Wednesday, December 26, 2012


There were many memories to choose from when I sat down to write about 4M.

There are 12 Form 4 classes in my school and 4M contains the creme de la creme. These smart kids might be all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when learning their science subjects, but unfortunately the same eagerness wasn't extended to English and other subjects "lower down the hierarchy". Thus, trying to capture their attention, fuel their imagination and gain their respect was no mean feat.

However, when the students did become engaged in the tasks assigned, MAGIC happened.

One such instance is the Activist assignment I'd written about. Another would be when the students dramatised the short story 'The Fruitcake Special'. The students got into groups of 8, with every one in the group having a role to play.

First, the students adapted the story into a script. Most of the groups modified the story to make it even more funnier. Then, they practised, practised and practised (after school) for 2 weeks or so. Every group was trying to outdo the others and was being very secretive. They would stop rehearsing whenever I passed by Pondok NILAM or elsewhere in the school compound where they held their practice.

Oh, the suspense and anticipation in the build up to Presentation Day!

The day finally arrived and all 5 productions didn't disappoint. The effort that went into the assignment was obvious from the execution of their plays, the costumes they had on and the props that they brought along/made themselves.

The extrovert students were given the platform to shine and I was bowled over by their talents. But it was the quiet, timid students who made me all warm and fuzzy inside. Performing in public must have terrified them and it was evident how nervous they were. But performed they did and it was wonderful to see them emerge from their shells.

I love the diagram below and I hope that all my students will take the message to heart :)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saigon Trip

A Hungry Beginning

One of the most memorable passages from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit is when Gandalf was looking for someone "to share in an adventure". He lamented that it was hard to find anyone up to the task.

Bilbo Baggins replied, "I should think so - in these parts! We are plain, quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can't see what anyone sees in them."

Funnily enough, on Dec 7, 2012, my Vietnam adventure started off exactly with my having to miss my dinner. My flight was supposed to take off at 2050 but it was delayed to 2230. It was a brief delay so most people took it well, barring a few ruffled and disgruntled travellers.

While waiting for the revised boarding time, my mum and I prayed Isha and had some hot chocolate afterwards. While sipping the lovely hot choc, I was feeling smug because I didn't "sweat the small stuff" and was spending the time pleasurably.

When it's time to board the plane, we were told that our flight was delayed yet again (!). The plane would only arrive at 0000 and even then we would have to wait some more before it could take off to our destination.

By then, I wasn't feeling so smug anymore. This was the uncomfortable part of adventure that Bilbo talked about. And this was when I started to visualise my warm, comfy bed and wonder why I had signed up for the trip in the first place.

The neither-here-nor-there state we were in made everyone restless and anxious. No hot choc could have placated me then.

We finally took off for Ho Chi Minh City at 0050, four hours later than originally scheduled. The whole episode made me realise that I'm not as patient as I thought I was.

Inalienable Rights to Life and Liberty

We visited many places-of-interest on our first day in HCM but the two most memorable were the Cu Chi Tunnel Complex and the War Remnants Museum.

At Cu Chi Tunnel, we learned about the ingenious guerrilla tactics employed by the Viet Cong that stupefied the technologically-superior US Army.

Meanwhile, the War Remnants Museum has everything related to the Vietnam War on display: the pictures, the tanks, the planes, the shells, the torture chamber, etc.

You need a strong stomach to take in the pictures, especially the heart-wrenching ones that show the malformed victims of Agent Orange. The exhibition, for me, drives home the point that war is senseless and especially heinous when it involves innocent civilians.

Amidst the horrific images of war, an excerpt of the US Declaration of Independence was put up. It reads:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Sadly, these "self-evident truths" are disregarded, again and again, by those who profess to uphold them.

Malaysian Invasion

By the second day, I realised just how many Malaysians there were in HCM. They were visible everywhere; at all the tourist attractions, the night market, the halal restaurants, the hotel lobbies, etc. Malaysians have positively invaded the country!

Day 2 was spent doing touristy things which was fun! We rode a boat and a sampan, sampled local fruit, listened to folk music, did a LOT of shopping and watched a water-puppetry performance.

We got used to seeing so many motorcycles on the roads and the crazy traffic rules the Vietnamese seem to adhere to. I know that's rich coming from a Malaysian but I came across a T-shirt that corroborated my view. The simple design featured a traffic light with the caption:

Saigon traffic rules:
[green] I can go
[yellow] I can go
[red] I can still go

Even the bus that got us around made some spectacular maneuvers that left us shaking our heads in disbelief. My favourite has got to be the three-point turn it accomplished at a particularly busy intersection.

Kalau ada sumur di ladang

Our 4D3N trip (with POTO Travel & Tours) was very enjoyable and a large part of that was due to our tour guide, Mr. Le Van An, a Saigon native.

Mr. An was very helpful and accommodating. Besides having good command of Malay, he surprised and tickled us repeatedly when he talked about Dato' Siti Nurhaliza, Tongkat Ali and other Malaysia-specific things.

The clincher came when we were about to part ways. He recited the whole length of the pantun:
Kalau ada sumur di ladang
Boleh saya menumpang mandi
Kalau ada umur yang panjang
Boleh kita berjumpa lagi.