Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Yours Truly, Uniquely Singapore!

Gosh! So many aspire to be property agents. Doubtless because of the carrots of huge commissions dangling in front of many a hopeful rookie.

Perhaps it is the way, our government has pampered us so much so that people here are really spoilt. They want everything to be guaranteed; to have all the cards laid out on the table shouting with "sure to succeed' sure to make $$!" Have people forgotten that in everything there is always that element of risk? No one will guarantee whether danger will lurk round the corner in the form of terrorism, etc. No fortune teller, no matter how reputable he is, can predict what will happen the following day! Only God Himself knows what plans He has for us. One thing is for sure though. He has given us brains, gut feelings, knowledge and wisdom. Yet, I have some buyers who will tell me that they must pray about the purchase first before they commit. However, sad to say, in many instances, by the time they finish their prayers, the properties have been sold! Some even express frustration with us poor agents, for not waiting for them.!! Hence I have no choice but to remind them that if God wants them to have the property, in the same token, He would have protected the property from being sold.

I once called a potential buyer and her assistant answered the phone.

"May I know your name?" I asked.

"Why? Why you want to know my name?"

"Isn't it polite for me to ask for your name? This is the second time I have spoken to you, and I still do not know your name. Should I address you as "Ay"?
You have a lovely name."

"Madam Tan", came the reluctant voice. "Why the property so good, you don't buy yourself? Why owner want to sell? So good, why don't keep?"

Buyers should see it as a golden opportunity to buy a rarely available unit instead of being so paranoid! I replied Madam Tan that if we agents were to buy up all the good properties, what would there be left for clients to buy?

Judging from the English spoken by Madam Tan, it is possible that she does not have very high education. However, I have also come across many executives of big investment companies who speak along the same lines! Singapore may have produced many students with almost perfect scores in their "O" and "A" levels, but sadly, creativity, entrepreneurship, and risk taking are seldom demonstrated when these students eventually run the helm of their companies. They still want to remain cocooned in their comfort zone. Probably this is why the Government has been trying so hard of late to help instil the spirit of enterprise in her people.

A friend of mine specialised in selling businesses, but later gave up his job. He found it almost impossible to be facing the fear, undecisiveness and ignorance of potential clients. It was indeed exasperating for him to deal with the 4 big "K" in Singapore - Kiasuism (fear of losing out), Kiasism (fear of dying), Kiatiaism (fear of pain) and Kiaboism (fear of the wife.)

At least selling properties is slightly easier mainly because everyone needs a roof over his head. If not, I too would have to resign from my work as a property
agent :( At least I know dealing with clients trains me to be very patient. Above all, it gives me plenty to observe, analyse and to write about in my blog!

Gan Chau

My beloved brother Kee Seng


2nd brother Kee Seng with Amu at St. Paul's Church, Penang


My beloved brother with his lovely wife, Saw Kim

I have been blessed with a wonderful brother who resembles so much of my beloved papa.
Needless to say, he is the apple of my eyes, because looking at him reminds me so much of papa.

2nd brother was educated in Chinese, yet he took upon himself to study and master the English Language on his own. Now, after a hard day's work, you can see him pouring over his various English, Malay and Japanese dictionaries as he learns new words. I can still remember the tiny palm size dictionary he bought for me which was my pride as I brought it to school. I showed off the cute dictionary to my classmates. How they envied me.

Brother is very musical. My papa taught him how to play the clarinet, and three months later, he played on the radio and won first prize. He can also play the piano and cello. He is very generous and often loves to give treats. I guess brother is always happier to give than to receive.

Brother enjoys cooking. I remember once he enrolled for cooking classes in Chinese cuisine. Before I flew off to Canada for my tertiary, brother threw a farewell dinner party. He personally cooked at the kitchen almost the whole day long and whipped up fanciful dishes like those served in Chinese restaurants.

Whenever I have problems I can confide in him. Brother keeps a concerned lookout, but he is never too nosy or imposing. He believes in giving everyone freedom to think and to explore.

Everyone who knows him loves and respects him. I am proud of my brother and pray that God will bless him with a good and long life.
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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Who indeed is the real idiot?

I was quite excited when my colleague told me he was going to show his client a list of properties including my corner shop unit with three apartments above.

Later when I asked him about his client's response, he blurted out, "My client is interested in the $18M building marketed by one agent. The stupid idiot refused to cobroke with me."

I raised my eyebrows. Even while I was exasperated, I was amused. Who is the real idiot in this case? To digress a little, it is redundant to use the word "stupid" for an idiot is already a stupid person. I asked my colleague why he would bring his client to view the property when he already knew about the agent's refusal to share his commission. We know that most agents would not want to cobroke for properties that are saleable.

I advised my colleague to encourage his client to put his eggs in different baskets instead of sinking all of $20M on one building. Unlike shares, it is more difficult to liquidate a property, but it would be easier if an owner has different smaller properties so that in times of need, he can just sell off one unit and keep the others. It is vital that as agents, we give our clients good advice for we are dealing with the bulk of their hard earned money.

In our line of work which is physically, mentally and emotionally taxing, it is imperative to work not only hard, but smart!

Hence, next time, before we call someone "idiot", let's examine ourselves. However, it is best not to even use the word, for it is really painful and pathetic to be born with physical and mental defects. For want of a better word, say the agent is selfish or shrewd.

Words, and only words I know.....

Gan Chau

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Cheers to More Sales!


My colleagues who are with Lionel Ng's team. In the middle is Dr. Wee with Lionel. On the extreme left is Dr. Wee's right hand man, Mr. Chris Koh.

I joined Dennis Wee Group on 21st March of last year. I was still teaching part time then. I also spent quite a lot of time on toastmasters' activities. Hence it was a pleasant surprise when I was given a trophy by Dr. Dennis Wee for being the top 47th agent for the year of 2006.

This year, I have stopped all my part time teaching. I would like to concentrate more on my real estate work. I hope, with God's blessings and hard work, I will be among the top ten producers in our company for the year of 2007. I must manage my time well, for I will also be taking up the post of Area Governor for Division U3. This means looking after a few toastmasters' clubs in Division U3.

Wishing everyone in my company the best for 2007.

Cheers to more sales!

Gan Chau
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Dennis Wee Group Business Conference


Our coaches under the strong leadership of Dr. Dennis Wee

Our efficient administrative staff


With Nanz Chong-Komo and my group director, Aveline Tan

The trophies for the top 100 producers and leaders

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Dennis Wee Group Toastmasters' Club


Table topics on the word "spring". The red roses signify the blooming of flowers in
spring. eg. topics "What is the significance of spring? Do you believe in a spring-autumn romance? Have you ever tried to spring a surprise on anyone? etc.


Our delightful and enthusiastic members and guests at our meeting

Ever so often, we try to have a theme for every meeting. We have Deeparaya theme for the celebration of Deepavali and Hari Raya. Our best dressed lady in kebaya was Vanessa Yong who won a prize. We also had Christmas theme where the dominant colours for clothes would be gold, red and green. During Chinese New Year, the colour would be the auspicious red. For our last meeting, the theme was on "spring". Dominant colour was green which signifies growth, freshness, new life and new hope!

Our treasurer, Alice Olsen, was splendidly dressed in green from head to toe.! She even had green striped earrings and shoes to match.

During the break, we had some light refreshments where everyone tried my homecooked seafood fried rice and ang koo kueh.

As ours is an inhouse group, only our agents could join us in our club. For my local readers, you can register as a member in any of the 150 toastmasters' clubs in Singapore. I understand there are a few thousand toastmasters' clubs throughout the world.

Come and join us in this journey of fun and learning!

Gan Chau
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Dennis Wee Group Shanghai Cabaret


Taken with Mary, our company's natural comedienne and the famous Abigail Chay, TV comedienne

Immediately after the International Speech and Table Topics contest, I proceeded to my company's Dinner and Dance at the Grand Central Copthorne Hotel. I also invited three guests, namely Dickson, my cobroking agent from another agency and Adrien, a felllow toastmaster as well as Abigail.

Abigial was very sweet for she asked if we would like her to do some entertainment. I told her that it was time for her to sit back and relax and just enjoy the event. She has done so much for us, and my invitation to her is to just appreciate her kindness and helpfulness.

Wow, most of our staff were so glamorously attired. Some even went to hire these outfits. There were many games and interesting events such as a magic show and lucky draws with generous prizes were given away. Some of the "Cinderellas" had to rush home before the clock struck 12. Some of us danced till 1a.m.

I recalled that it was exactly a year when Aveline Tan, then my co-broking agent for a rental apartment, had invited me to join her at Dennis Wee Group. I am grateful that I did. Hence at every Dinner and Dance, it will be a sweet memory and anniversary celebration for me at Dennis Wee Group.

What a great evening of fun and laughter.
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Div. U1 and U3 International Speech and Table Topics Contest



What an exciting day! I was so engrossed in my speech, "Life Begins at 50!" that I almost forgot to look at the light device. When I realised, the light was already at amber I panicked. Trying to round off my speech without making the conclusion appear too abrupt was quite an uphill task and by the time I finished I had passed the deadline by 10 seconds!

Then came the table topics. The question, "He who has no courage to take risks will not achieve great things in life!" What a mouthful! Sometimes when one is on stage, one's mind seems to be easily intimidated by long sentences like this! Luckily for me, I managed to summarise what the whole sentence is essentially about, ie. No gain, no pain! and began to speak along this line.

Fortunately for me, though I disqualified myself in the international speech because of overtime, I managed to clinch the champion award for table topics. On hind sight, it was fortunate that I heeded my vice president for education, Vanessa Yong's advice to try my skill at the table topics contest. I had originally only wanted to focus on the international speech because I had very little chance to be a table topic speaker all these eight months as most of the time I was either a prepared speech participant or evaluator. I must ensure I give myself sufficient practice on the various table topics.

The contest at Divisional level will be even more tough and challenging. There is still so much more to learn. What a great learning experience at toastmasters' clubs!

Gan Chau
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The Indispesable Computer





Life as an agent is now made so much easier with computers, especially for those agents with overseas clients or clients who are even too busy to view the properties they are interested in.

With the use of my sharp digital camera I am able to caputure the pictures of properties in my camera and email them to clients. The above are examples of some of the pictures that I have taken.

Gan Chau
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Saturday, March 24, 2007

An Exciting and Fun-Filled Day!

March is the busiest and most challenging month for me. It is also one of the most fruitful as my sales have been the best this month. In February, I was the No. 2 top producer. I think that I will be in one of the top 3 positions again this month.

March is also the time for toastmasters' international speech and table topics contest. Since I won the champion title in my club, I am representing my club today at the International Speech and Table Topics contest at Whampoa Community Club this afternoon. I will be competing with eleven other speakers from the Div. 1 and 3 clubs.

The title of my speech is "Life Begins at 50". Some of you may have read this article in my earlier blog. I have revised it. I will try my best. After the contest, we have our Dennis Wee Group annual Dinner and Dance. I would have to dance all night till 2 a.m.! What an exciting and fun filled day!



Some years ago, I taught in Anglo Chinese School Independent. One day while I was marking my students' creative writing, I was amused when I read an article on "My English Teacher". The student wrote, "Although my English teacher is old, she looks quite young and attractive!" Puzzled, I asked, "Kong Long, how old do you think I am?" "50" came the reply. Before I could gather my shock, somebody blurted out, "Why are you so stupid lah. How can our teacher be so old? She is only 28!" I told both boys that I was 38. Another hand shot up, "Teacher, I thought ladies don't like to reveal their age. Last night I asked grandma how old she was and she scoleed me". I explained to the boys that I enjoyed growing older because it means I could see Jesus faster! Kong Long explained that his mom was 45 years of age but did not have so many experiences as I do; hence he deduced that I must be be older than his mom. I had just taught my secondary 2 students how to use the words "induce and deduce". Two weeks later, Kong Long came to me and said, "I've brought you trouble, madam. Last night my mum was setting the dinner table and gave out a loud sigh, "I'm getting old". To comfort her, I said, "Don't worry mum, you can see Jesus faster!"

Today, ladies and gentlemen, I'm yours truly 53 years 3 months and 12 days old. Last January, we read that a medical practioner, Dr. Chiang, was given a new job at the age of 68. The government had asked him to set up a centre for senior citizens especially for those age 50 and above. My gosh, at 53, I fall under the category of people that Dr. Chiang is interested in. So many things had happened of late, that I almost forget I am more than half a century years old. Why! I only started learning the computer at the age of 50 and two years later, started my own blog and now have more than 400 articles with a growing readership in Singapore and overseas. My gosh! Life begins at 50!

At 52, I joined our company's Dennis Wee Group Toastmasters' Club. Enthralled by the program and motivated by our vice president for education, Vanessa Yong, I was encouraged to complete 25 prepared speeches in 5 months. Whenever people asked me why I had to rush, I would reply, "If I had more youth and more time, my procrastination would not be a crime! I could not believe that I could even win the champion award for Humorous speech just 3 months after joining the club. This is indeed an achievement considering that my first public speaking attempt in secondary schoold had ended in disaster as I had stage fright and became tongue tied.

All these 5 decades of my life, I had never allowed people or circumstances to discourage me. Due to constant problems with my throat and voice, I decided to quit the job I love the most - teaching. My colleagues were very worried but I told them God would not let me go hungry. I tried my hands at real estate. During the downturn of the property market, I bought over my client's Italian restaurant since I enjoyed cooking and eating. After running Rialto for 8 years I am now back again in real estate. I am grateful to Aveline Tan for bringing me into Dennis Wee Group for this is a fun company to be in. We also have an interesting, creative and inspirational boss in Dr. Wee. Interestingly I also realised that toastmasters activities had actually helped me to become a better agent, for they sharpen my sensitivity, quicken my wit and enhance my sense of humour. I remember a potential buyer angrily crying out on the phone, "What? Your client is crazy! How can the price be so high!" And he ended his sentence with a four letter word! Ordinarily I would blast back at such blatant display of rudeness and crudeness, but toastmasters' training has helped me to become more mellow. I replied, "Sir, if you don't come and view the property, how do you know, the floor could be gold plated!?" He laughed. He came, he saw and he bought.

All these 53 years I have travelled to 37 countries. Most of these were by package tours or mission trips organised by churches. I had often admired those backpack travellers who roam around the world on a shoe string budget. I never dream that shortly after my 53rd birthday, I would do just that. My nephew in Taiwan emailed me to visit him at a later date, but since I had bought my tickets, I would travel on my own. I looked into the internet and found the Happy Family Hostel. On 22nd Dec. I flew off to Taipei, not knowing if Happy Family Hostel really existed. Thank God it did. The owner of the hostel, John also introduced me to his girlfriend, Athena who turned out to be a toastmaster and area governor in Taipei. What freedom to be able to plan my own travel itinerary! The hostel also provides free internet. I was typing on the computer when my table and chair shook. Momentarily I thought the hostel could be haunted. It was only the following morning that I realised a severe earthquake had shaken Pingtung at southern Taiwan. My first experience of an earthquake tremor.! Life begins at 50!

Our government is often concerned about retraining as the population starts to grey. Some people even think that when we become older we become less valuable. We must always think of older people as good fine wine which improves with aging. The Ministry of Education still calls me up to do relief teaching in the schools and I have often been approached to provide tuition for the "O" level students. A tour company asked me for help at the last minute because their tour guide had taken ill. I was to lead a group to Europe since I had travelled extensively and can speak French fairly well. Sometimes my friend who runs the Italian restaurant would ask me for help in the kitchen especially when he has functions. It is fun and interesting to be able to do different things . Life begins at 50!

Since time immemorial, I have never been afraid to reveal my age. With maturity comes greater understanding and acceptance of life as it unfolds. Yesterday is over; gone is the anger, past hurts and regrets. Today is a brand new day, While I have life, let me live life to the fullest.

Ladies and gentleman. For those of you who are 50 and above, please do not think your life is over the hill. Do not be afraid to venture out and try new things, for it is still not too late to discover your hidden potential. Remember Colonel Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken in his twilight years. I have just started to learn to play the violin and this December I am going to northern China to visit the panda bears and to downhill ski on Xiling Mountains. Always remember, "Life begins at 50!"

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wrong use of the word "Impact"

During many of the meetings at various Toastmasters' Clubs in Singapore, I often heard speakers using the word "impactful". There is no word of "impactful" in the English dictionary. It should be "full of impact". Instead of saying, "His life was impactful" say "His life was full of impact" or "His life made a strong impact on those who knew him".

It is difficult to comprehend why the person who writes is a writer; the person who teaches is a teacher but the person who cooks is not a cooker! Or why do we have the words "counsellor with counsellee"; "employer with employee" but not "professor with professee"! Or we have the words "thought with thoughtful" but not "impact with impactful" ! Such is the uniqueness and could I humbly add, idiosyncracy of the English Language! Nevertheless, it is this idiosyncracy that makes the mastery of the language so challenging! Hence, we could not really blame Professor Higgins in the movie "My Fair Lady" for pulling his hairs when he asked, "Oh! Why can' the English teach their children to speak" and to warn us about murdering the English tongue!

One of the things I love about being a toastmaster is that I am constantly learning. Yes, though I may have a B.A. in English and a Dip. Ed. in English Literature, there is still so much to learn for English is such a rich and beautiful language. Just take the simple word of "eye". Used differently, the meaning has so many connotations. For eg.

1. Being the youngest son, John is the apple of his parents' eyes.
2. My uncle has an eye for details. He is a good auditor!
3. An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth!
4. What an eye-catching lady!
5. At the party, the amorous Mr. Tan tried to make eyes
with the most beautiful lady - Angelina Wong!

I really hope more of my readers and friends will take the opportunity to join a toastmaster's club and enjoy the same journey of learning! As the Chinese like to say, "Huo dao lao; hsueh dao lao". We learn as we grow old. Constant learning - an antidote for Alzheimer's disease.!

Gan Chau

Friday, March 16, 2007

My Beloved Xiao Bai


I was spring cleaning the apartment, and came across this photo. I smiled as I thought of how much my beloved chow chow, Xiao Bai hated to be photographed. The above is one of those rare pictures taken by my niece, Incy, when she was visiting me from Melbourne. Of course, after the picture was taken, my lethargic pet woke up from his sleep and walked away. He just could not stand the camera! Once I took him to the photo studio and it took the photogragher 30 minutes just to take one shot. Xiao Bai kept moving and turning his back to the camera! Hence when the TV crew were filming "5 Missing Hostesses" in my apartment, they wanted my cute chow chow in the movie, but I told them they might have to spend a lot of time coaxing him.!

At Rialto, whenever I prepared a huge mound of pizza dough, and before waiting for the yeast to rise, I would sculpture the above picture. I would put a piece of cut black olive as Xiao Bai's nose and my staff would laugh seeing the resemblance. My beloved staff, Amudah, would smile and say that I love my dog so much, even thinking of him when at work.

Once I showed the above photo to my client, Mrs. Lim, who is in her late seventies. She thought that Xiaobai's ears were his eyes!! Later she laughed when she realised her mistake.

It has been almost two years since my Xiao Bai passed away, and I miss him and my other two dogs, Kamlette and Kambobo. I am glad to be able to find Xiaobai's double in Spike, pictured in my earlier blog. Whenever I visit Aveline, my colleague, I will definitely pop over to see Spike.

Although dogs do not go to Heaven as animals do not have souls, they already make earth like heaven, especially for those who love dogs. At least I know I do, for my life is made so much more beautiful, colorful and meaningful because of my dogs. I am not a theologian, but I would like to think that God must love dogs very much too for a d-o-g is G-O-D spelt backwards!

Gan Chau

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pay $$$ to sleep?


Gosh! What an article! I came across this article "This bed costs more than a new car", in the New Paper on 10th March 2007. The tag that promises you great, enduring sleep? S$75,000/-!! The advertisers and manufacturers are implying that the people who cannot afford such a bed are not sleeping well enough! What blatant advertising. !!

We all know that money can buy us books, but not education; money can buy us a house but not a home and definitely money can buy us a bed but not sleep even if our bed costs $75,000/-. If one has peace and contentment, one can sleep just as soundly on a $10/- mattress! I have been sleeping on my sealy posture bed for the past 19 years, and surprisingly it is still in reasonable wear and tear. At that time, I paid $790/- for it. Now that I am moving to my new little apartment, I thought of changing a bed and chanced to see one on display at Park Mall. I was attracted because this bed looked like a hospital bed where the head rest could be raised. I was shocked when the sales staff told me it cost $25,000! Hence, you can imagine my greater shock when I read the above article. The bed costs 3 times more!

I would never be able to bring myself to buy such an expensive bed. Somehow it does not seem right to bask in so much luxury. It will be hard to convince me that just because the bed is made of luxury materials, such as memory foam, silk, cashmere, lamb's wool and hand-tufted horse hair, I would have a beautiful and incredible sleep every night. I would not be able to sleep from thinking how while I am indulging myself with such finery, so many millions are out there dying of hunger and cold.

As a property agent I always tell people I am dealing with clients' sweat and blood money. It is such a heavy responsibility for clients put all their life savings into the property they live in or invest in. It is imperative that I exercise caution, integrity and responsibility when marketing or recomending the properties entrusted to me. I always tell people I need a good night sleep and I will not be able to sleep if I am guilt-ridden. Thank God that He has blessed me with this ability to sleep anywhere and everywhere... while having my hair done, in the bus, MRT and plane, at a boring concert, or sleeping on the mud floors up in the mountains at Nanglay Village in Nepal. A peaceful sleep is certainly more dependent on a clear conscience, simplicity in lifestyle, contentment and fulfilment.

Gan Chau
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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Music For Life

I had emailed my article, "Language for Life" to my good friend, Sylvia, who teaches music in one of the top schools in Singapore. She replied, "Yes, Music for Life. I have a good friend who teaches Music very inspiringly and throws in all the Christian values in his teaching. When asked what he teaches, he says "I don't teach music but the Way of Life".

Sylvia continued, " So I better start Teaching Music for Life. ..Just like English Language it could be music for stress, relaxation, cure, creativity, tolerance, peace, enjoyment and even for comfort.....and guess what I play best at? At wake services! And I enjoy playing at funerals and wake services. Somehow death seems so poignant and real.... and the intensity of my playing the violin also becomes so real".

I remember a friend's daughter who was kind of coerced to play the piano. She only practised her exam pieces and nothing else!!! If one plays only for exams, in no time, the joy and excitement in music will start to wane!!

When I began to understand harmony in music and learn how to improvise, my interest in playing the piano became more enhanced. It was fun trying to play a song in different ways! My playing became more colorful as I was given free rein to my imagination and creativity. Playing by ear is so interesting and exciting!

I remember my little niece Kam Ning was so excited after her father brought her to one of his orchestral rehearsals at the People's Association. She had just started to learn the violin at 9 years old. Her father was stunned when he heard her trying to play a Vivaldi's piece by ear! Hence, the discovery of her talent!

Yes, music for life! Somehow my house cleaning becomes less of a chore, when I play my favourite CD at the same time! My cooking becomes more enjoyable as I listen to my favourite songs by the late Theresa Teng. I can kill two birds with one stone as I type on the computer and listen to strains from classical music. I enjoy it most when I drive and listen to music at the same time.

Each time I listen to music, I am grateful to God for restoring my hearing when He healed me of stone deafness 4 decades ago!! People say that it is better to be deaf than blind but I would say the world will be less colorful for me even if I could see but not hear! As Papa had always said, "Music has power!"

Gan Chau

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Great Ending of Lunar New Year Celebration!


Is that a bear? A lion? Gosh! It's a chow chow!


Spike with his lion's fur style! Costs $70 to style him, and only $10 to style me!


Spike - Xiaobai's double


The friendly residents of Verde Neighbourhood

I had spent 9 days of the Lunar New Year in Penang. This was one of the rare times I went back to Penang for reunion. I tried to avoid going back at this time because bus and plane fares cost more and there is also usually a huge traffic jam at the Causeway.

Hence, I missed quite a lot of interesting functions held at our office as well as by friends. I had been looking fowarding to visiting Dr. Dennis Wee's lovely home and sampling his famous "Hokkien Mee".

My manager, Aveline Tan, invited me to her Verde Neighbourhood pot-luck celebration. There were so many varieties of dishes. The neighbours are very warm and friendly, reminding us of the"kampong" (village) spirit of olden days. The organisers had even put up a stage and invited two popular artistes to sing for us. There was also a lion dance troupe and games on the stage. Four groups were asked to form any character using slices of Mandarin oranges. Our group formed the word, "fu" (luck) and we wished everyone a blessed new year.

I was thrilled when I discovered Aveline's neighbour has a creamy white chow chow which has the spitting image of my beloved Xiao Bai. I was almost close to tears when I patted the neighbour's chow chow, Spike, pictured above. The owner has given him a lion cut and pays the groomer $70 per cut. I stayed over at Aveline's lovely home as it was too late for me to get back. However, deep in my heart, I wanted to see Spike again the following morning.

I thought I was going to take off from work and have a relaxing Chap Goh Meh (15th day of Lunar New Year.) I wanted to go and buy a second hand phone as my Nokia could not function. At the shop I found out that I could repair it and get the phone back in 30 minutes' time. As soon as my phone was repaired a buyer called and wanted to view my client's propety. What perfect timing! Later I told my client I would need to collect the plan of the building for the buyer. He spontaneously invited me to join him and and his family for dinner at his lovely home.

What a lovely ending to this year's lunar New Year celebration!

Gan Chau
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Language for Life (1)

Just after graduating from the Institute of Education, we were asked to opt for the schools we would prefer to teach in. At that time, I was a hostelite at the YWCA Hostel, and hence opted for a school which was within walking distance. I was asked to teach at River Valley High School at River Valley Road.

On the first day of meeting the principal, Madam Leong, she told me that she had asked the Ministry to send her the best English teacher to help boost the standard of English in her school. I suddenly thought that the Ministry must have made a mistake for many of my classmates were more outstanding than me.

I remember that night I had to kneel and ask God to help me to help my students!! "How do I sell my subjects to students who are very strong in Chinese but weak in English? How do I make my lessons interesting and motivating?"

It was also frightening to have seven classes with 35 students in each class. "How am I to know them all? How can I help them?" These were thoughts running through my mind. I was inspired by Catherine Lim's "Little Ironies of Singapore". The short story, "The Teacher" caught my attention. It was imperative for me to understand the students' needs and to help them not only to improve in their language but to also improve their perspectives and attitude towards life.

Hence my idea of "Language for Life" and not "Language just to pass the O levels".
The students were asked to write a minimum of one article a week. However they could also write more if they could on any topic that stirred their hearts and minds. I promised to reply with helpful comments, and if they should write in poetry form, I would also reply in poems. I understand that writing is not easy and often shared my haiku with them :-

The Pain of Writing
Like a mother in labour,
Proud delivery!

Once a witty student wrote in his journal, "Sorry, Ms. Kam, I did not deliver a baby today. Had a miscarriage last night!" and another student wrote, "An invisible piece of writing is written here" and I replied "Invisible 8 stars are given for your wittiness!" 8 stars were the maximum I gave for excellent articles.

One day I was quite alarmed by a student's title, "I hate my brother!" He continued to rant about his anger with his mother for always scolding him and blaming him when things went wrong. How he wished the little brother was never born; how he wished he could tear him into pieces and even cooked him in curry!" After pouring out his anger into four pages of writing, he suddenly wrote, "Mm... maybe I'm to be blamed. I'm not a good older brother myself. I did not show good examples. I did not earn his respect. (Ms. Kam said respect must be earned and not entitled to just because one is older)." His final sentence was quite touching, "Yes, I think I love my little brother after all". I gave him the maximum 8 stars. Language for life!
Language for reflection! Language for creativity!

As a man thinks so will he be! Hence, it is somewhat disturbing to me to read about students feeling embarrassed to get "just" 4As in the top Junior Colleges. Have these youngsters become such great perfectionists that they do not allow room for some little setbacks. They must remember that the it is human beings that are sitting for exams and not mechanical robots. As such there are elements like health, emotional and spiritual state of being and hence room should be allowed for less than perfect performance. We could not always expect everyone to be in top form all the time. Even as one of the top agents, I cannot always expect to clinch every deal. Sometimes I recognise I have to lose out to the faster competitive agent! If I do lose, I am not going to pull my hairs in frustration. I will try to be better the next time and learn from my errors. I will count my blessings and name them one by one.

I must thank papa for his wisdom. He had instilled in me the love for language and reading not by pressuring me but by making me realise how interesting life could be when one learns by reading. Papa himself was a great story teller and his stories were not only gripping but were also very educational. His Chinese language classes were always interesting as he encouraged students to think and to reflect. I had taken papa as my role model.

I was very happy one day when a student said to me, "Madam, we all did well in our Literature and English exams, yet we did not feel as if we had to slog at it." Learning becomes a pleasure when one enjoys it, and is not obsessed with results!

It was very fulfilling when I met my ex-student, Sharon, while I was having dinner at a cafe one evening. I almost could not recognise her as she had bloomed into a beautiful young lady. Sharon shared with me how her father became a bankrupt and the family struggled. I was touched when she told me that she remembered my lessons and was determined not to let circumstances deter her from her dreams. She worked and studied simultaneously and carved a successful career in Human Resources. "I told myself that happiness must come from within me and not from circumstances and often I poured my thoughts into writing just as you had taught us."

Writing for mental health. Writing for reflection! Language for problem solving! Language for life!

Gan Chau

Monday, March 05, 2007




My cousin Nancy was quite pathetic during her younger days. Single handedly she brought up her two children, as her husband, an incorrigible gambler, did not provide for her and family. Thank God for blessing her with two lovely children, who are not only clever and resourceful, but are also very filial and appreciative of their mother's sweat and tears. Nancy had been working as a domestic worker and cleaner all these years.

June, the older boy is now a teacher, and his younger sister, Girlie, is now a manager of a shipping company. She is so excellent and responsible that her boss has absolute faith and confidence in her to steer the helm of the company in Penang. I am extremely proud of Girlie for her achievements and her beautiful character. What is so unusual about Girlie?

Girlie was born blind in one eye. Yet it did not deter her from excelling in her studies. To help ease her mother's burden, she already started giving tuition when she was in secondary school, and even when she was sitting for her Form Five exam (equivalent to our O levels) she still continued giving tuition. After secondary school, Girlie started working as an accounts clerk and worked her way up.

One day, to her mother's surprise, she came back with a motor bike which she had just bought, and cheerily beckoned her mom to be her pillion rider!! Girlie had secretly been taking lessons and passed her exam! The plucky girl next learnt to drive a car, and today, she drives her own car and even bought a car for her mom to drive!

Girlie loves her nieces and helps in the family whenever she has time by taking her nieces out for treats and driving them for lessons. She is an avid traveller and has brought her mother to various countries for vacation with her. She is always very cheerful and never allows circumstances to discourage her. I am impressed with her time management, as apart from her successful career, she is also very involved in church missions, etc. Girlie is a survivor!

Girlie... keep it up. Aunty Choo is proud of you! It is my prayer that God will bless you with a good partner who will appreciate your inner beauty and great character! Somehow, you remind me of Ta Chang Ching, the lead character in Jewel in the Palace.

Gan Chau
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Saturday, March 03, 2007

What is Life Without Computers?

Gosh! I recently only realised how dependent I am on computers when I went back to Penang for my Lunar New Year vacation! My second brother has yet to learn the computer even though there is one in his apartment. My niece, Tyng, had given her computer to her father since she is now residing in the States. However, there is no internet connection yet. Tyng was also back for the vacation and installed a camera for her father. I guess the desire to see his two daughters and nieces on the computer screen will definitely motivate my brother to learn how to use the computer soon. I told my brother he would love the computer like I do, since we both enjoy reading and finding out information.

I tried to write out my speech for the international contest with a pen. After writing a few lines, I was tired. Ironically, in the past, I enjoyed writing with a pen and then later typed out the article with a typewriter. Now I have become more prolific because of the computer! Often, people are surprised I could write an article almost everyday. It takes me an average of about 15 to 20 minutes to write an article. There are so many fun things we can do with a computer.... loading photos, emailing, writing our essays, surfing the net, etc.

Yesterday, I was talking to a colleague, Sharlyn, and she told me she is not computer literate. I encouraged the younger lady to learn by telling her that I overcame my phobia, and started learning the computer at half a century years old, and I am now thoroughly enjoying it! If Choo can do it, so can anyone!!

Gan Chau

Friday, March 02, 2007

Why Are Singaporeans So Easily Uptight?

I had called a property agent and realised I had dialed the wrong number and hence redialed. A call came in and I apologised to the lady for the wrong number and hung up.

The phone rang again and recoginising the same voice I said, "Sorry, I had called the wrong number." To my shock, the voice screamed, "Why you hang up the phone so fast huh? Why so rude?" I was so stunned I did not know what to say, and not wanting to get into any argument or quarrel, I hung up the phone. The phone kept ringing and ringing!! I could imagine the lady fuming over the other end. Fuming over what? I had already apologised politely to her. What more did she expect me to say or do? Papa always advised us not to waste time with "Xiao ren" (little people).

Yes, little people with small hearts and minds. It is sad to note that as our country gets bigger in terms of economical growth, people are getting smaller in hearts and minds. Is it not surprising that we are perceived as one of the unhappiest people on earth? Singaporeans are known to be often murmuring, complaining and whining. We sometimes act like spoilt little brats! We blame others for mistakes. We scream when we think others have taken advantage of us. We whine when we don't get what we want.

Just the other day, I took the lift at the MRT station and was shocked at the profanities spewing out of the mouths of two ladies who were obviously colleagues. They were cursing their bosses, oblivious to being heard by other commuters! Though they were dressed immaculately, I suddenly thought that the poorly and shabbily dressed ladies I met in Nepal seemed to be more noble and elegant than them.

Look at our foreign workers.... especially those in the construction line. They laboured under the sun, sending home their hard earned money to their families in India, Thailand, China, Bangladesh, etc. Yet, look at their joy and smiles as their pick-up vehicles speed along our busy roads! Or our foreign maids who smile and seem so joyful during their off days as they congregate around Orchard Road, thankful for their hard-earned break.

Singaporeans are known to be avid travellers! Each time I return from visits to other countries, I come back more appreciative of the wonderful things we are enjoying here.

Come on, people. Let us be thankful and count our blessings and name them one by one
Let us be gracious when others make mistakes and be forgiving when others hurt us, bearing in mind that we too may unintentionally hurt others and need forgiveness too. I have often wondered why God has given us such a difficult command of forgiving and even loving our enemies. He is our Creator and knows that when we get angry and become unforgiving, it is not good for our health. Hence, it is easier for us to breathe with ease and fill our minds with peace when we let go our anger even as the sun sets in the west, so that we can welcome each day with open arms and bigger hearts and minds.

Gan Chau