Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Murder of the English Tongue

When I watched "My Fair Lady" I could not quite fathom why Professor Higgins was so uptight about how English was being spoken. His particularity only hit me when I was visitng a friend, Richard Smith, at Harrogate, Yorkshire, England. I could barely understand the English that was spoken by Richard's father, and I was quite embarrassed when I kept saying, "Pardon me". At one point Richard's father was trying to tell me a joke and I could hardly make out his strong Yorkshire accent. Richard and his mother suddenly said, "Oh, that is not very funny, John, cut that out." Seeing how hurt and upset he was by his family's bluntness, I said, "Sir, it's ok. Carry on what you are saying. I can take jokes. I come from a crazy family". Perhaps my accent to Richard's father was just as bad for he blurted out, "I assure you, I'm not crazy!

I guess if Professor Higgins were to read the type of English spelling people are now using for their mobile sms, he would go berserk! For practicality, I feel, it is alright for mobile sms, but would such spelling be necessary for blog writing? After all there is so much space, yet so many writers are now using the short form of spelling and sentence structure. It takes a person at least six to eight years to read and write well. So do not waste the efort. Once a person gets into the habit of spelling indifferently, it will be difficult to rewrite. This is what many of us in Malaysia experienced, when more and more words in English, albeit spelt in a slightly different way, were used in Bahasa Malaysia. eg. doktor, disiplin, universiti, etc.

English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. It is a language that has a rich influence from so many other languages, eg. Latin, Greek, French, German, etc. While it is not really easy to learn, it is just as hard to master!
Hence as a teacher of the English Language, I encourage my students to read and write extensively, so as to acquire fluency and fluidity in expression. Singapore is well known for her strength in her people's command of the English Language. Let us not allow Professor Higgins any opportunity to tell us what he had said of Eliza Do'Little:

"Look at her, a prisoner of the gutters,
Condemned by every syllable she utters,
By right she ought to be taken out and hung,
For the cold blooded murder of the English tongue!"

Gan Chau

The King of Fruits

When I was studying at the University of Alberta, it was very difficult for me to help my Canadian classmates imagine why a durian is known as the King of Fruits in Malaysia and Singapore. It was not easy to buy a durian in Chinatown, and if it had been available in those days, it would have been very costly. Hence I could only tell them that a durian tastes like heaven but smells like hell. Being a better writer than an artist (I could not even draw an elephant) I could only contend with description. Duri is the Malay word for "Thorn" and when you add the suffix "an", it means many - hence a durian is a fruit with many thorns. I had asked my Canadian classmates to visit me during our durian season and it was quite fun to watch their facial expression when they first tried to eat the fruit.

It would be quite embarrassing for me to reveal that I only started learning to eat durians at the age of 16! Everyone in the family loves durians except me for I found the smell too pungent for my sensitive nose and eating durains did not appear refined to me. My second brother, Kee Seng, would eat the fruit but in very small portions while mom and second sister, Ean Ean, would relish it. One midnight, I was rudely awakened by my mischievious siblings who yanked me out from bed. I still continued sleeping even in a sitting position and suddenly, someone shoved a durian into my mouth. Only then did I realise that durians actually taste quite good and started to appreciate the fruit that smells like something decaying but nevertheless is endowed with a unique and great taste!

When I returned to Penang for a visit, my cousin Nancy told me about a fruit farm where the owner, her friend Yeh Ying's father, grows all types of fruits and vegetables. I was excited for I have never been to a fruit farm before in Penang. Uncle Lim, Yeh Ying's father, had also cultivated his own durian which grew so much in popularity that it was named "Jenny Wu" after the famous actress. There are only five compartments in each durian and each compartment has only one seed! The durian costs more than the T24 Sultan Durian!

I gave Uncle Lim some small gifts which I had brought from Singapore and had a great time tasting the durians, rambutans, langsat, mangosteen and gosh, it was wonderful having a bath of cold, natural water from the hills! The water was tapped and it was great not having to pay the government for the water! Had a fun time too helping Uncle Lim to pluck tomatoes, French beans, chillies, etc.

The following year, when Uncle Lim heard that my cousin was going to visit me in Singapore, he insisted that she must bring a packet of durians for me. My cousin told him not to trouble himself as I could buy durians from Singapore. To her surprise he told her he did not think I would, since I am frugal by nature. I am touched that Uncle Lim understood me so well. He had only met me once, and in his wisdom and experience, he was so perceptive! I had never bought durians for myself (except when I wanted to give them as presents). I always thought that durians are so cheap in Malaysia, and I would enjoy them when I am back home. But now I buy the durians as they are getting cheaper and cheaper.

Out of my 3 pet dogs, only Kamlette loved durians! She would eat the fruit and spit out the seed! Kambobo, being a rough collie would curl his nose with an air of British snobbery if you were to bring the durian near his nose! Xiaobai would smell and quickly run away from the durian! My friends asked me what if Kamlette develops a sore throat after eating the durians. "No problem; after the durians, I usually give her some honey drink!"

I also found out that my friend, Chris Graham's dog, Jaffe Boy, also loves durians. For those of you who want to see the pictures of Jaffe Boy, just click on the link. Interesting blog of dog photos and commentaries. You will enjoy it! Jaffe loves good food like my Kamlette. You should see how Kamlette ate her corn on the cob. She would roll and eat a whole row, and then roll again until all the corns were gone!

I hope my friends and fans in other parts of the world will make it a point to try some durians when they visit Singapore and Malaysia.

Monday, January 30, 2006

First day of Chinese New Year

First day of Chinese New Year! What a great feeling! Another new year of challenges ahead! Resolution? Gosh! My yearly resolution of losing weight for the past 40 years! Ahem! I always tell people that I am nicely rounded not because of excess intake of food, but excess intake of air.... all that laughter that has caused me to be somewhat bloated! Excuse! Excuse!:)

Am really serious when I say that I laugh a lot. You can't help laughing when you have four older siblings who are great jokers. The most prominent one is my sister, Ean Ean. She is a born comedienne. I suspect if she had lived in Singapore, she might have clinched the Singapore Idol Award. She sings and plays the piano, drum, guitar, ukelele and violin very well too. Best of all is her gift of mimicking others. Once she phoned me from Melbourne and I told her that my cousin had brought a packet of "Jenny Wu" durians from Penang for me. It was specially packed by the plantation owner, Uncle Lim, who doted on me and insisted that my cousin must bring his prized and specially cultivated durians all the way from Penang for me. "Sis, the durians in Melbourne are so ooo ooooo expensive. One seed cost AUS$2.00! It pained me to spend so much money that I left the durian in my throat for a few minutes!" lamented my Sister Ean Ean.
I laughed so hard, and later pleaded with my sis not to make me laugh on the phone, because laughing during an international call could be pretty costly!

I guess we inherit papa's gift of story telling and making others laugh. Being the youngest, I am also the quietest and when I am with my older siblings I do not talk much as I would prefer to listen to them. However, when I am on my own with friends, the "Kam Family trademark" would surface! I would be the clown and life wire of the party. Aveline invited me and two of my friends to her home for a steamboat reunion last night. After the lovely dinner, I started telling them jokes and sang some popular songs in various languages. I also showed her relatives how to do the rock & roll and chacha. Aveline's 94 year old mother-in-law who is partially bed ridden also soon started to laugh and join in the fun. The family was just delighted to see their elderly relative laughing so much.

As Aveline was driving us to the Yew Tee MRT station to catch our train, she told me that her mother-in-law loves company. When she was younger she was always the doting grandma who would cook herbal soup and lovely dessert for everyone. Now that she is so frail and sickly, many of her grandchildren do not even bother to visit her! In the semi darkness of the car, I was fighting my tears, as I thought of the grandparents I had never seen. Both my paternal and maternal grandparents had passed away even before I was born. I used to envy my classmates for having grandparents who came to fetch them from school. I also greeted them cheerfully during Chinese New Year and received hong baos. Despite not having a grandparent, I felt as if I had so many grandparents! This is probably why I always have a soft spot for elderly people. I always envy my friends who still have parents living with them. Many people are often surprised that I am so cheerful despite living on my own in Singapore. Happiness is all in the mind.... I have learnt to be made happy by simple things ... cooler weather, finding some wild squirrels on the tree, meeting owners walking their lovely dogs, enjoying a simple meal with friends, etc.

May this lunar new year be a great year for everyone!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Gong Xi Fa Cai - Happy Lunar New Year of the Dog

Here is Choo Choo wishing all her beloved friends and fans in Singapore and different parts of the world a Happy and Prosperous New Year. I have wanted to post picutres of my three pets, but without Win Nie helping me, I have to temporarily abort my idea. So I hope you will enjoy the new year greetings in Hokkien, Mandarin, English, Bahasa Malaysia and French.

Keong Hee Huat Chye! Gong xi fa cai!
Ang pao jit pao lai! Hong bao yi bao lai!
Kin ni tua huat chye! Jin nian ta fa cai!
Tarn lui eng eng lai! Chuan chien rong yi lai!

Happy and prosperous new year!
An ang pow for me, my dear!
This year, sure to prosper,
Lots of wealth to garner!

Selamat Hari Raya!
Ang pow, sila beri saya!
Tahun ini lebih banyak kaya,
Cari wang dengan teliti, pun tak payah!

Une bien Heureuse Annee!
Ang pow venez venez!
Une annee ou les affaires
Aisement prosperent prosperent!

Gan Chau

My Favourite Hours of the Day

All of us have our favourite hours of the day. For some, it is when they go jogging after a hard day's work, while for others it is most therapeutic for them to cook a lovely dinner for their family members.

My favourite hours used to be the time when I took my 3 lovely dogs for their walks twice a day. Once in the morning and once in the evening... no matter how late. I toilet trained them .... the world is their toilet, but that means picking up their doggy poo. But they have passed away and now I hestitate to adopt pets for the time being.... preferring to dog walk or dog sit for owners when they go on holidays.

Hence for me now, it is definitely when I am at the computer, reading emails or typing articles in my blog. At the same time, I would play cds of my favourite singers. The no. 1 on my list is Theresa Teng. I enjoy the sweet rendition of her songs in Mandarin and Hokkien. Although I do not quite understand most of the songs in Mandarin, nevertheless I never get tired of listening to them, because Theresa has a vey unusually sweet and natural voice. It is a pity that she passed away when she was still in her prime.

When I am not typing, I would be watching my favourite programs, "Animal Planet, National Geographic and Discovery Channel." At the same time, the cds would be on. If I wish to do aerobics I would play the Boney M cd. The music makes it easy for me to want to get my legs in rhtymn and dance.!

Every night, I would definitely watch a program on Animal Planet. God's creation is always so marvelous.... it makes me humble to think that we human beings are His highest form of creation. Yet animals can teach us so many things. Dogs can teach us what faithfulness is; mother cats can teach us what it means to love and guard your young ones zealously, etc. Strangely after watching the program I would be at peace and find myself ready to just forgive and forget. The following morning, I would be recharged to face another interesting day of challenges.

Gan Chau

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Reflection (2)

I find it boring to do the same things year after year. Hence during the lunar new year of 2004, I decided I would not go on my usual round of visiting. I decided to help my friend cook at an old folks' home where she is a volunteer.

My best friend, Soh Wah, called me on New Year's Eve and told me she wanted to invite me for a movie on the first day of New Year. When we went to the cinema I was surprised the ticket cost $8.00 I thought it was only $4.00! "When was the last time you saw a movie?" asked a flabbergasted Soh Wah. I was surprised that the seat next to me was so huge. Soh Wah laughed and told me it was a love seat for lovers!

I told Soh Wah there are so many interesting programmes on the television and I hardly even have time to watch TV let alone visit the cinema which is even more time consuming. Even when I watch TV I do not sit down ... preferring to exercise at the same time. I would do aerobics or dance along with the Indian dancers when watching a Hindi show.

The cinema was not crowded at all. Since we had the highest row of seat, I decided to get up and do some aerobic exercise or I would be falling asleep. Soh Wah laughed, shaking her head, "Choo, you are just like Mr. Bean!"

When we went back around midnight, I took my two dogs out for their usual walk. I was feeling extremely grateful to Soh Wah for her thoughtfulness and generosity in giving me an ang pow. As I was walking my dogs, I picked up three ang pows on the road. One ang pow had $4.00; another had $10.00 and another $50.00! What an exciting end to a great day! My friends asked me if I had trained my dogs to smell $$!


This evening, a good friend called me and asked me where I was having reunion dinner. She is on her own... a little better off than me because she has her own siblings in Singapore, whereas my siblings are all over the world - eldest brother in Canada, second brother in Penang, eldest sister in Sarawak and second sister in Melbourne. Yet, for some strange reasons Wah's siblings do not have her over for dinner. I am one of those who would cross only when I am nearer the bridge. I can have dinner or I can also fast.... whatever ... I would be just as contented and happy. Since Wah sounded like she would like to have dinner with me, I decided to to invite her to my apartment... I will cook and probably invite some non-Chinese friends over for dinner on Chinese New Year's eve... time to "show off" my cooking skills again. I will cook International cuisine..... probably Chinese herbal soup, Thai olive rice, Penang Char Koay Teow,
Nonya curry chicken, with French loaves, Indonesian panggang fish and Italian tiramisu dessert.

I suddenly think of Steven, an elderly American I had met as I went around Rialto Restaurant last year. I noticed he was often seated at the table located just outisde of Crystal Restaurant which was just across the road. He would be eating biscuits, and once I saw him eating Heinz baked beans from a tin can. He would drink from a large bottle of water container. I concluded he probably did not have much money on him. Hence when I decided to cook dinner for Amudah and her relatives on Chinese New Year Eve, I decided to invite Steven over.

He was the first to arrive, together with Wah. I was quite shocked when I saw him taking out a piece of tissue paper and popped in a false set of teeth! However, I pretended not to notice. I found out that he had been in Singapore for the past 3 months. He had printed lots of Christian tracts which he gave out to passers by. As his funds were running out, he slept at Changi Airport. He hid all his belongings where no one could see and had his shower at the Airport. I was touched that while he spent money on the printing of the tracts, he stinged on himself. I was happy when I saw him relishing the food and red wine. We played interesting games and Amu's little nieces and nephews danced to the music. It was an enjoyable evening.

Since then, Steven would come twice a week for his complimentary meals at Rialto till he went back to the States about two months later. I was always happy when I saw him enjoying a good and healthy meal of salad, pizza or pasta. Since Steven left, I have lost touch with him. Steven struck me as a happy and contented man. He gave much and asked for so little.

I am glad I have had the chance to bless him while I could. Perhaps the following poem best illustrates my philosophy.

Life is a long journey
And we are all but
travellers on this
long road of life.

Anyone that I can help,
Anything that I can do,
Let me do it there and then.....
For I may not pass this way again.

Gan Chau

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Why Shakespeare was the Greatest

My favourite column in the New Paper is the nett buzz.

After reading the anecdote below, readers will understand the reason. Will post more of this net buzz in future in case some of you miss it.


English bards William Shakespeare and Lord Byron both entered a poetry contest in 1621.

Their task was to compose a poem using the name of the famous city, Timbuktu, in the west African country of Mali.

Lord Byron was the runner -up with this clever and respectable entry:

Here I stand on burning sand,
Gazing across the desert land.
Lo and behold, a caravan in view,
Its destination: Timbuktu.

And here was the winning entry from the master himself, William Shakespeare:

Tim and I a -hunting went,
We spied three maidens in a tent.
As they were three and we were two,
I buck one and Tim buck two.

Now you cn see why Shakespeare was the greatest.

- Spotted by Larry Haverkamp

Monday, January 23, 2006

The French Connection - Immersion in Quebec

When I enrolled at the University of Alberta, I decided I would chose French as my minor. That means a student would have to take six half courses or three full courses of French. I had never heard or studied French before, but since it is also popularly spoken in Canada, especially in Quebec and Ontario, it would give me bonus points if I were to apply for permanent stay in Canada after my studies.

I remember during my first lesson, I was almost in tears. I could not hear the French on tape. The language seemed to be spoken so rapidly that I could not make out the sounds! Gradually as I persevered, the situation got better as I learnt to pronounce the words. I applied to join the Students' Immersion Program in Quebec but was rejected as I was a foreign student. As the program was fully sponsored by the government, all participants had to be Canadian permanent residents or citizens. The second year, I applied again, and to my surprise, I was selected. I kept asking Professor Monod, if it was true I was selected as I was a foreign student. He replied, "Le gouvernement ne demandez pas question; moi aussi". (The government does not ask questions; me neither".) Later I found out that Professor Monod was a volunteer counsellor for the Swiss Embassy, and had met many Asians. He purposely closed one eye to admit an Aisan into the progam as he felt I would be a good influence on the students with our ethics and values.

The day before my departure, I spent the whole night counselling a friend who was suicidal. The next morning I left for the train station. It would take a two and a half days' journey from Edmonton to Montreal. I was so exhausted that I hibernated like a polar bear.... slept soundly throughout the journey without even bothering to eat! When Professor Monod briefed us in the train, I just could not open my eyes! What a wonderful and understanding professor.

After a restful sleep, I became energised and to the students' surprise, I was lively and talkative! I was excited by everything I saw. The rest of the Canadian students realised that I was not so boring and sleepy after all.

We had to speak French all the time. If we were to speak any word in English, we had to confess and pay a fine of 10 cents per word! I think I was the weakest in French in my class as most of my classmates had the advantage of having studied French in high school. I brought my dictionary with me everywhere... even to the pubs and shopping centres because I did not want to pay 10 cents for every English word I used! The French family I stayed with for the 4 weeks program in Chicoutimi was just wonderful. Mrs. Perot was a great cook. Every morning she would put a platter of cheese and fruits on the breakfast table. There were cheese of all types of colours... cream, yellow, orange, pink, blue.... gosh! I would not touch any of them much to Mrs. Perot's consternation. I would only nibble on the fruits and bread. Mrs. Perot made the nicest desserts... her cakes were simply delicious!

We were asked to write one page of creative writing. But I had confused one with ten and wrote the professor a ten page short story! My pronounciation was terrible, often drawing laughter from the class, but I realised I had be to be brazen if I wanted to improve. After one month,
I noticed a marked improvement in both spoken and written French.

French is such a beautiful language. It would be good if you could get a French daughter or son-in-law because the word for mother in law is "ma belle -mere" meaning my beautiful mother! "Mon beau- pere" is father in law but translated literally is my "handsome father". Hence even when you are 90 years old and balding, you are still the handsome father. What a lovely description!

When learning a foreign language, do not be afraid to make mistakes. Learn to laugh as the situation can be sometimes quite hilarious! Let's make our lives more interesting and colorful by speaking an extra language or two... the fastest way to bridge any racial barrier!

Gan Chau

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Typing Skill

I wonder what has happened to the Pitman's system of typing and shorthand? I used to take up courses in typing and shorthand during my secretarial training. In those days we used the manual typewriter, and I achieved a typing speed of 84 wpm. Now with the advent of the computer my typing speed is almost doubled.

As my computer was in the "hospital" I had to use the computers at the Internet Cafe. I often received stares from other users, and one of them told me that my quick typing speed made him nervous. He had never seen anyone typing at such a fast speed. I guess the dexterity is enhanced by my piano playing.

When I decided to do my degree course after working as a secretary for 5 years, I thought it was a waste that I had spent one year for my secretarial diploma. How wrong I was. At the University, I realised I could earn some money by typing students' term papers. The charge then was C$1.00 per page. With my typing speed, it was not difficult for me to earn about C$30/- per day and even C$80/- on weekends. At the same time, I was also able to learn about good writing skills on numerous subjects.

I remember what papa had taught me.... that it is always good to learn as many things as we can. Whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well.

Gan Chau

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Coffee, Anyone?

One of my favourite drinks is coffee. I just love the aroma and taste!

At Rialto, I created a drink called MacBeth Coffee. At $1.50 a cup, it was selling like hot cakes. One customer came almost everyday for his MacBeth, so much so that we nicknamed him Mr. MacBeth. Often customers would ask what is MacBeth coffee, and I would recite this poem for them.

Round and round the coffee machine we run,
Really having such great fun!
To make a good tasty cup of MacBeth,
Just throw in Kamlette's tail, Bobo's paws and Xiaobai's tail!
Rialto's secret witchy concoction,
Customers sure to ask for a second portion!

One day, an elderly couple came to Rialto and excitedly told me they came up because they were curious about MacBeth coffee on the menu board. "We just gotta find out what is MacBeth Coffee because we are Mr. & Mrs. MacBeth from Scotland!"

I recited the above poem for them. Mrs. MacBeth laughed so hard that she had to go back to her hotel to have a new change of clothes! I told myself I must be more cautious in future, because some of the elderly customers could be suffering from incontinence.

My second sister, Ean Ean, told me that when she was expecting her third child, she had this unusual craving for coffee aroma! Everyday, she would inhale from a container of coffee powder! It is not surprising that my niece, Incy, enjoys drinking coffee, more than her siblings do.

I love the OCBC Bank at Specialist Centre. I love the bank not bacause of all the $$ in the bank but because of the coffee outlet in the bank itself! Spinelli used to be there, but it is now taken over by Starbucks. Whenever I enter the bank, I would take deep breaths, savouring the strong coffee aroma that permeates the bank! I shared this with my second sister and she chided me, "Choo, buy the coffee! You're so generous to others but stinge on yourself!" I could not bring myself to spend $4.50 on a cup of coffee when I could get a good cup of coffee for 90 cents at the Killiney Kopi Tiam, albeit without aircon and a less grand ambience. The $$ saved could provide a few meals for my orphans in the third world countries. Perhaps because of my not so sharp hearing ability, the Creator has compensated me with an extra sharp and sensitive nose that even my three pet doggies would be envious of!

An Incident by Lu Hsun

This is a very short story, but you will find that it is full of meaning. It is particularly relevant to us in Singapore at a time when we are eager to become courteous, considerate and caring people instead of being selfish and thoughtless. This story was set in China more than 50 years ago, but the message it carries is relevant for all times. An educated young man from the upper social class learns a valuable lesson in human caring from a simple rickshaw man.

Six years have slipped by since I came from the country to the capital. During that time I have seen and heard quite enough of so-called affairs of state; but none of them made much impression on me. If asked to define their influence, I can only say they aggravated my ill temper and made me, frankly speaking, more and more cynical.

One incident, however, struck me as significant, and aroused me from my ill temper, so that even now I cannot forget it.

It happened during the winter of 1917. A bitter north wind was blowing, but, to make a living, I had to be up and out early. I met scarcely a soul on the road, and had great difficulty in hiring a ricksaw to take me to the South Gate. Presently the wind dropped a little. By now the loose dust had all been blown away, leaving the roadway clean, and the rickshaw man quickened his pace. We were just approaching the South Gate when someone crossing the road was entangled in our rickshaw and fell slowly to the ground.

It was a woman, with streaks of white in her hair, wearing ragged clothes. She had left the pavement without warning to cut across in front of us, and although the rickshaw man had made way, her tattered jacket, unbuttoned and fluttering in the wind, had caught on the shaft. Luckily the rickshaw man pulled up quickly, otherwise she would certainly have had a bad fall and been seriously injured.

She lay there on the ground, and the rickshaw man immediately went to her aid. I did not think the old woman was hurt, and there had been no witnesses to what had happened, so I resented this over-eagerness of the rickshaw man which might land him in trouble and hold me up.

"It's alright," I said. "Go on."

However, he paid no attention - perhaps he had not heard - for he set down the shafts, and gently helped the old woman to get up. Supporting her by one arm, he asked:

"Are you all right?"

"I'm hurt."

I had seen how slowly she fell, and was sure she could not be hurt. I thought she must be
pretending, which was disgusting. The rickshaw man had asked for trouble, and now he had it. He would have to find his own way out.

But the rickshaw man did not hesitate for a minute after the old woman said she was injured. Still holding her arm, he helped her slowly forward. I was surprised. When I looked ahead, I saw a police station. Because of the high wind, there was no one outside, so the rickshaw man helped the old woman towards the gate.

Suddenly I had a strange feeling. His dusty, retreating figure seemed larger at that instant. Indeed, the further he walked the larger he appeared, until I had to look up to him. At the same time he seemed gradually to be exerting a pressure on me, which threatened to overpower the small self under my fur-lined gown.

My strength seemed to be draining away as I sat there motionless, my mind a blank, until a policeman came out. Then I got down from the rickshaw.

The policeman came up to me and said, "Get another rickshaw. He can't pull you anymore."

Without thinking, I pulled a handful of coppers from my coat pocket and handed them to the policeman. "Please give him these," I said.

The wind had dropped completely, but the road was still quiet. I walked along thinking, but I was almost afraid to turn my thoughts on myself. Setting aside what had happened earlier, what had I meant by that handful of coppers? Was it a reward? Who was I to judge the rickshaw man? I could not answer myself.

Even now, this remains fresh in my memory. It often causes me distress, and makes me think about myself. The military and political affairs of those years I have forgotten as completely as the classics I read in my childhood. Yet this incident keeps coming back to me, often more clearly than in actual life, teaching me shame, urging me to reform, and giving me fresh courage and hope.

Gan Chau

Introducing Lu Hsun & His works (1)

Papa sent three of my elder siblings to Chinese schools and the remaining three to English schools. Since I am the youngest, I fall under the category of "Ang Moh Sai". Hence, it is not surprising that I have never heard of Lun Hsun until I went to the University of Alberta and did a course in Chinese Literature! Of course it means reading the translated works in English.

Lu Hsun had wanted to be a doctor when he grew up for he had witnessed how poor his family was and how the family had to pawn some clothes in order to buy medicine for his ailing mother.

However, when Lu Hsun was at Sendai University in Japan, he saw in a video how a Chinese student was being beaten up by some Japanese. His Chinese friends could just watch nonchalantly without anyone lifting a finger to help their own comrade. It dawned upon Lu Hsun that it is pointless to have a healthy body if the mind is weak and sick. The movie made such an impact that Lu Hsun decided that he would quit his medical studies and focus more on writing. He realised that writing was a strong medium by which he could exert a strong influence on his countrymen. He was to prove the adage, "The pen is mightier than the sword".

Through his powerful writing, Lu Hsun soon became known as the "Father of Modern Chinese Literature". The True Story of ah Q, translated into 32 languages, is clearly his masterpiece. His poignant stories of "The New Year Sacrifice" and "The Diary of a Mad Man" should pull the heartstrings of anyone who calls himself a Chinese.

Perhaps this anecdoe about Lu Hsun should reveal his personality and characteristics to readers. Once Lu Hsun went into a barber shop. Seeing that Lu Hsun was not grandly attired, the owner gave Lu Hsun a hasty haircut with a couldn't care less attitude. "How much?" "Three Yuan". Lun Hsun hastily dug into his right pocket and brought out a handful of coins which he shoved into the hands of the barber. Then he left the shop in a hurry.

The barber was almost shocked at the excess coins that Lu Hsun had given him. "Gosh! I shold have cut his hair more carefully. Can't tell he is so rich when he actually dresses so simply", sighed the barber.

Two months later, Lu Hsun entered the shop again. Recognising him instantly, the barber flew into a motion of condescencion... dusting the chair with his towel, and ardently welcoming Lu Hsun, "Please be seated". This time, he took extra caution to cut Lu Hsun's hair, turning his head this way and that way in a bid to show Lu Hsun how importnt he was. "How much?" asked Lu Hsun. "Three yuan". Lu Hsun dug his hand into his pocket and slowly counted the exact change for the barber.

Just as Lu Hsun was about to step out, the barber asked him, "Sir, I don't understand. Last time, I anyhow cut your hair and you paid me so much. This time I cut your hair with double time and you paid me exactly three yuan".

Lu Hsun smiled, "Since the last time you anyhow cut my hair, I anyhow paid. This time you cut my hair properly...I also pay you properly".

Gan Chau

Friday, January 20, 2006

Real Beauty

I can never forget this incident. After church service, my second sister took me with her to the fun fair organised by the St. John Ambulance at their headquarters in Penang. St. Paul's church is located just opposite.

Just as we entered the building, a lady saw my sister and earnestly cried out, "Ean Ean! How are you? It's been such a long time!"

I saw the lady whom my sister called "Siew Fang". She has the most radiant face I have ever seen. Though plain looking with quite a number of pock marks on her pimply face, I thought she looked very attractive. Under the hot sun and armed with umbrellas, the two ladies were talking with animation and I just stood on, listening to their conversation, somewhat mesmerised by Siew Fang's glowing personality! The more I looked at Siew Fang the prettier she seemed.

It has been almost 40 years now since that incident; yet I can still recall Siew Fang's radiant
personality. Her joy, enthusiasm and warm heartedness had enhanced her looks. The world would probably describe her as a plain Jane..... yet it is Siew Fang's personality that often makes me think women can look so much better if they could focus a little more on character building and development of attitude. Too often, I have seen beautiful ladies sulking and pouting at the slightest inconvenience caused them, acting as if the world owes them a living! Strangely, after looking at them a little longer, they actually look less attractive.

I attended my niece, Christmin's wedding in Medan a few years ago, and came across this lovely poem printed on a T-Shirt which I would like to share with readers.

I would BLUSH with shame
if I CONCEALED the fact
that Jesus is my FOUNDATION.
He doesn't change like the SHADOWS.
His name STICKS on my LIPS all day.
My EYES LINE up on Him only. He
POLISHES my heart and brings GLOSS
to my life. The BEAUTY He gives lasts
forever. Why settle for just MAKE-UP
when you can have a complete MAKE-OVER?

2 Timothy 2:19

Gan Chau

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Unknown country? - Outer Space? - Scary!

I often like to click on the Site Meter to see who has gone into my blog. My recent count was Singapore - 81%, US - 9%, Mexico - 2%, UK - 2%, France - 2%, South Africa 1%, Italy - 1%, Canada - 1%, Unknown country - 1%.

Gosh! Unknown country? I cannot understand how the Site Meter can even give me details of the readers on their location, blog addresses and even the number of pages and time read, the different cities, etc. But who is this person from an unknown country that even the Site Meter cannot detect? Scary huh! Immediately I think of UFO and outer space! Am almost expecting a space craft to land outside my apartment! Does anyone with a blog have the same experience? Can anyone please enlighten me?

Gan Chau

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Bridging the Generation Gap - Tyng

"Hello, Aunty! This is Tyng. Meet me for lunch tomorrow? Am taking the 2p.m. bus back to KL." my niece phoned me one evening. This is typical of Tyng. She would come to Singapore anytime and would give me little notice of her coming here.

We met at Suanthai Restaurant at Killiney. It is now my favourite haunt because the food is both tasty and economically priced, with a nice ambience and excellent service by the two bosses themselves including their crew.

Tyng gave me my birthday presents which she had prepared last month. They were daintily wrapped with crepe papers and tied neatly with a lovely ribbon. In contrast, my presents to her and her sister were put in a red plastic bag. As Tyng was walking, the lights from the little toy glowed as the bag moved. I had bought the toy from one of the stalls along Orchard Road last month and thought it would make a good present for my grand niece, Zen, who is thrilled by things that give out light. I apologised to Tyng, for I am often very lazy to wrap up my gifts. Tyng smiled and said, "It's a red plastic bag... not even a nice paper bag.... nevertheless it's the thought that counts."

At the restaurant I found out that Tyng had just spent a month in Chicago and is going steady with an American executive. Tyng is worried about not being as endowed as the American ladies who tend to be more voluptuous, but her boyfriend had assured her it is her character and personality that he found most attractive. Tyng is quite tall and pretty and exudes a vibrant air of radiance. I assured Tyng that her boyfriend is quite right for it is character and compatability that is more important than sheer physical assets. Look at how well endowed actresses are and yet many of their marriages end up in divorces.

After I sent Tyng off, I reflected over our meeting. Tyng is vain as she has described herself and loves things aesthetic. To make her happy, I take extra pain to dress up. Now I know if I had no time to wrap up my presents, I must at least put them in nice, paper bags. My experience as a teacher has put me in good stead, as I am always a ready listener to her worries and apprehension. I am sure my nieces and nephews have taught me a lot and enhanced my life just as I have been a little influence to them. Tyng is glad I have a blog because she can pass the articles to her children next time so that her kids will know about her grandparents and grand aunties and uncles.


Whether the weather, whatever the weather?

After 4 years of studying in Edmonton, I was finally going home! As I was anxiously waiting to arrive at the Penang International Airport after a long flight of 21 hours, I kept thinking of all the local delicacies ... Penang Char Koay Teow, Hokkien Mee, Mee Rebus, Laksa, etc. that I was going to tuck in upon landing. Gosh! I had forgotten about the humidity of the weather and I kept perspiring till my clothes were drenched! The humidity made me lose my appetite.

It has been 23 years since then, yet I have still not acclimatized to the weather here. Strangers are often amused by my constantly fanning myself while others huddle with their jackets. The weather in December/January is usually the coolest. A client told me we had 17 degrees celcius sometime last week. How nice if the temperature could drop to zero... would be nice to have snow for a change, I mused. But then, our elderly will suffer. In Canada, we had extremes of weather before. Once, while at a French immersion program in Chicoutimi, Quebec, it snowed in summer! All the roses and tomato plants in my host's garden were wiped out overnight. I remember we sang "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer", in class! In Canada, it is not surprising that we could sometimes even have four seasons in one day! The change in temperature could be drastic.

The continuous rain the past few weeks in Singapore had reminded me of England. Almost everyday, the weather is so dreary, with clouds and slight drizzling of the rain. Your clothes feel damp and everything looks so gloomy. Some people here complain about the cold and constant rain which is understandable, but let us look at the brighter side of things. The cool weather helps to save power as we can sleep without aircon and the fans can rest for a while. The cool breeze makes walking an enjoyable exercise. Thank god we only have these few weeks of rain. We are still better off than Noah with his 40 days of continuous rain!

Hence, whether the weather, whatever the weather, I will not allow my spirit to be dampened, but will continuously look for that silver lining beneath every cloud! Let us count our blessings and name them one by one....... continuous rain is better than earthquake or tsunami; the cool weather rejuvenates us instead of the heat which drains our energy, etc. It is heartening to read that the rain did not deter shoppers from going to Chinatown to get ready for the Lunar New Year. That's the spirit, folks... keep it up!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Resisting Temptation

Chinese New Year is round the corner. Today for the first time I went to Chinatown to buy a table fan. There are two more weeks and already Chinatown is teeming with shoppers and tourists. This year, they have laser lights with all the zodiac of the 12 animals. The commentaries are in both English and Mandarin. Somehow it enhances with whole atmosphere and lifts up the New Year spirit. I only went home with the fan without buying any of the goodies.

I have a confession. Have a penchant for sweet things... hence desserts are always a must for me after lunch or dinner. This habit was picked up when I was studying in Canada where I learnt to enjoy pastries and desserts. My weakness is for the peanut cookies and love letters. I can finish one container of cookies within 30 minutes! Embarrassing! Now I dare not buy these cookies for I end up eating them before my guests do!

To resist temptation, I do not purchase them. When friends give me cakes I will try to pass the cakes to my friend's five children. If I give way to my sweet tooth, the kilos will pile up very easily especially when I am half a century years old! My client, Mrs. Lim and I will have the same practice of always leaving some space for desserts whenever we are at a buffet. Desserts somehow make a meal complete. Gosh! They have such a wide selection of desserts. The only way to resist temptation is to reduce or avoid buffets! Like Garfield, I have to..... sigh!

Learning More About Blogs

It was my friends who encouraged me to set up a blog. I had written articles, jokes, etc. and emailed to them. They found the articles to be interesting and refreshing and encouraged me to start a blog. "What is a blog?" I asked, immediately smiling because I associate the word with block as in block head. Since I am not a technical person, I was somewhat apprehensive.... my knowledge of computer is only limited to emailing.

Lim Win Nie, a college student, helped me to set up a blog. An old buddy, Mo Shin, from my university suggested I should call the blog "The Oriental Express" since I am like a Choo Choo Train that goes chugging merrily around. For some reason I could not use my name as a blog name... hence have to contend with using my pen name of Ganchau.

Dr. Kumaran Raju, my client, who does research at the University, helped me to set up the site meter counter. He is a geologist who has never studied computer... yet he could just naturally figure out what to do! Some people are just so talented!

Hence I was so thrilled when I found out from my site meter that my blog had been read locally as well as far away as America, Canada, Europe, Australia, South America and Middle East. Often I would click on the blog addresses of those who read my blog. Some of them are very good writers of poems, etc. However I was surprised when I saw a few who had nothing but sheer pornography. There was this French couple who delighted in nothing but sheer exhibitionism of themselves! There was not even a single article in French but faceless photos of body parts! I mentioned this to a friend, and he said that in overseas they are somewhat more liberal and have more freedom.

I heard about Xiaxue and her popularity. So one day, I thought I would read to find out how a 21 year old writer could have 10,000 hits a day. Wow... she could be a future Catherine Lim or even better, a future Singapore Lu Hsun. Being a great admirer of these two writers, I often hope that our small island of Singapore could produce the likes of Catherine Lim and Lu Shun. I was surprised at the constant usage of expletives and four letter words, and even more surprised to find that Xia Xue has free porn in her site! When Win Nie helped me to set up the blog I had read that bloggers are not supposed to use their blog for use or promotion of pornographic material.

I am now half a century years old, and only now do I understand why parents must guard their children's use of the computer! What great infiltration of filth and garbage that can go into the little screen! Two Thai fishermen in their early twenties got drunk while watching a porn movie and then decided to swim to shore and rape the first foreign tourist they saw at Koh Samui. Poor Katherine Horton had just stepped away from her beach hut to get bettter reception for her handphone while speaking to her mother back home. Her mother heard a bloodcurling scream from her daughter, then silence. Poor Katherine was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The two men beat, raped and killed her. "Delicious, very delicious" shouted the two murderers as they boasted of their deed to their crewmen!

I am glad I am now a retired schoolteacher because with the advent of computers, I would end up like mothers constantly worrying about the young students in my charge. I would appeal to all the young people to read good literature and materials. There are so many distractions and with the limited time that you have for reading, why waste the precious time on reading materials that do not build you up into the mature, confident, wise, happy and balanced adult you should be.

Gan Chau

Friday, January 13, 2006

Give me bouquets when I am still alive.....

When I was operating Rialto Italian Cuisine at Amara Hotel, my staff told me that she was going to attend the wake of a loan shark who had passed away. My curiosity was aroused because apart from reading about loan sharks in the newspapers, I had never met any personally.

"How would people react at his wake.? What would they say about him? Would there be tears of relief from people who still owe the deceased loan shark money or would there be genuine tears of sadness at the demise of yet another human being, loan shark or no loan shark." Mm, I must find out by going with my staff to the wake.

The wake was quite close by Amara Hotel, and though I felt like an uncomfortable intruder initially, I soon settled down as I tuned my ears in to the conversation around. The family's grief was genuine, signifying that the deceased must have been a good father who took good care of his wife and children. Everyone praised the deceased who was a little like Robin Hood. There were times he would let his debtors off with returning only the principal sum. He contributed to a lot of charitable causes. Once he quietly saw an orphaned boy through his schooling. I have often wondered that it is always a pleasant experience going to a wake, because only good things are said about the deceased. Yet, how was a deceased being treated when he was alive.? It would appear that too often people are ready to character assasinate someone whom they may not even know very well, and instead of helping to establish the truth, more wood had been added to the glowing fire! How nice, if we were to treat everyone as if we were attending his wake.... we have positive and encouraging things to say about the person. This is why I like to live as if everyday were my last day on earth.... it is important to forgive everyday just as others forgive us.... or it might be too late to say sorry. Frankly I hate to attend funerals... my usual bubbly talkative self would be speechless for I would not really know how to comfort the bereaved. If I could, I would rather treat a person very well so much so that I would not have to attend his wake at all. I often tell my friends to give me bouquets when I am alive... not when I am six feet under for I may not be able to appreciate the flowers anymore.

I used to let my students read interesting poems or articles from other sources other than their textbooks. Filial Piety by Tan Jwee Song is quite an interesting poem which I hope you will find entertaining yet thought provoking.


The old man was dead
And they must fast array
for it's duty to display
their filial piety.
No time to waste,
children, wife, sons, all
quickly donned the ready black cloth
and were taught to cry.

The hall was dressed with condolences
the coffin was heaped with sympathy
The joss papers were burnt with gusto
accompanied by a wailing symphony.

Many gestured their last respects
Many sobbed their sad regrets
Many mourned their heartfelt loss
with cards, mahjong and dice-tossed.

Good sons did good deeds;
they performed the ceremony
according to their needs.
Their old man's death was too deep for tears
so they list ritual with minds precise and clear.

Uncles should offer roasted pigs
aunties should come with big baked cakes
sisters should wail their very best
and the husbands must buy the paper chests.

They buried him at a shaded spot
for future comort they thought.
They bore his soul back home
in a much cumbersome pot.

The episode was over,
his face hung mockingly on the altar;
only his two lonely candle flames remained
to weep his years of pain.

Gan Chau

Blessings of "double insulation".

Having lived in Canada for 4 years, I find it hard somehow to acclimatize to the hot, humid weather in Singapore, even though I was born and raised in Penang! I took to the cold like a duck to water! I arrived Canada in time for the autumn semester. I remember waiting anxiously for my first touch of snow. One morning, the first snow did come down, and my landlord, who was a medical doctor on duty, knocked on my door at 4.00a.m. to wake me up to feel my first snowflakes!

An avid skier, Dr. Smith taught me to downhill ski and ride a snowmobile. The very first time I put on my ski boots I felt as if my legs had disappeared! After falling for the umpteenth time, I finally managed to learn how to ski. Skidooing is much easier for it is like riding a motocycle.

As I stayed at the students' hostel called HUB the building was connected to all my classes and lecture halls. Every morning after a hot cup of coffee, I would run all the way to my classes and upon reaching, would have to wipe off beads of perspiration, much to the puzzlement of the students who would be still be clothed in their jackets. I had never owned a pair of long pants or jeans....even in Winter, I would be zipping around in blouse and skirt! I did not realise I appeared freakish until my flatmate told me that her friends asked her where I came from! They thought I had hailed from Alaska, and was surprised I came from Malaysia! After having been used to minus 20 to 30 degree celcius, I could go around without my jacket when the temperature was at 0 degree celcius!

When I went to Israel and China for vacation in December, I would end up lending my jackets to the members in my group who could not take the cold. I would go around in my usual skirt and blouse, and my perpetually warm hands would always be the target of ladies with cold hands as they tried to receive some warmth.

I always tell my friends that I have been blessed with double insulation... like the penguins, the Creator has given me a special layer of fat that keeps me warm most of the time!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Good Old Musicals

I wonder why Hollywood does not produce more of such great musicals like The Sound of Music, The King and I and My Fair Lady.

When I was teaching at River Valley High School and ACS, I would let my students watch these movies after their examination. Hence I must have watched the three musicals some 70 times during my 10 years of teaching stint! Yet I never get tired of them. Now I can even imitate the actors and actresses and sing the songs from memory!

If any of you have watched the musicals, more than 5 times, do drop me a line, so that I will know we have something in common and I am not so freakish after all!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Are people really free with given freedom?

I read in today's New Paper and Sunday Times about the many women revellers who were molested on New Year's Eve countdown at Orchard Road.

Some men had used spray foam on the eyes of their victims, so that they could be at liberty to molest while the victims struggled to keep their eyes open. What cowardly and hideous act. Our government had graciously closed down the busiest street in Singapore in order that everyone could have a whale of time to usher in the New Year. Police had caught both locals and foreign workers. It would appear as if, given the freedom, these people suddenly did not know how to handle it. It is interesting to note that not a single tourist or foreigner was guilty of taking advantage of the crowded situation.

Toh Phaik Choo had brought three foreign friends to visit Orchard Road, and her consternation and embarrassment is understandable when her foreign friends were quite aghast at the pushing and shoving. They were surprised by the rampant spraying of foam by revellers. "Is this how you all celebrate Christmas? We celebrate with family members at home".

Although I live 5 minutes from Orchard Road, I did not join in the throng on Christmas and New Year's eve. I guess, with my phobia for crowds, I thought I would be more comfortable watching everything live on TV. I could still remember an incident at our school fun fair which was crowded with students, parents and the public. Just as I was taking out my purchased tickets and contemplating how to spend the tickets, a man came to me and just grabbed them from my hands in broad daylight! I was so stunned I did not even whimper for help! Since then, I avoided crowded places.

Two Malay ladies in tudung complained that even though they were decently dressed, they were not spared from being molested. One of the two ladies complained that although she was so old, she also got molested. When a man wants to molest a woman, age is not a vital factor. It is an all consuming power that he wants to exert on the fairer sex. In Canada, ladies in bikinis and bare backs are a common sight during the warm, summer months. Most people would take it as part of summer wear, and would not bother to take a second look. It would appear that for some of these perverse molesters, forbidden fruit is the sweetest. The more a lady hides, the more they want to see and touch!

Someone has rightly suggested that education is the key word. Foreign workers must be taught that our countdown parties are to be enjoyed and not abused. Some of them are smart enought to realise that our women here will not hesitate to report them, unlike the women in their countries. For the locals who think they can get away with their sneakiness, the government should increase the penalty.... extra caning for errant colour wolves who prey on innocent sheep.

Super Single Ladies

I grew up having wonderful memories of some of the super nuns who have left a deep impression on me. One of them was my secondary school principal, Sister Adrianne of Convent Green Lane, Penang. She was someone who would remind you of the movie characters in "The singing Nun" or "Sister ACT". Sister Adrianne was very capable. Best of all she was strict, yet compassionate; prim and proper yet she could let her hair down at appropriate times, stern yet accommodating. The students and staff loved her, with many secretly wanting to emulate her. Sister Adrainne was versatile. She was the guest singer at our school's talentime contest. We students screamed in support of her as she ran around hitting hockey balls adroitly during interschool staff matches. We proudly waved to her as she zipped around on her scooter.

Later when I studied at the University of Alberta, I was under the tutelage of Sister Michelle who taught Canadian Literature. Like Sister Adrianne, Sister Michelle was pretty and feminine. She was one of the most excellent professors I had met at the University of Alberta. I wrote a poem for her which I would like to share with readers and which was written on 8th March 1992, some 24 years ago!


I bleed when I write
Yet must put up with the fight
Staying up all night
Writing what I feel is bright
Though I may not be in the right
or always win the fight
My predicament in sight
Despite all my hairs turning white
Feelings soar like a kite
Emotion both heavy and light
But harder still, in black and white

Writing is such pain
Yet keeps me from becoming insane
Before my courage starts to wane
Persevere even when slain
In order to learn and gain

Thanks to your remarkable teaching
It enlightens my reading and writing
Helps me find literature more alluring
In the final process of discovering
That the above pain is worth enduring!

P.S. This poem is dedicated to Professor B. Mitchell
in appreciation of her helping the "budding poet"
(ahem!) fall more deeply in love with literature!

Gan Chau

Friday, January 06, 2006

Possessions can possess us!

This must be the umpteenth time I am moving house again! I studied 4 years in Canada, and had moved house 3 times. Have lived in Singapore since 1983 and have moved house ten times! Once I disposed off my HDB apartment because I was not allowed to keep two big dogs. I tried to give away my rough collie, Kambobo, but before I could even speak on the phone, I would be on the verge of tears. At the end, I decided to move to a rented landed property for the sake of my beloved dogs.

Most, if not all of you would agree with me that moving house is no child's play! Seems like you only realise how much junks you have actually accumulated along the way. All these years I have been giving and giving away a lot of things.... yet there are still so many things left! The previous time when the Hiding Place helped me to move, I decided to give away my lovely ivory Young Chang upright piano to the Hiding Place because I found that one of the boys who helped me to move, is very musically inclined and it would be easier not to have to lug the heavy musical instrument to the 2nd floor walk up. Just after I gave away my piano, someone phoned me up to ask whether I would like to have a lovely used piano! I recommended the piano to be given to my friend, Maya, as she has five musically inclined children who sing like angels!

I have a penchant for books. It is easy to buy books from the shop to read, but harder still to keep them because books are heavy. What a weight when you put 20 to 30 books in one big box!

It is important that while we enjoy having things because they enhance our lives, we need to be careful too that possessions don't possess us at the end of the day! Now I try to buy books and read them, handling them with care, so that after reading, I can "recycle" them and give away as presents.

Life is already tough as it is.... let us not clutter our life with too many things and become slaves to our possessions. If possible, share with others the little or much that we have.

Gan Chau

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year! Ang pow come here!

Happy New Year to all my beloved friends and associates. This is Choo wishing you all a happy and blessed New Year.

Gosh, I am moving house today! Stole some time to go to the internet cafe to type out this message to wish you all the best for 2006.

May the New Year be filled with even greater blessings, greater health, joy, peace and prosperity!

After I have setttled down, will write more articles which I hope will tickle your funny bones or encourage you. Cheers!