Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Profile of My Precious Readers

Since I started blogging, with the strong encouragement of my dear lawyer friends, Tan Yeow Choo and Lilian Bay, and my university buddies, Yang Mo Shin, Richard Tam and James Dunlap, I have been very curious about the profile of my precious readers.

Now I have readers from 20 countries. I notice that now my American readers equal my local readers in quantity. I also notice that most of my overseas readers have blog addresses whereas most of my local readers do not. Hence I can conclude that Singaporeans and residents in my beloved little country are not in the habit of blogging yet. This is why I am now encouraging my students, friends, clients and relatives to start writing!

Hence whenever I find that my reader is a blogger I will click on his address as I want to know who he is. I would read the blog and sometimes make comments or ask questions. What to do? Born like that....forever curious lah!

However, there is certainly one thing I know about my readers. They are very shy or "bu hao yi si." I envy those bloggers who receive many comments from their readers. As for me, sadly even though I have written over 128 articles now, I received very few comments from readers. I don't think I am such a perfect writer that I have covered all the points which make readers agree wholeheartedly with me! Come on my precious readers. Without you, the existence of my blog will be meaningless. Only you can help to enrich me to become a better writer with your feedback. I assure you that having gone through so many tsunamis in life, my skin is now very thick to weather all storms of verbal assault and criticisms.!

Also, having been blessed with a wonderful papa, I have become very teachable, for I always believe in what Emerson had always advocated, "Every man I meet is my superior in some way; in that I learn of him."

Gan Chau:-)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Unforgettable Salesman

Just after his one-man art exhibition, eldest brother Kee Yong and I roamed around Holland Village. Since we had different things to buy, we agreed to meet an hour later for lunch at a Chinese restaurant. When brother met up with me, he was very excited, "Sis, come with me. Let's go to this gallery! I saw my painting on sale!"

During his two weeks' exhibition, a local artist had bought one of his autumn paintings. He came three times to the exhibition, each time, staring at the painting which he finally bought. Hence my brother was thrilled when he saw the painting up for sale at thrice the price it had been bought.!

When we entered the gallery, an amiable middle aged man greeted us. Apparently the bearded artist was not around. My brother pretended to ask why the painting was so expensive. "Oh! You can hear music coming from the trees!" declared the salesman proudly and confidently.

"But I can't hear any music", said my brother, pulling his right ear lobe and drawing nearer to the painting.

"Oh, the artist, Kam Kee Yong, is also a good musicican as well. You know.... he is very yaya papaya... people said the SSO (Singapore Symphony Orchestra) wanted to invite him to perform, but he turned the SSO down!" continued the salesman with so much seriousness in his voice and demeanour, that I had a hard time controlling my laughter. I quickly turned away, pretending to look at some other pieces of art, lest I gave the game away by bursting out in laughter!

"He's also a Cultural Medallion Award Winner - a rare Singaporean who is gifted in Art and Music. You buy Kam Kee Yong's beautiful painting... sure make money...very good investment!"

"Since he's so famous, you must have met Kam Kee Yong personally?" asked my brother.

"Sure... sure... who doesn't know Kam Kee Yong?" replied the salesman.

"Let me think about it... we'll come back later", said my brother, smiling widely.

We quickly made our exit before we gave the game away with our laughter.
My brother and I burst out laughing so hard that my empty stomach soon became full with laughter. Lunch on that pleasant Saturday afternoon seemed to be extra tasty for us. I was dying to ask brother why he did not reveal he was Kam Kee Yong himself. It would be very interesting to watch the salesman's expression. But I guess in life, certain things are better left as they are, so that we can all live in continual bliss of ignorance, and of acceptance of people's weaknesses. Didn't Shakespeare say that the world is a stage and we are all but actors and actresses on this big stage of life? Oops! I hope the salesman or his bearded artist brother never get to read this blog!

Gan Chau

Monday, March 27, 2006

Gratitude to my Friends

"Not bad what! You even have your own blog!" exclaimed Peggy, my client, in typical Singlish. Frankly my knowledge of computer is limited to what I need to do there and then. A friend had started an email address for me some years back, and because it was inactive, I even forgot what the address was!

I have 12 nieces and nephews who live all over the world. Due to their coercion, I was encouraged to start another email address so that I could send them letters without having to paste stamps on the envelope! Frankly, my motivation came about because I was ashamed of myself. Some brilliant minds have created the computer, and all I have to do on my part is to learn to send correspondence via email. That I cannot even do meh?

Win Nie, my friend, helped me to start a blog. During her vacation, she spent one day with me, teaching me how to post articles and photos. I can post articles but not the photos.... hence this is why you find so few pictures in my blog! Win Nie has promised to come and teach me again during her next vacation. Dr. Kumaran Raju, my client, helped me to set up the site meter, so that I would know the profile of my readers. It is exciting to know that readers come from all over the world from as far as Canada in the north to New Zealand in the south. There is even someone from "unknown country". "Gosh! How come the country is unknown? Could it be someone from outer space?" my imagination goes wild.

Chris Graham, knowing that I am such a dog lover, asked if he could post his blog, - he helped me to put it as a link to my blog.
I enjoyed reading his blog which is written from his pet's, Jaffe's point of view.
I also received help from my nephew-in-law,James when I asked him to help me post some interesting articles in the blog. One of my ex-students, Sharon, had sent me an email and I asked her if she would mind helping me to post her lovely photo on my blog. I came across an interesting blog by Daniel San and asked him to help me put his blog as a link.

Recently I realised that my archives had disappeared, and all the 120 articles appeared in one whole lot. As only 50 articles could be seen at one time, it meant readers could not read the previous 70 articles. I asked my university buddies, Mo Shin, Richard and James for help. Richard immediately helped me to put them in archives. My three buddies are brilliant professionals and sometimes I sent my articles to them for editing or to ask for opinions on my writing before I published in my blog.

My niece from Kuala Lumpur, Woei, Tyng, was concerned if I had saved the articles in a diskette. She then graciously wrote me a series of steps on how to save the articles. I could never follow instructions like this... I needed someone to sit down and show me step by step. My client, Alfred Chong, helped me to copy on a disc.

My students, Zhi Yi and Zhi Wei are starting a family blog soon. "I think I'll be able to set up the blog. It's pretty easy," said Zhi Yi with an air of confidence.

I can safely conclude that when it comes to mechanical and electronical matters, men are generally more superior than women. Of course, there are a few exceptional ladies who are very clever in figuring out machines but I think the majority are like me..... slower in figuring out. But at least I am glad I tried. Indeed I am very grateful to all my friends who have patiently helped me to overcome my phobia for the computer. Now it is my turn to encourage others to take that first step to turn on the switch of the computer and then go!

Gan Chau

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Mrs. Catherine Dunlap

Mrs. Catherine Dunlap is now in her eighties. I was very happy when she and her husband were able to visit me in December 1991. Worried that they might not get used to our humid and sultry weather, I gave them my room which was the only one with air conditioning. I told the lovely couple that I was very grateful to them for the warm hospitality which they and their son, James, had showered on us foreign students in the University of Alberta. We were constantly invited by them for sumptuous home cooked meals. Even if the meals were sometimes less sumptuous, they were always very tasty because they were cooked with love.

Since I was then working as a teacher in ACS, it would give me the greatest pleasure to pamper the Dunlaps during their one week stay in Singapore. It was my privilege to play hostess.

At Changi Airport, just before the Dunlaps flew off, Mrs. Catherine Dunlap said to me, "Choo, we have left you a present in your Bible. Please use the gift as you deem fit." When I returned home, I found a thank you card with $300/- cash gift. Gosh! I blushed. For on the first page of my gold rimmed Bible, I had written the words: "Presented to Kam Choo Choo by Kam Choo Choo. Waited one whole year to buy this Bible at 50% discount of $90/-".

It was always so typical of the Dunlaps to be ever so generous to others, but stingy on themselves.

I can still remember when Mrs. Dunlap first came to my apartment for dinner in Edmonton. Since I was shorter, I could not quite see in detail the lovely hat that Mrs. Dunlap was wearing. I asked to see the hat. Mrs. Dunlap graciously obliged. I was somewhat taken aback when I saw that there was a hole with the size of a one dollar coin in the centre of the hat. I was quite overwhelmed because Mrs. Dunlap reminded me of my beloved papa ......... always so selfless and generous to others; always giving so cheerfully yet were so frugal on themselves. Even though we bought papa nice shirts for his birthday, he would still wear his old shirts until they had holes in them.

I decided to use the $300/- cash gift from the Dunlaps to buy Christmas presents for the construction workers who were then building the new ACS nearby. My friend, Carrie and I wrapped 200 presents and brought them to the school. We wrote out the verse of John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son ...." from the Dunlaps. It was such a joy to see the workers so happy to receive the little Christmas gift and to ask about the Dunlaps and what John 3:16 was about. Christmas would not be Christmas without John 3:16.

The following day, Carrie invited me to her Hospital Dinner and Dance as one of the nurses had to opt out of the dinner. I won the 3rd prize - a microwave oven and Carrie won a consolation prize - a gift hamaper in the lucky draw. One medical staff, Dr. Lee, kindly gave us a ride back in his Mercedes. Carrie and I went home, laughing all the way, especially at the Indian drama I had spontaneously participated in, and was voted best actress! Perhaps it was inevitable after all the Indian movies I had been watching the past two decades! The prize was a watch which I decided to give to my cousin as a Christmas present.

Although the Dunlaps had come all the way from Canada, they had left footprints in the lives of foreign construction workers they had never met. They had definitely left big footprints in my life... because I will always want to emulate their fine examples. Whenever I sing the song, "It only takes a spark to get the fire burning",
I would be reminded of the Dunlaps.

Gan Chau

Saturday, March 25, 2006

An Unforgettable Incident

Some years back, when my eldest brother was taking a group of his little students to Penang, he asked me to accompany them. I did not mind for it meant I could have the chance to also visit my relatives in my hometown. It also meant I would have a lot of fun with the little children who already displayed such great musical talent at so tender an age. The People's Association under the baton of my eldest brother, Kee Yong, was going to stage an orchestral concert in Penang.

In the plane, I was seated next to an elderly lady who was the grandmother of one of the children. Mrs. Lee kept talking to me in Mandarin and I was hoping to get a little nap during the short journey. Despite my sleepy eyes, I could not believe what I saw. She took the forks, spoons, plates and glass and put them in her tote bag. I told her that the items belonged to Singapore Airlines and they were not souvenirs. Later, she asked me about a piece of board showing instructional safety. She too put that into her tote bag, leaving the pocket behind the front seat completly bare! Horror upon horror! She cooly folded the blanket and also put it in her bag!

Just then, I realised Mrs. Lee's complexion and skin were quite smooth and fair, which could suggest a constant diet of birds' nest, ginseng, etc. She was apparently very well off. Though a grandmother, Mrs. Lee looked quite young and energetic. She was heavily laden with jewellery .... thick gold necklaces, jade ring and bangles, ruby earrings and diamond bracelet. "Gosh! Why would someone so rich bother with taking stuff from the plane?" I thought to myself as I turned over to the right for my nap.

The following evening in Penang, Mrs. Lee was robbed of her handbag and jewellery. She was waylaid by two knife-wielding robbers just as she was walking back to the hotel. It was very bad of me, but I had to confess I was very happy when I heard that she was the only one in the group who had been robbed. My usually soft heart was bereft of compassion.! Obviously the two robbers could not stand the glare from her shining jewellery or the pomp and display of wealth. Their eyes had turned green. Or was it an uncanny demonstration of the maxim, "What goes around, comes around!"?

Gan Chau

Friday, March 24, 2006

Yes, My PAPA is very rich!

One evening, while waiting for the bus to take me to Mr. & Mrs. Norman Suvan's home to babysit their little boy, I met two students from Hongkong, Sharon and Kevin, who were also studying at the University of Alberta.

During the conversation, I mentioned to them that I was on scholarship. My tuition fees were generously paid by Lee Foundation from Singapore. They looked surprised and said, "All the Hong Kong students thought you are from a rich family and that your father is a millionaire in Malaysia!" I was momentarily stunned. "I don't think I have ever told anyone my father is a millionaire!" I exclaimed.

Sharon tried to explain, "We know that you often invite people to your home for lunch or dinner and that you are an excellent cook. We also heard how you often give away photo prints without bothering to charge for them. So all the students from Hong Kong said your father is a millionaire from Malaysia!" I was even more stunned because I hardly interacted with Hong Kong students except with those from the committee of "Seacademy" a publication by the Chinese Students' Association where I helped them as Chief Editor of the English section of the magazine.

I was about to protest and explain, and just then caught sight of my oncoming bus.
"You are right! My PAPA, my heavenly father is indeed very rich! He owns this universe, and we can in prayer, ask Him for anything!"

In the bus I reflected over what I had just heard. Indeed if it had not been the blessing of my ex-employer's father, the late Mr. Lim Cheng Ean, I would not have taken my first step to board the plane to Canada. Out of the blue, he just decided to give me MR$10,000/- and encouraged me to further pursue my education! I had worked for his son and daughter-in-law, both lawyers at Lim Kean Siew & Co. He had heard that I was an excellent secretary who writes very well, and he felt my talent was wasted if I were to stay on with only a secondary school education. Lee Foundation paid for my full tuition fees. I worked part time as a cleaner and baby sitter to supplement my income for lodging and personal expenditure. It was not costly to buy food from the supermarket and cook them yourself; hence inviting guests to my apartment to share a meal had always been my joy and pleasure. Dining out was much more costly because labour costs are quite high in Canada.

One does not have to be a millionaire before one starts sharing. With the little that we have, we can still share and give. I have learnt all these years that the more we give, the more we actually receive!

Gan Chau

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The MC who repeated himself

In our village, there was one little cinema. The roof was zinc and asbestos and you can imagine how hot and stuffy the cinema could be during the day showing. Ma ma was a regular, and I was always asked to book the tickets in advance so much so that the lady in the box office gradually got to know me even by name. I ingratiated her ... it was obvious for it meant I could have free shows because she would usher me in, especially on those days that ma ma did not watch the movies. Since we did not even have a television at home, the cinema was my main entertainment!

Seeing that the cinema was my favourite haunt, my older sisters got worried. "Choo, go and study and stop going to the cinema! Exams!" they would nag at me. "Sis, exams over lah!" They were surprised to see good marks in my report cards, nevertheless!
Once, there was great excitement in the village. Apart from the movie, Liang Shang Po yu Zhu Ying Tai (Love Eternal) the main actress, Ivy Ling Po, was personally making a stage appearance after the movie. The cinema was jam packed every evening for a week. However, trouble started for the MC on the third day. His speech seemed to be a repetition. In Hokkien dialect he said, "Kam siah, lu lang pah pok,"
(thanks for your applause) and before he could finish his speech, the children in the audience completed his sentence for him, "kim meh chiah lu chiak kah li pok" (tonight give you a treat of curry puffs). It was quite hilarious to see to the stunned look of the MC but he quickly collected his composure and continued, "Kam siah lu lang pak chiu" (Thanks for clapping your hands) and again the children completed the sentence "Kim meh chiah lu lim chiu)! (Tonight treat you to some wine).

The following day, the MC changed his speech format! He should or the children would take over the microphone! I love the children and villagers. Though simple and poor, they often showed such zest for living. Though not very educated and in fact, the older generation was often uneducated, they were often laughing and getting so much fun out of life!

Gan Chau

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Toilets.... and more toilets

Once my niece and I were taking a morning walk at a park near my brother's house at Willowdale, Ontario. Although the park was quite remote, I was struck by how clean the toilets were. It made me think of the public toilets in Singapore, which in sharp contrast, are often less than satisfactorily clean.

My friends know my favourite phrase whenever we need to use a public toilet. "Is it clean?" If I can help it, I would prefer not to use a public toilet. I wonder why sometimes, tons of papers would be strewn all over the floors, and why the floors of some toilets seem to be perpetually flooded. Would those who use the toilets indiscriminately do likewise in their own homes?

There is one particular public toilet that has caught my attention. It is located at the entrance to the Braddel MRT station. I guess it is always in a state of neatness and cleanliness because on the wall is a poster, stating: "If you find the toilets dirty, please call ......" The cleaners have even put some potted plants to decorate the toilet. I always give the cleaners a smile to show my appreciation of their effort and good work.

I remember in the toilets at the University of Alberta, I sometimes found poems written on the walls. If I could recall, here are some of them.... something to this effect.

Here, I lie in stinky vapor,
Because some bastards stole the toilet paper.
Shall I lie, or shall I linger
or shall I be forced to use my finger.

Here I sit
broken hearted,
tried to shit
but only farterd.

I came here
To shit and stink
But all I do
is sit and think.

Then higher up on the wall was a line with the words,

If you can piss above this line, the Fire Department
defintely wants to recruit you!

Once I waited for quite long in the ladies toilet at the university. Just as I was about to give up, a student came out. When I went in, I was surprised to find so many mathematical calculations on the wall! Was she an Einstein wannabe?

I guess Singaporeans are becoming creative too. Once in the toilet of a restaurant, I found a poster with the words:

We aim to please,
You aim too, please.

Patrons are requested to remain
seated throughout the entire performance.

The hands that clean these toilets also
make your food. Please aim properly!

Let us all cooperate to help keep our public toilets clean.... toilets that we are proud to present to tourists and visitors to our clean and green little island.

Gan Chau

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

To Our Cleaners With Love

Two decades ago, I wrote to the press and some local magazines about our cleaners. I even took some photos to show the state of our rubbish dump. People threw rubbish indiscriminately at the void decks of HDB flats. Sometimes soiled baby diapers and sanitary pads glared at you in the face! Each time the cleaners drove past with the rubbish trucks, I had to hold my breath for a few seconds. Thank God that although I cannot swim, I have become adept at holding my breath discreetly without having to pinch my nose. Yes! Everyone knows the rubbish stinks! But could you and I not help to lessen the odour and make the job a slightly more pleasant one for the poor cleaners?

I am sad to think that decades later, although Singapore has progressed by leaps and bounds in the field of business, science, education, housing, etc. etc. the stench from the rubbish remains the same! Until today, few have bothered to tie their rubbish in plastic bags so that they do not spill out and create more stench.

When I was studying in Canada, I was impressed with the way rubbish was being discarded. There was much recyling, and it was heartening to see how residents bothered to seperate the papers, bottles and plastics. Even though we have such recyling bins in Singapore, how many of us have actually bothered.? As I sleep late and wake up early, I would often hear loud noises of bottles being thrown down from the rubbish chutes on the higher floors.

When I was holidaying in Melbourne, I was surprised to find that residents were only limited to two huge rubbish bags per week. If you had more than two rubbish bags, you had to dispose them yourself, because the cleaners from the trucks would only collect two bags from each household!

My friends from overseas often tease me about "fine" Singapore. I have often pondered why we have so many fines in our country. If only we could be like the Canadian or Australian residents who do not need fines to be imposed for littering, smoking in non-smoking areas, etc. All these years, PAP has to be like the wonderful, caring PAPa, imposing fines, hoping that by doing so, the situation would improve. But have we...really? For the sake of my international readers, PAP refers to People's Action Party, the prevailing Party in Singapore.

Let us all spare a thought for the poor cleaners. Most, if not all of them, come from India and Bangladesh because Singaporeans do not want to clean up their own fellowmen's rubbish. I have seen how some even haughtily pinch their noses in utter disgust at the stench that pervades the air, when they could actually be the culprits who do not tie up their own rubbish bags properly. I shudder to think what if the cleaners ever go on strike one day! Let us not take our cleaners for granted. Let us all play a part to help keep Singapore really, really clean wihout PAPa having to resort to fines again.

Gan Chau

Monday, March 20, 2006

Indian Movies and Songs on the Blog

Sometimes I would click under "Referral" to check on the readers of my blog. I was delighted to find a blog that promotes the love of Indian movies and songs. I had just been lamenting for the past few weeks that there were no longer Hindi movies on Central Channel on Sunday evenings. Just to share with all those who are Indian movie fans like me. Click on This was my first time watching videos on the computer and I had to ask Nike Tan Rao, my ex-customer of Rialto what "streaming" and "buffering" mean.!

Perhaps I have to thank my parents for my love for Indian movies. Penangnites are very fond of Indian movies and a good Indian movie could show for a whole year! My favourite and most memorable movie is "Haathi Mere Sathi - Elephants, my friends". Even though I had watched the movie some thirty years ago, I can still remember the details and can sing two songs from the movie. The plots in Indian movies are good and I love the colorful dances and costumes. I often tell my Indian friends that God must have been in a very excellent mood when He created them, for the Indians are one of the most good looking people on earth!

For those of you who have yet to watch an Indian movie, try it. If you find the two and a half hours to three hours movie too long, you can emulate me. I do not put sofas before the TV.... so that I can do my exercises while watching TV. Sometimes I would try to dance along with the actors and actresses. Hence I can kill two birds with one stone ... enjoying my movie and working out a sweat!

Gan Chau

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Phuah Chu Kang and a Blur Singaporean

My friend, Aveline, invited me to join her lovely family for a Chinese New Year Reunion dinner last year. She instructed me to take the MRT to Yew Tee Station. It was my third time taking the MRT towards that direction. Wow! As I am used to staying in the more central area of Singapore I found Aveline's house to be somewhat far away.

I looked at the MRT map in the train. There is Lim Chu Kang, Yio Chu Kang and Choa Chu Kang. I know "Kang" means alley in Hokkien Dialect. My agent friend, Wang, said that "kang" can also be "kong' in Cantonese which means port. I am not sure about the rest of the words. Perhaps they are the surnames of some prominent Singaporeans which would actually translate into Lim, Yeoh and Chuah? I resolved to find out the answers from Aveline who probably should know the answers, since she is a thoroughbred Singaporean and lives in Choa Chu Kang.

"O.k. So where is Phuah Chu Kang?" I asked. Aveline and her family looked at me and burst out laughing. "Choo, you're a property agent, and you asked me that question!" Aveline burst out laughing even harder.

"I know Phuah Chu Kang is a popular TV program...oh! it is a fictitious place, and yet I had been thinking that there is really a Phuah Chu Kang somewhere in Singapore, since we have the other Lim Chu Kang, Yio Chu Kang and Choa Chu Kang.!

It is interesting that in Singapore I have never met Gurmit Singh, the key character in Phuah Chu Kang. Yet I met Gurmit in my hometown of Penang where he was having a performance at Gurney Drive last year in October. It was also embarrassing that when I went to Melbourne, my sister Ean Ean told me she enjoyed "Phuah Chu Kang and I Not Stupid" and I sheepishly told her I had yet to watch the program. "I Not Stupid" by Jack Neo is so popular, but I am someone who hardly goes to the cinema.

I will definitely make it a point to do so as every Singaporean ought to do so, just as I would advocate every Chinese to read or know about Lu Hsun's "The True Story of Ah Q". As we age, we should be like the willow trees, bending with humility as we realise there are still so many things to learn, to inquire and to ponder.

Gan Chau

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Papa and His Gan Chau

Since so many people have asked me about my pen name, Gan Chau, I will write about how I obtained my pen name.

My beloved papa himself was a good writer. He had some articles and short stories published in Chinese, as papa also taught Chinese in school. He was the one who encouraged me to read and write. Even though he could not read or speak much English, he would go through my essay books, and asked me to read aloud what I had written. Papa could understand English better than he could read.

Every morning, we would go for our morning walks to the Bukit Dumbar Reservoir in Penang. I disliked having to wake him up so early in the morning, for papa would go to bed at about two o'clock every morning for he worked as a bandmaster in a leading nighclub. To provide for his family, papa held two jobs. Though tired, he was often optimistic and cheerful. Despite his busy work schedules, he still found time to give free music lessons to the poor boys in our village. Papa believed that music has power to transform a street urchin! Some of our village boys are full time musicians now.

Papa was also very concerned about good complexion, and he showed me how we could gather some morning dew in our palms and wash our face with the cool, refreshing liquid from nature! Papa believed dew helped to promote good facial complexion. Sometimes when people complimented me on my excellent complexion, I would tell them of papa's remedy which is natural and free!

Once papa asked me to check his speech which he had prepapred for that evening. "Ladies and Gentlemen", papa began. Very often he met his friends who were also walking in the morning. Sometimes they would be so engrossed in their conversation that they forgot to exercise. Papa's delightful sense of humour and mimicries often left his friends roaring with laughter. Some friends have told my siblings and I that the comedien, Moses Lim, reminds them very much of our beloved papa.

Once, papa bought me a book from Readers' Digest even though it tore a big hole in his pocket. It was just like him, to be generous to others but extremely frugal on himself. It was the book of world travel. I marvelled at the beautiful pictures of Hawaii, Europe, Australia, Japan, Nepal, etc. As I was admiring the colorful and beautiful scenery, papa said, "My precious daughter... when you grow up, you will be a teacher like me. You will also travel round the world. When you do start writing seriously, take the pen name of Gan Chau. In Chinese, 'Gan' is written with our surname of Kam and 'Chau or Cao' is written with the word of grass. Gan Chau means sweet grass - also a kind of herb, and your writing will be filled with a sweet taste and healing touch for your readers.

Gan Chau

Thursday, March 16, 2006


When I was studying at the University of Alberta, one young couple was quite fond of me. They were Norman and Nicky Suvan. Whenever the Suvans had a party or function to attend in the evenings, they would call me to go over to babysit their little boy who was 13 months old.

Every year, the Suvans would go to Maui in January to escape the cold Canadian winter. They would stay in their lovely condominium by the beach for two months. That January in 1981, they decided to take me with them to Maui, as my ears were giving me some problem, and my doctor advised me to stay and rest in a warmer place.

We had a great time in the beautiful Hawaiin Island. Every morning, the sunrise would be so breath taking. The sunset was equally beautiful. Sometimes the sea would turn reddish brown in colour because of the soil from the volcanic mountains.
Mr. Suvan's parents, Arnold and Florence Suvan also came to Hawaii later on and stayed for a month. They were both in their eighties, but were still very robust and romantic! They would do everything together. Grandmother Florence told me that when her husband was running his hardware business, she would help him in the shop and when she was cooking in the kitchen, Grandpa Arnold would help her cut and wash the dishes.

One day, Mr. Suvan took his father fishing. They only returned to the condominium in the evening. The moment he entered the condominium, Grandpa called out to his beloved, "Where's Grandma? Where's Grandma?" I told him Grandma was by the swimming pool, and I quickly trailed behind Grandpa to observe him. The moment he saw Grandma by the pool, he gave her a big hug, and said, "Oh, I miss you, sweetheart!" Gosh, it had only been a day since Grandpa was away fishing with his son, but he acted as if he had not seen Grandma for years! I smiled and it suddenly dawned upon me why this lovely couple had stayed blissfully married for sixty years!

After the two months vacation was over, we flew to Los Angeles to visit Mrs. Suvan's grandmother. We stayed with her for a week. Great Grandmother Jane lived near Santa Monica and her lovely house was just a stone's throw from the beach.

One day, Mrs. Suvan's parents joined her in Los Angeles. I had never tasted such excellent cheese omellete which was lovingly prepared by the elderly couple. I found cheese to be too pungent, and it was the very first time that I had been persuaded to eat cheese! Later I found out the the recipe was from a prize winning recipe that was published in the Los Angeles Times. I thought I would also try and submit a recipe. When Great Grandmother Jane heard that, she asserted, "No! No! No! You're not going to cook in my kitchen!" Although my spirit sank momentarily, I refused to let her words discourage me. Cheerfully I said, "It's ok, grandma, I can always imagine the taste and texture and cook in my head." "You'll never win a prize!" declared Grandma Jane. "We'll see, Grandma.... I do my best, and leave God to do the rest."

Those two months in Maui and California were an eye opener for me. I had never seen any of my grandparents. They passed away before I was born. Hence I enjoyed the company of these lovely elderly people, even though Great Grandma Jane was quite difficult. I envied Nicky that even at the age of 32, she still had a grandmother! I always enjoyed listening to the elderly because they had such rich experiences in life.

Two months later in Edmonton, I received a registered letter in the mail. The recipe I had submitted had been voted by Californian readers to be the best and I won US$50/- cash prize!

Gan Chau

Zhi Wei and Zhi Yi

My friend, Mrs. Ram had asked if I would like to tutor Jan's sons who needed some help in English. Mrs. Ram had met Jan at the British Council. I had missed teaching all these 12 years since I resigned from full time teaching because of constant loss of voice. When I talked to Jan on the phone, I liked her immediately especially when she told me she would like to brief her sons first, and to see their response towards the idea of getting some help for English and writing.

I like parents who are liberal yet firm in handling their children. They are the ones who encourage their children to explore their potential to their fullest. Hence, it is not surprising that at such a tender age, little Zhi Wei already knows what he aspires to be when he grows up - to be a good lawyer. Even right now, he already shows his traits - he enjoys a good argument and is happiest when he can have the last say! His quieter, older brother, Zhi Yi wants to emulate his parents - to be in the world of finance.

Hence, every Monday afternoon, I would look forward to my tuition. It is such a pleasant experience to interact with two intelligent, lively boys. The Koh family also has a good maid, Leah, and a lovely Golden Retriever, Goldy. Sometimes, I would go a little earlier and walk Goldy with Zhi Wei before lessons commence. We hope the extra walk would help Goldy shed some weight. Goldy sometimes likes to sit beside Zhi Wei during the lessons as if she wants to learn some English too. But actually, she hopes to get some food.! Once I bought the boys a packet of cookies and we also gave Goldy some. Gosh, now the clever dog associates tuition time with food! Sometimes Goldy would give a bark to get some attention, especially when we were engrossed in our lessons. It is interesting how a four legged creature could give such an added presence of assurance and homeliness! Last Monday was the start of the one week school break. Zhi Wei helped the maid to bake some apple cakes and raisin cookies. We had some at tea break, and Goldy's eyes were wide with expectation of a good treat! Her nose was constatly pointed upwards, as if savouring the fragrance that permeated the kitchen and dining room.

During Oral English, I am touched to know how much Zhi Wei and his brother admire their parents and appreciate their hard work, love and dedication to the family. Despite their father's busy schedules, he always makes it a point to watch some television programs with his younger son. The children's equally busy mother also makes it a point to constantly check their school work.

Zhi Wei proudly showed me the lovely pieces of paintings and pottery he had created. He also showed me his father's lovely and huge collection of minature cars. Zhi Wei shares his father's passion for cars and told me he cried when his father sold their anqiue Morris Minor Convertible with an SS plate. "But I guess, life must move on", he shrugged his shoulders with a maturity beyond his age.

The number of broken homes in Singapore is increasing and the rate of divorce is growing at an alarming rate. Hence it is heartening for me to have such a pleasant experience of tutoring these two brothers, knowing, that even while their parents strive hard in their career, they also work hard in organising and prioritising their time to involve their children in whatever they do. Communication is very important, and children know it when their parents bother to find out how they feel.

I remember my ever cautious sister had repeatedly turned down her eldest son's request for a bicycle. One day, after reading her son's letter to her with the conclusion, "How can a careful mother like you have a careless son? Like mother, like son!" My nephew got his bicycle.

I am now encouraging Zhi Wei and Zhi Yi to start a blog together with their parents. Someone has said, "The family that prays together stays together". May I also add, "The family that writes together stays together too":-)

Gan Chau

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Kamlette and Her Nose for Smelling Gold.

My very first pet, Kamlette, a mixed retriever, was given by my ACS boys who found her abandoned at a mangrove swamp. There was a litter of 6 puppies which the boys rescued and after giving away 3 puppies to the security guard of a nearby condominium, they brought back the remaining three puppies to school. My heart melted when I saw the puppies with their eyes shut in deep slumber, and with persuasion from my students, decided to adopt one with brown, shiny fur.

Kamlette was very intelligent. Whenever I was almost reaching my apartment, I would cough and she would immediately race to the sofa and pop her head out of the window, anxiously looking out for me! Once my eldest brother tried to cough to see whether Kamlette would appear at the window. I reminded my brother that "the sheep only hears His master's voice."

A mixed retriever, Kamlette did not like to go for her regular walks especially after the rain. She hated getting her feet wet. Once I took her and Xiaobai for a walk. To my surprise, she insisted on remaining at a palm tree with short trunks. She kept sniffing and suddenly I realised there was something shining on the patch of soil. I picked it up and it was a gold necklace with a pretty ruby pendant.

On another occasion, while walking my two dogs, Kamlette kept scratching on a piece of dirty and folded newspaper that was on the ground. I picked up the newspaper to throw into the rubbish bin nearby and lo and behold! there was a gold cross beneath the paper. I thought it was some kind of costume jewellery as it was quite big. On reaching home I showed it to my neighbour. To my surprise, she told me it could be solid gold, as it was quite heavy. I argued with her that it looked more like costume jewellery as I had never seen such a big cross. I brought it to the jeweller who verified that it was indeed real gold! The value was abaout $380/-.

Of course, friends teased me about training my dogs to smell not only money, but also gold! To save costs, I had never sent my dogs for professional training. I trained them in my own loving and gentle ways. Again, I would like to think it is the great Creator of these beautiful creatures who provided for us. My dogs had given me such great joy and learning experiences that I would always encourage everyone to love dogs and animals. If possible, find time to enjoy nature. Take time off to go to the zoo, bird park, sea world in Sigapore and other parts of the world. Subscribe to Animal Planet, National Geographic and Discovery Channels and marvel at God's great creation. Whenever I feel discouraged, I look at nature. None of the birds that sing on the trees near my apartment are underweight. They all look nicely rounded. They live for just a few years, but the Creator has taken pains to have them beautifully made.
The Creator considers man to be His highest form of creation! If He takes care of nature, He will surely take care of His most precious creation and me!

Gan Chau

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Did You Train Your Dogs to Smell Money?

One day, I decided to take my two dogs, Kamlette and Kam Xiao Bai, for a slightly longer walk up to the Turf Club. As we were walking, Xiao Bai went up to a bushy plant and started lifting one of his legs. (Male dogs like to go around sniffing and urinating at different spots so as to mark their territory). Just then, I thought I saw some money partially hidden beneath the big bushy plant. I picked it up, and found that it was not one, not two, not three, but four $1,000/- notes. They were somewhat dirty with some soil and I thought they were probably fake notes, as it was the feast of the hungry ghosts, and worshippers were burning hell notes in offering to their deceased relatives. However, the notes looked quite real.... hence I decided to bring them home and check with the bank.

To my surprise, the bank teller told me that they were real notes! She burst out laughing when I told her my Chow Chow found the notes! "You're so lucky!" she exclaimed. I wondered who could have dropped so much money on the road, and deduced that some punters could have dropped part of their winnings, as the bushy plant was near a bus stop which was near the Turf Club. In fact, this was not the first time I had picked up money while walking my dogs. Some of my friends are beginning to tease me when they asked if I had actually trained my dogs to smell money! I would like to think that it is providence from the Creator of these lovely four legged creatures!:-)

Gan Chau

Saturday, March 11, 2006

My Darling! My Darling!

After three years as a legal secretary in one of the top law firms in Penang, I decided to work as a Personal Assistant in a Korean construction company, Keang Nam Enterprises, which was then building the Penang International Airport.

As a secretary, it was not easy for me to memorise the names of so many Korean staff. Patsy the nurse with my assistant, Bonny and I were the only three local ladies working in the company, and to make matters worse, the Koreans had similar surnames. There were six Mr. Lee, ten Mr. Kim, three Mr. Young, five Mr. Yin, two Mr. Han, three Mr. Yun, four Mr. Park and two Mr. Hong! The Malaysian support staff just addressed them as Chief Engineer Kim, Project Director Lee, etc. As secretary, I had to know their names in full. When I asked the youngest staff, a junior engineer, Mr. Han for his full name, he said, "Han Your Bor. Just call me Your Bor ... can already."

I used mnemonics to help me remember the various names of the staff. "Han Your Bor - your bor.... your wife (bor is wife in Hokkien dialect).

A month later, a phone call came for Mr. Han. Usually he was out at the site, but that day, he hapapened to be in the office. Hence I called out to him, "Your Bor! Your Bor! Your telephone call!" Mr. Han grinned from ear to ear, looking so pleased with himself, while the other staff looked flababergasted and soon burst out laughing! I continued with my work when Mr. Lee Kun Soo, our civil engineer, came to me and said, "Please call me Your Bor too, Miss Kam. I'll tbe the happiest man." Just then, Chief Architect Mr. Kim, came to me and said, "Poor Miss Kam, you've been tricked... Mr. Han's name is Jung Kil, not Your Bor which means my darling in Korean!" Gosh! I had been calling Mr. Han "My darling" since I started work a month ago!

I decided then that I would start to learn some Korean language so that none of the staff could trick me again. Little did I realise how difficult Korean is to learn.
I remember telling second brother after the first few days at work that I found the Koreans somewhat forceful in their speech.... they talked with animation and verbosity. In French, good night is "Bonuit"; in Mandarin, it is "Wan Ahn"; in Malay it is "Selamat malam"; but in Korean it is "Ahn Nyong Hee Ju Mi Sip Si Yo!" Gosh! By the time you finish your sentence, your addressee would have fallen asleep!

One day, Mr. Lee Kun Soo came to me and said, "Miss Kam, let me teach you this sentence ... very beautiful one... Na nun sarang ham ni da mi chi ge. It means you are very nice and polite. I was skeptical about being tricked again and asked one of the staff, Mr. Yin and he said, "The sentence means, "I love you crazily!"

Seeing that I was so eager to learn Korean, one of the staff bought me a "Teach Yourself Korean" book with English translation. I would study and memorise the voculary and phrases and try to use them the following day.

"Yun Sang Seang Nim. Iri onora!" (Mr. Yun, please come here) My project personnel
manager, Mr. Yun corrected, me and said the phrase "iri onora" can only be used when you call your cat/dog or grandchild. From senior or elderly to junior.! Hence, whenever my students complained that English is a difficult language, I asked them to try Korean!

How nice if we only had one language in the world. But then, life would not be so colorful and interesting. I also realised that although I could not speak much Korean and the Koreans were also limited in their English Language, we know of one language in common - love. Love indeed is an international language that the world understands. Papa had always taught us to love and respect others, regardless of race, language or religion. The Koreans knew that as a local staff, I was concerned about their welfare, for when the nurse, Patsy was on leave, I took upon myself to help clean and wrap up their wounds during an injury or minor accident at the site, even though I was somewhat sequeamish at the sight of blood!

I was overwhelmed when they voted me as best secretary in South East Asia and rewarded me with a free trip to Korea!

Gan Chau

Friday, March 10, 2006

Why I Mastered the English Language

My cousin, Ah Pong, was five years older than me. He did everything with the speed of lightning, especially when it came to eating popsickles. He would finish his popsickle even before I could start mine, and look at you with pathetic Oliver Twist's eyes. Very often, I would end up giving him my popsickle instead. Yet, despite my generosity, he would often bully me. If I hit him once, he would hit me back several times! My second sister, Ean Ean, knew I was longing to be victorious with Ah Pong.

One day, Sister Ean said to me, "You hate Ah Pong, right? Want to get even with him?"

I nodded my little head furiously. At last there was going to be some respite from the urchin!

"Memorise this English sentence and when Ah Pong comes back after school today, say out the sentence to him, loud and clear. He will flee for his life!" advised my sister.

The whole day long, I memorised the sentence. As my cousins and siblings were all much older than me, I was the only left at home since papa could not afford to send me to kindergarten. Mama and all my aunties could only speak Hokkien, Malay and Mandarin. I would have to wait two more years to attend Primary One where education was freely provided by the Malaysian government.

I eagerly awaited for Ah Pong's return. Upon seeing him enter the gate of our kampong house, I called out to him.

"What? What? What?" asked Ah Pong with that perpetual sneer on his cheeky face.

"Ah Pong, today I want to tell you I love you very very much!" I declared loud and clear.

Ah Pong nearly fell in his tracks. He fled for his life! Hip! Hip! Hooray! My siblings all burst out laughing. Second brother said, "Choo, you have been tricked by Sister Ean." I cried when I realised the truth and was so overcome by embarrassment that I hid behind the chicken coop. I only came out of my hiding place when the mosquitoes started biting me. That night I vowed I would master the English Language!

When I attended primary school, I befriended the Indian stall owner in the kampong. By buying a few candies, I persuaded him to let me read his comics and story books without charge. I soon devoured all the books in Green Lane Convent Primary School Library, and persuaded my older friends to borrow books from their Secondary School Library to lend me. I just love English for it is such a rich and beautiful language.

I always envy the kids of today. There are so many modern and beautiful libraries. With the advent of television, VCDs, computers, etc., they can learn so many things. However, sad to say, many youngsters prefer to spend more time on games, etc.

On looking back, I want to laugh now at the somewhat embarrassing yet comical situation created by my mischievous sister. It is a blessing in disguise after all!

The importance of reading is very crucial for the mastery of any language. This is why I always encourage my students and all those I know to read as much as they can. Indeed reading maketh a full man... and may I humbly add... a happy man!

Gan Chau

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Shanaz and her Dog that brings blessings

I had just gone through the security of Clementi Park and was heading for my client's unit when I saw a lovely Indian lady with her Cocker Spaniel. It is my habit of always patting every dog, no matter how big or small. I just love dogs! The lady was very friendly and told me her dog's name is Chelsea. When she found out I was a property agent, she wanted to come and see the condominium I was marketing.

However, Shanaz did not find the unit suitable and wanted something slightly bigger.
My client, Alfred Chong, had asked me to check the caveat for units sold at Clementi Park, and in Power Search, I noticed one bigger unit for sale. I somehow sensed that Shanaz would find the unit suitable. Shanaz and her husband Todd, liked the unit and decided to make it their home. They have a baby daughter, Leah. As Mr. Slater is British and his wife is North Indian, their daughter looks uniquely beautiful, and reminds me of a lovely doll! Shanaz is such a gentle lady and thanked me for helping her get their ideal apartment. I reminded her that we met because of my interest in her dog, Chelsea.

"Yes, that's right... so it is Chelsea who has been an instrument of blessing of bringing you to us and finally to this apartment." Shanaz told me that Chelsea was adopted from SPCA, and has brought blessings and much joy to her family. Indeed, what goes around comes around!

The Day the Gas "Popped" on Me ....

As my friends and co-broking agents are coming for lunch and dinner today, I decided to cook my ahem! popular Penang Friend Koay Teow and Nonya Curry Chicken. Individual plates of Koay Teow can be fried when my guests are here... every plate is made to order with individual preference of more chilli, less garlic, more prawns, etc. However, curry chicken, like beef bolognese, tastes better when it is cooked overnight.

Hence last night, I started cooking at 9.30p.m. I started first by pounding the lemon grass, onions and garlic. While the pot of curry was on the gas stove, I suddenly heard a "pop" sound and to my dismay, I realised that was the announcement that every bit of gas had left the tank.!

"Gosh, what should I do now?" I can always cool down the half cooked curry and put it in the fridge, but that would defeat my purpose of precooking so that it would taste nicer the following day.

Then I had an idea. I dished the curry out into a glassware and decided to cook it in the microwave oven. My old microve oven had stopped working and when my client, Mr. Alfred Chong, found out when he came with his wife for dinner, he asked if I would like to have their mivcrowave oven since they hardly use it. What a timely provision! The Chongs' microvewave oven is bigger with more gadgets than the one I had.

Each time I have guests over, I would cook more so that my tenants could also enjoy a treat. Chris and Jason are such busy, career-minded youngsters that they never cook, preferring to save time by buying ready cooked meals. Due to my busy and sometimes unpredictable work as an estate agent, I am beginning to find it more convenient to just have my meals in cafes and restaurants, but I realise cooking is kind of therapeautic for me. I could listen to music or sing as I cook, and it is such a reward and joy to see my guests and friends enjoying their home-cooked food.
I guess the food always taste nice because it is polished with skill but seasoned with love:P

Gan Chau!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Dr. Chester Ronning

I did my first year university at Grande Prairie Regional College, which was about 6 hours drive from Edmonton, the capital of Aberta.

Since there was no public bus system in Grande Prairie, my housemate, Eliza and I often walked to the College. Sometimes our landlord or classmates would give us a ride. After school we would look out for each other. Very often some kind Grande Prairie residents would stop their cars to pick us up, as sometimes the winter could hit minus 20 to 30 degree celcius!

One day, after lectures, my classmate, Paul, wanted to give me a ride, and I asked him if Eliza could come along. After some time, we went off as there was no sight of Eliza.

Imagine my consternation when I found Eliza, tucking herself with a thick blanket in her cosy room. She told me not to wait for her the following day as she would be going for a lunch invitation held in honour of one Dr. Chester Ronning. All the Chinese students had been invited.

"Why was I not invited.? I'm Chinese too." I said.

"No, you are Malay!"

Gosh, if Eliza still thought I was a Malay despite having stayed with me for 5 months, what would the rest of the Canadians think?

The next morning, I went to the college an hour earlier and headed straight for the President's Office.

"Dr. Henderson, may I know why I was not inivted to your lunch for Dr. Ronning?"

"Glad you're here. I was not sure of your race, Choo. I asked the Chinese students and no one seemed to know. But please join the 15 Hong Kong students and meet at 12 noon."

I was grinning when I realised that the Chinese students were surprised when they saw me. I happened to be seated next to Dr. Ronning, an elderly Canadian who was born in Denmark, but spent his childhood in China, and his adulthood in Canada. Dr. Ronning told us he was delighted with the opportunity of speaking Mandarin with us. He kept talking and I kept nodding my head. As I never attended Chinese school in Malaysia, my Mandarin was even more limited and there were times when I did not quite understand what Dr. Ronning had said, but kept nodding my head out of respect. Despite this limitation, it still put me in better stead than the Hong Kong students who could only handle Cantonese then. Hence I was surprised when our College president told he was glad I came for the lunch for Dr. Ronning had told him I spoke excellent Mandarin! I did not say more than two sentences.... throughout lunch, I had merely listened and nodded my head! From this incident I learnt that the elderly usually enjoyed an audience. They had tasted more salt and therefore the young should learn from their rich experiences. I guess my excellent attention and good listening ability must have pleased Dr. Ronning so that was why he said I spoke excellent Mandarin even though I had only uttered less than three sentences. My papa had always said it is better to keep quiet than to blurt out and let the world know we are fools!

That evening, I attended Dr. Ronning's public lecture. He had such a great sense of humour. He shared that when he was running for election for one of the political seats, his opponent, Dr. Rutherford, knowing that he was raised in China, had gone around coercing people not to vote for Chester, for "he drinks Chinese milk".

"I went round telling the people not to vote for Rutherford, for he drinks cow's milk!", Dr. Ronning said to much laughter and applause. "I'm sure you can guess who won the election!"

Now that I look back, I blush at my audacity to confront our College president about not being invited for lunch! However I am glad I was brazen enough, for it was the turning point for me to realise that life's important lessons are not only gleaned from books, but from an active participation in events around us.

Gan Chau

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Life - An Intricate Web of Learning and Experiences

Olny srmat poelpe can raed tihs.

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The
phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde
Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the
olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit
pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a
porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by
istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot
slpeling was ipmorantt!

The above was sent by my friend, Freddy Attenborough. The conclusion, "Amazing huh?
and I always thought spelling was important?"

I thought of the above, and of course, realised that until you have really learnt to spell properly, only then can you read the jumble of words! It also made me think of our own life.... how things and events are actually inter-related.

As I loved papa very much, I thought I would not bother about going to university. Being the youngest, I wanted to ease papa's burden by working soon after completion of secondary school. I had always enjoyed reading and thought that if I really wanted to learn, I could just borrow books from the library for did somebody not say that reading maketh a full man? As a legal secretary, it was not easy coping with the stress of working in a very busy law firm. In those days I took shorthand dictation and typed on maunal typewriters. Sometimes as many as 40 clients would be waiting for you to type and amend the documents! How I wish we had computers then!

Due to a friend's encouragement I was also teaching English part-time in a Commerical School three evenings a week. Mom was often in and out of hospitals, and I would often rush to see her after work and rush back to teach at 7.30p.m. The experience taught me to cope with stress.

It was only after the passing away of my parents that I decided to go to Canada for my studies. I worked part time while doing a full time degree course. Typing term papers for students was a breeze! I guess the foundation of reading that I had laid helped me to sail through my studies with flying colours.

Due to the loss of my voice, I decided to give up teaching and tried my hand in real estate marketing. I thought I had disliked sales and would never be able to market anything.... but to my surprise, I am doing quite well in sales. I guess being a teacher for a decade has helped me in being patient, understanding and tactful when dealing with clients.

I remember two of my friends, Judy and Pixie. The two sisters gave up their designing and accounting career to start a small business retailing their own home made Penang Nonya delicacies. I heard someone commenting, "Aiya, want to do this business.... what for, go to the university?"

I wish I could tell the person that before you can read a jumble of words, you must first learn to spell correctly! Before you can teach students well, you must first be a student. Before you can be a good father, you must first be a good son!

Life, indeed is an intricate web of learning and experiences!

Gan Chau

Monday, March 06, 2006


My wonderful siblings are often worried about my living alone. Hence to please them, and it is also my nature to have people with me, I have always taken in tenants to share the home with me. This would also give me a chance to practise all the great hospitality I have received when I was a student in Canada.

My Philippine tenant had just moved out. A lovely lady from Myammar was interested to move in. I accepted her even though she could stay for only three months as she was going to do a Post Graduate course in New York at Columbia University. Why penalise someone just because it would be more troublesome for a short term stay.

When Thet, the potential tenant, came for a second viewing on Sunday afternoon, she told me she had shared with her mom that she was going to live with an energetic lady. She had sent an sms to me to say she would like to come over on Saturday, but I replied that I was having an open house at my client's condominium and after that would head for the Marina Mandarin where a friend had invited me for her company's Dinner and Dance. I shared with Thet that it was the happiest Saturday for me, because at the open house, somone bought my client's condominium at a reasonably good price. Hence, I could dance with a greater peace of mind and if the party had not ended at 2.00a.m., I "could've danced all night" like Eliza Do'Little in My Fair Lady! I seldom go for such dinner and dance functions, but when I do attend one, I would dance with all my heart and mind. I just love to move along with music!

"I told mom that you have such a glowing complexion for someone your age!" continued Thet. "I did not realise you sleep so few hours and yet there are no dark circles around your eyes!"

I had taken so many things for granted! It was nice to learn a little more about myself from another person's perspective.

Gan Chau

Professor Pierre Monod and his wonderful wife

Professor Pierre Monod and his wonderful wife, Madam Monod, are one of my favourite lecturers in the University of Alberta. Professor Monod taught me French while Madam Monod taught me Educational Foundations. It is often said that most couples complement one another, and this is markedly so in this lovely couple.

Profesor Monod was always immaculately groomed and carried himself with a cool and composed air. He was patient and charming, defintely a favourite among the students. On the other hand, Madam Monod was very expressive and somewhat easily flustered. But she oozed with so much charm, that despite her messy hair and plain dressing, she was actually attractive and knew exactly what she wanted from her students as well as from her family.

I first met Professor Monod when I applied to join the French Immersion Program in Quebec. It was a one month program, and the cost per student would be about Can $3,000/-. When I found I was selected, I was quite dumbfounded and kept asking Professor Monod if he was certain as I was a foreign student and why would the Canadian government sponsor me? "Le gouvernement ne demandez pas question; mois aussi". (The government does not ask questions; me neither!")

Professor Monod was patient and understanding. We went to Montreal by train from Edmonton but flew back after the program. For three days in the train, I literally hibenated like a polar bear, so exhausted was I after term work. I just could not open my eyes even when Professor Monod was giving instructions during the train journey! I was grateful to him and the rest of the 29 Canadian students in the group for being patient with me, the only foreign student.

I went back to visit Professor Monod two years after graduation. Despite their busy schedules, (Professor Monod was also involved with the Swiss Embassy and held an important position while Madam Monod was also the Head of the Romance Language Department) they invited me for lunch at their lovely home. I was surprised when I saw a dummy seated on an iron wrought bench by the fire place. I thought it was a decorative piece of art. I learnt that Professor Monod had made the dummy so that it would help to lessen Madam's loneliness when he was away.

I asked Madam how she coped, given her busy schedules. "Shoo Shoo, (Choo Choo is pronounced with Sh in French) when my guests are here, they are more important than house cleaning! The dust can rest for a while!" she threw her hands disdainfully at her furniture. "People are more important than things! We use things to bless people and not use people for things".

May God bless this beautiful couple with great health and longevity. I am very grateful for all that I have learnt from them.

Gan Chau

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Everybody, let's blog on....

Ever since I started my blog in November of 2005, I had been writing almost an article everyday, so much so that when I did not post my blog for three days I had concerned friends and readers writing to ask if I was alright! I now have 106 articles! Never realised I am so prolific! Ahem!

Since I started teaching creative writing in River Valley High School and ACS (Independent) I had always believed that everyone can write... given the encouragment and motivation. A classic example would be my beloved second sister. Not one who particularly likes reading or writing, Sister Ean Ean became, oh! so prolific and expressive when my brother-in-law Keat Seng (then her boyfriend) was courting her! Gosh! I remember the number of poems she wrote something to the effect of "You are my coconut tree, healthy and strong and I am your weary traveller, seeking shelter under your protective palms!" As her boyfriend was studying in Singapore, it was a long distance romance and I was amazed by the huge stacks of letters she wrote! Even the compassionate postman was somewhat amused to see this young lady eagerly awaiting to receive her letters. "Awak ingin ada kawan lelaki!" "You must have a boyfriend" he teased my sister.

I had been blessed with a father who liked writing and who encouraged me to write.
As papa had 5 children to support, the extra income earned from writing was my greatest motivation.! I joined the now defunct Sunday Gazette weekly competition and won 8 first prizes and 2 second prizes! There were also the various movie and family magazines that paid for articles published. All these payments made a teenager feel quite rich! It gave me the greatest joy and satisfaction when I was able to buy presents for my wonderful and selfless papa.

This is why I have been encouraging my friends and ex-students to start a blog. Later I will share more of the writing experiences in the creative writing classes with my students which will prove that writing can be a way of life, like eating and drinking. Also writing for mental health, for it can be a therapeutic exercise, as one learns to express one's feelings in writing. The more you write, the better and easier it gets! Try it! Come on, everybody, let's blog on ....

Gan Chau

Friday, March 03, 2006

Hail to the New No. 11 Bus!

I was spring cleaning my files and books when I came across this article which I had written for my English Professor. Thought it would be interesting to share with readers to give readers a glimpse of life at the University of Alberta.


Coming from a country which is relatively strike-free, I am shocked by the
large number of strikes in this beautiful land of Canada. However, I refused to be daunted by the recent bus strike. "Have legs will travel" was my motto since the bus drivers took off. Hence, during the last six weeks, I must have walked and jogged a total of about 150 miles. I dislike to impose on my friends for rides, and I dislike the idea of hitch-hiking although the government has made it perfectly legal to do so. Therefore, I preferred to walk from the University to Kingsway where my music tutor is living. I find it hard to keep track of the numerous journeys back and forth.

As a result of the "exercise" I have lost some extra pounds. Not particularly an atheletic type, I began to discover the joy of walking and jogging. I was also able to think and ponder as I walked or jogged along, and have come up with this.... ahem! rather interesting article.

When we sang, "Count your blessings, name them one by one", I thought of how blessed it is that I am still young, and am not stricken with arthritis or Parkinson's Disease, especially at this time of "transport immobility". I only wished I had a car, so that I could have volunteered to drive some of the less mobile senior citizens.

Perhaps many of you have the same experiences as I have had. You have probably grown more robust and sprightly. Hail to the No. 11 Bus. It needs nso gas and no insurance policy. It fears no strike and best of all, it beats inflation too!

Gan Chau

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Keep Chugging Down the Track, Choo Choo Train

I was away for the Leroy Seminar at Port Dickson over the weekends and did not write any articles in my blog for three days. I was pleasantly surprised that some readers wrote to me to ask if I was alright as they did not see any new article in my blog for the past three days.

At Port Dickson, I did not have access to a computer, but I also thought I would give all my energy and concentration to learn and participate at the Seminar. I was touched when friends called me to ask why I did not add new articles to the blog! Frankly, the concern from friends and readers has given me more strength and inspiration to press on with my writing. Was quite moved when Jeanelle, a fellow dog lover whom I met at the Pet Assisted Therapy Program at the various hospitals and nursing homes, told me she had my blog as her link in her computer and that she would never miss reading my articles.!

With the encouragement of my friends, Lawyers Tan Yeow Choo and Lilian Bay, I was encouraged to start my blog in November 2005. Since then my blog has been visited by readers all over the world.

Yes, my dear readers and friends, with your interest and encouragement, the Oriental Express will keep chugging down the track, providing her "passengers" with more entertaining and inspiring articles. Please do not hesitate to give me your comments and criticism. I stand to be corrected at any time. As Emerson had so rightly said, "Every man I meet is my superior in some way, in that I learn of him."

Gan Chau


Since Freddy Attenborough, a popular singer at the River View Hotel where my friends and I like to hang out for dinner and drinks, sent me an article on the acronyms of Singapore, it reminded me of an incident that took place when Mr. Bernard Chen was still the MP (Minister of Parliament) for Clementi Estate.

I was walking my two dogs, Kamlette (a mixed retriever) and Kambobo (a rough collie) when I saw one of my clients, Mr. Bay Chuah, who had just bought a condominium unit from me. "Mr. Bay Chuah!" I waved to him. His name is very disctinctive because in Hokkien dialect, if you add another word "Bay Chuah Bor" it means cannot get a wife, but of course this Mr. Bay Chuah is a happily married man. It is just one of those mnemonics that I create to help me remember clients' names.

I then realised that with Mr. Chuah was a contingent of PAP (People's Action Party)
staff and members and our MP was with them. I suddenly blurted out, "Mr. Bernard Chen, I don't want to vote for PAP anymore!"

"Why", he looked startled. I thought the other group members were somewhat stunned
at my frankness and audacity.

"I want to vote for KAK - Kamlette and Kambobo! KAK - Keep and Keep!
PAP - Yucks! Pay and Pay!

The whole group of men burst out laughing and I was so happy when Mr. Chen came to
pat my two dogs. Mr. Chen had scored another point with me, for I think most, if not all dog lovers, are kind and compssionate people. Hip! Hip! Hurray! for PAP!
I guess I don't mind paying and giving, if in doing so, I actually receive more!

Gan Chau

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Real Interesting Acronymns of Singapore.

This is interesting.....

In Singapore, the majority of us live in Highly Dangerous Buildings (HDB)(Housing
Development Board) or Houses Done Badly,
And most people have already got used to Paying and Paying (PAP). (People's Action Party)
Not only do you have to pay, you Pay Until Bankrupt (PUB). (Public Utilities

If that's not enough, somebody still Purposely Wants to Dig (PWD) (Public Works Department) and get more from you.
So what more can you do when you are in the Money Only Environment (MOE)? (Ministry of Environment).

With the current Mad Accounting System (MAS),(Monetary Authority of Singapore) you are forced to Pay the Sum Ahead (PSA), (Port Singapore Authority)
Which will leave some people Permanently Owing Some Banks (POSB). (Post Office Savings Bank)
And forced to live on the Loan Techniques Always (LTA) system. (Land Transport Authority).

When you fall sick and happen to be admitted to a Money Operating Hospital (MOH),(Ministry of Health)
You might be able to use your Cash Prior to Funeral (CPF)*Central Provident Fund) fund.

If you are out of luck, you may meet doctors who Never Use Heart (NUH) (National University Hospital) to treat you,
And you will Sure Give up Hope (SGH). (Singapore General Hospital)

To help ease the traffic, motorists have to pay Cash On Expressway (COE).(Certificate of Entitlement)
If that doesn't help, they can always Eternally Raising Prices (ERP) (Electronic Road Pricing)on the roads.

If you don't own a car, you can always make a Mad Rush to the Train (MRT), (Mass Rapid Transit)
OR get squashed in a bus Side By Side (SBS)(Singapore Bus System) or So Badly Shaken.

Lastly, under all these pressures, there are not many places we can relax,
Not even the good old place we used to go because it has become
So Expensive and Nothing To See Actually (SENTOSA)!!! (Sentosa is an island resort
of Singapore).
Spotted by Freddy Attenborough

Christie ten Haaft

"Hello! Good morning, can I speak to Miss Kam Choo Choo?" a lady with a Caucasian accent greeted me.


"This is DHL office and we are going to deliver a special parcel to you at 1.00p.m.
You must personally receive this parcel from Canada".

I was going to ask whether anyone in the home could just sign on my behalf but decided to wait. However I thought the voice sounded familiar but could not put a finger to it.

At 1.00p.m. sharp my doorbell rang and there was my Canadian classmate, Christie ten Haaft! So she was the "parcel" from DHL! I cried tears of joy for it had been almost 12 years since I last saw Christie when she visited me. Somehow we lost contact and I had been thinking a lot about her.... wondering where to find her.
Christie was clever.... she managed to contact one of my friends and got my number from her. For the past 12 years, I had moved some 5 times but my best friend, Lian, had been staying in the same old flat with the same old telephone number.

I will never forget Christie's kindness and friendship. We first met at our French Immersion program and she was sitting next to me in the train. At first, Christie thought I was a boring Chinese student who had been unfortunately chosen by Professor Monod to participate in the one month French Immersion program at Quebec. During the three days journey I literally "hibernated" in the train as I was utterly exhausted. After I had my rest, the group was relieved to find me chatty and lively again!

During one summer, I had to go to England for dental treatment, as dental treatment was very costly in Canada. When I came back, I was horrified to find that there was a postal strike in Canada, and I could not receive letters from home. It was stressful because I had to renew my student's visa and all I had in the bank was only C$120/-, way below the minimum sum of C$3,000/- that would be required by the Immigration Authorities for renewal of visa. My scholarship funds and remittances from my sister could not be received via the post. I tried to borrow the C$3,000/- from a Malaysian family friend, but they were reluctant to help. Noticing that I looked somewhat sad, Christie asked me if something was troubling me. When I told her my problem, she immediately said, "Choo, let me help you." I had not asked Christie because she was also a student like me. Two days later I was relieved when a Malaysian friend brought me C$2,000/- in cash. My sister was worried about the postal strike and when my friend was coming back from her vacation, she asked her to bring the cash to me.

Christie and I are like two peas in a pod. We could read each other's mind .....and yes, we argued and quarreled sometimes, but these differences and misunderstanding only enhanced the strength of our friendship. Christie became very interested in other cultures, and volunteered to teach in China and Africa after she graduated.

True friends are precious and difficult to find. My late papa had always reminded us to have a heart of gratitude to God and people. We must never take things for granted, but to constantly remember people for their kindness and friendship. I thank God for bringing Christie into my life. Christie invited me to spend one Christmas with her lovely family in Golden, British Columbia. She had made my student days in Canada more rich, meaningful and memorable.

Gan Chau