the backstage epiphany

where reality is so subjective it's entirely optional

Monthly Archives: January 2011

Memories of TEFL Town

A few days ago, while looking through some old school records, I came across my TEFL Certificate, which brought back memories of the five weeks I spent in Boston nearly three years ago, four of which were the most intense yet rewarding of my life. So I hopped on to the Boston Academy of English website, and was pleasantly surprised to come across this new video on the home page:

It’s amazing how much the school has grown and how far it has come, considering that it was already very well established when I did my TEFL certification there in March 2008. I always tell people who ask that it’s better to train for something like this in a foreign place, because the staggeringly vast diversity of nationalities, languages and cultures that all come together make the teaching and learning experience so much more memorable.

Watching that video, looking at the familiar faces, and especially Cora, one of my trainers, I realize more than ever how much I’ve truly missed Boston and the amazing times I had there. And now that I’m finally attempting to put my certification to good use, I’m reminded more and more every day that given the chance, I would go through those four weeks all over again.


Welcoming change

“There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse!  As I have often found in traveling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one’s position, and be bruised in a new place. “ – Washington Irving

I’ve never really liked the idea of change. Fear of the unknown, sadness of leaving the familiar behind, apprehensive towards testing uncharted waters, and the possibility of failure are the main factors that have always held me back from embracing something new. It’s only after a great deal of thinking, debating, pushing and bawling that I can ever make up my mind to pursue something, and even that with great caution.

But this time it’s different. This time, I know what I want and what I must do to get it, regardless of how long it takes. Over the past two weeks I’ve been given a sign, which has reassured me that I need no longer worry about feeling any guilt or fear towards what I’m about to do. The only ties, strings and bridges that I ever cared about have self-destructed, and now I’m free to move on with what I’ve planned to do.

To a certain extent I will always care, I suppose, and to a certain extent it will always hurt, but it’s the pain that teaches us to brave up, be strong, and throw all emotional attachment into the fire and focus on what we were meant to do.

So hello, Change. You’ve been a long time coming.

Something Wonderful

One of my favorite songs from 1965’s The King & I, also known as the doormat’s anthem:

This is a man who thinks with his heart
His heart is not always wise
This is a man who stumbles and falls
But this is a man who tries
This is a man you’ll forgive and forgive
And help and protect as long as you live

He will not always say
What you would have him say
But now and then he’ll say something wonderful
The thoughtless things he’ll do
Will hurt and worry you
Then all at once he’ll do something wonderful
He has a thousand dreams that won’t come true
You know that he believes in them
And that’s enough for you

You’ll always go along
Defend him when he’s wrong
And tell him when he’s strong
He is wonderful
He’ll always need your love
And so he’ll get your love
A man who needs your love
Can be wonderful

– Terry Saunders, Something Wonderful

The forbidden job

Becca: Apparently people are in trouble for discussing boob jobs on TV3.
Me: What!
Becca: Boob jobs are ‘a trivial issue which violates a woman’s dignity’. Not to mention they’re haram (forbidden). “The show’s official Facebook fan page also received criticism from female viewers who said they felt uncomfortable with the issue being talked about openly. It was also embarrassing to women, they said. They objected to the use of models, who were fully attired but the cameras had focused on their chests to visualise the topic being discussed.” Are you sure you want to join this religion? Oh dear…
Me: The religion doesn’t make the person. It’s the crazy ones who give the religion a bad rep.
Becca: Agreed… But unfortunately in this country the religion is controlled by the crazy ones. And the normal ones are prosecutable for being normal.
Me: Well, fortunately I do not need a boob job. But unless someone of another religion who actually wants me comes along, I’m happy to be left with the current prospects. I mean, look… Good Christian Gregory Chang didn’t want me.
Becca: That sounds very bad, yet funny.

You have to hand it to Becca. She looks out for me where nobody else thinks to look.

Beating the post-retirement blues

My mother is oftentimes not the most typical kind of woman. She hates weddings and Chinese New Year, hates having her photo taken, refuses to wear makeup unless it’s for family photoshoots, and declares that only women (and here she pronounces the word with unadulterated contempt) drive barefoot and have no sense of direction.

I think it’s also her lack of femininity that led her to swear she was not born to work in the home and therefore she must go out to work (“I will not be one of those women who’s only good enough to be a housewife“). And because she goes out to work and revels in gassing people out, she is now worried about what will happen to her when she’s no longer fit for medicine (“I can’t be knocking people out if I can’t even see well enough to set their IV lines”).

So last week, we discussed the things she can do to take up her time when she is retired and desperate to prevent what she calls brain death. She finally narrowed it down to three possibilities:

I could take up gardening. “But I can’t crouch down all day so I’ll have to buy one of those little stools to sit on while I pull out every weed by hand. And I’ll wear a giant straw hat so I don’t turn out red as a lobster. I don’t know how much gardening I can do though; everything I ever grew died after a few days. It’s amazing you’re still alive.”

I’ll start knitting again. My mother has never been very good with needlework, and knows just enough to get by, such as the fixing of buttons, zippers and hems. So, after reminding her that she once spent an entire year knitting me a cardigan, I suggested she do crocheting instead, which she can do fairly well if she could just make her tension knots consistent. And after convincing her that it’s far too hot in this country to wear anything crocheted, I told her she could crochet doilies and placemats, provided the maid can keep them clean.

I can go dancing again. Inspired by my great-aunt, who took up all manner of dancing after she retired and to this day still attends classes at the Penang Senior Citizens Association. To be fair, my mother did do a lot of dancing when she was (much) younger, but now she’s become more particular about it, especially when it concerns a partner. “You want one who will be there regularly so that you know what each other does, and one who’s at least good at it, because if you’re stuck with one who has two left feet, you might as well be dancing by yourself.”

Nowhere in this discussion did she ever mention helping to care for any grandchildren she may have in the future, which is something I realize a lot of my friends’ mothers and mothers-in-law do. And when I brought it up, she gave me a blank stare and said, “Oh, ya. Ya… no. No. I’m not going to spend all day every day taking care of someone. I would never have time for myself. I might as well go back to work.”

For Aiden

My beautiful godson turns 3 today. He is probably the closest I will ever get to having my own children, and therefore is a testament to how unforgivably quickly time passes, and how we must remember each and every moment that makes that time worth living.

Happy Birthday Aiden! Auntie Sandra loves you!

Keeping up with the Pets

The Kardashians: Living proof that you don't need pet siblings to stamp out loneliness

Yesterday I learned a new word: pet.

Not the word one would normally use when referring to a four-legged, two-legged or even legless animal that has been bred and broken into a domestic environment, but the word one uses to refer to a person.

Like a pet sister. Or a pet brother.

I was quite taken aback when I heard Eza refer to someone as her husband’s pet brother today. My initial response was “What is that?” and after she waved her hand to disdainfully dismiss the term, she explained that “a pet brother or pet sister is a good friend who can be considered family. It’s a name we all used when we were in school.”

Clearly, the name Kardashian was not yet known to man.

Despite being rather disturbed by the fact that people in Malaysia — fully-grown, at-least-partially-mature human beings — are running around using the word pet to define fellow adults, I was quite intrigued by this trend that apparently has been running rampant on this good earth (really just Malaysian soil) for decades. I suppose at the Age of Knowing No Better, teenagers must have felt a sense of closeness and kinship by calling one another their pet sisters or pet brothers, and to some it would have been better to have pet siblings than their blood ones. By all accounts that may have also been the teenage boy’s way of befriending the girl of (his life’s) moment before venturing further into adolescent limbo. And — this one I’m fairly certain of, purely by taking into account individual cowardice and indecisiveness — it was probably the easiest way to say “Let’s just be friends.”

However, once the uniforms have been shed and these young Impressionables go out into the world to experience what they thought they already knew of as life, I strongly believe it would be most advisable to disregard all former knowledge of the term and its usage. Possibly the only definition of it that I find remotely appealing is the association with one’s family. After all, if there were ever two people in the world I would consider family, they would be Becca and Shirley, and even then, this curious little designation, however affectionate in nature, has its restrictions.

“Becca can’t be your pet sister, because she’s your age,” Eza explained, as one might explain potty-training to a toddler. “The pets are usually people who are older or younger than you. Becca would only be your BFF.” Now there’s another term which requires some utilization control before it makes the entire world female population sound like they came straight out of The Hills.

Which leaves me, according to the Malaysian Book of Idiosyncrasies (and surely there must be one out there, given the bizarreness of this country), with a tally of two pet sisters — and at this point I will use the term very loosely, because I must ask which self-respecting person can suffer the indignity of being called as such without gagging — and one BFF, and one jie jie (only because Eza calls me her mei mei).

Oh, to be young (or youth-deprived) and spouting jargon only your fellow countrymen can make sense of.

The Blindfold Effect

“Every theory is a self-fulfilling prophecy that orders experience into the framework it provides.” – Ruth Hubbard

We see what we want to see, we hear what we want to hear, we believe what we want to believe. How much of it is true, and how much of it is conjured out of our own minds? In psychology we learn about self-prophecy, where we perceive something as true because we’ve been told it’s true. And as old Ruthie put it, if we hear it from someone whom we know is speaking from experience, we’re all the more convinced that it’s true. But how do we know that’s what it really is? They may not be outright lying, but as our experiences influence the way we think and behave, it’s possible that the version of events they’re giving is merely the result of them warping the truth in their own minds.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last couple of years, it’s to always, always maintain perspective, and never be blindsided, even though my past experiences have jaded me and conditioned me to expect the worst out of people. We may think that the way we’re treated by some people shows exactly what we are to them, but we have to keep the reality that that’s just how they are very firmly fixed in our minds. We may think that the slightest inconsistency could mean a turning of the tide, but it doesn’t discount the big picture that we’ve come to know and rely on to help us make the right decisions.

But how do we know that our perspective is the right one? How do we know that we’re only thinking a certain way because of everything we’ve seen and been told, and that maybe there’s a significant piece that we’ve overlooked because it could go against the very core of our perspective and our principles? And if we’re unable to wrap our minds around, or even remotely consider, that alternative view, does that mean we could be walking down the wrong road, never allowing all the other options to show us what the road not taken could lead us to or save us from?

Over the past few weeks I’ve had my views on several issues skewed in one direction. I’ve forced myself not to look at them in any other way, which has led people to ask why I’m being such a pessimist and why I can’t just let my guard down and think that maybe at some point things could be better — or at least different. And all I can think is that given the circumstances, and seeing how history has repeated itself more than once, there doesn’t seem to be any alternate ending, no matter how much I want there to be an alternate ending.

So which perspective is it: the one we have or the one we risk losing?