Friday, March 30, 2007

Blocked again


They did it again.

It's like a game.





And so on and so forth.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Id, Ego, Superego

Identity- The set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group

I had never before questioned my roots. Growing up in a multiracial/multicultural country where the concept of equality among races was indoctrinated into our young minds from an early age, I identified myself first & foremost as a Singaporean. The question of my “Chinese-ness” had never come up despite being “forced” to study Mandarin as a second language since being of Chinese origin, my mother tongue was considered Mandarin. I remember filling up a form which asked for Mother Tongue – I wrote there English…since that’s the language I think in, and dream in.

(Aside: Come to think of it, why do all the forms that we are asked to fill up in Singapore have the section on Race? If it is multicultural, how does that matter? I can understand that it is an important question when taking medical history. But when you apply for a phone line or club membership or housing loan or car loan etc, does it really matter?)

Now, being in the land from which my forefathers hailed, I find that I don’t feel any more Chinese than I did before. Maybe even less so, given my “foreign” tastes in food, clothing, music, books, etc and my inability to understand the local lingo if a native Chinese speaker starts rattling off at top speed. And I don’t feel bad about it.

I can appreciate the accomplishments of the Chinese- the richness of its culture, and the fact that some of the greatest inventions in history originated in China. I also realize that this country is home to cruel acts, sometimes of barbaric proportions, in history, both recent & not so recent.

For me, being Chinese is not the be all and end all of my existence. There are those who will probably gasp in horror at my seeming indifference to my ethnic roots. And I don't begrudge those who feel strong ties to their "motherland". But I am an amalgamation of my life experiences; I am Singaporean Chinese with a some American thrown in.

I guess I could consider myself a third culture adult.

That is my identity.

Happy Birthday, aliendoc.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

YES! Unblocked!

And blogspot is back in China!

For now, anyway...

For a while there, my new best friends were and

Smile :)

I certainly hope none of my surgical colleagues have or will ever encounter this situation...

And if you ever feel that your job sucks...

Friday, March 23, 2007

Stirring up the Passion for Learning

I watched a debate about the pros & cons of a democracy vs. communism this morning. No, it wasn't a discussion among a group of adults about politics. It was by a bunch of 7th graders (13 & 14 year olds) in school as part of their year long class project called "City on the Sea".

The premise behind this project is for them to develop a whole new city from the "ground" up within the scenario of the polar ice caps melting & covering all the land on earth. They had to figure out how much space they would need for the population, how they would generate energy to run the city, what kind of government they would want for the city (hence today's debate) & so on & so forth. Math, Science, Social Studies are all covered in this project as well as public speaking skills (when they make their own presentations on different aspects of the project).

This is the kind of teaching in schools that will stimulate the students, & encourage their passion for learning. And it was passion I heard during the Q & A session at the debate as the students all voiced their questions & opinions about the kind of political system they would want to have in their city. Hands were shooting up left, right & center as so many wanted their voices to be heard. The teachers were there, not to criticise their opinions, but more as moderators to keep things moving along smoothly.

I think we can argue till the cows come home about which education system works best for whom & in what country...but end of the day, when I see the enthusiasm stirred up in these students & their eagerness to question what is placed before them, it's clear to me what works...and what doesn't.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Impressions from China - blocking blogs

Living here, one thing I've learnt to appreciate is freedom.

I realise that many websites are blocked by "the authorities" here in China...Big Brother is certainly watching. And many of these websites are blogsites which may or may not contain material deemed "unacceptable for viewing" by the local authorities.

I have been having problems accessing this very blog site. I can post entries but can't read them (or any entry on blogspot or wordpress or live journal or xanga for that matter). I am hoping that it is just a glitch in the system & that eventually I will be able to get into the blogs I regularly read.

For now, I will need to be careful about what I write here.

Paranoid? Maybe. But I don't want to chance anything. You never know who's watching.....

Monday, March 19, 2007

Impressions from China - Construction Conundrum

These are some of the problems I have encountered with our house since we moved in a month & a half ago:

  1. Water condensation on some of the bedroom windows. I am not referring to the misty layer we see on glass when it meets cold air. This is water-droplets-rolling-down-the-window-on-to-the-floor condensation. Enough to cause the beginning of fungal growth on the curtains. Apparently this is not unique to our house. Others in the neighbourhood have been similarly affected. The contractor has tried replacing the double-glazed windows in vain. Those who have studied physics can probably surmise that the problem lies with poor insulation between the outer & inner surface of the exterior layer of glass resulting in the great temperature difference resulting in the water condensing on the warmer surface (i.e. inside surface of the window). But the contractor is waiting for warmer weather before commencing corrective work on this problem. Meantime, we live with towels perpetually placed on the window sills to absorb the water; otherwise we may end up with warped wooden floors.
  2. One particular toilet that always gets blocked. The maintenence guys say that this particular model has narrow & curved pipes leading out. Problem with this explanation is that the other two toilets have the exact same model of toilet bowl, but do not get clogged at all. Solutions they have offered include a) use less paper b) use paper but don't throw it down the loo...throw it in the trash basket instead.....EEEEWWWWW!!!!!
  3. Hot water (think sauna-steaming hot) that comes out the cold water faucet. We have to let it run for a few minutes before the water turns cold enough to not cook your flesh. Two contractors & two estate management guys were here yesterday trying to figure out the reason why. They held a long philosophical discussion on the workings of hot & cold water piping. After 2 hours, they were still at a loss as to what may be the problem. One guy suggested turning off the hot water supply for a day & see whether the same thing happens (duh). Next step: ask the boiler guy for his opinion.
  4. Heat rises (at least that's what I was taught in Science in Primary school). We have floor heating; however the coldest part of the house is on the top level. I think that during construction, the contractor must have tried to save on insulation & neglected to include the roof when putting in the insulating layer.

Speaking with long time residents of Beijing (& probably this applies to the rest of China as well),many contractors take short cuts to save cost & time. On the exterior, everything may look fine & dandy. But over time, faults start to show due to poor quality of material used, or due to replacement of original imported parts by sub-standard ones (they can then sell off the originals for a profit).

Due to this lack of quality control & standards, the "Made In China" label will take some time to be recognised as world class...

Saturday, March 17, 2007


How will MOE or any of the local schools respond to this letter, I wonder?

March 17, 2007, ST Forum
Which school would students rather be in?

LET me contrast the approaches taken by an international school and an autonomous school in Singapore.
Guess which school offers customer-service orientation to parents and students (teachers respect students and do not scream at them); later-starting school hours; curriculum that allows learning to take place (teach less, learn more); good and motivated teachers; small class sizes; no pressure on students/staff to win accolades (the journey is more important than the destination); minimal homework and tests/exams; hiphop dancing exercise for PE and, best of all, cellphone and laptop usage.
Students and parents are welcome to see the teachers and the principal himself whenever possible - no bureaucratic system to block access, even the security is friendly.
The typical Singapore school's philosophy is that 'children should be seen and not heard'. The moment they arrive in school, they have to sit down quietly in the hall to read. During recess, there is no time to play. They are not allowed to talk in class (too noisy). Small wonder many do not grow up articulate and find school to be, at best, a forgettable experience.
Shoes, socks and hair pose no big issues in the international school (don't sweat the small stuff). Students are free to show individualism (and do they look good). But not the stern Singapore school - it wants the students to look like factory-produced robots. I do not think this is the only way to instil discipline. I recall the time I had to go out late at night to buy white school shoes with laces for my child (velcro not allowed).
Education should reflect changes in the workplace and society - including cellphone usage. Everyone is using cellphones everywhere, except in our conservative schools. How do you expect students to learn to use their phones properly in public if they are not allowed to do so in school? Education is also about teaching them responsible use of the phone during lessons.
Ultimately, it boils down to mindset and how a school manages the students. It is time for the local schools to loosen up.
By the way, ask the international school students if they are happy and the answer is an affirmative 'Yes'. The students also do reasonably well academically, in case you wonder.

Lam Mun Wai (Mdm)

Regular readers of my blog would know that one of my pet peeves is the Singapore educational system. Some of the issues have been highlighted by Mdm Lam: teachers’attitudes towards their students (perhaps not screaming at them, but stern all the same), expecting students to be “guai”& sit quietly listening to the teacher doing all the talking instead of an interactive learning environment, class sizes, the emphasis on results (i.e. exams/tests) instead of the learning process etc.

Will they cite cultural differences as an excuse for the different approach to education? The need for a strict dress/appearance code to instill discipline? Banning cellphones to avoid distractions?

Let’s see what they say…

Monday, March 12, 2007

United 93

I just watched on DVD the docu-drama “United 93” which just won a BAFTA award (British version of the Oscars) for Best Direction. I

It was gut-wrenching to watch the re-enactment of the events that happened on 9/11. Emotions which I thought had already faded with time resurfaced. I felt chills & goose bumps watching the collision of the two planes smash into the two towers of the World Trade Center. I couldn’t stop the tears from forming. Despite knowing how it all ends, I couldn’t help but feel the devastation as it happened.

In addition to relating the story of what happened on flight UA93, the movie also shows a gripping view of what went on in the air traffic control towers on the East Coast & the military air command post when these events were unfolding. Two words: Utter Confusion. No one knew what was happening till it was too late. Even the military had no rules of engagement for such an occasion. No one ever thought that something like that could or would happen.

At one point, the director shot a close-up view of the radar screen showing all the air traffic that was in flying in American air space. Imagine each of those blips as a potential weapon. A terrifying thought. And not as outrageous as it may seem. Five years ago, if someone were to tell me that large commercial planes would be used by terrorists to inflict horror upon the world, I would have laughed & pooh-poohed it off as rubbish. Then look what happened.

I cannot imagine how the passengers on flight United 93 must have felt when they realized what was happening. How do you face your impending doom? What do you say in that last phone call to your loved ones?

And would you have the courage to do what those few did, trying to disarm the terrorists, knowing full well that whatever they did, the end result would likely be death?

What would you have done?

What would I have done?

I hope I will never have to find out for myself.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Impressions from China - Mandarin

Had my first Chinese lesson today. (note: last time I had a Chinese lesson was in 198_!) I admit was a bit nervous waiting for the teacher to come. Maybe it was my subconscious dragging up the horrible time I had trying to "scrape through" my Chinese exams in JC...I barely made it by the skin of my grade worse & I wouldn't have made it into University/Med school. I never learned to love the language in school, thanks (or no thanks) to the teachers I had. It was just a matter of trying to make the grade in order to progress up the academic ladder.

So today, I didn't know what to expect. The teacher is a very pleasant lady, used to teaching "wai guo ren" (foreigners). She first assessed what level of Mandarin I'm at. I am glad to say that as far as sentence structure & "grammar" are concerned (I put grammar in parentheses because there really isn't grammar in the true sense of the word in Mandarin; more like knowing how the verbs & the nouns & the adjectives & adverbs etc are used in a sentence, & in what sequence), she thinks that I am OK. My main problem area is vocabulary (or the lack thereof). And I totally agree with her. That's why I can't understand responses when waiters & salespeople answer my questions & also why I literally am lost for words while in the middle of giving instructions to the driver or the ayi.

The rest of the lesson was spent with her trying to encourage me to dig up whatever Chinese vocab I had by my describing (in Mandarin) pictures she showed me, translating English text into Chinese (with her help of course!) & with her asking me questions about Singapore to which I had to reply in Mandarin (very much like how it would be in a real life situation speaking to a local). Along the way, she would prompt me, & write down words which I didn't know into a note book, so as to help me build up my vocabulary.

The rest of my lessons are going to comprise of similar situational "conversations" with my teacher. Eg. at the market, or shopping for furniture, or instruction the ayi etc. Things which will be helpful in everyday life.

My kids (who both have very rudimentary knowledge of Mandarin) also had their first lesson today. I didn't sit in on their lesson, as I wanted to teacher to have free rein in assessing their standard. But I could hear them actually making the attempt at speaking to her in Mandarin (albeit with a very American accent!), learning the names of fruits (there happened to be a bowl of fruit on the table), figuring out how to verbalise different amounts of money (using real currency). They were laughing along with the teacher possibly over mistakes they made...whatever it was, they were laughing! They had NEVER associated Chinese lessons with anything remotely humorous before in Singapore...NEVER!!!

What a difference the teaching methods make. If only they could have taught us this way in the Singapore schools...maybe we would have developed a love & interest for the language.

P.S. My teacher used the word "han yu" (汉语) to describe Mandarin, not "hua yu" (华语) which is what is used in Singapore.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Doctor-Patient Relationship - A New Paradigm?

Dr Bard-Parker's latest entry talks very succinctly about this new (& evolving) relationship. Check out this article from the Boston Globe penned by Dr Marcia Angell , lecturer from Harvard Medical School.

I am not sure if the doctor-patient relationship in Singapore has reached this level in general. I believe that it has to a certain point, especially among the better-educated & usually younger patients.

In any case, I agree with Dr Bard-Parker that this is great advice from Dr Angell :

"As patients, your best bet is to ask your doctors what they would do in your place, and persist until you get a straight answer. If nothing else, that forces doctors to imagine being in your shoes, at least for a moment, and it may cause them to think more deeply about what you should do."

Monday, March 05, 2007

Impressions from China - Pollution

The rain & snow did some good. At least the pollution index has gone down to a good level of 34 today & 28 yesterday. Amazing.

It's scary looking at all the 3 digit numbers which signify how polluted this city usually is. No wonder everything is grey most of the time.

I'm glad we have our air filters at home.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Impressions from China - Freaky weather

Apart from a snowfall the day after we arrived, it had been absolutely moisture-less.

Till 2 days ago is started to drizzle.

Then to rain yesterday.

Then this morning, we woke up to a layer of white!

The trees must be confused. I've been noticing shoots of new growth sprouting from the branches, then now this.

Freaky weather as a result of El Nino? Global warning?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Good for a laugh

Inspired by angrydoc's latest blog entry (or rather, blog link), I figured these might be worth a laugh. It's one of those email jokes forwarded from various friends every so often - this is a keeper though...


Take 2 and the rest of the world can go to hell for up to 8 full hours.

Suppository that eliminates melancholy and loneliness by reminding you of how awful they were as teenagers and how you couldn't wait till they moved out.

Plant extract that treats mom's depression by rendering preschoolers unconscious for up to two days.

Liquid silicone drink for single women. Two full cups swallowed before an evening out increases breast size, decreases intelligence, and prevents conception.

When taken with Peptobimbo, can cause dangerously low IQ, resulting in enjoyment of country music and pickup trucks.

Increases life expectancy of commuters by controlling road rage and the urge to flip off other drivers.

Potent anti-boy-otic for older women. Increases resistance to such lethal lines as, "You make me want to be a better person. "

Injectable stimulant taken prior to shopping. Increases potency, duration, and credit limit of spending spree.

Relieves headache caused by a man who can't remember your birthday, anniversary, phone number, or to lift the toilet seat.

A spray carried in a purse or wallet to be used on anyone too eager to share their life stories with total strangers in elevators.

When administered to a boyfriend or husband, provides the same irritation level as nagging him.