Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rekindling old friendships

Five years ago, just before we left for Frankfurt, a picture taken of Brian and Lesley-Anne, daughter of my friend and neighbour, writer-extraordinaire Monica.

And today, with the same elephant soft toy, and also in Monica's house, this time in the living room, not bedroom (!). The bunny that L-A was holding on to in the earlier picture is in storage so it's been replaced by a giraffe in this picture.

We've been back in Singapore for about 5 days and it's been hectic, to say the least. But before the REAL hectic starts when school reopens on Monday, Monica and I resolved to have the kids meet and just play for the entire afternoon.

The last time Brian and Lesley-Anne met was probably more than 2 years ago, so we expected that there would be some awkwardness. This crusty old hamster helped break the ice when we first came to the house. Here's Andre gently placing the probably terrified hamster on Sean's palms.

H-H-H-HELLO Seannn, please don't squash me....

Brian's turn with the hamster.

Monica claims to be a lousy cook but she's obviously being terribly modest. Her baked pasta was eaten with gusto by all of us, especially me. We also had fishballs and curry puffs from Old Chang Kee, and really sweet grapes and not-so-sweet strawberries for dessert.

The biggest surprise for me was this batch of banana chocolate muffins. I wasn't too keen at first but after I took the first bite, I was hooked! The cupcake/muffin was at the exact right density, moistness and just amazingly delicious. Again, I ate the most. If I wasn't watching my expanding (or more accurately, expanded) waistline, I would have walloped more than the 2.5 that I ate. Yes, they were that good.

The kids played Cadoo, Cranium and while a little shy at first, the two friends soon warmed up as they teamed up to prevent Sean from causing disaster in the room. Here are the two older ones and Andre playing Monopoly.

Sean got tired of annoying the older kids and spent the rest of the time reading Calvin and Hobbes by himself.

One last picture of 3 happy campers and a grouchy kid.

Thanks Mon, it was so good to catch up again and to see the kids rekindle their friendship and have such a fun time together before the crazy PSLE prep begins. I so don't want to be in their shoes in the months ahead! All the best kiddos, fun's over, work starts now :P

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Life and Death talk

One mother was sharing on the internet about how terrified her child was of death. Her post was quite serious; I refrained from commenting as I didn't want to make light of her problem. But it reminded me of a funny stage that Sean went through maybe 2 years ago. Brian had told him that the sun would explode in 5 billion years (or something like that, I forget).

So, two years ago...
Sean (in worried, whiny, almost crying voice): Mummy, Korkor says the sun will explode in 5 billion years.
Me: Oh, really?
Sean: Yes. I don't want to die mummy, I don't want the sun to explode. Can you make the sun not explode?
Me (trying to calm him): Oh, it's okay darling, in 5 billion years, we'll all be dead.
Sean (looking shocked): BUT I DON'T WANT TO DIE!!!
Me: Oops. Oh, okay...uhm, uh...okay okay, you won't die, you won't die....the sun won't explode okay?


Then, two weeks ago...

Out of nowhere, he comes to my room and asks, "Mummy, will I go to hell when I die?"

Me (immediately thinking Brian must have put that idea into his head!): Why??? Why do you say that??? Of course you won't.
Sean: Because I've done a lot of bad things.
Me: Like what???
Sean: I cut the bedsheet. I broke the kaleidoscope. I knocked the glass easter egg down with Dogsby. (Dogsby is his soft toy, and yes, he cut not just one bedsheet, but I discovered later, a few).

I'm quite enjoying this so I said, "Okay, continue, what other bad things have you done."

Sean: I put the marble inside Bobo (a soft toy). I keep tangling up the slinky and you have to fix it. I threw the shuttlecock up and it broke the ceiling lamp.

(Yes yes, all these things he did in a span of maybe 2 weeks.)

I added: Don't forget that time in London when you threw stones down from our balcony and dented that man's car and Daddy had to pay 900 pounds.

Sean (looking really despondent): So will I go to hell?

Me: Of course you won't darling. You're a child of God so you'll go to heaven.

Explained to him what Christians believe about heaven and hell, and he seemed immediately better.

Friday, June 12, 2009

My Gorgeous and My Cute

I have this thing I do sometimes as a joke when I see the boys after school. With Brian, I'll go, "Hi Gorgeous!"...and give him a big kiss. Then I'll say, "Oh, you look so gorgeous today, did anyone in school say you looked gorgeous?" His standard reply is always, "No...but no one said I didn't."

Today, Sean went to school in bermudas. After school, I gushed, "Awww, you look so cute today. Did anyone say you were cute today?" He replied No. I said, "What?? Are they blind??" He said firmly, "No, it's just that I'm not cute, and that's fine!"

I think they both have healthier self-esteem than I do!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

We Are Artists: Monet's Pond

I've saved the absolute best for last. After I had seen the art pieces in Sean's classroom and in the hallway, one mum said I should go take a look at the work done in this other class, just next to Sean's. She said they were amazing, and she was right.

Right in the middle of the class, displayed on two tables, were small canvas pieces of Monet-style painting. I couldn't believe my eyes. These were really done by Kindergartners??

Monet's Pond done with oil on canvass.

Closer view of these two pieces done by Luke, the son of Sean's teacher from last year.

And all the pieces by the other kids were just as good. I was as green as the colour of these paintings. I sooooo wanted Sean to have been guided to produce a piece like this, that we can take away from school and remember his Kindy year by. Ahhhh, but it was not to be.

By the way, the teacher for this class is Miss Sonia, a professional artist. How lucky are these kids!

We Are Artists: Group Finger Painting

Sean's class collaborated to finger-paint a huge painting of the school's playground.

What finger-painting is.

Sean posing with the painting, which is the side view of the playground.

We Are Artists: Various styles

Drip and Flick Art as inspired by the work of Jackson Pollock.

Jackson Pollock is credited with developing the original style of abstract expressionism contributed to American artists. He worked with house paint, large brushes, and canvas big enough to cover an entire wall. His movement emphasised the free and spontaneous flow of the brush in a dynamic composition producing intricate webs of paint with rhythmic repetition that are distinctly Pollock.

Sean told me this was Abstract Art. But I said it doesn't look abstract to me, it looks like a five-pointed star.

"Collage" in the style of Henri Matisse. Got little red heart one leh <3

"Chalk Art" inspired by Marc Chagall.

Mosaic Art; asked what was special about Mosaic, the kids said, "You use lots of little pieces to make a mosaic picture.", "It is a lot of work and it takes a long time.", "You have to put the little pieces together carefully so they look like a picture.", "Tiles, rocks, coloured glass, seeds, buttons, papers, beans and other stuff can be used."

Sean said making a mosaic picture was too hard for them so the kids could make whatever they wanted, in his case, triangular shapes.

Squares with Concentric Circles is a style inspired by Russian-born artist, Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), one of the first modern abstract artists. These are pieces up on the Kindergarten Hallway walls done by another class.

In Sean's class they did Concentric Shapes, not Concentric Circles, I'm not sure why...and Sean chose to use triangles. I asked Sean what Concentric Shapes were, he said, "It's like if you draw a triangle, you have to put more triangles in it until you reach the centre."

We Are Artists: Pablo Picasso

Sean's class did not seem to have done Picasso but these pieces called "Picasso-ish: A self portrait in the style of Pablo Picasso", were in the Kindy Hallway.

We Are Artists: Vincent Van Gogh

Another Sigh post. So the kids' task was to paint something in the style of Vincent Van Gogh. Sean said they were painting Still Life. Fine. But did he have to choose a tortoise yet again? And obviously not Still Life since he didn't have Bobo in school with him.

Bobo, by the way, is this fat soft toy tortoise we bought for Sean 2 years ago in KL. And yes, he does have a yellow tail.

We Are Artists: Line Designs

After studying works by Pieter Mondrian, children made their own using black lines of construction paper to create a line design. They then coloured the blocks with solid primary colours as seen in the compositions of Pieter Mondrian.

Sean's Line Art is of an Alien Goldfish.

Pieter Mondrian's work is easily identifiable (see below), and Sean's Line Art is most definitely NOT in the style of Pieter Mondrian...sigh...

We Are Artists: Folk Art

Folk Art is a term used for art made by people who work in their own homes using commonly found materials. Often, the skills they use are passed on from generation to generation. These "artists" work with all kinds of different materials to create works that are distinctively unique and yet may form part of a country's culture.

The children painted and decorated a wooden egg and a matryoshka doll. These are folk art items commonly seen in Russia. The children also listened to two Russian stories by Patricia Polacca; "Rechenka's Eggs" and "Luba and the Wren". The illustrations in these books look like quilts sewn together from brightly colored fabric. Her stories remind us that simple gifts are often the best and those made by the hands of someone we love are the ones we treasure the most.

We Are Artists: Author-Illustrators

"We Are Artists" is the title of the Unit of Inquiry over the past month or so for Sean's grade. The students studied various artists and their techniques. Right after Sean's concert today, parents were led to the Kindergarten Gallery, ie, the Kindergarten classrooms and hallway, for displays of our children's artistic expression.

I'll be posting some of the artwork, including Sean's, over the next few posts. It's interesting that after this unit, Sean is able to tell me why he thinks a certain piece was inspired by a certain artist. Eg, when I asked him about one of the auction pieces, he said it's probably Van Gogh's style cos it has swirls. He also tells me which of his pieces was abstract art, drip and flick art, or chalk art etc.

This post will be about author-illustrators. We all know Eric Carle.

Eric Carle (Tempera Paint on paper, Laminated)

Eric Carle is a well-known children's book illustrator who lives in the United States of America. In class, we studied Eric Carle as both an author and illustrator. As writers, the children made up an animal story. To illustrate the story, the children painted paper, cut up the shapes they needed and glued them into place to immitate Eric Carle's art. The final work of art was laminated. It was a lot of work -- for just one picture. Ask your child about the story to go with the picture.

No surprise that the animal Sean chose to write about was a tortoise. His story was titled "Old Junkyard Tortoise", and it goes like this, "Once upon a time, there was an old tortoise in a junkyard. If he stayed in the junkyard for too long, he would turn to dust so he made a potion and he used many different things such as deoxyribonucleic acid and cloth. After he mixed all that in the potion, he drank the potion. Then he became 50 years younger. Then he was about 20 years old. Whenever he got older, he drank the potion. The end."

The blueish bits are supposed to be the junk in the junkyard.

In another part of his classroom, I find this clay he made of the Old Junkyard Tortoise.

This piece, he told me, was supposed to be in the style of author-illustrator Tomie DePaola (he spelt the name for me to google).

Again, he drew a tortoise, and in case you don't know what the dark blob behind the tortoise is, he had to spell it out for all to see! much for artistic Sean's world, Fart very much qualifies as Art.

Kindy Art Auction

It's coming to the end of the school year here, and everything's in kind of a flurry. There seems to be one activity after another. Today was Sean's Kindergarten music programme concert, but before that parents could go to the back of the hall and bid in a silent auction for the artwork done by the various kindy classes. This is all part of the current unit of inquiry, "We are artists".

I didn't really expect much when I went to look at the art pieces, I mean, these are kindergartners, but boy, was I wrong. Many of the pieces were just gorgeous. The first two are by Sean's class but both my and Sean's favourite is the last piece.

The kids chose to donate all proceeds from the silent auction to the World Wildlife Fund.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

What You'll Wish You'd Known in High School

I'd like to share this graduation-speech-that-wasn't by someone called Paul Graham. It gets a bit long-winded but I think our kids should read this. These are snippets from the speech that I liked, for the whole speech, go here.

When I said I was speaking at a high school, my friends were curious. What will you say to high school students? So I asked them, what do you wish someone had told you in high school? Their answers were remarkably similar. So I'm going to tell you what we all wish someone had told us.

I'll start by telling you something you don't have to know in high school: what you want to do with your life.

If I were back in high school and someone asked about my plans, I'd say that my first priority was to learn what the options were. You don't need to be in a rush to choose your life's work.


If you'd asked me in high school what the difference was between high school kids and adults, I'd have said it was that adults had to earn a living. Wrong. It's that adults take responsibility for themselves. Making a living is only a small part of it. Far more important is to take intellectual responsibility for oneself.

If I had to go through high school again, I'd treat it like a day job. I don't mean that I'd slack in school. Working at something as a day job doesn't mean doing it badly. It means not being defined by it. I mean I wouldn't think of myself as a high school student, just as a musician with a day job as a waiter doesn't think of himself as a waiter. And when I wasn't working at my day job I'd start trying to do real work.

When I ask people what they regret most about high school, they nearly all say the same thing: that they wasted so much time. If you're wondering what you're doing now that you'll regret most later, that's probably it.

Some people say this is inevitable-- that high school students aren't capable of getting anything done yet. But I don't think this is true. And the proof is that you're bored.

You may be thinking, we have to do more than get good grades. We have to have extracurricular activities. But you know perfectly well how bogus most of these are. Collecting donations for a charity is an admirable thing to do, but it's not hard. It's not getting something done. What I mean by getting something done is learning how to write well, or how to program computers, or what life was really like in preindustrial societies, or how to draw the human face from life. This sort of thing rarely translates into a line item on a college application.


It's dangerous to design your life around getting into college, because the people you have to impress to get into college are not a very discerning audience. At most colleges, it's not the professors who decide whether you get in, but admissions officers, and they are nowhere near as smart. They're the NCOs of the intellectual world. They can't tell how smart you are. The mere existence of prep schools is proof of that.

Few parents would pay so much for their kids to go to a school that didn't improve their admissions prospects. Prep schools openly say this is one of their aims. But what that means, if you stop to think about it, is that they can hack the admissions process: that they can take the very same kid and make him seem a more appealing candidate than he would if he went to the local public school.

Right now most of you feel your job in life is to be a promising college applicant. But that means you're designing your life to satisfy a process so mindless that there's a whole industry devoted to subverting it. No wonder you become cynical. The malaise you feel is the same that a producer of reality TV shows or a tobacco industry executive feels. And you don't even get paid a lot.

So what do you do? What you should not do is rebel. That's what I did, and it was a mistake. I didn't realize exactly what was happening to us, but I smelled a major rat. And so I just gave up. Obviously the world sucked, so why bother?

Rebellion is almost as stupid as obedience. In either case you let yourself be defined by what they tell you to do. The best plan, I think, is to step onto an orthogonal vector. Don't just do what they tell you, and don't just refuse to. Instead treat school as a day job. As day jobs go, it's pretty sweet. You're done at 3 o'clock, and you can even work on your own stuff while you're there.

Your life doesn't have to be shaped by admissions officers. It could be shaped by your own curiosity. It is for all ambitious adults. And you don't have to wait to start. In fact, you don't have to wait to be an adult. There's no switch inside you that magically flips when you turn a certain age or graduate from some institution. You start being an adult when you decide to take responsibility for your life. You can do that at any age.

This may sound like bullshit. I'm just a minor, you may think, I have no money, I have to live at home, I have to do what adults tell me all day long. Well, most adults labor under restrictions just as cumbersome, and they manage to get things done. If you think it's restrictive being a kid, imagine having kids.

The only real difference between adults and high school kids is that adults realize they need to get things done, and high school kids don't. That realization hits most people around 23. But I'm letting you in on the secret early. So get to work. Maybe you can be the first generation whose greatest regret from high school isn't how much time you wasted.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Curse of Al Amin

This post and its author have been in hiding for some time. I first posted this in March 2008 but started getting some web traffic from Brian's school with the search "Curse of Al Amin" and later on another search with an entire sentence in quotes. I subsequently saved it as draft, and it's been hidden since.

Why the searches from school? I know that Brian's Grade 4 teacher had passed his composition on to other teachers who then read it out to their respective classes. So I suspect that some teachers, probably including Brian's own, suspect that the composition or at least part of it was plagiarised.

At first, I was quite insulted. I mean, Brian had worked hard on it over an entire weekend, spending many hours thinking, typing and editing. When I half-teasingly told Brian that his teachers think so lowly of him that they thought he must have copied this story, he grinned and quickly cited the story of a famous author who as a child was caned by his teacher because his story was so good his teacher thought he must have copied it from somewhere.

Well anyway, this story is coming out of hiding. And I'm hoping the hidden author will too. Brian has been frustrated by his attempts at writing PSLE-style compositions and we've come to quite a number of bust-ups over this. I couldn't give any constructive criticism, I just knew a bad composition when I saw one. He'd get mad at me for only telling him how bad his attempts were, yet not showing him how to improve, except to say, this is not good, just practise more.

Luckily, Monica, whose P6 daughter writes so very well, looked through a few of his compositions and managed to point some very useful tips our way. He still has some way to go, but his writing speed has improved a little and he is putting more focus on the middle section of his compositions, usually his weakest. And an important tip we got from Monica is that a title is actually needed for each composition. We never knew that!

So thank you Monica from the bottom of our hearts. In the meantime, I'm hoping the hidden author in Brian emerges in time for PSLE.

May the Curse of Al Raiter's Blok be lifted!


Original post dated 31 March 2008.

Since leaving his British prep school last June, Brian has not come home with any sort of 'creative writing'. He's not one to write voluntarily either, something I have to accept is just him, ie read lots but don't write at all. Nothing wrong with that, according to Susan Wise Bauer (Thanks Hsien for the link, that'll stop me fretting for a month or so :)).

Still, I was glad to hear that he's been getting creative writing lessons this week in school. And on Friday, he came back with a writing assignment. The kids were asked to choose a picture to write a story about. Brian chose the picture above of a sleeping girl with an open book and tendrils on it.

I remembered Hsien's suggestion for him to type out his thoughts instead of write (he has some problems with fine motor skills)...and I think it worked. I helped him with paragraphing (if you left it to him, he'd have the whole story in one paragraph!) and some minor editing, but most of this was his work.

The Curse of Al Amin by B Leong

If you asked anyone in Cairo to describe the Al Amin Library, his or her first sentence would be, “It is the quietest and most peaceful place in all of Egypt!” For it was true. There was hardly a sound in the library at all. It was free from the hustle and bustle of the traders and market dealers outside. The Al Amin Library had an excellent reputation as one of the best libraries in the world. Until about two weeks ago.

Two weeks ago, Mohammed Azerbah had borrowed a book about wild cats, written by Phee Lyne. Mohammed had fallen asleep while reading that same book, with the book left open. In the morning, Mohammed was found dead, with a huge orange Bengal tiger prowling around the house. Neighbors said that they had heard a disturbance at midnight.

The police thought that they had heard the last of it. They were wrong. On the day the victim was buried, a ghostly sound emanated from the grave of Mohammed. The sound echoed through the streets until it reached the Al Amin Library, then it went in. I know sounds don’t enter or exit, but that was the only way to describe this strange phenomenon.

That was not the end of it. Similar cases were popping up everywhere, the only difference being how the victims died. All the victims had borrowed their books from the Al Amin Library, left their book open when they slept. In all the cases the disturbance started exactly at midnight, the victim was always buried on the return date stamped on the book, and the ghostly sound always started at the end of the funeral and went into the library.

There's more than a thousand words so the story continues here.