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)