随笔集

少年时颇有成为文学家的理想,因此曾写过许多随笔。崇拜鲁迅,也曾用“鲁再迅”笔名在校报发表过杂文和诗歌。但也仅此而已。后来学业繁重,随笔集束之高阁,没有再碰。进入互联网时代,文学家之梦在文学论坛苟延残喘数载,然后呜呼哀哉,不了了之。

那时候的随笔,大约相当于现在的博客。我刚开始写博客的时候,也是怀着与写随笔时同样的热情来写的。但是随笔和博客毕竟有一个很大的区别。随笔,除非出版,否则读者只要自己或三五好友;博客的读者,除了认识的朋友,也往往有不请自来的过客。写随笔的时候只为自己直抒胸臆,写博客的时候则往往要顾及读者,在中国网站上写博客时还要注意自我审查。用笔写字,基本不受干扰,我手写我心;电脑打字,屏幕上的各种信息,文本编辑器的各种功能,甚至中文输入法的选字栏,无一不是干扰的来源。因此,写博客的时候,往往没有写随笔的畅快感。

多年前,母亲初学电脑,用我的随笔集做打字练习。不知不觉,也输入了五十五则。二十余年前的文字,如今读来,未免幼稚可笑。然而毕竟是曾经的心血,也便不免敝帚自珍,所以也就存在电脑里,偶尔拿出来自恋一番。自然,我是不敢复制粘贴到这里贻笑大方的。

A Nation of Noise

There are many countries qualified to this title. Singapore, unthinkable 20 years ago, is now one of them. Compared to two decades ago, the noise now is not only louder but also more prevalent.

Who contribute to the noise? The people. The people everywhere. Who are these people? They are locals and foreigners, old and young, male and female, highly educated and illiterate, happy and sad, intentional and oblivious. We, the citizens of the Noisy Country, pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion… People nowadays seem to be constantly broadcasting themselves, in fear of not being heard by the whole world.

There is hardly any place in Singapore where you would not find unbearable noise surrounding you. On the bus, in a shopping mall, along a street, in a park, by the beach, in a food court, even in a library — there would always be people talking and laughing so loudly that you might just want to shut them up forcefully.

Whenever I hear a sudden laughter or some simultaneous human talking voices in an inappropriate situation, I cannot help thinking of Japan, England and Switzerland, where the people know when to be loud and when not to. Talking is a human right. Being free from noise is a human right too. There should be places where you can talk and laugh to your heart’s content, while you do not need to do so elsewhere so that other people, people who do not like loud conversations or merriment, can live their life peacefully.

This entry was started in a noisy food court and finished on a noisy bus.

My First Ambulance Call

I had never imagined that one day I would call an ambulance for a painful foot.

At first it was the mild discomfort resulted from an exhausting 13 km jog (mixed with walking) on a Sunday morning. That afternoon saw a slightly reddened first toe joint on my right foot. I didn’t pay much attention because it happened many times.

On the following day, 13 June, Darling and I went to Legoland as planned. I applied medical ointment and bandaged the toe before I left home. At Legoland, I took off the bandage because it felt uncomfortable. It was mildly painful throughout the day.

The condition persisted for another two days. The joint became swollen on 16 June. Since I could not join Darling for jogging, I brought my Brompton to cycle alongside. Then we went to Changi Airport. The joint suddenly became seriously painful there, perhaps due to excessive exercise.

So I decided to go to Ho Hong Meng Chinese Physician and Acupuncture Centre at Tampines, which I had trusted for long time.

One day after the treatment, the joint was no longer swollen. But because I could not assert force on the toes, my body weight was mainly on the ankle, and that led to a painful right ankle on the following day, 18 June. I did the usual stuff: medical ointment, bandage, massage.

On the morning of 19 June, it felt a bit better, but still had great pain when walking. On the afternoon, however, it suddenly worsened. I could not walk without Darling’s help. Darling suggested we should go to see a doctor. After Darling helped — almost carried — me to the void deck, I realised that I could not make it even to the street to take a cab. So I asked Darling to help me buy some Salonpas patches. The patches were working, but once I started walking again, I almost collapsed.

Ambulance was the next logical option. Since it was not an emergency, I did not call 995 for SCDF but 1777 for private ambulance. I was in the ambulance after some 40 minutes of waiting.

This was the first time I called an ambulance and the first time I was in the ambulance as a patient. It was quite old and shaky. I held Darling’s hand, which gave me lots of comfort and warmth.

We arrived at A&E of Ng Teng Fong General Hospital at Jurong East. The ambulance cost S$150, cash only. We did not have so much cash. Darling had to go to IMM to withdraw money to pay for it.

While she was away, I tried to go to the toilet in a wheelchair. Although I had no problem navigating, I could not open the door. An old gentleman helped me. After using the toilet, I attempted to open the door from inside but failed. The same gentleman came to help me and pushed me to the waiting area.

After the initial examination by a nurse, Darling tried to push me to a wheelchair spot near the consultation rooms. A gentleman came to help us when he saw we had problems.

After almost two hours of waiting, we entered the consultation room. The doctor asked me the same questions that the nurse asked two hours before, and he said my ankle pain should be due to mild gout. He decided the five steps of treatment: blood test, to check kidney function; painkiller, both injection (Tramadol) and tablets (Suniton); lowering blood pressure; X-ray, to check my ankle joints; gout tablet (Colchicine).

My kidney function was normal. Like a few years back, Losartan worked well on me, lowering my blood pressure significantly. The painkiller injection and tablets  relieved much of the pain, but still I could not walk without assistance. The X-ray showed my ankle joints to be normal.

I requested to buy a pair of crutches. This was the second time I used crutches. The last time I used them, I borrowed from a clinic.

The doctor offered me medical certificate of three days, and prescribed Losartan (for hypertension), Colchicine (for gout), Suniton (for pain).

When we were waiting in front of the pharmacy, I felt a bit feverish. Darling touched my forehead and said it did warm up. It might be a side effect of the drugs. Darling went to look for the doctor but could not find him, but a nurse attended to me. Another nurse checked my body temperature and it was 37.2℃, half degree higher than usual, but it was not a fever.

We collected the medicine, made the payment. A nurse pushed me to the taxi stand. It was almost midnight and the taxi stand was empty. I requested a taxi through ComfortDelGo app and soon we were in a taxi back home.

2015 Review

I have survived the first year in the new school. There have been a lot of setbacks, mistakes, anguish, anger, stress and annoyance; but at the same time I have also enjoyed good comradeship and friendship with the new colleagues, found my new strength as a lower primary teacher, seen myself as an educator with more confidence. I have been much critical of some leadership issues in the school, as I always am in any bureaucracy; that is in my nature and unlikely will be changed.

I made my first intercontinental trip to London, UK, the No. 1 destination in my list; then I went to Kyoto, Japan, the No. 2 in the list. I enjoyed myself in these two historic cities, while mourning for the ever thinning wallet.

I have also found my true love after 12 years of loneliness. It is an unusual relationship: slow to build up, fast to peak, intense, passionate and yet invisible to many. Now I can’t live without her, nor can I easily bear the seemingly long emptiness if we were to part for more than one day. The mutual acceptance and love make us ever so close together.

Things happened lightning fast in 2015, be it good or bad. It is a difficult year, but it is also surely my best year.

In 2016, I’ll try to work better (not necessarily harder) and survive the second year in the school without much regret. I’ll also propose to my love, and I wish she would accept it.

Wish everything will be fine.

夜琴

钢琴曲悄悄流淌在暗夜的空气里,带着轻轻的忧伤,却不动声色,让人以为那只是一种温存。但是我却在床上坐了起来。那些本该褪色模糊的往事,那些与今日已然全无关联的躁动,那些枕边看不着摸不到却实实在在流过的泪,全部触手可及。

是二十年前吗?我的心也如此不安分地跳动着。分不清恐惧还是焦急,辨不明兴奋或者烦躁,就这么心跳加速,就这么睁着眼睛看时间从鼻尖前的虚空流过。也许是饥饿,也许是咖啡因,也许只是一时一地一人一事,作祟的不知为何,搅动死水的难分因缘。

我似乎忘了自己已非少年。我忘了青涩的抑或华丽的梦想在此刻毫无意义。这一场黑夜仿佛一个阴谋,让时间回拨二十年,让空间瞬移千万里。我躺在那张床上,收音机里传出钢琴曲。窗帘飞动,对面的霓虹灯照进已熄灯的房里,在地砖上映出忽明忽灭的五彩之光。朦胧之间有一刹那的恍惚,又幻化作琴声消失于空气中。

我到底身在何处何时?光阴虚设,重洋乌有,彼时此时,此岸彼岸,风起风去,花开花落,不可细想,难以言喻,何堪思量。正如这夜里的钢琴声,托着我心小小的悸动在房间里弥漫开来,并不曾计较时空与人事。

无泪可流,有心难伤。夜琴虽易醉,独坐到天明。

Twenty Fifteen

So here we are, at the beginning of another year. 2015 will see the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta of England, the 50th anniversary of the Republic of Singapore, and my first year in the second school since I became a teacher.

I do not like to write resolutions because I seriously lack imagination. But anyway here they are:

1. To survive, and survive well, in the new environment

Having spent 3 days in the new school, I am still trying to adapt to the new environment. There are new colleagues to befriend with, new facilities to make use of, new pupils to educate, and new leaders to work for. I will try my best.

2. To get fit

Getting fit does not just mean slimming down. I will try some strength training, and also not to get sick. The new school is just 1km away, so I can walk to and back from work every day. Bukit Panjang Plaza is in only 1.4km walking distance from my house, and 1.4km from the school; I can walk there too. Eateries are very convenient at Fajar Shopping Centre, which is only a few steps away, and the proximity of eateries has effectively reduced my tendency to over eat; in the past, I needed to walk quite a long distance for meals and tended to eat too much, or to order food delivery too frequently, because of the high time cost in travelling.

3. To save more money

Renting a much cheaper room already saves a lot. The nearness of my school and shopping centres also cuts down travel expenses. Since I eat less now, I will also spend less on food. With my newly opened OCBC 360 Account, I will earn more interest from my deposit too. And I no longer need to buy so many photography gadgets, as I have moved from Canon EOS to Olympus OM-D. Just hope that I will not develop a new hobby in the new year!

4. To get a driving license

Hopefully I can get my license within this year. Bukit Batok Driving Centre is very close, 3.8km away, just in the distance between my previous house and previous school. With an emphasis of ‘working smart’ and a work-life balance policy in the new school, I believe I can manage my time and accomplish that. Whether to buy a car — and whether I can afford one — is another question.

UPDATED: It looks like I will not be able to learn driving after work because I am mentally exhausted by the time I go out of the office. Look at it this way: at least I save another 2000 dollars…

5. To travel out of the Malay Peninsula

I am not a traveller. My first step out of my comfort zone was taken 16 years ago from Swatow to Singapore, and the second 10 years ago from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur. I think maybe it is time to take another step, and a longer one. There are four options: Britain, Taiwan, Japan, and New Zealand. I shall make the decision according to my wallet size — and my mood.

That’s it. I know I am boring. Whatever.

Chirping of Stars

Looking up, I saw the beautiful stars blinking upon me. Night breezes stroked my face; it was so quiet, except the chirping of some insects, likely crickets.

It was so familiar. This whole setting. The scene, the touch, and the sound.

When I was four years old, I spent a lot of time in a rural village that I called my homeland. On many summer and autumn nights, I sat in the courtyard, overwhelming myself with stars, ten times more then and there than now and here. The adults were listening to radio and chit-chatting in the rooms, while my cousins were either too old or too young to share my little paradise in the courtyard. Night breezes stroked my face as gently then, and I heard the chirping loud and clear. ‘Where is the sound from?’ I looked around and found nothing special. Then I looked at the stars. The stars, as they always are, were blinking in rhythms, ‘apparently’ according to the beats of that loud and clear sound. I thought I made a great discovery. I did not share this great discovery with anyone because I felt it might be obvious to anyone else.

Of course the stars do not chirp. I realised my mistake on a winter night, when the stars were still blinking but I heard no chirping. But I had no idea where the sound came from, and that troubled me for some time, until on a later summer night my elder cousins told me the truth.

I remember that ‘great discovery’ so vividly because, whenever I look at the stars, I still feel they are chirping, with their rhythmic blinking, although I have already known the truth.

Updates

I could not find a better title because this entry is going to be quite miscellaneous — chaotic, messy, disorderly, whatever — but, who cares what title I have used? The above title is as good as ‘untitled’ but let’s just move on from here.

It’s been four months since the last entry. Many changes, subtle and minute they might seem, have taken place. The most obvious is my photos. I no longer do daily casual photography with iPhone. I no longer shoot school events with my Canon EOS 7D — in fact, I sold all my DSLR stuff, large or small, within a fortnight. Instead, I use my new Olympus O-MD E-M1 for both purposes. The sensor may be small but the image quality delivered by the superb lenses is impressive. And it is so much more compact than DSLRs of the same level. Surprisingly I started to shoot in manual mode, which I kept avoiding on my DSLR. I also started to pay more attention to aspect ratios, depth of field and compositions. I used to resist electronic viewfinders, but with E-M1, I realised how useful an EVF can be. There are many features that I enjoy on my new toy, but that is not the focus here.

I took part in a political gathering for the first time ever in my life. On 1st October, I went to Hong Lim Park to join ‘Singapore in Solidarity with Hong Kong‘. Thanks to my being outside the Mainland China, I could voice my opinions and take my stand (relatively) freely; thanks to my being a Singapore citizen, it was legal for me to join such gathering at Hong Lim Park. Most of my friends, Chinese or Singaporeans, have been against the student movement. It has been difficult for me to discuss with them on this matter.

I also tried shaving my head for one month. Artificial baldness was in fact my means to disguise natural baldness, as my hair had been increasingly thin since two years ago. Quite a number of friends told me that baldness made me look much older than my already very old looking usual self. So I stopped shaving around 10 days ago. Now my hair is back, as well as that natural baldness.

I purchased a new domain and server, and set up this independent blog (yet again). This is the first entry on the new site, more than one month after it was set up; the older posts were imported from my wordpress.com site, which still exists but will not be updated. In fact I wanted to set up an online shop, but could not make up my mind on what to sell. I also wanted to write on Chinese language education, but my writing have really deteriorated. Maybe this space will eventually become my own cloud storage.

The haze has been harassing Singapore for two months and I do not know when it will leave us. There were some thunderstorms recently (very late compared with ‘normal’ years) and the PSI fluctuated accordingly; but it will stay high unless the origin is under control — which I doubt will be done by the Indonesian authority.

I applied to transfer to another school. To make sure that I would be able to get out of my current school, I changed my address to Bukit Panjang right before the application period began. The outcome will be announced next week, and I wish I can be posted to the only new school in Bukit Panjang. My current school is my first school after graduating from NIE, and more than once I pictured myself growing old with her; I like my colleagues here, and I love my kids even more; it took me three years to click that button. The decision was difficult to make, but once it was made, everything just followed: I found myself a room in Bukit Panjang, I changed my address, I gave much more to my pupils as I would not see them next year, I planned my CCA activities so that the next teacher can carry on next year, and I am now ready for the announcement.

Talking about the reasons to leave my current school, well, they are not complicated. My pedagogies have not been improved on during my stay in this school, while I learned too much about administration and other non-teaching related procedures. I came to the profession with good passion and enthusiasm, but the leadership and management of this school have frozen my passion and dispersed my enthusiasm. I saw flaws in the system but my words were worthless; I sensed the school going to terminate herself but they put their effort in wrong places. I do not want to accuse absolute corruption as I have no proof, but absolute power is visible and is being used inappropriately; without checks and balances, power can only do harm and no good.

Just as the entry did not begin with a proper title, it will not end with a proper conclusion.

The Worst Ankle Sprain Ever

On the first day of the holiday I sprained my right ankle so badly that I could only stay home for almost two weeks — the full duration of the holiday itself.

At first I could not even stand upright. By the support of walls and railings I brought myself to the street, and struggled into a cab, heading to my favourite TCM clinic that fixed my joint problems for at least thrice in the past. The bandage and medicine helped, and I could stand upright on the second day of the treatment, but could not walk properly; every step made by my right foot was sufficient to induce a collapse. The extremely hot and humid weather of those few days also made my right foot itchy with the bandage; the skin became irritated and I dared not apply any more bandage.

Seriously in need of a pair of crutches, I searched online for any retailer within Tampines that carried stocks. The search was in vain; the most promising shop was an online shop that could only deliver crutches in three days. In despair I tried my luck at getting a pair from the family clinic beside my block, which I visited every time I needed and the friendly staff and doctor had known me as ‘Mr Weng the teacher’. Over the phone I asked whether they were selling crutches, and the response was, ‘no, we don’t sell crutches,’ and just as I was about to sigh, the response continued, ‘but you can borrow them! We have two pairs here. Ask your family or maid to collect for you as you can’t walk…’ Since my flatmates were at work and I had no maids, I decided to walk to the clinic; it was not so far anyway. The loan was free and indefinite. I almost shed my tears there in gratitude.

On the 4th day I visited the TCM clinic again, this time with more ease, thanks to the crutches. Other patients opened the door for me as I was too clumsy with both crutches. I felt so much better after the treatment, though no bandage could be applied due to the irritated skin. I continued to use the crutches for another week, before I could walk without them, in a laughably wobbly manner though. So I decided to get a walking stick. I used a walking stick for 5 days, and finally I could walk — limp — without it.

So, for most days of these two weeks, I ordered fast food and struggled to the minimart across the street to get some bread and drinks. I planned to walk around Singapore and take many pictures during this holiday, yet I could not even move around the house freely; I used my swivel chair as a wheelchair as much as necessary. I could not do any routine exercise, because all my routine exercises required strong feet or legs: walking, cycling, planking, squatting, staircase climbing…

I did feel upset and desperate. At the beginning, the pain kept waking me up at midnight, and turning in my bed, I kept thinking what I should do if I were to kill myself at that moment. The saddest part was I could not even terminate my own life because I could not move to either get a weapon or to fling myself over the corridor railings.

But darkness subsided before I realised. There were so many people that showed me graciousness and care. The staff of the family clinic, and the patients at the TCM clinic, are just two examples. One of the fast food delivery men was shocked seeing me with crutches; he chatted with me about his wrist sprain and wished me to get well soon. On some days I had to take bus (because I was disgusted by the daily fast food) with a crutch or a walking stick, and many passengers gave up their seats for me; at least three bus drivers waited patiently for me to catch the buses. The restaurant waitresses and waiters helped me carry my bags and guided me to easy-access seats. Singapore is full of kindness and love.

Now that the holiday has come to an end, I will try my best to be fully recovered, and hopefully I could be as active as before soon.

Writing

I used to express my awe in sunrises and sunsets in poetry and proses; now I have replaced them with iPhone photography. I used to be very sensitive to breezes and stars and reflect this sensitivity in my writing; now I have replaced it with occasional 140-letter tweets. Time has changed, but more blame should be on my own lifestyle. I am no longer the sensitive and productive, though unsuccessful, writer of youth and vigour, but a technologically enslaved and bureaucratically toiled teacher who seeks consolation in reading and alcohol but not in writing or art activities.

I would not say whether this is a bliss or a curse; to me it has been natural, though it should never be pre-destined. It is the easier way out, with iPhone and Twitter as my tools. Sometimes I found it difficult to limit my thoughts within 140 characters; but when I tried to write it in this blog, it could never exceed 200 characters. My mind has been adapted, or trained to adapt, to the fast-food-like, fragmented writing styles of the modern technological era.

I ask my pupils to write more while I myself stop writing; I preach the importance of frequent writing exercises while I myself seldom write. My personality has been torn and my integrity has been ruined; but what should I do? I have had interesting ideas that could have been expanded into a voluminous novel, just to meet my limited time and skills. Without the pious practice I have lost most of the zeal and techniques, and it would be unfeasible, or at least impractical, to pick them up at the moment, under the current circumstances.

Or maybe that is just an excuse. Maybe I am just too lazy, hopeless, pessimistic and negative. Being nostalgic does not help. The action-denial itself is devastating. I often convince myself that I can resume my writing enterprise any time I like, but of course it is not true. I can only mourn for the past, for the beautified memory and rosy past, like what I am doing now.