July 8, 2008

on you

Posted in Poetry at 10:19 am by meldee

Draped and waiting.

Taken with my Canon EOS KISS, M.University Cultural Night.

***

words sail on a velvet dream

sailing on a dream of velvet words.

i am dreaming of velveteen sails

forward, onward on sails of velvet.

my dreams a foreword of velvet folds

selling souls and soup and crushed—

–crushed vulgar dreams blanket my soul

curling words on a serpentine tongue lashing—

–eyelashes fall like vicious violet teardrops

crushing dreams on a rumpled stained gown.

i dream of words, vulgar, violent, velvet, sailing on skin

your words sailing on my velvet dreams.

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July 6, 2008

on colourings

Posted in Happenings, Kids, Malaysia, My Home at 5:38 pm by meldee

Don’t box me in.

Taken with my Canon EOS KISS.

***

As the English/Malay speaking half of World Vision Malaysia’s Youth Ambassadors (hah! I sound so self-important) I had to today emcee a colouring contest at the Putra World Trade Centre in conjunction with the My Family Showcase. All registration fees went to World Vision Malaysia (yay! Methinks about RM4,000-RM5,000 was collected) and kids between the ages of 5-12 stood to win cash prizes.

Now, hardly exerting stuff, but it was quite challenging, and hilarious how miscommunication was so rife and there wasn’t enough space for all the kids to colour together; the younger ones remained inside the hall while the older kids had to colour outside (poor things).

Now, why this is blogworthy: it was scary.

Like, seriously—the air of competition, the hardcore coming-early-to-book-a-spot, the doting parents who watched their kids like hawks…now, I’ve entered a few colouring contests in my time (haven’t we all? It’s like some Malaysian child’s rite of passage)—never won, obviously, because when I was a kid my 5 second attention span was much worse and I never got the hang of the shading thing—but I don’t remember those colouring contests being less of a contest than it was a battle!

Ok picture this yeah—clearly some of the kids go for art classes (in addition to the music/piano class, the taekwondo class, swimming class, maths class, English class, spinning class cooking class upper-middle class…yeah I’m kidding about the last three, but you catch my drift); these kids were the ones with the hardcore parents.

The parents that buy them full on mini-tables and chairs and lugged it to PWTC just for this. The parents that forced me to return submitted artwork “because the full two hours are not up yet; Ah Boy, colour some more until time is up, I don’t care if you are tired or not”. The parents that crushed littler kids in the melee that happened during prize-giving up on stage.

Gaah! The kids are almost as scary….especially among the older ones, many of them actually brought pieces of cloth to cover their half-completed artwork to prevent other children from seeing what they’ve done! They’re sitting there on their cushions/mini-chairs, barefoot, little scraps of crayon-stained cloth around them, dusting and scraping away at their artwork, giving their opponents sneaky looks and glaring quite dangerously at me when I make announcements, like they’re thinking “stuff yer gob, ye crazy woman, let me colour in peace! Yer disrupting my artistic train of thought as to whether I should colour the man’s hair cornflower yellow or sunshine yellow.”

Speaking of which, is something else I noticed—call me over-analytical but my Arts training has done me well. I noticed that almost all the kids, colouring artwork that featured families and kids (and a cat, for the older group of children), coloured the skin of the characters in the pictures light. As opposed to dark. Yes, even the children who were Malay or Indian (dan lain-lain).

I just found this so problematic and sad. Things are such that these little ones think that fair is beautiful and dark is not? Sigh.

***

I also found myself asked twice over these last two days, once by a salesgirl at a cosmetics counter, and another time by a DJ at PWTC (I digress here, but why do DJs always put on this fake ‘ohmygod I’m so cool listen to my sexy raspy deep’ voice when they’re at the mic, but when they’re not on it they can talk like a ‘normal’ person again? Gaah.): “So what are you? Malay? Chinese? Mix?”

Everytime I am asked this lately, my answer is always the same. “I am Malaysian”.

This always throws people. “Yeah, ok, but what are you? You speak Malay so well” to which I usually reply, “but that’s inconsequential. I’m Malaysian and I don’t think I should be defined by my ethnicity or my language.”

I always make them uneasy with this…haha.

The DJ-type person also interrogated me on why I couldn’t speak Chinese, because I told him that Jia Xiang (the other WVM Youth Ambassador) was doing the Mandarin version while I spoke in English/Malay. (Gaah. Because!) I was a little offended by this, even though it happens to me so often you wouldn’t believe it, and I told him so. Because I choose not to, and why does it matter, especially to him anyway? Does it make me less of a good person because I can’t speak what society deems my mother tongue?

It’s a personal choice and I don’t think I need to justify myself to anyone.

Call me a shit-stirrer but I think it’s high time we embraced this on a personal level to not be defined in terms of these things. The more we harp on issues of ethnic pride and the whole my-language-is-better-than-yours and all-English-speaking-people-have-forgotten-their-roots issue the more we are perpetuating this vicious cycle.

There’s only one race, and that’s the human race, and we’re all citizens of this same country. So why the labels? Why the need to put everything in boxes? Why can’t we be free to be you and me?

July 3, 2008

on openings

Posted in Strange Feelings at 9:56 pm by meldee

God, where’s my open door?

Taken with my EOS KISS, 50mm lens. Jonker Walk, Malacca.

***

Sometimes when all entries and exits have restricted or no access, the best thing to do is to sit inside and wait for a door, or window, to open.

If you wait long enough and miss the sunlight, open a window. Or door.

If not, break through.

It can be done.

July 1, 2008

bitchin’

Posted in Happenings, Malaysia, My Home, Social Responsibility According to Me at 2:41 pm by meldee

I wrote this letter to The Editor of The Star (as you would) yesterday, but it didn’t come out—am not disappointed or pissed, because knowing me, I won’t shut up about these things 😛

(And with the recent spandanglings involving Anwar? Mad.)

Anyway I thought I’d share it here, and leave it up to you to make up your own minds.

Mind you, I’m not asking anyone to take sides—just be careful and know that this could happen to you. In a way I’m glad it happened to me, because I am aware of these things—I’d hate for it to be someone who’d not say anything.

And..ahem…I’m sure it’s pretty clear which club I’m talking about.

***

Dear Editor,

I am writing about a recent incident that had me disturbed and disappointed when I paid a visit to a new club in Sunway. Being that is part of an international chain of clubs, it is understandable that they have certain standardised rules and protocol, among one of them allowing a one-time entry after the cover charge has been paid.

While I understand that this measure is put in place for crowd control, this incident I experienced I felt, was bordering on the unreasonable.

At one stage, I wanted to leave early for home. As I had driven there with a friend and she did not want to leave yet, I requested that she and another friend walk me to my car that was parked some distance away. I did this because I am conscious that there have been too many instances where people are accosted, raped or kidnapped while alone at night.

The bouncer at the exit, however, was adamant that once my friends had exited the club they would be required to pay for re-entry, even though we explained to him that my car was a good distance away and that I was alone.

While I realise that I made some mistakes on my part, namely having parked so far away in the first place, I feel it does not justify the attitude the club bouncer had to deny me the relative security of having my friends escort me back safely.

If he could not make an exception for my friends to re-enter, he should have at least offered to escort me to my car personally, or ask one of his colleagues.He was also rude about the whole incident, which I feel is unacceptable.

I would like to say that this has nothing to do with chivalry, it is more common sense and concern for another human being.

This is a brand-new club that has not even been officially opened yet—while they pride themselves on being the only smoke-free club in Malaysia I think they should also take pride in something as simple as extending concern over the safety and comfort of their customers. If they truly wish to provide a good overall experience, they should remember little things like this count, too.

In my opinion, club bouncers need to take every measure to ensure that the safety and well-being of its patrons are well and truly taken care of, not merely just inside the clubs. Club management, too, needs to ensure that their parking lots are well-lit and have one or two security personnel patrolling the area.

I have every right to go out once in a while to socialise with friends and should not have to live in perpetual fear of my safety. I try to be as proactive as possible but sometimes, like in this instance, I was not careful enough.

I would like to remind other young women to adopt the following precautions in light of my own errors: if you can avoid it, do not drive out alone at night. Always park in brightly lit-areas and don’t stall in your car after you get in—always lock your doors and be on the alert for shady-looking characters. If you have to commute alone, make sure you constantly update friends or family of your whereabouts and what time you are expected to be home. And lastly—never drink and drive.

June 28, 2008

on loving pre-loved

Posted in Kids, Shopping! at 10:38 pm by meldee

No picture today, because I’d love to post a nice artsy fartsy shot of my new purchases but most of them are in the wash.

I’ve recently gone on a Vintage Binge, and by recently I meant I really started feeling the love on Thursday. And as is typical with me, when I am passionate about something, I go crazy all out but if it doesn’t sustain my interest…well, that’s the end of it.

Anyway, I’ve already got some old stuff from my aunts lying around that I’ve been loving heaps but have always felt too self-conscious? Awkward? Too much like a social/fashion misfit to wear? Anyhoo, trawling vintage-inspired fashion sites (as kindly listed for you under ‘Fabulous Fashion’) I’ve been…well, inspired, to go on a mad pre-loved spree.

I’ve decided that fashion is about experimentation. About not always being matchy-matchy perfection, but pushing the envelope about what works and what doesn’t.

Duh.

But yeah, big thing for me ok.

I went to Amcorp Mall today for some Me Time (I’ve been feeling incredibly unbalanced lately, as Miss P. would say, my chakras are all out of whack—nothing seems to work for me lately, be it meditation, thinking positive, or talking to angels) and wandered around the weekend flea market stalls.

I know a lot of the stuff is pretty blah, but what I was looking for was cheap, pre-loved clothes and bags. I was in this shop on the Lower Ground floor and struck up a conversation with one of the workers there, an old Chinese man in a funky hat.

After asking me if I were still studying, he asked me a question I’ve been asked a lot lately. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

In a split second, my thoughts shot from suspicion to paranoia to just a sweet serene blankness.

“A good person,” I laughed.

And I meant it.

***

I also spent RM50, and got bang for my buck (I know how this may be construed by the less pure-of-mind, so let me clarify that a.) I did not hire a hooker; b.) I did not pay to shoot anyone; c.) I did not hump a male deer).

Averaging at RM10 each, I snagged two tops (a lovely sailor-esque navy and red drawstring cotton top, and a halter/pussy-bow top in turquoise chiffon paisley), a lovely cropped white cardi with puff-sleeves and gorgeous embroidery on them, a silk painting-type high-waisted skirt and a red mock croc skin sling bag.

I’m pleased. I still have yet to wear the same thing to uni twice, and have decided that from now on I will buy mostly pre-loved stuff.

Because wearing things that have been loved, makes one feel loved.

Call it psychological (or call me psycho).

***

I saw the kids again today, and all seems to be well after the minor mishap of two weeks ago. I felt a lot more centered, having heaps of feminine energy coming off the other four, and though I lagged behind in a lot of things today I found peace when two little boys sat on my lap and read to me.

I discovered that K., a 6 year-old Sagittarian, who normally drives us a bit crazy with his hyperactivity, has a vice (yes, as we all do). Reading. He reads remarkably well for a Standard One kid, and while his English is a bit more touch and go, his Malay is pretty good. I think that short reading spell did us both good, because I’d never really been able to bond with him before (it’s a bit hard to cuddle a whizzing ball of energy!) and after that I actually managed to convince him and another boy to sort out their bookshelf!

And something else that I found beautiful. So just bear with me.

One of the volunteers, S., ordered cupcakes for the kids. In the end everybody ended up having about two—these gorgeous chocolate cupcakes with icing on it, some with flowers and some with frolicking white bunnies (I know!).

The little girl I love so, M., was very quiet today, clearly something is on her mind. Anyway she took one with flowers and ate it, and took another one with bunnies…to give to the live-in child minder.

I don’t think any of the other children did that, which I found understandable (I mean, they’re kids, and it’s sweet sugary goodness).

It just goes to show that you can be used and abused, ignored and treated as a crowd rather than an individual, but still love finds ways of shining through.

I really do love that kid. Actually, I really do love all of them.

*happy sighs

June 25, 2008

on vices

Posted in Ranty Pants at 9:39 am by meldee

Full to overflowing.

Taken with my Canon EOS KISS,  50mm. Cousin’s wedding, Malacca.

***

I had to go for a (full) medical checkup yesterday because the Ministry of Higher Education suddenly decided that all sessional staff, be you a tutor or lab technician, needs teaching permits.

We get orders on Monday to produce a detailed medical report, chest x-ray, two referral letters from people who’ve known us for more than five years (yeah, like, five years ago I was still in high school), fill out four pages of forms and provide our birth certificate number (so it isn’t enough proof for me to give you my IC number or actually exist, now I have to prove I was actually born?) by, er, today. Wednesday.

Oh the sweet, sweet efficiency and competence of…nevermind, you know what I’m thinking.

Anyhoo. So I was filling out forms at the Staff Health Clinic at the nearby hospital and as usual, ticked ‘No’ to the ‘do you consume drugs/cigarettes/alcohol’ question. Given how regularly I drink/smoke/do drugs, which is occassionally/when the spirit moves me/not at all.

I think the doctor I saw that checked my blood pressure, etc was in a foul mood or something with all the M.University sessional staff coming in in a steady flow (full to overflowing) because she kept pressing that issue. “Are you sure you don’t drink/smoke?”

Me: “No” (as blase as I can be).

Her: “Not even one puff?” (eyebrow cocked)

Me: (stuttering) “Yeah, well, I mean, one puff, who hasn’t tried one puff”.

Her: (smug grins) “Every little bad thing you put into your body has adverse effects, my dear.” (as she’s happily striking out my feeble ‘No’ on the form and scrawling by the side, ‘SOCIAL’.

Now, what the hell.

(I should now acknowledge that I am at fault here for lying on my medical forms; but maybe it wasn’t really lying because oh come on I thought that you’d have to be, say, a pretty regular smoker/drinker to tick that box, but then again what the hell do I know, I’m a freaking Communication student)

<rant>

My point is that rawwwr stop being so bloody condescending and superior what the hell you think just because you are in the medical line you can be all uppity as if you don’t drink/smoke/do drugs/have unsafe sex (wtf)/eat without washing your hands for 30 seconds with soap and water! I don’t know why some people think they can get on their high horse just because they’re in a ‘noble’ profession. Sif you’ve never done anything bad/illegal/fattening in your life before or done anything that could “have adverse effects on your body, my dear”. Like I could be a trash collector and isn’t that noble? I mean I’m clearing up your shit, and I could be the bestest person in the whole wide world because I’m kind loving generous a good mother/father/sibling and YOU in your spotless white lab coat and stethoscope acting all better than me could be a wife/husband/child/animal beater who steals You-Say-Aah sticks (um, I think the correct term is tongue depressor) from the hospital to make houses with UHU Glue RAWWWWWRRR!

</rant>

Ok that was actually kind of therapeutic, but I suspect I might get shot down for being, erm, stupid.

Point is, we all have vices. Vices are ok. Vices are even good. In moderation.

The freaking Middle Path dangnammit! Though, er, I think the Buddha did say something about not doing things to hurt yourself, or others. Which, er, includes intoxicants like alcohol.

Gaaaah I hate being wrong.

*stalks off in fury

June 23, 2008

on sweetness

Posted in Family, Happenings at 2:26 pm by meldee

sweetness

Sweet offerings.

*kueh ee, to symbolise sweetness, completeness and purity.

Taken with my Canon EOS KISS, Cousin’s wedding, Malacca.

***

I found the Dhammapada online, trying to recall a quote I read somewhere about sweetness and virtue (but it turns out I was mistaken, at least I knew it was in the chapter about Flowers!). Lovely.

I was in Malacca over the weekend for my (second) cousin K’s wedding to P, a Nyonya girl. They got all kitted out in the traditional garb, albeit not in full costume—methinks the full set would probably be incredibly heavy as the old school ones are made of pure gold! I went snap-happy (again, pictures are on Facebook) and took heaps of photos, mostly of my own family, and these amusing pair of light-up devil horns that got passed pretty much around the room, even landing on the head of the groom and the father of the groom!

It was an incredibly fun time, being with family, talking rubbish and being loud and totally at ease. It just made me thinkabout how sweet life is when we choose to relate to it this way.

I watched my aunts and uncles taking to the dancefloor for old-fogey dances (the Twist! Haha!), my cousins doing their own thang in the corner of the room, the amused faces of the old aunties and the rapidly reddening faces of the old uncles…and when the last slow dance of the night started, I watched the groom lead his bride onto the dancefloor and they began a soft, slow swaying, followed by other couples, my own parents included.

It made me smile (from the inside!) at how beautiful this all was, as cheesy as it sounds. K & P, just at the very beginning of their life’s journey together, dancing side by side with my own parents, who have loved, lived, laughed (and sometimes come damn close to clobbering each other in frustration!) for almost 25 years now. Others, like my aunt and uncle, have been married for over 30 and they’re so much a part of each other it’s funny.

Life is really as sweet as we make it. *happy sighs

Ok, this post pretty much has no point other than to further implicate myself as a total mushbucket. And that I have a sweet tooth—further encouraged by T’s posting of various lollies and stuff to me 😀

June 19, 2008

on realisations

Posted in Friends, Malaysia, My Home, Strange Feelings, The Thesis at 9:54 am by meldee

Lever/age.

Taken with my Canon EOS Kiss, 50mm. My room.

***

I know, I know, I’m supposed to be at work.

After the mini-drama this morning when my usual computer wouldn’t log me in (there are five computers in my office, only three of which work–mine, D’s and the one behind my cubicle) because apparently the time on the computer and the main server wasn’t the same. I was growling quite ferociously because just a few hours ago I’d sworn that I’d transcribe at least one interview today.

Then I remembered to thank the computer for shitting on me (not literally lah ok) because it reminded me to be patient (yes, I’m still in my Reclaiming Zennity (wtf) phase).

So I hopped on to the computer behind me, checked emails, etc, and after a while, frustrated with the non-scrolly mouse and squinty old CRT monitor, I tried my computer again. And yayness, it works now.

So, um, my point is, um, I need to, um, recover from this morning’s, um, drama.

That’s why I’m blogging in lieu of working.

*defensively* But I will do it eventually! I, um, swear.

By the way, why on earth am I justifying myself to myself? In cyberspace at that. Jeebus.

***

So I had lunch with two friends of mine from primary school yesterday. I don’t know if they still read me regularly (heh), but if they do, holla, M and L! 😀

It’s been 10 years since we kissed our dark-blue-(sexy?)-white blouse uniformed days behind now, and of course it’s inevitable that people change. We were just updating each other over green tea and sushi, or rather, those two that see each other regularly were updating me on things that have happened lately.

Apparently M was not surprised at all that I’ve taken the path that I did. I am, and I look at myself each day with wonder. I certainly never would have guessed that the emotionally unstable, awkward, unpopular misfit kid that I was back then would turn into who I am today, though that’s not to say I’m not still a misfit kid…I reckon I disguise that fact a little better now.

We were talking about relationships, about the idea of marriage and settling down, about the phenomenon of “everyone who goes to Melbourne doesn’t want to come back, everyone who goes to the UK almost always does”, old friends, double lives, and such. The unavoidable question that came up was why I want to go back to Australia when “the country needs people like (me)”.

I guess no matter how many times I’m asked it, it always throws me a little each time. This country, every country, needs people like me. Like you. Like them. It’s unfair to assume that because some people are activists, warriors for social justice, policy makers, etc, that it’s their job to run the country and see that it doesn’t go to the dogs. It’s everyone’s responsibility, that’s why we’re citizens. That’s why we have the right to vote and question and not merely accept the status quo.

It stings that the thought even crosses the minds of people that I don’t love my country, though I know I hardly have control over what I think, what more what others do. Ah well.

On the topic of relationships, I was also asked if the cross-cultural thing was an issue. That stumped me a little. Besides the fact that T likes Vegemite and I hate the stuff (we’ve reached an amicable decision on Promite being our spread of choice), he uses funny language sometimes (as do I), and that he’s white and I’m…er, not, I never really thought of the ‘cultural differences’.

He wears jeans, I do too. He speaks English (or Australian), so do I. We know (almost) the same music and movies, we both believe in good manners, we can both hold our own in an argument but still respect each other.

And I know this may sound really obvious, but I’ve never seen him, or anyone else, as ‘that white guy’ that is so different from me. He’s just T. A person. I mean, of course we all do it, refer to someone as ‘the white boyfriend’ or ‘the Malaysian girlfriend’, but itsn’t it kind of arbitrary? It’s all just labels, words that don’t really mean anything.

Or at least they don’t really to me. But then again maybe it’s because I am such a product of M.University’s cultural critiques, etc? Have I thus lost my ‘Asian values’ and crossed over to the dark side? Am I sucking up to neo-Imperialism and turning into one of its many poster-persons?

I dunno. I really don’t. I’m not saying that I think M or L are wrong in saying what they did, or that I’m right, I’m just stating what happened and the corresponding thoughts that crossed my mind. And it struck me how just a few years ago I’d have chipped in, talking about how Western values have corrupted us all, and we’re fundamentally different because we are Asian.

But what is Westernness, or Asianness? I’m not disrespecting history or culture as in, you know, traditions, ceremonies, bla bla bla…I mean it as a whole. Isn’t it just different ways of doing similar things? Isn’t it like religion, where all paths ultimately lead to God/s? And who created these labels for things anyway, did Humankind (observe my attempts at being Politically Correct) not decide to make these distinctions? I hardly think they mulled over these things and its future implications/connotations for days/weeks/months before reaching a conclusion. Isn’t culture thus, to some extent, arbitrary?

Gasp. I think I might get burned at stake/flogged/stoned to death for heresay.

But I digress.

Anyway, like the title of today’s post says, I realised how much I’ve changed. How different things are, yet how achingly familiar. I still love my friends, and my family, and home, but I’m different now. I don’t think the way I used to, I don’t even feel the same.

Weird eh. One of those strange moments when home suddenly feels like a foreign land, and all things once-familiar feel just that much more strange.

Maybe this is a feeling that comes with age. Lever/age. Whatever.

June 16, 2008

on prayer

Posted in Angels, Uni at 3:02 pm by meldee

Sunshine, stillness, solitude.

Taken with my Canon EOS Kiss, 28-90mm lens. Saiyok Noi Waterfalls, Kanchanaburi.

***

I think it’s time for me to start meditation again.

Over random rainy lunchtime talks, I sit with soaking wet stripey socks and shorts recalling the happiness sitting silently in contemplation gave me.

Starting the mornings radiating loving kindness in the shuddery, juddery school bus at 6am used to make me feel quite zen indeed. But I think it was more than that.

It was transferring thoughts to people I’d not think about normally; the bus driver, the teachers at school, the girl from the first class who I didn’t like, the lady who sweeps fallen leaves and debris off the roads.

A reminder that life is more than just me.

***

I’ve been quite regular with the blogging as of late, yes?

Reflects in my work…or current lack thereof.

June 15, 2008

on doing it for the kids

Posted in Kids, Malaysia, My Home, Social Responsibility According to Me at 9:28 pm by meldee

Hello?

Taken with an Olympus FE-190 digital camera in Sibaju, Kalimantan, 2007.

***

I’ve been working with children at a shelter for abused children for almost a year now. It’s something I look forward to and do with a few close friends, all who are wonderful and patient people. We do activities with the kids, and try to mix it up so that they (and ourselves) don’t get bored—we’ve done dances, yoga, art, kungfu/kickboxing/taekwondo…it’s usually a whole heap of fun 🙂

Yesterday was particularly trying, though. Most of the others in the group couldn’t make it, so it was just myself and another volunteer. To keep it simple, we decided to play games with the kids—the Memory Game (where you study 20 items for 1 minute, then cover them and try to remember as many as possible) in pairs (so the younger kids wouldn’t feel so lost) and Blind Man’s Bluff.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I promised a ‘prize’ to the pair that remembered the most number of things in the prescribed time period. There were two pairs that came in at a tie, so I gave out four sweets. As is the case with children, most of them also came up to me later asking if they could have one too, to which I said ‘No’ as some of them didn’t give in their papers, or score as highly as the others.

What I didn’t anticipate, however, was that a ruckus would break out among the children over the simple reward of sweets. Among the younger ones, fine, I know it’s inevitable for some sort of tantrum to happen, but it was when the older girls (they are about 12) started throwing tantrums I was utterly shocked.

Fights even erupted among some of the boys because one of them started taunting the others with his ‘sweet victory’; needless to say they were none too pleased with that. What made it even more difficult was that there were four new children, and as the other volunteer said, the kids are probably still trying to establish a new ‘pecking order’ among them, hence the fisticuffs and tears.

I tried explaining it to them as slowly and gently as I could that things don’t always happen your way. You need to put in effort and try your best to succeed at most things, and if your friend receives an award and you don’t, you should try to be happy for them, not be jealous, and tell yourself that it could be your turn the next time around.

The younger kids had trouble understanding this, and one of the new boys was mumbling fiercely about how I should just go away and that he didn’t care about what I was saying. One of the ones who we’ve known from the beginning, K, started crying continuously, which kind of set off a new episode of tears from the rest.

One of the older girls tearfully said that she thinks she understands what I’m saying, because when she gets an ‘A’ in class for her tests, her classmates get jealous and refuse to talk to her. And it made my heart bleed, because yeah, while we say that kids will be kids and they’re too young to understand ‘grown-up’ things like this, I don’t believe in that. I reckon that it’s never too early to inundate children with the idea that a merit system exists, and not to expect things because they are their divine right. Rewards should be earned, even if it’s just the sense of satisfaction they have in their achievements.

One of the girls, S, rather sullenly asked me why I was being ‘like this’, and that she didn’t like me anymore because earlier when I came in, she’d said ‘hi’ to me and I didn’t respond. This distressed me a whole lot, and I took her aside to explain that this week we were seriously understaffed and that I had so many children clamouring for my attention at the same time, and that I didn’t mean to ignore her and it certainly didn’t mean that I didn’t care for or love her. This made her eyes glisten with tears, because I gently told her that I couldn’t give all my time to only her, and that she had to learn to share.

She gave me a hug and said that yeah, she understood, but actually she was upset because I didn’t give her a sweet. (Sigh)

Another thing I noticed while I was checking their Memory Game list was that even among the older children (aged 10-12), they had such incredible difficulty with spelling. Even the oldest of the group struggled with spelling ‘cermin mata’ (spectacles/glasses/sunnies) and ‘rantai’ (necklace)! Which made me wonder how the girl that got ‘A’s in her tests did so, unless it was for maths.

This is another clear indication that the education system has failed. These children are urban children, who live and study in government schools in the Klang Valley. They know songs like ‘Smack That’ (to our horror, heh) and keep up with the latest movies, and yet, they can’t spell or read even Dr. Seuss’ ‘Cat In The Hat’.

Of course, there are so many arguments about why this could be. It could be because, simply, the children are ‘bad’ students; it could also mean that they’re (and I hate to say this, because I really don’t believe it) ‘stupid’. It could be an indication that their teachers are lackadaisical, or that their parents didn’t do a good job. And I wouldn’t dispute the last point, because these children are from abusive homes…but at the same time, don’t their teachers notice, or care that a 12 year-old girl struggles with reading words like ‘goldfish’?

Maybe one could even argue that teachers are not paid enough to care. And that some teachers are idiots to begin with (which I agree on this under certain circumstances), which then leads one to question why such people are teaching in the first place. Which just makes us go round in circles again.

And if this is already the case for children living in the suburbs and urban areas, what are things like for children out in the villages or outskirts?

Sigh.

It’s so easy to say that yeah, things are as such; but honestly, to witness it firsthand, for it to be true for children that I love and care about, it makes me want to cry. And yes, it does make me want to try and save the world but I know there’s only so much I can do.

Just a thought, for all the aspiring teachers and educators out there (and let this serve as a reminder to me, too). Teaching is an extraordinary profession, because it requires a great deal of patience, compassion, and passion for learning and the desire to impart this knowledge upon those who don’t know. The minute you feel any of these elements waning, leave the vocation for a while and recover the part of yourself you’ve lost. Because I won’t deny that it’s an extremely exhausting and draining area. But you owe it to your students, who look up to you and admire you more than any other adult (yes, maybe even their own parents!) to give them the best that you can.

I know, though, that this is impossible. There will always be those who teach for the mere sake of it, and not for the love of children or knowledge, but for money and power. There will always be teachers who are arrogant, who have lost their sense of wonder and who see the children as pests and not as people. And this makes my heart bleed, because it’s such a vicious cycle.

I promise (to myself, and the Divine) that I will try to give as much as I can, be it love, time, knowledge or just a smile, to all the lives I am blessed enough to touch and perhaps impact. I want to be a better person, not just for myself, but for the kids.

One of the girls at the shelter, M, asked me what I worked as. I love M, especially, because she’s got these adorable chubby cheeks and the sweetest smile. She’s such a perfectionist too, and so energetic. Perfection is her ultimate goal.

I told her I was working at M.University, and her eyes widened. “Akak, will you be my teacher when I go to university?” she asked. “Of course,” I said, “But you have to finish primary school, then secondary school, and do really well; then only you can come to university.”

She looked up at me with her trusting brown eyes and smiled that smile that always melts my heart. “Ok, can. Ya, I will come to university, but only if Akak is my teacher.”

In my heart, I whispered to her that I think I already was.

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