Monday, July 30, 2007

Learning Mandarin

This writer has it spot on:

30 July,ST Forum

Review mother tongue as success path in school

MR KELVIN Chia's view that 'a certain degree of regurgitation is not only well placed, but also very necessary' for language acquisition is a perception that needs to be debunked ('Current system may not be the problem'; ST, July 23).
The ability to regurgitate words and phrases simply proves a student's good memory but does not necessarily reflect ability to understand or appreciate the context of their use - a fundamental aspect of effective language acquisition.
With the dynamic nature of challenges ahead, rote learning cannot be the order of the day in schools.
Mr Chia also likens the teaching of Mandarin to that of English. The process of acquiring English as described by him is not in line with current best practices.
Backed by research, enlightened preschools in Singapore and many parts of the world have moved away from spelling lists and teaching the alphabet through repeated writing.
Pedagogy has evolved to focus on the development of long-term appreciation and love of the language.
By suggesting it 'makes better sense to promote the use of Mandarin at home than to adjust the current system', Mr Chia assumes every parent is effectively bilingual and able to speak Mandarin fluently.
The truth is many lost touch with Mandarin once they left school, for the simple reason that the working world is English-speaking and the language of business is predominantly English. Hence the language of choice for most is English.
This is a point acknowledged by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew when he cited the example of his children's choice of English as their predominant language even though they were educated in Chinese-medium schools.
Those who attempt to keep up their Mandarin proficiency inevitably end up peppering their speech with words and phrases in English, Singlish and dialects.
To speak Mandarin at home, as Mr Chia proposes, is in effect more detrimental than beneficial.
So many parents are unable to help their children tackle Mandarin at the pace and standards set by the Ministry of Education. The solution for a long time has been to engage private tutors but this should not be perpetuated.
Past approaches have failed to produce a generation of Singaporeans who can remain sufficiently fluent in Mandarin beyond their school years. We cannot afford to make the same mistake with the next generation.
It is time to review the criteria of mother-tongue proficiency as a requisite and determinant for progress in our education system.

Jocelyn Lim Chieh Ying (Mdm)

Fact: The average Singaporean does NOT speak proper Mandarin. And I am not just talking about the accent; but when I ride the MRT & listen to the surrounding "Mandarin speakers"conversing, I hear a Chinese sentences with liberal sprinklings of English words & even Singlish colloquailisms, as described by Ms Lim.

Fact: Students from English-speaking homes have been having trouble with learning Mandarin since my school days (back in the 70's & 80's). No matter what changes in policies & pedagogy have been applied by MOE, it did not & does not seem to be working, as evidenced by the groans & moans of my friends who have kids in Primary school. Mandarin has become the bane of their lives. Their kids hate learning it, & probably spend more time on trying to pass tests/spelling/exams than on any other subject.

Fact: Yes, Mandarin is an important language to learn, given China's economical growth & potential. No one is disputing this at all. But KNOWING that it is important does not make learning the language any easier.

I am sure that MOE is aware of what I have stated & what Ms Lim has said. My question is: why the reluctance to re-look & possibly re-vamp the whole approach to this problem (and yes, it IS a problem). Why don't we hear the same complaints from the Malays or the Indians whose children learn Malay & Tamil as a second language? Someone should analyse these differences & figure out what's wrong (& what's right) about the teaching of second language in Singapore.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Impressions from China - Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane

Or DDT, for short.

Apparently they still use this here, in the land of tainted toothpaste, dubious dog food & contaminated cough syrup. Naive person that I am, I was shocked when my ayi told me to warn the kids not to touch the leaves of the trees in our front yard as the gardener had just sprayed DDT.

Yikes, I thought.

DDT has been banned in countries like the USA, Canada, Singapore, Switzerland for some time now. But it's still being used here although China did ratify the Stockholm Convention back in 2004 whose aim is to eliminate persistent organic pollutants. It has 5 years to stop production & use of such pollutants.

DDT had its uses in reducing insect-borne diseases like malaria & yellow fever. Problem is, DDT persists in the environment, and is stored & accumulated in animal fat. There has been some controversy over whether it should be banned in the first place, & whether there is any link between DDT & cancer.

Who to believe? Tough call.

Meantime, I think I will stick to organic tea leaves & washing my fresh fruits & veges with detergent before consumption. Can't take things for granted here...

Back & Forth, To & Fro

There has been such a spate of letters in the Straits Times over the issue of decriminalizing homosexuality lately, and arguments about the wrongness or rightness of homosexuality. Angry Doc gives his very nicely written take on this issue.

It seems to me like a good majority of Singaporeans are still very homophobic. Not only that, but they seem to have a very closed-minded & tunnelled-vision view of homosexuality. Lots of generalizations have been used about how homosexuals are sexual predators/spread HIV rampantly/can corrupt young minds/are perverts & so on & so forth.

It saddens me to think that in the 21st century, in a so-called First World country, there are still these kinds of viewpoints. I shouldn't be surprised, should I, as many Singaporeans still have a very conservative stance where sexuality is concerned. What scares me is that these mistaken prejudices are used as excuses by these people to support their views.

The way things look, it doesn't look like Section 377A of the Penal Code will be repealed anytime soon...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Back & Blocked Again

We are "home" again. As we descended through a gray haze of smog into Beijing International Airport, I thought, "Well, no more clear skies for a while now." At least I didn't detect any smell of fumes like the very first time we landed.

I'm being blocked again from viewing blogs again so have to use the roundabout way - GRRRR!

Have finally downloaded pictures of our break in paradise (Phuket) & Singapore...

For some reason, I love sunsets. They give me a sense of peace & romance somehow.

This is a picture of Kata Beach taken at sunset. I like that bird flying over the beach. I didn't even realize it was there till I looked at the picture later. The waves don't look as violent as they really were (refer to next picture).

This was taken at high tide & yes, the waves were really that choppy. The red flag was up everyday we were there. Someone drowned the week after we were there off Patong Beach. Some people just ignore the warnings.
I tried to imagine how it was the day the tsunami happened. Scary.

This baby elephant was a special guest at the hotel for a romantic sunset wedding on one of the days we were there (I guess I am not the only one who like sunsets!).

I also took sunset pictures in Singapore...

...this is from the 62nd floor of the Swissotel Stamford....awesome view.
Another picture from the 62nd floor...not sunset this time! This is towards the Marina Bay area. The Singapore ferris wheel doesn't look like much from this angle, but from ground level, it looked pretty impressive.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Home again

It's back to Beijing tomorrow for us...back to the land of bootleg DVD's, tainted toothpaste, fake goods galore, & cardboard dumplings - oops, strike that, the story of the dumplings with the fake fillings was a falsehood too.

It's another one of those bittersweet moments where you hate to leave but are excited to go; a reluctance that is tempered with eagerness to go back to where you have set up home.

At the rate things are going, with so much knocking down & building up & roads diverted, the next time I am back here, I will hardly recognise many of the streets & buildings.

Au revoir!

Bak Chor Mee!

Happiness is finally eating, IMHO, the no. 1 authentic Teochew Bak Chor Mee* in Singapore!

I am talking about the famous Hill Street Tai Wah Minced Meat Noodles previously located in Marina Square food court before the massive renovation. I think the last time I had it was at least 5 years ago (!!!). There were always horrendously long queues at the stall during the peak lunch or dinner hours.

It is hard to beat that unique combo of al dente "mee kia"* (I am a mee kia person, as opposed to many others who prefer "mee pok"*) with the slightly tangy taste of the sauce which is a combination of black vinegar, chilli paste & lard-flavored oil, mixed with minced pork, pork liver cooked just right, chinese mushroom & topped with dried fish (no clue what kind of fish they use).

I knew the stall had relocated to Crawford Lane some years ago. I watched it featured on Makan Places: Lost & Found (probably the only local production I actually enjoyed watching!) but only today, my last day of our vacation in Singapore, did I venture out to explore that part of Singapore which I hardly ever go to. I discovered that it's not that hard to find after all, located near the Immigration building at Lavendar MRT station.

So, dragging along my mom, & my two boys (who, surprisingly, like minced meat noodles), tempting them with exaltations of how delicious these noodles are, we managed to find the place after walking around a bit, & finally locating block 466!

Yippee!!! Now I can leave for Beijing satisfied....

*Minced meat noodles
mee kia = local version of linguine
mee pok = local version of fetuccini (sort of)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Die Hard, or rather, Hard To Die

Man, that Det. McClane ought to be given The Ultimate Survivor award.

Spoilers ahead...

He managed to live through being shot at by multiple automatic weapons from multiple bad guys, shot at by a fighter jet, falling off aforementioned fighter jet onto semi-destroyed freeway slanted at an 80 degree angle then sliding into concrete debris, thrown out of a speeding cop car, blown up by a rigged computer, blown up by natural gas in a power plant, falling from a height equivalent to oh, about 3 flights of stairs.

Hmm...have I left anything out? I probably have.

Despite Det McClane's apparent immortality, I did enjoy the movie. It was mindless entertainment, with amusing dialogue, and fantabulous stunt work (although these days with the extremely high quality of CGI, it is sometimes hard to differentiate between what is virtual & what is real).

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Harry Potter: Losing Its Magic?

Possible spoilers ahead:
Harry Potter: The Order of the Phoenix (henceforth to be referred to HPOP) was, I hate to say, a disappointment.

I felt like the whole movie had a subdued air to it. Yes, I know the story gets darker here, & the children are no longer children anymore. I miss the magic that was so apparent in the first three installments. During those movies, I didn't want it to end. But in HPOP, that childlike exuberance is gone, replaced by a moody, angst-filled Harry. The unique relationships between the three friends seems so superficial now - the movie didn't seem to dwell enough on it. There was no Quidditch, and the Cho Chang-Harry relationship was barely touched upon (despite the much hyped about first on-screen kiss).

Perhaps it's the fault of the screenplay, which felt so condensed that the editing looked sloppy with such clumsy & glaring cuts during some of the scene changes, that it left us with mouths gaping & asking "Huh?" I know it's hard to translate a book into film, especially one with so many elements in it, but this director (David Yates) & screenwriter (Michael Goldenberg) seem to have done a rush job on this movie, that even the credits at the end of the movie are "cheap" looking!

Bring back Steve Kloves, I say (and according to the IMDB website, he will be doing the screenplays for both the Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows - Yay!) and Chris Columbus too while they're at it, and finish off the series with a Bang!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


It used to be that I could write effortlessly. Words would literally pour out of my brain through my hands & fingers & pen & on to the paper. Those were the days when my words & thoughts & literary creations were unimpeded by the fear, inhibitions, and caution that comes with getting older & experiencing life.

Emotions, augmented by the hormones of adolesence, ran high which in turn inspired essays & poems; sometimes my fingers would not be able to keep up with the words spilling over & I would leave out words here & there.

Now, I occasionally find myself groping for just the right words to form my sentences, looking for appropriate metaphors & adjectives to do justice to descriptions of things, places, people & experiences that I want to put down in words.

Is this part of aging, I sometimes wonder. Is this an example of the slow loss of cognitive function as my brain slowly atrophies? Or is it due to the many years of dis-use, when all I wrote were case reports, answers to essay questions related to the study of medicine & case notes in patients' records? Dormant neurons, unused for so long, are now finding themselves shocked into activity again, trying to find old connections which may or may not be there anymore.

My muse is playing hide & seek. Come out, come out, wherever you are......


My family has always been mad about movies. Preferred genres included romances/romantic comedies (moi), action (A,Z & W), sci-fi/fantasy (all of us), & comedies (Z & W). This pretty much covers 80% of the movies out in theatres at any one time.

We would catch the latest releases on opening weekend. So moving to Beijing with its limited number of English movies (I read somewhere that they get on average 20 English movies a year -20!) really bummed us out as far as this recreational activity was concerned. True there are bootleg copies of the latest releases out in the DVD stores usually within 2 weeks of the movies' release despite efforts of the copyright lobby. But nothing beats sitting in a movie theatre watching a movie on widescreen with Dolby/THX (or other system) sound blasting.

So having been back here in Singapore for about a month now, we have, so far, watched a total of 5 movies (not counting the 2 - Harry P. & Die Hard 4.0- that we will be watching this week).

Pirates 3 - a disappointment. Johnny Depp was great, but the storyline which continued from Pirates 2 lost me. No doubt the special effects were well done, but a movie can't live on SFX alone.

Fantastic Four 2 - loved it! I used to read FF comics as a kid (still do sometimes!) which is probably one reason why I enjoyed the movie. But Jessica Alba doesn't quite cut it as Invisible Girl though (ya, ya, I know she is probably one of the most downloaded celebrities in web-dom)...just something about that blonde hair which just doesn't go with the rest of her look.

Nancy Drew - Curiosity got the better of me & I succumbed to the temptation & greatly regretted it within a half hour of the show. I had previously blogged about it & my first impressions were not wrong. Sigh.

Transformers - Jaw dropping CGI, & awesome action sequences made for light entertainment. I think it's a "guy movie" as my kids LOVED it. I thought it was OK, worth the ticket price, but wouldn't want to go back & see it again. But my geeky car-loving son probably thought it was one of the greatest movies ever...hey, what more could a boy ask for? An intelligent Chevy Camaro that speaks & turns into a superhero 'bot when need be.

Shrek 3 - another disappointment. I watched Shrek & Shrek 2 on DVD & thought they were both excellent movies. But Shrek 3 was just plain corny. Weak dialogue, fairy tale characters springing up left right & center, predictable storyline all made me wish for the movie to end ASAP.

I am looking forward to more movies this week. Harry Potter/Det. McClane, here I come!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Phuket Paradise (1)

The Ocean

I close my eyes as the tangy salty ocean breeze fills my nostrils & rifles through my hair. The constant dull roar of the waves lull my senses into a sonorific stupor. I have always loved the seaside. It brings back childhood memories of countless hours of frolicking through the waves, back in the days when our greatest worry was when our parents would tell us to get out of the ocean.


I literally thought that I had an out of body experience, in retrospect! I swear, in the midst of my Thai massage, I felt myself suspended in that limbo state, that twilight zone between sleep & wakefulness. I was aware, yet unaware,almost like floating in space. It's hard to describe it. I could feel the masseuse applying pressure & kneading my stiff muscles; and yet, I couldn't hear, smell or feel anything else. I guess I must have attained "relaxation nirvana", for lack of a better description! was wonderful...

Will post pictures once I get home & download them into my computer.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


So many buildings have disappeared, new roads have appeared, the old have gone.

I went to Marina South for a seafood dinner last night & almost got lost because the whole layout of this reclaimed piece of land has been transformed. Lots of wooden walls, construction equipment, cranes can be seen on the future IR site; roads previously there are there no longer, replaced by new roads with unfamiliar names like Marina Lane & Central Blvd; buildings previously housing restaurants along the "food strip" are now vacant (except for the seafood restaurant - please don't take that away! Best Black Pepper Crab in Singapore, IMHO), even the football field that used to be crowded with people playing soccer or flying kites has been partitioned off. Lord knows what is going to be built here.

We've been gone a mere 6 months & so many changes have already taken place. Part of me feels like the home as I knew it is slowly fading away.