Sunday, December 6, 2009

Till we meet again -- Anna Woolf (Apri 68-Dec09)

Aunty Unu, preparing surprise cake for Princess in Gold Coast.
Tony's birthday party in Sept.
Picture of Princess with Aunty Unu.
Picture of Aunty Unu as the Avatar, Ang, (from a cartoon series) I took in, Mahurangi, 09.

The Chinese do not have the equivalent of the term “goodbye”. So here I am, doing the very Chinese thing – saying “Joi Kin” (in Cantonese my dad’s dialect), till we meet again, to Anna.

Anna was a Aunty Unu to Princess. She missed Princess’ arrival because she had to drive back to the house to get my parents to the hospital. She never quite let me forget that.

She took time to accompany Princess at the World Transplant Games in Brisbane in August this year. I could see her pride, watching Princess come in first, in the 50m dash, first in long jump, 2nd in swimming, knowing Princess did have the real makings of a competitor, (much like her).

She bought Princess her first easel (which stands too tall in the living room) bought Princess her first metronome, and cringed and chided at Princess’ complete lack of attention to timing at the piano. She once witnessed how I blew my top at Princess, for her lack of focus on the task at hand – practising her piano. Talent Princess had. It was effort she lacked. We both sat and chatted and agreed about effort being everything. She and I often joked about Yale and Harvard as destinations for Princess to aspire to. Princess, obviously has no desire to go to either, and would stomp off, in a huff and a puff, and how we laughed.

On many occasions, Anna would hover over the kitchen, and commented on how I should clean up my benchtop and the clutter. I have largely ignored Anna because she was a perfectionist in everyway, and I am totally at ease with a few specks of dust and a bit of mess. But lately, clutter is beginning to bother me a lot more.

Anna, to me, is a contradiction. She is fire and ice; rain and sunshine. She is gentle yet wrathful.

Anna is bountifully generous with others and stingy with her own comfort. In fact, when she was on her last leg, I was helping her clean up the family bach (she was not in good shape to clean up and yet wouldn’t stop) for the next lot coming in, and she was so apologetic about it, I felt most embarrassed.

Death and dying. How does one prepare for such a momentous event? Grief we must. But let go we also must. This is one of the noble truths Buddha taught – the truth of suffering; also the truth of impermanence. In Buddhist cosmology, there is no such thing as going to meet your maker and Anna and I have had discussions about what happens after death in Buddhist belief. A famous forest monk Ajan Chah has these words of wisdom: The minute we are born, we start to die. How apt. The cycle of life and death.

Anna is not a fan of religion. But she once told me if there was any religious path she could most relate to, it would be Buddhism.

Anna didn’t need religion. She has many religious qualities which we all aspire to.

We disagree on many things but also agree on many of the crucial ones. She dislikes the Chinese way of scuttling around issues, prefering to nail everything right down to black and white. The Chinese, we like to see shades of grade in everything.

Princess wrote this poem right after Anna was first diagnosed with cancer, in her kidneys. I found it crushed up, in a crumbled bit of paper, in the recycling bin. I am glad I retrieved it. It is to be our lesson.

Let the wind pass away,
Let the rustling leaves blow away,
Let the dust get swept away,
Don’t cling to your beloved,
The lesson is don’t let attachment, teach you its way.
(8 yrs, 2007)

Here is another one of Princess’ poems, found tossed in a scrapbook to be thrown out. I have retrieved this as well…and I think it a perfect description of how most of us who know Anna feel too.

The only thing that makes a flowing droop is the morning dew,
Straight and tall a flower survives the cold night
With the company of dancing leaves
Once admired always admired. (Julia Woolf, 10 yrs, Mar 09)

So, in typical Chinese fashion, here is a "till we meet again" Anna, not a goodbye. Thanks Anna for being a part of our life. Princess, Tony and I will miss you heaps.

For Anna's favourite music and other tributes check out NotPC and Annie Fox

Monday, October 26, 2009

From squeals to meals

The Woolf family just spent our weekend at Mahurangi East. It was a perfect weekend, except for a bit of rain on Monday. Still, Hubby managed to take the 3 Woolf girls and Uncle WaterMelon for spin in the StabiCraft. The waters were kind to us, supplying the fishermen (Hubby and Father In Law) an abundance of fresh snapper.

What really struck me about the Woolf girls this time is how they have grown and how well they seem to be able to occupy themselves. It wasn't so long ago that they have high tendencies to stomp through the bach, making elephants sound gentle.

This Labour Weekend, the stomping seems to have all but dissapeared. The squels and screams haven't stopped but they should be getting less and less, I hope. I also hope they will never turn into sultry teenage girls with no worries outside their own and nothing to say except for the occassional monosyllabic answers teenagers give. I hope they will be charming, loveable and happy girls, chatty and inspiring well into their teenage years.

Making lunch
This Labour Weekend, the Princess, Cousin 1 and Cousin 2 undertook a massive expedition -- they cooked us Labour Day lunch. It was impressive considering they had not much ingredients to work with. They served us tuna pasta (the touch of lime was sheer brilliance!), roasted herb potatoes and for dessert, Summer Splash (chopped pineapple and apples with juic -- perfect). They topped our meal with coffee/tea and put on a splash of spring flowers on the table. During meal times, they were eager and willing to help chop and stir fry. What a change...over a year!

Family meals are crucial. It is around these meal times we get to show our best, and our worst; to define what we stand for, and learn that acceptance of what we are not, or what others are not, can be as meditative an experience as going to listen to a sermon or hear a guru teach. It is around these meals that you get a sense of how hurriedly or slowly a person takes his/her time to take a bite, and sense the rush of taste. It is around these meals that the unspoken speaks more than the words.

I now can hope Princess will cook (when she wants to). The Woolf girls exceeded their appetite for springrolls. They fried mini spring rolls for lunch until they cleaned off Grandma's entire box of spring rolls. They must learn how to reuse used oil, and put away empty food boxes.

I love seeing how the Woolf girls gel, as a pack. It is a mistake to bring a fourth number into this triad. They are at their element when they are three. The bond is strong and enviable as it should be. I feel so lucky for Princess to have such cousins, as I have my own dear cousins in Malaysia.

I remember my own childhood, of weeks spent hiding in the lush guava trees, in my maternal grandfather's backyard. Sometimes, the guavas hang so full on the branches, they are dying for you to pick them but I used to prefer picking the green ones, for use as missiles for "shoot" at my cousins. I remember holidays stomping through muddy red earth at my aunty's house in Kapar Road, fighting with the boys to be treated as an equal, and waiting for mangoesteens that never seem to ripen. I remember the cabin crackers that taste like heaven dipped in black coffee, and how afternoon tea can turn into a brief paradise.

Secret island
Over this weekend, I came to see how boring I had become. The girls dragged me to their "secret island" where they plan to swim in the summer. I had to put sandshoes on, and walked through water and slimmy stones and algae-clothed stones. The water was mostly warm and quite delightful. It took about 20 minutes for us to get around the bay from the beginning of the road...I have been sworn to secrecy, I cannot tell anyone where the place is. Access to their paradise is by invitation only (or whoever is unlucky enough to be dragged out comfy sofas for a walk in the sun.)
At one point, we met an over excited dog...I wasn't quite sure what I would do if he/she started to chase -- lucky for us, we were in knee-high water, and the dog was water shy.

Over the weekend, I comfirmed my status as a hopeless romantic, staying up will 1am to watch and rewatch Jane Austen's Emma, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey. I have the same misdeeds, reading and rereading Orson Scott Card's Ender Series, or Tenzin Palmo's Cave in the Snow. What about all the other books I have to read?

The girls watched and rewatched Wild Child (the DVD). I love this part of being a child -- that of doing something repetitive, which can somehow magically provide an endless stream of joy and wonder.

Watching the three girls brave the cold pool, and squealing and splashing, I am reminded this is what childhood is about. Is is also a reminder for us adults that the older we get, the less prone we are to see the magic in everyday life.

We all know now the Woolf girls know how to put on a mean lunch. Also that Aunty Unu can really become a fanatic at housework and does a mean crossword puzzle; and oh, there is hope for the Woolf men in the fishing department, coming home with their first major catch, and that Uncle Watermelon really is a weed murderer par excellence, disguised as a horticulture scientist.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Waste not want not

A couple of weeks ago, in the Saturday edition of the Herald, Canvas ran an article about this lady who is Kiwi but moved to the Aussie outback to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. She wasn’t a natural cook but grabbed onto this idea of writing a book about cooking that would help households save money. Her trick is cooking only 3 days a week. The rest of the week’s meal consists of eating concoctions built around what has been cooked the three days prior.

Fine idea. I like the concept of saving money. The Chinese are great at saving leftovers. There is a fantastic dish mom used to make “Kai Choy” it is called.

Kai choy
What goes into the pot is a medley of leftover roast duck, steamed chick, roast pork, and other bits and pieces from a Chinese New Year banquet. The pot holds together a melting pot of flavours from an assortment of meat.

Gather all your leftovers in a pot, throw is some water, a big handful of dried chillies and a handful of dried tamarin slices; add some sugar and generous helpings of fresh mustard greens (kai choy) and boil them to death. Voila – a cauldron of disintegrated meats and seasoning blend in with the mustard greens to make a part-stew, part tom-yum like dish that is amazingly tasty and appetizing (never mind the look).

We have had occasions in the dining room where my aunties sit around the table spinning yarns as chew on bones and fish mustard greens to savour the sweet and sour and slightly spicy dish.

The Chinese never waste food. Well, the generation that was, that is. These days, I tend to be less conscious of the lessons mom gave me – never ever waster food.

Leftovers were reheated in mom’s home until they were no longer recognizable.
If we had rice leftover, it was turned into fried rice – dressed up with a bit of chopped garlic and leftover meats and some green peas/carrots.

If we had leftover roast pork, it can be brought to live again with a bit of chopped garlic, fried with dark soy sauce and sugar.

If we had bean sprouts that wilted, it was mixed into a batter, and some chopped spring onions and a bit of dried or fresh shrimps, to make a delicious fritter.

When we were young, our great grandmother used to save the not-so-fresh sweet potatoes and boil them for mashing. Mixed with a little tapioca starch and sugar, they were deep fried into potato balls that made a fine breakfast.

Leftover pork lard would be fried to perfection. Sautéed with garlic and chopped fermented beans, the pork lard became crackling -- a dish so divine and sinful.

Wasteful generation
I wonder if Princess’ generation will do the same. I throw out leftovers after a week but it is often done with great guilt. Waste has become so much a part of our lives.

Every generation needs a war, I was told. It is true. My aunties told me they used to eat only sweet potatoes (kumara) as they hid in the jungle during the Japanese invasion of Malaysia. Other families have similar stories.

Let us not forget. Whatever we can save should be saved. The challenge is inspiring our kids to have this consciousness of saving and being frugal. We don’t live like our parents used to live. But we need to remind ourselves that wasting is indeed sinful – not in a Biblical sense but because so many hours/so much resources go into bringing food to our table. I tell Princess – enjoy the food, and be happy when you eat. It is being here now, and enjoying everything on the table, and enjoying the great company around us. Nothing beats that! This is the secret to happiness.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lessons on life (and organ donation)

Pic: Long Jump medal winners
Pic: Aunty Unu, artist in the making

Brisbane can be intimidating. Its giant highways that snake through the topography make Auckland look like toyland. Brisbane’s wild weather swings capture the best of what it means to be a huge unpredictable country.

It was in Gold Coast – about an hour’s bus ride away from Brisbane International Airport – that we got a taste of what it is like to transplant everything you ever wanted onto a stretch of land that stretches from coast to cost, marked by the ocean that rages on, even at the best of times.

What is it about Gold Coast people? Every other girl walks around in skirts really short, and every other bloke has ugly body marks wrapped around their arms and call them tattoos. The young girls parade their arms, legs, bodies and bums. The guys with or without nice bodies show them off in surf shorts.

You can’t walk away from Gold Coast unimpressed. It is a vast piece of man-made landscape. It has tall buildings straining into the sky, trying to touch the clouds. It is about the only place in the world that has more Thai restaurants than Thailand. And here, you can eat a cup of ice cream with as much gummy bears in it as you want, or go scare yourself to death with death-defying rides in the theme parks.

I am glad I took Princess to the Gold Coast for the 17th World Transplant Games. There she learnt that money can run out pretty quickly if you just spend and spend. Or if you forget the NZ dollar sucks because you loss about 20% everytime you buy an Aussie dollar.

There she learnt that sun screen is a must, in the scorching heat, and rehydrating yourself can save you a lot of pain later.

There, she learnt, that time and tide waits for no man and to catch the bus, you actually may be competing with hundreds of others dying to get on the same bus.

There, as an 11 year old, she learnt the arduous discipline of a competitor, waking up to be at breakfast at 5.45am, and getting ready to compete at a venue by 7.30am.

There, she learnt that sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. Watching the Japanese girl burst into tears when she came last in the 50m sprint told Princess that some people deal with disappointment outwardly, others never show any sign. It is not about losing, but also about how you deal with the aftermath.

There, she learnt that to be gracious when you win is the true mark of an athlete. It is never just about the wins, but also how much compassion you show to others who struggle to do something that doesn’t come as naturally.

There she learnt about what it means to have team mates who cheer for you, and stand in the hot sun to bake, just to watch you race and cheer you across the finish line.

There, she learnt, to give as much as she receives – that to give up a seat to an older couple after a tough day at the fields/tracks can be just as rewarding as winning a medal.

No freak show
There she learnt the lives and tales of other little girls and adults just like her. That she is no freak show.

Transplant patients are a testament to how life can be normal. Sure – there were visible signs of athletes cracking under the heat of the sun, knees giving way, older participants panting and heaving. But there were also plenty of signs of healthy, golden and brown runners or swimmers who dare test their limits and come out as glorious as the sun.

There I go again, thinking about Dr Stephen Munn’s wisdom -- the whole transplant odyssey is about achieving normality. Sure, every now and then Princess comes up against bad liver enzymes showing something is not right. Every now and then, there are those unexplained aches and pains.

But at 11 years old, Princess is a normal kid looking forward to going to intermediate school next year. She greeted her 11 birthday on August 27th at the 17th World Transplant Games in the Gold Coast, with over 1,000 people singing her Happy Birthday and a cake with a computer generated photo of Jacob Black, her beloved from Twilight; and oh, a silver medal in the 25m swim on the same day. How cool is that?

She came home from her school today giggly about the puberty talk and being shown tampon soaked and expanding in water – a silly 11 year old, with a lot more zest for things a lot sillier I suspect.

Hubby came home after a 6-8 week assignment in Wanganui, working on a dairy project, and a boys-only ski weekend.

Aunty Unu, the braveheart that she was, came to the Gold Coast with us to cheer Princess on, forgetting her own troubled battle with cancer, and the 5 zaps she has just had to treat the insidiousness of malignant tumour in her spine.

Grandma took a week out to cheer Princess too and did so well being dragged around by us on so many occasions on our expeditions here and there. So did Aunty Malulu who gave up a week of precious time.

We are a normal family. Leading a somewhat normal life.

The story has to be about the priceless gift of life given to us by some unknown person with a family, just like ours -- probably with hopes and dreams, just like ours.

Spread the message of transplant and organ donation around. There is a life somewhere needing a precious organ.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Transplant Games 2009: An ordinary day, go Kiwis

Aug 23rd 2009 wasn’t like any other day. The sun was shinning in Brisbane’s Broadbeach except it wasn’t ordinary sun. It was a sun coming up to greet thousands of people who had descended on Broadbeach to attend the 17th World Transplant Games.

We are in the Gold Coast at the Transplant Games – a sporting event held bi-annually for transplant patients.

Our first main event was the beach walk – along the spectacular crashing waves, an inflated giant beach ball rolled by various people – 5km to and from the tallest landmark along the beach.

As you look through the long lines of people snaking through the beach, walking to celebrate the gift of life (of organ donation), you forget – despite the ordinariness of a day so hot in Brisbane – that this is far from an ordinary day.

It is most extraordinary to see so many transplant patients and their families and supporters gathered on a beach, being scorched by the hot sun.

Chances are if you turned around, you would have met a boy, a girl, a man, a woman of various ages. Chances are he or she would have been a recipient of an organ, or a donor family, or a family member of a transplant patient. Chances are he or she would have had multiple weeks of hospital stays, heartaches and tremendous quiet suffering that neither you nor I will ever know.

The New Zealand contingent came out full force – 20-0dd transplant patients and a slightly larger number of families and supporters. The air was filled with camaraderie.

We wear our black polos with pride. Afterall, the All Blacks had just won the rugby the night before against the Aussies, and a few Aussies and other nationalities who are keen rugby folks noted the victory. The world may not be able to pronounce New Zealand. But they can say the All Blacks. “What is a Kiwi,” a Canadian couple I met on the beach asks. Hm, how do I explain ways we use the word Kiwi in New Zealand?

The sand was the only cold thing around. The sun was unforgiving and wrathful. We trundled along and back. Sweaty with face like lobsters freshly cooked, we head back to the apartment for a quick shower and change before the next big event. For the athletes it was a group photo shoot. For supporters, getting ready for the big Opening Ceremony.

The Opening Ceremony

It was big, it was bold, and it was truly a showcase of Australia. We were entertained by voices, cheerleaders, dancers, string divas, voice maestros. It was not the crazy stuff that you see on telly with the Beijing Olympics but it was certainly fun and entertaining. It was an hour or two too long – but what the heck, the Aussies have got to strut their best and we sit patiently, waiting for the ceremonies and show to get on, and end. We even gave the host nation a standing ovation when they came in. The race begins in ernest on Monday.

Princess came down with the NZ contingent, looking for our faces as she marches down. The arena is a like a big black cave. We must have looked like bats to her, stuck to our seats. She can’t see us, but we waved and cheered “Go Kiwis”.

I would love to say forget the race but it is hard to forget the competitive aspect on a transplant patient’s life. It is as if every organ recipient has got a bigger story to tell – having conquered death (some of them multiple times), there is always something larger and more challenging.

The sporting competition will always be the sideshow, I think. The main drama is these transplant patients’ constant struggle with coming to terms with how life can be normal, and yet abnormal.

These are the contradictions. You can look a transplant patient in the eye, see his/her joy and triumph, but never their true battle scars. You see them fit as a fiddle and forget they can get very sick and turn custardy the next day. At the games, you even feel almost helpless you are so unfit compared to some of them.

If you have seen the Italian cyclists, you would think Lance Armstrong and Tour de France. These cyclists are slim, sinous and sensationally gorgeous in their tight biking gear. Our Kiwi cyclist’s wife was afraid she might have lost a pump she loaned to the Italians. Trust a Kiwi wife to be so dependable.

At the arena where the 17th World Transplant Athletes marched in, I got a sense of what it felt like to be part of a community – of people who have experienced hope and life.

This Thursday, August 27th, Princess will turn 11. She has had her new liver since June 2004. On Sunday, she will just one of 100 other kids in the games, all transplant kids. The adult athletes total just under 900. She brings with her a diary, her math homework, and an assignment from Mr May her class teacher to jot down things she has done everyday. It will be a hard task to keep to the homework. She would rather watch Sponge Bob on telly.

The sun is scorching. It is 30 degrees outside. Princess is just back from the pools with Aunty Malulu. Tomorrow (Tuesday) is her first event – tennis. Should we practice today? Maybe, maybe not. Lina my friend who lives in Brissy, is coming to visit us. We were thinking shopping?

Princess has been busy collecting pins from other athletes. She is a Kiwi gal. Kiwis are passive aggressive. They are laidback and competitive all at once. They are serious yet fun. The Kiwi contingent will battle the Goliaths in these games – the Aussies, the Brits and the Americans. We maybe a small nation but we are giant totaras – proud and unmovable. Go Kiwis!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Off to Brisbane for World Transplant Games

Three generations of Woolfs head to Brisbane this Saturday at the unearthly check-in time of 4.40am to head to the World Transplant Games. We are all excited, no doubt, except for the prospect of having to wake up at 3.30am to get ready!

Grandma, Aunties (three cheers for Aunty Unu who is just out of one of the world's most killing chemo regimes and out and about with us!), Princess and I are excited about the prospects of seeing other organ recipients run, swim, play golf, and do things most normal people do. Princess hasn't practiced much. But as a liver transplant recipient, she lives a damn normal life. She swims an hour a week, trains for gymnastics between 3 to 4.5 hours lately, and plays tennis for 2 hours on Fridays. In between, there is math tuition, piano and Mandarin lessons. What a full life!

I am excited over seeing a good friend who lives in Brisbane -- her family has dotted on Princess the day they knew her. Also, we are excited about seeing another friend who has also moved from NZ to Brisbane (WHAT IS IT ABOUT BRISBANE THAT ATTRACTS KIWIS?)

Hubby continues to be on site in Wanganui. So he can only cheer from across the ditch.

Brisbane will remind us of the gift of life from our organ donour (from Australia). We stand in constant humble awe and thanks for the precious gift - from an unknown person.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Single sex school anyone?

Lately the debate has surfaced again about the merits of single sex setting for students in New Zealand. The argument is boys learn differently to girls. Another starting bit of statistics that surfaced was that boys were achieving less than girls in national examinations.

I went to an all-girls school -- a Convent to be precise. Did I learn better because I was among girls? I don't think so. Back in my days, the business of education rested in the hands of missionaries. In Klang the popular schools were La Salle (Catholic, ACS (Anglican), High School (hm, I am not sure what denomination this school is but my dad and all my brothers went to this school which was an all-boys' school). For girls' schoool, we had Convent (Catholic), MGS (Methodist) and Bukit Kuda and Raja Zarina.

I learnt one myth growing up (I call this a myth because there has been no statistics to back this) -- girls at Convent are the most "wild" and boy crazy. I never dated a single guy until I was at University. I left home at 17, and my parents let me loose in a world called Canada where I could do almost anything under the sky and they would not know. My parents gave me freedom. They also gave me a solid grounding in the value of not failing, and not doing anything immoral.

In University, the co-ed environment showed me many facets of life. Students snogging at every corner...There was an ease with which the students mixed. I mixed with male students like I have always done, although I was raised in a Convent eeducation. My business was to study, get my degree. That was the focus. Boys? They were by-the-by. They were part of the picture, not the centre, as many moms are prone to be afraid of.

So as the NZ educators go through this process of debating the merits of co-ed or single sex education, I know Hubby and I have made the right decision -- that of sending Princess to a co-ed school. She will start off in an all girls environment from years 7 till 10, and from years 11 till 13 merge with boys in the school. I am cool with that. Hubby and I decided on a school that seemed less academically-skewed and more holistic in their expectations of children -- that your personal is required and the outcomes are less important. I hope Princess gives the blokes a good run for their money.

Of course I am hoping Princess will not get distracted by the boys in her class by the time she reaches year 11. But then, distraction is natural. Shielding a kid from distraction is not natural. Building an artificial environment is definitely not natural.

I am sure that single sex schools can illustrate many merits of their system. I share the view of Nae Nae College Principal -- who was on CloseUp this week -- saying as a nation, NZ's challenge is not about gender-based education, but the inequality in achievements in society. He is in a decile 3 co-ed school (based on the population's socio economic topography), pitched against a decile 10 Auckland Grammar Boys. The Nae Nae College principal's message was this, the school is there to give students a set of life skills, not just academic. I agree.

As an Asian parent, I tend to get very excited about academic achievements. I am learning to let go, a little, and to learn to absorb a different set of values -- that learning is not about regurgitating facts but about being able to look an a situation, a problem, and take it head on -- giving it one's best...the outcomes -- they are often determined by those who try the hardest and not the smartest or richest or ones that go to a certain type of school.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Books -- source of our kids' intellect

If we encountered a man or rare intellect, we should ask him what books he read.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

This week was Book Week at Princess’ school. It culminated in a Book Character Parade today at 9.15am at the school. Oh what fun it was. Principal came as Cruela de Vil – what good sport. Principal’s assistant was the Wicked Witch with a basket full of poison toadstools. Princess and her friend went as Cat in the Hat.

There was Yoda, my favourite. Indiana Jones, another favourite. There were Edwards and Bellas (from the recent Twilight series). One class formed a huge Hungry Caterpillar. We spotted Wally and Caesar, and Robin Hood. Sponge Bob, Bob the Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine were all on parade.

It was fun for the kids. An entire school, including the school caretaker, got to dress up as a character (from a book, oh well, film that made it to bookdom as well).

How many nights have I spent reading and reading Mrs Gaddy the Ghost? How many times since Princess was 3 months did I read and reread Brown bear, brown bear what do you see….and how many times did we read Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things are? Or We are going on a bear hunt, we’re going to catch a big one…???

I loved every memory of our bedtime reading. Princess has moved beyond bear hunts and Mrs Gaddy. She is onto bigger books. Her current reading list is an eclectic mix of Lang Lang's Journey of a Thousand Miles (world famous pianist’s biography), Anne Frank’s Diary; and a couple of other popular books for teenagers. She told me today none of her classmates knew the quiz question on The Secret Garden. I am glad I introduced her early to Frances Hodgson Burnett. Between then and now, we have built quite a library. Last year, we parted finally, with Geronimo Stilton, our beloved reporter mouse with a small heart. We also sold our entire Roald Dahl collection on Trade Me. The sale was sad but necessary. Space at home is finite. Our love for books is infinite. We are clutching onto an entire collection of Lemony Snickett, and a whole series of Colin Thompson's How to Live Forever and others.

I have no regrets spending all the money I spent on books. I am sure I will buy more as the years go by but we are at this space where I can share books with Princess. I would still like her to read teenage books though she has read bits of April Fool’s Day and found it too depressing to move on. She has also read parts of my Orson Scott-Card’s Ender’s Game and yet to catch on to the story-telling brilliance ala Scott-Card.

Books are a treasure. We don’t put dog ears on our books. We don’t deface books by scribbling on them. We don’t stress their spines by folding a whole lot of pages together. Books are almost objects of worship at home. They give us a space to retreat, to reminisce, to laugh, to wonder, to inspire, and renew ourselves daily. Ah, the beauty we call books!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Life's not fair, get used to it!

Two of my friends have sent me this chain mail. It is worth repeating because I love the key messages in there. We need to teach our young that life doesn't owe them anything. Whatever we experience in a sheltered environment is not likely to be repeated in the real world.

This set of rules has been attributed to Bill Gates but I can't vouch for it. The message is simple yet profound. So here it is for those who haven't seen it yet.

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one

If you agree, pass it on.

If you can read this - Thank a teacher!

Happy reading!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

American Julian Robertson's art gift to New Zealand

Ever so often one comes across a piece of news that makes one take notice. When I used to cover the financial markets in Singapore as a journo, I got the chance to interview many financial wizards. Too bad I never had the chance to catch up with Julian Robertson. I love the name Julian. If I had a son, he would have been called Julian. Julian Robertson was famed for his Tiger Fund then. It was an era of hedge fund heady-ness, and I remember the traders in Singapore drinking on the highs. Those were the days.

Yesterday hubby pointed me to news of Julian Robertson gifting 15 major pieces of artwork -- including works by Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin and Piet Mondrian -- to the Auckland Art Gallery. The art work will be on display in Auckland for a month before travelling to Te Papa in Wellington, then home to the Robertson's in New York.

According to the NZ Herald, the late 19th to mid 20th century paintings by prominent European artists come from the private collection of New Yorkers Julian and Josie Robertson, who have strong ties to New Zealand -- including ownership of the Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers golf courses.

Good on Julian Robertson, perhaps Princess and I will trot down to the Auckland Art Gallery to take a look at these art works. I first learnt of cubism art from Princess, when at year 3 or 4, her class had to do Picasso-like art work. Princess then had to write about Picasso and his life. She even learnt of Dora Maar, Picasso's "girlfriend" (mistress in the adult world). One school holiday, we even designed a boardgame together, based on Picasso and his life.

Robertson graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in business administration in 1955. He had a stint in the Navy, then joined Kidder, Peabody & Co. in New York in 1957 and, over the years became a wizard of Wall Street's.

When he was 48 years old, he started out on his own, setting up the investment/hedge fund firm, Tiger Management Group, in 1980. The fund quickly grew, and within 10 years had reached $1 billion in investments; and then to $21 billion in 1998. After a series of successes, he got badly hit by the markets and his fund shrunk back in size to $6 billion. He then decided to walk away from the markets in 2000, telling his clients he simply didn't "understand the markets anymore".

He did later make a comeback but in between found a magnificent spot in New Zealand to play golf. At Kauri Cliffs (ranked in 2005 by Golf Magazine as No 58 in the world), and Cape Kidnappers (another golf course in Northland, ranked 27th in the golf world by the same magazine), Julian Robertson can play all the golf he wants.

By now, Julian Robertson's investment savvy is legendary. He has given up managing other people's money directly. Instead, he is a "talent spotter" picking a group of market wizards who manages funds he then invests in. He has done well. According to media reports, his tiger cubs (investment managers he is betting on) have returned above market averages, using the same style he uses. Julian Robertson has been betting the American economy will tank, and foreign investors will stop buying US bonds. He would have done very well indeed.

What does this man do for a living now? The firm that was founded to support Julian Robertson's own funds now provides infrastructure for and invests in a total of 34 hedge funds, employing a wide variety of different strategies, with a total of about $26 billion under management.

Julian Robertson and his wife first came to New Zealand in 1979. It was to be his writing retreat -- the great American novel was his dream. He says in his statement on the gifting of his art works to New Zealand. "We have had a lifelong love affair with New Zealand . We love Auckland. And we love these pictures. That's why we were so pleased when we brought these works to New Zealand that New Zealanders seemed to enjoy them as much as we do. Frankly, bringing the pictures was probably the most appreciated thing we have ever done. We are delighted to be able to make this gift."

He and his wife Josie have made other generous donations to various courses including the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City; the Health Care Chaplaincy; the Central Park Conservancy; cancer research; and public and private elementary and secondary education.

Check out this article from Bloomberg which follows up on what Julian Robertson has been up to at Kauri Cliffs.

My favourite quote from Julian Robertson: "When you manage money, it takes over your life." He says of his current lifestyle: "I really like this better."

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mother's Day -- No gifts but a thank you!

You can't miss Mother's Day these days. The commercials in the media start at least a month before. How many pieces of jewellery can one buy for her/his mother? I don't believe in going out to a restaurant on Mother's day either -- it is a sheer ripoff. Countless other families are out there, buying their moms massive meals. The service is often bad and the food sub-standard even at the best restaurants.

So, I stopped fussing about Mother's Day. I have long decided a phone call per week to mom will be my routine until she dies. Mom frets when I don't call after a week. She has "hunted" me down, via friends whose phone numbers she sas.

I stopped worrying about what mom thinks. That is not to say I don't care about her. I do. How can I not when her lessons make me who I am or who I am not. We have our share of tensions but mostly we are best frieds, and we share many hours of gripe, fun and laugher over the phone.

** Mom is a stauch believer in "Never eat beef". Bah? What nonsense is my rationale. Her belief stems from an old Taiost/Buddhist/folklorish devotees' vow not to eat beef as the Goddess Kuan Yin's (Goddess of Compassion) father was supposedly reincarnated as a cow. Hence out of respect to this beautiful goddess, the vow of not eating beef. I don't normally cook beef at home simply because my cooking repertoire comes from mom, and beef wasn't ever in her menu. But my logic is if you can eat pork or chicken, then you can eat beef...So the same rationale goes down the drain too for those who don't eat pork. Sigh.

** Mom, the extreme lover of clothes. For me, clothes are necessities. How many pieces of clothing does one need? Mom needs many. Mom does not stop buying clothes. She sends us boxes of clothes. They sit in the closet, unused for years. I have basics and a few pieces that I am attached to. Once in a blue moon, I set out to Farmers or Stax to get something nice. Not often. Just once in a while. I love whites, and clean cut clothes. Mom loves "drama" in her clothes. Beads, ornaments, embroidery. She can never get enough of them. Here we are poles apart. Like cheese and chalk. She used to make me 15 dresses/outfits; one for everyday of the 15 days of Chinese New Year.

** Mom is a consumate cook/entertainer. Mom cooks in gargantuan proportions. She doesn't just cook. She caters, always. Our family meals are never simple. On festive occassions, cooking starts a week before with grocery shopping. Preparation time can be counted in eons. Cooking time, unbelievably long. I love entertaining too...but I am a lazy cook, and I love simplicity. So when I cook, I cook only what I can manage. But my friends tell me I overcook -- so I carry my mom's genes, afterall.

** Mom can take hard knocks in life. Mom married my dad, as a second choice. Her first love was someone from her childhood. Her father, in his mypia, forbid the courtship. Then dad came along. I would say mom has carried lots of burden -- the burden of first love lost, the burden of raising us, the burden of always having to make ends meet, the burden of always having something to worry about, the burden of ensuring all the traditions are kept, and all looks nice on the surface. She should be learning ballroom dancing, going singing with her friends and going to Chi Qong classes. Instead she is earthbound -- by my brother's 2 young children. She brings a cook meal to my niece everyday during morning tea time! Her agelines grow. Her sleep is always short. She hasn't been truly given a chance to relax. She deserves a bloody good rest!

** Mom is a Keeper of Oaths. Mom is never a tale tatter. This was her biggest and most valuable lesson to me. "Never carry a tale, especially when it causes hurt," she always says. I thank mom for that. Very often, I think about this and cherish the lesson.

** Mom the ever loyal friend. Mom is born in the year of the Pig. One of her characteristics is loyalty. She doesn't ever turn on a fried, never. Once, her friend "ran" off with a couple of thousands of dollars in a scheme of "ton-tine" (A self-regulated investment scheme commonly used by Chinese women to raise money.) Her friend couldn't repay the money owed to the scheme. In all her kindness and magnanimity, mom allowed her friend to repay back the money over a period of time -- it took all of 15 years or more....How generous is that?

** Mom the story-teller and muse. Mom loves to sing, loves Chinese opera and Korean drama. She loves story telling. When we were kids, we used to perch around her, listening to stories she read from Chinese newspapers -- following tales of romance, tragedy, horror and the grotesque through her voice. She was a consumate story teller....My favourite was and still is Butterfly Lovers, a story of star-crossed lovers who found a kind of redemption in the end. Tragic but breathtaking in its beauty and pathos.

So as we celebrate Mothers Day, I remember mom's lessons to me. "We should always remember there will always be living better than us, don't make comparisons that would cause you unhappiness." So her lesson is contentment.

"We should always keep a secret told to us in confidence." Here is a lesson in privacy and loyalty.

"We should always give the best portion of food to others." Her generosityt puts me to shame.

So, here's to all our mothers who make us who and what we have become. No wonder the Buddhists reserve the highest dedications to all mothers and mother sentient beings. Happy Mothers Day mom!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Avatar - The Last Airbender

For the last week or so -- and including the last 2 days -- Princess and I have been glued to the telly, watching a little bald boy and his odd group of friends set out on a journey to restore balance to a world corrupted by the Fire Nation. Princess' Aunt introduced us to Avatar, now we can't stop it from invading our telly time.
We watched and rewatch some parts; and check out the special interviews. We want to know the creatures and the amazing people behind the scenes.

Since Easter, hardly a day has has gone by without us talking our "Avatar" talk. We are so besotted by Aang (the airbending hero who has a blue arrow running from his back to his forehead), Zuko(a Fire Nation prince who goes through a series of personal and spiritual transformations, Katara (the ever lovely Waterbender from the Southern Water tribe) and her brother Sokka (the silly but practical boy who seems to have a huge mind for science) and a blind sharp-tongued earthbender called Toph. We love Appa, the fury and snowhite giant bison with six legs that zips through the air like an aeroplane, and the lemur Momo which makes a funny screeching noise.

It was easy for Princess and I to fall in love with Avatar the anime series. The people who wrote the stories did such a splendid job that we went on an emotional journey with the characters. The animation was stunning and the theme music was catchy. Princess does the 4 different styles of kicks that comes with each of the 4 nations (Water, Earth, Fire and Air). She mouths the introduction to the series, imitating the American accent. I have a good laugh each time. Now we have to wait for the movie, due in 2010 (directed by directed by M Night Shyamalan. I wish they came to NZ to scout for talent, and picked Peter Jackson for this. He would have done a spectacular job -- and Aoteroa would have a chance to shine in the customs department!

Not since Hayao Miyazaki's (the master of Japanese animation)My Neighbour Totoro, and Spirited Away have Princess and I been so caught up by the sheer brilliance of animation.

With us watching the last of the 3rd box of DVDs from the Avatar anime, there will be a huge gap in our lives. Perhaps I will rewatch My Neighbour Totoro. Perhaps I will rewatch Kiki's Delivery Service or Howls Moving Castle...Ah, the beauty of animation!

I am glad Princess has taken to the content of the Avatar series. We are alike in many ways -- our love for stories. Avatar's themes are adult, but level enough for kids to follow. As humans, our journeys are mostly the same -- we have to fulfil our destinies, we have to learn forgiveness, we have to learn trust, we have to learn loyalty, friendships. and we have to know when to retreat. The tales told in Avatar cover all of those themes and much much more. Thank you Michael Dante DiMartino
Bryan Konietzko (the creators of this series)! I am sure Princess have learnt some amazing stuff just watching this Nickelodean series (which has about 12 discs).

Sunday, April 5, 2009

How do children cope with disappointment?

Princess went to a gym competition on Sunday. She didn't win anything. She was all storm clouds and winter despite the sun being most dazzling outside. Not winning is ok, I told her. "Not after all the hours I put in," she says. "You don't know what it feels like, it makes you feel like you are not worth anything!"

I felt sad seeing all her internal turmoil. I tried to recall how I used to cope as a child. I was never a top student. Friends cried when they got 80% in their tests. I laughed out of sheer happiness, for getting 55%, especially in Math. I had my strenghts, but math was not one of them. I can't remember sheer disappointment except for when I missed out on promotions every year for 5 consecutive years at the NSTP, where I used to work. Why not? I was a star reporter, with many good scoops. After a while, I left and found success elsewhere. And oh, yes, there were two other disappointments in my life I will always remember -- not being chosen to perform in a dance at Chinese school, and not making it to the badminton team!

I told Princess that wining is not everything. Needless to say, my words might as well been thrown out as garbage. There were more tears about how just having something to show for all the hard hours she put into gym would have been nice. It went on for a while. Time will heal this disappointment. I am sure it will.

It is hard. Dealing with non-success. But children need to learn that success is not defined by medals or certificates. Yes, these external forms of gratuity are all welcomed as endorsement of what one has done right. Sometimes a little failure can help a child feel empathy for those who have never won a medal or any certificate. Sometimes it is good for a child to know there will always be someone better prepared, or luckier on that day.

I want Princess to succeed. But how can or should I help define for her "success" that is not measured by "goldstars" in school or "Distinctions" or "Excellent" or cups and medals? I don't really have the answers. All I could say was enjoy the experience of exercising but that went whoosh!

Princess is already highly successful by my definition. Obviouly my standards are much lower than her own. She aims high and demands great things of herself -- in sports, in school. Me? I just want her to stay happy and healthy.

If you have interesting stories to share about how you have helped your child cope with not succeedin, share your tale?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Of painting, buns and creative outlets

Mom got sarcastic today. She told me off for not being on-time in my weekly calls. I laughed it off. I normally call her in the beginning of the week. But somehow, this week, I have been very errant -- not only in calling mom in Malaysia, but in everything. I am beginning to be a slacker with (my home-based) work being so slow. Being not-on-time with my weekly calls with mom is not nice, especially when mom's waiting and waiting.

Today, mom and I chatted about raising children, mostly. She is particularly proud of my nephew who is 4 years old and loves to paint. Mom is not happy with the helper at home who has been slack in taking out the painting kit/gear for my nephew to mess around with. She wants him to continue painting.

I am instantly reminded of how mom has always been very supportive of letting us have a go at making things when we were little. Mom is really good at craft and making dolls and stuff. I never really liked dolls, and still don't.
I remember how mom painted and dressed up a complete doll made of icecream sticks and eggshell(for the head). It looked fantastic. I can never compete with mom on that end.

Cars, lemon perfume oil
So my little nephew who loves cars and loves to paint is being spoilt by my mom and dad. So is my niece who is 7. So is Princess who is 10. Three grandchildren -- and such generosity. Dad just mailed Princess a collection of Sonatinas...He had 2 years ago bought her a collection of over 100 famous pieces. He wants her to continue practising. Princess has learnt quite a few songs from the album dad sent including Moment Musical, Mussette, Doll's Dream and now Fur Elise and Hungarian Dance. Princess should be so thankful for such loving grandparents both - the Lees and the Woolfs. I also remember how Darling Aunty spent heaps of money buying a real McCovy easel for Princess when she was in her painting phase.

Children get the most stimulation and encouragement from the people around them -- whether it be at school, at home or at their friends'. Little people love to do things with their hands -- shape with playdough, hammer on a nail, cut and paste. I remember making a hole (big enough for pegs to fall through) on a little icecream container and throwing Princess a whole heap of pegs. Princess used to love dropping in the pegs and shaking the box...It cost nothing and provided countless hours of joy and stimulation.

Two weeks ago, Princess made her first batch of "perfume oil". My god-brother and his wife had bought Princess this awesome Chemistry sciencekit a few years ago. Princess has used bits and pieces of the kit and the kit had been sitting in her cupboard. Recently she felt inspired to make perfume. So she raided my fridge and got the peel out -- nearly burnt the plastic holder for the tubes -- but made 2 batches of something that resembled lemon perfume oil from her sciencekit. It was awesome watching the enthusiasm and experimentation going on. I didn't give her any help -- me being hopeless at reading instructions. Well, Princess presented one of the perfume tubes to our resident monk at Dorje Chang, who had his birthday early this month. The perfume oil was for him to use in water offering.

I hope Nephew gets to do more paintings and tries more pictures. I have a few of his drawings now (which I will put in a folder) and hope mom sends me more. We want to see him develop his love for painting. He may never like art when he grows older. Who cares. At this stage, all there is to do is to give him the canvas/opportunities and allow him freedom of expression. He may be the first artist in the Lee family just as Princess may be the first Chemist in the Woolf family.

Mom says she has to go. She is experimenting with a Chinese bun recipe I plucked of the internet for her. She says the measurements I gave her were off -- one cup of water was too little for 6 cups of flour. Indeed it was. She was right. But she copied the recipe wrongly...It should have been 1 and 3/4 cups of water, not 1. Ah, the sign of an intuitive cook. Let's hope the buns rise sufficiently and mom will be a convert to how we modern gals cook -- taking recipes off the internet!

Friday, March 20, 2009

$150 fine -- makes me a criminal!

I was fuming today. I got given a ticket. I had committed a traffic offense -- not stopping at a double yelllow stop line. I felt ridiculous. I felt outraged. I felt poor. $150 is a lot of money for a small oversight. I have never bumped into anyone on the road. Never had a speeding ticket. Had a small fine for parking at a 30 minute park longer than necessary.

So I was fuming and fuming. The police officer who stopped me told me in a very nice way I didn't stopped at the stop sign. The intersection was clear, there was no traffic coming being me, I turned left (after making sure there was no traffic coming down Allum Street from the right).

I had no excuse. But that didn't stop me for ranting for a few hours about the pitiful cop sitting by the roadside waiting for an offender like me. A good citizen -- I don't commit crimes, I don't steal lie or cheat or put graffiti on walls. Sigh.

This week I learnt an important lesson -- you can have a clean track record and get so bent up over a misdemeanor. I envy the countless cars that go pass that intersection without stopping and not getting caught. I hate the fact that the cop was sitting there -- all attentive but when real citizens get in serious trouble, the cops always arrive too late.

We had our house burgurled when we were renovating. Our kind neighbour spotted a car/registration departing from our property at 1am in the morning. We gave the police the details. The cops said they know the "offenders" but they were powerless to do anything as they dind't get caught in the act.

So I was unlucky, I got caught in the act while committing my offence.

Princess laughed. Hubby laughed. I didn't laugh.

I am still trying to get over how ridiculously affected I am by this whole traffic offence thing!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Anna's gone bald -- Support her cause

Those of you who have been following my sis in law Anna's ordeal with cancer will know what a courageous and can I add "tempestous" character Anna is. Anna is one never to mince her words. You won't get niceties from her but she is as genuine as they come!

People love Anna for many things. Even when she was in hospital sick with tumour ravaging her body, she still thinks about the person next to her bed.

Well, Anna is raising money to support the Luekemia & Bloodfoundation. Check out Anna's own page at Shaveforacure Help support Anna's cause.

Friday, March 6, 2009

“Screw the goldstars”

This week I read a book which really opened my eye to a few things. The book is called Learning Outside the Lines (Simon & Schuster). It is written by two people who were deemed “academic failures” who then went on to conquer their own Everest, to graduate at the top of their class in an Ivy League college.

Jonathan Mooney is a dyslexic student who only learnt how to read when he was 12. David Cole has ADHD and at 15 dropped out of high school. Cole went on to graduate with Honours in visual arts while Mooney was recipient of the distinguished Truman Fellowship.

After reading this book, I vowed not to be beholden by external markers of success for my child. Asian parents measure their children’s success by how high their exam marks show. Education, to us, is the hallmark of having beaten the system, and having thrived. Limited as this measure is, we have always relied on this as a measure of our parenting and personal victory. It is not, and it cannot be allowed to be.

Mooney and Cole made a strong case for every college student saving himself/or herself from the "institution". This is especially so for those students with learning disorders or disabilities. According to them, while we encourage our children to pursue college, or education (which puts them onto a professional track) most parents do not encourage their children to look inward to define “who we are or what we want, or chart an individualized path. Success often becomes external, in markers like the GPA (grade point average), internships, and the networking we do.”

I had friends who used to be smacked by their parents if they came home with anything “red” in their report cards. My parents were less draconian but I still got a major telling off if I came home with a red mark. (I think I only did once.) In the Asian context, getting smacked for not reaching your parent’s expectation is normal. A good report card is equivalent to upholding your family’s honour. Failing in school is synonymous with failing in life. Hence the intense focus on education excellence. Education is the passport to professionalism.

I have come across friends with kids diagnosed with ADHD, or kids who are slow to read or kids who can’t add or learn basic facts. How best to help these kids who will face the sanction of their teachers (because he won’t sit still or is disrupting the class”)? How best to help someone whose brain can’t collect information and regurgitate them like what the school system demands?

Learning Outside the Lines challenges the limited definition of intelligence heaped upon us by our education system. So if your child’s teacher gives him/her a below average mark for writing, or if you child gets a 10 out of 50 for math – do not despair. The book encourages us to look within ourselves to define “success” as an individual. “Screw the goldstars” (report cards) and “template identities”, the authors tell us. Instead focus on helping the kid excel at his personal goals.

Be compassionate, not 100% in math
As a parent, I think, I too have been consumed by external markers, worrying about spelling test scores and math groups in school. I think it will take me a while to shake off being bound by external markers of success. It is a hard process, to deprogramme something so deeply embedded. But try I must. I remember writing in one of Princess’ goals for a school term “to be compassionate” to her classmates and “enjoy learning”. I should have more of those rather than the more mundane goals of “achieving 100% accuracy in punctuation” or “master long division”.

Remember, we can waste too much time thinking that there is only one way to learn “in the classroom”. True learning is more powerful than that, “it cannot and should not ever be held prisoner by the classroom.”

Edward Hallowell (MD) wrote in his foreward of the book: “For centuries, the word stupid, combined with various intensifiers like bad, lazy, willful, or weak has been used to create a moral “diagnosis”. That moral diagnosis has ruined millions of lives. Now thanks to neuroscience, we are starting to make the medical diagnosis. We are starting to help unusual learners tap into their unusual talents. We are starting to realise how complex learning is, how destructive the concept of stupid has been, and how glorious getting the most out of a mind can be.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It is all about hardwork - of wizards and geniuses

Early this week, round about 7.30, Princess told me to watch this feature on Breakfast (TV One). It was about New Zealand’s most brainy kid – a 16 year old King’s College boy called Stephen Mackereth. The reason Princess was yelling for me was she had tuned in to a conversation I was having with a friend at dinner about this same boy and thought I shouldn’t miss the item. This Stephen boy topped the world in 4 out of the 6 Cambridge papers he sat, my friend told me. He was the Australasian champion for the Brain Bee competition and is a consummate debater (in Spanish) (I found this info from the web, incidentally). While reading up about neuroscience or the mystic workings of the brain, he also laps up on Ancient Greek during his spare time. What is it that makes him tick? His television interview doesn’t really shed much light. He seems like a nice kid.

Check out TV One's Breakfast interview with Stephen Mackereth

I have a confession – I am a sucker for watching boy wonders (champions in spelling or math and the likes). I spend hours watching You Tube clips of piano protégés. It fascinates me how children or young people have the capacity to coax their brains to do so much while my own brain is so static. The brain is a wonderful machine. Use it or lose it is the prognosis. I plan to do word puzzles to keep my brain going when I go older, or will it be too late then?

So back to talent. Lately, New Yorker journalist Malcom Gladwell (of Tipping Point fame) came up with a book on success – Outliers: The Story of Success. His point was although we love to think about genius or raw talent as key to success, the reality is successful people have been presented with great opportunities to do what they love in the first place. I have read in several places that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to make a world class violinist. Gladwell reiterates this 10,000 hour-analogy. I haven’t read Gladwell’s book but a report in the Listener it sums up this way: It takes more than pure talent to succeed; it is better to give your kids more to do, more experiences, than to cushion them from hardwork. So if you are a mom ferrying your child to piano, to tennis, to math tuition, to drama, to dancing, to rugby, to cricket – you are on the right track. And if I heard all the child protégés correctly when they were interviewed, it tells the same story – they practice and practice and practice, some do three or four hours, others do six!

I keep parroting these words to Princess: “It is all about effort.” Some day, I hope she will remember talent is not everything, hard work is.

So Stephen, I think is a damn hardworking kid, to his credit. He also has inherent intelligence, curiosity and an infinite passion to learn – I think that is his key.

In schools, do they teach our kids in a way that unleashes their curiosity? Do they give kids the freedom to explore, to seek, to challenge? Or do the kids sit restless listening to the teacher drone on about this or that? This week, Princess has a topic to write on. No prizes for guessing. It has something to do with a dead boy king, some believe bludgeoned to death by a rival.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Camping at Tauranga Bay

I now know why I like camping so much. It has to do with not having to do housework! You see, on the campsite, you can cook outside your tent, eat outside or spill food all over, it doesn't matter.

I also lap up the luxury on not having to make beds, not having to do multiple loads of washing and no vacuuming. Clothes dry outside the tent on makeshift clothes line. If the clothes stink a bit, I don’t care. No one seems worried about being too clean.

At the camp ground, humans display their wide array of behaviour. Some tents are more tidy than others. Some people camp with their fridges and freezers. Some people have super duper tents, others have basic units. Some have fancy camper vans, others gargantuan mobile homes. Out on the campsite, my only worry is that the mossies or bugs don’t build their metropolis next to my bed inside the tent.

The OZtrail tent we bought did a splendid job of keeping us comfortable. Princess and I had one mattress to share. Hubby had another of his own. We read at night under our LED lights. Princess and the vampire Edward. Me and a man I once know and admired so much, a book about a true Malay gentleman. Hubby and a book he didn’t really enjoy.

Princess spent most of her days at the beach with her friends Imogen and Brittany, jumping waves and squealing a lot. I spent most of my days under the gazebo, reading, reading -- coffee -- reading-- pure bliss. Hubby spent most of his day in the sea in his kayak, or with his friend Marcus, hoping to catch more scallops, more snapper and more crayfish.

Out on the campsite at night, there is such amazing brightness with the moon in full attendance. The stars dress up the night sky in a dazzling veil of diamonds. All is quiet except the ‘trudge trudge trudge’ of my jandals as I make my way to the communal ablutions block.

Out on the campsite, at dawn, the sea sparkles in a brilliant bluish, greenish hue. The waves whisper hopes of a brave new day; a new beginning. The repetitive waves mirror the mundaness of life, but in each mundane movement, nothing ever stays the same. Everything changes - become relevant or irrelevant. You can't hurry the sea as it shifts its tides.

Out on the campsite, at dusk, the sky drips golden, magenta and almost lavender – a portrait of nature so beautiful your heart needs to skip a beat. Ah, this is the beauty of camping, you take the time not the miss this beautiful life.