I was totally enthusiastic in making a great comeback at the beginning of the year.

So I applied for another year of no-pay leave, but it wasn't approved, obviously.

But a break of one month is better than nothing. I just felt that I couldn't face these 'children' again.

For someone who was strict with classroom management, discipline was impossible with the boy around. I felt that my hands were tied, all the more so when a teacher-aid was around. The only thing she could help me with was to run to the office and get the counsellor or boss when the boy acted up. Other than that, I had to be very careful with the words I said to the boy especially when someone else was around. I felt tremendously pressured. I might have scolded the boy and told him off sternly if I didn't have an aid. With one, I didn't want her to make me look like a trigger in the worst case scenario.

Nobody truly understands what I went through, except for teachers who had their share of verbal abuse or physical abuse from him. And even then, their reaction didn't have to be 'monitored' by another person when faced with the boy.

Which is why I totally think that the teacher in the video could not have handled it better.

I felt that the 'Justin' in the video would never have apologised to his teacher if he was not condemned by the internet.

I think my challenging boy would only learn that he is wrong, if and only if, the whole world sees what he does, and condemns him collectively. His parents would then be able to feel the gravity of the situation, that this boy is a 'gone case' if they are still in denial that everything's good.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Secondary Schools Dilemma

William was telling me that a student's parent was constantly doing comparison between her daughter's school and Coco's school.

She said that her daughter's school also has students scoring more than 250 at PSLE, so the two schools are similar.

I brushed it off, adopting the if-you-know-you-are-better-there-is-nothing-to-fight-over attitude towards the silly comparison.

She persisted and argued with him over smses and watsapp. Her argument included an example: her daughter was doing better than Coco's primary school classmate who scored 258 and in her daughter's class, so similarly, an O level track school may not lose out to an IP school.

I adopted the all-schools-are-different-what's-there-to-compare attitude, especially when one is an O level track school whilst the other is an IP school.

She continued her silly battle. At the end of last year, she said her daughter's neighbourhood primary school is the same as, if not better than, a top school because her daughter was in the top 3 in class at sec one while Coco's primary school classmate failed 2 or 3 subjects.

It got a little irritating. I wish I have something intelligent to say to her as rebuttal.

At the same time, I sympathise with Coco's primary school classmate.

For a girl who scored 258 at PSLE and has gone to an O level track school, she ought to excel in the school.

It is puzzling to know that she becomes a totally different person when she goes to secondary school.

In Coco's primary school, she was the vice head-prefect who excelled academically.

When she goes to the O level track school, she doesn't do her homework but copies from her classmates when she reaches school the next morning.

She steals her classmates' books or belongings and hides them in another classmate's locker/s, possibly just for fun.

And she fails "2 or 3 subjects" at the end of sec one.

I once read, on a forum, about a girl who did well enough to get into good schools but she enrolled herself into a neighbourhood school for fear of stress.

She ended up playing truant and hiding school letters from her mother.

Eventually, she admitted to her mother that school had been boring for her.

Other parents on the forum encouraged the parent to transfer the daughter to a better school as they felt that it could be because the daughter was not sufficiently challenged in terms of the academics and that was the reason for her boredom.

I am wondering if the same could have happened to Coco's classmate.

She lives in a penthouse in a shopping mall in Orchard area. She doesn't need to steal anything.

She excelled in her studies in primary school. It is illogical that she does badly at a secondary school in which she is likely to be one of those who holds the highest T-score.

She was popular and well-loved in her primary school. A pretty girl with fair skin and Eurasian features. She doesn't need to invite unwanted attention to herself.

I went to her Facebook page (horrible mother-stalker of daughter's friends, I know) and saw that many of her Facebook friends went to top schools or IP schools. She was not active on Facebook.

William reckoned that the girl's parents would have wanted her to receive an overseas education after doing O levels, and that was why she was enrolled into an O level track school, but Coco defended that decision by saying that the girl had, all along, said that that school was her dream school.

It dawns on us that secondary school selection is ever so important. But then again, who would know what would happen? The girl's school is a good O level track girls' school. It is by no means a lousy school, but what has happened in the school or to the girl that such has happened to her? We can probably only make the best decision for our children based on the information available to us there and then.

I hope that things work out for this girl soon. It is really a waste to see an excellent student fading away.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

First Swimming Lesson

I had my first swimming lesson today.

The coach is the same person who taught Coco swimming. He is also coaching Baby on a different day of the week.

I was glad to know that the two other indian ladies were also having their first lesson today. Besides us, there were 3 other Indian men and 1 Chinese man.

At first, it seemed easy enough.

We were taught to hold our breath under water. Then, hold onto the side of the pool while allowing our body to float on water. Eventually, we were asked to let go of the side while we withdrew our legs to stand in the pool. I couldn't do it.

The moment I let go, my legs couldn't withdraw together and I lost my balance, and fell into the water.

I panicked, and struggled despite it being a 1m or 1.2m pool. The coach had to pull me up to save me from drowning.

In the end, the coach got me to skip that 'let go of the poolside' step and taught me to kick the water and floating around the pool while grabbing onto two pieces of swim board.

I got a little discouraged and asked the coach if it's possible that I wouldn't be able to pick up swimming.

He was nice, as usual.

He said I wasn't that bad (doesn't that sound familiar?), and that one of his students didn't even dare to put his face into the water when he first taught him.

I first learnt swimming when I was in Primary 3.

The coach was handling half a class by himself. He asked us to walk across the pool for the first lesson. Being one of the smallest-sized, the water reached up my chest, or somewhere near there. While many of my classmates walked fast and furious, I faced a lot more resistance due to my (lack of) height. And I fell into the water a few times, resulting in me drinking a lot of water while doing somersaults in the water.

It scared me.

Then I had another coach who asked everyone to grab a swim board and start swimming across the pool before he even taught us. I told him I didn't know how to and he asked me to practise 'washing my face' by the pool, meaning looking under water with eyes opened.

Then I fell a few more times into the water when I tried to do what the coach asked us to.

All these unpleasant experiences scared me.

I was so scared that when the schoolbus came to pick me up, I pretended to be asleep.

When my parents tried to wake me up, I was so frightened I cried and told them I didn't want to go swimming.

I didn't think that I would ever learn swimming again.

As I signed Baby up for her swimming class, I thought it such a shame that I couldn't even enjoy Wild Wild Wet and Adventure Cove because I didn't know how to swim. And I do want to have a good time with Baby when we go Adventure Cove again. So I mustered all my courage and went to the class tonight.

Let's hope I'll do better in the second lesson!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

The teenage me in her

When I was a teenager, I had low self-esteem - primarily because I did badly in my studies especially from Sec 2 onwards. It was so bad that I thought I would end up in Normal Stream. I can't recall how I did eventually but I managed to remain in the Express Stream. My self-esteem continued to be low throughout my formal education journey, all the way till I went for training at NIE.

As a result of my low self-esteem, I had a deep need to belong. That was when City Harvest Church came into my life, but that was another story. Like what Coco is going through right now, I felt that no one understood me, and friends were better than family. I am not sure if other teenagers went through the same phase, but I certainly felt that the feelings were unique to me.

Today, I see the same happening to Coco.

She doesn't want to confide in me. Instead, she wants to look for the school counsellor. What I said in concern, she took it that I wanted to cover her 'inadequacies' up. I said that there could be stigma in getting counselling as usually the problematic kids are the ones who go for counselling. She read it as: You are not allowed to go for counselling as it brings shame on me.

What I said to point out her tardiness in picking up after herself, tidying up her room and revising her work, she took it as 'discouragement and demotivation'.

What I said in jest, that I could be her counsellor, she took it as a serious message that I really thought I was equipped to be one.

She is at an ultra-sensitive age - the age that I was.

What she doesn't know is: her mother went through the same phase as she did, and didn't have the luxury of a room to cry in private like she does.

She says that she wants to work hard but we are constantly demotivating her. I am not sure how we can better do this. I recall what my mother would say to me:

"You can't study one lah. Cannot means cannot."
"Stupid is stupid. No amount of studying would help."
"You cannot make it one."
"If you have it, you have it. If you don't, study how much also no use."

That sounds like true-blue demotivators to me, although I now know that was said with the intention to spur me into studying hard.

We said nothing like that to Coco. In fact, we told her that we believe in her, and that we know that she has the ability to do well. It is her laziness that is stopping her from achieving more. We are no experts in child psychology. Perhaps our tone doesn't sound convincing that we do believe in her since most of the time, we speak in exasperation since her laziness really gets on our nerves, but if we didn't believe that she could thrive in the school or the system, we wouldn't have allowed her to choose this school.

I don't know why different words can have the same result. How can "You are stupid!" and "You are not stupid!" have the same effect of demotivating a person?

I told myself I would never belittle my own child, which was why I stopped all the attempts made by my mother and sisters to call Coco 'stupid' when she was young. I was prepared to quarrel with them if the word came out of their mouth.

Today, Coco is saying that we are belittling her when what we are trying to do is to point out the clear-cut path she must take ie. diligence and being focused, and the consequences that she would face if she doesn't.

Generation gap, is this what it is?

Keeping parents' mind nimble

We walked past Lucky Plaza yesterday.

Baby saw a huge picture of a few blondes wearing Alice in Wonderland pinafore, looking all smiley and welcoming, at the doorway. So the question popped out of her lips:
Mummy, what's inside?

The brain quickly rummaged itself for some simple, appropriate and correct answers and within a few seconds, the wise mother was armed with a 'clever' (or at least she thought so) answer,"... Hmm ... It's an adult shop. Only adults go there."


Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Missing Paris

I was at Takashimaya the other day when I walked past a Laduree boutique on the Level 2.

As it turned out, there was another counter at Level 1. I got some for Coco as she is a huge fan of macarons and she concurs with the review that Laduree makes the 'most delicious macarons in the whole world'.

From the top: Salted Caramel, Rose, Salted Caramel (again, because Coco loves it to bits!), Strawberry Candy Marshmallow, Chocolate, Orange Blossom.

Of all, Strawberry Candy Marshmallow was the only one Coco tried for the first time. And her verdict? 'Delicious!'

I am not a fan of macarons as I don't have a sweet tooth, but I tried the Orange Blossom and thought it was good!

A box of 6 for $32. Very expensive I would say. I got the same number of macarons with a bottle of 8 euro Evian water at 22.40 euro in Paris Champs Elysees!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Ah, the cuteness of innocence!

Baby spotted this at the household section at a provision shop below our flat and excitedly she squealed,"Daddy use this to shave his moustache!"

Monday, 6 January 2014

Hi, 2014!

I had applied for a month's no-pay leave this year, and will be working on a part-time basis when I return to school next month.

I felt that I needed a break. A break from many things: the job, the politics, the people, the being-watched, the appraisal, the watsapp chatgroup.

2013 was not a fantastic year for me.

Besides having a hard drive that died on me, which brought 2 years' worth of pictures along with it to its grave, the computer had some problems with blogspot. I could not upload pictures, and even now, it works very weirdly whenever I log into blogspot to try blogging.

Workwise, I felt very oppressed throughout the year, especially when I had a few opinionated colleagues who worked closely with me, and demanded that I did what they wanted me to do even when it was not their scope of management.

I had some bad fights with my sisters last year. Something that had not happened before in our close to 4 decades of sisterhood.

Coco was so caught up with her CCA and her new-found freedom as a teenager in a secondary school that she forgot that diligence was the key to her academic success.

Socially, I often met up with a friend who had a negative perception of the world around her. To me, her working environment is just about the best I have ever heard, but she was always complaining about how lousy the environment was, yet refusing to change to another environment after exchanging information with other friends from other workplaces. Such mindset is beyond me. If you are so awfully unhappy with your workplace, why don't you seek a greener pasture? And when she saw something, usually unpleasant, that she could comment about my kids, she would go into that too.

I decided to take a break from her too.

I am a pessimistic person enough. I indulge in complaints sometimes, but not all the time. It's fine to let out your frustration and exasperation here and there but I find it tiring to be critical about everything.

Without the negative energies around me these few days, I feel lighter. It's like having an air of oppression lifted from me. But of course, my pocket also feels lighter. I even compared prices of photo albums from Popular versus a photo-printing shop.

With more time and energy on my hand, I think about taking pictures again.