Thursday, December 30, 2010

Working more than you are paid for

For readers of "Think and Grow Rich" by Napolean Hill, I suppose it will be natural for us to also delve into Hill's other books such as the Laws of Success.

One of the most important laws is to work more than you are paid for. It sounds simple enough but it is an extremely difficult law to adhere to. Once you are able to live by the law, success is within your reach.

In any job, there are four factors that affect the salary that the job commands. 1. Number of people who are willing to do the job (e.g. salesman, insurance agents -- there are many who want to be in the sales and insurance line); 2. How much specialised skill the job requires (e.g. a doctor who is a specialist in any field will earn more); 3. How undesirable the job is; and 4. How many people are willing to pay for the service.

Factor 4 is positively correlated to factor 1. Factors 2 and 3 will require one to be really passionate about the job in order to endure the hardwork and unpleasantries that come with the chosen job. All factors will require one to work doubly, triply and much more in order to be better than your competitors.

Besides that love for the job, it will also help if you can use the law of attraction by visualising that you are at the top. Be a child again, to experience the creative power of our mind through visualization. Give yourself hope when all else seems bleak.

To your success,

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bandari - Melody of Nature (3 CDs)

My family bought this set of 3 CDs. The music is beautiful, enchanting and soothing. Perfect to heal that tired, urbanite and at times, disillusioned soul.


The Bandari Orchestra consists of a group of young composers, instrumentalists and sound recording engineers. It was founded in Switzerland in 1990 and is led by Oliver Schwartz.

Deeply influenced by the beauty of nature, they are especially apt in portraying nature through music to produce the BANDARI signature sound that the world has come to love.

“Melody of Nature” comprises 3 of the Bandari Orchestra’s latest albums: “Garden of Dreams” (Bandari’s 10th Anniversary Album and a musical tribute to Suzanne Ciani, Kevin Kern, George Winston & other New Age icons), “Crystal Lake” and “Breezy Valley”.

This attractive package comes with a free booklet containing useful information on the Bandar’s music and its therapeutic effects, as well as a guide to stress management and aromatherapy.

Vol. 1 – Garden of Dreams
1. Turning 
Irish drums - whirling round and round in triplets - eading the melody subtly forward. Beneath the flute, you hear not only rich, silky strings, but also beautiful decoraibe percussions that give this track a magical, dreamly quality.

2. Dreamcatcher 
The piano first appears in this track, followed by tinkling wind chimes in the light breeze, ushering the entry of melodious strings. The piano re-enters just before the track ends, leading this beautiful dramscape to a close.

3. Beyond the Sundial 
Crystal clear sound engineering paints a vivid picture of sunrise. The flute alternates with the oboe on a sentimental melody, intercepted occasionally by strums of the harp. This track and clear and refreshing, like gentle sunshine relected on a lake on a bright day; and pure and simple - like lilies that grace the lakeside.

4. Adagio in Minor 
Thick, solid sounds of the double bass grip your heart from the very beginning. The strings then enter in unison and the air stirs with excitment. This track is decorated with light-hearted punctuations of the piccolo, bells and triangles.

I have tried to google for the music, this is the closest I could find by Yanni. Equally magnificent music! Enjoy.

5. Zarabanda 
The introduction is filled with an air of mystery, as the flute paints a picture of vast widerness. A strike on the drum adds to the rich immensity of the soundscape. The brass carries the main theme, signifying a bountiful life and a carrying on of traditions.

6. 在輝煌的季節中 (In magnificent season)
Nostalgic sounds of strings gives this track a bright and beautiful beginning. The piano, clarinet and flute weave in and out of the melody like butterfiles in spring. Simply delightful.

7. Lauren
8. Give Me Your Hand 
9. The Soong Sister 
10. Ortaffa 
11. Beyond the Invisible 
12. Hymn 
13. The Golden Land 
14. Breakout 

Vol. 2 – Crystal Lake
1. Mystica 
2. Marco Polo 
3. Raindrops on Your Face 
4. Summerwaltz 
5. Black Windmill 
6. Japanese Girl 
7. The wings of Icarus 
This Greek god donned magical wings and took to the sky. What joy it must have been cruising the peaceful heavens!

8. Theme From Missing 
9. Sparkling Raindrops 
10. Blue Love Theme 
11. A Day Without Rain 
12. Aqua Blue 
13. White Moon Over Tibet
14. Love Letter to You 
If you had a chance to come to this beautiful lake, and perchance you decided to stay for a while, or even for a very long tiem... Who would you invite to share this moment with you?

Vol. 3 - Breezy Valley
1. Snow
Snow falls - silently. But too loud for the sleepless Bear. Snow falls on the vast fields, covering the tracks of memory, and it all began, with silent snow... falling... falling.

2. Song of the angels 
3. Indian Summer 
4. Mars and Venus 
5. Dreaming in the moonlight
6. Love of my life 
7. Sunset Valley 
8. Love me tonight 
9. If I love again 
10. Heaven on earth 
11. Green leaves of spring 
12. Good morning sunshine 
13. The way of the wind 
14. For your heart only

Merry Christmas and a Wonderful 2011 ahead

Dear readers,

A BIG THANK YOU for visiting my blog.

As I reviewed my year, I thought about my readers. Yes, that's you. This blog is started a few years back as an avenue for me to share my experiences. At times, I have been less than able to post my thoughts due to other commitments. Those are trying times which I was glad that I pressed on guided by my compass - my dreams.

Being able to continue to post my thoughts is a commitment I have for myself. In a sense, it is a glimpse of how I lead my life - once a goal is made, never falter in the face of challenge. As blog writers, we do not draw a salary. It is done out of the hope that through our sharing, we could help fellow friends out there in one way or another to live their lives better and not to make the same mistake where others have erred.

2010 has been yet another extremely fulfilling one because I know that I am working towards my aim, getting closer each and every single day.

Here's wishing you a beautiful and relaxing holidays!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Women in India

From Freakonomics:

It has been record much in history that for ages women lag behind men. Notice that I use present tense, because it is still true.

If you are a woman born in India, count yourself real unlucky for women are viewed very lightly in the country. India is a country which practises male-worshipping. Having a boy means your twilight years will be taken care off by the boy. On the hand, a girl is viewed as a burden where you have to incur money to raise her and more to marry her in the form of dowry.

The issue is that not only men look down on women in India. Women, themselves feel that it is alright to be beaten up by drunken husband, it is alright to suffer all this injustice that we as outsiders see it.

So it is interesting that some economists attempt to measure the extent of emancipation of women with the outset of well, the goggle-box, television. These economists conducted face-to-face survey with the women in two towns near to each other. In the first town, television has found its way there while not the second town.

They found that in the town where television is a fixture at home, women are likely (in statistic terms, we say statistically significant) to send their girls to school, they are also more likely to exercise some degree of autonomy in some of the day-to-day activities.

However do note that there is a difference between declared preference and actual preference. In the former, we can expect some fibbing as respondents may want to say something which the interviewer wants to hear. For example, if someone were to ask you your household income, you are more likely to quote a lower number.

So the economists went to verify the declared preference - the enrolment of girls in the local schools. They confirmed that there is indeed an increase in the number of girls admitted to the schools.


Lesson I learnt: When we read survey findings do take note that it only reveals the declared preference of the respondents. Wherever possible, look out for data which can help us establish the actual preference.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tips on Public Speaking

Due to a change in work portfolio, I have not been able to find time to do my Toastmasters' project for two months and counting. Many thanks to my fellow club members who have been so understanding and helped out in the club activities.

As I find time to tidy up my messy abode, I found previous Toastmasters' Club programme sheets which I had then frantically scribbling my notes. Each meeting was jam-packed with so much information that I tried to record down what I could take home as much as possible.

Here are the notes for sharing:

- an atmosphere of ...
- an aura of handsomeness
- redundancy, verbosity
- elicit
- logic tells emotion sells
- there is music in language (wishy-washy, topsy-turvy)
- success will not elude you
- ... refreshed my memory
- enchanted/ smitten
- reproach
- pillar of strength/ support
- mould a person's character
- full-house effect
- gratification was like reaching the sumit
- out of comfort zone
- scan around to survey the area
- not a single soul
- heartbeat skipped once whenever a canine barked.
- eyes sparkled
- aim too high is akin to shooting at the moon
- life is a sum of missed opportunities
- a blanket of darkness
- a river that flows
- never show all your cards

- inspiring, educational, entertaining
- blood, sweat, tears

To my club members, I am trying very hard to find time to continue my toastmasters' journey. I believe this is a only a passing phase and as I learn more I will become more proficient and productive. This is just like when I learn to be a better public speaker. See you people real soon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Honestly speaking, I never lie

Below is a very recent article on public speaking.

It strikes a chord with me and I believe also with other fellow toastmasters. Enjoy.

Honestly speaking, I never lie


MY SKILLS at public speaking were evident at an early age.

At my high school, the teacher asked each student to tell the class what they wanted to become when they grew up.

When my turn came, I knew exactly what I wanted to say.

But as I stood in front of my classmates, my mind became my master.

It said: "What if you sound stupid? What would your friends and teacher think?"

I stood scared stiff and silent.

Nevertheless, I learnt three lessons that day.

One, the meaning of the word petrified.

Two, what butterflies in tummy feels like.

Three, never try this again.

Lack of public speaking skills didn't bother me much.

Sometimes, it was surprising to see how people who have little to say can speak loudly for so long.

Most of them prospered well and some of them became my bosses.

I have heard peers commending my bosses by saying "boss, you speak well!"... which was another way of saying that they were good for little else.

Public speaking is for people who do not know how to speak quietly in private; smart people listen, think and act... these self-serving thoughts were always handy.

Fortunately, the mind has the amazing power to provide plenty of reasons to prove that you are right, under all possible circumstances.

But, why is it that most people are afraid of public speaking?

It did intrigue me; but that was nothing to lose sleep over.

Things started to change after my son was born.

To start with, I was no longer the most important man in my wife's life.

It suits me to believe I had that honour before.

The arrival of our daughter 1 1/2 years later changed things even more.

I was not important anymore.

Whoever said "child is the father of man" might have been a father.

Just that it really means children control fathers' destiny.

When our son was four, we trained him for days for a "show-n-tell" session.

After persistent practice through pushy pedantic procedures, he could deliver every line with energy and enthusiasm in his cosy home.

On "show-n-tell" day, daddy and mummy accompanies him with Handycam in tow.

I am convinced that my children will be famous one day.

In the distant future, when the media throngs our home, we should be ready with their childhood videos.

See, I am a practical parent with significant foresight.

Lights ON, camera rolls, my prodigious son walks up on stage.

He freezes up on seeing the audience.

Oops! This was not his cosy home anymore.

He repeats everything vividly and accurately, but it was only in his mind!

What bliss of silence!

What a brutal assault on parental ego!

At that instant, I clearly understood my parents' past predicaments involving me.

Lights OFF, plight ON.

On our drive home, there was lots to express and discuss.

Emotions varied from anger, sadness, frustration, sympathy, contemplation and fault-allocation to the appropriate parental genes.

A series of similar episodes prompted me to be a positive example for my children to look up to.

I took up public speaking and got associated with Toastmasters.

While I learned the ropes, I fumbled and faltered, but persisted.

Public speaking soon became a solemn diversion for engagement and expression.

That also improved my communication with my wife - yes dear, I learnt that eye-contact and listening is also an essential facet of communication.

I felt tempted to volunteer for every opportunity to speak, whether it was to deliver a talk, be an emcee, do stand-up comedy or speech contests.

It was never easy, neither was it as difficult as it once seemed.

As Madame Curie once said: "Nothing in this world is to be feared... only understood."

The cynical among us may add "except for marriage".

Public speaking is not about speaking, it is about communicating.

It is the ability to communicate our thoughts, clearly, concisely and convincingly.

Needless to say, folks who are able to clearly and convincingly communicate their ideas get noticed and listened to.

They progress faster in their careers and life.

Some become bosses.

It does not make them smarter, but it just makes them more self-assured and acceptable.

When I speak in public, I still have butterflies in my tummy.

But the more I speak, the more the butterflies fly in formation.

But when people tell me "boss, you speak well", I scratch my clear head and think... are they making fun of me?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Say Swish

I was re-reading Unlimited Power by Antony Robbins recently. I was at this part on Swish technique. I used it yesterday nite to do away with my bad habit of touching my hair. Dunno if successful, but at least I am more conscious that I am touching my hair. So I guess, that itself is an improvement.


The Swish Technique

The Swish technique is one by which we re-direct our thinking from unwanted thoughts to more fruitful and resourceful thoughts.

This is a valuable technique for managing your own thinking, states, and behaviours. By using the Swish in your own life you develop your ability to maintain resourceful states, manage your responses to stressful situations, and engage in the behaviours you want.

Six Steps to Swish Technique
1. Select a replacement image
First select your Replacement Feeling - ask yourself How do I want to be instead.

Having selected the Replacement Feeling see and hear a detached image of yourself experiencing this feeling. It is quite important that this image is dissociated. Enhance the detail and the quality (submodalities) of this until the image is quite compelling.

2. Find the trigger for the unwanted mood
What is it that you respond to? How you know when to have the unwanted response or reaction?

Ask yourself What occurs just before this negative or un-wanted state begins? This time, you want an associated image of what is going on immediately before you engage in the unwanted activity.

3. Put the replacement in the corner of unwanted image
Imagine a small sized version of your replacement picture in the bottom corner of the unwanted picture.

4. Swish the two images meeting you want to make both images change simultaneously and with increasing speed.

Have the 'negative' image become smaller and shoot off into the distance. At the same time have the 'positive' replacement image become larger and closer until it replaces the negative image completely. Imagine a "swish" sound as you do this - hence the name. That's one Swish sound.

(Do this fairly slowly at first taking, say, 5-10 seconds to do it. Then continue, doing it a little faster each time, until you are swishing almost instantaneously - in less than a second!)

5 Clear your mind

After each Swish round blank your mind, fully! Think of something else or visualise your favourite colour. Breathing easily as you do this since some people tend to hold their breath while concentrating on doing the Swish. It is crucial to the success of the Swish to clear your mind or turn your attention outside before you do each next round.

6 Practice 5-7 times

Repeat steps 3 to 5 up to about seven times until you have difficulty in maintaining the unwanted image.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Outliers - The Story of Success

Outliers - The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell is the latest book that I have read. Tonight, I will like to share with my readers of my key takeaways from the book.

What I like about the book is the way it uses stories to support the points that the author is trying to put forward. We all love stories which add a human dimension to an otherwise dry academic work and make the book a captivating read. The most famous one would the 10,000-hour rule. And me being an involved parent is naturally drawn to his two chapters devoted to "The Trouble with Geniuses".

The 10,000-Hour Rule
The 10,000-hour rule needs little elaboration as there are tonnes of materials written about it in the Internet. It is not surprising as this is the most inspiring piece of information for us to be an outlier.

An outlier does not practise because he is good. He practises to be good. With 10,000-hours being an enormous amount of time, a great deal of perseverance and help are needed for one to stay focused in his goal. I would say it make a lot of sense. It is the same reason that the Toastmasters Club has been so successful helping people to conquer the fear of public speaking. It is the practice of delivering the speech in a supportive and encouraging environment that makes the difference. In the same light, I teach my children that there are no such things as "I cannot" as long as one puts in substantial efforts. It is important to have a goal in life and keep working towards it. It is alright to fail. As every failure carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit. I walk my talk and keep my faith going, or rather my children give me the motivation to do so.

The Trouble with Genius
My heart ached badly when I read Chris Langan's story. A genius in him was squandered away as he so lacked "practical intelligence". The latter includes things like "knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect". It is the knowledge that helps one read the situation and get what you want. This is different from analytical intelligence which is measured by IQ or intelligence quotient. IQ is in our genes. If you are smart, you are born smart. On the other hand, practical intelligence can be learnt.

So we can work on our practical intelligence. And as parents, we can help our children be more socially savvy by teaching them how to interact comfortably with adults. This means talking with them, not to them. The book detailed about children able to make special requests to teachers and doctors to accomodate their desires. I saw it in my children which I did not see it in myself. This the book explained was due to different upbringing. When I was their age, I was quiet and dared not look at adults in their eyes. My mother believed that "whatever would be, would be". That was the thinking of most working-class families then. They were pre-occupied with what and when the next meal would be.

What's Next
With these newly gained knowledge, you can bet that I will be constantly reminding my children and myself whenever a setback hits - we will need to put in more hours. We will continue to improve our practical intelligence.

As for intelligence quotient, there is something known as Neurolinguistic Programming, which could help. Antony Robbins is the guru and he has written a few books. For those who are interested, "Awaken the Giant Within" (if my memory serves me well) is a classic.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Goal Setting - Making Dreams Come True

I am researching on parenting tips on the internet when I chanced upon and the website shares a sample 4 page of a book on goal setting. I will like to reproduce the gist for the benefit of my readers:

Making Dreams Come True
How would you like to learn how to get the things you want? Children’s stories say fairies or genies make wishes come true, but really, you have everything it takes to get the things you want and make wishes come true yourself. It doesn’t take magic, except for the kind you already have inside you. Another word for “wishes” is “desires,” and another word for “coming true” is “manifesting.”

Desires manifest when you decide to do something about them. That’s called setting a goal. Sometimes wishes come true without that, but wishes sitting on shelves usually don’t amount to much. You have to take them down, dust them off, and make them go to work. Then things start to happen.

Very successful people have written famous books telling how they achieved their dreams. They knew a few secrets, and applied them to their wishes. That’s why they became successful when other people didn’t.

They knew and practiced the secrets of success, while people who didn’t know those secrets left their wishes on the shelf and pretty much forgot about them.

Wishes are not silly. They are important. They always have been. Many things that kids wish for and imagine about in their childhood become real when they grow up. Would that have happened if they had not had a dream?

Wishes are powerful, when you know how to use them. Some people say children are born knowing what they came into this world to do. They say we each have a special purpose, and that kids’ wishes and dreams are clues to what their special purpose is.

Grown-ups may have forgotten their purpose, but children usually remember theirs. They remember in the deepest part of their mind, a place called the Subconscious. Serious wishes come from there. They are messages from the deepest part of you, reminding you of what really matters.

Never give up on your serious wishes, because when you do, you give up on yourself. You give up on your purpose. Have you started to forget about your serious wishes? If so, it’s time to take them seriously again!"

We all know that we need to set goals but how many of us actually keep our new year resolution. Or even have a new year resolution to start with. I hope the above can be a wake-up call for all to start to dream again like a child and work seriously hard to make our dreams come true too.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Nifty Memory Tools

Since late June this year, I have embarked on the journey to improve my memory. I used to pride myself with an enormous memory which has enabled me to ace History and Literature in my "O" Levels. It may be umpteenth years ago but victory was certainly memorable and has a sweet aftertaste. Probably due to neglect and to some irony the prevalence of modern day technology, a coat of rust formed on my once well-oiled memory.

Then through my Toastmasters Meeting, I met Nishant - a world record memory holder. He was not bornt with great memory but he trained himself to remember. Inspired, I picked up some skills from Nishant from his book.

Allow me to also avail you the key to unlock your memory capacity.

Rule number 1: This is the most important rule of all and it is given to you as an acronym - CARR. Connect, Associate, Recall and Review. Using this rule, you will be able to remember a list of things e.g. a shopping list. However, you will first need to "connect" two items with each and another. Then "associate" through imaging some action between the two. Thereafter, you try to recall and review on which are the items which you have difficulty remembering. The latter is usually due to weak association so you may want to change the association.

Rule number 2: Building upon rule number 1, we could use the Number Shaping or Rhyme Technique to help us remember a list of 10 or more items. What's more, we can remember the items in exactly the same order!

I prefer the Number Shaping Technique which uses the shape of the number to create an image. We then connect the image with the word we want to remember. I use this technique to good effect to remember my boys' spelling list - up to 15 words and give them spot test whenever we are.

The images to the numbers 1 to 10 are:

1 - Candle
2 - Duck
3 - a pair of glasses
4 - Yacht
5 - Hook
6 - Hockey Stick
7 - Street Lamp
8 - Hourglass
9 - Balloon with a string
10 - Baseball bat and ball

Let me explain the how to by using an example. The simile/metaphor list of my boy.

1. As light as feather - Imagine a feather floating on top of the candle. The feather is very light and is buoyed by the hot air above the candle
2. As regular as clockwork - Imagine a duck carrying a clock swimming on the lake.
3. As short as two planks - Imagine a boy wearing a pair of spectacles with two planks of wood. Excruciating!
4. As beautiful as a rose - Imagine Cindella (beautiful) on an yacht holding a rose.
5. Like a bear with a sore head - Imagine a hook on a bear's head - hence it has a sore head!
6. Like a bull in a china shop - Imagine a bull holding a hockey stick and breaking all the china in the china shop.
7. Like a cat on hot bricks - Imagine a cat on a street lamp with hot bricks on top.
8. Like a sack of potatoes - Imagine a sack of potatoes on the upperpart of hourglass.
9. Like a lamb to the slaughter - Imagine a lamb in the balloon and being pulled by the string to the slaughter.
10. Like a knife through butter - Imagine the baseball bat is like a knife that cuts through the ball (butter).

The above represents the Connect and Associate portion. If you want to commit it to memory, you will have to do the Recall and Review as well.

Try it! My elder boy has used it to good effect. It may seem very difficult at first but once you master it, you will be on the way to fantastic memory. Remember, practice makes .... better!

I am now learning the Ultimate System to remember long strings of number. Basically, it is a system whereby numbers are converted into images and then we use rule number 1 again to create the association. So far, I have managed to use the system to remember those difficult to remember 8-digit telephone numbers. It is like learning a new language - only now, it is simpler and fun :)

For those with children, you can share this set of tools with your children. For me, my P3 boy is ready but not my P1 boy - in time to come, he will be ready too. This is a life skill, it will definitely be helpful to help them ace that examination without stress. Not to mention, it will also be helpful to us to up our productivity at work.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My 10,000 hours Relationship

This year, I celebrate my 10,000th hour relationship with him. 10,000 hours is a mighty long time. 10,000 hours is the time needed for a small fry to shoot to catapult to a big shot, according to Malcolm Gladwell in "Outlier". And yes, our relationship has blossomed and bloomed after spending the magical 10,000 hours together.

Our relationship started off on a shaky note though. I rejected him as I was not confident of a long-distance relationship. His sincerity touched me and I was embraced into his warm, welcoming arms soon after.

Okay, I have better stopped before I get carried away further. What I mean is that this year marks the 10,000th hour of my relationship with my unit.

The Early Beginning

The year was 2005 when I knew that I was transferred to the then newly-minted unit. It was the time when I was busily gearing myself for a new phase in my life - to be a stay-at-home mum in USA. So after a few months of the establishment of the unit, I started on my personal adventure - leaving him to the good hands of the pioneers of unit - SK and HL.

Through Thick and Thin

It was only a year later in 2006 that I joined SK and HL. The initial years were challenging as the unit needed to build a niche for itself. Under the then leadership of LC and then TLC, we blazed new trails and ventured into uncharted work areas in the formative years of the unit. There was never a dull moment. Strong team spirit was forged during those trying times.

Change in Stewardship

A few years later, HY joined us as the captain of this ship. There are new crew members - EA, MF, CY, YT and TR - who joined this team of wonderful people. As the Chinese saying goes "it's difficult to start a business, tougher yet to sustain it." The results speak for itself. The unit has more than delivered what it sets out to do. It maybe a cliché but it's true - the only constant is change. Not just to our work area but also our team members. EA has since been transferred out and so will I.

A Pleasure Always

But I will always be thankful of the many marvelous memories and fabulous friendship that were formed. Not forgetting that I will still be part of the family and always round the corner. So if you have any problem with your work, you are always welcome to pop by. Afterall, two brains are better than one and work will miraculously turn from pain to pleasure. Whoever says that "No Pain No Gain" should re-word it to "No Pleasure No Gain". Guess that it what that gravitates us to look forward to coming to work everyday.


A Primary 3 Essay

Below is the essay which my boy wrote for his recent CA English paper. I commended him for a job well done and obtained his permission to share his little piece of work. Enjoy!

It was a sunny day. The sun-drenched morning sky promised another hot day. Tom and Jill were in high spirits as their parents were bringing them to the playground. They walked there.

When they reached their destination, it was noon. Many children were running around, playing on the slide, swinging and also riding on the see-saw. With all the excitement going on, Tom and Jill could not wait to play. They ran around like bulls in a china shop, taking and throwing things that did not belong to them.

Suddenly, something caught Jill's attention. It was a girl standing on a swing. Looking at her mischevious face, you should know what happened next. She ran towards the swing and stood on the swing and swung happily from side to side. Tom quickly came to warn her, "It's very dangerous to do that!" Unfortunately, his kind words fell into deaf ears.

All of a sudden, Jill lost her balance and fell of the swing. All the children who saw the whole incident dare not stand on the swing again. Jill started to wail very loudly. Tom told his mother what had happend. Then she came to comfort Jill.

Luckily for Jill, she was not badly injured. Jill heaved a sigh of relief as she did not need to go to the hospital. Jill had learnt her lesson - not to follow people who did the wrong things.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Three Great Forces that Rule the World

This is the script which I have written for the Humorous Speech Contest. I have prepared it to fulfill Project 2 "Resources for Entertainment" of the Advanced Communication Manual, The Entertaining Speaker.

I like the topic as it marries my two passions of my life - my professional knowledge and my role as a mother.


The Three Great Forces that Rule the World

“Ka-Ko-Ko-Ko, Ka-Ko-Ko-Ko, the sky is falling!” Henny-Penny, a farm chicken shouted at the top of her voice as she raced down the road. “Run, run for your life!”

“Henny-Penny,” Goosey Loosey, the goose living in the farm next to Henny Penny stopped her and asked, “Why do you say so?”

“H..rrr…H..rrr…” Henny Penny panted and tried to catch her breath before she let out in bullet-train speed, “See this bump on my head. I was having my lunch when a piece of the sky hit me. The sky must be falling. I need to hurry to alert the King of this critical information.”

“Wah, your bump is certainly big and bloodshot.” Goosey Loosey’s eyes widened as she examined the swell. “We should quickly tell the rest. Let me join you in this noble quest.”

Soon, two became twenty, and twenty became forty. Everyone was panicking.

En route to the King’s palace, the farm animals met Foxy Loxy, the fox who invited them to his cave which according to Foxy Loxy would protect them from the falling sky. Of course, that was not true, the farm animals became Foxy Loxy’s meal.


I have just shared with you an English Fairy Tale, Henny Penny. Of course, the sky was not falling, Henny Penny was hit on the head with an acorn while eating her lunch. There was a lot of fear and panic in the Henny Penny’s crowd. And the crafty Foxy Loxy took advantage of it.

Here it is the first great force that rules the world – it starts with the letter “F” and ends with the letter “R”. FEAR that’s right.

There are many people in the world just like our Henny Penny. They panic when they listen to the news. They think the sky is falling and we are all about to die. And this is precisely what happen what the stock market or property market crashes. This just happened as recent as in around March 2009. Everyone was dumping their shares, selling their properties at fire-sale prices. And no one was interested to buy. But now when prices are high, people are busy chasing these assets.

Why is this so? These people believe that well if they buy high, they can sell even higher. But why is there any sucker that is willing to pay a higher price for the same asset? [Pause] This is irrational right? But this is how the stock market works. It thrives on greed.

There is a story about a dog biting a piece of meat in its mouth. He was on the bridge when he saw another dog with a big juicy piece of meat in the river. He was greedy and wanted to snatch the meat as well. “Woof” he barked and opened his mouth, dropping his meat into the river. He then realized that the dog he saw was his own reflection. So instead of two pieces of meat, the dog was now left with none.

I would say many people remembered this lesson well. In around April last year, the market rallied. Some were tempted to go in to take a position while many waited. Then the many heard about their friend, Freddy making a bundle from the stock market. They wished they were Freddy but then they told themselves “better be saved than sorry”, wait a little while more to confirm that the coast was clear. Soon, every Tom, Dick and Harry in the coffee shop and even taxi drivers were talking about how much they had made in the stock market in early this year. Then many decided that this was the time. They took a huge position but then market headed south. This is a very familiar story. What happened?

This is the third force that rules the world. It is ignorance or stupidity. It is no different from believing that the sky is falling when the acorn hit Henny-Penny in my first story. Many believe that money too will fall from the sky. Like sheep, they find safety in numbers. There is no alternative to hard work. If you want to be a good public speaker, you have to practice the craft. If you want to win a speech contest, you have to invest time and effort to craft a good speech, prepare and practice. So if you want to make money from the stock market, you have to study the market, the asset that you are buying and not merely following what others are doing.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have shared with you what Albert Einstein has once said about the three great forces rule the world. They are stupidity, fear and greed.
Conquer them and you will be the one who would rise to extraordinary heights amongst the sea of ordinary men.

To your success.

Back to you Toastmaster of the Day.


Sunday, August 22, 2010


DTM Mr Edward Ma forwarded the story below to me. Hope you like this story as much as I do. Never give up. Remember winners never quit and quitters never win.

------------ --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- ---------

Watch out! You nearly broad sided that car!" My father yelled at me.

"Can't you do anything right?"

Those words hurt worse than blows... I turned my head toward the elderly man in the seat beside me, daring me to challenge him. A lump rose in my throat as I averted my eyes. I wasn't prepared for another battle.

"I saw the car, Dad. Please don't yell at me when I'm driving."

My voice was measured and steady, sounding far calmer than I really felt.

Dad glared at me, then turned away and settled back. At home I left Dad in front of the television and went outside to collect my thoughts.. Dark, heavy clouds hung in the air with a promise of rain. The rumble of distant thunder seemed to echo my inner turmoil.. What could I do about him?

Dad had been a lumberjack in Washington and Oregon . He had enjoyed being outdoors and had reveled in pitting his strength against the forces of nature. He had entered grueling lumberjack competitions, and had placed often.

The shelves in his house were filled with trophies that attested to his prowess.

The years marched on relentlessly. The first time he couldn't lift a heavy log, he joked about it; but later that same day I saw him outside alone, straining to lift it. He became irritable whenever anyone teased him about his advancing age, or when he couldn't do something he had done as a younger man.

Four days after his sixty-seventh birthday, he had a heart attack. An ambulance sped him to the hospital while a paramedic administered CPR to keep blood and oxygen flowing.

At the hospital, Dad was rushed into an operating room. He was lucky; he survived. But something inside Dad died. His zest for life was gone. He obstinately refused to follow doctor's orders. Suggestions and offers of help were turned aside with sarcasm and insults. The number of visitors thinned, then finally stopped altogether. Dad was left alone.

My husband, Dick, and I asked Dad to come live with us on our small farm. We hoped the fresh air and rustic atmosphere would help him adjust.

Within a week after he moved in, I regretted the invitation. It seemed nothing was satisfactory. He criticized everything I did. I became frustrated and moody. Soon I was taking my pent-up anger out on Dick. We began to bicker and argue.

Alarmed, Dick sought out our pastor and explained the situation. The clergyman set up weekly counseling appointments for us. At the close of each session he prayed, asking God to soothe Dad's troubled mind.

But the months wore on and God was silent. Something had to be done and it was up to me to do it.

The next day I sat down with the phone book and methodically called each of the mental health clinics listed in the Yellow Pages I explained my problem to each of the sympathetic voices that answered in vain.

Just when I was giving up hope, one of the voices suddenly exclaimed, "I just read something that might help you! Let me go get the article."

I listened as she read. The article described a remarkable study done at a nursing home. All of the patients were under treatment for chronic depression. Yet their attitudes had improved dramatically when they were given responsibility for a dog.

I drove to the animal shelter that afternoon. After I filled out a questionnaire, a uniformed officer led me to the kennels. The odor of disinfectant stung my nostrils as I moved down the row of pens. Each contained five to seven dogs. Long-haired dogs, curly-haired dogs, black dogs, spotted dogs all jumped up, trying to reach me. I studied each one but rejected one after the other for various reasons too big, too small, too much hair. As I neared the last pen a dog in the shadows of the far corner struggled to his feet, walked to the front of the run and sat down. It was a pointer, one of the dog world's aristocrats. But this was a caricature of the breed.

Years had etched his face and muzzle with shades of gray. His hipbones jutted out in lopsided triangles But it was his eyes that caught and held my attention. Calm and clear, they beheld me unwaveringly.

I pointed to the dog. "Can you tell me about him?"

The officer looked, then shook his head in puzzlement. "He's a funny one. Appeared out of nowhere and sat in front of the gate. We brought him in, figuring someone would be right down to claim him. That was two weeks ago and we've heard nothing. His time is up tomorrow." He gestured helplessly.

As the words sank in I turned to the man in horror. "You mean you're going to kill him?"
"Ma'am," he said gently, "that's our policy. We don't have room for every unclaimed dog..."

I looked at the pointer again.. The calm brown eyes awaited my decision. "I'll take him," I said.

I drove home with the dog on the front seat beside me. When I reached the house I honked the horn twice. I was helping my prize out of the car when Dad shuffled onto the front porch. "Ta-da! Look what I got for you, Dad!" I said excitedly.

Dad looked, then wrinkled his face in disgust.. "If I had wanted a dog I would have gotten one. And I would have picked out a better specimen than that bag of bones. Keep it! I don't want it" Dad waved his arm scornfully and turned back toward the house.

Anger rose inside me. It squeezed together my throat muscles and pounded into my temples. "You'd better get used to him, Dad. He's staying!"

Dad ignored me. "Did you hear me, Dad?" I screamed.

At those words Dad whirled angrily, his hands clenched at his sides, his eyes narrowed and blazing with hate.

We stood glaring at each other like duelists, when suddenly the pointer pulled free from my grasp. He wobbled toward my dad and sat down in front of him.. Then slowly, carefully, he raised his paw.

Dad's lower jaw trembled as he stared at the uplifted paw... Confusion replaced the anger in his eyes. The pointer waited patiently. Then Dad was on his knees hugging the animal.

It was the beginning of a warm and intimate friendship. Dad named the pointer Cheyenne . Together he and Cheyenne explored the community. They spent long hours walking down dusty lanes. They spent reflective moments on the banks of streams, angling for tasty trout. They even started to attend Sunday services together, Dad sitting in a pew and Cheyenne lying quietly at his feet.

Dad and Cheyenne were inseparable throughout the next three years. Dad's bitterness faded, and he and Cheyenne made many friends. Then late one night I was startled to feel Cheyenne 's cold nose burrowing through our bed covers He had never before come into our bedroom at night. I woke Dick, put on my robe and ran into my father's room. Dad lay in his bed, his face serene. But his spirit had left quietly sometime during the night.

Two days later my shock and grief deepened when I discovered Cheyenne lying dead beside Dad's bed. I wrapped his still form in the rag rug he had slept on. As Dick and I buried him near a favorite fishing hole, I silently thanked the dog for the help he had given me in restoring Dad's peace of mind.

The morning of Dad's funeral dawned overcast and dreary. This day looks like the way I feel, I thought, as I walked down the aisle to the pews reserved for family. I was surprised to see the many friends Dad and Cheyenne had made filling the church. The pastor began his eulogy. It was a tribute to both Dad and the dog who had changed his life. And then the pastor turned to Hebrews 13:2. "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it."

"I've often thanked God for sending that angel," he said.

For me, the past dropped into place, completing a puzzle that I had not seen before: the sympathetic voice that had just read the right article..... ..

Cheyenne 's unexpected appearance at the animal shelter . ...his calm acceptance and complete devotion to my father. .. and the proximity of their deaths. And suddenly I understood. I knew that God had answered my prayers after all.

Life is too short for drama & petty things, so laugh hard, love truly and forgive quickly. Live While You Are Alive. Forgive now those who made you cry You might not get a second time.

But do share this with someone. Lost time can never be found.

May you reach for your dreams and always remember to be proud of who you are knowing God always answer prayers.

"Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Trip Down the Memory Lane

It was a rainy, lazy Sunday morning. The heavy downpour had just given way to a light drizzle. Hubby and I were hungry to go for places to fill our grumbling and rumbling tummies. We were kept at home as the then formidable sky promised a storm in the brewing.

A quick search in the Internet decided our brunch destination. The blog threw out a few to-go places for dimsum. We zoomed into Asia Grand Restaurant as it is one of the few places in town which serves dimsum half an hour early at 10.30 am compared to 11 am by most restaurants. We were so hungry that we could not wait a second longer.

Maybe it was our growling stomaches, food at Asia Grand Restaurant was glorious and heavenly. It was love at first taste for the savory century porridge. The you tiao was fried to crispy perfection and the congee was generously laden with minced meat and sliced duck meat. The chao siew bao, fried prawn dumplings and chang fen did not disappoint in both the sight and taste departments too, though the shao mie and lotus leaf dumpling were mediocre in comparison. The restaurant also scored high in their service. There was a server in charge of our table at a distance so as to avail us with the much needed privacy for our small talk. At the same time, close enough to refill our tea before the last drop was emptied.

Perhaps what I loved most was the pictureque view in front of me. I was seated opposite the full-glass window, shrouded in veil-like curtains that allowed only soft natural light to come into the restaurant. At the same time, I could enjoy the view of the magnificent, historic Raffles Hotel juxtaposed against tall and comtemporary buildings.

I noticed that there was a delivery van which stopped to deliver goods. It sent me down to a trip down the memory lane. My father was an odd-job laborer who delivered food to food stalls and small-time restaurants. I used to squat in the "cargo-compartment" of his three-wheel motorbike. These motorbikes are the regular two-wheeler but fitted with a metal cart on the side for goods. Compared to vans, motorbikes consume lesser petrol and hence cheaper to maintain. However, they are not allowed in the expressway. For such reasons, my family used to live in the city area.

After the sumptuous brunch, hubby and I braved the light drizzle to the nearby Bras Basah building. It was another of those places which held many of our still standalone memories - we had yet to meet. Hubby worked during his school holiday as pamphlet distributor, shoving pamplets to passers-by. As for me, I did not part-time at Bras Basah but I would be there to catch a glimpse of some of the xingyao singers during my teenage years. It was also there that Eric Moo launched his fledging singing career.

We headed back with a spring in our step. Our hearts warmed by the sweet memories of our past and a deep sense of gratitude of what our country, Singapore has given us in terms of opportunities for sons and daughters of coolies to also rise and reach out for our dreams.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Time Management and Toastmasters

Tonight, I will like to share with my readers on time management. I have a time log which I record down what I do at what time. It depends on which aspect of time management one intend to improve. For example, I always wonder why is it that I have so little free time after work. So I record the way I "spend" my time from the moment I wake up till I turn in.

We all have 24 hours each day. I used to think that I have to forego my sleep to do more. Not anymore. Yes, the formulae "there is no such thing as nothing for something" still holds. But we can learn to be more effective and efficient with our time.

Recall - To be effective is to do the right things and to be efficient is to do the things right. To be effective, we need to know what we want in life. We need to set goals. To be efficient, we need to keep our eyes open on ways to improve our productivity. That is one of reasons I join the Toastmasters Club. In fact, I found that through diligently doing the projects, I have not only improved my speaking skills but also my writing skills - vital skills for my job.

In closing, I will like to share a very meaningful quote which I read in Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill, the best way to conquer fear is courage. So if you fear to speak, you have to conquer this fear by courageously taking the stage. We need desire - it is like the fuel that will propel the rocket. That is why mothers are the greatest beings on earth is our love for our young ones, this love gives us immense courage to surmount the seemingly unattainable.

To Your Success in Time Management

Friday, July 23, 2010

Rejuvenating Genting Highlands

This June holiday, my family visited Genting Highlands for a good 4 days, 3-nights again. It was a refreshing break as the weather on top of the mountain was cool, comforting and offered the much needed respite from the sweltering summer heat.

The view from the top of the mountain was awesome. The puffy, white clouds were drifting down into the atmosphere. As they touched the heat from the atmosphere, its tails tapered away and vapourized into the thin air. It was a sight to behold and to marvel at the wonders of nature.

Fabulous Family Fun at the Peak

Atop the mountain, we were away from the bustle and hustle of the city life. We were transported into another world where fun and excitement never end. The children loved the theme park with both indoor and outdoor parks offering exhilarating thrills. As for us, we especially appreciated the safety aspect that came with the rides. The cooling weather was a big plus point. It was not a coincidence that this theme park was rated amongst the best in Malaysia.

We stayed at First World Hotel because that was where all the actions were. The key attraction of the outdoor theme park was the Dinosaur Land. My two boys never failed to play make-believe that they were dinosaur-slayers or some poor victims who were stranded in an island and constantly in the run away from these humongous creatures. There were also carnival games where my hubby and children tried their try at "fishing" rubber ducks. As for the indoor theme park, the "gondola ride on the sky" was their favorite. After a hard day of play, the entire family proceeded to the relaxing heated swimming pool. The waterslides kept the children occupied and mini-waterfall that poured gushing water massaged the adults' sore backs. The night was still young after the stimulating hot dip and after a sumptuous dinner, the children had dollops of fun at the video arcades.

There was a bonanza of entertainment at the peak. The shopping galore was aplenty. Besides shopping, our family also made time for movie catching the latest Toy Story 3 and also a magic live show, "Dazzle" at the Pavilion. My husband and I also managed to catch two old movies on the TV - "Which Planet Are You From" and "Love Thy Neighbour", while our two little guys enjoyed their cartoons and bedtime story from yours truly. I also managed to have some "me-time" reading the famous "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill.

Foresight and Going Forth

As I read I could not but admire the foresight of Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong, a prominent Malaysian businessman. He conceived the idea for a Las Vegas-cum-Disneyland style theme park in the 1960s. At that time, investing in construction at an altitude of 2,000 m above sea level was considered absurd. Yet, Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong was firm in his decision. Just the building of the tortuous and impossibly steep road cutting through the dense, jungle-covered hills took 7 years. His persistence paid off when the government conceded to allow Malaysia's only casino to operate.

All in all, it was a rejuvenating trip and it also set me thinking about what I really want in life. Perservance, persistence and patience are the important ingredients of success. There is also much in common between Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong and Steve Jobs who once said "Stay Foolish, Stay Hungry." This is the renewed energy that I shall instill in my two little boys and bring back to work.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Woodlands Waterfront

My colleagues ask me where my favorite vacation place is. I tell them I love to take leave and stay in Singapore. They burst into laughter. But it is true.

When I was younger, I tended to be more footloose and wanderlust hit me ever so often. But this disappears after I have two boys. They keep me rooted and that is a blessing in disguise. I am then given the opportunity to explore the nooks and crannies of Singapore. Of course, it helps that Singapore has also been embracing other aspects in life, not just blindly pursuing the number 1 spot as the fastest economy on earth.

I am duly rewarded in my quest to find the next beautiful place in Singapore and Woodlands Waterfront is the latest gem to be added into my treasure trove of places to go in Singapore.

My family make our way via car on a Sunday morning. I understand that parking is currently free. Standard facilities like toilet and water coolers are available but we have not seen any shops in the vicinity of the park.

The jetty.

Situated along Admiralty West road where a stretch of old warehouses used to be, is now Woodlands Waterfront. The jetty used by the warehouses is now refurnished and opened to public. The jetty and many parts of the coast is opened for fishing.

View from Woodlands Waterfront: Across are the buildings in Johore Bahru.

The somber structure in the sea cuts a forlorn figure.

We love the waterfront park, which overlooks the Straits of Johor. I understand that more is to come when the remaining six hectares of the Woodlands Waterfront is opened by end of the year. There will be Catilevered Promenade, nature area, trails and green spaces. When fully completed, it will be linked to the nearby Admiralty Park and the park connector along Woodlands Centre Road and Admiralty West. The Woodlands Waterfront will also add on to 1.5km of the 150km-Round Island Route, which allows seamless strolling, jogging or cycling around Singapore.

It looks like another good place to go. However, the tree foliage is too thin to offer much shade against the menancing heat. So do bring along umbrella and/or hats, slather loads of sunblock to protect yourself against the scorching sun

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sawadee Ka in 2000

The first and only time I visited Thailand was in 2000, with my husband. Thailand was still the "Land of Smiles" and it was a place where cheap deals were aplenty. The latter was a big plus point as we had only joined the workforce for a couple of years and were low on cash.

We scoured the local tour agencies for the cheapest package tour to Thailand and found one at around S$500 per pax - most of the meals in package. It was a 5 days/ 4 nights tour package which would offer us the opportunity to visit Bangkok and Pattaya. It was a good deal considering that budget airlines were a non-existence then and we took a full-fledged airline - Thai Airways. Thai Airways was then celebrating its 40th anniversary and I still vividly remembered the beautiful and graceful air stewardess who dished out the collar-pin to commemorate the special occasion.

The Gem Scam

One very important lesson which I learnt was never to buy jewellery in a foreign land. We heard about the abundance of precious and semi-precious stones and metals, the relative low cost of labour and plenty of skillful craftsmen and designers. But there are also unscrupulous con men. The jewellery scams in Thailand were well-publicised. Stranger will come up to you with promises to take you to 'a good place for gems' and a too-good-to-be-true deal. The same applies to taxi or tuk-tuk drivers with similar promises. They are usually collecting commission and the gems that you pay with your hard-earned cash are worth only a fraction as they are of inferior quality.

Chatuchak Weekend Market

One would not have visited Bangkok if he had not gone to the famous Chatuchak Market. It covered an enormous 35 arces of land with over 15,000 stalls. More than 200,000 visitors thronged the place every Saturday and Sunday in search of good buys.

You can virtually find anything under the sun hawking in this market, ranging from clothing and fashion items, household goods, crafts, pets, art and collectables, plants, food and etc. Yes, virtually anything, you name it, you have it. The only challenge here is how to to find them. The stallholders seem to have a mind of themselves in deciding where to peddle their wares.

As we had just bought our matrimonial home, we took the opportunity to buy fake fruits that looked like the real McCoy. They looked so real that we almost could not believe our eyes. The biggest giveaway was in their touch and feel. They were much lighter than real fruits and lacked the lustre feel of real fruits. But they had adorned our dining table for a good eight years before we finally decided to dispose them when we did a major renovation to our home.

The Floating Market

The floating market was colourful, noisy and very touristy. The transactions were more concerned with tourists than locals. However, it was a good experience. The bulk of the little souvenirs which we bought back were from the floating market. It was really chaotic place where the small 'klongs' or canals were filled with small flat boats jolting for position, expertly paddled by mature ladies ready to stop and bargain at a moment's notice.

Glitzy Nightlife

Then there was the glitzy nightlife. We visited the famous Tiffany Cabaret Show in Pattaya. The bevy of professional transvestite entertainers were very talented with their artistic impersonalationns through songs and tales of love and adventure. The experience was further heightened by the fantastic sound and light show.

Amusement Park, Zoo and Shopping

Also in our itinerary was a visit to the amusement park which looked pretty flimsy. My husband took the spin of his life, suffered a nasty stomach churn and avoided similar ride henceforth. We also visited the zoo with domesticated tigers as their key attraction, that was before the tiger mauling in Thailand. And of course, more shopping.

I never visited Thailand again after that trip. My inability to speak Thai is a great giveaway that I am a foreigner in a foreign land. Though things are cheap, somehow, I find Thailand to be too touristy for my preference. Perhaps being a Singaporean makes me feel awkward to engage in bargaining. And I feel as if I will always end up with the shorter end of the stick when I am engaged in bargaining.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Raise-a-Reader Workshop - The Primary School Years

I have just attended the Raise-a-Reader workshop to enlighten and educate parents on how they can play a supporting role to raise the reading levels of children. Here are the key learning points.

General Comments

It was a very information-packed session and it spanned 2 hours. The speakers obviously have done much research and put together a very comprehensive information package for parents to refer to after the session. However, due to the very wide range of topics covered - almost too exhaustive for me - it was a challenge to remain attentive throughout the entire session. The speakers did try to engage the audience by asking questions but there was limited response as the question only called for a one-liner kind of answer.

Perhaps, the speakers could divide the audience into groups of 5 and allow them to discuss about the challenges that they faced in raising a reader in their child. Afterall, the maximum number of audience was 30 and this breaking up session will enable parents to network and learn from others. This would also promote more response with the speakers as the audience would find "safety-in-number".

Key Learning Points

The speakers shared about three categories of readers - namely, Emergent, Early and Fluent Reader. To nurture the spark in reading, do turn off the television and other distractions and be familiar with the stories that your child would be reading. For those who are reading bedtime stories to their children, be anitmated in your story telling. Encourage your children to read through leading by example and have a little library corner at home.

For those with emergent and early readers, you can start with books on rhyming, engage in reading activities with your child, play word and sound games. Do visit the library and bookshops and allow your child to choose the books. Allow your child to ask questions anytime during the storytelling sessions and not for questions to be raised at the end of it.

I particularly like the recommended booklist for the different categories of readers. As a rule of thumb, emergent readers would be around age of 6 to 8 years old. Early readers in the 8-10 age group and fluent readers would be those aged 10-12.

Books for The Emergent Reader
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin (JP MAR-[BA])
- Chicka, Chicka Boom, Boom by Bill Martin (JP MAR)
- Mouse Mess by Linnea Riley (JP RIL)
- Who Took The Cookie From the Cookie Jar? by Bonnie Lass (JP LAS)
- Dr Seuss, the Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss (JP SEU)

Books for The Early Reader
- Are You My Mother? by P.D Eastman (JP EAS)
- Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel (JP LOB)
- If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura J Numeroff (JP NUM)
- Amelia Bedelia (Highly Recommended) by Peggy Parish (JP PAR)
- Tiny Seed by Eric Carle (JP 582 CAR)

An example of Word Game (taken from Riddle Rhymes by Charles Ghigna, J 818 GHI) which the child would enjoy:

Here I sit upon the shelf.
I'm not a toy. I'm not an elf.

Yet I can take you far away.
To any place, night or day.

We'll travel to each foreign land.
Yet I will stay right in your hand.

My Friends and I, you will see,
Are full of facts and fantasy.

So pick me up and take a look.
Now you know - I am a ...... BOOK.

Other resources which you may be interested in would include searching for relevant materials using the keywords "kids crossword" and "enchanted learning".

Books for The Fluent Reader

What I find most heartening here is that a fluent reader does not agree with everything that is read. So the fear about the fantasy element in books such as Harry Potter may not be well-founded. But each child is different, as parents, we need to also monitor the child's behavior and prescribe the action needed accordingly.

Some recommended books include:
- Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown (JS BRO)
- Two Times the Fun by Beverly Cleary (JS CLE)
- The Genie in the Book by Cindy Trumbore (JS TRU)
- Revolting Rhymes (Highly Recommended) by Roald Dahl (J 821 DAH)

Parents can also google for American Library Association for recommended booklist.

Reluctant Reader

The most challenging type of readers would be the reluctant readers. They tend to say "I Can't", "I Don't Know How", "I'd Rather", "I Don't Care" and etc.

To encourage them to read, we need to be creative. Does a book necessarily mean one with words? No! There are currently pictorial books for children that would tell a story without words. Magazines and graphic novels are books too! Unlike the yesteryears where graphic novels or comics as they are also known, were plagued with bad English, today, they are pretty well-written.

Follow the interest of the child. E.g. if he likes cars, get books or magazines on cars. While majority of children enjoy visual learning, some would prefer sound and action. So we can try audio books and engage in physical activities such as acting out the scene in the book.

More Resources

For those who are interested to know more, you can access for a copy of "Reader Profiling" brochure.

I find this piece of information the most useful, we can access a list of e-books from the NLB e-sources. It is at Click on Register on the left menu. Afterwhich, you can log in and click on Browse - For Children and access the TumbleBook Library (Story Books) for P1 to P3 pupils, Tumble Readables (Chapter Books) for P4 pupils, Tumble Readables (Middle School Readers or YA/Teen) for P5 pupils and Tumble Readables (Children Classics) for P6 pupils.

I hope you will find the above materials useful. I am going to the eresources now...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lessons from Shrek Forever After

A few weeks ago, my family went to watch the movie "Shrek Forever After". It was a theme which many adults can relate too. In the case of parents, at times, we find parenthood too intense and would want to return to the past. For others, it could relate to a challenge that one is facing and hope to return to well the good, old past.

The Story

The movie began with once upon a time, there lived a princess, Fiona who was under a curse. By day, a beautiful lady, by night an ogre - a hideous creature. This cycle will only be broken by the kiss of true love. Fiona lived in a high tower, guarded by a fiery dragon, while she waited for her Prince Charming. Days became months, and months became years.

Her parents, the King and Queen of Far Far Away Land were desperate and turned to the help of the magical con man Rumplestiltskin. In the nick of time, they heard the news that an ogre, Shrek has come to Fiona's rescue. Thereafter, Shrek and Fiona settled down, had three beautiful children and they lived happily ever after. Or until, Shrek was exhausted from his wonderful life.

[Lesson 1: Many a time, we are exhausted from the daily demands of life. We are weary of our mundane life. We hope to go back to the past. Thinking that we have it better than. We forget to think of the bliss that we are currently in. But this is not always true. So the next time, when you encounter a challenge and hope to go back to the past. Think again. ]

At the one year birthday party of his three children, he flew into a temper and hoped that he could return to the good old days. He was tricked into a magical contract with Rumpelstiltskin whereby he signed away one day in his childhood day, a day which he could not remember, in exchange for a day as an ogre whereby people feared him.

Unknown to him then, the day that he had signed away was the day he was born. Without him saving Fiona from the tower, Far Far Away became an awful place because the King and Queen signed the magical contract. They wished for a solution to Fiona's curse. A solution they got themselves was to vanish into the air. In return, Rumpelstiltskin became the ruler of Far Far Away. In this alternate world, the ogres were all slaves to Rumpelstiltskin.

[Lesson 2 is about Rumpelstiltskin's too hard to resist contract. When things look too good to be true, it probably is.]

Shrek, was a stranger to his old friends. Luckily for him, there was an exit clause - kiss of true love. However, he must win their trust and Fiona's heart to break the spell before sunset. Failure would bind the contract final. Shrek became friends again with the singing donkey and cat.

At first, he was in a haste to make Fiona, the leader of the resistance group in the alternate world, kiss him. But the spell remained as Fiona did not love him. It was sacrifice on the part of Shrek - giving himself up to Rupelstiltskin in return for the freedom of all ogres that touched Fiona's heart.

Hand-in-hand, they fought against the fiery dragon and fell in love all over again. The spell was broken and Shrek was transported to the world before the contract was inked.

He now realised that he already has the best things in life. The story ended with the very poignant message embedded in the conversation between Shrek and Fiona.

"You say that I am the true love who save you from the Dragon?" Shrek asked.

"Yes, you are." Fiona smiled and loved at Shrek lovingly.

"I say that you are the one who save me from my world." Shrek replied knowingly.

[ Lesson 3 is on love. Loving a person is not about you - about how much the person love you. But it is about how well the person live thereafter. Love is a two-way street. It changes both parties.

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.
- I Corinthians, chapter 13"

I love you, darling.]


26 June 2010 marked the 10th anniversary of Kowloon-Singapore Toastmasters' Club (KSTMC) - my home club. I joined this special occasion as the Toastmaster of the Day - to play the role of a genial host. This was also the last project required of me to attain the next level of my Toastmaster journey - Advanced Communicator Bronze.

On the Whole - General Evaluation

As expected from a toastmasters' club meeting, I learnt so much. I would start with the general evaluation given by ACB, Jerlynn Ang, who had so concisely and comprehensively covered the areas which our club has done well and the areas which could be further improved.

First and foremost was the very positive and warm environment. She had also very animatedly recounted the morning's phonecall David of some last minute change which was reflected in the programme list circulated during the club meeting in the afternoon. This was the very committed spirit that KSTMC exuded.

For the Sergeant-At-Arms, it was a good idea to have a round of introduction among fellow toastmasters and guests. It helped to break the ice. Carrying on the momentum, Club President, David then gave a very uplifting opening address. His motto was to "join and enjoy" ourselves in the toastmasters' journey.

Moving on to TMD - with the most stage time, that was me. She commended on my efforts to be a good host, putting everyone at ease and dressing up for the occasion. She gave me tips on how to remember the key things to say when I introduced a speaker. This was given in the form of an acronym for ease of memory:

P- project
O- objectives
E- evaluator
T- title of the speech
S - speaker

Another very useful tip was for the TMD to sit near the stage to facilitate movement and reduce time.

For timer, she suggested to give the report in full sentences and not in SMS language. It drew laughters from the audience as we all were also guilty of falling into the SMS trap.

She then moved on to the panel of evaluators. She hit the nail on the head when she opined that the evaluations were very well-done. They were all very encouraging and at the same time, we all learnt how to further improve the speech. In Jerlynn's words, the evaluators not only tell us what to do, why this was so, and most importantly, they showed us what to do. She suggested to have a summary/conclusion in one sentence but qualified that there could be time constraint as the red card was flashed at the 2nd minute.

Proceeding to the Table Topics segment, there were clear instructions from the Table Topics master. She also suggested fellow toastmasters to consider having a punchline or a call for action, quoting the example of Cynthia when she concluded in her mini-speech (aka table topic) about her first date with we should not wait for others to take the initiative.

The Special Talk on How to Have a Phenomenal Memory

Today, our club was very privileged to have ACB Nishant Kisbhatla, a world record holder and 1st and only grand master memory holder to share with us the secrets of a phenomenal memory.

He explained that many people did not have a good memory due chiefly to a lack of interest. In order to bridge the gap between phenomenal memory and the current state you, we would need to first believe in ourselves, then acquire the knowledge and most importantly, act on it.

Three key questions to have a better memory were:
1. How can I visualise this?
2. How can I associate it with?
3. How can I have fun?

Evaluation Segment

I particularly enjoyed the evaluation segment because I have learnt so much from the grand masters at work.

I liked DTM Michael Rodrigues' analogy of to give more insight of the speaker as an appetiser to prepare and expectant the audience. By personalising the speech before moving on, it would help "stick the speech into our mind". Perhaps, I was too nervous I did not capture the entire flow of his evaluation. It was such a pity. Fortunately, I do have his written evaluation.

DTM Kan Kin Fung's evaluation was equally impressive. He was evaluating a P10 speech "Inspire your audience", this was the general flow of his evaluation.

"General evaluation of the entire speech. Eg. impressed with the speech - what really inspired me were the vivid and colourful description. The speaker also repeated important phrases to help us remember the scene.

Some suggestions would include
1. organisation - to make the main message clearer. e.g. instead of giving the message in the last 10 sec of the speech, perhaps it could be upfront.
2. to try to act out the experience - eagle - flapping its wings or fish swimming in the stream. Do not neglect your most favorable asset.... - your face.
3. shorten the story to give a personal story e.g xx minute for the story, xx min for the personal story."

ACB/CL Stuart Ralls evaluated P5 Your Body Speaks. Points that he brought out included: eg. of confidence - strode up on stage and projecting confidence, eye contact, body language. But the speech could have more impact if there could be bigger gesture - eg. reach out for the stars. He gave very vivid description - sticky legs, pasting your goals on the wall, pointing to the watch to signify time and counting on your hand. Finally, he summed up his evaluation.

ACB Nishant Kasibhatla evaluated P4 How to Say it. Again, he gave his overall impression "smile", "starting with a story to paint a picture". Next he moved on to the specifics - eye contact, quality of voice, the project objectives. Suggestions he had were with reference to the project objectives that called for the use of rhetoric devices and pointed out on the limited usage. He suggested for the speaker to script out the text and look for areas which could incorporate the rhetoric devices.

In Closing

How can I not mention our 10th anniversary celebration? The club was chartered in June 2000 to join ordinary men and women achieve extraordinary feats. It was very successful and had also nurtured leaders such as DTM Edward Ma and ACB/CL Yetti Chiu. We walked down the memory lane as we reminicised the photos of our past activities.

In closing, it was indeed a very enriching and enjoyable day indeed. I learnt so much from fellow toastmasters. Thank you, Toastmasters' International for giving me the opportunity to meet these wonderful fellas. Using the words of DTM Edward Ma, it has made the world a better place to be.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I Have a Dream

Two years ago, I was just another struggling middle-career woman who like so many before her, feared presentation. It was an unspoken belief that people who could talk and deliver a presentation are those who are capable. I tried real hard to conquer this fear but everything the fear debilitated even my ability to stand still on stage. My wavering voice was trembling with so much fear that I could not think properly.

The sheer refusal to give up led me to the Toastmasters' Movement. And the rest as they say is history. Today, I volunteer to speak as I know that practice is the only way. Yes, there are mistakes. Yes, there are disappointment. But with each failure, I learn something new. I used to be a very shy person. But lo and behold, shy is hardly the word, my friends know me as today. The Toastmasters' Movement is a life transformational one.

Today, I am also given more speaking opportunities as I hone my skills. I realise that I have an ability to breakdown difficult to understand issues into more digestible bite-sized information for my audience. Not worrying too much about the stage fright, I begin to focus on my audience. What I want my audience to bring back home and how can I help better understand the issue.

The Toastmasters' Movement has rekindled my ability to dream. It's really a very simple formula - Practise, practise & more practise. Isn't this the same idea the book "The Story of Success - Outlier" by Malcolm Gladwell trying to say? And if this advice has a familiar to it, it is because it has been used again and again. Not only in the arena of public speaking but in all walks of life.

It is off the beaten track and it does not guarantee success. In fact, I have a bout of burnout recently. I was the overdrive mode - going on full steam to complete more Toastmasters' projects and participating in competitions. And I struggled to juggle my time in the many multiple roles which I needed to play on the stage of life. I felt myself reaching a plateau in the arena of speaking and any more incremental improvement will be at the expense of more time. Yet, time was a zero-sum game. An hour for honing my speaking skills would mean an hour less for my other commitments.

I took a two-to-three months' break. During this cooling-off time, I realise that it is not about the number of projects that I do. It is not about the improvement that I will see in myself. It is about giving back to the Toastmasters' Movement which has transformed me.

With this newly-found direction, I took part in the recent Achievers' Day held at Whampoa CC. And I am glad that I re-initiated my toastmasters' journey. And thanks to fellow Toastmaster Jerlynn Ang who is also my evaluator that day - You are ever so encouraging and offering such fantastic advices. I especially like your opening address which I have paraphrased below:

"One can choose to be either average or excellence in life. Yet majority choose to be just mediocre. They would want to be the top, they wish to be the best, they hope they are the creme de la creme. However, those who choose to be excellence, must achieve that goal."

It is tough to opt to be excellence. But with the Toastmasters' Movement, we can be excellent as we are in the good hands.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Lake House

A few weeks ago, I watched the show "The Lake House" and was drawn to the beautiful love story. However, I was somewhat confused at the same time. I did a google and this is what I obtained from the Wikipedia. I have further edited to enhance clarity.

The Lake House

It is a winter morning in 2006, and Dr. Kate Forster is leaving suburban Wisconsin, where she completed her residency, as she prepares to take a job at a busy Chicago hospital. She is reluctant to leave behind the refuge of the woods and the beautiful house she's been renting, an artfully designed home with glass walls that overlook a placid lake. As she goes, Kate leaves a note in the mailbox for the next tenant, asking whomever to forward her mail and pointing out that the paint-embedded paw prints on the walkway leading into the house and the box in the attic were already there when she arrived.

Alex Wyler is a talented but frustrated architect supervising the construction of cookie-cutter tract housing at a nearby site. He arrives at the lake house and finds it neglected - and with no signs of paw prints anywhere. The house has special meaning for Alex, having been built by his estranged father, a celebrated architect who let his career grow at the expense of his family, and himself. Like Kate, Alex feels a sense of peace at the lake house and commits to restoring it. He doesn't think twice about Kate's note until days later when, as he paints the walkway's railings, a stray dog runs through his paint and leaves fresh paw prints right where Kate said they would be.

Baffled, Alex writes her back, pointing out that the house was unoccupied before he came and wondering how she could have known about paw prints that weren't yet there. Kate, who just left the house a week earlier, imagines he is playing some kind of joke on her, and she fires back a curt reply. Just for argument's sake, she asks, what day is it there? "Jan 14th, 2004," Alex answers. But for Kate, it's Jan 14, 2006. The same day, two years apart.

As Kate and Alex continue their correspondence through the lake house's mystical mailbox, they confirm that they are, strange as it may seem, living two years apart, and each at a time in their lives when they're struggling to make a new start. Sharing this unusual bond, they reveal more of themselves to one another with each passing week. In one of her letters, Kate mentions a Jane Austen book, Persuasion, she had accidentally left at a train station in 2004. Alex goes to the station and finds it there on a bench. Seeing Kate for the first time as she boards the train, Alex keeps the book, deciding he will return it to her in person some day. Alex then sends Kate an annotated map of Chicago and invites her to take a walking tour of his favorite places one Saturday morning. Kate wishes they could spend time together and near the end of the tour she finds a message sprayed as graffiti on a wall: "Kate, I am here with you. Thank you for a lovely Saturday together." One day in 2004, while leaving work with Mona, a coworker who has a crush on him, Alex's dog runs away. Alex pursues and meets Morgan, Kate's boyfriend at the time, who invites Alex and Mona to Kate's surprise birthday party, not knowing that Alex and Kate have been writing. At the party Alex talks to Kate about the book and she summarizes it as being about two people who wait for each other. They dance and end up kissing which is witnessed by Morgan and Mona.

In later correspondence, Kate recriminates Alex for not saying anything but Alex rightly points out that she would not have known who he was. Determined to bridge the distance between them at last and unravel the mystery behind their extraordinary connection, they tempt fate by arranging to meet. Alex makes a reservation at Il Mare (Italian for "The Sea"), an elegant restaurant (whose name is an homage to the original Korean motion picture), for a date two years in Alex's future — but only a day away for Kate. When she shows up full of wonderful expectations for their dinner date she waits but Alex fails to appear. Kate is heartbroken and she begins to wonder if she has been making a mistake focusing so much of her emotional energy on a man who, in her time, had clearly moved on. She tells Alex about a day right after she left the lake house; an unusually warm Valentine's Day when she'd spent time with her mother in Daley Plaza and witnessed a terrible traffic accident and held a man who died in her arms. Life was too short, she now knew, to wait for what might be. She asks Alex not to contact her again, to "Let me let you go", and stops coming to the mailbox for his letters.

Alex decides to quit the lake house and move in with his brother in Chicago, leaving all of Kate's letters packed neatly in a box in the attic. The dog, Jack, runs away as Alex packs — only to appear at the side of Kate's old boyfriend Morgan, just after Alex passes along the house keys, reminding him of Kate’s wishes to one day live on the lake. The 2006 Kate renews her relationship with Morgan, and they live together in her Chicago apartment for over a year. One afternoon, irritated with his inattention and preoccupation with work, she walks into the bedroom, where a hollow-sounding area under a floorboard finally gets her attention. Stepping hard on one end, she pops the board loose, revealing a small package hidden underneath. It is the Jane Austen book, Persuasion, that Alex retrieved for her from the train station. He has left a flower marking a specific passage: "There could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison...." Kate holds the book to her heart. One unusually warm winter day, Alex and his brother leave their office, heading out to lunch. When Alex suggests they meet up after work for a beer, Henry reminds him that it's Valentine's Day and he has plans with his girlfriend. Valentine’s Day 2006 ... something clicks in Alex's memory and he takes off for the lake house.

For Kate, it’s Valentine's Day 2008, and she and Morgan arrange to meet at an architectural firm to review renovation plans for an old apartment she wants to buy. Morgan, unenthused about both the project and the idea of moving, has been so busy with work, he has forgotten to get Kate a Valentines card. After they meet with the architect, Kate notices an illustration hanging on the conference room wall - it's a drawing of the lake house. The young man explains that it was drawn by his brother Alex Wyler who, by coincidence, was killed in a traffic accident two years ago to the day. Kate quickly realizes why Alex never met her at the restaurant; he was the man who died in her arms in Daley Plaza. She rushes to the lake house, leaving a bewildered Morgan behind, and frantically writes a note for Alex. "Don't go looking for me", she begs him. "Wait for another two years and come to the lake house, instead." It is in this very note, in fact, that she first explicitly professes her love to him. She puts the note into the mailbox and raises the flag.

But Alex has gone off to find her - and sees her sitting there in Daley Plaza on that unseasonably mild Valentine's Day in 2006. As he seems about to step into the street, he raises his hand and rereads the note from Kate, begging him to wait for her. "I love you", she writes, "and it's taken me all this time to realize it but I love you". Alex wisely decides to remain on the sidewalk, splitting himself off from the original timeline. Kate falls to her knees, clutching onto the mailbox stand, sure she was too late, but then the mailbox flag slowly lowers - Alex has picked up her note. Soon she sees a vehicle arriving beyond the high grass and then a figure walking toward her on the gravel path, and it turns out to be Alex. "You waited!", she cries as they begin to kiss each other. And then they turn and, still huddled together, proceed up the wooden walkway toward the lakehouse.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Diary of a Reformed Elitist

I have stumbled upon this article which was also posted at a fellow Toastmaster's blog - www.ganchau.blogspot.

This article was publised in the Straits Times on Thursday, April 08, 2010. It resonates with me as I was from Raffles Junior College but I was from from the so-called elitist family. My first home was an HDB one-room rental flat, progressing to a two-room rental flat then to a three-room sold flat. Today, my parents are living in a four-room HDB sold flat and myself in an Executive HDB flat.

I was fortunate enough to be able to stay in USA for one year with my family. I can definitely identify with the loneliness that the author wrote about. And ultimately, the thing that kept me going on was my family.

It's definitely:

"Worth reading!

"I never guess. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


Diary of a reformed elitist

I AM as Rafflesian/Raffles Girls' School (RGS)/'elite' as they come. My father was a Raffles Institution boy; I went through Raffles Girls' Primary School (RGPS), RGS, then Raffles Junior College , then on to the National University of Singapore, boarding at Raffles Hall.

My sisters went through much the same route. My little girls are in RGPS.

I recognise the syndrome Ms Sandra Leong talks about ('Scoring high in grades but not in values', last Saturday). I live it, breathe it. Most of my friends are like me, graduates. Most of us live in landed property, condominiums or minimally, executive condos or five-room flats. None of us talks about making ends meet, or how we must turn down medical treatment for our aged parents because we cannot find the money.

But I will add to her essay: that those traits, that aura is not unique to RGS girls. It resonates within a social group, and its aspirants, the well educated or well endowed. I hang out with so many, I have stories by the barrel.

- My doctor friend, non-RGS and one would even say anti-RGS, was shocked when she found out how many As I got in my A levels, since I opted to do an arts degree. In her words, 'I thought all arts people were dumb, that is why they go to arts'. Her own family boasts only doctors and lawyers - she said they would never contemplate any other profession - and by implication, all other professions are below those two.

- A church-mate who lived in a landed property in District 10 - definitely not an RGS girl, and I venture to guess, not even a graduate - once, in all sincerity and innocence, prayed for all those who had to take public transport and live in HDB flats, for God to give them strength to bear these trials.

- Another friend, also non-RGS and a non-graduate, shudders when she recounts the few months she lived in an HDB flat. And that was a five-room flat. Imagine the culture shock if she had lived in a three-room flat.
I continue to meet people who never visit hawker centres, who wonder why the poor people do not work harder to help themselves, who fret if their children do not get into the Gifted Education Programme (reserved for the top 1 per cent of nine-year-olds).

The pattern repeats itself in the next generation. When my 11-year-old had to go on a 'race' around Singapore, using only public transport, the teacher asked for a show of hands on how many had never taken public transport (bus and MRT) before. In a class of 30, five raised their hands. I think if the teacher had asked for those who had taken public transport fewer than 10 times in their young lives, the number would have more than doubled or tripled.
Many of us live in ivory towers. I know I did. I used to think Singapore was pretty much 'it' all - a fantastic meritocracy that allowed an 'HDB child' from a non-graduate family to make it. I boasted about our efficiency - 'you can emerge from your plane and be out in 10 minutes' - and so on.

It was not that I thought little of the rest of the world or other people; it was that I was so ensconced in my cocoon, I just thought little of anything outside my own zone. 'Snow? Yes, nice.' 'Starvation in Ethiopia ? Donate $50.' The wonders of the world we lived in, the sufferings and joys of those who shared this earth were just academic knowledge to me, voraciously devoured for my essays or to hold intelligent conversations at dinner parties.

Then I lived in China for seven years. I looked on in amazement as the skinny tree trunk in front of my yard blossomed and bore pomegranates when spring thawed the ground. And marvelled at the lands that spread east, west, north and south of me as we drove and drove and drove, and never ended. I became friends and fans of colleagues and other Chinese nationals, whom so many Singapore friends had warned me to be wary of.

I realised it was not the world and other people who were limited in their intellect, in their determination, in their resourcefulness; it was me and my world views which were limited. I also know full well that if I had stayed in Singapore , in my cushy job, comfortable in my Bukit Timah home, I would have remained the same - self-sufficient. I had always believed that if I put my mind to it, I could achieve anything. For example, I used to look at sick people and root: 'Fight with all your willpower, and you will recover.' And when they did not, I'd think they had failed themselves. I, like Ms Leong, believed 'mental dexterity equated strength of character and virtue'.

But those years in China taught me terrible lessons on loneliness. I learnt that money (an expatriate pay package) and brains (suitcases of books) did not make me happier than my maid who cycled home to her family every night in minus 20 deg C on icy roads to a dinner of rice and vegetables. The past few years, I have known devastating loss and grief so deep I woke up in the morning and wondered how the sun could still shine and people could go on with their lives.

And so perhaps I have learnt the humility I lacked. Humility about how small I am in the whole schema of things. About how helpless I truly stand, with my intellect in my hands, with my million-dollar roof over my head. To remember, in the darkest valleys of my journey, it was not Ayn Rand or other Booker list authors who lifted me, but the phone calls, the kindness of strangers, that made each day a little less bleak.

And perhaps finally, to really see other people, and understand - not deflect, nor reflect their anger and viewpoints, but see their shyness, pain, struggles, joys. Just because I was 'fortunate enough' to have trawled the bottom levels. And perhaps that is the antidote to the oft unwitting elitism so many of us carry with us.

Sim Soek Tien (Ms)