Friday, August 26, 2011

Leaping lizards!

For the record, I hate house lizards.

Well, I hate all types of lizards but the other kinds don't enter my home uninvited so they don't bother me. Some of you might say, "no big deal, I don't like them either." But you see, I REALLY hate those lizards, ie they terrify me to the point of temporary paralysis. The phobia is so bad that I can't sleep if I know there's one in my bedroom. I'm paranoid that it will crawl on the ceiling and drop on me.

At home, Kenneth is known as the Lizard Killer. There's always a bottle of Baygon (to stun them) and a rolled up newspaper close at hand. He has to be quick cos those darn geckos are trickily fast. He jokes that he should put up a chart chalk-marking the number of lizards he has demolished, as a warning to all their kin.

Don't tell me that killing lizards is a sin as they eat mosquitoes and other insects. I've seen those lizards, most of the time, they're not quick enough to catch the mozzies. Instead, they've adapted to the lazy Singaporean lifestyle by coming out at night to feast on leftover crumbs of food. In other words, totally useless. Don't count on them to eradicate dengue any time soon.

I'm not sure how this phobia came about, I suspect I was traumatised when young. I lived in an HDB flat teeming with lizards and since I slept on a mattress on the floor, I came into close contact with them. I guess it didn't help that my parents merely laughed at my fear. In fact today, I still have a long recurring nightmare that I'm precariously perched on a piece of furniture while the room is swarming with the disgusting reptile.

I'm pretty sure part of the reason for my fear is that lizards simply look grotesque. They're bug-eyed with misshapen heads, and feet that cling creepily onto anything like stubborn blue tack. They even drop body parts at will, for Pete's sake!

We've tried everything from lizard traps to old wives' tales like leaving out lavender, egg shells and pandan leaves (I think the last one is more for roaches though). We've also put gauze over the bathroom window. Don't laugh but in a very extreme measure, we've even taped up our back door (we don't use it lah, obviously) since we discovered it was a major lizard highway to our kitchen.

I'm happy to say for the most part, our home is now generally lizard-free, except for the occasional rogue one. I'm a little apprehensive about moving to a larger place on the ground floor at the end of the year. I'll have to figure out how to lizard-proof it. Meanwhile, I'm keeping the Lizard Killer close to me.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I've got the music in me... maybe

A while back, I blogged about the ordeal that was Andre's Grade 5 theory exam. About that time, we also came to the decision that it was time for Andre's piano lessons to end.

It wasn't an easy decision. I had personally hoped that he would at least take piano lessons till the Grade 5 level (for practical) because before that, I believe it's hard to make a call if the child truly has no interest or if he merely doesn't like to put in the time for practice. I blogged about this philosophy here.

However, over the past year or so, the time pressures on Andre began to take their toll. What with school work, tuition and badminton training, he had hardly any free time left. He would practise the piano only when I nagged him to and at times, he would kick the piano in frustration or burst into tears when he couldn't get a piece right. It became increasingly obvious that something had to go - and piano lessons were at the bottom of the hierarchy.

I was pretty torn over this decision, especially since both Uncle Peter and I realise that Andre actually has an ear for music. But after the last set of tears, for the sake of his own sanity (and mine), I finally surrendered. I allowed Uncle Peter to sign him up for a Grade 4 practical exam, which he took on Tuesday, and that marked the end of this chapter.

I would say it wasn't in vain. For almost 5 years, Andre had some music drummed into him weekly by the wonderful Uncle Peter, who became more than a teacher but also a counsellor and friend. The two of them shared a fantastic relationship, it was common to hear laughter emanating from the room during piano lessons.

And of course, the music. More important than the ability to play the piano, Uncle Peter has managed to make Andre NOT hate music. In fact, when I asked Andre whether he would ever continue his lessons, he surprised me by saying he might take them up again in the future, though with the caveat that there be no exams.

That's good enough for me. Meanwhile, I made sure I recorded Andre playing his Grade 4 exam pieces. This might be the last time I'll ever hear him play anything!

1st piece

2nd piece

3rd piece

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The gentle giraffe

Growing up, Lesley-Anne was always a stuffed toy kind of girl. She never was one to play with dolls - her stuffed toys were her childhood companions.

She played masak masak with them (they were definitely more cooperative than her brother) and even dressed them up using scraps of fabric. I'm pretty sure in her mind, they all had distinct characters.

Even up to primary school age, she would still bring along a stuffed toy whenever we went out, often rotating among her favourites so they would get equal excursion time. Fair is fair.

However, one of them in particular, stood the test of time and that was Gerry the giraffe.

It was given to her by my sister when she was practically a new born so it's as almost old as she is. It sparked Lesley-Anne's fascination for the animal and remains a sentimental favourite for her.

She started a giraffe collection and was known by her primary school classmates as the girl who loves giraffes, which is somewhat ironic considering her physique is far from tall and lanky!

Here's a peek at part of the giraffe stuffed toy collection today (there's tons more! We're such hoarders). Bet you never knew there were blue or fat giraffes. I like the one on the far right with the googly eyes - it makes me laugh.

And other giraffe trinkets.

We will be moving house towards the end of the year and as a treat, I ordered a couple of giraffe bookends from ebay for her bookshelves. Aren't they sweet?

But it would be tough to beat the experience she had during our Bangkok family vacation last year. We visited Safari World and she actually came right up close and personal to an entire tower of giraffes, feeding them endless buckets of leaves and bananas. That was truly a highlight.

A Knotty Problem

A scarf for a giraffe
Would be forty feet long
But how would a giraffe
Know how to put one on?

- Patrick Winstanley

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sec 3 subject combinations

This month, the sec 2 students in Lesley-Anne's school have one main thing on their minds - subject combinations for sec 3.

In my time, this was a much easier affair, largely because it was a lot more autocratic. In my school, the top 40 kids would be streamed into triple science, the next 40 sub-science, the next 40 pure arts and the next 40 commerce. Within these classes, the subjects were pretty much fixed. Eg. in the commerce stream, you would take Accounting and Geography.

We didn't really have any say in the matter. I was streamed into triple science but being very clear about my inclination towards the humanities, I requested for a change to the pure arts class. I was treated as a strange animal since I was essentially asking for a "downgrade" (I'm still miffed that even today, the arts is still consistently considered a second rate choice to the sciences). However, the principal herself was arts-inclined and so was sympathetic to my case. On hindsight, it was a good decision as I have no head for the sciences and probably would have performed disastrously.

One thing I thought was odd was that Art was a subject in my class. This always struck me as particularly cruel since there were students who obviously couldn't paint a tree trunk to save their lives, but were forced take it as an O level subject simply because they were allocated that class. For me personally, I loved it. One fewer subject to mug for!

The choice of subject combination today is a lot more democratic. Well, sort of. In Lesley-Anne's school, most subjects are compulsory:

Language arts
Maths 1 & 2
One other science (Physics or Biology)
Social Studies

What the kids have to choose is whether they will take an additional science subject (which would make it the triple science stream) or a humanities subject (History, Geography or Literature), making it the humanities stream. Those going to the humanities stream would also need to decide whether Physics or Biology is their second science subject.

Lesley-Anne is most definitely humanities-bound. The question is which humanities and science subjects she will choose. Right now, it's most likely Lit and Biology though things can change, of course.

One of the issues she (and I'm sure many students) grapple with is, whether to take the subject that's easier to score or the one you're more interested in. I have been advising her to follow the latter. What's easy to score usually depends on the individual. For eg, Lesley-Anne's seniors tend to find Physics easier than Biology. But this could also be due to the fact that they're generally strong in Maths, something Lesley-Anne isn't.

She's also unsure whether to take up Lit as she hasn't been doing that well in prose analysis. However, I feel that if you have a keen interest in something, you will tend to be more motivated in it, hence increasing your chances of doing well in it. At the very least, you'll enjoy the learning process. Whereas if you take a subject purely for the sake of scoring, if this backfires, man, you're screwed.

Many students choose subject combinations for pragmatic reasons, eg either the one they think will give them the most options later on at tertiary level or the one that will open up the best careers. This is only my opinion and you are free to disagree with me, but I feel this is a very dated approach. Unless these choices also happen to be the ones you enjoy the most, I don't agree with this reasoning.

The world is a very different place today. Professional degrees are not always the most sought after anymore. In fact, people are carving up new (and lucrative) career paths all the time. The most successful people I know do not necessarily go to the best schools or have the best starts - they're the ones who have pursued their passions in a creative way and founded careers that are aligned with their interests.

And even if you're earning good money, many folks are realising that this is not enough to give them fulfilment in life. Personally, I know a lawyer who became a civil servant, engineers who became insurance agent or sales reps and a business graduate who became a teacher.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that at 15, we probably don't know all the possibilities out there, let alone what we want to do as a career. So unless you're very sure about your life's calling, the safest bet actually is to do what you enjoy. Remember the adage, if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life.
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