Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Kiasu Singaporeans at Buffets

A friend's article on Singaporeans vs. Malaysians reminded me of an embarrassing incident.
My friend, Lilian, asked me to join her for a buffet lunch. Although I am not highly in
favour of buffets (most of us tend to overeat or in Hokkien they say, chiak
kau pun - eat the valaue's worth) I decided to go along with her as she is quite
lonely, with few friends.

Just as we were about to leave, Lilian, my friend, threw out at the main entrance!
It was so embarrassing! I can never forget the looks of disgust and shock of
the staff and customers. Luckily we were not sued when some potential
customers, upon seeing the vomit, shrieked and ran off. !

Another friend proudly told me she would eat up to two kilos of fresh prawns
at every steamboat buffet.! I wonder about her cholesterol level. I wonder why some people do not realise that it can be very agonising to overeat. This is why at Rialto, I never believe in having buffets of Italian spread. I do not wish to encourge overeating and wastage of food. It is ironical that people with money should stuff themselves sick with food and suffer in agony, while the hungry in Africa agonise for want of food!

I wonder if the above is true of customers in Hong Kong, China, America and all
over the world. Maybe... human nature to always to want more of everything! Enough
is often not enough! That is why we have the box office hit Singapore production,
Chian Pu Kou Yung - Money, Not Engouh.

Gan Chau

Saturday, November 19, 2005

An Embarrassing Incident (1)

When my regular tenants left in 1996, I put an advertisement in the papers to rent out their rooms. A young gentleman responded, and John told me he was a student in the Polytechnic and that he was from Malaysia. He told me he often came back late and asked if I would mind. I asked if he worked in the restaurant or pub and to my surprise, he said, "I'm a pretty boy". I told him he had used the wrong adjective. "I'm a pretty boy", he insisted. "No, you must say I am a handsome boy; pretty is only used to describe a girl or lady. "I'm a pretty boy", he said again.

Somewhat perplexed, I said, "I teach English in the school, John. You must say, "I'm a handsome boy". "I'm a duck" John replied. "Gosh, first you are a pretty boy and now you are a duck....." "Which world do you come from?" asked John somewhat exasperated. "I come from Penang". Finally he said, "I'm a gigolo".

John told me he found the earnings attractive which came in handy to pay for his education, etc. It also gave him the extras to buy some branded goods he liked. Later I read that some students had turned to vice so that they would have the extra cash to buy the things they coveted.

John never rented the room for he found me "too nice and decent a landlady". Now and then he would phone me and tell me of his problems and frustrations with his sideline. I guess he was comfortable with my non-judgemental attitude towards him. I advised him to switch to restaurant work for he might be happier even though the earnings could be lesser.... but at least he would not be at the beck and call and to put up with the whims and fancies of the rich. He promised and I never heard from him since then.

This incident made me realise I had been overly confident and have still so much more to learn. I had been brought up in a lovely home where papa sheltered us with so much love and comfort that we grew up quite unaware of the plight of others less fortunate. I only pray John will make his mark in life one day.

Gan Chau

Everyone can write, given the motivation!

I have encouraged my students that given enough time and effort they will
definitely "conceive" and proudly produce their "baby" ie. a written piece of work.

Through creative writing classes, many students have truly discovered their potential. Even the seemingly weak students have been able from time to time produce "masterpieces" as examplified by Qiu Kewei's poem.


Newton sat under an apple tree,
By Jupiter? Guess what did he see!
He saw an apple falling down,
Gravity was the answer he found.

His laws of motion are dreadful,
And his law of universal gravitation is a handful,
Hence, when the teacher began, "Newton's..."
We, at once, corrected him, "Nuisance..."

How we wish Newton had sat under a durian tree
For when the thorny fruits did fall,
He would surely be hurt by the thorns,
Then he'd say, "Wow! That durian surely
weighs a metrical "New ton"!

- Qiu Kewei,
Sec. 4C
River Valley High

Qiu Kewei, being one of the weakest in English Language worried
a lot, but through encouragement gradually improved. He managed to get a 5 for his
English and English Literature in the "O' level examination.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


In Penang, my cousin took me to visit her friend whose son is an animal lover. Their lovely, cosy kampong home is like a mini zoo!

I was pleasantly surprised to a find a huge wooden cage housing budgerigars of brilliant hues and colours! Aunty Boh told me that her son, Huat, started with only 2 pairs of birds which later multiplied to 102! Huat had put coconut husks to be used as nests. We could see little heads popping out and in some nests the mother bird was patiently feeding her babies.

There were pairs of budgerigars kissing each other and I was startled to find out that the love birds are faithful to each other till they die! Interesting to note how there are so many birds in the cage, yet each pair of love birds only have eyes for one another!

If only this were true for human beings! If a man only has eyes for his wife and vice versa, there would be less divorces in this world! We, human beings are supposed to be the highest form of God's creation, yet how could we behave lesser than these tiny budgerigars!

Emerson said, "Every man I meet is my superior in some way, in that I learn of him". I guess we could also learn a lot from God's tiny creation. I remember in one of my pastor's sermons he had mentioned, "If a man could control his bad temper and his lust, he will be a great man indeed!"

Gan Chau

The Pain of Writing

After my 4 years of degree course in Canada, I visited my eldest brother and that was how I ended up living in Singapore. I decided to join the Insitute of Education so as to teach in the schools here.

Upon graduation, I was sent to a SAP school. The principal told me that she had requested the Ministry to send her the best teacher graduate who could help bring up the English Language standard in her school. "Gosh, I thought to myself... am certainly not the best... am sure many of my classmates are better than me!" I remember going down on my knees in prayer, imploring the good Lord to help me be a creative and interesting teacher. The students were very strong in all their other subjects except English, and I was given this unenviable task of helping them in their English and English Literature.! What a great start to a challenging teaching career!

I grew up, hating to learn by rote, and I was not going to encourage this rote learning method! I needed to help the students to learn to think creatively and resourcefully. I decided to help them improve by constantly writing which comes from observing and analysing. I told the students that writing is not an easy task; requires effort but with determination anyone can write. My second sister was a classic example. She never liked reading or writing as a youngster, but gosh the moment she fell in love, she suddenly became so poetic! The number of poems she wrote... unbelievable! I asked the students to describe what the pain of writing would be like and they came up with many answers! "It was like being pursued by an overweight girl you don't really like." "Sitting in the dentist's chair with all that drilling! " "Being made to drink Chinese herbal brew". etc. I would give the students my poem - a haiku to be exact.


The pain of writing,
Like a mother in labour,
Proud delivery!
- Gan Chau

I encouraged the students to sit down and force themselves to write. When their "baby" - their completed article or poem is delivered, they will feel very happy and proud of their "baby". To every mother, her baby is the most adorable!

The students began to develop confidence in writing. They began to observe and analyse, and one girl produced a beautiful piece of writing on the ants... she followed a trail of ants and observed their interesting behaviour. Another wrote about his being deeply hurt by some unkind remarks made on him. As a result of the article being read to the class, relationship became restored as the students apologised to one another. (Will write with more details in the next email.) Some of the students were quite witty when they handed up an empty page of work with the remarks, "Dear Madam, Am sorry.... no baby today. I had a miscarriage yesterday!" or "Dear Madam, Here's an invisible piece of writing!" I replied "Invisible 8 stars are given!" 8 stars would be the highest accolade given to a student's work. I had promised the students that if they wrote in poems I would also reply them in poetry style. Apart from giving them a chance to practise writing, it would also give us a chance to communicate. The students are free to write on any topic they choose and to ask me questions or to seek advice. I was aware I had 7 to 9 classes every year, and every class had about 30 to 36 students! I wanted to ensure that every student had a chance to communicate with me.

I learn to listen better now

This is one of my favourite poems which I came across while I was teaching. I always started the year by giving my students this poem. Hope I can recall from memory and that you will enjoy the meaningful poem too.


When God gave out brains, I thought He said trains,
And I missed mine.

When God gave out roses, I thought He said noses,
And I asked for a red one.

When God gave out chins, I thought He said gin,
And I ordered a double.

When God gave out heads, I thought He said beds,
And I asked for a soft one.

When God gave out legs, I thought He said cakes,
And I asked for two round ones.

When God gave out looks, I thought He said books,
And I didn't want any.

Since then, I have learned to
listen better now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What's in a name? (Names that mislead)

Names! Names! Names! We cannot avoid remembering names! Names of people, places, animals, etc. I have also learnt that sometimes things are not what they are ......for some names can indeed be misleading!

Someone gave my family a puppy when I was in primary school. I wonder why mama gave her the name of "Lai Im". A girl in my class was also also called Lai Im. I persuaded mama to call our pet "Snooty, Creamy, Kopi Susu" or anything that sounded less human. One day, mama saw our dog dashing off and she hollered, "Lai Im! Lai Im. Come back!" A lady was walking past our house, and she turned back and looked at mama, "You called me? My name is Lai Im".

When my ACS boys gave me a stray puppy which they rescued from the mangrove swamp, they gave me two names to choose.... Kamlet or Kamster. I thought Kamster sounded like gangster, and decided to call my puppy Kamlet as it could rhyme with Hamlet.... more intellectual! I put an "e" ending to denote a feminine name. Many of my friends were shocked to find that Kamlette was actually quite a big golden retriever mix! She was certainly not a small Kam, as the word "lette" implied. My chow chow, Xiaobai, was given to me and I did not want to change his name. Only added our surname. Hence Kam Xiao Bai. Xiao Bai means little and white. But he is neither small nor white. He was a good size dog and was creamy beige in colour. Reminds me of coffee latte.

Once a young lady joined our Bible study group. When we asked her for her name, she was quite reluctant to tell us. Later we found out the reason. She was called Chan Yeow Kwai, which sounded like devil in Chinese. We decided to give her a new name, Grace Chan. My best friend is called Loh Soh Wah (Loh Soh is long winded in Hokkien) and a friend is called Fei Loh (sounds like fatty Loh or the fat one).

Many people have mistaken my friend's name, Kwok Wai Tour, to be that of a tour company!
I guess his father must be someone who was very conscious of the British presence and decided to spell an otherwise Chinese Tou with an additionl "r" that smacked of British snobbery! Or perhaps he was someone who liked travelling very much.

During the 8 years I operated my Italian Restaurant, it was not easy for me to keep a straight face when I was addressing some of my customers. They had surnames like Mr. Lovelace, Miss Lovely (surname did not quite go along with the looks), Mr. Woodman (Char Tow Kong) and Mr. Bellbottoms. Our regular customer, Mr. Love, often acted like he was the most romantic gentleman in town.

Once, out of desperation and growing impatience, I asked the officer from the Ministry of Education, Mr. J. Goodenough, if he was goodenough for his job! Gosh! What audacity!

Now I am wondering if I am good enough to stir up my friends' interest to read this article and make them smile!

Choo Choo Kam

What's in a Name (2)

Names! Names! Names! To me, names of roads, streets and avenues ar as important as names for people.

When I first wanted to buy my first HDB (Housing Development Board) flat, the agent showed me a very beautifully renovated flat. As much as I liked the flat, I could not bring myself to purchase it because I would blush if people asked me where I lived. The flat was located at Ah Hood Road. (Hood is Penang Hokkien for testes). I have just found out from my agent friend that in Singapore they also have the same meaning. Worse, as the Hokkien here is less refined, they will say a man has no hood (meaning he has no courage and is less of a man than he should be).

The agent next showed me two flats and British snob that I am, I chose to buy the flat located at Dover Road, as opposed to Telok Blangah Heights. I did not like a road to have a mixture of both Malay and English word. It turned out to be a good choice as my school, ACS (Independent) eventually built their new premises very near my apartment. My dream of walking to school had come true.

I would never choose to buy properties on roads with names like Kay Poh Road (Busybody road), Lim Tua Tow Road (Big Head) Jalan Tua Kong (Big Grandfather), Jalan Ayam Katek (Short Chicken Road), etc.

I find my university buddy, Richard's address in America interesting. It says, Castle Row Overlook. Makes me feel as if one more word is still missing.... Overlook what?

My siblings often chide me for being a real kaypo (busybody.) Maybe I should live on Kay Poh Road... hang on, despite the unsophisticated name, voila, the properties on Kay Poh Road are plush condominiums beyond my budget! Hence, don't judge a road by its name!

Choo Choo Kam