25 Jul 2009

Great reads

Finished three books this week - among them one I started some time back but didn't finish - Jodi Picoult's 'Handle with care." I didn't really want to finish it at first but took it back from the shelf and finally completed it last night. The thing about Picoult is that her books are never a "nice read". They make you feel too much, question you too much and days after finishing it, the questions and 'what ifs' still hound you. Her stories are great, but never comfortable. Well she affects me that way. This is the fourth Jodi Picoult I've read - the first being the one about a missing child who was stolen by her own father - Vanished. Handle With Care is about a family with a child who has a congenital bone disease,Osteoporosis Imperfecta or OI, which makes her bones very fragile and brittle. In fact her bones are so brittle they are breaking all the time - any sudden move on her part causes them to break. It is about a young family who suffer physically, emotionally and mentally trying to help their child; trying to give her as normal a childhood as she could have. On a trip to Disneyland, the child Willow falls. She's taken to the hospital and the doctors who view her x rays accuse the parents of deliberately harming her. Both parents are arrested on charges of child abuse because Willow is found to have dozens of broken bones - some of which are just healing while others have healed. Willow is taken into protective custody together with her older sister. Finally after weeks of fighting a system that is prejudiced and ignorant about OI, the family is reunited. The lawyer who handled the case told the parents that they could sue the hospital and her family doctor for not telling them before hand about the child's serious disabilities. BUt to have this lawsuit, they would have to admit that having Willow was a mistake. Even if the OKeefes had known about the child's disease would they have aborted the baby? What would be the 'right' thing to do? Should she kill the unborn child and deny her the right to live - even if that life is spent wholely on a hospital bed? The child, called Willow by her parents so that she could be as strong and as supple as the willow tree, is courageous, funny and intelligent. In this novel Picoult uses multiple voices to portray the different relationships in this family drama. It is engrossing and suspenseful. Picoult tells a very good tale - diving deep into the medical history of OI and weaving in a lawsuit in a story of family relationships and the caring of a sick child which can shatter even the bravest. The lawsuit brings out many things into the open. The question is will the young family survive all this? A book that I can recommend to all.

24 Jul 2009

Harry Potter and other things

Shasha got us tickets to watch the latest Harry Potter movie on Wednesday. It wasnt too bad - I'm not sure but I feel that it wasn't as good as the earlier ones. Harry is so much older and so are the other actors - Ron and Hermione. I read the Half blood Prince such a long time ago that I had almost forgotten the story. Maybe I should go back and re read the book. I think they added a few scenes that weren't in the book. What I hated was that they killed Dumbledore. Now that we have read all the books we realise that Snape wasn't really evil but was just playing double agent but at that time (when I first read the book) I hated him. Anyway the film was as good as the book - maybe I can give it a 7 out of 10! So far none of the fantasies beat Lord of the Rings trilogy.
I've also be rereading some of Shasha's fantasy books - The Thief of Atolia, Queen of Atolia and The King of Atolia (a trilogy). I really enjoyed these and can recommend anyone to read all three. The characters are well drawn and the story line has so many sub plots and twists and turns you are really surprised at the end. It's about Eugenides, a young "thief" of royal blood - related to the Queen of Edith. I'm not going to tell the story but all three books are really great reads - books that you cant put down. I finished the last book at almost 3 am in the morning!

22 Jul 2009

At home with Sara

Actually Sara's been home for more than a week. She came back last week on Monday, looking tired, pockmarked with acne and happy to be home at last. The last semester she said was a real torture chamber and I told her 5th year is going to be worse. She agreed dejectedly, then like mercury changed the topic and talked instead of what she is going to do during these 6-7 weeks of home leave.
Thursday was Sophie's birthday. My grand daughter is now 2 years old! When we saw her today she was wearing her favourite green dress - she looked so cute! And not as talkative as before although she did call me and asked "where is datok?" She refused to talk to Sara at first but a half hour later was persuaded to sit on "Auntie Sara's" lap and be read to.
Sophie's birthday party was only held on Saturday - so that everybody could attend. We made fried bee hoon and vegetarian curry puffs. I was surprised that we received a number of compliments on both because I always thought that being vegetarian it wouldnt be tasty! I guess I was proven wrong - according to Rizal's friends the vegetarian bee hoon was really delicious. Sadly for Sophie though she had a little accident due to the lighter used for lighting the birthday candles, burnt her cheek and for a while there were only screams of pain. I remember during last year's birthday celebration she also had a little incident in which she fell on her face. Poor little baby. I just hope there won't be scars. But apart from that the birthday party went well though we could not stay long. Immediately after that we had to rush back to Malacca.

11 Jul 2009

meeting old friends

Lena is here from Perth, Australia so it was a good excuse for all of us to meet up once again. So there we were - 12 middle aged ladies having a ball at the Green Dragon Chinese Restaurant. To say we were noisy is an understatement! Everyone is talking - asking questions, updating news and generally yakking about what they had been doing for the last year. The last gathering that we had was sometime in 2008 - slightly more than 9 months ago. Then we had Seok Ching, Judy and Florinne with us too. Today's group is smaller, mainly those who are still in Malacca although Kathy Idros came down from KL. Looking at them brings me back to our school days. Never mind that we're now grey haired and weigh at least ten kg heavier - the way we were all behaving no one would have thought we were way past 50! Everyone teased Jullian who goes to bed at 9 pm every night, even now. Jullian blushes but smiles and tells us she doesn't enjoy watching television and there isn't much for her to do at night which is why she sleeps early. This brings on more teasing - this time of a sexual nature, which Jullian accepts cheekily saying she needs a man maybe! Everyone shrieked with laughter - not just a man, but a young one with a high performance index!
Then amidst the laughter someone mentioned that Rita has had a biopsy and the atmosphere turned serious. Rita isn't with us. The restaurant staff - two young Malay girls in tudong looked at us in wonder. Everyone is talking in English. There are Malays and Chinese and we are all eating in a Chinese restaurant, laughing about things we had done in the past, things we are doing at present and talking about travelling in the future. This scene can only be seen among people our age - where all races can mix freely and mingle as equals. In today's scenario, with the present generation, things are no longer as simple as this. Malays do not mix as freely with other races,mainly because many of them do not speak English and the Chinese will not speak Malay except when necessary. For all the government's talk of unity and harmony, there is precious little of it among the younger generation. Maybe Najib should look back at the past and at our education system then (60s and early 70s) to find out what is wrong with the education system now and why we are breeding little 'undercover racists'. Is it the politics of disunity that is causing this?

Anyway enough of this retrospection. Finally at 10.00 pm, we had to get out of the restaurant, so we adjourn to the nearest Kopitiam cafe - there to continue with our get together. This time , out in the open air, we had a roaring good time. Lois had lots of stories to tell about her travels, Kat Idros talked about how she met her husband and Yan Lin went to get Rita to join us. When Rita came there were more jokes about boobs and biopsies and everyone had a good laugh when Rita said hers are still intact. Finally at 11.00pm we made a move home though to some the night is still young. At the Kopitiam next door a couple sing a blues number. There are lots more young people there - young families with small children, and groups of students in black t shirts playing a guitar,more couples. I smile at this place that was once a sleepy hollow - no you can't say Malacca is a sleepy hollow any longer. It is very much a hip town - what KLites would call a 'happening' place.

9 Jul 2009


It's confirmed. The teaching of Science and Maths will revert to Bahasa Malaysia beginning 2010 - next year. I feel sorry for the teachers - they've gone for so many courses to prepare them to teach in English and now they have to be retrained to teach in Malay. What about the students? Many students, especially in urban areas prefer to learn the two subjects in English. Even Sarah said that when she studied Chemistry and biology in English she found it easier to understand - after all they already understood most of the terms.

The Education Minister has said that they are going to upgrade the teaching of English as well as extend the hours - but I think that this is not going to help that much. More needs to be done if we want to improve the level of proficiency of our students. And the first thing is to ensure that teachers themselves are proficient in the language. In my years at the Ministry I've come across teachers who could hardly speak a correct sentence, teachers who mispronounce words and teachers who think nothing of copying other people's test papers and passing them as their own work.

I think there is a whole generation of English teachers in Malaysia now who don't like to read, many who have never read a novel in English and many who don't even know the difference between a participle and a noun. And the frightening thing is they are teaching our young. But can we blame them? They come from a generation of young people who were taught "communication English" - a generation of students who were not taught grammar at all (grammar should only be taught in passing according to the Curriculum Development Centre). I remember arguing with Chelvi and Judith about the lack of grammar in the English syllabus back in the early 80s. BUt of course even Chelvi could not change the system - we were only the foot soldiers. Now after a whole generation of young Malaysians have grown up and finished their SPm without being able to speak English, the government realizes its mistake. But we can't rectify something like this. And at least Tun Dr Mahathir tried to change it with the teaching of Science and Maths in English. So now we arew back to square one - and the students again are the victims. Will we ever learn I wonder?

6 Jul 2009

Home sweet home

Finally at long last I'm back in Malacca - doing what I love best - gardening. I know I'll get tanned again and my hands will be rough again but oh to feel the earth in your hands and to plant again. Most of my plants survived the 3 week absence but 2 of my roses died. The orchids bloomed though. Now I've got 3 orchid plants blooming which had never bloomed before. Today I spent a full day 'playing'in my garden - repotting some plants, adding fertiliser and trimming dead leaves and branches. I uprooted the hibiscus near the border because they were covered in aphids, and planted a row of canna lillies instead. Oh yes, my day lily has bloomed - a rich bright scarlet. Hmmm... happy happy day.

Gardening has always been more than a hobby for me. Its my solace and my therapy. Before when I was still working at the Exams Council, gardening saved my sanity I think. Whenever I was tensed and anxious after a hard week of preparing exam questions, I go back home and 'play' with my plants. When I had problems at work, digging in the earth and planting could always relax me and gave me a sense of peace. I'm very much a "hands on" gardener. I have no patience with people who cannot abide a bit of dirt. For me if you say you love nature and flowers, you'd need to go down and get dirty. Many of my friends wonder why I enjoy it so much - they feel that its something that should be relegated to gardeners - after all you've paid for their help. They love a beautiful garden but prefer not to get their hands dirty. Well I'm all for getting dirty - I prefer doing the potting and the digging myself. My gardener can trim the hedges and mow the lawn, but I'd rather plant my flowers myself. Its very much like bringing up children - after all you don't want the maid to bring up your children do you?