Archive for July 2007

I’m safe and well in Vientiane!

July 31, 2007

Finally, having met my course participants and realising they are all polite and earnest students who are nothing like the unreasonable ones faced by my predecessors, I knocked out with relief at 2100 and slept like a baby last night.

My first day went well. My 20 students are officers from different government ministries and are all very enthusiastic and cooperative learners. Their English is of a lower standard than expected, but I think they all have great potential and I am certain they will improve by leaps and bounds after a month of practice.

The Lao-Singapore Training Centre is located about 10 minutes away from my hotel. It is a two-storey house with a few rooms for training purposes, and is conveniently situated next to the Singapore Embassy. I haven’t had any time to take any pictures of it because I am always rushing to get in and out of the place.

I managed to get the hotel to take me to and from the training centre at a very affordable price per day. I suppose you can really walk there if you want since Vientiane is so small. It will take around 30-40 minutes, but I don’t think I would bother since I usually have so many things to carry.

Lessons start at 0830 and end at 1600. There is a 90-minute lunch break in between, and most of the students would ride their motorbikes back to their villages for lunch at home.

I have to speak quite slowly in class since many students have trouble understanding me. Yesterday I got them to introduce themselves and today we learnt about the weather. This Friday they will do a group presentation on their favourite place in Vientiane. I suppose it’s really good to be teaching Beginner’s English because you never run out of ideas on what to teach.

The Laotians are really very hospitable and very trusting. One of the hotel employees gave up on his rest hour just to send me to work in the car because he was worried the driver might get lost. The employees are always ready to open the doors for me, carry my bags and ask me if I had a tiring day at work when I return to the hotel.

My students offered to show me around Vientiane, take me to the Morning Market, and one guy even bought me chewing gum today because I told the class yesterday that it is banned in Singapore.

Today a fellow lecturer from Temasek Poly was kind enough to show me some lunch places around the training centre. I had delicious fried rice for S$1.00.

By the time I get back to the hotel and finish preparing the the next day’s class, it’s usually time for dinner so I have been venturing to the little restaurants near the Mekong River for my grub.

Last night I tried the Lao traditional dish, Laap with Sticky Rice at the Full Moon Cafe just two streets from the hotel. It was rather spicy and I was too tired so I only had half of it.

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Laap (chicken with mint leaves) and sticky rice in basket.

The hotel I’m at is very cosy and comfortable. I have a big king-sized bed which I’m currently sharing with a turtle soft toy which my thoughtful SS students bought for me when they came to see me off on Sunday. They even came in their SS t-shirts. How sweet.

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With turtle, Isabella, Wendy, Baoqiang and Gerald at the airport.

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Happy to have a row to myself on the 50% full Thai Airways flight to Bangkok.

I am really glad to have something to hug when I go to sleep every night. Thanks Wendy, Isabella, Gerald and Veera! And to Baoqiang for your chocolates.

That’s enough updates for now, I shall post again when I find some time.

Off to Laos!

July 29, 2007

I am all packed for Laos, but am down with an inflammed throat and slight fever. I think it’s because I’m too nervous. Even my period is late this month. I think I will try to stay in bed to rest this morning.

Some of my Student Seminar students who heard I’d be going away insisted on coming to see me off at the airport later on despite me telling them not to. They are really sweet kids, hopefully they won’t make me cry!

On Friday, my colleagues were thoughtful enough to suggest having a mini farewell session, but I didn’t really want to be the centre of attention, so we ended up just sitting in the staff room over tea.

And yesterday some other colleagues arranged to have lunch at the Rose Veranda at Shangri-La Hotel to celebrate Angie’s birthday and to wish me bon boyage. I received chocolates from Shir-leen and when I went to Soon Lee’s to meet the girls, Jean bought me more chocolates! Thanks ladies!

 

(Photos courtesy of Shir-leen)

I am really touched by everyone’s thoughtfulness and kind gestures. I never realised or expected I was so well-liked so the warmth and affection I received over the past week was truly overwhelming.

I really do appreciate all your well-wishes in person, through SMSes and phonecalls. Thanks to those who gave me encouragement and support when I was feeling apprehensive. And I am grateful to those who are keeping me in your prayers.

I will be getting a Lao SIM card and I believe I will have internet access in my room so I am sure keeping in touch will not be a problem. 

See everyone when I get home!

To my old man

July 25, 2007

Today is R’s birthday and I think I’ll take some time to pay tribute to this very special person who has been here long enough to see me blossom into a woman.

Our relationship is quite erm, unique. For a start, we spend a lot of time apart. This was OK for me initially, but in recent years I have found it to be very difficult. R is also considerably older than me, so I think both spend half the time wondering how we managed to come so far.

Despite all the odds against us, we get along, I would say, pretty well most of the time. Some people have not hesistated to ask me what exactly do we have in common and what do we talk about when we’re together. Those who know me a bit longer would know of our nasty fights and dramatic episodes.

I don’t know. Call me old or call him young, but amazingly we do share some same interests . Travelling, movies, trying new things, going new places, lazing about. Of course there are other things which one enjoys while the other finds boring. Though at times I feel he is an impatient, unreasonable chauvinist, I really do appreciate him and his quirky ways, and especially all the effort he has made recently.

For always offering me an fresh, alternative viewpoint on things, for sharing the same values, for loving animals, for being supportive, for realising we both need our own space, for being environmentally conscious, for not eating meat (something I’m trying to work at, really!), for appreciating the arts, for not caring two hoots about cars, for trying to be funny, for shifting my priorities, for trying, for being a trusty companion whom I can whine to and for loving me though I’m fat.

I’m really terrified about the future, R. Do help to allay my fears. Meanwhile, enjoy your special day.

With lots of love.

Straight off my mind

July 24, 2007

1. Haji Lane flea market

I went to visit Soon Lee again on Sunday and chanced upon Haji Lane’s first flea market. It brought back some memories of Notting Hill, though the range of products was definitely pale in comparison.

But I enjoyed walking along the quaint little lane lined with a quirky mix of merchandise and stylish people. I even managed to find a brand-new retro sling bag for S$20 at the flea market. What a steal!

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(Pictures from Soon Lee)

2. How not to get burnt out?

I am starting to realise that you need to invest a lot of time, work and emotions in order to become a good teacher. Unfortunately, this can turn out to be very intense and draining. This is my third week and already I feel slightly toasted. My question is: in order to make teaching a lifelong career, do you then try not to give so much so that you can last longer?

I don’t do marathons, I think I’m more a sprinter. I like to keep all my career performances short, but memorable. I don’t want to be a veteran teacher who just delivers and does it to pay the mortgage. But is it possible to strike a balance? How do you give just the right amount, to make a difference yet not get burnt out?

3. Laos

I started packing on Saturday and am almost done. I am feeling apprenhensive and quite panicky to be honest. I really hope I can pull this off. I am also worried about my kids, who would be in the hands (safe, I hope) of EJ for the next 4 weeks. It also suddenly dawned on me that Vientiane is a kampung with no easily available amenities, which resulted in me cramming my suitcase silly. What about food? What am I gonna eat? How how how? This is just, too much, too stressful for me the professional worrier, to handle!

Su’s birthday

July 19, 2007

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It was my helper Su’s 23rd birthday on Tuesday, so Mum and I bought her a pair of gold star ear studs. My aunt got her a portable radio and CD player. She spent the day out with her friends watching the latest Harry Potter movie in the cinema.

At night, we lit candles and tucked into a mini cream cake topped with strawberries. Su snapped many pictures excitedly.  

This was Su’s fifth year in Singapore. She hasn’t seen her family in three years and spent the prime of her life working in our flat, allowing us to concentrate on our jobs and having a comfortable home to return to.

Since Su would be leaving us after Chinese New Year next year, this would be the last time which we would be celebrating her birthday. That was also the reason why we tried our best to make it more memorable for her.

She put on the ear studs immediately, her hands brushing across the thin gold chain we had gotten her a year ago. She broke into a bright smile, while I was consumed by melancholy.

Ten years later

July 18, 2007

He was the first Ang Moh man I knew. He hailed from Britain. He was tall and blond, and had a toothy grin when he felt friendly. He was never late.

He loved to carry a black briefcase. He was always seen in a blue short-sleeved shirt and a tie, even in this humid weather. He had great posture. He was always sitting or standing straight. This might have resulted in his frequent backaches.

He hardly smiled, and seemed quite serious. You could always tell when Manchester United had lost a match by looking at his face. You did not want to annoy him on such ocassions. He was crazy about football.

He was able to make difficult concepts easy to understand, and he spoke in a manner which made me want to continue listening. He always made things interesting in his quiet, laidback way. He always sat down when he was talking. I think that’s due to his bad back.

We parted ways in 1996. I still have a picture I took with him. I heard he got married to a local girl and even converted to Islam. I have no idea if it’s hearsay or the truth.

I never imagined I would meet him again, but at the Plain English Speaking Competition (PESA), I saw his face as I turned around to check out the audience.

I did not recognise him immediately. He had aged. But who wouldn’t after so long? He had a few more wrinkles. His teeth were greyer than I remember, probably because of too much tea.

But that perfect posture, that blue short-sleeved shirt, that black briefcase, that nose-in-the-air look, were what gave him away. 

I remember feeling so enlightened after he had gone through A Midsummer Night’s Dream with us. I became crystal clear about the plot, the characters and their feelings. You need a good teacher to get you through Shakespeare, and I couldn’t have asked for more.

He joined Tanjong Katong Girls’ School in 1988 and stayed on for 15 years. At a time where not many schools employed expat teachers, it was refreshing for us girls to have a British teacher who spoke perfect English and made us understood Shakespeare without difficulty.

On Monday, it was just so odd to see us both as teachers, sitting below the stage, hoping the best for our respective students. It dawned on me then, that without his efforts, I would not been sitting here, 10 years later, cheering my own student on.

To Mr Brian Connor, my favourite English Literature teacher, thank you.  

Kudos to the Dim Sum Dollies!

July 15, 2007

I caught the theatre production, Dim Sum Dollies, at the Esplanade with my colleagues on Saturday. It was money well-spent as I had not laughed so hard for a long time.

This year, the DSD continued to entertain us with stories about Singapore, creatively using our cultures, scandals, news, languages, behaviours, mentalities and history to paint a tear-jerkingly funny self-portrait.

Fully sold out this season, DSD: The History of Singapore staged at an apt time since National Day’s just around the corner. The production was packed to the brim with Singaporean jokes delivered by iconic local characters. We let go of our usual inhibitions and sod all about being politically correct. Poking fun at ourselves was never this fun.

The end result was a stellar performance complete with witty dialogue and wicked humour, so beautifully delivered by the DSD and the ever talented Hossan Leong.

I loved every minute of it. And the best part? The only people on the planet who understood the humour and rocked in their chairs were Singaporeans.  

And last night, I was so proud to be one.